My sweet, shy younger cousin and I were going for our first sophisticated restaurant dinner together. Admittedly it was at about 5:30 – not so sophisticated, but she had a train to catch. She had recently turned 18 and was visiting London, and I decided that as an established, refined woman a whopping four years her senior, it was my duty to show her some of the finer things in life. As it stands, thanks to my rather affluent aunt and uncle she actually has one hell of a lot more in her savings account than I do (I have experience going deep, deep in the red, and I don’t mean that in some sort of menstrual sex sense). But no matter.
I ordered the blue cheese gnocchi while she decided upon some irritatingly healthy salad concoction. My usually nervous cousin was growing in confidence as she got older, and I sat there feeling immensely proud as she said to the waitress: “Can I have it without olives, please?”
Waitress: “Oh no, believe me, it’s much better with olives. It’s nothing without the olives.”
Her: “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really li–”
Waitress: “Miss, I’m telling you, it’s made by the olives. If you’re getting this salad, you can’t have it without olives.”
Her: “No really, please, no olives. Thank you.”
Now, it’s impossible to relate just how difficult my cousin would have once found this exchange, but as she’s matured she’s become more and more sure of herself. Saying no took her guts, a lot of guts, but as they say: no likey, no lighty. Or something. Anyway, we made general chit-chat while I near-on downed my wine. My cousin, contently a product of a teetotal upbringing, politely sipped her orange juice. Then the food arrived, and, lo and behold: olives.
She insisted she didn’t mind – that the restaurant had served this dish countless times, that the staff knew better than her, that if she was ordering the salad she should have everything that comes with it. Meanwhile, the wine having slightly gone to my head, I flipped the fuck out.
Because, ladles and gentlespoons, turns out there are still people in the world have not yet understood: No. Means. No. And what infuriated me most of all was that, prior to this experience, I had been one of those people.
Here comes the heavy stuff, folks (Nope, still not a period reference.)
Back during my university years I had a friend with whom I conducted a consensual S&M relationship. We would regularly engage in painful sexual activities which we both enjoyed, and were very comfortable with. But I had limits – limits he, when he was extremely drunk, would not always accept. Therein lies the difficulty, or so I once believed. I had brought this man into my room, gotten naked with him, let him spank me and slap me and bite me and scratch me and squeeze my breasts like they were stress-balls (coincidentally, I sometimes gave the same treatment to his actual balls – and he friggin’ loved it). And then, sometimes, he would try to anally penetrate me.
It might not make sense, it might not seem consistent, but that was something I just wasn’t ready for. I had expressed as much many, many times. I would cry and try my utmost to stop him, to no avail. But after all, hadn’t I invited him in myself, wanting him to sexually dominate me? Surely I should have expected precisely this kind of treatment? This is what I believed for a very, very long time: that the second I’d let him in, I should’ve known what was coming. Sometimes, I found myself nodding emphatically alongside our old friend Robin #PRICKE – for I, too, hated these blurred lines.
But they’re not blurred, now are they? It could not have been plainer. These acts: okay. Those acts: not okay. Simples. There is nothing inconsistent about consenting to one sexual activity whilst being uncomfortable with another. Placing down particular items does not imply other things are immediately, irrevocably on the table. I had a tipsy epiphany (etipsany?) at the restaurant: it’s as straightforward as ordering a salad without the olives. Doesn’t matter whether my cousin was allergic to olives, never liked olives, just didn’t feel like olives during that particular evening. Perhaps she practices some sort of obscure religion in which one does not consume olives after noon on aTuesday. Point is, as she expressly stated, she didn’t want any fucking olives.
I wish to make it abundantly clear that, evidently, it is not just men who believe “No” can mean “ERRRR SECRETLY YES LOL”. The waitress wouldn’t listen to my cousin. My S&M partner wouldn’t listen to me, but for a very long time I blamed myself for having confusing criteria, for saying yes to some stuff then bitchily denying him other stuff – and I bet you a plethora of people, men and women alike, would still believe that it was my fault. To them, finally, I say: go choke on an olive.
I was not “asking for it”. I was “asking for it” as much as my cousin was “asking for” olives. No one else has the right to tell me, her, or anyone else what they want. Newsflash, people – we’re not so fucking incompetent as to not understand what “yes” and “no” mean. It took me a long time to understand that I did not bring those unpleasant experiences on myself. I suppose in one sense (and one sense alone) I have to thank that pushy waitress, for jolting me into realising that I had not been to blame.
So, friends, let’s sum up. Was I secretly, unbeknownst even to myself, begging for anal sex? Does my cousin conceal an insatiable hunger for olives that only the waitress could see? Did I convince my cousin to send back her order and get the one she had actually asked for?
No. No. And hell to the yes.