She Is Her Own Person

Don’t tell me what to do. Ever.

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It can be fun to meet people online. Folks all over the world, whom we might never encounter otherwise, can enrich our lives with differing perspectives and backgrounds, humor, and simple kindness. Two years ago, I hit the social jackpot and started FB-messaging with the lady whom I now consider my best friend and a sister from another mister. Millions join online dating services, and I know two happily married couples who were first brought together via the interwebs. I’ve been lucky enough to have a little back and forth with a number of creative professionals whose work I deeply admire. The experience? It has a bit of entertaining surrealism. It has a unique way of building bridges. It also has its limits.

While I am open to meeting others, I must be able to do so at my own pace. Regardless where I meet someone, face to face or online, it takes time for me to warm up him or her and feel truly comfortable conversing on a regular basis. It’s nothing against the other person; I’ve always been that way, ever since I was a child. Apparently, when I was little, I was very reluctant to hug relatives I’d never met just because they were family. My mom told me that I used to withhold affection from those unfamiliar, and she and my dad recognized that it wasn’t about rudeness; it was about sincerity.

My entire life, I’ve always felt it wrong to show an emotion that I didn’t feel, but, at times, I’ve forgotten my values and played pretend for my own advantage. I hadn’t been at college for a week when I made the mistake of kissing a guy simply because I realized that I could. He thought I was hot, a concept that was totally foreign to me, and he would let me have and do whatever I wanted. The attention was glorious, something I’d never before experienced. Within a few days, however, I came to see that he was very strong and genuine in his care, and I wasn’t on the same page. I had to stop seeing him because I was being egregiously self-centered, and I honestly hadn’t been giving two shits about how he felt. I’ll never forget his face when I broke it off, as he asked through his tears: “If you didn’t care about me, then why did you kiss me in the first place?”

Of course, I haven’t been perfect since then, and I have hurt others, and I, in turn, have been hurt. Each time, I’m reminded that just as I despise others deceiving me, I despise deceiving others. If I don’t feel it, I don’t act like I do; anything else is a flat-out lie. Adherence to this principle can be difficult, as I’ve been told that I come across as cold and elitist, neither of which are true markers of my personality. I’ll be kind and polite, but to go beyond what I’m actually feeling for the sake of social acceptance would be self-interested duplicity.

The issue of faux-love goes further when one refuses to consider the other person’s mindset. To be honest, I both adore people and am exhausted by them. I’m already usually low on energy supplies, and when I’m put in social situations, I get drained very quickly. I’m a person who needs her space and privacy. If I don’t reply right away or call or text all the time or come out every time someone proposes a bar crawl, it’s not because I hate the world and everyone in it. It’s likely because I’m constantly strapped with fatigue, and I can only keep going if I get a lot of rest. I miss out a lot and lose touch with people who don’t accept that this is my reality. I do my best to extend myself and step out of my comfort zone when I can. But I can only do so much. It’s not personal. Until it is.

I got this message this morning.

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I cyber-met this individual last year through a social network for artists, and he was very complimentary of my work. We sent notes online for a short time, and I appreciated the chance to “talk shop,” as it were. I accepted a FB friendship request, even though I’d had to caution him about how free he was being discussing some of my selfies. While I prefer to think that he’d always acted out of concern or care and interest, this guy began messaging me in search of deep conversation and wanting to know the details behind some of my more personal online posts. He would offer advice that I did not solicit, and when I disagreed and said that recommended actions went against my personal beliefs, he would adopt a defensive tone and insist on the correctness of his own views. He would get exasperated when I would get angry, saying that he “was only trying to help” or some similar “was only ___.” I thought, “Perhaps he’s just not exposed to similar social conventions. I’ll explain what’s behind my views, why I think the way I do, and that way, we can move forward. Everything improved somewhat, but things were still a bit intrusive, eventually depleting my patience; I stopped replying to anything from him a long time ago.

After getting this message, I again tried to check my anger, realizing that this person only knew me via the internet, and he didn’t know me well at all. I also endeavored to grant benefit of the doubt; as an avid reader and writer, I’m acutely aware of denotation and connotation. I hold diction as one of the ultimate pillars of communication, and I sometimes forget that not everyone is so attuned to words and their implications when taken as a whole. He probably didn’t know that his use of the word “should,” especially in terms of how I attend to others, would strike a deep nerve. I decided to just turn over and go to sleep. I’d address it in the morning.

Before breakfast, I checked Messenger and saw that he wasn’t active. Thus, it was the perfect time to get everything out, without having to engage in a drawn-out anything. I said I only regularly converse with a few people online, and they’re essentially my dearest friends. I used softer terms, but I basically told him, “If I don’t gab with you like a bestie, then you’re not my bestie.” And that’s okay. I’m allowed to choose with whom I do talk on a consistent basis. I don’t engage in faux-friendship and spill my most personal guts to everyone. If I did fake it, and the time eventually came where I’d have to say how I’d actually felt the whole time, how hurt would he or anyone else be? Does anybody want to hear something along the lines of  “hey, I was just pretending to like you for the past twenty years. In all honesty, I think you’re a turd.”

And here’s the saddest part of the whole situation: the message scared me. To be very clear, I am not going to accuse this person of someday taking extreme action. Instead, I am going to illustrate how the “should” is part of a frightening lexicon, and when put in this context, it’s plain why I react the way I do.

The set-up is that a man is telling me that I should give my attention to him. I respond, explaining my boundaries when socially engaging other people. I also say that I do not believe that he’s the pushy type, but I request that he not tell a person that he or she should do anything, as it connotes entitlement and commanding a social relationship that has not been offered. I did my best to be tactful about it, but I’m guessing that no one has been blunt about this kind of behavior, because this was the response I got:

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That only served to unsettle me. I have never had sufficient interaction with this person for me to warrant “missing” anyone. The level of perceived familiarity? I have never been in that place. Ever. I told him that I have had people say one thing and behave in another way, so one should just say what he or she actually means. So then this:

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At no time during any exchange between us did I resort to hurtful or demeaning language. As unpleasant as the situation was (and still is) for me, I remained as civil as possible and attempted to explain why I felt as I did and why I have the boundaries that I do. I simply asserted that I was comfortable with X, Y, and Z, and not comfortable with A, B, and C. Again, I get the impression that no one has been frank with this gentleman, as me being respectful but firm in redirection is the equivalent to “chewing him out.”

That’s what puts this in scary territory. According to someone else, I should give a man my time and energy. I have said no to arbitrary attention-giving to someone who, if words are taken at face value, has commanded it of me. There was the assumption of closeness and deep familiarity that was never offered on my part. What feels just as bad is my fear of some kind of negative reaction, that I’m horrible and evil because I am publicly calling out this kind of behavior, even though I’ve completely obscured his identity. If I’m called a bitch for this, that’s someone else’s choice, and that’s not stopping me from writing and posting. Nonetheless, it is hurting me because society’s prevailing male entitlement tells me that I should be afraid for standing my ground.

I’ve encountered a lot of guys who, no matter how benign their pursuits seem to them, don’t get that their demands for presence, attention, affection, and/or sex are very predatory to women who don’t want to give it. The behavior runs the gamut of basic immaturity and asshattery to terrifying and life-shattering. Shall I recount the multiple times guys chased me while I was out for a run? Shall I describe how they laughed and thought it was funny and whistled and cat-called and yelled for me to get in their truck or car (depends on which chase you want me to tell you about)? Or maybe I ought to share about the guy who took me out on a date and afterward expected me to let him do what he pleased, simply because he bought me a drink? Should I talk about how he got frustrated and left because I blocked his wondering hands? Far be it from me to just want to cuddle and watch a movie. No, let’s chat about the guy who thought spanking was awesome but got aggravated because I told him to stop, since spanking scares me. And then he proceeded to pin me and get aggressive and, just like Mr. Hands, left when I got angry at how I was being disrespected on multiple levels. Oh wait, I got it! How about I just talk about my rapist?

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Again, very clear: I am not stating that this guy is going to commit violence or possesses the same extreme views as PUAs. I make no such accusation or prediction. However, I am stating that I am uncomfortable. I am hurt. I am angry. Anytime someone tells me what to do with my feelings or my body, no matter how small it may seem to him or her, it’s game-over. No one else has ownership of who I am or how I act, and I’ll be damned if someone starts dictating my behavior now.

Gentlemen, let me be plain: if a woman in whom you are interested doesn’t return the same level of interest, then you need to back off. DO NOT EVER presume to tell her to fork over her attention. You do not own her. You do not have any right to her focus. You may not think that your persistence is a bad thing and that it may, in fact, flatter her. This isn’t true. Pursuit without her desire to be pursued is scary. It’s also intensely selfish on your part. She hasn’t responded in kind, so accept it and get over it. You do not “deserve” the attention, and you cannot force her to give you what you want. She is an autonomous individual and will respond more readily, and kindly, to those who offer room to interact as she is comfortable. Placing demands will only work against you and make her feel like she is being backed into a corner. If you are dealing with anyone in possession of a backbone, then the result will most certainly not come out to your advantage. Further, if you are dealing with anyone like me, then you can expect a very swift correction. And that does not make her (or me) a bitch or a slut or a whore; it makes her someone in complete ownership of herself, a person who values herself, her identity, and her self-sovereignty.

Drop the demands, and drop the sense of entitlement; I do not truck with those who have the gall to tell me what to do or how to feel.

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