Courtesy of Sabrina Joy Stevens

10 Things I Wish I'd Said To The Man Who Touched My Empty Belly

It's really cold where I live right now. It feels like it's about one degree outside. My toddler's love of running around outside and staring at the trains that pass by our house knows no season, though, so I bundle us both up in basically all the winter wear we own go for walks. That's how I came to be stuffed fairly tightly in my winter coat, having my stomach rubbed by a total stranger who mistakenly believed I was pregnant. There are so many things I wish I'd said to the man who touched me, but I was so shocked — and caught up trying to make sure my son didn't dart onto the train tracks — that I rattled off a smart-ass comment ("Nope, not pregnant! It's just a coat and whatever's left over from the last baby.") and tried to nudge my reluctant toddler into walking in the opposite direction.

As someone who has to do deep breathing exercises just to call another person on the phone, the idea of actually putting my hands on someone I just met mere seconds earlier, cheerfully asking them if they've "got another on the way?" makes my entire body cringe. Like, what? A stomach is one of the few parts of our bodies that doesn't have a crap ton of bones and other biological "armor" protecting it. It's so vulnerable. I don't understand why people rub visibly pregnant women's bellies either, but unless you're from some weird-ass cat planet where universal tummy rubs are the customary greeting, I definitely don't understand why you would rub someone else's stomach when you're not even sure if they are pregnant. That's just weird on top of rude.

But maybe that dude really was a friendly cat trapped in what I erroneously thought was a grown-ass man's body. Maybe I should give him a break and be grateful that he didn't scent mark my legs or flip his tail up in my face. However, if that dude is indeed a fully-formed, human adult, I have a lot of things I'd like to say to him if I ever get the chance, including but certainly not limited to the following:

“WTF?!”

GIPHY

Is this actually happening? Are you actually putting your hands on my midsection something like 82 seconds after we first met? Do you realize you've known me less time than my husband, midwives, and last OB-GYN knew me before touching any part of me besides my hand? Furthermore, are you aware that's creepy as all freaking hell?

“Keep Your Hands To Yourself”

GIPHY

Unless me or my kid are in imminent danger, don't touch us. Don't touch people you don't know unless you have a damn good reason. Really, don't touch anybody unless you have their consent.

“Mind Your Own Business”

GIPHY

We just met. When I really was pregnant, I didn't tell people I actually knew for nearly five months. Why do you feel entitled to that info after a minute and a half?

“How Were You Raised?”

GIPHY

Did you grow up in a place where there are no women? Like, any at all? Were you never taught any rules about when it is and isn't appropriate to touch people and ask them personal questions? I’m honestly, deeply curious about how this happens to a person.

“Don't Ever Ask Anyone If They're Pregnant”

GIPHY

A pregnancy is something a pregnant person should get to reveal as they see fit, not something people — least of all random strangers — should badger out of them. You don't know why a person’s belly looks the way it does. Maybe they're pregnant. Maybe they’re wearing a fluffy outfit. Maybe they really like carbs.

Or maybe they look pregnant because they just lost a baby, and you're forcing them to have to figure out how to address something extraordinarily painful with someone they didn't plan on discussing that with. Under no circumstances is it your right to drag unwilling people into a conversation about something so personal, difficult, and potentially complex.

If a pregnant person wants to discuss their pregnancy, they will bring it up. Trust me. If they don't, feel free choose any of the other gazillion conversation topics that aren’t as fraught as human reproduction.

“How Can You Possibly Think Touching Random Strangers Is OK?”

GIPHY

And not even on just their hand or shoulder, either, but on their stomach? Seriously, I still just have so many questions on this point.

“How Would You Like It If Random Men Touched You Out Of Nowhere?”

GIPHY

You might not feel particularly threatened by women, but how would you feel if other men treated you the way you're treating me right now? We're in a semi-secluded area and I'm trying to keep myself and my small child safe. Do you realize it can actually be really scary to be in the world with people who are bigger than you and who don't respect your personal space or sense of safety? How would you feel if you were constantly surrounded by men who could put you in physical danger, touching you in ways that make you worry that they might be physically threatening?

“Let Me Explain A Little Concept Called Boundaries…”

GIPHY

Everyone has (or should have) physical, mental, and other limits we establish to keep ourselves comfortable and stop other people from hurting or taking advantage of us.

When you meet someone you don't know, and you haven't had the chance to learn what their specific boundaries are, you're supposed to err on the side of staying back at arm’s length, not asking them personal questions, and not feeling on one of the most vulnerable areas on their body.

I know preschool-aged children who understand this, so I remain stunned that you have managed to survive for decades without internalizing these norms.

“...And The Dangers Of Unexpectedly Invading Other People’s Personal Space”

GIPHY

Had I not had my eyes on my child, and been frozen by the weirdness of the situation, my typical default reaction to being unexpectedly touched is to swing an arm. For other people, the same situation could be a cue to slap somebody. Even if you don't care about other people’s feelings, you should probably care enough about your own to not do things that could result in getting slapped.

“Just Think Before You Speak And Act”

GIPHY

It's nice that you're trying to be friendly, but don't let your mouth or your hands work faster than your brain. Slow down enough to consider what is and isn't appropriate to be discussing or doing with a person you just met. This really isn't that hard a concept.