A few days ago, I noticed a man notice me and then follow me in Washington Square Park.
I was uncomfortable. I chose to leave the park, quickly. He followed me with even more rigor.
I didn’t know what his intentions were. As such, I chose to confront him assertively. I said, loudly to him: “Are. You. Following. Me?”
He put his head down and ran away.
Why was he following me? My mind presented a series of scenarios, from worst to best. I had chosen to act as I did, because I did not know how to process the scenario.
After some processing, I’d like to paint the “best case scenario”–which is also the most likely to be true.
With the hindsight of a few days, the safety of my apartment, and the advice of friends, I have arrived at a different lesson learned.
Some of you know that I wrote about a similar situation with inappropriate male behavior at a networking event, back in November 2018. “He shared his sexual preferences with me at a networking event. This was my response.”
A response, written from the male perspective, gave me pause. I have been seriously considering my interactions with men from this perspective:
“Since we’re talking about gut feelings, my gut tells me that the guy was clumsily attempting to flirt with you. I’d also wager that he was pretty unattractive to you, which would explain why his joke made your skin crawl instead of feeling nice and warm.”
I also consulted my doorman, L.
L is my domain expert in non-platonic heterosexual relationships from the male perspective.
- doorman in a nice building in NYC, which means a prerequisite skill is to read people
- black man who grew up in a neighborhood where he had to learn how to read situations raised by many women (mother and sisters), who taught him how to listen to, talk with, respect, flirt, and interact with women
When I described the situation at Washington Square Park, L asked, “So, what did this guy look like? Was he a homeboy?”
I didn’t know what homeboy meant.
“Was he attractive?”
L then proceeded to explain to me his read on the situation.
Without further ado, I bring to you: best case scenario.
The Best Case Scenario
A young man in his 20-30s, no distinguishing characteristics, hears a gasp.
He looks to his right. It’s a girl, and she is cute. She is standing there, immersed in the same exhibit he is.
Oh, I wonder who that is.
She looks super interesting.
He looks at her again.
She’s really cute.
I wonder if she’s here by herself.
Is she single?
Wait, I shouldn’t even be thinking that, it’s creepy as shit.
She is really cute, though…
He looks at her again.
“Is she wearing a… a blanket? Maybe if I use that to strike up a conversation…”
Shit, where did she go? I missed my chance! I’m such a loser.
He catches sight of her, 10 feet away, walking away.
… shit, did she notice me looking at her?
I wonder if she thinks I’m creepy.
I should explain myself.
Maybe I should just pretend I was curious about the time.”
He rushes after her. “Do-you-have-the-time?” he says, rushing the words together.
“No,” she says, coldly and curtly.
Shit, I knew it, she thinks I’m a total creep now.
Now I gotta ask someone else for the time, too, or I look like a total creep
He asks someone else for the time. She walks away.
Damn, maybe she thinks I’m creepy now, ugh.
Wait, where did she go?
I missed my chance!
Wait, I see her,
I have to go talk to her!
Let me follow from a safe distance…
She is speed-walking away in the opposite direction. He follows her as quickly as he can, 4-5 feet away.
Is she trying avoid me?
I need to explain to her that I like her blanket or something…
The woman turns around, and says, loudly and curtly. “Are you following me? Are. You. Following. Me?”
He puts his head down, hurrying past her.
Fuck… I’m just a fucking loser, I just wanted to talk to her.
This is what I want to say to that man.
If the above guy is you, or someone you know?
You’re not a creep. I hope you know that. You’re not a loser.
If you just want to talk to me?
Just talk to me.
It gets 1,000,000 times more creepy when I can tell you want something, but I don’t know what it is that you want. So I have to do the work of evaluating what you want.
Is it a conversation? A date? Sex? My wallet? My body? My advice?
If you think I’m interesting and super cute, and you want to start a conversation, talk to me. Say the first thing that comes off your mind. Men have done this to me before (and the first thing can be incredibly repugnant in different contexts), but I handle men with no filters and clear intentions better than I do with men with unclear intentions and a huge-ass filter. Be direct. That’s what I’m planning on doing in more of my interactions with men. For example, I am brainstorming strategies:
- If I catch a guy looking at me, I’ll ask, “I noticed you looking my way. Why?”
- If I catch a guy expressing non-platonic interest in me, I’ll tell him, “Hey, your body language and words are suggesting to me that you’re interested in me. I’m not interested in you, thanks.”
- If I catch a guy standing way too close to me and I don’t know why, I’ll tell him, “Hey, this is my personal bubble. I need you to step out of it. Thanks!”
Unfortunately, I know this for a fact: men in our day and age still don’t like rejection. There is a risk that if I am more direct, a man will take offense. I don’t know what to do, but I will try.
I’m changing my mind about running away.
I would like to revise what I wrote on the day of the event.
“I’ll never know [his intentions], unless I let myself be chased. I don’t plan on doing so.” That was my justification for speed-walking away. It’s a fine reason to speed-walk away. I’m glad I did.
But now I know I have another option in my toolbox.
In my opinion, I made a mistake. I pulled the nuclear weapon, confrontation, way too late in the game. By the time this man was speed-walking after me, tensions were high for both parties and it would naturally be a very awkward confrontation.
Next time, I will ask for his intentions.
I will operate from a place of self-protection and self-love.
I will work to treat men, with curiosity, not fear.
I understand that, if I confront a man, there is risk of retaliation and escalation. So perhaps I will treat men with curiosity, assessment, and then whatever course of action I think best, whether that be to retreat, deflect, or confront.
This is my belief about men
I hesitate to state this next belief.
Like you, I have read the horror stories and heard the whispers on the grapevine, of the harm and violence that is enacted by men on women every day, every hour, every minute, around the world.
But I also believe that deep down, no men are born monsters.
No men are born creeps.
However, some men are simply not raised to speak to women, to respect women, to treat women with care.
Some men are so in their heads of hating themselves, that they forget how to look a woman in the eyes and see her as she is: just a person, just like you, whose rejection matters little in the grand scheme of things.
She is just a person. You are just a person. It doesn’t matter who rejected who. You are you, and you are a human being, worthy of being here.
(However, some of my friends have shared with me horror stories of the another kind of man – the one who swears and physically assaults you when he is rejected. I do not know, yet, what to do when encountering this type of man.)
My Battle Plan
I once asked a potential boyfriend a question, brazenly, sweetly, but assertively: “Do you have other than platonic intentions towards me?”
It worked. I was able to have an honest conversation. Nothing blew up, no one got offended, no one died.
I will ask that question, more and more, when I notice men noticing me. Then, depending on the answer, I will either have a great conversation or I will smile and say, “Thank you for your interest. I’m sure you’re a lovely person, but we’re not a good fit.”
(There are probably ways to say that without sounding like HR.)
I’m not doing this because it’s my job to protect the fragile egos of fellow human beings. However, I want to do good, and act less in fear, and more in compassion, in every human interaction.
Maybe, the next time I see this, I’ll catch him staring and I’ll say,
“Yo, you need to level up your game, homeboy. Let me teach you every little thing you just did wrong.”
In an earlier revision of this post, I mentioned how this man was “chubby,” which factored into my evaluation of his attractiveness. Upon reflection, I am not sure that the man’s “chubbiness” was why I found him unattractive. Society engraves that bias on us all. I think it more accurate to say that I was simply not attracted to him. Whatever reasons I had, came after the fact. I do not want to encourage the falsehood that chubbiness = unattractive. In an updated version, I chose to remove the “chubby” from the equation. ↩