The current wave of inappropriate behavior/sexual harassment/rape allegations, and, admissions of guilt/denials, has combined with the near 100% saturation of media/social media. Everyone in the world is either talking about this subject or thinking about it. In light of this, I wanted to write a post containing my thoughts and outlining some ideas about how to have this conversation in a way that moves us all toward an existence with more understanding and less unnecessary suffering.
I’ve been feeling a bit of disgust, directed mainly at alleged perpetrators but also at how people are treating each other. I kept having this thought of “how hard is it to not harass women?”
Then, I had a horrifying realization. I, have committed sexual harassment. I am guilty of being a creep, and at times, worse. I eventually stopped these actions, but damn, it took me a while.
From the ages of about 14 to I’d say 28 I was guilty of making unwanted advances, reacting harshly and manipulatively to being turned down, hitting on a coworker when I was married and she was in a relationship, and disrespecting boundaries. I can think of four specific instances of these behaviors, and it stands to reason there are times the escape my memory. It disturbs me that I was able to brush these under my mind’s eye rug amid my mental condemnations of men being accused in the news and in the world at large.
In retrospect, the common thread among all of my actions that I’m not proud of is that they all happened when my self-confidence was at extremely low levels. I don’t think it is enough to be ashamed of my actions, I believe that I get to apologize to, not only the women I was inappropriate towards, but all women in my life. To my mom, my sister, my grandmother’s, my female friends, my past partners and my current girlfriend, all of whom I love, I am sorry that I contributed to a culture which has likely affected you negatively. Further, I am committed to contributing to change in our culture towards understanding and fostering healthy relationships between men and women.
With this commitment in mind, what follows is a letter written to a younger version of me from current me. My intention is that this letter would be helpful in furthering my own understanding and that it might support other men in their life’s journey.
Hey buddy, I just wanted to write down some thoughts I’ve had that I think could help steer you in the direction of growing in to the man that you want to be. As you grow and interact with the world around you, there are so many inputs and distractions that it can seem overwhelming, and sometimes it helps to have someone outline important topics to help clear some confusion.
It’s time that we talk about women and how we interact with them. They make up half of the population and interactions with them will be important in your life, I promise. There will be a subset of the total population that you will be attracted to, and, there will be a (much) smaller group within this subset that will be attracted to you. Being able to figure out who is in what group is an interesting problem, however, it is likely not the most important issue in your life. Considering that over half of most men’s life are spent in relationships, courtship and dating, theoretically, should only be a concern of yours for like 25% of your life, max. That being said, there are some key concepts that you should know about in order to have fruitful relationships and to exist in a way that contributes to a healthy society.
First up is consent. Consent is defined as the action of giving approval. You will probably find that getting consent from people you are involved with will make your life easier all around. More importantly, when it comes to interactions with the ladies, it can make both of your lives easier and more enjoyable. You might have a concern that getting consent, when it comes to sexual situations, could be clunky and/or awkward.
Yes, it can be awkward. However, in my experience, it depends on the situation whether the awkwardness actually dampens the mood. More importantly, it is worth risking embarrassment to avoid hurting someone else, always.
I have definitely ended a night out with a girl earlier than I wanted by saying “so, shall we go to bed “, said with a coy grin. That was met with a swift and polite “no” and I went on my merry way. However, another experience I had, after a night out, where the feeling was different, multiple moments in the evening where I had initiated contact like a hand on her shoulder when we were ordering drinks and it just felt like the evening was heading towards hers or my place, I said something along the lines of “shall we go back to your place?” And I was met with a swift and polite “sure”. It should be said, even an invitation to someone’s home is not the same as consenting to sexual contact. However, you can be confident that it could lead to that, and, be comfortable in the fact that this person is trusting you a bit more. It is vital to not betray this trust, and, be prepared to have consent withdrawn at any time.
We may have to come at this aspect of the courting process like our favorite larger-than-life baseball player, Jose Altuve, approaches batting. You get up the plate, you take your swing, and you smile. Whether you hit a homerun or strike out, it important to respect the other players and the game. How we react to “striking out” is key to encouraging the free expression of what women want, mainly, keeping calm and being respectful will contribute to an environment where friendship is still possible.
Next up, self-love. Ha ha, yes, that sounds like a euphemism for masturbation, and it kinda is. More than just that, it is important to take care of yourself (i.e. mind, body, and soul) on a consistent basis, and, to have a healthy acceptance of who you are. This doesn’t mean just looking in the mirror and “thinking positive thoughts”, no, this means looking in the mirror with a critical and loving eye, identifying the features that we are proud of and those that we are not, then deciding to accept what we can’t change and commit to changing what we can. If you look in the mirror and you see some extra pounds, it’s a possible sign of a few things, most likely its a physical manifestation of how you you’ve been treating your body. Further, it is how we treat our body (and other aspects of ourselves) that will be able to instill in you a confidence that begins inside of you and is not defined by others.
I believe this is key, this self-confidence maintenance, in limiting the times in which we might feel the need to compensate for feeling shitty with actions that we will not be proud of later at the expense of those around us (specifically, but not exclusively, women).
Third, is humility. After all this work on ourselves and a better understanding our interactions with others, the next likely pitfall is over-confidence. Not only is this a huge turn off for many people, it can lead to some of the inappropriate actions that we are working to eliminate in the first place. What this means is that we must be aware of our limitations and not take anything for granted. If there is any one thing I wish you could get at your young age is the comfort that comes with a healthy knowledge of your limits, the confidence to challenge those limits, and the grace to accept outside input that could encourage transformation and growth.
With these three concepts, it is possible for you to navigate the minefield that the dating scene can be with a confidence in yourself and in your ability to recognize boundaries of others and comport yourself in a way that makes you the man you desire to be. When in doubt, be open, communicate, observe other’s feedback, and love yourself.
A slightly less clue-less you from a not too distant future.
May this be the beginning of a wave of transformation for the world. A paradigm shift that unlocks a world where open communication is the status quo, we all work towards limiting the suffering in this world, and we commit to the advancement of our species.