#950: “I’m newly sober. How do I brush off ‘Thirteenth Steppers?'”

Hey Team Awkward,

This is a quick one. 

I’m newly sober and I’ve been attending AA for the last two months. One of my main meetings is a women’s meeting, which is rad, but I’ve tried to open it up a little bit–there’s a co-ed secular meeting and a co-ed meeting that does a physical outdoors excursion monthly. I’m getting a lot from all of them, and want to keep going!

That said, in less than three months, I’ve now had two different instances of what I’m pretty sure is thirteenth stepping (or a lead up to it). I’ve been dodging it, but I’d love some scripts for side-stepping being asked out, etc., without being alienating. I don’t think I’m being paranoid; I’ve been around the block enough time to discern the difference between A Dude Leaning In Too Much and a dude just being friendly. I don’t want to stop going to co-ed meetings, especially the activity ones. And I don’t want it to feel awkward.

So can you give me some scripts for turning down invites to go dancing, etc., or invitations of support that aren’t super alienating but make it a clear boundary? I’m good at “fuck you,” but not really good at enforcing this kind of boundary in a polite, peace-keeping way. 

Thanks in advance,
Awkward Alcoholic 

Dear Awkward Alcoholic,

Hey, that is an awkward (and short!) sort of question, and hey, also, it’s very awesome that you are getting the help you need and finding a community in the process.

For readers who don’t know, the “thirteenth step” is an ironic term for when people in 12-step programs who have more than a year of sobriety initiate romantic and/or sexual relationships with newcomers. Here’s a longer description of what is is and why it’s bad. Short version: It creates a giant distraction for someone who is just getting their life together, it involves preying on people at a vulnerable time, and when/if the relationship goes sour it can contribute to a relapse in addition to poisoning the well at the place that both people rely on for support. As the Ghostbusters always say: Don’t cross the streams!

It’s great that you are trusting your instincts about what’s going on, and I think the script you are looking for here is some version of “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not interested. I’ll see you at [Official Meeting]/[Group Gathering].”

You’d think “No thanks!” alone would get it done, but I think adding the explicit “I’m not interested” leaves less wiggle room for plausible deniability. Saying “I can’t” leaves the door open for the person trying to find a window when you can. Saying “I’m not interested” = “I don’t want to.” Less ambiguity is good here.

I predict you’re gonna get a lot of “Oh, did you think that I was asking you out? I wasn’t asking you on a date, I just wanted to hang out as friends” as a reaction. It’s a manipulation tactic designed to get you to “defend” yourself by agreeing to hang out with them to prove you’re being “fair.” The human instinct to save face is a powerful one and good news, it doesn’t really do harm to let the person save face once you know what’s coming. You can say, “Okay, phew, I’m glad to know that.” And, this is key: YOUR ANSWER TO DOING WHATEVER IT IS STILL “NO.” Don’t let the face-saving turn into you agreeing to the Date That Is Not A Date But Clearly Is Kind Of A Date. As in:

Guy: “Hey, my friend has a gallery show this weekend, would you like to go with me?”

You: “Aw, thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not interested.”

Guy: “Wait a second…did you think I was asking you on a date? No way, I just wanted to go as friends.”

You: “Okay, good to know!” [+ optional subject change]

Guy: “So, do you want to come to the gallery?”

You: “No thank you, I’m not interested. But I’ll see you at [Official Group Meeting/Gathering] next week!”

Polite, true, easy to remember, hard to argue with, indicates that everything will be normal/cool when you see them next, leaves very little wiggle room for a re-approach.

I know some readers have experiences related to newfound sobriety and navigating recovery and the reawakening of boundaries, so, what else would you tell the Letter Writer about dodging away from the “thirteenth step”?





70 thoughts on “#950: “I’m newly sober. How do I brush off ‘Thirteenth Steppers?'”

  1. Congrats on your sobriety. You are amazing.

    I think you could also say, “This is an important part of my life to keep separate from socializing, even on a friend level. Thank you for the invite, but this is a boundary I need for my health.” It would be a super dick move for someone to argue against your health, and you’re putting a very firm line between meetings and socializing.

    1. I think this is a great framing of it, especially good for if someone asks “why not?”

    2. Yeah, I think explicitly mentioning the fact that the behavior is boundary-crossing could be useful in some of these situations. The people the LW is interacting with know their behavior is frowned upon. It might not hurt for the LW to let them know that even if she’s a new to sobriety, she knows what the expected boundaries are and agrees with them.

    3. This.
      Someone who is already pushing boundaries will have no problem treating “not interested” as applying to the proposed event, not to themselves, so they’ll take it as an invitation to keep asking in the hopes of finding something you are interested in. Or just wearing you down.

    4. Yeah, when I was in group therapy as a teenager (misc. psychiatric issues), we were explicitly forbidden from socializing with members of the group outside of the group, because the facilitators didn’t want social drama to interfere with recovery. It worked, too–things always ran smoothly and I made a ton of progress. Later I attended another group, and it didn’t have that same rule; people socialized all the time. Cue the drama. It was like high school all over again, and I’d leave sessions feeling more alone than anything else.

      So yeah, tl:dr keeping support groups and life separate is a really, really, really good idea.

      1. I hope this doesn’t derail, so if it does please feel free to let the Comments Monster eat this up, but…
        In this case I don’t want to discourage the LW from socializing with people from AA meetings at all, ever. Placing boundaries is very good and you should keep things separate as much as you want, of course, especially while things still feel early and you’re getting a feel for the different programs and groups. Now is a good time to focus on recovery and not let too many things bleed into each other. But making friends in AA etc can be a good thing, too.
        My dad’s been sober for 20 years now, and he has a small group of friends from AA who have been great for each other. They go out to dinner together and are able to recommend restaurants with great mocktails. The connections he made through AA have been a force for good in his life.
        That said – he doesn’t let everyone into his life, in general, and has always taken his time getting to know people in meetings before even considering bringing them into other parts of his life. And dating is a whole other can of worms. So LW, don’t feel like it has to be all one way or the other, in terms of keeping things separate, making friends, etc.

        1. It’s probably also so very wise to be cautious about creating such a group; you want to be selective about who you chum around with.

          I have a theory that people who are respectful, good at boundaries, and low-drama are actually HESITANT to create relationships too quickly. They like to suss people out to see if their values and standards are compatible. They’ll be friendly, but they’ll wait a bit before they suggest getting together.

          The folks who are invasive (either intentionally, instinctively, or naively) will be invasive right away–and they’re also probably not your healthiest choice of buddies.

          So, my vote for most people in most situations–but especially someone in a situation like the OP’s, or someone moving to a new town–is to take it a little slow and be observant before you jump in to a friendship.

  2. I’ve never been in a recovery group like this, but this seems super gross and not okay. Does the group have a facilitator you could report it to? I’m sure the dudes are all keeping their plausible deniability covers intact, but maybe if the facilitator got enough reports like that about the same few dudes they’d do something about it? (hah, I know, but still)

    1. Or maybe there’s an old-timer in the group, or a women who’s been in the program a while. Trying out different groups like the LW is already doing is a good idea.

    2. There’s no facilitator, or even really a hierarchy. It’s all group run, and people take turns being in positions of responsibility.

      Also, based on previous experience, I wouldn’t take something like this to a facilitator unless I had hard evidence of inappropriate behavior/something excessive happened. Most spaces, particularly co-ed spaces, particularly co-ed spaces with lots of men, are not friendly to questions like the above. In my experience, it’s read as arrogance and/or overreading into things (insert other ways people dismiss women’s intuition about these things which is based on experience and usually pretty on point).

      Thanks for the suggestion, though.

      1. Are you able to find a same-sex sponsor within each group then? I’ve never heard of having more than one sponsor (my mom was active in AA for 20+ years and AFAIK each person only had one sponsor) but if you had one per group at least, you could have someone to turn to or discuss the issues with when someone was getting gross.

        Barring that, going to your main sponsor should be someone you can discuss the issues and boundaries with, who ideally can help guide you in this too. My mom had to deal with some women she sponsored who she tried to guide out of being thirteenth stepped by men in the groups that would prey on them, and there really wasn’t anything she could do if her sponsee’s wouldn’t listen to her. She could only do so much before she’d have to wash her hands of it and let them go (and yes, it’d wind up being a big mess in the end… there wasn’t really anything they could do about it at the time since adults are adults and can talk/socialize/do what they want on their own time).

      2. In my area, there is a (long-time sober person volunteer committment) Treasurer who collects each meeting’s “Seventh Tradition” monies for rents, and they send some to the area Central Office, which does have a paid staff.
        This meeting had a problem with a man who needed to be contained, and when it was made clear he was endangering the group over weeks time, the cops were brought in during a meeting to remove him.

        The person one sees “running” the meeting is of the group membership, picked to lead a single meeting, before the meeting starts. (Again, the local custom.)

        1. Argh. I left out the detail. The group had a special “Group Conscience” meeting and the Treasurer got in touch with the Central Office.
          The issue has come up in the AA world, though I haven’t heard of any firm policy adopted.

    3. There won’t be facilitator, but LW, if you have a sponsor it might be something you can talk to her about. Depending on the group, I’ve seen situations like this play out where a guy was being too persistent or doing this a lot, women told their sponsors, and their sponsors spoke to the DUDE’S sponsor, who then spoke to the dude.

      Unfortunately there can also be pushback if the dude and his sponsor then get defensive, because toxic masculinity…still a thing even in AA meetings! But it’s worth a try.

  3. I think you’d be well within your rights to say “No thank you, that makes me uncomfortable.” Acknowledging that you feel a boundary has been crossed can be helpful to both you and the person who crossed it, either knowingly or unknowingly. And you can say it without feeling aggressive. The conversation still goes the same as the Captain said (“No thanks, that makes me uncomfortable.” “Oh I didn’t mean it as a date/anything by it.” “Okay that’s good to know, thanks.” “So will I see you there?” “No thanks, I’m not comfortable with that.”). I guess it’s a little more soft-no than a plain “not interested,” so maybe you can combine them.

    Good luck, and congrats on taking the step to sobriety! This random internet stranger is proud of you and wishes you the best.

    1. I lean towards “No, I don’t want that.” “Don’t hug me” if I hold out my hand and they use it to grab my arm and go to my torso. Plain and simple.
      Step back out of reach. Eye contact, smile with closed teeth. “What part of the meeting did/do you like best?”

    2. I think this is a great suggestion. “I’m not interested” in the scripts above could also be understood as, “I’m not interested in that particular event,” which might accidentally mean more unwanted invitations for the LW. “That makes me uncomfortable” leaves less room for alternative interpretations. I suppose the really oblivious could think the LW has fundamental problems with going to galleries and keep extending invitations to other things, but I think most people would understand and back off immediately.

      1. Yeah, the script being heard as “I’m not interested in doing X” was my first thought, too. I like making it about comfort. Putting a strict boundary between socializing and the group could be good if that makes sense, but in my case, I would be worried that in the future there would be someone in the group that I would want to socialize with, especially with an activity group. And I know that just because I might say no to one person that it doesn’t have to be the final answer forever, but I still have trouble feeling with guilty for not being “fair”.

    3. Great post! But in comments…Semantics again maybe? There is a difference between “I’m not comfortable with that” (owned, assertive, true) and “that MAKES me uncomfortable”, in which receiver of info is placed given the position of having influence/control over one’s feelings. Just sayin.

      1. Eh, I really think that’s just semantics. “Makes me X” is a common English construction equivalent to “causes me to feel X”, using it is not equivalent to pushing responsibility for your feelings onto someone else.

        1. And in this case, creepy/pushy people-who-are-mostly-dudes are, through their own poor or predatory behaviour, making others feel uncomfortable, so…

        2. It may appear like mere semantics. Yet the words we use can have a subtle influence on how empowered we feel in the interaction.

  4. This can definitely be an issue with AA, and I’m glad the letter writer is aware of that and planning around it. As a person in recovery, I know those first months in particular can be an emotional time, and self-care of all kinds is SO important – including relationship boundaries.

    I’m with lilacwire here and wouldn’t change a single word of her suggested script. It sets the boundary in a polite, non-awkward way while also gently reminding the guy that his actions, even if well-meant, aren’t okay.

    Letter writer, if there are meetings of Women for Sobriety in your area, you might consider dropping in on one. The WFS program is a bit differently structured than AA but also is abstinence-based and about peer support. Many women are involved in both AA and WFS. And if you like the vibe of all-female meetings (as I do), it could be helpful to your recovery. They also have a great website with bulletin boards and live chats: http://www.womenforsobrietyonline.com.

    Congrats on two months – that’s major!

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! This forum is so great–I’ll do some poking around.

      Also thanks to CA for the scripts–gonna use ’em.

  5. Very happy for you, for finding a good place for recovery. I -thought- I found a good place, but it turned out weird.

    And sorry if this is off topic or out of line? Captain, delete this comment if I’m beyond the boundaries – I do not mean it to be.

    I was in a recovery program I had to leave because there was another woman there who worked with the man I was seeing. A married man, not married to me. We had gotten to know each other over a few sessions and I liked her. We had another
    ‘set up’ session when we talked about people in our lives and the next session was inviting our Significant Others to join in.

    That ‘set up’ session, when I realized she worked for my SO, about killed me. I tried to act casual, and lied/disclaimed/misdirected during the session until I could talk to the therapist after. I had to withdraw from the program (which, of course, cost me a boat load of money as well as a true shot at sobriety). Although my SO was willing to work with the program and help me, he could not be part of a group where a very new employee who reported to him would see him with mistress. Now – I made that decision, and so did he.

    I guess what I am saying is – protect your recovery. Don’t let anyone interfere with it unless you have absolutely no choice.

    I still drink today, and I blew that chance because I didn’t know how to handle that aspect. But you, LW, have great advice from the Captain, and stand strong My Friend!

    1. UGH I wasn’t clear – I got to know the woman through the three sessions we shared and I liked her. It was not until the fourth session that I realized she worked for my SO. And the fifth session would have been with me, my SO, and her – and she would then know her (married, not to me) boss was my SO of seven years (which she had heard quite a bit of by that point).

    2. “Protect your recovery” is a really good point. I’m sorry that happened to you, and it kept you from getting the help you signed up for!

      A similar thing happened to me, many moons ago. I was in a codependency group, and our facilitator asked us to create a phone tree at one point, and did that thing where she passed a piece of note paper around the room and asked us to write our names and phone numbers on it. I remember being weirded out by that, and wishing she’d just handled it via email. Turns out my instincts were telling me something, because this one dude used the phone tree to get my number. Literally the day after I completed the program, he called me and asked me if I’d be his date to a formal associated with his work. I declined as politely as possible, but felt really sketched out by it, since I knew he worked in my neighborhood and honestly, I felt a little stalked.

      I guess it was a good thing he waited until after I completed the program, because I would 100% not have gone back to my meetings after that, and it would’ve been my loss.

    3. I’m a bit confused here. If you had not been a party to your SO’s infidelity, do you think you would have experienced the same discomfort?

      What I’m trying to understand is how much of your discomfort involves the woman working for someone you know well (regardless of who that person is in your life), or whether the infidelity is the core issue.

      The mere unexpected mixing of social worlds would be a major creep-out factor for me. The term “it’s a small world” rarely puts a smile on my face. I maintain lots of different social and support groups, and I pray that they never intersect. Not because I have anything that I feel the need to hide, but because I value my privacy and avoid drama whenever possible.

      Let’s face it, things can get complicated when misunderstandings occur that may lead to hurt feelings and friendships that fall out. By maintaining separate groups of friends (often with vastly different interests and world views), the drama and gossip that may be present in one group cannot spill over and infect another. It’s also a great way to maintain long term communities that don’t automatically overlap with every person I’ve ever dated.

      1. It was a little of both – but mainly because it would have compromised him. We had all talked about our SOs at that point, so everyone knew I was seeing “Tom.” Once I realized she worked for Tom, there was no way he could participate without ‘outing’ himself. But like you say, either way (infidelity or just social overlap) it would have been uncomfortable.

    4. You blew that chance, but there are more chances in your future. I believe AA meetings are often free or low cost, and there may be other options in your area now. Put the past in the past and take your own advice about prioritising your recovery.

  6. Congrats on the sobriety, LW! That’s so great. As another sober person (a little over 18 months in) I am so proud of you!

    I offered a suggestion in reply to you above about talking to your sponsor if you have one. I will also say that there are men in the program who will try to use the traditions as a way to bully women into “behaving” and accepting this kind of flirtation or even outright creepiness: don’t let them! I hope that will never happen to you, but if it does remember that someone using the traditions in this way isn’t following the traditions himself.

  7. Dear LW,

    First congrats on the sobriety!

    I think that a fair number of men will choose to hear everything short of “I don’t want to socialize with you outside the group” as leaving space for more harassment.

    So you may have to explicitly include “with you” in any refusal you give. Doing so has the additional benefit of making it harder for the 13ers to come back with “you said you wanted to keep socializing and recovery separate, but you’re hanging out with Kim.”

    Mind you, some people will choose to keep hitting on you (until fresh meat walks in).

  8. Cheers to you, LW! Both for your sobriety and for protecting it. R
    Wolves abound at meetings and they love the newbies. They’ll be the volunteer “greeters” at the door, or plausible deniability to give you hugs. Nor is it limited to men preying on women. A very popular women’s meeting I used to go to had some aggressors. I’m on the spectrum and the aggressors will pick up on vulnerabilities here, as anywhere else.
    Keep in mind that the meetings are made up of people who, with varying degrees of success, are using a program that has worked for others, and their other problems came into the rooms with them.
    I’m glad you have a choice of meetings. Meetings with regular attendees and smaller group sizes can be easier for me to navigate, than ones with lots of court-ordered (unwilling) attendees or have vans of people brought in from residential rehab facilities.

  9. Hi there!
    Fellow sober gal/AA member here. As much as I love AA, the rooms hold some serious predators. If it’s possible for you, I’d actually recommend sticking with women’s-only meetings OR gay meetings (though as someone pointed out, there are also predators there- though I’ve encountered WAY more at coed, non-glbtq meetings). I thought I wanted to make male friends, but fielding off the “casual” hangout requests that danced the line of inappropriateness was just too much was I was trying to focus on saving/remaking my life. Other than the lines the Captain suggests, you could also just go with “my sponsor wants me to stick with the women.” This is a well-known line, plus the authority/role of the sponsor is generally respected to the point that the average 13th stepper creep won’t push it.

    1. I would concur that avoiding coed non-glbtq meetings is a great way to reduce the “fresh meat” predators. Although I am a straight woman (who does not advertise her orientation), I’ve always had a very high comfort level with glbtq groups. Nobody ever aggressively hits on me there. The hits I have experienced have all been very subtle and easy to gracefully deflect. That’s as it should be, IMO.

      Whenever I do get hit on by some creepy lonely guy who likes to push boundaries, it’s always in a coed non-glbtq group. It’s not a huge thing when it happens because I can handle myself and have a very good relationship with the word NO. I rarely feel awkward about smacking down these guys when it needs to be done. I guess I just don’t seem to have picked up much of that ingrained female guilt about hurting the feelings of pushy people. Yet I would still prefer not to always carry my trusty flyswatter if at all possible.

  10. Oop- forgot to add, congratulations on your sobriety!!!!! This is such an exciting step.

    1. AA meetings don’t impose rules or boundaries on people’s lives outside of the meeting (unless you count the one about not sharing at a meeting if you’ve had a drink within the past 24 hours and even then, that’s really about behavior within the meeting, not so much about what you did with the rest of your time.)

      That said, I’ve found that there are different vibes in different meetings. Some are more formal, some more casual, some meat-markety, some very clearly not. I found a coed meeting that is mostly old timers and newcomers, and the thing I like best about it is the *very* protective attitude that people hold towards newly sober people, both female and male. Anything that might jeopardize someone’s sobriety, whether it’s judgemental commentary or obvious creeping, is basically viewed with zero tolerance.

      I did have a bad experience with a guy who got my number off that meeting’s phone list and began to send me creepy, unsolicited text messages, nonstop. I went to one of the older men in the meeting and told him what was going on, admitting that fear of encountering Creepy Guy was making me reluctant to come back to the meeting. He told me he’d take care of it, and then he called me back a few hours later to tell me that the problem had been handled. I found out later that he and several other longtime meeting members had called Creepy Guy up as a group and “strongly suggested” that he find another meeting to attend, as he was no longer welcome at theirs.

      OP, I just want to reassure you that there are MANY people in AA who value and respect your sobriety, and who will gladly take the opportunity to be of service to a newly sober person. Sometimes that service involves giving you a lift to a meeting; sometimes it involves sharing a story that you might relate to; sometimes it involves discouraging creepy predatorial types from trying to take advantage of you when you’re in a vulnerable position. Look for the helpers — there are lots of us!

  11. If they keep after you, you might also say “(I know you said it’s just platonic but) I’m trying to keep/practice really healthy boundaries!” And/or, “I realize you meant it platonically but I wouldn’t want any of the other newcomers to get the wrong idea.” As in, even if their plausible deniability thing were true, you still have good reasons for declining.

    (And congratulations on your sobriety!)

  12. Well done on making it to this point, LW, and for taking steps to protect your recovery.

    I think these scripts are useful in many other situations where there is a ‘fresh meat’ factor. I’ve encountered that same sort of pressure to pair off when I went to my first dinner at what was supposed to be a [non-dating] social networking group, which I joined precisely because I wanted a social life but internet dating site interactions were ickking me out. Really could have used the Captain’s advice back then.

  13. I don’t have any new suggestions but just wanted to join the chorus of congratulations at your 2 months of sobriety. I hope you have many more to come!

  14. Congrats on your sobriety, LW! You’re awesome.

    I don’t know much about AA meetings other than what I’ve seen on fictional TV shows which I realize may be inaccurate. Would it be boundary-crossing or a violation of the ethics of the organization to talk about this, in a vague and not-naming-names way, at your women’s meeting? Some of the other women in the group might have suggestions from their own experience, and/or some of the newer ones might benefit from the discussion also.

  15. Just saying congratulations on doing something really tough, and wishing you a future filled with many wondeful things.

  16. It’s great that you trust your instincts and you’ll handle this as an individual – all the above scripts leaving no room for negotiation promise to be effective. I hope that you might find someone to talk to who’ll take you seriously about this because it would be great if AA as an organization could recognize and address this problem. Maybe one day you’ll be more deeply involved or gain the ear of those who are? There is a lot of advice in the program to call other members on the phone regularly and it’s maybe still quite a common practice to compile and distribute phone lists. This policy could also be reviewed in the light of developments in technology, and 13th stepping – I was once called by someone who said “Can you take a program call?”; he really had other motives but it was confusing at best. And I’m glad you have such great instincts because one certainly has to beware those who corner you and *insist* on getting a hug. (Very much part of the culture and can be confusing to those who don’t like that). I do hope the organization might address some of these issues – otherwise it’s luck of the draw whether a given individual could be safe in a given group. Best of luck going forward.

    1. Kindly meant, odalisazia, I am positive, but LW’s focus should be solely on their program for a long good while still. “One Day At A Time” can be “One Hour at a Time” and “One Moment…” Their sponsor can safely guide LW to the important step of sharing the program with another, but this will be in the form of one on one interactions in the rooms. “Fixing AA” is too big for us.

      You are right in thinking the AA organization could use some help bringing forward a program started (in another culture!) by men for other men, whose near-death interventions were taking place in hospitals and psych wards. Your voice is valuable, and I hope you’ll be able to contact them.

      1. That’s why I said “Maybe one day”. This LW seems able to trust her instincts and assertive; there are horror stories about vulnerable young women PRECISELY at the LW’s stage. I get your point about prioritization but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t talk to someone NOW about something that is affecting her personally NOW.

        Others have already tried to make the organization aware of my points and much more, though nothing seems to change much, except perhaps at the micro-level of different groups. There seem to be problems with victims not being taken seriously. The LW even mentioned something that concerned me. Fundamentally I would rather see other recovery approaches become more prominent, but since this particular one does seem to be working well for this LW, I didn’t want to derail. And won’t.

  17. I think you’ll have no problems setting boundaries with the above scripts – definitely worth ensuring that no room is left for negotiation. I hope you might be able to impress on the veterans at your meetings what is happening, or that the organization could pay attention to this issue. Compiling lists of phone numbers and encouraging members to call one another is a widespread practice I believe? But it does entail the danger that those calling may have ulterior motives, as do those who corner you and insist on getting a hug. While you as an individual are strong and trust your instincts, others may be more vulnerable and afraid to challenge aspects of the status quo such as the hugging. I hope there may be some systemic change in the organization sometime soon.

  18. Congrats on your sobriety LW!!! 🙂 I hope you are able to get out of the annoying advances without too much ruckus.

    This is also good advice for other types of groups. I have been struggling recently with a similar issue in a Meetup board game group I attend. I have been attending the group for the last year and a half, and generally, the group consists mostly of people who are married or with SOs, with myself and a few others being the few single regulars. About 6 months ago, one of the married regulars started taking a keen interest in me, and started very obviously checking me out (it WAS uncomfortable). While he has never made an actual pass at me, he does seem to pay a lot of attention to me and get more physically close to me than most people. I can’t say that he’s hitting on me, but my gut is screaming that he is wanting more from me than just a friendship. A month ago, I happened to run into him and his wife and kids while out which resulted in an awkward short conversation.

    Since then, he has been subtly pushing friendship on me (we apparently live in the same neighborhood- ugh). I’ve been trying to find a diplomatic way to say no fucking way, since I really like this group and I don’t need to be branded as the Jezebel of the board game group when I am not an active participant in reciprocating his interest. However, I have no hard evidence to show that he’s acting inappropriately either, and it’s possible that he is worse at reading/giving off social cues than I think he is, but… I dunno. It’s just weird and feels off to me.

    So, long story short, thanks LW for asking this, as I also lean towards “fuck off” but that isn’t a good strategy when I want to stay engaged in the activities of the larger group.

    1. Sounds very uncomfortable!

      Would this work? Maybe next time he’s getting too close to you physically at a group session, say, politely but so the others can hear, ‘Dude, no offense, but I like my personal space out to here.’ (Indictate arm’s length.) ‘Would you mind backing it up a bit?’

      That would make it clear to the rest of the group that any Jezebelling is coming from him, not you, and that you actually don’t want his attentions. It would also make it clear to him that you don’t want him in your space – and that if he pushes harder, you’re prepared to embarrass him about it.

      If he is just clueless, well, you’ll have given him neutral, non-blaming information. The group can’t say you made a false accusation if you focus on what he did rather than what he might intend. But since your instincts are saying ‘creepy’ he’s probably doing it on purpose, so a polite but public ‘stand back’ request could be a useful way of firing a warning shot.

        1. Much better advice than what my first, and thus not necessarily wise, impulse would suggest, i.e., Ask the group for advice on the situation “for a friend.” (Told you it was bad advice.) “My friend is in a yoga group and has made good friends there, but there is a married man using the yoga meetings as a pretext to flirt with her, and it is making her extremely uncomfortable. He is deliberately ignoring her polite expressions of disinterest, and it is ruining yoga class for her. She knows that if she confronts him directly that he will pretend that he was not actually being inappropriate. He would possibly even gaslight her into doubting her own perceptions by saying something cruel, as if she is too unattractive to imagine herself worthy of being sexually harassed, so she’s imagining things and being stuck-up. It is sucky behavior from someone who alleges to be her yoga buddy, and her obvious lack of interest hasn’t worked to get this guy to back off and leave her alone. What would you folks do if someone was deliberately ignoring your lack of interest in them and making your yoga class uncomfortable?”

          1. If possible, I’d speak to the instructor. If necessary there can always be the insinuation that if something isn’t done, you’ll be taking your business elsewhere and recommending that others do the same.

          2. I might actually take it to a group member or two, and say, “This is the vibe I’m getting, and I don’t like it–would you watch over the next several meetings and see what you get? And can you help me figure out how to get him to back off?”

            There’s also the “helpful” approach: “Joe, I don’t know if you realize it, but when you stand that close and use that one of voice, it comes across really flirt, and that’s really uncomfortable. I’m sure you don’t want me to think you’re on the verge of making a pass at me, so maybe you should stop.”

    2. Mountainshadows29, if you are a woman or other person read as female you can always acquire an imaginary jealous boyfriend. This is a survival tactic in a world where a woman’s word is not respected, but that of a man who claims her is. Creepy married dude is not entitled to the truth, IMO.

      1. Creepy married dude is not entitled to anything, no. While I might consider using this strategy in a true life-or-death situation, I would not choose it otherwise, as I’m not comfortable using the tools of misogyny to get my needs met. I feel that it only encourages compliance out of respect for a man (in this case, an imaginary one) and his property (moi). For me, participating in such a game feels much more icky than whether some dude respects my word. I honestly don’t care if he respects it, provided he complies. And I am not above publicly embarrassing him should he continue to push my boundaries once I have rebuffed him with a firm (yet polite) unambiguous NO.

        This approach has always worked for me, and it’s rare that I feel it necessary to embarrass someone in public. Perhaps it’s because I never absorbed that female pressure to put the feelings of others ahead of my own welfare and “make nice” when declining advances. So I don’t give off that vibe of ambiguity that can be perceived as an implied permission to keep pushing my boundaries in an attempt to test my resistance. Men have always accepted my firm NO first time around. Either they are subconsciously picking up on this vibe, have low tolerance for public embarrassment, or believe it’s just not worth the hassle to risk a scene with a woman who was named after a Dark Ages warlord. Whatever it is, I don’t much care as long as they behave and don’t piss me off.

        1. Thanks for sharing your experience with me. I have bought into the false message, spread by the media (I’m looking at you, crime drama shows!), that women who assert themselves are always punished, sometimes with rape and murder, for daring to confront a man and “forgetting her place.” I have a long history of being “nice” because I have believed this lie. Now I am learning to assert myself.

    3. If your gut says something is going on, something is going on.
      Predators gradually test boundaries, reading the responses (or non-responses) to find their targets. By the time you’ve got obvious “hard evidence,” you’re already standing in a pool of slime. The evidence is not a single obvious action, but the series of small behaviors that add up to your gut screaming that his behavior is inappropriate.
      And “inappropriate” is defined by *you.* If his behavior is creeping you out, his behavior is by definition inappropriate. No one else gets to vote on what he’s allowed to do to you.

      Ice and Indigo’s suggestion is excellent.
      If you do that, and later he whines that you “let so-and-so in your personal space,” just say “yep.” His whining about your personal space is why he’s not allowed in your personal space.

  19. Congratulations on your sobriety!

    In groups I’ve been in, we only give our contact information if we want to be called by anyone in the group. We can still share contact information with individuals, with the understanding that the information isn’t shared without permission.

    Also, you could get a Google Voice number for free. You can set it up to email you transcripts of voice messages so you can ignore or block people you don’t want calling you. It can be accessed on your phone and from your computer.

    On my android phone I can receive and make regular cell phone calls AND use Google Hangouts (free app) to use the Google Voice number So I have two phone numbers on the same phone. (Just be aware that if you have a cell signal it will use your phone minutes. If you don’t have a cell signal, but you can get wi-fi, then it uses the internet for the Google Voice calls.)

    1. You do have to be sure to remember to only use the Google Voice app when you are MAKING a call that you want to link to that Google Voice number; don’t accidentally make a regular phone call using your cell.

  20. Just wanted to say congrats to the LW for sobriety and an additional congrats for resisting the temptation to say “fuck you”, not because the other party “deserves” it but because you deserve a place where you can work on yourself without having to dodge people.

    P.s. It really sucks you have to be the smart one but good on you for being smart 🙂

  21. Just wondering if maybe even if you don’t have a sponsor yet (I know for my sister it took her a number of months before she felt comfortable about that or found the right person) it might help to go and chat to some of the other women in the group? Even if you didn’t want to talk to them about the 13th stepping, you could always just make small talk with another woman while you’re leaving the building to give yourself a bit of a buffer. Pretty sure if they’ve been in the program longer they will know what that’s about and not mind.

    And I know some of the advice has been to lean towards women’s groups, but obviously that’s not always possible and sometimes you will need to go to just whatever meeting is on that day. If you go and someone creeps on you, it is totally not your fault for daring to go to a co-ed meeting. Your recovery comes first so don’t let these jerks cut you off from your resources. Well done and all the best!

  22. Congratulations on your sobriety, LW! Kudos for keeping your recovery at the top of your list of priorities, and working proactively to head off any distractions or annoyances that might interfere with that. Good job!

  23. As a longtime sober person myself, it was hugely helpful for me to enjoy platonic friendships in a new way in early sobriety–so keep how long the other person has in mind when you’re assessing whether they’re trying to hit on you. I agree with the Captain that “no, thanks not interested” is a good response at all times. But also, when you’re ready, you might really enjoy sober dances, especially with a group of same-sex friends. Don’t worry that it’s always going to feel predatory or invasive to be invited to things by people you aren’t interested in (or aren’t ready to think of in a dating way). Talk to your sponsor, talk to same-sex members of your home group who’ve got some time, whenever you’re not sure. Creepers are everywhere, in and out of AA, but there are also great friendships and, IF you want, potential for great partners once everyone has their shiz together.

  24. Congrats on your sobriety. My husband has been sober for 33 years and feels that it is a daily struggle. Hang in there and develop friendships outside of AA. Finding a sponsor gives you a person who can help you cope with whatever problems you encounter including 13th stepping.

  25. 1) Trust your instincts. 2) I felt awkward in every social interaction – 13th step or not – for well over a year after I got sober. 3) Talk to other women about this, even if you don’t have a sponsor yet. 3) I love my sponsor. 4) Try out different meetings; figure out which ones you feel safest at; prioritize those meetings. 5) LGBTQ meetings are my favorite (but partly that’s because I’m queer myself).

    If you’re more comfortable speaking program-speak, feel free to just quote or paraphrase Living Sober (a very practical book, I found): “I’m trying to avoid emotional entanglements for at least my first year of sobriety.”

    I will say this: I think someone tried to 13th step me early in sobriety. We’re in the same field (law), so I gave him my number. He eventually got the message and backed off but I will say this: about 9 months into sobriety, I had a freak out where I thought I’d accidentally consumed some alcohol in an appetizer at a friends’ wedding. Everyone around me was drinking and I was away from home. I called every AA number in my phone, including my sponsor. The only person who answered was the person who had previously tried to 13th Step me. I’m not saying to be overly-trusting, but I am grateful I had that fellow’s number in my phone — regardless of what his initial intentions were. I might not be sober today if he hadn’t answered.

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