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!
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.
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.