I was taught to be careful.
Sat through self-defense classes and women’s seminars where instructors told stories of attacks and offered tips on keeping ourselves safe: never walk down an unlit road at night, always carry your keys between your knuckles, scream “fire,” instead of “help.”
Small suggestions that all culminated in the fact that as a woman, I am never safe.
And this is a fact I’ve rebelled against, determined not to alter my life out of fear. I consider all the times I put my own safety at risk for others — the hypocrisy of every time I’ve run down Winspear Avenue to retrieve a friend from a party so she wouldn’t have to walk alone.
And I’d do it all again.
It’s reflexive, the need to check in on my friends every half-hour. Scanning the room in search of faces painted with fear, a routine that has saved more than a few strangers from being backed into a corner by guys who overserved themselves. And it’s a point of pride for me, my almost motherly instinct to step in whenever someone looks uncomfortable. A confrontational aspect in my personality bubbles to the surface — blind confidence.
I forget myself.
Perhaps this need to watch over others has left me vulnerable, as I forget to employ the same awareness that I preach to those around me.
That was certainly the case last weekend.
I’m not a big drinker, but there’s something about the atmosphere of a dimly lit bar, swirling with laughter and music played by a post-graduate cover band, that feels welcoming. With a whisky sour in one hand and a handful of darts in the other, my body relaxes.
I’m a notorious wanderer. My friends know that once we enter an establishment, the likelihood I will stick to the group is slim-to-none. I call it the “Mike Mullen effect” (sorry, Dad): like a magnet, I’m pulled around the room, searching for familiar faces. My mom calls me a “social butterfly” with a pure and incessant need to make friends, steadfast in the belief that a carefully crafted compliment can win anyone over.
Last Saturday night, my boyfriend Ryan and I headed downtown to Mr. Goodbar, with plans to meet up with some friends for drinks. With all four dartboards full, I scanned the wall, calculating who was likely to finish — and more importantly, not want to play another game — first. I settled on a group of three guys, most of whom had already abandoned the board to watch the Final Four game between Duke and North Carolina, leaving a lone player throwing for everyone’s turn.
I leaned in. “Shoot for the 15,” I said, coaching a stranger into speeding up his win. Several darts later, the rest of the trio returned.
I don’t remember their names, but we chatted for a few minutes as I waited for them to finish their game and for Ryan to return from the bar. They let me throw for a few turns and, as they made jokes such as, “Your boyfriend must be afraid to play with you,” I laughed.
“Wow, she’s pretty, modest and good at darts,” they said, as I suddenly became acutely aware of just how alone I was standing in the corner of this bar with three strange men, forcing a nervous laugh and pretending the comment hadn’t immediately made my skin crawl.
Soon, Ryan returned with a fresh whiskey sour in hand, which he placed on the ledge beside me in full view. A few minutes later, our friends had arrived and the gang was all there.
But my drink wasn’t anymore.
“Where’d your drink go?” Ryan asked me.
I turned my attention to the ledge and, as if in slow motion, a hand reached out for my drink, which had already been slid half-a-foot away from me.
And just like that, it was gone. Tucked behind the back of one of the darts guys. A mix of shock and horror flashed across my and Ryan’s faces as we realized what he could be doing.
My first thought: spiking my drink.
There had never been a more important moment to be a shameless social tattletale, to find the closest security guard and give a brief, yet specific description of what had just happened.
“Second dartboard from the window. Red baseball hat. Curly brown hair. Blue and white flannel. Just swiped my drink. Looked like he spiked it.”
And just like that, the Red Baseball Hat was gone. Quickly ushered out the front door as I made my way up to the bar for a replacement drink and back to my spot at the dartboards.
“He said he’s sorry and that he didn’t do anything, but that was sketch,” the security guard told me, assuring me that despite his explanation, Red Baseball Hat was gone.
I’m thankful for the Mr. Goodbar staff’s swift response. The security guard immediately investigated and confirmed with me that he had the right guy and the bartender made me a new drink and reassured me that the offender would be thrown out.
But I still can’t help but laugh.
As a woman, I am told to find sneaky and subtle ways of protecting myself: just smile and they’ll go away, slip that you have a boyfriend into the conversation, pretend to take a phone call, grab a random girl and act like you’re old friends, etc. I’ve dealt with my fair share of creepy drunk guys and they’re all pretty much the same.
They don’t care that you have a boyfriend.
They’ll find you after your “phone call.”
And they’ll still try to chat — even after you think you’ve made your escape.
In my experience, the only surefire way to ensure that the problem is dealt with is to make a scene. But in those moments, the last thing I’ve wanted to do is draw attention to myself. Hesitant to move too quickly for fear that it might ruin the mood.
But you know what would have ruined the mood?
Getting f—king roofied.
I refuse to be kind to men who make me feel afraid, to laugh at their jokes that aren’t funny and to hope that my relationship status will ward them off. I will not let my fear of inconveniencing others make me vulnerable.
What Red Baseball Hat did was shameful; why shouldn’t his shaming be just as public as the discomfort he put me through was?
Reilly Mullen is the editor in chief and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reilly Mullen is the editor-in-chief at The Spectrum. She is a senior majoring in political science with a journalism certificate. She enjoys Dunkin’ iced lattes and Scrabble. A former web, features, news and managing editor, she is a columnist at heart but has covered everything from UB Football to breaking news.