Why is it that saying no to an offer of a drink or a date makes us feel like we’re somehow being rude? Why were we conditioned from childhood, by our parents, by society to think that giving an honest answer about whether we actually wanted to do something or not was worse than possibly offending someone or hurting their feelings?

(Side note – given recent weeks’ news cycles, I want to point out I’m not about to launch into a story of how I was pressured into something that made me feel violated or in any way constituted sexual assault but it the story does talk to the wider societal norms and the pressure that we, as women, feel that in some way have maybe led to those things.)

On a random summer’s Friday night I got a text from one of my best guy friends asking what I was doing the next day and did I want to go to a pool party that some guy he knew was throwing at his parents house in this super nice area of the city. My answer was, of course, yes I’m free and yes I want to go.

I love living downtown, my 511 square foot apartment is just fine for me and the few possessions I chose to keep post-divorce. But an actual house? With a garden? And a pool? Yeah, I’ll happily take a day there thanks very much.

Late Saturday morning, along with another guy friend of ours, we drove over to that side of the city stopping to pick up some food for the BBQ and drinks on the way. At that I offered to be designated driver on the return, rather than deal with a bus or cab home and need to go back for my friend’s car the next day. I don’t do very well when mixing sunshine and alcohol, or so my friends tell me when I come round after fainting, so it was probably best to keep the alcohol to a minimum when the sunshine was already at maximum.

The impressively large yet cosy looking house was beautiful. The pool and sloped, landscaped garden were stunning. The patio with tiled outdoor kitchen and corner sunken hot tub was incredible. This was how to spend a summer’s day, I was in heaven.

When we first arrived it was just the my two friends and I, the guy whose house it was and another of his guy friends. They were already on the patio drinking with the outdoor fridge fully stocked and a whole pile of towels and floaties ready – I liked their preparations. I especially liked the stack of red solo cups. I still find them such a novelty having only ever seen red cups in Hollywood high school/college movies until I moved out here. It’s like living out some childhood fantasy… if only it had been a kegger.

It actually felt like the only thing missing was a keg. When we turned up I could have sworn it was the setting of an American Pie movie. It just had that typical All-North American (I say North American because I can’t say American because we’re in Canada which is like someone saying England when you’re in Scotland but the saying is All-American so just work with me here ok?) feel to it. Including the two guys. Board shorts on, red cups in hand, talking about how the one guy’s parents, the house owners, were away in Mexico I think.

They were really nice guys and, from the stories they were telling, it was obvious they weren’t opposed to getting up to some shenanigans back in the day. In fact, it still felt like they were living in “the day” so I didn’t doubt they still did stupid shit now. The host was a super fit snowboarder who was training to become a helicopter pilot and wore a big ass diamond stud in his left ear. Bro!!

I’d use the term “Frat Boy” but maybe only because my versions of Frat Boys were more Prince William and Prince Harry-esque than Stifler and Oz. I have boarding school and Edinburgh University to thank for that.

The sun was beating down already and, while I was desperate to get my clothes off and my tan on, stripping off into a bikini while just sitting on the patio and being the only female amongst four guys (two good friends and two total strangers) didn’t feel super comfortable, so I chose to endure what tan lines my chosen outfit might result in and keep covered up.

After a few drinks (them, not me – I allowed myself two ginger apple ciders over the course of 8 hours) they decided it was time for the pool and so at that point, finally!, I got down into a bikini. Toes dipped in the water, sitting on the edge of the pool as the guys attempted to show off their diving prowess and throw balls around was bliss.

Not long after a whole bunch of Bro’s friends showed up, females included thankfully, and the fun and noise quickly escalated. It was a really great mix of random people all intent on enjoying a beautiful summer’s day. As the afternoon and the drinks wore on the stakes in the pool games got higher and I started to notice what I thought was flirting coming from Bro aimed at me.

The friend who’d invited me swam up beside me mid-afternoon and said “I think [Bro] likes you, I think you should date him”. Now, my friend and I have very frank dating chats, he was also single at the time and we loved telling each other what the other was doing wrong in their dating life, what they should do more of, less of and ultimately who we thought they should be dating. Was it always sound advice? No. Did we always take the advice? Thankfully, also no. And in this instance, I was definitely going to ignore him and presume the beer was to blame for the misplaced encouragement. Surely he knew that Bro was maybe the furthest thing from my “type” – if in fact I have one of those, which is debatable.

But flirting by a pool is one of the easiest things in the world – you’re both not wearing very much and the always-a-winner tease of going to push someone in the glistening blue water is a sure thing. And so as attempting to push me in became tipping me off the diving board, became full on rugby tackling me into the water, I probably couldn’t argue with my friends note about Bro “liking” me. It was fun, it was flirty, it was fine.

By early evening, we were all in the hot tub and the flirting had died down, most likely due to me choosing to sit at the opposite side of the bubbling water from him. Conversation had turned to who thought they could slackline across the pool and the male bravados were out in full force. With the amount of alcohol, and by this point weed, that had been consumed, I wasn’t entirely sure it was a good idea for anyone to be attempting that and being the only sober one I didn’t really want to end up playing lifeguard or ambulance driver, so I made hints to my friends about making an exit.

After declining Bro’s offer for us to “just stay!”, we dried off and took turns getting changed in the guest house. Bro joined us by the outdoor kitchen in the midst of my friend asking me if I the real reason I wanted to leave was that I was going to meet up with a guy from Tinder who’d been texting me. That wasn’t true, I’d blown the guy off (in the “said no” type of way!) and I was going home to go to bed. Despite my protestations, Bro joined in with my friend giving me shit, quickly followed by my other friend returning and adding to the jokes.

After a solid 5 minutes of jabs at my expense, Bro turned around and just said “fuck him, you should go on a date with me”. I was kind of caught off guard, not least because I knew my two guy friends would be loving witnessing this and I could already imagine the chats in the car on the way home. I threw back an off the cuff comment along the lines of “well you’re kinda busy with a house full of people right now, so you probably shouldn’t bail” trying to make it sound like I took the invite to be for that night and that wouldn’t work, so oh well, nevermind, see ya.

He laughed and said “another night”. And it was at this point that I was aware that both of his statements were just that, statements. They weren’t questions. In no way were they threatening but they were definitely a little presumptuous. And I immediately felt stuck.

I was standing in the beautiful garden of his parent’s home and he’d been such a great host all day, but did that mean I should say yes to a date? He was a really nice guy (albeit not really my type and a little short) but did that mean I should say yes to a date? He was a friend of my friend’s so I knew he wasn’t a lunatic, but did that mean I should say yes to a date? And I knew that turning him down with people to witness it may bruise his male ego, but did that mean I should say yes to a date?

I said yes to the date.

I just didn’t feel, for all those reasons listed above, that I could say no. And there’s a good chance it’s partly down to weakness or a need to try and always be nice on my part, more than it is about how I’ve been conditioned but the fact that I was even concerned about his ego more than I was about my own wants speaks to the choice not being entirely made for myself.

But it’s those sorts of feelings and those sorts of behaviours that can so quickly become agreeing to take a drink from a guy in a bar when you don’t want his attention, or saying “sure” when a guy asks you back to his place rather than admitting it might make you uncomfortable and saying goodnight, or allowing a guy to kiss you when you’re actually in no way on the same page. Finding your own true voice in those situations can be incredibly hard. And so much of it is fear-based. Fear that you’ll upset them, fear you’ll make them mad.

Like I stated at the beginning, this is not some story that turns into me being forced upon sexually, but looking back at the situation now I know my answer wasn’t my truth and that disappoints me. Especially given that in my situation, I likely could have said no and that would have been the end of it.

Instead, I gave him my phone number, thinking he might never call but a few days later he messaged me and we set up a date to go to a comedy show. He was very sweet in texts and by the time the date rolled around I was looking forward to seeing him. He picked me up, he paid, he was funny and the off-colour humour in the show landed well with us both. So it was a fun night, but that was all it was. One night, it went no further than a goodnight kiss on the cheek and in no way did he make any other presumptions on our date, for which I was thankful.

The date itself was unremarkable but the situation, while fairly vanilla in the grand scheme of things, definitely gave me thought around how easily (or not) I allow myself to be drawn into situations I’m not 100% comfortable with and how I can better manage my own behaviours. There’s a balance between being amiable and being true to yourself. There’s a way to say what you mean/think/feel without being offensive. And at the end of the day, the other person’s reaction isn’t something you can control. I’m still working on finding the balance…

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