When I first met my boyfriend more than a year ago, one of his friends groped me. Then he did it again. And again. I told him about it immediately after the first incident and he dismissed it and said it didn’t happen. Since we weren’t in a proper relationship at the time, I felt like I didn’t have any “rights,” so I didn’t pursue the conversation. As time went on and our relationship became more serious, I brought up the issue again. My boyfriend’s response was: “He hasn’t had any in a while, he’s just a deviant.” This response angered me greatly. I feel like he should feel some anger and indignation on my behalf and not try to make excuses for his friend.
A year later, after I’ve spent more time with his friends, my anger toward them has reached the boiling point. All they ever do when they get together is make sexist jokes and recount stories of dumb things they did on the weekend (stories of how they got into a fight or how they got thrown out of a nightclub).
On New Year’s Eve, another one of his friends suggested that me and my female friend should get it on in front of him. I didn’t tell my boyfriend immediately for fear that he would dismiss the situation again. When we had a fight a few months later, I told him, to which he responded: “My friend must not have known we were in a serious relationship.” First of all, this friend knew we were living together and had planned a long overseas trip together, so he knew that my boyfriend and I are in a serious relationship. Even if he thought we were not serious, the fact that we were in a relationship at all should mean that I am off limits. It hurts me that my boyfriend’s first reaction is to make excuses for his sleazy friends.
His friends do not respect women at all. What’s more, they are not particularly nice to my boyfriend. I feel like they take advantage of him, and talk about him behind his back. I don’t want him to see his friends anymore, but he thinks that they are just behaving like boys, and wants me to just get over the groping incidents. None of my own male friends behave like this, nor does my boyfriend. Help, Cary. What should I do?
You say that when you first met your boyfriend, one of his friends groped you.
I am thinking there must have been a time in your life when to such an outrage you would have responded with clear contempt; you would have said without question, No, this is not OK, you cannot treat me this way, fuck you, get away, it is out of the question.
I am thinking that there must have been a time in your life when you had a clear sense of who you were and how you deserved to be treated, and would not have become friends with these people in the first place. From what you say, it is clear that they violated your sense of propriety and dignity from the very start. There must have been a time when you would not have countenanced such disrespect.
So I want you to go back to that time in your feeling memory, and revisit that person you once were who could respond with pure outrage, undivided by sentimental attachment or fear of retaliation or calculations about group status and popularity, and bring back into your being that purity of response, that unsophisticated and childlike directness that we are capable of at a young age. I suggest you take a few minutes to be in that childlike directness of spirit; inhabit that feeling. Enjoy it. Enjoy whatever visions you may have of powerfully fighting back. Inhabit your own strong indignation, your outrage, your sense that anyone who treats you this way should be repulsed.
We do compromise as we become adults. We do have to learn to moderate our responses to the myriad outrages of daily life, and not to respond with childlike rage to the slightest provocation. But if we compromise too much we can get lost in compromising, and we have to recover that pure outrage, that feeling of “This is not going to happen. This is bullshit.” For that is where our primal, priceless self resides.
If you have trouble finding this emotion, then imagine your response if someone punched you, or tried to take your purse. Imagine your instinctive self-protective reaction. That is the reaction and the feeling that you want to find and use or, as some might say, “own.” That feeling is, I think, something like a pure moral reflex.
Once you have contacted that feeling, then begin to consider the compromising considerations that follow it: what you might lose or suffer by objecting. For instance, you might lose the companionship of this young man, which is no doubt sweet and quite dear to you; you might incur his attack, verbal or otherwise; you might incur the contempt of his fellows, who might crowd together and snicker at you, jeer you and call you names; your female friends might do the same, fearing also to be excluded.
Examine all those afterthoughts and try to seclude them like a jury from your deliberations. They are not material. They come after the fact. Only examine them to see how they perhaps persuaded you to ignore your first and most natural response of utter outrage: This is wrong!
Try to recall and revivify this initial response of yours. In it, I believe, lies the strength you need to change. It is a strong, true, dependable and utterly ordinary response. Who would not have this response? Who would not respond with incredulity that your boyfriend, your supposed ally, cohort, protector, friend and soul mate, did not side with you, did not stand up and try to protect you but instead sided with his friends? He abandoned you, left you unprotected. Is he not a friend? Would a woman friend do that? Would any friend do that?
He is your boyfriend?
He may be a boy but he does not sound like a friend.
We are not suggesting that he act with the chivalric theater of some outdated he-man, protector of women’s virtue; we are suggesting that a genuine friend actually likes the person he is with and is on her side. He is in her court, has her interests at heart, is her friend, can be depended on to support her because in the bosom of his being there is genuine affection and high regard. There is not only lust but like. There is vulnerability to your charms; there is concern for your good opinion of him, which he does not wish to lose. All this compels him to act well as a friend; he is brought to his higher self by you.
His higher self would not leave you to the dogs.
Perhaps you have never experienced what I am talking about: The many-layered comfort of true friendship? The many-layered eroticism of intimate support and unflinching loyalty that allows the full and fearless expression of sex? In which you have agency? In which you exist for him as a being and not an object? In which you are not only loved and fucked but also liked and respected? To a degree that he might sacrifice his own status among his friends to show it? That he might put aside his private view in order to stand by your side, elevating you above his friends, elevating you above even himself?
I say only that such a thing does exist in the world. It exists among men and women of some fineness in the heart, of some toughness and spirit, of some hard, smart, loving stuff made. It exists in the world. You can find it if you get away from these thugs.
So ditch them. Change your life. Change your direction. Meditate on those moments of betrayal in which he showed you where his loyalties do not lie. Meditate on what you felt there. Write it down. Explore it. Make it real. Then find your original protective feeling for yourself. Do not lose sight of it. Cultivate it. Use it to steer a course toward compassionate others, following the faint pull of your own true north.
“Since You Asked,” on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
Or go to Amazon and get it cheaper! (But not signed.) Or ask for it at your local bookstore. Tell them it’s distributed by IPG.
And be sure to sign up for the Cary Tennis Newsletter.
What? You want more advice? Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory. See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum. Ask for advice. Letter writers: Please think carefully! By sending a letter to email@example.com, you are giving Salon permission to publish it. Once you submit it, it may not be possible to rescind it. So be sure. If you are not sure, sleep on it. You can always send tomorrow. Ready? OK, Submit your letter for publication. Or, just make a comment to Cary Tennis not for publication. Or, send a letter to Salon’s editors not for publication.