Wednesday, February 19, 2014
How to Not Be the 'Creepy Guy.' by Mike Fatum
(Required reading: "Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative" by Chris Brecheen.)
I just got back, this week, from a wonderful convention over Presidents' Day Weekend. For me, it was an absolute blast, with tons of times with friends I never get to see except that these cons. I had a ton of fun. Unfortunately, some folks I know and love didn't. I had at least three people comment on the amount of time they got hit on at the con, and how it was more than normal. Originally, I thought about writing an article once again damning the parts of geek culture that objectify both the women and men at these conventions, but then I had another thought.
You see, there is absolutely a percentage of the folks who harass people at cons who know better and do it anyway. These people are what we call, by technical term, a-holes. (Guess where I picked up that term recently.) But, there is another percentage of folks who simply don't know any better. These are the people who refer to themselves as a "nice girl/guy", and don't understand that they're objectifying the other person in even doing that. (Although I will say the frustration of being a decent human being and constantly being passed up for the first group of a-holes is a very real frustration that's getting more and more invalidated lately...that's another discussion for another time.) These guys and girls actually don't know better - they're following what they've been taught for years by movies and TV, and don't have enough of the social graces to understand when they've overstepped into Creepy Guy territory. Instead of casting fires of damnation at these people, I want to sit you all down and educate you a bit.
So let's break down, first, what Creepy Guy means. A lot of folks assume that being Creepy is this:
But that's a caricature, a stereotype. It's the sort of thing you'd see on the Big Bang Theory. And because it's a stereotype, it's easy to dismiss as "Well, yeah, but that's not what I'm like." So let's make a new definition here. The simplest, easiest way to define "creepy" as a word is typically used these days is this: Anyone who gives unwanted attention, with a goal of striking up a romance or friendship, and does not/will not pick up on the cues that their intended target wants them to go away." Hell, if you start using the word "target" for any description of another human being, you're probably getting into creepy territory.
Let's take another look at the image that leads this article. This is a girl sitting at a bar by herself. In every single movie or television show that depicts this image, the girl is looking for someone to talk to. The main romantic interest will come up and rescue her from her loneliness. Since we're all the heroes of our own personal stories in our minds, we assume that will be us. But here's the thing - people don't sit at bars by themselves in the real world because they want to talk. People sit at bars by themselves in the real world so they can drink and be left alone. So when you see that very attractive girl or guy sitting at the bar alone, and you think, "Oh man, I should talk to them!" Don't.
I should make an addendum to that hard "No," but it's a very simple one. You can go up to talk to people whom you think you share similar interests, but only if you follow two very simple rules:
1) You have to be approaching them as another human being. If the thought "Man, I'd like to kiss her," or "He'd be great in the sack" enters your mind, back off, everyone can smell that on you.
2) If they don't seem interested in talking to you, leave.
Cons are a great way to meet someone you're likely to have a great time with. I've seen quite a few people I know meet the love of their life at a convention, and go from dating, to married, to having kids over the course of the only four years I've been going. But those couples all rose out of a solid community that meant the relationship was based on shared interests and friends, first. Not because "Hur hur, a girl that likes D&D, we are destined."
A lot of our people, myself included, are very bad at reading other people's social cues. What comes naturally to most is a difficult maze we have to navigate by learning and constantly asking ourselves questions. So when you approach a girl/guy, look for these cues:
1) Are they answering your questions in single words?
2) Are they avoiding eye contact?
3) Are they looking around for a friend?
4) Do they keep politely trying to return to the book/TV show/drink they were engaged in before you showed up?
These are only four signs, but they're big ones. If you see them, it's pretty straightforward to assume these people are not interested.
Even if you just approached as a friend, it's time to go.
Even if you're a really nice person, it's time to go.
Even if they would really like you if they just gave you a chance, it's time to go.
If someone has decided based on two minutes of your time that they don't want to spend any more time with you, that's the end of it. You're not going to convince them by spending more time trying to get their attention. Maybe that's harsh - maybe you are a super duper person, and they would be really happy with you. Maybe. But they've made a decision, and you can't change it by continuing to push. Because pushing is what takes you into Creepy territory. Politely excuse yourself, and GTFO.
If you aren't the sort of person that objectifies other human beings, if you are genuinely a wonderful human being, then don't despair. I haven't just condemned you to a life of sorrow and loneliness because that one pretty girl or hot bodied guy or extremely sexy genderqueered person won't talk to you. Love is not something you can force your way into. Love has to be mutual, and wanted from both sides, and you can't get it by poking at an uninterested party until they change their mind, no matter what the movies say. The reason online dating works (sometimes) is because both parties enter the room wanting a relationship, and are open to it.
But sometimes people just want a beer. Or to read their book. And you have to respect that, even if the illogical part of your head tells you that you would make beautiful babies together.
Be respectful. Don't be creepy. And you'll be surprised how well it works out for you.