Consent: Beyond Words

Using speech to ask for consent is the entry point and the bare minimum. Absolutely, we much teach each other to ask and teach each other to listen for the answers. No means no. Confirm that the yes is enthusiastic. Words are what we have chosen as a species to transcend the skin and skulls that keep us separate, words and their offspring are as close as we can currently get to telepathy.

Yet this world did not teach me to say, “no,” and the greatest betrayals I have faced happened when men not only did not hear my timid refusals in my voice, but they also did not hear the timid refusals in my shoulders, in my breath, in my eyes. These nonverbal cues scream to me when I see them in other women because I, too, have raised tiny shields and tiny trumpets and gone to war in silence. I ask, “How can you not see this?”

Still, I empathize. When I was first coming out of the closet, first to myself and then to others, I felt many things but one that I sensed intensely was, as I called it, my lack of agency. I saw the way some men took of women and seemed to get what they wanted, and I did not know how to enter this dance of lust and love and get what I wanted. I was frustrated. I was angry. I felt robbed.

I think all men enter this private battle that I entered. Do we trust the story we are seeing play out in front of our eyes and teach ourselves to take what we desire? For me, such a thing was patently unacceptable. I learned my own other way and I learned to ask and the love I receive is abundant. I realized that feeling robbed was my first mistake — I am not entitled to sex or touch or love. You get those things when you are good, when you are sweet, when you are open, and honestly just when you are lucky. I realized I was angry with myself the most; for being too cowardly to even ask, let alone touch. My frustration was my own fault, and on top of that, it made me unattractive.

Yet it is not so easy to come to these realizations. It is far easier to believe that asking for consent is just not sexy, or that practicing consent is simply doing nothing at all for fear of harming anyone. It is easy to believe a false dichotomy; either I’m an asshole and I get laid, or I’m nice and I get nothing.

My first steps towards shattering these myths were to realize 1) There are a wealth of messages sent nonverbally between human beings and I can hear them, see them, feel them if I try and 2) It is better to realize quickly a woman is not interested in me and move on than to postpone the discomfort of understanding rejection. The truth is, it hurts far more to pine secretly after someone than to let go when, in the end, it turns out they don’t want you.

Consent beyond words is learning to actively listen with all of your senses. The first wall you will face is the overwhelming tsunami of “No” and disinterest that you had been willfully ignoring to protect your own pride.  There are other walls, too, that I can’t even begin to describe in one blog post.

Beyond this initial sting, you will find a peaceful clarity. You will be able to forge honest friendships, untainted with motive. You will be able to present your truer, more vulnerable, less needy self. This self is, if we’re going to be practical, a more attractive self. And beyond your new calm, you will begin to recognize warm rays of “yes” beaming onto you. One might, unsmiling, avoid your eyes with hers when you ask her flirtful questions (no) while another will soak up your interest and laugh and speak back to you (yes?). The latter may, of course, be only seeking friendship, but she will be kind to you when you ask for her kiss and she’s not interested, because she does care for you. Bolstered by this kindness, you will be less timid to ask another your heart’s next desire.

Listen and see, listen and see. Cast aside your motivations and expectations. Offer your desires as gifts of insight, not as trials of sadness v. pleasure. That is the only way I can happily live, and happily live I do.

P.S. I am going on vacation, so next time will be posting early, on Saturday.

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10 Things to Remember if You Don’t Want Me to Unfairly Compare You to Every Failed Relationship I’ve Ever Had

You may have seen some of the countless Lifehack articles coaching you on how to love people from the highly creative to the anxiety riddled (I’m sorry, I should say the more-neutral “those suffering with anxiety,” but, since I’m in that camp, I like to poke fun), and their knock-offs around the web. Ostensibly, Lifehack devised this listicle formula so that lonely and/or frustrated partners could improve their relationships (or just commiserate) by reading lists of X things to remember if you love someone with fuckin’ problems.

Yet I did not find these articles because I googled “My girlfriend is an introvert, halp!” I found them because people on facebook shared the links on their walls with the effective sentiment: “DUDE YES this is how you must love me and my special snowflake complex!!!” Like some sort of dating-pool memo.

I mean, I’m guilty more than anyone of wishing I could write an instruction manual on how to be my girlfriend. I actually have a small notebook in my night stand titled “A primer” which includes diagrams. I haven’t shown it to anyone for purposes of instruction, yet. Emphasis on yet.

Still, in honor of the self-serving bent of these articles, with much snark, I present:

15 Things to Remember if You Don’t Want Me to Unfairly Compare You to Every Failed Relationship I’ve Ever Had

  1. First of all, let me begin by asking you to remember that my flaws actually make me totally awesome. Or at least that’s what I think, because I’m obsessed with myself.victim-olympics-trophy-my-flaws-make-me-awesome
  2. My ex didn’t like how selfish I was. You will be my next ex if you also believe I need to change this about myself.
  3. Paradoxically, I’m going to ask you to “remember” that I do not have a really obvious and/or annoying bad habit that I do, in fact, have. Remember, I make the rules.
  4. I dated someone for 5 weeks who I found really boring, but kept trying because eye candy / I’m lonely / I needed the sex. Instead of examining how I should better select partners who actually are a good match for me, I will blame you if I am the slightest bit bored. Just FYI.
  5. Compromise is really important to me, just so long as you are the one doing all of the compromising.
  6. I will question you relentlessly for choosing to stay with me, because I have the self esteem of a cat forced into a clown hat. The moment you dump me, I will claim I was too good for you.self-esteem-of-a-cat-forced-clown-hat
  7. My “unique condition” happens to make me a really happy, well-balanced person. No I do not fall asleep with the dirty spoon from eating ice cream stuck in my hair, my laptop beside me on the bed with 20 open tabs evidence of my attempts at total internet oblivion so that I can avoid confronting who I have let myself become.
  8. I have strong beliefs about how my condition affects my physical health even though I have done little research besides a couple shallow internet searches and talking loudly about the possibilities with my bar friends.
  9. I swear to god I am datable.
  10. My ex pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone, which while I fundamentally understand I need from a partner, is something that will make me violently resent you for even trying to do.
  11. I need you to read this cheat sheet because I am desirably complex, not immature and needy. Read the statistics, duh.read-the-statistics-duh
  12. You will never understand me. Just like my ex never did. Which is why we broke up (not because I hooked up with that bartender on my summer vacation).
  13. If it seems like I’m not listening to you, it’s not my fault. I’m just dealing with the ramifications of my unique condition
  14. If it seems like I’m not communicating clearly, you are wrong. You are just being a terrible listener. Just try harder. God.
  15. Please be my mom.

Don’t Say Sorry, Say “Wait”

(Sorry I missed last week. I took a sick day. I should have made it up, but whoops it’s Tuesday again already.)

“Sorry,” he’ll say, “Did it bother you when I _____?”

This little formula seems fairly good between casual friends and strangers, but I noticed a little hiccup between romantic partners.

“You’re not sorry,” she says.

It’s true, he’s not yet sorry. He initially wanted to ______, which is why he did it in the first place. He’s only conditionally sorry. His apology is weakened by his unanswered question.

It would be better, I think, to say, “Wait.”

wait-callout-speech-bubble-sketch

“Wait, was it bad that I did _____?”

If she says yes, he could then say sorry, and truly mean it. And if she says no… Well, crisis averted!

Too often, I see people wielding “Sorry” like a catchall disclaimer. They prematurely apologize “just in case” they are in trouble. What this seems to communicate, to me, is that they’re going to go ahead and make mistakes, and simply blanket-apologize to clear themselves. Like a Catholic confession.

Better, I think, to give the agency back to the person who may be affronted. Let them judge your actions. By saying “Wait,” you put more emphasis on checking-in rather than jumping to your own conclusions. Wait, let’s really find out what my partner thinks here, before I go ahead and say what is bad and what is good. And it lends itself to the next step…

“Wait, did you really like that?”

And she can even say, “Hell yes I did.”

(We should be asking, “wait,” for the good things too.)

A sorry jumps down your throat. A sorry prescribes how you are supposed to feel, supposed to react. And a premature or misplaced sorry demands soothing. “Oh, it’s ok. It’s fine. It’s no big deal.”

“Wait” is a friendly pause. Wait is considerate. Wait is teamwork, is improv, is communication. Wait is constructively neutral. And we can say “Wait” beyond where a simple sorry will do.

Related: another blog post where I complain about apologies.