Sometimes consent is “It’s good enough.”
Look, not every decision in life must be embraced as if it were our heart’s greatest desire. Consent is a part of our daily lives; we’d be exhausted if we threw ourselves into every single, microscopic decision. Because, you see, consent extends far beyond what we usually discuss (that is, in context of romance). Hugs from your niece or nephew? Where you live? Where you go out for dinner? Anything that involves a “yes” is consent. A million little things that happen, many with hardly a thought passing.
Sometimes that consent is so minimal that we don’t even register it. You needn’t jump for joy every time your partner says, “Do you want to go out to dinner?” or your mother says, “Can you call me on Sunday?” Casual consent, so to speak. The “yeah, sure, whatever” type of consent.
Sometimes a yes is good enough (assuming of course, you wish to say yes).
Sometimes you do things just to do them. Sometimes you even do them just to make someone happy– and that’s okay. My munchkins wanted dinner. I was kind of tired, but I made dinner anyway. Because, well, we’ve worked out a system and this is my job (doing dishes is THEIRS!). So I say yes.
Or maybe my friend wants Chinese and I’m not sure what I feel like, but whatever, I can eat Chinese, so I say yes. Or I need a shirt, because I don’t have enough and this shirt is $5 so I buy it, because, whatever it’s good enough and society tells me I have to wear shirts in public (or something covering my top at any rate).
Even in rather tricky situations.
The other day, one of my munchkins wanted cuddles. So I said yes. I didn’t necessarily want them in the moment, but, you see, it’s his love language and mine. If I said no, he may be less likely to give me them when -I- need them. And right then, -he- needed them. It wasn’t much of a push, either, if I’ll be honest. But I was feeling a little moody, so whatever.
Which doesn’t mean someone should consent to physical touch if they don’t want to for any reason at all. I’m just saying, in some situations, it’s not ethically wrong for a person to compromise even on having someone else touch their body and to offer physical affection without enthusiastic consent on their terms. This is not an absolutely unyielding principle.
But sometimes it’s not good enough.
I doubt you’d accept, “Yeah, sure, whatever” in response to, “Do you want to be my girlfriend?” or, “Would you marry me?” You probably want someone who sincerely wishes to be with you; rather than someone who doesn’t have anything else to do that evening. “Be someone’s priority, not their option,” is something I hear time and time again. While I have issues with that sentiment, I think most of us can agree on the aforementioned point (i.e. acceptable responses to the question of being their girlfriend.)
Saying “yes” under coercion. Saying “yes” to get someone off your back. Saying “yeah, sure, whatever” to avoid a confrontation. That is consent, yes. And in a court of law, perhaps it would hold up. There’s an episode of SVU: Law and Order where the guy sleeps with a girl with blurry eyes and vomit on her chest who tells him she wants it. He says he doesn’t know she was drugged, and maybe that was even true (the story isn’t real, after all). And, maybe that’s good enough for you. But it isn’t good enough for me.
Consent, I believe, should be as meaningful as the decision following it. Whether it’s a little bit or a great deal.
And, by the way, this kind of consent doesn’t count:
There’s this scene in the show Monk where Natalie (Monk’s assistant) finds out Monk underpaid her by several hours. He responds that that one afternoon didn’t count because they were having “fun.” Monk says,
“Remember? I asked you, ‘Aren’t we having fun?’ and you said, ‘Yeah.'”
You may laugh, but I’ve known people in real life who have those kinds of, shall we call them “conversations”? That isn’t genuine consent, and it certainly isn’t “enthusiastic.”
Enthusiastic consent is…rather obvious, I think. But if you don’t know what it looks like, learn. Ask. Because deep connections? Trust? Loyalty? If you want the relationships where people wax poetic? If you want to secure the kinds of relationships that people tell you are “impossible”? Failing to understand the difference between consent and enthusiastic consent can mean the difference between possessing these treasures, and not.
Enthusiastic consent is expressed by the whole body, again and again. It is felt. If you don’t know if something is enthusiastic consent, it very likely isn’t. Enthusiastic consent is the foundation.