Today, on my day off, I sat at home and waited for the arrival of our new couch. Before I get into the meat of why I’m writing about this, I want to make it clear exactly how excited I am to have a new couch. The old one was covered in stains and smells and I’m almost certain that it sheds crumbs- because there’s no way that it could consistently be so covered in them otherwise (okay, maybe it’s my boyfriend and his kids).
So, I’m excited about this couch arrival, but I’m also anxious. I’m anxious because I’m home alone, because I’m going to let men I don’t know into my home, because I’ve heard countless horror stories about creepy furniture delivery guys. Some of you reading this will think I’m overreacting. I’m not.
Now what happened to me when the delivery guys arrived with my couch was not particularly traumatizing- it’s not something I want to inflate into this huge, terrifying event. The man who rang my doorbell was a very tall, large, young white man. He appeared to be missing a few teeth. He was very friendly, and immediately complimented my tattoos, looking at me/them in a way that wasn’t entirely comfortable, but that I brushed off. They brought the box in, and the other man wished me a good day and returned to the truck. Tall & Toothless gave me a clipboard where I began to fill out the blanks he’d indicated. He stood less than six inches away from me and almost behind me, kind of towering over me. The discomfort that I had brushed off before came surging back, but more panicky this time. We were standing at the back of the room, farther into my house than I was comfortable with. He glanced into the next room and complimented a painting, asking me who the artist was and where I’d gotten it. I gave him some short answer and he started to move toward the door then turned back and told me that he had friends in the neighboring apartment complex and he drove down this street all the time. I’m trying to be polite, but keep my answers short. I have to reiterate here that I was getting a really weird vibe from this guy. I close the door behind him the second that he finally steps outside of it.
I locked my door and sat down on the floor. Heart pounding.
Now, some people will say that I overreacted. That he was just trying to be polite and came on a little too strong. That nothing bad actually happened to cause my level of upset. Here’s the deal: I’m home alone. Just because it was unlikely that Tall & Toothless genuinely meant any harm, or would have actually harmed me, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a possibility. As someone who generally stays very steady in threatening situations, my entire body was screaming at me that something was not right about this person. Luckily, I was wrong.
There will always be men in the world who frighten women. There will always be delivery guys who give me the willies, customers who creep me out, men on the street who make me start walking faster, just because I have a feeling. I’m a lot more interested today in the reactions I received from the men in my life when I told them what happened. I texted one close male friend the moment I shut the door and told him that the delivery guys I’d been waiting for had really given me the creeps. He asked me an unrelated question and I reiterated my anxiety. He asked if they were gone and then changed the subject. I, for a third time, repeated how uncomfortable I was and he reminded me that it was over now. He didn’t understand how emotional and afraid I was in that moment. He offered to call the company and complain, but I didn’t want him to. I was simultaneously afraid that there would be consequences for reporting this guy and in denial about whether I was overreacting.
Then I got a phone call from another friend, just seeing what I was up to. I told him what had just happened and he listened carefully. When I was done, he talked about how he’d heard other similar (and worse) stories from female friends and he validated my anxiety in that moment. He stayed on the phone with me until I’d calmed down, then suggested that I have someone over to hang out with me for awhile. He called back a few hours later to check on me again.
I think it’s extremely hard for men to understand the fear that often accompanies women as we move through the world. It’s hard to teach someone to understand the warm spurt of panic in your stomach when you’re in a parking garage and you hear footsteps behind you, or when you find yourself in a situation where you are caught alone with a strange man, or any multitude of other circumstances that are typically normal and harmless but set off those alarm bells anyway.
Women, and particularly women who are survivors of sexual assault/intimate partner violence (but really all women) are walking around like veterans of a war that they’ve been fighting for their entire lives. We have PTSD from real, lived experiences or even just from being forced to watch women be mangled by men via every possible medium of art and news for our entire lives. This is true of Black and brown people, too. It’s true of LGBTQ people. And to cis white men, it’s an invisible war.
When I was in anxiety mode this morning, and I spoke to my male friends, I just wanted to be listened to. I wanted to have my anxieties heard and validated. I wanted someone to say, “You’re not crazy for feeling afraid,” along with, “what can I do to make you feel safe?”. I wanted the people I love to care about my fear, even if they didn’t understand it. I’m not angry at the friend who didn’t understand, who didn’t give me what I needed. I’m writing this for men like him. Please listen to us. Even when you think it’s ridiculous, or that we’re making mountains out of molehills. We’re not living in the same world you’re living in. We’re living in a world that always feels like a warzone. We’re living in a world where we’re always on edge. We’re living in a world full of near-misses and wrong turns and statistics and fear. Every time we make it unscathed through a situation like the one I was in today, we wonder whether we’ll make it through the next one as safely.