I'm a guy in my late 40s in a long-term relationship and this summer I attended a street festival alone. While watching a performance in a crowded space, I couldn't help but notice that the younger woman next to me seemed to be pointedly not shying away from the incidental contact that occurred. We were literally rubbing elbows. So I made a point of withdrawing to see if she initiated contact, which she did. At one point she seemed to be deliberately pressing her breasts against me, and I moved my arm back and forth a little. She did not recoil but eventually withdrew. We went our separate ways with no acknowledgement of what happened. I went away thinking that I may not be single but I'm also not dead, and this was the sort of tiny thrill that makes life worth living. But now I think about how ambiguous it all was and I worry that I'm a bad person, no more than a common groper. What are the chances that a younger woman would have enjoyed this casual encounter the same way I did? I'm 99 percent sure this was all consensual, but that 1 percent troubles me.
As Louis CK observed recently of close public encounters such as yours, “The sensitivity of the male elbow to tit flesh specifically is unbelievable.” He goes on to say that such elbow-on-breast meetings inevitably mean “it was an accident or you didn’t have permission.” But apparently you found an anonymous woman who wanted you to rub her the right way, since from your telling she initiated it, then eventually melted into the crowd without complaint, Given your 99 percent certainty that this odd sensual encounter was consensual, you should stop worrying that you’ve become a repulsive street groper. It’s true the chances are tiny that a young woman would seek to give an older man such a thrill, but they’re not nil. So store this one in your memory bank, along with the recognition that as much as you liked what happened, it was also tawdry and left you uneasy. And the next time you’re stuck in a crowd, do not even think about feeling out the receptivity of the females pressing against you.
At my office I buy birthday cards and circulate them for signatures and get a cake and arrange for folks to gather to celebrate. I enjoy it and nobody has ever asked me to do this. In all the years I’ve done it, nobody has asked me about my own birthday. More than a month after my birthday, I bought a card and cake for another colleague. While I sliced the cake, my boss announced that the cake was also for my birthday, and then my boss took responsibility for the fact that there was no card for me. I was embarrassed and my feelings were hurt. I would rather that my birthday be ignored than that it be acknowledged in such a shabby way. How should I handle this? My boss and I get along very well, although at times my boss can be passive-aggressive and has on a few occasions said thoughtless, hurtful things.
—Crappy Birthday to Me
You are an attentive, thoughtful, sensitive person. It’s ridiculous that no one has thought to inquire as to which day of the year is your birthday. But you’ve got them all so spoiled with your Martha Stewart–like hosting that it’s never crossed their minds to reciprocate. You were hurt by your boss’s remark, but I don’t think it was meant to sting. Instead it was a blundering recognition that you deserve special birthday wishes, but you’re never going to get them because that would mean you have to arrange your own celebration. What you do is sweet but unnecessary. If you’re sick of it, stop. If you enjoy these birthday niceties, then when your day comes around, get a cake, have everyone gather, and say, “What do you know? Today’s my birthday!”
More Dear Prudence Columns
“The Story of Oh, No: My boss walked in on me touching myself, and now he won’t stop flirting. What do I do?” Posted May 24, 2012.
“A Touch Too Long: My mom let me play with her breasts for years after I stopped breast-feeding, and now she’s doing it with my sister. How do I stop it?” Posted May 17, 2012.
“A Dirty Debut: My 19-year-old niece just confessed to me she's made a porn film. Should I tell the family?” Posted May 3, 2012.
“Honeymoon, Interrupted: My new wife postponed our tropical getaway to comfort her “best friend.” What gives?” Posted April 26, 2012.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Backup Plan: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who just found out her fiancé originally wanted to date her best friend.” Posted June 4, 2012.
“Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s in Her Bed: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose nanny had an affair with her husband.” Posted May 29, 2012.
“Don’t Feed the Baby: In a live chat, Dear Prudence offers advice on a vegan infant, a no-child prenup, and whether a brain tumor is a good excuse for adultery.” Posted May 21, 2012.
“Guys and Dolls: In a live chat, Prudie offers advice regarding a boyfriend whose “other woman” is a mannequin.” Posted May 14, 2012.