There is an inherent fear in being a woman, a dark shape lurking just in the periphery. We trek through parking garages alone with our keys clutched between knuckles to use as potential weapons. We have to calculate if the shortcut through the alley is worth the risk. We straighten our shoulders and hold our chins high, eyes and ears wary for shuffling from corners so we don’t appear like vulnerable victims.
When you’re a single woman trying to date the shadow in the periphery bulges, dark tendrils oozing to the forefront. It becomes a deep breathing companion. Whispers in your left ear. Then the right. Trails its inky membrane lightly down your chest until it finds the right spot to burrow into your core, to nestle deep.
Tonight it’s nestled deeper than it has been in years, black claws kneading my gut to shreds as it tries to get comfortable. I’m pacing the house, the knots wound tight under my shoulder blades barely soothed by the harping beep beep beep of the security alarm engaging. All because I politely tried to reschedule a first date and the dude got pushy. I wasn’t even trying to say never at the time. Just not tonight. And I did so several hours in advance like little Miss Manners. When I gave a polite but firm final no, not tonight, he went radio silent. And that is what scared me. The silence is where fear nourishes itself, devouring the What Ifs and churning them into fuel.
The yellow flags were planted along the way but I was consciously trying to ignore them in favor of this “why not” open attitude I’ve been trying to embrace. Yes, before we go any further, I met him on the internet. I thought the first time I would mention online dating would be a prelude to a ten part Shakespearean dramedy on the 15 years of viewing profile pictures of men holding fish. Or how on two different sites I’ve been a 96% match with a second cousin. Of course we are. We share DNA. Instead I’m sitting here in silence, listening for slowing cars and rustling bushes. Contemplating the underbelly of dating, of trying to trust someone new. How do Smart Single Women balance openness with that whispering dark shape? How do we know when to quell it as paranoia and when the whisper is truly a warning?
Logically I know that for every man of malicious intent there are 50 good ones. But logic has no hold once the whispering starts to multiply, becoming a cacophony of shaded imaginings.
That’s where I am right now. Assaulted by a clamor of What Ifs. I never gave him my address but we exchanged names. What if he just Google Maps me? Thanks to street view there’s even a picture to make it extra stalker friendly. These thoughts make me feel absolutely certified DSM V psychotic. The rational 99.9% of my brain knows how unlikely such a scenario is but that does nothing to ease the tearing in my gut. And that in turn makes me angry. And tired. So damn tired. The discordance between what I know to be most likely (he went home to sulk and write me off as a bitch, do feel free sir) and what I fear (he’s parked outside assessing entry points) is unraveling me.
I wish I could be all Pollyanna about the world. Sometimes I envy the naïve the ability to greet everyone with open arms. I wasn’t born with this crunchy shell of mine. It’s something that has hardened over time.
I’m not sure if the guileless truly view the world as sunshine and lollipops or if it’s more a facade, a denial. I live in a world most of the women I hold most dear have been abused, assaulted, and/or terrorized at some point in their lives. Not by strangers in alleys. It’s hardly ever a stranger. By acquaintances and dates. By boyfriends and husbands. By family. They don’t live in ghettos, or trailer parks, or hold to any of the stereotypes perpetrated as most common. They live next door. They live in the room down the hall. And they never mention it. They hold it close and bury it.
I live in a world of offenders. Of family members whispered about and glossed over. I live in a world where some men think it is acceptable for a first correspondence online to be “I’d wrestle you”. I live in a world where I have to tread a line between saying no and angering a man who might harm me despite all my Single Girl Smart methods. At 17, the boy next door tried to give me gifts reeking of romantic undertone, merely because I would say hello at the bus stop. I was raised to be neighborly. I tried to say no. Politely. When I wouldn’t accept his advances he started leaving them on my porch. I know some people would ask “What’s the big deal?”, thinking “seems innocent, you had an admirer.” Besides the fact he was now trespassing, there was the fact I said no. He continued leaving teddy bears and tokens of affection, somehow without alerting our hyper vigilant dogs. I began to try to tactfully ignore him while being careful not to be bluntly rude. Treading the line. I learned it early. When I left for college he set himself on fire. So …. what’s the big deal, right?
For better or worse, living in this world colors my interactions with and reactions to all men I meet. Honestly, how does any woman walk out the front door for a first date knowing most sexual assaults occur between acquaintances?
In this case I was trying to be open. To crack the shell and keep an open mind despite some initial gut misgivings. Nothing concrete. He seemed nice. Told corny jokes. Almost too nice … like Dexter nice. Our limited online conversations were pleasant enough. I agreed to a drink and alerted my safety check friend I would be meeting a virtual stranger, sticking to my patented Single Girl Smart methods. Just in case something does happen, someone knows where I was last seen. This is the world I have to live in. This morning he sent me a picture of him shirtless in bed. I tried to tell myself he was just clueless. He probably thought he was being cute. But the gnawing had begun, an incessant nibbling. To keep it completely honest I have engaged in messaging and advances clearly intended for hook-up scenarios. I have occasionally followed through on some such scenarios when the onset is clear and genuine from the start. This was different. This was unexpected and jarring. It was a complete departure from all previous communications.
To take a few more bites from my gut, my safety check friend informed me they had dental work today and might be incapacitated from their pain medication. Add in that I discovered the neighborhood bar we agreed to meet at closed earlier on a week night than I thought. I certainly wasn’t about to meet this man in a dark parking lot and discuss where else we might go. I tried to beg off, suggesting a night when the town wasn’t shut down. Sleepy hamlets don’t party on Wednesdays. It’s part of why I live in a sleepy hamlet. Instead of accepting he insisted he needed to meet me tonight, suggesting two other locations likely to have dark, empty parking lots. He essentially told me he would be at Place C and fully expected to see me there.
Now I was on high alert. I am not a woman easily intimidated. I do not take kindly to being told to do things without a fight. But here is the line to tread. It’s become blatantly obvious this is not a man I want to meet. It’s possible he was following some self-help douchebag manual on how to date, the type that recommend peacocking and back handed compliments to intrigue women. That’s all bullshit. Even if that had been the case, instead of some malevolent ulterior motive, I don’t tolerate bullshit well. But if there was sinister intent I have to tread lightly. I wanted to tell him the pushiness has made my hackles raise, ensuring I would never meet him. Instead I gave a polite final no, begging off with excuses about my day and decompressing alone. I hate excuses. I am now engaging in flinging my own bullshit. I want to be genuine and honest. But what if he’s the kind of guy that would set himself on fire? Which brings me here. Pacing my house in the shadows, peering out curtains like some deranged Mrs. Kravitz. The dark shape in full bloom.
You can’t meet people without being open. But you have to be careful because the world is full of dangerous people. Where is the crossover between listening to your gut and irrational paranoia?