The other day I sent a text over to my gay husband Mark about a man I’d met on the subway. He was handsome, he was well spoken and he was beyond polite throughout our brief conversation, and that shocked me. I froze, I was flustered, I stumbled over my words and when the subway train arrived to take me to my destination, he bid me goodbye and disappeared from whence he came, with no request for my contact information or anything. Now, normally I’m not shy about this type of thing – if I find a guy attractive and want to pursue something, I have no trouble handing over a business card or offering up a phone number, or taking one for myself. Hell, I’m a partner in a business where it’s literally part of my job to seek out attractive men and ask them to come work for me, and this guy would have been PERFECT for that at the very least. So when this handsome and shockingly polite man left my presence, taking with him any chance at future contact, I found myself disappointed in the lack of my usual forthrightness. Not only that – most of all, I was perplexed and confused. What was it about this guy that made me freeze up? Then it hit me: he was polite. He didn’t hit on me, he didn’t cat call me, he didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or unsafe in the least. And I had no idea how to react.
I, like many women out there, have conditioned myself to be on high alert when it comes to interacting with men, especially in public places. The alert level changes depending on the circumstances; if I’m out in a social situation, someone of the opposite sex striking up a conversation is generally welcome. When I’m out trying to get my morning coffee, interaction of any kind is generally undesirable. As for the vague in between of going about my life in public, it’s a kind of go at your own risk thing. One would hope that the average dude would assess the situation and have the emotional intelligence to determine if a conversation would be welcome or not, and if it’s not, he’d have the capacity to be respectful enough to walk away. But, as I realized, in my experience and in that of many women out there, that lack of respect and ability to properly read a situation and the cues given is what is far more commonplace. We’ve all been there. A random dude tells you to smile on the subway and you shudder inwardly. A guy cat calls you and when you let him know that’s not cool, he calls you a bitch. You politely tell a guy in a bar that you’re with your friends and are not interested in talking to him and he flips out at you. These are some of the interactions that we’ve become used to. And it’s for that reason that I was so shocked by the polite man that walked away at the right time.
I’m sure some people will say that the reason why I’m disappointed is because the guy I’m talking about was goodlooking, and a less than hot guy wouldn’t have elicited the same reaction. But that’s not the case here. It’s not him that I’m concerned with in the end, but me and my reaction to what should be a commonplace thing – two humans interacting politely in a public setting. It disappoints and troubles me that my instinct was to put my guard up, to steel myself for a barrage of unwelcome attention and to attempt to compose a pithy response to said attention to ensure the guy knew how unwelcome his advances were. That’s not a way to go through life, and it pains me to realize that sadly, that IS the way I, and many other women out there go through life. And I don’t think we should anymore. Being on edge when it comes to this kind of thing only serves to put more animosity out into the world, when what we really need is more respect, more understanding and more sympathy for our fellow human beings, no matter what their gender, appearance or story may be. Much dialogue has been initiated around male entitlement to women’s time, bodies or otherwise, and I would like to hope that progress has been and is being made on that front. That’s something that we should encourage, and it’s with that spirit that I’m writing these words. I’d like to hope that the next time I’m approached by a guy in public, I react with an open mind and a polite encounter ensues. This isn’t about #notallmen or anything like that, it’s about me, and hopefully women in general letting their guard down, and someday, not needing that guard at all.