What Happened When I Disregarded All the Warning Signs
Our timing was initially off, I was out of town, then he was. So our conversations started, stopped, then started again. The first warning sign came early on. We were talking about his love of ice hockey when he mis-mansplained the definition of a word. It went something like this.
Me: So that explains your hockey hobby?
Him: Albeit I take it more like a religion than a hobby
Me: Love you used albeit in a sentence
Him: I try to be prolific so people don’t notice my accent
Him: That’s so meta, because prolific is prolific in and of itself, it means not commonly used words
Me: No it doesn’t
Him: Give me a break, English is my third language
Me: Just an FYI really, not judging, I only speak American
I decided not to let the exchange be a deal breaker, so when he asked me out a couple weeks later I agreed to go. He’d offered up just enough information to spark my curiosity, but I made plans with a friend for later in the evening so I had an excuse to leave if I needed one. When he called me “sweetheart” in a text moments before I got to the bar, I briefly contemplated heading back home, but again decided to overlook it.
He was exactly as pictured and his accent as described, a mish-mash of countries. He had an offbeat sense of humor and I enjoyed our back-and-forth banter. Then, for some reason, he mentioned he’d once been drugged and raped. It was an odd piece of information to throw out on a first date and I wasn’t sure how to appropriately and sensitively respond. I asked if he’d like to talk about it and he went into more detail. Ill-equipped for the conversation and afraid of saying the wrong thing, I told him I was sorry to hear that had happened. He shrugged his shoulders and changed the subject. The time of the revelation was off and put me in an awkward position, but under the circumstances, I tried to refrain from judging him and chose to disregard that warning sign as well.
We delved into lighter topics for a bit, then I got the, “can I ask you a personal question” question. I used to panic when this was thrown at me, by anyone ever, but these days I’m the kind of person who answers all questions instead of dodging them. I soon discovered one question was actually many specific questions, all focused on my sexual experience and preferences. When I inquired about his reason for asking, he said I’d mentioned I was a writer so he was interested in knowing what kind of experiences I’d had to draw on. Obviously, he didn’t need the answers to those particular questions to assess my writing ability. He could’ve instead shown interest in my childhood, education, career path, the different cities I’d lived in, or any other biographical facts that would’ve given him a more accurate frame of reference. But again, I didn’t call him out.
I noticed the guy who’d been sitting next to me had taken his skateboard and moved a couple seats away from us. I jokingly said to my date, “looks like someone didn’t like our conversation.” Unfortunately, I tend to not speak quietly when I should, so the skateboarder heard my comment. Instead of ignoring me, he proceeded to mock my date by repeating verbatim his barrage of questions to me and calling him a misogynist. But the skater was yelling with such hatred and disgust, it was hard to comprehend where he was coming from. My date retaliated with his own insults. He called the skater a pansy and went on a weird rampage about fighting in the Iraq War. When they started threatening to take it outside, I told them to quit it. The skateboarder went back to his seat and continued to rant to the guy he was now sitting next to.
I don’t hang around men who consider fighting a viable option to solve an argument, so I’d never been in that position before. I had so many questions for my date, but the only one I could think to ask was what the Iraq War had to do with anything. He claimed he’d been a Navy Seal because it was the fastest way to obtain American citizenship. At the time, his story seemed off, but I wasn’t properly educated on naturalization rules so I didn’t second-guess it. (When I got home, a quick Google search informed me you have to be a U.S. citizen to be a Navy Seal.) He said he was appalled he’d fought for the skateboarder’s freedom, then took out his phone to show me photos of his war injuries. They were graphic and I was unprepared for them. When I put my hand over my eyes, he said if I bought him a drink he’d tell me about the people he killed. I told him I had to leave to meet my friend.
I’d been feeling unsettled because something about the skater’s chivalry didn’t feel right. So on our way out, I thanked him for defending me, but let him know it hadn’t been necessary. Then I headed straight for the door, not looking back or thinking twice about the havoc my comment might potentially cause. In retrospect, I acted impulsively and probably should’ve refrained from saying anything.
As I stood on the sidewalk and called for a Lyft, my date came tumbling out of the bar, a bouncer at his heels. I asked what had happened and he claimed the skater had called me a cunt, so he’d punched him because “no one was allowed to call me that and get away with it.” Since I’m the last person to be impressed by that kind of macho behavior, I had nothing more to say and concentrated on willing my Lyft driver to arrive faster than her projected time. My date invited me to get in his car which was parked outside the bar. I declined, but he insisted because the skater “was going to come after us any minute.” I refused and made a move to walk away.
Seconds later, I heard a skateboard hit the ground and looked up to see the guy from the bar barreling toward us. He reached the car, jumped off his board, held it up like a baseball bat, and screamed at my date “is this your car” over and over. My date replied “no, it’s hers,” which was, without a doubt, the smartest thing out of his mouth all night. Luckily, the skater decided not to damage the clearly new Mercedes.
I was frozen, unable to do anything but stand with my back to them, staring at my phone. I heard the impact of the punch when it landed. It was unclear who was hit and I didn’t turn around to see. They exchanged punches, then ran in the other direction, and I ducked between two cars to call my driver. She was just down and across the street, so I sprinted her way.
Once safe inside her car, my first instinct was to text my date to see if he was okay. Yet another example of a time in my life when I’ve wanted not to care when I’ve cared. He responded he was fine and added “well, it was nice meeting you.” I was thankful it was over, but still unnerved by what went down.
I woke up the next morning to a photo of him in his underwear showing me his bruised lower back and a text message saying “the least I could do was take him out for drinks.” I immediately blocked his phone number, but somehow he found out I blocked him. Not content to respect my desire to put an end to our communication, he messaged me on the dating app on which we’d originally met to inquire if I’d blocked him, so I unmatched him.
I realized the situation was about two dudes looking for a fight and had nothing to do with me. It was clear neither of them cared about me and I was just a bystander who happened to be at the center of an unwanted argument. My date wanted to impress me with his chivalry, but a true man who respected women wouldn’t have asked such inappropriate questions. As for the skateboarder, if he had been genuinely concerned about defending my honor, he would’ve found a less combative approach. Also, you can’t accuse a person of being a misogynist then turn around and call a woman a cunt. Doesn’t work that way.
To re-cap, my date mis-mansplained, addressed me using a patronizing term of endearment, objectified me for his own personal gratification, called a man a homophobic slur, then incited a brawl, and had the audacity to say I owed him a drink because he'd gotten bruised. But the person I was mad at was myself, for not trusting my instincts, failing to speak up, and not walking away sooner.
Initially, I recounted the story to friends, laughed about it, and added it to the top of my long list of bad dates, but in hindsight, it wasn’t funny. When I’m in uncomfortable situations, my first priority is protecting myself, and I typically remain silent for this reason. I’ll happily call out my friend, co-worker, or family member when necessary, but I consciously choose not to confront strangers because I don’t know the person well enough to know how it will be received. I’ve learned people like my date tend to think they aren’t the problem and instead of engaging in an insightful conversation and taking responsibility, they oftentimes become defensive. Further, when women speak up, they get branded as uptight, difficult, and a bitch. But not saying anything makes us complicit and perpetuates the behavior.
I can’t predict how I’m going to react in future situations, but I’m hoping, as a result of this experience, I’ll be better prepared to speak up regardless of the potential consequences. From now on, I refuse to be silent. Because, apparently, in today’s world, respect isn’t a given, it’s something you have to ask for. At least when you’re a woman.