My Very, Very Guilty Confession of When I Enabled Harassment
My Very, Very Guilty Confession of When I Enabled Harassment
Trigger warning for harassment. (Obviously.)
This Kavanaugh hearing … I’ve been ready to throw a brick through a window for days.
But in addition the anger, I keep feeling guilt.
Because one time one of my friends got sexually harassed and I handled it all wrong. You know what I did? I stayed friendly with the dude for a long time … even after he harassed other friends … until, of course, he tried to harass me.
I’m not going to share my friend’s incident because it’s not mine to share.
The harasser was my partner on the recruiting team. We worked closely together. I thought he was funny and smart and I had a lot of professional respect for him. He was chummy with another close work friend of mine – a younger woman who was crazy smart and absolutely hilarious and someone I greatly admired. The two of them had a little workplace banter going on sometimes … nothing unusual at all in our lively office.
Then this guy crossed a line at an after-work happy hour.
The next day, my female friend told me what this guy had done.
I was flummoxed. This guy did that? This guy … the one I worked with all the time? The one who made me laugh? The one who had the adorably charming nickname for his wife? The one who seemed so delightfully and happily married?
A few days later I talked to the guy about it. I figured he’d deny it, or say he didn’t remember, or make some other excuse. He just said, “Yeah, I did all that. She’s not lying. But the thing is, I said some stuff to [other female coworker] at the happy hour, too, and she told me to fuck off. But [victim] didn’t, so I thought she liked it.”
I admit, I had also wondered why she didn’t just tell him to knock it off. I didn’t understand and it was uncomfortable. The easiest thing to do was to go “not my business” and move along with my life.
Fifteen years later I have a different perspective. Now I suspect that she was so shocked that she didn’t know what to do … so she remained frozen. She was a deer in headlights.
But back then … I did nothing. I stayed friends with this asshole for a long time. Why? I liked him. He made me laugh. I’m such an idiotic sucker for someone who makes me laugh. I even invited the harasser to a party I was having – a party in which I’d also invited my female friend. I gave her the heads up first. (How considerate of me, right?) Neither of them showed up.
Oh my God … I want to crawl into a hole writing this. I really do.
Because this guy taught me something that I now know and can never forget: A guy who acts like that once never just does it once.
I eventually left that company. I kept in touch with many former coworkers from that job, him included.
After I got divorced, the harasser and I connected over some potential writing gigs. I’d heard some stories that he’d harassed other women after I left … in fact, I’d heard these stories directly from the women he harassed … but I thought he would never try that shit with me. I figured he knew that I wouldn’t put up with it and that he had too damn much respect for me to ever consider crossing that line.
I was so stupid.
Late one night he messaged me over Facebook to tell me he was going to the shore that weekend. Then he said, “Why don’t you meet me under the boardwalk, where I’ll be giving out free cunnilingus.” I replied, “I’m busy but I’ll definitely send my mom over.” (Sorry mom. We used to make a lot of “your mom” jokes. They were meant to be about the generic mom, which is sort of like the “royal we.” You know I love a “your mom” joke.)
And then I sat there like, “Wait. Did that just happen?” I looked back on the messages. Yep. Sure did. I knew where this was heading. And I had just joked with him? What the hell? So I blocked the motherfucker and never heard from him again.
But had I not known about the other incidents with the other women, I most certainly would’ve tried to joke my way out of the situation, which is my fallback for just about everything. He would’ve had to go pretty far for me to say directly “Hang on. This is inappropriate.” Instead, I was more likely to deflect and defuse.
WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO WRITE OFF THIS TOTAL PIECE OF SHIT? Why???? I KNEW. I knew way more than enough to know that he was disgusting. I also believed the women who had been harassed. I didn’t doubt them.
I guess I thought I was immune.
But seriously? That’s no excuse and I want to kick myself for ever thinking such a thing. This guy had done horrible things to my friends. I knew. But it didn’t affect me so I didn’t cut him out.
It may have also had something to do with the idea that at that point in my life, I really thought my job was to get along with everyone. I prided myself on not burning bridges. There are lots of reasons of that … societal norms, family dynamics of not calling shit out, i.e., enabling rotten behavior, being too young to know better …
I guess that I felt if I could compartmentalize what had happened, I could remain friends with everyone and not deal with any social awkwardness. Heaven forbid we don’t like someone … or shun them for acting like a total shit.
Fifteen years later and so many charred bridges behind me, I want to shake Past Trish and scream at her to get goddamn some sense.
To the ladies this happened to … my friends … I’m so sorry. I believe I’ve apologized in person to you all, but let me do it again. I was so wrong and so stupid and I know you all have lasting scars from this disgusting pig. I’m sorry I didn’t stand up with you. I’m sorry that I failed you. Because I really did.
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