This morning a wonderful thing happened. It was a small thing.
The kids had the day off school, so I dragged them to my 8:30am Camp Gladiator workout in the park down the road. They didn’t want to go, but it was a beautiful day, and they could play soccer or run around the playground adjacent to the basketball court, where we were exercising.
I like Camp Gladiator (CG, to those in the know) mostly because of the nonjudgmental, fun atmosphere. There is no talk of “bikini bodies” or “go hard or go home.” Everyone’s there because it keeps them active, both physically and socially. It’s like P.E. for adults; The burpees or deadlifts or whatever usually come in the form of light-hearted games.
This morning, at the end of class, this guy, whom I know reasonably well since we both attend CG regularly, offered to show me a stretch for my perpetually tight back. I was definitely interested, but he hesitated for a moment, then said, “I’m going to touch you now if that’s okay.” Then, (and this is key) he waited for my response. It was totally okay if he touched me to show me the stretch, but I really appreciated being asked.
To understand the personal significance of this, I have to take you back to my college days. I have always liked men, not just to sleep with, but as friends too. I enjoy the different perspectives they tend to offer from my women friends. But in my early 20’s I discovered something best illustrated with a scene from When Harry Met Sally:
Harry: No man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
Sally: So you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
Harry: No, you pretty much want to nail them too.
Sally: What if they don’t want to have sex with you?
Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
Sadly, I found this to be true. It seemed that guys thought my simply making eye contact with them was an open invitation for copulation. They sometimes got angry when I engaged in polite conversation and then rebuffed their attempts to stick their tongues down my throat. How dare I be such a tease.
So I eventually stopped being nice to male people. I wore Doc Martens, big baggy t-shirts, baseball caps and an “I will end you if you talk to me” look on my face, fondly referred to in certain circles as the “kill your mother” look. If Meghan Trainor had been around back then, “My name is ‘No,'” would’ve been my theme song.
I was resentful and angry. One boy, Mike, befriended me my freshman year in college. I was clear with him from the beginning that I wasn’t interested in anything beyond the platonic, but I guess he thought if he hung around long enough I’d cave. He eventually quit talking to me altogether — as in wouldn’t acknowledge my existence if we were in the same room.
Another, Andrew, lived on the same floor of Jester Dormitory (that infamous living space designed by a prison architect) as I did. Again, I was clear from the beginning about my expectations. Again, when he discovered I was for real about not having a romantic relationship with him, he got mad and stopped talking to me.
I’m not saying I didn’t want to get touchy-feely sometimes. I had my share of spontaneous makeout sessions back then — some drunken, some sober — and I enjoyed them. I just didn’t appreciate that so many guys thought they were entitled to my body. I did encounter a handful of outliers. James and I were friends. He wanted it to be more than that, but he respected my boundaries and hung out with me anyway. He was the exception that proved the rule.
The good thing about being in my 40’s is, now I can be friends with men without the assumption it’s leading somewhere. It also helps that we live in a neighborhood of mostly married people with families; most of us are off the market and have kids that make us too tired to have affairs.
Because of my history, which I suspect is a shared experience for a lot of women, I appreciated this small act of respect — asking if it was okay to touch me. And I was glad it happened in front of my oldest son, glad he saw what respecting another person’s physical boundaries looks like and glad he could see that men and women can have platonic friendly relationships.
I hope that the next generation, my kids and their peers, will grow up in a world where this kind of thing is the norm — where they won’t feel compelled to write about it because it’s not noteworthy. But for now, I just want to say, “thanks” to Nick who laced his arms through mine and lifted me off the ground this morning to show me how to take better care of my back… but asked first.