Communication: How to Avoid an Awkward Date from Hell

Last week a debate about what constitutes sexual assault and what doesn’t erupted on social media.  I won’t rehash the horribly written article about Aziz Ansari and I won’t hyperlink to it either.  That site has gotten plenty of traffic in the past week.  I don’t want to debate the language, tone or content of the piece.  Whatever could be said about it has been said about it.  I’ve officially reached Aziz fatigue.

What I do want to continue however is the discussion about the weird grey area that exists between enthusiastic obvious consent, and less than thrilled uneasy consent.  This is a very real problem for both genders, although women have been conditioned to accept it more so than men.  Most of us have been there.  We agree to do something sexually that we’re not sure we want to do.   Again, I’m not referring to the Aziz article or anything in it, I just wanted to explore what many of us talked about in discussions about awkward sexual experiences.  In a perfect universe we should strive for obvious enthusiastic consent, but we’re also not going to get rid of hundreds of years of social conditioning overnight.  We are currently in a strange new world where some of the shame and stigma regarding human sexuality has been lifted, while still living with outdated perceptions of gender norms and what constitutes appropriate behavior.

The most compelling insight on the piece came from a surprising source – the sex positive community.   I have a few friends who are so sex positive they have orgies for fun.  They plan sex parties for a living.  Many of them are in polyamorous or non-monogamous relationships with multiple partners sometimes of both genders.  Some of them have worked as strippers, prostitutes, dominatrixes and even sexual surrogates.  They speak of their sex lives as easily as most of us would talk about our pets or hobbies.  They openly brag about having over 100 sexual partners or more.  The general tone that I got from nearly all of them was.

What we have here is a lack of communication.

For decades it’s been drilled in our heads that we are not supposed to talk about sex.  Human sexuality is rarely something we have frank and open conversations about, at least with new sexual partners.  We are fed a myth our entire lives that amazing sex can be had with total strangers with very little communication.   The exact opposite is true.

Sex is like rocket fuel to humans.  It’s so important to us it’s literally how we create human life, yet at the same time we try to treat it like it’s something we can engage in without a second thought.  Of course we can but we need some ground rules with a new partner if that’s going to happen.  No one would think to jump out of an airplane without first being shown how to use a parachute.  I don’t know why we can think we can magically enter into highly emotionally charged situations without figuring out appropriate boundaries first.

This list is about some of the strategies a person can use to avoid awkward, clumsy and uncomfortable consensual sexual encounters.

Everything on this list with a couple of exceptions is meant for BOTH GENDERS.  Although I wrote this with straight couples in mind, some of the same principles could be applied any sexual orientation or gender identification.

*This list is only in regards to consensual sexual encounters.  No amount of communication will deter a sexual predator.  In those cases the only thing a person can do is  physically fight back, escape a situation or scream for help if that’s an option.  I want to make this distinction now as I don’t want anyone to think a person can simply talk their way out of a sexual assault.  I speak about this as a survivor of sexual assault myself.  Sexual assault is a criminal act where one half of the situation is given no agency, no control, no voice and no choice.  

Tips for avoiding awkward sexual experiences.

Ask for what you want. 

There is nothing wrong with simply asking for what you want.  Both partners should be direct and open about boundaries and comfort levels.

The phrase “Do you want to have sex?” can be very sexy.  It’s also incredibly unambiguous.   The phrase “Can I kiss you?” can also be smolderingly hot if said in the right situation.  It’s also perfectly acceptable to say what you don’t want.  The best way to do this is to use clear language that cannot be misunderstood.  Words like “No” “Stop” or “I don’t want to do this” are hard to misinterpret.  Again this goes both for men and women.  Men also find themselves in situations where they are not comfortable.  Neither partner can assume the other one knows what they want without direct communication.

You are NEVER obligated to do anything you don’t want to do. 

It doesn’t matter how much someone spent on a date.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve already done on a date.  Making out doesn’t mean you consent to oral sex.  Having oral sex doesn’t mean your consent to anal sex.  Having anal sex doesn’t mean you consent to new partners being added to the mix.  If you don’t want to reciprocate or you’re not feeling it you can say no.  You can stop at any time in the date.  It might be awkward or strange to end the date abruptly, but the momentary awkwardness will be easier in the long-term than going through with something you’re not sure you want to do.

You don’t have to be polite if you don’t want to do something. 

This is the only guideline on this list that is directed at women more than men.  As women we are programmed almost from birth to be nice, sweet and accommodating.  When you enter into a sexual act you are kind of putting yourself on the edge of a proverbial cliff.  You don’t really know how your partner might treat you or react.  During a sexual encounter a human being is about as vulnerable as they are ever going to be.  This is not the time to worry about being polite.  If you are freaked out or scared, you can just let it all out.  No need to worry about how you’ll be perceived.  Speak your truth.  Stand up for yourself.  If someone expects you to have unprotected sex and you insist on using protection say NO as loudly and as strongly as possible.  There is NO WAY IN HELL you should put yourself in a potentially medically dangerous situation just to seem nice.

Real life is not a porn movie.  

Porn is probably the worst teaching tool for having great sex.  In most porn scenarios next to no dialog is spoken.  A man somehow just knows that it’s OK to do all sorts of violent and depraved things to a woman he’s just met, he might even include another male partner without even remotely checking in with the woman.  This is of course a fantasy.

Real life is not a fairy tale. 

You might get lucky and have some incredibly romantic near perfect dates that end in beautiful, connected, and full-filling sex with someone you barely know.   It does happen.  It’s quite rare.  Most amazing sex happens with someone you know well and have been having sex for some time.

When in doubt – check it out

If you suspect your partner is not into something stop and ask them.  One of the craziest stories I’d ever heard came from a friend of mine who told me that in the middle of sex a new partner smacked her across the face.  She stopped him immediately and said, “What are you doing?  Why are you doing that?” he claimed his last partner was really into it.  My friend told him she wasn’t.  He stopped.  She never had sex with him again.  Because he immediately stopped the behavior after she requested it, she doesn’t consider this sexual assault.  It’s a great example of a man assuming she would like something his last partner enjoyed.  These assumptions happen all the time with both men and women.  It’s ALWAYS better to check in before you take the risk of entering into behavior that could be seen as predatory, violent or criminal.

If it’s bad early on, it will probably stay bad. 

I hate to say it but you can tell a lot from a kiss.  If a man or woman’s idea of a hot kiss is your idea of a disgusting one, you’ll probably never connect sexually.  It’s fine to simply make up some excuse and get out of the situation before you find yourself in a much more awkward experience later that night.  Everyone goes through this.  If a partner looks great on paper and you like him or her otherwise but her or she repulses you sexually, you’re probably better off not taking things further.

Excessive alcohol use can blur your judgment.

What I just typed is common sense.  What I just typed has also been labeled as sexist, regressive, abusive and part of rape culture.  The problem with the simple statement of “Don’t get drunk” is it’s often only told to women.  Of course women should be able to drink alcohol if they want to and even get drunk.  This exact same advice should also be given to men.  Just as it is far more difficult to drive a car or walk down stairs, it’s also much more precarious to enter into a sexual situation when we are severely intoxicated.  No one is perfect and people will sometimes accidentally drink too much.  The dangers of excess alcohol are just a good thing to remind yourself of if you’re about to go out with a total stranger.  I want to stress this again.  BOTH GENDERS should heed this advice.

Gender specific “rules” that should be thrown out the window

For women

  • Men won’t respect you or ask you out again if you have sex too quickly after meeting them.
  • Don’t go out with him if he asks you out with less than three days notice for a date
  • Don’t go home with a man on a first date.
  • Don’t make out with a man on a first date.
  • Tell him you’ve had three sexual partners in your past. (For most of us that would be a lie)
  • Don’t openly talk about sex or act interested in sex.
  • Never really say what you feel always play the game
  • (Many more rules/assumptions too many to list here – basically that women must remain virginal, pure or at least appear so.  Women must also act coy, not be direct and constantly appear nice)

For men

  • If a woman goes home with you on the first date she wants to have sex
  • If a woman has sex with you on the first date she has less value
  • Any woman can be convinced to have sex with you if you just keep trying
  • If a woman has more than three sexual partners in her past she has less value
  • If a woman makes out with you that means she wants to have sex with you.
  • If a women dresses in a revealing manner she wants to have sex with you.
  • If a woman has joked or flirted with you that means she wants to have sex with you.
  • Never really say what you feel always play the game
  • (Many more rules/assumptions too many to list here but basically that men should pursue, pursue, pursue even when things seem pathetic.  Basically the cliché of a boss chasing his secretary around the desk.)

These are all antiquated ideas about love and sex.  Most of these “rules” leave both genders confused and frustrated.  The best way a man can find out if a woman wants to have sex with him is to ask her directly.  Even though it’s usually wise to avoid sex with perfect strangers, I’ve known several long-term loving relationships that started out just like that.  We have to stop thinking in rigid terms of gender roles and old-fashioned codes of behavior.  We have to smash the ideas of playing hard to get, acting like we don’t really want sex when we actually do, and generally blurring the lines of open communication.  We have to speak up as openly and clearly as possible and empower ourselves to say no when needed.  Again this goes for both men and women.

The last guideline really has nothing to do with awkward sex but is more about the flip side.

You can have great sex with people who are terrible partners

This is probably one of the toughest lessons in life that both men and women learn the hard way.  I think all of my friends have had amazingly hot, passionate sex with people who were absolutely horrible to them.  Sex is great, but if someone is really treating you like garbage outside of the bedroom you’re better off without them.   You can always find another partner who you will click with completely who won’t emotionally abuse or neglect you.

I’ve read a lot of articles regarding this topic that were all saying the same things I’m saying here.  This is also extremely obvious advice, I admit that openly.  I just wanted to get this out in a way that didn’t seem preachy, use words like patriarchy, misogyny, toxic masculinity or any other ism.  Even though this is a widespread problem that is deeply entrenched in our culture we don’t have to think in terms of lofty goals to solve it.  It starts with each and everyone of us.  If we all want to have good sex we just need to start talking to each other about everything and anything.  Don’t feel weird asking questions and never assume you know what’s going on in anyone else’s head.

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Dating in NYC: A Typical Night Out

Streets of NYC

Image via Wikipedia

I am adding the following disclaimer to all of my dating related blog posts.  I change details, and create composite characters when I write about dating archetypes such as “Mr. Houdini, Mr. Angry, etc.  I would hate it if someone wrote about a high energy blonde comedian negatively in a blog, so because of that I never include a person’s occupation or anything about their physical description.  I also change enough details that I doubt anyone I am referring to would even recognize themselves if they read one of my articles.   I have split one person into three, or taken several people and put them all into one example.  So simply put, I am very ethical on this blog.

I don’t think this entry will be profound or blow anyone’s mind but I have hit the proverbial wall so many times in this dating hell.  Nearly everyone who has lived in NYC says the same thing

Dating in this city is hard

With 8 million people packed into a small space, we should trip over potential partners.  Instead finding a good match seems next to impossible.  Rudeness and bad behavior abound because nearly everyone is a stranger.  Lost in a sea of humanity there are few consequences.  Men and women do whatever they have to do to get maximum pleasure with as little pain as possible.  Of course not everyone in New York City is out for a quick thrill, devoid of any real human interaction, but there are just enough jerks out there to ruin things for everyone.  Here are just one such example:

The other night, while standing at a the edge of a basement room a bar/restaurant, a man walked over to me, grabbed me by the wrist and whisked me towards the bar.  Two men I have known for years, that I trust immensely, saw the incident go down and didn’t seem concerned.   Confused, I looked into this man’s eyes thinking that I might have met him before, and asked.

“Why did you just grab me?  Dude I would normally rip your head off for that.  What’s wrong with you?”

To which he replied in a thick Spanish accent.

“I am one of the owners of the restaurant”

“Well I don’t know that, I only know the producer of the show.  Why are you grabbing people you don’t know?  I’m a comedian, I tear people apart from onstage, you’ve no idea who you’re dealing with.  Where are you from?”

I figured if he was European that would sort of explain some of this crazy behavior, as personal space is a bit culturally specific.

“I am Mexican

And I thought to myself, well you’re spoiled rich Mexican.  And then in my head I created his entire families backstory of the same rich snobs marrying other rich snobs that were a little too closely related to each other rather than mix with the “rabble” of the poorer classes.  And yes his aristocratic lineage flashed through my brain during this inane conversation especially since he practically had “Entitled Aristocrat” stamped on his forehead.

“Well you might be a comedian, but you are_kinda_ cute”

I wanted to vomit right there.  Kinda cute.  WOW.  Watch my pants fall off.  Really dude?  Really?  Then he proceeded to go on….

“I like the way you talk to me, I like that you told me what to do, people don’t talk to me that way…and I like it.”

So now he was asking for some type of BDSM fantasy to unfold here?  Sorry sir but we have only just met, you have already pissed me off and I feel slimy just talking to you.  I didn’t say that of course, but I thought it.  He insisted on buying me a drink, I took my seltzer and lime and walked back over to my friend.  Where I immediately told her what happened and she said.

“That’s so New York”

And the sad thing is that for some women, his “grab me by the arm and yank me over to the bar” seduction technique would have worked.  He was good-looking, flying on cocaine and probably fairly wealthy.  For many a lost soul, they might have seen an opportunity and went home with him.  Only to have the following scenario play out.  He would continue to drink, do more coke and then not be able to perform (due to the cocaine) or pass out drunk.  Maybe his date might luck into getting some free drugs or have some awkward sex with him. If she was really lucky, Mr. Aristocrat might even remember her name the next time he saw her.

The entitlement in this man’s face was overwhelming.  The “kinda” cute blonde in the corner was just another woman he could pluck out for the evening.  The spoiled brat picked the wrong girl.  Sure he probably gets turned down a lot, but in NYC he will have enough success due to his looks, money and drugs to keep the farce going for years.  He could live like this until he destroys himself with drugs or settles down with another rich entitled brat, or maybe a model 20 years his junior.  I’m sure this same situation happens in cities all over the country, but given New York’s density of wealth, a rude, wealthy playboy is a night life cliche.

If he grabs 10 women, he might get lucky with one.  In a smaller city his reputation would be established soon enough, whereas in New York he can become brand new man, every single night.  I drank my free seltzer and joked that we should keep an eye on it, in case he should “roofie” it.  He moved on to easier prey.  As I shared a cab home with my friend and mocked the absurdity of the evening,  I couldn’t help but wonder, maybe there was a man in the same room who was just too intimidated to come up to us.  Instead he looked in our direction and thought the better of it – as a rich asshole dominated our time.  And people wonder why it is hard to date in the emotional desert that is New York.

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When you finally stop enabling and tell your friend to sober up.

A Kranz (wreath) of Kölsch beer.

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote this months ago about a former friend.  I decided to not publish it because I worried that this former friend might see this and freak out.  At this point I doubt she reads my blog or cares what I have to say.  I don’t drink alcohol often, usually only a few times a year on special occasions.  I don’t drink because my extended family has not had the best history with addiction or alcohol use.  I have seen far too many dark examples of what happens when people let substances take over their lives, so I chose to not make substances a part of my life.  It is not easy, as most adult social situations center around alcohol and it is assumed by some that anyone who doesn’t partake is unusual, uptight  or anti-social.   With the recent passing of Whitney Houston (probably drug related) it made me want to publish this.  The rich and famous have handlers who will enable them all they way to the grave.  When an addict has so much money and people hired to please their every whim, it takes an extremely long time before they reach their rock bottom and get help.   It is why so many celebrities die from the disease, no one is there to stop them before they fall.

I don’t know who will read this but my depression entry gets tons of traffic so maybe an alcoholic seeking recovery or someone dealing with an alcoholic will stumble on this and it will help.  To protect this person’s identity I won’t reveal her name but for privacy purposes of this blog I refer to this friend as simply D.

I met D at a horrible time in my life, dealing with a rough divorce and an extremely painful depression  that followed it.  Throughout my recovery our friendship grew and I thought of D as one of my closest friends.  We started to work together and that is when the problems started.   On more than one occasion something I did seemed to upset D and she would completely react towards me in an irrational way.  Everything became blown out of proportion and several angry phone calls or emails would follow, but then D would eventually apologize or at least partly apologize.  It was exhausting.   D also admitted to me that she had a drinking problem, or that she thought she had a drinking problem.  She confided to me that she would drink alone by herself until the point of being intoxicated nearly every night.  She also thought her spouse also was an alcoholic.   She strung me and another sober friend along for weeks with promises of getting help and going to Alcoholics Anonymous. She never went to a meeting, she never sought help of any kind other than to call both of us repeatedly.

Then she finally decided to quit drinking for thirty days.  She did this without therapy, going to an AA meeting or rehab.   About a week shy of her goal she called me to tell me she was about to relapse.  I was actually on the phone with her as she walked into a bar and started drinking again.  I didn’t know what to tell her, as I am not an addict and I had no idea what to say to her that might stop her from drinking.  But it was heartbreaking on my end.  It was late at night and she was several miles from me, I don’t know if she expected me to jump in a cab and try to physically stop her, but I couldn’t afford to blow money on a cab, especially since I didn’t think it would do any good.

After her relapse she never again brought up her drinking problem.  Our relationship definitely changed after that as I felt I didn’t know how to bring up that topic, because I definitely thought she still had a problem.  Months later she lashed out at me while she was visibly intoxicated.   After much back and forth between the two of us I finally brought up that her drinking might have something to do with these erratic mood swings and her self-destructive behavior.   She had told me on multiple occasions that she had problems with feelings of paranoia especially when drunk.  So I didn’t think much of bringing up both to her because I had hit my breaking point.  Her reaction of course was to deny everything and then to attack me for every flaw she could find.  Somehow after telling me for months that she_thought_she had a drinking problem, then showing up drunk and becoming emotional I wasn’t supposed to even dare bring up the obvious.   I was supposed to suddenly develop amnesia about all the times previous she had gone on in detail about her problems with booze.

I am far from perfect, I have horrible demons in my past and bad habits and I make mistakes all the time when dealing with interpersonal communication.  I know this, but I don’t feel bad telling an alcoholic that they are an alcoholic and they need help.  I don’t regret losing a friend over this.  Because otherwise I would have slowly drifted away from her.  Eventually eroding my ties to her and she would never know why.   I would be yet another friend who cut her off without confronting her about her very real and serious problem.  She attacked me for being self-involved, yet I was the one who picked up the phone time after time with her breaking down on the other end about her addiction.

To any addict the whole world seems self-involved, because anyone who knows an addict knows that they view themselves as the center of the universe.  No one understands their pain except for them, no one is as tortured, as despondent, as complicated and as misunderstood.  When in reality the addict is like every other addict, sick, scared and in need of help.  And if she sought professional help she would find out that simple truth, that addicts are more alike than they are different and that they are all battling a difficult disease.   If left untreated they will take down everyone within their path until they get that help.   I chose to take a step back and get out of her way.  I am not going to get pulled down into her personal hell because she feels like taking spectators with her.  She can only cry out for help so many times and then slap me in the face for trying before I just give up.

If you have an addict in your life who is repeatedly begging for help but not changing their behavior.  Make the difficult choice and stop enabling them otherwise you will only get blamed for their mistakes and tragedies the alcohol has caused.  No one is perfect and everyone deals with their own hang-ups and flawed ways of dealing and coping.  But addiction is a real disease and sometimes the best thing you can do for a friend in crisis is to confront them with their problem.  I probably permanently destroyed my friendship with D, but I would have felt worse placating her and pretending to not see what was right in front of my face.   If had just smoothed things over and ignored her real crisis I wouldn’t have been much of a friend to her anyway.  I am fairly certain that she is still drinking to the point of intoxication nightly and that she will eventually destroy herself if she doesn’t get help.   My heart is still a little broken from the experience but I don’t regret my attempt at an intervention.


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