I sat at a restaurant bar with him last night. It had been almost three weeks since I’d last seen him in person. I sat to his left, at the bar’s corner, my body scanning for what our previous attachment felt like. I didn’t feel anything because the atmosphere was crowded, festive, and loud.
When we agreed to meet there, neither of us considered it was Monday night and the Seahawks would be playing on the screens overhead. The noise drowned out any hope of engaging in a meaningful conversation. Our time would be spent catching up and simply sharing space together.
Later, when I got home and crawled into bed, my body was quiet enough to process all it took in…
The bartender greeted him in a familiar way. He joked with her that she “never showed up for Thanksgiving. We were waiting for you.” She responded the way all women do who have to endure discomfort for the sake of their paycheck: eyes down, body in motion, a fake smile to appease his bid.
My mind immediately started to calculate what day last week he might have been here, sitting at the same bar, striking up a conversation with her. Was it after we talked on the phone? When he tried to get me to come over and I refused? Or was it the next night, when I rejected the same offer?
After she handed us two menus, the man sitting to his right began talking to us. He was older, lonely, and leaning over a mixed drink and a shot glass. He remarked how the women who work there “all look like her” [pointing to me]. “Ya know, Russian, Eastern European,” followed by a long list of complimentary descriptors. He talked not to me, but to him, as if the man I was with owned me, all while he unwittingly projected his fantasies of women that keep him company at night.
My companion and I continued our awkward dance.
In a few minutes the man sitting to my left turned to me and said, “He [gesturing toward my companion] would never hurt you. I know because God has given me the ability to read people.” He flashed the Jesus tattoo on the inside of his wrist.
“You’re from the Midwest, aren’t you,” he continued, attempting to impress me with his divine insight.
“I am,” I replied.
“Your name reminds me of ‘Dear Yvette’,” he said. “It’s a great song.”
I begrudgingly acknowledged that I knew the misogynistic tune.
“How could you possibly know that song? You don’t look a day over 39,” he said, as he winked at my companion.
Then there was the guy with beady eyes on the other side of the bar who looked only to his drink, the screen, and me in rotation.
Twilight sleep is my most honest hour. It is where my brain tells a congruent story with my body. It is where they meet in the container of my skin to narrate without interruption what my deepest sense of knowing knows.
Last night the narrative filled in a bit more for me as I recalled being surrounded by men—so many lonely, creepy men—not reading my cues of discomfort and invading my space without permission. And as I laid in bed, I started to accept the data my body had been trying to tell me: he, the man I fell hard for just weeks ago, might be a lonely, creepy man too.
In the safety of my bedroom, I felt how empty my companion was and had been. How it felt difficult to attach to his personhood. How he seemed to mirror and listen well, but his questions lacked true curiosity and felt more like data collection. I saw his eyes in my mind’s eye, looking at me, feigning witness but feeling more like a salesman grooming and watching for when the deal is secure.
I allowed myself to know what I had been trying to deny since day one, and I wondered, why did it take me so long to acknowledge the truth?
I have done a lot of work over the years to heal my body’s flight, fight, fawn, and freeze responses; yet, I still struggle to respond with my body’s truth in the moment. I can get harsh with myself for the delayed responses, frustrated that I so easily slide into the role of assuaging narcissistic and fragile men’s egos.
I want to be a woman who can say in the moment with the full weight of her glory what she really feels.
While I have made progress, a lifetime of emotional abuse and gaslighting can still cause me to freeze and fawn more than I’d like to admit. It makes me both mad and sad, and both are needed. The sadness allows me to grieve all the ways I didn’t get to develop those muscles back when I should have. And the anger allows me to create and hold boundaries and require more from the men I engage.
It’s often said life lessons are best learned in hindsight and prepare us for future experiences. The next time, whatever “next time” holds, I want to be a woman who can say, without apology, in the moment, the thing that needs to be said.
“Are you flirting with the bartender?”
“Please back up. You’re too close.”
“What you just said makes feel uncomfortable and objectified.”
“I noticed you’re staring at me. Please stop.”
That night at the restaurant bar I did what I had been trained to do from an early age—sacrifice my own comfort to shield the men surrounding me from shame. Next time, I want to speak up as an embodied, unapologetic woman. I want to assert my truth and invite them to engage me with honor and integrity in the face of my boundary.
Yvette Stone is a complicated human, both being and doing. A former magazine publisher, Yvette changed careers midlife and now practices as a trauma-informed psychotherapist in Seattle, Washington, specializing in helping women recover from domestic violence, particularly narcissistic abuse. Yvette earned her degree from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, is a Fellow at the Allender Center, and an advocate with Northwest Family Life. In her free time, you can find her holding one-sided conversations with her dogs, doing some sort of intense workout, painting a portrait, reveling in paradox, or dreaming of her next great challenge. You can find her online at www.yvettestone.com