It was one of my many tactics for keeping the wrong guys away.
My journey with consent has been an interesting one.
Even from a young age, when I vowed to save myself for my wedding night, I knew that “saving" wasn’t the right word.
The word I meant was “protecting” it.
Because, even as a preteen, it was evident to me that a woman’s consent was something that was barely respected.
A woman’s consent was something to be manipulated, or chuckled at.
And I had no time for that sh*t.
So I made up an imaginary boyfriend to save myself the trouble.
I was afraid of having my heart both broken and violated.
As I was saving myself for marriage, in my young mind I was looking for a life partner.
I wanted to get it right the first time so that I could save myself the heartache.
“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” -- Marilyn Monroe
Naive? Immensely. But I still have a soft spot for that precious girl and all she stood for.
One summer, while I was at camp, I remember getting this overwhelming feeling that there was someone out there for me.
That as long as I waited, and was patient, the universe would bring this guy to me and we’d live happily ever after.
I was a hopeless romantic, even back then. Not much has changed.
I just have more life experience now.
Meaning, I’ve been well-burned many a time.
“A broken heart is just the growing pains necessary so that you can love more completely when the real thing comes along.” - J.S.B. Morse
But I didn’t know that back then, so to save myself the inconvenience and trouble of dating the wrong guys, I made up a persona for my future-partner.
And being the creative writer that I am, I breathed life into him.
Long before I could get into bars, I used the “I have a boyfriend" card.
I started dropping the boyfriend card at my first part-time job.
I’d innocently told a few female cashiers about my vow, and word got around the store.
There’s something about a 17-year-old willing virgin which builds a disturbing amount of intrigue among men as old as 35.
My male coworkers started flocking, even though I wanted nothing to do with their games.
I heard rumours of there being a bet going around to see who could score my V-card.
When the unwanted attention existed every shift I worked for a year and a half.
Inappropriate omments whispered near me to throw me off or catch my scandalized expression.
Inappropriate remarks to test the waters and see if I was DTF.
Offers to cook for me or take me out on romantic dinners… but only if I gave it up.
It was in this space that I first learned a “no" from my mouth held no weight or merit.
But a, “I have a boyfriend" was the magic sentence to stop the harassment.
I was defenceless once a real boyfriend came along.
“I’ve been heartbroken. I’ve broken hearts. That’s part of life, and it’s part of figuring out who you are so you can find the right partner.” -- Heidi Klum
My Imaginary Boyfriend, who I told guys I met at summer camp and was doing long distance with (does ‘in the future’ qualify as long-distance?), protected me all the way to university.
Until I met my first boyfriend.
Before we dated, we were friends who were in the same psychology and Chinese language classes together.
I stuck with the Imaginary Boyfriend story, to his great dismay. He had feelings for me, he would admit, his charming English accent making me weak in the knees.
I felt a twinge of desire — I liked him too. But was he “The One"? Was he someone worth dropping the Imaginary Boyfriend act for?
At some point, I decided the answer to those questions was, “Yes".
So I told him this guy didn’t exist.
I explained that I used this invisible figure as a way to protect myself and my vow.
He was so elated, because it meant we could actually, truly, love each other and be together.
I was so unbelievably happy.
Fast-forward a year and a half later, and he would traumatically assault me because I wouldn’t willingly give him my virginity.
“I wish I were a little girl again because skinned knees are easier to fix than a broken heart.” -- Julia Roberts
It took me years to realize that my Imaginary Boyfriend wasn’t actually about a man at all.
He represented my vow to myself, and the precious entity that is my consent.
It’s just a shame that my consent, in order to protect myself effectively, had to come in the form of an invisible, and possibly threatening, male figure. Because if we're talking realistically, there are men who become quite aggressive when rejected. There are men who will only back off if they believe there is the threat of another male looming nearby. Which is ridiculous, ludacris, and simply unfair for all women who live in the world.
It should be different. My word of “no" should have always been enough.
Because no young woman or girl should have to go to the lengths of using an invisible threat of male ownership to protect herself from harassment-- her live, in-person right to say “no" and be respected is all it should take.
But that’s not the current climate we live in. We live in a patriarchal world that prioritizes the fragile egos of men over the safety and protection of women.
And that needs to change.
“Perhaps someday I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.” --Sylvia Plath