Hi Dr NerdLove.
Long-time reader, first time writing in. My problem is quite minor, and not technically a “dating” issue, but it’s been weighing on me regardless and I’m hoping you’ll have some insight.
The short version is that many women I pass by in public places seem to have very strong negative reactions to me, and I can’t figure out why.
It usually goes like this: I’m walking through town in the daytime to work or to get lunch or meet friends or what have you. A woman comes walking the other way or exits a shop or something. Our eyes meet by chance (inevitable when you’re keeping an eye out for cars and bikes or whatnot), and the woman in question violently jerks her head away, turns her body away from me, and starts walking faster. She’s using her whole body to signal: “Ew, no, go away.”
Here’s the weird part: I never have any intention of interacting with these women. I’m just going about my business when they enter my line of sight. I don’t say anything, I don’t leer or stare or ogle, I don’t catcall, I don’t look at them for more than a second. I just notice them, and keep walking.
Obviously, women have every right to be cautious around unknown men (or unknown male-looking NB people, in my case). These women are also all young and attractive, so maybe they’ve had to become hyper-vigilant even beyond the standards of other women. It’s just that this reaction seems to fly right past caution and straight into immediate, visceral fear.
A more specific example will illustrate what I mean (and was also the catalyst for this letter). I was at work, returning to my desk from the bathroom. A woman I had never met came through the door I was heading to. Our eyes met and she flinched with her whole head, like my gaze was a slap to the face. Her body language became panicked, her eyes darted around the room, and finally she ran through a side door in a completely different direction to the one she’d been going before. I didn’t know what to do, so I just kept walking.
Some extra context: this was in the middle of the day, in a crowded building, in a brightly-lit room that saw a lot of foot traffic, and I obviously worked there.
So with all that background, I guess I have two questions I’m hoping you can help with: firstly, how can I clearly signal to women that I’m not going to approach them? Secondly, what is it about my appearance that triggers such a rapid and extreme response? It’s happened too often now to write it off as a few very traumatised women; it really feels like it’s something about me.
I’m honestly stumped as to the second question. I’m not physically imposing, I dress conservatively but well, I’m young, I’m fit, I don’t have resting bitch face, I’m not ugly, and I’m meticulous with my grooming and hygiene. In short, I feel like my appearance is totally inoffensive. The fact I’m Māori might be a factor, but it feels unfair to just assume all these women are racist. My female friends are as confused as I am.
This problem has been getting me down because I don’t want to be a source of stress for anyone else, and also obviously because it really hurts my feelings when it happens. Plus, what’s going to happen when I meet a woman I do want to approach?
Before I sign off, I should reiterate: I’m not demanding that these women talk to me or smile at me or welcome me approaching them or anything like that. I just want to be able to go about my day and mind my own business without being treated like a landmine. And if this letter sounds like it’s trivialising the struggles of women who get harassed and catcalled, it’s really not my intent. I understand the world is dangerous for them; I’m just sick of being perceived as the danger.
So yeah, that’s my letter. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this!