My husband admitted to me that he finds it strange that I seem to completely miss when he attempts to flirt with me. When he told me this he was in a moment of vulnerability and I was wanting to comfort him, to explain that it’s not true. But I found myself realizing that I have no idea what he’s talking about. I guess that’s the point. I ask him for examples and he gives some. He lists off several sweet, little gestures that he does to indicate that he wants to be close with me. Again, with incredible vulnerability, he points out that I laugh at him when he does these things. And it’s true. I do. I laugh and immediately ask him a direct question about what his intentions are. “Do you want sex?” And, probably no one will be shocked by his response…he is dejected. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but clearly, I missed the point. He was making a bid for connection and I turned it into a business meeting.
We talked… and I thought. Why do I do that? Why do I want to force him to state in black and white terms exactly what his intentions are before I am willing to engage? And then it hits me… I’m a woman who was raised in a world where not knowing a man’s intentions was terrifying. This is how my “me too” story still affects me. After therapy, after healing from PTSD, after being a trauma therapist myself, and after years of a loving partner, I still need and want to know exactly what I am consenting to before I will be vulnerable. Doesn’t this make so much sense? Most of my previous sexual encounters prior to my current partner were either manipulative, degrading, or violent. My demand for exact communication is a holdover from a promise I made to myself. I promised I would never accidentally walk into a situation like that ever again. I would make sure. . . as sure as I possibly could.
I feel a sense of loss that, once again, I have found something that has been taken from me (and now, my husband) by my perpetrators. I feel anger. Red, hot, and ferocious. But also relief that I understand now. My partner does not demand, he requests. His subtle bids for connection are not manipulation to push me somewhere I don’t want to go. They are an invitation that I can choose to respond to. When I’m invited to a party by someone I trust, I don’t demand a list of activities and expectations before I attend. I’d like to think I can approach his invitations with the same trust and enthusiasm.