Trigger Warning- Readers should be informed that this article includes mention of sexual assault
In a generation where we have distilled the English language into acronyms, emojis, and vague expressions, we’re destined to get our wires crossed sooner or later. To further complicate matters, oftentimes it’s not even what a person says, but what they omit. How good are you at reading between the lines? Consider the word “relationship.” If someone asked you if you’re looking for a “relationship,” what exactly would that mean to you?
To me, the word “relationship” denotes a level of intimacy, and if I were asked whether I was looking for a “relationship,” I’d think I was being asked if I was in search of a serious commitment, a long-term coupling, and eventual true intimacy. Now, if someone should say “I’m not looking for a relationship,” to me, that would mean that they’re not looking to date exclusively, but just in a casual, friendly sense, not one that would lead to couple status and lovemaking. An interpretation I think most would agree with, but am I wrong?
Let’s say that you’ve met someone online. They’ve managed to strike up a conversation and want to meet in person, but have also mentioned that they’re not currently seeking a “relationship.” You may think you’re cool with this, but fail to ask yourself and them a very important question: If they’re not looking for a relationship, what are they looking for? This is the pivotal moment when even safety can be compromised by brevity. Mistakenly thinking you’re both on the same page can lead to a misunderstanding that quickly takes a wrong turn. Case in point:
A member of our own Pack gave her full permission to share her frightening experience anonymously, we’ll call her Trudy. One night, while online, Trudy received an Instagram DM from a fellow student, we’ll call him Adam. They flirted a bit and he asked if she was looking for a relationship. Trudy responded “Not particularly.” (Did you miss it? Trudy just assumed that she and Adam shared the same understanding of the word “relationship”) Adam quickly replied “Me neither, but would you like to meet for coffee and maybe after we can go by the lake?” (Did you read between the lines? He just asked to meet in a public place but then added the possibility of later going somewhere more isolated) Adam seemed nice enough, so Trudy agreed to meet him at a cafe, a public place where she would feel safe meeting someone for the first time. However, she didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of going to a secluded lake with a stranger, so she prepared an excuse.
Before their date, as any of us would, Trudy looked at his Instagram and LinkedIn. It’s important to keep in mind, that no matter how far back we go into someone’s social profiles, everything posted is done with the intention of creating an ideal impression, not necessarily an accurate one. Adam’s LinkedIn portrayed him as an outgoing, stellar student and humanitarian--something one might find reassuring,
The next day, they met at the cafe. Adam was attentive and attractive, but short on conversation, repeatedly remarking on Trudy’s good looks whenever there was a lull. Less than an hour later, he mentioned wanting to go to the lake. Trudy said she couldn’t, she had homework and they parted ways. When she got home, Adam was already texting her, asking if she was free the next day to go to the lake. Trudy’s instincts began to sharpen. For someone who was not looking for a relationship, he seemed way too anxious to see her again. His repeated interest in going to the lake no longer sounding nonchalant, but more like an agenda. When in the post-first-date glow, it’s sometimes easy to disregard what you would otherwise acknowledge as a red flag. Luckily, Trudy trusted her instincts and didn’t ignore that slightly unsettling feeling. She suggested meeting for dinner instead, at a popular little restaurant.
Adam kept pushing for the lake, finally impatiently admitting that he simply wanted to get physical with her in a double hammock, where they could get “comfy.” Trudy was disgusted by the sudden crudeness of his tone. They had just met. Now on the defensive, he claimed to have been “upfront” with her when he mentioned not wanting a relationship and accused her of having been in agreement. Apparently for Adam, not seeking a relationship meant strictly sex, a definition he had strategically failed to express. He went on to say that he knew she had “dressed extra cute” for him and he “would have to show [her] what that meant to [him]”. When Trudy told me this, a chill ran down my spine. Adam had the twisted notion that her way of dressing was some kind of message, a signal consenting to whatever he had in mind. Trudy was stunned, as she recalled simply having worn shorts on the hot day they had met at the cafe. At that point, Trudy let him know what her definition of a relationship was, as well as her definition of a creep and promptly blocked him.
The sickening possibility of what could have happened had Trudy not followed her instincts should be enough of a warning as to the dangers of wading in muddy waters. While texting calls for short responses, safety warrants elaborating. When you meet someone new, it’s perfectly normal to ask the question, “What do you mean by ___?” Keep in mind that some of these perverted predators embrace brevity and have a preference for vague plans that allow them to operate without technically lying, but nevertheless deceiving. This way, it’s easier for them to blame the victim. Be clear on your end and the next time you’re about to reply with a carefree “I’m up for anything,” remember that while one person’s “anything” could be dinner and a movie, another person’s anything could be doing lines of cocaine in their buddy’s basement, driving you home drunk, or taking you to a secluded area to get “comfy.”
NC State’s 24/7 Sexual Assault Hotline: 919.515.4444
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673