I’m a single straight cis woman. Some time ago I joined a new hobby group, and it’s been great! There are lots of men in the hobby group and a number of them have asked me out on dates. This isn’t the problem – I appreciate people who take the chance to ask me out outright and I am good at turning them down politely but firmly when I’m not interested.
My problem is with the people who clearly appear to be romantically interested in me, but instead of asking me on a date they just kind of weirdly hover around me. For example, they might suddenly take an interest in all of my Facebook posts, even when they have nothing to do with our shared hobby. Or they might just keep starting chats with me online. They might also try to engineer hangouts that are very clearly stealth dates, or they might focus all of their attention on me even when there’s a whole group of us and we are all doing the hobby together. I find this very off-putting but I don’t know how to address it. Since nothing is explicitly being said I feel somewhat paralyzed in these situations and tend to just act friendly but also kind of evasive in hopes that they will get the hint, but this doesn’t always work. Is there a more effective way I can deal with this?
The wonderful Commander Logic answered a similar question with advice that still stands:
1 – Only acknowledge and act on what is actually said out loud.
2 – Let go. You are not responsible for other people’s emotions.
To implement this, what I want you to do is to use your own comfort/discomfort as your guide for when it’s okay to get less friendly and more evasive. When you are uncomfortable with someone hovering over you, respect that discomfort, and pull away from the interaction. Do not get too caught up in analyzing the other person’s intentions or feeling like you have to be fair or give them the benefit of the doubt.
If you don’t want to chat with someone online, ignore their chats. Just fucking ignore them all the livelong day. Block them on the chat interface if you want to. Did they intend to seduce/annoy you? Who knows? Do you want to chat with this dude y/n? If n, then, don’t chat. Will it hurt their feelings/bug them? Probably. Is that your problem? It is not!
If someone is hovering weirdly over all your Facebook posts (WE SEE YOU WHEN YOU DO THIS) but you want to ostensibly stay “friends” because of hobby-related things, deploy your privacy settings so that they can’t see anything else you post. Will they notice? You bet. Are their feelings about that your problem? Nope.
If someone is hovering over you weirdly at a group activity, ask them why or ask them to stop. “Hey, is there a reason you’re so focused on me & my work?” “Hey, you’re kind of hovering, I don’t like it.” “A little space, please.” “I’ve got this, please go work on your own stuff.” Will it be awkward? Yes. It is already awkward for you, so, return some of that awkwardness to sender.
If someone tries to arrange a stealth date (which I’m interpreting as “They set up a hangout in a way that led you to believe a group would be getting together but you show up it’s just the two of you”) a) THAT IS CREEPY and it is okay to be alarmed and b) It’s okay to say “Whoa, where is everyone else?” or “I thought this was going to be a group thing” and then leave. It’s okay to say why, too. “I was looking forward to a group hang but now that it feels like a date I’m not here for it.” Like, don’t reward the behavior by awkwardly suffering through a one-on-one evening. Make it so awkward that this dude never attempts the stealth date again!
If you push back, prepare yourself for denial and anger and attempts to gaslight you that what they were clearly doing is not what they were actually doing. That’s the edge of fear behind this question and questions like this: If a woman stops being nice & accommodating to men for a minute, what will they do? It sucks that we have to make this calculus at all. It helps…a little bit…to anticipate their reactions and think of ways to respond ahead of time, so you’re not caught off-guard. By, “it helps” I mean, “It helps you possibly defuse the situation while also making it clear that you are not down for whatever they are doing.”
Them: “What, did you think I was hitting on you?” (Yup!)
You: “Well, it came across that way. I’m so relieved to know that wasn’t the case! Let’s get back to [hobby hobby hobby hobby talk only].”
Them: “I wasn’t hovering, I was just trying to help.”
You: “Okay, good to know! I’ve got it, though, so, please go work on your own thing!”
Them: “Why don’t you reply to any of my messages?”
You: “I don’t use Facebook that way. I’ll see you at [group hobby thing] though!”
Them: “What, did you think this was supposed to be a date?”
You: “Well, I’d assume that if you wanted a date you’d just ask me straight out. Still, since nobody else would come, I’d rather just go home and do this on a night when we can hang with the whole group!”
Them: “But I wasn’t hitting on you, I just want to be friends!”
You: “Well, that’s good to know! Sometimes it’s hard to tell what someone’s motives are. I’ll see you at [Group Thing], okay?” Friendship, or “friendship,” isn’t an automatic thing. It takes time and for people to actually have stuff in common and for them to mutually want to hang out.
If any of these dudes escalate or seem like they are going to take it out on you, talk to the group’s organizers. “X has been kind of hovering over me here at hobby group. I’ve told him I’m not interested in solo hangouts and asked him to give me space, but he won’t back off. Can someone in the group talk with him?” Note: If you run groups like this, it’s part of your job to make sure that everyone can enjoy themselves free of harassment. Also, just because Velcro Victor doesn’t try to cling on you, it doesn’t mean he’s not doing it to the new, single, female members of the group.
In closing, these guys are gonna do what they’re gonna do. You can’t magically head it off before it starts (would that we had a magic spell for that) but you can decide how much you engage with it. You’ve been socialized to take care of their feelings and keep engaging with them in a friendly way – even when you don’t really want to – in the hopes that they will calm it down or that you were imagining it all along. What if you removed that responsibility from yourself?