Coming to Terms with Your Friend, The Sexual Assailant
This is something I’ve been struggling with for a while. Stick with me because I need to work this out in order for me to know what to feel, how to feel about and what to do about it.
Here’s what happened:
Many years ago, I had two friends who began dating. The female friend — let’s call her “Woman” — was young, just barely eighteen years old. She was a virgin, which isn’t a big deal at all, of course, but it plays into the story later. The male friend —let’s call him “Man” — was a few years older and had lost his virginity long ago, and had gone on to have several sexual experiences with several female partners since then.
As people are wont to do with those they find attractive, Woman and Man liked sucking face and copping feels of things often hidden under clothes. Often, during these make-out sessions, Man would urge Woman to come with him and go a little further. Keep copping feels, but also do some gentle sticking. Woman wasn’t quite ready for the full-blown sex thing. And from what I understand, Man was never overtly pushy or uncool about it. They just didn’t have sex, and that was that.
Until that wasn’t that.
About three months in to dating and fooling around, Woman and Man were staying with friends at a rented lake house for the weekend. On the last night, the friends were sitting by the campfire on the lakeshore having drinks. Lots of drinks. Woman, woozy and tired from all the beer and wine, retired to the couple’s room ahead of the rest of the party. She promptly fell asleep — passed out cold.
When she woke up, Man was on top of her. Man was inside of her. She was still drunk, barely able to process what was happening. Man was extremely drunk, most likely unsure of the gross and extremely inappropriate thing he was doing.
As the reality came clear, she didn’t definitively say “no” but she didn’t say “yes” either. In a drunken and sleepy haze, Man and Woman had sex. It wasn’t rape. But it was not okay. It was weird.
Woman didn’t go public with it. She didn’t feel there was anything to go public with. From her perspective, she lost her virginity. Not the best first-time-sex-story but, oh well. True to the way she handles her life’s great discomforts and disappointments, Woman kept the strangeness, confusion, and anger, as well as the details, to herself for a long while. I recall her telling me she and Man had sex and that it was weird and not that great.
Years later, maybe a decade, she filled me in on the rest of the details.
But before that, I knew that the experience hung over her as a dark cloud of shame and confusion. She became averse to sexual activity and struggled to connect emotionally with other men she dated. She wanted to trust them and have sex with them, but she also had no desire to because, well, fear, or that strange feeling of self-loathing discomfort — that byproduct of being bamboozled, flimflammed, or sexually assaulted by your boyfriend while barely awake. It made her life harder than it should have been.
And yet, she’s never claimed to be a rape victim or a survivor. The idea of thinking of herself that way, in her opinion, is an insult to those she considers the real victims. But she knows what went down wasn’t right. And though she’s not haunted daily by the experience anymore, it’ll pop up now and again. And when it does, she sometimes calls me and we talk about it.
And we’re both so confused by what it was, what to call it, and how to feel.
I find myself in a unique position. I’m still friends with this guy. We’re not close. I haven’t seen him now in fifteen years and we don’t do much communicating. But every now and then an email comes through. And we’ll do some simple catching up. The most recent contact we had focused on a visit he’s making to Chicago this summer. I know I’m going to see him. It’s unavoidable. I’m not thrilled about seeing him, but I’m also not not thrilled about seeing him.
Before I knew what went down that night all those years ago, he and I had some great times together. We drank fast, laughed hard, and did all the things buddies do. But knowing that he did something to another friend of mine in a manner in which I don’t approve of — in a manner in which she didn’t approve of — makes me feel icky about maintaining even the most peripheral friendship with him.
My friend, Woman, doesn’t hold it against me that I occasionally speak to him. I’m more bothered by it than she is. And I wonder if I should write him off as a bad dude, as an enemy of my closer friend.
Thing is, I don’t believe that he’s a predator. I don’t believe he was a serial sleep-sex deviant. And neither does Woman. He’s been married a long time to a wonderful woman, and he’s a great father and husband, as far as I can tell. But I only know what I know. Maybe he was and still is a creep. Maybe. But I can’t hold maybe against someone. Maybe my son will grow up to work on Barron Trump’s presidential campaign. I can’t be disappointed in him for that now. And frankly, maybe Barron will grow up to be a fantastic president. But probably not. The odds are stacked against the poor kid.
So, what should I feel? How should I feel about it? And what should I do?
I can’t Liam Neeson the situation. And I wouldn’t have if I’d known sooner. But I might have backed off the friendship sooner if I’d known sooner. And to be clear, our friendship didn’t dwindle once I learned what happened that night. It dwindled because distance and time can do that to a friendship.
I hate his behavior that night. I hate that my friend, Woman, experienced something like that, and I hate that it plagued her in so many ways for so many years. And I hate that this is about me. But it’s only because I want to be a good friend to Woman. So I have to ask what should I feel and do because I don’t know.
Is it even fair to call Man a sexual assailant? What is sexual assault? Do I even have a role in this at all? I think I do because Woman has come to me to talk about this when it nags at her. She trusts me with her feelings and the details of the story. That’s a responsibility, right? Inaction can be a crime, too, right? And no, I haven’t spoken to Man about this. It’s not my place, is it? I don’t think so.
I’m at the point where I’ve written all I can write. Those are my thoughts and feelings. And I feel no closer to any kind of understanding. I remain in the grayest of grays. It’s a terribly uncomfortable place to be. Because I feel that if I were more comfortable, I could be a better comfort to my friend, Woman. But I also wonder if there’s any amount of comfort from anyone that could ever give her the comfort she so dearly deserves.
So, what’s a friend to do? Advice, guidance is welcome in the comments of this story.