Auntie SparkNotes: I'm Terrified of Dating
Ugg. This is going to sound so stupid.
In high school, I didn't have male friends and never dated, so I don't have any experience with boys. Now that I'm a freshman in college, I'm meeting lots of cute, delightful boys. I've hung out with a few on campus, and it was fun. Some have asked me to hang out one-on-one off-campus, and I think a few have asked me out on what seemed to be dates. The problem is, I haven't been able to bring myself to go on any dates or hang out with any of them.
You see, when I was in high school, the one time I brought up a boy I had a crush on to my mom, she told me that I wasn't allowed to go on dates because, once, she went over to a date's house and he tried to rape her. She didn't want me to date anyone because she didn't want anyone to try to rape me.
I thought her reasoning was ridiculous:
1) Just because one guy tried to rape a girl doesn't mean all guys will.
2) She married my dad so *she* obviously kept going on dates.
3) Avoiding guys for fear that they might rape you is totally irrational.
Yet what my mom said has festered in my mind and I now worry about it enough that I avoid going on dates or hanging out alone with guys. I'm small, so I'd be defenseless if they wanted to rape me. And how can I tell if someone's being charming and nice, but actually has malicious intentions or something? I'm really frustrated. I know I'm being stupid, yet I can't stop myself from worrying about it. Any advice or words of wisdom?
Yes! But... hmmm. Okay: it’s just that, before we go any further, I can't help noticing that there's something a little bit weird about your mom’s ancedotal justification for not letting you go on date—namely, the fact that the guy in question tried to rape her but (apparently?) didn’t succeed. Whatever happened, she still escaped unscathed... which leaves the question open as to what, exactly, this attempted assault consisted of.
Which is not to cast doubt on her experience; God knows we have enough problems already with rape victims not being believed, and I’m in no way trying to suggest that her version of events wasn’t valid. It’s just that without any other information, “he tried to rape me” could describe several different scenarios—anything from “He aggressively pressured me for sex but backed off when I said no” to “He came at me with a ski mask and a roll of duct tape, so I tasered him in the genitals and ran away.”
Which is why, in addition to following the 3 Simple Rules for Non-Rapey Dating (which we’ll get to in a second), now would be a good time to discuss with your mom, in more depth and detail, what happened to her—because the imagined scenario that you’ve become so fearful of may not even necessarily line up with the experience it’s based on.
But! There are also some simple guidelines for dating that’ll let you enjoy yourself while keeping your risk of sexual assault at a minimum, and which I urge all of you to follow—not because there are rapists lurking around every corner, but because the rules for staying safe are so easy and intuitive that you’re probably following them anyway. (And if your physical disadvantage really concerns you, then combine these rules with a women’s self-defense class and you’ll be good to go.)
Rule #1: Date in public.
Nobody is going to rape you over a post-class coffee date or an outing to a bowling alley—which is why, if you don’t know a guy well, you’re better off starting your relationship in a public forum. Getting together for dinner and a movie or an afternoon walk gives you plenty of time to talk, trade stories, hold hands, and make out on park benches without ever compromising anyone’s safety. By the time you take things into a more intimate setting, you’ll feel that this is a person you know and trust. And since doing things together in public is pretty much how dating is done anyway, this one is a no-brainer.
Caveat to Rule #1: The point of this exercise is to get comfortable and build trust, so a guy who’s already part of your social circle (and whose decent-human-being-ness is generally agreed upon) probably won’t need to undergo the dating-in-public vetting process.
Rule #2: Trust your gut.
Are there slick sociopaths out there who have the time, talent, and energy to convincingly fake their way through a multi-week getting-to-know-you process in order to kidnap you, rape you, and make a bathrobe out of your skin? Okay, maybe, but the chances of you running into one are minuscule. The vast majority of people aren’t engaging in elaborate acts of subterfuge just so they can get you alone and assault you, and the vast majority of guys are totally decent dudes who would never force a woman to have sex against her will. And as long as you listen to your intuition—and don’t ignore red flags like jealousy, controlling behavior, an entitled attitude about sex, and/or lack of respect for your boundaries—in all likelihood, you’ll never have anything to worry about.
Rule #3: Know what you want, and be loud about it.
This might be the most important rule of them all, and it applies whether you’re with a boyfriend, a casual partner, or even a one-night stand you never intend to see again. Being comfortable and assertive with your sexuality is the best defense you’ve got against being pressured or coerced into doing anything you don’t want to. And while this means being ready to say “no” or “stop” when necessary, it also means having the confidence to say “yes!” to the things that you do want to do. So, before you get intimate with anyone, make sure you’re fully in touch with your own feelings and desires. Know what you want, as well as what you’re not ready for. And when things get sexy, be an engaged, enthusiastic, active participant in your bedroom activities—not just because it’s a lot more fun that way, but because a guy who knows what your enthusiastic consent looks like is infinitely more likely to recognize and respect when you want to put on the brakes.
So, to sum up: a reasonable level of caution, plus a reasonable level of faith in humanity and your own intuition, plus a blazing case of confidence with your own sexuality, equals happy man-hunting and peace of mind.
Which can leave you free to worry about more important dating-related concerns—like, say, which shoes to wear.
Have you ever overcome dating-related fears like our letter-writer’s? Share in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: A Crippling Fear of Flesh