How do you know when you’ve hit your romantic rock bottom? Is it losing your date and then finding her tongue in someone else’s mouth? Or blushing in the doctor’s room as they confirm you’ve contracted your third STD? Maybe it’s taking someone home who looks and smells and tastes like vomit and not realising until you catch their soiled scent the following morning?
My own rock bottom happens at around 10.30pm on a Saturday night. My head is full of the heat of the day, my eyes and legs cloudy with liquor. I start chatting (slurring? gurning? dribbling?) at a woman, a pixie in a red dress with sharp collar bones. We kiss, politely at first and then rudely in a doorway in the guts of the West End.
“Come meet my friends,” she says, taking my hand and leading me into a bar.
“Hello friends,” I grin as one of them eyeballs me dubiously.
“Do you know how old she is?” he asks.
“No,” I reply cockily.
“Nine-teen,” he says as my stomach drops like a fucking hand grenade.
“So what?” I reply, feeling sick. “She’s an adult, she can do whatever she wants.” But even as the words stagger out of my own drunken mouth, I don’t believe them.
She’d told me she was 21, which I appreciate still doesn’t make me sound great but at least I wasn’t knowingly copping off with a teenager. Why is she even out this late? Shouldn’t she be studying or having a pyjama party or instagramming a latte?
The next morning I wake with a sore head and guilt rumbling deep in my belly. Hopefully, she was a genuinely happy participant in our evening – but what if she wasn’t?
After all, I know how it feels to be that 19 year-old. I know how it feels to be young and lost and to do things you don’t want to because maybe that’s where you’ll find yourself. I know how easy it is to kiss someone because you think it makes you sexy and confident and strong when all it does is prove how fragile you really are. I know how it feels to have boundaries as flimsy as cotton that men can breach over and over and over again.
One of the challenges of the growing equality between women and men is that more power means more power to behave badly. More power to be predatory, exploitative, controlling, domineering, selfish and corrupt. But just because more women are in the driving seat, doesn’t justify riding roughshod over our own moral compasses. We know how it feels to have the deck stacked against us so we should be dealing everyone a fairer hand.
In the future, I’m going to try and little harder. To try and feel out when women are vulnerable. To keep a respectful distance until I know that someone’s letting her guard down willingly, wantingly. To be alert to the signs that a woman isn’t quite ready for me.
And to check their bloody ID.