I'm just questioning myself over and over. Do you think I’m a rapist? (Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez)
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
This email is really hard to write. I am a 32-year-old man. I have always considered myself to be respectful of women. I’m not a cheater or a liar. I am all for the #metoo movement.
But recently, a friend of mine told me something, and it’s been messing with my head. About a year ago, I went on a couple of dates with a woman I know through mutual friends. We had a great time together, good chemistry, and on our fourth date, we had sex.
Everything seemed cool and then she ghosted me. She replied a couple of times with very short answers to my texts and then just stopped responding altogether. I just chocked it up to her just wanting a one-time thing.
Cut to a couple of weeks ago, and a friend of mine who knows her tells me that she said I “basically date raped” her. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’ve never been aggressive with women at all, let alone doing anything resembling rape.
I remember a couple of months ago you answered a question from a woman about a date rape. And then the Aziz Ansari thing. So, now I have my mind running in circles trying to go over what happened that night.
Did I push her into having sex, not physically but verbally? Did I not pick up on her body language? I don’t feel like I raped her, but was I coercive?
I can’t really point to anything concrete, but I feel sort of sick to my stomach when I think about it because I think maybe I was more into than she was. I didn’t really ask her if what we were doing felt good.
The other thing that is bothering me is that earlier in the night, when we were just making out, she made a sort of joke that she wasn’t going to sleep with me that night. But, she didn’t say no to anything we were doing.
I'm just questioning myself over and over.
Do you think I’m a rapist?
Do you think I should reach out to her and apologize if I misread the entire night?
I swear I am not some asshole who doesn’t care about women or is a misogynist. I feel really shitty about this whole thing.
What should I do?
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First, I am really glad you wrote to me and asked this question. In the current climate, as the world begins to open its eyes and ears to conversations around consent, these dialogues are more crucial than ever. In the past few months, I have received over 100 emails from women of all ages, wondering if what happened to them was assault or rape. These are women who are processing trauma, who question themsleves, who are clearly in pain. And, they deserve validation.
And we need men to participate — to evaluate their behavior and work towards doing better.
I cannot tell you whether or not you are a rapist. It doesn’t sound like it. However, it does sound like she felt violated and that you may have consciously or unconsciously coerced her into sex.
I do believe many men walk away from sexual encounters with no idea that their partner felt violated. I don’t believe that all these men went into these situations with the intention of harming anyone.
But, you (and men, I’m talking to all of you here) need to do better than that.
Because the subliminal entitlement that the majority of men walk around with has been and continues to harm women every damn day.
I appreciate the fact that you are feeling anguished over this and are looking for a way to make things right. I think you can do that, but it needs to be done without overstepping any more of her boundaries.
This is what I think you should do. Write her a letter or email her. Don’t text. A text is too invasive. Write that letter or email out and set it aside for a day or two. You can even send it to me first if you’d like another set of eyes on it. When you return to it, read it with the intent of ensuring that you are clear, that you are not deflecting your responsibility, and most importantly that you say you are sorry.
The apology part is important.
How many of these men who've written mea culpas in the wake of #MeToo have somehow sidestepped the most important words: I’m sorry?
Too many of them.
When you are sure that your letter is sincere and clear, give it to a friend to give to her if she is willing to read it. Or, send it as an email with the subject line: “An apology, if you are willing to read it. If not, I understand.”
Let’s keep this conversation going. Admission of fault doesn’t absolve you of guilt. BUT, it’s the first step to moving the way our society approaches and teaches consent forward. I believe we can. I believe we are all evolving. And those who resist will be causing themselves unnecessary strife.
I invite people of all genders to keep talking. Talk to each other. Talk to me. We are in this together. For every Harvey Weinstein, there are many like the guy who wrote this question — someone who is capable of change, capable of making amends.
I feel hopeful.
*If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please seek help. You can chat live now online or by phone at 1-800-656-HOPE, through the Sexual Assault Hotline. It is free and confidential. If anyone needs region-specific resources, RAINN has a page where you can find centers near you, or you can email me.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I'm not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I've gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, recovery, friendship, sex, consent, what I’m watching, Cryolite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, your anonymity is golden. xoxo