Well, Well, Wellness II: Men
A micro study of the ways making women into healing vessels for toxic masculinity only traumatizes them further, a call to action for “good men”
content warnings for coercion and sexual assault, mentions of suicidal ideation and stalking behaviors, but I give as little detail as possible
This might feel like Carrie Bradshaw’s worst ever column but in lieu of talking about men as a whole and trying to explain how men as a whole use women’s trauma as a whole as a kind of aphrodisiac, I am going to share the last time I was brutally manic pixie dream whatever’d.
In the world before COVID there was one last February. My birthday, a few transcribing gigs that let me transcribe interviews with people who worked on a movie I was so excited for that I’d see it on my birthday, and Valentine’s weekend. I had no reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day myself but one of my very good friends would be in town and wondered if he could see me and buy me birthday dinner.
“Sure,” I said.
He was my friend.
We met at work a few years before. We were on the same team. It was a high stress job, which brought us together. We were totems to one another. We were family.
When I would meal prep I’d bring in a few plates for him to have for lunch. I’d tell him to swing by my apartment if he got off after me and by the time he got there I’d have some tacos prepared. Sometimes we’d meet at a little bar walking distance from my house and have margaritas, taking turns on who would pay. Sometimes he’d take his lunch break so he could run me home so I wouldn’t have to walk and we might share a little weed. He spent Christmas with me, helping me make chicken fajitas. He watched the Fellowship of the Ring with me. He fell asleep on the couch and I put a blanket over him. I let him sleep in my apartment.
He was my friend.
Of course, of course, of course I was so happy to see him for my birthday.
In the week before something in the tone of his texts felt different. I had even told a few friends about it. Something felt flirty…
I didn’t want flirty.
I had lost many male friendships before because they decided we were in love and I didn’t know and they eventually reacted in anger. The group chat and I agreed that maybe distance let him romanticize the relationship but that hey, if I had to say no, I lived hours away now, so it shouldn’t be too awkward or painful. Even if he’d misinterpreted something, I had been open with him about my trauma, as I am a little bit with everyone. We’d have a weird dinner but ultimately it would be fine.
He was my friend.
And then my friend was an hour late to meet me and he had another man with him. I hadn’t really asked why he was in town so while it was a bit odd, I didn’t ask. So I was polite to this unexpected companion. We all went to a few bars. New guy was quiet and unsettling… I thought maybe he was just shy. I was too.
After a few hours out and about, I wanted to try to get a table at the restaurant my roommate worked in or get food to go and go back to my apartment, where another roommate was. But they convinced me that taking a rideshare to the hotel they were at would be fun. There was an anime convention. I googled it and there really was. It would be fun to people watch. They would give me cash for my rideshare back and we’d have dinner at the hotel bar.
I didn’t really want to go. But I’m a chronic introvert. I can be shy with a new person in the mix. I told myself it was my anxiety, that I should spend time with my friend who took time away from his trip to hang out. Once we got there, I would have fun. Like old times. I would be glad I went. So I called a rideshare and went to the hotel with them.
He was my friend.
The night ended with me sobbing in the business center of the hotel, using the guest computer after a bartender had given me the log in, to message my roommate asking him to send me a ride back to the apartment from the hotel.
Because my phone was in the hotel room with someone I thought was my friend. Because I had fled so quickly I had left it behind. I felt dizzy, I felt sick, I felt angry, I wanted to fight, I wanted to run, I wanted to die.
I fully expected to leave without my phone but sent messages to that supposed friend through Facebook anyway, begging him to just leave it at the bar. He came down a long while later, maybe thinking I was gone, but I was at the door, waiting for my car, and I took the phone out of his hands as aggressively as I could.
The phone would never work again. I don’t know what he did to it. I don’t know when he did it, after I bolted or if it was the reason he offered to put my phone on charge in the first place. I didn’t think he’d do anything other than put my phone on charge.
He was my friend.
He never did get me back for the rideshare.
I would tell my therapist what happened. I didn’t really like my therapist. She checked her phone a lot, always seemed distracted, and had a few decor items in her office that were Christian in nature. And besides I was living on someone’s floor, too insecure in many things to be digging around into my own trauma, but Columbia Mental Health wouldn’t refill my prescriptions if I didn’t go dig around in it anyway, with someone who was not a trauma specialist. So she remained my therapist. So I had to go.
And I thought, well, maybe this will be good. I’ve always done trauma work ages after the trauma. Maybe this will… help?
It wasn’t good. It didn’t help.
She let another colleague “shadow” the session. And they both took turns telling me everything I did wrong, telling me I should’ve called the police, I should have asked for hotel security. Telling me that I should’ve had friends or family come deal with him. Telling me what they would have done. Telling me even if someone is my friend I shouldn’t go into a hotel room with someone I’m not married to.
But… he was my friend.
In the… I think about ten months that The Not Actually My Friend guy and myself had been apart, there had been red flags outside of a few debatably flirty texts.
He had shared a few posts from MGTOW. Shared a few quotes from the Joe Rogan podcast. Had enjoyed the Joker enough to make it his cover photo.
But he was my friend.
I thought I could talk to him about those things, my concerns.
Because I had talked to him about my concerns before…
You see, before I had ever moved, an ex girlfriend of his who also worked with us had approached me to let me know he had shown up at her house and it freaked her out. I let her know it would freak me out too. I thanked her for trusting me. I talked to him about how scary that kind of thing was for women, even if he felt he was doing something romantic or capable of winning her back.
He listened. I thought he listened.
And later she came to me again, because he had left her a series of frightening voice messages. He threatened to kill himself. And then he hadn’t shown up to work two hours past his shift. I was clocked in, doing my job and his, begging HR or my store manager to do a wellness check (they kept saying they would “later”), messaging everyone I knew who had been to his apartment before to see if they would check on him. Someone finally got through to him. Later that day he called me and apologized, he was open about how badly he had been feeling, he acknowledged he had crossed a line. He said he’d do better. I helped him get an intake appointment at the mental health clinic.
Because he was my friend.
I will never know what happened in those months between me moving to try and make my life better and the night I had to fight off someone that I had trusted so much I let him sleep in my house, someone I trusted so much I would go to the beach with him at night despite a lifetime of true crime programming, someone I trusted enough that I bought him tickets to wrestling and made him dinner and covered his shifts if he got sick, etc etc etc etc etc…
I will never know who he talked to, what he talked to them about, how his behavior had changed if at all with the coworkers we had both come to be friendly with in those months.
All I will know is the new “friend” he brought with him, the new friend who claimed his phone was dead when I asked him to call up and tell dude to bring down my phone, let me call my roommate, etc. The new friend who kept telling me to give him a few more minutes to bring down my phone and tried to convince me to just go back to the room and check on him. All I will know is the new friend had a tattoo I would later learn was a racist dog whistle despite Former Friend being a man of color. All I will know is in retrospect how weird it was that the friend rode the elevator up with us, walked into the hotel room with us, just to then immediately leave it, and wait at the bar. In retrospect, god… god… how did I let myself go anywhere with them?
But someone knew about this change.
Someone had to know.
If I saw signs, if I had worries, someone around him had to… right?
As I mentioned above, though not always this badly, this was not anywhere near the first time a close male friend had decided we were something we weren’t and tried to force me into something I didn’t want or to punish me for not being in love with them.
It is not the first time that another man had assisted with- or at the very least ignored- another man sexually assaulting me.
And every fucking time, I have to ask…
Where are the men?
Where are the men’s rights activists who bring up that women hurt men, that no one understands men, that men aren’t allowed to be soft and vulnerable, that men aren’t allowed to go to therapy, where are they?
Where are the “every woman needs a good man” “every man needs a good woman” men to make sure there are good men period? Where are the Bible thumpers and the alpha men and the wholesome gym bros?
Where are they? Where are these men when I am noticing Facebook posts that are a little more alarming each time? Where are these men when someone threatens a woman? Where are these men when someone idolizes a serial murderer uncharacteristically, fictional or otherwise? Where are these men when someone is so lonely they want to take their life? Where are they when someone hits or hurts their wife, their partner, their child, someone else’s child?
Where the fuck are they?
How many times will I choose between being a sudden aloof villainness and running the sad boy rehabilitation program until it ends in deliberate cruelty, sexual assault, or maybe even death?
Being open about my own trauma has made people everywhere on the spectrum and experience of gender trust me a little more with that kind of thing than they might someone else. But it’s only ever the men who are willing to hurt me about it.
Why is my trauma, my grief, my anguish, my experiences, assumed to just be qualifications for someone’s ideal partner/friend/caretake/sex toy?
Where are the men who believe in good men and that good men simply don’t have their needs met? Who is making sure that we don’t get eaten alive when we try to help them and be there for them?
The phone couldn’t be repaired. I had to get a new one. I threw my leggings away. I threw away the men’s medium Tommy Hilfiger sweater, a thrift shop find I adored. I threw away the perfume I was wearing. The necklace. I even threw away my socks. But every time I try and remember before COVID, or what I did the last time I had a real birthday, there it is. Sometimes I wake up with a pain in my stomach and an empty feeling of shame, moving through hours or even days in confusion as to what it can mean, and I remember it…
At my big age. After so much therapy, inpatient and outpatient, talk therapy and EMDR, after so many red flags, a victim again.
Sometimes I can’t even comprehend that the Friend in that hotel was the same Friend from all those other times. And it feels like maybe he died. And I guess he did. A good man died, even if there wasn’t one to put into the ground. A good man is no more.
I don’t think I’ll ever be close to a cis, straight man again. And I know cis, straight men will have a whole hell of a lot to say about that.
But hey men… my dudes, my guys… the next time you feel a “not all men” coming on, won’t you sit down and think about who at your job, in your class, in your friend group is going down a rabbit hole and call them in instead? Won’t you take a second to ask, “but which men?”
Because you know them. You absolutely know them. And if you aren’t being there for them, lifting them up when they need it, holding them accountable when the world as a whole needs them to be held accountable, you’re part of this, too.