Grace’s Bad Date: A Fiction

Last week, Jennifer Weiner asked me how I’d tell the story of “Grace,” the twenty-two-year-old who went on the date from Hell with Aziz Ansari.   I really did try, but the more I tried, the more confused I got.  

The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.   We tell each other stories about something that happened so that we can impose order on the event. That’s why the same event told by two different people can become two entirely different stories: the event was shaped by two different points of view.  I should make it clear that I believe “Grace” was telling the truth in the way she related the events, and I believe Ansari’s apology and his explanation that he saw the events differently.   I understand that real life comes at us fast and it’s hard to think straight under pressure; there have been any number of times when I’ve looked back at something and thought, Why didn’t I do something about that?   Even so, I can’t take the events as listed and make them into a coherent narrative.  

Part of that is because only half the story is here, “Grace’s” half.  And part of it is that although we get “Grace’s” side of the story, she leaves a lot out.  She says, “I did this, he did this,” but she doesn’t say why she did things, leaving it to the reader to figure out her motivations.  If you leave it up to the reader to determine your character’s motivations, you’re handing over the most important part of characterization: what people do isn’t nearly as interesting as why they do it.    And while I can cobble together a motivation for just about anything, I cannot figure out the motivation for the glaring hole in the center of “Grace’s” narrative: why she has no agency.

I don’t like speculating about real people, so we’re moving into fiction now, based on “Grace’s” Babe story.  This story is about Greta and Andy.  

My protagonist is Greta, who wants a great date with a smart celebrity who has the same vintage camera that she does.  Terrific relationships have started with less, so why not?  What she hopes for after that is what any human on a date probably wants: a fun evening, a good memory, maybe the start of a long term thing.  (Again, this is my fiction, so that’s what Greta wants.  No idea what “Grace” wanted.)

My antagonist is Andy, who wants a great date with a cute twenty-two-year-old who approached him to talk about the coincidence that they have the same vintage camera.   She came to him, she temporarily ditched her date to do it, she gave him her number, so he translates that into “she wants what I want: sex.”  Again, I have no idea what Ansari really wanted, but based on “Grace’s” description of the evening, his idea of a great date was sex.

So Greta wants a lovely, romantic evening that might be the start of something big, and Andy wants sex.  They’re both hoping for a good time, their definition of “good time” just differs.   Conflict!

The story takes place in three scenes: Greta meets Andy at his apartment, they go to a restaurant, they go back to his apartment.  In the original story, “Grace” had other scenes–meeting Ansari at the party, getting ready and talking with her friends about how excited she was, texting them pictures of her outfit, etc.  The problem with this in the fictional Greta’s story is that that’s back story, and back story kills.  There is no conflict, no escalation, no character growth, it’s just information-the-author-thinks-the-reader-should-have.  Plus Greta’s back story tells me nothing about her that’s interesting, except for the vintage camera and her excitement that was so great she told all her friends.  If she’d been a little clearer about why she was so excited–she’s dating a celebrity? she’s found a guy who’s into vintage cameras, too? she’s going to get to pitch her script?  I dunno–this could have been crucial, but as it is, it’s just set-up.  So I’m starting Greta and Andy’s story at his apartment, based on the theory that the story starts when the protagonist and antagoninst meet, and their stable worlds are disrupted.

I’m not sure why Greta went to Andy’s apartment first.  I don’t see it as indicative of anything in their characters or motivation, they had to meet someplace, and the setting contributes nothing to the story because nothing happens there: he’s polite, he gives her a glass of white wine, she’s annoyed because she prefers red, and then they leave for the restaurant.  This is not worthy of story real estate, there’s no conflict, everything is going as expected except for the red wine (which makes her sound snowflakey), so there’s no real scene here.

I’m cutting it.

So now we’re at the restaurant, and it’s nice, and they’re both a little nervous because it’s a first date and they both have high expectations (She: I’m with a celebrity!, He: I’m going to have sex!), so that’s a great set-up for conflict.  Reminder: Conflict is not always people stabbing each other with forks, it can be two perfectly nice people discovering that their motivations clash and trying to work it out.  

So she sits down hoping for . . . .

Here’s where the missing info kneecaps me.  I don’t know what she wants.  My Greta just wants a nice date (bonus, with a celebrity), but she appears to be getting that.  The only real conflict is that before she’s finished her last glass of wine, he hustles her out of the restaurant, evidently having been fantasizing hard over the entree and dessert.  That’s good foreshadowing for what happens next, but a scene can’t just be foreshadowing, it has to have shape and form of its own.  So either he becomes a problem for her earlier (in which case why does she go back to his apartment with him?) or I cut this scene.

I’m cutting this scene. (Cutting the scene means cutting the wine motif which has a beat in each scene, but since I have no idea what the wine means as a metaphor, it’s no great loss.)

So now this story is one scene, which I like.  Focus.  This one interaction will tell my reader everything about Greta and Andy.

Here’s what happens in “Grace’s” account of the real date:

They left the restaurant before she was ready.  She doesn’t mention protesting this, so I’m assuming she went along with it to be polite.

When she got to his apartment, she complimented him on his countertops, so he told her to hop up, kissed her and groped her breast.

He tells her he’s going to get a condom, she says, “Chill,” he “briefly” gives her oral sex and asks for a return, which she gives him, also briefly.

The he repeatedly tries to put his fingers in her mouth and her vagina and keeps pointing at his penis.  (Yes, she knows it’s down there.)  

He repeatedly asks her where she wants him “to fuck her.”  (Nowhere, ever.)  She says possibly on their second date.  He says, “if I pour you another glass of wine, is this a second date?”   She goes to the bathroom.

When she comes out, she tells him she’s feeling pressured and he says he understands.  Then he asks for oral sex.

You know, I was going to diagram the rest of this out, but bleah.  So things gets worse, although not rapey–he follows her around but doesn’t try to trap her–and I’m mentally screaming, Get the hell out of there, he’s awful, and she finally gets out her phone to call a car and he insists on getting one for her, kissing her good-bye at the door “aggressively,” and then she cries in the hall.  

 I can extrapolate that Andy failed because there was no blood in his brain, but that just makes him a boring groper, a character cliche, unless I can somehow give him a reason for letting go of his rational self before she was ready to let go of hers.   One possibility: He’s so used to groupies that he doesn’t realize she isn’t one; the lack of romance in his approach suggests that he thinks she thinks she’s there for sex.  So his assumptions are the reason for his failure.  

Greta is more difficult.  I can extrapolate that she was excited to be dating a celebrity and got him confused with the guy he played on TV.   Then as things get increasing creepy, she can rationalize them away in hopes that he’ll turn out to be that great guy.  But is that enough to motivate oral sex she’s not really interested in giving (twice)?  The trouble I’m having with this may be more about the differences in the way Greta and I view oral sex; she’s of a different generation and may think of it as just a way to stop him from hitting on her, while I tend to need know where that’s been and how long since it’s been tested.  My narrative problem is, how long is Greta going to keep denying what’s happening even while she recognizes how unhappy she is before my reader gets fed up with her for being a polite victim?  

And that pinpoints my problem with both the real story and the fictional narrative: The way this is being told, Greta has no agency.  She seems helpless in the hands of a creeper who has disappointed her terribly and is now pushing sex on her.  She demurs but she doesn’t demand he stop, she suffers but doesn’t leave.  He continues to cluelessly creep, but when she finally decides to leave, he gets her a car so there seems to be no coercion, yet she presents as a victim.  I’m not saying it’s her fault because she didn’t leave, I’m saying it doesn’t make sense that she didn’t leave.  It’s not a coherent narrative without a motivation for her to stay, and she’s not an interesting  protagonist because she’s so passive without a motivation to be passive.  And then she tells everybody about the bad date she didn’t stop on a national website because . . . .  Yeah, I don’t know what her motivation for that is, either.  Revenge?  A warning to other women not to go back to the apartments of drunk celebrities?  An attempt to get some MeToo validation?  I have no idea why she thought it was worthy of an essay unless that was her motivation in the first place, doing research for an article on “My Date With a Celebrity.”.  

That would have been an interesting story, her expectations of the date as a subject for an essay, staying because she can’t believe it’s that bad, hoping to salvage her project, realizing that as awful as it is, it’s going to make a more exciting article with him as a  creep.  I just don’t like her much with that motivation. And I need a good motivation to give Greta agency, which means that it’s not going to be “Grace’s” story any more because she’s left so much blank space in her narrative, that I can make her anything I want.  Like a predatory journalist.  Or . . . 

She’s a CIA agent investigating him for possibly selling secrets to the Russians.   He’s a famous actor researching his next role by meeting with real Russian spies, which has led the CIA to think he’s really a Russian spy.  She pursues him hard, so that he thinks she’s a love struck groupie/sure thing, but he turns her down because . . . yeah, he wouldn’t turn her down.   He’s still a jerk out for sex, but at least she’s volunteering to be the object of his jerkdom.

So they’re both wrong about each other and what the evening is going to be about, and their attempts to drag each other into their own realities will set up the conflict, and they both have strong motivations for not resigning from the conflict.  If it’s a short story, it’s one scene sequence in his apartment, told in alternating PoV scenes as the conflict escalates.  Bonus: If I make him smart and not a mindless groper, I can make that funny.  (There is nothing funny about the real date.  Bleah.)

If it’s a novel, they’re going to get tangled up with the real Russian spy network somehow, maybe end up on the run from both the CIA and the Russians while they try to figure out what the hell happened.  If it’s a romance novel, they fall in love.  If it’s a suspense novel, they probably still fall in love, but if I’m writing this, she is not The Girl, he’s The Boy.   In none of these stories does she give him oral sex in that first scene because reluctant oral sex is not romantic, erotic, or funny, so I’m out.

So here’s my fix for the “Grace” story:  It needs Russian spies.  

You’re welcome.

 

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51 thoughts on “Grace’s Bad Date: A Fiction

  1. I have a theory about the internet intensifying trauma. It’s a huge support group, lots of validation, but’s it’s such a large support group that you can’t help but think everyone is in it, and therefore everything and everyone (man) is awful.

    I wonder if MeToo is just as likely to traumatize as heal.

    So I tend to think of women who are dating as having all those fears right on the surface now, and are more likely to freeze than leave. Also, “If I don’t say no, it’s not rape” was something I’ve found myself doing even, and maybe especially, twenty-six years after my rape.

    We keep giving these men chances–maybe this time when he backs off, he means it! He’s a woke bae, after all! He’ll get it in a second! It’ll come to him that what he’s doing is wrong!–and they keep flubbing them hard. Why are they getting more than one chance? Look at how we are socialized.

    Ugh, too depressing for 9am.

    4+
    1. First – so sorry you ever had to go through that trauma.

      And you’re right, there’s so much social conditioning, and women tend to not say no, or think he’ll get it, or think, well…I’m here now and I seem to have lost my clothes, so I might as well do it now instead of when I’m all revved up and ready to go.

      Every female friend – single and in a relationship, have said ‘I’ve been in that situation. That’s happened.’ Try and discuss this with male friends and they get defensive. They’ll say ‘It isn’t only women these things happen to!’ or ‘well ALL my female friends said that’s never happened to them!’

      It’s hard to open a non-accusatory and level discourse when one side is already on the defensive and sometimes the offensive.

      5+
  2. Turning it into a story is hard because it’s all so grey. And for the reader to empathise with either protagonist, we need more fiction-ready motivation that gets the reasonings why each does what they do (her staying, he refusing to/not bothering to read the non-verbal and, indeed the verbal signals) across.

    Because at the moment it is he wants sex, and hey, sometimes girls play hard to get, but isn’t this fun, pursuing it? And she wants romantic sex and the possibility of a relationship, but woah, isn’t this going too fast and I’m not really sure I want to entirely go the whole way right now, but if I outright say no and put my clothes on and leave what if he never calls again?

    If she compromises, they might slow down, and things will maybe more into more seductive and romantic territory and they’ll do it when she wants to, not when he does.

    If he takes a small break, is cute, then she’ll be ready to go down on him again, after all, there she is!

    In real life this happens. Young women (and I’m sure some young men) get into these situations. They think they want something, but they realise not then and there, or it’s not what they thought, or it’s just way too fast, and they’re too conditioned to say no, after all, they’re naked on the counter top already. And guys, they don’t think about it other than getting what they want, and they don’t think that her pulling away or saying slow down or let’s wait means anything other than her being a good girl, and let’s be honest, they don’t think they did anything wrong because they don’t have to.

    However, that in a story is weak. There’s no motivation other than societal conditioning.

    The reader doesn’t want Greta doing that, unless it’s a beat in a story where she learns and grows from this incident. Perhaps she decides to pull her feminist socks up and be stronger and more outspoken about her needs. Perhaps she uses that to teach little boys and girls to both be more mindful and to process all kinds of clues in interpersonal exchanges (especially intimate ones). Perhaps she becomes the pioneer of The Contract, where cis-gendered, straight couples work out their hard and soft nos, their limitations and expectations before the date. And perhaps he realises he was a jerk and devotes his life to helping others or setting up a shelter for abuse victims and they meet again down the road and fall in love.

    Greta’s story is a difficult one, and perhaps one that’s a YA.

    Actually it feels more like a play, where the subject is exploring the expectations of both men and women in the relationship world.

    With the real life Grace, I understand why she stayed, and I understand why he read everything differently. What I don’t really understand is why the story was told the way it was, and why she went to someone about it. I suspect the person who wrote it at Babe (I’m not going to use the term journalist because she’s more a childish brat than professional after a certain letter she wrote where she tore down a female journalist over her looks and make up. This is not what an adult female person should do!) wanted to climb on the MeToo wagon and get publicity for her site. Maybe they are friends, maybe not.

    I do think these things are an important dialogue to have these days, because it shouldn’t be about why did she do that, it should be about why did he not bother to read the situation the moment she got uncomfortable. And why she didn’t feel like she could say a hard and definitive no and put her clothes on and walk out the door.

    The dialogue shouldn’t be was it a MeToo moment or just a bad date. The dialogue should be why are things like this date happen so often. And that dialogue shouldn’t only be about what SHE should or should not have done. It should be also about how do we educate men and and how to take responsibility for his part. Basically if a man needs a neon sign pointing things out then he shouldn’t be in an intimate situation until he damned well learns to read those signs.

    /rant.

    ps: and yes. It needs Russian spies.

    7+
    1. Why is all the responsibility on him? Really, I say this as a woman who has been calling out date rape for 40 years but at what point does a grown woman not have a certain responsibility to say, Dude! No! in a way that’s clear?

      Yes, some men are pigs and they need to be called on it early & often. But no man is a mind reader either. And if you let him hustle you out of dinner and back to his apartment, he thinks you not only know what’s going to happen, you want it to happen. Hell, I know what’s going to happen and my dating life has dust as thick as the dictionary on it. Why not stop this at the restaurant?

      I don’t know the guy – I’m not really watching any tv at the moment – so it’s not like I know anything about him or her. But why let him drag you away from dinner and back to the apartment unless you intend to jump his bones?

      Is he that good looking or charming that a woman would risk bad sex or worse on the very slim chance it will turn out to be romantic?

      3+
      1. He’s charming, he’s smart, and he’s successful, and he just won a Golden Globe or something.
        I don’t think going back to a guy’s apartment is a clear signal that you want to have sex, but I think he gave plenty of clear signals that he wanted to, and she had plenty of chances to leave and didn’t, and when she finally gave up and went home, he didn’t try to stop her and paid for the car to make sure she got home safe. It’s really clear to me from the way she described things that he thought she was okay with it.

        I’m with you: men are not mind readers. And not just about sex, in my experience, you have to TELL them what you want.

        3+
        1. Why is it on us to tell but never on them to ask? I get that no means no isn’t yes means yes, but yes means yes turns out to be exceptionally hot when done right and involves BOTH people communicating and in charge of what happens.

          3+
          1. This. I am not saying a woman should never say no, but these situations are not cut and dry.

            I’ve been in situations where they move so fast and then your top is off and you like him, but not sure if you want to go through with it. And that’s grey. And murky.

            Men should pay attention to both the words and the signals. He wasn’t thinking and he’s not a mind reader isn’t an excuse. From the (bad) reporting, they were more than there. (And Aziz did apologise to her privately, too). Anyone should be able to change their mind even if both parties have engaged in oral sex. And that should be respected.

            We have a world where many men think it’s okay to push to get what they want because she’s naked, and she likes him, and he thinks that’s okay when it’s not.

            I don’t think he’s a rapist, or coerced her but it’s one of those situations it’s hard to understand unless you’re in it. You’d like to think as a strong, grown woman, saying no and getting up and leaving is what you’d do, but sometimes things don’t go that way.

            The whole reporting on it was handled badly. But it’s also an important discussion. WHY does this keep happening. And WHY is the onus always on the woman. There are two people there. He didn’t second guess anything he did that night because he didn’t have to.

            It was unfortunate but this happens all the time. I think we should all as a society, try and change things on both sides. As in it’s okay to get up and just leave. To stop him when he gets you naked and you feel uncomfortable, that you owe him nothing. And men need to listen when women speak to them in these situations.

            4+
          2. But he did think it was okay for her to leave. He didn’t try to stop her. He got her a car to get her home safely. He listened when she said, “I’m out of here.” It’s not the fact that they had oral sex and then she changed her mind. It was that she said, “Wait,” and then they gave each other oral, and then she said, “I don’t think so,” and gave him oral again, and then said . . . . A date that progresses and then the woman says, “No,” it ends is understandable. It’s the yes-and-no that wasn’t clear here. When she finally said, “No, I’m leaving,” he got her a car. That’s all she had to say and it was over. She did owe him something: she owed it to him to say, “I don’t like white wine, I’m not finished with my dinner, and I don’t want to have sex.” She’s mad because he’s not a mind reader, and not just about sex.

            Men need to listen, but women need to speak.

            7+
          3. He says something like “This only works if we’re both having fun.” He does pretty much say “What kind of sex do you want to have and where do you want it?” but that’s because he’s assuming she wants it, and she doesn’t say, “I don’t want sex.” She says, “Slow down,” and then they fool around; how is that saying “No” clearly? Somehow, the things she’s said and done have given him the idea that she intends to sleep with him, and while he’s clearly misinterpreting, she’s not setting him straight. That is, he doesn’t say “Do you want to have sex?” and she doesn’t say, “I don’t want to have sex.” When he makes it clear that he wants it and thinks she does, yes, she has to say, “No.” Saying, “I didn’t want it and he didn’t read my body language” is kind of ridiculous. So yes, it’s her responsibility to say “No” and then not continue. He’s awful, but I believe he thought she was playing along.

            7+
        1. Thanks for the links! I’d seen the article on Vox but not the one on Jezebel. Both made really important points and opportunities that the original article and discussion seems to have missed entirely. I only had time to skim through some of the Jezebel comments, but there seemed to be a very thoughtful and for the most part respectful conversation going on. Not quite as thoughtful and respectful as the community here, but Arghers are the Internet exception, after all!

          One Jezebel comment, in particular, resonated with me. It was in response to a comment that ended with, “Dudes are dumb.” A commenter called The Friendly Nihilist responded:

          “No. This is a dangerous statement.

          Dudes are not dumb; they are manipulative. They will pretend that they don’t know that freezing up or pulling away doesn’t mean “no” just the way that they will pretend they don’t know they need to clean the kitchen or help with the kids. They don’t ask in sexual situations when they know the answer will be “no” if they do and they are just hoping that you’ll freeze or give up instead of saying no so that they have plausible deniability (even if only unto themselves).

          The more we say “that’s just now men are,” the more we enable them to continue to behave the way they do.”

          4+
          1. I think they’re both wrong.

            Dudes aren’t dumb, but they’re not women, either. I think it’s a false equivalency to assume that men and women are the same, that men should be as intuitive as women. Some men are, of course, but a lot of men aren’t, and I don’t think it’s all nurture. I don’t think that men are naturally predatory (but I’m not completely sure about that), but I’ve seen enough legitimately baffled men who are not gropers to know that they don’t think the way we do and expecting them to is as bad as them expecting us to think like them. There are definitely differences in the way our brains are wired. That doesn’t mean we say, “Well, that’s just the way men are” and put up with it, but it does mean that they’re not mind readers. If a guy grabs you on the street, he’s a predator. If a guy you’ve agreed to spend the evening with has vastly different ideas of how that evening is going to go, you have to tell him, you can’t expect him to intuit that. Hell, I’ve had (non-sexual) evenings with women friends where I had to say, “No, that’s not what I want to do, I thought we were doing this” and had people shocked that I’d protest. I’ve had a million conversations with my parents where I had to say repeatedly, “No, that’s not what I’m going to do, I’m sorry you thought I was someone else.” The fact that the conversation is about sex does not relieve the woman of the responsibility to say, “No, I don’t want that, I want this.” If he forces her, if he uses career or reputation pressure, if he any way tries to make it non-consensual, that’s a different story. If he moves to get something he wants, and she doesn’t say, “No,” clearly, he’s not a predator, he’s half of a failure to communicate.

            This part really irked me:
            “They will pretend that they don’t know that freezing up or pulling away doesn’t mean “no” just the way that they will pretend they don’t know they need to clean the kitchen or help with the kids. They don’t ask in sexual situations when they know the answer will be “no” if they do and they are just hoping that you’ll freeze or give up instead of saying no so that they have plausible deniability (even if only unto themselves).”

            No. No, no, no. There are a lot of good men who are not this, and to lump all men together under this “They only want sex and they don’t care how they get it” is so wrong that it makes my teeth hurt. Imagine some guy saying “All women want is money and they’ll manipulate you to get it.” That’s how bad this argument is. Not all guys are manipulative. In fact, if I had to pick one sex that was the most manipulative, I’d pick women because we’ve had to be manipulative to balance the power dynamic.

            To say that men have a responsibility to listen is absolutely true. But women also have a responsibility to speak, not in codes, not in body language, but to say, “No,” and then follow through. There’s an underlying idea here that men should be taking care of us. They should respect us, they should treat us as equals, they are not required to take care of us any more than we’re required to take care of them. If we want a partnership with men, then we have to take responsibility, too. If there’s no force or coercion, then the playing field is level, and the fact that it’s hard for women to protest if they’ve been socialized to be nice means that we give equal weight to the fact that it’s hard for men to read signals if they’ve been socialized to pursue.

            The Me,Too movement is not about the bad dates we’ve all had. It’s about people in power using that power to get non-consensual sex. That did not happen to “Grace.”

            9+
  3. This is such an interesting analysis of how what we expect from fictional characters is separate from real life. On the surface, “Grace’s” choices don’t make much sense, and that leaves all kinds of space for interpretation, some of it pretty damning. And tbh, I’m old enough to think she should have chalked that date up to a learning experience and let it go.
    And that’s not fair.

    7+
    1. This story irritates me, and I have some thoughts.

      Men don’t need to be educated to “read the signs.”

      If we’re going to educate men about sex, it should be to ask for it, and respect the answer. It doesn’t have to be a romance killer: so you’re making out on the couch/kitchen counter. “I want you. Do you want me?” If she says yes, everyone is in for a good time (hopefully). If she says no, back the hell off. You’re not going to change her mind. None of this coy bullshit where she goes down on him but doesn’t want to, and then feels pressured and hides in the bathroom.

      You don’t want to have sex? Just say “no.”

      And women (especially my generation: millennials) need to be educated as well, to state clearly what they want. Because men aren’t generally perceptive, they aren’t going to read the signs or know what’s in your mind. They don’t know what you’re thinking. If you don’t want to have sex, don’t say yes. It’s NOT rape if you say yes.

      If you don’t want to have sex, say “no.”

      This isn’t difficult. I’m married now, but once upon a time I dated, and I never had a problem saying, “I’m not having sex with you tonight. Just to be clear.” I was sexually assaulted in college, and it WAS assault because I said “no,” very clearly. I meant no, I said “no,” and I had to fight my way out of that situation (and luckily I escaped being raped).

      What you want doesn’t mean anything unless you communicate it. Be an adult.

      **And I’ll add a disclaimer that I am talking about your average date. NOT a situation where someone is being pressured by a superior at work/person with some sort of power or authority over them who is pressuring them and has threatened their career/family/well being/income, etc.

      7+
      1. One more thing to add: I will DNF any novel (romance or otherwise) if the heroine says no and the hero acts like her reticence is a hurdle he needs to overcome. “I’ll change your mind.” – and I throw the book away.

        I’m looking at you, Nora Roberts.

        10+
        1. A lot of movie rom coms do the same thing. John Cusack standing in the rain with that boom box isn’t nearly as romantic if you don’t want him out there.

          6+
      2. I didn’t say no. I was fifteen and I froze. As a result, I’m more inclined to freeze now that I’m 40, no matter how communicative I am the rest of the time.

        Telling people to use their words while they’re being traumatized isn’t helpful.

        6+
        1. And, Allie, sometimes using your words isn’t enough. Women are often conditions to be accommodating, and things happen. Pulling away, and I don’t care what’s happened so far, and asking to wait for a second date is very much using your words.

          There are so many thoughts going through your head and it really happens fast, and there’s guilt and shame and uncertainty (especially if you like the person and are interested in something more, or even interested in sex with that person, but just not at that moment).

          That truly sucks that happened to you at fifteen and I’m truly sorry. But the freeze thing is right. I’m also not suggesting educate men only, but they do need to take responsibility for what they do, and listen closely and not just go for it in disregard of what the woman is saying, or doing, even if they’re naked and genitalia has been explored.

          4+
          1. I remember listening to Tori Amos at fourteen singing “Me and a Gun” and I’m like, “Why is she talking about biscuits?” And then a few months later, “Ohhhh she dissociated. Been there.”

            But, you know, use your words and all.

            3+
          2. You know, I think we’re looking at two different stories, or at least reading two different stories.

            I’m looking at two people who didn’t communicate, fault on both sides, but the more I talk about this, the more I’m annoyed with her. She was in a situation that she could leave easily (and finally did) and still casts herself as a victim in national media. She sent mixed signals and then complained that he didn’t read her body language. He, on the other hand, was gropey and annoying and crass and persistent, all of which he has apologized for (which we know because she made his private text public) but which still leaves him to blame. I can understand looking back on that and saying, “I didn’t realize how bad it was in the moment, I was just trying to cope with everything that was happening, I wish he’d been a gentleman,” I don’t understand why she blames him for not reading her mind, and why she thought taking this public was fair payback. “The date was awful, so I kneecapped his career” just does not work for me. She’s responsible, too, and she’s putting all the blame on him.

            I keep going back to that three beat: She wanted red wine but she didn’t tell him; she wanted to stay at the restaurant, but she didn’t tell him; she didn’t want to have sex, but she didn’t tell him; and then she complained on the internet that he didn’t do what she wanted. He was awful, no doubt. I’ll give him half the blame. I’ll give him three-quarters of the blame. But she is not a victim, she had agency the entire time, and her not using it is not his fault. I understand that the story sets up echoes of “been there,” hell, I’ve been there, I imagine most women have. I don’t understand why a bad date with a groper equals victimhood and vengeance.

            I wouldn’t have lunch with either of them.

            6+
        2. You know, I’ll buy “disappointed” and “angry” and “passive aggressive;” I do not buy traumatized. She doesn’t sound traumatized in this, the way so many of the Me,Too stories sound, she sounds annoyed and entitled: he gave her white wine instead of red (did she tell him she preferred red, or was he supposed to just know that?), she wanted to stay longer over dinner (but she didn’t say, “Wait, I haven’t finished my wine” so was he supposed to just know that?) and then she didn’t like what he was doing . . . .

          I believe she had a lousy time and was extremely disappointed and cried in the hall. She wasn’t forced, even implicitly. She always knew she could leave. She had a lousy date, but she was never in danger. I don’t believe she was traumatized.

          8+
          1. I think you need to read studies of young women and oral sex, because you are using the oral sex as a soft no, whereas many, many women have felt it’s the quickest, safest way to get out of a sexual situation where they feel they have no control.

            That’s why I spoke about generational trauma in regards to MeToo. Have you been on a dating site in the last 15 years? I have. The screenshots will make you laugh…until you realize there’s so many of them they’d make you cry.

            Just one:

            Guy writes polite message
            Me: Hey, I’m dealing with a long-term, possibly chronic illness, and you live in Florida to my NJ. I’m not up for exchanging messages.
            Him: Well, f*ck you too.

            See also: recent study on tweens–tweens!–and being solicited for naked selfies.

            We are traumatized before we ever get to that date.

            I think the difference is that there was a lot more “boys will be boys” when I was growing up, and now it’s “men don’t have to be like that.” Except they’re being like that.

            4+
          2. SOME men are being like that. I know there are a lot of dicks out there. There are good guys, too. The ones who aren’t putting up gross pictures on the internet, for example.

            I think using oral sex as a way to get out of sex is like doing jello shots to get out of drinking. I do not see that Grace felt she had no control and therefore was forced to do what she did. When she said no, he stopped. When she wanted to leave, he called her a car. She had agency. The way to get out of sex is to say no, and if that doesn’t work, leave. If he stops you, if you can’t leave, that’s assault. Giving in does not make it assault.

            I’m not saying it’s a woman’s fault if she’s pressured for sex; that’s the other person’s fault. I’m saying that if she doesn’t say no, if uses oral sex as a bargaining chip to get out of penetrative sex, she’s agreed to negotiate. She may feel she has no choice, but that’s not the same thing as having no choice, especially if the other person isn’t doing anything to convince her she has no choice. Grace had choices, she’s responsible for making them. He’s responsible for putting her in the position where she has to make them, she’s responsible for the choices she made.

            To take this out of a sexual context, I’ve heard authors bitch about the contracts they’ve signed, stay bitter about them for years. But they signed those contracts. The terms were right there in print. If they didn’t like the terms, they could have refused to sign. If you enter into an agreement, that’s your choice (we’re not talking coercion here). You can be unhappy about the agreement, but you can’t say it was the other party’s fault that you agreed. The other party is responsible for asking for something you don’t want to give. You’re responsible for your agreement. Grace gets to say that Ansari was a creep, she doesn’t get to say that she was victimized.

            As for men on the internet, sweet Jesus, some days I think everybody on the internet is an asshole except for the Argh people. There was a woman on Ravelry the other day I wanted to strangle. If you’re going to base your view of men on the way some men behave on dating sites on the net, you’re going to be traumatized; it’s like basing your idea of Presidents on Trump.

            5+
          3. To Allie: I can’t imagine the trauma you suffered, and I am so sorry.

            One commenter mentioned the “polite victim,” and it made me think of children. Children who are raised to be respectful, and obey adults, and who are victimized by those adults. Like a 15 year old girl who freezes up. I wouldn’t expect her/you to be capable of defending yourself against a grown man making a sexual advance (and for the record I hope that fucker paid!).

            But this is not that story. And yes, she should have used her words. Grace is a grown woman, with a man who (as far as I can tell) doesn’t have power over her and is not threatening her/coercing her/forcing her.

            My impression is that she had equal power on their (admittedly awful) date, and she is infantilizing herself after the fact to defend her status as the injured party.

            4+
          4. “My impression is that she had equal power on their (admittedly awful) date, and she is infantilizing herself after the fact to defend her status as the injured party.”

            This is what bugs me. It’s like that old joke: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” “Then stop doing that.” She was unhappy (understandably, he was awful) but she stayed. WHY? And how is it that her choice to stay on a very bad first date makes her a victim?

            4+
          5. Can a woman go on a date with a famous man and say she has equal power though? If she’s in the same or a related industry, can she say that closing this door fully won’t hurt her? Will his ego get damaged with a rejection? What will happen with that? Will she end up a story in another of his stand-up specials–or in another of his books that, literally, discuss dating and relationships?

            People keep asking why she had to tell this story but, in the light of what he does for a living, why wouldn’t she tell her story first?

            You could say she should have done the math first, but who among us hasn’t interacted with someone with fame or power or celebrity and thought, “What a nice, normal person”? Then, maybe later, when that person is literally sticking their fingers down your throat and doesn’t once ask if his partner thinks it’s sexy (this is where I am baffled—really, Aziz? you’re just gonna assume every woman is into that?), it catches up to you, the reality of the situation.

            Maybe it’s because I’m entrenched in a different dating culture (queer, polyamorous) that I’m not willing to accept that this is okay, but if so, I’m good with that. All this lack of communication and consent makes my skin crawl.

            4+
          6. Is she in the same industry? She doesn’t work for him, and I didn’t get any sense that they talked shop, although now that I think about it, she doesn’t say what they talked about. Missing info. Also, again, she went on the date knowing who he was and what he wrote; if going on a date with a celebrity means surrendering power, don’t go on dates with celebrities. I’ve never seen or read anything of his: does he talk about his relationships by their real names? Has he shamed or described personal encounters without the partners’ permission? I honestly don’t know, but she would. As Superchicken would say, she knew the job was dangerous when she took it.

            I don’t think communication and consent are that different regardless of orientation although the only orientation I know is hetero, so I defer to you this one. I’m with you on the whole thing making my skin crawl. I wouldn’t have lunch with either of them. That said, I don’t see why, if she had to tell her story first, she gets to be “Grace” and he gets his real name used. This wouldn’t have seen print if she hadn’t used his name, but to say she’s not going to use hers because she might get a backlash but it’s okay to trash him by name is just selfish. If he was selfish during the date (and oh, he was) then she was selfish afterward. I’m starting to think they deserve each other.

            4+
      3. “It doesn’t have to be a romance killer”

        But some of the things incentivizing certain men to play dumb is that enough women, even feminist women, have discovered that they find it a turn-off when their partner asks for a kiss.

        Until it doesn’t work anymore, people are going to do what gets them what they want. So as victim blamey as it might get, as unfair as it might be, the actual thing that will make a difference is for that to not work anymore.

        And yet. The heart wants what it wants. As I said before, some of the women who enjoyed being pursued were feminists. They were surprised to find that they just didn’t enjoy partners who followed all of the feminist romance rules. And it seems icky to tell women that their tastes are just wrong and need to change.

        2+
  4. Grace’s story bothered me. It bothered me because women have fought for so long to make it understood that “no means no.” Her argument that he didn’t read the signs was reminiscent (to me) of men’s defense of “she said no, but her [eyes, body language, clothes, etc.] said yes.” I do not want to re-open the door to interpretation of “signs.”

    8+
    1. It seemed naive to me. It’s pretty clear there was no blood in his brain, so to expect him to read signals seemed snowflake-ish. Also, blow jobs are a non-verbal signal, too.

      8+
      1. Yeah, she blames him for not reading her body language but it seemed pretty obvious even to old, married, didn’t-date-much me that hustling her back to his place before she was done at the restaurant was a pretty clear indication that he wanted to have sex. Same with the kissing, undressing, oral sex, and getting a condom. If someone starts undressing you and giving you oral sex (and you’re not in fear for your life because that’s another situation entirely) and you don’t want them too, there are ways to make it stop. The whole story AS IT IS REPORTED is very fishy to me.

        6+
        1. Yes, this for me too. Which is not to say that I can’t believe she would do such things, but if she did, I can understand why he might think she was being coy. Oral sex does, often, lead to the other kind. Also, she didn’t leave at point A, B, C or C+ (or minus, I guess).

          The story as told makes them both sound kind of like dicks, but in reality, that’s possible, although not much of a story.

          3+
  5. Thanks for identifying (almost said ‘putting your finger on’) the problem with this story. I didn’t write her off as an idiot who didn’t have the sense to walk out, as many people apparently did, but I found the narrative really disquieting, and I couldn’t figure out why.

    Lack of Russian spies.

    4+
  6. I haven’t been following this particular bit of news, but as presented here, it makes me think of this book, that I may have to reread, because I wonder how it holds up: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0312969252/

    It’s sort of about a woman who can’t say no to men for fear of hurting their feelings, so she kills them instead.

    Edited by the fabulous Jennifer Enderlin. And unfortunately the only book written by this author (unless she used a different name elsewhere).

    5+
  7. I very much appreciate the phrase ‘polite victim’. That’s what I was struggling to give name to. Thanks for that.

    3+
  8. I get the misunderstanding between what she is looking for and what he is looking for. I even, from back in my dismal dating days, get her giving him more than she really wanted to and feeling slightly threatened and very disappointed when he didn’t back off immediately despite her mixed signals.

    What I don’t get is going public with it after, unless that was what she was looking to do in the first place. It wasn’t rape or assault, as far as I can tell, or even abuse. It was bad communication and a bad date. If I had a nickel for every time I had either of those, I’d be a wealthy woman.

    It really is much better with Russian spies.

    6+
  9. Lack of Russian spies. 🙂 🙂

    Or a female alien on a mission to reproduce, but the man isn’t the right type of specimen…

    3+
  10. Everything I know about the story comes from Jenny Crusie, but I agree with everyone that Russian spies could only improve it.

    Parts of Grace’s actions remind me of what I’ve seen girls do (and, embarrassingly, what I did as a teen). There is the hope that the once-in-a-million opportunity for Romance will really play out. So the girl broadcasts her anticipation as if she were a princess headed for the bridal chamber. Her hormones are raging. She fears that she will fail. (We all know that true princesses know the right words at the right moment.) Then, the actual date is a strained, anxious bomb. And instead of being a moment, it lurches forward from the meeting with the wrong wine to wrong thing after wrong thing. I imagine a lot of silences interrupted by inanities. He isn’t charming her like the Prince is supposed to. Does that mean she really is a nonstarter as a Princess? She keeps awkwardly trying to be a persona that doesn’t begin to exist. Asking him to call a cab is giving up. Continuing the broadcast is a public self-flaggellation in which she finally gets to pull him in with her. Ugh. It’s too real for me.

    3+
  11. I’m glad this whole story came out, partly because it gives both men and women a chance to do the equivalent of a mental firedrill. I wish I was the kind of person who didn’t freeze the first time something unexpectedly bad happens – the friend of your parents who says something racist, the first time a friend tells you she was raped, the first first time you get harassed on the street. But I don’t get it right, ever, on the first time, unless I’ve already been taught this is how you respond on this situation. I think talking about what the best choice is, in advance, in a way that acknowledges the realities of the situation and your own limitations, is the closest we can come to getting it right the first time. and clear, explicit consent is so important to get right the first time.

    I mean, there’s always at least one character who’s goal is too passive/ reactive in the first draft of everything I write. That’s how deeply passivity as a behavior option is in me. And that’s only writing.

    8+
    1. I think you put your finger on it for me, both with my own reactions and those of some of my characters. It’s deeply ingrained in me also to freeze until some time later when I can calmly sort out what happened. By then, it is sometimes too late. Doing a mental fire drill is an excellent idea, especially framed that way.

      5+
  12. The way I understand the original, real-life events, is that she kept trying to steer away from sex, to de-escalate. She didn’t feel she could say no, or just leave. It had to be some mutually agreed option.

    Maybe because he had influence, in an industry she was trying to get established in. Maybe because he was famous. Maybe her brain was just shutting down from stress, the way sometimes happens, and she couldn’t imagine ending the date, only trying to salvage it.

    From his point of view he was trying to escalate, same as she was trying to de-escalate … but undressing someone without their permission is beyond ‘escalation’. Sticking your fingers inside their genitals is beyond ‘escalation’. Those are things where if they haven’t asked you to, *you need to ask first*.

    Also, we do have social codes, like ‘three noes, to three invitations, mean they don’t want to get together with you ever’. And he didn’t treat ‘she has tried to redirect things three times now’ as a reason to back off, to not try again.

    I can see why he thought it was okay, but that’s because his thoughts were unreasonable. “I’ll push twenty or thirty times, and if I can wear her down, or just manhandle her into intercourse, that’s okay – anything short of her screaming and hitting me is not important’ really needs to *stop* being socially accepted.

    5+
    1. I didn’t get that from the way she described it. That is, he said he’d go get a condom, and she said she told him to “chill.” So he did and they moved to the couch and kissed and “briefly” gave each other oral sex . . . she’s sending some mixed signals there. I’m confused, I’m not surprised he leapt to the conclusion that she was playing. He was wrong, but he wasn’t strong arming her, and he never promised her anything in exchange for sex or threatened her career if she didn’t come through. It’s not like he was subtle about what he wanted; if she didn’t want that, she has to TELL him and then act like she means it, not tell him and then go down on him. That’s just confusing. I’m not excusing him, bleah, but she’s part of this problem, too.

      4+
  13. I remember the New Yorker short fiction a few weeks back involving a cat. Received much media attention. Seems a scarily exact preview of this interaction, so much so that I wonder whether Grace reads the NYer. Female and male reaction was gender divided as to story meaning. I thought the fiction “meh” on first reading, but a younger generation were “on it.” Their interpretations gave the story a bit more meaning, but not by much, not given my younger days.

    2+
  14. In business and friendships in general, it’s a necessary life skill to be able to navigate soft “no”s and other such signals. They allow people to get out of situations without either side losing face, which is very important in relationships. Most men do this perfectly well and those who can’t don’t get very far and aren’t respected.

    Given that, I don’t see why it’s considered ok for a man to fail to navigate a woman’s soft “no”s.

    In Greta’s position, I think I’d have been nervous about directly saying no, though I’d have been trying for tactful ways to de-escalate and get-the-fuck-out-of-there, not tactful ways to de-escalate and stay. The guy wasn’t showing coercion then but she couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t start to. I’m very conflict-avoident too, so that probably factors in too.

    Anyway, I think the guy’s much more at fault because he wouldn’t take no for an answer until it was a very blatant no.

    4+
    1. I agree he’s a fault, but I don’t think “much more.” She says, “Chill,” and then blows him. That’s not a soft “no.”

      4+
      1. Yeah, I was thinking of later than that. He says “when can we have sex?” She says “maybe on the second date.” He says “how do I make that be tonight, haha.”

        2+
        1. Yeah, when he says, “If I pour you another glass of wine, is that a second date,” I thought, Hit him with the wine bottle, and then when you have his attention say, “No.”

          What an asshat thing to say.

          5+
  15. Thank you for this post, as I’ve been trying to figure out how to express exactly this without wanting to offend anyone. (As if that were possible.) I feel for both “sides” in this story. I think Grace had a really bad date that probably did traumatize her….but the whole time I was reading her account, I just kept thinking, “You keep giving so many mixed signals that I have no idea what you want, and I already know how this ends.”

    Which is not to say Aziz is completely blameless; his behavior was boorish at best, but, from the circumstances as she described them, I don’t really see how he could have divined that she really wasn’t into it. I’m in my 40’s, so I’m not up on the habits of the younger generation, but, to me, if you’re giving and receiving (and giving) oral sex, you’re not doing it to be polite.

    The main part that threw me out of the “story” was when she related that he asked her where she wanted to have sex, and she “mumbled some things.” Her description. (Probably not her exact words, it’s been awhile since I read the Babe article, but I know she said she mumbled.) He was perfectly clear about what he wanted, and she…mumbled, and then gave him oral.

    So, yeah, he was a pretty crappy date who only wanted one thing, but he never forced her to do anything, and, he called her a car when she actually clearly articulated what she wanted. Mostly, I feel bad that she didn’t feel like she had any agency. But I have a hard time making him a bad guy here. An asshat of a date, sure, but not a villain.

    4+
  16. “got him confused with the guy he played on TV”

    AHA. I haven’t seen much of his work, but isn’t he supposed to be a mensch doing lightly autobiographical comedy? Sort of this generation’s Alan Alda? It would be really easy to feel as though there was an existing relationship and the evening would get back to it — but it’s one that doesn’t really exist.

    It would reinforce the bad heuristic Elizabeth describes above, in which there is surely a Romance in here somewhere, if one is just Worthy.

    4+

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