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The art of “no,” continued: Saying no when you’ve already said yes.

A reader responded to yesterday’s post with this story:

…I was sitting around at 3am reading blogs when some guy knocked on my window, since mine was the only light on in the street–he’d locked his keys in his car, and wanted to borrow my phone. Then when he couldn’t reach the person he called, he wanted money for a cab ride to his mother’s. It was creepy, but he had puppy dog eyes and a plausible story, and I ended up walking to a nearby ATM and giving him the money. (Before I left, I gave a friend his full description and orders to raise hell if I didn’t come back in a timely fashion.) Then he asked if I wanted to get together for drinks when he returned the money. I made an awkward comment that I didn’t drink… but I’m going to come up with something stronger if he comes back, because my desire to spend time with a guy with boundary issues is pretty low. (Oh, and now I’m worried because he lives next door, and what if I have Angry Guy living next door and knowing where I live and seeing my car every day…)

While it’s not technically a question, I’d like to offer some suggestions for how to come up with something stronger to say if (when) he comes back, and how to deal with the possibility of Angry Guy Living Next Door.

First, I’m very glad you are safe, and I don’t want to make you feel bad about doing a kind thing for someone, and you are the best judge of your own boundaries and safety. However, since you use the words “creepy” and “boundary issues,” I am going to be honest about several things that are red flags to me about this guy’s behavior: 

  • Knocking on a strange woman’s window at 3 am = sketchy.
  • Story about keys locked in car, no phone, person not picking up, needing money and a ride to mom’s = sketchy.
  • ASKING YOU OUT when you got back from the ATM = sketchy.

I’m not saying he’s a predator, but I am comfortable saying that a person with a decent understanding of boundaries does not knock on a strange woman’s window in the middle of the night with bizarre requests.  A person who understands boundaries would be very conscious that he is making a bizarre request and that you would have legitimate reasons (being sketched out, your own safety) for not helping him.  He would understand that he is putting you out and that you are taking serious risks to help him and do everything to minimize that feeling and respect your safety.

I have magical freak attracting powers.  I think people can sense that I will not be mean to them and will listen to at least part of their crazy stories.  I blame my Grandmother and the Catholic Church for teaching me as a child that Jesus would come back someday and he might test us by appearing in a very unappealing form.  What if we couldn’t see through the surfaces of people to the Jesus beneath?  We might be damned for all time for our failure to be kind to Scary Yelling Making Us Uncomfortable Close Talking Jesus.

That’s a lot for a six year old to carry, and part of that teaching has stayed with me till this day. So like you, commenter, I will give sketchy people a little more leeway than I should and then I find myself caught up in their strange alternate realities and having to shake myself free.  I want to believe that people are good and that I will be rewarded for respecting their inner Jesus.  This quality would probably assist me in making documentary film, since I present as friendly, nonjudgmental, and nonthreatening.  Sadly, I make fiction films. And sadly, sometimes people with sad stories play on our kindness and sympathies in order to take something from us.

I am glad you are safe.  That could have gone a different way.  You can’t go back and undo it, so let’s talk about the future.  I just want you to do that in the full realization that there is something sketchy about this guy – even if he didn’t harm you, even if there was a legit emergency or need to get to his mom’s house.  I would not trust him or open my door to him one inch.

If you’re lucky, you will never see this guy ever again.  Just consider that money gone and forget all about it.

If you’re unlucky, last night was the beginning of a relationship that this guy thinks he has with you.  After all, he has to pay you back your money, right?  Don’t mind him if he’s paying attention to your comings and goings or feeling like he can knock on your window any old time.  You’re buddies now!

I really can’t recommend The Gift of Fear enough to you. Gavin De Becker, the author, doesn’t want you to feel afraid or be suspicious of everyone.  What he does want is for you to trust your instincts – this is creepy, this is sketchy, I don’t want to do this or talk to this person – when you do feel afraid, and he gives you a framework for identifying sketchy behavior and refusing to be manipulated.  Some of the predatory behaviors he identifies may apply to last night’s unwanted guest:

  • Forced Teaming. This is when a person tries to pretend that he has something in common with a person and that they are in the same predicament when that isn’t really true.
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a person in order to manipulate him or her.
  • Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible.
  • Typecasting. An insult to get a person who would otherwise ignore one to talk to one. (“I bet you’re too stuck up to ever talk to a guy like me.“This is a classic move of Pick-Up Artists)
  • Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help and expecting favors in return.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means you will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt you.
  • Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept rejection.

It’s not just violent people who use these behaviors – these are all classic maniuplation tools, we’ve all probably used them and had them used on us in benign situations.  Think about meetings you have with your boss when she says “We need to do x, y, and z” when really that means YOU will need to do x, y, and z. Forced teaming at work.

Anyway, say this guy comes back.  He wants another favor.  He wants to use your cell phone. He wants more money.  He wants to come into your house.  He wants you to hang out with him in exchange for him returning your money.

If you don’t let him in or interact with him, it is very possible that he will get angry and offended.  By helping him the other night, you taught him that you are not a person who says “no” easily.  You’ve shown him that you’re willing to be manipulated – out of your house, into giving him money – even when he’s a stranger knocking on your window at night.  In the hands of a predator, that’s powerful stuff.

Predators (I’ll lump rapists, stalkers, dates who can’t be broken up with and other unsavories under this term) carefully select and test their victims to look for ones who have a hard time saying no.  People who can’t let go choose people who can’t say no.

Imagine you’re at a party.  A guy offers you a drink.  You say no.  He says “Come on, one drink!”  You say “no thanks.”  Later, he brings you a soda.  “I know you said you didn’t want a drink, but I was getting one for myself and you looked thirsty.”  For you to refuse at this point makes you the asshole.  He’s just being nice, right? Predators use the social contract and our own good hearts and fear of being rude against us.  If you drink the drink, you’re teaching him that it just takes a little persistence on his part to overcome your “no.”  If you say “Really, I appreciate it, but no thanks” and put the drink down and walk away from it, you’re the one who looks rude in that moment.  But the fact is, you didn’t ask for the drink and you don’t want the drink and you don’t have to drink it just to make some guy feel validated.

If you’ve ever been in an uncomfortable situation with someone who smothers you and has a hard time letting go, think back to when you first met.  Chances are there were behaviors like this – offering things you don’t want and then getting mad when you turn down the “favor,” and not hearing you when you say “no.”

So yes, Angry Guy might get angry at you if you refuse to let him in or interact with him.  And he might be quite manipulative in putting it all on you – What’s wrong with you?  He didn’t hurt you the other night, did he?  What kind of guy do you think he is?  He’s just trying to give you your money back/get to know you a little/return the favor.

It will sting.

It will put you in a position of apologizing to him.  “No, I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry, I don’t think that about you.”

He will make it hard for you to refuse him.

What you have to remember: It’s all smoke.  Remind yourself of the facts.  The fact is, he showed up uninvited offering something you don’t want, so you said no.  No is a complete sentence, and once you’ve said it, the other person just needs to back the fuck off and go about his life.

This is right out of Gift of Fear:  “If you say ‘no,’ and the other person keeps talking, ask yourself ‘Why is this person trying to manipulate me?'”

There are lots of “something stronger” things you can do or say:

  • Say nothing at all.  If he knocks on the window, just shake your head no and go on with what you’re doing.  Go into a different room, if necessary.  Do not respond or interact. (This one is hard to pull off, easier if you have a friend there).
  • Please don’t drop by in the middle of the night.  It makes me very uncomfortable.
  • No, you can’t come in.”
  • I’m glad everything worked out. That was a one-time favor for a stranger.  Please don’t ask me again.”
  • I don’t want to have drinks with you.”  This is a big one – an excuse like “I don’t drink” is meant to let him down easy and save his feelings, but that leaves him room to find out what you DO eat or drink and propose that.  Manipulators look for any crack they can find – if he pushes this route you’ll know it, he’ll be all “But I thought we were going to have drinks” (acting like you agreed to it already). Be direct and honest.  “Thanks, but I don’t want to.  You can slide an envelope under the door, or better yet, keep it  and help out someone else who is in a jam someday.”

If he pushes you – manipulates, whines, tells sob stories, calls you a bitch, intimidates – hold the line.  Don’t get drawn into a discussion with him. Every minute you spend interacting with him is one more minute than you want to be interacting with him.

  • You are making me feel afraid and uncomfortable.  Please leave immediately.”
  • You are making me regret ever helping you in the first place.  Please leave.
  • “I’ve said ‘leave’ and ‘no’ several times now, so the fact that you are still here is very scary and threatening behavior.”
  • This conversation is over.  Please leave.

You do not have to worry about the feelings of creepy people.  I do understand not wanting to escalate a situation that might get violent – you need to use your own judgment about that, and keeping a calm, firm, polite tone will serve you well – but you do not have to have an ongoing relationship with this dude. Even if he’s your neighbor.  Even if he’s angry.

Keep your cell phone on you and charged at all times.  Think about staying with a friend or having a friend stay with you on and off for a few days.  Stay safe!

I want to add one more note for people who are in a can’t-let-go situation with a dating partner. Sometimes you have to be direct and explicit in rejecting someone, no matter how awkward.  You say “I’m not ready for a relationship right now.”  They wonder “When will you be ready?  Because I’ll be there on that day!”   They read any hesitation or ambiguity as favorable to themselves.  They try to draw you into explaining yourself, and then you flail around, and they can tell you’re flailing, and then they pounce – and you find yourself dating them for another 6 months.  You have to sack up and say:

Whatever we’ve discussed or assumed before now, I’m not interested in having a relationship with you.  I’m sorry if that’s bad news, I wish you well.”

Then get out of there.  Don’t discuss it.  As Gavin De Becker says, why would you discuss your romantic hopes and feelings with someone you don’t want to be in a relationship with?  Don’t return phone calls or emails.  Just be done. They will eventually detach and find someone else to latch onto.

I think it’s criminal that we don’t socialize women to be direct about expressing refusal, and I know what women risk when we do express ourselves directly.  I’m sorry that it makes dating and interacting with men so fraught and confusing – if we could just say “not interested, thanks” and be respected and believed and not constantly worried about personal safety and violent blowback it would be a better world.  I’m including an old chat transcript from an online dating site to show you how much certain men (violent woman-hating assholes) do not like hearing the word “no” from a woman.

(12:01:32 am)NAME REDACTED :evening hottie (I closed the chat window, it popped up again)

(12:01:56 am):NAME REDACTED ah she looks (I closed the chat window, it popped up again)

(12:02:00 am) NAME REDACTED :busy evening ? (I closed the chat window, it popped up again)

(12:02:17 am) NAME REDACTED: wow wont even say hi (I closed the chat window, it popped up again)

(12:02:20 am)CaptainAwkward: I don’t want to chat with you.

(12:02:35 am)CaptainAwkward: See how I keep closing the chat window?

(12:02:35 am)CaptainAwkward: Goodnight.

(12:02:40 am) NAME REDACTED :bitch

(12:02:49 am) NAME REDACTED :suck my balls

(12:02:58 am) Captain Awkward:Take the hint dude

(12:03:15 am) NAME REDACTED:  i’m going to fuck you in your ass and then your eye cunt

(12:03:29 am) NAME REDACTED:captain cuntface

(12:03:58 am)CaptainAwkward:While that does sound amazing, I said I didn’t want to talk to you, then you called me a bitch.

(12:04:04 am)CaptainAwkward:That tells me you hate women and are undateable.

(12:04:08 am)CaptainAwkward:Go away and stop harrassing me.

(12:04:21 am) NAME REDACTED: i meant cunt and I only hate your type

(12:04:27 am)CaptainAwkward:What’s my type?

(12:04:32 am)CaptainAwkward:People who don’t want to chat with you on the internet?

(12:05:08 am) NAME REDACTED :so blow me then

(12:05:13 am)CaptainAwkward: If you’re wondering why no one will touch your shriveled dick, this conversation is why.

(12:05:28 am) NAME REDACTED :how intellectual you Arent

(12:05:44 am) NAME REDACTED:  pardon i assumed you had a brain

(12:05:47 am)CaptainAwkward: Go masturbate into a lonely sock.

(12:06:14 am)CaptainAwkward: You get one second of rejection and it becomes all about how much you hate women.

(12:06:25 am)CaptainAwkward: I don’t have to talk to you or like you.

(12:06:33 am) NAME REDACTED:bitch Ive talked to normal hetero women al night

(12:06:46 am)CaptainAwkward:Whatever, I personally do not like you or find you interesting.

(12:07:08 am) NAME REDACTED:  youre just a serial dater.. noone likes you ,, u just eat for free and shake your hips and go home in the am  cry when you get raped

(12:07:16 am)NAME REDACTED :BLOW ME LOSER

(12:07:52 am)CaptainAwkward: If I were a serial dater I’d be interested in getting some of that sweet money out of you, right?

(12:07:57 am)CaptainAwkward:But I said I wasn’t interested immediately.

(12:08:03 am) NAME REDACTED: i know a cunt when i come across one

(12:08:12 am) NAME REDACTED :your daddy didnt play woth you enuff

(12:08:13 am)CaptainAwkward:And I know a stalker rapist asshole when I see one.

(12:08:21 am) NAME REDACTED: uh huh your daddy

(12:08:30 am) NAME REDACTED:  he says nice things about you

(12:08:37 am) NAME REDACTED:  and your throat

And then I pressed the block button and reported him to the site administrator.  The end!  Except it didn’t work right away.

4 days later:

(9:15:14 am) NAME REDACTED: hello cutie

So yeah, that conversation didn’t make enough of an impression for him to even remember calling me a cunt and threatening to rape me, whereas I remember it YEARS later. Funny how things stick with you!

Looking at his profile just now (he’s still looking for that “confident sexy lady”), I found this:

The first things people usually notice about me

the gun in my pocket,
Stop… Im just glad to see ya! LOL :)
HILARIOUS.  I totally trust that he doesn’t have a gun, don’t you?
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200 comments
  1. Once I was waiting an an eL stop, having just come from an excellent concert in a beautiful church, feeling happy with the world. There was a homeless dude on the platform reciting his own poetry.

    The poetry was actually not too bad.

    I listened for a while, and then I gave him $5 for his chapbook that had a little effort put into it, with his poems and drawings.

    Then the train came, and he got on it with me. I thought !!, but I got him to sit next to the window, and there were plenty of people on the train.

    And truth told, that conversation was totally hilarious. It was all about how humanity was created out of the “Gort Cloud,” and there were 100,000 archangels and 100,000 demons hiding inside people, and once all the archangels had defeated the demons … something. I have it all written down.

    Then he asked me to marry him. I said no.

    Then he asked me to take him home and have sex with him. I said no.

    Then he asked me for a kiss. I laughed and said, “No, man, how many more questions are you going to ask me?”

    I gave him a hug – the smelliest hug of my life.

    Then I made sure to get off at The Wrong Stop Entirely and waited for a different train.

    I kind of love that guy and his Gort Cloud, and I am DEEPLY grateful that it didn’t get to 1/100th the Danger Level it could have.

    • JenniferP said:

      Our friend TR has DEFINITELY encountered this same dude on the eL.

      I think I’d rather be the kind of person who gives odd ducks the time of day than the person who doesn’t, but I also think it’s okay to say “Hey, I don’t actually want to talk to you” and have that be believed and accepted.

      • I agree. Honestly, if the poetry had sucked, I would have never have given him a second thought.

      • Ah, but poetry is all about the art of deception, so maybe the better the poetry, the bigger the warning bells?

        And by the way, this is an article that needs to be shared widely. Posted it on my FB wall already. Thanks for writing it.

    • maribelle said:

      OMG you gave him a hug? A HUG?

      Oh sister what were you thinking?

      This thread is the most triggering thing I’ve read in a long time. I am in shock.

      Such good advice from Captain Awkward, but WAY WAY WAY too much consideration is being given to these dangerous loser men.

      Control/Alt/Delete.

      DON’T BE NICE AND DON’T ENGAGE. Tell them to go away, move seats, call security if needed. RUN AWAY.

      Damn, no wonder these d-wads get away with so much. I am shaking here.

      YOUNG WOMAN OF AMERICA SAY NO and KEEP SAYING NO. Not “no, thank you.” JUST SAY NO and then run/walk away.

      • JenniferP said:

        Hello Maribelle,

        I’m glad you posted this and your comment below, because you illustrate the double bind women are in –

        We are not socialized or raised to say “no”, and have to learn it ourselves, sometimes the hard way.

        But if we don’t say it “correctly” – emphatically enough, soon enough, etc., then people feel free to judge us after the fact, like, “Well, she should have said no sooner/better/differently, what’s wrong with her that she ‘let’ that creep get away with something like that?”

        I’m sorry that reading this thread is having such a strong emotional effect on you, but please don’t tell my posters who are sharing their stories that they are saying “no” incorrectly.

  2. Stacey said:

    Wow, what a prince you turned down in NAME REDACTED. Assholery just shines through the text. I would have stopped and reported after “take the hint dude”; there is no getting through to someone who acts like that, and everything you say further just gives him fuel to spew out more of the same.

    • JenniferP said:

      I thought about revealing his username, but this site makes it easy to find my real name, and no one needs that. I think 5 minutes of interacting with him would tell you you don’t want to interact with him.

    • ginmar said:

      Shouldn’t somebody be saying,”It’s just the internet,” or “IF you can’t take it, get lost,” right about now? Because one can’t do anything about this behavior, and the guys that pull this crap never do it in the real world. Absolutely not, I’m sure. Never. I worked with a guy who went from cautiously okay to “Women ask to get raped,” in about five seconds. The company let him start his probation period before getting his FBI check back and it turned out—shocker!—that he was a wife-beater and had pages of arrests for assaults—but only of women.

      • JenniferP said:

        Think about Charlie Sheen, who has been assaulting women FOR YEARS and it never mattered, but then he said one bad thing about his boss in public and got fired. Sad.

      • ginmar said:

        Yeah, how many women, in that situation, equals one man? But I know people who bitch—very self righteously—about Shari’a law, where the word of one woman does not equal that of one man—-it takes four women, or else she must have male witnesses. Charlie Sheen shows that that’s exactly what’s going on here. How many women does a guy get to assault for free? And when Sheen shot Kelly Preston, he wasn’t anything but a dilettante son of a minor star. He should have gone down for that.

  3. the war department said:

    On people who ask you to borrow your cell phone:
    This is a nice scam in my neighborhood where people just run off with your phone after you hand it to them. I usually offer to dial the number on my own phone for them. If that doesn’t call their bluff, I just act as an intermediary to whoever answers.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yup. Asking for the time can also be a prelude to mugging – you check your watch or pull out your phone, your attention wanders, boom, a knife or a gun. Sketchy.

      • PrettyAmiable said:

        I was told that this is also something people have done in Nice, FR (Also, “Do you have a cigarette?”) to see if you’re drunk enough to make a good mugging target. I totally trust the guy who followed me hurling ethnic slurs when I ignored his cigarette request was definitely just pissed about his fix.

        • Sam said:

          I had two guys try to pull that cigarette crap at 4AM in a public park. I was with a lady friend at the time. He actually asked me to look in my pockets. I honestly have no idea how we got away unscathed. I’d have to put it down to being a big bearded creeper myself.

  4. Caito said:

    “If you’re wondering why no one will touch your shriveled dick, this conversation is why.”

    I officially idolize you.

    • JenniferP said:

      Awkward.

      • Caito said:

        I’m sorry.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ha, no worries! Keep posting, send me questions, tell your friends!

  5. Lis said:

    Thanks, Captain Awkard. I’ve been told I was stupid by a couple of people, so… thanks for not doing that. It would be nice to be able to trust people and see the best in them. I work with street kids in my job, and I see so many times when they suffered because no one was willing to cut them a break. That’s how I got manipulated.

    I know it wasn’t wise–after all, I’ve READ the Gift of Fear several times–but it’s so hard to muster “no, and go away” on the spot. Since last night and today, I’ve thought up a dozen alternatives–why didn’t I just call a 24-hour locksmith and let the guy deal with them?–and given this guy’s description to people I know. My brother came over to hang out in my kitchen in the time period the guy was supposed to come over (he didn’t).

    But now I don’t feel safe, because this guy knows where I live and that I can be manipulated. I really do hope he was just a thief pulling a con, and he won’t come back again.

    • You did the best you could do in that moment. I vote that you cut yourself a break.

    • JenniferP said:

      You’re not stupid, and you did a thing to heal the world by showing compassion and a willingness to help. I’m with Virginia – don’t beat yourself up about it, you’re ready for what happens next, you won’t be conned again, maybe you’ll get your money back and life will go on.

      • Lis said:

        Thank you. :) I definitely think I’ll be more wary in the future. I’ve had family and friends dropping in ever since the first meeting. Dude knocked on my window early this morning and woke me up, then started some story about how he’d give me my money–and fifty dollars more!–but he needed to go pick up his paycheque, once he gets gas for his truck. I said, “Good, then we can be quits” and he paused and said, “…But I need gas!” demandingly. (So much for “I totally have money, it’s just locked in my truck”.) I was still really sleep-addled, but I managed to say, “That’s not my problem,” and when he pleaded, repeated, “No, sorry, I can’t” four or five times like a broken record until he gave up and went away.

        Part of his pleading was, “What, you’re that hard up? You can’t even spare a little?” which really made me think of De Becker’s point about ability vs. willingness–the truth was that I could have, but I didn’t want to. And that was still okay.

        Thanks for the advice!

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the update about what happened! I have a feeling you’ve seen the last of him for a while, though he may continue to pop up with bizarre requests from time to time.

    • ginmar said:

      There’s no shame in trying to be kind, and in fact, there’s a kind of bravery in taking on cases where other people would be untrusting. If that’s a word, whatever. You’re a good person. You did what you could do at the time, with the knowledge you had at hand. You did everything right for you at the time.

    • I think you’re a compassionate person and you’re also smart enough to know what’s going on and wise enough to know when to seek help.

      It’s crazy that even though nothing you did was wrong, someone else can come along and negate it when you are doing the right thing and they are absolutely doing the wrong thing. If that makes any sense, I think that many people miss the point that bad things don’t necessarily happen because you didn’t do the right thing, but because someone else was selfish. I think it’s important for people to remember that we should only blame ourselves for something when it’s actually our fault.

      • JenniferP said:

        Well said!

      • “I think that many people miss the point that bad things don’t necessarily happen because you didn’t do the right thing, but because someone else was selfish.”

        I cannot express how much I love this.

    • Mimi said:

      Lis, you did the best you could do in that situation, no need for embarrassment. When you’ve been conditioned for years to smile and gentle the blow, or even easier still, just say “yes,” “no” does not come so easily. I’ve found it helpful to actually practice saying “no.” I think De Becker recommends this. Like, I’ll play out a past scenario in which I was caught off-guard, or felt taken advantage of afterward, and I’ll practice inserting “no.” I’ll imagine future scenarios and cut them short with “no.” Even just practicing saying the word aloud in a clear, firm tone is helpful-it becomes familiar, and you’ll have easier access to it in the future.

  6. monsterzero said:

    Another possible predatory behavior (which I don’t think De Becker has a name for) is what I’ll call the Reverse Loan Shark. The Predator asks for a small favor (possibly offering an Unsolicited Promise as repayment). Apparently if you do a small favor for someone you don’t much like, you subconsciously end up liking them more and being more likely to do them bigger favors.

    • bkj said:

      In persuasion studies that’s called foot in the door. There is an inverse strategy too, door-in-face, where the person asks you for something big that you will definitely say no to, and follows up with something smaller.

      • ginmar said:

        Otherwise known as the Republican strategy on abortion rights. Or wrongs, as they no doubt view it. They ask for something truly despicable, get shot down, then ask for something a bit less openly woman-hating and get it. And that’s how rights get chipped away, bit by bit.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yep, this is a good one, as is the Big Request (that you’ll refuse, followed by a reasonable request that you might say yes to) that bkj mentions below.

      • ginmar said:

        Also called haggling. It’s okay in some situations, but not when somebody’s bodily boundaries are up for grabs. And it’s not okay in some situations when you’re just bargaining for material goods, either. (It’s pretty obscene to watch well-off Americans arguing with starving nationals in some of the poorer parts of the world, then boasting about how they got a good deal from somebody who desperately wanted to eat.) The person with the greater need or the more to lose is the one who’s got less maneuver room when you’re bargaining.

  7. Veronica said:

    While the chat is awful, and I’m sorry you had to deal with it, I admit I cracked up at the, “Ive talked to normal hetero women al night [sic].” I’ve only had the misfortune of encountering a line like that once or twice, and it never fails to be unintentionally hilarious. THESE HETEROSEXUAL WOMEN, THEY ARE TOTALLY HETEROSEXUAL, THAT MEANS THEY CAN AND WOULD HAVE SEX WITH ME. YOU MUST BE A BITTER LESBIAN WHO IS NOT A HETEROSEXUAL WOMAN BECAUSE HETEROSEXUAL WOMEN? DIG THIS.

    Okay, buddy, whatever you say.

    • JenniferP said:

      Looking up his username on OKC showed that he’s harassed other women in the exact same way – those kinds of chats are usual for him.

    • SunlessNick said:

      I admit I cracked up at the, “Ive talked to normal hetero women al night [sic].”

      Perhaps because of the unintentional tell implied by the fact that none of these women seem to have wanted to keep talking to him.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is shallow of me, but his photo is hideous and shows right away that he is an angry, surly, unattractive person – I’m not sure any people of any sexual persuasion dig that.

      • Amanda said:

        I don’t find this shallow at all. I note you say ‘angry’ and ‘surly’ before ‘unattractive’. Even someone with terrible acne and a nose that’s been broken 10 times can show themselves to be ‘joyful’ and ‘friendly’ in a picture. And if angry, surly man is the face he’s showing on a dating site… well…

  8. Marion Poliquin said:

    “I have magical freak attracting powers. I think people can sense that I will not be mean to them and will listen to at least part of their crazy stories.”

    I truly, deeply sympathize with you, being afflicted with the same curse. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s bad enough that my friends notice it and tease me about it.

    • JenniferP said:

      My friends don’t tease me – they LOVE IT because then they get to laugh at stories of my pain.

      • Marion Poliquin said:

        Doesn’t laughing at stories of your pain count as teasing? :)

  9. Allison said:

    Oh man, this so reminds me of a guy who started talking to me on the street while I was walking to work one day. He was kind of speeding up, slowing down, keeping pace with me until finally I stopped and was like ‘dude, what the fuck?’

    So he starts talking to me and I’m like ‘okay may as well continue down the block’ (I didn’t feel super unsafe or anything; crowded street in the middle of the day) and it was less weird than I thought it would be, but I still pretended I needed to go to Walgreens to escape.

    Anyway, so he is like ‘nice meeting you, want to get some coffee sometime?’ and I’m like ‘no, I don’t know you.’ And he says ‘that would be the point of coffee – to get to know one another.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not really interested. Sorry.’

    And then he *freaks out.* Starts screaming at me on the street that I’m not even that pretty and I only have a few good years left and that in eight or so years no man will even look at me twice and I should be grateful to get any attention and I’m a teasing ugly cunt and blah blah blah.

    It was pretty awesome.

    • JenniferP said:

      Like that’s going to make you go, “I’m sorry, I was hasty – let’s have that coffee now!”

      • ginmar said:

        What, you mean it doesn’t work?! Yeah, if they thought about it at all, they’d give a shit, but since getting to know women—which can be accomplished only by listening to us—-isn’t what they’re after, this kind of freak out reveals that they just like to harass women.

      • Allison said:

        “Let’s skip the coffee and take this date straight to the chapel! BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”

    • Caito said:

      Sour grapes are really just proof you dodged a bullet.

      • JenniferP said:

        Words to live by.

    • Oh, I got something like that. I rejected some guy and he said that I wasn’t all that anyway. Like I need to have my bodily insecurities triggered by some creeper jerk. But my friend protected my honor (since this happened through some weird phone conversation).

  10. judybrowni said:

    Even better than “No” is “No, thank you” rinse and repeat (in a monotone, if it’s live and in person.)

    Doesn’t give every Angry Guy the excuse to escalate into abuse because you’ve been “polite.”

    However, if he persists than righteous anger will send the rest running.

    I describe the procedure that’s kept me safe, and even scared off, or embarressed the creeps on occasion, in a post in Hollaback:

    http://www.ihollaback.org/blog/2010/06/18/guest-post-judy-browns-take-on-what-works-in-fending-off-the-harassers/

    Feel free to adapt to online harassers.

    • JenniferP said:

      Great post on Hollaback, and great strategy. With any predatory behavior it can help to humanize yourself – “You’re making me feel afraid and uncomfortable, it is bad manners to follow someone like this” – can make someone back off IF they are not violent in the first place.

      I might think twice about saying that the strategy has “kept you safe” – it might imply that other people have failed to “keep themselves safe” when really you (and I) have been lucky that our strategies have worked and that the people involved eventually understood the no and did back off.

      Great strategy, though, and the tone is everything. “Sorry, can’t help you.” “No thanks!”

  11. Yonmei said:

    Years ago, I had an IMC account. My account profile mentioned – why not? – along with my interests in reading, music, and politics, that I’m a lesbian.

    I’d assumed that this would have two positive effects: let other lesbians out there know I was there, and warn off lonely guys looking for a date.

    How. Wrong, I. Was.

    I eventually stopped using IMC. (Yes, I suppose it would have been easier to edit my profile, but something in my character just wouldn’t let me take that route.)

    Obviously, I used to block immediately any guy who contacted me asking for a date, by any means. That habit did not take long to establish. But at first I used to let through the guys who would start out “you sound really interesting” until, five or ten minutes into a chat (often not THAT interesting for me) they’d start asking for a date. (This is shorthand. What they were asking for varied from “let’s meet up” to “What do you look like” to “let’s have online sex”. Let’s summarise it by saying they wanted a date.)

    And I’d go “Hey, see my profile?”

    “Yes, you look like an interesting person!”

    “Says I’m a lesbian, do you understand what that means?”

    Responses to that varied between “Yes, and I don’t mind” to “Yes, and it makes you really interesting”. No response took into account MY feelings about guys – or my feelings at all.

    So very shortly, every time I opened up my IMC account, I had pre-typed into a text file a sentence of rejection, to the effect that “You are obviously illiterate as you do not know what the word ‘lesbian’ means. I do not date illiterate people even if you were the right gender, which you are not.”

    And then the instant any guy contacted me, I’d message them that pre-typed text, then hit block while they were reading it so they couldn’t message me back.

    I stopped using IMC when I ran out of the pre-set limit on the number of email addresses you are allowed to block. I think it’s about a thousand.

    Scroll on a few years. I’m talking to my older brother about online communication. I tell him about how I used to have an IMC account, and why I quit using it. I laugh, telling him about the pre-typed message I used to have set up to get rid of the morons who were bugging me.

    Then I notice he isn’t laughing. He looks at me quite seriously, and he asks “Didn’t it bother you hurting their feelings like that?”

    I stare, wondering if he’s joking, but he’s not. He’s really seriously concerned for the feelings of the men who used to sexually harass his sister online, and he thinks my abrupt and brutal response to them was too hurtful.

    I’ve really never felt the same way about my brother since.

    • JenniferP said:

      Wow, it’s always hurtful when someone close to you shows that they just Do Not Get It.

      What’s IMC? Some sort of gaming or chat site?

      • Yonmei said:

        Headtypo – I meant IRC.

        (I didn’t get follow-up comments by email – I only just came back to the thread, and realised you’d replied – and what I’d mistyped!)

        Yeah – I actually argued with my brother quite a bit about it on that occasion, but he kept repeatedly telling me he didn’t see why I should mind being approached for sex by random strangers and why did I feel the need to be so hurtful about it. (Which made me wonder what *he* did online.)

        • Win said:

          Men have been socially conditioned to believe that’s ok and even preferred behavior- and women have been socially conditioned to be shamed if she doesn’t sat yes. We not only have to reeducate women, but men as well.

          • …and not to be all overthinky or anything, but to most guys, sex is synonymous with (their) orgasm…and it doesn’t always occur to them that it’s not like that for women (both because our physiology is different and because the act of hetero sex is essentially defined by the man’s climax). Ergo, a guy hears Yonmei’s story and thinks “Random people are offering her free orgasms! That sounds totally awesome! Why is she so angry about it?”

            I’ve actually had enough guy friends act jealous of the “attention” I get online that I wrote a blog post explaining once and for all why this sort of attention is not actually flattering or enviable: http://perversecowgirl.wordpress.com/2011/12/30/sex-object/

    • maribelle said:

      “And then the instant any guy contacted me, I’d message them that pre-typed text, then hit block while they were reading it so they couldn’t message me back.”

      YES! THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE!!

      “I stopped using IMC when I ran out of the pre-set limit on the number of email addresses you are allowed to block. I think it’s about a thousand.”
      :-( So sorry.

      And so, so sorry about your brother. Hope having you as a sister will help school him.

      • Yonmei said:

        “YES! THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE!!”

        Thank you. I really appreciate that.

        “And so, so sorry about your brother. Hope having you as a sister will help school him.”

        Also, this. :-(

    • CaliOak said:

      Holy crap. I had almost similar conversation
      with my uncle in his 50s and he got it instantly. I said I hate being hit on immediately because if a you decide you want to have a relationship with me without even knowing so much as my name that’s not a compliment. (And I was a straight single woman in my early 20s so the men won’t automatically nincompooic morons like guys hitting on a lesbian.) Being male is NOT as excuse for stupid behavior.

  12. Joyce L said:

    Years ago when I was a teenager (I’m 50 now) I had learned that if you get a prank call to simply ignore the person and then hang up. So I am alone at home one evening doing homework and the phone rings (the kind with a cord, that you dial with your finger and has no ability to *69 or call display). I pick up say hello and no one answers me. I say hello again. No response. I hang up. 10 minutes later the same thing happens except this time someone is breathing on the other endo the line. So I, like the good girl I was taught to be, hang up. 10 minutes later same thing, except this time starts breathing extra loud like he is in the middle of having an orgasm. I hang up. 10 minutes later the phone rings again. By now I am starting to feel really pissed off because he is distracting me from my homework (which was unusual since I usually did everything I could to not do any at all). I answer with a hello. This time he talks. He said something like I want you to suck my dick. I stopped being afraid and got really mad. I told him that as far as I was concerned he could go stick his dick up his own ass and fuck himself. Then I hung up and he never called back.

    I’ve used that experience ever since and it has served me well.

    • JenniferP said:

      Gross, when I worked in the restaurant biz as a teenager there was a guy who would call the carryout line and try to do a “survey” on whether the (usually young female) person answering the phone liked to have their feet tickled. The answer I finally settled on was “NO, I DON’T EVEN HAVE FEET, YOU ASSHOLE.”

      • Sid said:

        HA!

        Great answer? Or GREATEST answer?

      • That’s going to skew his survey results.

      • OH MY GOD.
        That line cracked me up for a good 5 minutes straight. LOL “I DON’T EVEN HAVE FEET”
        I can’t stop lol’ing. I don’t know why. I know it’s been over a year since this comment but I just had to tell you how much it cracked me up. Esp. in the context of something as depressing as the non-stop onslaught of “mild” sexual harassment that is “daring to be a female in the U.S.”

        Someone should really make a book of all the best retorts to harassment. it would be hilarious.

  13. Ugh, I was in the laundromat a few months ago, washing a load and waiting for my boyfriend to come and join me from whatever errand he was running. I was reading a book.

    And this guy comes in and looks really confused. He half-approaches me, turns away, half-approaches again. I pretend not to notice. I read my book.

    Finally he comes up and asks if I have any money. He’s just shy of what he needs to do a load and he’d really hate to walk all the way back home. I say, sorry, no, and I go back to reading my book.

    He pulls up a chair. Starts talking to me. Tells me I can call him “Soul Train,” tells me he’s a broadcasting major at the university. So I try to be nice. I don’t want to be “that bitch,” you know? The one who can say clearly, “Leave me alone.” So I answer back a little. It’s really awkward. He’s really awkward. I’m listening to him, trying to figure out if he’s really sketch, or maybe just developmentally challenged. Because no one wants to be rude to the mentally challenged guy, right?

    He says, “Maybe you should come over sometime. We can hang out, get to know each other.”

    “Yeah,” I say, “probably not.”

    He reaches for my hands. When I pull them away, he tells me he’s not going to hurt me. I just have really small hands is all, and he wants to see them. I say, “No, I don’t think so.”

    He asks why I’m there. (The, um, giant laundromat sign and the washing machine whirring away in front of us wasn’t clue enough?) I say I’m doing laundry and waiting for my boyfriend to get back. (Hopefully implied: my large, hairy, grouchy boyfriend. OK. None of that’s true. But that’s OK.)

    Soul Train freaks the fuck out. He says he doesn’t “do girls” “like me.” He didn’t know I had a boyfriend. I’m a slut.

    Awesome.

    Clearly I need to grow a backbone, or a good hundred-yard death-to-you stare. Either way. Maybe both.

    • JenniferP said:

      I love that he gave himself a nickname! “Soul Train!” Excellent.

      I live in a neighborhood where there are a lot of transient hotels, methadone clinics, mental health outreach facilities, halfway houses, etc., and I run into a lot of men who have boundary issues at the grocery store/Starbucks/laundromat/bus stop. And like you, I struggle with seeing the Jesus in everyone and not wanting to approach every interaction with the Death Stare of Don’t Talk To Me and setting boundaries with people who have serious issues and who, let’s face it, get shit on regularly by society. It’s a constant balancing act, and I try to sort of keep it to a curt “Hey yourself” and go about my business. If I encounter a real Space Invader I will step it up to “Hey, I know you mean to be friendly, but I just want to read my book/drink my coffee/wait for the bus and I don’t want to talk to you” which usually gets me a “I WAS JUST TRYING TO BE FRIENDLY WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU” reply to which I say “I know you were, but I don’t want to be your friend, so go talk to someone else.”

      Usually the worst I get is some angry muttering as they walk away. I have bright orange glasses, so I’m pretty memorable, and often I’ll run into the guy again and he’ll be all “Oh, there she is, the unfriendly girl who doesn’t want to talk” and I’ll say “That’s right! Have a good day!” and all is well.

      • JenniferP said:

        Emily, I’m way familiar and I’m pretty sure I commented in there somewhere. That thread is great and should be mandatory reading, both for the OP and for the total derail by NiceGuys.

      • Kahra said:

        Can’t seem to respond to Emily WK’s post with the link about Schroedinger’s Rapist, but I’ve got some serious qualms about that post.

        1. That poster is paranoid–and perhaps she should be. But she is letting her fear affect her life in ways that I just can’t see as healthy, no matter how I look at it. Of course there are risks to going out at night or things like that, but you can’t live your life in fear. Take some martial arts classes. Carry mace. But changing your life because you’re afraid of other people is a horrible way to live, and gives them all the power.

        2. Women and men communicate differently. However, this article states that it is the man’s responsibility to learn a woman’s communication methods (reading body language), and to never put a woman in a position where she has to use a man’s communication methods (saying ‘no.’) This only serves to put all the power in the man’s hands. I mean, really, are females that stupid that they need a man to decide whether or not they want a conversation for them? Are we so helpless that we cannot say one simple word?

        3. The whole article has an air of female weakness. You can’t go out at night, you’ll be harmed. Men, you have to stop yourselves from talking to a woman, she obviously can’t say no.

        I’m not saying that there aren’t problems, and that there aren’t women who genuinely have difficulty saying no. Hell, if this isn’t the greatest example of the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is.

        It is, truly, one of the greatest societal errors which we have committed, in teaching our girls to be meek and “ladylike;” to be subservient. This article merely reinforces such subservience, in proclaiming that it is entirely the man’s responsibility (and thus, the man’s power) to make sure a woman is never faced with the difficult task of saying “no.”

        Tl;dr: Women, I beg of you, man the fuck up.

        • JenniferP said:

          Hi Kahra,

          WordPress only lets you nest comments so far.

          Your TL;DR notice “Women, man the fuck up” is incredibly insulting, while I agree that we do our girls and women a grave disservice when we teach them to be nice all the time, but the rest of your post is incredibly insulting to both men and women.

          The Schroedinger’s Rapist post was a guide for men who wanted to be able to approach women in a way that made them more likely to get a positive response and not come across as creepy. Things like: Look at your surroundings! Look at her body language! Does she look like she’s really absorbed in something? Are you alone in a parking garage? Does she give you a cold, one word answer and then go back to her book? This doesn’t give men all the power, it asks them to be aware and considerate

            when approaching a stranger for a date

          . The message in your comments are that men are some kind of mindless fuck shark who will just approach and approach and approach until they get a clear no and that it’s the woman’s job to provide a “no” in a way that a man can understand. You know who thinks that way? The PUA Gunwitch, who is famous for both the phrase “make the ho say no” and shooting a woman in the face.

          Most men are not Gunwitch. I hate living in a society that makes men feel all the pressure to approach and asks women to wait there and be objects to accept and reject (and make sure you do the second one emphatically enough, or everything that happens is your fault!) Gross.

          Also, saying that men and women communicate differently without qualifiers automatically makes that sentence untrue. You don’t know how all men and all women communicate, a lot of it is based on culture, social standing, region of the country, and individual personalities.

          • Kahra said:

            “Your TL;DR notice “Women, man the fuck up” is incredibly insulting”

            How is that insulting? In what way is women taking on the responsibilities of a normal human being, in any form or fashion, insulting? Forgive me for using ‘foul’ language to crisply summarize my major point, I suppose we’ll have to use the kiddy words now.

            The Schroedinger’s Rapist guide could be a guide on how to approach women, sure. It is still entirely ridiculous. Men shouldn’t live in fear of speaking to another woman simply because there are some assholes out there who act like, well, assholes, just as women have the mental capacity to judge danger based on a man’s actions when he approaches her.

            “My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?”

            This the writing of someone who, at best, suffers from severe, life-altering paranoia, and at worst, convinces those around them that such paranoia is not only sane, but necessary.

            “The message in your comments are that men are some kind of mindless fuck shark who will just approach and approach and approach until they get a clear no and that it’s the woman’s job to provide a “no” in a way that a man can understand.”

            Of course a person should back off if they’re violating your personal bubble, and you’ve told them so. But how are they supposed to know that if you haven’t made it clear? Also, I don’t appreciate the ad hominem comparison to some random misogynist. Ad hominem is truly a disgusting tool, used to guilt people from honest discussion and debate.

            I hate the bit about men approaching and women sitting and waiting just as much as you do. But this doesn’t mean we should act with irrational fear when any man approaches. We have brains, I would hope more people would use them.

            “(and make sure you do the second one emphatically enough, or everything that happens is your fault!)”

            You are putting words in my mouth, and likely without a drop of shame. I never said that a woman had to repeat herself, but that eye signals and crossed arms are not clear statements, especially not to the wide amount of the population which fails to understand body language.

            About communication: http://www.livescience.com/4876-clueless-guys-read-women.html

            Talking to someone, male or female, is not wrong in and of itself. However, there is a degree of respect that should be afforded to all human beings. If someone asks you to leave them alone, they have a right to privacy and personal space, one which you violate by continuing to talk to them. However, by crossing your arms or sending a glare, you’re not sending a clear signal, as easily as nonverbal communication might be to you.

            All the debate aside, I feel it’s important to say one thing. I was a victim of stalking, and I was in a relationship within which I was emotionally abused and made to feel less than human. I’ve never been sexually assaulted, but I understand the fear behind it. What’s worse, I understand what we lose by giving into those fears.

            As a whole, women lose respect when they decide that the convenience of ladylike behavior is more worthwhile than the responsibility and freedom that comes with being an adult human being; the self-empowerment that comes with going out late at night and the pride that comes with earning our own way in the world. Things both small and large in which we become complacent come to define us, to those around us, but more importantly, to ourselves.

            It’s not worth it. It will never be worth it. We are powerful, but we are never to be considered so, not as long as we continue living in fear, and changing our lives because of it.

    • maribelle said:

      “So I try to be nice. I don’t want to be “that bitch,” you know? The one who can say clearly, “Leave me alone.” ”

      Why not?

      • JenniferP said:

        Maribelle, because a) the way women are socialized it takes some experience and practice to let yourself be “that bitch” and not worry about managing the feelings of some dude because he is a dude and b) because sometimes being rude in return gives a person who already has shown that they don’t respect the social contract a license to get violent with you, and it’s a fucking case by case situation.

        Edited To Add: c) Because sometimes the behavior just takes you aback and you don’t have a defense strategy ready to go, especially if you haven’t regularly had to deal with stuff like this before, like, say, when you are young and move to a big city for the first time and are going out in public by yourself.

        I realize that you have strong feelings about this, but the fact that so many people are sharing comments here about those internal and external barriers to saying a clear “no” is a sign that there is something wrong in the way that we socialize both men and women, NOT a call for you to personally berate and “empower” each and every commenter to say no like it never occurred to them before.

  14. minuteye said:

    Ugh… I just can’t even fathom what it would be like to think you could talk to another human being that way… let alone doing it habitually to multiple women.

    On the odd occasion when I get approached by strange men, I also have trouble saying no to them. Part of the problem is that they often approach me in a very casual way (tone of voice, facial expression etc.), and since I’m not good with faces, I sort of assume that it’s somebody I met and have forgotten. So I’m trying to be polite, and also to figure out who the heck they are. By the time I realize that they’re not “Frank, so and so’s delightful roommate who I was introduced to at a Halloween party a year and a half ago” but instead some random jackass being inappropriately familiar, we’ve been talking for a few minutes, and extracting myself from the situation is suddenly much more difficult.

    • JenniferP said:

      That is awkward. May I suggest a script along the lines of “Well, it’s been nice talking with you, but I (need to take off now/want to go back to my book/need to prep for a meeting I’m heading to – something you need or want to do).” You’re being polite, and if they get offended and escalate their desire for contact with you they are just telling you that you definitely don’t want to keep interacting, and you are well-equipped to say “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but we don’t know each other, and I prefer to be alone. I asked you nicely to leave me be, and I know you’ll respect that.”

  15. Thanks for writing this (and the previous post). I feel like you did two really important things I found helpful:

    1) Legitimize the problem women have saying no by acknowledging it as a product of socialization, not some personal failure. This allows us to start working on solutions instead of just feeling guilty about it. (e.g. Feeling bad about turning down someone indirectly for a second date)

    2) Give concrete strategies for doing this.

    This section was particularly thought-provoking for me:

    “What you have to remember: It’s all smoke. Remind yourself of the facts. The fact is, he showed up uninvited offering something you don’t want, so you said no. No is a complete sentence, and once you’ve said it, the other person just needs to back the fuck off and go about his life.

    This is right out of Gift of Fear: “If you say ‘no,’ and the other person keeps talking, ask yourself ‘Why is this person trying to manipulate me?’””

    This happened to me recently at a party–I had had as many drinks as I wanted to, but when I said no to the next round, the group of guys I was talking to hassled me about it. I said “No, really, I partied pretty hard last night” (giving an excuse), and they still wouldn’t back off. Happily I stood my ground, but I like the context you/The Gift of Fear provide for that moment, by giving it the label of manipulation.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for this comment!

      One way that people can short circuit manipulation and buy themselves some time to really say a real no is to ask a question. Like when your friends hassle you about having another drink, ask them “Hey, why is it so important to you that I have another drink?” – put the whole thing back on them. Or if someone’s hitting on you after you’ve asked them to back off, ask “Why are you still hitting on me after I’ve said no?”

      When I lived in DC in my 20s I had a group of really good, cool work friends who liked to go out drinking – and I liked to go out drinking with them, and there is a certain memory of a certain vodka tasting at the Russian embassy that still lives in infamy when thinking about the next day at work and all of us sitting at our desks with dark circles under our eyes – but I realized that I had a far lower tolerance for alcohol and social interaction than they did, and I would usually be the party-bailer, and it would always become a thing. “No, don’t leeeeeeeeave, come out with us!” I mean, it was flattering that they liked my company, but why did they need me to come out or stay out? (To enable them in drinking more and to be the sober one who got them home and not “accidentally” falling onto some strange guy’s wang?) It was a good lesson in how to know my own boundaries and put my foot down when I needed to and not worry about not being ‘cool.’

  16. Maggie K said:

    One time an older scruffy guy held the door on a train I was rushing for, and we had a sort of awkward conversation about our respective destinations and then he proceeded to pull a wad of cash out of his pocket and start counting it. I asked why he had all that cash and he said “in case a lady wants to run off with me” or something like that. I laughed, and a few stops later I became uncertain that it was the right train, and he decided I was right and we should get off at the next stop, but I managed to dislodge him at that point and leave him on that platform. This was lucky because it turned out to be the right train, just on a detour, but even if it wasn’t, the “ho shit we just got off on a random platform and have to figure out which train we can get back to the right one” adventure is one for selective compatriots.

  17. Aisu said:

    Thank you so much for this. I’m very much the pushover – part of it due to some childhood issues, part of it just naturally – and while it’s yet to fully bite me in the ass, it gives me problems all the time. The potentially sketchy homeless guys who want to talk to me endlessly while I have a book, the janitor at work who grabs my arm every time I pass (often from behind), the various online friends that ‘jokingly’ flirt with me and make lewd comments, and so on are all just nice enough that I feel like I can’t just go ‘no, back off’. This was a good lesson for me that, yes, it’s okay to say no sometimes. I’m going to start doing that.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the nice comment, I hope you figure out how to say “back off” in a way that’s comfortable for you. Start with that janitor. “Please don’t touch me.”

      And when he gets offended (because you’ve never said anything before), you can say “I never said anything before because I was always so shocked and taken aback when you touched me without permission, but I’m saying something now and I expect you to respect it.”

      I hope it works out.

  18. CassieC said:

    This issue arises not just with strangers, but with family members and boyfriends and colleagues, because men are socialized to assume they have the right to demand or expect things from women (not necessarily sexual, it can be stupid chores at home and at work). So saying no is also an everyday domestic, social and work issue.

    One reason I think my current boyfriend isn’t such a bad sort is that he has very little of the “right to demand” behaviour. Unlike others, if I tell him I don’t feel like having sex, for instance, that’s it, he just says fine and moves on to the next thing in his life: not because he doesn’t care, but because he is fine with me making my own decision, and he’s a grown-up. My other boyfriends, even those who were fairly feminist by their own standards, would usually whine. Gah.

    And at work this is a constant issue. Any suggestions on how to say no at work without destroying good workplace relations?

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m sorry that your current boyfriend (who yes, does seem a good sort) is such an outlier, that should be standard behavior!

      I think I’ll address saying no at work in its own post. It’s a complex thing and deserves its own discussion. Thanks for the great idea for a post!

      • AmberP said:

        Yes, a work post would be wonderful. The last couple jobs I’ve had, I’ve had to leave due to office bullies of both genders. MSNBC recently did a “what to do if your boss is a bully,” article, but in the end it basically said to change jobs. I just don’t think that’s fair.

  19. Fran said:

    I am past 60 now and often in a counselling role with other women. This discussion goes to the heart of many of our issues as women in this culture. That you have brought up that women are socialized to be compliant is very helpful. It allows us to put away a lot of the guilt that saying “no” generates for most women.
    At this stage of life, I often see parents try to manipulate their daughters into taking extraordinary measures and forgoing their own happiness/quality of life so that the parents can maintain their lives as they would like to have them. It takes real strength to say “NO” then. I think parents are the original generators of guilt in a woman. I recommend using all the support that can be found and staying away from “friends” who encourage compliance. This is hardly ever an issue for sons. Why should a daughter give up her life when it is asked? I tell them at such moments that the presence of guilt means they are doing the right thing for them. Thanks for the discussion. It is a needed one.

    • JenniferP said:

      I imagine you have so many stories about families where the women are expected to drop everything and care for aging parents but the men get a pass – “He’s busy with his own work/life/children now.”

      I love the Simpsons episode Moaning Lisa (hopefully the HTML will work, if not, here’s the link to a description: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moaning_Lisa

      I love how Marge realizes that she was socialized to keep her feelings and desires secret in order to present a friendly and compliant face to the world and that she’s doing the same thing to her daughter. Mother-Daughter relationships can be so complex and competitive sometimes, with Moms getting angry at their daughters for having it easier than they did (instead of doing what they can to make it easier for them).

      There is nothing that annoys me more than a martyr with a big martyr complex, who acts like their own self-sacrifice means that the world owes them something. I avoid these people at all costs.

      I imagine a lot of your clients are victims of martyr complexes and forced teaming, like “How are we going to handle this problem?” It takes some emotional training and serious guts to put it back on the person by saying “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that – how do YOU want to handle this problem?” But daughters with a history of being manipulated can usually be trusted to fill in the emotional blanks themselves instead of standing up and putting it back in the parents’ court.

      • TM said:

        Learning how to say “No” – to family, to favors, at work, and in bad situations – was one of the most important things I’ve ever learned.

        More than anything else in my life, this ability has given me more freedom and power and is the one thing I try to help instill in others.

  20. KarynJ said:

    Thank you for what you’ve written, and for the book recommendation – it’s on my phone, waiting to be read. I’m in my 30’s and have finally learned to say no, but I know I could use some refinement in my technique. Reading all the comments has made me feel stronger in my right to say no, but also horrified me that all these situations are completely familiar. I don’t think I know a woman who wouldn’t nod knowingly and wearily while reading these stories. Ugh!

    I also can’t help wondering what the deal is with book-reading and getting harassed. I cannot read in public without some stranger interrupting me and insisting on my attention. I’m not all that approachable anymore, either. I used to be a ‘sad-sack magnet,’ but I’ve developed a bitchier, no-nonsense posture and facial expression that really helps ward off that sort of thing. But when I’m reading I seem to be the creeps’ target of choice. I can’t figure it out. Anybody have a theory?

    • JenniferP said:

      I almost always have a book in public, and yeah, people asking “What are you reading?” as a way into conversation annoy the fuck out of me – CAN’T THEY SEE I’M READING?

      I usually go with showing them the cover for a quick sec and then going back to the book. If they try to talk to me about it more, a simple “I realize you’re trying to be friendly, but I’m at a really good part and want to find out what happens! Amazon has some good reviews, check them out. Take care,” can work with most people. Anyone who takes serious offense and acts like a huge asshole at hearing that is someone whose feelings you get to officially stop worrying about.

      • ginmar said:

        I used to tell my nieces, “Don’t make me say no more than once.” It just came out of nowhere. And then I realized where that had come from, a lifetime of saying or signaling no and having men tell me repeatedly in words or actions that what I wanted didn’t matter, but that they were entitled to what they wanted from me.

      • This happens to me all the time too, and for the longest time I was like, WHAT GIVES? DO PEOPLE NOT UNDERSTAND THAT READING IS A BASICALLY SOLITARY ACTIVITY THAT REQUIRES CONCENTRATION?

        Then I remembered the OkCupid blog did a post about user photos — which were the most likely to attract responses. And some of the folks who got a lot of responses were people whose photos depicted them doing something interesting (even if users didn’t find them smokin’ hot) — probably because it’s easier to figure out what to say to the cutie whose photo portrays them holding a guitar (“How long have you been playing?”) than to the cutie whose photo portrays them staring into the distance (“So, how’s all that wistful gazing working out for you?”).

        So, for people who like to bother strange ladies on public transit, a book is an easy conversation starter. It just doesn’t compute for those folks that if someone posts a photo of themselves with a hurdy-gurdy on a dating site, that means they more than likely WANT strangers to ask them about it, whereas a woman who pulls out a book on the train wants to read her fucking book. (Caveat: I’ve occasionally had nice conversations on buses or in bars that started with people — who were readers themselves — asking me about my reading material and then saying, “Ohhh, I liked that!” It’s still annoying most of the time, but if I’m in a good mood, I’ll play along, and people who like to read will generally get it when you signal or say you want to get back to it.)

  21. samiam said:

    I used to intern at an organization on the dividing line between the nice and the rough edges of town. I was walking from our parking lot to the building and this guy walks up and starts chatting with me, asking me somewhat personal small talk questions — do I like my job, where did I come from, what do I want to do next, etc. I gave him curt answers and tried not to reveal too much information, but he keeps walking with me for a couple of blocks and I’m starting to get super creeped out, especially when he follows me to the front door. But then he got out his access card and it all clicks into place — he’s actually someone who works at the company that I’d briefly met and didn’t recognize. I apologized, we laughed, and ended up becoming good friends that I still keep in touch with.

    All this to say — if you treat a legitimately well-intentioned guy like a creep, he will understand, because he is a legitimately well-intentioned guy.

    • That last bit, absolutely true. I’m struck by how many guys get angry when a woman is wary of them in public, when having even a tiny bit of empathy about what it’s like as a woman being approached by an unknown guy in public would make it instantly clear why the woman in question is wary/”rude” or whatever.

      • JenniferP said:

        We started to go there in the Feministe thread – uh, sorry we don’t always manage the egos of strange dudes who approach us!

  22. maribelle said:

    OH MY GOD that chat thread was the most triggering thing I’ve read in a long time.

    WHY IN THE NAME OF EFFING MADNESS would you KEEP TALKING to the OBVIOUS CREEP and keep engaging him? HE WAS GETTING WHAT HE WANTED. NO WONDER he chatted with you later and said “hi cutie.” HE THOUGHT YOU WERE LOVING INSULTING HIM because YOU KEPT ENGAGING HIM.

    Some men pay major big bucks to be insulted by women AND YOU DID IT FOR FREE.

    I can’t believe you only blocked him at the point you did. WOAH.

    Being clever and calling them out is NOT THE WAY TO DEAL WITH A FREAKY CREEP. Block immediately, report immediately, DO NOT GIVE THEM ACCESS TO YOU THAT IS WHAT THEY WANT.

    I know I’m shouting, and I’ve never been here before but this just freaked me right the heck out.

    Please, women reading this, please please please don’t do this. Tell the asshats no and BLOCK right then (Or leave if in person). You don’t have to convince them that they’re asshats or that you’re right or that their dick is shriveled.

    You mentioned his dick to him,for f’s sake, and masturbation. DON’T YOU KNOW HE WAS PROB MASTURBATING AT THAT VERY MOMENT?

    Oh your post was so insightful, so full of good advice but holy crap that chat was a nightmare.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m sorry that you were badly affected by the chat.

      Even in the middle of that discussion, the guy didn’t scare me, hurt my feelings, or really make me feel anything but anger and contempt, so I lost nothing. The “block” button did not take right away, and since I was angry, I told him off. What he did with that information, up to and including jerking off to it, is his business and doesn’t affect me at all.

    • april said:

      you realize you’ve spent 90% of your comments in this thread victim blaming, right?

  23. Rare Vos said:

    I read all these suggestions, and on paper (heehee) they sound great, but none have actually worked for me in public.

    I take the bus to work, and, therefore, am frequently put in situations where Dude wants to talk to me and doesn’t take a hint.

    I’ve had guys take books out of my hands when I didn’t respond to them. Or, interupt me when I’m talking on the phone to tell me to hang up and talk to them. One dude literally hit my arm when I didn’t respond to his saying “hi” – because I was wearing headphones.

    I also jog during the warm months. On multiple occasions, dudes will just appear RIGHT next to me and start trying to talk to me. I say no thank you. Tell them I prefer to go alone – and it’s all totally ignored. I am usually forced to stop and pretend to need the bathroom and then hide in their until they leave.

    One jogging guy, after I told him I didn’t want a jogging partner, said “Are you a Christian?” I responded no. He said, “Oh, okay” in this extremely dejected tone and wandered off.

    WTF? when did that become an appropriate question to ask a total stranger?

    • JenniferP said:

      That’s terrifying, I’m so sorry. And then you’re walking that fine line – do you stay polite in the hopes of not escalating things, or do you get really rude and confrontational and risk escalating things?

    • Kristen H said:

      I KNOW. I feel like my public transportation experiences have been very similar. No one has yanked my book out of my hands yet, but the touching to get my attention or questions about my person are so so unsettling.

  24. millsapian87 said:

    >Imagine you’re at a party. A guy offers you a drink. You say no. He says “Come on, one drink!” You say “no thanks.” Later, he brings you a soda. “I know you said you didn’t want a drink, but I was getting one for myself and you looked thirsty.”

    One other potential problem with this scenario, which I’m surprised you didn’t mention: the soda might have a roofie in it. If someone brings you an unsolicited drink that is NOT in an unopened container, treat that thing like poison. And the drink too.

    • JenniferP said:

      Sad but true.

    • I think at this point in our culture it is perfectly reasonable for a woman receiving a drink from anyone except a waiter to expect to see it poured or opened.

      I observe this rule as a man and encourage younger men to observe it as well. It costs nothing to decide “I will not give a woman an opened drink.” If you really feel the need to rock her world by opening her beer, just do it in front of her.

      One of the best ways to get women to “loosen up” and talk to you in social situations is to find ways to signal “I am not a creep!” early in the interaction. You do that by not engaging in manipulative behaviors and making sure she is at ease with what is happening. If you get the slightest sense that she’s not comfortable, excuse yourself politely and walk away. Tell her it was great meeting her!

      Men need to remember it is up to US to make sure we are not making women feel threatened or uncomfortable.

  25. Rachel Ann said:

    I would like to say thank you for the article, as a freshman girl in highschool I really appreciate it. Even for how young I am, I too have experienced this first hand. I had a “best friend” since fourth grade, but she had started to get really odd. This year, when I tried to drift away, she started getting really “clingy”. I tried to be polite, but blunt, when speaking to her. I continued to try to not talk to her. Then came the weird voice mail. She said that I was like her sister who left, and that I couldn’t abandon her by not talking to her. She left dozens of these, and I never called her back. She emailed me a strange why-aren’t-you-talking-to-me-I’m-worried e-mail. I still didn’t respond. Then, a few days later, she was waiting for me by my locker. As polietly and bluntly as I could, basically told her that we could not be friends anymore. When I was done, she SMILED and said “At least return my calls okay?” and kept whining like this. When I started to leave, she kept repeating “Please?”. I finally turned around and said “Good bye _(Name)__” and left. I haven’t had any more issues with her. I just want to say thank you so much for telling people, especially women, that it is OK to say no.

    • JenniferP said:

      You’re welcome, thanks for your comment.

      Back in January there was a question here about dealing with a clingy friend – take a look at the category or tag “African Violet of Broken Friendship” and you’ll find it, maybe helpful with your situation.

  26. Kristen H said:

    I live in a semi-major American city, which has a fairly decent public transportation system. Is it 100% safe all of the time, well, no, but its a public transportation system (Its actually incredibly sad that I have to say that at all). Unfortunately I am cursed with two afflictions having to do with my ability to say no that impact almost every bus or train ride:
    1. The inability to shake off someone who wants to talk to me, even if I don’t want to talk to them. I have actually met some interesting people this way. (I confess I am also chatty!) But I have also put my self in stupid situations this way. Such as the following.
    2. I am incapable, if badgered enough, of refusing simple requests, like my phone number. Yes, after insisting that I had nothing in common with a fellow bus passenger, and that I was in a relationship, and no I didn’t want to talk to him, I felt so bad about my perceived rudeness, that I GAVE A RANDOM MAN MY CELL NUMBER. Someone who was pressing me for information about where I worked, lived, etc. Luckily, everything turned out okay, but I realize what a stupid, dangerous thing that could have been.

    Too long didn’t read: Thanks for this article. I really really appreciate it. New strategies for riding the RTA.

    • Emeryn said:

      One of my friends has the same habit of giving people her phone number because she feels it’s rude not to give it if they ask. I talked her into getting a Google Voice number (www.google.com/voice).

      It’s a legitimate phone number that you can use to screen calls without actually giving your real one out. You don’t have to tie it to your personal cell and it gives them a voicemail box they can talk to all day long without harassing you. (Also nice, because it doesn’t mean you have to worry about giving out a false number and having them harass a stranger by accident)

      It also has a voicemail function where you can read the voicemail instead of listening to it. It’s fairly accurate, but when the transcribe function messes up, it makes for entertaining reading.

      • Emeryn said:

        Granted, not giving a number out period is ideal. But until that habit is overcome, it does give you a safer alternative.

  27. Sean R said:

    The thing about the responses you suggest is that they are also very appropriate to someone who ISN’T a jerk (or monster). Rejection can hurt or be embarrassing, but no one is entitled to be spared it because no one is owed affection from another person. A clear and honest statement that you are not interested in a relationship or conversation is ultimately the most kind and respectful response, whether the person has been respectful or not of your wishes and agency.

    That being said, I fully understand that some people will respond to this type of honesty with self-pitying and self-indulgent whining (or worse). That doesn’t make it bad advice though. That makes those people assholes.

  28. Anony Mouse said:

    Hi, thanks for this post.
    Since several people mentioned harassment on public transport…

    So… My city has public transport. Average by European standards (inefficient -> crowded, no subway). It really sets me on edge how people are guilted for using their cars in the city. While someone might be driving just to display their social status, me driving to work is the only fucking way to feel fucking safe. And now I’m the one (or one of those evil people) ruining it for everyone.

    Had to put it somewhere, sorry.

  29. BlackLizLemon said:

    Awesome post. Can I just add one caveat?

    When telling women to be assertive and to say “no”, why do we suggest they add the “please” to their request?

    In other words, it’s totally ok (and gets the point across much better, imo) to say “LEAVE ME ALONE.” To me, the “Please leave me alone,” “Please go away, etc.” makes it seem like we’re asking for respect instead of demanding it.

    • Anony Mouse said:

      Not being disrespected is not something one should have to ask for, that’s for one.
      And when a creep is probing your boundaries, showing hints of negotiability is not what you wanna do.
      Not saying that saying please has to send that hint, no.

      But for me it’s much easier to make a firm statement directly (and anyway it’s more likely to be recognized as such, when it is direct), without getting into the ‘would you please’s. It’s difficult enough NOT to sound like ‘excuse me, would you please…’ telling a creepy dude to fuck off, and when I do add that word the tone of my voice say ‘I’m so sorry I dare to speak up, it won’t happen again, I promise, just pleeeease …’. I just can’t help it.

      • JenniferP said:

        You and I and BlackLizLemon (awesome handle, btw) are not arguing.

        Say whatever you want, whatever you need, however you want. You deserve respect and to be able to enforce boundaries without bullshit and backtalk.

        I use politeness and YELLING situationally. Not every annoying person is creepy, threatening, or a harasser TO ME as I read my own level of safety in every situation.

        I do not want anyone walking away from this thread feeling pressure to be polite.

    • I think the “please” is mostly out of concern of escalating the situation if the harasser seems like he/she might become violent. It’s harder to come back with that response when the other person is being polite. Other than that, “please” seems to be optional.

      • BlackLizLemon said:

        I hear what you’re saying, but in my mind, the harasser could give a damn about politeness given that s/he’s in your personal space. I don’t know, I just think a firm “Leave me alone” signals to the harasser that it’s not an option. JMO.

    • JenniferP said:

      As Christina said below – “Please” is optional, but there are reasons to say it if you’re feeling it.

      It might be to avoid escalating the situation.
      It might be to reassure yourself “I remained as calm and polite as possible” and make it easier to say the “no” you need to say in the first place.

      Another theory: As long as your immediate safety is not threatened and we’re talking about something that is still a negotiation (the goal is to get the person to agree to leave you alone vs. raising hell/attracting attention/help), you don’t lose anything by starting the negotiation in good faith and treating the other person like you assume they will negotiate in good faith as well –

      “Please, I’d prefer to just read my book” can always escalate to “BACK AWAY YOU FUCKING FUCK” but it’s hard to go in the other direction. If you say “Please, I’d prefer to just read my book” and the other person says “Jeez, of course, I’m sorry” and goes on his way, I count that as a win.

      • BlackLizLemon said:

        I agree that one should be able to use the words they’re most comfortable with. If that word happens to be “please” then cool.

        I guess I’m just looking at the overall socialization we as women have in terms of “asking” for things instead of feeling comfortable just flat out saying “no.”

    • I feel the same way – although I’m not judging the women who prefer to add the “please”.

      It’s also worth noting that there’s a whole huge middle ground between “I know you’re a totally awesome person but I’d like to read my book, please” and screaming “FUCK OFF” at the top of your lungs.

      I have social anxiety and depression that sometimes make being out in public feel pretty surreal for me. On bad days, if I’m outside and something unexpected happens – like a stranger talking to me for no good reason – I can’t make sense of what’s happening and my brain just totally short-circuits. It’s caused me to blurt out things like “why are you talking to me?” or “I want to be left alone” in an awkward/confused tone…which has actually proven pretty effective in making people go away. I’m not being polite per se, but I’m not being rude either – I’m just being surprised and confused that some total stranger is trying so hard to have a conversation with me. In a way, I guess, I’m inadvertently acting like I’m entitled to my personal space and it’s gauche that someone invaded it, and perhaps this makes people realize just how rude they’re being.

      Not saying it’s a foolproof way of making people leave you alone. Also not saying that being anxious and weird is an awesome enjoyable thing for me. Just pointing out that I’ve accidentally discovered a third way to react to conversational pests that is neither polite nor hostile.

      I’ve also discovered a third way to react to unsolicited touching: a coworker once touched my back from behind to get my attention and I legitimately was so startled that I shrieked and flailed. The entire office turned to stare at us, and from that point onward I was The Girl You Should Never Touch. I think if I have problems with someone touching me in future I’ll contrive to react the same way, whether it’s actually startled me or not. If the touching has sexual undertones I’ll make sure I “accidentally” flail an elbow in their face, too (“Oh my god, I’m so sorry, I’m just reeeeally jumpy and freak out sometimes when someone touches me. Can I get you some ice for your nose?”)

  30. Anony Mouse said:

    My post got stuck :(

    • JenniferP said:

      Found it. You and I are in agreement.

    • JenniferP said:

      Wow, my first hater!

      So many wrong assumptions in one little post!

      1st, a man who keeps bringing a woman a soda even when she’s repeatedly said she doesn’t want a soda – what really matters is that she has a right not to want or drink the fucking soda. She doesn’t owe it to anyone.

      No one mentioned anyone’s looks anywhere in the example. We don’t know if the man is ugly or the woman does not want the soda because the man is ugly.

      The whole pressure to “be persistent!” thing is a way that the current dating culture hurts men and women. If I brought a man a soda three times and he said “no thanks!” each time, I’d assume “that guy doesn’t want a fucking soda.” If a straight man did the same thing to another straight man three times – hey, the guy doesn’t want your fucking soda! But by your logic, if a man brings a woman a soda three times and she says no three times, she’s just an entitled bitch who is rejecting him only because he’s ugly and it’s an example of the feminist double standard.

      I don’t ever want soda from you. Thanks for playing.

      • Helen Huntingdon said:

        Wow, I clicked through and couldn’t help bursting into laughter. The goofball was all butthurt over women rejecting men “based on their looks.”

        That’s a dogwhistle I’ve heard before. Mr. Butthurt is framing it that the only reason a woman turns down a stranger offering a soda is because she thinks he’s ugly, and is therefore a shallow mean bitch.

        It’s not remotely possible that she just doesn’t want a soda.

        It’s not remotely possible that she’s already into someone.

        It’s not remotely possible that she’s there to hang with people she knows, not to chat up strangers.

        It’s not remotely possible that she just doesn’t feel like providing entertainment for a random stranger at the moment. Oh, wait, he gets that one, it’s that it is not allowed. If a man wants to demand her time, no is not an option.

        Mr. Butthurt must be one bitter, dateless dude.

      • piny said:

        When a guy tries over and over again, he’s not saying, “Hey, I really want to bring you a soda.” He’s saying, “Hey, I totally don’t care what you want.” The reason women react badly to repeated demands is that they register the underlying disrespect. The guy is signaling that his desires are the priority. Not cool and not attractive, whether it’s soda, sex, or any of the things that happen in between.

        When men pressure me, I react with much more force than I otherwise would. When men place weird emphasis on a Coke, I know that the interaction is fraught from their end. It’s like the coffee/cognac example. They infer consent.

  31. Ryan said:

    So, as a guy, can I ask how exactly I’m supposed to act if being nice, charming or helpful are all red flags that I might be a predator?

    • Intern Paul said:

      Be nice, charming, and helpful to the women you meet. If they say “No” or “Leave me alone”, stop doing the thing you are doing and leave her alone. If they say “Yes”, “Thank you” or “Hey, you’re cute” keep doing the thing.

      Complex and difficult, I know.

      • philwantsablog said:

        I think we can all agree that refusing to leave someone alone is unacceptable — but why lump things like being nice onto that list? Calling being nice or friendly a predatory behavior is ridiculous. Do predators do it? Sure. They probably also frequently wear shoes and cut their hair on a semi-regular basis, but I wouldn’t write an article suggesting that anyone who has footwear and short hair probably wants to take advantage of you.

        • JenniferP said:

          Hey Ryan (I can see that it’s the same person making both these comments by your email address when I moderate comments, can you use a consistent name if you’re going to hang out here?)

          No one is saying you shouldn’t be charming and nice to women that you want to meet. Or helpful. Or that those are bad qualities.

          Gavin De Becker’s book is about dealing with potential violence, and that list of behaviors is from his book. You may approach a woman you want to talk to and be charming and nice. A predator will also perform “charm” and “niceness” to approach a potential victim, and de Becker lists these as some of a cocktail of behaviors that are red flags when taken all together.

          If you’re the person being approached in this situation, you can’t always tell which is which, so he’s saying what matters is how you feel about it. Do you want to be approached? Do you want to interact? Do you feel safe? If yes, keep having that conversation with the nice guy. If no, then you you don’t owe the person your continued time and/or attention just because they appear nice, especially if they are presenting other red flag behaviors.

          I get the sense that you feel hurt and offended by this post, like all women are assuming all men are predators and treating them like that and that you can’t win. That’s not what’s happening. Trust me, you want to live in a world where women feel like they can be honest and straightforward in rejecting unwanted attention – the flip side is that they will also feel safe to be honest and straightforward in accepting advances from people they do want to talk to.

          If you are looking for a good guide for approaching people and asking them out, I answered a question a while back about this – it was a woman wanting to approach a man, but it should work for all people of all genders and persuasions, because it’s based on being nice, friendly, genuine, direct about your desires, and paying attention to the other person’s signals.

      • Ryan said:

        Hey, sorry about the name change thing! It’s pulling from a Gravatar account that I don’t even remember setting up. (But one that apparently I’d used to help my friend Phil… who wants a blog. Embarrassing!)

        I’ll respond in a moment, just wanted to clarify that.

        • JenniferP said:

          No problem! I’ll edit my own comment to be a little less gotcha and we can have a conversation.

  32. Ryan said:

    Hey Jennifer,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I think you may have, understandably, assumed that I object to the entirety of your article. That’s certainly not the case.

    My objection is specifically to labeling positive behaviors as “red flags” or “predatory”. If a guy sneaks up behind you in a dark alley and politely introduces himself you shouldn’t think, “WAIT, I read in ‘The Gift of Fear’ that predators use polite introductions!” You should think, “Gosh, this guy is engaging me in a dark alley, that’s awfully inappropriate, I should probably flee.” The red flag here is not his polite introduction, it’s the unsafe environment. Similarly, if someone won’t leave you alone at a bar, get upset that the creepy fucker is following you around, not that they offered you a drink.

    My opinion is simply that you’re wrong about which behaviors are and are not predatory.

    Cheers,
    Ryan

    • Ryan said:

      Gah, I thought I nested this one properly. Today is not my day for successful commenting! Apologies for the unorganized response.

      • JenniferP said:

        WordPress only lets you nest so much, it’s cool.

        I don’t really have an answer for you. Gavin De Becker (his list, not mine) is not talking about your brand of niceness or telling people they should watch out for nice people or that you should stop being nice, or else you are a predator.

        But someone who is trying to get something from you – money, attention, sex, whatever – is also going to present as “charming” and “nice.” Their niceness is manipulative and designed to put you in the place where you’re thinking ‘I don’t want to be talking to this person, but man, he’s so nice, how can I tell him to go away?’

        IN situations where you feel threatened and manipulated, and IN situations where you don’t want the attention (long before it gets to the Mythical Dark Alley Where All Crimes Occur), what’s important is not the other person’s level of niceness but your own desire to continue the interaction. De Becker is saying “Respect the facts of that. Did you say no, you didn’t want this guy to carry your groceries home? Then even if the guy keeps offering in a really polite, friendly way, what matters is that you don’t want him carrying your groceries home. If he suddenly becomes un-nice when you tell him no, that’s a signal that he was not that nice all along.”

        Nothing in this post or in that list is targeted at you. Keep being nice, and don’t feel bad about it or like the world is trying to make you feel bad about it.

        Take care, thanks for a thoughtful and respectful discussion.

      • Ryan said:

        Jennifer,

        Sounds like we’re more or less on the same page. I’d still note that in the hypothetical grocery scenario the predatory behavior is taking your groceries when you told him not to — not offering to take groceries. I feel like the distinction is significant.

        Refusing to respect boundaries is a predatory behavior, yes. The social niceties before then are just that, and it doesn’t do any good to explicitly call them out as “predatory”. (98% of predators wear shoes, this doesn’t mean you should be on the lookout for footwear.)

        Regards,
        Ryan

      • kristen said:

        I’d still note that in the hypothetical grocery scenario the predatory behavior is taking your groceries when you told him not to — not offering to take groceries. I feel like the distinction is significant.

        Yes, the distinction is significant. You seem to be missing the fact that no one is saying that it’s not. Jennifer specifically says “Did you say no, you didn’t want this guy to carry your groceries home? Then even if the guy keeps offering in a really polite, friendly way, what matters is that you don’t want him carrying your groceries home. ”

        I do believe that nice guys are out there and am willing to give them the time of day… until they push at something that I’ve already said no to. Even if they push in a “nice” way, they’re showing me that my no means nothing to them.

  33. Robin said:

    Excellent post. I’m in my late twenties now, and I’m finally getting to a place where I feel confident in my instincts, despite what people (usually male people) have tried to tell me.

    When I was thirteen years old, I was waiting for a bus in the rain when a man in his 40s or 50s pulled up in his car and offered me a ride. I didn’t know him, and I was made very uncomfortable by the way he was staring at my breasts. It took five iterations of “No” to get him to leave, but not before he looked me up and down and called me a “stuck-up c*nt.” When I got home, I relayed this to my father, who told me, “I’m sure he was just trying to be nice.”

    Years later, I talked about this in a male-dominated forum that was discussing why women might feel unsafe in public. I told them the above story, and about the time when I was sixteen when a man asking for directions tried to pull me into his car, and about getting my ass grabbed on the bus or at the mall, and about having groups of teenage boys scream things from their car at me. The response: “Forgive me if I don’t believe you’re so hot that you can’t walk outside without being raped.”

    • JenniferP said:

      It’s always amazing to me how entitlement works – people like your dad and the dudes on that forum will work so hard to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I’m sorry you had to put up with that.

  34. Glossolalia Black said:

    I could give a fuck about a stranger’s feelings. I grew up in a rougher neighborhood than where I currently reside, but it’s still a neighborhood in which I get harassed at least once a week, on the street. It’s better now that I’m older. It used to be at least once a day.

    But still, the harasser-du-jour is going to react however he reacts. Poorly, or not. Most of the time, they leave me alone after I let them know there’s nothing to be gotten from me. Not a cigarette, not any spare change, not the time, not a conversation, hey, sometimes not even a hello.

    However, just because I don’t give a fuck how they feel doesn’t mean that I’m not courteous or polite, or try to take the past of least resistance out of the enforced interaction betwixt Asshole and myself.

    And, due to my occupation, which makes me well known in my neighborhood as a helping person, sometimes I get sucked into conversations that I’d rather not. Hey, dude, I’m not at work, and I don’t give that kind of help… know what I’m sayin’?

    Knowing how to say no is hard for even a person like me. When it’s time for me to give a fuck about you, I will give a fuck about you, to the best of my ability. If I don’t give a fuck about you, it is my job to assess your risk to me, and disengage myself from you with the least amount of fuss.

    I believe in being polite. Up to a point.

    • JenniferP said:

      “Path of least resistance.” Exactly.

  35. Aj1985 said:

    Obviously no one should be harassed or pressed into anything they do not want to do. At the same time as a somewhat socially awkward guy (I have many friends, but intimate relationships are not my forte) I can tell you all the best thing you can do to save yourself being called or text, facebooked whatever social media contact you gave the person, is to say “I’m not interested, in you.”. Most guys aren’t predators, at the same time letting someone down nicely just doesn’t work for a lot of guys, leading situations open by saying “that sounds really fun but I’m really busy that day :)”, if you don’t want contact with somebody or if it’s a member of a group of friend who is advancing when it is you don’t want be straight up, it will hopefully solve your problem and it will be way nicer to the guy then “letting him down nicely, in a way that he doesn’t hear “no” but “maybe”.

    • With all the good will in the world – it is impossible for a woman to tell the difference between Clueless Het Guy and Scary Stalker Guy until she says NO and the Clueless Het Guy goes away for good … but the Scary Stalker Guy keeps pushing.

      I’m not one for turning guys down nicely. I figure a sincere NO firmly expressed is the best way to go. And you have no idea how scary it is to say NO and then wait to find out if the guy you hope is Clueless Het Guy is actually Scary Stalker Guy.

      Clueless Het Guy is a direct result of privilege; there are socially awkward gay/bi guys, and they don’t go around hitting on men in a clueless kind of way without caring if the man’s going to be interested in them or not: they pay attention to all the possible social cues that could tell them if the man MIGHT be interested before they make a move.

      • Aj1985 said:

        Yes I acknowledge the fact that I am pretty privileged I’m young, white, landed a great job with good pay and I’m reasonably attractive (i.e. no deformities, crooked teeth) and moderately athletic, came from a financially stable albeit broken home. However I also know that since I am shy I never make the first move with a woman. I have NEVER been the one to ask the woman on the first date (after the first I do yes) I really don’t think that this is a case of feeling entitled but I could be wrong. The only thing I do feel entitled to is honesty, and if I’m in a relationship fidelity.

    • piny said:

      Look, I hear you about explicit refusal? Because as a dating person, I also have that problem sometimes?

      But this is not a woman problem. This is a sexism problem. Clueless Het Guys are guys who have been trained not to pay attention to subtle negative feedback: to interpret it as potential, rather than as disinterest. They have been trained to resent it, to see it as neurosis, even though polite excuses are pretty universal. If your interviewer made vague noises about your candidacy and then didn’t call you for a week, you wouldn’t be all, “That bitch! Why don’t they ever say what they mean?!”

      This is something that Clueless Het Guys need to work on. Vague signals aren’t any fun, but the lens is all fogged up by sexist assumptions about what women want from men and what women “should” do in order to make men’s romantic lives easier. If you want to make more headway, perhaps you could start reading transparent excuses as transparent excuses.

      • Aj1985 said:

        Is it really a sexism problem, really? If if the waiter asks me if I’d like something to drink and I say maybe I expect them ask me again, if I don’t want a drink and I say no then I expect them to not ask me again. I agree after a No you leave things be. To me this is about a need for both men and women to be more open and say what they mean. Why is it really anymore my responsibility to read between the lines better then it is for the other party to be more outright. I’m perfectly capable of knowing it is time to back off once I get told “not interested”, or if I don’t receive a response within a week. I guess more then anything is that a lot of people give false hope by responding to emails and texts ect.

      • “Is it really a sexism problem, really?”

        Yes, it really is. You’re really not the expert here.

        “Yes I acknowledge the fact that I am pretty privileged”

        Yes, you’re male. We’re discussing male privilege. Suggest you go read up on this at Feminism101 blog.

        “if the waiter asks me if I’d like something to drink and I say maybe I expect them ask me again, if I don’t want a drink and I say no then I expect them to not ask me again.”

        A customer in a restaurant and a waiter in that restaurant already have a relationship – of precisely the kind where it’s okay for the waiter to keep asking if you want something until you indicate exactly what it is that you DO want, because by the act of sitting down in a restaurant you have communicated that you intend to order SOMETHING – and it’s the waiter’s job to find out what and deliver it, in return for which, you tip them.

        You appear to be thinking as if a woman is a customer and the available men are the waiters – as if the customer-waiter relationship already exists, as if the woman, by existing, had created the customer/waiter obligatory relationship and was expected ot order something. This may explain Clueless Het Guy – the presumption that since the woman’s got to order something, Clueless Het Guy might as well put himself forward and see if he’s the bill of fare – but it’s just as arrogant and intrusive as Scary Stalker Guy who regards himself as the customer and the woman as the bill of fare, from which he’s only got to ask and have.

        You’re not entitled to anything from a person you don’t know. If you want to establish a relationship with a stranger, it bloody well IS your responsibility to “read between the lines” – it’s not hers unless she feels like it.

      • Aj1985 said:

        Cool, I’m wrong I got it. Thank you for you time you took to respond to my post. Have a good end to your week.

      • piny said:

        You don’t have to read between the lines! That’s the cool thing about subtle communication: you can do it too. If you really need to cut through the ambiguity, and don’t have time to wait for the revolution, there is a stopgap: interpret these signals conservatively. Do not bother wondering if, “I’m busy that day,” actually means, “Please ask me out! Please please please!” Do not push until you get a no. Just back off. (If you really want to make sure, you can actually say stuff like, “Okay! Let me know if you want to do something sometime, okay? I really enjoyed spending time with you!”)

        If the woman in question really is meant to have your kids, then she will very likely take some initiative herself. She will get in touch. She will make a counter-suggestion. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a lot better than feeling confused and/or coercive, right? (Right?)

        But more generally: the reason it’s important for women to enjoy their no is because women shouldn’t have to do things they don’t want to do. Women shouldn’t be trapped in a coercive social contract. It is less important that men be protected from minor social anxiety. Especially since the pain of that social anxiety is somehow always laid at the feet of those crazy women who are all crazy.

    • JenniferP said:

      AJ, we don’t disagree on anything. Gavin De Becker and I both say “Yes, you should say directly when you are not interested.” This post (and the others in the “no” series) isn’t about worming out of that, it’s just explaining how some social conditioning is in place that makes this extra hard sometimes. Because saying “no” directly involves being sure that the other person can hear it in a way that doesn’t hold consequences for you. I’m working toward a world where the pressure is not on guys to ask women out according to some arcane rulebook, and the pressure is not on women to manage guys’ feelings (over respecting their own desires)….according to some arcane rulebook.

      I’m not so into your waiter analogy for the reasons other posters have gone into, and I feel like you’re fighting on the side of right mostly, and I don’t want you to feel shouted down here. We agree way more than we disagree.

      • piny said:

        I think this is all true.

        But…I don’t know. After some recent experiences, I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the “arcane rulebook” that men are supposed to use. It’s worse than taking silence as assent. It’s also about seeing women as essentially passive, and interpreting…nothing…as interest. And while I understand that this system makes for a lot of unhealthy confusion on both sides, I get irritated by the idea that women are inscrutable rather than not expressing interest. It doesn’t just force women to either bitch up or accept invasion of their personal space. It defines women’s romantic behavior as a response to male desire. “Why doesn’t she just tell me what she wants?” represents a lot of ignorance about what it’s like to be a woman, but it also ignores what any given woman might be saying loud and clear.

        To use the waiter analogy: If I want a drink, I can make meaningful eye contact.

        • JenniferP said:

          I really love your post below (above? Who the fuck knows how WordPress will nest these things) about taking the most conservative possible interpretation of the signals (leave the maybe as a no and allow the other person to express active interest, instead of looking for the yes in the maybe), and I take your point – women are not inscrutable creatures, they are just fucking humans going about their lives, same as everyone else. When things are working out as they are supposed to, all that stuff is just easy because everyone is treating the other person like a human and not an inscrutable object.

          Recently read this post at Yes Means Yes about indirect refusal and the consequences thereof. You may find it really interesting. I put most of my thoughts on how to approach someone here, and one of my big rules is don’t get too invested or approach things with a sense of entitlement.

  36. Helen Huntingdon said:

    “I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the “arcane rulebook” that men are supposed to use. It’s worse than taking silence as assent. It’s also about seeing women as essentially passive, and interpreting…nothing…as interest.”

    Tell me about it. I am heartily sick of, “but I know you’re interested, because you smiled at someone else! You were out in public and breathing! You were out in a public place right where I could see you, so you were obviously trying to attract me specifically!”

    No, if I were trying to attract you, I would have walked up to you and started a conversation that would have included me suggesting a way to see each other again. Pretty simple, huh? Of course, the conversation might have ended at any number of places before such a suggestion, such as if you didn’t respond with enthusiasm to my greeting, didn’t show obvious pleasure at continuing to talk to me, etc. But if I didn’t walk up to you and start talking with a huge smile on my face, you have your answer loud and clear: I was not trying to attract you. Women are so freaking mysterious.

    ““Why doesn’t she just tell me what she wants?” represents a lot of ignorance about what it’s like to be a woman, but it also ignores what any given woman might be saying loud and clear.”

    You know what I’ve learned about the “just tell me clearly” creepers like AJ is that they’re lying their heads off. They don’t mean “just tell me clearly”. They mean, “I’m an expert at bullshitting myself into thinking I’m a good guy so I don’t have to actually bother with being a good guy. For example, I tell myself that if a woman just tells me clearly what she wants, I’ll respect that. It’s totally not true, but I pretend it is because I have my own individual super-seekrit passcode which I assure myself I would listen to if a woman uttered it. Of course, I don’t tell women I pester what that is. They should know it just by looking at me, the same way they should know I’m a stellar human being and not a jerk just by looking at me. But the super-seekrit passcode exists somewhere in my cranium, so clearly the problem is not me; it’s women not being clear enough.”

    • JenniferP said:

      Your post is great except for when you call AJ a creeper and insinuate that he is lying.

      Show good faith and take others’ comments in good faith.

  37. Helen Huntingdon said:

    Uh, Kahra, there is no wide segment of the population that doesn’t understand body language. The overwhelming majority understand it just fine when they choose to, such as when dealing with their boss’s boss.

    Among the very small segment who don’t understand it, many are capable that haven’t bothered to learn. Asperger’s for example, doesn’t stop you from learning body language. It just means that if you’re a child with Asperger’s you lag behind learning it compared to other children. By the time an Aspie is a few years into legal adulthood, Asperger’s is no longer even a slight excuse for not having learned. If someone can’t learn it, then by definition they don’t have Asperger’s.

    The author has already addressed some of the other downright silly statements you’ve come up with.

    • Helen Huntingdon said:

      er, *then*, not *than*

      • JenniferP said:

        Fixed. Thanks for jumping on this!

    • Kahra said:

      Looks like you completely scrolled past the evidence I posted relating to body language, which directly conflicts with your statement. While women were able to read body language accurately, men were not.

      That being said, this isn’t really the point. Body language is a high context form of language, and is open to wide interpretation. Crossing arms? It could be cold out. A glare? Maybe I said something wrong, and should find out what I did. Where I’m from, random glares are rare and would raise questions. Perhaps where you’re from, it means “Don’t discuss.” But body language is something so culturally and situationally specific that the perfect interpretation can’t be expected even on a case to case basis, much less over multiple times. In fact, such expectation of knowledge is a common cause of relationship problems, as women often expect men to understand their signals, whereas men don’t realize the signal’s even there until the woman’s sent tons of signals and feels completely ignored.

      However, no is a clear and concise statement that reaches across every English speaking culture (and lots of non-English cultures) and requires no interpretation.

      How you communicate is up to you. But that doesn’t change the languages your conversational partner understands.

      • Helen Huntingdon said:

        Kahra, you didn’t post any evidence. You only posted a link to a pop pseudo-journalism post on a methodologically invalid study. It’s the opposite of evidence; meaningless noise.

        There are plenty of studies out there that are methodologically sound, and they show pretty much uniform results for men and women; nearly all adults read body language just fine when they choose to. They make “mistakes” when dealing with people they consider to be lower status than themselves, but not so much otherwise.

      • JenniferP said:

        Kahra, I’m going to answer all of your points from both comments here.

        “In what way is women taking on the responsibilities of a normal human being, in any form or fashion, insulting? Forgive me for using ‘foul’ language to crisply summarize my major point, I suppose we’ll have to use the kiddy words now.”

        Uh, we don’t have to use fucking kiddy words, you extremely obtuse person – what’s wrong, didn’t get enough attention when you posted this comment on Reddit? (Yeah, I saw that).

        Telling a woman to “man up” and then hilariously describing that as “accepting the responsibilities of a normal human being” IS insulting, because you are saying straight up: You would be better if you acted more like a man (who are apparently “normal” human beings). It’s also insulting when you tell men to “man up”, because you are saying “your behavior is not like the kind of masculinity I prize, so you need to act more like I think a man would act.” Do not say that here again.

        As for the whole body language question, fortunately in her Schrodinger’s Rapist post, Starling provides a primer on what body language could mean, let’s say in, Urban North America. Crossed arms, glaring, avoiding eye contact, etc. are possible signs that Dude, she’s just not that into you. Or, for whatever reasons of her own, not interested in being approached in a public place. So even if you are one of the few who literally can’t read body language, Starling gives you instruction that you could apply…if you wanted to. So if you see crossed arms, one syllable answers, going immediately back to a book, glaring, turning away from you…. may I suggest, when approaching a strange woman, that you read all such signals extremely conservatively. But if you see smiles and the woman engage with you, then, proceed with politeness. Now you know! She told you in that post how to do it. If you say that you don’t know how to do it now, then it is because you are choosing not to understand.

        Third, about whatever personal reasons Starling has for being extremely cautious in public – they are none of your fucking business. Not all people live with her level of personal safety worry, but many do. I have been mugged at night by a man who snuck up behind me beat me black and blue until I gave up my wallet – so I don’t want anyone to tap me on the shoulder at night and get very jumpy if I sense someone too close. I set my own risk level for my own reasons, as does every human, and I have that right. So if a nice, well-intentioned guy who just wanted to talk about books came up behind me on a dark street and tapped me on the shoulder, I might whip around very very fast and might scream something like “WHAT THE FUCK?” You understand? (P.S. That body language and question would be a sign that I’m not interested in having a further conversation).

        Fourth, and finally, here is some research on how people process indirect refusals. To sum up, people are very good at processing indirect refusals, but guys deliberately pretend not to understand them when they come from women they want to sleep with.

        This is why I am a firm believer in Yes Means Yes and enthusiastic consent. It’s not enough that you didn’t get a “no,” – your ethical responsibility (and your enjoyment, and you know, having an actual pleasurable relationship with someone) is based on both people having fun and being enthusiastic partners in communication, sex, dating, whatever.

        You’ve got some very old-fashioned and obtuse ideas about women, Kahra. Perhaps you can go read the 1216 comments at the Schrodinger’s Rapist thread until it all starts to make sense – this is the last conversation you and I will be having here about this. We’ve made it very clear. You don’t have to agree, but if you don’t understand – that’s on you.

        P.S. Thanks Helen for being so on top of this!

        • Kahra said:

          About the huge response to the tl;dr:

          Not what I meant at all, but arguing over a tl;dr is so pointless and ignores the actual discussion.

          We can’t accurately gauge the number of people who understand nonverbal communication; we could debate it all day. But here’s what’s more important:

          Requiring consent for a sexual act is one thing. But requiring consent to begin a conversation, something which does not inherently harm those involved, is groundless.

          Thirdly, “none of my business” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t analyze the reasoning of the person attempting to give us advice.

          Yes means yes is great. Enthusiastic consent is great. But everything shouldn’t require consent. What should require consent? In general, things that violate your rights, such as those not to be harmed, or those to privacy. You have a right not to be harassed, but harassment, by definition, requires repetition. If someone stops after you say no, that’s not harassment. But what you’re asking for is no conversation at all unless you give express consent. This in itself violates the rights of those who would converse with you, as we see in the first amendment.

          This is getting a little long winded, especially when I’m responding to someone who seems interested primarily in insulting me. Thus, I’ll end things with a tl;dr that I hope, unlike the last one, won’t enrage you:

          http://xkcd.com/642/

          • Helen Huntingdon said:

            Oh holy shit, another guy carrying on about the First Amendment when he obviously hasn’t read it? Sheesh dude, it’s not that hard. It’s not even long.

            Conversation without consent is by definition harassment. Kahra, you really need a whole lot of work on your basic literacy, since dictionary skills seem to be beyond you and you can’t figure out how to read the Constitution, which specifies that the government can’t stop you from publishing your ideas under most circumstances, not that you are allowed to pester anyone, anywhere. Let me guess, you also think the First Amendment applies to your comments on someone else’s blog, don’t you? I know that’s absurd, but not any goofier than the other things you say, like posting bad pop fake journalism as “evidence”.

            Are you sure you’re not a cartoon? Because linking to the most infamous xkcd strip ever as though it somehow has valid meaning outside the heads of a poorly-adjusted few really puts your act over the top. Or I suppose it could just be part of that whole lack of literacy thing you have going on.

          • JenniferP said:

            I believe that series of XKCD comics, where dudes assume that women are thinking about them when they look engaged in other tasks, is what set off the whole Schrodinger’s Rapist post on Shapely Prose, which, by the way, isn’t my blog. If you read the rest of this thread you will see that women have put up with very threatening behavior – like having their book pulled out of their hands – from entitled dudes who probably think “starting a conversation isn’t a crime, right?”

            A tl:dr is where you sum up your entire point….so, like, if I didn’t read the discussion, I could read your tl:dr and see a short version of what you had to say. So to somehow exclude it from the “actual discussion” and call it pointless is…well, you are a very special person, Kahra. Very, very special. Bless your heart.

            Discussion with you is not fun. Discussion with you about a 2 year old blog post that I didn’t write is really not fun. Your attempt to leave on a lighter note is as inept as the rest of your posts here. I will never understand why the thought of having to think about social cues and body language when you are approaching a stranger who might want nothing to do with you makes you so angry, but at this point I do not want to. Since you can’t read my body language, let me say as clearly as possible: This discussion is closed, do not post in this thread again. And think twice about approaching women in public places when they are engaged in something else. Try internet dating, or meeting through friends, or going to bars or parties where social interaction is more expected and welcomed.

            Further comments from you in this thread will be deleted.

      • Intern Paul said:

        I’m pretty sure the Americans With Disabilities Act doesn’t cover clueless people with no interpersonal skills. So even if you were arguing in good faith (which you aren’t), it’s not a woman’s job to bend over backward and provide accommodation for you. Learn how to interact.

        • Kahra said:

          Starting a conversation isn’t evil.

          • piny said:

            No, using your death ray to level Cleveland is evil. Dismembering your elderly aunt and burying her underneath the dovecote is evil. Mining my Chinese takeout as though the quart of milk you buy twice a month entitles you to leftover lo mein is evil. Talking to people is not evil.

            But talking to people who do not want to talk to you is wrong. It is harassment. It makes people upset. It also makes them afraid. This is not because talking is in and of itself dangerous (unlike death rays), but because you threaten people when you signal to them that their discomfort is not important to you. Men who ignore the signals women send out are threatening them: informing them that their refusal is not terribly important.

            And, like I said upthread: if guys really can’t tell when women are disinterested, then they can make the interaction explicit themselves. Women don’t have a responsibility to manage male social incompetence. Men have a responsibility to not harass other people. Men have a responsibility to not scare women. And if men as a class can’t trust their instincts, then they should find some other tell.

            On a related note: you know something interesting? I get much more attention, and more harassing attention, from men when I feel especially angry or upset. It’s almost as though my discomfort is a goad to harassers. Wonder why.

          • JenniferP said:

            Piny, Helen, you guys are awesome and everything you’ve said makes total sense. No need to respond to this guy further, though. I explicitly asked Kahra to stop responding this discussion (“Since you can’t read my body language, let me say as clearly as possible: This discussion is closed, do not post in this thread again….Further comments from you in this thread will be deleted.“)

            And he sent another comment through. And I deleted it. Someone who ignores basic instructions is not going to be convinced by your smart and elegant arguments. Have a great weekend.

          • piny said:

            (Women and their confusing mixed messages!)

            Sure thing, sorry. Didn’t mean to feed the troll.

            And have a happy Easter yourself. Thanks for hosting the discussions; I’m really enjoying your blog.

  38. Helen Huntingdon said:

    LOL, he really needs help with that reading comprehension, doesn’t he?

  39. Dominique Millette said:

    Honestly? You don’t have to redact his name. You should publish it. You don’t owe him anything – and, also, maybe a lot of women would thank you. Remember it isn’t libel if it’s true.

    • JenniferP said:

      I seriously thought about this but I also don’t want him hunting me down and shooting me in the face. Anyone who interacts with him for 5 seconds will know immediately what he is like.

      • Dominique Millette said:

        You have a point there… even if he probably doesn’t visit feminist websites (or advice columns, since he sounds like he thinks he doesn’t need them). It would be funny for his boss and all his co-workers to find out what he’s like online, though. I bet these guys only show their true colours when they think people they want to impress are not looking.

  40. After having huge chunks of my life worn away by those types of people, I’m highly allergic to them now. What I have to deal with now are other people, both male and female, getting on me about how mean and “bitter” I am for not giving those folks an inch or the time of day. I’ve even stopped warning folks around me about sketchy peeps because then I get it even worse. I’d warn them about the new person at our local coffee-shop (because it attracts weirdos and needy, manipulative, lying fucks like whoah) showing all the sketch signs and get told I was just mean, cynical and bitter. Then they’d let that person into their life and that person’d do their best to wreck it. I’d hear about it from friends of friends but that person would NEVER tell me what happened because Goddess forbid they have to admit my mean ass was right. I’d treat their suffering as entertainment because I’d done my due diligence by them by warning them only to be castigated for it.

  41. Alex said:

    I guess I’m a bit late to the post, but I also feel like sharing something that happened to me, which I recognise as especially creepy after reading de Gavin’s book last week.

    About a year ago, I got myself some pizza from a local Pizza Hut (one of those collection/delivery only ones). Right next to it, there’s a fish & chips shop. Coincidentally, just as I left the Pizza Hut, a guy left the fish & chips shop, and he offered me some of his chips. I said no. He offered twice more, but then he let it go, thankfully, because we were even walking in the same direction.

    When I got home, I had mixed feelings about that encounter. At first, I kind of thought that maybe I just passed up the chance of meeting a nice guy. But then I kind of felt awkward and uneasy about it.

    Now, however, I am quite alarmed about a few things: a) I was quite obviously carrying two pizza cartons, possibly implying that someone is waiting for me, certainly implying that I’m not going to spoil my dinner with chips, b) I didn’t have a free hand. So, unless I somehow pull carrying two cartons with one hand off (risking that he grabs my pizzas, drops the chips and is off on his merry way, which is perhaps a bit paranoid, but you know, not unlikely), he’d have to feed it to me. Yeah, not comfortable at all. c) I guess that would have been Loan Sharking? Like, I take the chips, then politely leave, and he’s all, “Oh, let’s have a drink/share the pizza, I gave you some chips, didn’t I? d) Why would you offer some random stranger you meet after dark some chips? I mean, seriously? Especially if they obviously are carrying their own dinner.

    I don’t know, maybe he was just a nice guy who was in a generous mood. But I’m still very glad I declined, and I’m extremely glad that he left me alone.

    • JenniferP said:

      If it felt sketchy it was probably sketchy. Glad you’re ok!

  42. pop! goes alicia said:

    Reblogged this on pop!goesalicia and commented:
    Ladies!!! Please read.

    • JenniferP said:

      Your blog is awesome. I will be reading it regularly from now on.

      • pop! goes alicia said:

        Yeah, girl. Thank you!

  43. Aly What said:

    I know this is a late post but I’d like to put my situation down to help others learn:
    I was talking to a guy on Facebook who I hung out with and really enjoyed hanging out with before…. I had no clue he would turn into a complete control freak to which I ignore now. Tell me what you think. NEVER be afraid to become societies definition of a “Bitch.” Changed his name to “J”

    J:Do your hair like it was last time
    Me:I wish, It’s already straightened not curly :P
    J:Curl it
    Me:It doesn’t work that way, you wouldn’t know haha maybe I’ll try
    J:I do know. I can’t hang out if you don’t do it
    Me:No you don’t & okay…? haha
    J:Yes I do. Go take another shower
    Me:Then it has to dry sounds like a lot of work
    J:It’ll be worth it
    Me:No way plus I used sponge curlers the last time which take all night to work hahaha
    J:Curl your hair with a curling iron. Take another shower.
    Me:It won’t look good, do you not like straight hair?
    J:I do
    Me:Okay then haha
    J:Curl it
    Me:nope. fuck you.
    J:You’d like to
    Me:…not really right now you are being an asshole.
    J: No I’m not

    • JenniferP said:

      Wow, “J” is terrible. Good call.

  44. Amanda said:

    Good post… this reminds me of a lot of awkward conversations I’ve had on buses that I Did Not Want, and also of this super creepy guy I met once. I was walking home from a store and he started talking to me from his bike about a time I’d ignored him/not wanted to talk to him at a bus stop. He kept getting angrier, because I didn’t respond(I actually didn’t realize he was even talking to me), and followed me. On the bike. I walked faster and responded politely that I didn’t talk to strangers. He just kept escalating and started screaming profanity at me, finally culminating(in my complex’s PARKING LOT) in yelling that ‘people like me’ should be sent to Mars or executed. I ran back to my place on a circuitous route and called the non-emergency police as well as a friend. It was… really scary. And it’s honestly only after reading this blog that I realize… it’s *OK* that I don’t want to talk to random strangers on the bus or at bus stops. I was not in the wrong for politely refusing to talk with this guy. He was, for getting so utterly enraged about it. And I genuinely doubted myself.

    Thank you for putting it out there that we(women, people) have no obligation to talk to, entertain or give information to strangers. That it’s okay to say ‘no’ and expect our answer and desires to be respected.

  45. Lucy I said:

    This is a wonderful post, and really clearly outlines what to do in situations like that. Sometimes I hate that we have to be so aware all the time, and that our wishes aren’t respected at all – but this highlights some really great strategies and is a really good read.

    I remember going on a three month trip overseas a few months after I turned eighteen. Before I left, my parents sat me down and we ensured that I had the appropriate idea of how to deal with certain situations I might encounter on my trip, and was thoroughly encouraged to constantly email and check up with my parents, leave messages with the hotel if I had to (they were all extremely accommodating – it must have been strange to have such a young girl coming and going by herself all the time) and to ensure that I never put myself in a situation in which I didn’t have the appropriate methods to deal with any uncomfortable situations that may arise. Still, it astounded me the sheer number of men that think that because you are alone, you WANT company. I remember a man coming up to me in an airport and sitting in the seat directly next to me even though there were probably only about three other people in the terminal. It was 6am, I was tired – I’d just gotten off a seven hour flight and was looking forward to another five hour one. He was in at least his mid forties, and he asked me if I wanted to get coffee with him. I said no, and he laughed and continued to talk to me for a good twenty minutes. There was nowhere else for me to go, and he asked me at least three more times – growing more forceful and upset every negative response he got, until finally I told him that I was not, and would never be interested in getting coffee with him. He nodded and left, and I boarded my plane not long after. At no stage did I feel unsafe or scared – we were in a high security setting and while I was alone, it would have been possible for me to receive help had I needed it – but it just highlighted, to me, the idea that if you tell a certain man ‘No’ – instead of hearing no, he hears ‘maybe later, maybe if you ask again, maybe in five minutes when you’ve talked to me some more. maybe you just need to be more forceful, maybe if you don’t take no for an answer it will somehow magically turn into a yes.’ It doesn’t happen, and it shouldn’t ever happen. No and yes are complete opposites – my opinion isn’t somehow going to change just because (and ESPECIALLY because) you decided to be rude.

  46. Gerard said:

    As a guy with a girlfriend, I must say I love this article. I’m going to recommend this to her because she tells me regularly that guys creep on her far too often and I’ve always wanted to help her somehow. Now I can show her the tools to help herself, which is even better.

  47. Nancy said:

    I know this post is so old — but it reminded me of when I was just 13 and riding a Greyhound back home in the summer. I sat in the very front of the bus to avoid trouble but halfway through the 8-hour bus ride, an 18-year-old boy sat next to me. I was listening to my iPod and he introduced himself to me and started asking me questions. I kept my answers brief, and because I was sitting next to the window, leaned as close as I could to it and tried to look like I was extremely interested in the landscape.

    After a while, he grabbed my iPod from me and switched it to a song that he knew and he began singing to me. Then he told me he was an aspiring rapper and rapped for me. I inwardly cheered when the bus driver told him to shut up. But before I knew it, he was playfully hitting my hand with his and to get him to stop, I grabbed his hand and he held it and put his arm around me. I felt disgusting and violated but I didn’t want to be a bitch when it could be argued I led him on. When we got to the bus station and we were about to part ways, he hugged me and condoms fell out of his pocket but I pretended not to notice. I was so creeped out but he was acting so nice to me I felt bad not giving him my phone number. Thankfully, he has never tried to call me.

    I really don’t know what I was thinking. I have one question though — at the time, I was 13, but I told him I was 15 so that he wouldn’t think I was so young that I would be easily manipulated. Obviously this didn’t work. Should I have told him my actual age to maybe scare him off?

    • JenniferP said:

      You didn’t lead him on. Your actual age may have made him creepily MORE interested.

      If you got out of this alive and unmolested, you handled it correctly, and if you had been harmed in some way, it wouldn’t have been on you to control it because you were in the presence of a predator and it wouldn’t have been up to you.

      Think about what you can do to get more comfortable being direct and knowing that you could make a scene if you had to. You can be a bitch for your own safety and comfort.

  48. Oh. I just realised I put myself in this kind of situation a few days ago. I met a guy randomly pedestrian crossing, he chatted up to me and I responded, then we ended up chatting for about an hour. He didn’t seem harmful, was pretty nice, but I am not interested in any kind of relationships (because of my orientation). I somehow couldn’t refuse, when he asked me to go out with him for a coffee the next day, and I did so. Thankfully, the guy didn’t harm me in any way, but the bad thing is – he seems now attached to me and hints wanting to be in a relationship, despite me stating my disinterest in neither men nor women earlier. Luckily he went away for now, but I’m worried he might want to meet me again, when he comes back – and I don’t think I want that, because those hints of his interest make me uncomfortable. I don’t know what to do to let him know I am really unavailable and that he’d be better off looking for someone else. He never asked directly if I wanted to form a relationship with him, but he said things like “I’d love to have a girlfriend like you” and such, so I’m really unsure how to deal with this situation. For now I’ve resolved not to seek contact with him myself, but what if he emails me?

    • JenniferP said:

      Just say “no thanks” to any further hangout time. Also, you’re smart and reading the signals correctly.

      A good review is here.

  49. I know this comment section may be long since abandoned but I can’t help but remember back to well..every single convention I attended. I am a cosplayer, and I can’t count the number of times a strange guy will asked for a picture with me and then grab me by the hips and pull me to his side like I am his trophy wife. For a long time I just got over it and played along like the ‘cool girl’ and figured that it was how I was dressed (occasionally in some revealing costumes) that was to blame and I expected this treatment because of it. I forced an awkward laugh when a guy came back a second time to take a picture, held his cellphone camera directly at my boobs and said “one boob shot” then chuckled as he left. I don’t know why I laughed or told people it was funny to me, this was a strange man I didn’t know who openly said he was taking tit pictures of me in cosplay. He sure wasn’t using them to show his mom costume details I know that much..

    I feel bad looking back at how uncomfortable I’ve been putting myself out in different uncomfortable scenarios through cosplaying. Hell, I tell dirty jokes and can get pretty raunchy myself. But I have boundaries, ones should be respected. I shouldn’t have to tell people “No don’t take pictures of my boobs please”, this should be common sense. I shouldn’t have to tell someone “No don’t put your arms around me”, but for some reason I never did.

    Looking back on my entire teen years I accommodated a lot of older men’s behaviors that I wouldn’t dare let these men to if I had a daughter. Not that anything turned physical, but I think all women (and men!) know of ‘the vibe’ or ‘the look’ someone gives you that immediately makes you frightened. I accommodated adult men hitting on me and buying me gifts at work when I was just 18 years old. I played along with 40-something guys who would give me this slimy grin and tell me “Smile beautiful!”, giggling demurely and accommodating the request and I really do hate myself for not knowing the full extent of what these scenarios where. I felt deep down that this all was ‘icky’ somehow and the guys where skeevie but I didn’t really know WHY.

    It feels like none of this has made any sense, how can I explain in words a ‘feeling’?…C’est la vie..

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