No Means No
‘NO’.’ It is one of the first words that we learn. It’s doubly curious then, that there are people, boasting a very rich vocabulary, who still find it difficult to comprehend the meaning of that most basic of terms. This is what I thought when I discovered that there were classes teaching students about the nature of consent in some university campuses in my home country. The success of these studies cannot be measured by students simply understanding the significance of a ‘no’. It is also necessary that there is a clear understanding that if someone is not in a physical condition to consent, that is, if he/she is drunk, drugged or asleep, the immediate assumption must be that it is the equivalent of ‘no’.
All this may seem obvious to most individuals. I am of the opinion that such classes are necessary for everyone.
When I read about the university courses, it made me think of a particular male friend. I had always considered him to be very practical, understanding and intelligent. He had numerous academic qualifications, spoke several languages fluently, was a well-paid professional and something of a personal success story. He was savvy and very funny. I also knew his wife and his teenage daughters. A couple of years ago, I discovered that – in spite of his collection of diplomas – he was very stupid indeed.
It was summer and he had invited me to spend the day at his house in the country. The idea of spending the day in nature, away from the stress of the city, seduced me completely. I had already spent time there, on a regular basis. I would always return to Barcelona feeling relaxed and renewed afterwards. This time, however, the opposite proved to be the case.
I stepped down from the train and he met me at the station as he always did. But, when we got back to his home, I discovered to my dismay that his wife and daughters weren’t there. It seemed that they had gone to spend the weekend with the grandparents in another village. I found it a little curious that he hadn’t referred to this situation beforehand and just admitted upfront that it would only be the two of us in the house.
Despite this, we had a wonderful first day. We went hiking, spent time on the beach, and enjoyed some amazing food. On several occasions, he complimented me on how healthy and fit I looked. It bothered me, but I acted as though I hadn’t quite heard him. I pushed it to the back of my mind and tried to change the subject.
The real disappointment occurred when I announced that I needed to return to Barcelona. After dinner, he accompanied me to the train station, but I missed the last train by a matter of seconds.
‘Shit!’ I exclaimed as I watched my train disappear into the distance.
‘You’re welcome to stay the night and come back tomorrow’, my friend reassured me.
We went back to his house. When he offered me a glass of rum, I accepted. We put music on, we danced and I was the DJ. We had a great time. After a couple of hours, I explained that I was tired and that I was dying to get to sleep. I went straight to his daughters’ bunk beds and lay down. It was then that I realised that I had probably drunk a little too much because the room was spinning around me. What made me more confused was my friend’s sudden appearance in the bedroom. He had followed me in. I frowned, focused and was about to ask him what he was doing there. Before I knew it he was getting on top of me.
‘No,’ I said, when he tried to grope me.
‘No,’ I repeated, while attempting to fend him off. There was a time-delay between my mental commands and the reactions of my body due to the alcohol. I felt helpless. But suddenly, I found the strength from somewhere and pushed him away.
‘No’, I repeated, much more sternly this time.
‘Ouuuch’ he screamed, after banging his head on the bunk bed ladder. I didn’t even consider asking for his forgiveness. After all, he was the one who’d invaded my space. He disappeared into the bathroom. I imagined that he was to attending to his sore head.
Meanwhile, I turned off the light and went back to bed even though I was in shock. I didn’t know whether it was more dangerous if I stayed under his roof or whether I would be safer going out at night onto streets that I wasn’t familiar with. My heart was pounding at a thousand beats per hour until I realised that he had crept back to his own room and had gone to sleep finally.
The next day I was woken by the noise he was making in the kitchen. I opened my eyes, realised I was in a strange bed and became confused until I remembered the circumstances around how I ended up there. My mouth was dry and I had a headache but the real discomfort I felt couldn’t be eased by water and paracetamol. I wanted to press the ‘rewind’ button, but there was no way.
I searched the rail schedule online and I told him that I was leaving. This time, I was not going to miss my train. I tried to act as normally as possible, but I couldn’t look him in the eye. I said goodbye to him with two half-hearted air kisses without looking back. I was terribly frustrated badly let down and quite disgusted. More than a decade of friendship had been trashed because he acted impulsively on his inappropriate, and unthinking, horniness.
He invited me to spend weekends with him and his family, on several occasions, after that. I never replied. It took him a long time to realise that I wasn’t going to. Sometimes it goes without saying that the clear lack of a ‘yes’ should be enough to mean ‘No.’