I’m having the following conversations way too many times. They are going to come up terribly gendered, because they are conversations women have with me about men. I have no reasons to believe that the issues per se are gendered, though. Guys, feel free to wade in – I lack the data.
“I’m being stalked!”
“What exactly is happening?”
“This guy sent me 84 messages yesterday!”
“How many did you send him?”
“Did any of them involve you telling him to stop messaging you?”
“Noooooooo! I can’t do that! It would be rude/might upset him/might make him mad!”
Hmkay. If you are routinely exchanging messages with somebody, and you haven’t told that person you don’t want to be exchanging messages with them, you’re not being stalked. You’re having a conversation. A conversation that the poor bastard at the other end might have no idea is unwanted by you, because you haven’t told them and people don’t read minds. It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference that you think they are sending you ‘too many’ messages, or that you want them to stop, unless you have told them this. If you do tell them, and they carry on, then you can start talking about harassment and stalking. But you need to tell them.
(Note: if you have expressed your disapproval in any kind of written format, keep a copy. That will be Exhibit A if ever there comes a time for you to call in the cavalry.)
“This horrible guy has got my number!”
“How did he get your number?”
“I gave it to him!”
“Because he was so pushy/scary/creepy!”
Someone is being unpleasant. So, in order to make the problem go away, you give them the means to contact you, so they can have further opportunities to be unpleasant at you. Makes perfect sense.
Yes, I understand that it’s hard to say no to scary people. Sometimes it can be genuinely dangerous, which is why I’m not advising it as a matter of course. If you believe that a straight no could put you in danger, lie. Give a false name, give them the number of one of those rejection hotlines number (866-740-4531 – I Am Groot), get a second mobile phone purely to wrangle assholes, do whatever is most likely to make the problem go away safely in those specific circumstances (but do not, under any circumstances, give them a friend’s number. I’ve seen that done. Colour me unimpressed.). Yes, I understand that that’s not what Assertive Liberated People do. I understand that it’s not going to help people practice enforcing boundaries. However, in some situations, it may be the best option to ensure that people get home safe. That’s pretty damn important.
I can’t tell anyone what to do without knowing the specific circumstances they are in. I am happy to tell them what to not do, though. Do not give your actual contact information to people who have already shown you that they are not nice. They’re unlikely to improve once they get to know you better.
“This complete stranger has got my contact details on X platform and he’s sending me horrible things!”
“Can he physically track you down?”
“Can you report him and block him?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point!”
I do not know what the point is, then. Are we supposed to be collectively shocked by the existence of horrible people, because we were hitherto unaware of their existence? Are we supposed to be able to eradicate them from this world? Are we supposed to take the time to let them know just how much they’ve managed to upset us, because that works so well at discouraging people who upset people on purpose? What the hell are we supposed to do, beyond alerting the relevant authorities (or, if you have the time and ability, telling their moms), removing them from our presence, and moving the hell on?
“This guy wanted to buy me a drink, and I said no.”
“Then he brought me the drink anyway.”
“Then I had to drink it not to be rude/make a scene/whatever!”
“Then he wouldn’t leave me alone for the rest of the evening!”
This kind of situation scares the hell out of me. If you have a problem with people who won’t take no for an answer, the one way guaranteed to make the situation worse is by showing them that by ignoring your nos they can get precisely what they want, at no cost to them. It’s only going to get worse. And the more they have invested on you (time, money, whatever), the worse it’s likely to get. In the short term, in the moment, it doesn’t matter why they’re ignoring your nos – whether they are entitled, poorly socialised, or evil. All that matters is that they’re doing it. And if they ignore the small ones, you cannot reasonably expect to respect the big ones. It just doesn’t work like that.
If you’ve said no to somebody clearly, and that didn’t work, it’s time to escalate things, not to back down. Raise your voice; make a scene; tell a bouncer; enlist the help of friends, or even helpful-looking strangers (funny how some guys happy to hassle a woman alone become deeply unhappy when confronted by a whole bunch of women). Using the resources around you, including the support of other people, doesn’t make you’re weak. It makes you smart. If nothing is working and nobody is helping, that would suggest to me that I’m in a bad place with bad people and bad things are likely to go down. Time to leave, safely, as soon as possible. But never believe that going along, however begrudgingly, with the first 49 things someone pushes you into doing will somehow make you able to get them to stop at the 50th, because that’s a broken boundary too many.