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The subject of nonconsensual sex—between older men and younger women, in particular—has been very much in the news lately.
Do you think of this encounter, which is, at times, cringe-inducing for the reader, as a consensual one? Well, he buys her alcohol, even though he knows she’s underage, and he tells her that he thinks she’s drunk right before he takes her home. But I’m more interested in the way that Margot herself weighs the costs of her own decision to consent.
I wanted that version of Robert to exist alongside the possibility of a much more sinister one.
I have more genuine sympathy for Margot, but I’m also frustrated by her: she’s so quick to over-read Robert, to assume that she understands him, and to interpret his behavior in a way that’s flattering to herself.
There are fewer of her texts in the story for that reason.
I liked writing Robert’s side of the conversation, on the other hand, in part because I felt like I was his analogue as a writer: both of us were trying to imitate how someone younger would talk, always on the verge of a slip that would give the game away.
Margot, choosing between having sex she doesn’t want and “seeming spoiled and capricious,” decides to have unwanted sex.
She thinks (or tells herself) that she isn’t afraid that Robert will “force” her, and I think, on one level, that’s true: she has no evidence that he’d be violent toward her.
The incident got me thinking about the strange and flimsy evidence we use to judge the contextless people we meet outside our existing social networks, whether online or off.Then, later, she wonders why the memories of the encounter make her feel so sick and scared, and she blames herself for overreacting, for not being kinder to Robert, who, after all, didn’t do anything wrong. Margot, certainly, interprets his behavior in this way: she believes that he’s intimidated by her, that she has the upper hand, and this appeals to her.I can imagine Margot not asking Robert what he does, because she intuits that he might be sensitive about answering the question. Maybe he’s playing to her ego by pretending that she intimidates him; maybe he’s trying to undermine her by implying that she’s a snob; maybe he talks a lot about the fact that she’s in college because he’s fetishized the idea of dating a college girl. Margot, and the reader, can project practically anything onto Robert, because there’s so little there.At the same time, she’s already speculated about the possibility that he could kill her and has become anxiously aware that she’s entirely in his territory, that he could have rooms full of “corpses or kidnap victims or chains.”Louis C.K., who has obviously been in the news a lot lately, echoed Margaret Atwood’s line “Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them” in a standup routine, by talking about how the equivalent of a woman going on a date with a man would be a man going on a date with a half-bear, half-lion.