It’s been over a year since the Lunch Guy drama was at it’s peak. Almost a year since my writing about it wound down.
Other small things have happened that strike me as worth mentioning.
Once he sat next to me at a training and I left. I knew there was no way his presence wouldn’t make me really tense, with his gazing & gazing – his constant, penetrating attention fixated on me.
He’d already done that in another context from across the room (after I’d sent him this series of posts, a month or so before the training in question) I’d pointedly ignored it the prior event, but even so it increased my tension.
Oh, I got that he meant nothing ‘untoward’ in that, he most likely was just looking for an opportunity to slip back into my good graces. But that was the wrong way, the lazy way, the ‘people always behave nicely in public so I’ll break the ice in front of others’ way. If you ever want to make up with me, do it one-on-one & directly. Don’t try to slip thru the swirl of polite expectations – I hate that!
I didn’t want to be peer-pressured into pretending to feel things I didn’t – or more accurately, to not feel things I did.
So this time, since he intentionally sat next to me (amid an abundance of other options), I figured he was upping the ante on that approach, which just in itself pissed me off – I knew there was a good chance he would accidentally say something that triggered me again.
I didn’t want to make an ass of myself in front of others, either by just coming off sideways, or by suddenly lashing out at him. The tension in my gut was enough to totally occupy all my awareness & seep out to impact those around me. I’d already been bonding with a woman who sat on my other side, so I couldn’t really move to another seat without an awkward bullshit song & dance. Plus I’d become angry if I did move, since I was there first and would be letting our goo push me aside. So, unless he moved (and I felt powerless to ask him to) the event was already ruined for me. So I packed up the crap I’d already spread out in front of me (notepad, pen, handouts, eyeglasses, tea) and walked out without a word to anyone.
Afterward, angry and pondering the latent aggression in his sitting next to me at that point as well as the power I’d given him to seriously unbalance me whenever he chose to, I realized I needed to figure out how to push back.
I mean really, it needn’t be that big a deal. If people can behave with two hairs more respect for one another’s integrity, it’s absolutely lovely. I adore being adored, and I adore tons of people. And I mean, I feel their erotic life-energy and let them feel mine and we use that charge to further our purposes. It’s not the erotic element that’s at issue.
It’s that a line had been crossed, I had tried to clarify that line and he had made some generically-ugly boy-jabs (pretending ignorance & innocence and implying I was the one with the confused carnal intent). Those two mis-steps, small enough in this instance, can lead to all manner of evil. And he hadn’t apparently really grasped where he blew it with me & was again trying to cross a line that had been firmly drawn much further out than the original (it’s just not reasonable to expect to get as close to a person as you once were, if you’ve violated their integrity via that closeness. Not without clearly articulating the understanding of how you overstepped, and your intent and capacity to avoid re-overstepping. Somehow I’d had too many guys making that effort with me around that time and I just didn’t feel inclined to play along anymore).
Pondering what pushing back might entail, I came to understand that a big element of what makes that whole weird ‘goo’ business so toxic is keeping it hidden.
It’s not that these things happen, they’re inevitable. It’s pretending they didn’t. It’s – if a woman says, in any way ‘your attention is too penetrating, I’m feeling the need to put up barriers (esp. in contexts where ‘openness’ is valued & necessary), or ‘I’m sensing you’re anticipating that we’ll have a more intimate connection than I’m open to’, then suddenly it’s as if SHE is the one introducing the topic of sex, SHE’s sexualizing an innocent man & making everyone uncomfortable. She is always the temptress, the Eve in the Garden.
(ok, sometimes women can get that wrong, that can happen. It’s easy enough to interpret a guy’s attention as the same-old, same-old. But I’m pretty certain women get it wrong way less than men like to say it does) (Or sometimes it’s yes, the guy actually IS happily basking in the glow of her life-giving feminine energy, and he knows it and is grateful and he also knows that doesn’t imply anything about the future – it isn’t an offer of sex, nor a willingness to be told about the state of his dick, it’s not a promise or a hint of any kind of future intimacy, and it’s not an invitation to be presumed upon, tucked away into some exciting private recess of his existence, or objectified. There are men who can adore & respect us without getting grabby. And I say – if we mistake the intent of THOSE men, they’re going to feel just fine if we call out what we’re feeling. They understand how much that happens & don’t take it personally. They’ll use it as an opportunity to be understanding & increase everyone’s comfort-level. So call it out! You’ll find out instantly how grown up the guy is).
I began this story assuming I’d keep his identity a secret, and for the most part, up till that point, I had. I’d assumed I was doing that out of compassion, to not cause him further pain.
But in pondering, I realized that keeping it hidden created an implicit message to my own psyche, that if others knew about our little – whatever-that-was – then on some level, it would harm MY reputation too.
Others would begin to connect more closely this proper-old-lady persona I’ve cultivated to the whore I once was. They’d see the whore in me a little more, not just as pitiful innocent victim, but as wanton seductress.
They’d assume his angle was correct – that I’d led him astray energetically. They’d begin to sexualize me, look at me as some needy slut slinking around sucking up male libido wherever I went. In their minds, the goo would be all mine. That squeaky-clean innocent boy stance would win the day – like it tends to.
Or maybe it wouldn’t be quite that bad, but I’d become seen as simply a problematic presence – someone who upsets everything – a dangerous Lilith leading into chaos (which, at the time, I was still feeling like was a bad thing. Part of my own transformation thru this whole mess is that now I’m able to own that – sometimes I DO upset everything. Sometimes it’s GOOD to upset everything. There is NO REASON I should show up assuming that the stated agenda is the only thing that’s supposed to happen. Some agendas are crap & some things NEED to be upset. But back then, I was still struggling with an unacknowledged need for people to like me. And even with my closed-down pseudo-masculine persona, I still had an excess capacity to upset applecarts, and I was acutely aware of the annoyance and animosity I triggered by doing so. Actually, it was more a need to not be disliked, than a desire to be liked – being disliked seems so dangerous to me – we all need connections, allies and community. Being an unsettling goo-mongerer, that just felt like a really threatening role to be saddled with).
Anyway, I realized that my willingness to keep it hidden had as much to do with my assumption of guilt (perhaps not the guilt of a temptress, but certainly of being unsettling, of inducing chaos) as with compassion. I realized that I was acting as if the world were a hegemony of boy-noise, blame-the-victim, Eve-the-Temptress attitudes in which all that I am, if truly seen, was worthy of nothing but shame and repulsion.
Again, I’d hit an unconscious shame-bump, which gave me pause.
I started to re-examine, at again a deeper level, when, and how, and why secrecy (discretion, privacy, concealing – and a frequent corollary – soothingness, predictability, order, stability) might be appropriate, and when, how, and why I could begin to turn the dial on that Eve-the-Temptress paradigm by speaking my own truths – and risking being known as an apple-cart tipper.
First, I concluded that if he approached me like that again in the future I could just say something, early on when the table-discussion starts. I imagined a little spiel like ”You all should know that He and I have some unresolved muck between us which still causes me a certain amount of tension, and I wish he’d chosen another place to sit. But since he’s here, I may withdraw at times while I manage my triggers. I might also address those triggers openly if they seem relevant to what’s going on (i.e. you – lunch guy – should be forewarned that I may reveal aspects of our muck), and I may even leave in the middle. I just want you to know that these things will have nothing to do with the rest of you, and that if he’d respected the truth between us enough to recognize that this isn’t the way to handle it, and chosen to sit elsewhere, I’d probably be able to contribute better than I’m guessing I actually will under these circumstances’.
I concluded that his anonymity had to be conditional. He couldn’t have it both ways.
Having figured that out, I instantly felt much better – less at the mercy of his little-boy whims. No matter what stemmed from that kind of a move, I would be just fine.
From there, I started to realize more clearly why I’d put so much energy into writing all this & to understand better what traps us when this goo arises.
We just need to deal with it, as it arises, more openly. He shouldn’t have been shamed at being excited by me in a way I didn’t reciprocate. But the whole topic is so taboo that my calling it out (privately, gently, respectfully, out of care for each of our lives) triggered his shame (the same shame which fuels pornography & objectified prostitution), and he took a toxic jab at me. And that one jab – I don’t think he gets it even yet – but that jab, that Eve-the-Temptress accusation that almost always works because it carries the force of at least two millenniums of misogyny – that is where I got triggered. That’s where I flew into a rage.
So – untangling that little dangerous step in the dance, that moment of imbalance – it should not be so fraught. (ok, maybe it should – sex is powerful stuff & our souls won’t allow it to be white-washed). But what I’m saying is – we women could stop carrying that in secret, stop fearing what it says about us. Stop being afraid of having boobs & butts & meltingly-open deep-eyed smiles & vibrancy pouring out of us. Stop hiding our feminine erotic energy because someone may misinterpret & then throw the ‘poor-innocent-me, misled-by-eve-the-temptress’ jab at us.
We can throw it back. We can say ‘look – this is what I’m doing, this is my intent. This is what I’m sensing, this is how I’m responding to it. This is how I see that response impacting the group – how can we make this work better for all of us?’. Instead of carrying that shame ourselves. Instead of feeling like we’re faced with either being a shaming shrew ourselves or allowing his innocent boy-noise fiction to perpetuate itself at the expense of our own full presence. If we did so, we’d increase everyone’s ability to discern what’s really going on, we’d reduce the boy-noise’s power, and we’d help everyone grow up.
That’s what I was wanting when I started writing this. I wanted to use this live example. For my readers to go on a journey with me about how and why such a simple little thing has such power, and to experience me processing that power and transforming it. And what I really, really, really wanted from him was to step into that real-life discussion and say his side. But I’ve learned not to tell men what to do, that doesn’t work for them. Instead I leave a door slightly ajar and tell them exactly how I feel – which is how I handled my desire for him to step into the narrative with his own words. He chose to let me do all the work, and even to pretend my work covered his side of the deal as well. So – oh well, it could have been even better, but I can’t control that.
Anyway – I went through that whole examination about secrecy and revelation and came out the other side, with what I felt was a non-‘militant’, non-‘attacking’, direct and clear but nuanced understanding of how to keep my core, my balance, and my openness in the face of sexualizing boy-noise ignorant (‘unintentional’) aggression.
I was no longer afraid or ashamed of any of it. I felt free and clear and complete.
Which changed my behavior around the whole Lunch thing in another way, which impacted how I show up even more deeply. I’ll tell you about that in my next post.