Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Gift of Fear

I've been reading this book the past few days and find myself constantly highlighting things he says that just make perfect sense to me. His chapter on Date-stalking is spot on for things I've dealt with, and I felt like I highlighted about the entire chapter because it was spot on for things I've experienced and I'm hoping it will help me deal with similar situations better in the future.

The one thing I've struggled with is that he continues to say that "no" is a complete sentence. I agree with that, and I've always loved a quote he gave on Oprah where he said "when a man says no, it's the end of a conversation. When a woman says no, it's the beginning of a negotiation." However, I'm having a hard time implementing that aspect of the book into my daily commute.

I ride public transportation to my job in the city. It is both a blessing and a curse. I have the option to park in the city, but I have severe anxiety about driving through cities (somethinig about one way streets and my inate ability to get lost seems to come into play), so I don't take advantage of that option. I prefer public transportation since it saves gas and wear and tear on my car, and I can doze off and drown out the world while listening to music and staring out the window. I can listen to music in my car, and I do, but it's less tranquil with the idiot drivers that seem to inhabit my state.

The curse is that people seem to view public transportation as an all access pass to talking to anyone on there. I don't necessarily mind socializing briefly on my rides, especially if someone is just commenting on the train aggravation or if I see someone from my job, but usually what seems to transpire is that I catch the attention of some would-be admirer and he proceeds to hit on me. This is how I met the Greek.

In defense of the Greek, he initially started out as a harmless person. He was friendly, a bit awkward, but nothing that set off my warning bells. His behavior as our relationship grew from mere acquaintances to friends was what started setting off those bells. But this post is not about that. This post is about the suggestions of the author of The Gift of Fear and how they don't necessarily work on public transportation.

I've heard it so many times before: you don't owe anyone conversation. In The Gift of Fear, he states: "Most IMPACT students are very concerned that they must avoid making a man angry, reasoning that this could turn someone whose intent was favorable into someone dangerous. Be aware, however, that in this context, it is impossible in this context to transform an ordinary, decent man into a rapist or killer."

I agree with the author here. If his intentions are honorable, he will accept your "no" and walk away. But it's not always clear if his intentions are honorable, and if my instincts are telling me that if I flat out refuse someone, he will flip out and start screaming at me, or worse, I'm going to follow my instincts and placate him until I can safely get away from him. Yesterday was a prime example of this scenario.

The trains are having issues this week and it's a problem that is expected to be fixed by the end of September. There are delays both morning and afternoon and the trains have been much more crowded as a result. Yesterday I stood for most of my commute because there were just too many people. By the time the train emptied out, I only had two stops til I got off. I sat down for those two stops, since I knew there would be delays getting to my stop. I sat in front of an older man and stared out the window. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was OK. I affirmed I was and turned back around. He continued to talk at me. I couldn't hear half of what he said because of the train noises, but he continued to talk at me. He then started asking me questions. I answered as little as I could. At one point, I don't recall why, he reached over and rubbed my shoulder for a bit. I instinctively moved away from his touch and he stopped. He then asked me for my phone number. I said no, I'm engaged. His response, which I've found it to go either way with men, was to say "so what?" I knew, at that moment in time, that any further response was going to lead into negotiation territory, but thankfully by this point, we were almost to my stop. I managed to get off the train, knowing full well that had I been more "firm," the situation would have escalated and he would have become a total asshole. The author did note a situation that was similar to mine. A woman was kidnapped when a carjacker took her in the car and drove off with a gun pointed at her. She decided to keep talking to her kidnapper in hopes that if he got to know her, he wouldn't kill her. She was right. In my experience, I'd rather put up with the mild aggravation and inconvenience of being talked to on public transportation than the alternative which is to possibly be stalked (again) or harassed (again) or worse.

A few months ago, I was asked to go to another location to pick up something for a co-worker. Since I don't drive in the city if I can help it, I looked at my options to get there. I found that one form of public transportation took me about a mile from the building, and it looked to be a fairly easy walk from there. So, I walked it. On my way to the building from where I got off public transit, I passed a man sitting on a porch. He said hello to me, I said hello back and continued on my way. On the way back to the station, I passed him walking. He asked to walk with me and while I said no, I was in a hurry, he asked again. I figured the easiest thing to do was put up with it and quickly get to my destination. Now, I will pause briefly and say that instinctually, I felt like I should have walked a different way to a different form of public transit when I left the building. But I decided to logic my way out of that gut feeling and walked the same way back. Now, I know better.

Immediately, this guy started negotiating. He asked to kiss me, I said no. He asked for my number, I said no, and then pretended to text him so that he would stop asking me (his phone was dead, so he wouldn't be able to check it until later). He kept trying to get me to kiss him. I told him I was engaged, he told me he could give me a better life. I was beginning to wonder if he would leave me alone when I got to the station, but thankfully he did. I actually had to physically push and firmly hold my arm out with my hand pressed against his shoulder to restrain him from kissing me, but finally he relented and I escaped to the train. I totally get what The Gift of Fear is saying when it says to trust your instincts. If I had trusted my instincts and walked a different way to a different form of public transit, I could have avoided this incident and probably had a much safer commute back to the office. There's a part of me that wonders if I would have had some other issue, but I still feel it would have been safer to try a different route like my gut was telling me to do.

Clearly, someone like me needs a book like this. I have not finished it, though I did skip around a bit to chapters that seemed to be most relevant to my life. The chapter that I spent the most time on was "I was trying to let him down easy." In that chapter, he says
"If a man in a movie researches a woman's schedule, finds out where she lives and works, even goes to her work uninvited, it shows his committment, proves his love."

This does remind me a bit of the Greek. One thing that really started to play with my intuition was when he would constantly compare my reactions to his actions with those of his female co-workers. I thought certain things, like waiting for a later train when he knew I was angry with him and likely avoiding him (and yes, he did know, he openly admitted that to me) or waiting for me by my car even though he, again, knew I was trying to avoid dealing with him. His constant commentary on my life and my own feelings about it and myself. I just felt like my opinions, thoughts and feelings never mattered.

"During the early stage of pursuit situations in moves - and too often in life - the woman is watching and waiting, fitting into the expectations of an overly invested man. She isn't heard or recognized; she is the screen upon which the man projects his needs and his idea of what she should be."

That quote can be directly attributed to the movie 500 Days of Summer. We never really learn much about Summer in the movie. We only see her through Tom's eyes and his eyes are biased, both while in the relationship, and then once out of it.  I feel that is also a bit of how my relationship with the Greek went. My opinions didn't seem to ever matter. My feelings were second fiddle to his. Examples? I've got plenty...

After my ex husband and I split up, I raised my standards a bit. I decided that I didn't want to date anyone who had done drugs or smoked in the past as my ex had done both and the relationship just left a bitter taste for me. That wasn't the only reason for this new "standard" but it was certainly a contributing factor. It didn't matter if they didn't do it now, I didn't want any past influence like that around my daughter. Let me tell you, finding a guy with these credentials is very difficult. Eric and Derrick both fit the bill, but most people have at least tried drugs or smoking. When I told the Greek this, he was immediately angry with me. He said he couldn't believe I would judge him for his past like that. I don't think he ever completely understood that I had no problem with him as a person, but as a potential love interest, it just wouldn't work out for me. Apparently my standards did not meet with his approval. At the time, I actually felt a bit guilty, but now, I feel justified. Why is it such a bad thing to have standards. When I didn't have any standards in the past, I ended up in relationships that were just wrong for me and hurt me worse than had I held my love life to a higher standard.

When I planned for a weekend getaway alone to a place I consider a sanctuary, and that I visit at least once a year in its off season, the Greek not only invited himself along, but berated me until I gave in. He used derogatory terms to describe something that meant a lot to me, and basically made me feel like wanting some time to myself was a bad thing.

When he asked for space after whatever it was that we were doing ended, I willingly gave it to him. Then he would contact me after a few days to talk about more things. He was looking for closure from me, and as Captain Awkward and Dr. Nerd Love have pointed out, closure, especially from your ex, is a myth. Finally, I told him I was going to force no contact, and I stopped responding. I ended up blocking him from everything, and then he ambushed me on the train. Months later, when we again decided to take space from each other, I felt again like it was only on his terms. Like my need for space was lesser than his. The Gift of Fear even addresses this:

"In fact, many cases of date-stalking could be described as extended rapes; they take away freedom and they honor the desires of the man and disregard the wishes of the woman. . . the stalker enforces our culture's cruelest rule, which is that women are not allowed to decide who will be in their lives."

Perhaps I should have been more firm, not only with the Greek, but with the countless situations I've had with men who refuse to take no for an answer. The only thing I don't like about The Gift of Fear is the victim-blaming I think he does. Yes, women should take more precautions and listen to our intuition or gut instinct to protect ourselves, but shouldn't men also be taught not to do these things? Shouldn't men also be taught that "no" is a complete sentence. A culture that feeds into the idea that women are expected to engage in conversations with men, whether they want to or not, or that a woman saying no is the beginning of a negotiation is not helping anyone.

But then, I don't know how much more firm I could have been. I blocked the Greek, and he still found a way to get to me. How he could see his behavior as anything other than wrong, regardless of his reasons, motivations or intentions, is beyond me. Perhaps he saw himself as a impassioned lover, who was throwing himself at my feet and begging for my love, but the reality is he found a comment on social media that convinced him I still took public transit, found me on a train and proceeded to sit next to me in a situation I had very little hope of escape. With my ex husband, I stopped responding to any requests for contact that were not about our daughter, I ignored his repeated attempts to force me to talk to him and recognized as the divorce hearing loomed closer the increased attempt at contact was a desperate attempt to keep me from obtaining the legal freedom I sought. In the end, I won, and as The Gift of Fear points out, he did eventually let go, when he attached a tentacle to someone new.

I can analyze my actions and decisions with these past scenarios to handle similar situations better in the future. The Gift of Fear has its flaws, but overall I think it's a really good book to helping women learn to trust their instincts to better protect themselves.

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