A Bad Date

February 19, 2018 at 17:58 | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

I went on a date with someone from Tinder back in December. We had plans to go out for grilled pork belly at 7. He messaged at 5pm to say he got stuck in a meeting in Seoul and would be an hour late. No big deal, I was still at home, not waiting in some restaurant. We met around 8. He wasn’t super attractive, but he was attractive enough for something to grow if the right personality was there. Something about the lower half of his face, where his mouth is, made him less attractive. That, my friends, is what we call foreshadowing.

The date started out well enough. He ordered a bottle of soju. We drank it shot for shot while eating. He ordered another. Since he had driven to my town and would logically need to drive back, I asked if he ought to stop drinking. I made it clear he could not stay at my house. He laughed and confidently said he was Korean and could just stay at a jjimjilbang (a Korean sauna). The conversation was pleasant but peppered with some little bits of bravado here and there that were the first little red flags. His chest puffed out as he talked about his American taekwondo students bowing to him when he lived in Virginia. He said even though he was Asian, people didn’t mess with him because he wasn’t small.

He asked how tall I was. I replied, “174.” He said, “No, that’s impossible. You can’t be 174. I’m 178.” I looked at him quizzically; why would someone lie about height in person where the physical truth is so obvious? For that matter, why would I ever lie about my height? Incredulity doesn’t change facts, so I simply repeated that I was 174 centimeters. He still didn’t believe me. I said, “Stand up.” He stood up. I stood up. Back straight, arms crossed, I looked him right in the eye, because I can do that, because I’m one-hundred-fucking-seventy-four centimeters. Because duh. He sheepishly conceded, “Okay, you’re 174” and quickly sat back down.

The contrition didn’t last more than a second because he went on to his next question. “How much do you weigh?” Although I’m pretty sure it’s pretty universally agreed upon that you shouldn’t ask someone’s weight, particularly on a first date, I’m not sensitive about my weight so I simply replied, “135 pounds.” And you know what? He didn’t fucking believe me. Again, physical evidence right before him, no reason for me to lie. I saw his incredulity and raised him my own incredulity at his incredulity. The pile of disbelief was getting ridiculously high. He reasoned, “You can’t be 135, because I’m 175.” But incredulity still doesn’t change facts. I shrug and shake my head. Maybe he’s confused about pounds; they use metric in Korea after all. I’m not too sure about kilograms, but I tell him I think my weight is between 58-62 kg. He protests, and says, “But you know, American women tend to be…” [he gestures vaguely with arms out around his stomach] “...bigger.” At this point my eyebrows are up and my jaw is down, incredulity strained. He looks at me, surprised, “What? I didn’t say you were fat. You’re not fat.” I reply matter of factly, “I know that I’m not fat.” It’s not the kind of thing I need him to tell me. He looks up the conversion for 135 lb to kg on his phone. I’m still staring, almost amused at how badly he’s failing to repair the moment. 135 pounds turns out to be about 61 kilograms. He says, “Ohhhhh, yeah, you’re right. That makes sense. I was confused about pounds.” Never mind that I don’t need him to confirm that I’m right about how much I weigh. Never mind that he gave his weight in pounds. Never mind that I had given the approximate amount of kilograms. But sure, dude, you were just confused.

After we finished eating, I went to the bathroom and he paid the bill while I was away.  He asks if I like noraebang (karaoke with a private room). I tell him not really; I’m terrible at singing and tend to only go in big groups. He suggests going anyway. I tell him I don’t want to go. He says we have to: after samgyeopsal and soju, noraebang is a must. He asks me where a coin noraebang is (small vestibules for singing with coin operated machines), but I don’t know where one is in the area. He asks the staff. He asks how much room there is in my purse. Coin noraebangs don’t sell alcohol, so he wants to sneak some in my purse. He charges on ahead, and I’m following behind. I start to feel invisible. That I’m not really a participant of this date anymore. He’s directing his own date and I’m just kind of stuck along for the ride.

You might be wondering why I’m even still on this date. After all, by the time dinner ended I knew for a fact that I wasn’t going to be interested in this guy. Why go to a second place? Especially one I didn’t even want to go to? I guess I felt some weird sense of obligation or pressure to make it worth it for him. To make driving the two hours worth it. To make him paying for dinner worth it. To make having to stay over at a jjimjilbang worth it. I thought just dinner might be too short to justify that effort. I was trying to be “nice.” So I let him put beer and soju in my purse at the convenience store and off to coin noraebang we went.

He picks out a song in English he assumed I would know. I didn’t. I tell him I’ve never heard of it. And again, he weirdly refuses to believe me. He shoves a mic in my hands and demands that I sing. But incredulity still doesn’t change facts. I dutifully read the words on the screen. That’s what they are to me. Just words. On a screen. I don’t know the melody or the rhythm or anything. I butcher even the songs I know really well, so imagine how tunelessly I’m singing a song I have literally never heard before. He realizes now what my words previously told him, I don’t know this song. He quickly changes it. He sings a song. He decides I need to sing one song for every two of his. I cease to exist on this date, if I ever did. He carries on, singing only the notes and lines of the songs that his drunk self cares to.

His over-exaggerated sneaky drinking of soju leads to it spilling on the seat all over me. I stand up, trying to wipe off my pants; he makes an effort to “help” but in half a second it turns into just full on rubbing my ass. I back away, too shocked to even react beyond that. How could he possibly think this date was going well enough that I would welcome that kind of contact? At one point he leaves to go to the bathroom, and I look longingly at the door and the path to the exit. I consider an escape, debating if I can do something that rude and also calculating the logistics of getting out of there before he returns. How far would I get? What if he saw me and followed? Even if he didn’t, my city isn’t huge and we’re not too far from my own neighborhood.. As I contemplate, he returns and it’s too late.

Finally we leave noraebang. I say I’m tired and want to go home now. He says, “Great, let’s have one more drink at your place.” I tell him no, that I had been clear from the beginning that he wasn’t coming back to my place and I’m not going to change my mind. I start to walk away towards home and he starts to follow alongside me. I ask where he’s going and he says he’s going to walk me home. I tell him no, I just met him and I don’t feel comfortable with that. He switches tactics and demands to go to another place for a drink. I don’t want to, but he charges on ahead anyway. I’m honestly a bit worried about how drunk he is, in an unfamiliar place, unable to drive home. I still feel this weird sense of responsibility.

At the drinking place, he tries not to order anju (side dishes for alcohol that are mandatory to order in most Korean style drinking places). I roll my eyes and feel sorry for the staff that awkwardly explain to him what he obviously already knows. We’ve been going shot for shot with the soju all night, but somehow he’s much drunker than I am. He starts telling me how beautiful I am. How he was so stunned by my beauty when he first saw me that he couldn’t even speak. He keeps trying to kiss me. And I keep backing away. The staff are looking at me with a certain amount of sympathy and concern. I realize I must look like a trapped animal. That’s how I feel. Finally, I decide I’m done. Whatever politeness I owed him was exhausted long, long ago. I don’t owe him any more of my time.

I tell him I’m going. He says I can’t leave him. He’s drunk. And he doesn’t know this city. And I need to let him come back to my place. I tell him “no” for the nth time tonight and remind him how I’d already repeatedly said so from the beginning. He hangs his head in drunk, whiny despair. I say I’m going to go and ask if he will be okay. He tells me I can’t leave. I ask the question again until I manage to get an okay from him. His head still hanging down, I quietly get up, pay the bill, and walk out without looking back. I’m hoping it’ll take a little bit of time for him to notice that I’ve left, so that I can get further away in case he tries to follow.

Outside, the cold winter air hits me. My adrenaline is high. I’m walking fast, almost running. I check behind me for the first block to make sure he’s not there. Once I feel like I’m pretty safely out of range, it all hits me. I feel this huge release of all the tension and stress and discomfort of the last 5 hours. I wasn’t even aware of the full extent of my discomfort until I was out of the situation. I had become so consumed by trying to navigate the situation to avoid any conflict or provocation, that I didn’t have the space to realize just how uncomfortable I was. Walking down the street, I cry. And cry. And cry. With the release of that emotion, I reflect on the last several hours. And then I feel angry. Angry at him for his rudeness and lack of consideration. Angry at myself for wasting so much of my own time being so miserable and uncomfortable.  I like to think of myself as such a strong, independent woman. Why didn’t I say more? Why didn’t I leave? Where the hell was my voice?

In the alley, I see 4-5 drunk middle aged Korean men. Two of them are holding one man’s arms behind his back while another is punching him repeatedly in the gut. Drunk toxic masculinity. I’m pissed and I’ve had enough of that for one night. I find my voice. It’s loud. And strong. “야!!! 뭐 하는 거예요?! 이렇게 하면 안되죠!” [HEY!!! What are you doing?! You can’t be like this!] Although I could have phrased it even more rudely, what I’ve said and how I said it could still be very offensive given Korean hierarchy. They all pause and turn around to look at me, and there’s a split second where I realize how incredibly stupid and risky it is for me to have confronted a group of drunk violent men. Their facial expressions suddenly all turn to admonished schoolboys, and they keep saying “네, 죄송합니다” [Yes, sorry] and repeatedly bowing almost 90 degrees as I walk on by. There couldn’t possibly have been a better outcome to what was actually a very, very stupid thing for me to do. But damn did it feel good.

When I get back to my apartment, I talk on the phone with a friend for a couple hours, crying, trying to figure out why the date felt as awful as it did. The actual details themselves didn’t seem that terrible or serious when I retold them. I apologize, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m so emotional, it’s not like I got raped or anything.” She points out that a date can be terrible without sexual assault. Logically, I know that. But I had still felt the need to apologize for my emotions. I had still felt like I was overreacting. I needed validation from others that it was a pretty awful date and that feeling upset about it was warranted.

A couple weeks later, the article about Aziz Ansari and the worst night of one woman’s life came out. I had literally just finished reading his book Modern Romance the week before. He seemed so reasonable and down-to-earth about dating stuff. Did I have to lose respect for yet another celebrity and their #metoo inducing actions? When I first read the article, I thought Wow, must be a nice life if that was the worst night you ever had. And, Damn, if this is the standard of sexual assault, all women have an article (or ten) to write. And, Is she seriously complaining that she had white wine instead of red? And the perennial favorite, Why didn’t she just leave if she was so uncomfortable? My initial knee-jerk reaction was that Ansari had been inconsiderate and gross, but that she was also overreacting and neglected her own responsibility for being in the situation. But I had this unsettled feeling about it and kept turning it around in my head, trying to figure out why it made me so uncomfortable.

When I thought about my awful date, and my own reaction to it, it clicked. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m so emotional, it’s not like I got raped or anything.” Why is full-on rape the external and internalized standard? Why shouldn’t we have conversations about the whole range of shitty behavior? No one was saying that Ansari’s behavior was as bad as the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. And my own date wasn’t anywhere near as bad as this woman’s experience with Ansari. But it did highlight that the underlying gender dynamics and societal forces within which these situations occur exist on the same continuum. And they absolutely should be examined and talked about, at all points along that continuum.

When faced with a threatening situation, I think women often feel pressured to subjugate their own discomfort to minimize conflict. You don’t want to make things worse. You don’t know how someone is going to react, so you do your best to ignore your own discomfort and keep things on an even keel. It’s a survival mode. It’s all too easy to freeze. It’s all to easy to just keep going instead of risking provoking the other person. I’ve talked to multiple women who felt that they have had sex before to avoid rape. Think about that for a minute. Let that sink in.

Women live their lives assessing threats from men to the point that it becomes constant, automatic, and often subconscious. Every time I walk down the street and a man is looking at me, I do a quick automatic calculation of the risk he poses to me. What kind of look is it? Is it night time? Is he drunk? Is he violent? How big is he compared to me? Are there people around? It’s so automatic that it barely registers to me. Only upon reflection and examination can I start to recognize how pervasive this is throughout our lived experience, and what it means for women to have to navigate the world in this way. And most men have no clue. Hell, most women aren’t even conscious of it themselves; it’s just part of their reality, the water they’re swimming in.

So, yes, we should keep talking about it. From our comically bad dates, to our violating encounters, to our severe assaults. We should be teaching people, especially men, to be mindful of others. To pay attention to and heed the verbal and nonverbal cues people give. To understand how difficult it can be to give those cues in certain situations. To understand that consent must always be freely and enthusiastically given, never coerced. We should be teaching people, especially women, to recognize their own discomfort, to honor it, and to confidently remove themselves from the situation. We need to acknowledge the problem in all its many varied forms in order to be capable of giving everyone the knowledge, support, and tools needed to change the status quo.

3 Comments »

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  1. Firstly, thank you so much for writing and sharing all of this, Ashley!

    I was nodding along to so many of these feelings; in the moment it doesn’t seem like you can just walk out.

    Even before you mentioned Aziz I was thinking of his story, particularly the response that Geraldine DeRuiter wrote on The Everywhereist, which mainly emphasized that we need to talk about these types of stories especially because they’re not black/white like rape.

    And although it was risky, when I read what you yelled at those men, I was cheering you on so strong: “Go Ashley!” I’m gradually building up courage to use my voice more often. The changes are so very slight, but year-to-year I can tell that it’s getting louder / used more frequently than in the past.

    I’m sharing this post with my friends. You’re a brave inspiration—thank you, Ashley ❤

    • Thank you, Rebecca. I’m glad it resonated with you. I just read the article you shared. Yes, yes, a million times yes. That is also why I wanted to make this post. We need to have conversations about the whole range of shittiness.

  2. […] info. on social media or by email. (My friend Ashley wrote a beautiful and relevant piece called “A Bad Date” back in February after the Aziz Ansari date article came out, so I shared it […]


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