Hello! Lenée aka @dopegirlfresh is still filling in for Captain Awkward (who came through surgery fine and is grateful for recuperation time). In addition to discussions of stalking, this post has mentions of past sexual assault and some abuse/trauma stuff.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I grew up in an extremely abusive and isolated environment. Between the ages of 12-22, I never spoke to a single person outside of my immediate family. I eventually escaped and ran away, got myself into school, and am now (at 36) a highly accomplished and educated career woman with a great life and many close friends. I’ve been through years of therapy to get to this point. But I have never had a romantic relationship with a man.
To cut to the chase: I have been accused of stalking twice. When I was 22 and street homeless having just escaped, I met a gay man 15 years older than me. We hit it off right away and he invited me to come live with him temporarily. I soon moved back to my own country but we continued to communicate regularly. I thought he was my best friend and regarded him as a big brother. Two years later I found out he was telling people I was “too needy” and “a stalker” — ALL our communication had been through email, I’d not even been to his country in 18 months. And he always replied to my emails. It’s not like I was showing up unexpectedly, or bombarding him with emails when he was ignoring me. But obviously he felt otherwise.
Five years ago I started a new career in a new industry (film) and in my first job I was sexually assaulted by a famous actor and had a breakdown. I only knew one person in film back then, an older screenwriter who’d befriended and mentored me. I became very clingy with him, and would always hover around him at events (screenings, premieres, award dos) I had to attend. It wasn’t about him personally, I just felt so scared and anxious being at those events not knowing anyone else. A third party said I was being weird and stalkerish. The screenwriter never said anything and has always been kind, but was clearly disturbed by my clinginess, and noticeably distanced himself from me. (Fwiw, I recognised that my behaviour was excessive, am mortified by it, and have avoided him ever since.)
Last year I worked on a new project and became close friends with a colleague who I believed was gay. We developed a real emotional intimacy, became confidantes, and it seemed like he was actively pursuing a closeness with me (eg saying out of the blue that he really wanted to visit my house, another time I mentioned an upcoming trip to a city he occasionally works in and he immediately said, “oh please change your trip dates to May” when he’ll be there, another time I made a joke about mothering him and he immediately said “oh please yes I really need that!”) On our last day working together he told me he’s bisexual and sort of tried to kiss me. I was too flustered to respond but it made me realise my feelings are more than platonic. I would like to pursue a relationship, or at least an ongoing friendship.
Unfortunately he’s been mostly out of the country since then. We email and text very regularly, and he’s always sweet and intimate in his replies, but it’s always me initiating contact and he’s frequently slow to reply. We did organise one date but he cancelled due to a family bereavement. He’s given no indication my ‘pursuit’ is unwelcome, but it clearly it is me pursuing, and my past history is making me paranoid that I’m being stalkerish and that he’s just too polite to tell me to go away.
[Note from CA: A paragraph with some potentially identifying details have been redacted at LW’s request but there is an important element which I would sum up as up as “The way this person’s career intersects with the LW’s own work makes it hard to avoid news of this guy and very easy to give into the temptation of knowing what he’s up to at all times even when they’re not directly in contact with each other.”]
I realise you’re probably screaming, “avoid this troubled man!” but in my entire life he’s the only person I’ve ever met who I’m both attracted to, and feel completely safe with. And he’s an incredibly kind, nurturing man who already knows my history and has been so supportive and non-judgemental. I don’t care if we don’t end up in an LTR, I just want to experience sex with a man without fear, and maintain a lovely nurturing friendship and see that friendship continue to develop.
Am I being a stalker? Is my behaviour excessive? Should I continue to pursue him? Should I back off?
Please allow me to congratulate you on surviving a truly difficult start in life and making a way for yourself. I’m glad you have a therapist, and I’m really glad you understand the need to be self reflective. Something that has made itself really clear from your email: you are resilient. It sounds like you’ve made it a point to thrive despite it all. I’m really sorry that your first job in your dream industry was a site of such trauma. It’s an awful experience to have, and I hope you’re giving yourself what you need at this time.
As far as this most recent concern about whether or not you’re a stalker: Stalking involves a pattern of hyper-monitoring and control. You can be fixated on someone in a way that is unhealthy for you without crossing over into stalking behaviors that are bad for them. I think you’ve got some attachment issues that need addressing. It’s not abnormal to form a bond with a person who supports you, especially after major traumas. My concern is that you may be putting all these eggs (emotional, romantic, etc) into your coworker’s basket. I also think you know that this interaction is, at the bare minimum, imbalanced. When’s the last time you spent time together? Was that time something you coordinated? From what you’ve told me here, there’s no reciprocity. Is that the kind of relationship you want? I’d like you to think about the attraction you have; his trying to kiss you one night after a lot of emoting and bonding doesn’t have to end in an LTR or even physical intimacy. You said you’d like a friendship at the very least, which seems reasonable. However, if you’re doing all the work to keep things moving, that’s not a balanced or equitable relationship. It definitely shouldn’t grow into a romantic or sexual relationship.
I don’t think you’re a stalker. I think you need to learn better boundaries to conserve your energy and time. I think your fixation on this guy deserves some exploration. It sounds like the isolation during your adolescence has really messed with your ability to connect with others. The people you who regarded you as needy were responding to not just your behavior, but their own shit around emotional labor. I can’t call you a stalker, though I will caution you: the bonds you build with people fresh out of trauma don’t often survive long term, and that’s okay. The same goes for people with whom you spend a night getting to know and nearly kiss. Also, I want you to know this because it tends to be a hard lesson: some people keep people around so they can feel wanted. If you can’t ever pin him down for a meaningful interaction and have to look to social media or other outlets to learn about him, that means he is not sharing himself with you. You’re kinda torturing yourself here. Learn how to focus on folks who reciprocate. That may take a while to learn, but is more than worth it.
About the Author: Lenée is a fat, Black, queer femme who lives in Philadelphia. She’s a lover of Black music, Steven Universe, true crime, and doing the electric slide whenever possible. A new plant mom, Lenée writes on occasion and usually tweets as @dopegirlfresh.