I’d been friends with Laura* since we were children. We attended the same primary and secondary schools, and she was one of my closest confidants through my teenage grapples with depression and anxiety.
She was always someone I could trust completely and, despite a few years’ absence where our friendship naturally drifted, we always managed to slip back into that same closeness whenever we saw one another.
In recent months I’d been seeing her a lot more often. She’d had her own struggles with mental health, and it was good to be in a friendship where we could be candid about how we were feeling. We also shared a love of drinking wine until all hours of the night, so that helped.
We’d planned to buy a few bottles to drink at her apartment, dissecting our week and bitching about the people who were pissing us off. On my way to her place, she sent me a text instructing me to meet her in a well-known pub. I had only a few coins to my name, so I started hoping that she was planning to buy rounds, or that we’d depart together once I got there in search of cheaper booze.
As soon as I arrived, I saw that she had company.
She was sat across the table from an attractive but skittish man, who she introduced to me as Tom*. I was thrown by the addition of another person, seeing as I hadn’t even made the effort to shower or put on any make-up.
Conversation flowed easily though, and I found that Tom and I had quite a bit in common in the brief one-on-one chats we had whenever Laura went to the bar. He liked the same music and films that I did, we both spoke about our crappy absent fathers. I began to feel like I was making a new friend, something which doesn’t happen very often for me.
The night wore on and Laura suggested we leave before the off-licences closed so we could pick up some drinks to enjoy in the comfort of her apartment. I was wary about missing the last bus home, but Laura convinced me to crash at her place so that we could make a real night of it.
Tom was offered a place on Laura’s couch for the night, and in the tipsy happiness of a good evening of conversation, I agreed to stay over. I sent my boyfriend a text to say I wouldn’t be home and that I’d see him in the morning.
As soon as we got to the apartment, Laura’s energy levels started to crash. She sprawled herself out on an armchair while Tom and I commandeered her iPad, trying to out-do one another with our music choices.
I had reached the level of drunkenness where kissing him seemed like a good idea, so I started messaging friends of mine on Facebook to distract me from doing anything stupid. Having been cheated on in the past, I had vowed to never inflict that kind of pain on my partner. I wasn’t about to throw away a happy relationship just because I was shit-faced and a handsome man was talking to me.
Laura took her leave, retiring to her room, and I said I’d follow her shortly. Once she had left, Tom started to lean close, stroking my arm.
“Hey,” I said “I have a boyfriend. Don’t try anything.”
“It’s fine,” he said. “It’s not like we’re gonna fuck or anything.”
This jolted me momentarily out of my drunken stupor and made me realize that I really, really didn’t want to do anything with this guy, but I also didn’t want to ruin what had otherwise been a really pleasant night.
“Yeah, we’re not going to do anything. Period!” I laughed, trying to get back to the friendly air we had before. “You’re really attractive and I’ve had a good time tonight, but nothing is going to happen,” I insisted.
He let the issue drop and we went back to discussing music. After a couple of songs I was feeling exhausted, so I said goodnight and stumbled into Laura’s room where I quickly fell asleep beside her.
After a couple of hours, I awoke to the sensation of hands stroking the underside of my breasts. At first I wondered if it was Laura getting handsy in her sleep. I rolled onto my stomach to block access to my boobs, and in doing so saw that Tom was beside me.
“Where’s Laura?” I asked, trying to keep my voice steady. He didn’t answer.
I got out of bed and wandered into the living room, where I found Laura asleep on the couch. I woke her, shaking her gently and hissing her name.
“Why are you on the couch?” I asked.
“I got too warm and felt hungover,” she replied, still groggy. “Are you OK?”
“Not really,” I replied, astounded by what I was about to say. “I woke up and Tom was groping me.”
“Maybe he was just being cuddly in his sleep?” she said.
I nodded, disappointed by her response but still too tired and shocked to know what to do. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a nice guy and we’d spoken openly about our negative experiences with the opposite sex, he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would intentionally start feeling up an unconscious woman.
I got back into bed, being careful to balance myself on the very edge so that there was sufficient space between us. I felt him sidle close and start guiding his hands under my shirt again. I got up, still too stunned to say anything to him, and sat in the bathroom.
Immediately my mind was flooded with the usual self-blaming ideas – “Was I too flirty last night? Was it wrong of me to stay over? Should I have drunk less?”
I went back in to Laura, who was still dozing on the couch.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“He keeps doing it,” I said, unable to say any more.
“Ugh, that’s annoying,” she replied, still half-asleep.
Annoying. I was dismayed, so I hastily pulled on my trousers and grabbed my bag to get the fuck out of there.
As soon as I got home, I woke my boyfriend and told him everything – including the conversation I’d had with my friends about being worried I might cheat. I wanted it to be clear to him, and everyone I guess, that this wasn’t a case of me doing something wrong and regretting it. I turned this guy down, and he waited until I was unconscious to try again.
Without realizing I had needed to, I started sobbing uncontrollably as I realized how much I was still trying to place blame on myself. That somehow this was my fault.
Later, Laura messaged me to ask if I was OK and I told her no. I wasn’t OK. I was angry and upset and shaken. She felt awful that she’d allowed someone like Tom into her home, and admitted that she was too frightened to confront him once she became fully alert after I’d left. She now carried an enormous amount of guilt and was blaming herself for putting me in danger.
But she didn’t do anything wrong. She was faced with a situation that she never could have anticipated, and didn’t know how to react. So was I.
The only person in the wrong here was a man who felt entitled to climb into a bed when he wasn’t invited, and proceed to touch someone without their consent while they slept.
This is what I keep having to remind myself whenever I siphon blame off him and try to place it on me. I did nothing wrong. I was open and clear with him, and he chose to cross the boundaries that I had set.