#849: What do I owe the awkward dude who won’t take no for an answer and shows up at my work? (Spoiler: NOTHING)

It appears to be Dude-B-Gone week at Captain Awkward Enterprises. Also, re: confusing post numbering (850/849), sometimes I write a bunch of answers at once and schedule them ahead of time and they post out of order. We’ll carry on somehow!

Dear Captain,

I’ve found myself in a weird situation and I’d love to have your advice. I’m a graduate student and I have a visual impairment (I’m not in the US, but if I were I would qualify as legally blind). A few months ago I happened to meet a fellow graduate student at my institution who has a similar disability. I thought he was an interesting person and I was excited to meet a fellow student who shared that aspect of my experience, since most of my friends are sighted.

We arranged to meet up for coffee. I thought this was just as potential friends, but during the course of the conversation it became clear that finding a girlfriend is very important to him and that he saw it as more of a date. He also did a few things that made me quite uncomfortable: for instance he insisted on sitting very close to me and on touching and hugging me (I really don’t like being touched by anyone I don’t know well, partly because like many Blind/visually impaired people I often have to deal with strangers trying to touch me when I’m out in public places). Shortly after this he asked me on a date. I said no, but he kept asking and I did agree to meet him for lunch a few weeks later. I was hoping I could make it clear this time that I was only interested in being friends, but the same thing happened with the touching, and the whole event had a very date-y vibe even though that was not what I wanted.

After this I decided I didn’t want to see him again. Fortunately I had never given him my phone number, so I simply unfollowed him on social media and stopped replying to his messages and emails, hoping he would take the hint and stop sending them. They didn’t stop coming, though, and some of them were quite odd – for instance, he sent one asking who the men in some of my Facebook photos were (mostly members of my family and male friends, but I suppose he couldn’t have guessed that). On two occasions he also turned up at the place where I volunteer and hung around outside waiting to talk to me. Kind fellow volunteers dealt with him on both occasions, but I was still sufficiently freaked out by this to unfriend and block him on social media.I think this was probably an overreaction, since I never told him I didn’t want to be in touch and he may have been understandably confused.

Following this we had a few weeks of silence, but then I received an email from him on my university account, asking if he had offended me, and if anything was wrong with our ‘friendship’. It’s clear from the email that he has a lot more invested in our relationship than I do and that he sees us as close friends, whereas I would characterise us as barely more than acquaintances, as we’ve only met five times in person, counting the coffee date, the lunch and the turning up at my volunteering place. That strikes me as an unhealthy imbalance and frankly it would make me want to stop seeing him even without the odd behaviour which went before.

Am I obliged to respond to this email and reassure him that he’s done nothing wrong? What, if anything, do I owe this man? I know I should have been clearer about not wanting to date him and about cutting off contact. I’m sure he never intended to do anything creepy, although it’s clear that he is isolated and his social skills are very poor. I want him to be able to expand his social life and be happier, but on the other hand his apparent inability to recognize boundaries makes me want not to be in touch with him. I’m worried that if I don’t respond to him he will interpret this as rejection and lose the confidence he needs to make more friends. Aside from that, I feel like I’ve failed to show solidarity with him as someone who shares his disability. What should I do?

Yours in confusion,
I Volunteered, But Not For This

P.S. I am a woman and use ‘she/her’ pronouns.

Dear Volunteer,

You did not overreact by blocking him and feeling like something is off with this guy. You are not being mean, you are listening to your instincts and letting them protect you, maybe from danger, maybe just from being annoyed to death.


He has been pushy and handsy and poor with boundaries. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t really want to be friends with you, he wants to date you, and he won’t really take “no” for an answer. Right after he met you, he started monitoring your social interactions with other men online as if it is somehow his business. He has been showing up where you volunteer and making you uncomfortable. He does not make you feel happy and excited to hang out with him, he makes you feel defensive and harassed. That is not the basis for a friendship. Super-mutual-liking-each-other is the basis for a friendship. He had a chance to be friends with you, but he fucked it up. Do you really want to reassure him and be his wary, unwilling friend, braced for when the hands of unwanted touching or “Whyyyyyy won’t you date me” come at you again?

You do not have to respond to his email at all. Silence is its own answer. If you do want to respond, answer once. Maybe something like “I do not like the way you touch me without permission, drop by unannounced at [volunteer place], or keep bringing up the prospect of dating even though I am not interested in that kind of relationship with you. I’d like you to stop contacting me unless I contact you first. No need to apologize or respond to this message. I wish you well.”

If he responds in any way, do not answer him, and do not respond to any further attempts to contact you. Keep copies of everything in case he escalates his efforts in a dangerous way.

It is sad that he is lonely and isolated, but you don’t have to fix that for him. You were kind to him and open to a friendship, and he took advantage of that and ruined his own chances all by himself. You’re not responsible for his self-confidence or whether he makes other friends. He can learn better social skills on his own time, not yours. In fact, I’m reminded now of the greatness of the #DudesGreetingDudes hashtag created by Elon James White (@elonjames on Twitter, well worth a follow IMO).

Women and female-presenting people of the world, when you are annoyed at a clueless or needy straight dude in your life who seems to require a lot of emotional labor from you, ask yourself some questions:

  • Would he behave this way toward me if I were a fellow dude? (handsy/touchy, entitled, needy, full of suggestive comments & excessive monitoring behavior)
  • Would a man in my shoes agonize this much over whether he was being sufficiently reassuring/understanding of a fellow dude’s repeated pushy & selfish behavior?
  • Do I look forward to and actively enjoy spending time with this guy? (vs. feeling drained or like you’re performing a service).

If the answer to any of these is “Nope” then give yourself permission to let go of worrying about this guy and what he thinks of you and how he is doing in life. Men and women can be friends, but some guys need to go back to the drawing board of what a friendship is and maybe consider being friends only with people they don’t want to fuck or use for free therapy, aka,  #DudesFriendingDudes.







235 thoughts on “#849: What do I owe the awkward dude who won’t take no for an answer and shows up at my work? (Spoiler: NOTHING)

  1. Ahh, spring. When a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of refusing to leave a lady alone until she gives up and dates him.

    (No seriously though is it the weather?)

    1. I think there’s a correlation between pollen levels and male privilege. That heady mix triggers the bubbling up of the urge to go, er… spelunking.

      Praise be to Hypnotoad that I am Dude-B-Gone incarnate.

    2. I always used to get more interested in dating in the spring, just because my winter depression would abate and I’d be more energetic and excited about life in general, but I’m pretty sure entitled dudes are entitled all year round.

  2. Silence may not be enough. If you do feel the need to reply to his email, how about something like this? “When we met up, you seemed to want a relationship, while I just wanted friendship. I am no longer interested in even that. Do not contact me again.”

    1. This. Thisthisthisthisthis. I would send it so that he has no grounds for claiming to pretend that this is all a misunderstanding. Trust your Spidey-Sense!

      1. Totally. It always aggravates me how much people like this THRIVE on technicalities and “misunderstandings” as if anything less than a yelldownwarhellride counts as hope.

    2. Oh yes!

      Clarity for the win.

      (create a filter that puts his reply – because he’s likely to have one -‘into a special yech do not touch folder)

      1. It could be a good idea to have a trusted friend read the contents of the folder for you, just in case it starts to seem like things are escalating.

        1. For most mail clients/providers it’s pretty easy to set up a rule or filter that will banish any mail to another folder, optionally mark it as read, AND forward it to someplace else. If you really didn’t want it in your regular mailbox you could totally sign up for “shutupbadboundariesdude@mailproviderofyourchoice.com” and have all his mail forwarded to there and then auto-delete it in your personal inbox. You could then have a trusted friend occasionally check your Bad Boundaries Dude Email Hole and make sure he’s not talking about anything you need to know about so you can go to the police or whatever.

          I know this because people used to email me personally instead of the project email address they were supposed to email at work, but it works great for anyone whose mail you do not want to pass in front of your eyeballs but you do want to keep it just in case.

    3. This is a good script. It also will be useful to have said this if it turns out you need to get the university or your workplace involved.

    4. Agreed, silence leaves room for a “but why didn’t you saaaaaaaaay something?” defense since you haven’t explicitly told this dude he makes you uncomfortable. Tell him in no uncertain terms to leave you alone. THEN give nothing but silence.

      This also gives you “proof” that you asked him to stop in case things get creepy(er).

    5. Yes and legally in the USA at least a single clear “do not contact me again” is a checkbox for pursuing protection if/when they keep contacting. Not sure how it is elsewhere.

      As much as I like the captain’s letter, I think the first part ““I do not like the way you touch me without permission, drop by unannounced at [volunteer place], or keep bringing up the prospect of dating even though I am not interested in that kind of relationship with you.” may be too much info for this situation. Accurate info, sure, but the guy will probably focus on arguing/apologizing/”making up for” that rather than the important last part of “do not contact!!!”

      1. Yeah, you don’t want to give guys like this any technicalities they can try to argue. Sometimes citing specific examples opens to door for a lot of “You misunderstood that situation and here’s why” responses.

        Of course as long as you end it with “Do not contact me again” you can just filter all those responses out and refuse to engage with them, so either way I guess.

        1. Ugh, this so much. My partner is so bad about this. He is a good person, but has an incredibly legalistic bent and if I tell him “I feel this way,” sometimes he just has to try to mansplain to me about why I actually shouldn’t feel this way. I want to be clear that he is NOT abusive or belittling about it, and when I then point out what he is doing, he recognizes it and subsides, but it’s like something in his brain just has to do it.

          1. These logical-argument types need to accept that feelings are axioms. They are what they are, whether you can currently explain them or not.

    6. Kristin said: “When we met up, you seemed to want a relationship, while I just wanted friendship. I am no longer interested in even that. Do not contact me again.”

      You may think that there is no way to game the rules with this pithy message, but –you would be wrong.– Love finds a way! If only she* realized that she was in love with him all these problems would go away.

      * inter-changeable she, all too often.

  3. LW, except for the visual impairment, this reminded me somewhat chillingly of a good friend’s experience with another graduate student during our master’s program, and I want to first of all say that I am sorry he is doing this, because it is super uncool, and second that you are in no way overreacting. I would very much be concerned based on his behaviour thus far that he could become more dangerous. He is pretty much the definitive Schroedinger’s Rapist given that on the strength of what, one coffee?, he has decided that he is warranted in examining your FB photos minutely for evidence of “cheating”, stalking you to the place where you volunteer, repeatedly contacting you, etc. My friend’s stalker met her in a grad seminar, immediately began touching her and, when she demanded that he stop, told her that because of his disability he was unable to refrain from touching other people. He wanted to “form a study group” and used that pretence to get a phone number he believed to be hers from her, and then called it 47 times in a row one night (it was her boyfriend’s cell phone). He progressed to stalking her to her (shared) office and then attempting to corner her in it when no other grad students were present. She had to stop holding office hours in our office because he would show up, chase her into a corner, and put his hands on her.

    I say all this because maybe you are under the impression that this isn’t a modus operandi for creeps. Maybe you think that you are the only person who’s ever had to deal with this, and worry about it potentially derailing your academic career. Maybe you feel alone because no one around you has ever talked about this happening. You are not alone, and his behaviour isn’t normal or innocent. He is being a creep. Your concern about his future social abilities does you credit as a nice person, but let those concerns go. You don’t owe him anything, particularly not at the cost of your own peace of mind.

    I wouldn’t respond at all to his email–HE KNOWS WHAT HE DID, I assure you!–but if you do, just follow the Captain’s script and in no uncertain terms tell him to never contact you again. (This is not necessary for him, but if you need to chase this up the chain in order to make someone at your school help you get rid of him, you need evidence that you told him that he was inappropriate and never to contact you again.)

    I’m glad you are reaching out! I hope the Captain has made you feel a little better.

    1. A+. I’ve encountered the same tactic too.

      LW – Your shared disability does not mean you owe him anything. You could have been a great, supportive friend, but he ruined that. You’re done now, you’ve given more than you needed to. His loneliness may well be due to his creepy antics.

      BTW – I have a visual disability, and funnily enough I’ve met innumerable men with similar impairments who claimed that their perceived creepiness is, in fact, a misunderstanding, based on their disability. Wanna guess how many women I’ve met, with similar impairments, have claimed the same thing? If you guessed zero, zip, zilch – then you’re right.

      1. My previous roommate, a man with a visual disability, was a creepy creeper who crept. He did the whole “I don’t understand behavioural norms” and “Woe is me, women won’t date me because of my disability” thing, while actively being creepy to me, a woman who had to share space with him. My list of horrible things he did in the 9 or 10 months I lived with him is lengthy and pretty awful, and it started with him creepily complimenting me, and ended with me spending 100% of my time in my bedroom with the door closed hoping he didn’t hurt my cat while I was at work.

        None of this was because he had a visual impairment. All of it was because he was a creep. But he frequently complained about how every interpersonal difficulty he had was due to his disability.

        1. My experience of creepers is that they will take advantage of ANYTHING to creep more effectively. This includes actual issues that they genuinely have, like a disability or mental illness or have an abusive parent or poor social skills or whatever. Creeps are totally willing to use something about themselves that will play on their victim’s empathetic-person feelings to continue creeping, because they are creeeeeeeeps.

          1. My personal creeper used his DEAD MOTHER as his excuse. While I don’t mean to diminish how difficult that must have been to go through, I doubt the poor woman would’ve appreciated being used as an excuse for her son being weird and creepy around unattached women (who he views as combination romantic partners and replacements for said dead mother; Freud had a thing or two to say about that, I think).

            It lures you in to this dangerous false sense of sympathy, and it took me stupidly long (two years!) to extricate myself from the situation because we were in the same degree program at a small university and moved in largely the same circles.

        2. “I don’t understand behavioural norms”

          Really? There are thousands of books, forums, groups, internet sites, etc. that you can use to help you understand behavioural norms in society. Every time I travel to a country with a non-western culture, I research what I can do to not offend locals or come across as an ignorant tool. There’s a world of difference between not understanding and not being able to implement strategies and techniques because of an impairment.

          Using his disability as an excuse to be a creeping creeper is disgusting, especially when there are people out there who *genuinely* struggle to manage their behaviour due to something outside their control.

          1. Ya know, I’m Aspergers/mildly autistic. I really, really don’t understand a lot of behavioral norms. I mean, they seriously confound me.

            Know what, though?

            With things like behavioral norms, manners, etc., you don’t *have* to understand them. You just have to know *what they are and follow them*.

            They’re rules, and at the heart of it, pretty simple ones.

            If you’re asked by someone not to touch them, you don’t need to understand why. You just back off and *don’t touch them*.
            If you’re asked to quit calling or texting, you stop. End of story.

            Frankly, I’m a little bit suspicious of those who use “I don’t understand them” as an excuse, because that too often seems to signal that they’re trying to find a work-around.

            While it might not be good parenting always, when it concerns your own life, the classic “Because I SAID so!” is all anyone else needs to understand.

            (***Disclaimer: I may not be the best person to give advice. I briefly gained a stalker in college, for all of two days. It was only two days because the last time he showed up at my dorm room door (on a secured girls-only floor), I met him with a pissed off look, the words “Don’t *ever* come near me again”….. and well, my fencing sabre in hand. I was young, scared, and too stupid to realize that probably wasn’t the best idea. But to this day, dealing with people I don’t know well at all still scares the crap out of me, and again, I do not recommend this approach.)

          2. Nesting ran out, so this is for msnovtue:

            I’m the same way: high-functioning autistic and an inability to understand the “why” of most behavioral/cultural norms. I still do them, unless they’re really egregious to me (e.g.: I live in the US, where the custom for greeting people, especially people of seemingly female appearance, is a hug. I try to avoid physical contact in general, but I have a particular loathing for hugs, so I can be downright curt if I have to as a means of escaping that unpleasantness. I haven’t figured out how to evade handshakes yet, alas). I may spend some of my own time trying to figure out why a certain norm is, well, normal, oftentimes without being able to do anything but shrug and start unironically humming the Doors’ “People Are Strange” in conclusion, but I still go along with it.

            Any creeping I do as a result of my neuroatypicality is purely unintentional and easily correctable, when pointed out. Though I have taken advantage of the fact that I somehow learned to overcompensate on making eye contact (going from strenuously avoiding it to staring someone dead in the face until they start squirming) to make a few overly friendly dudes slink away, blinking tears from their eyes after the staring contest they didn’t know they were having!

      2. Yep! Funny how I, a woman, manage to be face-blind and low-vision without staring at other women’s breasts for extended periods or touching anybody inappropriately or invading personal space! In fact, I’d say my visual impairments make me even less of a touchy/grabby person – I automatically give myself and others as much room to maneuver as possible.

        1. As a fellow face-blind female-presenting person I find that people’s breasts are even harder to tell apart than their faces and it’s sort of counter-productive to use them as an identifier.

          1. I’ve only ever encountered one other self-described face-blind person offline, and his excuse was that he was trying to memorize my other physical features to make up for how vaguely he would remember my face, and was like, looking for a nametag or something anyway. Funny, I use voice/hair/clothing style/body type/height/etc for that kind of thing and would have thought my nametaglessness would have been quickly obvious!

          2. …I will shamefacedly admit that I have occasionally used “vast tracts of land” as a physical marker because I am also more than a little face blind.

            But that said, I don’t have to stare! I can register vastness of said tracts in under a second! Then I don’t need to look any longer!

          3. I personally tend to use gait and posture, although this does present difficulties in photos and was impossible when I helped out at wheelchair rugby.

      3. This. I have a good friend who is a man with a visual disability who, it turns out, is not a creep (judging by comments he’s a rare specimen, who knew). LW, and anyone else being fed this line, how you treat people is a choice, and many, many disabilities have no effect on a person’s ability to choose not be a creep.

        1. I’ve just been planning for a visit from a visually impaired male friend. Incredibly kind, thoughtful guy who has zero problem with social skills and not the slightest whiff of creepery. Married for umpteen years to a lovely lady who quite deservedly thinks the world of him.
          There is no reason, as much as the creepers of the world would like to convince us of this, to treat disability as an excuse for creepery… it’s not really any harder to avoid being a creep when you’re blind, depressed, mobility-impaired, bipolar, autistic, etc than it is when you’re physically and mentally typical. It may be harder not to be awkward, but we all know here that awkward =/= creep! Awkward people do the work to learn how to treat others, instead of expecting others to accept whatever treatment they feel like dishing out. Awkward people ask before touching if they aren’t sure they can read cues correctly . Awkward people err on the side of not doing, rather than doing something which might be offensive. Awkward people listen when told they made a mistake and crossed someone’s boundaries, then apologize and don’t do it again, instead of explaining why it isn’t their fault they did it and expecting you to put up with the same boundary violations over and over again.

          Creeps don’t bother to learn how to behave well, because they have no real interest in behaving well in the first place. This is a completely different attitude and has nothing to do with disability.

      4. Is this kind of like the whole Asberger’s Dude Who Just Can’t Stop Being Creepy and Handsy Because He’s Got Asberger’s, Why Are You So Mean To Him, That’s Just The Way He Is?*

        *Person from a family chock full o’ autistic peeps who somehow manage to not grope strangers/keep the assholeishness to a minimum

        1. So much this. My partner was evaluated for aspergers when he was younger (not diagnosed) and has a lot of the symptoms, and I would say that when we met he had more female friends than I do. Were some of them taking advantage of the fact that he’s got a bit of a white knight/Florence Nightingale complex? Yeah. And did some of them not like him having a girlfriend and resent that he could no longer fill the emotional support role they wanted? A couple. But overall, even with his social issues, he knew how to be a good person and a good friend and most of all HOW NOT TO SEXUALLY HARASS HIS FRIENDS.

          Also, he did ask out one of those female friends out before he met me, because after getting to be friends with them his feelings got stronger. She said no, he said ok, and they were still friends. Still are. We have gone out to dinner with her and her now-partner many times. It’s ok to start to crush on a friend, and ok to even ask a friend out, but it isn’t ok to pout, sulk, or whine when/if they say no.

        2. So much this. My partner was evaluated for aspergers when he was younger (not diagnosed) and has a lot of the symptoms, and I would say that when we met he had more female friends than I do. Were some of them taking advantage of the fact that he’s got a bit of a white knight/Florence Nightingale complex? Yeah. And did some of them not like him having a girlfriend and resent that he could no longer fill the emotional support role they wanted? A couple. But overall, even with his social issues, he knew how to be a good person and a good friend and most of all HOW NOT TO SEXUALLY HARASS HIS FRIENDS.

          Also, he did ask out one of those female friends out before he met me, because after getting to be friends with them his feelings got stronger. She said no, he said ok, and they were still friends. Still are. We have gone out to dinner with her and her now-partner many times. It’s ok to start to crush on a friend, and ok to even ask a friend out, but it isn’t ok to pout, sulk, or whine when/if they say no.

        3. No kidding. I’m autistic (among other problems, some serious enough to necessitate that I wear a medical ID bracelet at all times) and I wouldn’t pull this crap. There’s honest mistakes and then there’s people being jerks and trying to make excuses for it. I seriously wish people would stop trying to use mental or physical disabilities as excuses to get away with horrible behavior, it just makes it that much harder for those of us who suffer from them to not be instantly judged by people when they find out about it.

      5. Sadly, I know one woman who’s pulled this particular card, but she does it with general relationships in attempting to manipulate friends into doing what she wants and not for dating purposes (for now).

    2. I couldn’t agree more with all of this!

      I asked my friends once and I know a grand total of ONE fellow female who hasn’t had something like this happen to/at her. And she is a martial artist who could and would separate a creep’s hands from his body if they were to stray, and it shows. This behaviour is ubiquitous, and we never seem to talk about it, and we all seem to treat it as if it was somehow OUR problem!

      And I guess there *is* a remote possibility that he genuinely does not know what he did -but if that’s the case, then there’s something seriously, seriously wrong with him and he’s most likely not safe to be around. If he doesn’t understand that unwanted touches, harassing messages, cyberstalking, and actual stalking are wrrrrrrrrong, what else does he not understand? Where would he stop?

      1. Not to mention, if he genuinely wants to learn better social skills and isn’t just using that as an excuse for his unpleasant behaviour, learning that if you act this way to a person they will stop talking to you forever is a pretty fundamental lesson he’s got to learn if he’s to have any hope of learning how to get along with people and develop friendships and learn to stop acting in this creepy way. It’s a pretty major ‘social skill’.

        1. That’s the thing I always think when people are all “He just has poor social skills and doesn’t understand social cues!” How is he supposed to learn those things if everybody just tolerates whatever behavior he feels like throwing out there? It seems like clear enforcement of boundaries would be helpful information.

          1. This. I knew a girl in highschool who, it seemed to me, legitimately did not understand social cues, and I always thought people were doing her a disservice by not telling her outright “don’t talk about gorey stuff over meals.” Like, she clearly isn’t just going to magically understand your discomfort if she hasn’t the last three times, why are you just sitting there expecting her to?

          2. And besides, how does he doesn’t have social skills = you have to be the one to teach him? I don’t recall the LW signing up to teach Social Skills For Awkward Dudez 101.

        2. THISSSS again.

          I lost a few friends in high school/early college because I just did not know How To Friend. It was a painful lesson. But I would not want people to be my friend out of pity.

          I have since learned How To Friend; have friends now. Is good.

          1. Oh gods, this! Genuinely awkard here, and all through school there were things people would just not explain. How the heck was I supposed to get any better? College was such a revelation in so many ways. Am still awkward, but much better at so many things now that people will actually explain when I’m doing something wrong.

            Ironically, I’m the one who is always explaining things like Geek Social Fallacies to newbies in my Nerd Friends group, or why no, it’s actually really a bad idea to do a concert full of racist bits to welcome a couple of that race to our church Music Director. Yes, that song’s racist too. And yes that one. And that one’s sexist. yes.

            Because I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that they really don’t realize the things they’re doing wrong and if no one tells them, how will they learn? And if they did know, I don’t care if they think I’m a bitch. ~evil laugh~

      2. I’m of the mind that a lot of creeps, harassers, abusers and the like often genuinely do NOT understand what their inappropriate behaviour was. A lot of these guys are hurting, or kind of pathetic, and really seem to be lost in the dark about their own actions, so while I get the point of saying it’s deliberate, if I had heard that about some of my past abusers I would discount the advice as not applying to me.

        The thing is, this does not make it your responsibility to explain it to them, because they use ignorance as a shield and will not learn. They LIKE not knowing, and will seek to maintain it. If you tell them, it will roll right off of them and you will be stuck trying to re-explain “don’t touch me when I tell you not to, because that’s inherently bad” for the rest of your life.

        Similar to the other recent letters — it isn’t your personal responsibility to educate this guy, to make sure he learns anything, or has friends and isn’t lonely. He can reach out elsewhere, himself, toward bridges he hasn’t already burned.

        1. If they don’t understand what their inappropriate behaviour was, it can only be because they don’t view their targets as real people with bodily autonomy and the right to be left alone, which I’d argue is a pretty good reason to just never interact with them if you’re someone they’d view as a target.

          1. Yeah, I think this is true a lot of the time. [In case I don’t nest this reply right, “this” being Novel deVice’s comment about creepers “not understanding” they are creepy because they don’t understand that their target/target group is human and GET to say no.]

            The other thing is, often a harasser will just stick to that script, that they simply don’t get it, they CAN’T learn or change, no matter what. Nothing can budge them from that script, not even pointing out the evidence of their own behaviour, not pointing out that they don’t creep on men, or try to grope people who have power or authority, like their boss, or their professors, or their landlord, if they really “can’t understand”… nothing [in my experience] is enough to make them change that “can’t understand/can’t change” script. I guess because they are so invested in it, either because they really believe it or because it serves some other purpose, like [im]plausible deniablity, or all the other stuff that goes along with not having to see women as autonomous humans.

            So, yeah, gets it but is manipulative vs doesn’t get it… it can become a really frustrating discussion that circles back on itself, as long as the harasser always clings to their “but I can’t understand!” narrative.

            So many words to say, LW, no matter what the reasons behind it, you 100% don’t owe this guy anything. I think silence/blocking was a very wise move on your part. Your instincts are right on. One message conveying “I don’t want you to contact me again, please stop contacting me” [with or without the “please”] could also be a good move, for documentation purposes as others have pointed out. But continuing to block/silence is also smart. [If I was to contact him I probably wouldn’t give the “I don’t like it when…” reasons, because he may try to “explain” why he “can’t help it” which = more unwanted contact. Or use twisted “logic” aka “you said we can still meet up if I don’t do X, I promise not to do X SO WHY WON’T YOU HANG OUT WITH ME??” Which is not to imply there is one perfect script or wording that will make him leave you alone, any STOP script is perfectly clear, as is the silence/blocking you have already done. It’s just in my experience “I don’t like…” style scripts haven’t been more effective than leaving those reasons out.]

            I’m so sorry this guy has been harassing you, LW. All my strength to you.

          2. Okay, a pre-amble: I have no idea what’s up with this particular guy, and am not attempting any kind of armchair diagnosis.

            Nor am I suggesting the whole “she should be more patient and kiiiiind with him, he might be autistic!” argument.

            If he is autistic, the kindest thing the LW could do would be to give him a blunt and clear statement that he should not contact her again and why, along the lines of the Captain’s suggested message.

            But actually, it is possible for people to struggle to understand what is or isn’t socially appropriate without being predators who don’t regard others as human beings.

            Context: I’m autistic, female, and before my diagnosis (when I was at university) I didn’t actually stalk anyone, but I certainly did show my interest in people in ways which were creepy, OTT, and oblivious to other people’s non-verbal cues that my behaviour was weird and unwanted. And I cringe with guilt and humiliation when I look back on it.

            And yes, there are now plenty of resources for learning social skills — if you know that’s what you need to look for and the phrases you need to search on (e.g. “social skills resources”).

            But if you get on the internet and google “can’t find a girlfriend” (for example), what you hit first of all are PUA websites (combine that with a tendency to understand things literally and limited ability to sort out what information is trustworthy or not and wow, you have a clusterfuck in the making).

            And if you look at mainstream media, you have the entire world of rom-coms etc. supporting the idea that aggressively “wooing” someone uninterested is how it works.

            Given sufficient disabilities, this guy’s thought process could hypothetically something like: “She is excited to meet up with me! Yay! She’s a friend and might even be my girlfriend. I will sit close to her and hug her because that is what people do with potential girlfriends. {does not notice the LW’s non-verbal signals of discomfort and not wanting to be touched.} I asked her out on a date. First she said no but then she changed her mind — clearly I’ve won her over. She hasn’t replied to any of my messages in the last two weeks, but maybe she’s busy. I hope things are okay between us. I feel anxious about this, so maybe I’ll go and see her. Her colleagues at the place where she volunteers seemed friendly. Wait, she’s blocked me? I probably went too far at some point and upset her but I don’t really know when.”

            (Or he could be entirely aware that he’s pushing boundaries and not care. We have no way of knowing.)

            It doesn’t mean that the onus is not on him to learn social skills, recognize and respect boundaries, and learn not to creep people the fuck out and make them play the fun fun game of “Is This Guy A Potential Rapist Or Not?”.

            And the LW should not put up with this guy’s creepery, try to teach him social skills, or try to diagnose whether he’s got a social disability, is knowingly pushing boundaries, or both. NOT HER PROBLEM (even if he needs to learn social skills, someone he’s creeping on is the last person who should be teaching him anyway).

            Her job here is to listen to her instincts, protect herself from someone who’s pushing her boundaries and could be dangerous, and to know that she did nothing wrong.

            However, there’s a strand in the comments which is turning into “Nobody really doesn’t understand social rules! It’s just an excuse used by creepers to be creepy!”

            Sometimes it is. And it’s never an excuse.

            Nonetheless. Disabilities that affect social understanding (and mean that skills have to be consciously learned) do in fact exist and are real.

        2. This is a good point: I don’t think all creeps and harassers are deliberately being creepy and harassy. They’re trying to form the relationship they want, but have no concept of or regard for anyone else’s opinions or wants. Their single-minded pursuit of “I want to date you” blocks any signals the recipient of their attentions might be giving off.

          But that in no way requires the recipient to spend one minute of their life conducting a Don’t Be Creepy Seminar. They’ll learn it eventually or they won’t, but it’s no one else’s job to teach them.

          1. Yeah, I think this is a good way of putting it. To put it the Martin Buber way (perhaps not terribly useful, I’m not sure how many people have read him) they’re pursuing an I-It relationship rather than an I-Thou relationship, perhaps with no idea the latter is possible. (And if the idea did fuzzily occur to them they’d dismiss it right away as “impossible” a.k.a. too hard.)

            As a side note that just occurred to me: it might be someone’s job to teach them (a parent who dropped the ball back when they should’ve? a mentor of some kind?) but DEFINITELY not that of someone they are creeping on or want to date.

          2. They are an adult. If they wanted to learn, they would learn. Brings out my Rageasurus that women are expected to spoonfeed people in order that they treat us with basic respect. Screw that noise!

            Creepers live in the fog of Plausible Deniability for a reason.
            Whether that is so that they can intentionally creep, or that they do not want to face up to the fact that they made mistakes, it’s not your job to lead them out of the fog if they won’t listen to your directions. Telling him that he behaved inappropriately and you therefore do not want anything to do with him are those directions.

          3. To crooked bird since the comments have stopped nesting: I LOVE that you just used Buber to describe the relationship between a creep and their target. Rest assured that at least one person here gets it. 🙂

          4. There are so many resources out there for people with social difficulties to learn and practice tricky social skills. Disability advocacy groups where I am often run workshops for adults for exactly this thing. Some universities offer programs as part of their diversity and inclusion policy. Even without those, the internet is literally teeming with resources and support groups.

            There is no excuse to not know these things when people have pointed out you don’t know them and maybe you should.

            They. Just. Don’t. Want. To. Learn.

          5. It really doesn’t matter, IMVHO, whether they know or not. It doesn’t change the fact that their behavior is unwelcome. I understand the urge to caretake the creeper’s feelings a bit–we perhaps do not want to be perceived as the [negative adjectives here] person who lacked the patience and kindness and understanding to deal with creeper’s alleged issues. I’m still not batting .1000 in this arena, but I have personally been a lot happier after I decided to care much less about the WHY behind someone annoying me and focus on eliminating the HOW by removing pathways to me from whence annoyance could arrive, be it blocking or unfriending on social media or just not chit-chatting on the phone after 10 PM at night by gleefully muting my phone ringer and/or hitting “reject” if I happened to be holding the muted phone when the call came in.

            I don’t care if the creeper sees me as a fellow autonomous human being or not, frankly, as I have no desire to deepen our relationship beyond strangers or “acquaintances who nod politely when passing in the hallway but who do not chit-chat,” I just want the creeper to stop creeping and let me get on with my day with no further time wasted on paying attention to a creepy creeper. My spoons / energy units are typically very limited thanks to physical pains and life-long mental illness that can sometimes make just getting out of bed and putting on clothing in the morning heroic, so I have to allocate my spoon-units toward life-sustaining activities that are equally draining, such as earning enough money to pay bills and buy food by working a 9 to 5 in a conservative office with difficult skilled work to do and two demanding bosses. That takes a lot of spoons. There are none left on hand to spare for random creepers who want to touch me or stare at my chest. I’m a patient person, but when my spoons are low or nearly out, my response to the world is a resounding NOPE. And when they are totally out, I might have to hide in a bathroom with my head between my knees doing some deep breathing or something. Which is not seen as good employee behavior. Or I might have to cancel social plans. Or go to bed at 8 at night. Or cut my little animals’ out-of-cage playtime short, because I am a blob of bad feelings. So I am protective of my spoons!

            I’m still TERRIBLE at dealing with surprise creeping, as I have not had time to plan a response in advance and suck at spontaneous appropriate self-defense (I neither fight nor flee, I freeze; the only good news here is that my default response typically won’t get me in trouble for appearing to be way out-of-proportion to the crime). But as I get better at deflecting known annoyances (and this includes a very nice friend who mumbles on the phone and has to repeat himself constantly because I have slight middle ear deafness, an older cellphone, he has a quiet voice and lisps a bit, AND I hate talking on the phone, so he gets routed to text messages ASAP), I hope to get better at on-the-spot responses.

        3. This is a point where precise language helps.

          Creepers act deliberately, in that what they do is a thought-out pattern of behavior. It’s something they think about first, then choose to act on. It is not an accident, a reflex, an impulse-gone-wrong, or random behavior. Creeper behavior is part of a behavioral algorithm that these people have cobbled together, in a “if I do this, I will get that result” sort of rubric. It’s planned, it’s practiced, and it has been refined over time.*

          Creepers very rarely are intentionally creepy, in that they do not intend for their subjects to feel uncomfortable, unsafe, unhappy, repulsed, etc. However, intent is not magic, and many creepers are indifferent to how their subjects feel as long as they act in the desired way. The creeper keeps score by behavior; if asking over & over gets him a second “date” for lunch, that’s a win for them no matter how uncomfortable or unhappy their “date” feels.

          I like the analogy of a poorly socialized dog. The dog may not be malicious, but it certainly isn’t safe. I can feel sympathy for the dog, but that does not obligate me to train it, and it does not make the dog any safer to interact with.

          *The good news is that most of our behavioral patterns are refined via feedback loops, which mean behavior that breaks the loop has a chance of changing the underlying pattern. “If I creep on girls in a certain way, I’ll get some of what I want. But this girl just completely shut me down in a way I wasn’t expecting, and nothing I do works. Maybe I need to change how I behave…” It doesn’t happen often, and never all at once, but simply by shutting down the pattern and refusing to reinforce it, you’re doing some good.

          1. “.. But this girl just completely shut me down in a way I wasn’t expecting, and nothing I do works. Maybe I need to change how I behave…”

            Sigh, I love your rosy glasses. I suspect that the ending should read, “Maybe I need to change who I glom on to.

          2. Exactly!

            Like you said, their actions are /deliberate/. They /deliberately/ engage in certain behavior towards targets (i.e., women, people with less power) and /deliberately/ engage in different behavior towards non-targets (i.e., men, authority figures, people with more power). They already know on some level that their behavior towards targets is not right otherwise they would engage in it with everyone.

            They may not /intend/ to be creepy, but like you said, intent is not magic. And as long as they /deliberately/ choose to ignore cues, feelings, words, and behaviors that other people are presenting, no one can help them. They need to do some introspection and grow, which again, no one else can do for them. And no one else can make them understand how important that is either.

            We have a kid in my martial arts class who has ZERO control, and as a result, hurt people frequently in his previous dojo and continues to hurt people in our dojo. He knows he does not have good control and he jokes about it (which obviously makes everyone else more nervous). He does not see the value of having good control, nor does he see just how little he has (he clearly thinks he has “enough”). Despite multiple attempts by various people, including the sensei, he still does not understand. The next step is to kick him out, which will happen relatively soon if there is no improvement. So different context, but same behavior as a creeper.

        4. “they use ignorance as a shield and will not learn.”
          THIS THIS THIS.

        5. “… they use ignorance as a shield and will not learn. They LIKE not knowing, and will seek to maintain it.”
          I don’t understand. If that’s the case, how is their problem behaviour NOT deliberate?

          1. Sometimes people refuse to learn stuff because they’re already just *so sure,* and have convinced themselves that anyone rejecting them/their approach must be becoming from a place of either ignorance or malice. You see this in a lot of areas of life: in politics, where you see extreme right-wingers trying to use “racist” as an insult for any person acknowledging race, because that *has* to be a fake thing they’re saying in bad faith, right? Honestly, as an author, I see this a lot in aspiring writers. They believe in their novel! … but when they show it to you and want your “take,” they don’t want to hear, “This is 50K too long for the genre you’re targeting,” or “You say this is a YA novel, but it’s written more like a chapter book for little kids only beginning to read independently.” No matter how objectively true, or tactfully put, this criticism may be, some writers are absolutely positive that you just don’t get it. Essentially, these people are so in love with the dream that they don’t want to deal with messy reality.

            ..okay, obviously that’s my shibboleth. But that aside, the phenomenon is real, and not limited to publishing.

            So, yeah, I think some guys are stuck in this really screwed up version of “the dream.” Where if they just keep on showing up/calling/reaching out on social media, their dream will happen. You just have to KEEP TRYING HARD. And the whole idea that the woman involved, or any well-meaning friends trying to tell them otherwise, might have a better idea on how to handle the situation — that’s just negativity.
            Essentially, when you couple cluelessness with stubbornness and/or arrogance, this is what happens.

            I don’t think this makes these guys one bit more sympathetic or less responsible. But I think some of them (not all) truly don’t believe they’re hurting anyone or that anybody should be scared. (And these are exactly the kind of people who care more about their definition of how people *should* feel than how people *actually* feel.”)

            That said, I think some OTHER creepers know this perfectly well, and are basically trying to exact a awkwardness and/or fear tax from any woman who has dared to react to their interest with anything besides rapturous gratitude.

        6. I’m gonna call bullshit on this. Creepers don’t pull this shit on everyone, only on people with whom they think they can get away with it. That is intentional. Creepers don’t pull this crap on men. Or on women in groups, or on women who are hanging out with men or on women in positions of authority. They do this kind of shit when they find a woman whom they can get alone. They do this shit with women who haven’t busted out of the “soft no” trap. They do this shit with women who are new to the social group. They do this shit with women in service positions who are obligated to be nice.

          This is not an accident. This is predatory behavior. Please don’t prop up the socially awkward trope that shields predators.

          1. Absolutely. Y’know what happens when someone who is genuinely socially awkward or has poor social skills is told to stop doing something, or that it’s not okay?

            THEY ARE MORTIFIED. And stop. Honestly, a lot of folks who genuinely have trouble with this are extremely aware of it and are constantly second-guessing themselves, or opt to not initiate with people, for fear of doing or saying something wrong.

            These poor, hurting dudes who are just aaaawkward? You tell them no. And they do it again. And again. And again.

            The difference is that creepers don’t give a shit about the other person’s feelings.

          2. This is true, creepers are very goood at controlling their “I just don’t understand!” creepyness when there will be negative consequences for them if they don’t. But unfortunately they do still target women who give a clear NO, if they also judge that they’re safe enough trying it. I think they don’t just look at the woman herself or how she says no, but the surrounding culture: would anyone believe her? Would they care if they did? Would they care enough to do/say anything? If the answers are “probably not”, I guess they feel like they can risk being creepy, no matter how much she has “busted out of the soft no trap.”

            I know this because I have got a lot better at saying clear NOs and STOPs [although I don’t find it easy] and I still get creeped on in similar ways. Same with a lot of my friends who put up with even less crap than me. I guess they weigh up the risks of negative consequences and still think it’s safe to creep.

            Anyway I don’t mean to argue, I agree with your comment, I just wanted to say you can be really staunch in your NOs and still get targeted to be creeped on, especially in this “oh I don’t understand!” way… and especially if the creep can ignore your staunchest NO, guessing that there won’t be a huge risk of negative consequences if the surrounding culture doesn’t care or act.

          3. would anyone believe her? Would they care if they did?

            Yes. And that’s heartbreaking, because society has this implicit notion of acceptable targets, based on who is valued vs. who is ignored or disbelieved. So much of how victims are denigrated and their behaviour used to excuse what is done to them is related to this, and offenders go after those targets that society will be most likely to let them get away with going after.

          4. @letternext – Oh, believe me, I know that they do this with women who give a very clear, loud “No.” I was just rattling off categories of women creepers target off the top of my head to illustrate the point.

            But oh, yeah. Busting out of the soft no habit doesn’t make the harassment go away, particularly if something else about you tells the creepers you are vulnerable.

    3. I’m so sorry for your friend, did no one help her when he was cornering her and manhandling her?

      1. Of course we did. I hit him once, and yelled at him more times than that. We told him he was inappropriate. I pointed out loudly that he didn’t touch anyone else inappropriately and was in fact very careful of men’s space in a way that he wasn’t of women’s, so obviously he could control himself. She yelled at him, slapped him, tried to get away, but he was bigger than she was, and unhampered by concerns about hurting anyone else or being embarrassed.

        He also SMELLED, to the point where getting close enough to him to, for example, drag him the fuck off her, would nearly incapacitate me. It was BO and unwashed clothing but also a thick funk of cigarette smoke,which aggravates my allergies. After the initial fury of our cohort, at least the female part, he started up the stalking bit, which as he got better at it, stopped being visible, and my friend was so embarrassed she didn’t tell us it was still happening for at least a month, so we thought he’d given up. She had complained to her thesis supervisor about the guy, but he hand-waved her concerns and I think she was so humiliated by the conversation that she thought everyone else would as well and didn’t really tell us until later on.

        1. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to accuse YOU of inaction. I meant the campus police/security, the administration, the facility. Anybody who had authority to keep him off campus.

          1. He was a grad student in another department. When the whole thing finally came out, after she went to a female professor, our head of department made sure he was never allowed to take another course in our department, ever, but because he was in another department our head could only ask that he be disciplined, not enforce anything.

    4. She had to stop holding office hours in our office because he would show up, chase her into a corner, and put his hands on her.

      What the actual hell?!

      That’s…that’s…well, “ridiculous” comes to mind, but also just…horrifying. And also, like, assault and illegal and creepy and horrible. “I’ve got a condition that makes me neeeed to put my hands on people. Specifically you. Like, wherever you are.”

      1. Yeah, I somehow doubt this disability manifests itself in him needing to touch his boss, or sweaty guys at the gym, or cops during a traffic stop.

    5. “he told her that because of his disability he was unable to refrain from touching other people.”

      Why do I think that he had no trouble refraining from touching other men who didn’t want to be touched?

      1. I had a classmate who had an injury that damaged his brain. He actually was incapable of completely controlling his response to impulses. Rather than using this to grope us he gave all of us a clear advanced warning and he himself stood out of arms reach so that he would have time to stop if anything happened. There were no near-groping impulse situations that he needed to fight off. It was still important to him that we would all be safe and he would be in control of his actions as much as he could.

        He set the bar for “can’t control myself” stuff for me.

        1. Wait…. You mean he knew he had a problem, and even though it was probably extra effort for him and not really something he would’ve wanted, he went ahead and thought about others first?

          Yeah. There’s your difference. Creepers, whether they’re aware of it or not, are always thinking about themselves first. Not in a traditionally selfish/self-centered way, per se, but in more of a brain-hasn’t-expanded-that-far way.

          It’s “She’d be my perfect girlfriend,” not “She’s a great person, I’d like to date her.”

          It’s “Why isn’t she returning my calls or replying?”, not “Is she upset/busy/etc.?”

          It is always from their own perspective. They are the star, and everyone else is the supporting cast. The concept of two “star players” never occurs to them.

  4. Hey LW I just wanted to congratulate you on having really good instincts & on listening to them. Also want to reassure you that you owe this virtual stranger nothing.

  5. *sprays Dude-B-Gone in the air like Febreeze*

    LW, I hope you see from this week’s threads and advice that you are not alone in thinking you might “owe” this guy something. Seems many of us on the woman side of the spectrum have been socialized to play nice with others above and beyond an objectively healthy boundary.

    As the Captain said, you do not “owe” him the confidence he needs to build his social skills or otherwise continue to make friends. That is on *him*… We all go through periods of awkwardness where we learn or re-learn social skills based on our settings/surroundings, age, etc. Some of us get better at it, some of us don’t. But none of us “owe” each other that.

    You owe yourself to do what is right and healthy for you, and this dude isn’t it, even marginally.

  6. What also stands out to me is that when he asked if he’d offended you, instead of the impulse to protect him from the truth, that’s the perfect place to tell him in no uncertain terms. He asked and might actually be listening, and your impulse to not be unkind despite his violating behavior has it’s outlet right here if you feel safe using it. I wonder about a response like “Yes, you did offend me, so severely and repeatedly that I feel very uncomfortable about you and I do not want any further contact with you, even a response or apology. At this point it would just feel like more boundary violation, so the best way to show me you understand and it was a mistake instead of creepiness is to STAY AWAY AS I HAVE NOW CLEARLY ASKED. For future reference with other people, when a person says they just want to be friends DO NOT PUSH FOR MORE, they will just find it creepy and violating and not even want to be friends with someone who doesn’t respect their boundaries.”

    As the Captain and others have said, you do not owe him this or anything. The fact that he actually asked if he’d offended makes me think it might be worthwhile if it feels right to you – might, and if, being the operative terms. Either way I mostly want to say to you, LW, that the conditioning that you have to respond to “did I offend you” with reassurance not, when the true answer is “hell yes and stop” is not your friend, or anyone else’s either.

    1. Agreed. If he really, truly didn’t realize he was being creepy, then at least he’ll know now. If he did know and is just pretending to be ignorant, then he doesn’t deserve to be shielded from the truth anyway.

    2. This is terribly nice, but it will most likely result in the dude pestering the sender with feelingsbombs and but whyyyyy for months.

      I believe strongly that using any weasel words or language in a get-lost email to a creep will result in the creep finding ways to not understand it. The necessary words are “Your behavior is upsetting. I want nothing to do with you. Do not contact me again in any way on any medium.” Anything else, or softening language such as “I’d like you not to contact me again” diminishes the message. The dude has already ignored a lot of things the sender would like him not to do by this point and not contacting her is just one more thing to ignore if it’s what she’d like.

    3. Yes, you did offend me, so severely and repeatedly that I feel very uncomfortable about you and I do not want any further contact with you, even a response or apology.

      If you’re working on the basis that he might possibly be genuinely clueless, I think it might be worth being much more specific about what he did, because IF he is that clueless, then something like that might be baffling to him.

      So maybe something like: “When we met up in person, your insistence on touching and hugging me made me very uncomfortable. I was disturbed that that you kept on and on messaging me even though I wasn’t replying and it should have been clear that I wasn’t interested in further contact. It was inappropriate and upsetting of you to show up unexpectedly where I volunteer.”

      And then into “I do not want any further contact with you”, etc..

      IF he is genuinely socially clueless (and without wishing to engage in any armchair diagnosis, that level of social cluelessness can exist and be a result of various disabilities, and can also co-exist with entitlement and interact with it in awful ways), then having a clear pointer that he behaviour was unacceptable may give him a much-needed kick towards learning social skills.

      (If the LW wants to do him a favour, the last thing she should do is “reassure him that he’s done nothing wrong”.)

      If he’s not clueless, then at least it puts a very clear statement from the LW that he is not to contact her again on the record, in case things escalate.

      1. Or, the message the Captain suggested, really. That might be a more polite version of it.

      2. I’ve written letters like that to guys. I tried to be kind, and to be very specific about what behaviors I did not like, and why. I wrote the letters in the spirit of helping them do better next time when they interacted with a woman, while making it clear that I did not want any further contact.

        You know what they took away from my letters? The fact that I wrote them a letter, because I cared. I could’ve written, “blah blah blah blah” 300 times on a piece of paper and it would have made the same impression. All three dudes who received those letters ramped up the stalking after them.

    4. This reminds me of a radio program (PBSy-thing) I heard years ago, when a policeman with experience handling stalkers said, “This guy calls you 48 times, and you ignore him. When he calls the 49th time, and you pick up to tell him to leave you alone, that teaches him that he just has to call you 49 times to get a response.”

      I understand wanting to tell him, “Yes, you DID offend me, here’s why,” but I think in some circumstances that won’t work. It may be best to just keep silence.

      1. THIS! Unless you think the dude in question will escalate. In that case, a message where you can point to authorities, “I told him in no uncertain terms to leave me alone.” can be important to have.

        1. Yes, though if someone is replying because they are concerned about escalation, they should reply in as firm yet neutral a fashion as possible. No reasons or anger, just “I’m not interested, do not contact me again.”

          1. Yes. Especially in situations where this was really just a casual potential friendship. A more extensive reaction escalates the relationship, even while cutting it off. The anger provides a hook to protest against, and any “second chance”/”need to repair our friendship” attempts imply that things have gotten a lot further than just going for coffee a couple of times.

      2. A point, but given that LW said she hadn’t yet told him to go the hell away, it might help her feel better to set the boundary and make it clear that she’s expressed a clear wish for him to leave if she needs to get someone else involved.

        He might be the kind of gropey, stalky, controlly entitled asshat who does back off the first time he’s told to. If he is, great. If he’s not, she has solid proof going forward that he was told to leave her alone and is choosing to ignore it.

      3. She needs to lay down one clear written message that ‘I am not interesting in having a relationship with you; do not contact me again in any way.’ so that is on record. And from that point ignore every subsequent message. If he shows up after this at volunteer settings etc then take it to police or security.

    5. Yup. This is not the time to deploy your “No more cake for me, thanks” voice.

  7. I know it feels mean to cut someone loose, but they will get over the pain – and need to have the opportunity to get over it without being in contact with you i.e. find a strategy that doesn’t involve being so needy that it pushes people away. Good luck!

  8. I’ve had many encounters with men like this. From experience I can say, he probably knows you aren’t interested. In fact, we know he does, because you told him no. He kept on anyway. Men who do not take no for an answer are not safe to be around. He is playing dumb, hoping you’ll take the bait and fall for the guilt trip. He is testing your boundaries. Never be afraid to give men like this the Permanent Silent Treatment (PeST). You owe him nothing. He is entitled to nothing from you. His lack of friends is not due to his “social awkwardness”, or his impairment (are we even 100% he actually has it, that he didn’t make it up to lower your guard and make you feel more comfortable around him?), but due completely to his refusal to respect boundaries. Keep trusting your instincts, LW. If anything fishy happens, don’t “think nothing of it”, don’t think you’re “paranoid”. Take care.

    1. Just wanted to show my appreciation for two points you made:
      “Permanent Silent Treatment (PeST)”. That made me laugh and I will be stealing it ^^
      “His lack of friends is not due to his “social awkwardness”, or his impairment […] but due completely to his refusal to respect boundaries.”
      One of my exes used to complain that she didn’t have any friends. It took me about a month to stop wondering how could that be, turns out this was the reason.

    2. “(are we even 100% he actually has it, that he didn’t make it up to lower your guard and make you feel more comfortable around him?)”

      Side eye. Let’s not question people’s disabilities, even if they’re creeps.

      1. I hope we wouldn’t question the LW’s disability, but this is more about wondering if the creepy guy was telling the truth, and I wondered that too. Maybe the guy uses a cane or dog and she knew that and didn’t include it, I dunno.

        I think it’s like when a LW says that they’re seeing someone who is divorced but elements in their own story point to that person actually being a married cheater. It’s okay to ask whether the person is actually divorced or just saying so, and whether the LW knows that of their own knowledge or just from being told by someone else.

        1. Except that “you’re just lying about being divorced!” is not a thing people commonly use as an excuse to oppress or abuse divorced people.

          1. It’s less like saying “maybe this person is lying about being divorce,” and more like saying “maybe this woman is lying about being raped”. There is a social context here. Even if they really ARE lying, you’re still contributing to a gross trend.

        2. But there are no elements in his story that point to him lying about being disabled. None. At all.

      2. ^This.

        1. The disability is beside the point here.

        And 2. We’re treading into “Disabilities always render people completely harmless, childlike and devoid of capacity for wrongdoing.” territory with this.

        1. Also the territory of “Lots of people who say they’re disabled aren’t really, they’re just making it up as an excuse or to get sympathy”.

  9. Just a general observation: when I read stories like this and recall times that I personally felt bad for drawing WAY TOO LENIENT BOUNDARIES with SUPER CREEPY PERSONS, it’s horrifying to see just how efficiently and effectively society trains women that being accommodating is the number one most important thing, even more important than our personal safety. It’s impressive, really, how well I’ve internalized that message.

    1. yep, instead of just feeling violated, you end up feeling violated and guilty at the same time. I always have to call a friend to get reassurance that I’m not a horrible person for rejecting some random dude who asked me out and then wouldn’t stop following me around a public place and ruined my day.

    2. You are so right, Kat. I have been thinking a lot recently that the ideal woman, from the perspective of the patriarchy, is one who takes up zero space – who moves out of the way for other people every single time.

    3. Agreed! (Both to you, Kat, and to monologue’s comment.)

      I’m going to try to phrase this next part as sensitively as I can, so apologies if I misstep. I think society also conditions us all to believe that anyone with a disability, or chronic illness, etc., are all good people, struggling heroically with a smile on their faces, who can never do anything wrong, or at least should never be called out for doing anything wrong. It took me a while to realize accept that just as in any group of people, there are going to be people with a disability/illness/etc. that are creepy, who push boundaries, or are unnecessarily mean to others, and so on. (And I say this as someone with a chronic illness who has PLENTY of less-than-stellar moments in her history.)

      Somewhat related story: When I was auditioning for grad school, I briefly encountered a current student who was blind. He approached me as I was coming out of the audition and struck up a conversation. As this was almost a decade ago, I can barely remember a single thing about the conversation, but I do remember how all sorts of alarm bells were pinging, Gift-of-Fear-style. For whatever reason, I could NOT get away from that conversation fast enough. And then I felt all sorts of guilt afterwards, because what kind of horrible person thinks unkind things about a blind guy who was just trying to be friendly?

      Fast forward a while, and it turns out my BIL knew him, since he got his bachelor’s degree at the same school and they traveled in the same social circle. He told me in no uncertain terms that he thought the guy was a nasty piece of work, a jerk of the highest order. My personal favorite was how he told me the guy would ask his friends how objectively attractive their female classmates were, and that would determine how he spoke to them and treated them. Because obviously the ugly girls didn’t deserve any respect. Ick. Also, he was an unapologetic racist.

      Anyway! To the LW, this is my long-winded way of saying I can understand any guilt you might be feeling by wanting to limit/eliminate contact with this guy, but it does not make you a bad person at all if you cut him off completely. At all.

      1. Also, as we’re conditioned to give passes on behaviour to people who are dealing with various issues, this primarily seems to apply only to the offenders in such interactions, not their targets. Even when the issue is shared, as in this letter. There’s pressure on the LW to be empathetic and show solidarity, but she cites her impairment as a partial source of her discomfort at being touched (and for reasons that seem easily understandable), and she’s not getting empathy or solidarity from him on that. The expectation of understanding is one-way; the conditioning is that he can’t help his issues, but she’s supposed to override hers to accommodate his.

        1. This exact point makes me spitting angry! I was bullied by a guy whose behaviour (every possible variation of malignant narcissism, but specialising in openly verbally abusing and physically intimidating women and children) was continually excused because of a “difficult childhood”, but when I privately ranted that no-one seemed to care about how my history of childhood emotional abuse and adult rape affected my lack of resilience in the face of his behaviour I was told “I was responsible for my own feelings”, that I was “playing the victim card” and that if I was so sensitive/weak I shouldn’t have accepted the leadership position that seemed to be the provocation for his bullying.

      2. I think the outlook on people with disabilities that paints them as never in the wrong is a byproduct of the infantilization ableism produces. You know, if you don’t take a person seriously as a human being with boundaries, a personality and their own life to live, you will not be able to ascribe them any agency in the way they handle social interactions. That’s how you get horrific treatment of children and also adults by their caretakers.
        So really, acknowledging that people with disabilities can be jerks too gives them back some of that agency and is therefore not to be frowned upon. It is a more respectful way of treating someone.

    4. Yes. One of the most horrifying moments of my life was when I was coming home from a having run a gauntlet of mild street harrassment one night, and having shut the outer door on the world (with a sigh of relief! No more pestering tonight) I opened the door to my flat. And the guy from the shop below popped out of nowhere — well, out of the DARK shop he’d been apparently been sitting in — and started stroking my arm and trying to get me to let him in. We’d never been alone before, his WIFE had just had a BABY and I was completely taken off-guard. I’d never had any reason to think he was interested in me in anything but a casual-friendly way (WIFE. BABY) but suddenly he clearly WAS and he was ignoring all my soft nos “but it’s late… but I’m tired… but I have to cook…” and I really felt, if he got in, he would at the least try to initiate sex, and might rape me. And yet I could not just say “no,” or dart inside and slam the door. And time actually seemed to slow enough that I was screaming at myself in my head, in so many words “You’re scared of him and you’re going to let him in anyway? Being ‘nice’ is more important than being safe?” and some other part of me was answering back, heavily, “Yep.” and I could not do combat with that part of myself and with him at the same time.

      And I opened the door. I could see myself doing it as if it wasn’t me. It was like meeting a vampire — needs you let them in, but can hypnotise you to do it. And then, thank Christ he looked me properly in the face and somehow seemed to turn back into an actual human being. And he left. And I shut the door and freaked out for a very long time.

      1. Maybe he saw how freaked out you were and remembered some human part of himself. Anyway, I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

    5. Same. A trick I’ve found really effective when in this position has been to put myself in the place of the person who’s ignoring my stated boundaries. I try to imagine myself continuing to touch someone who pulls away, for example, or asking someone out again even though they’d already told me they weren’t interested. And…I just can’t imagine it. When someone says “Stop touching me, I don’t want you to,” the only right way to respond is to stop touching them. Respecting boundaries is actually really easy when that’s what you choose to do, and this exercise helps me remind myself of how easy it would be for this person to respect my boundaries. It helps me remind myself that this person has chosen to violate them — that they had options and decided to be a creep.

      1. Yeah, that works really well. The other day I was at the supermarket and the guy serving me looked so gloomy I was tempted to tell him to “smile!” But it was like the temptation to … I don’t know, pull the emergency lever on a train or knock a flower pot off a balcony or say “YES!” when the security staff ask if you have any explosives at the airport, where it’s tempting BECAUSE it’s so obviously a stupid, crappy thing to do and you’re clearly NOT GOING TO ACTUALLY DO IT, and imagining actually following through made me all the more baffled at the men who do it all the time.

        1. What I’ve started trying to do when I see a service person who looks really unhappy is find something relatively neutral about them that I genuinely like (nothing flirty, although I’m so ace I’m not always sure what is? and isn’t? so I tend to go hair, earrings, and things like that) and at the end of the interaction (no forced teaming!) give them a sincere compliment. A couple of weeks ago I was checking out groceries at stupid-o-clock in the morning and after paying I told the cashier that her hair was gorgeous and I loved the colour. Then I took my bags and got out of the way of the next person, but did get to catch a bit of a smile.

          1. If possible, pick something that was a choice of the serving person, not nature or job required.

            E.g. Hair color (if unnatural), shoes, nail polish.

    6. Yes, this. I was abused by a relative as a child and in an odd sort of way that freed me from the “nice girl” training. My inner voice was an angry “F___ this, I don’t have to follow those rules any more” sort of thing. Believe it or not, I STILL had encounters with creepy men who glommed onto me the minute I had a conversation. Now if I, who am not a “nice” woman and have no problem telling pushy men to get lost, can attract a clinging burr, imagine how difficult it must be for someone who is still following the “nice” script to get rid of someone like that.

      1. Content note: violence and threatened violence

        I was once standing on the sidewalk of a busy street, talking to a coworker, when a guy wandering past leered at me and made an inappropriate comment. I was tired and frustrated that day, and under my breath I muttered, “Fuck you.”
        Apparently not under my breath enough, because he wheeled around and started yelling at me, and raised his fist to hit me in the face.
        I froze, which luckily seemed to be the right thing to do, because he didn’t hit me. My coworker got between him and me, and dude shoved him and stomped off.
        This is what a lot of men don’t get – in an encounter with someone who believes in their absolute right to treat you however they want, you cannot win. The harder you push back, the more they will try to punish you, and you have no way of knowing what form that punishment will take.

  10. Dear LW,

    I wanted to cry when I read your letter. You owe this creep nothing. That you worry whether you might is sad and rage producing.

    As others have said, if you choose to respond (and I’m torn about that one) something like this maybe: Yes, you have offended me. You ignored my wishes and pressed for a romantic relationship after I told you No. Do not contact me again

    But that’s mostly so you can document that you told him to go away if he escalates.

    I’d like to emphasize that this guy isn’t harmless. He’s already shown that he’ll ignore your wishes, he’s stalking you.

    I think it might be helpful to tell everyone you know about him. This includes the people at your office. And your friends. And your advisor.

    This guy scares me.

  11. 1. Am I obliged to respond to this email and reassure him that he’s done nothing wrong?

    But he DID! He willingly and repeatedly crossed your boundaries.

    2. What, if anything, do I owe this man?

    Absolutely nothing.

    1. THIIIIS. I seriously balked at that line about him doing nothing wrong. He showed up AT HER JOB multiple times, not to mention the whole “Who’s that guy in your Facebook picture?” horribleness.

      LW, the guy is a stalker. Maybe he doesn’t intend to be malicious, but it’s not your job to suss that out.

  12. Yeah, I think it’s safe to escalate this guy from “awkward” to “creepy.” Keep trusting your instincts, LW. This guy is not safe. Don’t engage. It is so, unbelievably, NACHO JOB to manage his feelings about being rejected. I know it’s society’s fault that women (including myself in this, BTW) grow up believing that it IS our jobs, but it makes me so mad nevertheless.

    1. It’s very easy to differentiate a creep from someone who’s awkward, but as women we are often taught to always give one more chance to the guy. “He’s a nice guy, give him a chance! He just has poor social skills, he means no harm!” But the thing is, if he’s a genuinely nice but a very awkward guy, he will take no for an answer. I went out a couple of times with this guy who was very shy and bad at communicating to the point where I wasn’t actually sure that we were supposed to be on dates, but then when I realized that I didn’t see him in the same way, I just told sorry no and he told me “nothing to be sorry about, have a nice day”. Genuinely nice awkward people understand rejection, creeps pretend that they don’t. Creeps also like to pretend that they don’t realize that unfollowing on social media is never a coincidence.

      1. YES. I once had a guy email me to say, “Hey, just checking. It seems like you blocked me on [social media], but I’m sure you wouldn’t do that.” I blinked, and then replied, “Yeah, it looks like I blocked you BECAUSE I BLOCKED YOU.” And then I blocked his email. FFS. It’s not sweet innocent ignorance, it’s a willful attempt to see if the boundary can be moved.

  13. Captain, thank you so much for that reframe at the end of your advice. It is so incredibly useful. The way women are socialized is a form of cultural gaslighting that teaches us to undercut our own boundaries and/or agonize about enforcing them. It can be incredibly hard to overcome, but perspective helps.

  14. LW, you have done nothing wrong. He has willfully refused to interpret your answer, ie, SILENCE. Ignore him. You are right and he is wrong.

    I am an American woman who lived in Chile for two years and then traveled back to the US over land. I have never gotten a lot of attention from men – I am average looking at best. But in Latin America, I was like this man magnet. I think they all thought I was going to jump into bed with them right away because they had seen American TV shows.

    I had no idea how to deal with the attention. I tried the US approach of ignoring, but to no avail. I finally had to start saying, “Leave me alone. No. I do not want to talk to you. No. Nothing is wrong. I just do not want to talk to you. No. DO NOT sit by me. There are plenty of seat elsewhere.”

    I hated that I was forced to be that direct because they should have listened to the code, but I have to tell you that once I got into the groove, IT WAS LIBERATING. Why should I be the one who has to suck it up to preserve the feelings of a man I don’t even know? Let them feel the awkwardness of violating my boundaries. It felt great to push the awkward back to them.

    So. Silence is an answer, but if you feel like it, there is nothing wrong with saying, “You make me uncomfortable. Leave me alone. Goodbye.” You have no responsibility to explain his behavior to him and you have no responsibility to be tender to his feelings. He is the one who is causing the problem not you.

  15. Your behavior is not the problem here. You shouldn’t question it. HIS behavior is the problem and HIS behavior needs to change. But you are not the person to coach him through it. Yes, it will suck if he feels rejected or loses confidence because you won’t date him. But neither your age, gender, academia, nor visual ability mean you owe him your allegiance or mentoring or affection. Sending a message that communicates in any way – “Your behavior is acceptable and I will reward it with my presence.’ will enforce the idea that he shouldn’t have to change, everybody around him should have to adjust to him because of his bad social skills/disability/persistence.

    He had the chance for a relationship with you, the level of relationship that you were comfortable with and he rejected it. It’s like you were holding a bakery box labeled, “Delicious Relationship-Based Goodies.” You reached into the box and offered him a Friendship Cupcake, a delicious chocolate cupcake with beautifully swirled pink frosting covered in rainbow sprinkles and a little candy heart that said, “Let’s Be Buddies.” You had an equally delicious and slightly more beautiful Girlfriend Cupcake in the box, but you were saving that because you weren’t comfortable with sharing it with him. You said, “Here, I’d like to share this Friendship Cupcake with you.”

    He slapped the Friendship Cupcake out of your hands and stepped into your personal space and said, “Not good enough. I want the Girlfriend Cupcake. What else do you have in the box? The Sex on the First Outing I Insist Is A Date Cupcake? The Introduce You To My Parents As My Fiance Two Days From Now Cupcake? Give them to me now! Right now!”

    If someone rejects the wonderful things you offer him and demands the thing that you’re not willing to share, he does not have your best interests at heart. He or she will not make a good friend. Do what you can to separate yourself from him and protect yourself.

    1. Yes, he is not owed a Girlfriend Cupcake. That is to be offered, never demanded. Same with a Friendship Cupcake. In fact, no kind of Relationship Dessert is ever owed. Even a Thumbprint Cookie of FB Acquaintance is up to you to accept or decline, and if it’s declined, then the good person’s response is to accept that and move on.

      1. I would like you to trademark Thumbprint Cookie of FB Acquaintance

      1. And if you can’t be gracious about the cupcake on offer, grind out a “no thank you” and go do something else until the urge to sulk about it wanes. Learn to bake or something.

        1. …sort of ot but kind of not…
          The “learn to bake or something” part made me think…”But what if he does and suddenly there are mountains of ‘I want to be more’ cupcakes being delivered daily”.

          Perhaps a better hobby would be, I don’t know, building birdhouses or learning a new language (or five).

          Because cupcakes are too tasty to have ruined in any way. An avalanche of cupcakes that never ends would definitely ruin their specialness.

          I’m going to go hang out in the corner for a while now, the shame will eventually fade. I think. 😛

          1. I think the corollary here is that you can always offer someone a cupcake, but you can’t make them take/eat it 🙂

          2. Depending on how persistent/committed to cupcake pushing the person is, might end up needing a forklift or a friend to shovel a path to/from the door. 😉

  16. All the comments here are so good.
    The only thing I want to add is this – while it may be true that he needs to learn social skills, you cannot teach them to him How is this obvious to us? Because he does not listen to you. You can’t learn from someone you don’t listen to. It’s going to have to be Somebody Else’s Problem.

    1. Yes! This is a great insight.

      Just because you can see the need, doesn’t mean you’re the right one to meet it.

      Many years ago, two friends were trying to get me ask out a kind, awkward, very introverted friend of theirs. They suggested that he needed someone to “just jump him and make out with him”.
      Which may have been true (though the introverts I know would not enjoy that kind of boundary invasion), but we had literally never had a conversation together. Over the six months I had known him, he would listen if I started talking, nod his head and give a polite smile, but never respond, even if asked a direct question.

      If he wasn’t comfortable enough to open his mouth to talk with me, he definitely wasn’t comfortable enough to open it to kiss me. I was not the right person to break down his walls, open his eyes to the beauty of love, manic pixie his insecurities, or heal his whatever.

      1. Indeed weird. Either these friends were totally in denial about what the dude wanted (aka setting you up for a major boundary violation) or they were right and you would be … the everything tutor? I mean, what’s in it for you when even first contact is So Much Effort?

      2. Ew, yes to the sacrificial lamb bit. It sounds like, “Well, you have the right parts, go use them on him! Oh, you’re not attracted or interested in him? Well, what des that have to do with it?”

  17. I want to add that if you do choose to respond to him by saying something along the lines of “You made me uncomfortable so go away,” he may try to manipulate you into convincing you owe him a “second chance” because before he “didn’t know” he was being creepy and now he will surely change his ways. Remember that you don’t. At all. In any way. Continue to ignore.

  18. LW, please listen to the wonderful advice of Cap’s and assorted Awkwardeers!
    You don’t owe this dude anything. I think that maybe you feel this way because there appears to be a cultural narrative among marginalized groups of “we have to stick together, it’s us against the world”. That’s not a harmful idea on its own, but people can and do use it abusively, like he’s doing now.
    For instance, I’m LGBT+ and suffer from depression. I’ve met amazing people in those two subsets of humanity, and there was indeed a feeling of commumity because of shared experiences/opression. I’ve also met absolutely integral jerks who tried to use that feeling to isolate me from other friends, make me question myself, undermine my confidence, make me think I owed them my time or attention (always on their terms, of course)… you name it.
    Turns out that’s called emotional manipulation. I’ve developed an allergy to it nowadays, so my default response ranges from Avoidance to KILL IT WITH FIRE. You know best than anyone your own tolerance, so adjust your response accordingly.
    It seems you want him to leave you alone. No wonder, what with the stalking creepiness he’s showing! So I add my voice to the chorus: you don’t owe him an explanation, emotional training or anything, really. He’s an adult. Dealing with the consequences of his actions is his responsibility and his alone.
    The guilty feelings, I believe, stem partly from cultural conditioning and partly from your being a nice person. They don’t mean you’re actually guilty of anything, and they do lessen with time.
    Also, he doesn’t care you feel uncomfortable or else he’d stop touching and pressuring you. So why should you care about *his* hurt feelings?
    Best of luck, LW. We declare you not guilty.

    1. “I think that maybe you feel this way because there appears to be a cultural narrative among marginalized groups of “we have to stick together, it’s us against the world”.”

      This! It’s almost like the Geek Social Fallacies, except rather than “we like the same things, therefore we must like each other” it’s “we experience the same problems, therefore we must like each other.”

      Sometimes it’s even harder to recognize and label abusive behavior in marginalized groups – you get accused of “doing the oppressor’s work for them” or having internalized *phobia/ableism yourself very easily. There’s a zine called “The Revolution Starts at Home” that is available online for free in PDF form and features a lot of writing from some very insightful people about intimate partner violence in minority/activist spaces and the intricacies of the way it impacts members of those communities/can be dealt with. Only very tangentially related to the LW’s asks, but interesting further reading for anyone thinking about this kind of issue in minority safe spaces especially – my nonprofit required all board members and officers to read it.

  19. LW, imagine if, instead of your attention, you’d given this guy $20. His obligation, upon receiving that gift of $20, would be to either graciously accept or graciously decline, right? You’d be appalled if his response was to badger you into making that $20 into $200, or to explain that, since you’d given him $20 this one time, you’re now obligated to give him $20 every day for the rest of all time, right? No one would be confused about why you’d stop talking to a guy like that. The guy himself wouldn’t be confused about why you’d stop talking to him for behaving that way. So why is it different because the gift you gave was your time and attention?

    Spoiler alert: It’s not actually different at all! This dude is treating your attention like a thing to which he is entitled unless and until he has affirmatively done something or failed in some way that would “justify” the withdrawal of attention, and been given sufficient notice/explanation of said failing. But that’s completely backwards – your attention isn’t a thing to which he’s entitled just because he exists in your world. It’s a gift that should be freely given, and graciously accepted in whatever amount is offered, or graciously rejected if the quantity/quality of attention isn’t right for him. It’s not a court of law – he isn’t “innocent until proven guilty,” and LW, you don’t “owe” him an explanation for the withdrawal of your attention. You gave him a gift, for a while, and when it no longer worked for you, you withdrew. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, and by following you around and badgering you to give him more attention, he’s taking something that should be his problem – possible sads around no longer receiving the attention of a cool lady such as yourself – and trying to turn it into a you problem. Let his problem be his problem, and save the gift of your attention for people who aren’t handsy, demanding, and inappropriate.

  20. LW, his social skills are fucking fine. He’s not at all confused. You told him you didn’t want to date. He didn’t accept the no, and continued to get handsy even after you said NO.

    I am about done with this line of bullshit. Every single time I’ve dealt with a flavor of this, I hear “Well, maybe he doesn’t get it.” Except the fucker got it when his bros said no. When his mom said no. When his boss said no. When his coworker said no.

    When I said no? Oh, that was a point to be negotiated. I got nagged, hectored, yelled at or learned what it was like to have someone try to backdoor a yes (protip: If I don’t want to date you, it’s not possible to sneak your way in. What the fuck?).

    You owe this guy nothing at all. Nothing. I tried to stay friends with someone who didn’t take no for an answer, thinking maybe he was just being awkward or didn’t get it. You know what? He got it just fine, he just refused to respect it. It was too stressful to deal with. And when I got busy, he’d yell at me about avoiding him and not calling him or texting him. Who the fuck needs that? My actual romantic partners have been less demanding.

    It isn’t your job to teach him. Chances are, he already knows but doesn’t care.

    1. A HUGE +1 to this. It’s so not LW’s job to teach him what no means. She gave him no, and she behaved in accordance with that no by withdrawing when it was clear he wasn’t respecting it. <– Check out that completely consistent and logical behavior! It makes this whole line of "but I just don't understaaaaaand" EVEN MORE ridiculous.

      You know what? I don't "understand" gravity. I don't totally comprehend the scientific explanation for it. But I live in a world that operates on gravity, so I behave accordingly, because *gravity is a thing whether I understand it or not.* If I do not respect gravity my life will go very, very sideways, and that will be 100% my fault, not gravity's fault for not explaining itself to me in some highly specific way.

      MEMO TO ENTITLED DUDES OF THE WORLD: Someone else's "no" is gravity – it exists whether you "understand" it or not, and you have to live with it whether you "understand" it or not, so stop trying to negotiate with gravity already.

    2. This. Something I should have added above. A guy my sister worked with at a residential summer camp during her college years blamed (unspecified circumstance of his childhood) for not having good social skills with his peer group. Little kids? Well, he had a lot of younger siblings, so no problem there. But with people in his own age group, he claimed not to understand the concepts of conversations, personal space bubbles, private spaces, etc.

      My sister, due to sexual harassment during her middle school years, has a pretty generous personal space bubble and she defends it. Vigorously. She hates being touched without permission. And if she hates anything more than that, it’s having someone sneaking up behind her and touching her. He snuck up behind her and tickled her, Sis told him very firmly, “DO NOT DO THAT EVER AGAIN!” He whined that he didn’t KNOW, so she couldn’t get mad. She said again, “DO NOT DO THAT EVER AGAIN!” He pouted and acted like a wounded puppy whenever he saw her over the next few days.

      He snuck up behind her and tried to tickle her again, but the moment his hands touched her side, she threw her elbow back and caught him in the face. He yelled at her and called her names and tried to get her fired for hitting him. Her boss said noted that The Tickler was told not to touch Sis and he ignored her, so he brought the elbow-smashed face on himself.

      And despite the fact that he claimed not to understand any peer-to-peer social interactions or boundaries, he managed not to sneak up behind my sister again and tickle her again. He didn’t tickle the other guys on staff. He didn’t step into their personal space and talk too close. He didn’t barge into their living space without permission. He didn’t interrupt them to give him his views of their opinions or reinterpret what they said into “understandable language.” He knew that behavior wouldn’t be acceptable to other males or the female who elbowed him in the face. So he could understand boundaries. He just chose not to, because choosing not to got him the social currency he wanted. It worked for him.

      1. Yes, this is where I apply the Dude Rule mentioned above. Would this person do X to another guy? It is not perfect, as some people are equal opportunity creepers, however, as a rule of thumb, it’s pretty workable.

      2. While I’m sorry for all the circumstances that brought it about, that was a very satisfying story to read. More boundary-violators getting shown what-for and getting zero sympathy from bystanders.

        1. Agreed! Sorry it happened, but awesome that she held her boundaries and was supported!

          1. When people assert boundaries and other people disrespect them, the person who violated the boundary should not be supported. I am glad to hear that her boss did the right thing supporting her!

            In high school, we had a creepy kid who violated boundaries all of the time. He sat in front of me and would constantly turn around and put his arm on my desk, often knocking my papers and such around. One day, I snapped and said, “Get your hands off my desk right now or I am going to stab you with my pencil!” He sneered and put his hand on my desk. I stabbed his hand with my pencil. He went crying to our teacher, who thankfully said, “Well, stop harassing the girls!” He never bothered me again after that. (It’s like, *gasp*, he was capable of learning?!)

            I’m not advocating for violence, but you cannot push boundaries and be surprised if something bad happens. When you push someone long and hard enough, eventually they will snap. It’s just like poking an animal – if you provoke the animal, something bad could happen, so pay attention and don’t poke the bear.

      3. Massive high fives to your sister!

        And of course this illustrates the exact problem with the ‘maybe he doesn’t understaaaand’ bullshit. SHE TOLD HIM, EXPLICITLY. Someone who is genuinely awkward or on the spectrum or whatever is perfectly capable of understanding direct, clear instructions.

        1. Yeah, if anything, I think the fact that she told him no that one time made him more determined to do it again.

  21. I think this was probably an overreaction

    NOPE! That was a very legit, understandable reaction.

    And honestly, I can see this guy trying to pull the “Oh, but if you’d just TOLD me not to _____, I wouldn’t’ve done that. (Except for the touching you thing, because I Can’t Help It). How was I supposed to know?

    Creeps love to say “How was I supposed to know?” How was he supposed to know it was inappropriate to ask you details about the men in your facebook photos when you didn’t specifically say “Don’t do that?” How was he supposed to know it was inappropriate to go to where you work if you didn’t say not to?

    Dude knows. He knows, because those are both hella inaprops. He chose to do those things anyway because his desire to date a woman-shaped-thing is more important to him than following acceptable social rules to help other people feel safe.

  22. Let me just fangirl for one second: I love this site and the amazing advice from the Captain and the commenters. This year I made the decision to start being more assertive, less explanatory, and a better role model for my kids as to what a strong, thoughtful woman looks like.

    Next: I come from a family littered with visual impairments. My grandfather was blind, not a creeper, and didn’t use the impairment to emotionally manipulate anyone. My grandmother was blind, not a creeper, but ALL OVER that emotional manipulation because “Poor me, I can’t see!”. However…I do have an Uncle that is blind and that I refuse to be around because he all kinds of a creeper. I don’t know if came about because of the blindness or if he’s an ass-hat or some combination of both…but the last time I saw him I was nine months pregnant with my son, at a family party. He announced “Hey MrsLokiofAsgard, I can see the head!” to which my mother freaked out all over him reminding him that in order for him to see “the head” he’d have to be looking between my legs and he was some kind of sicko if he thought about that. Literally, that was 10 years ago this July and I don’t miss him.

    LW: you owe this man no explanation. It’s not up to you to give him the confidence to make friends. There are resources for that. You don’t need to find those resources for that.

  23. I do not get why people are still asking permission to exercise autonomy and freedom in their personhood. I mean this as an honest question. As a woman, these attacks on LW by a male infuriate me, while he’s clearly acting from entitlement. Of course LW should assert herself.
    It’s somehow even uglier when it’s same-sex, as there seems to be some implication to “go along with it” (oblivious sexism).
    I just went to a store manager last night to protest her sales clerk calling one customer after another “Honey” and the manager flinched and said she also does this. You may not, I said. I had the impression I was the first person to protest. -Why?
    The next step after overruling this right to personhood is finding one set of human beings has less rights (and wages, and credibility) than another.

    1. LW, if you need a reframe- after you told this person No, they are now stalking you. This is a crime punishable by law; this person is a criminal. Be well.

    2. If the clerk was also a woman, depending on the area, it could be that you’re the first person to bring it up because you’re the first person to be significantly bothered by it? Like, guys calling stranger women “honey, sweetie, etc” also sets off my creep-meter, but in a lot of the South, women, especially older women, doing the same…not as much an issue? A cultural thing, maybe? I guess it just comes off as more…matronly than skeevy or something. I think it just has a different meaning coming from women–possibly because they use it for men and women, whereas men only call women-they-don’t-know “honey/sweeties/sweetheart.

      That said, if it makes you uncomfortable, then yeah, you should ask people not to. Depending on the store, I’d find it a little odd (like, at Best Buy…what even? At a more friendly or smaller store? Less surprising.)

      1. I thought of those regional qualifiers too. This was metro West Coast city, by a person half my age, and I watched several people’s liptwist at the employee’s choice. I kinda wondered how the employee would react to being addressed as dollface, sweetcheeks and cupcake, but no.

        1. I dunno, then. I think women use “honey” or “sweetie” to be nice (which is why it’s not a gendered term coming from them), but men use “honey” or “sweetie” to be…kinda creepy. To basically remind a woman that she is a woman.

          1. I work at a retirement home, and so occasionally, you find that some people will prefer to use monikers like “hon” or “sweetie”, but most people aren’t being odd about it. I find that mostly the women will do this, which is fine, and even the men who do it don’t usually mean something by it-it is more than likely a generational thing. If the man doing it is trying to be creepy, my old standby is to call them “sir.” I grew up in the Southern United States, where this is just considered proper manners, but I have found that most American West Coast men do not like to be called Sir (even seniors-especially Baby Boomers). Which is fine-if you tell me what you prefer to be called, than I will refer to you as that (within obvious reason.) “Sir” only comes out when someone needs to be reminded that I am conducting business, and that it is not the Let’s Hit On The Front Desk Person Fun Time Hour. It brings them right back down to earth. I would like to be more direct, but I have to maintain my professionalism and move along as quickly as possible to attend to other people. If someone is consistently being gross, though, then I take it to management, though there has only been one instance of this happening. Most people seem to get it.
            This also seems to work while I’m out and about, although off the clock, I do prefer the more direct method of “‘Sweetie” is not my given name.”

          2. Metro West coast, though? That isn’t as common here…or it isn’t if you are being nice. It tends to get pulled out for sarcasm, or for putting someone in their place to “apparently” soften it. It has a really condescending vibe, or at least it can in the Southern California area.
            Language is weird, right?

    3. You don’t get why? Because…it’s hard. If you don’t find it hard than good for you but clearly this I something that a lot of us need, and it’s good that we are sharing it and supporting each other. Sometimes it’s not so important to ask why, imo. Because we are already using each other’s support to improve and help ourselves and each other.

      I wouldn’t say its ‘even uglier’ when women do it, it is of course still an issue. There can be other factors, which I can see below you have already thought about. In the UK it is more of a thing among working class people (as opposed to middle class people) to call others ‘love’ and other such terms. It’s also regional. It’s not an excuse, and of course anyone it happens to can still be annoyed about it, but it is a factor and if I, a middle class southern woman, was called ‘love’ by a working class northern woman, It’s doesn’t mean she has the power to decrease my personhood. There’s more going on.

      I went to uni with a working class guy from the north, he kept calling me ‘dear’ which I found patronising as all hell. I HATED it. It was brushed off by my housemate (male, northern) who said ‘it’s a northern thing!’ But the student ambassador (male, working class, northern) was disgusted that my housemate had said that and that he agreed with me that it was sexist and patronising.

    4. “I do not get why people are still asking permission to exercise autonomy and freedom in their personhood.”

      Because women are deeply socialized to act this way. For some of us, there were fairly dire consequences to NOT being this way. When you’re brought up in a family where you’re expected to do all the emotional work for men, where your boundaries are not just ignored but punished, and where you’re told this is *how you are a person in the world*, it takes time, work, and a safe space to unlearn. Captain Awkward’s website provides those things — as well as understanding.

      You seem to be lucky enough to not have to deal with this particular task. Yay you! But please understand that your experience isn’t universal. The LW is reaching out for help, not a dismissal that this was something she should already have learned.

      1. here your boundaries are not just ignored but punished, and where you’re told this is *how you are a person in the world*

        Sometimes I just want to take a baseball bat to the world. For real.

    5. Speaking as an ex-shopgirl — you just made someone’s life very difficult. Her manager ‘also does this’, which means she *set* the style of speech. When this happens, if the clerk doesn’t follow her manager’s example its considered setting herself above the manager, and yes, you do get fired for ‘attitude’. If someone complains about what is the manager’s preferred style of speech? Well, the clerk was just DOING IT WRONG, or you wouldn’t have complained. All for $8/hr.

      What happens to the clerk – guaranteed weeks of being monitored and mocked, if not fired outright – isn’t your responsibility, but we all know how difficult it is to be caught between customers and management in the service industry. Making their day more difficult because you are offended by a regional word choice isn’t all that cool. And I honestly don’t see how your story about being rough on a hapless shop clerk even works with the subject at hand.

      1. Cosigned.

        You’ve learnt to be assertive to people with markedly less power than you. Cool story.

  24. This right here: “but have no concept of or regard for anyone else’s opinions or wants” is the essence of abuse.

    I don’t give a rat’s ass why someone doesn’t realize that other people are autonomous. Anyone like that should be avoided like the plague (and like the dangerous creep they are)

  25. Reassure him that he’s done nothing wrong?

    LW, ignoring your boundaries, your soft no, and general proto stalker/ controlling behavior are all wrong things that he has done. That captain’s script is great. I encourage you to use it and then move on with your life with the knowledge that you were way nicer to this dude than he deserved based on the way he treated you.

  26. “Am I obliged to respond to this email and reassure him that he’s done nothing wrong?”

    Well, you can’t, really, because that’s not true. You’re stopping contact with him because he’s done an entire smorgasbord of things wrong!

    “I know I should have been clearer about not wanting to date him and about cutting off contact. I’m sure he never intended to do anything creepy, although it’s clear that he is isolated and his social skills are very poor. ”

    He asked you out, and you said no. Is there really any room for confusion there? I think he heard your ‘no’ loud and clear but refused to accept it because it wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

    “I want him to be able to expand his social life and be happier, but on the other hand his apparent inability to recognize boundaries makes me want not to be in touch with him. I’m worried that if I don’t respond to him he will interpret this as rejection and lose the confidence he needs to make more friends. Aside from that, I feel like I’ve failed to show solidarity with him as someone who shares his disability.”

    I can’t speak to the feeling you owe him solidarity over a shared disability, but I can tell you that confidence is not what is standing between him and having friends. He doesn’t have friends because he doesn’t act like a friend. Confidence will not trick people into hanging around with someone who pressures them, touches them, and stalks them online and in real life. He’s not going to have friends until he does the hard work of examining his own behavior and choosing to act differently. Maybe one day he’ll do that, and I completely understand the feeling of ‘if I could just send EXACTLY the right email, he would understand what he’s doing wrong and choose to be better and then everyone would be happy!’ But you have a mountain of evidence that this guy is very unlikely to listen to anything he doesn’t want to hear, and instead he would use that email as an excuse to pressure and guilt trip you into becoming more and more entangled in his emotional problems. Don’t take the mountain of problems this guy is trying to hand you. Let him conquer that mountain, somewhere else, while you spend your time and energy on people who don’t creep you out.

    1. I can tell you that confidence is not what is standing between him and having friends. He doesn’t have friends because he doesn’t act like a friend. Confidence will not trick people into hanging around with someone who pressures them, touches them, and stalks them online and in real life. He’s not going to have friends until he does the hard work of examining his own behavior and choosing to act differently.

      Well said!

  27. I have multiple disabilities. I enjoy the shared community and solidarity I can find with others with disabilities. And so when I meet another person with a disability, I often will try to sound them out about getting to know them better.

    And sometimes I have met really great people. And sometimes I have met people who are nice, but with whom I have nothing in common besides we both have disabilities. Sometimes the other person has no interest in bonding over disability or shared experiences and there is no other basis for continued contact. Sometimes we just are not compatible. And sometimes the other person has been a complete and total jerk. The equal opportunity jerkiness principal applies, that people with disabilities can be just as much jerks as any other people.

    You owe this person nothing just because you share a disability. You made an initial overture based on shared experience and not really knowing anything else about the person. Now you know many other things which carry much more weight than shared disability in the decision to continue or discontinue further contact.

    Disability solidarity is great, but it cannot take priority over distancing yourself from people who disregard boundaries.

  28. LW, as a fellow grad student, I suggest that you might want to take the following actions / make use of the following resources:

    1. Send the STOP script the Captain suggests. This’ll create a paper trail. If you can, use a university-affiliated email address; most universities have a policy that students must keep their account active, so it’ll be harder for him to claim he didn’t get it.
    2. Document the dates and events of all your interactions with him, including names of the volunteers who turned him away. You don’t have to give those names to anyone yet, but having witnesses is good.
    3. Find out if your local campus organizations have an anti-harassment committee and/or procedure. I especially suggest this if you’re in any kind of teachers’ union — unions can be VERY strong sources of support for safe working environments, and this guy is fucking up your work environment big time.

    You don’t have to do anything with this information ever. Maybe the dude will respect the STOP email and leave you the hell alone (I hope he does). But if he doesn’t, it might be good to have some bricks in place shoring up the wall of your personal safety fortress.

    Good luck with this, LW. You owe this guy NOTHING, and you’re awesome for listening to your instincts.

  29. LW, here’s something that puzzles me about this dude. You mention that, because of your visual impairment, you get touched a lot by strangers, which is something Blind/visually impaired folks often run into.

    This dude is also visually impaired yes? So he has the same experience of being touched by strangers that you do? So he should have been aware of this, and had the courtesy to refrain from doing to you the same thing that you, and he, get stuck dealing with from clueless sighted people on a constant basis. Yet he didn’t.

    1. I guess that depends if people treat a visually-impaired woman the same as a visually impaired men. I’m not the right person to evaluate that though.

      1. I’m just going by what the LW’s letter – which I took to be the thing of sighted people grabbing Blind/visually impaired people to ‘help them’ through doors, etc. I don’t doubt for a minute there is a synergistic effect between “they can’t see, so it’s OK to steer them” and “women’s bodies don’t belong to them” so that it’s worse for women – but surely this guy ought to have some understanding, if he is also visually impaired, about how annoying it is to have other people touch you uninvited.

  30. When I was 16 I went to a Christian Rock festival with my church group. While I was there, I attracted the attentions of a guy not in our group who wouldn’t leave me alone. Literally to the point of me saying “there’s a band on right now that I want to see” and he had me cornered and wouldn’t let me leave saying he just wanted to talk to me and tell me how pretty I was. I had been socialised to be super nice and appeasing of others and with the whole Christianity thing on top saying I had to be meek and gentle meant I couldn’t find my words to insist on leaving and seeing the band. (Never did get to see them).
    Later on he moved his tent to right next to where I was camping with my church group (we were all sharing a 12 person super tent and he parked his right outside). He started following me around so I wrote him a letter asking him to leave me alone and left it on his tent. (Life before mobile phones!)
    I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I know 16 year old me had All The Feels, and All The Words, so I know it would have had so many softeners so that you could have used it as a pillow. There is no way I would have been direct, and everything would have been couched in qualifiers and “I understands”.
    I heard him find it and read it. He started ranting and screaming that I was a bitch and I had accused him of being a rapist. I was so shocked because I know I’d massively cushioned the message that his attentions are unwelcome, but obviously having it laid out in black and white shocked him, but rather than bringing some self-reflection, he unleashed a load of anger in my direction.
    Somehow the majority of the church group sided with him, I should have been nicer and “not written a nasty letter to him”, I should have been more forgiving, tolerant and understanding of someone who was just being friendly. I was quite clearly an horrible, unchristian person. One of the other girls started dating him!
    Thing is he *knew* I was uncomfortable, he heard me saying I want to leave, that I have a boyfriend, I want to do something else. My body language couldn’t have been clearer. And yet didn’t care about my discomfort and pretended that he didn’t understand.

    1. ETA: For a long time I blamed myself and thought that I’d had a communication problem. If only I’d chosen better words, been more understanding, then he wouldn’t have been upset.
      But it wasn’t a communication problem, it was en entitlement problem. Like this guy OP. He feels entitled to your attention and affections.
      How every gentle or direct your message, it probably won’t trigger self-reflection and a change in behaviour. A short sharp message stating that yo do not want to be in contact is fine. You’re not doing it for his piece of mind, but to start the paper trail so that you have evidence you’ve asked him to stop.

      1. I am so sorry that happened to you, and I give All The Fuck Yous to the church members who decided that Creepy McGropey O’Fuckstick was more deserving of support than you were.

        I also attended Christian churches up until my teens and I saw a lot of that kind of behavior. It’s one of the million reasons I don’t go to church anymore!

    2. The adults in your church group were appalling. I’m sorry they failed to protect your boundaries, but you rocked. It doesn’t matter how many pillowy words you used, you stood up for yourself, and at 16, with all the social filters that had been hammered into you, that was awesome.

    3. What an awful situation. And to think that the majority of the group was on HIS side!

      It points up how many cultures automatically give certain members the benefit of the doubt. And they are wrong 🙂

  31. While the whole picture is creepy as hell, can we take a second to point out how intensely creepy the “I can’t contact you by phone/social media so I’m just gonna invite myself to your current location.” routine is???

    That’s not just wandering over uninvited in a friendly but clueless way.

    That’s somebody who knows you probably don’t want to talk to him but still thinks he can get something from you. That’s somebody who’s looking to *force* contact (can’t emphasize that word enough) and steal control over how and whether you respond by making it so that now that he’s in front of your face, you HAVE to pay attention to him thereby giving him what he thinks is a chance.

    There needs to be a national anthem to go with that red flag.

    1. He should take all of his red flags and go off to play soccer where his collection of red flags might be useful for the referee (I forget if they use yellow/red cards or yellow/red flags, not that it matters because the point is that creeper and his flags need to go fly elsewhere.)

    2. I nominate: “Every Breath You Take” as one anthem possibility. Or “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”

  32. You did give him an answer. Other people gave him an answer on your behalf. He knows your answer. He just doesn’t care, and he’s using his “I’m confused” blah blah to pressure you in to a conversations, because he’s SURE that he can just convince you to give him a chance. Unfriending someone is an answer. Not responding to him is an answer. It is not your job to fill his life. If he wasn’t so creepy he would have more friends.

  33. “You’re not responsible for his self-confidence or whether he makes other friends.”
    Yes! This 1000 times! So many times women feel that it’s up to them to take responsibility for some guy they feel sorry for. It was his parent’s job to teach him social skills. You aren’t his mom, his elementary school teacher, or his therapist. It actually sounds as though he viewed you as “Warm body, has the same disability, actually didn’t refuse to have lunch with me – yah, she’ll do.”

  34. If anyone’s in the mood to answer … I have the impression that people are saying that disabilities like sight impairment can impact on someone’s social skills/development. If that’s right, I’d be interested to know how it works.

    I ask mostly because my son is autistic, so I’m used to thinking of that as THE disability that gets in the way of social development. (Though mind you, he’s already heavily drilled in the message, ‘Don’t just jump on the other kids; if you want a hug, ask, and wait for a yes’ – and he’s five years old. Understanding and support, yes; excuses, no.) Other disabilities, I just don’t know very much about. But we all need to stick together – which means not being a sex pest; the person breaking solidarity here is Mr Grabsy, not the LW – so anything anyone can tell me that would make me better informed, I’d really like to know.

    1. Off the top of my head, it occurs to me that anything that makes it harder to see and therefore read facial expressions and body language could impact social skills?

      1. There was a kid I went to school with elementary through high school who was legally blind. In elementary school, he was pulled out of regular school activities regularly to do his own work with an aid. Usually this coincided with times that didn’t interrupt “actual learning time,” so he basically skipped a lot of our recesses. Of course this had an impact (let’s be honest, a huge one) on how he socialized with the other kids. It also magnified that he was different and therefore impacted how we treated him. I definitely remember him being thought of as weird during that time, and him doing things like not saying hi when people said hi to him. I don’t think he had more than two good friends (although he was the year below me, so I could be unaware of something, and I was the aspie in the corner so…).

        By the time he got to high school, he’d made close friends with a core group of guys and was pretty much just like every other awkward teenager in the school, maybe a little odder than most, but not hugely noticeable. Certainly he wasn’t known for touching girls without their consent! I know he studied languages in college and travels a ton now. So, it probably wasn’t the best that he was pulled out of recesses, but it also didn’t turn him into a giant creeper or a super awkward adult, either.

    2. It’s fucking horseshit. I heard (when I wrote a guestpost elsewhere about the intersection of misogyny, harassment, and abelism) that what if someone was blind and grabbed you by accident? Don’t be mean.

      To which I replied: Leber’s runs in my family. One of my cousins went blind in his twenties, another is blind in one eye. It’s insulting as fuck to assume that blind people flail about trying to orient themselves (they don’t). That there was a huge difference between someone touching you by accident and getting handsy. That blind people have to put their hands all over you (they don’t). In fact, if you’re a woman with a disability, you’re more vulnerable to harassment.

      This dude is 1000% full of fucking shit. If you have trouble with social cues, a NO is a goddamn definite social cue. She said no, he knew not to do that, he did it anyway. He’s full of shit, period.

      1. THANK YOU. Can we, just for once, have a discussion about a dude who is massively inappropriate and creepy without tons of people rushing into find some plausible reason He Just Can’t Help It, and while ofcoursewesympathizewiththevictim, shouldn’t we cut the poor thing some slack.

        1. This! A thousand times this! “What if he just didn’t know?” is both the least interesting and least helpful thing you can say in a discussion about a woman getting creeped on. We’re already socialized to always put our own needs last, do we really need extra pressure to put ourselves last in the form of “helpful” reminders that it’s technically possible that Mr Creeper just doesn’t knooooooow and the implied message isn’t that saaaaaaad and shouldn’t she heeeeeeelp him why does she have to be so meeeeean about this weird idea that she has some sort of right not to be creeped on.

          There is a worthwhile discussion in subjects like how do I help this person who I actually like and want to hang out with who doesn’t have such great social skills, or how do you tell someone who truly doesn’t notice/understand subtle social cues from a creepy creeper who creeps or how much slack you ought to give someone who means well but has poor social skills, but this is super not the place for it. Just once can we act like the target of the creepy behaviour is more important than the creeper’s feelings?

  35. Legally blind victim of the deeply flawed education system for people with disabilities, here.

    Sommetimes they just stick us in a room with a resource teacher. Sometimes we are kept out of recess to catch up on work. Sometimes our bff was assigned as our keeper by a first grade teacher. This can result in having WAY fewer opportunities to learn how to people than most folks get. I’ve met a ton of people with disabilities over the years who could legitimately say they just didn’t know.

    I was one. When I was 12. I screwed up routinely. People would call me on it, and I would try to do better. It’s feasible to me that SOME PEOPLE had nobody around them when they were twelve to correct their slow social development. It happens.


    The giant tip off for me is the “who is that guy you’re with?” Facebook stalking. That would be a warning sign if you were dating. Gone for coffee once and they pull that?! RUN, LW, RUN!

    1. Exactly. This guy may be socially awkward, but the big red flags are completely unrelated to that. Misreading a situation isn’t going to make you controlling, and facebook stalking an acquaintance and demanding to know who the men in their pictures are is the sort of thing that would normally come up if you needed a completely unambiguous hyperbolic example for a definition or something. Being socially awkward (for whatever reason, disabilities included) can lead you to read romantic interest where there isn’t any and make a date offer where you otherwise wouldn’t, it doesn’t make you incapable of understanding a “no” response. If anything, it should make you better at taking that no response gracefully, instead of alternating between badgering people and being a controlling asshole. Then there’s the matter of this guy following the LW to her work, which is straight up stalking.

      To use a personal example, I’m not super great at reading subtle signals some times. I’m downright bad at it in a romantic context. How do I know this? Because a number of people have told me that they have tried to send romantic signals, scope out interest, etc. and gotten no response, and that’s generally been because I had absolutely no idea that they were doing that. There was one case where someone thought we were dating for a good two months, and I still didn’t pick up on the interest existing until she point blank asked if we were dating. There’s a whole general trend of being less touchy feely, more distant, etc. because of being bad at reading the social signals.

      So, you know, completely the opposite of this guy, or any of his ilk who like to hide behind either “I’m just socially awkward” or “I’m socially awkward because of [whatever]”. I also know a number of socially awkward people of multiple genders, and it’s pretty much the same story for anyone who isn’t also an asshole.

      1. OMG, the “not picking up signals” thing? Me too!

        I could not understand, for the life of me, why I’d meet women I knew online, or go on so many first dates, and not get a flicker of interest. It crushed me. Being gay means there’s a pretty small pool of potential partners, especially if you don’t live in a major city, so I despaired of ever finding love. Then I found out why

        On turning up for my second date, with the future Mrs Pink Box, I was surprised to see her sharing a table with three guys. Shit! Was this not a date? She introduced her friends – J+P, her BFF and his boyfriend, and B, another good friend, also gay. We’d got to our third bar, my date did a spot of karaoke with J (‘Love Letters’, and ‘Only You’ Alison Moyet), while I chatted with P.

        Date hopped down from the stage and nipped off to the toilets with B. Five minutes later he came back and asked me “What do you think about her? She really likes you!” I told him she was great, (we’d been emailing, texting and IMing for weeks, but past experience kept my hopes loq) and that I liked her too. Across the room I saw her coming out of the Ladies loo, casually walking back over until B wheeled round, gave her a double thumbs up and a huuuge grin, and she literally ran to me! I went home with her that night and (cliche alert!) never left! 11 years later we’re happier than ever.

        As it turned out she’d been really sad because she really fancied me, but I wasn’t responding in kind, hence the entourage that night. She was worried that I wasn’t interested in a relationship because flirting got crickets in reply! She’d even dropped those karaoke boulder hints, which still makes my cheeks flush when I think about it.

        A whole lot of things suddenly clicked into place, the most embarrassing? The number of times my (now) best friend had said, when we first started to hang out, “Whatever you do NEVER touch me [points to lower back], it makes me insatiable”. I politely filed it in my mental ‘Do not!’ drawer used to help me ‘pass’ as neurotypical, but pondered frequently upon why she kept reminding me. Was I accidentally touching her there whn we hugged? Oh I hoped not!


        I still can’t do proper eye contact (bridge of the nose, or the cheeks), or tolerate certain sounds, but my social skill-set is now well stocked, and my wonderful wife patiently points out any signs I’m not picking up on due to the not-NT+visually impaired combo.

        1. Honestly your best friend was being kind of an ass here. “Don’t touch me here!” as a way of hinting how awesome it would be to touch her there puts you in the position of guessing whether she meant it as a boundary or not – which is a shitty thing to do someone neurotypical, much less someone who is trying to navigate social signaling.

          1. The problem is that she didn’t know I was NNT, I didn’t either! Apparently my skills of social mimicry, mirroring, and fake dye contact (I could probably identify anyone I know by the bridge of their nose!) hid the other stuff really well. I just thought I was “broken”, like I had with the gay thing.

            It wasn’t until an occupational health assessment, some eight years after the ended-up-my-friend thing, which was two years into that whole “missing hints from women I met on dating sites” debacle, that it was spotted. By accident. The whole world sort of shifted to the left, and then clicked into place, it was weird.

            After mentioning it to a couple of colleagues (in the health service),, mainly by saying “Dr X told me I’m almost certainly on the spectrum, and wants to refer me for evaluation!”, I got identical responses to the ones I got when I came out as gay, mainly laughter and “Yeah, tell us something we don’t know!”.

            Honestly, it’s made it much easier to understand certain aspects of my personality, and to help heal from certain traumatic childhood incidents which, when seen through a different perspective, show not a naughty, obstreperous child in need of punishment, but the confused kid who just genuinely could not understand what she was being asked to do.

      2. OMG, the “not picking up signals” thing? Me too!

        I could not understand, for the life of me, why I’d meet women I knew online, or go on so many first dates, and not get a flicker of interest. It crushed me. Being gay means there’s a pretty small pool of potential partners, especially if you don’t live in a major city, so I despaired of ever finding love. Then I found out why

        On turning up for my second date, with the future Mrs Pink Box, I was surprised to see her sharing a table with three guys. Shit! Was this not a date? She introduced her friends – J+P, her BFF and his boyfriend, and B, another good friend, also gay. We’d got to our third bar, my date did a spot of karaoke with J (‘Love Letters’, and ‘Only You’ Alison Moyet), while I chatted with P.

        Date hopped down from the stage and nipped off to the toilets with B. Five minutes later he came back and asked me “What do you think about her? She really likes you!” I told him she was great, (we’d been emailing, texting and IMing for weeks, but past experience kept my hopes loq) and that I liked her too. Across the room I saw her coming out of the Ladies loo, casually walking back over until B wheeled round, gave her a double thumbs up and a huuuge grin, and she literally ran to me! I went home with her that night and (cliche alert!) never left! 11 years later we’re happier than ever.

        As it turned out she’d been really sad because she really fancied me, but I wasn’t responding in kind, hence the entourage that night. She was worried that I wasn’t interested in a relationship because flirting got crickets in reply! She’d even dropped those karaoke boulder hints, which still makes my cheeks flush when I think about it.

        A whole lot of things suddenly clicked into place, the most embarrassing? The number of times my (now) best friend had said, when we first started to hang out, “Whatever you do NEVER touch me [points to lower back], it makes me insatiable”. I politely filed it in my mental ‘Do not!’ drawer used to help me ‘pass’ as neurotypical, but pondered frequently upon why she kept reminding me. Was I accidentally touching her there whn we hugged? Oh I hoped not!


        I still can’t do proper eye contact (bridge of the nose, or the cheeks), or tolerate certain sounds, but my social skill-set is now well stocked, and my wonderful wife patiently points out any signs I’m not picking up on due to the not-NT+visually impaired combo.

  36. Am I obliged to respond to this email and reassure him that he’s done nothing wrong?

    To respond? No. Not at all.

    To reassure him that he’s done nothing wrong? No. You are not obliged to lie to him. He totally did wrong things.

    What, if anything, do I owe this man?

    As with all others, not spitting on him when you pass him in the street.

    I know I should have been clearer about not wanting to date him and about cutting off contact.

    You seemed pretty clear to me, but if you want to be unmistakable, the Captain and several comments have excellent scripts.

    I’m sure he never intended to do anything creepy, although it’s clear that he is isolated and his social skills are very poor.

    I’m suppose that if he wasn’t thinking about whether or not you might find it creepy, he definitely wouldn’t be deliberately intending to be creepy.

    I want him to be able to expand his social life and be happier, but on the other hand his apparent inability to recognize boundaries makes me want not to be in touch with him.

    I’m worried that if I don’t respond to him he will interpret this as rejection and lose the confidence he needs to make more friends.

    It is a rejection. That’s okay. (That said, since the guy doesn’t interpret an outright “no” as a rejection, I find it very damn unlikely that he will manage to interpret mere silence as a rejection.)

    You’re both graduate students. I suppose it is technically possible that he has never before asked anyone out and been rejected; if he ignores “no”s and keeps pestering people after being told no, I suppose it’s possible that it might not have sunk into his head that he’s been rejected.

    Look, if a guy glommed onto a friend of yours, and was frightening them, and making it clear he wanted to express pantsfeelings with them, and ignoring their “no”s, would you tell your friend “But if you tell him to go away, he might never make friends! Take one for the team! You don’t want the guy who scares you to think someone doesn’t like him, or he might never make friends!”

    (Spoiler: dude who hasn’t learned that other people are allowed to want things he doesn’t want them to want will probably not make friends any faster while pestering you.)

    Aside from that, I feel like I’ve failed to show solidarity with him as someone who shares his disability.

    The solidarity of a shared disability does not equate to “you must keep giving this person your attention while he nags you for romantic/sexual favours.” It doesn’t even equate to “you must spend time with this person.”

    What should I do?

    I really think the Captain’s scripts are excellent. This guy is creepy and intrusive and I really, really hope he backs the hell off. You shouldn’t have to deal with this. It’s horrible.

  37. Addendum to a longer comment (which might have glitched, I don’t know – I didn’t see an error message, FWIW):

    This guy may not have done anything out of deliberate malice and a desire to hurt you.

    That does not mean that he did not do anything wrong.

  38. Hi K Dru!

    1. Thanks for the info, I appreciate it.

    2. Wow, that must have sucked for you and I’m really sorry/pissed on your behalf that it happened.

    3. Thinking back to how they were at my son’s last school, that rings a very ugly bell. Can’t learn how to be around people if you aren’t allowed/helped to be around people. There are certain people I would very much like to slap.

    But yeah – one of the things my son needs is discovering that his peers can and will say no to him and that he has to live with that. It’s hard to believe a guy could get to this age without finding that out.

  39. Oh man, Gavin de Becker’s ‘Gift of Fear’ strikes again. While his work is problematic in some areas, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve shared his script for explicitly telling stalkerish men ‘no’ in no uncertain terms.

    I had to use it myself on a dude who would not go away after 15 years. When I used de Becker’s script, dude stopped his weasly, nasty, gross little efforts at contact. And I’ve seen it work for my women friends. It goes against everything we’re socialized to do. It’s hard. But I’ve seen it work.

    Some of his premises:

    “True to what they are taught [by a society that socializes women to be nice and let men down easy], rejecting women often say less than they mean. True to what they are taught [by a society that socializes men that women don’t really mean no], men often hear less than what is said. [H]undreds of thousands of [family members and] movies and television shows…teach mean that when she says no, that’s not what she means. The result is that ‘no’ can mean many things in this culture – ‘Maybe,’ ‘Not yet,’ ‘Hmmmm,’ ‘Give me time,’ ‘Not sure,’ ‘Keep trying,’ … We have to teach young people that ‘No’ is a complete sentence. This is not as simple as it may appear, given the deep cultural roots of the no/maybe hybrid. (pg 207)

    “When a woman rejects someone who has a crush on her, and she says ‘It’s just that I don’t want to be in a relationship right now,’ he only hears the words ‘right now.’ To him, this means she will want to be in a relationship later. The rejection should be, ‘I don’t want to be in a relationship *with you.*’ (page 210).

    De Becker has been fairly criticized for putting the assignment on women to do all the labor of boundary declaration and policing. But throughout this chapter he is talking about a specific kind of man – the creepy, feckless jackass who doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, and wants you as a stand in for his fantasies. Who doesn’t see you as an independent being with an independent mind. Ugh, gross. That dude.

    And he’s also not talking about all women, but a specific kind of woman – the kind, sweet, caring ones among us who put others first to a fault, who will consider a manipulator’s ‘feelings,’ who never want to hurt someone, and who feel too deeply the societal expectations to be nice. “Men who cannot let go choose women who cannot say no.”

    So – not all men, not all women. Got it. But when you do run into that dude, de Becker’s scripts usually send them packing.

    He recommends saying no early and completely. Saying no, and cutting off all contact. Saying no firmly, without the aim to inflame, but absolutely unequivocally. And following through completely.

    * I do not want to be in a relationship -with you-
    * I do not want to be in a friendship -with you-
    * I expect you to stop all attempts to contact me or engage with me, period.
    * I will not change my mind.
    * My decision has been made.
    * You will not receive any further contact or responses from me.
    * I have nothing more to say to you.
    * This is a complete and entire message.
    * I have made myself clear.

    If you have to cross paths with the person on a large campus or across friend groups, it can say something like, ‘do not engage me in conversation.’ Of course if you work with someone, HR should be involved yesterday.

    Put it in writing. Be absolutely fearless. Do not be inflammatory, but do not be apologetic. Read over it with a friend who will ruthlessly delete all vestiges of ‘I’m sorry but…’ or ‘I know you don’t want to hear this but…’ or ‘I used to like you but then you were mean.’ No. No. No.

    I have been that friend. I have ruthlessly edited my friends no contact messages, and helped make them 100% un-dramatic, absolutely clear, professional and businesslike. I have used this script myself. Not once have I seen the creepy asshat come back for more.

    YMMV. We all have our own determinations and circumstance. No one can tell anyone else what they have to do to keep themselves safe. These techniques probably work best with the jerky little manipulators and asshats who are kind of unconsciously, ineptly creepy. The ones who get away with ‘not knowing any better’ or ‘being too young to have learned yet’ and other excuses society makes for them.

    I can think of at least one male I’ve met who was none of those things, and was very deliberate and knowing about what he was doing. My techniques with him were different. Basically I changed all my info, dropped out of all circumstances involving him, and left the state. Sometimes that’s what it takes. That’s one across the whole span of my life. And you bet I see these men coming now before they get close enough for me to be in that kind of situation again. But 99% of the creepy manipulative ‘won’t take no for an answer’ dudes are just hapless jackasses, not ruthless narcissists. And the de Becker techniques work on them.

    tl/dr: Read the Gift of Fear, take some of what he says with a grain of salt, but use his scripts to tell feckless jackasses ‘no’ without a hint of caring what they think of you, and watch it make your life better.

    1. This is a great comment – I’ve read it several times. If ever I’m in that situation, I will use it.

  40. I agree with what others have said. While it’s true that “no response is a response”, “please do not contact me again” is a louder, clearer response that removes any shield of plausible deniability. I used to date a former police officer (I’m in the US) who told me that the first thing they’ll ask you is, “Did you tell them to stop?” and that specifically telling them to stop, ideally in writing or by some traceable means, followed by saving and documenting any continued harassment or communication can give you legal recourse, if it comes down to that. Your word against his without physical evidence is practically impossible to prove in court, to the faculty, etc. If it comes down to that.

    He could be poorly socially calibrated, or he could think that your consent doesn’t matter to him. Either way, the result is the same, and while you don’t exactly owe him anything, drawing a line in the sand by giving a loud and clear “do not contact me” will make your life easier down the road. Boundary-pushers indeed will happily exploit people’s aversion to rocking the boat or upsetting others for enforcing their own boundaries. Doctor Nerdlove has a great article about boundaries this week.

  41. Elon James White, represent! It’s a hashtag for what I’ve always said–If You Would Not Say/Do/Demand This From A Man, Do Not S/D/D It From A Woman. In a bar, on the street, at work, at a concert, in a bookstore. NO.

    And that whole “I don’t understand behavioral norms” thing is crap a good 90% of the time. If the dude isn’t shuffling around with his pants around his ankles while jacking off, snorting coke, and setting fires, he grasps social norms just fine, otherwise he’d be in jail by now. It’s nothing but a Creeper Cloak.

  42. My years spent with my ex, who had zero friends and couldn’t even manage to get along with mine, taught me that while it’s not a red flag all on its own, sometimes people are lonely and isolated because of their own behavior.

  43. I don’t think this guy is intentionally trying to scare you – but that’s not really the point. The salient fact is not his intention but how he makes you feel. The fact that he is so oblivious to boundaries is a red flag all by itself. He may well be socially unskilled, as you say, or isolated by his visual impairment, but those things in themselves don’t entitle him to a free pass for harassing you. Even if he doesn’t realise it, he may still have been socialised to expect the “Aw, give him a chance” reaction from women. But, as Doctor Nerdlove says, “Socially awkward is not an excuse”. http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2014/03/socially-awkward-isnt-an-excuse/

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