This came into the Captain Awkward mailbox last night. It seems like we’re all in the mood to Hulk out and get people to stop touching other people, so have at it, commenters.
I have a recurring problem when it comes to friends. It’s been a problem from the very beginning, as far as I know, and I’ve never been able to fix it. For now, it’s gone, but I know it’s going to come back.The problem is, essentially, that my friends will not stop touching me in ways I don’t like. Granted, I don’t like being touched at all.
But these people insist on doing things like stealing my hat every time he sees me (which led to me not wearing my favorite hat for several years until he graduated), poking me every time he sees me (this guy actually admitted that he A) only pokes women and B) waits until a woman puts on her angry voice to actually listen to her; I wish I’d had the guts to punch him in the face), and hugging me even though we’ve had a conversation about how I don’t like it when he hugs me and I want him to please stop AND I’m standing there doing the awkward trying-not-to-touch-you-back-pat. These are three different guys, three examples of people who won’t stop even though I’ve asked them to, told them to, and finally (in one case) yelled at them to. They’re also just three in a lifelong line of people who won’t leave my body alone, and who won’t listen to me.
My plan is to not tolerate these people anymore, and to keep my distance when they show up in the future. But I’ve had this plan before, and obviously it didn’t work. And for a couple of reasons I can’t get them to leave me alone. One is, we run in the same circles of friends, so I can’t really just cut them out of my life (or can I?). The other is, I’ve known so many people who only escalate after I ask them to stop that I now feel like asking them to stop is only asking for it to get worse. I’ve had to get physical with a lot of people. I really don’t want to have to hit anymore to get people to get their goddamn hands off my body, but what am I supposed to do? I can’t get angry. I just can’t. Not in the moment–I shut down like a security camera with a miswired motion detector, and it’s only later that I realize what I should have done. By then, it’s too late to confront them, and it’s turned into a pattern and what am I supposed to do then?
My problem isn’t really these people, as they’ve all graduated and I don’t have to see them again ever (yippee!), it’s really that I keep letting them turn into my friends. Maybe I can’t see the warning signs? Maybe I just don’t realize how much of a problem it really is until months, years, later? I don’t know. But I’m really sick of it. I know what I’m supposed to do, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I think I need to learn to be a bitch when appropriate. But how am I supposed to reverse a lifetime of that Mandatory Meekness Training every girl has to suffer through, on top of good ol’ ordinary shyness?
(And, any chance I can get my family to stop it, too? It was cute when I was five, but Grandma, my butt isn’t out there to be patted anymore, thanks.)
Tired of Being Touched by Everybody and Their Mother
Your question is very topical this week! I think you’ll find a lot of great advice from Jill and the commenters in this post.
And we’ve talked about inappropriate touching before on the blog:
- Don’t Stand So Close To Me
- How do I get someone who thinks we are closer friends than we are to stop touching me?
Some therapy around assertiveness training might help you feel more comfortable setting boundaries, and if you are still at college you might be able to access it for free through your school’s counseling center, though if you are asking the people to stop you are being direct and brave and the problem is not you. What I mean to say: I recommend therapy not because I think you are doing it wrong, but because I think it may help you carry less anxiety around setting boundaries.
But the problem is also that you cannot control how other people will behave, you can only control how you behave. So really, you answered your own question:
We run in the same social circles, so I can’t just cut them out of my life (or can i?)…
The answer is that yup, you can. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not fair that in losing these guys from your life you might have to risk losing or alienating your friends, or being seen as “the bitch” or the one who makes it weird and ruins the fun (by protecting your own safety).
I’m probably going to be linking to these posts until I am very old, but 1) Predators operate in spaces where their behavior is excused and they know they won’t be called out and 2) women are definitely taught not to resist people who invade their boundaries. Your “friend” who only pokes women and who gets a rise out of their anger is a budding sexual predator, and if this behavior is allowed to continue by his social group pretty soon he’ll be….I’m not going to finish that sentence, because it involves the word “poking” again and I just can’t even think about it before coffee today. Your other two “friends” are trying to flirt. They are doing it badly. They have decided that negative attention from women is better than no attention and that it is all cute and funny, except for the part where it stresses you out and hurts your feelings and that doesn’t matter because everyone’s Just Kidding Around, right?