#742: The Touchy-Feely Neighbor

Dear Captain Awkward:

There is an elderly man in his 80s, who I will call Fred, who I have known for almost twenty years. He is known by almost everyone in the community as a grandfatherly figure and was voted Citizen of the Year. He likes to hug people, and I used to give him a hug whenever he asked, never thinking anything of it.

However, last spring I was put in an awkward situation. Fred knocked on the door to my apartment and I invited him in to talk. I was showing him a new book and he asked me to read to him. While I was reading, he suddenly slipped his hand under the back of my shirt and started massaging my shoulders. I was so stunned by this breach of boundaries that I did not know how to handle it. It was entirely inappropriate and I finally moved away but did not say anything.

For the next few months, I tried to avoid running into him around town. But twice during the past two weeks, Fred has run into me and asked for a hug. I gave him a quick hug, and both times, he jokingly complained that he didn’t want a “side hug” and he wanted me to give him a “full frontal hug.” He made a comment about noticing that I was “running away from him.” I am a large-chested woman and I think this is why he wants to hug me in this way. I like Fred as an individual, but his inappropriate touching behavior and pursuit of me makes me feel uncomfortable. How should I handle this?

What if I told you that you never have to hug “Fred” again?

Ever, ever, ever again?

And what if I told you that he can absolutely deal with whatever hurt feelings resulted from your refusal?

And what if I told you that every single person in your town could deal with the fact that you don’t want to hug Fred anymore?

What if I told you that it’s very likely that he knows that you don’t really like hugging him anymore and that it’s part of the attraction of trying to manipulate you into doing it? It’s a power trip by this popular, no-doubt charismatic old man and he enjoys your discomfort because it’s a reminder of his authority.

You don’t owe Fred a performance of cheerfulness or niceness, but in my own dealings with annoying old men I’ve found that saying “Not today, Fred!” in a very cheerful, breezy voice as I keep on walking by works to make these interactions happen with minimal friction. The “nope” actions mixed with the cheerful, enthusiastic tone that they are used to hearing from women confuses them momentarily. Also, agreeing with their words but continuing to move/walk away works.

How it could play out in real life:

“Can I have a hug?”

“Not today, Fred!” (See also: “No,” “No thank you,” “Not right now”)

“Aw, are you running away from me?”

“Sure am, Fred!” (See also: “Probably!” “Maybe!” “Why would you think that?” “Could be!” “That’s hilarious, Fred.”)

If the Bystander Brigade gets into it with “He’s just a sweet old man!” “He’s harmless!” “He doesn’t mean anything by it!” “Aw, give the old man a hug!” “You can’t think he’s up to anything”, you can agree with them, too, before restating the boundary. “Yep, he’s a sweet old man, and I don’t feel like giving him or anyone a hug right now.” And then shudder along with me at the thought of other people being so goddamned invested in your compliance.

The part where we are thinking about how to do this with “minimal friction” and don’t start with “Remember when you stopped by my apartment and kinda felt me up? That made my skin crawl and now you are on my No Hugs list. Good day, sir!”? That’s our culture talking, the one that says “No one will believe me or be on my side if I tell people that Mr. Citizen of the Year kinda creeps me out.” You don’t owe Fred a low-key response; minimizing friction is camouflage as you go up against the two big social/cultural expectations: (1) Women must defer to men and take care of their feelings at all times and (2) Respect your elders. Your letter is basically asking for permission to flout these two conventions. FLOUT ON, I SAY. Flout early and often.

I’m sure someone will bring this up, so let me put it out there: Due to age, Fred *might* not completely remember the incident in your apartment and he may not be operating with his full faculties all the time. I don’t think that’s the case, personally (and I think you are probably not the only person with a story like that about him), but even the behaviors were the wanderings of dementia you STILL don’t have to hug him if it makes you uncomfortable to do so. Touching people who don’t want to be touched isn’t a privilege of old age, whether it’s a handsy old man or a cheek-pinching grandma. Also, please, please, please keep this in mind: If you start routinely saying “no” to Fred when he asks for hugs, he has information (that you’re not so into hugs from him these days) and he has choices. He could adjust to your dislike of hugs and stop asking you for them or he could keep trying to manipulate you into giving hugs. “But you hugged me last time.” “But you hugged this other person, why not me?” “No thanks” is a decision, not the opening of a negotiation.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and one was the Highway to Creepytown, and Fred can walk it by himself if he chooses (or hug literally anyone else in your entire town). You don’t have to comply with him, ever.

289 comments
  1. Robiewankenobie said:

    Amen to that!

  2. S said:

    Ugh there is a woman who comes into the place I work who is known to have dementia. She has no filter and will ask my full name, my address, why my schedule has changed…I don’t like it. I know she’s harmless and will forget what I tell her and I also don’t want to announce to the whole store that I am working different hours because of a therapy appointment and I live at 362 my address etc. And then when I give her super evasive answers/just don’t answer her, I get looks like I’m being rude to this poor woman. I feel bad but I’m not telling strangers my personal medical information or address.

    As for Fred, I think he knows what he did in your apartment. Is it possible he forgot who you were for a second and thought you were his partner? I guess…but if he’s known by everybody in town and nobody has noticed anything about his health in the months since he became so creepy, I think it’s safe to say he’s creepy and knows that being a ‘kindly old gentleman’ is great cover. And even if he is having cognitive health problems YOU still don’t have to put up with unwanted touching. Like the captain said, you don’t have to ever hug him again. (Also if he’s asking for ‘full frontal hugs’ when you offer side hugs? He knows what he’s doing. Creep!)

    • CynicMom said:

      Your ethics may vary about this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not wrong to lie about things like that to people who have dementia. She won’t remember anyway (so she won’t be hurt) and you also won’t be hurt. So you could say something like “My name is S, I live at 123 Main Street, and my schedule changed today because the weather is so nice/my dog misses me sooo much/it’s tuesday”.

      • boutet said:

        I think ethically “lie to stranger for your safety” is fine, but “lie to this person because their health may prevent them from remembering it so you will not face any consequences” is a dangerous way of thinking. But then Grandma and Dad both had major dementia and I had more than my fill of shady “well they won’t remember it anyway!” behavior from people.

        Same behaviour but different thinking behind it.One is protecting yourself, the other is dehumanizing someone because of a health issue that they have zero control over.

        • So, my mother has dementia.

          We avoid lying to her about things that directly affect her, or things where being lied to will affect her reality testing – like, we don’t ever lie to her about things she’s seen or heard or experienced, like where she is, what’s going on, why something’s happening.

          On the other hand, so far as she knows I have been in perfect blooming health for five years, not counting things she’s seen because I was with her at the time. She’s marked in my phone as Do Not Contact in case of an emergency. If something dire happens to me, and I can’t get better in time for my yearly visit, well, we’ll sort it out then but on the phone? Everything’s fine. The garden’s fine, the godchildren are fine, the family is fine, the cats are fine … We avoid stressing her where it truly won’t make a difference.

          It’s a tricky balance.

          • Oh god, I’m like that with my mother and she DOESN’T have dementia! But for different reasons, obviously.

            I think your take is totally appropriate and compassionate. No need to burden her with knowledge she can’t really process or do anything about. What’s the point?

          • boutet said:

            That sounds fine. I didn’t say “never lie to someone with dementia” or “it’s never okay to lie to someone with dementia.” I was saying that “it’s okay to lie to someone with dementia -because they won’t remember it-” is a dangerous way of thinking because it’s easy to slip from “this will be easier for them/helpful to them” to “it doesn’t matter, they won’t remember it.”

        • stellanor said:

          I’m actually totally fine with ‘lie to strangers because it’s none of their damn business’.

        • Meh, I don’t know if it’s always dehumanizing. It can be, sure… But what if their dementia makes them ask inappropriate questions that they would never, ever dream of asking back when they still had their faculties? I’d honestly feel ok telling a quick lie.

          FYI, I too had people with dementia in my family.

          • boutet said:

            The dehumanizing part is not so much the lying as the “it doesn’t matter because they won’t remember it.”

            It “doesn’t matter” what you say around the deaf person, they can’t hear it.
            It “doesn’t matter” if you make jokes about the person with cognitive disabilities, they won’t understand the joke.

            Do you see what I mean? There will be times when lying to anyone is appropriate or acceptable, but to say that it doesn’t matter if you lie to someone with dementia is a different sentiment.

          • Sure. There are boundaries of what’s appropriate, obviously. I was coming from a place of “given that everyone tries their best to respect one another, when is it ok to lie?”

          • boutet said:

            *edit for my last comment: to say that it doesn’t matter if you lie to someone with dementia -because of their dementia- is a different sentiment.

      • alexiscarlough said:

        The dementia has nothing to do with it; if a person won’t respect your boundaries and privacy and accept no for an answer, it’s acceptable to lie to get them to leave you alone. Whether they’re flouting your boundaries because of dementia, mental illness or just male entitlement. It’s like the boyfriend lie. If it’s the only way to get you to leave me alone then yes I’ll lie to you

      • ReanaZ said:

        I used to work for one of the world’s leading dementia research orgs, and a best practice my org advocated was to *validate* as honestly as possible but not *confront* delusions and inappropriate behavior. For example, if a person with dementia is having a delusion that she’s a teenager and it’s time for her to go home and her mom is going to be worried about her, you don’t actually want to confront her with honesty in that delusion. So “Doris, you’re in a nursing home. No one is waiting at home for you.” or “Your mom passed away many years ago. It’s time for dinner.” are both true but quite poor responses.

        A good response in this situation might be something like, “Your family knows where you are, Doris. You’re right where you need to be right now.” or “I know i would be upset if I thought my mum was worrying after me, but it’s not actually time to go home, it’s time for dinner. Your mom won’t be worried.” These kinds of responses are kind of side-steps, mostly true, etc. but most importantly they validate the *emotion* while remaining vague on the disorienting details.

        Change is very confronting for many people who dementia, whose brains have trouble parsing it and developing new patterns. So it may be helpful to think of those kinds of repeated intense questions as kind of an anxiety coping mechanism. I think a vague-validate strategy may work well in those cases. “Why has your schedule changed?!” might get a validating non-answer like “I know it’s different. They needed me here today.” “What is your address?” might get “I live in the north end of the city. Where do you live?”

        I don’t think flat out lying is helpful as it’s likely yo cause increased confusion, but vague, validating non-answers are perfectly polite and helpful responses.

        • Thank you, ReanaZ. This is exactly what I was trying to say, but WAY better put. 🙂

    • STH said:

      The thing is, it really doesn’t matter why he’s doing it; what matters is that she doesn’t like it. No explanation or justification is needed.

      Also, I think there’s a subtle form of ageism at work in these situations. Behavior that we consider “creepy” in younger men tends to be dismissed or downplayed in elderly men–“he doesn’t mean it” or “don’t worry–he’s harmless.” Just because somebody is old doesn’t mean they are “harmless” and their inappropriate behavior should be tolerated.

      When my father was in a nursing home and starting to show signs of dementia (but still mostly aware of social norms and able to control his behavior), my mother would tolerate him being rude to her because he was old and sick. I didn’t tolerate it, and told him so, and he wasn’t as rude after that.

      • Katamari said:

        Also, bit of an obvious point here, but someone’s behaviour can’t be “harmless” if it causes harm. This guy’s creepiness has caused the LW a lot of stress and worry. He has caused harm, so by definition it can’t be “harmless”.

        • wayofcats said:

          GOSH ALL THE YESSES.

          The urgings of others to go along with the decisions they have made is just another example of how women are often not considered people in their own right. Do they urge Fred to not press his hugs on people, or smilingly say to him, “Some people don’t like hugs!”

          No, they do not. Because he is considered more important than any random woman in the whole town.

          Will drink my cocoa and calm down now. Captain Awkward has presented an excellent script, with corollaries.

        • Irene said:

          Yeah. And if she were closer to him and genuinely wanted normal, sweet, kindly hugs, it would be EVEN WORSE for him to fondle her in a creepy way, because more of a betrayal of who he was and/or what she thought their relationship was. It might not be his fault, but it would be a bad experience anyway.

        • ACWMH said:

          I actually JUST had this conversation with someone, regarding a creepy creeper in our friendgroup. All of the females (and their attached males) agree that this dude is a creepy fucker who needs to GO AWAY, but too many of the other males are all “aw, he’s fine – he’s just socially awkward!” and we can’t quite make it happen. So we avoid being alone with him and we don’t encourage his presence and he’s doing a slow fade all on his own. But recently, a female person was venting about this creeper and one of the males said “yeah, but you know he’s harmless.”

          NO, we DON’T know that. And thank YOU Katamari for reminding me that he’s already PROVED he’s not harmless by doing the things that he did to make us so uncomfortable. Because those things alone were already not okay, and he doesn’t need to go so far as to actually assault someone in order for it to be a “real problem”

      • Ivymere said:

        A-freakin’-men!

    • Have you considered lying to this customer? Like, “I live at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, my name is [firstName] Enoby Dark’ness Raven Way, I’m taking a vacation to Tahiti I hear it’s a magical place so my schedule is changing”.

      That way she gets the conversation she wants, and you keep your privacy.

      (I, personally, feel anyone in a customer service position can give any kind of lies they want to nosy parker customers asking questions beyond “What’s the special today?” and “Where can I find red ribbon?” because providing pieces of your private life is not what you’re being paid for)

      • craniest said:

        I don’t know what’s worse, the fact you referenced “My Immortal” or the fact that I recognized the reference 😀

        I also am in favor of lying to people whose business it isn’t any of. Not only do you not owe people hugs, you do not owe them information.

      • biogirl said:

        AHHH I understood that reference. That fanfic gives me life.

      • Tahiti is a magical place YAY AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.!!!

    • Diatryma said:

      I work with disabled adults, and have worked with kids with many of the same issues (it’s all the school district, so.) “That’s private,” and, “That’s too personal,” are ways we actually teach these boundaries. Like the Captain said, being upbeat and polite about it goes a long way. As for the onlookers, blech. They do not know everything about how to interact with those who don’t understand boundaries.

      • I always prefer this way, myself. My work brings me into contact with a lot of disabled adults, people with relatively severe mental illness and a lot of older people with dementia and other cognitive impairments. I don’t feel comfortable lying to people, especially since I’ve often seen care staff using lies to appease people rather than actually making the effort to give them the care they want (although MOST care staff are awesome). Also, I can’t lie because it gives me such horrible cognitive dissonance that it makes me uncomfortable for the rest of the day. Hence preferring one of two techniques, depending on the circumstances: 1) what you said, a bright and friendly “that’s too personal” followed by a subject change; 2) a deflection, e.g. if someone has forgotten that her husband has died, I might answer “Why has my husband not visited?” with “It sounds like you’re missing your husband, is that right? What do you enjoy most about spending time with him?”

        • Wish Id had that script when my grandmother thought other patients’ male visitors were her (late) husband. Ill keep that kind of deflection in mind, as my nan in law now has dementia; thanks.

        • EmVee said:

          I think deflective but honest is a great way to treat someone with diminishing faculties with the dignity they deserve. There’s an interesting segment on the This American Life episode “Magic Words” where a husband and wife who are actors use their improv experience to deal with the wife’s mother’s accelerating Alzheimers. As improv teachers, they decided to stop lying to their mom, or correcting her “mistakes” (“You ARE home Mom, this is your home”, “You just HAD ice cream, Mom”, and other battles folks are probably very familiar with if they had/ve a parent with dementia), and just go with the flow. If she hallucinated monkeys out in the front yard, they said tell us about the monkeys, or maybe we should keep one as a pet? like it was a game–and she would come to understand it as playful banter, and no longer feel confused, angry, or in combat with others about her reality. It is seriously touching, and really interesting to listen to.

          • Yes, that’s a really good technique. Telling the truth outright can be very brutal and unnecessarily cruel. For example, no matter how gently someone says, “No Mary, your husband died, remember?”, this will be shocking news to someone who will effectively be bereaved over and over again because each time it is fresh news to them. Or, to someone saying “I have to get home!” telling them repeatedly that they are home will just lose you their confidence in you. They might think you’re trying to trick them and stop trusting you or they might think you’re a bit daft and not bother talking to you any more, while they get more and more distressed.

            I recently visited a nursing home where staff told me how they “enter the reality of people with dementia”, which I thought was a lovely way of putting it. In one example, a man was desperately trying to open the locked front door because he believed he needed to get to work. Staff sympathised – “oh, that’s a very difficult situation… I can see why you would be worried about not being able to get to work. What can we do?” He said, “Well, I could try breaking the window!” She said, “Well, maybe that’s not a great idea because then the house won’t be safe and maybe the police would want to speak to you about the damage. Would you like me to phone your boss and let them know what’s happening?” He said yes, she popped into the office then came back and said (note there is NO lie here!) “I’ve just made a phone call. Because of your situation, you don’t have to work today. What would you like to do instead?” The man was immediately reassured.

            I thought that was clever. His “situation” was that he was 87, retired and living in a nursing home with increasingly severe dementia. But he assumed she meant the front door being “stuck.”

          • Cricket said:

            I really like that approach! I was taught that one of the core philosophies of improv is “don’t deny the other person’s reality.” I’ve applied it a lot when working with small kids, but I can also see its applications with folks who have dementia. With my grandmother, we let her follow the flow of her mind when she’s having pleasant thoughts, but try to refocus or correct her if she’s feeling anxious or confused. When she doesn’t know where she is or talks about how she has to get back home, we encourage her to look around her until she recognizes objects and locations that remind her she is home. If she starts telling us a story about how she just got back from Mexico (a trip she took over 20 years ago), we let her follow the thread of her story. I’m happy that her memory at least keeps looping her back to a really nice moment.

          • Ganymede said:

            Run out of nesting. “Contended Dementia” is an incredibly helpful way of getting into this technique. My Dad has dementia and I have found my training as an actor incredibly useful. (Also my experience tending to a friend who became radically bipolar and delusional before his early death, another story.) Do google it – there is a Trust and a great website.

            One of my bezzie mates is also good at talking with my dad because she works with mentally-disabled adults (this is what we call them in the UK, apologies if this sounds inappropriate elsewhere). A lot of playfulness and positivity.

          • Og said:

            I’ve no experience with dementia, but this also works well with hallucinations and delusions related to mental illnesses! It can be very difficult and upsetting to confront and attempt to dispel this sort of thing — telling someone they’re flat out wrong about reality isn’t helpful, both because they probably know that already (but still believe the delusion at the same time) and because it puts them on the defensive. For me, it’s a lot less stressful to hear “assuming that’s true, doesn’t that mean [positive side consequence]?” (Although my experience is only with short-lived hallucinations/delusions where it’s more important to stay calm and wait than it is to re-establish reality, as I find reality reestablishes itself eventually.)

          • basketcasenz said:

            My MIL does that to her mother. She sounds SO angry at her mother for forgetting things, it makes me sad. I’m off to listen to that episode and maybe share it on Facebook as a not-subtle hint.

      • S said:

        Oh thanks! I really like ‘that’s too personal.’ I don’t like lying and I suck at it but I think I can say ‘that’s too personal’ or ‘that’s not something I talk to customers about’ cheerfully.

        • Anna Sthetic said:

          I used to quite like, oh, me(/colleague)? Don’t be fooled by the uniform, I’m(/colleague is) actually an international person of mystery so I’m afraid I can’t say… (cue rakish wink and some 007-style mimes.)

        • I also like ‘That’s too personal.’ I’ve had people step over a plain ‘That’s personal’ with good intentions because we’re friends, and they’re trying to say, ‘I’m your friend, and if you’d like to share you can.’ As an intensely private individual, I appreciate that* – when it’s coming from a friend, of course. Saying ‘That’s too personal’ says you’ve already done the analysis, and that they shouldn’t push further. I think most people (except the intentionally ignorant ‘Oops, should I have not done that?’ folks) realize that.

      • DarcyPennell said:

        Back in the day when I worked retail and had a hard time enforcing boundaries, I used to say “I’m not allowed to give out that information” with a cheery smile, like I was sharing a little joke with the prying person. It was sort of true, management had told us not to give anyone else’s personal information to customers, and I extended it to not sharing info about myself. “Oh, I’m not allowed to give out that information!” “Sure we’re friends, customer who’s name I don’t even know, but I’m not allowed to give out that information!” I’d just repeat it until they stopped asking.

        • Devin said:

          Yeah, that conspiratorial thing can really work. When I get customers asking about co-workers, I mostly play it like that. If they ask once, I deny or deflect (“I’m not sure when she’s working” or the like.) If they persist, I look at them, purse my lips, shrug, and say “I really can’t… I trust you/I’m sure you’re legit, but we’ve had some people ask about employees who, well, you wouldn’t want following you home, you know? I can leave a message for her if you’d like.”

          Oddly, I think it lets the creepers know that I’m on to them while letting them save a little face and pretend like we don’t both know what they’re about, because I’ve never once had someone leave a dodgy message when I used that script (if they do want to leave a note, it’s always actual legit work stuff. They might be a bit weird about it, but they’re being weird about trying to get a product they like, not about trying to force a visit on someone who doesn’t want to see them.)

    • sarahjaneb said:

      My response to your situation with the woman at work would be the same regardless of whether or not she had dementia. IMO it’s reprehensible to lie to someone about their own stuff, e.g. their medical or financial situation, but there are situations where it’s ok to lie about your own stuff. The key point here, IMO, isn’t that she won’t remember it, it’s that it’s none of her damn business to begin with. And if you find yourself in a situation where someone is asking you stuff that’s none of their business and you don’t feel safe or comfortable saying “it’s none of your damn business” then lie. You could say you changed your schedule because of a yoga class, you live at 123 Main Street, and your last name is Smith (unless it really is Smith in which case it could be Jones.)

    • Marie said:

      You don’t owe anyone personal information. Either say you can’t tell her, using a cheerful or mildly apologetic voice and/or deflect by asking her a question like asking her how she’s doing or whatever. Courtesy doesn’t require you to exceed your boundaries.

    • slythwolf said:

      My default fake address to give is 1060 West Addison, Chicago, IL, 60613. In the immortal words of Jake Blues, “That’s Wrigley Field!”

      • Proffie Galore said:

        Brilliant! I got tired of telling cashiers at certain stores that I don’t give out my phone number. Now I just say “(local code) 867-5309”. And then if they ask my name, I’m Jenny of course. By phenomenal coincidence, many stores have multiple Jennies with that number.

        • CJ said:

          Only fools the young’uns though. With anyone who knows their 80s pop music, you’re likely to get some major side-eye.

          The closest I’ve ever come to jerking people around this way is with large noisy restaurants that don’t take reservations. Instead, your party’s name is added to a list managed by the host, then announced on the PA system once a table becomes available. At popular eateries, this could take up to an hour. These places often attract large groups, so one could be sitting at the bar for awhile waiting to be called.

          My (now late) husband and I always gave our name as “Donner” to the host. When the call eventually came out on the PA system for “Donner, party of 2”, we would stagger in from the bar all highly amused with ourselves. Never once did we get any sort of reaction at all. Whether that’s an indication of how well people tune out background noise (or just don’t know their history), I can’t say.

  3. RedinSC said:

    “the two big social/cultural expectations: (1) Women must defer to men and take care of their feelings at all times and (2) Respect your elders.”

    This is so true, I know I’ve struggled with this. From the time I didn’t want to deal with some nudists on a beach while I was in college, to not wanting to hug my creepy landlord. Thanks for the permission to flout these two expectations, and I would say this isn’t permission just for the LW but for all who feel that we’d be letting people down some how by making ourselves uncomfortable.

  4. diloolie said:

    It’s a favorite creepy old guy tactic to become everyone’s friend… that way he gets a built-in disguise to allow for more creepiness. You’re really not the only one who finds charismatic old men creepy, LW, promise.

    • Big Pink Box said:

      The Brits in the room are probably thinking the same two words that pipped into my head : Jimmy Savile. Mr Nice Guy, Mr Charity, Mr Public Education Campaigns, Mr Most Prolific Sex Offender in (known) UK Criminal History. Yeah.

      LW – Your body is your own and, as ever, the Cap’n is spot on.

      • jeanne said:

        OMG. Just vile. I’m not a Brit, but I read up on him after seeing an article about him after his death. There are lots of YouTube videos that show footage of him, smarming around and looking like Mr. Jolly Charity Fund-Raiser, but once you know what he did, and for how long, everything he says screams, “HERE BE A HUGE GAS-LIGHTING, RAPING ASSHOLE. KEEP YOUR CHILDREN AWAY!”

        I don’t believe in hell, but I like to think that he’s there, roasting until the end of time.

        • Mary said:

          I used to work at the hospital where he did a lot of his awful stuff, and several of my colleagues had met him on various charity bashes and so on. Almost universally, they thought he was a weirdo and a creep, and there was a lot of joking about how to avoid him. But, you know, that was just silly gossip amongst the secretaries, right?

          (To be clear, I don’t think he assaulted any of my colleagues – though really, how would I know if he did? They wouldn’t have told me – but they all thought he was kind of creepy. But obviously, that was a ~joke~ – none of us had grown up in a culture where you were supposed to connect “this person is creepy and does inappropriate-but-small personal space boundary invasions” with “this person will engage is seriously violent and abusive behaviour towards women and young people.”

          • miss_chevious said:

            You know, that was one of the things that really resonated with me about Gavin deBecker’s book The Gift of Fear*, is the idea that people will joke about the truth. Like “ha ha! It’s so funny we all try to avoid him!” is because you are picking up the signals that he is to be avoided. I’d never put two and two together until I read that and since then I listen a LOT more closely to people’s joking remarks.

            *standard caveat about the problematic nature of the domestic violence chapter here, but the point I’m talking about is not from that chapter of the book.

          • Danielle said:

            And joking is an easier response than acknowledging, “Wow, what he did makes me really uncomfortable and I feel bad right now.”

          • jeanne said:

            There’s a series on Netflix, The Detectives, about the sex crimes unit at Greater Manchester Police. It documents the unit’s investigation against an associate of Savile’s, Ray Teret, who’s accused of raping underage schoolgirls at the flat above his record store in the sixties and seventies.

            I couldn’t wait for the end of the series to find out the outcome; I looked him up on Wikipedia. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

            It was deeply satisfying to see him given, virtually, life in prison (he’s 73), almost in a “Savile-by-proxy” kind of way.

  5. Oh my yes THANK YOU. I dodged two old man creeps just this past weekend in fact. They started saying creepy things and otherwise pushing my red alert buttons, (though not my person thankfully,) so I nodded and briskly walked on. The saying of something along the lines of, “Not today, Fred!” is a nice touch that I will add should I see those two again.

  6. CynicMom said:

    We are currently dealing with a situation where a much-beloved older relative (a real Citizen of the Year type) has begun being inappropriately handsy as a result of dementia. It’s hard, because you want to be respectful and loving of this person who has done so many loving things for others.

    But you know what? You are NOT OBLIGATED to subject yourself to things that make you uncomfortable. In this case, the handsy-ness means that they have to have limited interaction with children or strangers, and an increasing amount of time in a location with people who are kind and specially trained in how to deal.

    Just wanted to throw my two cents in that, yes, dementia is the first thing that came to my mind, but no, it doesn’t mean you have to subject yourself.

    • FlyBy said:

      Same thing here. My grandfather got handsy when his brain started failing. His compromised mental state didn’t change anything about handling those interactions. We said no thanks to hugs, stood out of reach, and sometimes left the room. If he was hurt by it, well, he didn’t remember long. We had no obligation to be hurt by him. I personally didn’t nope out of his life entirely as I would have with someone I liked less, but that was my choice, not an obligation.

    • Cricket said:

      I want to reinforce what others have said here – you are still totally in the right to set boundaries with someone who has dementia. The fact that someone may not be super mentally clear about a behavior they do that hurts you doesn’t mean they get a free pass to hurt you.

      Also, dementia doesn’t automatically and totally destroy people’s abilities to understand social norms or be respectful to others. My grandmother’s behavior changed a lot in a number of ways when she developed dementia. One effect was that she became crankier and more demanding – but ONLY to close relatives who seemed likely to act on her demands. She doesn’t tell visiting friends or houseguests to wash all the dishes as soon as they wake up in the morning, just her own children – she still has a pretty clear sense of how to be polite to non-relatives when they are at her house.

      In a similar vein, I think it’s entirely possible that Fred has a sense of who he can and can’t get away with touching and is acting based on that. I doubt he would give a sudden shoulder rub to someone he just met. But with you, someone he’s known for years, in a private and unobserved space, the surprise creepy massage appears.

      • STH said:

        Seconding this SO HARD. My father was super-charming to the nursing home staff, just nasty to family. Saying that someone has dementia does NOT mean that they have no self-control or no sense of social norms–dementia typically lasts years and people with dementia vary greatly in their abilities and impairments.

        • Skeetpea said:

          My father was perhaps the other extreme. By the time he died, he’d forgotten my name and his wife’s name and the word for “yellow,” but his good manners lasted till the end.

          • GreyGuardian said:

            This. My great grandfather was a racist asshole who beat his wife and daughters. By the time I had a memory of him, he had dementia. Dementia made him into the perfect gentleman, full of “bless your heart” and calling all his (mostly Black) nurses “pretty girl”. There were different problems, obviously, with that…but dementia actually made a less reprehensible man out of him

          • simonthegrey said:

            This. My great grandfather was a racist asshole who beat his wife and daughters. By the time I had a memory of him, he had dementia. Dementia made him into the perfect gentleman, full of “bless your heart” and calling all his (mostly Black) nurses “pretty girl”. There were different problems, obviously, with that…but dementia actually made a less reprehensible man out of him

      • This is one of the hardest things about dealing with my mother. I KNOW she has memory issues and cognitive problems, but the worst of her behavior is directed ONLY at me. Other relatives have told me she can’t help her behavior, but if that’s true, why does she control it while out in public or while around other family members?

        Which really only makes it worse, because if she CAN control her behavior, even to a small degree, then she’s alright with harassing me until I’m in tears, stopping me from sleeping and eating, screaming at me, blaming me for things outside my control, etc.

        • I don’t know how much this helps, but sadly, her ability to control her behaviour is probably somewhat context-dependent.

          If she’s used to having looser boundaries with you, she’s still gonna have looser boundaries with you and when that’s coupled with lower inhibitions overall … it’s not good.

          My Mom has gone back to smacking me on the leg to get my attention, a couple of decades after I first trained her out of it. She knocks it off when I tell her to knock it off, but at the start of nearly every visit I have to go through the routine again. It sucks. I’m sorry. Do you have any respite care options?

        • SMK said:

          I am so sorry you’re being treated poorly by your mother. Whether she can help it or not, you don’t deserve it.

        • Sarah said:

          When I worked giving respite care/in-home care to elders, we often saw them be awful to their own family, but really nice to us. We explained that was normal to the family, and one of the reasons respite care was so important for the main care-giver.
          We often had to explain to non-care-giving family members it had nothing to do with how the main caregiver was treating the elder. We found it helpful to compare with some kinds of physical problems such as Parkinson’s or tardive dyskinesia, where the affected person can hold still for a bit, say for a photo, but then the shaking is worse for awhile.
          Elders with dementia can control their behavior for awhile, but put them back in a “safe” situation with someone they trust, and they relax, or when they get tired enough, their ability to control themselves goes downhill quickly.

          Your mother’s poor behavior is directed toward you because she trusts you not to just walk away and never come back. Not that that makes it easier on you, and not that it should. I’m so sorry you and your mother are in that situation.

        • Jedi hugs to you.
          I know all about being a tired caregiver, and boy does it feel like a “no exit” situation sometimes. It really, really helps to give yourself occasional respite, take daily short breaks, and to train yourself to care less.

          I know that last one sounds way harsh, but I don’t mean it in the sense of “stop caring about your mother”. I mean it in the sense of try and train your emotional response out of reacting like your mom is being mean to you, and try to remember that it is her dementia talking, not her (trite, I know).

          This is going to sound weird and possibly unhealthy, but what helped me in the worst moments was to tell myself that everything is a video game and I had to push the right buttons to get to the next level. The right buttons being “get the adult diapers, clean up all the mess, make food happen, and not lose my shit.” I know it sounds like dissociation, but in that moment, that is what helped. And the whole “video game” thing is what I mean by caring less.

          You’ll get through this phase of your life. Take care of yourself, and make sure you have someone to talk to.

        • STH said:

          So sorry about this, Tired Caregiver; it’s just awful, I know. It sounds like you are her main caregiver, so you would have a better sense of this than anyone else: do YOU think she can control her behavior? In the case of my father, I knew that he could, so there were a couple of times that I told him that my mother and I would have to leave if he couldn’t treat her with respect. He was better after that. I think he was just angry and frustrated and he knew that he could safely take it out on her with no repercussions.

          Have you read “The 36-Hour Day” by Nancy Mace? It might help you cope with some of this stuff.

          Good luck and Jedi hugs to you.

  7. MK said:

    I am assuming that by “grandfatherly figure” and “citizen of the year”, you mean to say that this man is generally regarded as a good person. In my humble opinion, good people, when they think someone may be avoiding them, and more specifically physical contact with them, they do not insist on hugs from said people and they especially do not demand the specific kind of hug they would like.

    Do genuinely nice people accidently make others uncomfortable? Of course. The way to distinguish them from the creeps is the follow through: a genuinely nice person, once they realise you feel uncomfortable, will stay away from you.

    • Big Pink Box said:

      “good people, when they think someone may be avoiding them, and more specifically physical contact with them, they do not insist on hugs from said people and they especially do not demand the specific kind of hug they would like”

      Preach it from the rooftops!

    • Bunny said:

      THIS ^^^ This right here!

      I? Am an occasionally accidentally creepy person, because I am not great at Social Things, because I struggle with eye contact and sometimes get it wrong when reading Is Touching Okay signals (I come from a very touchy family and had an EXTREMELY touchy friends group as a teen – think 8 kids on a 3-person sofa, mostly sprawled across each other, and while I tend to default to being overly cautious about getting touchy with other people I am still learning when Touch Is Okay).

      And you know what happens when someone I accidentally made uncomfortable acts differently around me? I realise that I did something, even if I might not be sure what. I feel an unhealthy amount of guilt about it. Then I get over that and deal with my shit by making sure to give that person a wider berth, not overtly or like I’m trying to draw attention to it, but just letting them be 100% in charge of how we interact physically from then on. And, if it’s appropriate to do so and I am confident I know what the issue is, I find a quiet moment to apologise if I made them uncomfortable and ask them to, please, not be afraid to just straight-up tell me if I’m fucking things up any time.

      Because I don’t actually want to be creepy. And I recognise that other people being uncomfortable with me is not some great unfairness cast upon me by the universe.

      Not only is an unasked-for under-clothes massage wildly inappropriate to the point that even I can recognise it as such, but the reaction of your creepy dude since then pretty much nails it for me that he can tell you’re uncomfortable and cares less about that than he does about getting what he wants. Which is to be allowed to touch you in the exact ways he wants, whenever he wants, free of consequence.

      • peep said:

        “Because I don’t actually want to be creepy. And I recognise that other people being uncomfortable with me is not some great unfairness cast upon me by the universe.”

        Yeah, but Creepy Dude will probably try to turn it into one though, if for no other reason than to cover his butt if he suspects that he’s been caught on his creepiness.

        In my experience, “citizen of the year” types tend to be very friendly and chatty with everyone. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he began proactively sharing with others that he is ‘concerned’ about the LW, as she seems to have become so oversensitive to innocent gestures of friendliness on his part.

        • Bunny said:

          Exactly! Creepy Dude’s reaction to this point – when OP hasn’t even even said anything – is very telling. I just wanted to draw a bright, clear line for OP between Accidental Creep Who Is Actually Okay and Creep Who Uses Social Norms To Get Away With It. Creepy Dude, in this case, is not acting in ways that would suggest his creepiness is accidental.

          And even if he IS just a bit clueless and socially misaligned (which is unlikely because, if he is, how the hell did he manage to be so popular and trusted amongst his community?) his behaviour in reaction to OP’s withdrawal of contact is still unacceptable, and OP still has the right to not be touched by him, ever.

        • sophylou said:

          Yes re the chattiness and the faux “concern” — I have a creepy neighbor who monitors the women in my building, and he’s told at least one of the other women that I am basically pathologically shy because I don’t engage with him. After he left me a letter (!) about how much he likes being my neighbor (!!) I told him explicitly to leave me alone, which held for about two months, because GOSH DARN IT he’s just a friendly guy and can’t help being friendly/commenting on what he picks up on about my life! “What a nice new car!” and so on. I could have accepted the “oh, she’s pathologically shy” bit, but o him it seems to mean that GOSH DARN IT he just isn’t going to give up on me! He will help me overcome this terrible difficulty by being friendly and telling me how much he likes me! (Bleaagghhh.)

          • xyz said:

            Honestly? Just mirror his attitude. “Ooh, gosh darn it, one of these days you’re gonna learn!” Comment about your new car? “We’ve talked about this, George, and I still prefer to be left alone.” Comment about how you’ve had a lot of visitors lately? “Good fences make good neighbors, George!” Etc. His whole thing is “I’m normal, she’s weird, that’s why I can act this way.” Do that back to him. Accept the “shy” characterization if you must. “Yes I am VERY shy and that’s why I would rather keep to myself, thanks.”

          • sophylou said:

            Actually, he would take any of those comments as an opening for conversation (that’s what he wants), so I’ve been doing a modified Jenna Marbles “why are you still talking to me?” face. This has been easier since telling him explicitly to leave me alone — he’s now the one whose behavior is off. 🙂

      • Mary said:

        ❤ This is such an A++ strategy to deal with your own uncertainty about reading other people's implied boundaries. Hooray for you!

    • sarahjaneb said:

      Exactly! This is not good behavior. It’s creepy behavior that is clearly not accidental.

    • Paulina said:

      Bingo. How would I want someone to act with me, should I take leave of my senses/ability to act respectfully? Would I want to make people even more uncomfortable by expecting them to put up with my bad behaviour? No, I would not, if anything I’d want the other person to stop the situation, if that was possible/reasonable. (Without any onus on them to do so.) I certainly would not insist on contact if I could tell the other person was reticent.

      Well-meaning people who are accidentally creepy do not want you to enable them to be creepy. So even if he’s not doing this deliberately (which he probably is), the appropriate response doesn’t change.

    • TO_Ont said:

      I read ‘grandfatherly figure’ and ‘citizen of the year’ as being a way of saying ‘I don’t trust my community to believe or support me’.

      • CJ said:

        Oh, that’s good. I love the way you cut right to the chase in connecting these two social realities. I think most of us understand this in an indirect way. But the direct translation has a certain power that makes this a keeper.

  8. ratminx said:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, CA, for the much-needed reminder that we don’t have to comply with creepy behavior in order to manage feelings or expectations of other people. It’s definitely difficult when it comes to society’s expectations around how you treat the elderly, especially when they (seem to) enjoy such a widespread positive reputation. I’m in the process of building resilience in that feelings/expectations management area, along with the self-esteem and worth that comes from tending to my own feelings/needs first. Better late than never!

    Also, this: “What if I told you that it’s very likely that he knows that you don’t really like hugging him anymore and that it’s part of the attraction of trying to manipulate you into doing it? It’s a power trip by this popular, no-doubt charismatic old man and he enjoys your discomfort because it’s a reminder of his authority.” THIS. Struck a huge chord with me, after having been in a relationship wherein the other person lied, manipulated, cheated, and a whole host of other things that left me reeling. Despite us breaking up, him (thankfully) living in another state, and me having erected some boundaries (including de-friending on FB so I wouldn’t have to bear witness to it in his dealings with other people), he still manages to occasionally insert himself in ways that remind me of your statement above. Woof.

  9. Seconding the cheerful, breezy nopeing on out of there.

    “Can I have a hug?” “Nope!” *keeps walking*
    “I want to talk!” “Nope!”
    “You’re so mean!” “Yup!”

    When he knocks on your door, don’t open it. You owe him literally nothing.

  10. Eurekas said:

    “I think you are probably not the only person with a story like that about him”

    So much this. There was an incident with a customer behaving oddly in my place of business last week. I can’t tell you details because I don’t know them, and they aren’t related to the LW’s situation, but *several* people including at least one police officer had apparently had prior interactions with this customer.

    Or think about the Bill Cosby situation, or the Tiger Woods one from a few years back or many other celebrity scandals . . . once *one* person made public interactions that had been secret, another soon followed and a snowball effect happened soon after.

    Now, maybe this situation is different, but I think the odds are good that LW is not the only one getting this kind of treatment. Fred’s pushing boundaries, and I think he knows it. And if he doesn’t? You still don’t have to put up with it.

    • Anon said:

      Jian Ghomeshi.

    • Baytree said:

      Oh goodness yes. I one time had trouble with a landlord/housemate to such extent that I finally pushed through my embarrassment and went to the police station to ask for advice. It took WAY to long for me to do it on account of feeling like that was unjustified and rude and etc. (He was creepy to the point I worried about my safety, although hadn’t done anything illegal yet). After all, *no one else* seemed to have a problem with him, right?

      Imagine my shock when the police recognized him by name and had his photo on file! Turns out so many people had had the same problems with him… and that’s just the ones who reported it.

      • slythwolf said:

        I wish we could break down the cultural(/psychological?) reluctance to talk about this stuff. If we did, the wider community could keep an eye on these people and warn each other about them and cut down on their pool of victims.

    • attica said:

      The major Creepy Clue to me is LW’s quoting Fred as requesting a ‘full frontal hug.’ The expression originated as, and is still mostly used for, describing a type of nudity by an actor in performance. That Fred used such a loaded term suggests unequivocally to me that he means to be creepy.

      • caryatid said:

        i completely agree. i wondered if those were his exact words. that is definitely not the way you describe a friendly hug.

        • thelittlepakeha said:

          Yeah it doesn’t even describe all two-armed hugs, because a lot of the time you’re leaning towards each other and it’s only the very upper body touching. “Full frontal” sounds more like a very close embrace.

    • jdrives said:

      This. I put up with a creepy dude for way too long and finally made a public scene in front of all of our friends when he touched me after I told him to stop. Naturally, people wanted to know what happened, so I told them. Not a single person was surprised; the women in my group all had similar stories of being inappropriately touched/hugged too long/told they were “hot” or “sexy” (all of these women are partnered), and the men even knew and said they would help their wives take “evasive action” if this guy was at their house. (Which, like…STOP INVITING HIM OVER but OK).

      Seeing me make a scene and take a public stand against the creepy behavior helped empower my lady friends to be open about their own experiences and also not be as afraid to speak up as well. It was also nice to have a group of people who I knew had my back and believed me. I wonder if LW has any trusted friends in the community to test the waters with? Like, “Hey neighbor, any chance you’ve had some unwanted hugs or contact from Friendly Old Guy?”

    • slythwolf said:

      There was a creepy old dude who used to show up at my work and try to give me presents. He was super obsessed with the fact that my hair was red! (This was the catalyst for my dyeing it back to brown, but I don’t regret not having to keep up my roots anymore.) When I went to my supervisor about it, it turned out he had literally done this to every red-haired woman who had ever worked there, including her.

  11. Kimbeaux said:

    If the Bystander Brigade weighs in with a comment like it’s just a hug, respond with a cheery, “Hey Fred! Bystander will give you your hug.” And if you’re particularly annoyed with the Bystander, inform them that Fred likes full frontal hugs.

    • Tesseract said:

      +1000 They think the guy deserves a hug? Then they won’t mind doing it themselves.

      • CJ said:

        Reminds me of 0:45 in this Louis CK comedy routine.

        • geekgirl99 said:

          Thanks for that – I was having a cranky day and a little Louis CK was just what I needed. 🙂

          • CJ said:

            @geekgirl99: Glad you liked it. It’s an excerpt from a much longer (~15 minute) routine on dating and safety for women (while dating) that is even better. It’s available on Youtube and doesn’t require too much of a hunt.

        • Chameleon said:

          Kind of ironic since Louis CK is known to be a rather creepy Fred himself.

          • peep said:

            I don’t know the man myself, so I’ll take your word for it. While it would be great if the man practiced what he preached, I’m not planning on having him to dinner where he can creep on me. I enjoy him purely as a comedian and thought the video was funny and insightful.

  12. Vicki said:

    Possible script for the bystanders: “If you think he needs a hug, you go ahead and give him one.”

    If they sincerely think he’s harmless and needs a hug, they can go ahead and do that, and if he’s actually looking for general hugs rather than a chance to grope you or a power trip, he’ll be satisfied. If they don’t want to hug him, it puts the not-hugging-Fred thing n them instead of on you: the cultural expectations for “but women should do this” don’t include room for them to answer with an explicit verbal “Ick, I don’t want to do that, so it’s your job.”

  13. Betty Larceny said:

    Creeps capitalize on this “innocent old man” BS so that if you don’t go along with it you’re rude and you become the bad guy so they can move on to the next person without repercussions.

    The “he’s just an innocent old man” thing is why a creepy old man has my phone number and has spent the past two days texting me photos of himself and calling me his niece.

  14. ratminx said:

    I think my other comment got eaten, so hopefully this isn’t a repeat, but I just wanted to thank you for the reminder that we are not responsible for the feelings/expectations of others. CA’s response, and those of all the above commenters, are all very timely (and all getting a big nod). Whether a person is being intentionally manipulative or not, what you’re comfortable with is paramount.

  15. Wholehearted agreement with the Captain’s and everyone else’s advice. I would only like to amplify that people who violate boundaries have forfeited any entitlement they may have had to the truth, and there is absolutely no moral issue to telling lies of omission or commission to boundary-violators in order to enforce your boundaries.

  16. Blow Pop said:

    LW I want to especially give you permission to refuse contact with him. I had a kind of similar thing happen.

    There’s a lady that my parents are good friends with that we see on Fridays at the bar (I see her when I feel up to going but haven’t been going lately because low energy and it’s too hot for me right now so going outside isn’t good but besides the point). For the longest time for the past 9 years she’s ALWAYS hugged me. Never asked permission or anything. And being awkward social person I am, I went with it for the longest time (9 years). This year I finally snapped. I’ve ALWAYS been uncomfortable with her hugging me. I went to the bar with my family but wasn’t feeling social ness or wanting to be touched by anyone at all. I just wanted to sit in the corner I sit in, read my book, and drink my cider. I had been out doing errands practically the entire day which accounts for all this and is why I “snapped”. Or what I consider as snapping. She came towards me with arms out to give me a hug and I simply and calmly put my hands up in a stop like motion (palms outward at chest level elbows bent) and said “please don’t touch me”. She made a BIG. FUCKING. DEAL. out of it. Now this is a 50+ year old woman. I’m a 30 year old person. Definite age dynamic thing. She went to my mum and bitched loudly at her that I wouldn’t hug her. My mum quietly yelled at me for it and I told her that I wasn’t the one making the scene and I have the right not to be touched by people. Mum and I had to have this conversation a few times before it took (literally throughout two weeks in which I also avoided going to the bar because I didn’t want her to cause another scene). The next week, when my family got home from the bar, my mum came with an apology from her. She realised she had been in the wrong. Now, she doesn’t even try to hug me any more. And I’m happier for it. She might not be but I don’t care if she’s not happy that I’m not letting her hug me when she wants to regardless of my feelings.

    So yes, LW, take the captain’s advice. It feels amazing to stand up for yourself (even in such a simple way of refusing physical comfort from someone who makes you uncomfortable) and it will make you feel better after a while once you start enforcing it and people start backing off and respecting you.

    I wish you all the best LW.

    • That’s excellent that you actually got an apology! When you enforce boundaries with people who are not violating them with bad intent, but rather out of habit, inattention, or cluelessness, this is what happens (at least, after further reflection even after a bad initial reaction, as happened here). The people who persistently react poorly to enforcement of boundaries are proving their bad intent.

    • CJ said:

      Great that you got an apology. My experience has mostly been that people who violate boundaries prefer to get all publicly irate when called out on it. I suspect that it’s partly a reaction to their entitlement not being serviced, but also as a cover to prove their innocence to others and make the person (who called them out) appear irrational, hypersensitive, or unfair.

      I move in an extended social circle where hugging non-intimates is routine. Fortunately, the circle also holds consent as sacred. Which means, it’s totally cool to refuse a hug, even from those one might enthusiastically hug on other occasions. For that reason, many people often ask, “Would you like a hug today?”, which carries the acknowledgement that the recipient’s personal space requirements might vary from day to day.

      There are totally nice people whom I refuse to hug in this circle. Some I’ve never cared to hug, while others I chose to hug at one time before I changed my mind. I haven’t been offered a lot of creepy hugs myself, as I’m not the sort of person that creeps feel comfortable approaching. I mostly want to avoid hugging excessively sweaty people, or folks with poor personal hygiene. I also tend to avoid hugs in settings where people are consuming a lot of greasy fried food, as I don’t want their greasy hand prints on my clothing.

      The point is that I get to choose, and my choices are allowed to vary with the occasion and with the person. Provided I refuse with grace, whatever offense they might take is not my problem.

      • …Wait, being excessively sweaty is a deterrent to hugging?! And here I thought I was a Grade-A shvitzer! Apparently I need to up my game, STAT!

        (My answer to the question, “Would you like a hug today?” is, “No. Nor tomorrow. Nor the day after. Nor the day after that.” Hugs activate some kind of instinct in my lizard brain that makes it think it is being swallowed whole by some sort of large predator.)

        • CJ said:

          For me, excessively sweaty is not (too) big a deal if we’re all playing sports together. But not after I’ve taken a shower, put on nice clothes, and want to stay feeling comfortable for the rest of the (non-sporting) event. I just don’t do Sticky well. Nor do I want some sweaty person’s underarm imprint on my silk blouse, requiring an unnecessary trip to the dry cleaner. The worst was the guy in the tank top with the sweat dripping off his long pit hair, who lunged in for a bear hug before I could stop him. Nice man, but ewww.

          • I don’t do well with anybody’s bodily fluids. I tolerate my own by necessity, but that’s about it. I can’t imagine how I would react to being lunged at by a sweaty, hairy dude in a tank top, but I’d like to think after my initial “OMGWTFBBQ” freeze reaction, he would know better than to drop a hug-bomb on anyone ever again.

          • CJ said:

            @nottakennotavailable:

            It’s a tricky one for me. I generally don’t have a problem with hugs, although I do reserve the right to refuse hugs from specific people for any reason, even if I typically do hug them.

            Which in cases like Sweaty Pit Hair Dude, requires that I be very proactive in knowing where he is at all times. Otherwise, I run the risk of shaming him (for sweating, or having long dripping pit hair), should he manage to come in close before I can refuse his hug. Crying out, “ewwwww, get away!” is not exactly good form.

            People aren’t always very aware of their bodily fluids/scents, or that others may not want to experience them in close quarters under those circumstances. Same for the BBQ sauce sticky fingers, which may not bother them (but are a huge ick for me).

        • So I have a male friend who always insists on hugging me and one of our female friends (I’m also female), but never anyone else. The fact that he once openly had a big crush on me, is 20-ish years older than me but acted like a lovelorn teenager (think cringworthy soppy poetry read at me and sulky “WHY won’t you be mine?” type stuff) and has also admitted feelings for the mutual female friend…these things all probably contribute to me not being especially comfortable receiving the hugs he always tries to give me every time we meet and every time our football team scores.

          And every time I used to try to stop him with “No hug today thanks” or similar, he would act totally offended, or defensive (jumping back with his hands held out as if I’d threatened to hit him and going “O-kayyyy!”, then avoiding looking at me for a while). He would pout like a toddler and say “Oh!” in a baby voice, and this really used to annoy me – why not just act like an adult (in his fifties no less) and accept that I didn’t feel like hugging him?

          One day I kind of lost it with him and went “Why do you always insist on hugging me and [female friend] but never any of our male friends? Why do you make baby noises at us and and mimic us but never the men? Do you see us as children? [Female friend] is your age, you know!” He had no answer except “But I like hugging you!” I replied, “That’s great, but *I* don’t always like hugging people, so I’m not always comfortable with it.” I then suggested a “pretend hug” routine that we now have, where he comes at me motioning for a hug, I do the same, we both go “Pretend hugs!” and make hugging motions without actually touching each other. He finds it super hilarious, I don’t have to touch him, everyone’s a winner.

          I realise I’ve made my friend sound like a horrible creep. He’s actually a fun and intelligent guy and a great, sympathetic listener (unless someone is rejecting his advances – sigh) but this whole weird poetry and disrespect for my maturity and boundaries…yeah, that’s why I can’t consider him a close friend. Shame really.

          • NorahMancer said:

            That is, sadly, a friend of mine in twenty years if he doesn’t mend his ways. Hugs I don’t mind; being physically lifted off the ground is NOT ON. The only thing that stopped him – briefly – was the time he scooped me up and I squawked in pain. I was on my period and my boobs were tender as hell. Another reason to always get consent, folks!

          • What the hell is it with guys just going in for a hug with women, even women they’ve barely/never met? They sure as hell wouldn’t do the same to guys, even guys who are their good friends.

            Your friend sounds like…uh, someone I personally could not be friends with. Glad you found a workaround, though!

          • CJ said:

            It’s entitlement. He finds her attractive and wants to touch her. Hugging is a socially acceptable way to get that want met.

        • jeanne said:

          I got a kind of Alice in Wonderland vibe from your “Would you like a hug?” solution: “Hugs tomorrow, hugs yesterday, but NEVER HUGS TODAY!”

          • The overall tripping of my life aside, considering it is ALWAYS today whenever someone asks, that makes, like, total sense! Mind blown in a good way! 😀

  17. nonniemu said:

    Would also like to point out that you are not obligated to treat everybody the same – just because you hug one person doesn’t mean you have to hug another, and vice versa, just because you don’t want to hug one person doesn’t mean you can’t hug another. F’rinstance there’s a little old man that comes into my work sometimes that goes *way* over the boundaries of ‘okay’, however I am familiar with him and his history. He used to be an incorrigible flirt, and he and his wife would come into our business and he’d flirt with me right in front of his wife (they worshiped each other, and she understood with him it was just words, and actually liked me because I’m a good verbal fencer and he and I hit it off immediately) but after his wife died, dementia kicked in almost immediately and kind of crumbled all his instincts for ‘this is way way over the line’. I feel safe around him because although he *says* some pretty shocking things (he has asked me several times outright if I’ll go to bed with him, for instance), I am aware that this is still just him flirting, just without the talent he used to have. So I laugh and tell him something like “oh no, customers only get to go to bed with me after their 600th visit.” And he’ll act shocked and say “600 visits?? I haven’t got that long!” and we’ll banter back and forth and then he’ll toddle off with his caretaker happy because he thinks he’s “still got it”. (His caretaker loves me because she gets a bit of a break from constantly having to to tell him “you can’t say that!” and trying to just head him off from talking to women at all!) Customer B, on the other hand, was AWFUL from the get-go. The first time I ever spoke to him, he started asking me all sorts of personal questions. I wish to this day I’d handled it differently, especially since as I just finished saying, I pride myself on my verbal fencing, but it was a combination of that training to be polite (both as an employee to a first time customer and – I have to admit I think this is also true – as a younger woman to an older man) and a desperate wish to make him shut up and go away, I just answered all the questions. That day I felt that I knew very well how a deer in headlights feels. By the next time (after kicking myself mentally a jillion times for how I reacted the first time), I was ready for him and shut him down a lot faster, and FORTUNATELY he appeared to take the hint and didn’t make problems (although it took several more conversations before he just stuck to the subject of business and didn’t keep trying to pry into my personal life). But my god, it still bothers me how easily I gave up personal information because my brain was too panicked to stop and tell me YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TELL HIM IT’S NONE OF HIS GODDAMN BUSINESS.

    • CJ said:

      “Would also like to point out that you are not obligated to treat everybody the same – just because you hug one person doesn’t mean you have to hug another, and vice versa, just because you don’t want to hug one person doesn’t mean you can’t hug another.”

      Yep. It always amazes me just how many people don’t get this. They seem to feel it is rude not to treat everyone the same in a social setting. Since the term “social setting” can encompass a wide variety of events, this concept can sometimes border on the ridiculous. I’ve known folks who frequent sex parties who truly believe that if they perform a specific sex act with a partner in a public setting, they are socially obligated to do the same with every partner in order to avoid hurt feelings.

    • Paulina said:

      Where I most run into the “treat everyone the same” expectation is with new people (always men in my experience) who are trying to fit in by emulating someone who is already well-established in the group, whatever the group is. (I’ve had this both socially and at work.) They get into “so this is how we act” mode — even with respect to behaviour that may be appropriate from someone I’ve known for a while, where we’ve all worked out our comfort zones, but certainly isn’t from someone I just met.

      It makes me feel rather like an object, this expectation. It’s certainly extremely presumptuous, to try to copycat past actually getting to know me.

      • CJ said:

        Yes, I’ve experienced this “treat everyone the same” expectation (and always with men). Some of these men don’t have the social intelligence to realize that newcomers are not automatically granted the same liberties as established members of the group, as they have not yet earned the trust and comfort level of others. Even among established group members though, there will still be variation on each person’s comfort level with them, so merely having group longevity doesn’t necessarily translate to entitlement to do X or Y.

        • Paulina said:

          Yes, just being around does not trust or comfort level earn. And, by presuming that it does, they demonstrate why they haven’t earned it — because they’re trying to checkbox things off and use very high-level classification (this is situation X so I should get to do Y like others do) instead of treating things, and us, as individuals.

          • I’ve tried turning this one around on a male friend I mentioned in a comment above. If he tries to hug me and I’m not comfortable, I’ve said in a really jokey way, “You always want to hug me, but you never hug [male friend he’s known as long as me] or [male friend he’s known for decades]. What’s with the unequal treatment?” I say this jokily to point out in a non confrontational way that he only likes to hug his female friends and he might like to think about why that is, what his motivations are for hugging me and why I therefore might not be entirely comfortable with it.

        • TurquoiseDra9on said:

          I have two friends I like very much. They have been friends with each other for about a decade before I came along. I wish I was part of that level of friendship. But you know what? I’m not, because I haven’t been around as long.

          So when I learn that I am not part of a thing the two of them are doing, I make up my own event and invite them both to it. They both come, we all have fun, and I feel better. Or I call up one of them and make plans. And then call the other and make different plans. Or one of them will call me and make plans. And I get to hang out with my friends, and I am not pushing into a friendship that is slowly growing to include me but will never be the same as they have for each other, and they never have to know that my feelings were hurt. Because they really didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. But I don’t get automatic equal treatment, just because I want it.

          Worth noting: it took a while for me to get to this point. And my feelings still get hurt sometimes. But I am getting better at separating ‘my feelings were hurt’ from ‘they meant to hurt my feelings (or didn’t notice)’, and then taking steps to deal with the feeling left out.

          • nonniemu said:

            You are a super valuable friend to both of those people. Accepting that you don’t always get what you want and that pushing for it isn’t always the answer is like… a super stat.

    • It is really hard when people catch you off your guard and you find yourself shocked into telling them stuff you’re not comfortable with. For me it’s usually either that or I’m shocked into outright rudeness. That upsets me as I hate being rude but I always tell myself they were rude to me first.

      This guy accosted me on my way home from work once to try to sell me membership of some scheme where you get fresh vegetables delivered to your house. Sounds nice but I was heavily pregnant, had stomach flu and was totally exhausted. So when he asked if I cooked, I said “not much at the moment.” He asked why, I said “because I’m not well enough.” He asked why. He actually repeated “well?” then asked what was wrong with me. I replied, “that is NOT your business” and started walking away, and he yelled after me “Hey! HEY! Take this flyer! You’ll need it when you’re well!”

      Wow. No.

      • Hannahbelle said:

        FWIW, that doesn’t sound rude to me at all–it sounds clear, on-point, and true. I’d use that script in a heartbeat if I could ever remember to say it.

        • Hannahbelle said:

          YOUR script, that is. His? Rude.

    • “Would also like to point out that you are not obligated to treat everybody the same”

      This This This !

    • Hannahbelle said:

      “But my god, it still bothers me how easily I gave up personal information because my brain was too panicked to stop and tell me YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TELL HIM IT’S NONE OF HIS GODDAMN BUSINESS.”

      Yes, yes, yes! I actually composed a fake CA ask a few months ago about this very situation. Guy at bus stop: “Hello there! I’m Doofus! What’s your name? Do you live on this street? OMG we’re neighbors! Where do you work?” I had no idea how to react and just went with the automatic name/yes/no/internally thinking OMG who is this guy why doesn’t he do away and leave me alone… But the worst part by far was how humiliated and scared I felt afterwards at how I just rattled off personal info to a total stranger. A stranger I absolutely didn’t like! And worried for days about meeting around the neighborhood! Yuck, yuck yuck.

      I love your verbal fencing anecdotes, by the way. It turns a gross situation into one where you earn unpunishable badass points. Next time something like this happens, I’m reminding myself to think “en garde” rather than “oh shit.”

  18. NameChange said:

    Talk to the local police department. Not 911 — just call the general line or go into a substation and ask to speak to an officer, detective, or someone who works with assault cases (if possible — I’m thinking while most cops will be good about this, you might get a better response from someone who works with assault victims than someone who mainly handles traffic, etc.). Let them know what happened, that he’s pestered you for “full-frontal hugs,” and that you want some advice about what your legal rights are in your state regarding physically defending yourself if he tries to touch you again and doesn’t listen to verbal protests.

    This will both put the police on alert that this dude is not acting appropriately with you (we’re not talking a regular hug — he put his hand up your shirt!) and get you advice on what to do to protect yourself without ending up charged with elder abuse.

    I realize not all police are responsive to situations like this, but it’s worth a shot.

    And I’d modify one of the Captain’s statements: If he tries to convince you to hug him again, don’t say “Remember the time you kinda felt me up.” Say, loudly, “On [date] you put your hand up my shirt. Stay the hell away from me.”

    I have another suggestion but hesitate to mention it, because it is really kind of creepy itself. But it would probably shut bystanders up…..

    • Katie said:

      I know you mean well, but rather flippantly recommending police involvement is (almost certainly) not helpful here. Women are often retraumatized by police when reporting every level of sexual assault, and legal consequences are usually expensive and time-consuming as well as emotionally draining. If you care to google this, you’ll see just how badly the police and the legal system fail victims of sexual violence.

      • NameChange said:

        As I wrote in my post: “I realize not all police are responsive to situations like this, but it’s worth a shot.”

        My post wasn’t a flippant suggestion. I do think talking to the police, at least informally, would be a good idea. I’m not saying file an official report, but asking, “Look, he did this and this, and it was unwanted and creepy, and he appears not to be listening to me say no. This is the same boundary-violating crap people pull to see if someone’s a suitable victim. If he touches me again, I want to know what the laws are in the state regarding self-defense.” Or similar wording. Whatever the LW’s comfortable with. I tend to get wordy.

        I’m not suggesting filing an actual paper report. I’m actually not expecting them to even talk to Fred, but if anything else happens, now there will be someone else who remembers, hey, there was this other person who had problems with him, too.

        And you never know — maybe someone else has also been talking to the police about Fred.

        I’ve dealt with officers who clearly wished I’d go away, but I’ve also dealt with officers who took even small things like this seriously. If the LW doesn’t trust the police in her area, that’s one thing. But if she thinks the police are generally OK, it may be worth a shot.

        • CJ said:

          “If he touches me again, I want to know what the laws are in the state regarding self-defense.”

          This got me thinking about something that is sort of related. It’s unlikely that one would need to use much force in a situation where there were witnesses. Placing one’s hands on the creepy person’s shoulders and giving him a firm push away from you would be sufficient to get their attention, yet cause no harm.

          Anyone who uses physical means should prepare themselves for the possibility of drama though. It’s not unknown for people who are being physically put in their place to shift attention to themselves (and away from their boundary violation) by playing the victim and making the situation all about them. While it’s unlikely that a young man would pull a stunt like this, I can envision a grandfatherly elder type seeking sympathy from onlookers by crying out, “She’s hurting me!”, and perhaps even feign a fall.

          As appealing as a knee to the groin might be, I think it’s wise to avoid physical contact unless there is absolutely no other choice. In most situations, using one’s voice to forcefully assert boundaries is plenty sufficient.

          • NameChange said:

            Yes — that’s why I initially mentioned checking about the elder abuse thing. I just don’t know what else can be done other than physical defense if Fred is touching her again and her voice isn’t enough. :-/

          • You really should not touch someone else unless you are defending yourself. Once he touches you, you have every right.

        • JenniferP said:

          I appreciate the qualifier, but once the LW involves the police, she does not really have control over what happens even if she doesn’t file an official report. In a small community, maybe the officers (who probably know Mr. Charismatic Citizen of the Year) just go and talk to him about how “bitches are crazy” or they go totally overboard. I could see reporting it in a “Mr. Wonderful is behaving kind of strangely, could someone check on him?” kind of way…maybe.

          • Snow Bunting said:

            In some communities, you can enroll in RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) classes. These classes are usually cheap and in some cases, free. The instructors for these courses are usually police officers.

            The OP should look into taking one of these classes if they are available in her area because it may provide her with the opportunity to find a sympathetic police officer (one whose first instinct isn’t to blame the victim) to ask for advice about how to deal with this guy. And even though this class does advocate physical self defense, they may be able to recommend non-violent strategies.

          • Totally. I once got a complaint letter ABOUT the local library forwarded TO the local library. And that was done by an equal rights office thing, who I thought knew how to handle such things, which was why I contacted them instead of complaining directly … it was no biggie because I just complained about a sexist poster they had hanging there, but … yeah. I’m going to be more careful with whom I tell about molestation issues.

      • thneedle said:

        NameChange was not “flippant” until the final paragraph. I would say they were not anything other than sincere when they suggested making a police report. And someone else upthread mentioned going to the police. Nobody jumped on them, maybe because it wasn’t about sexual harrassment, but “just” a bad housemate situation?

        I can’t disagree that “legal consequences are usually expensive and time-consuming” but we’re not talking going to court here, we’re talking about the LW making a police report so the cops have a record for the next time someone comes in, and we’re talking about the LW asking for advice about the best ways to handle things in person without getting in legal trouble themselves.

  19. twomoogles said:

    Really good advice, and yes an unfortunately common situation. I am getting a lot better at dealing with creepy interactions, but sometimes there’s an element there that makes it more difficult, like age. Even though I know I’m in the right to refuse, it’s still more difficult. I work with an older guy who is very very touchy–not hugs, but things like hand-patting, putting his hand on your arm when he talks to you, etc. He did it to me once and I kind of flinched back and he told me that touching people was part of his culture, so he was going to keep doing it. I literally did not know what to say–I don’t know enough about his culture to know if that’s generally true, and there definitely *are* different social mores, and I didn’t want to say something offensive so I kind of froze up.

    Now, in this case I don’t think he’s trying to do anything sexual, but I still don’t like it! And that’s another thing that tends to come up–if I don’t hug somebody, or flinch away from them, often the defensive comment is something along the lines of “I’m not hitting on you!” or “it doesn’t mean anything” etc…and I’m just like, I don’t care! I don’t dislike being touched because I think it’s always sexual (that’s sometimes an extra layer of ick, but not always)..I am just not a hugger, not a cuddler, etc, even with my friends. It’s hard to not feel like a jerk about it sometimes, as my friends are part of a group that tends to be really cuddly, lying on each other’s laps, lots of hugs etc, and there have been many situations where I am sitting about a foot away from a cuddle pile cause I just don’t want to.

    (I thought this was going to be a short comment but apparently I have a lot of feelings about this issue..) There is a pleasant couple I know who are self-defined socially awkward, and when they drink they get quite physical. I’ve had to tell them multiple times “no hugs for me!” and with the woman in the couple it’s always a bit of a scene, because she apologises excessively, and once when drinking, came up behind me, hugged me, then immediately remembered I didn’t like hugs and started crying/apologising. So yeah..sometimes not liking hugs is a weirdly fraught situation.

    • NorahMancer said:

      he told me that touching people was part of his culture, so he was going to keep doing it.
      Possible response: “In *my* culture, it is considered rude to touch people without their permission, particularly across gender lines and especially in the workplace.”
      In fairness, this can be a revelation to people who do actually come from other cultures where touching is commonplace – but I think once you’ve been told, “Please stop, I don’t like that”, your excuse goes out the window.

      • Yeah. I’ve stopped seeing one friend who just did not listen. He’s a very touchy-feely person and, as I told him, I understand that some people just ARE like that, but in return he needs to understand that some people are not, I’m one of them, and his desire to touch me does not trump me not being okay with that. Plus, he always insisted on leaning so close to me when we were talking that I could smell his HORRIBLE breath. Which didn’t help.

        The crap that pregnant people get from people who want to touch them is a whole other comment thread, but the comment about culture reminded me of one woman who came up and grabbed my belly when I was 7 months pregnant (in a totally inappropriate situation – I work as a care inspector and she was an employee of the service I was inspecting) got really upset when I stepped back and said “I’m not comfortable being touched without permission” because, she said, “in my culture it brings luck.” She was genuinely upset and mortified when her boss told her she was behaving inappropriately and she apologised so many times that I felt quite sorry for her, even though it was her who violated my boundaries.

        That feeling sorry for her thing? Some people deliberately exploit that. She wasn’t one of them, but I’ve always kept this script handy: “In your culture that would be fair enough, but please remember I come from a different culture where we don’t touch without permission.”

      • Commander Banana said:

        This makes me think of the whole “if in your culture it’s ok to stand on people’s feet, that’s fine, but you need to get off my foot” metaphor.

    • Ganymede said:

      “He did it to me once and I kind of flinched back and he told me that touching people was part of his culture, so he was going to keep doing it. ”

      I’m really sorry to hear you experienced/are still experiencing this. My interpretation of this, if it’s useful to you, is that he is asserting dominance. In fact this is now blatant since you’ve told him you didn’t like it and he basically said it wasn’t up to you and he would continue to invade your personal space because he wanted to. I find this really shocking and wrong.

      I say “because he wanted to” because we all know from experience that if you don’t like something about your culture you don’t do it. It’s like what people do with the Bible, you pick the bits you find useful or which support the position you want to maintain. He’s chosen to impose this bit of “his culture” on you because it means he can show you who’s boss by infringing your physical autonomy. He’s doing it in a physically gentle way so nobody “reasonable” could object. He might also be laying some tracks for further physical contact in the future. I bet he does it less to people he doesn’t find sexually attractive.

      I suggest you keep flinching away, or lightly bat his hand away, or slide out ostentatiously from under his touch. Or just stand too far away. You may find allies in your co-workers. I’m sure there is a previous CA thread on this! It’s tough because you don’t want to be the bad guy, but Cap’s “breeziness” suggestion should also help. “It’s not in MY culture” might be a good thought to hold onto…

      I have found reading CA so very empowering (I only found it a few months ago). I hope you will too. Thanks Captain!

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yeah ‘this is part of my culture’ works as part of an apology ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean any harm and thought you would like it too, since it’s so commonplace in my culture, thanks for letting me know you don’t like it’. NOT as permission: ‘my culture says I get to touch your body whether you like it or not, it’s not up to you’.

        • “You know as well as I do, that is not an excuse. Don’t pretend otherwise.”

          (Because he DOES know that ‘it’s my culture’ is an expectation is rights will be respected. It’s not a permission slip to disrespect your rights.)

          Or:

          “I don’t care.”

          *blink* *blink*

          *blink*

          Is also an okay thing to say.

      • Actually, if someone at work kept touching me after I said I didn’t want them to and they then said they’d do it whether I wanted them to or not, then I’d be paying a visit to HR because that is harassment.

    • lilitu said:

      I’m from a country where we kiss people when we meet. Not on the lips, but multiple cheek kisses, including strangers and people of another gender. Having moved to somewhere that doesn’t do that, I *don’t* kiss strangers, and will only give cheek kisses to people I am close to and have asked permission of. That’s not too much to ask. And it is definitely never ok to use a culture as leverage over someone’s body (which is what this person is doing). If you feel like you can, just tell him you don’t want to be touched. This is a full sentence, and is separate from his culture – it’s about you and your bodily autonomy.

    • erica said:

      I am so full of rage about your coworker.

      “Your culture’s norms about touch are actually not relevant to your interactions with me. The way you’re behaving is extremely uncomfortable for me and it needs to stop. This is my body so I get to make the rules about who gets to touch it, end of story.”

      If he continues to insist that his “cultural norms” are more important than your consent, tell him that in your culture it’s customary to cut off the hand of someone who touches another person after being warned not to.

      • Nanani said:

        No. Don’t even jokingly talk about mutilating people. Not only because it’s morally awful, but also because the creepy person could turn it around and claim you threatened them if the situation escalates.

        • pyn said:

          Yeah not to mention the long-held belief of ‘barbaric cultures’ cutting of limbs for minor crimes. Not an acceptable hyperbolic statement at all, just tell the guy to back off, and if need be you’ll maybe contact HR

    • Paulina said:

      As far as the “not hitting on you” goes, meaning well goes out the window once they’re trying to explain their way over your boundaries. “You should let me touch you like this because it doesn’t mean anything” completely ignores you as a person — it’s about them and that they want to do it. Even if but culture, which is just an excuse (and yes, asserting dominance). Is this man really trying to claim that he can’t work in a mixed-culture setting without trampling on personal boundaries?

      My go-to response to “it’s not a big deal” claims is a cheery-yet-emphatic “Glad to hear that, then you won’t have a problem with stopping.” If these things are so meaningless, how about not doing them?

    • neverjaunty said:

      and he told me that touching people was part of his culture

      He is lying.

      • twomoogles said:

        Well…the thing is, I’m white and he’s a person of colour, so I would feel really not OK about telling him about his own culture, you know? Or telling him it’s not relevant etc…I figure it’s better to leave out the culture thing entirely and just say “OK, but I still prefer…” or something similar. I am awkward! (which is something I always want to say when people talk about guys “what if socially awkward” and I’m like, “well, I’m socially awkward too, so do I get a pass on telling someone to not touch me in a not-ideal way if they get a pass on doing it in the first place?” Aaaanyway…)

        • Courtney said:

          There’s a big difference between questioning his culture (or his understanding of his own culture) and saying “I don’t share you culture, and it’s my body. Please don’t touch me.” His culture is NOT relevant to YOUR body or YOUR boundaries.

        • Zillah said:

          I get why you’d feel uncomfortable telling him what his culture is or isn’t – though I think that he may well be using that discomfort against you – but I don’t think you should say “prefer.” This is non-negotiable, and he doesn’t get an out.

          • You know, I think he’s lying, too. Most cultures have rather strict rules about getting touchy-feely with the other sex, AND I know of no culture where touching others outside of specific rituals (shaking hands, etc.) is an acknowledged part of that culture and MUST be done.
            It seems more like a poor excuse.

            But it doesn’t really matter. His culture is HIS culture, and his right to act according to it stops where other people’s freedom starts.

    • I loathe this kind of behaviour from people. Not just because of the boundary violating, or the fact that I have a greater bubble of personal space around humans in the workplace than humans in a social setting, and again higher for people I don’t know well, but also because I have allergic reactions to a lot of things, and people touching my skin with any of a number of things (often ingredients in hand creams or fragranced soap) on theirs can lead to a nasty case of dyshidrosis (dermatosis consisting of a bubbly rash). I put up with it when it comes to dancing (and wash my exposed skin with something it tolerates as soon afterwards as I can) because it’s kind of hard avoiding it in a dancing context, and dancing is totally worth it. Co-workers, not so much.

      As a dance teacher, I’m kind of expected to have a lower personal space than I actually have, so I’ve found it useful to distinguish between dancing-context, dance-teaching-context, and social-context-at-a-dance-event. Each of those has different personal boundaries when it comes to physical contact. I’ve also added a hugs-without-hugs by throwing my hands up and declaring “sweaty hugs!” because no one wants to hug someone who is too sweaty and hot to want to hug (and I promote social norms such that if someone doesn’t want to hug because they are sweaty or you are sweaty, that’s something that you don’t get to argue). I believe that social norms percolate from the top in this kind of context, and so behaviour that I tolerate is behaviour that someday I will have to police.

    • SarahTheEntwife said:

      if I don’t hug somebody, or flinch away from them, often the defensive comment is something along the lines of “I’m not hitting on you!” or “it doesn’t mean anything” etc…

      This seems to be a near-guaranteed red flag that they *were* hitting on you — or at least trying to be inappropriately sexual — and don’t want to admit it.

    • Commander Banana said:

      I work with a guy who does that, and I think it’s a cultural thing – when he’s talking to you, instead of talking while facing you, he’ll stand next to you and hold onto your elbow.

      I FUCKING HATE IT. And, I can’t hear very well, so if he’s standing next to me and I can’t see his face I miss most of what he’s saying.

      I’ve starting always carrying a binder in both hands when I have to talk to him and doing a sideways crab-walk so that he’s always facing me.

      • I augment my hearing with lip reading, and I’m always clear to people that if they want to talk, I need to be opposite and a certain distance away to focus (normal personal space – a few feet). One person is very touchy feely, she always steps closer as we chat, then I shuffle backwards instinctively so I can still see what she is saying… Once I actually hit the wall, pointed out what was happening, and asked to reset so we were both in the middle of the room again. She obliged… But hasn’t changed her habits. She also knows it is often genuinely painful to touch me. I think she’s just… Enthusiastic about whatever we talk about…? She is an otherwise lovely person.

        Any ideas would be welcome as I’ve already tried outright calling her on it!

        • CJ said:

          You don’t say that this person is a friend in whom you have much invested, so I’m going to assume that she is Generic Well Meaning Person. From the way you describe the situation, it sounds like you’ve pretty much done all you can.

          I can’t tell you what to do, only what I would do in the same situation. If this person was not a valued friend in whom I had a personal investment, I would probably distance myself and minimize interaction with her. Her enthusiasm may be overriding her ability to honor boundaries, but that is not my problem. When she stops by to chat, I would not make myself available for conversation. I would politely disengage immediately, even if that means walking away. The old excuse about needing “to go do something” or “get back to someone about something” spares the feelings of the clueless and gets the job done.

        • Brooks said:

          Could you try chatting with a cubicle-wall or chair between you, perhaps? Something that will act as a subconscious barrier to keep her in place?

          (I’m coming at this from the assumption that she will understand and would like to accommodate but just has ingrained habits, and so a “here, I know that’s hard for you, so let’s see if we can make it easier” sort of collaborative approach is possible.)

        • fir3dragon said:

          If you have to deal with her you could try putting your hand up palm out when she scoots toward you; or reminding her again every single time you interact – politely and all – but if you remind her she can’t forget. If she’s actually a lovely person she’ll adapt.

        • Commander Banana said:

          This is super frustrating….I wouldn’t go so far as to say I lipread, but I really cannot hear someone if they are standing/sitting next to me. It just sounds like a gentle buzz. I have to be looking at your face/mouth to get everything you’re saying (maybe I DO lipread??).

          This reminds me of the Dude Who Couldn’t Stop Touching The Lady at his soccer game, even though she made it clear she didn’t like him touching her, and while it’s great that he recognized it/was trying to stop doing it, it kind of boggles my mind that someone just CAN’T STOP TOUCHING or CAN’T GET OUT OF YOUR BUBBLE.

          Idk, maybe it’s like biting your nails, you legit don’t realize you’re doing it? My solution to Stands Too Close Guy at work was to just stand in the doorway of the copier room where his office is and yell across the room at him.

  20. Dykotomy said:

    Also prepare yourself for a replay of that tired old vintage classic, “But Things Were Different For His Generation”, ie that older men are allowed to be sexist/touch you inappropriately because they come from The Land Before Feminism.

    • Charlene said:

      Which is, incidentally, not true at all. Before the 60s this would have been seen for what it was.

      It was the fake, men-only “sexual liberation” that changed the nature of sexism from “sex is for men but only if they have the right to touch you” to “sex is for men and they always have the right to touch you”.

      • Marna Nightingale said:

        According to the Word of Howard Davis, 1900-1992, (my Grandfather), A Gentleman does not Lay Hands on a Woman without she has let you know she would like you to do so.

        (And if you do and she doesn’t slap your face off her male relatives may Have A Word, but we’ll leave that bit out, I think.)

        So, yeah. Fuck That. It’s NEVER been okay. The rhetoric has changed, the penalties have changed, the definition of a Decent Woman is still undergoing expansion, with an endgame of Any Woman Anywhere, but it has NEVER been okay. Decent Men did not voluntarily associate with men like that, nor bring them around socially if forced to associate with them at work, etc.

        • attica said:

          A ‘back in my day’ guy might be a good opportunity to bust out a loud (and equivalently old-timey) “UNHAND ME, SIR!”

          • Buni said:

            Bwah! Actually made me bark out loud!

            In bars / clubs etc., ie with handsy complete strangers, my friends and I borrow from an old M&Ms advert: “Unwanted Physical Attention!”. Shouted out loud it’s had an amazing effect…

    • Polychrome said:

      Whenever I get this I remind myself that it is now 2015 so even 75 year olds really did not come from this land before feminism. You were in your teens or twenties in the 60s? Not under a rock at the time? Don’t give me your I’m from a different era nonsense.

      It’s amazing how much men who were in the flower of their youths in the 70s and 80s will trot this out. It’s like they think woot I turned 55 I am now an Archie Bunker Immortal.

      • Mary said:

        I kept thinking that with the Tim Hunt stuff (respected senior scientist gives keynote speech at event for women in science; “jokes” that we should have sex-segregated labs because women’s eyes leak and he can’t cope with it; loses honorary position.) His wife and all sorts of other people stood up to point out that as a man in his seventies who’d been to a single-sex school and working in science all his life, he couldn’t possibly be capable of understanding the modern world of political correctness / treating people with respect.

        Both my father and my father-in-law are turning 70 this year, and both went to single-sex schools much like Tim Hunt’s, and both have worked in science their entire lives as academics. And neither of them are perfect, but good Lord, they would not be bloody daft enough to say something like that before an audience. Let’s talk about deliberate, willed ignorance and disrespect.

        • Hannah said:

          Ugh, the Tim Hunt example also drives me crazy because he’s a scientist, and that means being willing to update your world view once new information comes to light. And he has somehow managed to learn and incorporate new science and math that have been developed during his career. And most men I encounter who play the “in my day…” card are using cell phones and have email accounts and leverage modern medicine. If you have a titanium hip and an iPhone, you seem to have left “your day” behind. More than once I’ve been tempted to say “in your day, you’d be dead!”

        • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

          You realize, of course, that the whole Tim Hunt, brutal sexist, story was a lie concocted for attention and money, right? Go research it.

          • Janet said:

            I did research it, and apparently he meant that little speech as a joke.

            And you know what? I don’t care.

            Whether the man’s “really” an unreconstructed sexist or not, he still felt that “when you criticize [women], they cry” was an appropriate thing to say in a speech to an important body.

            There’s just no way that’s OK. No, I don’t care how he meant it; no, I don’t care that he immediately followed it up with “but seriously”; no, I Do Not Care. He still said it, out loud, in public, in a bloody speech. And that’s not OK.

    • Ugh, I hate that. I know a number of older men who are in the habit of saying “Yes, I probably am sexist, but I’m old and this is how we did things in my day” as if that’s an excuse. My go-to response is “You’re still around aren’t you? Then this IS your day. You’ve had plenty of time to learn what’s acceptable now.”

      My mum likes to excuse bad behaviour with “When I was young…” to which I like to respond, “Well, you’re not young any more, and guess what else has changed?”

      • Cricket said:

        I like those lines a lot and will be keeping them in my back pocket for future application with (thankfully infrequent) sexist/racist old person interactions.

  21. J.C. said:

    I want to also point out that you are allowed to not have him in your house anymore. In fact, I’d probably suggest you don’t, since he not only violated your boundaries he did it in a place you should be safe. Dementia or not, it might be a good idea to declare (privately) your home a “No Fred Zone” and next time he knocks on your door he finds you too busy to be able to chat long, have a good day! I am so sorry you are in the position of having to distrust someone you liked, and I hope it works out for the best for you!

    • peep said:

      I concur about not inviting Fred into her home unless others are also present. If he rings her bell, LW has the option not to answer the door. If she does, she can always step outside to chat with Fred. This has the added advantage of keeping the chat brief, as Fred doesn’t have the opportunity to get too comfortable.

      • Kat said:

        I know some people who can stand up forever though. Just be rude. “No, you can’t come in. Why? Because you make me uncomfortable”. He wants you to be uncomfortable, just throw that ball back at him, let him squirm

        • xyz said:

          She could also go with a, “I think you know why.”

  22. Elaine May said:

    So, my own feelings about this surprise me because I have an in-built bias that people who win things like “citizen of the year” awards (see also high school coaches, police chiefs, ministers) are most likely paedophiles and wife beaters and I’m proud and happy to live in Manhattan and not know any of my neighbors.

    But I think the Captain’s advice is missing something key about his age. She basically acknowledges his age as a non excuse for his molestation. I completely agree. Her advice is sound. BUT because of his age, you have an in-built excuse to tell someone in your community and they are more likely to believe you… because this REALLY sounds like the onset of dementia. It doesn’t have to be in a witch-hunt way or even necessarily to warn other potential victims if you don’t want to but in a “this man may have dementia and be rapidly deteriorating” way. Because there is an ethical “out”, I think people are less likely to make you the villain, which unfortunately would probably happen otherwise.

    So I think you actually have better options than if this guy were 45.

    If it were me, if anyone accused me of being oversensitive and asked why I don’t just hug him, I’d one-up them by being even more self-righteous than they are. Oh, I thought you cared about Fred, Jane. I’m disappointed in you. I thought you cared about his well-being and his years of service to this community. I guess it’s so much easier to ignore people when they become old and develop health problems. Let’s hope karma isn’t listening eh, Jane. Well, I’ll say no more.

    Repeat ad nauseum.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      “It seems awfully out of character for him to be pushy about a no thank you, don’t you think?”

      • Cassandra said:

        This is a good one.

  23. There is a guy in my church who routinely walks up to me with wide open arms while announcing “I’m a hugger!”

    Every single time, I take a quick step back, extend my handshaking arm, smile widely, and say equally loudly and cheerfully: “I’m not!”

    I often feel a little off when I later hug other church members. Oh well. The fact is that I only hug folks that earn my consent. That feels consistent enough a practice for me.

    • I’ve used the slowly backing away, arms raised in conjunction with announcing, “I’m not a hugger!” myself. This sometimes buys me enough time in which the hugger tries to process their confusion and sometimes even results in, “Oh. What would you prefer?” If so, then I can avoid contact entirely and go with a mini-bow or Vulcan salute, and then I’m really happy!

    • Kat said:

      The senior pastor at my husband’s old church is like this. I do NOT like him. I do NOT want to hug him.

      I just “no thanks, Gerry” SUPER quickly and then he doesn’t get the opportunity. It helps that I don’t like him, so don’t really care that I offend him. I may or may not be secretly wanting to offend him with my non hugging.

      Last time he tried, I was cradling my recently napping infant. He tried to save the missed hug and pat sleeping infant on the head. Which woke her up. The annoyed look I gave him was completely justified and mildly victorious (“yes! I get to be legitimately and publicly annoyed at you!”)

      • Forrest said:

        Oh man, I am so with you! Church is particularly bad for this, and the combination of church + baby is even worse, because it’s that much harder to do my usual evasive action or assertive body language when I’m holding a squirming or a sleeping ten-month-old!

        We’ve just started going to a new church which is much less High Anglican and middle-class than we are used to, and has people with lots of different backgrounds, including (I think) people who have or who have had quite serious mental health and addiction problems, for whom church is a really important place for human contact and bonding and touch. I am currently trying to figure out how to handle one guy who keeps very, very enthusiastically welcoming us on behalf of the whole church, and is very touchy-feely with the baby and by extension with us, and … I am not sure what to do about it. From some of the things he has said, I think he has a pretty troubled background, and being accepted and liked at church is very important to him, and he has been there a long time and we are new, but … at the same time, I don’t want to accept things that I’m not comfortable with just because.

        The one with much less excuse is the retired vicar, who once stood over me during the peace, looked down my top, and boomed, “Don’t feel shy about breastfeeding! It’s perfectly welcome here!” Thanks, but, um, not until you’ve gone away. And he tries to hug and kiss during the peace, and just, no, dude. I think I need to get more assertive about offering handshakes and refusing anything else.

        • Wow, yeah. I had to explain to a friend recently that the reason I won’t breastfeed my daughter at my football club is not because I’m not a proper feminist any more (because I’ve been outspoken before about nipples attached to breasts being no more offensive in public than those attached to masculine looking chests) or because I’m ashamed of my body but because there are a LOT of guys there who I’ve known for 20 years and who I know would LOVE it if I got my breasts out. Yeah, not gonna happen.

          • golden peanut said:

            There is just something double extra creepy about a man using breastfeeding as an excuse to stare at a woman’s breasts. I’m so sorry your football club is filled with creeps.

        • Jarissa said:

          I have occasionally had some success with telling “massively need to be liked” Guy, in a very trusting confidential tone, that I am terribly afraid of offending people so can he help me? I love how welcoming he and the congregation are, but I have a Thing Going On that means people probably should not touch me, until further notice.

          It helped a little that I really was on a medication that can throw other people’s hormone balance out of whack through sweat contamination. (I was on chemotherapy.) I just left out the part where it was for 48 hours after a treatment day, not actually All Days, All Times. By the time I was obviously not taking the treatment any more, Guy – who knew I like him BETTER because he makes sure people don’t get touchy-feely with me – had gotten in the habit of not touching me.

          I have no idea if there is any way you can enlist your Guy as an ally, with the affirmation that “no touch” = “you’re my favorite of all the people I don’t want to live with”. And it might be easier to just get Spousal Unit or whoever else is in your “we” there to physically get in the way, which can feel like a cheat, but is still kinder than thrusting Suspicious Diaper Disposal Bag out between you and oncoming traffic.

          I hope you find some way to make things more comfortable for you!

  24. mythbri said:

    The awkwardness of this kind of situation can be compounded when the old men in question are “family.” Especially when your family is the type that never openly acknowledges bad behavior or calls people out on it. Grievances are saved up and internalized and spoken only behind peoples’ backs, and then it’s usually only when the behavior violates the beliefs of the family religion. I have tried to deal with the touchy old men by practicing avoidance, because I will not allow them to touch me again but attending family gatherings involves a ton of social pressure to do so. This makes me the unfeeling, anti-family, anti-social one, but it allows me to remain unmolested.

    LW, I’ve also dealt with creepiness within a social circle. The creepiness went on a long time because each of the women who were unfortunately involved thought that it was only happening to them and didn’t want to rock the boat. They did the social math and thought that since the perpetrator was generally well-liked in the social circle, and they wanted to remain with in the social circle, putting up with the creepiness was the price they had to pay for being part of everything.

    But when woman stepped up and said what happened to her and who was responsible, it was like a dam burst. We all realized that we were not alone, not misinterpreting things, and that staying silent to “keep the peace” just gave the perpetrator room to operate. There was resistance, because a lot of guys in the group thought at first that we were exaggerating, but eventually the perpetrator was ostracized. Some of the women who had left the group under previously mysterious circumstances came back.

    It is so hard to be the first one to speak up, and I’m not going to say that anyone is responsible to do so. Everyone has to make that call for themselves. And it sucks to think “On the bright side, I’m probably not alone,” because the inevitable companion to that thought is “because this person has creeped on a lot more people.”

    But you’re probably not alone. And you have the right to protect yourself no matter how many people are in love with who they think your molester is.

  25. mossyone said:

    Yes. Thank you, Captain, thank you.

    I remember when I was a kid and there was an old man who volunteered with the youth groups at my church. Everyone loved him, including me. He liked to hug me, though, and kiss me on the cheek and call me names like ‘sweet cheeks’ and ‘sweet lips’. It made me very, very uncomfortable, mainly because I hated hugs as a kid and even my grandmother didn’t get them. And it made me so sad that I was reacting with discomfort and maybe made him think I didn’t like him, because I liked him so much. Now of course, looking back, I’m really fucking angry that 11 year old me had to feel like that. I must have been visibly uncomfortable and he clearly didn’t think that was enough reason to stop, or if he didn’t notice then none of the other adult youth leaders who were always there during our interactions thought to say ‘hey, maybe don’t hug Mossy any more, she is clearly uncomfortable’? That is the power of being a very well liked, older, Christian man. Also, looking back, ‘sweet lips’ just makes my skin crawl. Just….urrrrgh. I know people get all weird about teachers and creche workers and youth workers not being supposed to hug the kids in their care any more, they get all ‘omg it’s a world gone mad!! Everyone is so paranoid and it’s awful!’ but to me it’s awesome. I did volunteer youth work myself when I was in my late teens and of course we were CRB checked and everything and then there was a short talk, just ‘hey, don’t initiate hugs with the kids. But be sensible with it, you know, if they hug you you don’t have to push them away or anything’. That easy. I know this won’t stop anyone who is really determined to cause harm to a kid but it’s a really important step to protect kids from the ones who ‘mean well’.

    LW, sending you thoughts filled with strength and resolve because this stuff is reaaally really hard and involves undoing a lot of socialisation and risking a lot of social pushback. 😦

    • moss said:

      An old man calling a little girl “sweet lips” is truly disgusting.

      • moss said:

        (also hello username almost-twin!)

        • mossyone said:

          Yay! 😀

      • Yeah, there’s some kind of fridge horror in that. I remember a teacher in primary school who called one of the girls his “angel”. Back then I thought he was weird, but now I feel truly sorry for that girl …

  26. It’s easy to feel obliged. Personally I dont think anyone should have physical contact if they dont want to, and that includes not forcing kids to kiss granny or give uncle a hug.

    If anyone touches me in a way I dont want, I shout “OW!” because it gets attention (which usually makes me safer as there is now an audience) and because nobody can argue with me as to whether something hurts. Maybe it antagonised an old injury, who knows? But it tends to change the dynamic back in my favour.

    You dont need a reason. If you dont want Fred to touch you, you tell him so. And if he does, you shout.

    Please dont think that is over reacting or inappropriate. It isnt. It is your body and your personal space!

  27. Dear LW, you never, ever have to hug Fred again. Ever.

    And here’s the thing: maybe something is going on with Fred. I don’t know. Dementia and strokes and various other things can change people pretty radically, and that sucks a lot. It particularly sucks that people often lose all the inhibitions and socialisation they worked so hard to get and revert to an earlier model with some fucked-up habits. My grandfather spent decades of his life learning to control his temper … and a stroke took most of that work away in a week, and left him largely unable to do it again.

    So maybe Fred’s been a Missing Stair for decades, and maybe this is new.

    And it just doesn’t matter. You don’t have to hug him. You don’t have to touch him. And you never, ever have to feel badly about it.

    If it helps, though, letting him act inappropriately and not telling him to cut it out is not only stressful and awful for you, it’s not actually good for him, either.

    For one thing, you said you like him. Fred would probably like you to continue liking him. Continuing to like Fred requires that Fred not hug you.

    He needs not to touch people without consent.

    He needs not to do it to you, to other neighbours, to medical professionals, to anyone. Whether illness has made him lose his grasp on boundaries or whether it was always shaky, what is good and right for you is also good and right for Fred.

    So here are some scripts for your neighbours, if you want: “If Fred is such a nice guy, why would you think he wouldn’t want me to speak up when he does something I don’t like?”

    “If you’re concerned about his health, I think you should talk to his family. I’m not going to let him act out and pretend that nothing’s wrong. That’s not doing anyone any favours.”

    “I like Fred. I’d like to keep liking Fred. That’s why I’ve asked him to stop hugging me.”

    One thing I would suggest, though: lacking information, I wouldn’t say “Not today” or “Not right now”.
    If he’s acting in bad faith, he’ll use that to keep asking.

    If he’s operating under some degree of impairment, he is likely to find that confusing.

    I get why they’re generally useful scripts, but in this case I’d stick to direct, clear, and short.

    “I don’t want to hug you anymore, Fred.” “No thanks, Fred.” “The way you acted in my apartment wasn’t okay, and I don’t want to hug you anymore.”

  28. Kathleen said:

    Aghhh… I don’t do “on demand hugs”. If a close friend or a family member is down and out I’ll hold out my arms in invitation, but I don’t initiate contact. And random assed dudes, like this one, who feel entitled to ask for a hugs? Oh no. So much nope. There was a guy at Faire last year – a patron, although he like to imply he was cast – who was big on asking for hugs. He didn’t bother me after the first time because I answered him with “What?! Oh hell no. Move, you’re standing in the bridle path”. But he pestered the younger cast members and vendors, and I eventually brought the problem up to the StumbleBees, who watched him for about ten minutes, then surrounded him, had a quiet conversation, then escorted him to the gate. A few months later we found out that Mr. Huggy got a 15 year old drunk at a Con, took her back to his room and raped her.

    Guys like him push boundaries to see who’s going to push back. They’re looking for weakness.

    • Yarnspider said:

      Ugh. Acting as part of a Faire cast did a lot to improve my social skills, but it also made me really learn how to say no. We had one vendor who went from just really chatty (“Make sure you’re wearing your sunscreen! Us redheads have to stick together!”) to really creepy (“I know this brand of sunscreen works because I’m a nudist!” I kid you not) over the course of a few weekends. He kept pestering me to join up at another branch of his shop, against my repeated “no.” When I found out he was doing the same thing to a couple high-school-aged members of the cast, I went to talk with the vendor coordinator, who managed to put a stop to it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he pushed those same boundaries with everyone he met. That, and the way he fixated on the red-haired girls in the cast got really creepy really fast. I don’t think he actually bothered anyone he perceived as male, or older/more experienced.

  29. erica said:

    “…he has information (that you’re not so into hugs from him these days) and he has choices.”

    This is such an important point. Sometimes when I’m trying to decide if it’s reasonable of me to set a boundary like this, I try to imagine being on the other side of things. If a friend of mine started acting like they didn’t want my hugs, how would I react? What if they explicitly, verbally said no to hugging me?

    Asking myself these sorts of questions is really eye-opening because I can’t imagine ever wanting to hug someone who did not want to be hugged. If I discovered that I had been hugging someone without their full consent, I would be horrified and apologize right away. I’d want to let them know that their comfort was really important to me, and I’d want to ask them how I could change my behaviour in the future to make them more comfortable. Everything about the interaction would be about me apologizing and figuring out how to do better. Because this is about their body, so they get to make the rules.

    Sometimes people don’t react like I do. Sometimes someone tells me I shouldn’t be so uptight, tells me that I’m overreacting, tells me that the boundaries I’m setting around touch and my body are unreasonable. Sometimes someone doesn’t care to listen to what is and isn’t comfortable for me, or starts to tell me that they don’t mean anything by it so I shouldn’t read too much into it. Sometimes someone calls me cold or gives me guilt because it’s just one hug and it wouldn’t kill me. And when people do that, I hold their behaviour up next to what respect looks and feels like, and I remind myself that those people are choosing to behave that way. Everyone is capable of choosing to treat me with respect, and when they don’t choose to, their expectation that I will continue to engage with them and be nice to them is unreasonable.

    Fred doesn’t have the right to touch you. No one does. Touching you is a privilege and you don’t owe it to anyone, no matter how old they are nor how well they’ve duped everyone else into thinking they’re a good person.

    • moss said:

      I hold their behaviour up next to what respect looks and feels like

      Genius. This is perfection.

  30. Gemma said:

    Something similar recently happened to me at the place I volunteer as a receptionist. There’s an elderly man that I formerly would have termed as “very friendly” who pops into the office every so often to say hi (he volunteers in a different department). I’m a person who likes hugs and in the past didn’t mind him requesting one. But one day, he grabbed my shoulders and starting giving me a massage, completely unsolicited. I was already stunned by this, but then he remarked, “Have you been losing weight?” I was confused because no, that’s been a stable statistic for quite some time- then he reached down in the chair that I was sitting and *touched my belly*.

    About a week after the incident, he passed by my desk and told me to smile. If the above hadn’t happened, I’d probably still think he was a well-meaning old man and indulged him. Instead I said, “This is my smile” and repeated it until he gave up.

    I’m still trying to figure out how I want to handle this situation. Whenever I see him (which thankfully isn’t that often- once for a few minutes every other week), I draw my body in close. I’m trying to remember to have the presence of mind to issue a firm verbal “NO” the next time he attempts contact, rather than just freeze up. After convincing myself this is a low-stakes situation (and that even if it wasn’t, it’s my right to assert reasonable requests to not be creeped on), that’s the most difficult part: achieving a loud, active, push away NO instead of a passive, “curl up for safety until it stops” no as my reaction.

    • Paulina said:

      Ugh.

      I can’t always manage a straight no — sometimes it’s hard to come out with an answer without there having been a question, if that makes any sense. But I’ve managed to come up with: pull away, and ask “what are you doing?” (pointedly). It reverses the onus (default should always be not to touch, so the toucher is the one who needs to explain, not the objector) and can catch them either without an explanation or with an extremely unconvincing one that can be pushed back against.

      Mind you, I’m also very protective of my neck and shoulders because I have an old injury. Touching it without permission is dangerous to my health. And anyone who’s been around for a while should realize that people can be fragile in ways that are not visible on day-to-day acquaintance, so they should blasted well ask and not just grab.

      I like your “this is my smile.” I’ll keep that strategy in mind, I hate being told to smile.

    • neverjaunty said:

      So, here’s the thing: You know those young and middle-aged guys who think it’s hilarious and appropriate to make comments about women’s bodies, touch women without their consent, and otherwise act like complete assbags?

      Some of those guys do not grow out of it or learn to behave better. They just get old. And then they discover that being old means people excuse them because ‘maybe he’s starting to lose it’ or ‘he’s just a harmless old man’.

      Along with the ‘no’ try sticking your hand straight out, like you were warning a bus to stop at a crosswalk. That back-up signal is pretty clear to most people.

      • peep said:

        “Some of those guys do not grow out of it or learn to behave better. They just get old. And then they discover that being old means people excuse them because ‘maybe he’s starting to lose it’ or ‘he’s just a harmless old man’.”

        That’s because people have been enabling their bad behavior all their life. Not saying that the enablers are at fault because there are many reasons why enablers don’t feel they have other options. It sucks all the way around.

        The great part is that these old dogs can learn new tricks. But it takes a great deal of assertiveness on the part of the woman to shock these guys into paying attention. She also needs to make peace with the fact that others may try to put her back in her place for not being nice like a good girl and politely tolerating her boundaries getting violated.

      • My friend June used to stop people by holding her hand with the palm straight outwards like this. If the offender persisted, she would say “THIS IS THE UNIVERSAL SYMBOL FOR NO” in a very loud clear voice. Not only does this get the message through, it also has a non-zero chance of eliciting a smattering of applause from passers by.

    • Toward the end of his life my grandfather started acting like this to the receptionist at the office he went to most frequently. When she complained, he was actually barred from entry.

      At the time my family was SHOCKED, SHOCKED I TELL YOU but I was somehow… not. And it was only years later that I realized he and his friends from that office (whom I had to perform Delightful Young Girl for) were the ones who taught me that I didn’t get to set boundaries and should just curl up for safety until it stops. For years now I’ve been grateful to that receptionist who, when I was around 12, made it really clear that my grandpa was behaving inappropriately.

      I’m not saying you “should” do anything, because I don’t know your work environment–but I do think your setting boundaries is more than just allowable; it can be really good.

    • Ganymede said:

      Hi Gemma – look upthread at mythbri’s comment where a woman being harassed finally spoke up and found that others had had the same trouble. If there is a co-worker or volunteer you can share this with you may well find allies. Solidarity is both useful and supportive.

      I am really sorry for what happened to you – beyond creepy. Practise out loud the firm verbal “NO” you are planning to deploy. Practise a few other good phrases and settle on your favourite. (“What do you think you’re doing?” “Don’t touch me there”.) Practise a “wax on, wax off” type movement – a deliberate but non-violent sweep of the hand, as if you were swatting away a dog without trying to hurt it. Give yourself full permission to flinch, vocalise, maybe stand up out of your chair and move away so the sneakiness of his movements cannot be invisible.

      You do not need permission to be outraged, even if he is a (“nice, kind, generous” blah) volunteer.

    • wayofcats said:

      “he passed by my desk and told me to smile”

      As a teen, I would be walking along, trying to figure out ways to reduce the epic suckiness of that period of my life, and some totally random man would order me to smile at him. I would, and walk faster, but no one should put up with it. I was socialized to “please” but that’s stupid and now I know it.

      It’s just power-tripping. They deserve to get a little of it right back.

      • alter_ego said:

        My favorite response to that that I’ve seen is on an episode of Broad City, when, after the two main characters get told by some random guy on the street to smile, they hold up the corners of their mouths with their middle fingers. If I ever get the balls, that’s what I’m going to start doing.

        • I like to look long and hard at the person, and then do a rictus-like grin that I think of as being an alien, having read a description of smiling (a baring of the teeth), attempting to perform it in an effort to continue passing as a human.

          Apparently it’s kind of unnerving.

        • Ganymede said:

          I’ve just practised that in the privacy of my own home, and *I like it*.

        • NorahMancer said:

          I was riding the bus once when I was told to smile by a random stranger. I then informed this stranger that I had woken up that morning from a dream in which there had been a huge mistake, and my old high school friend had not died in an accident six weeks before, and I got to hug him again. I have never heard such a magnificently strained silence in all my life.

          • mstabbity said:

            You are my hero. I’m so sorry for your loss, dealing with bus-jerkbag after that must have been awful.

          • solecism said:

            Ha! I had a friend who was a belly dancer. There was an old guy who used to attend the belly dance performances in that venue regularly and critique the dancers, because he was so helpy. He told my friend that her hair needed to be longer for a better effect during her dancing. My friend then told him that she was recovering from cancer, and this was the longest it had gotten since chemo. That was the best STFU true answer ever, and he stopped pestering the dancers with his “advice.”

    • lillias said:

      Yes, the unwanted, uninvited ‘massage’. My response was to LOUDLY squeal and twist away because it always HURT. Messed up neck from a car accident when very young. The majority of people got the message very quickly, for the remaining oblivious ‘but I want to give you a massage/you look like you’re in pain/but you neeeeed this’, they would get the “NO, not doing this.” response.

  31. tawg said:

    Hey LW. You have my full support to never even talk to Fred again. I used to go swimming at a local pool when I was at university, in the middle of the day during the week when it was quiet. I met a sweet old man at the pool and as we rested between laps we’d talk about books and stuff. And he gently pressed boundaries – holding my arm to stabilise himself, asking personal questions. And it all seemed to normal at the time? It’s so common for people to ask if you have a boyfriend. Pools are tricky and he was old – of course he’d need some help. When we sat on a bench and he patted my knee, obviously that was just a sweet old person thing?

    I’m sure most people can see why I didn’t have alarm bells ringing until, like you, I was in a situation with this old guy where I was isolated and he was feeling me up (he was extra cunning, because he lured me to the deep end of the pool by saying he couldn’t breathe, and then latched onto me. I had to hold onto the side of the pool or we’d both go under. Even while he was assaulting me, I was worried about this ‘sweet old man’ drowning because what if I was overreacting somehow??). And then when I told people who were meant to be in my support group, they didn’t take me seriously. He was an old guy – how could I, and young and basically healthy woman, not be able to disengage from a flabby old dude in speedos and a snorkel? If it was really so bad, why didn’t I do x, y, or z at the time? I was gutted that these two people I thought I could trust were deciding that nothing had actually happened, and if it DID happen then I was apparently to blame.

    Fred is protected by his good reputation in the community, and the way he got you into a situation where you were isolated – no witnesses, no one around to protect you/buffer you from him, and apparently an ambiguous enough situation that people will question what went on. It’s a shitty, shitty thing to do, but it’s a very effective way to push boundaries further, to escalate the grooming of someone, to lay a pattern of encounters that will protect him later if you speak up. I suspect he is definitely getting some enjoyment out of making you uncomfortable with these hugs, but also that he wants you to comply so when he pushes boundaries again (or does it to someone else) he has all of these interim hugs as ‘evidence’ that, no, you do like him! Nothing weird going on here! Just stick to the pattern of pleasantness, or I’ll make this socially difficult for you.

    So. Jedi hugs to you. I wish you all the best in avoiding this creepy dude and his creepy touches. You not wanting to hug him is perfectly reasonable, as are your actions when he touched your shoulder-skin. You’re trying to keep yourself safe, and that is a good plan.

    • I hate, hate, hate when people go, “You didn’t freak out at the time, so nothing major happened.” Most of the people I know who have been sexually harrassed or assaulted? Froze up at the time! As it turns out, “Freeze” is as inherent a response as “Fight/Flight”! And now these days I trust stories of someone freezing up, doubting themselves, and being able to respond much more than, “And lo! I delivered a remark so blistering the foul creeper crawled into a hole and never saw the light of day again!” stories.

      I’m sorry that happened, and that your support system didn’t believe you.

      • winter said:

        [CN trauma, assault] Also, the moments where you didn’t feel able to respond/froze up will make you feel extra shitty because you were not able to defend yourself in the way you wanted to. In “The Body Keeps The Score” the author describes that the likelihood of getting PTSD increases when you were made unable to react due to circumstances (freezing up, being physically restricted). In other words, when people don’t have a “cutting remark” chances are good they need MORE care. (Not saying that traumatic shit isn’t traumatic when you were able to fight back. There is still a lot of support needed and PTSD and other stuff can still develop!) The equivalency, it is false.

        • Mary said:

          Yeah, there is a powerful cultural story about admiring the woman who fights back, or who delivers a great putdown, and it’s really pernicious because it re-doubles the feeling of “what’s wrong with me?” in situations where someone has been assaulted and responds with the statistically-more-normal (and arguably safer) freezing response. I hate that: I hate that the story of “fighting back” is told as a feminist power story and the repetition of that story and the ideal of the “fighting back” victim is something else that we get to beat ourselves up for. I also think it’s superficially feminist but basically kind of a male fantasy of response to attack, the “of course I gave as good as I got” reaction.

          I mean, I like a sassy comeback as much as the next person, but it should always come with a health warning that this is by no means the most common way to respond to an attack or a boundary violation. Freezing up and having no idea what to do next is the *normal* response, and we should be taught to recognise it and respect it.

          (As an aside, there is a super, super creepy film review of Irreversible by Roger Ebert, in which he talks about how fighting a rapist makes the heroine’s “sweetness and warmth much richer”. Because fighting back isn’t just the “right” or the “admirable” thing to do, it also makes you sexier to older male critics. Content warnings up the woah if you decide to google it : it is the *most* vile and voyeuristic way to talk about the depiction of a rape whilst pretending to empathise with the victim. It upset me horribly.)

          • Helen Damnation said:

            I see what you’re saying, but there’s another side to it. As someone who did freeze up, as someone who does freeze up in smaller boundary-violating experiences, stories of fighting back are important to me, because it’s going to happen again. (maybe not It, but it.) And I froze because I didn’t have a script. I didn’t understand what was happening. I knew I didn’t like it, but I didn’t know what to do. And now I do. And it’s still difficult, in the moment, to defend against boundary violations instead of just freezing, but I do it quicker every time. Because I know I can, that it’s OK. Because I have these stories in my pocket. Even if what I actually say isn’t some great put-down, it’s “Please don’t touch me,” or “That hug you gave me yesterday? I’ve been thinking, and I’ve decided I’m not comfortable with that, please don’t do it again,” that’s fine. Those stories don’t make me feel shamed. They give me strength.

          • CJ said:

            @Helen Damnation: That’s exactly how I feel too. It’s because of all these stories that defending against boundary violations has become so normalized for me. So normalized, that I rarely doubt myself when I do it. It may depress me that I need to do it, yet I almost never doubt myself. The narrators of all those stories have become part of my Team Me, and I draw strength from their experiences.

            Sure, I may get flak from those who would prefer my silence. And sometimes there are consequences that are very unfair. These are the issues that tend to wear me down over time, as they represent a constant erosion of my belief in humanity.

            But do I regret freezing and feeling powerless? No way. On the rare occasions that I choose to allow my boundaries to be violated, it’s a considered choice and I regard it as a quid pro quo in exchange for getting something that I really want.

          • ” I also think it’s superficially feminist but basically kind of a male fantasy”

            Absolutely. Actually feminist would be: “… and he was shunned by everyone ever after, because that kind of thing is just not acceptable. The end.” Or even better, men not molesting women in the first place.

            Women having to defend ourselves because the law is ineffective, or there is not even any law in place? That’s the opposite of feminist. The subtle implication being “… and if you are too weak to kick rapist’s asses, then you deserve to be raped.”

        • tawg said:

          For me, I know there was also very much an awareness that “This could get worse if I don’t do the right thing”. Which is such a double-edged sword! Because on the one hand, my inaction was a good thing because it meant that I was in defensive mode and minimalising physical harm and generally protecting myself. But it also meant that I’ve spent a lot of time questioning the validity of the trauma I have from that – if it could have been worse, then how bad was the incident really? It made me wonder if my support group was right, and then made me feel like my hurt was invalid, and that led to a whole spiral that I felt I didn’t have the justification to talk about…

          It’s incredibly fucked up, but I think that an appreciation that it wasn’t a worse is another effective silencing tool :/

          • CJ said:

            I’m not really good at articulating my thoughts about stuff like this, but I’ll do my best. I may not get all the words right, but please know that my heart is in the right place.

            I think your inaction was a good decision for all the reasons you mention. And because that decision was made after calculating the pros and cons, it was also informed. You alone made the decision that was right for you at the time, which makes it an empowered choice.

            The way I see it, that you were able to minimize your trauma was both smart and fortunate. However, it doesn’t take anything away from the validity of the trauma you did experience. That it could have been worse (and that you were able to prevent that) is irrelevant.

            Support groups can be very helpful. Unfortunately, some of their members may not be. For whatever reason, support groups seem to have their contingent of folks who enjoy competing for the title of who suffers most and is most deserving of compassion. Questioning the validity of another person’s trauma based on the decisions they made in the moment (or how they are currently faring) seems to be a corollary of this annoying practice and effective silencing tool.

            Tell me, were you at peace with the manner in which you handled the original situation? Do you recognize that your decision may have spared you even worse trauma? If so, that’s all that matters. Give yourself a pat on the back for your clear thinking under stress, then keep on with the business of healing. Your support group wasn’t there, and they don’t get to define your experience for you. Maybe it’s time to seek out a new support group, preferably one that doesn’t allow for this sort of cross-talk?

      • Same here. My school asked why I didn’t run away when a fellow pupil exposed himself & sexually assaulted me. I pointed out that I’d repeatedly said “put it away!” and “stop” but I genuinely didn’t think of leaving; all I could think of was “I want this situation to stop and go back to how it was”.

        But of course, not leaving made it my fault somehow. *growls at school*

    • CJ said:

      “I was gutted that these two people I thought I could trust were deciding that nothing had actually happened, and if it DID happen then I was apparently to blame.”

      For me, not being believed or taken seriously would be way worse than the old dude groping me. The way I see it, being dismissed by people I trust would cause way more injury than a creepy grope.

      I say this based on personal experiences in similar situations. The worst involved a near medical emergency that no one believed was actually happening because they had a lot of social investment in being willfully blind. So much so, that they even blamed me later for being overly dramatic and not credible as someone who was truly suffering.

      Fortunately, everything turned out well. Yet I never trusted this group of people to ever have my back again. The power of group psychology can be impressive under the right circumstances.

  32. CJ said:

    “Sometimes someone tells me I shouldn’t be so uptight, tells me that I’m overreacting, tells me that the boundaries I’m setting around touch and my body are unreasonable. Sometimes someone doesn’t care to listen to what is and isn’t comfortable for me, or starts to tell me that they don’t mean anything by it so I shouldn’t read too much into it. Sometimes someone calls me cold or gives me guilt because it’s just one hug and it wouldn’t kill me.”

    I think comments such as these are more about the other person’s discomfort with rocking the social watercraft than anything else. Awkward situations are so uncomfortable for them that they are inclined to dismiss the needs of anyone whose boundary assertions upset the status quo. It’s about getting you to shut up and drop the subject so that they don’t need to deal with it in their heads.

  33. Frost said:

    Ugh, the unwanted touchers. I get a LOT of these – I’m tiny and have been told I look like a ten year old (I am 25 and regularly get asked where my parents are/what I’m doing out all by myself by strangers and if I’m lost…buying alcohol is a nightmare. I don’t even drink it, I just cook with it!) and people seem to think that this makes it totally okay to pull me around/grab me/hug me all the time even when I’ve told anyone I spend any extended amount of time around that I DO NOT LIKE TO BE TOUCHED EVER. If they ask me for a hug, I can get around that, but what’s worse is when people just lunge up and hug me, especially from behind since if I get startled I tend to react very violently and have kicked or otherwise harmed people who purposely tried to scare me because they thought it would be funny. Even after that people still try to startle me on purpose because I tend to squeak and they think that’s hilarious, even if someone gets nailed in the throat for it.

    My biggest problem is I don’t know what to do when someone jumps up and just does it without warning or lunges at me with open arms – especially if I’m cornered and can’t back away or move around them or something. I’ve tried saying that I don’t like being touched, but usually if they’re already coming at me with open arms they’ll just laugh and hug me anyway. Anytime I try to get people to stop doing it they say it’s harmless and I should just get over it, but it really bugs me and I’m afraid one of these days that someone jumps out at me if I have something in my hand or get too startled that someone could get really hurt. Any ideas?

    • peep said:

      “My biggest problem is I don’t know what to do when someone jumps up and just does it without warning or lunges at me with open arms – especially if I’m cornered and can’t back away or move around them or something.”

      If you don’t have the option of taking a step back, can you at least place your arm directly out in front of you, with palm turned upward and facing them (the STOP signal)? It could stop a lunge from turning into a bear hug if you have quick reflexes. It’s also very assertive and tends to get their attention.

      Speaking of assertiveness, have you ever tried Not Being Nice when faced with clueless people and just saying, DON’T TOUCH ME! in a loud firm voice? Some people actually require that level of directness to create a change in behavior.

    • erica said:

      Ugh, how awful.

      When someone comes at you from the front, if you see it coming far enough in advance, put your hands out with your arms stiff and straight, elbows locked, and hold them by the shoulders so they can’t get any closer to you. Brace back against the ground with your feet, or if you’re up against a wall just brace against it, but don’t unlock your elbows and don’t drop your hands from their shoulders. As you do this, say, “Whoa there, I really don’t want to be hugged.” (If you need to be tactful, you can try to seem alarmed rather than enraged.) If someone’s really determined they can get around this, but most people — people who are just clueless, who don’t realize they’re crossing a line — will stop at that point because it’s such a clear gesture of “no.” If the person persists in trying or tugs on your arms, don’t laugh along, stay deadly serious and say “stop that” really loudly (loudly enough to attract the attention of other people nearby), and also try raising one of your knees like you’re going to knee them in the crotch. Whether or not you actually do knee them in the crotch is up to you, and it can be nice to be all set up for that; but even if you’re not feeling like following through, a hint of “I am preparing to violently defend myself” can let them know that you mean what you’re saying.

      Another commenter recommended saying “ow.” Say it loudly enough that people will overhear you.

      It sucks that you should have to resort to any of this. Good luck.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      If you can’t move and don’t want to have a verbal exchange, you can try crossing your arms across your front and pivoting away from them. If you hunch your shoulders up, they end up basically trying to hug your back. It is non-verbal communication SCREAMING to back off.

      You can throw in an “agh! You startled me! Stealth hugs freak me out!” and if you get blah blah blah about it you can say “yes but my startle reflex to stealth hugs is what it is” or “yep, but when I don’t see a hug coming it’s just what happens.” And if you really want to make a point “I’ve been hugged like that by some awful people*, maybe because I am so small, and I just ball up now.”

      *which could mean your terrible auntie mildred for all they know!

    • I’ve tried saying that I don’t like being touched, but usually if they’re already coming at me with open arms they’ll just laugh and hug me anyway. … I’m afraid one of these days that someone jumps out at me if I have something in my hand or get too startled that someone could get really hurt. Any ideas?

      If you tell someone you don’t like to be touched, and they go ahead and touch you anyway, especially if they’re jumping out at you as a scare tactic after they’ve been told not to do so and they know it carries a risk of physical harm to their person?

      I hear you saying you’re worried they might get really hurt. From where I’m sitting, though, they know the risks and they’re choosing to violate your stated boundaries in order to take them. My advice to you is to worry less about whether or not your hurt them and to give a little more consideration to hanging out with people who don’t take no for an answer and are willing to get “nailed in the throat” to ignore that no.

      • Cricket said:

        If they specifically laugh at you after you’ve said you don’t want a hug, I’d consider asking something like “what makes my personal boundaries so funny to you?” or “do you usually laugh at people for wanting a little personal space?” in a hurt, affronted voice. I can’t swear it’ll work, but it’s another way of highlighting their inappropriate behavior that makes it not just about the hug but also about their entire attitude about your right to boundaries.

    • “My biggest problem is I don’t know what to do when someone jumps up and just does it without warning or lunges at me with open arms – especially if I’m cornered and can’t back away or move around them or something”

      ugh, I am so sorry that is happening to you. it’s been years since I was surprise-hugged from behind, but whirling around and yelling WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU made that very unsatisfying for the hugger.

    • Eureka said:

      Frost, in that situation, I say–let them get hurt. It sounds cold and terrible to say it like that but it’s been pointed out in this thread that people have choices. They can abide by your wishes–or they can accept the consequences.

      Let me tell you about Eldest Child.

      Eldest Child is short, female-bodied, harmless-looking. This apparently makes them a target for huggers of all types, from the creepy to the genuinely well-meaning.

      Eldest Child does NOT like hugs, and their response to one that is unexpected and/or unwanted is generally quite violent.. Not even from family that they love and are close to. Strangers get ONE warning. Friends and family may get a couple of gentle reminders, but they are not immune. Younger Brother was clotheslined one day when he failed to heed the warnings.

      Younger Brother does not hug without permission anymore. Not just his sibling–that incident taught him to respect EVERYONES wishes regarding physical contact.

      Give them one warning. After that, don’t hold back.

    • As a small woman who makes “adorable” squeaking noises when surprised: Don’t lose your startle reflex, don’t be afraid to let your squeak come out a shriek, and don’t smooth it over. Sure, the urge is to laugh it off and reassure them, but if you let them see that you are genuinely surprised, startled, and upset, it changes the rules of the game. They may not instantly stop surprising you, but at least they have to face the fact that they’re deliberately doing something that makes you distressed and angry. A lot of people who loved to play the “make BoJ jump and squeak and try to seek justice with her tiny ineffectual rage” game rather less liked the “surprise BoJ and deal with her acting frightened, hurt, and tersely angry” game, especially when it went into follow-ups like, “No, sorry, I can’t ride to the hall in Robert’s car, he thinks being an asshole is funny. We’ll have to find different travel arrangements” and “You enjoy this elevator alone, I’ll wait until it’s not filled with someone who pokes me for fun.”

      • Helen Damnation said:

        This is my advice too. Force them to understand and admit that they’re upsetting you. Pull out all the stops. Cry if you have to. Afterwards, if they keep doing it, write them off. They’re dead to you. Look at them like they’re nothing, and walk past them like they’re not there. This may be enough to get them to reconsider; if so, they get one more chance, but only one.

        Honestly, the delicate-flower tactic probably only works if you’re young, small, female-presenting, and white, or works best then, but if it works it works. You have to use the weapons you have.

    • Anti Kate said:

      Whoa. I’d ask if this was your regular group of folks who do the attack hug, or just random strangers. Random strangers deserve what they get. Folks in your circle who continue past your stated boundaries don’t deserve to be in your circle any more. That sort of thing has asshole written all over it.

      Consider getting some martial arts training. Once word gets out that you can throw people over your head, things will probably start to ease up.

    • MsM said:

      “I said I don’t like being touched.” Loud, forceful, and accompanied by shoving away if necessary. And I agree with the people who’ve suggested letting the squeaks come out as screams. If they tell you it’s harmless, your response can be something to the effect of, “Well, then, it shouldn’t be that difficult for you to respect my feelings on the subject and not do it any more, should it? I don’t need you to understand why this bugs me so much; I just need it to stop.”

    • misspiggy said:

      Being very aware of everyone near your space and creating a ‘freeze zone’ around you might help. Which means subtly checking out people’s directions and body language, and then reorienting yourself all the time so that you can’t get cornered, don’t have people creeping up on you etc. Not very relaxing, but useful to get into the habit of. And let people get hurt if necessary – who are these people that think it’s OK to assault someone regularly?

    • Commander Banana said:

      These people sound like absolutely dickweasels.

      Maybe try practicing the Icy Stare of Death and the Angry Hiss Between The Teeth? I haven’t had the same problem because I don’t come across as a huggy person but I have had a few dates try to lunge in for the Unwelcome PDA and have had great success with backing up, throwing up a hand, and making The Most Disgusted Face like someone just tried to hand me a soggy diaper.

    • Anne said:

      That sounds absolutely terrifying. I have difficulty even imagining how horrible it would be to live with that on a regular basis. After thinking about it for a while I would suggest screaming “No” or “Stop” to draw attention, then emotionally unloading on them. Whether that emotion is fear, anger, or frustration depends on your reality. It seems like they want to make you have to choke back negative emotions to keep the peace, but why should you? They created the situation, they can deal with it. Personally I’d probably be crying and asking “Why do you keep grabbing me? I told you I don’t like it! Do you think making me afraid is funny?” Preferably in a public setting with as many non-involved bystanders as possible. Basically, what I’m saying is that it IS a ‘big deal’ and you could treat it like it is instead of having them brush it under the carpet.

  34. peregrinations said:

    Have you ever tried casually bringing this up with other people in your community, especially other people of similar age range, gender, body type, etc.? In my experience creepy older men like this are often overly friendly with a lot of young women in the community – and their behavior is often well known by many in the community.

    Years ago I worked at a place where everyone lived on site. There was a highly respected old man who had lived there for a long time. Everyone knew he was eccentric and socially awkward, but even though he was known to zero in on young women of a certain type he was seen as mostly harmless for a long time. Then there were some major changes in his life and he started getting seriously, even dangerously, creepy with several women. They spoke with one another and with other respected figures in the community, and everyone banded together to address it. They sat the man down for an intervention and set strict boundaries around his access to young women. From then on all of the long-time residents knew to keep an eye on him, and whenever someone of his “type” arrived someone would quietly pull her aside and warn her. This worked to prevent any further incidents for as long as I worked there (another year or two).

    If you think he might act like this with others in the community, do you think you could find any allies to help keep an eye on him or spread the word?

    • But if you do, be prepared for some of those people to pressure you to keep quiet. This is a big divide I’ve noticed between women with some sense of feminism, and women who have learned to go along to get along with the system. Depending on the group, it may not be a strategy session so much as a Missing Stair-Jumping Seminar.

  35. cincin said:

    i loved this answer soooo much i wanna full frontal hug it.

    • Except you wouldn’t if the answer isn’t into it, right?

  36. Clarry said:

    While I see nothing wrong with the friendly reaction (“not today”) or excuse (“I’m not a hugger”), I’d be very quick to escalate to a full-on scream (“NO”). When the creep begins massaging shoulders, go straight to a flinch, a drawing away, a turn, and loud “what are you crazy?” When the creep tells you that you’re uptight, look at him like he’s nuts. If someone should explain that he’s just being nice, give that surprised shocked look again and explain “that man tries to TOUCH me” with a tone in your voice that suggests that they’re the ones being outrageous. Even if you’re sure the creep is acting from a place of dementia when she asks for personal information on address or anything else, you can give a shocked outraged looks and say “how dare you ask something like that?”

    • jdrives said:

      I wholeheartedly support your suggestion to basically make a scene when being touched without permission. It has worked for me in the past, despite being sooo uncomfortable in the moment (thanks, socialization!). However, this can definitely be accomplished without using an ableist term like “crazy.” Any of the following will achieve the same effect when stated loudly and with a stern look: “What are you doing?!” “STOP.” “Augh!” “Knock it off!” “ExCUSE me?!”

  37. G said:

    I’d say that for the “clueless or creep” question Fred has supplied you with the definitive answer twice: It’s creepy, not clueless, to reach under a non-consenting person’s clothing. It’s creepy, not clueless, to sexualize a supposedly friendly hug with the term “full-frontal”. You don’t owe a creep any kind of consideration. Whatever works to get you completely away from his creepy hugs is completely justified.

  38. Taiga said:

    I had to smile at your pseudonym for your neighbour, LW, because a friend likes to say “Every family has their Uncle Fred”, meaning the relative who’s creepy with the touching and hugging. Named after her uncle whose name is Fred, of course.

  39. potterchik said:

    This could be my neighbor. So much so that I am wondering if it actually IS my neighbor. He eventually made an awkward pass at me: a movie-style, grab-her-shoulders-and-make-her-kiss-you pass. Except it didn’t go according to script, because I pushed his hands away and shouted “CUT THAT SHIT OUT!” before it got far.

    Needless to say I do not hug him when I see him anymore.

    • CJ said:

      Many years ago I had a platonic friendship with a dorky guy who made a similar pass when I gave him a friendly hug for the first time. The hug was a way of saying goodbye, as I was moving out of state and may not ever see him again.

      Despite being in his late 30s, he had limited experience with women. He also didn’t get a lot of hugs from females, so apparently this one went right to his head. When I leaned in for the friendly hug, he pounced and planted his mouth on mine and tried to shove his tongue down my throat. I was so stunned that it took a few seconds for what was happening to register. At that point, I shoved him away with a WTF expression that was anything but friendly.

      I don’t think he ever understood what he did wrong. He was just arrogant enough to not want to get it. Unlike many inexperienced guys who can be timid around women, this man had a tendency to assert his dominance when given half a chance. He had a dominant streak in his personality anyway, so no surprise that it also revealed itself in this context.

      • mildlymagnificent said:

        There’s a REASON for his limited experience with women.

        He has no idea how to behave and doesn’t want to learn.

    • Minister of Snark said:

      Fist bump

  40. This might be a little off topic, but I’ve noticed a lot of people mentioning hugs they couldn’t avoid, and I wanted to show you this:

    It’s a youtube video that demonstrates the “Oprah Hug,” or a way of deflecting people coming in for a hug that you don’t want without making a big deal out of it. Which is not to say that there aren’t occasions where you can and should make The Biggest Deal out of avoiding a hug, but I thought this might be helpful anyway.

    • NameChange said:

      😀

      • Polychrome said:

        Thank you for sharing this! Oprah is like Sun Tzu or something. Can you imagine how many unwanted hugs get aimed at her?

    • golden peanut said:

      That’s amazing. I hope I can remember it next time I’m in that situation.

  41. DameB said:

    So, my grandfather in law died a few years ago. He was always an ass and my husband was upfront that I didn’t have to take his BS. I didn’t and he backed right the hell off. As he got older and declined, he started doing and saying inappropriate things in that charming old geezer kinda way. My MIL finally had a sit down with him. “Listen, if you honestly are falling so deep into dementia that you can’t stop yourself from touching your helper’s ass or making creepy comments about your neighbor’s granddaughter’s breasts, then that’s fine. We’ll get you a male helper and keep you away from the public because you’re not safe and we need to protect the public. But if you’re just taking advantage of your geezer status and you want to have a nice woman to help and continue to go to events where you’re near other people, then you need to shape the hell up.”

    It’s amazing how quickly he shaped right up.

    • Mary said:

      Your MIL rocks!

    • *applause*

  42. 1. Age doesn’t change who people are. People who are mean and nasty when they are young do not get a pass when they are old. Neither do lecherous men.
    2. Not laughing at your situation, but the line, “I am a large-chested woman” made me smile, as the first time my husband hugged my sister, who got all the bosom in our family, he said, “Whoa! That’s completely different from hugging you!”

    • Lark said:

      The early stages of frontotemportal dementia _can_ causes changes in “who people are”, including inappropriately sexual behavior. Unfortunately, the sudden onset of sexually inappropriate language or behavior can be one of the first really visible signs. (In my own family, someone who had been a very left-leaning and outspokenly anti-racist person started to behave in ways that….were, let’s say, totally antithetical to how they had behaved in the rest of their life. This was just one of the many aspects of personality loss caused by this condition.)

      Because of my experience, when I read about surprise! behavioral problems in someone who is in their late seventies or eighties, my first thought is that it’s dementia setting in.

      Normally, I know we don’t diagnose on the internet, but dementia is a really unusual condition in that it _can_ make a hitherto wonderful person act very, very differently, and sudden behavioral changes really are symptoms. In this respect, it’s far more like, say, a malignant brain tumor than it is like depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.

      I think it’s worth pointing this out because many of us will encounter older relatives who slip into dementia (and none of us are getting any younger ourselves, either) Diagnosis and dealing with the process are very, very difficult and painful (not to mention stressful and expensive) and yet despite how common the situation is, people don’t really talk about.

      And many people do say things like “age doesn’t change who you are”, which was really horrible for me when people would try to say that my terminally ill relative must have been, like, a secret racist and right-winger all along despite the actual way they’d lived their life. No, my relative had a medical condition which caused changes in the brain and ultimately killed them.

      Obviously, however, this isn’t the LW’s issue to diagnose or respond to – it’s not so much that “age doesn’t change who you are” as “someone else’s illness does not require you to subject yourself to abuse”.

      • For help with navigating the early signs, diagnosis and managing all the hardships of having (a loved one with) dementia, I would 100% recommend “Dementia: A One-Stop Guide” by Professor June Andrews. It’s written in plain English and gives tons of sensible, practical advice and reassurances for people who need it. It is a British book so some of the advice is based on having access to our healthcare system, but mostly it’s about the dementia itself so that doesn’t matter.

      • B said:

        Yeah, seconding that age, or at least dementia, CAN change who people are. Which is a little terrifying. Some people may end up pleasant and happy in their dementia, some may be extremely emotional, paranoid, even mean. It is still important to enforce boundaries if only for one’s own sake, but you can’t really say it’s the “fault” of the person who is demented; there’s no way to know for sure.

      • So much this. I went on about this above, but I’m going to repeat it because it bears some repeating, I think:

        Some of the reason it can be so hard to notice and get a handle on early-stage dementia, etc., is *because* people are inclined to let offside behaviour slide in much older people.

        Giving people a “pass” for inappropriate behaviour because they’re old doesn’t do ANYONE any favours. It really, really doesn’t.

      • It’s also one of the known potential side effects to a particular Parkinson’s medication. Impulse Control Disorder issues are, however, one of the things that the people monitoring the use of the medication by the patient are very very aware of, and will actively work with the patient and their family to resolve as soon as it becomes evident (I have a friend who is a Parkinson’s nurse, and the number of times she has been subject to inappropriate out-of-character behaviour by patients…!)

      • Kfish said:

        Okay, but can dementia cause the deliberate, planned behaviour that Fred seems to be engaging in? I would have thought that a mental condition would impair someone’s ability to plan ahead in that fashion.

  43. wayofcats said:

    I’m super-sensitive about this because I grew up in a backward area of the country where adult white males often felt they had the perk of lording it over anyone younger, of lesser status, of color… or had two X chromosomes. (And this is why I left.) It was their privilege to get smiled and flirted at by anyone they wished, merely at their command, and it sucked.

    As I moved into an air-kiss/hugging culture, I learned that most would respect my wishes to share, or not. I learned who were clueless… and who were simply pretending to be so.

    It’s not possible to accidentally get one’s hands under someone else’s shirt. Maybe on Three’s Company, or in a modern stage farce, but not just chatting in someone’s apartment. It’s sweet of everyone to come up with alternative ideas, but Fred is, at least NOW, a creep.

    And even if that is only floated out in conversation, among friends, it might be surprising what floats back.

  44. thathat said:

    Oof, hah, this kinda reminds me of an old job I had as a secretary/receptionist at a small firm. Maybe three guys running the whole thing, very friendly, very good-ol’-boy. It was nice. They were nice.

    At the end of my first day, one of them (like…50’s?) asked for a hug. And we’d been friendly and this is the south, and it was sort of a familial atmosphere so…okay, sure. But at some point the next day, when we were talking he made some assumptions about me that wildly inappropriate for a boss to make/say, especially after having only known each other for a few days. (Basically, when I said that my male roommate wasn’t my boyfriend, he then asked if we were “friends with benefits.”)

    At the end of that day, he asked for a hug again. And I said no. Because…that was kinda creepy. You don’t get to be an older, male, near-stranger who makes assumptions and comments about my sex life and still get physical affection. Boundaries are going up now. And yeah, I could tell he was a little put-off by me saying no.

    But it also never happened again.

    No lie, it was a hella uncomfortable situation. It felt like since I’d been “okay” with it before, that I couldn’t set a new and different boundary now. But I did, and it worked.

    Good luck.

    • golden peanut said:

      Good for you for handling the unwanted hug with grace and aplomb.

  45. I don’t know how clearly other people have said what I’m going to say. That’s why I’m commenting.

    Not only is it ok for you to never let some one touch you again, it’s ok to make a scene about it. He made things uncomfortable, not you.

    It is fine for you to say “Ow!” and to say “Stop!”

    My go to is “Don’t touch me!” and I don’t care if tears are audible. I put myself on repeat “Don’t touch me!” again and again.

    There’s less of it now. But not that much less.

    • jdrives said:

      This has been a huge takeaway for me from Captain Awkward’s part advice around dealing with unwanted touching. It gave me the courage to make a scene with someone who had been violating my boundaries for a long time. It was uncomfortable AF in the moment, because I had to override years of socialization re: “You are a lady, shut up and take it!” and there were a few months where it was really un-fun, but now? We’re cool. We can be in the same place and he doesn’t touch me, not even a hug. His general behavior around me and others has also been more respectful. And, my self-confidence soared. 1000% worth making that scene.

      • wayofcats said:

        Good for you! It is great to find a thing that works.

      • Oh! Yay you! It is so much better to have driven off fear (and creeps)

  46. Elf Krystal said:

    Spot on answers and script from the Captain! Also love the Robert Frost reference at the end of her sage advice from “The Road Not Taken”.

    Also amberxebi said: She knew a woman who kept asking, “Why has my husband not visited?” This happened to my very aged aunt, who asked the same question of everyone. (Even tho he had died over ten years prior) . My aunt then decided that her husband must have divorced her without her knowing it or why. It was very sad. We tried to re assure her that he had not divorced her and she would see him soon. That was enough to calm her.

    • BB said:

      My Alzheimers afflicted Mom had the same delusion about my Dad, who had been dead for years. She thought he had divorced her and she hoped he was happy. My brother felt the need to correct the record and explain he had died. Many times. I never understood that, as she was not upset about him leaving, but realizing he died and she had forgotten that was very scary for her. There was no point in correcting her, in fact it caused her a lot of distress doing so.

  47. Akiva said:

    (tw for violent transmisogyny and homophobia in vague outline)

    Oh damn, this is really relevant to my life right now. Not creepy hugs (well, okay, maybe slightly creepy hugs, but I haven’t hit my limit yet) but I accidentally started a discussion with my Fred about #TransLivesMatter the other week and he took it as his cue to start (~apologetically) telling me his horrifying feelings/beliefs about trans women/gay men/lesbians. I was trying to argue for a while but I hit my “nod, smile, search for exit” point.

    I’m only 95% certain he knows I’m queer (he should, but he wouldn’t be the only one who can’t grok it somehow), which makes everything about it even more impossible to parse. Was he low-key threatening me, or just not thinking about the logic of “LGBT people are rapists” and “let me tell you in detail how I would torture a rapist, PS I was in the military”? My gut says it wasn’t intentional, that he’s (“just”) a straight guy inappropriately trying to process his feelings with someone he sees as a woman, but do I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt?

    Complicating factor is that he’s black, I’m white, and he’s a longtime small business owner in our gentrifying neighborhood. FUN TIMES.

    • BB said:

      Bottom line is, if he’s made you’d uncomfortable, it’s okay to act on that next time. “Not now, Fred” works for almost anything- including those obnoxious conversations he wants to have with you!

    • Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK said:

      Remove the color element. He’s a guy who went into detail about how he’d torture a LGBT (?) rapist, right? And you’re LGBT, and you don’t feel comfortable talking to him about LGBT issues, even those you believe he’s got 100% wrong. Am I correct? Then you could just decide that this discussion with him, and all permutations of this discussion with him, are off-limits, pull back your friendship to a cooler level/one you feel safer at, and just let it alone. Some discussions are going to go nowhere good, and it’s safer to get away and stay away from them. Education is not as important as personal safety.

      • Men who like to go on in detail about how they would like to torture rapists are creepy. (Especially if their fantasies include raping the rapists) And I often get the vibe they don’t care about rape victims at all, they just want an acceptable target and think they found it in rapists. Creepy as hell.

    • Problem is it eventually looks sort of funny if you’ve been super contagious for the last ten or so years (in my case), but your condition’s remained exactly the same. :p It’s kind of like how I need to find a new excuse to not be around young children, because I haven’t had any enter my immediate circle yet, but I know the time is coming soon, and I’m much more likely to find a polite way of saying I’d really rather not spend one-on-one time with little’uns than I am to stop having the visceral, automatic, near-phobic reaction I have to one being in my presence. :/

  48. BB said:

    I’m going to say the request for full frontal hugs is a huge red flag- he knows you aren’t comfortable, and does not care. Afford him the same regard for his comfort going forward. And honestly, after the hands under the shirt business, I would talk to others who care for him, or who he might try and victimize and warn them of this odd behavior. Silence will only enable him. He will likely stop if he realizes there will be negative consequences.

  49. CQ said:

    A good lie you could try to get out of unwanted physical contact: I have shingles right now. Shingles typically causes a highly painful side-aching feeling but invisible with a shirt on, and someone his age would probably understand it. You could also keep this lie up for months.

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