DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was wondering if you have any material relating to people who indirectly acquire your phone number. Or give you a fake reason to get your number and then call or text you to ask you out. Out of the blue, without warning.
It’s happened to me 5 times now, it scares the sh-t out of me and I’m pretty sick of it. After a lot of reflection I understand that I have some boundary issues to address that almost definitely contribute to the situation. I’m too kind, too friendly, too available and too attentive. I always have a moment for everyone and I’m more interested in understanding and championing people than I am in protecting myself. No matter who they are, how they look or how awkward they are socially, I really just want to have a good chat and a laugh and get excited about geek-y things with them.
I don’t want to play the victim and shirk any responsibility for my boundary problems, even so it’s really frustrating, frightening and I never know how to handle it. It’s confusing as hell because I’m no Scarlett Johansson, and it blows my mind that this happens to me at all. I’ve managed to keep my original number so far, but I’ve had to fight to get these people to stop contacting me. Sometimes it’s turned into some pretty vicious, defensive verbal exchanges that I’m not proud of. Other times I’ve had to leave social clubs, avoid businesses and even stop contracting to a particular workplace to get away from these individuals.
Even though I have a long history with people who interact with me like this, it shocks me every time and I freak out because it makes no sense to me. I’ve been mildly stalked a couple of times and I regularly attract really insecure/troubled friends and interested ‘nice’ guys. I’m becoming more than a little anti-social, judgmental and wary of being friends with anyone who displays even the tiniest signs of insecurity, poor self esteem or control issues. So I want to address that by regaining my confidence, rebuilding my self esteem and getting more social. Part of getting this confidence back means potentially dealing with being stalked again or having my contact information misappropriated or being given out without my permission again.
So Doc, in your opinion, what do I need to understand about what’s going on here? I’d really appreciate anything you’ve got to say about this.
- Private Number
DEAR PRIVATE NUMBER: This is one of those irritating times when you’re stuck having to make changes because of other people’s bad behavior. There’re plenty of creepers out there who see boundaries as things that happen to other people and folks who’ll leverage another person’s kindness and friendliness in order to get access to them. I have lost track at how many times I’ve seen guys take advantage of the good-will of women or mistake friendliness for a sign that they were destined to be together. Anime clubs, conventions, various professional events… put together a large enough mix of poor social calibration, insecurity and entitlement and you get dudes who think that women exist strictly for their benefit.
Unfortunately, dealing with them means having to have some shields up.
To start with, I’d suggest seriously working on your boundaries – not just with these guys but also with the folks who’re giving out your number. If your friends are how some of these folks are trying to bank-shot their way into your life, then it’s time to sit those friends down and have a come-to-Jesus meeting with them about how free they’ve been with your contact info. They should check with you first before giving out your information, not just handing it out willy-nilly to anyone who’s trying to get in contact with you.
As for guys who’re making sudden swerves into trying to date you, it may be worth making sure that when the topic of dating comes up that you shut it down, firmly and directly. If you’ve given soft no’s like “I’m not interested in dating right now” or “I just don’t have the time”, a lot of guys will deliberately overlook the refusal and choose to interpret what you’re saying as “try again later” or “keep at it, I’ll change my mind.” It’s one of the lies that we pick up through pop-culture, and unfortunately, a lot of people think persistence in the face of a lack of interest is romantic, not creepy as hell.
It also may not be a bad idea to put up some firewalls between you and these creepers. Locking down your social media presence should be your first stop. Get to know the privacy settings for your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts and make ’em as secure as you can. It’s astounding how many ways Facebook can open you up to complete strangers, even when you’re being careful. You should also consider having two numbers and email addresses: your “real” one and the one you give out to less-trusted people. Services like Google Voice provide a decentralized number that you can access from anywhere (and abandon as needed), while apps like Burner which give you disposable alternate numbers – including ones that are text only – that eventually self-destruct. These can help limit the ways that Johnny Creepo can get in touch with you… including if one of your well-meaning friends gives out your info even when you’ve specifically told them not to.
Yeah, it’s a little extreme, but if you’ve had creepers stalking you, that extra layer of insulation can provide some invaluable peace of mind.
Beyond that: as much as I hate to say it, but you may have to let yourself be a little more judgmental and wary of folks and less available overall. It’s admirable that you want to assume the best of everyone, but a lot of people tend to take friendliness as signs of interest and will dismiss anything that disagrees with the story they want to hear. Yes, there’re dudes who may be a little awkward but otherwise good guys, but there’re also the ones who’ll use social awkwardness as cover. You’re well within your rights to keep people at a distance until they’ve proven that they’re decent people. You’re also well within your rights to cut folks off for any reason. If you decide someone makes you uncomfortable or they’re starting to give you the creeper vibe, you have the right to put distance between you and them. You may catch flack from folks who buy into the Geek Social Fallacies or who will tell you that you’re overreacting. Doesn’t matter: who you trust and don’t trust isn’t up for public vote and you can set your boundaries where you damn well please.
Beyond that: take things at your own pace and speed. You can ease yourself back into the social scene as fast or as slow as you feel comfortable doing. Just take care of yourself; that matters more than possibly hurting some randos’ feelings when you’re not as nice as they’d like you to be.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Doc, I have a problem. I’ve read your article “How To Make Friends (When You’re Out of College)“ on your website, which is good, because it addresses a problem I’m facing: all my friends are moving to other cities and the like.
The logical step is for me to make more, but I have a few factors that complicate it. For example: you mention joining clubs and so on. Whenever I do that, the same thing happens; I almost always wind up in some sort of leadership or administrative role (I’m pretty responsible?), and then, well, I’m in that role, it’s pretty fun, but in that role I don’t feel I can act in any other way than professionally towards everyone else and, uh, the whole ‘friendship’ thing kinda stalls.
When it comes to meeting people outside of organized groups like clubs and MeetUps, I’ve discovered I’m actually pretty reluctant to engage with anyone. Like, I’ve noticed I’ll tend to stick my nose in my phone / computer / book / looking at scenery and can shut down pretty hard if anyone comes to talk to me…
I like staying at home and doing solo activities – even as I’m aware it completely hurts my social life and is going to cause me serious problems soon. But I don’t know how to train myself out of it, as even without a phone, computer, or book, I’ll crawl into my shell when I’m in public.
Do you have any advice for these complications?
- Resting Responsibility Face
DEAR RESTING RESPONSIBILITY FACE: First of all, you don’t have to take on any sort of leadership or administrative role, RFF. You’re perfectly free to say “no” when people ask you if you would take on responsibilities for the club or what-not. And honestly, even if you do end up being the club president or something, that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends with people. You’re not an officer in the military, and they aren’t soldiers under your command. These are extracurricular activities you’re doing for fun. Don’t take things too seriously, especially if it’s something like a book-club or a gaming group or whatnot.
As to your second point: to start with, you could always make a point of leaving your book at home when you go out and keep your phone in your pocket. In fact, it may be good to turn your phone off completely so you’re less tempted to pull it out and check on things “just in case”.
But more to the point, if you want to train yourself out of turtling up and actually come out of your shell, then start going to events where being social is the whole point of being there. This is one of the reasons I suggest things like MeetUps or silly get-togethers like an amateur kickball league; the whole point is to actually hang out and interact with people. It’s kind of hard to keep your nose in a book when you’re expected to be guarding second base or help your Skee-Ball team get into the quarter-finals.
(Trust me, I’ve tried.)
The biggest thing you need to do is just relax, RRF. This ain’t life or death, this is fun and friendship. Don’t overthink things. Just take a step or two to get out of your own way and then go with the flow of the situation.
Dr. Nerdlove is not a real doctor. Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)