Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Avoiding Unpleasant Surprises for the Single Aspie

"Jesurgislac," apparently a young woman in the UK, had a recent incident with a guy whose actions scared her, but who didn't mean her any harm and who accepted "no" for an answer - when she finally gave it in so many words.

In a nutshell, that evening he apparently saw her walking past a pub he was in, whistled at her and when she didn't respond, came out and followed her. He accosted her from behind in a dark, lonely segment of a deserted area - to invite her to come back with him for a drink. She was not interested - in the same sense that the Atlantic Ocean contains water. She was scared of what he might have intended to do, in fact. But when she told him to buzz off and go back where he came from, he did.

We'll probably never know whether or not that guy is an Aspie. For that matter, more than a few NT men have difficulty understanding how their actions affect women in the opposite way from what they intended. One could think "Hey, it would be nice to have a drink with her, I know I won't lay a glove on her, so nothing to lose if I just go up to her and ask her to join me".

Some guys - but especially Aspies - can easily lose sight of certain subtle differences here: she was not already in the pub, in fact she did not even notice the guy, it was at night, and he not only followed her but also happened to choose a very dark and deserted place to approach her. Under those circumstances, of course she's unlikely to respond the same way as if, say, he had approached her in broad daylight face-to-face at, say, a laundromat. Or even as if she had already been drinking in the pub.

Kudos to Jesurgislac for making crystal-clear that this guy, despite some outward similarities, was not a stalker. Even though he did approach her in the same way that a criminal who wanted to scare her would have, when she said "no" he accepted it without a problem.

It certainly would be very good if more people, especially women, would - where possible and reasonable - first try saying "no" in so many words instead of immediately calling the authorities. I have no doubt that many guys, Aspie and even NT, whose actions may seem offensive or even scary, and who may not grasp subtle hints that their attentions are unwanted, would be happy to leave alone anyone who specifically said "no".

At the same time, it would also be very good if people, especially (but not only) men - and in particular Aspies - would take a good hard look at how we're acting, especially (but not only) towards women. We need to ask ourselves "Given that she doesn't know anything about me, would she have reason to fear that I might harm her or might even be trying to scare her if I approach her in this way?"

There are many little factors, as we've seen, which separate pleasurable social interaction from what many consider to be harassment or even stalking. For example: What time of day is it? Are there other people around? Is she just trying to get from Point A to Point B without necessarily trying to attract any attention? Would I be following her a significant distance (and thus might it look like I'm choosing a specific spot to approach her, maybe because it's dark and lonely or because I have a weapon or hiding place there)?

And of course, we - especially (but not only) female Aspies - need to take account of thse factors, too, so as to try to avoid actual robbers, rapists and murderers.

The good news is, we're Aspies - remember, we have an eye for detail. We can learn these things and then put our lessons to work.

Yes, we should encourage more women to take a moderate approach like Jesurgislac. We also need to encourage one another to learn the social cues, especially from women's perspectives, and then do everything we can to separate ourselves behaviorally from harassers, stalkers and worse characters.

Not only will other people be spared unnecessary fear, and not only will we be spared unnecessary attention and even arrests for alleged harassment and stalking...but also, the more we conduct ourselves with close attention to women's social cues and pay attention to their feelings, the more friends we may make and the sooner we just might wind up with the loves of our lives. Win-win all around.

PS: Hat-tip to Marcella Chester, a rape survivor advocate (and a rape survivor herself), for including a pointer to Jesurgislac's post in her recent Carnival Against Sexual Violence.


Maddy said...

Sounds like you're well on the right track to me.

It seems to me that as long as we are all trying to learn, we should all manage to bump into each other at the roundabout. [but hopefully not in the dark!]

Jeff Deutsch said...

Hello Maddy,

Thank you very much. Knowing the problem is half the battle right there. Trying to learn is indeed what counts most, IMHO.

It's somewhat less of an issue for me personally, as a happily married man. I'm hoping to help others, Aspie and NT alike.

Still, understanding how we're perceived will always be a challenge...heck it's a challenge for many if not most NTs too.

Cheers back to you,

Jeff Deutsch

Medic61 said...

There is a girl that I sort of "mentor," or look out for. I remember when a boy at her school was pestering her to go out with her, I told her that the best way to get him to go away was tell him exactly what she meant: "no." Often, women are afraid of hurting other people's feelings, and won't say what they mean in so many words.
They giggle, or give a person false hope. I learned early on that if I don't want to do something, the most clear way to express that is just to say "no."
I think you are absolutely correct!

Jeff Deutsch said...

Hello Sam,

I have no doubt that she is very lucky to have you for a mentor. I only wish I had such a mentor growing up.

You are, of course, absolutely right.

Honesty is a way of honoring the other person. For one thing, honesty is (in most situations) only right when dealing with our fellow humans; lying is (ditto) wrong in and of itself.

For another, in this kind of situation an honest response in effect says to the other person "I think you are grownup enough to handle the fact that I am not as interested in you as you are in me."

Life being what it is, it's probably not the first time or the last that he'll encounter such a thing, and no doubt he's broken a heart or two himself and seen others broken. He should know it's a fact of life. So, a patronizing sweetener like "I'm not looking for a boyfriend right now" is condescending.

(It's also a good idea to give honest responses because when you do want to make clear that you're uncertain - say if you really are putting dating on the back burner for a short time but you haven't eliminated the guy as a candidate in the future - you'll be more likely to be believed.)

And besides condescending, offering false hope can be dangerous. It's shortsighted. If you don't get it across to him now that you're not interested, when exactly do you plan to do so? After his expectations and hopes have been built up more and more?

What's more, if someone's interested in you and he does consider harassing or stalking you, for one thing he might think twice about doing so if he's seen you show the resolve to give him a definite "no". To put it bluntly, you'll get respect when you need it most.

On the other hand, a hard-core stalker will see giggling or wishy-washy responses as a sign that you won't firmly resist progressing impositions like verbal abuse, late-night calls, demands to break ties with friends and family and physical abuse - even rape.

Also, if someone harasses or stalks you, it looks a lot better for you if you can show a clear refusal from the beginning. Otherwise it can look like you expressed some interest and he at least had some reason to believe you welcomed his advances. Someone might even think you did have a relationship with him but then you got mad at him for something and decided to get revenge. Reversing yourself in general, but especially in delicate situations like this, really damages your credibility.

We Aspies may be especially receptive to refusals given in so many words. But all these considerations apply across the board, with Aspie and NT alike.

Keep up the good work, Sam!

Jeff Deutsch

PS: You may well be right about women being especially likely to make this mistake. Interestingly, women at least give lip service to the idea that people should not raise false hopes, as when I see women complaining about men who don't call after they say they will. Presumably at least then they don't accept "he didn't want to hurt your feelings" as an excuse.