I’m Still Learning How To Say No

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Warning: The following article contains possible triggers for victims of sexual assault.

I’ve never been good at confrontation.

When I’m alone, I argue like a pro. When there’s nobody to cut me off, I put everybody in their place. When I’m lying in bed, thinking about what I wish I’d said, I make flawless points that win every argument. I’m great at saying no… after the fact, when it’s not to your face.

In real life, though, I’m the worst pushover ever.

I’ve been having weekly staring contests with a boy in class. Finally, he introduces himself to me. I repeat the name in my head and look him up on Facebook later: “In a relationship.”


“Who cares?” says my friend. “He’s only dating her because he hasn’t fallen for you yet.”

She’s so right. So when he runs into me the following week (by chance or on purpose, I wonder) and asks me if I want to take a ride to Walmart with him to get a part for his car, I say yes.

Mistake number one.

What do you do with your hands when you’re in a guy’s car? He keeps looking over at me like he’s trying to read my face. All I feel is nervous, but I hope he can’t tell.

In the store, he keeps smacking my butt, playfully. He stands really close to me. He puts his face right next to mine when he talks, forcing eye contact. I feel weird, but I don’t say anything.

Mistake number two.

Driving back, we pull up to the town’s only stoplight. I hope he’ll turn right and bring me back to campus. Turn right, let’s go back. Please turn right….

He turns left.

As he winds up and down our little side streets, my mind is focused on when I’ll be able to get out of his car. He drives past my house, and I point it out to him.

Mistake number three.

“Wanna stop? I’d like to see your place.”

A twinge of nerves pokes at my chest, but I laugh it off. “I’ve got class soon. Actually, I should get back….”

But he just keeps driving.

He leans over and kisses me. Please watch the road!

He kisses me again. He keeps kissing me, and I don’t pull away. I can’t pull away. I’m in his car. I’m at his mercy. He’s got me in here, he’s got the wheel. If I try to stop him, he could get angry. I invited this. I got into his car willingly.

I don’t stop him from kissing me. I don’t stop him from pulling down a dirt road and parking the car. I don’t stop him from touching me. And I don’t stop his hand when he unbuttons his pants, grabs my wrist, and makes me touch him. My brain says no. But my mouth says shut up to myself. You don’t know what he’ll do.

Mistake numbers four through seven.

In my head, I work through the problem. I fight with myself. If I get through this encounter, I never have to see him again. He could do anything. He could take me anywhere. He could hurt me if I try to leave. I could get out of the car, but where would I go?

He has the advantage, and I can’t think of a way out. As I sit there, I try to think back to a time when I’d said, “Alright, that’s enough.” But, I can’t. I’ve never been how-dare-you-hit-on-me girl. I’m accept-unwanted-advances-to-avoid-conflict girl. I’m not confrontational.

Mistake number eight.

I finish what he wants me to do. I honestly feel like I have to. He keeps driving. He keeps talking to me, totally calm and normal. Like nothing happened. And then, he pauses. Looks at me. Tells me he has a girlfriend. So “despite what we just did,” he says with a smirk, he’s not looking for someone to date.

I can’t believe his scumminess. And yet, I still avoid confronting him. I laugh and say “fine by me.” What is WRONG with me?!

He leans over to make out with me, again and again. And I still don’t stop him. I feel like I’ve been in this car for seven straight hours. I’ve never wanted to go to class more than I do at this moment.

Finally, he pulls up to my building, grabs my arm and kisses me again. Oh my god, I hope nobody I know can see us.

I’m out of the car.

I walk to the bathroom, lock myself in a stall, and wait for my breathing to return to normal. In the mirror, I notice the red stubble-burn around my mouth. It makes me sick.

I splash cold water. I change my clothes. I get a cup of tea, but I can’t drink it. I walk to my classroom, 20 minutes early. And I sit, and I wait. And I feel disgusting.

But I’m offended, too. I tried to tell him to take me back, and he ignored me. He never said, “Let me know when you need to be to class.” He never checked that I even wanted to kiss him. He just did what he wanted to do.

I skip the next class we have together. I’m at my computer at home.

[Knock knock knock knock.]

It’s him at my door, I know it. My stomach flips over. His broad shoulders cast a shadow through the window onto the floor. Thank god I locked the door last night and drew the curtains. I slip out of my chair and hide under my desk. Did I just CRAWL UNDER MY DESK TO HIDE?!

[Knock knock knock knock.] My chest is pounding.

[Knock knock knock.] Please just go away.

[Knock knock knock.] Please. Go away.

The doorknob jiggles, and my heart is about to explode. He’s not going to leave. What do I do?

Finally, I hear him walk away. I run into my bedroom, and I cry. Please, can I go back in time and say “no thanks” to the Walmart run? Why couldn’t I have just said no?

Class ends in a few weeks, and I don’t see him. I’ve almost forgotten about it all. Then, there he is. Smiling that skeezy smile. Looking at me. Walking toward me….

And I’m pissed. I stare back at him, disgusted and furious. I stare, and I shake my head NO.

I finally do something right.

As he walks away, my head fills up with all the things I wish I could’ve done. Punching him in the mouth comes to mind. Or sending his girlfriend a nice message explaining the horrible person she’s dating. Maybe I should have asked him what the hell he was thinking, treating me like that. Or, I don’t know, maybe I should have said no to him any one of the times I’d thought it.

If I’d denied him and he had hit me, would that have been better or worse than what happened? The thoughts pile up.

But, I let him walk away.

I forgive myself eventually. And I promise myself that the next time a guy I barely know asks me to get in his car, I’ll say, “I can’t today. I have to meet with a professor before class.”

Not exactly NO. But, I’m working on it.

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  • I feel like this is something that a lot of people can sympathize with. Looking back on the situation, you just think, “What the fuck was wrong with me? Why didn’t I say anything? He was being a total creep, how hard would it have been to say no?”

    But in the moment you feel like you’re just blowing things out of proportion, and it will end soon. You don’t want to cause a scene or make things awkward, and so you just keep hoping the problem will fix itself. This is still something that I struggle with, but one thing that has definitely helped me is to just remove myself from the situation and think, okay, when I’m looking back on this a week from now, how will I have wished I acted? What will I feel like I should have said? Putting it in perspective definitely helps me not to clam up, for me at least.

  • This breaks my heart. Even thoguh you weren’t vocal so the legality of my statement might be false, but I would consider you a victim of sexual assault. It isn’t right that he presumed it was okay to do those things.

    Your difficulty with saying no made me think about if there’s an affirmative way to say no and I thought of “I want you to stop.” Maybe until you can say no, that’s something you can say? Stay strong in keeping away from him.

  • When it comes down to it though, you shouldn’t have to say no. A lack of yes, is a no. Silence isn’t consent. Seeming not traumatized doesn’t mean he didn’t do something bad.
    I’m so sorry you had to go through that, and I’m sorry you struggled with forgiving yourself. Just because you didn’t act the hero’s part doesn’t make you someone bad, it makes you human.

    • That’s how I felt as it was happening. That he should be able to tell I wasn’t into it, and that in itself should tell him to stop.
      But I’m sure he saw what he wanted to see, unfortunately. I shouldn’t have expected him to be able to read my mind.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Erica. What I find the most disturbing about your story is that, the way you describe it, it makes sense how something that started out so seemingly innocent could’ve escalated so far. I’m glad you’re getting better at (sort of) saying no.

  • Jolie Valentine

    I am so so sorry. This makes me ill, and sad. I want to be your friend and also go find this man and teach him a few things. I hope that you share this with your female friends and I hope that you have a network of support. We only get better at taking care of ourselves when we get better at reaching out to our sisters. I appreciate the “trigger warning” at the top of the post.

  • I’m so sorry. I went through this situation many times in college and my heart hurt for you as I read. You should do all those things – write his girlfriend, report him, it’s not ok for him to treat women like that. We deserve more respect from men. We deserve for them to spend time with us because they want to get to know us as people. We deserve to be ranked higher than their sexual gratification. I regret not saying no, slapping their faces, angrily asking them who they thought they were, blowing their reputations, stepping out of the car and walking back to campus.

  • So many of us have been in similar situations. Not saying yes isn’t no, but it isn’t yes. I hope you really have forgiven yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong, or anything to deserve this. You protected yourself from future encounters. Thats what you hsould focus on. I’m sorry for you but I am so glad you were brave enough to share.

  • Thank you. Thank you for sharing this, which could not have been easy. I have struggling with this for years, and my inability to say no resulted in me basically shutting down for years. I pretty much skipped my twenties, and now in my early thirties, have not dated much at all, less even, have had no serious (adult) relationship, and fear trying. Now finding myself in a place where I want to change, and am trying to, I am still fearful and finding it hard to say no. Reading this is encouraging, not just in knowing I’m not alone in these thoughts/behaviours, but in seeing there is proof to hope and keep striving to change myself.
    Blessings on you.

  • Wow, my heart is racing. I’m surprised by how upset and angry this account has made me. As sympathetic as I want to be with you, I am ashamed that my frustration is directed more towards you than him. As a reasonably outgoing, attractive female, I have found myself in several situations far too similar to this (almost identical) with one exception; I said no. The way he treated you was deplorable. You were vulnerable and he took advantage of you; that is not up for debate. He is a grade A asshole. Unfortunately, your lack of action only empowers him and makes him think that his behavior is acceptable even though it isn’t. What is even more awful is that I am hearing similar stories from women everywhere. Our lack of action is sending a general message to men that this type of behaviour is not only okay, but that if we confront them after the fact, it is somehow our fault. I agree that we shouldn’t ever have to be in a situation where we have to say no, that men should be respectful and should read physical cues, that they should have a conscience, that they should be gentlemen. Unfortunately, true gentlemen are few and far between and that is the new reality that we have to deal with. We have to empower ourselves by standing up for ourselves, by saying “No, this is not acceptable behavior!”. The more women start standing up for themselves, the less men will take advantage of us. It is not easy. I used to think that I was over reacting and what woman wouldn’t. As soon as we stand up for ourselves, men will say we are overreacting. They will call us bitches or say we are crazy. They play mind games with us and drive our self worth down. They convince us that it really is our fault. It is their way of justifying their behavior, of taking control back and placing the blame back on us. By acquiescing we are making these thoughts a self fulfilling prophecy. It does become “our fault” because the general shift in societal views is changing and we aren’t standing up for ourselves. When I read your account, I was so angry with you for letting it happen. I fell into the anger trap and for a split second felt like you deserved it, which of course no one deserves that – it was my knee jerk anger reaction. YOU need to take a stand, you need to start saying no because if you don’t, you just empower the assholes out there and make it tougher for the rest of us. Women need to take the power back. We are worthy of respect and until we start demanding it, we will always be taken advantage of because there will always be someone out there who will. I’m genuinely sorry this happened to you, but it is happening with more frequency everywhere. Please be a part of the solution, and as scary as it is, say no. You’ll be surprised how good it feels.

  • Christine, your reaction is expected and logica, but I disagree. Our society seems to have forgotten that intimate encounters between people requires a higher degree of attention, selflessness, and respect than we normally give to each other. Once you cross that line of bodily autonomy – meaning the mere possibility of making someone do something against their will, even unintentionally, then you MUST go on high alert for any cue that says “Stop” or “I don’t like this.” That is a responsibility we have to each other.

    Now of course the ideal is that everyone is able to communicate their desires, wishes, and state of consent, but that’s not always possible. That could be due to intoxication, restraint, fear of violence, fear of the unknown. In this case, I see a clear case of a power differential in which Erica wasn’t emotionally equipped to take control over. And that’s the thing – people are not necessarily born to handle these situations. In fact I would say women are socialized to be subordinate, even if it’s quite subtle. It’s so easy for us, and even Erica, to look at the situation on the outside and think it was easy to prevent or escape, but summoning one’s body to action while gripped with fear is extremely difficult. And make no mistake, Erica was afraid, though it may have been a sort of amorphous sort of fear dissimilar to what one usually experiences.

    So to reiterate, if this guy was a stand-up sort of dude with any interest in Erica’s happiness or well-being, then he would have been seeking cues of her consent from the beginning. Sure, a “Wanna get freaky in my car” would be a real mood killer, but there a great many ways to find out if a person wants to touch or be touched. Instead his actions are quite clearly predatory, as he ignored Erica, didn’t give a flip about her body language, and then later sought her at home, going so far as to turn her freakin’ door knob. He acts in a way that I’m sure allows him to tell himself he’s not a rapist, but he is. It was his responsibility to get consent. It is the responsibility of each of us to look out for our sexual partner’s well-being. If they stop moving but don’t say stop, you still need to find out why, don’t just keep going. We’re not meat slots.

    • Thank you, Crystal. After Christine’s comment I was really at a loss for what to say in response, but you summed it up well. I wanted to say no, but couldn’t. Obviously from the outside, and after the fact, it’s simple to say “oh, I just should have said ‘stop.'” But in the moment is completely different and I’m glad someone understands that feeling.

      The reason I wrote this was because I realized what I should have done. Without the mistake, there’d be nothing to tell or to learn from.

  • I’m sorry you went through this but it boggles my mind that you couldn’t simply stop what was happening if you didn’t like it.

    First, a guy asked you to take a ride, someone it seems like you didn’t even know that well… What do people say about riding in cars with strangers? I think this is a lesson most people learn as children.

    Second, he doesn’t drop you off at your house. Another time you could have stopped the situation by either opening the door of the moving car or telling him to stop the car and you would walk back home…

    Third, when he started kissing you and made you touch him. I don’t know maybe you could have not kissed him back or not finished him off… Just an idea here.

    I can’t sympathize with you because at no point did you let the guy know you didn’t want to do any of it. I don’t know if you are aware but men can’t read minds, neither can women. You have to verbally or physically stop or fight back so they know that you make yourself clear.

    Finally, I hope you learned something from this situation. This story made me angry. You need to smarten up fast or I’m afraid of what story you might write next.

    • I think you’re being a little harsh here. It’s easy to say, “Oh, this is what you should’ve done,” when you’re reading back on the situation.

      The point of the article is, when you’re actually in the situation, it’s not so easy to say no.

    • Way to blame the victim there champ.

      Guys like this don’t just innocently make a mistake reading body language. They target women and test their boundaries to see how far they can push them. They get off on making a woman do something she quite obviously doesn’t want to do, and take advantage of both the socialisation of women to be ‘nice’ and ‘polite’ and this exact kind of victim blaming to keep them quiet.

  • I have to say I have been through this so many times myself, I didn’t realize there were other people who understand. There’s been so many times where people were like “why didn’t you just say no?” and I get tongue tied, because I have no Idea why I didn’t just stop things, right then and there. It’s like fear, guilt, and then the fierce anger afterwards, not only at the guy but at myself for letting it happen.

  • Erica, you are correct – you have taken the first step toward being a different person in the future! Because you have the courage to share your story and ask for help it is clear that you have the courage and ability to learn how to put yourself and your safety first. Yes, you have the courage and the ability – what you need now is practice and support! Listen to all your readers who have told you they have had the same thing happen; that means that there are young women right there where you are who want to do it better the next time, and there are also women there (of all ages) who have learned to say no and to avoid predatory men. Find these women – you already know how, by telling your story – and start learning and PRACTICING saying and doing what you want to next time. Practice role play with friends. Listen to the experience of others. If possible, talk to some trustworthy decent men – brothers, boyfriends, etc. that women friends recommend – and ask them about this kind of situation. Ask them if you can practice saying NO to them. Keep believing in and seeing yourself becoming that strong savvy woman on the outside that you are on the inside! And as these other readers have said, above all forgive yourself. Even if you didn’t do what you wished you had done, you did not do anything wrong and, yes, you were sexually assaulted and disrespected by this goon. Use your lesson! You can!! Oh, and also there is a great book you might want to check out – Comedian Steve Harvey wrote it for his daughters to help keep them safe and find good men – it’s called “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” Hang in there; you’re on the right track!!

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