Also Posted on Facebook
Updated (1 April 8:25p.m.):
After I posted the above on my Facebook wall at Thurs 31 Mar 7:40a.m. (yesterday), I received a lot of comments of support and love from many of my friends, their friends, and strangers. Four people asked me separately why I continued to see the guy. This is what happened when you post online – you can never tell 100% how people will react, and sometimes, you can actually become negatively affected or even re-traumatised.
This was what I eventually responded with after sitting with it for one day: “I am reflecting on how people are asking me why I see him as if I am stupid and cannot stop, or it is my fault because I continue to see him. I hoped it would have been obvious the reasons I were meeting him was more important than the fear of being touched – and it was, to me.
Should I have stopped what I felt was important stuff and important to me – and be beaten to retreat – because of my fear? Why do women have to make such choices in the first place? To say more would be to identify this person and that was not my intention. What is unfortunate that I feel I need to explain more when my story as it is should have suffice. We should give people the space to say what they say, and also to leave whatever they want unsaid. This sensitivity doesn’t seem to be there at all.”
Beyond a discussion of sexual harassment here, there is a bigger question here: Why can’t we just allow people to share their story the way they want to share, including choosing to leave out certain details? No, we feel we need to get to the bottom of things. As if it is our job to do so?
Here’s another point. Perhaps those who care for the person, who has to go through this, are also affected and have a sense of powerlessness to provide protection, adequate support, or “fix” the situation. This also can cause people to respond in unexpected ways – including be outraged.
What is our real intention? To hear, support, defend or question? As in any conversation, the answer you might get depends on who you are to the person.
In two instances, the people seeing it fit to ask: “Why are you still seeing him then?” are people I don’t know and never met. Do I own them an answer simply because they are my followers? Are they deserving? Can I trust them to be discerning with whatever was left unsaid? Probably not.
This is my suggestion in delicate situations – whether you are a friend or otherwise:
- Get clear on your need vs. want to know – Do you HAVE to know? Or are you just being a kapo (busy-body, in Singlish)?
- Get clear on your intention before you speak – What would you do if you knew? Would knowing help you support this person better?
- Ask for permission to ask – “May I ask for more details?” or “Tell me more?”
- Watch your tone. “Why are you still seeing him then?“ is more triggering than say perhaps, “I am worried about your safety. Do you have to continue seeing him?”. Also one could instead ask if it were important to me to continue to see him and if it were, you could ask how you can best support me in feeling that I was safe doing so. In short, there are many ways of asking about a situation that shows more compassion and genuine interest than using the word “why” which comes across as demanding.
- Read into the person’s intention and respect it. In posting my story I wasn’t looking for validation, but to share and influence positive awareness and change, even if some small way. I am, afterall, a sexuality educator. However I am also a woman and I wasn’t looking for advice, suggestions or further questions.
- It’s not about you. Don’t feel you need to share your story or suggestion, even if you have a good (or better) one. Ask for permission to share yours, and only if the person likes to hear it – not share your because you need a outlet to vent (and end up hijacking). After reading my post, yet another stranger suggested I attend a self-defense class and recommended an apparently excellent place that runs classes (on checking, I wasn’t surprised these classes do not even run in Singapore). This person didn’t even ask if I had attended any self-defence classes in my life (I’ve attended two different series actually).
- Remember, the person is in pain so act accordingly. If in doubt, message the person privately to ask after them. And if you don’t have anything positive to say, seriously, just shut up. Don’t put more aggravation or pain into the world as it is.
Who is Martha?
Dr. Martha Tara Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching. She is a certified sexologist with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality. She provides sexuality and relationship coaching for individuals and couples, conducts sexual education workshops and speaks at public events. She is the author of the books Love, Sex and Everything In-Between, and Orgasmic Yoga. She is also the host of the weekly radio show Eros Evolution on OMTimes Radio. For more, visit www.ErosCoaching.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.