A few months back, I was asked to participate in a debate on the topic of whether men should have to pay on dates. (I was “the feminist.”) It turned out that the male debater and I didn’t really disagree much on that topic. I said that, generally, whoever asks the other person out pays for that date, and then at some point couples generally transition into sharing costs in whatever way works for them. He was actually pretty happy to pay for first dates; he just wanted women to say thank you and to not use him. I had no problem with that.

I think he said that women should offer to pay half, knowing they’ll probably be turned down. I said, well, sometimes — but what if the other person invited you someplace really expensive? What if you agreed to a date with the guy and he spent an hour saying crazy racist shit to you and you felt like you couldn’t escape? This is what led to our real disagreement.

The male debater felt strongly that if a woman wasn’t interested in a second date, she should say so on the spot. If the man says, “Let’s do this again sometime,” the woman shouldn’t say, “Sure, great,” and then back out later. I said that that was a nice ideal, but that he should keep in mind that most women spent most of their lives living in low-level fear of physical aggression from men. I think about avoiding rape (or other violence) every time I walk home from the subway, every time there’s an unexpected knock at the door, and certainly every time I piss off an unhinged man. So, if I were on a date with a man who I felt was unbalanced, creepy, overly aggressive, or possibly violent, and he asked if I wanted to “do this again sometime,” I would say whatever I felt would avoid conflict. And then I would leave, wait awhile, and hope that letting him down politely a few days later would avoid his finding me and turning my skin into an overcoat.

The male debater was furious that I had even brought this up. He felt that the threat of violence against women was irrelevant, and that I was playing some kind of “rape card” as a debate trick. He got angrier and angrier as we argued. I also got angrier and angrier, although I worked hard to keep speaking in a calm and considered way. He was shouting and cutting me off when I tried to speak. I pointed out that the debater himself was displaying exactly the sort of behavior that would make me very uncomfortable on a date. THAT made him livid.

He then called me “passive-aggressive.”

I was genuinely taken aback. “Actually,” I said, “I call this ‘behaving myself.’” It’s a lot of work to stay calm when you’re just as furious as the other person, and that other person is shouting at you. I felt that I was acting like a grownup — at some emotional cost to myself — and I wanted credit, not insults, for being able to speak in a normal tone of voice when I was having to explain things like, “We can’t tell who the rapists are before they turn violent, so sometimes we have to be cautious with men who do not intend to harm us.”

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