Last week we talked about the concept of male privilege. This week, we’re going to take that knowledge and examine how you can put it to practical use.
One of the more common problems I see amongst my nerd brethren is a certain lack of self-awareness. Too many guys out there – especially those who can be a little less socially experienced – don’t quite understand the difference between how they perceive themselves and how they’re coming across to others. As far as they’re concerned, they’re the very model of chivalry and gentility. However, the girls they’re talking to? They have a slightly different opinion about the matter.
The more kind-hearted ladies would describe them as “intense”. Or they would say “(He) comes across a little strong, but he means well. You just have to get to know him”
The less kindly would say it flat out: “He gives me the creeps.”
It’s surprisingly easy to give off the creepy vibe to women, especially if you aren’t aware of what you’re doing and why it makes women feel the way they do. Your friends may know you well enough to know that you don’t mean to be a creeper, but you don’t have the time to explain that to every woman you meet.
So it’s time to take a look at your behavior and make sure you aren’t being a creeper.
On Male Privilege and Being Creepy
As I said last time, part of male privilege is all of the things that guys take for granted, like personal safety. Women, on the whole, don’t pose a physical threat to men; while there will always be individual exceptions, the average male is larger, stronger and heavier than the average woman. In practical terms, this means that the average man is fully capable of overpowering the average woman with relative ease… and women are very aware of this fact. Women have to gauge every interaction with men, especially men they don’t know, on whether or not he presents a threat to her. This is the unspoken subtext for every time a guy talks to a girl, sends a Facebook friend request or asks her out.
Just about every woman out there knows somebody -a friend, a family member, someone – in their immediate circle who has been threatened, taken advantage of or assaulted… if they haven’t been themselves. Think about that for a second.
Because women live in a state of near-constant threat awareness, they are far more cued in to the slight clues that hint at potential danger than guys are. Because the stakes are much higher for women than they are for men, women are more sensitized to these little hints, which can lead to false-positives. That guy who stares too hard and lingers around her long after he’s worn out his welcome may not actually intend to make her uncomfortable, but she has no way of knowing this; it’s far safer to allow for the wrong impression than it is to ignore the signs when someone actually does mean her harm.
Guys – who don’t have to do this mental calculus on an almost hourly basis – are frequently unaware of this issue. They’re often ignorant of just what it is they’re doing that sends all the wrong signals. In fact, because they don’t live with the same omnipresent threat that women do, they’re frequently offended by the idea that it’s their behavior that creeps girls out. Because they don’t (or won’t) address the issue, the behavior continues.
And don’t think that girls won’t talk about it. Every girl has a story about creepers she has met… and she will be sure to share that information with all of her friends.
The last thing you want is to be a creeper. Fortunately, some self-awareness and fairly simple changes in a guy’s behavior can eliminate the creepy vibe.
Watch Your Body Language
Body language is one of the ways that women use to gauge men’s intentions… and it’s one of the ways that guys mistakenly give off the creepy vibe.
Guys will often face people directly when talking to them, pointing their feet, torso and face directly at the person they’re talking to. To guys, this is a sign of attention, that you’re engaged in communicating with the person in front of you. To a woman whom you’ve just met, this is an incredibly intense look; it comes off as almost uncomfortably aggressive and will leave women feeling cornered. This is especially true if you’re broad or tall; you may think you’re being direct or confident, but you’re coming across as overbearing and threatening.
To avoid being creepy, learn to avoid giving women the full frontal; angle your body away from theirs, or even address them from your side or over the shoulder. The more comfortable a woman is with you, the more directly you can face her without causing her to instinctively reach for the pepper spray.
Avoid overly intense eye-contact. The difference between flirty eye contact and overly intense is a fine one; too short and she won’t notice, too long and you will begin to seem aggressive. Ideally, you want to hold eye contact for just a little longer than normal – a matter of a second or two past the point where it starts to feel uncomfortable – then deliberately break contact by looking up and away with a smile. That hint from holding eye contact just a second too long feels exactly like the rush that you feel when you see someone you’re incredibly attracted to. Hold it too long and it becomes a threat… legitimate discomfort rather than butterflies in the stomach. Getting the timing right on this is a matter of practice and calibration; you’ll have to accept that you’re going to end up being a little creepy as you learn to calibrate your internal clock.
Notice very carefully, by the way, that I told you to smile. Remember this: one of the keys to not being creepy is a big, toothy grin. Imagine for a second, two men, both looking at you. Both of them are standing in the exact same pose. One of them is stoney-faced; he may as well be looking at paint samples as looking at you. The other has a big smile on his face. Which one of them seems friendly to you, and which one seems like he might be considering whether he wants to beat you into a fleshy cube?
Now realize that this is exactly the difference that a smile makes to women. The difference between “friendly” and “estimating the number of lampshades he can make from your skin” is often a grin.
…And Keep Your Hands To Yourself.
Related to body language is touch and spatial awareness. You need to be aware of how close you are to people – especially women – and how this makes people feel. There are certain zones of personal space; the outer edges are known as public space, while the closer you come you pass through the social space, then into increasingly intimate personal space. The physically closer to someone you are, the more intimate the space. If you aren’t someone with intimate space privileges – family members, close friends, lovers, intruding into this space can be incredibly uncomfortable; it feels like a threat and triggers a threat response in the people you’re talking to. If you’re talking to someone and they’re stepping back from you, you can safely assume that you are too close. Do not make the mistake of stepping forward. This will inevitably be seen as threateningly aggressive. You’ve now gone from making them feel uncomfortable to making them feel pursued. And if you inadvertently back them into a wall or a corner you will have moved from uncomfortable to “actually fucking afraid”. The smaller the space you’re in – such as say, an elevator – the greater the distance you need to keep from her for her comfort. If she is comfortable with your coming closer to her, she will let you know.
Similarly, you need to be aware of touch. Touch and physical contact is incredibly important to humans; we have actual needs for physical contact. Touching, especially when flirting, can be a good thing. Too much touching, on the other hand, or touching for too long, sends the wrong message. It comes across as aggressive and dominant behavior. Leaving your hand on a girl for too long – even in a neutral place like the shoulder or middle of the arm – will read as though you’re claiming possession of her… or worse, that you’re going to drag her off somewhere. Too short and you can come across as nervous… and that nervous energy will make her nervous. You need to learn to break physical contact before she gets uncomfortable. Much like making eye contact, this is a case of learning how to calibrate your sense of what’s appropriate. It can take trial and error to go from “Creepy touchy guy” to “guy who’s physically expressive”.
This can be a tricky issue because it often comes down to cultural differences. What is natural to some cultures will seem scandalous to others. Some cultures are far more touchy-feely than American culture; the defined “personal” space is often smaller, and allows for greater intimacies between relative strangers. In American culture, greetings between strangers and acquaintances are frequently limited to handshakes at approximately half of arm’s length. Other cultures have higher levels of interpersonal contact; greetings can include hugs or kisses on the cheek. Some cultures require greater distance between people for their comfort; others allow for standing far closer.
You need to remember: nobody is going to give a damn where you grew up or what everybody does back home if you’re creeping them out. Being from another culture isn’t an excuse, and the longer you’ve been in their culture, the lamer that reason will seem. It is incumbent on you to make allowances for the culture you’re interacting with and to learn to adjust your behavior to what’s socially appropriate.
Watch Your Fucking Language
This is about more than just swearing… it’s about the implications behind what you say and how it comes across to others.
Look: there are certain things that will seem funny to you but will be incredibly off-putting in another context. Context such as, say, talking to a beautiful woman you’ve never met before. Women already have to fear for their safety on a daily basis… the last thing you need to do is remind her that, oh yes, you represent a potential threat to her. This means that there are certain jokes that you just shouldn’t make. Jokes about rape, abduction, physical assault or murder are off the table. Period. Too many women have experienced physical or sexual threats and violence for you to jokingly suggest that you might kidnap or rape her.
You may think you’re being funny when you walk up to girls holding a napkin and asking “Hey, does this smell like chloroform to you?”
You’re being creepy.
Now stop it.
Hey, I get it. Approaching beautiful women is nerve-wracking. You are putting yourself out there and deliberately making yourself vulnerable to the opinions of others. It can take a lot of courage to do this. But if you’re hovering around a girl while trying to work up the nerve to talk to her, you’re going to be creeping her out. Women are incredibly aware of their surroundings; they have to be. A guy who’s making a point of being in her general proximity without actually approaching her or talking to her is going to be seen as a potential threat. You may be waiting for an opening. You may be waiting for her to walk away from her friends so you can approach her by herself. You may just be trying to psych yourself up to deliver your opening line. You know that you’re perfectly harmless… in fact, you’d be willing to bet that you’re more afraid of her than she should be of you.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s going to read to her. You’re going to come across as a predator waiting for his moment. This is creepy behavior that needs to be avoided at all costs.
Avoid this by instituting what’s known as the “three second rule”. The three second rule is simple: if you see someone you’re attracted to, you have exactly three seconds from the moment you see her to walk up and introduce yourself. This rule prevents you from psyching yourself out of approaching the woman you like and keeps you from hovering. It can feel intimidating, but the three second rule is a great way to power through that initial nervousness that ends up sabotaging guys. The sooner you get comfortable approaching beautiful women without lurking and hovering, the better the results you’ll have.
Part of not being creepy means being socially calibrated. Part of socially calibrated means knowing when you’re not wanted and learning when it’s time to walk away. If a woman isn’t interested in you, proximity isn’t going to change her mind. In fact, the longer it takes for you to get the hint that you’re not wanted, the creepier you’re going to seem. Creepy guys will stick around long past the time when they were supposed to leave. You may be honestly missing the clues that it’s time to go; she’s going to see it as you ignoring what she sees as very clear signs that you’re not wanted.
If the conversation is starting to die off – as opposed to a natural lull – you don’t want to try stick around desperately trying to keep things going. Make your excuses and bow out of the conversation gracefully. Similarly, if you notice that her eyes are starting to dart around to the sides – as though she were looking around for someone – you need to realize that she’s looking for someone to rescue her from you. Most women are socially conditioned not to give offense or hurt men’s feelings and so they’ll rarely break off a conversation directly. Instead they’ll be looking for a socially relevant reason to leave. Once you start getting the signs that she’s trying to exit the conversation, you need to take the initiative, end things first and walk away.
It’s entirely natural to want to talk to the girl you like… after all, you want to learn more about her. You’re going to want to make plans. You’re going to want to confirm those plans. You’re going to want to advise her when plans have changed, when you’re going to be late, when you’re actually a little early…
However, when you’re sending email after email and filling up her voice mail with dozens of messages, you will have caused her spider-sense to start tingling. You may feel that you’ve got a perfectly good reason to send her several texts throughout the day, but she’s never going to see that. She’s going to assume that – at best – you’re almost pathetically needy. At the worst, she’s going to think you’re possessive and controlling, possibly even a stalker-in-training. Either way, she’s going to be losing your number very quickly.
You need to avoid creepy levels of contact. Keep yourself to a strict limit; no more than two or three attempts to contact her without hearing back. Remember: one unreturned message is happenstance; it could be anything. Two is cause for concern. Three means she’s trying to tell you something.
Don’t Be An Accidental Stalker
It’s only natural that when you like someone, you want to see them as often as possible. If you’re trying to charm a woman, it can be tempting to “accidentally” run into her… at work, at the grocery store, at the fitness club. But you need to remember that there are only so many coincidences before she’s going to think that you’re following her.
In the age of Google, instant messages and social networking, it’s easier to find people and stay in contact with them than ever before. For women, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s never been simpler for old friends to find you and get in touch. On the other, it’s never been simpler for the wrong people to find you as well. Google and Facebook have made it easier for men to stalk women than it has ever been; privacy as we used to know it has changed in radical ways and we’re still racing to keep up with the changes.
You may swear up and down that you’re not a stalker. You’d never try to track her down or follow her. But if you aren’t careful about how you act online and in person, that’s exactly how you’re going to seem. Girls are acutely aware of guys who seem to be following them, even when it’s via cyberspace. If you’re not careful, your innocent attempts at social networking are going to read as someone who’s intent on following her wherever she goes.
This can be problematic if you frequent certain places at the same time; there’s only so many times you can bump into her at the gym before she will think something’s up. If the barrista doesn’t know that your 8:15 stop for a vanilla latte is part of your regular routine on the way to work, she’s going to begin to think that you’re coming specifically to see her. At first, this can be flattering. If it goes on for too long, it becomes creepy.
This also applies for being online. For women, this means that the threat to their safety has grown dramatically as well – and women are well aware of it. Social networks are a great tool for keeping in touch, but they’re also a haven for finding out all kinds of personal information, including phone numbers and home addresess.
Trying to friend her on Facebook, adding her on AIM, following her on Twitter, asking to be connected via LinkedIn… if you aren’t very aware of the level of your relationship, you could seem as though you’re cyberstalking her.
Being friends on Facebook isn’t proof against this either. Many women have been creeped out by guys who insist on “liking” or commenting on EVERYTHING they post, who post repeatedly on their wall, or send chat request after request. They may have had the most innocent of intentions, but their creepy behavior got them blocked and de-friended without a chance to explain.
The answer to this is to deliberately ignore her. Just because you’re at the gym together doesn’t mean that you have to stop and talk to her every time. Sometimes it’s good to be too involved in something else to even know that she’s there. Be a little too distracted to do more than give your regular order at Starbucks. Don’t snub her, just be “unaware” of her presence… which means you don’t walk past her then stare at her when you think she’s not looking.
Online, be similarly sparing in your attention. Just because she’s popped onto AIM doesn’t mean you have to say hi. Keep your comments, likes, @ replies and retweets sparing and strategic. Less is frequently more when it comes to avoiding creepy behavior.
Obviously, avoiding creepy behavior can be a tricky balancing act. But once you’ve learned to be aware of how your behavior appears to others, you’ll be better equipped to avoid giving the creepy vibe to the women you meet and enjoy meeting and dating beautiful women.
Do you have advice for how guys can avoid being creepy that I missed? Let me know in the comments!