Dinner doesn't equal sex

Dear Alice,

I was looking through your column and thought that I should ask your advice on a rather sensitive matter. I recently invited a guy over for dinner at my house. We had a great time together, yet he presumed that he was going to sleep with me and insisted that I had led him on during the main course of the evening. I do not see how this is possible, but this guy keeps on hassling me for sex and I do not want to lose him as a friend, but I really do not see him as a sexual partner. What should I do?


Dear Worried, 

This must be a confusing and challenging situation to navigate. Identifying and implementing personal boundaries and consequences that align with your values can help with navigating friendships and relationships. It seems as though you tried to do this with your friend, and those boundaries were questioned. Boundary violations break trust, which is an essential component of a friendship. It can be important to note that someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries, especially when it comes to your bodily autonomy, is not a friend. Speaking with this person directly may be the best way to prevent this from happening again. However, if doing so alone feels unsafe, you might consider having someone else, perhaps a close friend or family member, present with you. Reaching out to a survivor advocate to help assist you in taking legal action may also be an option if you begin to feel unsafe. 

You do not "owe" sexual acts to any individual. Engaging in sexual activity is a choice, one that is consensual and not coerced. It’s never acceptable for someone to pressure you into engaging in any form of sexual activity. Sex always requires consent and happens when all participants involved willingly agree to engage in specific sexual acts. It is important to also highlight that consent requires ongoing communication, meaning one can withdraw from a sexual act at any time if they change their minds or feel uncomfortable. An individual can use both verbal and non-verbal cues to revoke consent any time. 

If you feel safe having a discussion with your friend, you might choose to do so in the presence of another friend or professional. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing the matter in-person, an email or a letter is another option you might utilize. If you choose to talk to them in-person, you may try to anticipate possible reactions your friend may have following the discussion and identify an action plan for yourself. They may be unaware of how they have made you feel, regret their behavior, and adjust accordingly. They may simply listen without saying much, or they may even be distraught. Having this discussion may be uncomfortable so making note of some talking points ahead of time may help you to feel more prepared. Here are some tips you might consider to get you started: 

  1. Describe the situation: You might say: "I enjoy your company and appreciate your friendship, however, lately I feel pressured to have sex with you." 
  2. Tell them how you feel about the situation: You might say: "I feel uncomfortable when you seek sexual acts after we spend time together.” 
  3. Tell them what you want: You might say: "I don't want to lose our friendship. I value the friendship we have, but I am only comfortable with a friendship, not a sexual relationship.” 
  4. Articulate a consequence: When setting a boundary, it is okay to articulate a consequence especially if the boundaries you have set are being repeatedly ignored. You might say: “I won’t be able to trust you and we won’t be able to have a friendship.” 

If after having a conversation they don’t adjust their behavior, you might need to consider re-evaluating the friendship. You have identified your boundaries and consequences for violating those boundaries, and if they cross them, it may be beneficial to reflect on your personal criteria for friendships and where you draw the line.  When setting the consequence, it may also be a good idea to have another person present to help mitigate the conversation. If the behavior escalates further and you start to feel unsafe, you may also consider taking legal action by reaching out to authorities or speaking with an advocate who can assist you in taking the next steps. Discussing your feelings with a mental health professional or a survivor advocate about the future of the friendship is something else to consider. These professionals can help navigate feelings of loss, confusion, and any other emotions that arise. They can provide you with a confidential space to discuss your feelings, as well as advice on how to navigate difficult situations like this one. They can also assist you in recognizing and establishing appropriate boundaries in relationships. You might consider checking out the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), which is an organization that provides education, resources and support services. 

Your well-being is fundamental, and it is okay to question and assess the actions of a person—even if they are supposed to be your friend—that may be compromising you and your safety. Wishing you all the best with this process. 

Last updated Apr 14, 2023
Originally published Nov 01, 1993

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