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Dear Cute Guy on the bus, Today's ride home seemed like it would be the usual fare of crowded seats, faux fur hood linings tickling my shoulders, coughing behind my left ear, a man preaching about this holiday's "real" reason, and a driver frustrated more and more with every time he had to slam on his brakes. And this expectation held true all the way until the Kroger stop, when half the bus unloaded. Then with the sudden opening of empty spots, everyone reshuffled and there you were across from me in the aisle giving me an oddly familiar smile. To your defense, it might not have been as odd a smile as it seemed. After all, you ride the same route all the time, and I'm usually oblivious and writing by the time we hit the next stop after boarding. But I digress. You lean over to me, and wave a hand to get my attention to remove my headphones. You have a very genuine and disarming smile. Your hair is dark, matted down, and a mild ring around your crown can be seen from a hard hat you probably wore all day at your job. But nonetheless, your interest and inviting smile puts your whole approach together perfectly. As you are tilting forward to talk over the noise of the bus roaring off from that fateful Kroger stop, you playfully pulled at the gray edges of your work shirt collar, casually looking side to side for a moment as if you don't want to be overheard revealing some interesting tid bit of news. When you do this, I notice the lightly bristled edge of your jaw squaring up for a second, and your dark brows and green flecked hazel eyes focus right into mine, and I'm completely entranced with amused curiosity in this social spectacle that lasts all of five seconds. And you speak; a deeper baritone escaping from your throat than I could've imagined coming from such a treat to watch, but it works for you. A complete picture of a man with intent, and I like it a lot. Your lip pulls away from teeth whiter than I could ever hope to scrub my bathroom tiles, and you introduce yourself. And with the utterance of your name follows a monstrosity of a conversation starter that riled every red flag in my mind. Three words shattered my ballooned anticipation of experiencing a possible kindredness on an average Thursday bus ride. I heard these words and I immediately damned my pensive mind. I cursed my hyper active reasoning. I loathed my damaged experiences and the wisdom they lent me. A perfect five seconds demolished by the quick firing response of my synapses and protein transfers thanks to three poorly timed words. All because of three lousy words that conveyed an intent that means the shallow acquaintance at a bar before a drunken fuck at two in the morning. Words that don't mean "I want to know you", but "I want permission to justify expectation". Consonants and vowels that are arranged in a manner to dictate whether I have an owner or not. Yes, my flirtatious man about town, I am single. Why does that matter right now, in this moment of everyday meetings and conversation? Is it really that necessary to clarify I am worth talking to based on whether I have a current lover or not? In what world do we live that even in America people see it as disrespectful to possibly befriend a stranger who has a lover? Some would blame women and the "games" we play, but asking a person's relationship status as a qualifier for even engaging in conversation isn't just consent to converse. It's affirmation of sexual availability before ever even considering sharing what music I like! I find it absolutely detestable the need to clarify ahead of time whether my vagina is already an assigned sperm catcher. Even worse, is one determining I am not worth further conversation unless my vagina is unclaimed. Whenever I am asked if I am single before even engaging in casual conversation, it feels like I am being asked for some type of consent. Consent to be approached sexually. A mutually understood agreement of having "a fair chance" at dating me. Consenting to a societal standard that I don't even want to be subjected to. "Are you single?" My stomach knotted up when you asked me this. It's an uncomfortable question that I see many people treat others with suspicion if the woman doesn't want to answer, or hesitates before answering. As if this anxiety to respond is something to be ashamed of. I realize that it is important to know if someone is in a relationship if your intent is to date that person, or just offer a flirtatious greeting. I understand that there are some out there who become highly offended at even being simply approached in conversation by the opposite sex. But there are many women, like myself for instance, who understand asking me my relationship status immediately upon approach is code for,"Am I allowed to approach you sexually." Handsome man, I am never going to fault you for the social construct you are programmed with, but I will fault you for refusing to consider my side of the equation when being approached. I certainly do understand yours so show me the same grace. Honestly, those three words immediately told me I probably didn't want to even answer you and just disengage from the moment. There is a time and place for wanting to know if someone is available for dating, sex, and whatever else. The opening greeting is certainly not the right time. Yes, I'm single. No, I'm not constantly looking and wanting to try on every guy or gal that approaches me with interest. My being single NEVER equates to consent of anything, and it doesn't commit me to your expectations of availability. Cute Guy on the bus, you spoke to me briefly on the bus and had asked me if I were single. And as soon as I answered yes, you told me how attractive I was, said I should have a "guy that wants to treat me out", and then asked me out on a date, which I politely declined. I don't know you, and I'm not comfortable with this initial approach towards me. I even suggested that maybe we can talk more during the commute tomorrow, but you wouldn't hear it. "But you said you are single," you whined, an annoyed grimace deepening the shallow laugh lines around your cheeks. Your eyes went from open and inviting to incredulous and suspicious. You wondered aloud if I were really even single, or if I was just flirting with you to get my kicks. You felt that I was indebted to you since I had, in your mind, given consent to be pursued by stating my relationship status. You are sick of women leading you on you tell the guy behind us, which confirmed my identifying was giving you the unspoken nod of sexual intent. So, of course I just laid my head back against the window I was sitting next to, pulled my earphones back over my ears and went back to the monotonous bumps, coughs, and brake slamming that I had grown accustomed to expecting on my evening commute. I know I am going to see you on the bus again Monday morning. Maybe I will explain to you that looking for women to date is different than shopping for a coat. You can't seriously believe women want to try men on and off like a coat at a department store until we find one that fits. Some coats are just not my style, and I wouldn't even bother to try them on. Kind of like you. .
When my mother was about 40, she married a Christian man and became a born-again Evangelical Christian. Over the next couple of years, I watched her go from being a fairly liberal non-believer to being a far-right fundamentalist who cut out everything in her life that didn't revolve around Christianity, including her job and almost all of her family. She became strongly attached to an entirely different way of thinking. Now many years later, it's become apparent that her Christian way of life has manifested itself in her being a sexually-repressed person with deep shame about simply being a woman. When I'm around her and her husband, even I, having never been a part of any religion, get an uncomfortable vibe that I should be ashamed of being a woman too. If I were dressed in black robes from head to toe, I would be much more comfortable in their presence because jeans and a typical shirt or sweater reveal too much. I'm just stunned with how bad it's become. It's not an overt, direct condemnation of sexuality that I hear from them; It's a tension that comes through body language and some verbal cues. However, while spending extra time with my mother recently, she openly expressed the sexual shame she experiences, such as by running out of an acquaintance's birthday party at Hooters and demanding that we stop speaking about our dog's anatomy after his neutering surgery. I've started to more clearly see that the "vibe" I get around them is based on real sentiments. I'm concerned for my mother. She says that her shame stems from being abused in her pre-Christian life; Sure that sounds horrible, but she's distorting the meaning of the word "abuse." What that really means coming from her in particular is that she is ashamed of having been a "sex object" in her past when she had more freedom to be a sexual human being. In other words, mutual sexual enjoyment is abuse. In my mind, the sentiment in her community is abuse, and she doesn't recognize it. Being taught that we are to be ashamed of being ourselves, and thus undermining our self-worth, is abuse. Most importantly, focusing on shaming women's bodies is truly turning a woman into a "sex object." (On a side note, this is exactly what we're seeing with the contraception debate and Limbaugh's sentiments.) I really want to understand more of what's going on here and how this happened to her. I want to see if I can help her at all if I choose words wisely. I would really appreciate any thoughts or insights!!!