Comment: When non-verbal cues fail to say enough
Couples on a date should make expectations clear
Flickering candlelight and fleeting glances, then eyes lock and fingers linger - will we or won't we?
In an ideal world, what transpires after is the stuff of a good romance novel. But in reality, the dating game is often cloaked in grey, with many missteps on the way to true love.
Recently, the Internet was abuzz with yet another alleged sexual assault, this time involving American actor-comedian Aziz Ansari.
On Jan 13, Babe.net, a feminist online site, ran an "expose" in which "Grace" (not her real name) related her first-date experience with Ansari.
According to the article, the pair returned to Ansari's apartment after dinner, where things got heated.
Grace told Babe.net that Ansari started making moves on her and ignored her growing discomfort.
She said: "I know I was physically giving off cues that I wasn't interested. I don't think that was noticed at all, or if it was, it was ignored."
She said she ended up performing a sex act on him before deciding to leave.
One main reason is we are happy to flirt with the flames until we’ve walked right into it — and then both parties insist: We didn’t start the fire.
The next day, Ansari texted her: "It was fun meeting you last night."
Grace responded: "Last night might've been fun for you, but it wasn't for me. You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept going with advances.
"I want to make sure you're aware so maybe the next girl doesn't have to cry on the ride home."
He texted back: "I'm so sad to hear this. Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I'm truly sorry."
What is interesting is that this case seems to be a date gone bad where the parties had different expectations.
Unlike the Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey sagas, where powerful men used their status to commit sexual assaults. Those incidents gave birth to the #metoo movement, where sexual assault victims shared their stories.
It is no wonder the Ansari incident sparked a split in opinions. There was no black-and-white answer on whose fault is it anyway?
Bad date or sexual assault? The Internet could not reach a consensus on either despite an endless onslaught of finger-jabbing.
What I can say is that from having friends cry on my shoulder after experiencing similar situations like Grace's, perhaps all this pain could have been avoided if there had been clear communication between the parties before things got out of hand.
I cannot help thinking that one main reason is we are happy to flirt with the flames until we've walked right into it - and then both parties insist: We didn't start the fire.
When it comes to romance and communicating with a partner, it seems to suddenly become difficult to say what you desire (or don't).
Perhaps it is to keep up the romance, perhaps it is wanting someone to like you more, or perhaps it could be misreading of signals.
Take this scenario: After a date, a couple end up in one of their homes, where she expects a night of wine and intimate conversation, and he expects a night of sexual intimacy - and thinks that she wants it too.
How can this gap in expectations be bridged?
A New York Times article said that Ansari was guilty only "of not being a mind reader".
I think the same could be said of Grace.
I am the same age as her, and I have seen many peers caught up in similar situations.
One friend - let's call her Aly - was out with a charming young man, whom she thought she could potentially be interested in.
He was older, nice-looking and talented, so she followed him home.
When things escalated, she wasn't sure what she wanted, then realised she did not want to sleep with him. But one thing led to another, and suddenly, she was left with a sinking feeling that she had made a huge mistake.
But it does not have to be that way.
I remember, several years ago when I was studying abroad, going on my third date with someone who was to become my boyfriend.
After a romantic dinner, he insisted on walking me home to my dorm room.
Walking back in the cold, I wondered if his kind gesture could be more than just an offer to keep my hands warm.
Outside my room, I turned to him and said: "I hope you are not thinking of sleeping with me."
I remember the look on his face and my first thought was that I had blown it.
Then he laughed, and he still laughs at me about that night.
We went on to have a nice evening chatting about movies and had many more dates.
I may have been embarrassed for being so blunt, but at least I drew a line in the sand so there would be no misunderstanding later on.
After all, as teenage magazines often point out, men can be obtuse, so if you don't want to end up like Grace, perhaps it is best to be upfront with them so they don't have to be mind readers.
Instead of trying to give non-verbal cues to show your discomfort, a simple word would have left no doubt where you stand - "no means no".