Not the Story You Are Expecting

This story is probably not going where you think it’s going.

I have my “me too” moments, as does pretty much every woman I know, and some of the men I know, as well. I don’t often share them, not out of shame, for I am not ashamed, but because one glance at most friends tells me they already know the feeling, if not the details.  Specifics aren’t really necessary; most of us already know because we’ve been there.

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Today I’ll tell you about 15-year-old-me in the early 80’s on a short vacation with a high school friend and her parents. A few days in Wildwood, New Jersey, back when Wildwood was a little bit wilder than I think it is now. We didn’t know until we got there that it was the week of college Spring Break, and of course we thought that was awesome. We were pretty innocent, and had decided if we met any hot college guys we would say confidently that we were “in our 16th year” because neither of us wanted to admit to being 15.  It didn’t occur to us that saying that would have made us sound even more naive.

Fifteen-year-old-me on my Confirmation day.

The details are hazy after all this time but I remember my friend and I were walking down the street when two guys called out to us from their hotel balcony. We flirted a bit, and then accepted their invitation to come up to their room. Just like that.

They gave us each a beer – our age wasn’t a factor, they didn’t ask. I remember what I was wearing – a very cute crop-top-and-shorts set in sort of watercolor-y pastels. The tiny strip of skin showing beneath the crop top was a little more revealing than normal, for me; at age 15 I already had a pretty unhealthy sense of self-esteem (as in, I had none). But I felt cute that day, and I felt daring.

My friend went out onto the balcony and talked with one of the guys, and I stayed in the room with the other one.  I remember his full name to this day, though he only told me his first name at the time. He was a Penn State football player (in recent years there’s been quite a lot written about the Penn State football culture, but I didn’t know about any of that all those years ago). He was huge, and he had dark curly hair and smiley brown eyes. We talked a little bit, and then we started to make out (do they still call it making out?).

Once again, memory fails a bit. I thought about this a lot the other night, trying to remember. He turned the lights off but the room wasn’t dark; it must have been early evening. I recall that I touched him through his clothes, and in fact I may even have touched him under his clothes. “There.” You know. Where I’d never touched anyone else before. I remember his sharp intake of breath, and the strange sort of power I felt in that moment. It was exciting and fun and – this is important – it was consensual. He never pressured me. He was eager but he was careful and he was kind.

Same year, new hairstyle: what I looked like that summer.

At one point the balcony door rattled and he called out his friend’s name. I asked, “What?” and he said, “Nothing,” and it wasn’t until later that I realized that perhaps that was a signal between them: don’t come back in here, things are getting good.

There was lots more kissing.  We were laying on the bed (where else is there, in a hotel room?), in our own bubble of young arousal. But I remember that right about then I started to realize I was getting out of my depth, and began to think that maybe I wasn’t as in control of things as I thought.  I was starting to get just the faintest “should-I-be-scared-right-now?” flutters in the pit of my stomach, and then…

He stopped. I don’t remember exactly what I said before he stopped.  I know I didn’t have to push him away or even say the word, “stop”.  A glimmer of memory says I made a, “Hey now, I’m a good girl,” sort of comment, but that was all.  He smoothed my shirt down (aha, another memory resurfaced – my shirt was a little bit tight, and I remember being a tiny bit relieved that he could not roam freely under there even though I was enjoying his touch). He looked at me with real regret and gave me another kiss, then called to his friend, who came back in with my friend. We had a second beer, I think, and then they said they were heading out. My friend and I went back to our hotel room, comparing notes.  We were giddy and giggly.  I was exhilarated and relieved in equal measure.

So coming forward in time to the present day, in the recent swirl of #metoo stories, the heartfelt justified outpouring of anger and shame and sadness and rage right now, why am I telling this story?

Because boys and men CAN control themselves. Teenagers and college boys CAN behave well, rather than badly. If a college football star (and he was a star; I saw his picture and name in a post-game write-up in the newspaper that autumn) can back off when he realizes all on his own that a young girl is out of her depth and doesn’t want to go any farther, then every other gee-dee man on the planet ought to be able to realize it, too.

[I feel the need to add something here, for the benefit of any who might try to hand-pick part of my story for their own agenda, that being the fact that my memory is hazy in places.  The argument could be, “See?  You don’t even remember everything!  How can anyone possibly accurately recount something thirty-plus years later when they don’t even remember?!”  To you, I say this:  I don’t remember specifics because I have the luxury of not needing to, about that event.  It is a fond memory of a thrilling time in my innocent young teenage life; it has a happy sort of misty glow around it.  Go back to an earlier summertime memory of nine-year-old me and I can by-God tell you exactly what I was wearing, where I was being forced to sit, where I was touched, how I was handled, the nausea rising in my stomach, the helpless shock because not only was this bad thing happening but almost worse, there was an adult witness literally three feet away who was doing nothing about it, and how my panic rose as I tried to work out a “polite” escape.  You can bet I remember.  Because those memories are seared into my heart and mind and guts.]

When I think back on that night in Wildwood when I was fifteen years old, it is with fondness but also with a sort of rueful sadness. Because looking at the situation later, I realized just how lucky I was. We didn’t do anything that I did not absolutely want to do and agree to do. I wasn’t held down, trapped, forced, raped… I was so damn lucky. And it’s sad, really sad, that a coming-of-age memory is tinged with that post-event sense of almost sick-to-the-stomach relief because of how horribly so many other boys and men behave with the belief that it’s perfectly acceptable. I mean, come on! I was wearing a cute outfit! I flirted! We went to their hotel room! There was beer! We Did Things! All “reasons” that so many men seem to think meant that I would have been “asking for it” had the worst actually happened. And that is so damn wrong.

Yes, I’ve had my me-too experiences. But this experience is one that is on my mind right now, because it highlights to me that there is no reason that they can’t all be like that boy was, one warm summer night in the early 80’s. All these people that say they “couldn’t help themselves” or that “boys will be boys” or “that’s just how teenagers are,” are so full of bullshit they make my eyes water. Because they CAN help themselves – they just don’t WANT to.

That big guy who probably outweighed me by a hundred pounds, HE could contain himself. He stopped at the first hint of my discomfiture. He didn’t assume that some kissing and touching meant going however far he wanted to, without thought to what I wanted.  He saw that I’d gone as far as I was ready to go, and he respected my boundaries.  There was no anger, no petulance, no violence; he just stopped, called his friend back in to the room, and we went our separate ways.

If a buzzed-on-beer, testosterone-filled, ‘big man on campus’ football player can control himself with a cute young girl in a hotel room during Spring Break, then THEY ALL CAN.

And dammit, they all should.

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Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.
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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Matthew Grigsby says:

    This is so powerful and so articulate I think it should be required reading for high school and college students. Seriously.
    It also breaks my heart that your story is so rarely told, where everything went right and all the bad stuff never happened. ALL guys can control themselves, at any age and in any circumstance.

    Enough is enough is enough.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Matt. I think that at this moment in time women are a little reluctant to share the good stories because it might be misconstrued as slightly dismissive, i.e., “but there are good guys, too!” which can feel like it negates all the bad experiences. It’s a subtle thing that I am finding hard to explain. But it’s why I was trying to point out not just that there are good guys (and there are!), but that to me it means that ALL guys can be good guys. And I’m so glad you got that from my article. It’s exactly what I was trying to convey.

      I’m lucky to have more good stories than bad ones. Not everyone can say that. I would love a world where there were no bad stories, anymore.

  2. You’re right that I didn’t expect your 15-year-old-self story to end the way it did, which was a relief.

    Unfortunately, though, your 9-year-old-self story didn’t end well, and for that, I’m so, so sorry, Deb.

    When I was 15 I lived in Oakland with my dad. On my first day of school I missed the city bus, so I – wearing a ’70s mini dress – decided to hitchhike to school. A guy on a motorcycle picked me up and dropped me off in front of Skyline High School. Before he left he asked me to promise to never do that again, because with another kind of guy things could have turned out differently.

    We will know that our society has evolved when stories of “what didn’t happen” – of a man not forcing himself on a woman in a situation where he could have – are no more likely than telling a story of not getting hit by a meteor on the way to buy ice cream.

    Your point is exactly right: ALL guys can be good guys.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      “We will know that our society has evolved when stories of “what didn’t happen”… are no more likely than telling a story of not getting hit by a meteor on the way to buy ice cream.”

      This! I love this so much. Wouldn’t that be a fine thing?

      I’m glad it was a good guy who picked 15-year-old-Doni up that day.

  3. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    Thank you, Deb. I’ve have had the male-mocking #NotAllMen meme explained to me in a sufficiently compelling way that I’ve accepted it as reasonable—maybe YOU don’t assault women, but it’s not about you, so stop trying to make it about you.

    #YesAllWomen have to be wary of men in general, and “men in general” includes me, particularly if a woman doesn’t know me from Adam’s house cat. For women, being unwary is a vulnerability. Wariness is a necessary, reality-based rule of thumb for women. I get that.

    Still, it sucks being lumped—however necessarily—into the broad cohort of “men” in such a negative way. It’s nice to read an account of a guy acting like a decent human being, even though your intent is not to defend such men, but to make clear by contrast that those who are not so honorable are making a conscious choice to be absolute shits.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you for getting exactly what I wanted to convey, Steven. I am very fortunate that in my life there have been far more ‘good’ than ‘bad’ men (and indeed women), and I never like lumping everyone of whatever gender or type into a single category. I don’t think anyone likes getting lumped in to a category especially when that category happens to have a negative connotation (I get this a lot as an American living in the UK – oh how I have had to hear all about ‘you Americans’ here!)

      Women know that there are lots of good men out there, and in our lives. We just wish we didn’t have to be so wary about then until we know for sure. I hope that things will change for the better…

      Thank you for being one of the good ones. It means a lot.

  4. Avatar Denise Ohm says:

    Great piece! This last few years I’ve informally polled lots of my guy friends to ask: how do you act when a girl says no, even after she may send yes signals.

    All of them said they may have left frustrated but they definitely left the scene. They all cited some small percentage of guys who didn’t stop at no but that type of guy was shunned. Which makes perfect sense now to me.

    It didn’t always though. I had some idea that once you got a guy to a certain point, he physically couldn’t tun back. Pretty sure my mother said that to me.

    Deb, I grieve with you on your assault at age 9. Thank you for sharing with us. Maybe it helps if we carry some too.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Denise! The results of your informal polling are interesting. I love that things are changing, by which I mean that I know there have always been decent guys but I think that in recent years they’re starting to understand how much of an effect the not-decent guys have on those who they harm. That they are shunning that type of guy is good.

      I’ve heard the old “physically couldn’t stop” thing, too. It was always guys who said it, though – my mother avoided talking about sex entirely! (Other than, “don’t.”)

      Thank you, about the assault at age 9. I came through it all right, and stayed safely away from the person after that, or rather I made sure I was never alone with him (or ‘alone’ with him and the other person, a woman) again. Something had happened with the same person when I was three, apparently, though I have no memory of that. I was believed, fortunately, and never made to feel any shame about it, and I think that’s why the effects were minimal, though lasting, in the grand scheme (if that makes sense).

      I do think that sharing these stories to whatever extent we are comfortable helps even if it just means knowing we aren’t alone.

  5. Avatar Karen Ball says:

    Excellent! And so worthy. I am sure there are so very many stories like this that really don’t get told, because I suppose no one feels there needs to be a cautionary tale where the ending is good, however for all the reasons you stated, this is both cautionary and accounting. It holds people accountable for good behavior. It allows for the innocent exploration of youth and I love that you told it. Thank you.

  6. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Nice one, Deb. You nailed it about remembering every moment when you were nine years old. And, as a believer is what Dr. Ford testified, I’m certain she remembers the incident from 35 year ago vividly.

    I have felt so fortunate in choosing the husband I have. Even how, nearly 50 years into marriage, if I innocently say something that someone else would misconstrue, he always knows how I meant the comment and doesn’t do a wink-wink, nod-nod. An e-mail went around when gas prices were up in the $4+ range that went something like this: Regular LOL, Super OMG, Premium WTF. At the time, I didn’t know what WTF meant. That’s long past, I might add, and is useful from time to time.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks, Beverly. I believe Dr. Ford as well.

      It’s lovely that you and your husband are so in tune with one another!

  7. Avatar Rick Zeller says:

    Thank you for sharing, Deb. It’s nice to read about young people – men – respecting women or young girls. I agree that “men can help themselves” if they choose to do so. It is a choice.

  8. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Most men aren’t sexual abusers, but most–nearly all–sexual abusers are men. I get that.

    But yeah, it’s difficult to not sometimes feel resentment toward those who feel that all men are animals. It’s a resentment I can hardly feel strident about, though. In fact, if I had a daughter out there on her own in the world, I’d probably be a heavy drinker.

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      Saw this: I have a daughter, a gun, a shovel, and an alibi.

      There is definitely another side to the #MeToo movement. Yes, yes, yes, thousands of women have been harassed, molested, raped, abused, and the men (or women or priests) who did it should be jailed. But then there are the women who are seeking revenge or money, and they are the ones who give the movement a bad name. Amid all this Kavanaugh brouhaha, I wonder where the charges brought against POTUS by the two porn stars will end. Will they be dismissed because the women deal in sex? That seems to have been removed to the back burner.

      • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

        On the one hand, at least the false allegations are a very, very small percentage. On the other, it’s infuriating because then the real allegations far greater in number are called into question, which is convenient for those who wish to refute the true accusations. Talk about getting lumped in to a category, eh? “Oh, a small number of women were lying about it? Must mean they ALL are…” Sigh.

        POTUS seems to be made of Teflon, and none of his supporters seem to care what he does to women, or says about them. It makes me heartsick.

    • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

      I hope that my story conveyed that which I meant it to, meaning, there are very decent boys and men out there, which to me means that every boy and man has the ability to be decent. My point was never to lump all men in to the predator/attacker category.

      I can understand it’s hard not to feel resentment as a man, towards people who lump all men into a category. I can understand that because I know what it is to be a woman, lumped into the category of all woman are bad drivers / women are there to serve men / women have less worth than men / all women are hysterical / women don’t really matter / women are less intelligent / women’s work is not worth the same compensation / all women should want children / women are ‘less’ if they are not mothers / …and so on. So yeah. I get that.

      • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

        I think you conveyed that very effectively, Deb.

        I’ve long thought that it seems an awfully short distance between girls and women who are considered sticks-in-the-mud and those who are lumped in the “she’s asking for it” view. Maybe it’s overstating to suggest that women face sort of a tightrope act in how they’re viewed by their peer group. Maybe not.

        Your account prompted me to reflect on my own life as a single guy. I was far from perfect in my dealings with the opposite sex in my beer-swigging, Harley-riding twenties, but “no” or “stop” or “slow down” was always very effective when when I heard it. Positively deflating, in fact.

        Deflating to my ego, that is. Yeah, that’s it.

        • Deb Segelitz Deb Segelitz says:

          Hey it takes a real man to be a gentleman in spite of a deflated ego, Hal, at least in my opinion!

          I don’t think it’s overstating at all to call it a tightrope, by the way. Sometimes it feels exactly like that.