Always listen to your instincts
As kids, my siblings and I were always told, “Be good and mind your manners.” As the children of a minister, we were often the focus of more attention that most kids. I don’t mean in a child-star sort of way, but in a “people will pass judgment on your father based on your bad behavior, so you darn well better behave and be polite” kind of a way. (Once I wore a skirt to church that was too short for one parishoner’s taste, and he did not hesitate to inform me of this to my face, and then report it back to my father as well. I was fourteen.)
There’s nothing wrong with good manners and being polite, but it has occasionally left me with trouble when it comes to deciding between being polite and responding on instinct. Because of those early years of training, I tend to worry more about hurting someone else’s feelings–even if they’re being rude or creepy to me–than following my gut.
And I don’t think it’s just me. I’ve witnessed many girls and women ignore insults or threats or bad situations because they don’t want to be confrontational or “cause a problem.”
It’s taken me years to get to the point where I can recognize it when I’m ignoring good sense for the sake of being polite. I’m still not great at it, and I truly hope that all of you out there are much better about it than I am/have been.
And yep, I’m telling you about this for a reason…
When I’m working on a first draft–or playing with new ideas–you’ll frequently find me in the cafe area of my local Barnes and Noble store. It’s easier for me to concentrate on what I’m supposed to be doing, rather than getting caught up in all the tasks piling up at home. And they serve hot chocolate!
When I’m thinking (read: staring off into space), I also catch myself doing a lot of people watching. Two weekends ago, this kind of strange looking guy caught my attention. Initially, I think it was because he met my gaze and held eye contact for just a fraction of a second too long. I realize that seems weird to notice it, but I bet it’s happened to you. It gives you that oogey (to use a friend’s word) creeped out feeling. Because this was not “I’m staring at you because you’re attractive” or “I’m staring at you because you just ordered your third hot chocolate in an hour.”
It’s “off” in some undefinable way that whispers in your brain.
In any case, I kept an eye on him because I just was getting a bad feeling. Two college-age girls came in and took a table near me. And he noticed them. I noticed him notice them, and that bad feeling increased.
He walked back and forth by them several times–getting books and returning them–before finally stopping to talk to them.
At this point, I was getting concerned. I pulled my headphones out and listened in.
He complimented one of them on her shoes. (They were cute. Red with a tiny kitten heel.) He asked where she got them, how much they cost, and what size they were.
Okay, in theory, this could be fairly normal conversation, but he’s just too darn interested. Do you know that feeling I’m talking about? It’s just not right.
So, when she takes her shoe off to check the size, he’s kneeling down next to her…far more interested in her foot than her shoe. Not touching or anything, but STARING.
Oh, man, major weirdness ahead. The girls are starting to recognize this for themselves and give him the “go away” signal. Then I hear him talking about wanting to MEASURE HER FOOT.
Girl, face bright red: No, I don’t think so.
Creepy guy: Oh. Maybe later then.
Girl: I’m pretty sure they’re a size ten.
Creepy guy: long blah speech about how that might not be the case…in short creepy reason for wanting to MEASURE HER FOOT!
At this point, I’m getting ready to walk over there and/or find a manager. It’s still not easy for me to be confrontational–at all–but I’m much more able to do that on someone else’s behalf than my own. And these girls were around my sister’s age. I was NOT going to let him mess with them.
But he gives up and walks away.
An hour or so later, though, he’s back.
Creepy guy: I still want to measure your foot. You can come with me over to the corner where no one will see.
Girl, hesitantly: No, I don’t think so.
But creepy guy persists.
At this point, I’m up and out of my chair moving toward them, but the girl, God bless her, face bright red, looks up and says loudly, “I said, NO.”
This firmness makes him back off and he not only leaves them alone, he leaves the store entirely.
I was so proud and impressed! I complimented the girl for saying no and not backing down. And she said, “I didn’t want to be rude to him but…”
I reassured her that she wasn’t rude. That there’s a line between between protecting yourself and being rude, and she was well on the correct side of it.
Creepy people often count on others being nice or being too afraid to make a fuss. I always think of that scene in Silence of the Lambs where the serial killer pretends to have a broken arm and asks for help from the girl who is alone. She does it because she doesn’t want to be rude or cruel. If you haven’t seen Silence of the Lambs, well, let’s just say that doesn’t particularly end up being a great choice for her.
Chances are, the guy in the bookstore was just an every day person with some problems, but you don’t know.
Be kind. Be polite. But protect yourself. Listen to those instincts. If you’re getting a bad feeling, trust that. There’s a reason for it. Your brain is processing things faster than you have time to consciously realize. Don’t worry about causing a fuss or a problem or a scene. Do what you need to do to feel safe again.