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Reader question #69: The guy who lives upstairs from me wants me to be his…”friend.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m sure there there have been similar questions, but I feel mine has an added complication. It is, I shiver to say, an “unwanted advances” issue that I’m having.

Background: I am a female in my lower twenties who recently graduated from a university, and I’m living in a small two-story apartment building in a larger complex of similar buildings in a small US city. I am sharing this apartment with my mom and stepdad for economic reasons.

Problem: A few weeks back our building was having the plumbing redone and from about 9am to 5pm the crew was in our apartment tearing up walls and such. I waited outside on the steps one of these days for 30 minutes or so until the crew had left. An older man with a heavy foreign accent came out of his upstairs room and talked to me. I’m not sure why, but I tend to have rather automatic sympathy for the more obviously foreign-born people living in the US. Maybe it’s racism, and maybe it’s because I treat everyone in that situation like a foreign exchange student. As it turns out, this guy is Pakistani and he lives in an apartment upstairs, apparently alone. That’s the entirety of the things he said that I understood… More specifically, I didn’t understand what this guy was saying to me partly due to his accent, and partly due to the fact that the ideas he was throwing out did not seem to connect. He was asking me if I wanted to be his “friend” and
at the same time he was saying “My wife is in Pakistan.” Confused, I kept saying him things like, “Oh, is your wife moving here eventually?” Just as it was dawning on me that he probably meant for me to be his mistress or fling or whatever while his poor wife is back at home, he left, before I could express my horror in any way.

Now it gets weird. I have not spoken to him since then- perhaps a mistake. But, I did start noticing he follows me.

The other day I went to the pool at the other end of the complex, and he walked toward it, turned around and walked back the other way. I thought maybe he hadn’t recognized me from that distance. Wrong. He apparently waited in the shadows of a tree until I caught up to where he was. Not on the same side of the sidewalk- because I crossed the parking lot to the other side as soon as I detected someone standing under the trees. This was in broad daylight, but I was alone. He waited until I caught up and then started walking, keeping pace with me such that he reached the building that we regrettably both occupy at the same time that I did. I waited until he got ahead until I crossed to get into the building, but he remained standing in the downstairs breezeway until I went in my apartment. Added to this, I’ve seen him watch me from his balconyand look in on the apartment complex’s monthly bingo night after watching me go in for it.

I’ve been told from others that I should make my own decision on what to do about this. Fair enough, but… *hesitate hesitate* I have a protective stepdad, which is comforting. I’ve even been told that American women can be viewed as loose by men from more “traditional” countries, and that makes me so angry for all women who find their sexuality judged and controlled by men. Note on me: I don’t like confronting people in general, and I have never experienced something like this before.

I’m not sure whether to categorize this as a situation where someone can’t take a hint (that I would never ever want to be with him, ever) because of a language/culture gap or as actual stalking. All I know is that I am completely disgusted by this guy. I’m a reader, and I have laughed and cried over many of the reader questions and the insightful answers before. On this one, I have to ask which road I should take and how to say it even if it’s awkward: ignore him (as I’ve been doing), try to express in plain English that I will never want him ever, get a restraining order (on someone who lives upstairs whose name I can’t spell?), or some other creative solution. I’m stuck at “I want to somehow punch this guy without touching him.”

Thanks for listening,

Wants To Walk Alone

Hello, Wants To Walk Alone:

I’m going to make this very simple for you by ignoring completely the mess of cultural assumptions and possible misunderstandings that is going on here and bring it back to what you want:  To be free of this guy’s attentions.

The next time he makes any kind of unwanted contact with you, say something directly and explicitly to him to let him know that it is unwelcome.

  • “Please don’t follow me.”
  • “No, you go ahead.  I want to be alone.”
  • “I don’t want to walk with you, please go.”
  • “I don’t want to talk to you, please go.”
  • “Please don’t wait for me.”
  • “You are making me uncomfortable. Please go.”
  • “You got the wrong idea from our conversation the other day.  Please go.”

Say what you have to say as concisely and directly as possible.  Don’t apologize, don’t backtrack, use a calm, neutral tone, like, “I’m sure you just mean to be friendly, but I am not interested.”  Treat him like you expect that he will do the right thing and he probably will.

A normal person who is told to back off will apologize and back off.  Accept the apology with grace and move on with your life.

A creepy person who is told to back off will get angry with you (but you promised!) and/or willfully misunderstand (like, pretend he was joking and try to make you feel like you are being rude and a bitch or gaslight you that it’s all in your head and you are overreacting) and/or do whatever he can to continue the interaction.

It’s time for our periodic Gavin De Becker Reminder that “no” or “please go” or “I am not interested” is a complete sentence.So if you say it, and the other person keeps talking, ask yourself “Why is this person ignoring my clearly stated wishes?  That is bad.  I should get away from this person.”  So be prepared to absent yourself from the situation.  Like, go back to the parking lot, get in your car, drive around the block a few times, and THEN go inside.  If he won’t back off, do whatever it takes to physically absent yourself and don’t worry if it’s weird or possibly offensive.

Okay, if you tell him directly to back off, he’s probably going to back off.  It will still be awkward when you run into him, and you may catch him at some surreptitious Firthing, but he’ll stop actively pursuing you.

As for involving your stepdad – if you’ve asked the guy to leave you alone, and he’s clearly not leaving you alone – you are not ruining Feminism by asking your stepdad to have a word.  Not a violent, threatening word, but a “I realize you’re trying to be friendly, but my daughter says you are making her uncomfortable and we’d all appreciate it if you’d back off” word. Your job is not to teach this guy how to behave around every woman ever and set an example for all time, it is to teach him how to behave around you so that you feel safe where you live.  You are also not ruining Feminism if you use the socially convenient lie (ie, “I’m sure you mean well and would never want to make me uncomfortable, but.…”) You don’t want to punish him, humiliate him, or get more engaged (anger & insults make people angry, pissing contests make people angry, and angry people get more engaged), you just want him to knock off the behavior.  Keeping a civil tone and letting him save face (if he does what you want by going away), even if you are very very pissed off and your stepdad is very very pissed off on your behalf, is probably your best course.

I’m hoping that the final outcome is that you feel safe and that everyone retreats to a polite “Curt, friendly nod in the hallway” distance.

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17 comments
  1. If telling him to leave you alone doesn’t work, I wonder if talking to the manager of the apartment complex might be helpful? Tell her/him that a fellow tenant is making you feel uncomfortable, and s/he could have a word with him re: the sort of behavior that’s expected from tenants. This could make the “back off” message seem more official, & get an intermediary to do some of the work for you. He might even be breaking some sort of explicit rule for tenants, esp. if he ignores your requests to stop bothering you.

    Good luck!

  2. MissMuff said:

    This post couldn’t be more perfect. I actually have an extremely similar question, but it’s work-related.

    I work at a grocery store behind the service counter and we have a lottery customer who is an older man (I’m just turned 20, he’s in his 50s?). He constantly talks to me, which is fine enough, but one day he asked for my phone number. I said no and he kept insisting. Eventually he wanted me to take his number. When I turned him down he asked if we could be “friends” anyways. Just friends, he clarified. For a few weeks he did his usual gig of just talking to me. Hitting on me, yes, but not enough to be quite so out of line. Recently, however, this man has been calling the store to see if I’m there. Sometimes he just tries to talk to me, other times he will actually come to the store about 20 minutes after he calls.

    I think he is covered in the “willfully misunderstand (like, pretend he was joking and try to make you feel like you are being rude and a bitch or gaslight you that it’s all in your head and you are overreacting) and/or do whatever he can to continue the interaction.”

    I mean, he’s not quite there in terms of telling me I’m being rude, but he definitely does the rest of this stuff.

    So how do I tell a customer, when I am a customer service manager, to back the fuck off. I have plenty of creepy customers, but this man is going too far. I don’t know how to tell him no when he asks about my schedule. I don’t know how to tell him to back off when he starts telling me what a “pretty lady” I am and once-again asks about our “friendship.”

    On a side note, when he first asked about being friends I said no and he said, oh, it’s not like that, etc, etc. Eventually I had to mumbled some sort of affirmative. I had generally been nice to the guy, because usually when I get advances from older men they stop at attempted flirting so I’ve gotten use to smiling and nicely accepting their advances (or compliments or whatever they’re trying for). I can generally manage to keep everyone happy without egging on the behavior. So to suddenly turn cold would A) Confuse him, B) Potentially offend him, and C) Give him the “bitch” ammo.

    Reading this now it seems like I should be able to handle this, but I don’t want to create a scene at work or go about this the wrong way and give him the upper hand if he decides to complain or something.

    So what do I do?

    • piny said:

      Ugh. I’m so sorry.

      First, remember that none of this is your fault. You do not have a professional obligation to put up with harassment, and that doesn’t change just because you have “customer service” in your title. This is gross, on the level of, “I’m not touching youuuuuuuuu….” Don’t let him pretend he isn’t gross, and don’t think he’s honestly confused about why a twenty-year-old employee would feel upset about being macked upon by a fifty-year-old customer. He’s using your professionalism against you.

      Go to your superior, whoever they are. Explain this problem with a customer. He has been making unwanted advances. He has been calling the store and following you around. For months. You tried to be polite and respectful, because you value your job, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. He is making you very uncomfortable. You plan to speak to him yourself one more time, and politely and respectfully tell him to leave you alone. But you want your employer to understand what’s going on, in case the situation escalates. You appreciate their support.

      Then, the next time this guy shows up to bother you, say this: “Hi, George. You are making me uncomfortable. Don’t call the store to ask for me anymore. Don’t come here looking for me. Don’t start conversations with me. I don’t want to talk to you anymore, and I don’t want to be your friend. You need to leave me alone, and I need to go back to work.” Repeat as necessary, and if he doesn’t immediately leave you alone, then just call your higher-ups and stand back.

      I’m betting he’ll counter with, “But I was just trying to be friendly….” and eventually, “You don’t have to be such a bitch.” I’d go with, “Please leave me alone,” and stony silence respectively. And if he makes a scene, well, nobody in the store is gonna side with the mean old man who’s yelling at the nice young woman with a name tag.

      • nadyezhda said:

        Please talk to your manager. If they’re jerks about it you likely have some recourse (this is a thing Carolyn Hax would have a link to!) because you shouldn’t have to be in fear for your physical safety, and dude is checking on when you’re at work. Not to scare you but how long before he’s waiting by your car? Do what you need to to get safe and DOCUMENT after you tell him to back off in case you go to the police. Consider consulting them on their non-emergent number to find out what you need ot know in case this does get uglier. Same goes for the original poster!

    • Sid said:

      Piny is totes awesome and right.

      May I also recommend reviewing the Captain’s advice to a young woman in a similar situation: http://captainawkward.com/2011/04/02/reader-question-32-saying-no-at-work-to-the-parade-of-guys-who-stop-by-my-desk-all-day/

      Step 1: Inform a manager that a customer is making you feel unsafe at your job, and that you may need to be rude to that SPECIFIC customer and you might lose his very important lottery business. Get a report written up so that if customer gets tetchy, you have a record.

      Step 2: Turn cold. Don’t worry about him being confused, offended, or calling you a bitch. He wasn’t all that worried about you when he turned on his “charm” offensive.

      “It’s not company policy to tell customers our schedules/accept personal calls/engage in personal conversation with customers.”
      “I will not make exceptions. It’s about the safety of all our employees/the convenience of all our customers.”
      “Is this phone call about business? No? I have to get back to work.”
      “I can’t have a conversation with you. I’m working.”
      “You are making me very uncomfortable, and I would like you to leave.”
      “My job is to be friendly and welcoming, please stop reading into it.”
      “If you continue to call me/talk to me/make it impossible to do my job, I will have to refer you to my manager.”

      You’re going to be OK!

    • C said:

      If he calls about your schedule, say “I’m sorry, it’s our policy to not share that information” (or, ya know, word it slightly better). Whether it is or not, you can just repeat “It’s our policy” as much as necessary.

      My advice? Turn cold. He will not honestly be confused, because this is not friendship (and it’s an inappropriate way of going about that, too). If he’s offended, tough titties. What, will he complain to your manager and say “She’s not flirting with me anymore”? Same if he calls you a bitch, your management might be able to address that more directly as harassment of their employees.

    • JenniferP said:

      The commenters have awesomely handled this, as usual, so I’m just here to remind you that if you get this guy to leave you alone, his feelings are totally his problem and do not outweigh your right to feel safe. Document, talk to your manager, ask him directly to leave you alone, ask your manager and fellow employees to have your back. Be of good courage, you are totally in the right.

  3. “It’s time for our periodic Gavin De Becker Reminder”

    A FELLOW “GIFT OF FEAR” EVANGELIST! That book saves lives, y’all.

  4. nadyezhda said:

    Original Poster: I <3 the Captain but I'll recommend something she didn't add; please please consider just consulting your local police department on a "just in case" basis. They're not going to freak out and YOU don't want to waste time not being able to get authorities involved because you didn't cross a t or dot an i you didn't know about. And clueing in your folks isn't a bad idea: go to them, tell them there was some weird cross-language thing going on, you'd prefer to handle it but if X, Y, or Z happens, you'll tell them so they can step in. It alerts them in case something really bad happens but also asks them to respect your adulthood because you demonstrated you have a plan, and a backup plan, and yet you know that they care about you. Good luck with creepy neighbor and consider letting the Captain know how it goes down so we don't worry about you.

  5. monsterzero said:

    As De Becker has said, a woman is often in a no-win situation in that if a man is being creepy at her, she’s going to end up being a “bitch” no matter what she does. So you might as well tell him, “Don’t follow me,” and “Stop staring at me,” sooner rather than later.

    nadyezhda’s suggestion to consult the police is an excellent one. You don’t have to file an actual police report to consult them (and they might discourage you from filing one if you haven’t yet actually told the guy to stop following you). Get the name of the officer that you speak to. If you don’t know the creepster’s name, giving the police his address and description should be sufficient. Write down descriptions of as many incidents as you can recall, including dates and times where possible.

    P.S. I had forgotten what “Firthing” meant. So others don’t have to google around for it, it means “creepy staring” and it comes from Lord Darcy as played by Colin Firth in Pride And Prejudice.

    • piny said:

      This is because being a bitch has nothing to do with reacting in a particular way. It has to do with refusing to give a misogynist man what he wants when he wants it. He’ll probably also complain that you didn’t tell him off sooner, even though by any rational standard you have already done so. The moment you denied him your phone number, you became that bitch. You can be a bitch who puts her foot down, or a bitch whose harasser stalks her at work.

      And you know, at some point? His upset is just not your problem. His confusion is just not your problem. His anger is just not your problem. I know how devastating verbal abuse can be, especially from customers, but you need to keep this in mind: He’s in the wrong. He has no right. He needs to stop. You do deserve to be left alone, and you don’t have to justify refusing unwanted contact.

    • piny said:

      Ha, sorry–I was replying to the second harassee more than the first, but the same advice applies: the hell with him and his creepy maneuvers. You keep drawing fire from men like that, you’ll probably become Secretary of State someday.

  6. AJ said:

    nadyezhda is right about the documentation. I stupidly dated a guy I worked with at a factory who was totally manipulative. For a month everything seemed fine. But then he would start telling me about how his “friends” saw me here or there and how I was playing “grab ass” with some guy at a store. It became very apparent very quickly that he was stalking me and then was doing everything in his power to control me.

    I stopped dating him and I became “the white whore”. (You are not racist- he WILL try to use racism against you). He called me racist every time I told him to leave me alone and that I was cold and told everyone at work that I had broken his heart and was now being cold. I tried to just be friends but conversations that started friendly ended in his face being an inch from mine, telling me stories of men who beat their whore wives after catching them with another man. And of course, mention where my new boyfriend lives because he spotted my car outside of his house. I almost broke up with my boyfriend because I thought he was going to hurt him.

    When I went to HR about how he was making me uncomfortable, they said that they had to launch an investigation about it and asked for specific examples and proof. Also, I had to answer the dreaded, “did you date him?” question which just made me look like a hysterical female. No one believed me. Everyone turned a blind eye. Everyone just wanted the awkward problem would go away because no one wants to take sides.

    If I had written down all the times he did things to make me uncomfortable and all the people who were around when he happened to be stupid enough to start stuff in front of others AND what he said when that happened, HR would have taken my claim more seriously. Instead, after a few weeks they told me that their investigation was inconclusive but they would be happy to switch me to a different shift if it would make me more comfortable.

    Document. It’s your strongest tool because he will not leave evidence if he can help himself. (Or herself for some, psycho doesn’t have a face). Even write about it in e-mails to friends just to have a paper trail. Let the building/store manager know what’s going on and don’t let anyone tell you, “They’re just words, he can’t really hurt you.” Yes he can. Mace isn’t a bad idea, especially if there is a pattern of him waiting for no one to be around.

    I wish I had known all this back then, but I ended up being the one to leave that company to get away from it. On a “happy end” note: about a year later I heard that another woman was complaining about him harassing her and they fired him for it. At first I was mad for them taking her seriously and not me. But then I realized that if I had not gone and complained, even with no proof, that the company probably would have treated that other woman in the same manner that I was treated the year prior. And after that I was finally able to sleep at night without feeling like I had completely let myself down.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m really, really sorry that you had to go through that, and your (and Nadyezhda’s) point about documenting is right on. Keep a log – hopefully you’ll never need it, but if starts to go down, you’ll be glad you have it. This goes for both the Letter Writer and the Lady with the Gross Entitled Lottery Customer.

  7. Someone said:

    Instead of keeping a written log, maybe a portable recorder in a pocket might be even better?

  8. That may or may not be legal, depending on what state she lives in. I’m from Massachusetts, and secretly recording someone without that person’s consent can land you in jail for up to five years. Be careful.

    • JenniferP said:

      The portable recorder might actually be more useful if the guy knows about it. Like, if he starts talking to you (after you’ve said not to), maybe take it out and start obviously recording him until he goes away.

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