Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On the nature of selfishness and desire

A few weeks ago, we discovered this adorable little park in our neighborhood.  We didn't know it was there because it's tucked away in a part of the neighborhood that we never go, on a dead-end street. We've gone a few times.  

Last week, E and I went to the park by ourselves for the first time.  It was a beautiful day, complete with blue skies and a light breeze.  The park was empty, so we had the run of it.  E climbed on the play structure, she slid down the slide a couple times, she wanted to swing for awhile.  We wandered through the grass and had a snack.  A dog from a house across the street got loose and came running up to our stroller and began sniffing and circling in earnest, very interested in peeing on it.  I clapped my hands and yelled at him and chased him off.  He proceeded to pee on every tree and he even topped it all off by pooping on a tree.  Nice.  I walked across the street to notify his owner that he was out.  

When I came back into the park, a dad and his toddler had shown up and were sitting by the swings.  E was very interested in the little blond boy, so she took my finger and led me over to him.  She got about five feet away and was struck with shyness, preferring to hide behind my legs and watch the boy and his dad. 

I began chatting with the dad, telling him to be aware of the peeing dog, whose owner brought him into the house and promptly left his front door open again.  The dog's next escape was inevitable.  The guy laughed and asked about E, how old she is, etc.  All the parent questions.  We talked about the kids - his son Freddy is only a few months older than E.  The kids wanted to swing, so we pushed them and talked about the park and our neighborhood.  We discovered that we live only a few streets apart.  I hadn't mentioned T at all at this point, but he asked how long I'd been married.  I assumed he saw my wedding band tattoo.  I told him we'd been married five years and in the neighborhood almost as long.  Then Freddy wanted to get down and go slide, so they wandered off.  Then E wanted down, she had to follow Freddy onto the playground. 

A short while later, Julian (the dad) and Freddy had to leave.  They came over and Julian shook my hand, said it was really great to meet us and wondered if we'd be interested in meeting up at the park again at another time.  He mentioned that he didn't have many parent friends and was always looking for other kids for Freddy to play with.  I found Julian funny and easy to talk to, and was happy to have another friend for E.  We exchanged phone numbers. 

That afternoon, Julian began texting me.  The conversation is as follows (verbatim): 

J: Really nice meeting you today :) 
A: Yeah it was!  Nice to have friends in the neighborhood.
J: For sure - so you spend a lot of time at home, you said?
A: Yeah, we do.
J: Me and Freddy are always down to hang out - I heart adult interaction.
A: I'm with you on that!
J: Is it alright if I told you you looked great when we met?
A: Well... I will always take a compliment, but you should know that I'm gay and married...
J: Ah... no problem, as long as youre cool with me thinking thats pretty hot and you dont mind a flirty personality in a friend.
A: As long as you know it'll never go anywhere.  I don't want you to feel that I've led you on.
J: ;) 
J: With that clearly established may I ask a fairly inappropriate question?
A: Um. You can ask...
J: Lol how big are they?
(several minute pause)
J: sorry hope that didnt offend - Ill leave it at that, have a good evening.  Again I apologize.
A:  It seems this really isn't the relationship you'd hoped for or intended, and I feel like it probably won't ever be able to be just a friendship for you.  You're a cool guy, and I'm sure you can find somebody to have a fun, flirty, straight relationship with.
J: Super nice of you to say that ;) 

I was really floored by this whole thing.  This man seemed genuinely nice, friendly, and funny at the park.  I never got any weirdo creep vibes off him.  I never caught him looking at my chest.  He obviously already knew I was married, and yet he initiated this conversation.  

As soon as he asked if it was okay to tell me he thought I looked great, my guts immediately looped into a knot that settled heavily.  I was already trying to find a way to back out, but I was desperately trying to do it gracefully and without being rude.  It happened so fast, that in hindsight I'm less than pleased with my own responses. I should have reacted more strongly - why was I so concerned with seeming rude?  Wasn't Julian the one objectifying me and disrespecting me and my marriage?  I should have shut him down authoritatively and immediately.  If I'd done that, I probably would never have had to realize that he was only interested in my (admittedly large and unwieldy) breasts.  I was more concerned with seeming like that "cool woman" who thinks this kind of thing is funny and not disrespectful.  When he asked how large "they" were, it took me a few seconds to consider what the heck he was talking about!  I permitted the "inappropriate question" solely because I absolutely expected that it would be a question about E's conception.  His actual question blindsided me. As the realization hit, I felt deflated.  Defeated. 

He didn't know me, or care to know me.  It was of no importance to him that I am married and by definition, am not interested in him THAT way.  All he was interested in was knowing my bra size, and I do not wish to know what he was going to do with that information.  He didn't give a shit that I'm hilarious and kind and generous.  He was more interested in using me than he was in having a friend for his young son to socialize with.  He thought it was acceptable, in our very first text interaction, to show me how disposable I was to him.  

And then he thought he could undo it all by throwing out an empty apology.  Because that's what we do to appease women, right?

For many, many years, I've considered myself a feminist.  An independent, liberated woman, above needing the desire of others to make me feel good about myself. 

But when it came down to it, my first thought about this was: "I was just wearing a black tshirt, jeans, and sneakers.  My hair was in a greasy ponytail.  He can't really have thought I looked attractive.  I know I'm not." 

My first thought was to disbelieve him, when he told me he thought I looked good.  This brings me an immense amount of shame.  

This experience has taught me a lot about me, I guess.  It's been a lot of years since I've felt truly objectified like this.  This wasn't a joke between friends, or a come-on from a date.  It injured me more than a catcall from a passing truck.  

I'm just me - my body is my body, it's normal to me.  I don't think about it other than to be annoyed when I can't buy bras in most department stores, or when I try to find button-up shirts that fit (there aren't any, I swear). 

And to think, Julian has likely just moved on to objectifying someone else without giving his conversation with me a second thought.  It was no big deal.  He apologized, didn't he?!  

But for me... I'll carry this with me for a long time.  The more I've ruminated on it, the deeper the cuts feel.  To me, to women, to the human race.  All of us, sliced open.  

At the end of the day, it haunts me that Julian's son Freddy is going to grow up with my darling daughter.  This boy whose father is a major creep is going to be one of those teenagers who think that women don't need to give consent, who feels he's above the rules, who thinks my E is there for his pleasure and nothing else matters.  

I really hope I'm wrong about Freddy.  And I hope that E is stronger than me, that she's got it in her to stop people in their tracks before they make her feel like a lesser person because she has a desirable body. 


  1. Oh my goodness. That's awful. I thought this was going to be a sweet story about meeting a new friend (oblivious to the blog post title, I suppose). I HATE that anyone thinks it's in any way acceptable to talk to another person about their body like that. Sickening and sad. But that's on him, not you. Don't try to find fault in yourself about this. You never should have had to even think about how to respond.

  2. Ugh. What a jerk. I'm with Allison--this has nothing to do with you. And the fact that he carried on with that kind of conversation even after he knew you were married (and before he knew you were gay--which might have added some level of 'hotness'--he just thought you were married to a guy) is really gross. I'm sorry it's going to be awkward if you see him in the park again, but if he says anything to you, I'd go ahead and ask if his wife knows he sends nasty text messages to people he's just met while out with their son. That should be enough to shut him up.