Long time reader, occasional commenter and seriously in need of reassurance, or clarity over what has just happened. My experience with men is limited, although in the current academic year I have had three men throw themselves at me – only one of which was appreciated. Have had many unpleasant experiences with men and relationships, have only just started to come out of a shell and was doing well at my current university as a post-grad until the following incidents occurred. Now feeling the urge to go and hide in a corner/walk away from my degrees.
In brief: my supervisor introduced me to a friend of his – another PG student at the university who has the same political leanings, socio-economic background and on the surface a lot in common with me. A couple of friendly e-mails were exchanged. Then we went for a coffee. All very pleasant – the guy was genuinely funny and seemingly good company.
A couple of weeks later I add him on facebook, since a friend of mine was being harassed by someone he apparently knew, and since he was older and seemed to be wiser, I wanted his opinion of the harasser to help my friend.
Within an hour of online chatting, he’s telling me that he’d like to meet up again, but that he’s in the middle of separating from his wife and has feelings for me which he knows he can’t act on because I’m in a relationship. My relationship is also in its death throes, so I empathised with his situation and said as much after his story matched mine almost verbatim (had I shared it with him). He asks for sex, I decline. I make it abundantly clear that that’s not going to happen, “I am not going to have sex with you, (insert name here)”. He asks me to entertain the idea of eventually falling in love with him. I tell him to slow down, that I only entertained friendly thoughts towards him, because of the supervisor connection, the fact he’s got a wife and child and oh yeah – we barely know each other. The conversation continues in this manner for a few hours, I didn’t walk away because I genuinely thought we could be friends.
He eventually backs off, when I start to obviously panic online after he lists all my many admirable qualities and tells me I shouldn’t be surprised to attract attention – his or others’. I blurt out that I was molested and that his attentions in this manner are making the conversation difficult to follow and actually – are just too much for me to handle well. He was happy to have a coffee with me the following day, until I pointed out that I was already going to be at the venue in the first instance, surrounded by people who know me and I feel safe around who may or may not be dropping by to talk to me at the same time. He gets angry, and tells me he doesn’t do rejection and that he won’t bother me again. But he also leaves the ball in my court, and says I should get in touch with him again in the future if I want to.
So, I can’t sleep. Rejection? I said I’d happily entertain a pleasant platonic friendship with him and I genuinely empathised with his situation because I was in his position earlier in the academic year. If he’s going through what he says he is, it’s crap and my own experiences have led me to believe that having stable folk around who will be supportive and actually do understand what it’s like, makes it a lot easier to deal with and to think rationally and calmly about stuff. After a fitful night, I eventually awake to find that he’s unfriended me on facebook without explanation – and I’m even more confused.
Then at a barbecue held by the political group we both belong to, I end up blurting some, but not all of this out to people that know him, when they ask why I’m asking them about his character and the story he told me about his role in party stuff. Turns out that at least one of them didn’t think very much of him and was flabbergasted by the exaggeration of the story on his part. However, it also turns out that one/some of them passed this onto him and he gets in touch over facebook last night threatening me and trying to bully me into never mentioning him to anyone in the political group, or at university. He claims that I’m getting him labelled as a sex pest, demands to know who I told and tries to make out that I’m a “dangerous” nut job who blew his (many!) remarks out of context and couldn’t keep my gob shut. He tells me repeatedly that he has a wife and child, and that he thought I was smarter than this. The only way I manage to get him to agree to leave me alone (and I asked him to do so repeatedly throughout last night’s series of messages) is if I promise not to speak of this again – to anyone. He will not mention me, if I do not mention him – a stance he repeated frequently and in a very threatening manner, which he eventually acknowledges. I don’t trust him at all by this stage, have blocked him on facebook and I have shared details with my close friends (and now you) about this. I have been strongly urged to talk to the welfare officer about it, by a friend that read the conversations in their entirity, and have sent the welfare officer a very brief e-mail outlining the basics and expressing just how terrified I am. I cancelled all my shifts at work this week, just to avoid being on campus and at risk of this guy finding me.
What the hell does “smarter than this” actually mean? Am I right not to accept his “How could you do this to my wife?” as being aimed at me, but rather as a projection of his stuff onto me?
The other thing that really worries me about this situation, is that he was telling me about a girl I know whom he felt was making his life awkward and making unwanted advances towards him from her desk. Our university work space is open plan and she happens to sit opposite his desk. Across the room. Whilst I don’t think I know the girl well enough to say that she definitely would not do this, I think it is highly unlikely she would, and more likely that this bloke has a tendency to want to see things that don’t exist with women, and tends to exaggerate.
So, did I do anything to lead him on? Was my reaction to his feelings dump followed persistent requests for more an over-reaction? Was he possibly trying to get me isolated as I feared with the coffee with me alone or not at all scenario? Was I actually in the wrong as he insisted for blurting out (in panic) what he’d done to people that knew him and his wife? Is my relationship with my supervisor in the proverbial crapper, since the supervisor frequently goes round for tea/coffee/beer? Have I done the right thing by getting in touch with the welfare officer and telling him briefly what happened, avoiding my supervisor completely and stating that I wanted to keep the supervisor out of it? Can I continue to be involved in this organisation – when he is clearly closely involved personally with people higher up in it than me – even if he has little to do with it anymore? And lastly, are my friends right in their assessment of me as being “too nice” and with rotten self-esteem that means I allow myself to get into situations like this in the first place? If so, how do I begin to modify my behaviour so as to not attract people like the student into my life?
Apologies for the length – I was trying to be brief.
Thank you for introducing me to the phrase “sex pest.” It is my new favorite.
Welcome to the uncomfortable knowledge that people who agree with you on a variety of political topics can also be misogynist, manipulative dickbags. For one, they tend to be the biggest mansplainers ever, because having read one or two books about “the cause” totally trumps your lived experience. There’s at least one of these guys in almost every scene. They are smart enough that they get away with it a lot of the time. They are usually fairly outgoing, good-looking, charming, charismatic in some way. They keep things just on this side of plausible deniability and then silence their victims with threats like the ones he made against you – basically “I’ll make you seem crazy in front of everyone and there will be a big stink and you’ll LOSE because I KNOW THESE PEOPLE BETTER and I’m on the INSIDE and you’ll forever be on the OUTSIDE, you stupid lady temptress with your tempting lady parts, it’s your fault anyway.”
It’s not a seductive cologne and you were perceptive to smell its stench.
I’m trying to find the thing you did “wrong” here:
You sincerely engaged his friendship when it was offered and tried to get to know him.
You let him know directly when he was pushing past your boundaries and asked him not to do that. He got angry at you and kept pushing. And then he did the “I won’t BOTHER you again *flounce*” which, have you noticed that people never do that unless they’ve already been bothering you?
You took steps to check out this behavior within the shared community – “Is he normally like this? Can I be safe around him?” Which yes, does have the risk of being carried back to him on the winds of gossip, but it’s still not a terrible thing to do.
And he responded with threats. AWESOME JOB OF NOT BEING CREEPY, DUDE. This is textbook sexual harassment, by the way. Threatening someone’s professional reputation (which is what he’s doing) because they turned you down for sex is not okay. It only works when privilege and power are on the side of the harasser.
Never, never, NEVER, never, never, never, never be alone with this person. His vibe, it is angry and rapey, and you correctly sussed it out while keeping yourself safe. “I don’t DO rejection.” That is a scary statement, my friend. A very scary statement.
You did the right thing by going to the authorities at your school. Print out, screencap, and document EVERYTHING you chatted about. His “I won’t mention you if you don’t mention me” threat is a pretty empty one, all considered. And go find that girl, the one he says harassed him. I bet she didn’t. I bet he harassed her. I bet he’s harassed a lot of people and then gone to hide behind “MY WIFE AND CHILD, HOW DARE YOU?” when it went wrong. The whole “I thought you were smarter than this” comment is fucking laughable. Telling people about his behavior is the smartest thing you could do after saying “No” and “Stop talking about this, please.” He only gets to keep acting like this if people stay quiet about it.
Right now, I would see how the welfare officer responds to your emails. And I would think about talking directly to your supervisor about what happened – seek the advice and support of the welfare officer and see what their initial response is first. One possible script:
“I have an uncomfortable topic to bring up with you. After you introduced _____ and me, we went for coffee one time and I thought we were going to be friends. You were correct that we had a lot in common, and we had some pretty serious/good conversations. Then he asked me for sex. I said no. Then he asked me for a romantic relationship. I said no. He badgered me about it in a way that made me really uncomfortable, so, without going into details, I asked some mutual friends if this was usual behavior – I wanted to know whether I could feel safe around him.
Then he sent me threatening messages about how I must not “mention him” or he would “mention me.” I don’t really know what that means, but I’m mentioning him now so I guess we’ll find out? I don’t want to put you in an awkward position, but he has been very threatening to me (here are documents of messages) and I want to be able to work here without being treated this way by a colleague.”
Keep the storytelling very clean and brief. If someone is going to paint you as The Crazy Obsessed One it helps to do whatever you can to look like the calm-but-concerned one. He’s trying to make the potential hit to his reputation your fault, when his reputation as a “sex pest” is obviously totally deserved.
Oh yeah, the guy will try to use the “intimate details” or whatever you revealed about your own relationship as a way to ensnare you in the idea that you’re just as bad. Here’s a badass move to take if he does throw that before your supervisor. “Of course I trusted him with personal details. You introduced us and he seemed so kind and friendly at first. I thought we were really bonding and was so happy to have made a real friend. I didn’t know he’d take it as an invitation to badger me for sex.” He’s also going to really play up the fact that you were trying to “destroy his reputation” by telling mutual acquaintances. Your response to that is “He made me feel really unsafe. I didn’t want to bring the conflict to work, so I ran the story by a few mutual friends to see if this is usual behavior. My intent was not to punish him or embarrass him but actually to seek reassurance that it wasn’t that bad. His threatening reaction showed me that it IS that bad.”
In the meantime, I would studiously avoid him at all costs, and if he approaches you, tell him to leave immediately. If he threatens you in any way, call authorities – campus police, welfare officer, ACTUAL COPS. Document everything.
You do not deserve any of this behavior or treatment. You did not bring it on yourself by being friendly with someone you thought might become a true friend. Your friends are wrong and they are victim-blaming. We talk a lot about “no” here and how saying it can be powerful and helpful in your life, but it’s not magic proof against someone who doesn’t want to hear it and punishes you for it. As you found out. When you told him “no” and he showed his true colors. A safe, cool person doesn’t threaten women who reject his sexual advances; he says “I am sorry I made you so uncomfortable” and leaves you alone.
As for the organization, I don’t know what to tell you. He’s their missing stair. You should walk out of rooms that he is in for the time being, I’m pretty sure, which is unfair, because this is not your fault. This is going to be an exercise in figuring out who you can trust. I would focus on resolving things at your place of study & employment first, but commenters may have other ideas and experiences on how things have worked out in political & social groups. There’s some stuff in here about how to handle this in a university setting.
Commenters, what else can we say to help the LW feel safer?