A lot of discussions and articles about creepiness often say many things on what not to do. It starts to feel like “Here are 30,00 ways to not approach or flirt with women, don’t do any of them and you have a chance at not being evil”. And it also gets worse when there are also many things that just MIGHT be creepy, and that’s even worse when you’re not good at reading body language, and it makes any social anxiety or self-doubting you may have get even worse.
So what are some examples of ways to approach and flirt with women that are definitely not creepy?
Before we get to your specifics, CAD, I want to talk a little about creepers and the people who obsess about them.
It really shouldn’t be much of a surprise that this question is something that comes up a lot around here. And, to be quite honest, almost every time it comes up, there’re a few dozen people who want to argue about just what makes someone creepy. More often than not, they’re coming from a place of “it’s not fair that I get called creepy but this other person doesn’t.” This inevitably leading to the usual arguments about whether women are creep-shaming dudes , whether being creepy is just about being unattractive and general lamenting that men just “aren’t allowed to approach women anymore“.
The problem is that almost all of these focus on the wrong things. A lot of the complaints about the supposed stresses of avoiding being an accidental creeper tend to come from people who are complaining about how concerns about being creepy makes it harder for them to approach women. And while I am sympathetic, the reason for understanding what makes somebody creepy isn’t about “your not being evil”, it’s about understanding that men and women have radically different experiences when it comes to dating and meeting people. Men worry about harsh rejections. Women worry about getting raped or murdered.
Guys who display creepy behavior tend to be exhibiting behavior that sets off people’s Spidey-senses. The guy who stands too close, who ignores the signs that someone isn’t interested or doesn’t want to take “I have to go” for an answer all suggest that they may see boundaries and consent as things that happen to other people. Someone who makes sexual or inappropriate comments may not understand the social rules or may be testing to see what they can get away with. Even asking seemingly innocent “getting to know you” questions can, in the wrong context, seem like they’re gathering information.
Now, in fairness, there could be perfectly innocent and understandable reasons behind all of those examples, ranging from some basic social awkwardness to misreading the scene to just not getting why what’s normal for a guy may be threatening for a woman. But they might not be innocent or harmless. That ambiguity puts women into an incredibly awkward position: do they risk being rude? Or do they risk being dead?
This is why the primary key to not being a creeper is basic empathy. The problem is that for a lot of folks, this is just one burden too heavy to bear. It gets in the way of “BUT WE WANTS IT, PRECIOUS.” It creates more scenarios where they may not get what they want… even though practicing some empathy might improve their chances.
But it’s not that all guys who complain or obsess about creepers and creepiness are guys who don’t care about anything other than getting their piece of ass. There are also folks who are a little too empathetic. They’re the ones who have so much anxiety about it that they end up with a form of hypervigilance. Their anxiety makes them get too deep into their own heads. They overthink everything because they’ve convinced themselves that setting one toe wrong is going to end up with screams and a visit from the slap fairy.
And not even a big toe. Just a little one. A pinkie toe.
Which brings us back to your question, CAD. I can’t give you the answer you’re looking for because you’re coming at this from the wrong place. You’re not asking me about how to not be creepy so much as you’re asking me to relieve your anxieties about it. It’s in the way you describe the situation – from the 30,oo ways to be creepy and the things that might be creepy. You’re in that place where you’re going to overthink everything you do and read too much into everything. I mean, anything can be creepy if you approach it from the right angle. You just have to watch the fan edits that turn kid’s classics like Mary Poppins into a horror movie.
What you need to do, more than anything else, is take a deep breath and relax. Don’t look at this as your being on trial or women are looking for the tiniest thing to call you a creeper and kick you to the curb. Trust me: women are on your side. They want guys the guys they meet to be cool and worth talking to. The women who are looking for a potential boyfriend are hoping that you’re going to be the right one for them.
Taking a moment to look at things from someone else’s perspective – and accepting the validity of their fears and experiences – is really all it takes to avoid 99% of what makes someone creepy when you’re approaching them. This doesn’t mean that you have to be super-woke or so safe that you’re as exciting as white bread and mayo. It just means that you need to put a little thought into things. And even if you do make a mistake, you can pull things back. If you realize you’re pinging her creep radar, then stop. Apologize, take a step back (literally, if necessary) and show through your actions that it was a simple mistake.
Beyond that: learn your flirting style and finding the women you’re most compatible with. The more you are on the same page on the major issues, the easier and more effortless the flirting will be.
You got this, CAD.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’ve learned a lot reading your blog, so I was wondering if you could help me out.
I am a 35 year old heterosexual American woman. I haven’t dated/had sex in 8 years.
For a long time in my life, I was attracted to and dated men that I found intellectually awesome, kind and gentle, and able to make me laugh. My pattern was always the same. I would meet a man and immediately find him charming, wait a little to see if the charm wore off, and if it didn’t, I would ask him out.
About 10 years ago, I was sexually assaulted by one of these guys. Initially, I dealt with it poorly (lots of casual sex, no relationships), but I was able to get myself to therapy and have worked through it. I can genuinely say that I am ready to date again. Now I have a lot of interests outside of work where I meet men. I play sports, I work out, I go to social dances regularly, I volunteer for a nonprofit and for my church.
Here is the problem. The dating landscape seems to have changed radically. I have a hard time meeting men in person. Most men that I meet are married. I am now on several dating apps, but I find that my usual pattern doesn’t work anymore. Men that I think are cool on the app end up being boring, or extremely sexually aggressive. Plus, I find it difficult to ‘like’ men who are not conventionally attractive. When I meet a man in person, I like the ‘weird’ looking guys (to me I think they are cute, not weird, but people have told me that the guys I like are weird.) . But online I end up being shallow.
Is there anyway to reframe my behavior on the apps, or to change my approach to meeting men in person? How do I get in the game?
Too Late to Date
First of all, TLTD, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m proud of how much work you’ve put into your recovery and how far you’ve come. It says a lot about your strength and courage that you’ve made so much progress.
So let’s talk about how to best maximize your chances of meeting someone awesome. To start with, you’re doing a lot of things right. As a general rule, I advocate mixing up how you meet potential partners. I’m a big believer that meeting people in person and being on the right dating apps is the best way to tilt the odds in your favor. However, to make this process work for you efficiently and correctly, you have to make sure you’re following some best practices.
Take, for example, the married men you’re meeting. Part of this may be simple demographics; according to the US Census bureau, around 65% of 35 year olds are married. As a result, single people in general are going to be thinner on the ground. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re out of luck, or that you’re meeting the wrong people. While the men you’re currently meeting may be married, they have friends who aren’t. Friends who you may be interested in. Cultivating these married men and building your social circle is how you gain access to other people’s social circles. That, in turn, gives you the chance to meet the folks who are right for you.
But what about your dating apps? Well, my first question would be to ask which apps you’re on. Different dating apps have different cultures and encourage different kinds of relationships. Tinder is faster-paced and more hook-up focused. OKCupid is more of a free-for-all, but with an eye towards casual relationships. An app like Bumble or Hinge may serve you better. It doesn’t eliminate on the shitty behavior – assholes are always going to ass – but the culture of the apps are more relationship-oriented.
There’s also the fact that apps tend to hit that weird psychological quirk known as “the paradox of choice”. The more choices we have, the less happy we are because we get hit with FOMO. Yes, these are all good options… but what if there’s one that’s even better? Can you be sure that you’re getting the best possible option? What if you commit to one person and realize another possibility may hit more of your checklist?
Unfortunately, there is no way of avoiding this, outside of limiting your potential choices through filters. What you need to do instead is move things off the apps and into real life. For all that we live in an increasingly digital society, we are bad at connecting with each other online. We’re built for in-person interaction, and there are layers of nuance and communication that simply can’t come across digitally.
Which, in fact, is part of why you like the weirder guys in person and not on the apps. In person, you are seeing them as holistic beings, not just a bad picture and what they wrote in their profile. Yes they may be a little unconventional, but you’re seeing much more of them. You’re picking up on other signals, signals that can’t come through the digital lines. You don’t get a feel for the timbre of their voice or the way that they smell. You can’t see the way that they shift their weight when they’re thinking or the little unconscious gestures they make. All you have are pictures and text and, frankly, a lot of guys aren’t great at conveying their personality through text.
So, TL;DR: you’re on the right track. The key is – as I often tell guys – to look a few steps beyond the people you’re meeting initially. They may not be your future Princes Charming, but they very well may be the person who leads you to them. And as for online dating: make sure the apps you’re using match up with your relationship goals and personality and be more decisive. If you have good rapport going with someone, meet up for a pre-date date – a 15 minute meet-up for coffee or frozen yogurt or something in order to do your dating due diligence. Are they who they say they are? Do you have good chemistry in person? Do you feel safe around them? If yes, then make a plan for meeting up for a proper date.
Not many people will tell you this, but dating is often as much a numbers game as it is about chemistry or compatibility. Meeting the right people is always a gamble. But if you play the game correctly, you can tilt the odds in your favor.