“No.” I said. “I don’t want to.”
I was standing on the street in front of a man in a suit. That man (let’s call him Ryan) was frantically trying to usher me into his apartment building. He held the door wide open, incredulous that I wouldn’t do what he wanted.
“It’s not that big of a deal! Let’s just go inside and get something to drink.” He reached his hand out toward me. It was something between an offer and a grab.
“No. I only just met you — I’m not going into your apartment.”
This Harvard-educated man (three degrees and a motorcycle, as he was sure to let me know) dropped all pretense of charm. He glared at me, livid.
“No one has ever treated me this way,” Ryan accused.
Oh god, no one has ever told this boy “no” in his life.
It was about an hour or two into our first date. We had already grabbed a drink, and I figured I would head home soon. After leaving the bar, Ryan picked up some take-out for dinner while we were walking. At that point I had already eaten, we were walking in the direction of MIT, and I felt the date was coming to a natural end. Our conversations were mediocre overall and revolved about Ryan’s ego. It was abundantly clear to me that we weren’t a match.
Much to my surprise, Ryan walked me right up to his apartment and expected me to follow without a word. More surprisingly, he didn’t seem to understand why I wouldn’t. I had to explain myself.
“Look, I don’t go into someone’s apartment if I’ve only just met them. The fact that you’re trying so hard to convince me to shows that you don’t respect me.”
This guy’s anger and defensiveness confirmed my opinion of him. I probably won’t go on a date with the next person I meet grocery shopping, either.
“Yo, man,” a voice startled me from behind, “don’t do it this way. I’ve learned from experience. Just say goodnight, call her for a second date. You don’t wanna be accused of nothin’.”
Even with this unexpected back up from the homeless guy sitting on the curb, Ryan wouldn’t take no for an answer. After a few more minutes of back-and-forth, I was done.
“Look, you’ve made it clear to me that you don’t respect me. I enjoyed the drinks, and I wish you the best. I’ll be heading home now. Goodnight.”
I strutted away feeling happy about my decision, but gross about the experience. By the time I had my mom’s number dialing on my phone, here was Ryan running up behind me, “Alyssa, wait!”
He explained that he took respecting women very seriously. He didn’t understand why I was “personally attacking” him by refusing to go into his apartment. After all, he pointed out microaggressions against women and people of color every day. How could he be a bad person when he worked for the rights of homeless people in Africa?
He stared into my eyes with a serious look.
“I’m a feminist!”
It took every ounce of self-control in me not to laugh at that declaration.
After attempting — three times — to break away from Ryan’s pursuit, I realized there was no reasoning with this guy. Clearly, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. My strategy changed to just staring at him until he stopped talking. I agreed to sit with him at a picnic table while he ate so I could go home without him getting angry and accusatory again.
I was tired.
As he ate and chatted about academic pursuits, I was an amused onlooker. Who did this guy think he was? I found myself intrigued by how quickly he changed his personality from the beginning of the date.
He had started off the night with typical elitist flairs. When we walked into the bar, he was a jerk to the bartender, refusing to sit at a two-person high-top in place of a 6-person booth. The conversation centered around him bragging about how much money he would make, the sex we would have that evening, riding his motorcycle, and working for a year in an impoverished nation. The whole interaction reeked of narcissism. He clearly thought he was impressing me.
After I took my stance and wouldn’t give in to his demands to go inside his apartment, however, that all changed. Following the immediate confrontation, he shifted away from accusing me of being unreasonable and became apologetic. Now, he was impressed that I “stood up for myself.” He asked philosophical questions about my research and stopped telling lewd jokes.
Nothing about this guy was authentic.
When we finally stood up to leave, I was relieved. I would be home soon. Unfortunately, he asked me if he could walk me home. I didn’t want to, but said “sure,” anyway. I live in a big building with 24/7 security, so at least I knew I wasn’t putting my safety at risk.
As we approached my building, Ryan stopped walking. He asked me if I was alright.
“I’m fine.” After all, I was about to go inside and get away from him. I could just feel my cozy couch beneath me as I called friends and my mom to get this disaster date out of my head.
Out of the blue, he started hugging me. I went limp. He then kissed me as I pulled away. I hated every second.
As he finally stepped back, I told him to have a good evening, and then bounded up the stairs to get as far from him as I could. I felt gross for having been so close to this man who clearly thought he could do whatever he wanted with women. I had to shake off the heebie-jeebies.
This is a situation I often mull over — if I had been more assertive about getting away from him, would it have worked? Or would he have continued to chase me and convince me I was unreasonable in more and more aggressive ways?
Unfortunately, I’ve gone on dates with several men whose attitudes toward women match Ryan’s. For some reason, these mindsets tend to correlate with men at fancy schools on ambitious career paths.
I can’t deny I am astoundingly lucky to be pursuing an education at MIT. However, I can’t let myself forget that the coexistence of intelligence and empathy, ambition and character can be difficult to find in the same person. Some people, especially, seem to think that if they’re successful in one aspect of life, they are entitled to everything they want in all of life — even if that something is another human being. Luckily, I have faith that there are more women out there ready to tell these people “no.”
*This story was originally published on the MIT Graduate Admissions Blog.