My friends and co-workers often joke about me always being the victim of some random man’s attraction when we’re at various events. They also tend to look on in confusion, wondering why I don’t shut down some male advances outright. My response is always that I’m trying to temper the crazy. Some women might call it letting a man down easy, but my approach isn’t about shielding a man’s feelings, it’s about protecting my person because you never know how a man will react to being rejected. An experience I had in Miami two nights ago reminded me of why I handle situations as such.
On Tuesday, my best friend and I were celebrating our last night in the seaport city and toasting to a good time had. After drinks at a few places we needed a snack and took a newly made friend up on a recommendation for a taco spot called Bodega on South Beach. My best friend grabbed a bench for us outside while I placed our order indoors. Upon my return to our table I noticed she made a friend — a 30-something bald man from Spain who was too eager to tell me his favorite rappers were Meek Mill, Rick Ross, and Fetty Wap, because “it’s all about the streets.”
At 1 am I wasn’t much in the mood for new friends, especially a European man playing on African American stereotypes so I pretty much ran through the timeline of every social media platform on my phone, occasionally slapping our “guest” a high-five at his request every 5 minutes or so and looking up to make sure my friend was okay. At one point the man asked what my friend and I were drinking. I answered that the water in my hand was fine but my friend decided to take him up on his offer and walked inside the adjacent club to grab a drink at the bar. Already, Lifetime Original Movie titles were floating through my mind as I questioned whether I should follow them to the bar or hold down our spot at the taco truck. At 30 year’s old my best friend is most certainly a grown woman, but in a foreign city with a man I’d already classified as strange, my overprotective sensitivities were starting to kick in.
I did my best to temper them and, thankfully, the two returned in a short enough amount of time that I didn’t waltz in the spot like a mother dragging her underage daughter out of the club. But my patience was running short as this new friend asked a passerby to take a picture of the three of us and had a hard time taking “no” for an answer. Initially, I simply covered my face. The second time I had to lift his arm from around my shoulders since “no means no” is a lesson he clearly never learned.
My friend wasn’t saying much, however, and I couldn’t tell if she was actually entertaining this man or, like me, was hoping passive disinterest would be enough of a hint for him to leave without incident. Our uninvited guest’s testiness began to show when he asked my friend for her number. She politely declined and reminded him that she had his card and could get in contact with him if needed. True to form, he asked for her number two more times before finally accepting he wasn’t going to get it, and as he got up to leave I began to feel relief. I could barely eat for trying to ignore his uncomfortable presence and figure out whether I should interject or let my girl handle things. But things took a turn for the worse when the man leaned in for a kiss as he exited the table and my friend gently pushed him off of her. He drunkenly muttered something about “just trying to say goodbye” that I wasn’t sure was a rapey move or an explanation of the Spanish custom of cheek kissing, but once he said “C’mon I bought you a drink,” I knew it was the former.
My friend informed the intruder that a drink didn’t entitle him to her affections and that’s when I heard the smack. He slapped her on the bill of the hat she was wearing and then proceeded to tell us that we were “b-tches.” The shock of the moment caused a delayed reaction but my friend eventually stood up from the bench and yelled something at the man as I grabbed her arm to try to stop a bad situation from getting worse. Thankfully, he walked off while we sat back down in awkward silence.
I was angry at myself for not stopping things before they got to that point, and equally annoyed at the patrons around us, half of which were men, who failed to intervene, ask if we were okay, or kick this man out of their establishment. I was also frustrated with my friend and equally conflicted about that frustration. Although a man buying you a drink is never an excuse for him to feel entitled to your body, I wished that she, too, would’ve shut things down far before they got to that point — or ecognized the same sleezy vibe I got from this man from the get-go and sent him packing before he got comfortable enough to make such outlandish demands.
Even though my friend still wanted to hang out after the incident I couldn’t. I didn’t want to spend the rest of the night looking over my shoulder or watching my back and hers — because that’s how that situation made me feel, like I had to be on guard. “That’s not fun for me,” I told her flatly.
I want to say the response this man had to being turned down was an extreme case, but history tells me that’s not so. In fact, his reaction was mild considering two years ago a man killed a Detroit mother of three after she rejected his advances; last year a female comic was beaten in D.C. for the same reason; and just this past Labor Day a young woman was gunned down in Brooklyn because she didn’t want a man grinding on her. What that tells me is I’m not being overprotective when I feel the need to watch my friends’ backs around potential suitors (rapey and respectable), I’m being logical. That also makes going out half the fun.