When I was sixteen, I kissed a girl and she slapped me. There was no hesitation on her part; kiss/wham!
I was more surprised than injured. I thought the girl, Sylvie, had clearly manifested a desire to be kissed. We were on the sofa in her parents’ house; they were out; she had snuggled up close, put her head on my shoulder, and turned her face invitingly towards mine. But, as I learned immediately, kissing was not part of her agenda. I think she just wanted us to gaze meaningfully into each other’s eyes, not that there’s anything wrong with that. (I later found out her mother didn’t think me worthy of her daughter. They were apparently in agreement. Sylvie would eventually marry an ambassador and inherit a potful of money when he died, so both women were probably right.)
I was thinking of this as I buttered my morning bagel and read that some women involved in TED presentations had thought a number of TED men had acted like creeps. There were ill-mannered comments and innuendos, unwanted touching and other marks of disrespect.
I went back decades and tried to think of times I might have acted like a creep towards members of the opposite sex. I couldn’t really come up with much of anything.
My friend, the New York Times bestselling author Jane Feather, disabused me quickly of any claim to innocence. Over lunch, she peered at me and said, “Of course you’ve been a creep. All males have been creeps at one time or another, including my wonderful late husband, Jim.”
We argued about this for a little while, and debated the very subjective definition of what a creep actually is. We did not reach any conclusion, save that the meaning of the word has changed in the past few years and now appears to have sexual connotations. I stuck to my guns and told Jane I’d never been a creep, never forced myself on anyone, never touched a woman that did not want me to touch her, aforementioned kissing incident aside. She sort of smirked a little, took a sip of her wine and said, “I’ll bet you have.”
And then about a month ago, a woman I’d grown to know well told me I had harassed her and made the last two years of her life a living hell. In other words, I’d been a creep. She hasn’t spoken to me since.
I’m still ruminating over this. Her comments cut deeply and I found them unjustified. I still do. I suppose in the end, creepiness, like harassment, may be situational.; it’s in the eyes of the beholder, and can change according to time, place and mood.
The problem is that once accused of something largely indefinite—creepiness (creepdom?)—one begins to wonder. Was I a creep? Am I a creep? Really? Crap.