Great efforts have been made to make men aware of women’s boundaries and how they can be crossed. But can the tables be reversed between men and women in some instances? Jonathan Delavan shares his recent personal experience when it seemed the tables were turned on him.
The agency I work for had their Christmas party the first Saturday of December this year. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant near downtown Houston, and it was a nice little party for our small agency. Afterwards, some of my colleagues wanted to go to a nearby bar since alcohol wasn’t served earlier. They invited me to come along and I gladly accepted.
We didn’t like the first bar we went to; so my coworkers and I went bar hopping for a while till we found one we did like. We settled in one of the lounge areas of the last bar and continued our night-long conversations. I myself sat in an elongated comfy chair, sitting on the end of it like an ottoman to better hear and converse with our group.
About an hour or so into this stay, I felt something weighing down the rest of the chair’s cushion behind me. I turned around and found a woman sitting sideways with her legs over one of the armrests, reeling from an apparent backwards fall onto the empty half of my long chair.
“Hi, I’m drunk.” she tells me gleefully. “I can see that.” I replied contently.
I turned back around towards my group assuming she would get up with the help of her equally drunk male companion (wasn’t sure what their relationship together was) who was standing over her behind the chair. Instead of getting back on her feet, she just sat up in the chair. I turned around again to see why she was lingering behind me, and that’s when she suddenly kissed me on my left check—more accurately, she kissed the part of my check immediately left of my mouth, adjacent to the corner of my lips.
I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden kissed, but wrote it off as a “moment of lowered inhibitions” on her part. Shortly afterwards, her male companion helped her back up and offered me a drunken, sloppy kiss of his own, which I glibly declined. When they disappeared into the bar crowd behind me, I thought that was the end of it.
However, not even a full minute later, I suddenly felt a pair of hands grab the sides of my head. I was yanked back till my face was parallel with the ceiling. Then I saw the face of the same drunk woman from before above me with her long, tangled brown hair enveloping my vision like hairy jellyfish tentacles. And next thing I know, she’s kissing me fully on the lips and used the tip of her tongue as well.
Immediately, all my coworkers and everyone around us who saw what just happened exploded with cheer. The drunk woman and her companion stumbled out of the bar as I was being given congratulatory hi-fives by everyone around me, telling me “you da man!” and likewise praise. I, on the other hand, was just trying to get my bearings straight after what just happened with the drunk woman and the surrounding bar crowd.
Sounds like I had a good night out that Saturday, right? I would have heartily agreed with you while I was still at the bar, but my tune quickly changed after my colleagues and I called it a night and went our separate ways.
It was about a twenty-five minute drive back home for me from the bar. But within minutes into my drive back, I noticed a mini panic attack rising up within me. My body and my emotions were reacting with an extreme “fight, flight, or freeze” response to the kiss I experienced earlier—with a particular emphasis on the “flight or freeze” part. It took immense focus and mindfulness to stay concentrated on driving while processing these intense emotions and their physiological manifestations.
Amongst this internal turmoil, I struggled with contradictory emotions. For example, I found myself liking the kiss and the subsequent praise, yet I was also terrified of the exact same kiss and praise. Then I thought about how this was a kind of realization of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” as it applied to my unique perspective, but for some reason that made my panic even worse in that moment. Then there’s the element of feeling flattered that a complete stranger would want to kiss me (even if she was drunk), but also feeling a little violated that she kissed me so suddenly without telling or asking me beforehand. Talk about sheer confusion!
Upon making it home, I was able to calm myself down from my surging panic attack. But in the following days afterwards, whenever my thoughts drifted back to that night and that kiss, I would re-experience the same mixture of fear, delight, panic, and confusion as I did on the drive back home—though not to the same intensity.
Did I overreact? Did I freak-out over nothing? Should I have just been happy or even grateful for being kissed randomly by a woman and not make such a big deal of it? My answer is no.
No, I did not simply overreact—even if it was an abnormal reaction to a kiss. No, that incident was not “nothing” to me. No, I cannot “just” be happy or grateful for her “generosity”. I cannot because what my emotions that night were telling me was that my boundaries were suddenly crossed by a stranger and that was not okay.
What boundaries were crossed by her sudden kiss?
- For starters, there’s the physical boundary when she grabbed my head from behind and yanked me backwards without provocation and then tried to French kiss me.
- There’s the emotional boundary that involves the kiss itself because, for me personally, a kiss on the lips is immensely intimate; so for a stranger to kiss me like that without my consent feels like I’m being used for her gain—not for our pleasure or to express our intimacy.
- If I was in a committed relationship with another woman, I would consider that random kiss to be crossing a social boundary wherein I was kissed with blatant disregard for my possible girlfriend or wife (who I don’t think would be happy about another woman kissing me like that, even if it was random).
- Then there’s the psychological boundary with the fact that any kiss—even ones I would consent in—can easily trigger messages of spiritual abuse I grew up with about women and intimacy. (Worn-out phrases like “save room for Jesus” were anything but a joke for a number of my teachers and peers growing up.)
- I would even consider a sexual boundary being crossed by this incident. I say this because if our roles were reversed—if I came up behind her, yanked her head backwards, and tried to French kiss her while drunk at the bar—that could easily become grounds for sexual assault. But because she did that to me, I get hi-fived and told “you da man!” as if I should want her to do that to me, as if my consent was implicit and “assumed” by everyone else for me.
Granted, I don’t know her perspective or her reasons for kissing me like she did that night—and I will never know. Perhaps she thought she was doing me a favor, a kindness from her that any man would gladly welcome when given. But that’s part of the problem: her assumption that I, as a man, would without a doubt want something like a kiss from her without any inquiry for or expression of consent from my end.
Great efforts have been made to make men aware of women’s boundaries and how they can be crossed. But can the tables be reversed between men and women in some instances? Can women, even ignorantly or unintentionally, cross men’s boundaries, including sexual boundaries, similarly to the ways men have crossed women’s boundaries? I hope sharing my personal experience of being on the receiving end of a minor boundary violation can shed some light on this confusing and awkward issue between men and women in general.
As for me, I am coming to peace with what happened that night with each passing day. I have those who I dearly trust to help me through this aftermath process. I am confident that in time I will be able to look back on this event without triggering a degree of panic, fear, or even anger—and hopefully gain some humor about it as well!
In the meantime, if we, men and women, are all serious about respecting each others boundaries, then let’s not look away from socially constructed double standards that can work against men. Let’s muster the courage and open-minds necessary to talk about and listen to instances when a man’s boundaries have been, either intentionally or unintentionally, crossed by another.
Photo Credit: angela c./flickr