I'm a hetero guy in his early 30s who spent a good portion of his 20s slutting around. Some of it was great, but some of it I now see as unhealthy. But the Harvey Weinstein news and related stories are giving me pause and making me take stock of my sexual history. I think my record is pretty clean. Were there times I was callous with someone's heart? For sure. I regret those moments, but I chalk those up to the wear and tear of being in your 20s. I had my heart poorly handled plenty of times too.
However there is one moment in my life that I reflect on and have deep shame over. I was in a FWB relationship with a woman that was dependent on us being in the same country for us to actually sleep together, so the relationship was pretty sporadic and inconsistent. During one of the hand full of times she was visiting me, she was not in the mood for sex, and I was, and I guilted her into sex. As I understand, this could be labeled as "coercive sex." I was probably 24 at the time.
I am repulsed by my younger self and that I was capable of doing this. I've never done anything like it since, and this woman and I eventually tapered our relationship off to just being friends and have been for ten years now. There's never been any weirdness (that I've perceived) and as far as I know, she doesn't hold on to this memory—that being said, how could I possibly know? Part of me that wants to reach out and apologize for this, but another part of me is saying "Just leave it alone." I could explain the many reasons I want to apologize (her forgiving me & letting me off the hook, my guilty conscience, performing what a good dude I am), but I really want to know what the right thing to do here is. What is the best thing for her, not me?
Fucked Up, Knows Boys Operate Immorally
Before I get to your question, FUKBOI, I gotta say...
The #MeToo hashtag/movement/reckoning is one of those rare moments when we're reminded social media isn't just for racist/sexist trolls and Russian psyops. Social media is a tool that can be used to build a better world, not just a tool for making a shitty world an even shittier. But #MeToo, like everything else, has its critics. Some argue it may ask too much of survivors. Others argue its going to enrich our tech overlords... the same tech overlords who profit from all those racist/sex trolls. Here's Jessi Hempel at WIRED:
#MeToo—despite the best intentions of so many participating—is everything that’s wrong with social media. Outrage is central to the design of most social media platforms—for very good reason. It’s an emotion that inspires sharing, which causes all of us to spend more time engaged with the platform. And that translates directly to revenue for the companies.
Perhaps Twitter is seeing a revenue boost thanks to #MeToo. But the company has never made a profit—and there hasn't exactly been an outrage shortage in the eleven years since Twitter launched. So I don't think the good #MeToo is doing is cancelled out by the money it may be stuffing in @Jack's pockets.
After 24 hours, more than 500,000 tweets and 12 million Facebook posts had been shared with the phrase [#MeToo]. But now, a new hashtag is being circulated to encourage men to take responsibility. "How many women will it take to say #metoo before men talk about #himthough?" Liz Plank, who started the hashtag, wrote on Twitter. "Why is the burden always on women? I'm done pretending sexual assault is a woman's issue. Your shame is not ours. No sir. #HimThough.
Ms Plank's campaign has since gone viral, with hundreds of social media users sharing their own #himthough stories. "We have, as #Men, a responsibility in calling out the bullshit we create as men, regardless of our sexual orientation. #HimThough," user @2Fikornot2fik wrote.
Which brings us back to you, FUKBOI, your shame, and your burden.
You #ThinkYouCoercedHerIntoSex and want to talk with your old friend/possible victim about it—but you want to do the best thing for her, not you. That's a commendable impulse, FUKBOI. I often hear from people who want to reach out and apologize for past wrongs—ostensibly to make amends to the victim, but all too often to make themselves feel better, to alleviate their own guilty consciences, to get themselves down off that hook. (It's telling that your cited reasons for reaching out are about you, FUKBOI, not about her.) I usually advise people in your situation to leave it/them alone. It's not her job—and it's almost always a her that was wronged—to make the person who used, abused, or sexually assaulted her feel better. More importantly, hearing from someone who used, abused, or sexually assaulted you—even if they're reaching out to apologize, even if they're motivated solely by concern for their victim—can rip open old wounds, FUKBOI, effectively re-traumatizing the victim. (I've heard from too many women who found themselves in the unbelievably galling position of having to comfort men who'd assaulted them years earlier after those men reached out to "apologize.")
All that said, FUKBOI, I think you should discuss this with your ex-FWB/current friend.
Had you not spoken to this woman since you were in your early 20s, I would tell you to leave it and her alon. But you and this woman are friends and have been for ten years. She's still a part of your life and you're still a part of hers, FUKBOI, so this wouldn't be "reaching out" or "barging in." This would be "bringing up." The Guilt Incident could mean nothing to her or it may still trouble her a decade later; she may have wanted an apology then, FUKBOI, and an apology now might be welcome. Discussing this with you, her friend, isn't going to require her to have a polite conversation with a hated man from her past that she never wanted to speak to ever again. (And may find herself treating politely, so powerful are social norms/undertows.) But you two speak frequently and your friends, FUKBOI, so I think you should bring it up—leading with the apology and leave your feelings/needs out of it. Apologize to her sincerely and then listen just as sincerely to whatever she wants or needs to say. But even if she doesn't remember it the way you did—even if she didn't feel coerced—that doesn't get you off that hook. Your old FWB may not have felt threatened or coerced by your behavior that day, FUKBOI, but another woman—a woman with a different history and different fears—could've experienced the same behavior as coercive and/or rapey.
Zooming out for a second: Women experience male pleading/pressure/guilt differently—something many men fail to appreciate. All women are socialized to defer to men, all women have experienced sexual harassment, and far too many of have been victims of sexual assault, and all woman move through their daily lives in fear of—but not paralyzed by—the threat of male violence. Behavior the average guy might view as "harmless" begging and pleading for sex—or guilt tripping for sex—could be experienced as threatening by the woman on the receiving end of it. So don't beg, don't plead, don't guilt. Ask. If the answer is no, the answer is no. I do think it's possible to ask more than once without being coercive—but that second ask has to accept and repeat the initial "no," honoring it's validity and force, and deescalate, not ramp up, the sexual tension. ("You weren't feeling it earlier, said no, and I heard you. But if you start feeling differently later... let me know. But I won't ask again, so it's up to you to make the move. So how about we watch the new season of Transparent?")