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.