#1220: “Is this guy constantly texting me after I told him not to because he ‘doesn’t understand’ boundaries or because he doesn’t care about them?”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I ( 27, she/her) have an acquaintance (29, he/him) who is not neurotypical (he told me this). His preferred mode of communication is texting and he frequently tries to have long, involved text conversations with me. I was pretty tolerant of this at first, but it’s gotten a bit wearing. I’ve told him several times that I “am super busy and can’t text a lot”, “am not up for all of the texting”, and “I need space”. His standard response is along the lines of “That’s ok, you’re my friend and I like talking to you” and then to continue on exactly as before.

He also has a pretty intense crush on me and I told him very clearly that I did not feel the same way. According to mutual friends, the crush continues apace 6+ months after that conversation and he’s pretty regularly asking them for updates on me. This guy has a bit of a tendency to disregard realities that he doesn’t like and at this point I’m not sure if he still doesn’t understand the boundaries I’m trying to set (understandable) or if he’s just ignoring them (not ok). How do I extricate myself from this?

Thought I Was Being Loud and Clear

Dear Loud & Clear,

Block him and be done with this tedious mess. 

This is a good follow-up to #1219, because:

a) I’d like us to all stop associating jerkish behavior and ignoring boundaries with neuro-divergence and then making terrible ableist logic loops about excusing/ignoring terrible behavior.

b) I’d like us to massively and collectively shift the conversation about Men Behaving Badly away from “What does he intend, are we sure he means to be an asshole?” or “What is he capable of understanding?” and toward “Do I want this/Am I enjoying this/Is this working for me?”

c) Yesterday we had almost 400 comments full of strategies and discussions and effort around telling ONE mildly irritating dude to shove it. But I think you can just tell irritating dudes to shove it and expect that they’ll get the message, and moreover, I think we must all practice this important life skill, when stakes are low and matters are small, so that hopefully we may practice it on a large (dare I say national) scale.

Forever dissecting what a person’s exact intentions are when they do something extremely irritating and/or outright harmful, arguing that things have to cross a certain threshold of both impact and intent before we are allowed to speak up or resist or else we take the blame for the entire situation, and applying a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standards about people’s intentions to friendships and social connections is a dangerous cesspit of distraction and we need to be done with it. We need, on a massive scale, a reorienting of ethics and expectations about good behavior away from journeys of personal development and back onto the impact of our actions in the world, we need to worry approximately 1% about the well-being and growth and character of creeps and harassers (and racists) and 99% about the well-being and safety of their targets. Maybe after 100 years we can talk about moving the bar to like, 10%/90% and in 1,000 years we can move it to 20/80 and see how that feels. Today? Here? I am tired of making creepy men the protagonist of every story about the annoying shit they do. Enough. Je refuse!

Here is the actually important question: Letter Writer, what is the level of interaction you want with this guy going forward?

Because from where I sit, it sounds like you don’t want to be friends with him or receive ANY text messages. You’ve tried nicely and directly telling him things that, if he’d listened, would make you happier to interact and coexist as friendly acquaintances. But he blew it. You’ve tried making allowances, assuming the best, communicating with integrity, but you’re still getting texts you don’t want. You don’t have to make a ton of effort or twist yourself in pretzel-knots because he refused to get the message. It’s okay to be done.

Let’s review:

Him: “I have a crush on you.”

You: “I do not feel the same way.”

That’s not a subtle hint or a mysterious cryptogram. It means, NO, BUDDY.

Him: :sends many text messages:

You: “I am not up for all the texting” + “I need space.”

That is not a subtle hint or a mysterious cryptogram. That means, he should send ZERO texts until or unless you text him. I suppose we could argue that you could say, “Ok, maybe I wasn’t clear, what I meant was, Don’t send me any more text messages,” but don’t let the rules lawyers gaslight you into thinking you weren’t clear enough the first time. You were clear, and his response of: ““That’s ok, you’re my friend and I like talking to you” plus continued texting is utterly maddening.

Unfortunately there are tons of men who have mistaken women’s texting apps, social media feeds, and other messaging services for their personal goddamn LiveJournals in a way that makes me frankly long for the days of the perfunctory “hey” hanging out in the IMs like a fart in a car. I myself have a few persistent Reply Guys who like to read my archives, column by column, and send me long emails to tell me what I got wrong or to elaborate on every comment on eight-year-old threads to detail what all of you got wrong, point by tedious point. I filter and block as needed and never respond, hopefully they’ll figure out that blogs are free to start and they can get their own, it’s honestly not my problem or about me, at all, which is to say,  Letter Writer, of course this guy enjoys texting you, it feels nice to imagine his crush reading his every waking thought, it’s a form of masturbation where he gets to pretend a fantasy version of you gives a shit about what he has to say. Does he get to verbally (& nonconensually) wank into your mobile forever if “deep down” he “means well” or “doesn’t realize” that being told you don’t like texting with him means you don’t like texting with him? No!

What matters is, you want zero text messages, so let’s get you to zero.

‘Cause if he truly “can’t help” texting after being told ‘ixnay on the extingay’ (a fact I will dispute to my grave, I think he can definitely help it) then let’s help him help it, by blocking his number today. Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Block his number, then block his email, in fact block him on all social media and electronic communication formats that you use. Not unfriend. Not unfollow. BLOCK. Blockity block block block block. Don’t give him the chance to monitor what you’re up to and “like” your 8-year-old photos. Always be blocking.

When he tries to go around your blocks to ask what happened – cause he will – brace yourself for fun stuff like him showing up at your job or your classes and/or being very pitiful and visibly hurt and confused, remember, social media blocking is not a subtle hint or mysterious cryptogram, it means, ‘Stop contacting me via this medium,’ and is an entirely predictable consequence of continuing/escalating a thing after someone told you to knock it off.  When he tries to force an explanation, and/or when mutual friends contact you on his behalf to ask what happened and advocate for giving him infinity more chances to annoy the shit out of you, here’s your script:

“I wasn’t enjoying the texts, and when I asked them to stop, they didn’t, so, :shrug emoji:. I don’t want to be friends with someone who can’t take no for an answer. It’s time to stop contacting me.” 

Say this once and only once to him. Don’t explain, justify, argue, negotiate. Never reply to another text, phone call, email, DM or other attempt to reach you. Expect an “extinction burst” where he ramps up attempts to get around the boundary, in most cases if you ignore people they do eventually find another target for their constant attention.

When he (or others) try to raise his diagnosis or apologizes & promises to stop contacting you so much (but still contact you sometimes), HOLD FAST. “I appreciate the apology, but I still don’t want to be friends. So he/you should stop contacting me.” You can also ask your mutual friends to not indulge his crush or give him updates about you and your life. “Tell him I’m not into him, and after six months of constant texting, I’d prefer to go no-contact at this point, and also, don’t tell him any details about me. Thanks.” 

Consider also, if mutual friends/acquaintances try to argue with you: “I already said no, it’s not that complicated. Why are you making it complicated?” Your mutuals are welcome to receive his texts all day, every day if they want to, you don’t owe them or him a thing.

Sometimes we make mistakes and do awkward stuff that upsets somebody else without meaning to, and it’s embarrassing and painful when we find out that someone we really like and want to impress is upset or annoyed with us. That embarrassment and pain isn’t a license to keep doing the thing, though, and fear of causing it isn’t a reason that everyone else has to put up with whatever we’re doing forever. Demonstrating that you are a person who does respect boundaries and who can take no for an answer is actually incredibly straightforward: You apologize, you back up well behind the boundaries the person sets, and then you stay there as a show of good faith until or unless they approach you or invite you to cross back over. If they never do? Then that is their choice, maybe it’s an unfair choice or a sad choice, but you still gotta leave ’em alone. Letter Writer, if this guy doesn’t want to upset or annoy you and show he can be trusted, literally all he ever had to do is stop texting. He’s repeatedly opted to…keep texting you and explain to you that it’s okay because he super enjoys it even though he knows that you don’t.

If you have to run into him in person sometimes, it’s generally survivable. Best case scenario you exchange polite nods and focus on the reason you came to whatever this event is, also a very good scenario is that he’s embarrassed and quiet and avoids you completely (Pro Tip: Don’t get sucked into feeling bad for him and reassuring him, unless you want 10,000 more text messages, it’s good practice to just let it be awkward).

If he tries to approach you specifically to plead his case, you can say “I told you I didn’t like texting, then I stopped the texting, it’s not that complicated. I wish you well but I’m here to focus on _______, please don’t ask me about this or contact me again.” It will probably feel awful to say that to his face, but once again, he already had a ton of information about how you feel about him (not into him) and what sort of interaction you wanted (not texts), nobody made him keep texting you or come and be weird at you.

If he escalates or won’t leave your side, you can also alert event organizers, school authorities, HR & management where you work if he’s showing up there, especially if it becomes an ongoing harassment issue. If a person keeps accosting you once you’ve asked them to stop, it’s okay to call it harassment and take pretty serious evasive measures.

Bottom line: You told him your wishes. He ignored them. He can text his fierce allies who want to secure your attention on his behalf or who want to speculate about his intentions or capabilities all the livelong day if he wants to (I suggest that he try sending endless text messages about his thoughts and feelings to fellow dudes if he’s bored and hungry for interaction), you still don’t have to put up with it.

No comments on this one. Block an annoying person you don’t actually like today!