Hi Captain Awkward,
A few months ago, I met a guy who works in my field through a professional networking event. Since then, I have noticed that he has such a brutal case of White Knight Syndrome that he will actually create Drama just to “save” the women who happen to be in his presence, including myself.
I only see him at business events (barely once a month), but it’s becoming more and more of a problem for me since 1) it is a small scene professionally, 2) he believes our passing acquaintance means we are BFF and thus FEELINGSDUMP and DRAMA in public from him every time I see him, 3) I’m just starting off in this field, and 4) because of 2), other networking attendees believe he and I are friends, thus making any attempts at networking that much harder for me. (Did I add that I am an introvert?) They see his unprofessional conduct, believe we are friends, and believe I am just like him. I don’t want him in my life at all! When I met him I was polite, but I didn’t know he would repeatedly try to violate my boundaries and neither do most of the organizers of these events. These events are also happening in public spaces such as bars and restaurants.
Any tips on what I could do next time he shows up?
This guy is missing a key self awareness receptor. Since he will behave so strangely in public places where he is theoretically there to create professional opportunities for himself, it is pretty safe to say that he is impossible to embarrass into acting cooler. It is also safe to say that subtlety and hints will not work.
If you have a way to email him, wait until the next event is scheduled and then try sending this beforehand:
“_______, this is awkward, but I prefer to not interact with you at future meetings of the (group). Your behavior at past meetings has made me very uncomfortable, and I am certain that I do not want to be friends or have any kind of social or professional relationship with you. So next time we see each other at (events), let’s say a speedy, polite hello and then focus on meeting and catching up with other members.”
1) You don’t want to be friends.
2) You are giving him a face-saving mode of behavior for going forward.
He will almost certainly respond with some version of “WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?” or “What behaviors, exactly do you mean?” This type of guy can never, ever read that email and say “Wow, I guess she really doesn’t want to talk to me, so I will not try to get her to talk to me and deal with my sadfeels about that on my own.”
You will not respond. You will never respond. You will filter anything he sends to a special folder that bypasses your inbox entirely. You do not owe him a personal “How Not To Be” consultation in response to his Rules Lawyering about what you don’t like about his behaviors. Stick to the facts, the main fact being, you don’t want to interact with him anymore for any reason. There is nothing he can do to make it up to you. The only thing he can do is leave you alone.
If there is no way to contact him ahead of time, or you don’t feel comfortable doing so, or you want to give it one more try to see if you can figure out how to avoid him and try some other tactics, you’ll have to wait until the meeting. Available tactics:
- Physically move away from him. Stay on the other side of the gathering at all times. If he comes up to the conversation you are in, say, “Please excuse me,” and go find a new conversation across the party. If he sits down next to you in a restaurant, change seats. You can always excuse yourself to the ladies’ room and come back and take a different seat. More tips for ending conversations with people are here.
- Say something to him. “I don’t want to talk to you. Please go find someone else to network with.” “You are standing too close.”
- If he tries a FEELINGSDUMP or unscheduled DRAMADELIVERY, say “I do not want to listen to this” and walk away in the middle of it.
- “It feels like you are avoiding me.” “Yes, I am avoiding you.” “Why are you avoiding me?” “Because I don’t actually like you, and I am here to meet other people in our field.“
- Do your best to connect individually with other people at the meetings. Get their contact information, ask them out for drinks or coffee or lunch. This is what you came for, don’t let him derail it! Once they get to know you a little they will be on your side. Would you rather hang out with the White Knight of Drama Castle or with the cool, chill lady?
- Practice the 1,000 basic stupid unfair safety practices that women have to follow because of men like this dude: Always let someone know where you will be when you are likely to encounter him. Have someone walk you to your car or public transit after the meetings, and text them to let them know you got home safely. Document (but do not respond) to contact from him. Read The Gift of Fear (with the usual caveat to skip the domestic violence chapter or take it with a shaker of salt). Tell someone what’s happening. Being rejected may make him escalate his behavior for a short time, so take that possibility seriously.
Also, say something to one of the organizers.It is their job to make their meetings safe for all participants. “____ has really latched onto me and is making me very uncomfortable. Is this typical behavior? I don’t want to make things awkward for you, but I really need him to leave me alone at these things. I’ve asked him directly and he is not getting the message. Does the group have rules about this sort of thing?”
If you did send the email and he still approaches you, be very blunt. “I asked you to leave me alone. Please go talk to someone else.” If he does not go away and keeps pushing, then IMMEDIATELY find one of the organizers. “I asked ____ to leave me alone, but he accosted me.” This is the kind of thing that should get him banned from their events.
If you are the organizer of something like this, and someone like the LW tells you that a member is harassing her, it is your responsibility to step in. “(Clingy Entitled Dude’s Name), whatever has happened in the past is not important; LW does not want to hang out with you at events and you need to respect that. There are plenty of other people here, please focus on them.”
Chances are this is not the first time he has done something like this. I don’t think the group thinks that you are exactly like him, and they will quickly figure out that he is not your friend if you stop humoring him and if you speak up. And remember, you are not “creating drama,” either by asking him to back off or by bringing his behavior to the attention of the organizers. He is creating drama with his bad behavior.
To steer this away from Gift of Fear territory, I’ve had situations like this arise with college roommates and coworkers. Sometimes people are clingy and insecure and latch on too tightly without even realizing it. My freshman roommate wanted us to eat every meal together and tag along every place I went. If someone stopped by to invite me to a party, she assumed that they had invited us to a party. If I put my shoes and coat on, she would start putting hers on too, not even knowing where “we” were going. In grad school I did an internship where a fellow intern, who I dubbed “The Lonely Libertarian,” wanted to eat lunch together every single day and hang out after work every single night. It did not help that we lived on the same street. Both of these people were nice enough, not dangerous stalkers or proto-stalkers, and I liked many things about them. But both had a tendency to tag along places I went and then hang out in my blind spot all night, never leaving my side, and I HATED it. In both cases, hints & subtlety did not work, and I had to be pretty blunt along the lines of “I like you, but sometimes I want to eat lunch by myself, or go places by myself, and I need you to wait until I specifically invite you.” Both times this was received as a total and utter rejection, which was uncomfortable but gave me some much-needed breathing room, and both times I was able to somewhat repair the relationship by letting some time go by and then doing a once a week “I’d really like it if you came to lunch with me tomorrow” and carving out some time specifically for them.
Just before I started this blog (in fact one of the things that made me start the blog), was a situation where someone was trying very hard to be my friend. She was smart, funny, kind, perfectly nice and cool, friends with many of my friends – There was nothing actually wrong with her and she did nothing wrong! But I wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t excited to make plans with her and the nice things she did for me made me feel crowded and uncomfortable. So I decided to African Violet her, and wrote her an email that basically said “You are nice and have done nothing wrong, but I’m not feeling the pull of wanting a closer friendship with you and am not really enjoying our one-on-one interactions. Can we just agree to run into each other at parties, where I will be very happy to see you, and not try to hang out otherwise?” And you guys, she was so cool, in a way that actually made me a little bit regretful, because she says “Well, obviously it sucks to hear that, but sure, okay.” Now we into each other at parties twice a year and I am indeed happy to see her. She could have decided that she hated my guts after that, and that would have been an okay, legit decision on her part. That was the risk I took. I did not want to hurt her feelings, and I didn’t want to make things difficult for her socially, but I also didn’t want her to keep doing nice things for me that I could not reciprocate.
Letter Writer, I 100% back your “I don’t want you in my life at all” play with this guy, but I wanted to tell those stories for other people who are chafing under the attentions of a Cling-Or. You can sometimes reset a relationship by speaking up bluntly and asking for what you need.