DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I got out of my one and only relationship (of seven years) four years ago. It left me really damaged and it took both a physical and mental toll on me. I’ve been spending the past three years building my confidence back up. I’ve been working with a therapist for a while and last year I got bariatric surgery to lose some of the weight I put on. I’ve improved a lot, but I realize that it is time to take off the training wheels, so to speak, and I’m rather nervous about that.
One of my biggest problems has been putting myself out there. I’ve recently decided to join a recreational sports program to try and give it a go. I ended up meeting a guy there who was really funny and sweet and he got me out of my shell pretty quickly. We had about an hour of downtime between games and he hung out with me and had a great conversation. It was animated and perhaps even a little flirty. At one point he said that he wanted to give me his number so I could send him a video we were talking about, but we were called to play a match so he never did end up giving me his number. After the event was over, a bunch of us went to an after party at a bar. The whole group hung out there for a while until people started to leave little by little. The guy came up to me to say goodbye and he gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and left.
This guy left such a good impression with me that I felt compelled to track him down. I found his work email and his Facebook pretty easily, but now that I have this information, I question if I should reach out to him at all. I know men are not used to being approached by women and I don’t want to come off as creepy or stalkerish because I tracked down his contact information. I also keep questioning if I had read the situation correctly to begin with. I have a bad track record of misinterpreting friendliness for flirting, and the last thing I want to do is create a reputation of being “that desperate creepy girl” at a rec league that I enjoy and very much want to keep attending. So Doc, am I misinterpreting this guys interest, as I always do? And if I did get it right, would it be creepy for me to reach out to him?
DEAR FOREVER CONFUSED: First of all, FC, congratulations on the work you’ve been doing to get yourself into emotional shape. That can be a serious challenge for anyone, and it’s great that you’ve been taking the time to take care of yourself and get yourself into good working order. That says a lot about your strength, your emotional intelligence and your persistence and you should be justly proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Now, let’s talk a little about tracking down strangers on social media.
My general rule of thumb when it comes to things like Facebook-stalking is simple: don’t. In fact, I’ve been on the record a number of times about why this is a very bad, no good, rotten idea. However, it’s also important to note that, as with many things in life, context can be important. After all, as we live more and more of our lives online, we’re starting to see a blurring of our private and public selves. More and more often, we’re connecting with – and even forming relationships with – people we’ve first gotten to know via social media. And, hell, I’ve literally written a book about how to connect with people via Instagram, Snapchat and more. But if it’s going to be done, then it needs to be done with thought and care… something a lot of people apparently just don’t want to do.
One of the reasons why I come down hard on the side of “don’t do this” is because much of my advice is directed towards men who want to date women. Within that context comes the fact that women and men don’t navigate the same world or face the same risks. For all that people like to think that we’ve reached a mythical equality of the sexes – generally demarcated as any time after September 20, 1973 – the truth of the matter is that women have far more to fear from men, then men do from women. Women face threats and casual harassment that men simply don’t experience, and this includes how they’re treated on the Internet. Many, many women can tell you stories about strangers who’ve slid into their DMs in order to hit on them or drop dick pics like a cat dropping a dead mouse at their feet. Just as many can tell you about men who’ve creeped on them, stalked them or turned threatening, even if they seemed pleasant or harmless enough at first. This treatment is part of what forms the background radiation of many women’s online experiences, which is why it’s generally a bad idea for guys to appear out of the clear blue sky into someone’s social media accounts, especially someone they’d only met briefly before. Even though it may not be what the guy intended, there’s an unspoken message of “look how easy it was for me to find you,” that comes with this action.
However, the same can’t be said for men’s experiences online or in person. While yes, female stalkers do exist and men can be hurt or abused by women, the risk posed to men by women simply isn’t proportionate. The numbers of men physically threatened or harmed by women are dwarfed by the number of women threatened or harmed by men. Similarly, while stalkerish behavior from a man is seen as sinister and threatening, much of the same behavior from a woman is often seen as comical or somewhat sad. It tends to be played off as “someone who’s simply not attractive shooting out of her league” than Fatal Attraction territory. A woman messaging a man she barely knows or has only just met doesn’t carry the same potential for danger that would exist if the roles were reversed. In many ways, the risk is still greater for her – such as, as you mentioned, the possible social stigma of being known as the “desperate stalker girl”. More often than not, however, the effect would be potentially coming across as more interested in the other person than you actually are. After all, if you were willing to flout social convention in such an audacious manner… well, you must really want that d.
So your reaching out to him via Facebook is less likely to be as off-putting or disturbing as it would be if a guy were to do the same thing to a woman he’d met at a bar the night previous. This doesn’t mean that your reaching out would automatically be welcomed… but it likely wouldn’t weird him out the way it would be if you were a man and he were a woman.
Now with that in mind, let’s examine the situation. You met a guy at the game who spent significant time hanging out with you, who offered to give you his number, who came with you to a party at a bar and then went out of his way to say goodbye to you specifically and was physically affectionate to you.
I’m gonna go on a limb here and suggest that maybe, just maybe… he was kind of into you. So, if your friend request were to suddenly materialize in his inbox, I don’t think that he would recoil with horror. I suspect he’d probably be glad, even a little flattered.
But that’s not a sure thing. We tend to see our Facebook profiles differently than we see our Twitter or Instagram accounts; the latter tend to be more public and outward facing, while there’s still a certain assumption of personal privacy with Facebook. It’s more acceptable to follow a near-stranger on IG than it is on Facebook. There would be more socially plausible reasons to friend him if the two of you have friends in common or if you were part of the same groups – then there’s more context for your sending him a friend request and it would grease the metaphorical wheels a bit more.
So while I wouldn’t rule it out entirely, I wouldn’t necessarily reach out over Facebook. If he’s got an Instagram account, then following him there and sending him a message might be more within bounds.
There is, however, a better option. You met him through the sports program that you joined. The odds are that, if he’s a regular, you’re going to see him again. So I’d suggest that you go back to the games and keep an eye out for him. Then, next time you see him you can let him know that he completely forgot to give you his number and you’ve decided to rectify this by making sure that he has yours.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)