Human interactions are complicated. We misunderstand each other. We miss clues to another’s intent. We might misinterpret what another says or does or needs. Others might misinterpret what we say or do or need. We can be unclear, vague, duplicitous. Others can be just as unclear, vague, or duplicitous. When there is a misunderstanding, we are usually quick to blame the other person. However, we don’t always recognize our own responsibility in the interactions we have with each other.
Earlier today, I responded to a friend’s Facebook post about an interaction between a man and a woman at an academic conference. I read my friend’s post quickly, and even more quickly, read an article that my friend referenced. The scenario in the article is common. People meet at a conference. They have some conversations. One hits on the other. One person declines the invitation. The person making the advances apologizes for misreading cues. The person receiving this advance then second guesses herself: did she do something to bring about the advance? Was he a jerk for asking? That’s the gist. But there’s more. There are gender differences, power differentials (presumably), expectations/desires when one is away from home at a conference, marital statuses, societal/cultural expectations, the socialization of genders, the #metoo movement, … it’s complicated. Or not.
The article is interesting and I’ll link to it, but from here, I’m not discussing the article specifically.
I don’t know a single person who has not received an unwanted advance from someone else. I have many times. I have also questioned myself and I’ve wondered what I did to bring the advance about, especially when I wasn’t interested. Did I flirt too much? Did I say something that could be misconstrued? Am I giving off a vibe I don’t recognize? Did I misunderstand the intent? But the thing is, maybe the person making an advance toward me had real interest (nice guy?). Maybe this person wanted a hookup and that’s it (jerk?). Maybe I did give off that vibe or I did say something with unclear intent. It doesn’t matter. At least today, I don’t care.
I have moved to a stage in my life where I make decisions based on what I need or want. I accept or reject as I will. I am not responsible for someone else’s words or actions. Whether I choose to accept an advance is my choice. If I don’t want it, I walk away. I don’t blame the guy for asking, especially since communications can be complicated and signals could be crossed. If the guy is a real ass and what he says or does is gross and disgusting, I would still walk away and still not blame or question myself. I did not cause him to proposition something disgusting and gross. I also accept my responsibility in the interaction. It’s not always the other person’s fault. But I still walk away if I don’t want it.
I would wish this ability to walk away blame free for anyone, for everyone, for the woman in the article. The ability to walk away confident in our choices—not being a victim of culture, gender, or circumstance– takes time, a lot of time and a lot of experience. It takes self-awareness and strength to be able to reject the mantle that we are responsible if someone else does something questionable and stupid.
Do we want those who make propositions to be thoughtful, sensitive, and aware of their words and actions? Sure, we do. Can we count on it to happen that way? Not usually. Their actions are up to them. Our responses are up to us.
What are your thoughts?