When he walked into the party, something about him seemed suspicious. His smile looked more like a leer and at no point was he ever not smiling. Within a few minutes of introduction, he interjected himself into the middle of a conversation I was having with someone else. Someone else happens to be a good friend of mine, a woman who is very physically attractive. Like a bullying defense attorney, he decided that putting me on the defensive by means of the third degree was a good strategy. I was telling a story at the time and he debated every detail. His intentions were to get me to leave in frustration, so that he might talk to her alone.
If I was a different sort of person, this sort of conduct could have led to a fight. But I’m not, and I genuinely feel like taking the high ground in these sorts of situations is best. At any case, his own ineptitude made the solo conversation with my friend very short and unsubstantial. He floated from woman to woman, not making much headway anywhere. Later during the night, we gathered to recite poetry, and his selection naturally concerned an eager man trying to convince a married woman to engage in an affair. I was shocked that no one else made the connection, but perhaps they weren’t aware of what he was implying.
Another friend of mine is sweet, trusting, and somewhat naïve. She’s one of the most genuinely compassionate people I know, but she doesn’t understand the way certain men can act. The Metro station closest to the party was closed for repair, so I knew I’d need a ride. In a city where many people don’t even own a car, I was glad that she had driven there. As is true for her nature, she offered me a ride, but she also offered him a ride, too. I was not sure I was comfortable with this arrangement, but I didn’t want to say anything. I didn’t want to cause a scene, though I’m wondering now if I should have made a big deal out of it.
His conversation during the trip was sneaky, as was his habit of dropping both hands into her lap quickly, pretending it was just a harmless form of body language. By now, I was harboring considerable enmity towards him. My friend never made the connection. Part of me was wondering whether I needed to call it out, as I was seated in the back and privy to everything as it happened. But then again, I told myself that my friend could handle herself. A diplomat’s daughter, she’d lived overseas for most of her life, and in parts of the world where creepy behavior like this would be considered tame.
I was to be dropped off first. This made me uncomfortable. I did not want to leave him alone with her, fearful of what might happen when I was no longer present. Against my better judgment, I again said nothing and got out of the car, walking towards my apartment. But I could not get the situation out of my mind and I felt guilty that I had departed when I did. If you have read this far into my story, you might be expecting something awful to happen next. This was also my fear, but at least in this case, it was gratefully not to be.
I sent my friend an immediate e-mail, expressing my concern for her safety and wellbeing. The e-mail asked if he’d made a move on her and how worried I was. Her reply was very nonchalant. She’d had no problems, but appreciated that I had been protective. What do you say to someone who doesn’t understand sexual harassment unless it is obvious? Maybe by virtue of being male I recognized the subtleties. I’m not sure she’d even understand if I tried to underscore all of the ways that men try to use subterfuge to disguise their real intentions. In any case, this story is not a tragedy. Not every male with sex on the brain is prepared to resort to sexual assault or rape, though circumstances change. Caution can be exercised without paranoia, but I still wish I knew how to inform a few of my female friends about the tricks and slight-of-hand that some men use to get what they want.