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.
97 thoughts on “#434: Just me and my shadow, trying to network.”
“The White Knight of Drama Castle” would make a good funny picture. Going to have dust off the ol’ Photoshop (read: MS Paint) skills today.
I am thinking the Drama Knight of White Castle could work, too.
Lots of fries and tiny, suspicious-content burgers. And DRAMA.
It seems like body language could be especially helpful in this case, especially if the LW is worried about what other people are thinking. Turning away from this guy, not making eye contact, moving away from him, giving abrupt, one-word answers, even catching the eye of other people in the group and giving them an exasperated look when he says/does something unprofessional– those all get the message across. Well, to others in the group, at least. The guy himself seems pretty clueless.
Not that it isn’t almost always better to Use Your Words, and the Captain gives great examples, but the LW strikes me as a naturally kind and polite person who may have trouble being so direct, at least right away, and especially when there are other people around and there’s a risk of Clueless Clinger causing a scene.
You have my sympathy though, LW, Clingers make me itch.
I very much empathise with LW!
I’m one of those people who would just quietly put up with friendships and relationships that consistently make me miserable rather than say anything as objectionable as “No thank you”. It must be so much worse when you’re trying to network in a new professional environment.
This advice (and the African Violet one linked) is very useful, as are the extra examples you included. The more I read, the more I think it’s not the end of the world if you have to say “no” to somebody. It’s reassuring to hear that other people struggle with being assertive and stating what they need, too.
This was my longwinded way of saying thank you, to LW and to the Captain, for inadvertently giving me good advice, too.
Allies are good, too. I assume he is not the only person you have recognized from event to event. Perhaps you could pick one or two to say “X keeps making me really uncomfortable with his attention at these events, and subtle hints and avoidance have not been effective. I’ve decided it’s time to draw a line in the sand. So if he comes up to me, I’m going to ever so politely tell him that I am not interested in a personal or professional relationship of any kind with him, and ask him to please stop approaching me. Would you be willing to back me up on that, by walking away with me when I’ve said my piece, if he doesn’t accept it gracefully?”
Excuse me, why do you say “(with the usual caveat to skip the domestic violence chapter or take it with a shaker of salt)” regarding the “The Gift of Fear”?
I spontaneously gave “Gift of Fear” to a friend of mine who was in an emotionally & verbally abusive marriage, with the list of warning behaviors marked and with the casual comment “You might want to take a look at this (page)”. I never spoke to her about breaking up with him, because I knew it would risk our friendship and I knew she needed my friendship.
Months later, she called me on a Sunday to say “He finally did it. He tried to kill me last night.” (First & only time he physically attacked her.)
She also said “That book you gave me saved my life.” She managed to escape him and she did everything right afterwards and used “Gift of Fear” to keep her strong and make sure she had no contact with him (she kicked him out & made sure he was prosecuted) in the face of his repeated pleas for reconciliation through friends & family. (Interestingly, he never tried it with me or my husband.)
So I disagree, though since I value and respect your advice in general, I’d really like to know why you said that.
I’m glad it was helpful to your friend. I love that book and think it is great. But there is a lot of victim-blaming in that chapter that is not cool, and I don’t recommend it unreservedly anymore.
I’ve been a conscious feminist since I was 12, so I usually pick up on victim-blaming & I don’t remember it from GOF. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, so I’d have to read it again to give you my current take on it.
Re: the being outside “Gift of Fear” territory – that other people mention. I think it’s potentially dangerous to call any behavior that’s on the continuum of violence harmless: forced familiarity, violating physical boundaries ignoring social cues, pursuing someone relentlessly with no encouragement.
We don’t *know* this behavior is harmless until it’s *hasn’t* escalated into verbal, emotional or physical violence. Weird kids (my family’s phrase for people who don’t pick up on social cues) can be dangerous too.
Also, I believe that many people who manipulate, violate boundaries, and are abusive and violent aren’t doing it consciously and calculatedly. And they have many other attractive qualities. Which is how other people get enmeshed in abusive relationships. They haven’t learned to identify the more subtle forms of abuse & violence and to keep themselves away from people like that.
So please people, be very wary of *anyone* with this kind of behavior, even if you think they mean well.
Direct quote: “The first time it happens (i.e., a partner assaults you), you are a victim. The second time, you are a volunteer.” Again, I think the book is overall very, very good. But that is victim-blaming. I recommend the book all the time. It has been a huge influence on how I think about human interactions and safety. Commenters have brought up the victim-blaming parts here in a way that is convincing to me, so I do not recommend it unreservedly anymore. I don’t actually need you to be convinced about that, and I’m not questioning either your feminism or reading comprehension skills.
I am all about giving people permission to avoid people who make them uncomfortable for ANY reason, without worrying about being nice or polite or sparing feelings or preserving social harmony. I included the second set of stories because whether someone makes you feel unsafe or just gets on your nerves, it’s better to ask them directly to stop and risk the consequences that their feelings will be hurt or that they won’t like you anymore than just silently put up with it.
Yes, I totally agree with Jennifer P.’s assessment of the problem with the G.O.F.’s chapter about domestic violence. I don’t think the author has a clear understanding about the insidious nature of abuse, particularly non-physical abuse, or the psychology that keeps women trapped (not to mention the other things that happen in an abusive relationship like social isolation, gaslighting,
financial abuse, etc.. A much better book to help a friend sort out whether their partner is abusive is “Why Does He Do That ?” by Lundy Bancroft, which
very explicitly explains how abuse starts, then escalates, and what abuse is in its many forms. There is some very useful info about risk assessment pertaining to abusive partners as well
in that book.
Since I looked this up not that long ago for the CA glossary, I’d like to recommend this comment thread:
I think that it’s fantastic that you were able to help your friend so much by giving her The Gift of Fear, and it’s an amazing book. But several DV survivors have said that the advice in that chapter felt more blamey and judgemental than in the others, which makes that chapter problematic in my view.
“The first time it happens (i.e., a partner assaults you), you are a victim. The second time, you are a volunteer.”
Anyone who says that, has never, ever, ever survived an abusive relationship. And since I am an abuse survivor, that it has a quote like that means I might not be interested in the book at all. I’d need some serious convincing. 🙂
While I agree with the Captain’s reservations about that portion of the book, I think the people assuming that the author obviously just doesn’t know anything about domestic violence should probably be aware that (as is discussed in the book) he grew up in a very violent household and that a lot of his opinions about domestic violence seem to come from that perspective — particularly, that a parent in an abusive relationship has an obligation to protect his/her children. That doesn’t make what he says right, but in my view it certainly gives a different tone to his comments than if he had never personally dealt with the issue.
Not all abuse victims have kids, though. The obligation to protect kids can drastically change what level of risk you consider acceptable – “this is okay for me, but not my kids” – so you can’t necessarily judge parents in the same way as non-parents.
(But even if there are kids you can still consider the risk of leaving to be too high, and I suspect it’s also worth noting that kids who grow up watching one parent abuse the other can wind up despising the victim, or the victim’s entire gender. I don’t personally think that growing up in a violent household magically gives you insight into abusive relationships between adults, and could even make it much harder to.)
Caveat: I haven’t read GOF. But based on what you’ve said and what CA has said, here’s my theory for why the domestic violence chapter might have been more helpful for your friend than others.
Your friend read GOF before she got hit the first time. That means she’d be less likely to apply the victim-blaming part to herself. Somebody who’s been physically assaulted more than once but stayed for reasons that seemed justifiable to her (or him) might think, “So not only am I in this awful situation, but it’s my fault, and I suck, and maybe I deserve it.”
Better for prevention than cure, in other words.
In theory: yes.
In practice: abuse is a pattern of behaviours toward another person done with the intent to control, isolate, hurt. It is frustrating when people draw the line that abuse starts when physical assault happens. Psychological/emotional abuse is extremely damaging, particularly when people who have not been abused in this way say helpful things like “At least he didn’t hit you”.
Somehow I cannot respond directly to lynnindenver’s post stating the author has never survived an abusive relationship. I want to point out that the author of GOF was abused as a child, read the book, he begins with his own experiences. If you read his comment about it being a choice in context with the rest of that chapter you will see why he said it. The first time I read the abuse chapter I felt it a bit victim blaming. Second time, it makes sense to me, I no longer see it as victim blaming, to me he is saying an abuse victim has agency – he also speaks to the criticism he has gotten for this position.
I wish I’d read his book long before my (now) ex husband threatened me and himself with a gun. I did do his MOSAIC survey after the ex first attacked me and after the gun, it convinced me I had to act strongly and decisively to save myself, I am divorced for 9 months now, my PO is still in effect and I’m lucky because my ex is afraid of going to jail, my biggest fear is when that PO runs out. I owe much to Gavin, I’ve read the book twice now.
There’s another problem with the “victim/volunteer” argument. Victims of domestic abuse are more likely to be killed if they leave the abuser than if they stay in the relationship. Calling them “volunteers” for staying disregards that rather significant fact.
Parents who abuse their kids tend not to kill their kids for leaving the nest.
Plus, one of the things that keeps victims of domestic violence from getting out is embarrassment — the sense that to be a victim of domestic violence is to be aeen as a pathetic loser. Making someone feel like everything after the first hit is their fault for not having stormed out immediately — despite being totally traumatizedand having no safe place to go — only heightens the humiliation and, perversely, decreases the likelihood that they’ll admit to someone what has been happening so they can get the help they need to escape.
I certainly understand this issue with leaving, the emotional abuse (rages that implied imminent violence and denigration, the whole lot) escalated to the physical 9 hours after I told my husband we were divorcing and that I was not changing my mind. And yes afterward I was frozen, then later I was trapped for 9 months until the gun. I was trapped by my own mind and my fear of losing my home and a number of other factors. It really is still a choice once you recognize the abuse is happening. Of course that choice is limited by how much you recognize at any given time. I believed somewhere deep down that my husband would not *really* kill me or damage me until he brought in the gun. My experience of abuse it limited to my own situation and my own way of processing, I know it isn’t the same as anyone else. My favorite song is Rush/Free Will and I believe the tenets of that song no matter how trite it may sound. That song helped me deal with being trapped until I got free. I do not think Gavin was saying that if you don’t walk right out the door you have chosen to stay, only that you do eventually walk out that door after you recognize the need.
I think there’s also a lot of pressure, whether internal or external, to forgive people for their mistakes, so that if you’ve been hit *once* by your partner and they are then very apologetic (as abusers often are), you feel like breaking up with them over it is actually a massive over-reaction for a mistake that they’re *super super sorry for* and *will never happen again*. Especially because it DOES come only after psychological abuse and isolation and gaslighting. I still feel sometimes that my ex did “enough” to me for me to qualify as a survivor because I was lucky enough to have a chance encounter with someone fairly early into the physical abuse that slammed the reality of the situation home. Left to myself I would never have realised how bad it was and could get and would have stayed much, much longer, because of course we were financially stressed and I couldn’t work and he couldn’t find work and the heat made us cranky and how could I make these few tiny things into something more important than the entire relationship?
The abusive person in my life was a parent, so I have both sympathy and empathy for De Becker’s childhood. But I do think that in his DV-related writing, he fails to acknowledge how much his perspective is shaped by that past, and this lack of acknowledgement leads to a distorted perspective on this subject. A child with an abusive parent is often angry at the other parent for failing to shield them. They don’t understand the full implications of the situation; they only know that one parent doesn’t protect them from the other. An adult, especially one who presents himself as an expert on personal safety, should be self-aware enough to acknowledge that anger, work through it, and show empathy toward the people he’s ostensibly trying to help.
To steer this away from Gift of Fear territory, I’ve had situations like this arise with college roommates and coworkers.
This has actually happened to me with a guy who was romantically interested in me, but it didn’t go anywhere near Gift of Fear territory. It is sad that this is so rare it deserves special mention!
When I started my Master’s degree, there was a guy in the course who would tag along with me, wait for me outside lectures, follow me if I tried going off to do work on my own, and generally Cling with a capital C. He also acted way more shy and awkward around me than other people and apologised for every little thing, to the point where even I managed to figure out he had a crush on me. And hints and subtlety that I wanted to break off and do my own thing now did not work. This was not just awkward and unpleasant but also a problem for similar reasons to LW – I was in a place where I knew no one and really trying to make friends and he was getting in the way of that. I’d just about nerved myself up to actually initiating the conversation myself (and thereby having to reject a guy before he confirmed his feelings, ugh!) when he brought the topic up himself by confessing. I managed to tell him that a) I don’t like you that way b) you are kind of making me uncomfortable and skeeving me out by your closeness please stop following me around.
He was understandably unhappy but took it very well – apologised for making me uncomfortable and quit following/clinging. For a week or two things were pretty awkward, but then we started hanging out again on a more low-key, in a group rather than one on one basis, he got over his crush, and by the time I finished he was one of my best friends there. I like to cite him as an example of the difference between a nice guy and a Nice Guy (TM).
So this CAN go well and even lead to a good relationship later on (if that’s anything you have interest in). That said, the way LW describes her clinger makes me suspect it won’t go nearly as smoothly. 😦 Anyone who thinks FEELINGSDUMP and DRAMA in public are okay is already swimming in the entitlement and unlikely to have a mature reaction to being rejected (in whatever way), and boundary violation is a serious red flag. The Captain’s advice is good, LW, I hope it helps you out.
We have one of these in one of my regular social things. They take place in relatively small physical spaces and there is some (agreed-to by the nature of the event) forced-but-guided interaction. That’s all fine.
During the before and after and in-between times getting something else to drink or eat; excusing to go use the bathroom or wash hands; and looking across the room, seeing something/someone (I often use the corner of a shelf) and quickly saying, “Oh! You’ll have to excuse me!” while moving away have worked MOST of the time.
In addition, for this person, if zie cannot be your bestest friend EVER, then zie is much easier to shake loose. So I tend to do a lot of social Judo–changing topics, and giving short, clipped answers especially when zie tries to get personal (asking questions about things I revealed before I realized zie was a friggin’ remora)–and that’s helped make some distance. I am less interesting because… I’m less interesting. And the less interesting I am, the less energy I have to exert avoiding and redirecting and extricating.
Social Judo = brilliant. 🙂
And remora! I am now picturing you gliding away across the room, trying to scrape your remora off against the reef.
I have had two positive experiences with answering the question “what behaviors, exactly?” As in, the guys answering to my answer with “thanks, that was useful to know, I’ll stop bothering you now”. (One of the cases has grown up a lot since, and when I occasionally meet him in parties is much less of a creep. The other is still a creep, but not at me.) Based on that, I would say if you feel up to it, answer once, and then ignore it if any rules-lawyering occur. Of course, only if you feel like explaining – you are not obliged to be anyone’s social skills coach – and in no case enter an argument about it.
I was thinking this same thing; maybe not replying, but saying up front the behaviors that you find objectionable. It isn’t your job, but it DOES clear the way a little more easily by limiting the range of the WHYYYYYYYYY he is gonna send you, and may help take out any guilty temptation to continue to engage with him, even if it is only to set the record straight, that is a road you won’t want to go down.
Also, a bit unrelated: I like to end things like this by thanking the other person for respecting my decision. It sort of sets a clear bar of what you expect of them (don’t argue with me), and while this guy seems like way too big of a doof to actually take that cue, I still think it is an easy phrase that lets them know in advance that what they’re probably about to do is out of line, and not expect much back. It also sort of implies that, while I may not like you and don’t want to talk to you, I think enough of you that I know you will be respectful of me. I mean, that is usually the reality of the situation, but it might help soften the blow (at least at that point a couple weeks later where he still is angry about it and hasn’t deleted the email, but is starting to realize that maybe It Isn’t Actually A Huge Deal). That very well may just be me putting too much value in words, though.
Man, I really need to start re-reading these BEFORE I hit post. We will just pretend all of my typos and terrible sentence structure are all fixed.
One thing I can see possibly going wrong if you choose to explain is that some people may take it to mean that if they just change those behaviours, they can hang out with you, which you may not want.
Although the more important thing either way is probably just being consistent in sticking to it once you say you don’t want to interact with him anymore.
That’s exactly why I come down on the side of not giving reasons. Bargaining isn’t just something jerks do; it’s one of the stages most people go through when processing a loss.
When I’m at the point of cutting someone out of my life, I can respect that they might need to process that loss, but I need them to do that not-around-me. They need to go do their shock, anger, bargaining, and depression elsewhere. I’m only interested in their acceptance, and only then if it’s a situation where I still have to encounter them occasionally.
Usually, the ‘don’t give reasons’ reasoning is about not giving openings to creepy, manipulative, potentially-violent people who’ll just use them to violate boundaries. But even if the person I’m cutting off is actually mature and reasonable, the time to tell someone how I want them to interact with me is back when I still actually want them to interact with me. When we’re past that point, that feedback ceases to be constructive and becomes kinda unfair–because I’m basically telling them that it’s unreasonable/creepy for them to respond to me disparaging them.
Whether Drama King is a pre-escalated stalker or just a grade-A jerk who thinks he gets to cast women as playactors in his personal heroic theatrics, I’m not particularly concerned about his feefees. But if the goal is to get him to change his behavior, telling him while rejecting him is unlikely to achieve that. Better to get one of the group’s organizers, or a friend of his, to sit him down and tell him what is and isn’t acceptable behavior when interacting with women in that space (women other than you, because obviously rule no 1 is leave people alone when they ask you to).
Or not. Because, of course, it’s not your responsibility to get him to treat people with respect.
The Captain has excellent advice and her ideas and scripts for shaking this guy loose are spot on. The only thing I’d like to add is that you shouldn’t let your previous association with this guy make you anxious about branching out and meeting new and other people at these events. Because 1. that’s what you’re there for and 2. if this guy is being this inappropriate with you, he’s that inappropriate with everyone and this does not reflect on you. If I had to guess what the other people at these events are feeling, it would be a mixture of discomfort at your discomfort and gratitude that it’s not them. I have a hunch that if you reach out to some of the other people at this event (especially the ladies he may have previously targeted) you’ll find some allies who understand.
Also, if there is someone else who is also relatively new in your field that you know and/or work with, you could also think about establishing a sort of buddy system. When I was routinely having to go to these types of things, I would go with one of my co-workers. We’d arrive and leave together and otherwise branch out to meet as many new and different people as possible. Then we’d meet up and compare notes. But since some people are like the dude in the letter (there seems to be one in every group) it was useful to have a partner to run off and hide behind.
I get the clinging sometimes at SCA events just because I am a quietly peripheral part of a very welcoming group. The anxious newbies cling just because I am SOMEONE familiar. With them, I mostly try, “You know, I am worried that if we’re always together and talking, it will give other people the impression that I don’t want to meet new people and be sociable. Let’s split up and mingle, so we have lots of opportunities to say hi.”
Usually this works enough to launch them, like baby birds, into a wider social group, and the clinging ends. I consider it a less-lethal solution, with the pre-emptive African Violeting as my backup tactic.
I like the way you handle that. It’s both kind and straightforward.
*g* I can be a champion clinger myself. I also have times where I’m super depressed and socially anxious and convinced that people hate me, so sometimes to cope with that I have to ignore any time that my brain says “this person does not like being around you” and then I just step on peoples’ metaphorical feet.
What stops me from clinging is asking, “How do I want people watching me to interpret my behaviour?” I’ve gotten feedback that when I act naturally out of shyness, social anxiety, or fear, I’m quiet, withdrawn, speak only when I’m certain what I have to say isn’t stupid, and only talk to my friends. And to some people, this looks like I’m aloof, unsociable, stuck-up, cliquey, and pretentious. And as I do not own half of Derbyshire, people are willing to write me off because of this.
And that was the kick in the ass that got me nervously circulating and introducing myself to people that intimidated me. So I like to do it myself, and sometimes demonstrate the method to other peeps while I’m at it.
As a reformed clinger, this approach sounds thoroughly reasonable and much better than the approach my friends often chose, which was to ditch me with no explanation. All that did was make me even more clingy.
Maybe, but they didn’t owe you an explanation, either, right? If the LW can’t manage to follow these scripts and just stops engaging with the clinger, the only appropriate response (after maybe one, single, polite “hey, I noticed you aren’t talking to me as much lately–is everything okay?”) is for him to back off.
Boy, did this comment bring back memories. I used to attract clingy people who would often say early on, “I’ve had friends who abandoned me with no explanation, it hurt so bad, I wish they would have just told me” or “They only explained for the first time while they were friends-dumping me, if they’d told me earlier I could have fixed it.” Looking back, I doubt my clingy friends would have had the social know-how or emotional fortitude to actually stop being clingy when asked.
Either way, this kind of disclosure early on in the friendship had the effect of getting me to promise that I would not leave them, that I would tell them right away if I was having problems with them, etc, etc. I was pretty young then. Usually the conversations that would ensue if I did tell them that I was having a problem were emotionally draining in the extreme, with the clingy person trying to figure out the exact “rules” of the friendship and needing reassurance–over and over–that I would not “leave” them. This was the pattern of interaction that led me to drop them abruptly after I had reached my breaking point.
This sounds so familiar. I make a great appearance of being quietly confident, and I’ve striven hard to be patient and a good listener largely because social interaction is difficult for me (borderline aspergers). This has attracted a few cling-ons who would spout these kinds of “I try to be friends but people don’t like me/I’m so lacking in self-confidence, will you be my support-person” lines.
That would have been okay if they hadn’t tried to make me their emotional crutch. I’m willing to listen, but if someone has no interest in changing the circumstances that make them unhappy, I’m not willing to be nothing more than an emotional dumping ground, especially if it’s a one way street and the only thing they ever want to talk about.
And eventually being around them has made me so incredibly unhappy, and they have overlooked/been unable to see hints, my attempts to back away from the relationship, even outright telling them that their behavior was upsetting to me, that I’ve had to go the total rejection route. And then I’d get TEH DRAMAH along with a generous helping of “everybody is so mean to me/why did you betray me/no one will ever like me”.
And then I’d watch them go do it to someone else they sucked into their emotional whirlpool.
At a certain point in my life, I just wasn’t willing to put up with it anymore. I got tired of being emotionally taken advantage of. So now, I may be a bitch; I may be mean and antisocial; but I’m not a doormat and I’m nobody’s crutch.
Hey, LW, I experienced a situation like this a while back, when I was taking a series of night classes in preparation for a career change. The last class in the series (which included the same group of people) involved working on projects for the entire semester with a partner — the same partner.
I was paired with a guy who bugged the shit out of me. He seemed to know nothing about the industry and brought nothing to the partnership, so I had to do all of the work. And then there was the constant sexual harassment. Every time we had to meet for study group, he’d do or say something grossly inappropriate. It got to the point where, not only was I concerned about the quality of my work, my grade and my reputation being tarnished by association with him, but I was beginning to really question my physical safety.
Here are some things that helped:
1. Pick out someone else at the gatherings who seems cool, like they’d be fun to get to know, and approach them by yourself. In my case, I picked a woman who had a similar career background, the same food allergy, and I liked her sense of humor. I emailed her, we met for lunch, and I discovered that she and many others had already noticed the awkwardness between me and my partner. (And we are still friends today!)
2. She offered to become my Class Buddy. Even though we weren’t partners, we sat near each other, I continued to meet new people, and the other students no longer assumed I was close with Creepy Partner. Alternately, you could bring a friend or colleague of yours to these events, brief them on White Knight of Drama, and ask them to be your Event Buddy? In addition to the other things the Captain recommends, this could help create a buffer?
3. Call the instructor – in your case, the people organizing the events. I completely second the Captain’s advice here (and in general). Once I complained to my instructor, he made an exception, allowed me to switch so that my Class Buddy was my new partner, and asked Creepy Partner to stay away from me.
All of these things helped. When the class ended, I also told Creepy Partner that I didn’t want to continue a professional acquaintanceship. He ignored this and continued to call me at my work for months afterward. Finally my boss (who’d heard many stories about CP) picked up the phone and informed Creepy Partner that I wasn’t allowed to take personal calls at work, and basically bullied him into never calling back.
Good luck, LW!
Wow, what a shit person. I’m glad you got support and it finally helped.
Can we just take a moment to say thank Gods for the bosses/professors who listen to our complaints and take actions to make us feel safer, even though this should be a a basic standard of decency for anyone (especially men) in positions of power… I’m glad the people in your story helped to deflect the creeper!
Once again, this advice is so very timely.
I’ve been having a hard time figuring out exactly how to fit a new friend into my life – this person is a sweetheart, but seems a bit clingy in the “I will like all the things you like, and then we will have all the things in common and be BFFs!” kind of way. Plus there are the odd, left-field questions and comments that don’t seem intrusive but leave me feeling intruded upon anyway – like the random “Soo I heard you had a date last night…” text.
I’ve been employing the Don’t Volunteer Information tactic, which has helped somewhat… But the thought of just being like “I want to be This Level of friends and no more” sounds positively utopian.
I’m not sure I agree with the order in which this advice is given. Honestly, I would start with the latter tactics and move to the former. I don’t think that it is possible to tell the LW to write that letter first because without knowing WHAT the industry is or what she means by “save” or “drama”, I don’t think one action can really be said to be the right one. Honestly, the industry norms would determine somewhat what the next steps should be. This is because this is a networking context, not an employment context or a friendship context.
I don’t know what the LW means by drama. I’m not being facetious. I genuinely don’t. I don’t know if the guy is embarrassing and loud. I don’t know if he says inappropriate things. I don’t know what it means to “save” people in a conversation. I think at least, if she explains this to other people (like the organizers) she may want to try really hard to be more specific.
Basically I think that it’s totally understandable that the LW is stressed about this situation but her stress might be blinding her to low stakes resolution methods other than African Violet, especially since she thinks other people identify her with this guy (which is REALLY unlikely if he does it to other people).
One of my relatives likes to create drama: they deliberately manufacture tense or difficult situations between people (by spreading rumours, encouraging people to think that they’ve been wronged even when they haven’t, etc), so that then they can be the wonderful mediator that solves everyone’s problems. They’re really subtle about it too, so most people don’t realise what they’re doing.
People who create drama make everything into a big deal instead of minimising it or trying to smooth things over. They will make a bad situation worse, and sometimes will deliberately trigger interpersonal problems between people so that there is a big, dramatic, angry situation going on between people. Sometimes if they themselves have a problem, they wallow and complain about it instead of trying to fix it – particularly if it is actually a small problem to begin with, but they lovingly water and nurture that problem until it grows into something huge.
Thank you for this excellent description of what it means to create drama and the correlating anti-drama behavior. I can always tell when people love drama but I could never pinpoint what exactly in their behavior was drama-inducing.
Elle, I agree with you about the order of the advice. I believe the LW when she says that this person is making her feel uncomfortable and I agree with all of the advice that she does not have to accept that and about how she should MOVE AWAY from him if (or more likely when) he does it again. I would like to hear the LW’s definition of “drama” to understand more about how she defines this, but it it not necessary to understand that the interactions with this person are making her uncomfortable.
I think she should try all that before sending the email as it is lower stakes and it gives the Clinger a chance to see and realize that she is setting a boundary and does not want to be his Networking Damsel In Fake Distress or whatever. As a former very shy person who has been clingy at events in the past, the walking away and saying “nice to see you but I want to circulate and meet more people” would have worked for me. My problem was that as a shy person I used to stick with the nice, friendly seeming person at this sort of events rather than circulating, which used to scare me. If they smiled and acted nice and chatted back I would not have known they might not be liking the interaction, so the “cool! let’s circulate a bit now” would have told me that the interaction was nice but over. I still worry a lot that I might be obliviously prolonging interactions past their sell-by date when I talk to new people.
If he doesn’t get the boundary setting and continues, then try the email and if he ups the behavior and crosses the border into Harassment Land then talking to an event facilitator is a good thing.
Lilly, I totally agree – your second paragraph really hit home for me. Although I’m normally pretty outgoing and casual in groups, when I’m feeling totally out of my depth socially and have passed the point of New Person (where introductions are warranted) without reaching the New Friend milestone (where one gets included in things), I, too, can turn into a Clinger. Asking me to back off definitely worked and I apologized; though it sounds like it may not work in LW’s case, it’s worth a shot.
So, the flip side of this: anyone have any good advice on how not to be a remora? Like, what’s the difference between “starting a conversation” and “inserting yourself into a conversation” when you’re at an event where everyone immediately drifts into groups that don’t include you? It’s hard not to fall back on “X has been pretty nice to me so far, maybe they’ll want to talk again tonight.”
I give you this based on 38 years of hard-won “how to be social” learning on my part, which is still horrendously draining, but now I can go to social events and actually enjoy myself, and have people tell me honestly that they enjoyed my company.
How not to be a remora:
Start conversations. Go up to someone…anyone…and pick some random thing to start a conversation about. People love to talk about themselves and it often takes very little encouragement. “I love your earrings/dress/tie/hair. Where did you get it?”
Alternatively, ask a random person something about the purpose of the gathering. “Hi, I’m with such-and-such company/working on or interested in this facet of our shared industry/interesting in doing or seeing or experiencing a particular thing we are both here about. Who are you with/what do you know/what have you done?”
This can take a lot of courage and start out a bit awkwardly, but hey, you’re faking being an outgoing person. Go for it.
Remember not to make the entire conversation about yourself. Again, people love to talk about themselves. I’ve been both the person who made the conversation all about myself, and the person stuck listening to someone make the conversation all about themselves. Strive for a balanced back-and-forth, and if it’s not working out, excuse yourself from the conversation and find someone new to talk to.
Ask the friendly person/person you came with (the person you’re trying not to cling to) for some introductions/conversation starters. Ask them to point out/introduce you to someone you have something in common with. This ties very nicely back to the first bit about approaching someone and asking them a question.
Create a little positive drama of your own. This is another thing that is really hard if you’re an introvert or shy, but it’s also tremendously empowering, although it should only happen in appropriate venues. Talk to the host/organizer about something like a little performance or lecture. I once sang at a Christmas party (by invitation of the hostess) and everyone wanted to talk to me afterwards. Better yet, the next year, all the repeat attendees wanted to know if I was going to sing again (sadly, I wasn’t able to do so).
Bring homemade treats or small inexpensive gifts and hand them out to everyone personally in little portable containers with your name/contact information (this is really great for networking – it makes you very memorable). It may take more hard work or money or time than you have available – but it makes you very memorable and is a great conversation starter.
Argh, I didn’t mean for that to turn into such a long lecture. Learning social skills – more importantly, learning how to enjoy social events – has been a long, hard road for me, and I feel proud of the skills I’ve learned. Hearing someone ask “you’re going to be at *event*, aren’t you, Ellex? It won’t be as much fun without you there,” is a huge confidence boost.
Actually, not everyone loves talking about themselves. You wouldn’t think it, given how much I blather here, but in social settings I HATE talking about me. I definitely know others who would rather talk about just about anything BUT themselves, too.
I have a guy who is a little bit like this at Uni. He wants to be friends with me and my friends and we’re all involved in one particular society at Uni which meets once a week. And I would be totally okay with seeing him once a week at the meeting and discussing meeting-stuff! But he keeps trying to invite himself to our post-meeting drinks and comes up and talks to me whenever he sees me on campus and tries to talk to me about Israel because he’s Jewish and I’m Jewish so he thinks of course we’re going to have the same views on Israel… But we don’t and some of the things he wants me to agree with are quite racist and I don’t. want. to. talk. about. Israel. when I’m hanging out on campus. I just don’t think directly asking him “Please do not talk to me about Israel” will result in anything but a lengthy monologue on why I should be proud of Israel because I’m a Jew.
He’s already asked a few times why I haven’t accepted his friend request on facebook and I’ve already had to be firm with him about personal space – no, you can’t touch me, don’t touch my mobility aids, you’re standing too close etc
And he looks like my ex. Could I just say to him “It’s not your fault that you look like my ex boyfriend but it means I cannot be friends with you or hang out with you socially. Let’s just keep conversation to meeting-stuff at meetings once a week, okay?”
“Could I just say to him…?” You totally could! It’s definitely a thing you could do. You could also tell him “Let’s just keep conversation to meeting-stuff at meetings once a week, okay?” and give him no reason, or any other reason at all. You have all the permission. 🙂
Agree! And you don’t have to put up with monologues. Just talk over him, saying ‘Sorry, I’ve already said I’m not interested in this topic. OK, I have to go now, see you next week.’ Deliver this with a big smile if you want to (or not), but don’t wait for his response or for any kind of acceptance from him.
Yes, also? You can use body language/starting to leave to your advantage. I.e. after you say once, “I can’t talk right now, see you.” or “I already said I do not want to discuss this.” start moving away and keep on moving, even if there is a back-and-forth.
If he is so super-clingy he even follows you around (and this dude kinda creeps me out from what you describe, so I could imagine he does), it can totally be the time to say a firm “I’d prefer to only talk to you at the meetings about meeting stuff.” and “Please, leave me alone.” or “I am going to leave now, please don’t follow me.” and so on, if he does not respect it.
You are totally within your rights to define how often and in what way and if at all you want to interact with this person. His desires don’t trump yours.
Just realised my last comment contained no praise of the advice in this post. I think it is very good advice and it is through applying stuff from Captain Awkward that I was able to stop my clinger from touching my things once I realised he didn’t understand body language at all.
My apologies to Captain Awkward for my impoliteness in making a comment all about me. I also wish the best to the LW.
Hahaha, Liam, I don’t think the Captain requires every comment to contain Praise Of Her Wisdom! It’s very kindhearted of you to think of it 🙂
We should totally start ending/starting all comments with ‘Praise To The Wisdom Of The Captain’, though 🙂
LW, you have my sincere sympathies.
I have had this happen with roommates and with neighbors. One roommate I felt sympathy for as she was a young new mom and I was young but not a mom; we were simply not in the same headspace and she was very lonely, so I was as gentle as humanly possible when I finally broke it to her that sometimes, I want to go on a date with my date and nobody else. She was understandably hurt as I was pretty much her primary friend circle at that time. It also was a bit of fire under her seat that motivated her to get out on her own more often and start making her own friends.
The neighbors, on the other hand, I was less gentle when I informed them that barging into my house uninvited and without knocking while drunk in the middle of the afternoon three days after I moved in down the street is Not Okay no matter how many times we’ve made casual, in passing small talk each other at the pub. They were shocked. Shocked, I say! They also gave us our space, and by gave us our space I mean didn’t really talk to us again unless we were in the company of other neighbors. Which was very welcome.
It is easier to do when you already have a member of Team You around and I understand that in your current situation you have not found TY. I am wondering though if there is someone with whom you’ve connected at all who you would feel comfortable asking to act as a human shield against Clingo? That is something I usually reserve for close friends, trusted partners of close friends and my spouse, but if you have cued in at all to someone who’s radar is up and who might be willing to come get you for important! thing! whenever Clingo nears, it may be helpful.
Apologies if this is too far off the topic, but it has to do with clingy people — any suggestions for when one of your friends is clingy on another friend? Like, I invite Friend A somewhere and Friend B finds out and invites himself to join us and is already there when I show up. Ditto with other people making plans with Friend A. Friend A is aware this is a problem but has a hard time saying no to people. I don’t mind Friend B, but don’t like that I can’t do anything with Friend A without knowing if Friend B is going to invite himself to join us and try to monopolize Friend A’s time. Due to work/living situations it’s not really an option to burn bridges with either of them, and I don’t really want to, but I’m not sure how to set boundaries when it feels like it’s more of Friend A’s boundaries being violated than mine.
If you know Friend B (which you pretty much have no option about, since Friend B keeps inviting himself to things), then a polite “I enjoy spending time with both you and Friend A, but sometimes I’ve made plans with Friend A because I’d like to spend some one-on-one time with him/her. Next time can you check with me before turning up?” may work to shame him into behaving better.
You don’t say whether there’s an ulterior motive for Friend B’s clinginess in your post, but I immediately wondered if he had feelings for Friend A and may even see you as a rival, hence turning up all the time. Is that a possibility?
Yes to this! And if gentle shaming doesn’t work, feel free to lay it on. “Friend B, I didn’t invite you to this. Friend A and I are going to spend some time together now, please leave.” Or “I asked you last time to check before you showed up. If you had you’d know you’re not invited.” After you’ve told them what’s up and said they can’t just turn up, they ought to know better than to tag along uninvited.
Would it help to plan a couple of events with Friend A that involve you buying tickets for you and them in advance? Particularly with allocated seating. Then if Friend B turns up you say, ‘Sorry, I had just invited A to this and we only have tickets for ourselves. Guess we’ll see you around, have a great night!’ Would a couple such occasions be enough to get the message to Friend B?
Or say, ‘Actually, A and I need to discuss a few things in depth tonight, which is why we made plans for just the two of us to meet up. We’re going to sit over here to have our discussion. See you, bye!’
Or you could just discuss it with Friend A and ask if they need help being more assertive and putting the Captain’s advice into practice.
You can’t and shouldn’t try to police on A’s behalf; that’s A’s job. But you can let A know that you would like some of your get-togethers to be B-free, and agree that on those occasions you’ll make your plans out of B’s hearing and neither of you will mention specifics of your plans to B, in B’s hearing, or to anyone who might tell B, no matter what.
I mean, even if B says “what are you doing Friday night?” and A says “I’m getting together with LW,” B can’t beat you all to the meeting place unless you or A discloses where it is. And if B actually freaking FOLLOWS A to the restaurant or wherever, B loses all plausible deniability as someone acting within normal social parameters, and you can say “wow, this is really out of line! — yeah, you’re our friend and I enjoy hanging out with you, too, but we’re all still individuals and if sometimes just A and I want to get together, we get to do that — just like if you and A wanted to get together, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to insert myself.”
I learned the hard way to not give too much information to a cousin of mine. I think she’s ok in small doses, suitably diluted with other targets for her attention, but, long periods one on one? Nooooooo
On my way to a family funeral, I gave her too much information on our flights…and she got the seat next to me from the connection on to the destination city.
Never. Ever. Again.
I have a question about the “White Knight”/rescue aspect of the dude in question. Could you explain more specifically about what is happening ? Is he setting you up to undermine your efforts, then magically, heroically “fixes” the problem in a most public way? If so, this is standard issue manipulator behaviour.
( A good, though imperfect book, that helps to explain about manipulative behaviours is “In Sheep’s Clothing” by George K. Simon).
I have had a lot of success in getting away from clingers at networking things with “I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me – I need to circulate.” It does make you sound a bit grand, like you’re Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey (in fact, why not try thinking “What Would the Dowager Do?” and give that a shot, as long as you don’t get carried away and end up asking what a weekend is), but people usually aren’t rude enough to do the “I’ll come with you!” thing. If they do, I then usually try in a jokey tone: “We can’t just network with each other! You go that way and I’ll go this way and we’ll catch up later.” I’ve also found introducing them to other people works to get rid of them, e.g. “X, have you met Clinger? Excuse me, I’ve just seen Y over there – must quickly catch her.” Yes, you’re dumping Clinger on someone, but if Clinger only clings *to you* that’s not the end of the world. Besides, every social gathering has someone whom most people don’t want to get stuck talking to, but they don’t expect one person to fall on the conversational hand-grenade. I guess the introduction could be seen as an endorsement, but I think in most cases it wouldn’t be.
Full disclosure: I used to be a clinger, especially at work networking events. I would find someone nice enough to smile at/talk to me, then cling to them like an octopus covered in superglue. I was doing it because I was anxious and lacked confidence, but it must have been maddening for those I clung to.
What Would Cousin Violet Say? is an amazingly useful game. If I feel like I’m being rude by setting boundaries or sticking up for myself, I try to imagine what the Dowager Countess would say, and then everything that I might actually say is sweetness and sunshine by comparison. “Ugh, don’t stand on my foot. That’s so middle class” becomes “Please get off of my foot. Thank you.”
You know, I think he like you have similiar aspirations but he is socially inept. I would not worry about others. Accept him and let him know when he needs to leave you alone. Think about kids especially those with Asperberger’s who lack social skills …who knows you may help him fit in and help yourself in the process.
I was waiting for a comment like this one. “Oh, the poor socially inept guy who bothers you, he probably just needs help!”
The LW does not have to provide free life tutoring services to someone who is bothering her. Or accept anyone. Her comfort level is WAY more important than whether he learns how to fit in.
You are right if he is that irritating and an absolute jerk. But sometimes if you look beyond this maybe an opportunity to help someone and I believe if you help others you eventually get what you want or severely trampled on. 🙂
I think that women are often told to put up with gross, annoying, and awkward behavior and to subvert their own well-being to take care of clueless dudes. Why should a time that should be devoted to her meeting people and discussing her chosen field be given over to his care? The LW says that she doesn’t want this guy in her life, and she doesn’t have to have him in her life. At all.
Totally agree! Just offering another perspective. I get along or rather tolerate most people. The people I truly like are usually awkward ones (unless they have bad breathe or teeth). I like those awkward people because I find they are usually genuine despite their abrasive personalities and lack of social skills. I know what to expect.
I set limits and boundaries and am not afraid to let someone know when they have crossed those boundaries. When I do that, those people often become life long friends that have helped me more than I have helped them.
The so called “normal conventional types,” who we all need to suck up to in order to get ahead in this world, know their power. They are skilled in the art of diplomacy, but up close and personal, they will eat you alive at a moment’s notice if it suits their purpose, without breaking that plastic smile. I try to observe them because invariably they will try to screw me and I like to be prepared to stop them in their tracks and make them think twice.
Networking is an art I have yet to master so take my advice with a grain of salt.
One last thing, time is the absolute best thing you can offer people. So I tend to spend it with people I can trust. That is not to say I don’t schmooze.
Angela, based on the LW’s descriptions, this guy does not sound socially clueless. It sounds like he’s artificially producing drama and them making a production of solving it. That takes some serious social skills. He’s not clueless, he’s manipulative.
Hey, just to let you know, as someone with Aspergers, I absolutely hate people saying this, firstly because it gives abusers social license to operate by hiding behind my neurological issues, and secondly because I want people to enjoy my company, if I am messing up because no one cares that much about -the socio political gender politics of disk world- or whatever I want people to leave, because I don’t want to bore people or make them uncomfortable, if they give me a explaintion, thats great, but they don’t owe me one, and many of the letters CA provides do just that “hey I need to network with other people” can be a great reminder that I have gone into explainer mode and give me a better idea of where other peoples boundaries.
I tell people I might miss social cues and ask them to give me explicit ones, I ask people if they are ok with my plans/socializing/whatever and I get explicit consent, because I care about not being a creep, or a bore or worse and it is my responsibility to be a decent person.
If he wasn’t that irritating, would the LW really have written to an advice column solely to ask how to get away from him? Really, now. A little bit of critical thought amidst the bullshit, please?
This is completely and utterly irrelevant to the topic at hand. We have no evidence that the guy lacks social skills– in fact, the LW describes some pretty manipulative behaviors like “creating drama” so he can “rescue” women, which to me actually speak to a high level of social awareness. The LW, on the other hand, describes herself as an “introvert.”
I am so so damn tired of Asperger’s/autism spectrum disorders being used as rhetorical figures to tell women they should just be nicer to poor awkward guys who may or may not be on the spectrum. I’m a woman on te spectrum. Where are people claiming that everyone should be my social skills tutor? Nowhere, because women are expected to be socially skilled and to teach men their social skills– I’ve never personally seen this argument be used o excuse the creepy clingy behavior of a woman.
Not to mention, even if he is on the spectrum, he’s not a KID, he’s a grown ass adult. And I’m guessing you don’t actually know much about autism based on your use of “asperberger’s”, so… please don’t use autism as a way to make an unrelated point.
Thank you for this, it is right on point and needs to be said again and again.
Thank you, knights.
A number of years back I had an issue with a guy in an organisation we were both members of, who engaged in some creepy, harassing behaviour (mostly following and deliberate invasions of body space). We are both on the autistic spectrum (it was well known he was, not that I was (I was only starting to figure it out myself) – and there’s a lot of gender stuff that plays into that).
The whole thing was excused by other members of the organisation on the ground of his neuro status, saying he just had problems judging personal space and therefore I had to be nice to him. He may have done (as do I) but this was clearly not what was going on, as I would say, really clearly “I’m going outside, please don’t follow me” or so on and he still would. Also I was not asking for them to have him hanged drawn and quartered, just for someone to step in when he followed me.
Flexibility around social conventions and adjustments of communication styles can be a useful accommodation. Acceptance of abusive behaviour on the grounds of “but autism!” (particularly as in this case, where there’s no actual evidence he’s autistic) doesn’t actually help any autistic people – it excuse the behaviour, promotes damaging stereotypes, and as per my example above, reinforces existing patterns of power amongst autistic people.
Oh my fucking god THANK YOU. I am also on the spectrum and read as female (FAAB nonbinary with absolutely no interest in trying to pass as a guy) and I am so incredibly incredibly sick and tired of men’s bad behaviour being excused with “but what if he’s just autistic!” while the people on the wrong end of the bad behaviour are told they need to suck it up and accommodate the armchair-diagnosed-via-NT-person guy, and maybe even that they’re obliged to do X complicated social thing as part of that. Because all women possess finely-honed social skills and body language interpreting abilities etc. etc. from birth. Autistic women don’t exist. Obviously.
Bonus points is that I so very rarely hear these people who are oh! so! concerned! about the poor autistic menz take on issues that really affect autistic people. Like, I hang out in some areas of fandom that do cons, and it seems like every year I hear about at least one case of sexual harrassment at a con followed by people talking about how to deal with the problem of sexual harrassment at cons, and that brings out a veritable horde of people concerned about the autistic menz getting unfairly judged! Strangely enough, I never see these people when it comes to dialogues about con accessibility and things like having access information clearly available on the website, whether there are designated quiet spaces for those of us who have sensory overload issues, whether there’s any way to avoid crowds for those of us who don’t deal with crowds well, whether there will be subtitles if any videos are shown for those of us with auditory or language processing issues, possibility of sign language translation, etc. I never even see them argue for things in the social skills area a la greater acceptance of stimming. It always seems to be behaviours that I’d gauge as relatively unlikely for a well-intentioned autistic person but highly likely to be the sign of a predator. Funny, that.
Extra bonus points that the intersection of sexual harrassment and violence as it applies to autistic women is actually one that deserves some consideration, because being autistic can make you more vulnerable to certain things here! But the stalward defenders of autistic people seem to have nothing to say about this either. Hmmmmm.
Thank you for this comment. It’s a really good and very important point, (one fairly close to my heart as an autistic woman with interests that bring me into this kind of situation quite a bit), and you’ve expressed it really well.
** “It always seems to be behaviours that I’d gauge as relatively unlikely for a well-intentioned autistic person but highly likely to be the sign of a predator. Funny, that.”**
I may have to get this in particular printed on a teeshirt.
I would pay cash money to be at the ConCom meeting where you patiently sit through all the what-about-the-ASD-menz whiners and then politely ask “While we’re making accommodations….” and then listing all of the actually useful things mentioned in your post.
Beautifully said. Frankly, when it comes to someone creating drama, they are pretty unlikely to be on the autism spectrum. The most common symptoms of autism spectrum disorders create people who tend to intensely dislike drama.
Thank you all, I was grinding my teeth reading Angela’s post, you all saved me from a rude comment. (unless this is considered rude)
Oh look, a harasser-apologist hiding behind people with ASDs.
Protip: People with Asperger’s have a difficult time intuitively learning social skills and reading social cues. That’s it. They do not automagically create drama or harass people. They are perfectly capable of LEARNING social skills, and of getting that ‘people are avoiding me’ probably means something.
Wow. I had a clingy rm just like those described above. I’d be heading for the door he’d ask where we’re going. He’d been introduced to my entire group, so there were even occasions I would arrive home and he would ask what my plans were. To each name of a friend I would list as maybe calling up he’d reply “already called. her/him, they’re busy” having picked through my entire social scene, only to moan how boring tonight was going to be, like I now it*s my responsibility to lay something on. This was way before sites like CA came along, I had no idea how to handle it, except to complain to my friends, who had also noticed. So sit utions arose where I’d be out with a mate, their phone would ring w. my rm doing the rounds wondering whats to do and btw where am (I)? Have they seen me? With friend having to lie saying “no idea..uh, no I dont feel like hanging etc” Ludicrous example of not Using my word. (Story ended w. rm leaving town just as it was about to blow up passif-aggressif style, and we slid out of that one cleanly) sure wish CA had been around back then.
Hi, LW here,
I have read your comments and awesome suggestions but I haven’t had the chance to implement them yet (the next networking event is going to be some time in February). I will send the letter soon after this post but I wanted to explain the situation a little bit more and what I meant by “drama”.
I first met White Knight in Drama Castle (WKDC) at one of our industry’s networking events last summer. We had a brief conversation and he asked me to join his FB group, a group that specializes in networking for new graduates in our industry that he said was affiliated with a local university. I did and I accepted his FB friend request with the privacy parameters I reserve for business acquaintances.
A few weeks later, he organized a networking event for the group. WKDC graduated from university in December 2012 and he’s never actually worked in the industry. I was curious so I went to the event and all that happened was him drinking, him giving advice for new graduates (without him ever having a job in this field), and him talking about the “pretty girls” he met and lost in his life. We didn’t even get to network with anyone else who was there! I haven’t gone to any of the group’s networking meetings since.
Now, because WKDC is very intent in promoting his FB group, he goes to nearly every single networking event in the industry and adds everyone he meets the first time around, so anyone who does not really know him that well. He will try to talk to everyone at events too. Except every time he has a conversation with anyone, it involves him repeatedly complaining about the lack of “pretty girls” in his life. He will repeatedly interrupt my conversations with other people at these events to either try to pull me away from my conversation, shove a new person into the conversation (awkward for everyone involved) or manipulate his way into complaining about “pretty girls” again. I’ve told him that I am busy, that I am talking with the people I’m talking to, I’ve given him every non-verbal cue, but nothing works. All it will do is provoke a fresh wave of complaints of “YOU HATE ME! EVERYONE HATES ME!” and “BUT I WANT YOU TO DO (whatever it is he wants me to do) NOOOOOOW!” and “WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN TO ME?!” and complaining to common business acquaintances that I’m “cold” and “ignoring him for no good reason”.
This has happened at every single networking event I’ve gone to for the past 5 or 6 months, with various groups.
In the meantime, he spams my FB feed and intrudes in FB conversations I will be having with other people to either praise whatever I was talking about or comment in a variant of “We in *this industry* are such martyrs and downtrodden! I will save you from your life!” even though I’m talking about something as innocuous as the multiple career paths available to someone in our industry. I eventually blocked him because he was getting involved in *every single one of my posts* and I was fed up with it. I have also learned that his FB group is actually *not* affiliated to the local university as he told us and that he left (was kicked out of?) a previous group because of “that other group’s sexism”.
Since then, he has contacted all our common business acquaintances and have asked them to plead on his behalf, even telling one that I was acting with “malicious intent”.
As I was writing this, it made me realize that I need to leave the FB group and I just did so. I will send the letter knowing it will be probably nothing more than an exhibit piece to others on his manipulative behavior and I will definitely talk to the organizers of at least one of these events and see if one of my friends would be willing to tell him to back off if necessary. I will keep you posted after the networking event.
To the person who suggested I “teach him” how to network: no. H*** no. If WKDC wants to learn how to properly network, there are specialists for this purpose. If he wants to work on his self-esteem or communication skills, there are specialists for this purpose too. There are millions on books on any of these topics. No way am I picking up every stranger on the street who happens to look distressed and “teach them” the “ways of the world”. (The odds are really against my happening to have all the perfect answers for any specific case anyway.) It is in no way my responsibility to save everyone from themselves. Even if I were a specialist in those fields it would be in no way my responsibility to do it for every stranger for free.
Wow, that is full-on awful, well beyond plausible deniability as “social ineptitude” and deep into the creeper zone.
I wouldn’t worry about people mistaking you for pals — with all his “pretty girl” shit I’m sure people can figure out pretty quickly that he has a creepy (and screamingly unprofessional) obsession thing going, having nothing to do with any actual relationship.
His conduct is actually over-the-top enough that you should DEFINITELY alert the organizers of these events and ask them to intercede if (when) he gets out of line.
You also need to be sure you have an escort when you leave the gathering (even to go to the bathroom); this guy’s attitude of entitlement to your time and attention, his lack of appreciation for how far outside social norms his behavior is (as evidenced by his pleas for others to advocate on his behalf), his anger when he doesn’t get what he wants, and his ability to simultaneously want you and call you mean… those aren’t just red flags for potentially dangerous behavior… they are flashing red lights and screaming klaxons. They are the kind of thought patterns that rationalize assault as something you deserve.
Please be very careful.
WOW. Definitely escalate this to organisers so they know what’s happening. If you need a script for business acquaintances he’s harassed about you, consider something like “Yeah, he’s been trying to get much friendlier to me than I’m comfortable with and isn’t taking it well. I can’t believe he’s contacting everyone I work with! I’d appreciate if you’d have my back on keeping away from him, his behaviour is really unsettling/upsetting/creepy/whathaveyou.” Chances are they are picking up from his tone when he calls them that he’s a bit too invested here and once you confirm that you’re uncomfortable hopefully they’ll be firmly on your side, especially if his requests for intervention are annoying. With his previous/ongoing behaviour they can’t be endearing him to anyone.
I think it’s appropriate to include something like “He’s been harassing me since last (whichever month).” That word is accurate, and it is powerful. He’s not actually being friendly to her, and it’s important to be careful what euphemisms we use to describe behavior.
Hi LW, that is super creepy, sorry you have to deal with it. I was hoping that it was not gift of fear territory, because who needs that, but this most definitely GOF ish.
Take whatever steps you feel you need to, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are over reacting.
Thanks for the additional info.
Here is my advice. Don’t send the letter. Block him from facebook and contact the organizers but just move into very polite and firm disengagement.
“He will repeatedly interrupt my conversations with other people at these events to either try to pull me away from my conversation…… I’ve told him that I am busy, that I am talking with the people I’m talking to, I’ve given him every non-verbal cue, but nothing works. All it will do is provoke a fresh wave of complaints of “YOU HATE ME! EVERYONE HATES ME!” and “BUT I WANT YOU TO DO (whatever it is he wants me to do) NOOOOOOW!” and “WHY ARE YOU SO MEAN TO ME?!”.
And then what? If I’m reading this correctly, he comes up to you at a networking event and interrupts your conversation. You then say “I’m talking to someone”. All your non verbals indicate you don’t want to be disturbed. He then continues to interrupt and complains. You… eventually concede.
What if he complained that you hated him and you said “I don’t hate you but I’d like to finish my conversation.” Smiled politely and refused to respond further. Or turned to the other person and said “gosh, sorry, this seems to have gotten a bit awkward. Would you like to get a drink while we continue our conversation.” And WALK AWAY WITH THEM. What if when he came up to you to talk, you said “gotta circulate” and left. Let him follow you. Let him embarrass himself.
Basically, this guy is not subtle or even a clever harasser. He’s alienating people left right and center and he is going to try and bad mouth you anyway. I would just take a line and hold it. As long as you are polite, calm and refuse to engage, he can’t “embarrass” you into any more contact. He’s learned that if he escalates his requests enough, you will give in. If you want to continue to go to these events (which is really questionable), then you have to show him that his temper tantrums will have no effect on you.
This is spot on.
Without knowing the specifics of this guy’s behavior, just that you don’t want to be around him, the following will probably work:
1. Don’t be around him! When he approaches you, exchange polite greetings and then excuse yourself. Circulate, notice someone at the other end of the room, get punch, go to the restroom, whatever. If you like, engage with him in appropriate professional conversation, but the minute it starts turning uncomfortable or personal or like an opportunity for him to make a scene, excuse yourself. Either he’ll catch on that you don’t want to be around him, or through operant conditioning his lizard-brain will learn that he doesn’t get to play his favorite games when he’s with you.
Remember: you are at these events to advance your career. If you make friends, that’s great, but it’s not a playdate. Treat him politely as a colleague and don’t let him act like he’s your buddy.
2. This may be hard for you as an introvert, but you need to cultivate other people you can be talking to instead of him. Again, that’s why you’re there, right? There are tons of tips online for successful networking, but here’s my advice: study up on the people who go to these meetups, find some whose work impresses you, and seek them out. Rather than going after the biggest names or the people who can do something for your career, talk to the people who just do cool work. Spend the meetups with people you admire, who are doing awesome work in your field, instead of the guy who doesn’t care enough to act professionally with female colleagues.
3. On a related note, seek out women in particular. If the guy has a history of this behavior, you’re not the only woman who’s had to deal with his nonsense. I’m guessing that as soon as you set boundaries with the problem guy and get to know your female colleagues better, you’ll hear all the horror stories. And then you’ll feel less alone.
I don’t know this guy, and maybe he’ll pitch a big public fit when he senses you edging away from him. But to be honest, my prediction is that he’ll lose interest in you as soon as you stop giving him the attention he wants and/or another new girl starts coming to the meetups.
Oh, man, LW. Ugh. Sorry you have to deal with that. Whether or not he’s liable to assault anyone (better safe than sorry), he’s definitely not a problem you cannot solve by staying on the opposite end of the room from him. If he’s going to follow you around no matter what you say to him, I hope you get people with the authority to kick him out involved sooner than later.
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