I am embarrassed to tell this story.
It was a little after noon on a Monday, Day 1 of my Advanced Sommelier exam in November 2019. I was so nervous about how I performed during service; my tasting exam was the next morning at 9am and theory would be the final portion on Wednesday. I was alone in Portland for the most part – my travel mates from SF were on another floor and did not want to study with me or “hang out.” I ordered in-room dining and started drinking wine that I had bought for reference. The idea that on that day I was imagining that wine to be “studying” just proves that I was in a completely different mental headspace for this exam then when I retook it (and passed) in March 2020.
I do not recall how I ended up in a conversation with this male candidate. He had emailed me before the exam and sent me study materials he was using for one of the final portions. I was grateful. I thought he was a friend. I told him Star Wars: Rebel One was going to be on soon and he could hang out with me if he, like myself, wanted a friend in this foreign city. Watch the movie, drink wine, nothing more (I cannot emphasize enough how strongly I did not want to sleep with this person). He told me he had a girlfriend, but I said that is not why I am asking to hang out with you. At the Advanced Course I hung out with guys the entire time, one in particular I am still close friends with two years later. He came over and by crossing the threshold of my hotel room, his stance on monogamy changed quickly; maybe the text exchange telling me had a girlfriend was his “check yes or no” ethically speaking.
Setting the room: the door leads down a short hallway, bathroom on the left, then the bed, two large hotel chairs, television on the right. I had set up the room so the chairs faced the television while I waited for Rebel One to come on (I think it started around 7pm). We talked about wine, the industry, the exam – normal conversation two peers would talk about. Then he began sexualizing the conversation, telling me he had an “overactive sex drive” and how he did not believe a man should only be with one woman. I honestly blew this off.
He mentioned something about how he was jealous I had a bathtub. I told him that he could take a bath if he wanted to. In my mind this was an incredibly stressful experience taking this exam, and if this helped him, I told him to go on ahead. But as soon as he got in the tub he kept telling me to join him, which I laughably kept saying “absolutely not.” When he eventually got out of the tub he did not get dressed in his own clothes; rather, he put on one of my hotel robes and laid down on my bed. The chairs faced the television, my back to the bed watching the movie. I was drunk, he was drunker, and I kept turning down his advances. This had never happened to me before. I had hung out with guys my entire life, and I did not consider myself to be a naïve person. I had never felt pressured to have sex, or was made uncomfortable by someone so much that I was stressed about it. I began to continuously turn down any advances he made to no avail.
The movie ended around 11pm and it seemed like he passed out. I was tired, worried about my tasting exam the next morning knowing I had already screwed my chances. Stress made me do some pretty stupid things. As I wanted to sleep, I asked him to leave. He made excuses about “getting an Uber” “his hotel was so far away” “it was late.” I didn’t budge, laying down with pillows in between us. Still didn’t stop; finally I snapped. I said, “My tasting exam is at 9am tomorrow morning. This is the most important thing I have ever done, and if you screw this up for me I will find ways to make you get out of this room. I need you to leave.” The “I need you to leave” felt like a record that keeps playing only making me feel more insane. But this was enough as he got up, said he was sorry, got dressed, and left.
Needless to say I did not pass my tasting portion the next day. I sat in the sequestering room all day knowing I had made a mistake. And after my results Wednesday evening, I vowed to come back in four months and pass.
It was the first time in my life where No didn’t mean No. The first time in my life where the male I was with tried to take advantage of me. The first time I did not feel protected, felt weak, and felt unable to control the environment I found myself in. I do not intend on putting myself in a situation like this in the future. I do not want to not trust men to be kind and not force me into a decision I do not want to make. Younger me put herself in a lot of situations that made her feel uncomfortable, and I honestly feel grateful to have never been raped or beaten up. I had lived for years feeling as though being pressured to have sex would never happen to me; instead, I think it had happened to me multiple times. I just never realized that how I felt was important. Was every decision I ever made based on my gender, after all?
I learned after this experience that my body was something I should be protecting. That I should not be letting others dictate my physical experiences; that my emotions were something I should take into consideration. And that I never would let myself stand for anything like this happening to another person.
I launched The Way We Wine to make sure that if this happens to someone else, they have a safe place to talk about it. Together we stand to improve this industry for those that will enter it after us.