#1095: “The Exhausting Gauntlet of Dudes Who Won’t Stop Hitting On Me”

Dear wonderful Captain,

I’m coming to you with a question you’ve answered several versions of before, but not quite for my exact circumstances. So I beg your indulgence.

I’m a mid-thirties woman, and my problem is that men hit on me. All the time. And I’d like to change my behavior, if doing so is reasonable, in order to make that happen less.

My looks are thoroughly average. What I have going for me, though, is charm – or charisma – or magnetism – or whatever you call it. I’m confident and funny and I listen well and I’m truly interested in other people. I get along easy with just about everyone. Illustrative incident: a great new cafe opened up near work, and I have been there every day this past week meeting various people (a friend, a first date, a volunteer coordinator, my writer’s group). On Friday, the barista came up to my table and said she’d really like to get to know me because she loved the interesting conversations I had with so many people, and she doesn’t even care that that sounds creepy. We laughed our heads off. We exchanged numbers. It was fun.

It’s not so great when many men I know either hit on me or end up developing feelings for me, and I keep having to do the rejection dances and often losing people I like and/or need. I was shielded from this for a long time because I was married. But I’ve recently gotten divorced, and this THING just keeps on happening.

When it’s a stranger or a low-key interaction of some kind, it’s easy for me to smile and say “That’s really nice, thank you, but no,” and keep going.

But sometimes it’s inconvenient. Like, my contractor, who is fully 25 years older than I am, says flirty things all the time and texts me that we should run away to an island together. IDK how to get him to back off without risking losing this thing rarer than unicorns – a good, affordable contractor.

Sometimes it makes me angry, like when a coworker asked me out, and after I politely said no, claimed he hadn’t been asking me out in “that way” at all, and then stopped talking to me, which makes me peevish because what the hell. What if it had been someone I actually need to work with?

Sometimes it’s genuinely uncomfortable. A casual friend who happened to go through a divorce at the same time as me tried really hard to get with me just because it was happening to us at the same time. I told him no, and he didn’t back off, so I had to stop talking to him.

Sometimes it’s just SAD. A beloved friend whom I only know online through my writer’s group confessed today that he’s caught feelings, “I’m a little bit in love with you.” This is actually what’s making me write to you. I hate this shit, Captain. What the fuck even. This guy is sweet and kind and as two people who are working on memoirs, we know some deep shit about each other. This guy is sound, so I know I won’t lose his friendship just because I say no. But it’s different now. I can’t share my writing with him anymore, not least because I’m writing about dating these days, and obviously it would be unkind to him to have to read that.

I’m just so sad today. And I think I’ve been sad about this for a long time, just never acknowledged it because as long as I could “deal”, I could not justify feeling bad about it to my feminist conscience.

But now I won’t deny it. This makes me sad, and upset, and I want to change this pattern if I can. What can I do to stop sending out these vibes, Captain?

There are wrinkle to this story:

1. I grew up with extremely repressive and abusive parents who hated it if I ever had friends and disowned me when I told them I had a crush on a boy. Not kidding. I was 18. A few years after that I married a man who was verbally and emotionally abusive, just always angry with me for whatever reason, punishing me with endless silences or yelling etc. For 30-something years of my life, I lived with people who have disliked me. I’m sure that messed with my head. It feels weird, weird, weird to realize people like the real me. Therapy helps, but it’s still a process.

2. While I always did have SOME friends through both childhood and marriage, I had much fewer chances to socialize. I feel like since my separation two years ago, I’ve finally come into my own. I can finally be myself without my mother calling me a slut or my asocial ex accusing me of being “fake” friendly.

3. I’ve had this problem with unwanted male attention since I was 11 years old. As a child I was blamed for it. IDK why I share this, except to say I’ve always had this issue, and I think I have felt bad about it for a very long time.

Anyway. That’s my super long question. As a good and faithful Captain Awkward reader for years, and also by dint of being a mouthy bitch from the day I learned to speak, I don’t believe I have boundary issues. What I have are maybe personality issues? Or something?

I just… I don’t know anymore. Can you help me?

– The Woman With The Problem Most People Wish They Had

Hi there! This all sounds so exhausting!

What if I told you that you’re not doing anything wrong and that none of this is your fault?

What if I told you that most of my divorced friends have stories of The Year Almost Every Dude I Know Suggested That We Bone and you’re not alone in this?

What if I told you that these dudes are responsible for their own feelings and the consequences of them? Like, you’re thinking “What if saying no ruins my relationship with my great contractor” but your contractor should be thinking “Oh shit, what if perving on my client ruins this business relationship with a great person who pays on time and who can recommend me for other work.”

The dude in your writing group should be the one thinking “Oh shit, I’ve ruined this and now I maybe have to find a new writing group if hearing these stories makes me sad.” You should not have to censor your writing about your own life (the whole reason you’re there) to spare his feelings. In fact, I beg you not to do that. Let. Him. Be. Sad.

The blame and socialization you received from childhood is backed up by our sexist culture – as in, a non-zero number of these men would probably readily agree that it’s a little bit your fault they like you that way and it’s a lot your job to make them feel better about it, and that sucks, but that still doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or that they’re right about any of this! Since you have a therapist (great!), maybe work on detaching from these guys and their feelings and find a way to practice reminding yourself that it’s not your work to soothe them or to make yourself smaller (SERIOUSLY, THAT’S YOUR WRITING, YOU GET TO KEEP DOING YOUR WRITING) in order to soothe them.

The sad also-divorced friend and the work person seem to be closed situations – as in, you shut it down and they chose to behave badly (that’s an important word, chose – they chose how to react to you saying no or setting a boundary), so let’s deal with the ongoing/unfolding stuff.

The contractor thing is a little scary (he has access to your house, and if he sulks, he can damage your house, or worse) and I understand wanting to tread carefully because there is actual risk to you in pissing him off. As a former 16-year-old diner waitress with a lot of charisma and a big mouth who needed to thread the needle of keeping customers happy and not lose my job while also not wanting to put up with constant bullshit, here are some strategies that I’ve had luck with when faced with the North American Jocular-But-Creepy Old Man:

Step 1 for all of these: Research other contractors. You’ll have more power if you have a backup plan. You don’t want to have to fire him, but you absolutely can, and you should remind yourself of that.

Strategy A) Keep the tone joking (at least at first) and joke back about how icky/inappropriate the offer is.

  • “Aw, that’s a kind offer, but you’re way too old for me!”
  • “Run away with you? Are you telling me I’m not going to like my house when you’re done working on it?” 
  • “Hard no, Carl, but my dad knows some single ladies at his church who might be more in your age group!” 

I also used to invoke my dad as much as possible. “Do you like my new shirt?” “Yeah, cool, my dad has the same one.” “When am I going to take you waltzing?” “Aw, my dad goes to ballroom dancing classes with my mom, it’s the cutest. I love when old people cut a rug!” 

It’s okay to be blunt/mean in the words as long as you keep the tone light. His strategy is “Haha I’m only joking I’m not creeping on you!” and your answering strategy can be “Oh, yeah, this is a funny joke, let’s make it at your expense instead!” In my experience this goes one of two ways:

  • Geezer is DELIGHTED by the jokes, and starts treating me like One Of The Guys. A dubious honor, to be sure, but one with way less staring at my chest.
  • Suddenly jokes of any kind are not fun anymore, Geezer sticks to the topic at hand while making the most hilarious old man pout.

Strategy B) Just ask him to stop.

  • “Aw, Carl, I know you mean to be nice with the jokes about running away, but it kinda stresses me out – can we stick to the work?” 
  • “Aw, Carl, I know you mean that as a joke, but it’s inappropriate.” 

If he’s a pro who’s been doing this a long time he’ll most likely say “Aw, sorry, I was only joking” and then he’ll act like a professional. You are not the first female client he’s ever had, the first charismatic female client he’s ever had, and he actually knows better than to treat clients like this. If he gives you the classic angry “I WAS ONLY JOKING, JEEZ, CAN’T YOU TAKE A JOKE, DID YOU THINK I WAS REALLY HITTING ON YOU?” response you can say “Of course, I know you were joking! That’s why I wanted to let you know it bothered me. You’re an awesome contractor and I don’t want a few jokes to get in the way of the great work you’re doing.” 

Strategy C) This is a temporary situation, right? So temporarily studiously ignore every communication that isn’t about the work: “I have no idea how to respond to that. How is the drywall looking?” 

Only respond when it’s a legitimate work issue. The risk here is that the person will escalate if you don’t tell them to stop the weird behavior (“But you never said anything, I thought you liked it”) but you can always say “I had no idea what to say to that, I figured you were joking so I just tried to talk about the work.” 

Strategy D) Change up the medium. Right now he’s texting you. What if a text from him about flirting got totally ignored, and a text from him about a legitimate question got a phone call or email back instead? Break up the perceived informality and immediacy of texting.

Strategy E) Invoke witnesses.

Sometimes these dudes back off if they think there are witnesses to the behavior (the equivalent of young-waitress-me saying “Keep that up and I’ll tell Denise-The-Mean-Bartender you’re trying to cheat on her with me!”) as in, “Hilarious, Carl, I showed your last text to my Grandma and she says she’s willing! But seriously, how about that tile order?” 

I once had a creepy freelance client who was overly familiar in his emails and chat communications, so I invented a fake assistant & made a Gmail address for her and started CC-ing her on my responses to him – “Oh hey, Carl, I’m copying my colleague Carrie so that she can get to work on that research for you.” Once he thought someone else was reading his 11:30 pm suggestions about how if I was still awake we could “meet up for a drink and talk about work…or other topics…” he STFU. I finished his project as fast as I humanly could and then turned down all future work.

To be absolutely clear, you shouldn’t have to soothe the feelings of an adult professional man who is being inappropriate, especially one you are paying for a service, but sometimes I think that it’s strategically valuable to find a way to let the guy save face if you still need work out of him. You can save your real feelings for the Yelp review you’ll write later. “Affordable & reliable, though if you’re a woman watch out for the barrage of creepy dad jokes.” 

As for Writer’s Group Buddy, maybe try this:

“I really wish you hadn’t said that. It’s important to me to be able to share personal writing here without having to think about anything but the writing.” 

And then what if you kept going exactly as you have been, and if he brings up anything about feelings again you say “This working space and the professional trust we have in each other is very important to me, and I need to keep it professional.” 

This is also a situation where the rest of the group (or the idea or threat of them) can help – as in, stop exchanging private communications with him. It doesn’t mean sharing what he said with the group (unless he escalates or gets mean or even more inappropriate, in which case I think it’s okay to share what’s happening to you), but it might mean communicating only in forums that are visible to everyone and not responding to private communications from him.

And if he doesn’t like it, HE can go find a new writing community.

Overall, the steps seem to be:

  1. Be your awesome friendly self and enjoy this renaissance of making friends and meeting new people without the millstone of your marriage and your mean parents hanging around your neck.
  2. If someone catches feelings and you don’t return them, say what you feel – “Thanks, but no!” 
  3. Let the dude be sad if he wants to. It’s not your problem! You’re not doing anything to cause the attention, you have no obligations here.
  4. When he pressures you to do something about his sadness, say some version of “That’s not my problem.”
  5. If you lose a friend in the process, remind yourself that the person is making a choice about how to treat you and how to interact with you. If someone who was formerly kind to you gets mean when you say no to romance or sex, they are telling you that they are willing to be mean to you when they don’t get what they want from you. That sucks, but it’s not your fault!
  6. Keep awesome-ing.



412 thoughts on “#1095: “The Exhausting Gauntlet of Dudes Who Won’t Stop Hitting On Me”

  1. It sounds so exhausting to be a woman that dates men! When I became newly single at 30 a bunch of men started hitting on me – fortunately my ‘I only date women now’ line seemed to work like some kind of magic. It avoided all the hurt feelings and I manged to keep the guys I wanted in my friendship groups. It seems like being rejected because they weren’t the right gender was somehow easier for them.
    I agree with the captain, while you get the crappy impact in many cases, there isn’t a lot you can do to stop this happening and you aren’t responsible for their feelings or behaviour. It sucks, but they have to be grown ass people and handle that themselves.

    1. This is why any time I become single, I’m very selective with who I tell, especially right after the breakup. I only tell dude friends who I’m 95% sure won’t immediately go “oh gee that sucks, hey wanna [get drinks/hang out/grab dinner/catch a movie] sometime?” (wherein we weren’t doing that stuff as friends before the breakup). Everyone else finds out on an as-needed basis, ideally after I’ve recovered. Guys who try to take advantage of women when they’re vulnerable are gross.

      1. one time after i disclosed a breakup, i had a much older coworker pull me aside and offer to set me up with his friends. no idea if the friends he had in mind were his age or mine. but STILL. i’d been single for less than a week. and i didn’t want to be mixing up my love life with my work people. UGH.

        1. Someone tried to set my friend up with a guy once. They lured her in with, “He’s training to be in the ministry,” which interested her.

          But then they said, “But – there’s this one thing. He’s a convicted pedophile.”

          My friend was stunned into silence.

          They continued, “But he’s praying really hard about it!”

          Not sure if he ever got hired by any congregation. I hope not.

          1. Wow. I had a friend try to set me up with a guy he knew through work. He’d been fired for watching porn.

          2. WOW. At least they told her? Sometimes you hear about things like this where they don’t tell the sacrificial woman and hope she’ll ‘save’ him from his urges while god saves his soul

          3. I wish I had video of my progression of jaw drops while reading this.

          4. Oh my gosh I had an now-ex friend try to set me up with her weird husbands weirder friend and they told me he thought most women were whores but he only had sex with prostitutes. Bc he was really shy. But he really liked me they said. And the kicker when I said no to the setup they argued and got mad and said I was judge mental. Part of the reason she is an ex friend.

        1. A friend of mine had a male friend try to seduce her a week after her partner had DIED. A WEEK. We hadn’t even had the funeral yet. Whatever goes on in these guys’ heads, I don’t want to know about it.

          1. It does not surprise me that someone would go to those depths. A similar thing happened to blogger Freckled Fox. Her husband passed away and a creep from her past turned up on her doorstep in an indecently short time after she was widowed and insinuated himself into her house and family – he just had to hand deliver a letter he’d written her because he ‘didn’t have a stamp’. Ok. Quiz time – Travel across states or buy a stamp, which is easiest?

            They married less than 90 days after her late husband died and New Husband has since managed to shoot her in the leg (while her kids were in the home) and the family dog died of dehydratrion under his care. He is a Darth Vader… but what else would you expect of someone who swoops in to a dead man’s life the minute he draws his last breath?

          2. It isn’t just men who do this, BTW. Widowers are sometimes pursued with indecent haste. I knew one man – he was in his late 60s but very handsome – and the women in his area started putting the moves on him almost immediately after his wife died. Like, they’d bring food by “just to be neighborly,” and they’d keep on bringing the food by, but you know, they didn’t do that with other people who’d lost someone – just this one quite handsome and now single man. It was pathetic.

        2. I had a male ‘friend’ who decided to grab some food with me after a big group outing (a not unusual and 100% platonic activity we all occasionally did, with whomever was hungry). I’d just been gently broken up with by Best Boyfriend Ever and was super sad but maintaining my poise. Ex-BF and I were working out how to go back to being just friends and it was going as well as could be expected (and we are now pretty good ‘just friends’ who keep a healthy distance but enjoy chit-chatting publicly on social media on occasion).

          ANYWAY! Just because my ex was really kind about things not working out, and I am not a particularly overtly emotional personality type, that didn’t mean I wasn’t really, really sad. Male ‘friend’ proceeded to pick at the wound for a good hour and a half until I got worn down with trying to change the subject. I was visibly sad and emotional to the point where the server asked if I was OK…and then he hit on me. Added complication: He had a huge crush on my roommate, who pretty much loathed him already. Neither of us had ever shown (or had) any interest in each other. It was gross and inappropriate. I was pissed off.

          Never spent another minute one-on-one with him after that, and began a low contact to zero contact phase-out.

        3. My friend had a male friend ask her out in the facebook post where she was talking about how her ex just dumped her. Literally in the comments he was like “Oh that sucks but hey do you want to get dinner sometime???”

          1. My friend lost her dad to cancer and one of her mom’s colleagues confessed his long-held love for her…4 days after the funeral.

          2. A friend of mine had a “friend” come up to her in a store and try to sexually assault her days after her husband died unexpectedly. She put him in the hospital but still has PTSD about it.

          3. One of my friends had a mother who passed away both suddenly and unexpectedly and her dad met his second wife at the funeral where, I quote, “love blossomed.”

    2. I confess, this is a large part of why I identified as a capital-L Lesbian during my ‘questioning’ period. (That, and my last nearly-a-relationship with a guy ended in such a way that I was convinced I was no longer attracted to dudely folk at all.) It felt so good to be free of all of those exhausting games played between men-who-date-women and women-who-date-men!

      …and then I met a guy.

  2. As a mid-20s woman, I have experienced too many men asking me out/hitting on me/being unwantedly sexual with me who were at least my fathers age (he is now almost 70.) I was personally squicked by this and perhaps it was because it was never reciprocated or wanted, but more often than not, when I tell people this reaction, they tell me I’m being ageist! That older people can date younger people (which I agree! It can happen just fine!) but then I’m made to feel like I *should* give these older men a chance because, well, I definitely don’t want to be ageist! But I also don’t want to date someone my father’s age. Anyone else experience this rebuttal?

    Anyways, OP, you’re certainly not alone and I hope Captain’s scripts help!!

    1. People can fall in love across age differences, but if you don’t want to then the fact that other people do literally has nothing to do with you.

      If someone says “You’re discriminating against these old guys by not dating them!” you can say “Yep! Take it to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, I guess!”

      1. Equal Opportunity Dating Commission–things we hope never exist.

        One of the great things about going to a STEM focused college is that very little of the nerdy student body has the self confidence (or mental bandwidth) to try for dates. In five years I’ve only had one classmate put the (unwanted) (hella skeevy) moves on me.

        1. That would make a great dystopian short story, though. The Equal Opportunity Dating Comission, charged with making sure that whiny dudes get their share. (The problem is, if I actually wrote it, the type of guy it was aimed at would completely miss the satire.)

          1. Incels (“involuntarily celibate” = bitter little men who are mad that women refuse to sex them) think the government should enforce equal amounts of sex for them.

          2. The thing is, there are women who will give men sex and attention when the men want it, without requiring any kind of emotional compensation. These women are called sex workers. But somehow, the people who are aggressively pro-capitalism all the rest of the time get really angry when it’s suggested that if you want someone to do something for you, they’ll want something in return.

        2. Or the only thing they know how to do is “neg” you so they try to undermine your work and destroy your self confidence until you’re vulnerable enough either to lower your standards enough to date them (??????) or to make fun of constantly, both of which they seem to get equal enjoyment out of. There was a specific circle of guys in my grad program who were notorious for this, and they always had someone (pretty, young, single) they were picking on.

          1. Ha. I remember how much my mind was blown when I first learned about negging. Being an awkward nerd type myself and prone to a somewhat literal approach to manners, I had always interpreted negging as an indication that the person in question did not like me, and therefore I should leave them alone and not expect to continue interacting with them.

            Occasionally third parties would be like “He likes you” and I would be like “No, he does not.” I still maintain that mine was the correct take.

          2. @bloodygranuaile: Whether they liked you or not, they certainly didn’t value you, and who wants to spend time with somebody like that?!

          3. @bloodygranuaile:

            Occasionally third parties would be like “He likes you” and I would be like “No, he does not.” I still maintain that mine was the correct take.

            I agree 100% – people who actually like you (as a person – I suppose one could argue they like you as an object, the way I like my bicycle) do not try to manipulate you by insulting you. Really, people who actually like you don’t try to manipulate you at all.

        3. Wow, I had the opposite experience — for me, engineering school was one long unmitigated hell of endless dudes pursuing me in various ways.

          Their logic was nearly always that it was terribly, terribly urgent to try for “a chance” with me because they weren’t likely to meet another woman with my combination of traits again in their lifetimes.

          1. My teenage daughter is pursuing decidedly STEM-based activities at school and has several of her
            team mates have put pressure on her to date them because she could be their “only chance” to date a girl with similar interests to theirs! As if she owes them in a scenario that will only benefit them and result in an indifferent, if not disagreeable, experience for her. Every time, she tells them that’s not how it works. EVERY TIME.

          2. The last best chance trope! I’m 42 and have mostly missed out on this particular rite of passage. Except back when I was in my mid 20s, that one guy in my MFA program, who was about 15 years older than me and freshly divorced, told me in a conversation about why he thought we should date (apparently seriously) that women in the region where he’d been offered a pretty sweet gig “only wanted to have babies.” I liked this guy as a writer and human, but didn’t want more than friendship, and said, “I don’t want to date you, sorry. You are going to work at a university. I am sure you will find cute and interesting and available academics and librarians where you are going.” He accepted my “thanks but no” gracefully. And yet when a position I was qualified for opened at that school a few years later, because I worried that applying for it would give him the wrong idea.

          3. I feel like if they thought about it for even a second, they’d realize that they would have more “chances” to date women in STEM fields if they STOPPED TREATING WOMEN IN STEM FIELDS LIKE UNICORNS THAT THEY MUST DATE. Because then women wouldn’t avoid those fields to keep from being treated that way.

          4. Unfortunately, that requires actual perspective taking: a great expectation to have of men who think they’re entitled to women, but an expectation that will be frequently disappointed.

        4. Nelalvai, my university engineering experience was kind of like yours. I never had anyone hit on me, neither wanted or unwanted, in the five years I was there.

          I didn’t appreciate it at the time, though. Since I had never experienced the unwanted/pushy/harassment side of that, all I was really conscious of was that the guys I did like and get along with not only didn’t hit on me, but made distance if I acted even slightly too friendly (even if my friendliness had been intended in a platonic way).

          I just ended up feeling like ‘wow, I’m so incredibly nerdy even the nerdy guys are horrified at the idea of dating me’!

    2. “It’s not your age though, it’s your pompous manner, patronising chatter and gross sexist assumption that you’re owed a chance”

      Usually works for me.

      1. “It’s not your age, it’s your personality” may or may not be a thing I have said in my very early adulthood, very curtly, when enough was enough. I went home with guilty shivers and a lot of regret about being so mean, but looking back now I want to give younger me a cookie and a hug.

    3. Whenever I have been on the receiving end of accusations of ageism when refusing to date somebody more than 5 years older than me, I have one of two tactics:

      1) “Oh, well I’m immature for my age, so it wouldn’t work out anyways!” Said light-heartedly and not self-deprecatingly. When I was in my teens and had dudes in their 20s and 30s try to cuddle up on me, it was always with some variation of “but you’re so ~maaaatuuuuurrrre~ for your age,” it was a quick way to shut that down.

      2) If I know the person decently well, I usually bring up that I am looking for different things than they are. Like yeah, “age is just a number,” but life expectations and desires are a lot more concrete. My mid-20s self was all about ethical casual hook ups where I wouldn’t see a fling more than once a week. A 38 year old looking for commitment and a potential stepmother wasn’t going to find any of that in me.

      I’m sorry it’s happening, and that people are accusing you of behaviors you aren’t actually expressing. It is okay for mid-20s year olds not wanting to date middle aged folks. You’re not abusing any power by not sleeping with people you don’t want to sleep with. Hold on to that. They’re trying to guilt you into something you’re uncomfortable with, and that isn’t okay at all.

      1. This is also super gendered. People rarely think young men need to explain or owe it to older women to date them. I actually will straight up tell people “yup, I prefer to date people close to my own age” and if someone thinks I’m discriminating, well, as discussed in the recent post, dating is the one place where I’m just gonna say “yup, guess I am.”

        also it’s so creepy to try to convince someone to date you by arguing away your objections. Like, if I felt the desire to date you I would regardless of reasons. I clearly don’t, so…

        1. Um, sure if you define discrimination as treating people differently, then yes it’s discrimination! Except in terms of relationships, we call it “being human”. After all, we ALL pick our friends and lovers based on qualitiies we find appealing. To imply that rejecting potential partners for being “too this” or “not enough that” is somehow wrong is ludacris.

        2. +1 to it being gendered. I’m a woman in my 40s and it wouldn’t even occur to me that someone 20 years my junior would or should want to date me, but it seems to be a thing for men across all age groups. Some of them adjust their criteria for “younger woman” upward as they get older (so I now get hit on by 65-year-old men instead of the 45-year-olds who hit on me when I was in college) but some just seem to keep trying their luck with each successive generation of 25-year-olds until they die.

          1. I’m right there with you in terms of being in my 40s with the unwanted attention from 65+ y/o men. The thing that astounds me is the entitlement.

          2. I was doing yard work in my front yard and a guy in his 50s (ish) pulled up and went to a house 2 doors down, knocked a couple times, went to car, back to house, saw me and asked if I knew where Martha was (or whoever he was looking for at that house). I did not. He made some comments about trying to get in touch. Spidey sense said that while this guy might not be a dangerous creeper, but Martha probably had no interest in getting in touch. I made some non committal noises. Then he said, “Hey, would you like to get lunch sometime.” I said, “No thank you” in a chipper voice and thankfully he took this at face value and went back to his car and eventually left.

            Yeah, random dude 20+ years my senior, I totally want to get lunch with you. Nope nope nope.

          3. “but some just seem to keep trying their luck with each successive generation of 25-year-olds until they die.”

            Ew >_<

          4. I’m almost 60, but am almost always taken for about 40. I think I look my age but I guess not. I get loads of attention from 30 something men. Um, no young man. Go take a time out. You are right, it’s very exhausting. I find myself avoiding situations and events that I’d otherwise like to attend. I’ll just go home to my cats and knitting. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          5. Alas, I am 45 and somehow bafflingly attractive to dudes in their 20’s with MILF/cougar fetishes. “Age is just a number and I like older women!” The fact that I see no reason to care about what some random 24 year old likes just does not compute.

          6. @many bells down
            Oh gods, me too! I have had multiple 18-year-olds contact me, on a dating profile that says I want someone to go with me to high-end whiskey bars.

            Baby Dude, you aren’t even old enough to drink with, much less date. And these are the dudes that always try to argue with me when I say no, as if my original HELL NO can be overcome by their brilliant rebuttals (which are along the lines of whyyyy not? I waaaant to!).

            On a separate note, does anyone know why this is a thing? I mean, I genuinely do not understand why any 18-23-year-olds would want to date a 46-year-old grey-haired fat chick (a HOT 46-year-old grey-haired fat chick, but still!). Do they want money? What?

          7. On a separate note, does anyone know why this is a thing?

            Some people, of any gender, are into older partners. The reasons are specific to the person; there are a few categories I can think of off the top of my head: a partner with a more established career/housing/money offers a material advantage, sure; someone with more life experience (more interesting life stories, maybe less likely to buy into toxic social norms than younger people thanks to life experience that prompts one to note how many of our norms are bullshit, something else); more status/power; for younger men looking for older cis women at or past menopause, no desire/pressure to have kids; some people find physical markers of age attractive. Plenty of other reasons.

          8. @Erika I don’t have an explanation for it, but it happens to me too. If they’re cute enough (and old enough to drink with their REAL IDs), I sometimes take them up on it. Those I’ve asked do not have an explanation for why they’re into older women, either, but I’ve never been asked for money or anything like that. My personal experience seems to indicate that they are more able to vocalize what they want with older women than they can with women they’re own age because it’s less scary for them, but that’s me taking a guess, really.

        3. And so often the men who will complain about young women being ageist? REALLY don’t like being told that by their own standards, they’re being ageist for not considering women their own age. Suddenly 18-year-old girls are “just an aesthetic preference”.

          1. Or biological! Some of these older guys who think they are entitled to date much younger women just love to blind us with (pseudo)science. “Men want young fertile women and women want older experienced men blah blah blah.” No, you don’t sound Very Smart and Sciency, you sound like Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, and sounding like Littlefinger is NOT catnip to the ladies.

      2. Omg. I’d be so tempted to offer to set them up with my (non-existent) aunt who is newly widowed and who happens to be right around their age. Bonus points if you then make Auntie a good ten years their senior.

    4. I typically don’t use age as a reason when I reject someone (and wouldn’t necessarily recommend it), but I think it’s implied a lot of the time.

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and estimate that approximately 0% of these guys have dated a woman 20+ years older than them, at any point in their life. They don’t actually think it’s unreasonable for a 25 year old to not want to date a 70 year old.

      They’re just trying to find a way to frame your rejection as being mean or unfair so that they can be the victim. They don’t want to take any responsibility for their feelings. “I’m sad because she’s being prejudice against me” is a more comfortable narrative than “I’m unrealistic in my expectations and got rejected.”

      1. Good point. Might be fun for the writer, next time Way Older Dude hits on her, to ask how things went with his date with an 85-year-old woman. Not putting the 85-year-old woman down; making WOD think how his suggestion of a date looks TO THE WRITER. If she causes him a moment of accidental empathy, all to the good.

        1. ‘It’s different with men because evolutionary pseudo-science/men don’t age/women are more fertile when they’re younger/men naturally prefer women younger than them and women don’t/etc etc etc etc’

          1. Oh. God. This is so spot-on. But even by their own (ridiculous) logic, it still doesn’t even make sense. It justifies why she appeals to them, but doesn’t explain at all why they should appeal to her.

            If men are trying to find the most fertile mate, then women are also trying to make the most advantageous match. Why would a young woman squander her “most valuable” years on a guy who isn’t rich and who has aging sperm? Even by their own logic, they don’t stand a chance.

          2. I have a particular loathing for that form of pseudoscience. No! You don’t sound Smart and Educated! You sound like a tool! Go away! There’s just no end to the self-justification.

          3. Even if all of that were 100% true, it doesn’t make the men less ageist for acting on it 🙂

          4. And it’s not even true that men are really more fertile for much longer than women! They can still shoot out sperm, a lot of them, but the sperm doesn’t stay particularly healthy on average, past a certain age. Older fathers can result in chromosonal problems and learning difficulties.

            Not that those are a bad thing, or that such a child wouldn’t be loved and appreciated and desired – but it’s just a giant crock of shit that men don’t have their *own* biological clock to consider, *if* they want kids. If they don’t want kids, who cares about body clocks??

            And maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I sincerely doubt any 60 year old actually realistically wants a baby.

          5. And when you think about older men having babies: there’s a lot more expected of fathers than there was 30 or 40 years ago. Dad is expected to pitch in with walking the floor with a crying baby and chasing after an active toddler and dealing with a teenager at the same time one is looking at retirement. Having one’s own kid is a whole different ball of wax than having a grandkid you can spoil for an afternoon and hand back to the parents for the grunt work.

    5. I have a very similar problem. I’m 35 right now, most people tell me I look mid-20s, and the dudes who hit on me are all either under 22 or over 55. I’ve got a coworker who’s married to a significantly older man, although not as much older as the older dudes who hit on me, and she is very judgey about my refusal to give them a chance (while not having actually met or seen any of them).

      Meanwhile, the few single dudes my age in my small college town are all obnoxiously hitting on my 10-ish-years-younger friends online. Since I’m not generally out as bi I’m not dating women or people of other genders, and that’s why I’m still single five and a half years after the divorce.

      1. Ohhhh, the age disparity in men hitting on you thing. When I was in my late 20s (only a few years ago), I joked that the only men that approached me were either so young they’d have no idea what to do with me or so old they were looking for somebody to care for them during retirement. The guys my age were nowhere to be found. So now I’m early 30s and single and still struggling to find men close to my age.

        1. I got around this by asking men out instead of waiting. They were usually so shocked by the ask that they said yes, and I got at least one ‘get to know you’ date, with either of us being ok to ask about another one.

          1. I’d guess for many it’s not becasue they’re so shocked they won’t say no, it’s that the overwhelming majority of men have no objection to being asked out in the first place. I’m not sure why this idea that women shouldn’t ask men out (and the refusal of the strong majority of women to ever do so as a result) persists. It’s a great dating strategy for women: men who object are telling one that they believe in sexist gender roles to such an extent that a woman exercising agency bothers them, so one probably doesn’t want to be dating them anyway, and it increases the likelihood of actually dating the less sexist men to whom one is attracted by actively raising the possibility instead of waiting for the man to ask, which he may or may not do (and he may not even if he would be interested becasue he assumes one would say no or misinterprets some kind of social signal as disinterest).

      2. Is your coworker being pressured by her husband’s friends to introduce them to her friends? That’s a thing with males of all age groups. “You got a Woman she got friends, hey smooth the path Bro!”
        Men think everyone owes it to them to help them get sex. Not all men. Not all the time. But it’s a big and constant concern for single males.

        1. I mean, she and I aren’t even friends, and also she hasn’t ever introduced me to anyone.

          1. Sounds like she feels that your disinterest in older men is somehow a referendum on *her* marriage.

            If she starts being judgey again, maybe say something like “I’m glad you found someone who worked for you, and I’m looking for someone who fits MY dating criteria.”

          2. @ashbet – I think you’re dead on. Pretty sure it cropped up pretty recently in the comments here, when people were discussing how gross it is when older men specifically target (much) younger women, and we had some “but my husband is 10/20/30+ years older than me and it’s not gross!” comments show up.

            Age gap relationships are not inherently gross, or bad, or wrong, but there usually is at least a little bit of a power differential to be aware of, and they aren’t for everyone. And when a man is consistently and only pursuing women who are significantly younger than him, I will absolutely reserve the right to side-eye the fuck out of him.

      3. I’m only 31 but also look younger. My go-to for being hit on by dudes that think I am way younger is “I voted for Kerry.” Or occasionally a genuinely curious, “How old do you think I am?”

    6. a) The old men are the ones being ageist, almost certainly, by overlooking all the women at or close to their age and focusing on the 20-somethings.

      (My guess is, if you think about the origins of your squick response, it’s less “these old men are inherently disgusting as human beings” and more “I find their fixation on women so much younger morally reprehensible.”)

      b) There’s nothing ageist about wanting to be with someone who shares cultural references and a life stage that can become a platform later for building a mutually satisfying life together.

      c) Yes, people can overcome these kinds of age differences, but only if they actually want to (and you don’t), and statistically speaking a 10+ year age difference increases the odds of divorce enormously.

      d) Your life and your body are not a democracy. You’re under no obligation to equitably and with full reflection on human worth and inherent rights evenly distribute your spoils amongst the population based on metrics of deservingness. You’re a person operating with personal preferences to build a life for yourself that you want to live.

      e) Anyone who tells you it’s ageist not to want to date someone 3x your age is not your friend.

      I’ve been on both sides of this–pursued by men much older than I am, and pursued by men much younger than I am. Like 20+ year age differences in either direction. And I’ve also been married to someone 10 years old than I am, and what I learned in that relationship (even though the gap was much smaller) is that those age differences can easily create power imbalances. The older person has knowledge, resources, an established career, family connections and other networks, that will shift the conversations and decisions made by the couple. Are you going to pick up and move to another state/country for the younger person’s career if the older person’s is established? Probably not. Will it affect timing for buying a house, having kids? Almost certainly. etc. I realized that my aversion to dating men a lot older than I am (besides the strong suspicion that it’s based on their rejection of the worthiness of older women) is the same as my aversion to dating men much younger than I am–I know that it would imbalance the relationship. It’s not impossible to work past it, no, but it’s not a risk worth taking for me.

      Sorry for the novel–it’s something I’ve thought a fair bit about.

      1. I met my bf when I was 28 and he was 39. He’s dating several other women, who are all older than me (and in at least one case older than him). If I’d found out that he only dated women my age or younger, I would have been grossed out, because then it’s not a coincidence, it’s a Thing.

        1. As we pointed out to my friend when her much-older boyfriend was showing some signs that he was dating younger women for Not Great reasons, it’s one thing to meet somebody who happens to be significantly younger than you are. It’s another to deliberately fish in that pond – and ONLY that pond.

          1. Yep, it’s like when I found out that my ex-boyfriend ONLY dated “shy” girls. It’s that power imbalance that’s the reason why he’s an ex.

          2. This is so true. My DH is older than I am, but that’s not because he only dated younger women. His first wife (the marriage ended when she passed away, not in divorce) was closer to his age than I am. So with us it was more of a “we happened to meet, and it happened to work” situation. It probably helps that neither of us was interested in having kids, so that’s a non-issue. And it probably helps that my dad is older than my mom is, so it felt more “normal” to me than it might to some.

        2. I started a really happy relationship when I was 37 and the guy was 52. There was some substantial comedy involved until we straightened out where we were on the age issue, though, because both of us looked a solid 10 years younger than we were.

          So in my mind I was 37 and trying to flirt with a man who was 42.

          He, however, knew he was 52, and thought the pretty lady trying to flirt with him was ~27, so every time he started to really enjoy it, he’d clam up. I figured out what the problem was and worked my actual age into the conversation.

          That helped, but it still took him quite a while to get past my youthful appearance — he said he’d decided long ago he would never let himself turn into one of those creepy dudes who drool over women too young for them.

          I liked him all the better for this, and for his holding back until he felt sure this wasn’t going to be a power-imbalance situation.

          1. My parents married right after high-school graduation and had four kids in five years. Their oldest daughter made them grandparents at age 36. About a year later they separated and my dad was single for quite a while and went to a lot of taverns and restaurants and bars with his friends (and, yes, to meet women). He always looked younger than he was, and at one point in his mid-50s a Sweet Young Thing asked him to dance.

            Whatever differences I have with my father, I will always respect him for the answer he gave:
            “The only thing wrong with pretty young women like you is that I have a granddaughter the same age.”

            (At that point in that state you could legally drink at age 18.)

      2. Re: a) YES *applause*

        Re: b) Several years ago I tried to date a girl in her early twenties when I was in my late twenties–our age gap was no more than 5 years–and here’s when I started to have second thoughts: we were at an awesome queer dance party with my favorite DJ, and when “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” came on and the whole room went bonkers for it, my date said: “What’s this song?”

        I simply cannot date someone who doesn’t get excited about that song at a dance party. I’m now married, and although my wife and I do not share 100% of our cultural references by any stretch of the imagination (especially because we’re from different countries), there are a lot of fun things we do share that wouldn’t be possible with a big age gap in either direction. The Backstreet Boys. 1990s rom coms. Harry Potter. Piper Perabo.

        1. Most of the time I don’t feel significantly older than the majority of my work friends. Then one of them doesn’t know what The Safety Dance is.

        2. My husband is 18 months younger than I am and we went to the same college, so we get almost all of the same references for everything. It’s really nice.

          I never thought about how hard it would be not to have that common biography until I started working for my current boss, who is my age but whose family fled Iran when he was my age. I have to be really careful about what I say! I told him once he was like Lucy with the football and he asked, “Who’s Lucy?”

          (My favorite is when he was complaining about not having enough frequent flyer miles to take his wife and two children – one in college, one in grad school – to Hawaii. I asked why he needed to take his kids on a romantic vacation with his wife. He said because his kids are freeloafers.)

          1. Funny — my husband is 11 months older than I am, but he’s always referencing things that are “before [my] time.” His parents are approx. 10 years older than mine. It’s fascinating to me how much that affected our cultural references. BUT the big difference is that we don’t have the power imbalance that other commenters have mentioned with a true age gap.

          2. OMG rjmagargle, that is so true. I had my kid later in life, and most of my mom-friends are 10+ years younger than me. But the thing is, *my* parents had me late, and the cummulative effect is really noticable. I was raised by people who were young adults in the ’50’s. My friends were raised by people who were young adults in the ’70’s.

      3. The power imbalance is exactly what these men enjoy.

        Besides I WANT to be in a relationship with a man 25+ years older than me. In 25 years time. I just want to experience him at the earlier decades first because I’m such an egalitarian when it comes to life stages.

      4. “d) Your life and your body are not a democracy. You’re under no obligation to equitably and with full reflection on human worth and inherent rights evenly distribute your spoils amongst the population based on metrics of deservingness. You’re a person operating with personal preferences to build a life for yourself that you want to live.”

        Perfect. Thank you.

    7. Agism, like other similar forms of bigotry, requires an imbalance of power. That’s why agism is a concern in employment—your employer or prospective employer has power over you, and so they can discriminate against someone for their age. In the context of an older man asking out a younger woman, the younger woman is not in a position of power over the older man; in fact, there’s the inherent imbalance of power of sexism in the opposite direction, in addition to the older man potentially being in a position of power in the community, workplace, etc. Someone telling you this is agism is applying the wrong power differential to the situation—it would be like telling a Black man who was fired for racist purposes by a white woman that he was being sexist for complaining (obviously, these situations are NOT identical and bigotry is not some kind of oppression olympics, not meant to be comparative, but the mismatch of power dynamic and situation can be illustrative).

      1. But in the dudes’ minds, the young woman has the power – she can deny the guy a sexual relationship with herself, which some people believe they are entitled to by dint of being nice/trying hard/etc. It’s super gross, but I think that’s why they’re so quick to call “discrimination.”

    8. Ageism is when you are refusing to hire somebody strictly and only because of their age, or trying to break up two full grown, voting adults who are in a freely chosen relationship, or constantly dumping partners when they “age out” past a barrier of years, no matter how old/young you yourself are.

      Your TASTE is just that. Your taste, your preferences, your wants. I’m not into guys old enough to be my grandfather/dad (exception; Patrick Stewart, natch) but it’s not because their mere existence is repulsive or I think they should be rounded up like in that Margaret Atwood short story. And no matter what a guy’s chronological age is, suddenly deciding you not wanting to get on that is some kind of mean, attacking stance is an unbecoming look.

    9. If it’s from the guy hitting on you, it is a manipulation tactic. Disengage. Remain completely silent as you tap into your RBF. Or agree with them with a simple “ok” and a shrug. Then walk away or if you can’t, change the topic or remain silent. Do not argue or get defensive. It’s surprisngly effective.

      If it’s from friends, they’re being weird and probably projecting so maybe filter which friends you tell these stories to who won’t respond like jerks. Or find new friends.

      Either way, I wouldn’t argue with anyone about this. You get to decide to who you date and you can discriminate on ANY grounds. This doesnt mean you hate old people (or guys with ponytails or girls with blond hair or literally any other arbitrary but valid dealbreakers). It means you don’t want to date them.

      But also, people who don’t recognize the insidious misogyny in Old Dudes Hitting on Young Women are probably not experts in any type of “ism.”

    10. Personally, it’s not that old = bad, it’s that their age puts them in a mental category of “you’re not a Flirt Risk” so it comes as more of a jarring surprise. Similar to when a friend tries to “Relationship Zone” you. It’s because you interact with that person from a place of feeling safe and comfortable, and not having to spend energy propping up all the typical shields that keep guys from thinking you’re interested.

      When someone hits on you from inside that safe category, it can feel like a startling betrayal.

      1. Thank you for framing it this way, and for sharing the term “relationship zone.” I needed it.

      2. Yes! I totally agree about the jarring surprise/ no flirt risk thing. I recently had two friends who are in a relationship plan a whole dinner with me so they could ask if I would be interested in having a threesome with them. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a third and they were relatively chill about my no, but it was jarring to realize they had been considering me as a sexual partner while I had just been wanting to hang out. I’m just a woman in my 20s who wants to hang out with cool people without being sexualized all the time.

        1. It’s kind of the same flavor of betrayal as when you’re trying to sell that one pair of sandals that never quiiiiiite fit online and it dawns on you that the person whose questions you’ve been fielding about said shoes is a foot fetishist. You’re like, “Wait, I thought this was totally not a sex thing, BUT IT HAS BEEN A SEX THING FOR YOU THIS WHOLE TIME!”

          1. Oh nooooooooooooo. I believe this is a real thing that happens because I have been on the internet, but I don’t want to.

          2. I posted a photo of my foot because I liked my new pedicure.

            That was the day, Dear Friends, that I discovered I had three foot fetishist Facebook acquaintances.

            It was not a good day.

            I now do not ever show off my pedicures.

      3. Ohhh yeah, like the guy who reminded me of my dad’s best friend. I did not expect him to literally jump me in a car.

    11. FWIW, I dated a man who was 62 when I was 27 and he is my Favorite Ex-Boyfriend ever. The major difference between him and Creepy Older Dudes? He did not ever make a move on me. Sure, he was friendly, and we chatted and he started walking me to the train as we got to know each other better. But nothing whatsoever would have happened there except that *I* thought he was hot and had to put out there that I was interested. Only once I did that did we ever get towards anything sexual in any way. No lingering glances at my ass, no flirty comments, nothing, and CERTAINLY zero expectation that I “owed” him a chance at dating. I believe it is especially important with any large age difference that the motivation and push come from the younger person with ZERO pressure or coercion precisely because the power differential is just THERE due to the age gap. Would you, personally, be ageist for not wanting to date him? Of course not! I thought he aged like Sean Connery, was really easy going and lovely to spend time with, danced like a dream, and was so great at self care that I picked up a number of important things in that area that I use to this day. But that doesn’t mean any other person – of any age – is guaranteed to feel that way about him.

      1. Oh my god it gives me hope for the future that that guy exists. Thank you for sharing.

      2. I had similar experiences with a dude in his mid-40s when I was 24. I went for him, thought he was hot, he was EPIC in bed (oh god) and independent and self-sufficient and not looking for caretaking and didn’t expect me to process his emotions for him, it was such a refreshing change. A+ repeated hookup, would recommend.

        Which is to say: these dudes totally exist, and if you meet someone and you’re into them and think they’re hot then totally go for it, but the argument usually isn’t that, it’s “you’re not into me but you should date me anyway because it’s not faaaaair”, which is inaccurate AND gross.

        1. Yup, I’ve got a similar story. When I was 20, I got the hots for a guy who was 37. He was in the process of a messy divorce, and I had been through a messy divorce myself that had finalized about a year before I met the guy. (Yes, I had been married and divorced by age 19. I know. I seem to have done a lot of things in life Out Of Their Expected Sequence. 😀 )

          I actually had to tell him, dead-ass, “I don’t want a relationship like boyfriend-girlfriend. I like you, you’re good company, and I think you’re hot. All I want is friends-with-benefits.”

          He went for it. We had a few good rolls in the hay, a lot of fun social times, and then he moved across the continent (IIRC, for his job). We wrote a few letters (this was the mid-1990’s; internet wasn’t such A Thing yet), and then we went our separate ways.

          Hopefully these days, for him, I’m a fond memory of someone with whom he had a good time, as he is for me. 🙂

    12. When I was in my early 20s, I seriously dated (and yes, slept with, over the course of the relationships), two lovely men who were 20 and 22 years older than me (almost twice my age, both times). I don’t have a kink for older men or anything, and every time I have done online dating, I’ve always gotten squicked out by men 20+ years my age who hit on me there, with no context. So why did I date these men? Because neither of them were creepy about it! We just met in life and talked and they were completely respectful and flirting naturally happened at a mutual, consensual level – both of them were good about reading my cues and it just happened, like any other relationship just happened, because I genuinely liked them and they were both amazing people.

      I guess my point is: I have actually successfully dated across the age spectrum, and I am STILL CREEPED OUT BY THE MAJORITY OF ATTENTION FROM MUCH OLDER MEN. Because, omg, so much of it is unsolicited and INAPPROPRIATELY EXPRESSED and not reciprocated and just… ugh, omg, ugh, so gross.

      So, yes, so often it’s not the age difference alone. Because people who are actually knowledgeable about how women are treated in our culture and actually respectful of others recognize that the age difference is a red flag, and they are extra careful to be respectful about it when starting to flirt (like my two guys were).

      LW: I completely agree that you should keep being your amazing self, and that the feelings of these men are not your responsibility to bear. I’m sorry you’re going through this right now!

    13. Yeah, it’s fine to say simply “Personally I’m more compatible with people near my own age / in X age range” and/or “I don’t owe anybody a chance, I get to be picky!” and/or “Yes, actually, I think EVERYBODY gets to be discriminating about who they date. For example, I hope YOU hold out for someone who’s really into you!”

      But with the LW’s contractor, I actually wouldn’t raise the age difference up front as a reason his propositions are preposterous–specifically to avoid this “ageism” derail. Even if you know how to deal with it, it’s just more exhaustion for the LW, and she’s trying to quit wasting her energy.

      I’d start with the contractor/client relationship instead:
      “Oh Carl, I’m flattered, but I never mix business with pleasure!”
      “Run away with you? That’s a kind offer, but I’m already getting exactly what I’m paying for!”
      “Keep your day job, Carl–you’re a great contractor, but not much of a Romeo!”
      Always delivered lightheartedly, as the Captain suggests.

    14. Oh man, I hate the older dudes so much. It’s like they think I’m so young and stupid I won’t know any better when they tell me bullshit!
      No, I don’t want to give any a “chance.” They don’t have a chance. I am beyond tired of the creepy power dynamics and aforementioned BS.

    15. Hahaha, the guys who try to neg you with “the only reason you don’t want to touch my boner is BIGOTRY”, need to drink gasoline.

      Try “Good thing I turned you down! You certainly wouldn’t want to be with someone who’s ageist!”

      1. this “have sex with me or you’re a bigot!” always horrifies me because I know so many women who have acquiesced to it and then been incredibly hurt or traumatized because they were forcing themselves to have sex that they didn’t want to have out of fear of being insufficiently Rad.

        1. Sexual predators and creeps in general may learn the words of the woke, but they are still rapey mcrapists.

    16. Ugh, yes.

      Public resources (housing, college, post office) are required not to be ageist (or sexist, racist, etc etc). People who say this are treating young women like a public resource (and it’s always said to young women).

      Sure, not giving older guys a chance is discrimination. And wanting to date within your own religion/culture is discrimination. And not dating someone of the same gender when you’re straight is discrimination. That’s just how it goes… when you’re a private human being and not a public resource.*

      The guilt of being “unethical” reminds me of street harassers who, once I’d ignored them thoroughly, used to give me the old, “you’re not racist are you? are you?” Like, sure, I’ll fuck you now because I wouldn’t want some rando street harasser to think I’m unethical.

      *I accidentally typed “pubic resource”

      1. Exactly. It’s the “public resource” thing–like we’re not people or human beings who are here to live our own lives in the way we want, but prizes in the bottom of a cracker jack box, and if Sammy gets to the bottom of his box and his prize is worse than Billy’s, he’s gonna be mad.

        1. On one occasion when I told a guy to knock it off with a particular behavior, he pouted and said, “You’d be okay with it if I were attractive!”
          The funny thing is that, apart from assuming there’s a single universal standard of what constitutes attractiveness, he was basically right. Yes, you are allowed to grant certain privileges to people you’re attracted to and not to others! Because you want some people, but not others, to do those things with/to you! What a concept!

          1. My ex was very attractive and charming, and he got away with saying things to women that they likely wouldn’t enjoy hearing from guys who were not jaw-droppingly gorgeous. At a party, I noticed other guys paying attention to his flirty interactions, and they looked like they were studying. I pulled him aside and explained that he needed to rein it in, because he was setting a bad example, because most women would feel creeped on hearing the same things from almost any other guy, even if they enjoyed hearing it from him.

          2. I’ve had similar comments for behaviour that went well into creepy/illegal–“you’d be ok with it if he were cute.” And actually no I wouldn’t be and that’s not the point because I don’t have to set boundaries based on public opinion polls, I get to just set boundaries. Like a person.

    17. “You’re ageist for not wanting to date someone who is 40+ years your senior and in an entirely different stage of life” is a statement that wholly deserves a massive side-eye and rapid change in topic. Sure, massive age differences are possible…but possible =/= probable, and I think it’s pretty obvious that a gap that big is the very rare exception, not the rule. And what’s with this idea that women are supposed to date any guy that expresses an interest and aren’t allowed to have preferences of their own, anyways? The whole thing is absurd.

    18. I’m of the opinion that when it comes to dating/sex stuff, you’re allowed to be any old “ist” you like. Because you have preferences. You cannot change those preferences. If you are not into old men, don’t date old men. Straight people are not homophobic for being straight. A vanilla person is not a kink-shamer just because they personally are not into any kinky stuff. You like what you like! You know what you want! You have complete license to discriminate to find people who are good for you!

      Creepy men are creepy men. Only you get to decide what you find creepy, only you get to decide what you are into or not into. And also? You don’t owe ANYONE “a chance”. Period.

      1. I’ve been accused of bigotry for saying I wouldn’t date someone who was religious. The truly strange thing was that it was in the context of saying I wouldn’t date someone who was *extremely* religious, like served as a missionary religious; those people would more than likely refuse to date me just as much as I’d refuse to date them.

        1. I got into a relationship with the son of a baptist minister (he was cute, fun, and had good taste in comic book, and, in a time when we were both broke, he was super great about coming up with date ideas like packing a picnic next to a lake. There was a reason, ok) and I started the relationship saying IN THESE WORDS ‘I’m a pro-choice atheist. I will never be the good little girl who goes to church with you.’ (I used my words, ok, and they were fucking clear) and he claimed that was ok.

          … guess who had to dump him for being pushy about me not going to church 4 months later?

          Learn from my mistakes.

          1. I’m starting to learn that if someone seems like they ‘don’t mind’ something about you, or are ‘very tolerant about it’, that’s a clue that it actually is going to be a problem.

            In my case it’s in the opposite case, where I try to mention early on that I go to church and they act OK ‘ish’ but I find after months that actually, the best I will ever get is ‘barely tolerant of this obvious flaw’, or ‘you just go for the community, though, _right_?’

            If things are an important part of you, maybe it’s OK to look for people who will actually _like_ your favourite and most central parts of you, not just ‘be nice about it’.

            I’m still working on this. It’s hard when there are so many messages out there saying ‘be less picky’ and ‘you have to compromise’ and it’s not like it’s not true, but you still have to feel like you’re yourself and not some tidied up fake ‘more palatable’ version of yourself.

          2. And don’t date people if they tell you or show you some of the most important things about who they are, and your gut reaction is ‘tolerance’.

          3. Ha, I’m on the flipside of that. I’m pretty religious, and the idea of dating somebody who doesn’t share my religious beliefs? It just is not ever going to work! You gotta be realistic about your dealbreakers, and I know that’s one of mine. It’s like a pre-emptive Sheelzebub Principle: if this person never changes this thing about themselves, would I EVER be happy in a relationship with them?

            It’s just, when things are important to you in a relationship, you can’t casually ignore them. You won’t be happy, and your partner won’t be either.

      2. I totally agree with this EXCEPT maybe in the area of bi and trans people? Like if you’re a women who dates men, but you (general you, not YOU, bats are cute) won’t date bisexual or trans men, that seems questionable. Because there’s not necessarily anything separating straight from bi men, or cis from trans men, as a general rule. Maybe you’re into really burly lumberjack types, and it just so happens that you don’t end up dating a lot of trans men, but if you would rule out a lumberjack-looking trans man… that’s not great.

        I think it’s totally legit to say that we all have our own gender/sexual/sexuality preferences and they shouldn’t be questioned, but when a preference comes from a stereotype, we should take a closer look at it. Not to say that someone should date anyone they’re not into, but if you’re not into someone for a shitty reason, maybe unpack that a little more!

        1. I actually disagree on this… There’s a lot to be said for trying to unpack where your preference or discomfort/comfort comes from, but I think it’s way healthier for both parties if you don’t try to unpack it by dating someone you don’t 100% want to.

          Don’t experiment on people or use them as your therapy.

          1. Yes, this. It’s one thing to investigate and interrogate your own internalized bigotry, but you don’t need to date someone you aren’t actually into “as an experiment” to do that.

        2. I disagree on this too.

          I’m bi. I’ve slept with straight and bisexual men, and lesbians and bisexual women. To date, as far as I know, all of them have been cis.

          Typically my desire is triggered by a fairly small set of bodies. While in principle, trans men or women might hit my buttons, in practice they haven’t.

        3. the problem with this is it still falls under the umbrella of “date/sleep with this person, or you’re a bigot!” and people, including trans people, don’t need to prove their lack of bigotry through intimate access to their bodies.
          plus, what happens when someone says “yes, I have throughly taken a closer look at my sexual boundaries and they are non-negotiable”. still a bigot.
          In my experience, these types of arguments are far far more frequently aimed at women, of all sexualities, than they are at men. I wonder why that is.

          1. I would guess it’s partly because women in a relationship with someone they’re not super into are predicted to be giving out sex, emotional support, and fun times.

            Men in a relationship with someone they’re not super into are predicted to be too likely to give out violence.

        4. I fully agree with this – but *as an intellectual exercise that one undertakes in private, or in the context of therapy or other agreed transactional relationship*. In fact, I would suggest not limiting this just to gender or sexuality: thinking about the sorts of people one finds oneself attracted to, and not attracted to, can show up some interesting things about one’s unexamined/unconscious biases. But again: *as an intellectual exercise that one undertakes in private, or in the context of therapy or other agreed transactional relationship*, and I would strongly urge that one not act on these thoughts unless one is sure that one is legit attracted to the person and not just broadening one’s dating pool for the sake of trying to be A Better Human. Nobody wants to be someone else’s self-improvement project.

          1. ^This, EXACTLY this. I think there is a LOT of value in drilling down into why we are attracted to certain people (or not) and *especially* if those attractions fall into some big category buckets (like only being attracted to black men, or conversely, being attracted to men only if they are not black men)…but in your own head, or with a therapist, or maybe in long conversations with a best friend who isn’t afraid to point out problematic thinking you’re mired in. Sometimes you find out, hey, I have this Problematic View that I need to work on changing *in myself* (and which very likely impacts other, non-romantic, interactions with people!) and sometimes you find out “oh…huh…the common denominator is that these folks are all people who come from a strong religious background but have stepped away from orthodoxy, and are also passionate about some sport…huh, good to know.”

          2. Yeah, this is definitely what I meant but clearly didn’t express well. I don’t think anyone should actually date someone they’re not attracted to! That’s a shitty thing to do to someone! But I do think people should, in private or with a therapist or maybe a trusted friend, examine their own biases and not just throw up their hands and go “welp, it is what it is, I just don’t like trans men.”

          3. Nobody wants to be someone else’s self-improvement project Truth
            when I was less secure I ended up being multiple people’s self-improvement /social experiment date and it is not fun
            The whole I liked everything about you but X and i thought i could move past it but I cant breakup speech always left me either feeling extra shitty about myself and/or generally pissed because they played with my emotions and wasted my time and possible other opportunities while I was dating them and they knew I wasn’t what they wanted.
            I am a firm believer in don’t use another person as a trying to broaden your dating horizons unless you are 100% attracted

          4. YES!

            It’s one thing to want to be with a partner who learns from you and from whom you learn, where you (both/all) encourage and assist each other to be your best self. That’s a good thing.

            Dating someone to work out your issues with their specific demographic = Very Much Not A Good Thing.

            Work out your issues on your own and/or with a sympathetic friend who has the fortitude to help you work on the issues and/or with a therapist.

        5. That falls into a “yes and no” sort of category for me. I agree with the commenters who say (a) you shouldn’t date someone you don’t want to date, and (b) you should work out any issues with prejudice on your own, rather than treat people you may or may not want to date as an exercise in “wokeness.”

          But yeah, it can get a little sticky with bi and trans people because, well, you can’t tell who is bi or trans (or both!) just by looking. My rule of thumb: If you meet a person who happens to be bi or trans and you’re not into them as an individual, you’re golden. But if you liked the person before you knew and stopped liking them when they came out to you, you should break it off with them, but you do have some shit to unpack on your own or with a neutral third party like a trusted friend or therapist.

          In case it’s not obvious, this is the general “you,” not you personally.

      3. “I don’t date people who try to logick me out of my preferences.”

        It’s occasionally made for a good comeback, and helps me remember that, irrespective of why I may have had the original preference, not respecting that preference (and my right to have it) is a gigantic red flag. I don’t have to justify how I feel to myself, let alone anyone else.

    19. When I was in my mid-20s, I looked like I was maybe 19 or 20 years old, and I went through quite a few instances of older dudes suddenly interrupting a conversation about science or current events to say, with studied casualness, “Oh, of course a young girl like you wouldn’t be interested in an old guy like me.” They usually looked to be in their mid-40 into their mid-50s.

      It would be such a non-sequitur, as well as a statement of the blindingly obvious to my mind, that I’d give them a “you just said something crazy look” and continue talking about whatever we’d been talking about. Most of them gave up at that point — the sudden studied casualness of the remark was designed to just let it pass if it didn’t get the desired reaction.

      I’m thinking this tactic must have been recommended in one of those creepy-dude forums though, given how many did the exact same thing, and given how a few of them didn’t just let it pass, but got entitled about it. How they’d go about it was both odd and funny — they’d say it once, and get the non-reaction I described. The conversation would continue, and then a few minutes later they’d try it again — exact same wording, exact same fake casualness of manner, the same interrupting in the middle of talking about something else. If it was the second time, they always interrupted me in mid-sentence.

      Whereupon I’d say, “Right” with a stating-the-painfully-obvious tone and manner, and continue with what I had been saying before interrupted.

      Whereupon the dude would look downright startled — face would change color, sudden change in posture, etc. And I’d be looking at them like they were crazy. And they’d act like they were only just getting that I was looking at them like they were crazy and act all astonished by this.

      One actually said, “Well, you didn’t have to agree with me like that!” in an offended tone.

      “Well why did you say it then, if you didn’t want me to agree with you?”

      He actually got pissy and said, “Well you didn’t have to be RUDE!” Plainly bewildered, I asked him how agreeing with him was rude. At that point he realized other people were witnessing his sleaze and gave up.

      The thing I’ve had to learn is: There is nothing you can do or say that will stop men from pulling this kind of bullshit. Those that do it don’t do it because of something you did or said. They do it because being horrible is who they are.

      Oh, and on the “ageist” bullshit — actually, they’re the ageist ones, because they’re seeking out a situation with a major power imbalance in their favor, and see much-younger people as lower-status and exploitable.

      1. That’s the kind of response that makes me wish I had the guts to go nuclear, “Let me guess, the only way not to be rude would be to tell you how much I would *love* to fuck a guy thirty years older than I am. I was supposed to ignore that you’re my dad’s age and tell you how much I wanted you, right? That’s why you asked me, right?”

      2. “The thing I’ve had to learn is: There is nothing you can do or say that will stop men from pulling this kind of bullshit. Those that do it don’t do it because of something you did or said.”

        So true, and so important. I’ve definitely had moments where I pondered the same things the LW is pondering, as I am generally outgoing and good at finding a common ground with people, and as such, was worried I was encouraging unwanted flirting, but over time I’ve come to realize there isn’t anything I can do to pre-emptively discourage the determined ones, so I’ve just gotta be prepared to shut them down.

      3. ‘He actually got pissy and said, “Well you didn’t have to be RUDE!” Plainly bewildered, I asked him how agreeing with him was rude. At that point he realized other people were witnessing his sleaze and gave up. ‘

        That is so very very beautiful.

    20. The proper response for those people is, “If you think those guys hit on 60-to-70-year-old women as much as they hit on 20-something women I have a bridge to sell you.” It takes some deep dark festering assholery to live in a world in which men are almost always paired with younger women and pretending the “ageism” problem is on the part of young women.

    21. I’m such a hermit introvert now that the only come-ons I get are from strange vagrants wandering my neighborhood. I’m at that invisible age.

      Part of the problem is that I am not at all interested in ANYONE until I form an emotional connection with them, and have things in common with them. Someone a lot younger or older or only interested in a narrow range of things is not going to be a great match for me. Frankly, I am too tired and busy to even begin to mentally prepare for the dating gauntlet, where you see one or zero age-appropriate possibles while getting swarmed by horribles and deplorables and people who don’t read profiles and people who spam the same obnoxious script to every female on the site. Experience has taught me that I’m not going to get along with people who make racist/sexist/misogynist/homophobic/transphobic/[other -ist and -phobic] comments. I’m not going to get along [romantically] with really conservative people, or really religious/churchy people, or really sporty/doggy/”let’s go camping nowhere near a toilet!” people, or people who don’t read books, or people who don’t like music, or mean people, or people a LOT younger or a LOT older. I can be friendly with most of them (and am, with the exception of the [-ist/-phobes] and super conservatives), but we’re not going to be a love match.

      It just leaves me exhausted, especially when I have to save up depression fatigue spoons to do TWO errands, e.g., picking up the mail AND gassing up the car means getting groceries may have to wait. I have to steel myself to do even pleasant things like get a haircut or hair coloring, so I do it myself until I can’t bear the sight of myself anymore.

      I wish I had the energy I had when I was in my 20s, but the experience and wisdom I have now. I might be a little less overwhelmed at the idea of normal human interactions like meeting new people and such. But probably not.

      The good news is that I am statistically a lot less likely to be featured on Forensic Files one day, as “Found In Swamp While Stuffed In Suitcase.” Can’t get murderated if I never leave my house or workplace.

    22. People, mostly other sad lonely guys, tell me it’s ageist too. Consider your audience. You can also turn it around and say no they are the ageist ones rejecting women their own age! Also I’m just not attracted to old guys works too. Nothing ageist about not wanting some old entitled possibly predatory asshat who thinks he’s too good for his own age pool or worse wants a youngun he can manipulate. You aren’t the problem!

    23. Let’s be completely clear: You do not “owe” anyone a “chance” regardless of their age. Ever. Full stop. If they call you ageist, say “yep” and move on. If they gave a single shit about you they would understand that someone your dad’s age squicks you out.

      For reference: I am 55 and *I* wouldn’t go out with a 70 year old man. Old men are gross to me. That may be ageist and/or sexist but I don’t care. It grosses me out to think about much less do and I have every right to my preferences…as do you.

      1. Well, to be fair, you can think that anyone’s body is gross, but it’s really rude to tell someone that you think their body is gross. With good fortune you’ll be 70 one day and having someone tell you that they consider your body gross probably won’t feel very good.

  3. I think we need some kind of moratorium on men hitting on women until men can figure how how not to be creeps/jerks about it and how to handle it like adults when they’re rejected.

  4. It’s not just you OP!

    My much older roofer was going through a divorce same time as me and apparently he ‘could not miss the opportunity to get a younger woman ‘ (!!), so I set my dad on him. And got his daughter to yell at him. My (late) dad gave him the best, most shrivelling dirty looks, better than that Prince GIF.

    It still happens but not as much as that year. (The constantly hovering colleague who said I was imagining it when I asked him to bug off. Yeah I imagined standing there, hearing you telling everyone I was going to quit my job and move to London with you)

    My dad’s gone but I forwarded some emails from a creepy plumber to ‘dad’s email’ because I just wanted his take on this! I truly did.

    Please warn other women on yelp. Mucho appreciated if it’s safe and convenient to do so.

  5. As a woman who works in a male-dominated industry, I’ve had to deal with this a lot. Unfortunately, I don’t think that there’s a whole lot that can be done about it, which is not the response that you’re looking for.

    The Captain’s scripts are good, but even with perfect wording a decent percentage of these guys are still going to blame you for making them feel rejected. A depressing amount of men feel like saying ‘no’ is an insult and feel entitled to then be rude or insulting to you in return. In their minds, the only actually acceptable answer is ‘yes’ and anything else is meanness.

    Being polite & considerate but also firm & clear in your ‘no’ is such a difficult needle to thread. My only real advice is to do the best you can and if it goes pear-shaped, don’t blame yourself. If a guy is particularly rude to you and the relationship cannot be salvaged, feel free to call him on his poor behavior. Speak your mind, if it will make you feel better and won’t cost you anything.

    1. Being polite & considerate…

      Or not. At some point, I decided that I didn’t have to “politely” refuse inappropriate and rude propositions.

      1. Of course a person is free to be as rude as they choose, but if you’re dealing with people that you work with, being polite is often in your own best interests… as aggravating as it is.

        In my case, my work environment was not only male-dominated, but also very social. If I was rude (or even just blunt or honest) with a guy, I knew that I’d probably get bashed the next time the guys went out to drinks. It was incredibly unfair, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. It was irritating to know that they could do whatever they wanted without concern for how it was making me feel, but yet I would likely suffer very real consequences if I did the same.

        Anyway, I got a different job eventually.

      2. This makes me so mad! They were weird or gross or inappropriate and you were the one that suffered for it and couldn’t even return in-kind. BAH.

  6. It does make me laugh that this is supposed to be ‘the problem we all wish we had’. Like every perfume/diet/hair-product/yogurt advert is screaming that IF YOU EAT THIS YOGHURT ALL THE MEN WILL WANT YOU but good lord it’s a pain when it happens. I’m a fairly whatever looking person but I grew into my looks very suddenly in my twenties and retained the good personality of someone who’d grown up plain and all of a sudden I was ‘attractive’ and MAMMY it’s a chore. You have my sympathies LW, the captain’s advice is sound, the ‘Witnesses’ tactic especially. When I was being hassled by a chap I worked with who would not back off, I told a few of my coworkers who happily did the work of giving me excuses to leave conversations/rooms/buildings, and if the guy ever made comments about me to them they’d happily make clear that I was uninterested and that he should leave me alone. Those people are great because this stuff has low emotional stakes and high drama potential and so long as you know they have your back they can save you SO much effort.

    1. I remember realizing once that the power of being “attractive” was literally that – it draws people in, it makes them want to get in your space / get your attention. That is kind of a lousy superpower, to be honest.

      1. Yeah. It’s great if you can turn it on at will and have it in resting mode when you’re not actually trying, but I have what I call “resting talk to me face” and sometimes I just want to buy a lipstick and be on my merry way, yannow?

        1. “Resting talk to me face” — that’s a perfect way of putting it!

          My daughter (she’s in her 20’s) has a much better RBF than I do, and she’s low-level aghast at the kind of interactions people feel free to initiate with me.

          RTTM is a real hassle when you’re just trying to exist in public, and when one combines it with an attention-getting breast size… woof.

          1. Oh I suffer from RTTMF as well! Thank you for naming the horror. I WISH I could have a bitch face

          2. Oh, I hear you on the attention-getting breast size. It’s not an ideal combination.

            However, the best one that happened to me was with a Very Southern woman in her early 50s at Ulta (this is the aforementioned “sometimes I just want to buy lipstick”) who decided to regale me with the tale of her impending divorce, what’s wrong with young women these days, her husband’s sex addition, and her pastor’s counsel: “I mean, it’s like my pastor said, sometimes it’s just f***ing.”

          3. All of the women in my immediate family have Resting Safe For Children Face. It’s a thing. Little kids just come up to us and talk to us and ask us things in public all the time. I remember the utter confusion on my much-younger sister’s face the first time it happened to her (she was about 12 and sitting on the side of a playground studiously Not Playing, when a kid of about 2 just wandered up and started interacting with her). It’s like “oops sorry Sis you’ve inherited it too, enjoy explaining random stuff to random kids in public for the rest of your life!”.

            I actually really like it, because I like talking to kids, but it confuses the heck out of their parents.

          4. Unfortunately I can say from decades of life experience that there isn’t an F in the world that’s RB enough to counteract attention-getting breast size. The best comparison for my face is Russian gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan when she doesn’t know anyone’s looking at her: a combined burning silent rage about and deep, exhausting concern for something a long way away that she can’t talk about. My wife about fell off her chair the first time the first time we saw it. And yet, dudes detect that my boobs exist and still dude their dudely bullshit all over the place, face notwithstanding.

            I do think I must an unexpectedly terrifying don’t-fuck-with-me stare, because when I lock eyes with them they often shrivel. But by then they’ve already forced themselves upon my experience of my day, so it’s a mixed result at best.

        2. Love it! I sometimes call mine “resting customer service face” because almost every time I get approached it’s of the “can you help me with x” variety of comment. There can be five obviously dressed store employees a person walks past to ask me what aisle to find the salad dressing in. I AM JUST TRYING TO BUY SHAMPOO MA’AM… oh fine it’s two up and one over, unless you want the organic and that’s up in the center area.

          1. I have resting librarian face. I don’t know how many visits to the local library have had a, “Can you help me find this?” involved. Yes, I used to be a librarian, but really!

        3. I go selectively deaf sometimes. I’m not proud of it, but I’m slow with comebacks (have to battle my way through a lot of layers of ingrained Southern politeness and social messaging before I reach my Inner Bitch Goddess who sticks up for me). When it works, it works. Any stranger yelling at me in public is 99.9% likely to be someone I do not want to have an interaction with, so Not Hearing Shit works out sometimes.

        4. I call it ‘resting dolphin face’. There’s something in my facial structure that makes me look like I’m smiling, even when I’m thinking deeply or filled with seething rage. At least I don’t get the “you’d be prettier of you smiled” thing from dudes…

    2. Well the advertising is “if you use our product, lots of attractive, stable men with steady employment histories and healthy relationships with their parents will want you,” what they don’t tell you is that for every good catch that wants to take you to dinner, at least three awkward neckbeards with entitlement issues have already named the children they plan on having with you.

    3. And it works as a silencing tactic, because if you say something about it, people (other than here, of course) will either say that you’re arrogant for thinking that they were interested in you or ungrateful for the attention, and will refuse to see how demeaning and discouraging it can actually be.

    4. Yikes, can we not with “the good personality of someone who’d grown up plain” though? Those two things have no relationship to each other, ok? People with good personalities look all kinds of ways, and people with bad personalities look all kinds of ways.

      1. Fair point. Edit as “the personality of someone who felt ugly as a teenager and decided it was her job to compensate for her failure to mankind by at least being funny.”

        1. I just thought you meant that you didn’t need your RBF + vulcan nerve pinch until later on. Let’s be honest it hard to add ‘personable’ to that particular manoeuvre.

    5. I’m gonna be real, I like looking nice because other women then compliment me on my hair/makeup/clothes/etc. I don’t even mean this in a gay way (though I am bi and do date people of a variety of genders)–it’s just not about sexual attraction at all. So when I dress up nice and a guy tries to flirt with me, my immediate internal reaction is something like “ugghh it’s NOT FOR YOU”.

      I just want people to tell me they love my dress, so I can tell them it has pockets and I got it on sale, and we can both walk away feeling like it was a happy interaction. Why is it that women have this down pat, and most men don’t seem to even realize it’s an option?

      1. A lot of men are so profoundly ignorant about the lives of women it’s flat-out unbelievable that they rule the world. My two favourite examples: my own brother (whom I once had to tell that no woman anywhere reads a book in public – no, not even A Song of Ice and Fire books – because they want a man to talk to them about it) and toxic shock syndrome guy (who seemed actually angry when told that people who menstruate already know about TSS and he could relax, he didn’t need to Save Us All).

      2. Ugh. I once read an article where a guy was complaining that his female friends told him he shouldn’t give women(strangers) compliments on the things he found odd about their bodies. He thought women were SO MEAN for not wanting to hear about how hot their big nose or snaggletooth was to him. “But I WANT to tell them their weirdly long neck makes me horny!”, the part where he also told them something was weird about them was super important since it made him feel extra awesome for still wanting to bone them.
        Anyway, compliments made to strangers should always be about something they have control over. A dress they picked out, a cute way to do their hair or makeup. Not something about their physical body, that is always uncomfortable.

        1. Hahaha I was at a formal event two weeks ago and I could. not. stop. telling people I’d gotten my dress on sale! “It was only $100! Normally $350! Check out the sales rack at Dillards!! It’s amazing!!!”

      3. THIS.

        (which, to be fair, as a bi woman, makes things more confusing than they should be. Is she complimenting my dress or is she interested in taking me out of it?)

        1. I’m pretty sure this is one reason that dating in the lesbian/bi/femme part of the pool is so confusing! We’re all just trying to be nice to each other, and we’re so used to men interpreting politeness as “BRING ON THE D”… and then we discover that we have to be a lot more upfront with each other just so that it’s clear we’re actually flirting. Cue several awkward conversations I’ve had with ladies that go along these lines:
          Me: We should totally go out, do you want to get a coffee sometime?
          Her: Thank you so much, that’d be awesome!
          Me: (super fast like the fine print at the end of commercials) This social occasion is intended to be a pre-courting ritual indicating my romantic interest but if you are not interested that’s totally fine and I’d love to be friends anyway and also if you are not into women generally please do not feel you have to give me your sexual history to turn me down and also I apologize for making it weird?
          Her: Oh yeah, I totally – I mean – yeah, that. That thing you said. I that thing too. I resemble that remark!
          Me: That’s a yes, right?

          Lady dating is hard.

      4. Omg yes! This is me too, although I never really thought about why I like dressing up and getting compliments from women, but hate getting compliments from 90% of men. It’s a women bonding thing, not a sexual thing, even though I’m also bi! This is fascinating.

      5. Yes! I’m straight and I like giving and receiving compliments to/from other women. It’s a woman bonding thing. Giving another woman a bit of happy helps us all.

      6. Well, there’s your problem right there! Men take pockets for granted, so they won’t understand why you are so excited that your dress has them. 🙂

        1. We talk about them enough, you’d think they would have figured this out by now!

          Oh wait, that would require listening.

      7. I totally get it. I had two people compliment me on my skirt one day-the first was a woman who told me she’d followed me three blocks because she liked it so much. I was delighted and told her where I got it (the shop was about a ten-minute walk) and we chatted for a bit. The other was a guy who approached and asked if I was a dancer. He had that tone-we all know that tone. I curtly said no and moved away.

  7. The only other awesome advice I would add, OP, is that if you’re not used to socializing so much and were raised in a poor social context, there is a certain art to maintaining advance boundaries around new people. People have to pass a few initial boundary tests before I invite them to the next level of intimacy. I don’t get drawn into long one-on-one conversations with somebody – even somebody who seems nice! – unless they’ve shown that they’re okay with, for example, me switching my attention away from them to someone else for a while, or giving a soft no on something minor. I also don’t give out my cell phone number or email readily. I am QUICK to shut down the first vaguely more-intimate-that-I-like comment, before it escalates. It makes me sad that we live in this world and I’m not trying to give you any guilt about being awesome, though.

    1. OP here. OMG. I am indeed much more open and inviting than is … normal? or wise? or expected? … early in relationships and friendships.

      The thing is, it is liberating to just be myself and let myself be seen at long last, without having to hide or shut down or lie like I used to. FWIW I don’t cross over into being inappropriate, I have good social sensibilities. But everything else is fair game. I have been framing my behavior as authenticity and living my principles – e.g. at every job I’ve ever worked, I’ve asked friendly coworkers how much money they make (sometimes they share, sometimes not) and I share my own salary info freely, not even just at work – but in truth there are times when I have to catch myself in the act of going too far, e.g. recently I came very close to sharing a piece of my memoir dealing with sexual assault to a limited group of facebook friends, and if I had shared it, I would have risked inappropriately dumping this big, awkward, potentially triggering thing on my friends AND ALSO because it’s the freakin internet, it might easily have been leaked to my kids, and that would truly be disaster.

      Maybe I need to dial this down, be more deliberate, and make conscious choices of what to share and how based on evaluations of others’ trustworthiness, rather than based on my compulsion to rebel against my repressive childhood.

      Ugh. I haaaaate this idea. That probably means it’s excellent. Thank you.

      1. This is totally Your Call about how you want to live! You can absolutely choose to live with an open heart and just be straight with people if they get confused about your intentions, and I think that’s 100% okay. Or maybe there’s a comfortable middle ground between where I am and where it sounds like maybe you are now – I mean, get told fairly often that I’m “too closed off” or “too reserved” so I’m probably swung out the other way more than really necessary.

        1. Spoiler for life: If you are a woman, you will ALWAYS be too cold and too warm, too inviting and too distant, all at the same time. It is written, women can never win in patriarchy.

          1. “It is written, women can never win in patriarchy.”

            That reminds me of one of the Feminist Frequency “Tropes of Women in Video Games” quotes, “In the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team. They’re the ball.”

          2. There is a middle ground, and you know you’ve found it when the criticisms you get are half that you’re too reserved and half that you’re too inviting. Yaaay.

        2. There probably is a middle ground. Not that I’ve found it yet – my brain is still bouncing between “share ALL the things” and “awkward silence”, and feeling self-conscious about it seems to make it worse – but this looks like the type of problem mindfulness and practice will work well on. 🙂

          I do wish I had a better idea of what to talk about without oversharing, though. The last time I was trying to do conversation, the only thing I could think of was “so there’ll be new SU episodes soon”.

      2. OP, I like to live basically the same way you do! It’s not a wrong way to be! For me, maybe it’s to do with not being able to make solid friendships as a child? I didn’t figure out how to be effectively outgoing and charismatic (and assertive) until my twenties, and being able to attract and keep friends (and yes, partners) was the best ever. Now I’m monogamously married, but I still like to be friendly in most situations, and my wife doesn’t really understand my tendency toward openness; she’s more guarded in a “safety first” kind of way.

        The thing is, I don’t really mind being hit on. I don’t mean I enjoy it, only that I’ve gotten very comfortable with brushing it off, saying no, saying HELL no. My wife lacks those skills. If my openness (or merely my existence in public!) attracts the wrong kind of attention, that’s a cost I’m willing to bear. It sounds like you aren’t at that comfort level yet. So your options are 1) reevaluate your social boundaries as Lil Fidget says, and I love the suggestion to put people through subtle tests before you give them more access; and 2) work on becoming more comfortable with rejecting unwanted advances. Or some combination of the two.

      3. so this comment comes with a major caveat- dudes who pout when you turn them down have no excuse for their behaviour. full stop, no exceptions. also, dude who you have hired to do a thing should not hit on you. full stop, not exceptions.

        Your comments about authenticity, openness, etc, combined with the amount of full attention you give to people may be giving off signals you don’t realize sometimes. I have a very dear friend who is a natural flirt- it is just her personality (she has to actively try not to flirt- and even then, sometimes dudes see what they want to see). But sometimes, it leads to her not realizing that she has been giving out signals she might be interested in a guy for weeks, and she thinks they are just friends.Despite being told by people on the outside, that he is clearly into her. But that intensity, and openness, can sometimes cause a person to perceive a false sense of intimacy (or misread the type of intimacy).

        It doesn’t mean you need to change your behaviour, but its something you may want to think about- I understand the desire to live your life freely now that you have the opportunity. But it is also a chance to choose your own boundaries- what level of trust do you want to develop before you share with people. It won’t stop creepy dudes from being creepy. But it may lessen the other ones, who may have gotten the wrong idea, and you may find its easier to make it clear you are not interested in a casual way if you are a bit more aware, and notice they are getting the wrong idea sooner sooner.

        Best of luck!

        1. Yeah. I’ve lived that mess and I’ve had to try to walk that balance my whole life. You know what I learned?

          Men find it absolutely intolerable to see me walking down the street looking happy and confident. They absolutely must find a way to fuck that up for me as fast as possible. My being any form of content/happy/relaxed in public is an emergency they collectively feel must be ended with all haste.

          Because that’s what this all comes down to. Walking the world in confidence and happiness is for men only, and whatever violence it takes to enforce that, they will collectively perform.

          1. Yep. I realized a few years ago, that most of the time when I’m walking in public, I look at the ground. Even when there’s no one around me. Even when I’m wearing sunglasses, and no one can possibly see if I’m looking up or down. I have to concentrate to not actively avoid eye contact when I’m walking by myself in public (and eye contact in and of itself doesn’t bother me at all). It’s a learned defense mechanism from 30+ years of street harassment.

          2. Exactly.

            We may live in a country where saying, “Keep your eyes on the ground, bitch, or I will slap you silly,” is illegal, but they still find a way to collectively make and enforce the threat. Women must keep their eyes on the ground in subservience.

      4. I do what Lil Fidget does and it works.

        But fuck it, you do you. Imagine Chrisjen Avasarala is following you around. When inevitable dude shows up and behaves like the only possible reason you would be speaking is to get sexual attention, hear her roar:

        “Whoever the fuck you are, stand down and let her speak…. Unless there is something you don’t want her to say”

      5. I’m very similar to you in that I tend to be super open with people fairly quickly. Certain aspects of my life have lead me to be more circumspect about some things, but overall I just feel happier and more myself when I’m not watching everything I say to make sure I’m not revealing too much.

        I suspect that for people who are less open, that comes more naturally to them? I don’t think either way is better or worse. It’s about what’s comfortable, not what’s “right” or normal or whatever.

        In your shoes, I’d probably weigh up the joy I got from being more open vs the frustration of people assuming that meant I didn’t have boundaries before making any decisions about how I was going to change my behavior. Any choice you make about that is ok, I just think it’s important to keep in mind the question isn’t “what’s the right way to handle this” but rather “what’s going to make me happiest?”

    2. Want to zero in on your advice not to give out your number. No longer giving out my number was huge for me.

      When I first moved to my city, I went to all the meetup groups and took all the classes and went to all the house parties. And when friendly guys asked for my number so they could show me that hiking trail/part of town/dance meetup we’d been talking about I was like, “Sure!”

      This drew me into spiraling flirty never-ending text convos. Ignoring texts led to hurt feelings and ange . And meanwhile by phone was beeping constantly with pointless messages like, “Hey, good morning!” And “Whatchu up to tonight? ;).” And then, if I answered, they’d get creepier like, “So where do the cute girls go on Friday nights?” Sometimes I would even get calls from them. And voicemails.

      So I started saying, “I don’t give out my number. I prefer adding new friends on FB.” And then they get added to my limited filter which basically shows just my profile picture. I don’t even use my real name on Facebook. Facebook meassages are easier to ignore than texts if they decide to send them. If they prove to be cool, I’ll add them to my regular filter.

      Sometimes I will get pushback like, “I’m not hitting on you! I ask all new friends for their numbers!” And I say “I know, but I’ve leaned the hard way to not give my number to men I’ve just met. I have horror stories. I’m sure you understand.”

      1. Yeah, even that mild pushback is a red flag for me, and would result in them never getting my number or address. Ever.

      2. I think if a guy hasn’t learned yet to simply give women his phone number and not ask for theirs, he either a) hasn’t been dating very long or b) is being willfully dumb about it because he really does want her to not have the choice of calling him or not.

        1. To be fair, lots of guys are getting bad advice like, “You have to ask for the woman’s number because women want you to make the first move! If you give her yours so that SHE can text YOU first, she will be so turned off by your lack of masculinity.”

          I’ve had to tell men loudly and often that, seriously, it’s ok to just give her your number and say, “Text me if you ever want to hit the trails!” I am filled with relief when men do this. I am married now. And when a man does this, I am way more likely to invite him to parties/group outings. Because I know he will get along with my friends because he’s not the kind of man who wants to collect women’s numbers so he can text them things like, “Hey” at his leisure.

          1. How on Earth did “Hey” become such an infuriating word. It seems so innocuous, AND YET.

          2. Agree with this probably being the dude’s perspective – but on the other hand, if LW is encountering dudes she doesn’t want to date, and trying to indicate that, this can be a good filter. They shouldn’t be worrying about “having to make the masculine first move” if they are contractors / potential platonic hiking buddies anyway. And yes, declining to give my phone number and offering instead that the person can FB me is actually one of those little tests I conduct. Being pushy about it is an automatic fail to advance. Sadly, it’s all kind of so subconscious / automatic at this point that it’s hard to even put it into words.

          3. To be honest, a guy who falls for that kind of “advice” isn’t one I’d want to date.

          4. @Allya (out of nesting) I suspect it’s because it once was a super-casual greeting and these days it’s more likely to be the opener to a series of negs/things that treat other people like they have cheat codes, etc.

            Kind of maybe a little linguistic BEC?

          5. @sistercoyote, I think you nailed it.

            I found it aggravating before it had necessarily gotten that far, because I had been fed up for years with dudes trying to chat me up / ask me out without bothering to make themselves worth listening to. I was sick and tired of having to tell men to buzz the fuck off when they would ask me to dinner or coffee without having given the slightest sign or hint that they were capable, ever, of having a conversation that would be of any interest to me.

            It’s really fucking rude and arrogant to presume I am so desperate for some way to fill my time that I would ever consider making an appointment for a conversation with some random fucking asshole WHO CANNOT EVEN CONVERSE.

            And yeah, I know they were all following advice commonly given to say, “I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I’d like to continue it over coffee/lunch/dinner,” but that is no excuse, when the “conversation” has entirely consisted of them barging in on a conversation I was having with someone else and looking at me admiringly, for that level of rudeness and disdain for my time. If they haven’t actually been delivering a conversation that was fun for me, they should continue the pattern of their sheer tedium by keeping their traps shut.

    3. I don’t know if I agree with this advice. Or rather…it definitely is practical, and may cut down on people approaching you (speaking to the general ‘you’ here, not necessarily you in particular!). But in my experience, the ones who are willing to be creepy will keep on being creepy anyways; the ones that get weeded out are mostly those that are willing to take no for an answer. And it comes with a downside–namely, that it cuts down on people approaching you. It makes it harder to make friends, connect with coworkers, etc. It’s a trade-off, and while I can see the benefits, I’m not sure it’s good universal advice–for a lot of people, it may not be worth it.

  8. OP, you are doing absolutely nothing wrong. It’s not you, and you shouldn’t have to change your behavior to keep men from hitting on you. You are 100% not to blame.

    But as a 30-ish woman, I’ve been dealing with this kind of male behavior long time, and a few years ago I did decide to change my behavior because I was just SO sick of dealing with dudes like this.

    If you decide to go the same route I did, here’s what works for me:

    *Don’t make eye contact with strange men in public–some will take it as an invitation to talk to you. If you can summon RBF, all the better.

    *When they do starting talk to you, be rude. Ignore them, cut them off (“Not interested!”), or just walk away. (Obviously only do this if you feel safe! Some dudes could respond in a violent/threatening manner to being ignored.)

    *Don’t smile or laugh at their jokes. I tend to be a friendly/smiley person but some dudes think any woman who smiles at them wants to get in their pants.

    *For men you have to engage with, avoid any jokey, buddy-buddy conversations. Stick to business–redirect every joke to something professional/business related.

    *For men who flat out admit they’re “a little in love with you,” let it be awkward: “Dude, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m here to make my writing better, not to get a boyfriend.”

    Basically, men like this tend to prefer women who make them feel good/comfortable. Whatever the opposite of comfortable is in any situation, do that. Be awkward, rude, direct, unfunny, etc. It will make them not want to be around you.

    1. Okay, I’m all over the comments today and I’m sorry but I actually literally had a man tell me that last paragraph when I was critiquing his attempts at hitting on me. (Which, let me be very clear, he ASKED FOR for some ungodly reason.)

      “You’re really cold.”
      “And not very welcoming.”
      “That’s what I’m going for.”
      “Guys don’t want cold and offputting. Guys want warm and inviting.”
      “Well, the next time I want to talk to somebody, I’ll remember that!”

      Seriously, if you can stand your ground when they push back on you for being cold, it is an A+ strategy.

      1. “Great it’s working halfway! Can you tell me how to be so coldly forbidding that you people dont talk to me at all?” (And by ‘you people’ I do not mean men.)

    2. mf’s advice is so excellent! I read the letter and I totally understand from OP’s upbringing why she’d want to be so open and engaging and friendly as an adult. But perhaps it’s time to create a threshold where the people over here get the engaging, friendly you and everyone over there gets the cordial but unopen you.

      Where people over here are defined as those you do want to openly engage and share your self with
      Where people over there are defined as those who you’d prefer more distant interactions (or no interaction at all) with

      Creating this threshold doesn’t mean you must revert to the way you were in your childhood. It just means that some people get more of the friendly, engaging you than others do. And that’s OK!

      1. Also remember that you ARE ALLOWED to change midstream with someone.

        Like, you can be friendly to start, and the moment they show that they’re not “safe,” you can GET cold and unfriendly, and distracted and distant.

        You told the story of the waitress, and that was a good interaction. There was probably something appealing in the way the waitress approached you (and you’d interacted with her a little bit one previous visits as well). So it was good.
        You liked it. And so you get to decide to keep on going with the friendliness and good feelings.

        If it had been creepy and awkward somehow, [b]it would be totally OK to pull back and get distant/colder.[/b]

        Just because you started out friendly and welcoming doesn’t mean you’re required to continue.

        Think of it as feedback (remember the “hot and cold” game from childhood? “you’re getting warmer, warmer, colder, colder…”)
        As they do something you don’t like, you give them “colder.”

        People deserve that feedback from you, so feel free to give it. And give it sooner (now that you’re alert to the need)

        1. (OP here)

          Your comment hits home. “you ARE ALLOWED to change midstream with someone” and “People deserve that feedback from you” When you say it like this, it’s so obvious. Every fade out and every ramp-down I’ve ever done is okay and allowed and even good?! What is this witchery.

          The Cap’s answer itself was so much to take in, and on top of it, this whole comment thread is amazing. Thank you.

    3. Good points here. You do have to be careful about how “friendly” you are with strange dudes who may not be trustable. I hate to say that, but not being super sparkly and yourself and friendly around dudes…might help.

      1. It is worthwhile to be wary and have boundaries, but the LW should not have to not be herself around anyone. The problem is not her. The problem is the dudes. I realize that there is a fundamental imbalance in our society that means she still has to take steps to protect herself, but not being herself shouldn’t be one of them.

      2. Assuming I make it outside I am the same friendly person with just about everyone, but I have a kind of opposite problem to the LW. So many times of being just normal friendly with a man at church or somewhere and then out of nowhere a really obvious and not at all subtle mention of his wife. I have honestly lost count of the number of times this has happened to me. In church (a lot!). At a bereavement group. In the checkout queue. Packing away pictures in an art gallery.

        I always want to say, ‘Good grief; I am just talking about the weather, not asking for a date!’ and ‘What the hell???’

        My h is dead, but I still wear a wedding ring. Quite literally no intention of dating anyone, ever again.

        I usually just make a mental note not to be friendly/myself any more, and feel myself cringing away from them. But I would love to have the right words to use in response to the ‘random wife’ moment.

        1. Does it have to be a problem, or your problem? Maybe they have had experiences in the past and are now being proactive? Maybe they have anxiety about being misunderstood when they are wanting to be friendly?

          1. What I mean is, it sounded like you were blaming your being yourself for their behaviour. And I’m disagreeing with that.

            If that wasn’t what you meant then good :).

          2. It sounded like you were suggesting that your behaviour caused them to mention their wives, that them mentioning their wives was a problem, that it was your problem, and that you felt you had to change your behaviour.

            I am suggesting that none of it really has anything to do with you and you should just keep being yourself and letting them mention their wives if they feel the need for some reason of their own.

            Maybe none of that applies or makes sense in the moment, or maybe I’ve completely misread your anecdote!

        2. Thank you for posting this comment (thanks to the LW, as well). It made me feel a little less alone in the “nope, just being friendly” camp. I had a great friendship with a colleague before he felt the need to set up a meeting to “apologize if he’d led me on” after he got engaged. I was so shocked that I think I could only manage a, “What? I think of you as one of the girls”*** in response. We’re still on ok-ish terms, but the interaction poisoned that well for me and put me on guard with him from then on. Basically I’ve become hyper aware of every interaction with him (and other dudes, for that matter) to try and ensure that I’m not doing anything that can be read as boundary crossing or flirty. It’s…exhausting.

          I think this type of thing is especially difficult because in their heads the “I’m taken” people are trying to be forthright and honest, but it just reveals that they’re viewing the person they interact with as having romantic or sexual potential. There’s nothing wrong with the thought or awareness–we’re all human, after all. I’m just not sure why it has to be highlighted by *saying* it. It feels a little unfair, since they’re clearing their own conscience while simultaneously creating a new emotional burden for the other person. Nobody’s a villain in the scenario but…it makes things really uncomfortable.

          ***I realize that this doesn’t preclude attraction for people who are not straight and who (like me) identify as a woman. ‘Twas just what popped into my head as the easiest way to communicate the idea that I had no romantic interest.

          1. Thank you for understanding; that helps tremendously. And yes, it is exhausting to try to make myself smaller and smaller so that other people don’t think I am flirting. I am far too old and far too – everything – to even think about going there.

            The random wife moment makes me feel as if I have been behaving lasciviously, when honestly just talking pictures, or the weather, or hymnbooks. Not that I go around talking to strange men, and certainly never in private; always very public, very normal places. Not the slightest thought of anything romantic, and then ‘the wife’ comment appears as a shield, and the effect is to make me wonder what it was that I said or did; whether I am, in fact, that person. As you rightly say, it poisons the well.

            One example of someone not getting the wrong idea was our curate, many years ago. Lovely young man, but I was still unhappily married at the time. Another parishioner one day told me that he was gay. Fair enough, and how wonderful! I asked him out for coffee, and he accepted, and over lunch I told him that I knew he was gay, and the only reason I mentioned it was because I wanted him to know this wasn’t a date; just friendship. He said, ‘I already knew that.’ We have been friends through good and bad times for both ever since (20 years plus).

            So it can be done.

    4. *For men who flat out admit they’re “a little in love with you,” let it be awkward: “Dude, that makes me uncomfortable. I’m here to make my writing better, not to get a boyfriend.

      For some reason, this reminded me of a Simpsons episode/interaction between Mr. Burns and Smithers that led to Mr. Burns saying “Thank you for making my last hours on Earth uncomfortable.”

    5. I do all of this. Not on purpose, it’s just my natural personality. I’ve been told I’m “intimidating” and “very direct” lol. And FWIW, men hardly ever hit on me! I guess that’s a good thing? Hahaha.

  9. OP, just wanted to reach out with solidarity. I got divorced last year and the number of offers…

    Also, issues in writer groups! I run some writer support groups on fb and had a guy reach out to me, after I commented on a post of his, wanting to vent about friends excluding him.

    It went from feeling neglected by his friends and needing someone outside the group to talk to, to “if you were single” in about 10 minutes. [something-your-energy-something-something-I-need-a-manic-pixie-girl-like-you]

    I went with “I’m flattered.” and topic change.

    Although, I did find a good response to “am I important” to someone I’ve had minimal interaction with ever. “You can be, if you want to be.”

  10. +1 to setting boundaries publicly. I had a creepy dude at work who liked to make inappropriate comments and touch me without asking. During a meeting, he tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention, and I used it as an opportunity to make an announcement to the group that “I don’t like to be touched.” It was horribly awkward and also effective. It had the added bonus of letting other guys know that I have boundaries and will speak up if needed.

    Also, LW, you didn’t mention this, but I used to think that dressing “modestly” and wearing little makeup would decrease unwanted male attention. It didn’t. I still like my crew neck t-shirts and can’t be bothered with an elaborate makeup routine, but guess what! Creepy guys still stare at my boobs. As CA said, it’s not our fault that some men are creeps. There is no secret dress code that will stop them from harassing you.

    1. sigh. So true. The only thing that has worked consistently is my 6’+ male partner showing up or being referenced. Even the kid is not always enough. Sexism sucks.

  11. Whoa, I’m sure this is a coincidence, but I know two people with names similar to the “Carl” and “Carrie” in the examples (and I believe Captain and I are locals of the same state). Either way, that name choice was spot-on/definitely resonated with me. *shudders*

    Based on what I know of this this IRL “Carl”– he has also sent inappropriate text messages to clients who are women/20+ years younger than him– the lighthearted deflecting approach may work best for you. As uncomfortable as it is for me to say, people like “Carl” don’t respond appropriately to women who behave assertively. They often take it as an act of aggression/disrespect if their target doesn’t perform some sort of emotional labor in their delivery. For this reason, I think it’s a safe bet to presume that he would become nasty/combative if he is directly confronted about his behavior.

    Like Belle said above, the fact that this is supposed to be a “good” problem- being bombarded with people who think you owe them your smile/laughter/attention/praise because you show that you have a lot of social capital… yeah. Okay. I guess if you haven’t had to deal with this, it may look appealing as a bystander. I’m sorry, LW.

  12. Uff, LW, this hit such nerve with me because this happens to me ALL*THE*TIME!! Basically, if I treat a guy – strangers, classmates, professionals that I need to work with- with kindness and respect apparently I’m flirting with him and it gets awkward FAST. Now, add friendliness because I’m enjoying myself and they seem fun and the awkward amps up tenfold.

    I found one quick way to nip it in the bud with the least amount of awkward is, when they ask me to do something even if my gut isn’t ringing the “ugh he’s sly hitting on me” alarm, I go “sure! But as platonic friends, right?” in a light but direct way

    I found this works a lot of the time because 1) if they weren’t trying for anything then they won’t care and sometimes can appreciate that we got that out of the way, 2) if they were trying to be sly, then that was shut down immediately and they can choose to be friends or not and they can kinda save face (not that I personally care) which makes the situation less weird 3) If they don’t answer “duh!” or get weird about it, I have all the information I need to know and can exit stage left.

    This doesn’t address the contractor situation or writing group guy, but I found it helps in everyday life. It doesn’t stop them from hitting on me (thanks toxic male entitlement!) but I found that it takes a lot of internal emotional stress of my plate.

    1. @LA, right with’ya.

      I grew up the only girl + 3 boys, 2 of them older, so I was raised in a sea of bloke-y banter / talking back / openness. This is my standard speech pattern when anyone tries to chat with me. My go-to when some guy comes on too hard or ‘assumes’ anything is to go back over whatever’s been said and think ,

      “Have I said anything to This Guy that I wouldn’t have said to one of my own brothers?”.

      If the answer no – and 9.5/10 it is – then he can have all the awkward he wants, it’s all on him. A guy can read into a conversation whatever he wants, but that creates no obligation on my part. I know what I meant, and I’m more than happy to explain if he misunderstood.

    1. I’m so glad the Captain said this. It is 100% true. These guys in LW’s world are acting so entitled to her time and attention. Especially the contractor. Especially the coworker. Especially the dude in her writing group. They should be the ones bending over backwards to make their feelings Not Her Problem. Not LW.

    2. So good that I’m seriously considering having it tattooed somewhere discreet but easily visible to me, like along the side of a finger.

      1. Please tell me it’s the middle one! That way when you need the reminder, you can send more than one message!

  13. I had this exact same problem when I got out of my last relationship. I didn’t realize how many guys were truly just sticking around to see if I’d bone them until I got into a relationship with my current fiance, though. Captain did a fantastic job of the tactical options, I’m just here to tell you that strategically? You’re probably going to have to cut out a LOT of people. And it’s sad, and it sucks, but good news! There are lots of people! Keep cutting out anyone who doesn’t respond to your friendlyfriendfriendship gracefully, and like Captain said, keep being awesome!

    1. “I’m just here to tell you that strategically? You’re probably going to have to cut out a LOT of people.”

      This has been my experience as well. Now that I’m married, I seem to be able to have male friends since the ones who might be interested openly hitting on me/asking me out. But when I was single? Nope. I could never seem to keep male friends because they would always develop feelings and it would get weird.

  14. I work in a very male-dominated, boundary-less industry, and my technique for avoiding this stuff is aggressive obliviousness. A guy says something flirty? “Oh, yeah,” I say, like he’s commenting on the weather. It shuts down all but the most egregious dudes. Unfortunately this only really works for professional situations – it’s hard to maintain that emotional distance in closer personal relationships.

    1. I use obliviousness too, and I do it in my personal as well as my professional life. As a naive young thing, I WAS completely oblivious to people’s attempts to hit on me, to the point where I just realized recently that the time I went out with friends 20 years ago was actually supposed to be a double-date. Whoops. However! I can now do the oblivious dance very convincingly every damn time I need to waltz out of a sticky situation. My default setting is “Of course you aren’t hitting on me, you’re married/a coworker/40 years older than I am!” Occasionally I am a bit put out that I have to act like a complete airhead who can’t see the obvious, but, eh, it’s kept me from dealing with a lot of men’s feels, whether they’re sadfeels or pantsfeels or what-have-you. Bonus: also works with drama you don’t want to get involved with, especially family stuff.

      1. Me too! Like you, I was genuinely oblivious when I was younger. Now, it’s protective coloration. I can also pull off naive very well- being a former librarian helps with that one. People seem to assume librarians are unworldly beings, which can be rather useful.

        However, there are days when it’s infuriating to need this as a shield.

  15. LW, one quick thing: You don’t have to beat yourself up or apologize for having this problem!

    I just notice that you’re quick to point out that “your looks are thoroughly average” and sign off with the self-deprecating “The Woman With The Problem Most People Wish They Had.” You don’t have to tear yourself down! You’re not conceited for acknowledging that men keep hitting on you, and this is a real, legitimate problem that you’re allowed to be upset about.

    Best of luck to you–we have your back!

    1. This.. LW, I urge you to reframe the problem as “I get unwanted attention from entitled jerks”.

      1. This. So much this. I’m sure there is someone out there who appreciates attention from entitled jerks (maybe because it’s better than no attention at all), but ‘unwanted’ is the decisive word here. If you don’t want the attention, it’s not a great thing. And anyone who tells you you should be glad for it is just trying to manipulate you into feeling you ought not to complain about it – I bet none of those people (none of those men?) would appreciate being catcalled, having 80-year old women creep on them, and constantly needing to explain that no, they didn’t want to talk marriage and children right now, they were trying to drink a coffee BY THEMSELVES, thank you very much.

        No problem is ‘nice to have’. Some problems are more first world problems than others – which of these dream jobs should I accept? – but even THAT is still a problem: you’re asked to make a life-changing decision, uproot yourself and your family, turn down other things that make your heart sing (and maybe feel you’re closing a door forever)… and what if it doesn’t work out? There’s a lot of things more stressful than a ‘good problem’ like that, but that doesn’t mean we should completely ignore the person’s stress. They can still do with some empathy and advice.

        What you’re going through sounds much more stressful. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder, you’re weighing every interaction with ‘will this person respect my boundaries’ and that, frankly, sucks SO MUCH that I can’t imaging anyone signing up for it.

  16. Dear LW,

    The good news is that the number of men propositioning you and then getting hurt when you say no may decline.

    The bad news is that the number doesn’t hit zero.

    (I’m nearly 60. The horde of men propositioning me whenever they think I’m not busy tonight is smaller than when I was 36. Sadly, some of the remaining horde members now think I should be grateful for their attention. I’m not.)

    Anyway, it’s not your fault.

    The Captain’s advice for managing your contractor and your writing acquaintance is golden.

    I second getting a new contractor now if at all possible. If it’s not possible for this job, at least don’t hire this guy again (if possible).

    Please keep writing, without regard to that guy. The guy’s feelings are his issue, not yours.


  17. I know Cap just said this in the previous letter, but I want to reiterate the shitty sad truth that There Is No Magic Way To Make Dudes Not HIt On You. And it sucks, and it’s awful, but I think it’s important to try and reframe the problem from “aaah, I am doing something wrong and everyone’s giving me unwanted attention!” into “all these people are doing something wrong by not being able to read the situation”.

    There is not a secret series of steps that keeps dudes from flirting with you. They’re gonna do it (until we can eradicate the boundary-crossing behavior from our societal norms and may that be now and not later) and it’s super unfair that for a lot of people receiving this attention, their first thought is “shit, what did I do wrong?”

    Please don’t think you’re doing wrong. Please don’t think you have to change.

    1. Yes! The OP seems to be interpreting the situation as: “All these dudes keep hitting on me, and I’m the common denominator, so there must be something I should do differently!”

      OP, the actual common denominator is them. These dudes have been socialized to go after who and want they want, AND they feel entitled to keep pursuing it even without encouragement, AND they feel entitled to pout at you when you’re not interested. (I’ll leave out your writer friend if you like; it sounds like he may have caught genuine feelings and may not be a jerk, but it’s still his responsibility to manage his feelings now that he knows they aren’t reciprocated. I’m assuming he hasn’t come out and asked you to hold back details in your writing, and that’s your idea. You mean well, but it’s a bad idea! It won’t help anybody!)

      Don’t take undue responsibility for these guys’ behavior or for their feelings. These things are not of your making, and you cannot unmake them.

    2. You could seriously be crouched in a corner cradling a great big knife next to a sign that says “Talk To Me And I’ll Gut You” and dudes would still be trying to get your number.

      1. For example (and I bet lots of other people have similar stories), the day I was hunched as close to the wall of the bus as I could get, with my headphones on loud enough that FG could probably hear the music and with my nose practically touching my book, my body language as close to shouting “GO AWAY” as I could make it…and STILL he approached me with that most classic of pick-up lines: “Whatcha Reading?”

        Guys who feel entitled to your time and (sexual) attention will continue to hit on you no matter what. You aren’t the problem. And I know the common narrative is that women do want guys to hit on them/to get lots of attention/to be attractive but I would like to remind you that guys write most of that narrative. Not women.

        1. (nods at book) “It’s about a woman who stabs annoying guys on the bus”.

          1. I think someone should write that book. Maybe that’ll be my self-assigned writing prompt tomorrow…

          2. Ooh I need that as a book cover so I can recover every book ever with that!

      2. “Aw, c’mon, you wouldn’t really gut me, would you?” And the answer you’re supposed to give: “Yes, you’re right, I was just testing whether you’d be brave enough to ignore the sign and approach me anyway. Well done.”

  18. “IDK how to get him to back off without risking losing this thing rarer than unicorns – a good, affordable contractor.”

    I kind of find myself wondering if he’s this good for people he isn’t attracted to. I don’t have any evidence that he isn’t, but the comment gave me Loan-Sharking vibes a la Gavin de Becker. Is he cheap and reliable for YOU to keep you in his “debt?” (As though we owe anything but the agreed-upon fees to contractors who actually fulfill the terms of the contract.)

    1. My ‘cheap and reliable’ roofer showed up on time sure enough. To flirt. He was cheap. Best dealz for the ladies! He even brought me frickin freebies like plants and planters. BECAUSE HE WAS FLIRTING. Turned out months later that he was cheaping out on the materials and my roof slid off in a storm.

      Also this guy is not rare.

  19. I hate that it was necessary, but inventing an assistant with an email address is so delicious, Captain. I love it.

    1. What about forwarding the inappropriate email to someone (fake assistant if needs be), pretending you’re asking their opinion and oops! copying in the offender ? Something like “Hey Jan, can you take a look at this email from my contractor? I feel it’s crossing a line and that he’s flirting with me, but I don’t know for sure. I’m not interested, obviously, but do I speak to him about this or am I imagining it ?”. If he’s sensible, he’ll never mention it again, and if he does raise it and say ha-ha, of COURSE he was joking, then you look all innocent because of course he was, you just needed to get someone else’s opinion, phew, what a relief etc etc.

  20. Each of these guys certainly sees himself as an individual guy

    LW, you see a series of snowflakes that are going to smother everything in your life. You don’t owe them anything.

  21. LW, I don’t think most people wish they had this problem. I very very rarely have people hit on me even when I wish someone would, and I still have never found myself wishing my plumber/coworker/etc would hit on me.

    And I have definitely never ever wished I got to meet more people who were jerks about taking no for an answer!

    1. I broke up with my ex 3 years ago now. I don’t have this problem. I don’t wish I had this problem. Very happy to be single and left alone.

      I agree with the others that this isn’t your fault. You haven’t done anything wrong. You have nothing to apologize for and no need to minimize either yourself or the magnitude of the problem you’re experiencing. The idea that women WANT to be objectified/sexualized in all contexts and constantly hit on is just another bullshit facet of patriarchy.

      I also agree that for some (too many) men, anything other than flat affect or outright hostility will be interpreted as a come-on, invitation to flirt, etc. Again, not your fault. And you are not obliged to stuff yourself down into a flat emotionless box to accommodate/deflect their bullshit assumptions and behaviors.

      Keep being your butterfly self now that you’ve escaped the cocoon and finally get a chance to fly and admire the breadth of your multicolored wings. Just keep an eye out for the predators, hone your evasive maneuvers, and aim for the other noncreepy butterflies.

    2. I think the only people who wish to have this problem are the people who both a) have never had this problem, and b) have never considered what it would actually be like to have this problem.

      I have met some people (mostly straight guys, go figure) who think they would love to have this problem. I’m pretty sure they’re envisioning waves of super-what-they-want-in-a-partner people hitting on them, where they’d love to date any of their potential suitors, and all prospective suitors are respectful of their answers so the only problem is the volume. AKA they don’t have a clue what the problem actually is.

      1. One of the hallmarks of privilege is being free to ignore people who want something from you, without worrying much about consequences. I’ve noticed that some straight men take this so much for granted that they mentally edit out the existence of women they don’t want to sleep with.

        1. This.
          Guys seem to think they’ll have Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, and Jennifer Garner slipping them their numbers.
          Women know it’s having to find a new gas station because the cashier at ARCO creeped on them.

      2. yup, it’s a Thing where guys complain about women have it so much easier when it comes to finding partners because men have to do the approaching. And it gets much grosser when it goes to that place about how women have privilege because they can get casual sex more easily. But I’ll leave that rant for now.

        the weird thing is that most guys I know actually get even more awkward and don’t know how to respond when a woman they aren’t into does actually hit on them. I guess because they’re not used to it, not taught to respond, so it completely throws them for a loop. They’re envisioning themselves going “Oh, ladies, please, there’s enough of me to go around!” like in a bad cartoon but in reality they’re like “uhhh I have to go wash the cat!” and flee. (YMMV obviously, this is my very nerdy friend circle.)

        1. Back when I was young and single, I asked guys out a few times and learned very quickly that a) “I’ll have to let you know in a couple of days” was weasel words for “No”, and b) if they had any interest at all, they’d do the asking.

      3. I don’t actually wish I had this problem, but it’s sometimes really hard to beat off the societal messaging that says I’m horrible and weird and broken because guys don’t harass me.

        1. Oh, yeah, definitely we can feel the societal pressure of “The entire point of women is to be attractive and available for men, so if you’re not appealing to men, you’re failing/worthless,” while acknowledging that this isn’t actually a problem we want. I think that’s a really common feeling, because we do get that message as part of being socialized as women. I was speaking more to the guys who pull the “What are you complaining about, I WISH women hit on me everywhere I went!” nonsense, which is an entirely different beast.

        2. Yeah, it’s interesting. I was/am delighted not to be hit on anymore. I’m married, which I think has smoothed out a some otherwise-potentially-awkward relationships, and I am living in a nice quiet place sans street harassers, and perhaps my age or clothing or some unknown factor is finally working. But just lately there has been a tiny piece of me going…”Should I feel bad about this? Am I unattractive, and if so is that terrible? Shouldn’t I feel upset about getting older?”

    3. I don’t have this problem and would cheerfully accept it! I recognize that it has serious downsides (I mean I read the letter, the LW is describing a real problem and the Captain gave a great answer) but the idea that the tradeoff wouldn’t be worth it to anyone… is not true. If your choices are “no attention at all ever” and “lots of attention but plenty of it is bad” there are plenty of people who, not unreasonably, would pick door number two.

      1. Behind door number two is a life of fear, a high likelihood of violence, and the certainty that you will be blamed for all of it. Still want it?

        That’s the thing people who say “I would love to have that problem!” don’t get. You have no idea what having that problem is actually like – you only know what having YOUR problem is like. So it seems like the worst. But I promise you, a life of loneliness and unwanted solitude is *materially, objectively better* than a life wherein you die because the wrong person paid attention to you. One of these problems can be solved by buying a cat or joining a book club. The other cannot.

        1. Women make this choice all the time – e.g. to go out to a club vs to stay home. And some do choose to take the risk, because they don’t want the loneliness or to be celibate or to give up fun things they love. Everyone makes their own choices in a bad situation and it doesn’t make that person wrong.

      2. I don’t have this problem either and there are definitely times when I find myself trying to do the math of the pros and cons and wondering if there is some threshold where I’d be willing to put up with it if it was mild enough, if it meant I might occasionally have decent guys not avoid me too.

        What I really want is to be able to turn it on and off though. To not repel every single person, just the ones I want to repel.

        It seems kind of surreal that this math exists in the first place.

    4. One of the things I love about being grey haired and post-menopausal is being able to move about the world just as men do, without even having to think about it.

  22. LW, the best thing about these dudes is they’re not you. Their feelings are not your feelings. You are not responsible for solving them.

    It sucks hardcore that you can’t be your awesome, friendly self without people trying to get in your pants. That’s super frustrating. Sometimes it’d be nice if a conversation was just a conversation, you know? But it’s okay to turn people down and it’s okay for them to be sad about that – you are awesome, after all! – but you don’t need to help them find ways to not be sad. They’ve been sad about things like this before, they’ll be sad about things like this again.

    Being fresh out of something and learning to see the world in a new way is hard, too, and I feel like you learn all kinds of things changed while you were operating in a different mindset. And you’ve got some added struggles I can’t pretend to know how to work through, to boot. But it sounds like you’re giving yourself the tools to learn, and that’s the best thing you can do.

    Jedi hugs if you want them, LW.

    1. I want to reiterate this:
      “They’ve been sad about things like this before, they’ll be sad about things like this again.”

      LW, unless these men have a conglomeration of current romantic partners because every single person they have flirted with/asked out has responded in kind and never ever ended it, these men have consistently failed to die of Unrequited Pantsfeels in the past.
      You will be neither the first nor last person to say, “No, thanks.”

  23. This is definitely a gendered issue. The contractor knows he has access to your phone number and house—things that he’s supposed to be using for professional purposes only, to complete a job that you hired him to do—and is trying to flip the power dynamic so he can use these things for personal access to you and your attention. He knows he’s using these things as leverage. And the age thing…we’re supposed to “respect our elders”, right? Society pressures women to make men happy and prioritize men’s comfort over all else—even their own safety. This goes double for telling older men “no”. They think they’re entitled.

    Allowing relatively reasonable people to save face in a situation and escape with their dignity intact almost always works to your benefit, though I’d dump the contractor. This one seems too close for comfort.

    1. Flashback here: many, many years ago after my first marriage ended, I went to the local H and R Block tax place to get some help filing my taxes as there were some leftover things I wasn’t sure about from the divorce. The guy who helped me with the forms actually got in touch about a week later to ask me out. I told him NO and he didn’t ask again. If I had it to do again, I would have reported him to his bosses there. Chances are, if he was doing this to me, he was doing it to other women.

    2. Several commenters have mentioned the fact that the contractor has access to your house. If you decide not to hire him again, would it paranoid or prudent to change the locks?

      1. Prudent.

        If nothing ever happens because he would never go that far, great. She’s out some money at worst.

        If he WAS the type to try to get in and do something, then she’s put up a mitigating effort against a tremendous risk.

        1. We did a major remodel years and years ago, and IIRC we had a lock box on the house, so the contractor and work folks never had permanent access to the keys (in theory, anyway). Even so we rekeyed the locks when we were done. I think the contractor actually told us to.

    3. Yeah, I think “affordable” takes on a very different cast when you put a value on all the time and energy you’ve spent wondering how to deal with this guy’s latest creepy come-on, or trying to banish the lingering feeling of ick, or bracing yourself for whatever he’s going to say next. YMMV, but the satisfaction of telling him our ongoing working relationship and any recommendations I might be inclined to give are contingent on his level of professionalism from here on out would be well worth the risk of having to look for someone who might need more precise directions but will just say “Yes, ma’am” and get on with the work.

  24. Hey LW. I’m pretty much invisible to my desired public (women), and sometimes I wish people noticed that I exist, but hey, I am sorry that you get that much unwanted attention, and sometimes if it’s someone close, it can be hard to have to hurt someone’s feelings. The rare cases that happened to me, I found helpful to remind myself that it wouldn’t be fair to either one if I tried to hook up with someone that I don’t have feelings (or attraction) for. Saying no can be kind.

    As for the contractor, it reminded me of an uber ride where the guy spent 40 minutes trying to convince me to be his girlfriend. I was very, very close to panicking, as he could pretty much just drive away with me at any time. Try to put boundaries, but if it doesn’t help, I would just look for someone else.

  25. The Captain didn’t elaborate on this point that she made:

    ” your contractor should be thinking “Oh shit, what if perving on my client ruins this business relationship with a great person who pays on time and who can recommend me for other work.””

    So w/ the contractor, one approach might be, “Contractor, I’m going to ask you to stop with the flirty texts; it’s really uncomfortable for me. I like being able to think of you as a really able contractor whose work I can recommend to my friends. Please don’t ruin that, and don’t mistake my general friendliness for flirting. I’d like to go back to just talking about this job.”

    (But then you do need to go back to just the job with him–it would be good practice for being semi-friendly and with boundaries)


  26. Oh, LW, I am relating so hard. When I graduated high school, I was so excited about the chance to be *me*, not what my restrictive, narrow minded private school cohort had decided I was (& they firmly stomped on any attempts by me to change that narrative – it was bizarre and awful, especially considering I was only there for the final 3 years of high school – some kids had been in that same cohort since they started primary school, and the damage took years to unwind). Anyway, uni meant – high spirits! Confidence! Ability to talk to anyone and enjoy all of it! It was magnificent.

    But exactly the same thing happened. Years of being hit on and blamed for it because I was ‘too nice’. And struggling to extract myself from those situations which always led to anger and upset from the rejected and all kinds of social upheaval. As a focal point of drama, even good friends can end up associating it with you, and blaming you for it.

    It was not my fault. It is not your fault.

    I would like to say it gets better with time (& I think it does, a bit) but I was just wondering the other day why I seem to have this wonderful extended network of amazing women, both friends and great colleagues, but not so many men. And this is basically why.

    I have great men in my life (my husband, my brothers in law, my dad, a select few others), but I am now very very cautious about building a friendship (or even friendly professional relationship) too quickly with men. This is sad and exhausting but for me, taking it slowly has helped to weed out the problem dudes who see rapid friendship as an invitation to be creepy and entitled.

    I’m sad to realise this is a strategy I actually use. But it seems to help, and although I miss that fun insta-connection feeling (finding another one of ‘your people’ is so great!), the men worth being friends with eventually become clear.

    I’m sorry it won’t help with the ones who ‘catch’ feelings, but the Cap has great advice for that.

    Although as an aside, I also find calling men ‘mate’, ‘tiger’ or similar masculine sounding friend name (YMMV, whatever works in your culture) can help keep things friendly but not flirty in their minds.

    BUT: there is LITERALLY NOTHING *you* can do to change someone else’s behaviour. As the cap says, it is THEIR choice. So all of the above is not really a strategy to make them stop, because entitled creepy blokes will still be entitled and creepy.

    Solidarity. Keep being your wonderful self and don’t internalise the consequences of someone else’s choices.

  27. My mum recently went on a cruise and one of the things she prepped (prepped!) was what to do when the old dudes inevitably creeped on her. Because she’s in her 60s and retired and is obviously looking for a retirement-husband *eyeroll*

    Her preferred response is “oh I’m far too selfish to see somebody! Ha ha ha”. *walks away* It’s (un)surprising how quickly dudes move on when they realise you have zero interest in “looking after them”.

    1. My mom and her coterie of ladyfriends used to howl at their weekly lunches about the retired dudes who hit on them because they were really on the prowl for “a nurse or a purse.” Funny, but sad.

  28. I love how many strategies the Captain listed for handling this. I feel like this kind of question often gets the “Say no, let him be sad, his feelings are not your problem!” response…which is true, we should be able to communicate directly and other people’s feelings mostly shouldn’t be our problem, but sometimes it’s more complicated than that. Like when it’s your friend and their feelings kind of are your problem because they’re interfering in your relationship. Or when they’re your coworker and their flirting is on a level that could be construed as joking, and you don’t want to escalate and potentially destabilize your work relationship by treating it too seriously. I think it’s really useful to discuss other options for handling unwanted flirting for when saying “No way, Carl, cut it out!” feels like the wrong approach.

    1. Yeah! I like the *idea* of “let him be sad,” but that can’t really fly when you have to soothe and appease someone who is regularly in your life and you can’t avoid and you *need* to be on good terms with.

      1. Or when it’s someone who lets their sadness turn to anger, and blames you. I’ve had some experience with dudes who decided I was their Forever Princess, got rejected, then turned around proclaimed me the Whore of Babylon and made it their mission to smite the vile woman. It is scary as hell, and it’s happened more than once. Last time it happened I was in college, about a decade ago, but I’m still really scared of that. A determined dude with a bruised ego can ruin your life.

        That being said, you can’t plan your life around that. Reject the people you don’t want to date, be a mensch about it, and let the pieces fall as they may. They may be vengeful knights or not. Either way there’s nothing you can do about it but be your own awesome self.

        1. “A determined dude with a bruised ego can ruin your life”

          That is literally how GamerGate started. A dude with a bruised ego picked up some minions on 4chan and they set out to ruin Brianna Wu’s life.

  29. I’m so sorry. I hope you know it’s not you, it’s them?

    During my days as a hot young thing, when the dudes were annoying and thick, I discovered a technique that worked fairly well. It was what my friend nicknamed The Quelling.

    It didn’t work for her. It only works if you’re expressive, I guess? I’m pretty expressive and it sounds like you are too. Maybe it will work for you.

    It works only in person. But all inappropriate comments we’re met with lifted eyebrows, a librarian’s glare (equal parts shock that he would violate convention, disappointment and admonishment), and disapproving pursed lips. It was followed by a flat voiced neutral comment like ‘huh’. There’s nothing actionable about it — you’re not saying anything — but it’s clearly a boner killer.

    The glasses are key here. They evoke prissy librarian cliches.

    (I learned this after temping and my boss at a long term temp job asked me away for a long weekend. He was married and more than twice my 22 years and waited til I’d asked for a letter of recommendation to do it. Never did get that letter….)

    1. YES! Quell that shit! I’m a not-terrible-looking lady in her early forties (and oddly, I’m getting better-looking as I get older), and I NEVER get hit on. I’m in a female-dominated profession, which helps a lot, but I don’t get approached in public, either. Here’s my secret: 1. The 1000-Yard Stare. I do not make eye contact with strange men. When I’m running errands or whatever, I look at the dairy case or the gas pump or the clearance rack or my phone or whatever. I make eye contact with and smile at other ladies and children only. If I accidentally make eye contact with a dude, I look right through him like he’s not even there. This takes practice, but it’s SO worth it. 2. If m’dude does ask for my attention, I give him My. Full. Attention. Which. I’m an English professor. That’s a lot of attention. I face him directly and wait, with not-quite-polite expectation and no smile, for him to state his business. Think Professor McGonagall if Maggie Smith were 5’10”. I’m told it’s terrifying. Lol. If the dumb questions they usually ask were intended to be pretexts, The Smith almost always scares them back into shape. And if they weren’t hitting on me, awesome. No harm, no foul. Meanwhile, this is how I care for my introverted self. I have students, coworkers, and a family and only so much energy to spend doing people things. Smiling at a baby or telling a lady that I love her earrings is energizing. Interacting with dudes is not. It’s often downright draining. So no. Do not want.

      1. I am going to practice The Smith until I perfect it. I’m 5’10” and would deeply love to intimidate the dudes that demand my time.

      2. I use not-making-eye-contact, along with Walking With Purpose and it has made a world of difference. I’ve also (it can be done!) learned how to change my Resting Talk To Me face to Resting Bitch Face (protip: make sure your lips are closed; when we relax we tend to have them slightly open, keeping them pressed together [which takes a bit of active doing at first] changes how your face looks to this more neutral “don’t fuck with me” look). Like the LW, I am also very friendly and open and I used to get hit on ALLLLLL the time. I do love to flirt and so I do still get approached, but now it’s because I have chosen to be more relaxed and open in that moment and MUCH LESS rando dudes on the street or what-have-you.

        1. Do you ever think about the fact that dudes don’t have to analyze their micro expressions and body language and construct a facade and maintain it 24/7 in Publix c? Do you think about how dudes just go outside? Like… Just go outside with out doing the boob check (bra, yes), the purse check (wallet, keys phone) the shoes check, the tampon check….. They just go. It’s saddening.

          1. I once got into an Internet fight with a guy who insisted it wasn’t sexist that women’s professional wear rarely has usable pockets. His argument was, “If women really cared about that stuff, they’d vote with their dollars and change the fashion industry.” When I pointed out that we can’t “just” boycott clothes and there are very intense social reasons why we can’t “just” wear men’s clothing, he changed tack and said we should start our own clothing companies. (Yes, all of us, apparently.)
            I said, “So basically, you acknowledge that for women to get something we want, we have to work way harder than men do and go to a shitload more trouble.”
            “Well, life’s not fair!”
            Um, yes, I believe that is indeed what I was complaining about.

          2. Do you ever think about the fact that dudes don’t have to analyze their micro expressions and body language and construct a facade and maintain it 24/7 in Publix c?

            Allistic White cis men (in White-dominated societies). People of color of any gender in areas that are White-dominated do this all the time. Autistic people of any gender do this constantly. Plenty of trans and genderqueer people worry about ‘passing’ and maintain a constant facade to do so, especially in restrooms. Gender isn’t the only axis of privilege where this issue comes up.

          3. Johann7: Thanks! Came here to say exactly that. A number of my friends and family have to go through questions like “can I wear a hoodie? If I put something in my back pocket, will someone think it’s a gun?” And that’s not getting to some of the other examples you brought up.

        2. I have a decent RBF, but I also make it as difficult as possible for anyone to get my attention without drawing unfriendly attention to themselves (no one on the subway wants to listen to you get ignored, dude). I always have earbuds in while out and about (YMMV on this, don’t do it if you don’t feel safe, or wear them but don’t actually listen to anything, the point is that it gives you the excuse to Not Hear people you don’t want to engage), I keep my head down or my eyes on a distant point if I need to watch where I’m going, if I’m sitting on a bus or train my attention is laser focused on my phone – people seem less likely to disturb me if I’m using a phone vs reading a book, but joke’s on them because I can read books on my phone!

          None of these things are guaranteed, of course, and being a fairly un-notable person definitely factors in, as well as having an introverted personality that means I’ve cultivated escape techniques. OP, you sound like you want to meet cool people and make friends, and you should do that if you want to! But if you also get unwanted attention on the sidewalk or in transit, some of this could help. It doesn’t mean you can’t take off your headphones and tell somewhat what a cool pin/dress/hairstyle they have!

      3. Ha! You have me wondering if my (possibly autistic?) Complete Distaste For Eye Contact is part of why I don’t get hit on as often as I would expect to*. I hardly ever look my friends in the eyes proper, I sure as hell don’t make eye contact with strangers. (with the exception of babies. I will totally mug for the baby behind me in line, every time.)

        I also love your use of the professorial “I thought there were no stupid questions but you’re making me reconsider” stance. A drunk dude once threw a snowball** at me while I was biking past and I dismounted, whirled around, and started stalking towards him with full You Are Getting A Detention Now teacher rage. He and his friends nearly fell over themselves apologizing.

        *I’m female-assigned and often female-presenting, tiny, and cute as hell. The fact that I don’t get catcalled _all the fucking time_ is something I am both grateful for and often confused by. I absolutely do not want to get as much harassment as my friends, but I’m surprised I don’t already.

        **Loose packed and powdery, but still, _what the hell_

        1. Huh, same! I’m also female (cis female, in my case), tiny, and have been called cute. I have basically never been catcalled. Not that I particularly want to be, but it’s kind of weird. Now I’m realizing I also have possibly-autistic Lack of Eye Contact…

      4. I call that look the “Who the f**k are you and how dare you speak to me” look, but “The Smith” is much catchier. Hope you don’t mind if I steal it. 🙂

  30. This letter reminds me of the story of Diarmuid and Gráinne. I always imagined what hell his life must have been, having a magic attractor-button on his head. This is all to say that I think many people would recognize that it is not easy to be attractive to others so often!

  31. I have the same problem. I think I have Resting Nice Face, along with a chest and long hair.

    Cap’s solutions are good. I just wish I didn’t have to use them. Being put in the situation of having to set out that boundary again and again is tiring and annoying. I’m 60, fat, and don’t dress stylishly. Why I can’t be left alone I don’t know.

  32. Dear LW

    I realise me saying this will not solve any problems for you, but…


  33. Thanks for asking this, I’ve wanted to ask on and off for ages. I keep finding new ways in which I sabotage my own boundaries for the sake of guys’ potential feelings. I feel like I need “let him be sad” tattooed on my forehead 😉

  34. OP, I just wanted to comment on your point 3, as other folks have done a marvelous job with the rest of the letter. This is the age that it starts with most of us. I have a distinct memory of walking from my house to the public pool at around 11 or 12, oh so alluring in my neon geometric patterned one piece, glasses, and AWFUL bobbed hair, and having dudes in their 20s yelling at me out of a pickup truck. It’s lessened since, but never stopped entirely. Which is part of the horrifying thing. The second we show even a hint of starting the process of going through puberty, it becomes valid to comment on our bodies in public. You were a child. I was a child. We did nothing wrong.

  35. “I once had a creepy freelance client who was overly familiar in his emails and chat communications, so I invented a fake assistant & made a Gmail address for her and started CC-ing her on my responses to him – “Oh hey, Carl, I’m copying my colleague Carrie so that she can get to work on that research for you.” Once he thought someone else was reading his 11:30 pm suggestions about how if I was still awake we could “meet up for a drink and talk about work…or other topics…” he STFU. I finished his project as fast as I humanly could and then turned down all future work.”

    You are awesome lmao!

  36. “The Woman With The Problem Most People Wish They Had”

    LW, I have this problem too, although like you said it’s gotten so much better since I got married. The name you chose struck a chord with me. I never, never, never found a good way to talk about this to anyone. I tried once or twice to commiserate about this and maybe get some advice from older women, but all I got was irritation at complaining about something that seems like such a neat problem to have! Like, you’re a woman, and a woman’s primary function is to be attractive, and you did it! The endgame is achieved! So what’s the problem! Then I got outright told that humble-bragging about my Pretty People Privilege was upsetting EVERYONE and that was the last time I ever tried talking about it.

    But it is draining, and it is sad, and it used to scare me a lot because as a lady in the geek subculture (in a time and place where that made me a goddamn unicorn) I had a great big target on my back. One guy took the rejection so hard he decided I was a vicious man-eating monster and set out to destroy my entire social life, then went on to succeed with style.

    I guess what I’m saying is, good on you for recognizing this is actually a problem, and that it is real, and that your feelings are legitimate. People who wish they had this problem probably haven’t thought too much about it, and haven’t really considered what it would be like to constantly have to deal with bruised egos and sad puppies and fractured friendships. It’s so draining to have to constantly devote a little bit of headspace to these things.

    I have no advice or anything. This letter just struck a chord with me. If I could say one thing though, it’s that I hope that there isn’t some horrible story behind the pseudonym you chose. You sound awesome, and I feel like there’s a ton of cool stuff about to happen in your life.

    1. It’s not even that I don’t appreciate some of the benefits that come with being a Pretty (White) Girl. People let me get away with things I wouldn’t otherwise; I get slack other people don’t get.

      And then I notice that every time the bus is stopped, the driver’s trying to make eye contact with me in his mirror, and I just…don’t want to deal with that at 7:30 in the morning? But there’s not a lot of ways to say that being Pretty has some downsides that doesn’t sound like the TV Tropes Blessed With Suck page.

      1. Yes! In that death by a thousand papercuts kind of way. It’s exhausting.

    2. ‘humble-bragging about my Pretty People Privilege’

      That makes me want to hurl. There’s a BIG DIFF (<– bigger than that but no font control here) between Haha my boobs got me free stuff and Why can't I go to the store in peace.

    1. Right? We must give off some kind of woo-woo vibe of “I’m free I’m freeeeeeeee and I even survived!”

      Happy to say that DOES die down over time, and now, at 48, the only men who look at me besides my fella are old dudes clutching their pearls that I should dare to have bright pink hair at my advanced age/while wearing a suit. How I shall survive their disapproval, I cannot know.

      1. I blame those letters in Playboy, convincing all the teenaged boys that any woman over 28, post divorce, will be so crushed and horny and lacking in self esteem that she will have sex with literally ANYONE who asks. Literally. Anyone. I was hit on by at least a dozen guys old enough to be my GRANDFATHER.

    2. This is why I love CA and the internet in general. I’d never have known about that otherwise. Wow.

    3. Oddly enough, the only time I’ve ever gotten repeatedly hit on in public was the first few months after I got married. (Still married, so can’t speak to the divorce thing.) I remember it being really confusing and weird, because it wasn’t something that had really happened to me much before, so it felt like it was just out of the blue. It did taper off fairly quickly, but it was just really strange.

        1. That was the conclusion I eventually drew. Luckily, it didn’t go on long enough to get really annoying, and I never felt threatened. It was just…odd.

  37. An idea for a script:

    “Dear Writer Group Friend Guy,

    I must admit your comment made me uncomfortable. We have shared some deep shit with our writing group so we all know much about each other, but reading what you told me makes me want to second guess what writing I share with the group, and I don’t like feeling that way.

    I want to be kind with the vulnerability you shared by saying this to me, but I don’t wish to go down this road with you. Thank you for understanding.


    I recommend saying it makes you second guess what you share with “the group” and not “with him” in order to emphasize that this is about your relationship as part of a writing group, and not as a potential love interest.

  38. I’m in no way diminishing the LW’s feelings or saying that her problem isn’t legitimate (it totally is!), but I think I may have an opinion that won’t be popular. In almost all of these cases, it seems that the men involved are taking the steps that men (and women) need to take to begin new relationships. Meet a nice person, get to know them a bit better, then take the tentative step to see of possibly something closer to a romantic attachment might be possible. The LW is NOT required in any way, shape or form to return these feelings or act on them or feel bad/guilty about saying NO – totally her decision and her right. But to say that she is “in the right” and the men are “in the wrong” is problematic. If men who aren’t stalker-y jerks or obnoxious louts or sexist entitled idiots want to meet potential future girlfriends, how else are they supposed to do it other than to approach women they find interesting and/or attractive? As long as they take NO for NO and don’t make things all weird and icky, then no-harm, no-foul, right? I know this doesn’t solve the LW’s problem of basically just wanting to be left alone for crying out loud, but I hate the idea that men should be made to feel bad and/or wrong for pursuing something they may like romantically. Does that make sense?

    1. It seems like there’s a mixture of people hitting on her in a mixture of ways – some appropriate that just need to be told ‘no thanks’ and some very wrong or inappropriate (a contractor you hired for a job).

      A lot of human relationships is learning to be OK with sometimes taking risks and asking people out and accepting the risk of rejection, as well as learning to reject people when necessary without unnecessary hurt (which doesn’t mean no hurt) etc.

      But there are also some situations where it’s just not right to hit on people.

    2. “I hate the idea that men should be made to feel bad and/or wrong for pursuing something they may like romantically”

      I totally get where you’re coming from, but I think this is the crux of the issue here: the LW isn’t *making* anyone feel anything. It is on the asker, male of female, to ask themselves whether they can handle a possible rejection with grace. If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, then don’t ask. If a rejection hurts you to the point where you have feels you can’t manage, nobody made you feel that way. You overestimated your own ability to cope. And that’s nobody’s problem but your own. It’s unfortunate, but it’s nobody’s fault.

      Where this thing becomes gendered, in my opinion, is where men aren’t really socialized to deal with rejection from women, often getting pouty or angry and causing considerable stress to anyone just wanting to say thanks, no thanks.

      1. “I hate the idea that men should be made to feel bad and/or wrong for pursuing something they may like romantically”the LW isn’t *making* anyone feel anything.

        Indeed, the LW isn’t. It’s the Captain who says that those men should feel bad and/or wrong. I guess the Captain’s hope is that women will suffer less (from unwelcome approaches) if we get men to feel bad/wrong more often about pursuing. Sort of a zero-sum game where the best we can hope for is a equal division of suffering.

        1. Are you reading a different answer from the one above? Because what I saw was the Captain saying that the men were RESPONSIBLE for their feelings and choices. Not that she thought they should feel bad or wrong (even the tips for managing contractor weren’t about making him feel bad, and that’s a severely Not Cool situation and he should know that).

          Asking men to be responsible for their feelings =/= making them feel bad.

          1. Are you reading a different answer from the one above?

            Maybe I took “The dude in your writing group should be the one thinking “Oh shit, I’ve ruined this […]”” too literally. Anyway, the Captain was kind enough to clarify, and I believe I understand now, and agree. If anybody’s gotta feel bad it should certainly not be our LW.

            In my ideal world, though, both asking and rejecting would be much less fraught, so that nobody would need to feel bad afterwards. So, un-fraughting the rejecting part would just be the first step.

        2. I’m saying that the RISK of feeling temporarily bad (because you maybe fucked up a professional relationship by creeping out your client, or might have to find a new writer’s group) should be on the men who are asking the LW out, and not the LW’s problem to solve. I think hitting on your client is unprofessional and I think that hitting on your writer’s group colleague risks ruining YOUR relationship with the writer’s group, not hers. So if you decide to make a move anyway, knowing that it’s potentially inappropriate, then be prepared to take responsibility if you feel embarrassed later.

    3. It’s not okay for the contractor. Being able to feel safe in your own home is incredibly important. Being respected as part of a business arrangement is also incredibly important. She hired him to do a job,not spam her with flirty texts that she has to field politely in the hopes that he doesn’t surreptitiously access and/or sabotage her home. What he’s doing is unbelievably disrespectful and creepy.

    4. A) There are contexts where yes, flirting/asking someone out is absolutely inappropriate no matter how it’s done. When they’re your employer (the contractor, in LW’s case) is one of those times. I absolutely think that stepping that far outside professional boundaries is something men should be made to feel wrong for; women should be able to hire a contractor without worrying about this stranger coming on to them in their own home.

      B) Even if the initial ask is in an acceptable circumstance, if they are rejected and they in any way make their feelings about said rejection the woman’s problem, that is unacceptable to me. It’s ok to feel sad about it. But it’s not ok to torpedo your working relationship with a coworker by refusing to speak with them because you’re sad or angry that they rejected you. It’s not ok to keep asking your friend out until she finally quits talking to you because you won’t lay off when she says no. Once again, I think men should be made to feel bad about these kinds of shitty responses; they make it difficult (and potentially unsafe) for the women they encounter to reject them, and that’s not cool.

      I’m wondering if you actually read the bulk of LW’s letter. It’s pretty clear that almost all the interactions she talks about fall in one of these buckets–that is, the men she’s talking about are mostly being, as you put it, stalker-y jerks or obnoxious louts or sexist entitled idiots.

      1. It’s pretty clear that almost all the interactions she talks about fall in one of these buckets–that is, the men she’s talking about are mostly being, as you put it, stalker-y jerks or obnoxious louts or sexist entitled idiots.

        Mostly yes, although I didn’t totally get why the Captain thinks that Writer’s Group Buddy acted inappropriately.

        1. I’m not sure he did act inappropriately. My take on it is that if Buddy had written a letter, it might have looked like this:

          I’m in a writers group, and there’s one woman there I like. I’d like to ask her out for a date. I know she’s single. I’d like to see if she returns my feelings. Should I ask her?

          The answer might be:

          Sure! Asking her out is fine. Do understand that there is a risk that she might not be interested, and if she’s not interested, things might be weird between you for a while. She may turn you down and want to go back to the professional trust you had before. Are you willing to take that risk? Are you willing go back to sharing writing and critiques as though you’d never asked? If things are too weird, would you find another writing group? If she turns you down, you have to back off. These are things to think about before taking the risk, but life is filled with risks like these, and asking is a brave thing to do since it means you’ve made yourself vulnerable to rejection.

        2. Writers Group Buddy is definitely less egregious than, say, the contractor, but I still don’t think much of his behavior. To me, what was wrong there wasn’t what he DID do–it’s what he didn’t do. Namely, he didn’t pay attention to how his request might be perceived from her side. (Sorry in advance for the following wall of text! I wanted to explain my thinking, because you said you don’t really get that perspective, but there’s more nuance to this guy than the others and it was hard to be brief.)

          Assuming he really is a good, well-intentioned guy, he was probably thinking of his request as a one-off thing where if she is interested that would be great, if she’s not she can just say no and that will be the end of it, benefits are higher than the risks, so might as well give it a shot right? But that narrative that ignores several key contextual elements:

          – They know each other through a group that by nature requires a lot of vulnerability and intimacy between its members. Awkwardness between them could easily destroy the ability for both of them to continue as members of this group, or even impact the larger group’s interactions if it gets more contentious than that. His actions don’t seem to acknowledge this risk.
          – He might know that he’ll handle rejection fine, but there’s no way for her to know that without turning him down and trying it out, and that’s a risk from her perspective. Plenty of otherwise-great guys get really weird when women reject them. It’s a Schrodinger’s Box scenario–until you tell him “no”, you can’t know if a given guy is going to be a jerk about it or not. (Women are generally familiar with this phenomenon, because we’ve likely experienced it at least once or twice and almost definitely seen a close friend or family member deal with it. I don’t think most men are nearly so aware of it, and even those that are often have trouble conceptualizing that it applies to them as much as anyone else. This leads many men to think their asking-out techniques are low-pressure and casual, when they’re actually rather high-pressure and risky to the woman they’re asking out.)
          – As far as we know, LW wasn’t giving any particular signs of being interested in this guy. Presumably they were friendly, as LW has said they generally are with everyone…but since LW is friendly with everyone, and this guy knows her from a group context, he knows it’s not about him specifically. The lack of evidence of reciprocation lowers the odds of a good outcome significantly.

          None of this is a hard-and-fast “And therefore he was wrong to ask her out” rule. But it does make it insensitive to just go at it, without testing the waters first or attempting to mitigate the risks or anything. Insensitivity isn’t a crime, but it’s also not a great trait. It’s definitely not a good approach to asking someone out.

          Some potential ways he could have done better:
          – Decide to hold off on asking until/unless LW showed some kind of interest in him above and beyond the other members of the group
          – Try some casual flirting first and see if LW is picking up what he’s putting down; if not, drop it without going further
          – Go through with his ask, but add on an explicit offer (a straightforward one, with no guilt trips or poor-me’s) to leave the writing group if him asking this made it too awkward for her to continue to be in a group with him
          – Phrase his interest less as “I love you” (whoa buddy) and more as “Hey, no pressure, but just in case you’re up for it, I’d be interested in exploring something romantic with you. I’m going to drop this now, I won’t bring it up again unless you tell me you’re interested. Anyways how about that weather?” Keep it super, super low-key, give her as much control as possible, offer another topic as an easy out for if she’s not interested.

          1. None of this is a hard-and-fast “And therefore he was wrong to ask her out” rule. But it does make it insensitive to just go at it, without testing the waters first or attempting to mitigate the risks or anything. Insensitivity isn’t a crime, but it’s also not a great trait.

            A conversation I keep having with someone near and dear to me:

            Me: “The thing you did caused me pain.”

            Him: “I didn’t mean to!”

            Me: “But you didn’t bother to mean not to.”

            Writer Group Dude was undoubtedly not aware of how awkward he was making it for LW. But he most certainly didn’t bother to think about it. We often say that Intent Isn’t Magic, that not meaning to cause pain doesn’t erase the pain. But I think “I didn’t mean to” as a constant refrain reveals something worse. With enough repetition, It is fair to interpret it as “I couldn’t be bothered to think through the consequences of my actions and the effect they might have on you, or quite certainly <em<would have on you considering we’ve been around this particular mulberry bush many times before. You may therefore assume that I don’t care whether I cause you pain.

          2. After I lost my job last year, a friend volunteered to teach me a new skill.

            “And while we’re doing this, is flirting acceptable? It in no way changes my willingness to help and won’t affect the fact that we’re friends. I just want to check.”

            Flirting wasn’t a thing I wanted and I told him so and he accepted it and we moved right along. He made it low key, and while the timing wasn’t great (suuuuper emotional time, dude! Let me just cope for a bit!) everything else about it (including the fact that a year later we still talk very comfortably and I got to meet his new gf when I was in their city) was so fantastic that I hold it up as a model for how I want guys to attempt to initiate things with me.

    5. In the case where guys approach LW in non-icky ways, the point isn’t that they should feel bad about asking but that LW shouldn’t let herself be paralyzed by the chance that they’ll feel bad about being rejected. Their feeling bad may not be the only acceptable outcome in that case, but it needs to be on the table as an acceptable outcome, and one that LW is not responsible for mitigating.

    6. “If men who aren’t stalker-y jerks or obnoxious louts or sexist entitled idiots want to meet potential future girlfriends, how else are they supposed to do it other than to approach women they find interesting and/or attractive?”

      I think the answer here that many men don’t want to hear is: in many, many cases, they’re not supposed to do it at all.

      Can’t men just… not? Even nice, respectful men? Can we just have them stop approaching us and stop pursuing us? Like, yes, that’s very sad for the men who then don’t have a woman to date, but maybe that’s okay?

      What would that world look like? I bet a lot of the unhealthy dynamics of dating would be changed radically. I bet women would feel a lot safer, and a lot more comfortable. I bet women would start initiating a lot more. And I bet overall, it would result in a positive change.

    7. “I hate the idea that men should be made to feel bad and/or wrong for pursuing something they may like romantically”

      First, “someTHING”?! Women are people, not things. (I’ll accept that was probably a mistake, but it still made me go ‘Ugh!’)

      Second, men can pursue women and/or girlfriends! On OKCupid. On a dozen other dating and um-friending apps and websites. At speed-dating events, or through matchmaking services. All kinds of places and services where the key factor is that BOTH parties are there because they want to meet new people and maybe date them. There is always already a certain level of consent. (But not for dick pics. Guys, NO.)

      We have hundreds of situations where it is NOT okay to ask people out for good reasons, and we accept that no problem (at work, for one example; doctor/patient relationships, for another). The idea that men must have the RIGHT to ask any woman out at any time, in any situation – and that we are being MEAN and BULLYING if we try to set limits on that – is UGH NO. That’s an opt-out social situation; we ALL need and deserve an opt-in dating setup. It’s right that we need to change that.

      Also, allowing nice guys to ask people out – and preventing people from objecting to that – is part of rape culture that lets Nice Guys [TM] and rapists abuse people and get away with it.

      Really, it all comes down to maths, probability and risk. Every guy thinks they’re ‘just one guy, asking one woman one question’, but actually they’re often Creepster #357 from the woman’s POV. That’s the maths of sexism, ageism and intersectionality. Then there’s the risk: the probability of that ‘one guy’ being a rapist or abuser is low-ish (about 5 to 15 in every 100, depending which research you look at) but it’s never zero. The risk, if you give all men the right to ask women out whenever/wherever, and also force women to trust all the guys they meet and actively prevent them from setting boundaries around safety, is that the 5 or 15 in every 100 who are rapists or abusers now have far fewer obstacles in their way. It’s a licence to operate.

      The 5% to 15% of men who are abusive EXIST. They are REAL. The threat is REAL. The fundamental problem with all of these arguments is that – we have to take that into account. I wish we didn’t. But sadly I don’t have amagic wand that I can wave to make rape and abuse cease to exist. 😦

      So the balance of risks here is fundamentally unequal for men and women. A man might miss out on meeting The One and having a really pleasant experience. He might get rejected and suffer a few minutes of sad feels that day. A woman who gets asked out and is unlucky enough to be dealing with a guy who’s abusive or rapey might get abused, attacked or raped NO MATTER WHAT SHE DOES OR DOES NOT DO. So. for many women, every interaction becomes a Shrodinger’s Rapist risk-assessment and (potential) anger-management ordeal. That’s a huge amount of stress to demand women endure, so that guys can take the lazy approach to dating.

      1. Seconding the thousand thumbs up. The Paging Dr. Nerdlove blog has some entries on when men should not approach women, and not being a creeper. Also about being sensitive to context when deciding whether to approach a woman.

        I don’t think the answer is “never approach.” But DO be aware of the safety concerns women have, because they are real and necessary. Don’t be one of those guys who manages to think that women need to keep themselves safe, but if a woman does or says something that indicates she has a safety concern about him, gets all upset. Because, after all, she should know he’s a nice guy and would never hurt a woman, and she “doesn’t have to be such a bitch….”

        Her safety trumps your feelings. Every time. And she isn’t responsible for your feelings, anyway. If you approach someone and get rejected – don’t make that her problem. Rejection sucks, no question, and putting yourself out there isn’t easy. But she has zero obligation to you; she gets to decide if she’s interested (or not), and whether or not she wants to “go there” with you. If she doesn’t, it’s your job to deal with your feelings, not her job to make sure you don’t feel bad.

      2. I wish we didn’t have to keep explaining this over and over and over and over and over and fucking over again.

        I listen to the comedy advice podcast My Brother, My Brother, and Me, and their rule is that if someone isn’t in a position to physically leave the conversation (at their job, on public transportation, in an elevator, etc.), you’re not allowed to hit on them. We as a society should be teaching this from preschool on up.

    8. “If men who aren’t stalker-y jerks or obnoxious louts or sexist entitled idiots want to meet potential future girlfriends, how else are they supposed to do it other than to approach women they find interesting and/or attractive? As long as they take NO for NO and don’t make things all weird and icky, then no-harm, no-foul, right?”

      I get what you’re saying. The problem you’ve identified is known as Schrodinger’s Rapist:


      I mean, patriarchy hurts men, too. One of the way it hurts men is by making women mistrustful. All the weird, icky dudes who wouldn’t take no as no created the problem for the non-grody dudes as well. This is NOT WOMEN’S PROBLEM TO SOLVE. We are not wrong to be exhausted and squicked out when we’re approached romantically by someone in whom we’ve shown no romantic interest. I feel like truly good guys get this. I feel like they deal with it by a) not taking it personally when we’re visibly dismayed or b) not approaching us until they have much more evidence of interest than any of the LW’s hopefuls have managed to gather. Look, even these genuinely good guys are benefiting from the bad actions of the grody ones: witness how far we all go to avoid hurting their feelings. How much of the care we take is compassion? How much is fear? It varies, right? How much less gentle would we be if we weren’t afraid? Good guys get this, or at least get that women have it tough. Less good guys are gonna sulk and feel sorry for themselves no matter what. Lookit: Men? Are fine. We *really* don’t need to make men feel any more comfortable approaching us than they already do. They could honestly be a lot less comfortable. You know. Like we are.

      1. THIS.

        “Men worry that women will laugh at them. Women worry that men will kill them.” That’s not said as a joke.

    9. Other people have already made better explanations, especially CA, and the idea that romantic interest is best expressed in romantic contexts (like OkCupid) is good.

      I feel like women get it from both ends, unfortunately. I have…I guess the opposite of charisma? I really do have to work up courage to ask out a guy, I’m not great at knowing if feelings are likely reciporcated, and I tend to take rejection hard. I have been asked out once in my life and it was a huge relief. We went on dates for a few months but didn’t end up clicking.

      And part of me is like, “I wish more guys out there would work up the courage to ask me out so I wouldn’t have to.” But, it’s more likely that there aren’t shy guys secretly crushing on me who just need encouragement, and this is just sort of a generic unfairness in life. Over all, it really is good for guys to not ask out women so much, even if it creates more work for me personally.

      On the plus side, I have never been harrassed on the street or had inappropriate comments made when I was a kid (!!!) so being kinda vaguely nondescript seems to protect me in some ways. I’d rather deal with being lonely than being endangered.

    10. … but I hate the idea that men should be made to feel bad and/or wrong for pursuing something they may like romantically. Does that make sense?

      “Hi, your cute.” (OMG bad spelling/grammar alert red flag red flag red flag)
      “Go away.”

      Great no one feels bad!

      “Hi, your cute.”
      “Go away.”

      The same response can trigger 2 different reactions, but no one is being ‘made to feel bad and/or wrong.’
      They are doing it their very own self.

    11. If men who aren’t stalker-y jerks or obnoxious louts or sexist entitled idiots want to meet potential future girlfriends, how else are they supposed to do it other than to approach women they find interesting and/or attractive?

      This comes back to enthusiastic consent, I think, on every level.

      Someone with their nose in a book/phone/staring out of the window/listening to music isn’t saying ‘talk to me’. So… just don’t. Someone who looks around, smiles at people, smiles more when you smile back: by all means, make a human connection.

      But ‘the public’ is not your private hunting ground for girlfriends, you do not have a right to look for a girlfriend in public.

      That’s the other thing here: we never hear about men complaining that they aren’t allowed to strike up friendships in public, that they can’t compliment other men, that they can’t make human connections, it’s ALWAYS with the goal of ‘finding a girlfriend’ (if not outright ‘finding someone to have sex with’); and there are few things as offputting as someone who doesn’t want to meet you as a person. Women don’t like to be objectified. Approaching only women you want to fuck IS objectifying them. Don’t be that guy. At least, only be that guy in a forum where women consent to be approached by girlfriend-seekers, and even then I’d recommend taking a good long look at yourself.

    12. I know this doesn’t solve the LW’s problem of basically just wanting to be left alone for crying out loud, but I hate the idea that men should be made to feel bad and/or wrong for pursuing something they may like romantically.

      So in other words, the LW has to lose constantly and never be left alone because you personally feel bad for the hypothetical men who don’t get to ask literally everyone out, at any time, and never ever be “””made””” to feel bad about it at all?

      Look, my own position is this: I never ever want to ever be asked out by a man, ever, in any context, for any reason. Does that make them sad? Maybe, and why should I care? What do these men’s idiotic sad boners put into society that me wanting to live a fucking human life doesn’t? Why do women have to lose this very simple equation and men get to win, win, win? Can we agree on a five-year period where men just leave women alone and don’t ask anyone out? Can men learn to handle rejection and/or grow up and act like adults and not giggling schoolchildren? Tune in at 11!

  39. I was going to write the almost exact same question and here it is, already answered for me! Thanks, LW and captain awkward, seriously, I needed this post so much.

  40. LW,

    I joined a writing group and met Writerly Dude who immediately upped the intimacy levels with me whilst confiding that two women in the group were in love with him (one of which he was sleeping with.) The whole group dynamic was a hotbed of drama and very little writing. What seemed to me to be a dude who was enthusiastic about The Writing and My Writing and Only You Get The Nuances Of My Literary Soul turned out to be an author slumming it in a Nanowrimo harem of other women he’d pulled that crap with. I politely faded him out whilst pursuing friendships with other group members, one of whom is now my best friend.

    It’s possible that your writing dude has used this M.O with other female members who politely shut it down and feel no qualms about it. Which means neither should you. Writing is an emotional business full of egos and you can’t manage other writers feelings for them. A good writing buddy wants you to be free to write more, not be an obstacle.

    1. And THIS is why, as a moderator of a NaNoWriMo group years ago, I came down HARD on the guy who, after a write-in attended by me and him and another woman, posted on the message board, “It was wonderful to spend an hour with such lovely young ladies!”

      No one in the upper ML eschelons understood my problem with him. “It’s just a compliment.” But I spent hours trying to come up with an appropriate moderator-y response in the regional forum, one that wouldn’t make me look like I was overreacting, but that wouldn’t make the other (younger) woman feel like I didn’t have her back if she also felt bait-and-switch slimed by his “compliment.”

      I wound up going with judicial use of the strike-out tag in a quote of his post, so that it was like “It was wonderful to spend an hour with such lovely young ladies hard-working and imaginative writers,” followed by a gentle reminder that write-ins aren’t speed-dating or singles bars, and it’s better to appreciate your fellow write-in attendees AS WRITERS, since that’s what we are working on and what we are proud of about ourselves.

      Who knows whether he got the message; I never heard from him again.

  41. Oh, dear LW, your letter could have been written by me (except that there are slight differences in our backstories). I know exactly how you feel – and two years ago, when I could not handle it anymore, I finally decided to pay for a very thorough neuropsychiatric evaluation. It lasted for weeks and when the results came I was disappointed: there is nothing wrong in me. I dare say this applies to you, too. Peraps you are a bit like me: i REALLY LIKE people and they seem to know it instinctively and be drawn to it, also your interest to biographic writing speaks of such an interest. You are genuinely interested of others and they know – and love it. What is not to love about that? I believe that is one of the most wanted things a human can encounter. Okay, a real life dragon would be cool, too – but you are probably even cooler.

    I also get the “weird” interactions you described: people decide to talk to me all the time in the public and I live in a culture where silence is the default setting and talking to strangers is frowned upon. It feels very exhilarating to know that you also share this experience.

    Unfortunately, this also extends to the experience of being hit on. They say that no-one comes to get you from your home, but that is not true: I was once hanging freshly washed baby clothes to dry on a lovely summer day on my balcony during my infant child’s nap time when a man standing on the yard below asked me on a date. I said no, thank you. For me, too, it has created ridiculous and scary situations: having to end friendships, sulking and angry friends, guys literally fightiing each other (with swords, I might add)…

    The Captain is THE BEST! ❤ I love her scripts – and I am so sorry for the situation with your contractor and friend in the writing circle, both situations completely suck. I especially love The Captain's idea to reward good behaviour and not to pay attention to unwanted behaviour with your contractor: behave and you get a bigger price (a phone call or a meeting), behave badly and you get ignored. That – or up the joking level alternative sound like very good choises. Also the fake assistant is a clever trick if it applies to your situation. As a role playing gamer and a writer I love creating new personalities anyway: perhaps you could get a friend be the assistant's voice in a voice mail. Just make the assistant a believable person but someone the contractor would not enjoy talking to. Of course, this is emotional work and its usability depends very much on your situation.

    Keep on shining and being your awesome charismatic self! What The Captain said is true: perhaps, on those moments when you feel stressed over this issue, repeat what she said to yourself in your head: that it is they who decided to act like they did and the responsibility is also theirs.

  42. This doesn’t help with the men (and yes, its them, not you), but maybe you’d find it relaxing/invigorating to have some groups in your life that are only/mostly women? Think women’s only gyms, women’s professional advancement groups, stereotypically women’s hobbies.
    It does not help with people hitting on you, but it give a space to be friendly and open and explore that bit of you, without the constant hitting.

  43. “I’ve had this problem with unwanted male attention since I was 11 years old. As a child I was blamed for it.”
    Oh, yuck, I can still remember men old enough to be my grandfather suddenly starting to leer at me and make lip smacking noises when I was about 12. I was a flat chested kid, I actually did look 12, so it couldn’t even be blamed on looking older than my age. I really want to punch men like that, really really hard.
    Was it your parents who blamed you? If so, I’d really like to punch them hard as well.

  44. I’m reminded of a vent post where one of the responses was going into how men are taught they can’t draw on emotional support from their male friends so they constantly try to fill that void with a girlfriend because it would be not ‘masculine’ for them to vent to their own friends about how they’re having a hard time etc. Explains where some of the ridiculous amount of “goddamnit why do so many of these assholes keep getting pantsfeels/feelingfeels” comes from but doesn’t excuse it.

    That is to say, I still hate hate hate guys ruining friendships with unwarranted pantsfeelings (I had an ex-friend that would crush on any female friend like any warm body would do for an emotional connection, it was insane) and their inability to behave afterwards. The two guys that gave me variants of “oh I might not be able to stay friends because having all these romantic feels is hard” are…well they both behaved terribly in the end because they couldn’t get their perspectives and behaviour in check. It sucked. You get guys whining about the non-existent friendzone when they’re constantly pulling this girlfriendzone shit, its’ so annoying.

  45. LW as someone else with a charismatic personality who tends to get hit on by older dudes because I take an interest in getting to know all sorts of people I hear you! I find it exhausting as my care-taking training/socialization as a woman kicks in and I feel partially responsible/want to let them down easy.

    I think CA’s advice is spot on. The biggest challenge, but most helpful one, is really internalizing that they’re the ones making it weird and their feelings around your reaction are theirs to manage. It doesn’t make in-the-moment interactions magically easy and painless but I think it drastically reduces it.

    Also I’m someone who smiles more when uncomfortable and often laughs. People love to interpret that as encouragement. Over time I’ve grown more comfortable with letting my face show how I really feel in certain situations.

    True side story: I have a friend, older male friend, who does beautiful woodwork and custom restorations and also sometimes buys and sells furniture from people. Once he bought something from a woman, this involved him getting her cell number and going to her house. Apparently he liked the woman so much that he texted her and asked her out….later when I was hanging out with him and some other women the women and I got to venting about creepy boundary crossing dudes and he expressed surprise and said based on our stories he needed to rethink his approach to dating….He told me the story above, I recoiled and informed him that that was a creepy thing to do. This came from a person I generally consider a friend! I guess the point to this story is how pervasive that notion is. That he sees it as not a problem at all to hit on someone after he’s been to her house for a business deal. The privilege of being a white dude in our society I guess to not even consider the possibility that an interaction could be scary for someone. I hope we helped him learn something.

    1. A few years ago, I was planning a cross country move and needed to get rid of a lot of my stuff. I decided to see if I could get an estate sale person to buy most of the big items I wanted to get rid of. The guy comes over, looks at my stuff, and says that a colleague of his might be interested. We set another appointment, and that guy comes over. Between when they all left, and when the 2nd agent sent me his offer, the first guy started sending me creepy texts about how.much he liked my ass. I was so freaked out that I was scared to let him OR the guy he recommended back into my house. Just, no. Don’t do that shit.

  46. Fantastic advice, as ever – stuff I think I knew but my younger self could have done with being told.

    But, creating an assistant and CCing them, to call out Inappropriate Person’s behaviour when they think they are being exposed? TOTAL GENIUS.

  47. LW I got divorced in my late 20s very similar story to yours in terms of abusive family and abusive husband. I tend to be cheerful and friendly though probably not as bubbly as you sound. But gosh you do sound cool! I got hit on and it came to awkward bits like you describe. This is life as a woman. I am usually clueless and I’ve tried to learn to sense interest earlier so I can head it off before it gets weird. Not fair but useful: I tell people when I’m able tgat I have a bf it saves face for them and is good if you still have to interact. Sometimes they persist and that’s annoying. Or I casually mention a fake bf if I think they may ask me out just to head off an awkward refusal. But yeah some guys are couches and it requires a more forceful no. Unfortunately since it’s not wrong for them to ask, well the age similar and single ones anyway. I do get annoyed by folks old enough to be my dad or even older than my dad. When those types refuse no for an answer it feels predatory. Now I’m in my 40s when they do it, it just feels opportunistic on their part but it’s obnoxious when someone doesn’t take no or asks why?!? Like there’s any good answer. Resting Bitch face is something you may want to consider also. It does help. Makes folks think you’re snooty but… sorry but the truth is you are just too cool and we all like to play with the cool kids. And the assy
    jerks who can’t take no are everywhere. You are not alone, not sure if that’s helpful or not…

  48. I have an invisible but debilitating illness and for some reason, dudes do not hit on me. Just a mention of the illness and any interaction turns incredibly platonic. I’m not advocating lying,,, except that I might be advocating exaggerating if things have reached this pitch!

    1. I’m a strong advocate of women using whatever tools they have to to keep themselves safe, whether that’s lying to creepers or whatever else. Intersectionality gives some of it unfortunate implications. It’s too bad that society is disablist enough that this is your (and presumably many other people’s) experience, but hell yes women can and should use it if they need to. Much like it’s too bad that “I’m married (read: already another man’s property)” is the only thing that will get some dudes to back off, but if it works, it works.

    1. Pretty much all the comments/answers were “In future, don’t try to pick up random women on the street, here’s why.”

      Related: https://www.quora.com/When-will-it-be-my-turn-to-have-a-woman

      Most of the answers are high-five worthy. But then there’s that one that’s all, “You guys are so mean for fixating on the actual words he used, you know what he means!”

      Yes, sweetie. We know what he means. That’s why ain’t nobody but you cutting that dude no slack at all.

  49. I had a horrible experience with a handyman who molested me in my own living room. He’d kept making jokes and I just sort of said “..oh, hah. No. I think my husband should be there.” Especially to him saying that he should come by while my husband wasn’t home. I’d never had someone do housework before, and I didn’t know how to tell him to fuck off, since I was afraid of being rude. This is a terrible female thing, I think. We’re all taught to be nice and polite.

    Anyway, I’d gotten sick and was, as one does, wearing casual shorts and a t-shirt while laying in bed and wishing I was dead. Thanks to the whole Female Blaming thing, I feel the need to stress that these were not itty bitty shorts. They were Do Yardwork Shorts.

    I’d said I would leave his check under the front mat, and I did. Then he rang the bell, and I was like WHAT? So I lugged myself over to the door and opened it. He thanked me for the check, I thanked him for the work, and then we awkwardly stared at each other. Sick Brain was like “Oh, might as well have him in to see the bathroom thing in thinking of doing” instead of “Shut the damn door, this is Creepy Handyman”. Of course I was by myself and I’d totally forgotten his icky no-husband jokes as I was busy coughing up my own lungs.

    I pointed out the bathroom things and then went back out to the living room to say I wanted the tops of the cabinets finished as they were sort of just crappily done. I told him this, he replied that they were fine, and then got in front of me and pulled me into this really icky hug while whispering “You’re so beautiful…” into my ear and sliding his hand down to grab my ass.

    DEAR FUCKING GOD. I was horrified, and I didn’t know what else to do, so I grabbed his hand and peeled it off, then moved away but held on to keep him at arm’s length (Sick Brain could think of nothing else), while exhaustively repeating “I have a husband”, whereupon he would assure me that “it will be fine”. This went on for a minute or two, with me panicking more and more. Finally, I dredged up the worst-sounding cough I could possibly manage and was like I HAVE TO REST. Got him out the door and slammed/locked it.

    I was revolted and embarrassed and ashamed and oh god, this was obviously my fault because I’d forgotten his joke, I’d worn shorts, etc. In my own fucking house. How dare I wear shorts there! I was terrified to tell my husband about it as I was sure he’d blame me (I should have had more faith), but then he wouldn’t understand when I didn’t want the guy doing any more work for us. Finally asked a friend what to do, who said TELL HIM, and of course that ended up being the right thing to do.

    The next day, that asshole called me and said he’d overcharged me for the work on the roof and he’d like to return part of the money, maybe dropping it off the next afternoon at 4:30? That, of course, is when I returned from work. I mumbled something and hung up, then immediately called my husband in a panic, who was appropriately enraged. He called the guy back and told him he knew exactly what was going on, I didn’t want the attention, we didn’t need his services anymore, and so on. He was my hero.

    I still feel like I should’ve remembered/felt confident enough to say NO, I AM NOT INTERESTED IN YOUR CREEPY ADVANCES and that we no longer wanted his services, but at the time I didn’t. This is made worse by knowing that I’d studied martial arts for years following a prior stalking, yet I felt completely powerless in my own living room. What good is all that if I can’t/won’t use any of it to keep a creep away from me?

    I sincerely hope you can get rid of your awful problem. I have something similar, and I’m trying to figure out (also in therapy) how to say no. It’s not easy.

Comments are closed.