"Would you like to go for coffee?" He corners me after class. I mumble something about having plans and make attempts to skuttle out the door. "What about dinner tomorrow?" The hopeful follow up wafts in my direction. "Or brunch on the weekend? What about a drink sometime?" A seemingly harmless enough request has become a familiar refrain that leaves me with a feeling of mild angst.
I guess most of us, at one time or another, have been in what I refer to as the "green eggs and ham" scenario. Some people call it "humbugging". It's the situation where somebody repeatedly asks for or offers something, doesn't get a favourable response, and yet continues undeterred. It's prevalent amongst socialists, evangelical christians, and of course in the land of dating. When it doesn't feel like my boundaries are respected I tend to squirm. It actually takes me a lot of mental energy to work out how to say no tactfully, firmly and kindly.
While it was probably not Dr Seuss's intention to explore themes of consent in his famous children's book Green Eggs and Ham, his work does seem relevant to that subject. The principle seems to be that 'no' doesn't always mean 'no', and that persistence pays off. There are so many examples in literature and film of this mentality when it comes to dating. The classic case is the dogged pursuit of a lady friend by a slightly nerdy guy, which succeeds when he ultimately proves himself to be worthy of her affections.
Normally we find these movies romantic, and delight in the experience of the underdog finally 'winning' in the end. But as a male friend of mine says, there is a fine line between romantic and creepy and the distinction is whether the behaviour is wanted or unwanted. I realise that it's tricky for many of us to tread that line at times. We might find ourselves getting so caught up in our own desires or notions of romance that we somehow 'forget' to consider whether our suggested activities or requests are of any interest at all to the other party.
I find the tea analogy quite helpful when it comes to explaining consent to people. Basically, the principle is that if the person has said they don't want tea, or is unconscious, or only partially conscious, or was unsure about tea, but now that you've made it they show no interest in drinking it - DON'T FORCE THEM TO DRINK THE TEA!! It also points out that just because somebody enjoyed a pot of tea with you last Thursday, or with somebody else - doesn't mean they want tea today, or with you.
So, whether it's tea or oddly coloured eggs with pig meat that I'm just not that into, I realise I need to get better at trusting my gut instincts and being confident enough to clearly say no. I know this is a challenge for me, as I have been socialised to accommodate others' needs and consider their perspective above my own. But, more importantly, like SAM I AM, lots of us need to get better at reading body language, genuinely seeking consent, and accepting with grace if the answer is no.