Hi, Dr. NerdLove;
Thanks for the wonderful column.
I… have a problem with disappearing and I think I need the Chair Leg of Truth. I keep having to deal with other people’s very, very inconvenient crushes on me.
Example #1: I gave up my the forums of my beloved hobby when Married Sad Boner Dude “fell in love” with me. He refused to stop talking about how in love with me he was, or work on his relationship with his wife, so I faded. Not before he threatened to kill himself and implied that I, his True Love could save him by encouraging him to make an intercontinental move to court me.
Example #2: I moved away from my hometown when College Experiment with Heterosexuality Sad Boner Dude was “uncomfortable” with the fact that I insisted upon living near him (which is to say: living with my mother, two hours away). I’m not attending reunions and I donate anonymously to my college, because OMG what if the poor dear gets triggered by seeing my name the way he was when he saw me from the train that one day? (To be fair, we did have a serious case of the zombie relationship, and I don’t blame him for being relieved to see my toxic-to-him ass retreating.) I gave up all my college friends that had any association with him, too. That hurts to this day.
Example #3: I started working remotely when Sad Boner Co-Worker got a crush on me and started acting in a frightening and quasi-stalkery manner. Good luck advancing in my career without being allowed to come into the office more than once a month!
Example #4: I faded from a local con and skipped the workshop I’d paid for last year when Sad Boner Dance Dude decided that I was The One and refused to let me talk to my friends and tried to follow me to my hotel at 3 a.m. I am going back to that con this year. Maybe. I dunno.
Example #5: I just f-locked the archives and all entries for the foreseeable future on my blog, which was middling popular, because another Married Sad Boner dude kept defiantly trampling my boundaries, getting angry when I refused to chat with him while I was busy at work or at dinner with my daughter, trying to sexually dominate me and requesting to see my ass on video chat.
Doctor Nerdlove, I don’t know what to do.
I am RIGHT UPFRONT about being lesbian, about not being even remotely interested in romantic relationships and kind of disgusted by sex with anyone but myself. By PUA standards, I’m a Midwest two when I make the effort, and I never, ever make the effort. I guess I’m kind and friendly and a little funny, and I try to appreciate how awesome every individual is in their own right, but I mention that I’m not available or interested in romance in any way, shape or form. I’ve even tried not bringing it up. That makes it worse. Not saying “not interested” at the beginning and end of every sentence to a Sad Boner Dude feels like he’s going to pounce and say, “Aha! You didn’t say ‘Simon Says,’ NOW YOU HAVE TO MARRY ME. Or at least let me call you my fiancée until I lose interest and wander off.”
The worst thing is, these are good men. They’d be horrified if they read this letter. They’d write me eight-page SAD PANTSFEELS LETTERS about how it wasn’t like that! If you publish this letter, readers of yours will be curling up like they’ve been nutkicked because they’ve done something that remotely resembles this and they feel personally attacked.
But for me, it is like that. Suicide threats. Being followed at night. Getting cornered at the office by a nightmarish 6’3″ ex-cop who keeps telling everyone about how women make shit about abuse up, who then turns up in your parking lot at one in the morning blaring Barry White because he “finds you attractive.” Getting badgered because I’m hanging out with my family instead of worshiping the boner, even though a boner, for me, is a Lovecraftian Elder God with whom I want no truck. Eight-page SAD PANTSFEELS letters.
How do I prevent guys getting crushes on me and mistaking them for an excuse to ignore clearly stated boundaries? Look, I’m sure women do this too, but it’s not a problem I’ve run into with women. And for that matter, what do I do with these Sad Boner Men? When guys do get crushes on me, is there a more constructive response than “three strikes, and I run screaming, because it’s super-mean to exist and not want to be someone’s prize, even though I’ve skipped to the end of that particular book and, spoiler, horrific ruins for everyone and no-one has any fun getting there and the car chases suck”? It feels like I’m cruel to keep visibly existing, but it’s almost always in my own space. Also, I feel like this is one of the reasons you don’t see women in male-dominated fields: there’s this thing where guys fixate on women and the women leave. I really hate the thought of contributing to that. I want to grow a spine, but dang. It’s mean to them and sometimes feels dangerous to me to hang around. I want my blog back. I want my forums back. My mom wants me to visit her.
Is there something I’m missing here? I already carry a taser. Or am I being unreasonable? You’d tell me if I was being unreasonable, right?
The (Vanishing) Villain in the Rom Com
Let’s get this out of the way up front, VVRC: there’s really nothing you can do to prevent someone else from feeling things. Unless you’re secretly Killgrave, you can’t control other people’s emotions or feelings. You can lay out the reasons why you’ll never, ever, ever be into them. You can tell them all the reasons why trying to pursue you is a horrible idea. But at the end of the day, people have free will. That means that people are capable of choosing to make incredibly stupid decisions – even when everyone else is yelling at them not to.
Sometimes it’s a case of dudes who’re choosing to chase someone they instinctively know are “safe” – people who they know will never love them, so they never have to deal with the paradoxical fear of success. Other times, they feel like “saving” someone is the way to “earn” a relationship. It doesn’t matter that there’s nothing to actually “save” her from – they see things like being asexual or aromantic as a mighty quest. And it certainly doesn’t help that we grow up steeped in pop culture that tells us persistence and stalker-like behavior are the keys to women’s hearts.
Now with that in mind, one of the things I’m always saying is “once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is
enemy action something you’re doing wrong.” When somebody is dealing with a recurring issue with people in their lives, they need to start looking at what all of those relationships have in common. And sometimes the only common denominator is… well, you. I’m not saying that you’re doing anything wrong, per se, but it’s worth examining the similarities with those men and your relationship with them. If, for example, you’re dealing with people who are poorly socialized or who are extremely awkward, then you may have your first indicator of what’s wrong. There are some people who will take any sign of friendliness as romantic interest and create a massive fantasy about how you are Their One True Love out of thin air. It doesn’t matter that they’re the wrong gender or that sex is completely off the table for you; it’s their fantasy and you’re stuck going along for the ride.
Or it could well be that behavior you see as friendly is coming off as flirting with intent. There’re plenty of people who didn’t realize that what was normal behavior in their small social circle would be seen as a mating call anywhere else. If, for example, you’re an especially touchy-feely person or someone who likes having cuddle-buddies, you might be confusing people who try to gloss over your homosexuality or asexuality with dickful thinking. This is a time when it is useful to check in with friends. How would they describe your behavior with these dudes? Is it exactly as you’re saying? Or are you giving off the wrong signals, signals you may not even realize exist?
But sometimes it really isn’t anything you’re doing. You could be sending off every “piss off” signal in the world and they’d blithely ignore it all.
Unfortunately, the answer may well lie in adjusting where you spend your time and who you spend your time with. If this is so consistent, you may have to dial back any friendliness and work on your Resting Bitch Face until you can be assured that you’re dealing with someone who’s got their emotional shit together. It may also mean that you have to be less open to friends until they’ve proven themselves to be emotionally intelligent, grown-ass adults.
This also means that you can’t be subtle or less than completely blunt with folks if you suspect that they’re starting to get pantsfeels. This means that you can’t just hint at previous girlfriends or that sex makes your skin crawl, it means stating it unambiguously. Forget the Chair Leg of Truth, you need the Mallet of Driving The Point Home. And even then, there will be people who will let their fantasies override their rational brains.
And that’s when you have to enforce your boundaries, with fire, razorwire and knives. You do a lot of running away when it may be better to go on the offensive. Someone who persists in sending you long rambling messages gets blocked. Someone acting inappropriately at work gets a report – or several – to HR. Someone who gets all BUT WHAT ABOUT MY PANTSFEELS on chat, social media or the blog gets SUPER blocked. They get introduced to your alter ego: Queen Bitch, First of Her Name, Lady of Don’t Touch Me Or You Pull Back a Bleeding Stump. It may feel mean, but you know what? Sometimes the only way to get someone to give up on their fantasy is to stomp a muddy hole into it with the Dream-Stomping Boots of Reality. It may be cruel, but it’s kinder in the long run… to you at the very least.
None of this is easy, or particularly fun. But if this is happening so often that it chases you away from everything you do, then it’s time to spit in your hands choke up on the Chair Leg and dispensing some brutal honesty about the head and shoulders.
The other day, I went to a Comic-Con cosplay event. No big deal, I regularly go to these kinds of things, it’s fine. During the run-up to the event, I learned out that a former high-school classmate, “L”, is also going. Since I’d always had a minor crush on her, this struck me as an awesome opportunity. I think maybe we can catch up, reminisce, whatever. But when the night rolled around, I ended up freezing in place instead.
I thought I was prepared, but during the qualifier for the cosplay championship started, I watched L make an astounding entrance, all dressed up and ready to rock! I tried to talk, but I choked. I couldn’t handle the double-whammy of a) seeing her on stage like a celebrity and b) for the rest of the night, she was surrounded by other people and that intimidated me.
I was fine with everyone else during the party afterwards, but when it comes to L, it feels like I reverted back to my high school days, emotionally. It certainly didn’t help that she had this mischievous sly grin whenever she glanced my way. Every single time it was like getting a bullet of butterflies to my gut.
A few hours after the party, I sent L a text that said that I wanted to approach her and talk, but got nervous cause of the setting. I proposed that we meet somewhere quieter.
Should I have sent that, is it weird, is it too ambiguous and should I follow up with a firm date and time?
Thanks for listening,
Flipped, Reversed, Confused
One of the things you leave out of your letter FRC, is whether you and she actually had plans to hang out and catch up or if this was just something you were hoping to make happen. If it was the former, there’s nothing wrong with saying “hey, you seemed like you were busy with an adoring crowd and I didn’t feel like it’d be a good time to catch up. Would you like to grab coffee this weekend?”
If it’s the latter… well, that’s a slightly trickier needle to thread. It’d be better to have said “Hey, I saw you at the cosplay contest, way to rock it! Wanted to come say ‘hi’ afterwards, but you were surrounded by people and I’m not great with crowds. I’d love to catch up; would you like to grab coffee and chat later on this weekend when things are less busy? How’s Sunday afternoon for you?” than to say “hey, let’s get together when there aren’t as many people around” out of the clear blue sky.
As a general rule, if you’re making first contact – or reinitiating contact after a long time apart – then it’s better to suggest a specific activity at a specific place and time. The local coffeeshop or tea house on a slow afternoon, for example, is easier to say “yes” to than just “some place quieter” and “some time”. Plus, proposing to meet some place quieter when you didn’t have previous plans and aren’t normally in contact can seem a bit much; not “I’d like to wear your flesh like a suit” weird, but a smidge presumptuous.
But it is what it is and you can’t un-send a text. So the only thing to do now is wait and see if she replies and what she says. If she says sure, then respond with a specific place and time. Otherwise? You took your shot, and it didn’t work the way you hoped. Take this as a soft “no” and resolve to not let the crowds intimidate you so much next time.