Mark told me he and Kathryn got together soon after they first met in the freshman year and had an “intense” relationship for the next two years. I could kind of feel the intensity from the photos. They looked like a couple in one of those “road movies,” in which they were running away from the police because they murdered the woman’s lover or robbed a bank. They’d look put-together even in grunge outfits in the middle of the desert in Utah.
According to Mark, when he decided to spend a year in Ireland, Kathryn got angry. She told him she gave up many things for him and for the relationship, and he was just going to leave her like that. He told her she could date other men (and perhaps so could he.) After he left for Ireland, Kathryn applied for a program in London starting the next semester. “Which was good,” Mark said, “that they could be a couple of hours’ flight to each other…But,” he added, “I decided to end the program early because I wanted to focus on my art study.” Kathryn started her study in London after Mark returned to the U.S. She was furious. Mark visited London to spend some time together, but Kathryn refused to have sex with him. She’d let him sleep in the same bed but wouldn’t let him touch her. Mark’s voice became graver as he told me this. No-sex revenge was so infuriating that it was the end of the road for them. Kathryn came back four months later, and “she apologized and apologized for what she did to me, so I now forgive her. But I never, NEVER want to date her again.”
I didn’t pursue the topic then, but I wondered why he didn’t tell her about his plan to study abroad. They could plan together to study in Dublin and London in the same semester. I’d be angry if the man with whom I was in an “intense” relationship just flew off abroad without telling me.
I see it now that Mark did so to distance himself from the relationship, which intensity probably scared his sense of masculinity. I can also understand why Kathryn rejected him in bed. How could anyone feel intimate with a man who rejected her first? It was ok if she didn’t want to have sex, and he had to respect her wish. Instead, he felt so entitled to her vagina that rejection was unacceptable to him. So he used it against her to make her feel guilty and apologize to him for not offering him what he believed he deserved.
I remembered the failed date two years earlier with a boy I was attracted to, who was also angry for his friend for being denied access to a vagina. I also thought of my friend from high school who was too drunk to give consent, but because she let a man into her apartment, no one believed she could blame the man for assaulting her. As of 1999, in Japan or the United States, it was too prevalent a narrative that women had a responsibility to accept penis once they crossed a certain threshold-an apartment, a hotel room, or a bed.
I empathized with Kathryn and felt sorry for her. And I took it as a warning that Mark wouldn’t hesitate to prioritize his needs over anyone else’s.
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