When I was 20, I was introduced to the son of a friend of my father’s friend. *Yes, that is confusing. Suffice it to say he was someone I had a very loose connection to.
You see, he had written a musical that had some success and I was a musical theatre student at NYU at the time so it seemed like he might be a good professional contact.
(We all know there is a networking component to the entertainment world, which in my experience basically means that all of my relatives introduce me to everyone they’ve ever met who is even remotely involved in any part of the entertainment business, which is both lovely and occasionally exhausting.)
So I am an eager young artist who is just so grateful for the opportunity to connect with someone in the business, and I agree meet this guy at his apartment on the Upper West Side. You can probably guess where this is going.
I was not physically assaulted or literally violated in any way. But I was polite and kind to this older man (he was somewhere between 30-50 years my senior) and that apparently gave him the idea that something might happen between us.
We chatted at his apartment. He played me songs that he had written. I don’t remember much else of what happened except that he asked me to dinner. I didn’t want to go. I felt weird and a little uncomfortable, but I couldn’t figure out why. I had also run out of small talk and was tired of people pleasing. But I said yes.
Halfway through the meal I realized he thought it was a date. I will never forget the moment it dawned on me. All of a sudden I didn’t like the way he was looking at me. It was creepy and the whole thing felt wrong and deeply uncomfortable.
I can’t really remember what happened after that. I just know that as soon as the check was paid I got in a cab as quickly as I could and burst into tears. I felt dirty and small and weak and guilty. I absolutely felt guilty. And all of that was compounded by the fact that this was supposed to be a professional contact, so I also felt like I had let myself down, like I had failed at the task at hand, that I hadn’t “networked” well enough. As much as I knew that his coming on to me was inappropriate, I felt equally ashamed of myself though I wasn’t sure why.
I told a couple of people about the incident and this was the gist of their response: Nothing actually happened, so I shouldn’t be upset about it. He thought he might get lucky. So what? I don’t ever have to see him again. I need to just move on.
But just because nothing happened doesn’t make it ok.
Just because this is the mild end of what most women have to deal with all the time doesn’t make it ok. It’s not ok. And the narrative that our discomfort and objectification is acceptable as long as there’s no literal assault is not ok.
The way young women in the entertainment business are often asked to behave is not ok. The number of women in this world who have been violated in any way, large or small, is unequivocally not ok.
I hardly ever think of this incident. But as I reflect back, I can’t help but wonder how this has informed my subsequent relationships. I can’t help but think about how this moment must have singlehandedly made me more fearful and less open. And as I read about all of the stories of trauma and assault on my newsfeed, I can’t help but be grateful that this is among the worst stories I have to tell.
I have to say, that is the most upsetting part of all.
I wish I could bring this full circle. I like to do that with my posts, finish them with some sort of message or silver lining. All I can say here is that we have to do better. We have to continue to tell our stories. We have to speak up about the ways it’s not ok. We have to teach our children that it’s not ok. We have to make sure that everyone knows it is not ok.
Because it’s not. It is just not ok.