Tonight I was at a bar with a bunch of my friends. A great band from school was playing upstairs, a bunch of young alums were back for alumni weekend, and everyone was drinking and having a good time. I ran into a pretty good friend of mine (let’s call her Ellen) and she was really drunk— not to the point where I thought she was going to puke or anything, but probably one of the drunkest people in the bar.
I was talking with one of my friends by a window when I saw her making out with some guy (let’s call him David). I was reasonably surprised because she has been hooking up with a guy (let’s call him Thomas) for a while now and I thought they were either exclusive or something like it. About ten minutes later Ellen came up to my friend and me and started talking about how upset she was because she thought Thomas didn’t like her, that she had very sincere feelings for him and didn’t think they were reciprocated. I spent some time trying to talk to her, but she was just too drunk to really comprehend and fully process the logic of what we were saying. Then she asked if we thought she should hook up with David. We both told her we thought it wasn’t a good idea— both because of her personal relationship with Thomas and because she was really, really drunk. She didn’t listen to us and said, I’m just going to go hook up with David anyway. I heard David tell her they should go back to his place.
Now, as her friend, I thought she probably shouldn’t hook up with David in general, because it is my opinion that Thomas does like her. But as a human being who was sober enough to realize what was going on, I was particularly worried because she was so drunk— too drunk to really give consent. I didn’t know David, but Ellen is my friend, so I asked someone to please distract her for a few minutes and I went to talk to David.
I walked up to him and just said, “Hey, I really think that Ellen is too drunk to give consent tonight and I don’t think it would be a good idea to go home with her.” At first he was somewhat defensive. He said some things to the effect of: “I don’t even know you. Who are you?” and “Ellen and I’ve hooked up before.” I told him, “I know you don’t know me, I’m just a friend of Ellen’s. I’m sure you all have hooked up before, but I still don’t think that she is sober enough to give real consent.” At this point he looked over at her maybe 20 feet away (where she was obviously pretty drunk) and said, “Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to be that guy, I just…” I said, “I know, I know. I’m sure you’re a good guy and I know you want to do the right thing. I would just strongly suggest that you do not hook up with her tonight.” At this point he actually said to me, “I actually really appreciate you coming to talk to me. I know it’s really hard to say this to someone.” We shook hands and I left to go talk to Ellen and my other friend. Ellen was still debating whether or not she wanted to hook up with David. First she would say she didn’t want to, then she would bring up Thomas, then she would say she was just going to do it. She wasn’t making a ton of sense though as she was drunk.
Finally, she just said fuck it, I’m going to see David (imagine this said very drunkenly) and left. David had left after our conversation, so I don’t actually know what happened. In my head, I hope that David had internalized our conversation, and even if Ellen did catch up with him, he would understand just how drunk she was. Certainly too drunk to give meaningful consent. And despite his suggestion to the contrary, prior consent doesn’t mean consent now. If someone is ambivalent about hooking up with you, just don’t do it. If it’s really something that both of you want to do, you can do it tomorrow night.
Talking to David was hard— I didn’t know the guy and he is a year older than me (though, to my personal credit, I could take him in a fight)— but I think it was the right thing to do. Maybe Ellen will be mad at me tomorrow, but I would rather have talked to him than spend hours, days, years, ruminating on what I could have done to intervene. I also think men have a hard time talking to other guys about this stuff. You don’t want to be a “cock block” or anything of the sort, but at the end of the day, standing up for your friends when they are not in a position to do so for themselves is more important than your reputation. As a man who feels physically safe because of a number of factors—gender, size, strength, athleticism, etc.— I feel I particularly have the obligation to step in where someone else might not feel empowered to do so.
I hope everything works out. I hope that Ellen isn’t mad— or worse, hurt. I hope that David feels that he made the right decision and will have an easier time navigating consent while drinking in the future.