Hi. You don’t know me. But like many others, I feel as if I know you, after reading the crushing short story about you that went viral after appearing in The New Yorker.
The story described how, during your sophomore year in college, you met a man named Robert when you were working in a movie theater, exchanged some funny and flirtatious texts with him, then took a study break to meet him for a snack at a 7-Eleven, which led to an awkward date and even more awkward sex. It’s evident from the tone of hurt, humiliation, and sorrow in your words that this was one of the most miserable experiences you’ve ever had in your 20 years.
Shortly after your thoughts appeared, the Internet teemed with sympathy for you and disgust with Robert, a bearded, paunchy 34-year-old who, during your nauseating single tryst, threw you around in bed “as if you were in a porno.” Many pointed out that, although the sex was consensual, it was not exactly enthusiastic on your part. The author who created you, Kristen Roupenian, tells us what went through your mind as you watched Robert hurriedly pull down his pants before he realized his shoes were still on:
Looking at him like that, so awkwardly bent, his belly thick and soft and covered with hair, Margot recoiled. But the thought of what it would take to stop what she had set in motion was overwhelming; it would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon. It wasn’t that she was scared he would try to force her to do something against her will but that insisting that they stop now, after everything she’d done to push this forward, would make her seem spoiled and capricious, as if she’d ordered something at a restaurant and then, once the food arrived, had changed her mind and sent it back.
I’m sorry about what happened to you, Margot. But I don’t think you have thought through how you got into a terrible situation. In all of the responses that people — mostly young women like you — have written about your experiences, few have mentioned the two words in your story that jumped out at me: “seven” and “three.”
Robert is your seventh sexual partner. You’re 20 years old. Margot, I don’t know what the right number is for you, but seven is too many.
Having sex with sketchy guys you don’t actually know after (by a generous estimation) 1.5 dates is a bad idea.
Please don’t mistake my concern for “slut-shaming.” I don’t think you’re a bad or immoral person. I won’t make the case that God is angry with you for not guarding your virginity until marriage. I won’t make the case that you should have sex with only the man you will eventually marry. But having sex with sketchy guys you don’t actually know after (by a generous estimation) 1.5 dates is a bad idea. When you were in that bedroom with Robert and he began taking off his pants with his shoes still on and you realized you were revolted, you had cornered yourself. You had left yourself with no good options. As you say, calling off the sex at that moment would have been somewhat painful. Going ahead with it turned out to be even worse. It’s evident that this hookup is going to bother you for a long time.
But you so easily could have avoided it. I’m from Gen X, two generations older than you, and I can tell you that, not that long ago, seven sex partners might have been considered a fairly robust tally for a lifetime. But for a 20-year-old? I know guys from college who married the third or second or even first girl they ever slept with. Needless to say, going back to a generation before me, seven sex partners in a lifetime would have been considered a startling number.
Margot, sex isn’t just a fun leisure activity. Your generation has been taught not to take it seriously. Yet sex takes you seriously. It’s obvious from your words that the night you spent with Robert has shaken you deeply. Whether you want to admit it or not, your feelings get dragged into it. Your personality. Your core.
Much of the Internet’s response to your sorrow has been, “Why can’t guys be better at sex?” That’s missing the point. Bad sex doesn’t need to be soul-crushing. If you had really forged a meaningful connection with Robert, you could have worked out your problems in bed over time. You could have made it clear that you didn’t like being treated like a porn star. You could have taught him what you like in bed.
Another popular Internet response has been, “It’s unfortunate that society makes it so that Margot felt she couldn’t call it off at the last minute.” But that’s missing the point too, because things had gone badly astray long before that. When you first got in Robert’s car, you wondered if he was going to rape and murder you.
If you’re in a car with a guy and you’re not sure if he wants to murder you, the date has already gone bad.
Margot, I can’t believe I need to tell you this: If you’re in a car with a guy and you’re not sure if he wants to murder you, the date has already gone bad. The underlying problem is that you don’t know this man. Except for selling him Red Vines a couple of times at the movie theater and meeting him at 7-Eleven for that snack, you’ve never even talked to him before this night. Texting is not a way to get to know someone. I understand why your generation loves texting: because you have time to formulate the perfect response. You get to present a better version of yourself than you really are in the moment.
But guess what? Guys get to do that, too. Guys can make themselves look better than they really are. Texting-Robert is cool and funny. In-person Robert is so weird and awkward that you can’t be sure he doesn’t plan to slit your throat.
The way you deal with this nervousness brings me to the other word that jumped out at me: “three.” You have three beers (plus a slug of whiskey) with Robert, which impairs your judgment so badly that you signal to him that you want to sleep together. The drinking is another bad idea. Depending on your size, three beers for you might equal six beers for a man. Is anyone proud of anything he’s done after six beers? The drinking you two do happens right after a movie, with no dinner in between, which means you had those three beers on an empty stomach. You don’t offer any details about the beer, but bars these days often serve beers in pint glasses, and not just pint glasses but 20-ounce pint glasses. Three of these would be 60 ounces of beer, which is really five beers. Which is really ten beers.
Margot, having three beers with a guy you barely know is a big, big part of why you ended up having one of the worst experiences of your life. I know your generation has been taught that a girl can do anything a guy can do. But you can’t drink like a guy. If you hadn’t gotten drunk with Robert, the evening might not have turned into a catastrophe for you. Drink sparingly when you’re in situations that could turn dicey. If you can’t drink sparingly, don’t drink at all.
You’re only a fictional character, Margot, but at the same time, you’re not. Young women are responding to your tale by saying that much the same thing happened to them. You and the young women who see them themselves in you should realize that your problem is not that so many guys are bad at dating or bad at sex (though we often are). Heed the lesson the world learned from Duke PowerPoint Girl: Getting drunk so you can have meaningless, unattached, random sex with guys you barely know is not going to make you happy.