“Can’t we just be friends?”

posted in: Silver Spring | 9

The following is a response I wrote in relation to a story someone else posted last month–(found here: http://hollabackdc.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/look-im-sure-youre-nice-and-not-creepy-and-all/#comment-3686 )

I wrote it mainly in defense of the original poster’s story, and in response to the 2 individuals who criticized her for being frosty and defensive toward a strange man who approached her with the “Can’t we just be friends?” strategy. It is also, however, an account of my own experience in addition to a defense of hers.

Several people suggested I posted it to the site as its own thread, so that’s what I’ve done below:

***For weeks now, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why E. and Anonymous’ comment didn’t sit well with me. Because I couldn’t quite articulate it, I refrained from responding to them.

And then I had an experience waiting at my bus stop over the weekend, and I was finally able to articulate PRECISELY why I found both their reactions so unsettling.

E., Anonymous: Let me begin by saying that I honestly do empathize with men and how difficult it must be to approach women they are interested in. I come from a family of all brother syblings, and it’s something we discuss and they consult me on frequently.

Perhaps this is why part of me could understand where your comments, though misguided, were coming from.

But at the end of the day, this is what it ultimately boils down to: In my experience, and in the experience of nearly every woman I know? Men who approach us just wanting to “be friends” are never JUST interested in being our friends. They are interested in more than that. They know it, and we know it. Let’s be honest.

Furthermore, there’s something called intuition. Whether or not this experience sounded like anything more than “a typical human being trying, to the best of their ability, to be friendly to someone they don’t know”, or “just a nerd who can’t talk to women,” something in this posters gut told her it was more than that, and she reacted accordingly because that “something more” was not welcomed by her. As women, we are conditioned all our lives to be polite and disregard our gut feelings if those gut feelings go against being polite. And that has repeatedly put us in danger. A woman’s intuition should not be challenged, nor should it be criticized or dismissed. –Especially those women who have experienced enough harassment to have now developed a very, very strong instinct about these types of situations. (And it sounds like this poster is one of those women.)

–I am one of these women: I have experienced an extreme amount of harassment in this area, ranging everywhere from pushy “Can’t we just be friends?” conversations to full on sexual assaults. I assure you, at this point I can spot a harasser from blocks away, my intuition has become so strong. (And by the way, Anonymous, that doesn’t make me “damaged goods.” How dare you refer to victims of harassment in such a fashion.)

Last weekend, I was standing at a bus stop in Silver Spring by myself, mid day, waiting to head into the city. I had my headphones on– A tactic I’ve developed as a way of tuning out harassing comments that inevitably fly at me from cars whenever I wait at a bus stop alone. Out of my peripheral vision, I noticed a man slowly approaching me, smiling, trying to get my attention. I was looking down, so I pretended that I didn’t see him or hear him. But he kept saying, “Hello, hello?”

–And inevitably, my “polite female” conditioning kicked in. I thought to myself, “Wait, what if he simply needs directions or simple help in some other way?”

I looked up, and he looked very pleasant and innocent, shy almost. Basically, he looked kind of like “a typical human being trying, to the best of his ability, to be friendly to someone he didn’t know.” He looked like he was probably “just a nerd” trying to talk to me.

He introduced himself, and said that he’d seen me many times at the bus stop, and always wanted to come by and say hello, but that he was very shy. My guard immediately went up, I said hello, and then went back to my ipod.

But he continued: He said that he was kind of shy, but that he wanted to know if we could be friends. I told him that I had a boyfriend (1. a lie, and 2, I shouldn’t have felt obligated to give him a reason, but I’m conditioned to think I should). The conversation continued like this:

Him: “Oh, but I just want to be friends with you. I’d like to take you out to dinner and maybe see a movie and get to know you as a friend.”
Me: “I’m sorry, but no thank you.”
Him: “What is your name?”
Me: “Sara.” (–A lie, of course.)
Him: “But you seem very nice, and every time I have seen you, I have thought oh, she is such an attractive woman (now he is motioning at my body), and I would like to get to know her.”
Me: “I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable with that. And I have a boyfriend.”
Him: “Oh that’s okay, it can be just between us.”
Me: “I’m sorry, but I don’t keep secrets from my boyfriend.”
Him: “But he doesn’t have to be upset, because we can just be friends. I know that you live around here, because I’ve seen you stand here every day, and I work around here just across the street. I work just over there doing landscaping, and I see you every day as I work (as he points toward what is a heavily-wooded business lawn across the street). You are so close that I could just come over to your house at lunch time and we could order food or maybe watch a movie. Just as friends.”
Me: “I’m sorry, but no, it’s out of the question.”
Him: “But I am a very nice friend. I’d like to be your friend. I’d like to have your phone number.”
Me: (Now desperate for any tactic to get him to leave:) “Look, I’m moving to CA in 2 weeks, so I won’t really live here much longer anyway, so there’s no point to us becoming friends.”
Him: “Oh, if you are only here 2 more weeks, then please let me come meet you at your house for lunch or let me take you to dinner. Because I think you are very attractive and I’d like to get to know you before you move away.”
Me: (Now even more desperate for a tactic that will work:) “How about this: You can give me your phone number. If I change my mind, I will call you. Okay?”

–Of course, that wasn’t okay. The conversation continued in this fashion for about 5 more minutes until I was saved by the bus. He continued to very “innocently” push for me to give him my phone number and agree to meet up with him.

Now, to E. and Anonymous: This I can tell you for sure– I don’t really think this man was a “creepy rapist.” I believe that he was attracted to me and trying to get a date from me, but “obviously he was doing it in the wrong way.” He was a nice enough man trying to talk to a stranger. He was probably a bit of a nerd.


Now: While the person who posted this story did not have the 15 minute incident I did, I can almost promise you that if she’d taken the “polite girl” approach like I had, she would have experienced the same thing I did. He would not have let up. He would have stood there trying to find ways to convince her to be his “friend” or give him her number. (He already began trying to convince her after she’d said no the first time.)

It is menacing, it is exhausting, and it is ultimately a mild form of bullying, even if the harasser simply wants to get to know us.

Let’s take it a step further: You both seem to think that the man who approached this poster sincerely wanted to make a new friend. In my experience, men don’t want to simply make friends with a random person they don’t know, they want to “make friends” with random females they think are attractive. I don’t know what this poster looks like, but I’m going to guess that her physical appearance appealed to this man, which is what motivated him to approach her. FRIENDSHIP, platonic friendship, is NOT what motivates men to approach a woman, a stranger, who they find attractive. SEX does.

The man who wouldn’t leave me alone at the bus stop didn’t want to be my friend. He wanted to have sex with me. Ultimately, he just did. Let’s be frank. Did he want to screw me right there at the bus stop? Perhaps not. Did the man in this story want to screw this poster right there with the dog? No. But either way, on an underlying level, these men approached us out of sexual desire, not a desire for friendship.


–And that doesn’t make us bitches. It should be enough, it should be respected.

So when they try to talk us out of our “no” answers (which in and of itself is outrageous), using the line that they just want to be friends, they are not only lying, but they are manipulating us by putting us in the position of looking like mean bitches if we essentially have to say “I don’t want to be your friend. I don’t know you, but I don’t want to be your friend.”

–Sounds mean, right? We’re constantly put in the position of having to “seemingly” reject men like this based on not wanting to be their friends, which makes us look snotty. The reality is that we are not snotty, we simply know it’s not friendship they are looking for, and we’re not interested in keeping up pretenses.

We are not stupid, either. We deal with this CONSTANTLY. That you can’t understand why this woman would have had her guard up immediately when approached by this “friend-seeker” is utterly baffling.

I admire the way this poster handled her situation. She is no doubt tired of walking her dog, standing at bus stops, or going anywhere in public and having to endure 15 minute long negotiations with men who “just want to be friends,” and so she has found a different tactic.

–Which evidently worked.

Congrats to her indeed.

*P.S. E. and Anonymous: Maybe this will help you understand even further why we eventually become skeptical of any man who approaches as “friends”:

Let’s give my harasser the benefit of the doubt and say that he was indeed just a nerd, not looking for sex, and simply had a shy and awkward way of making friends. Consider for a moment what he has communicated to me within the first few minutes of talking to me, a strange woman all by herself on the street:

1) You turn me on sexually.
2) I know where you live.
3) I’ve been watching you from behind the trees, though you haven’t seen me.
4) You don’t know me, but I’d like to come into your home when your boyfriend isn’t there and spend time with you alone.
5) I’m unwilling to accept “No” as your answer to my request for what I want from you.

–Even if this man turned out to indeed just be entirely clueless and seeking friendship, those mere 5 comments above were enough to not only make me question his motives, but they were, especially when combined, enough to scare me senseless as I stood there alone on a street corner surrounded by wooded corners. The next time a man approaches me wanting to be my friend, I absolutely intend to use the tactic that the woman in this story did. Period.

Submitted by B
Location: E/W Hwy & Sundale Dr (Silver Spring)
Time of harassment: Day Time (9:30A-3:30P)

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9 Responses

  1. Lorraine

    Very well said, especially that last bit. Hang in there!

  2. Chels

    Preach! Learned so much from this post. Thanks!

  3. cathy

    i’ve gotten into the habit of telling people what they really mean when they say things. “you don’t want to be my friend because you don’t know anything about me. i could be a terrible person. and i don’t want to be your friend because i don’t know anything about you, except that you don’t respect my wishes. if you respected me, you’d leave me alone after i tell you ‘no’. continuing to talk to me this way is harassment. leave me alone.”

    it usually inspires anger or resentment and a lot of “bitch”, but every once in a while a light bulb goes off. and maybe, just maybe, that guy will learn how to approach women just a little more effectively. we can dream.

  4. Mara

    I really appreciate your response: it was very calm and collected, a great way to respond to the wealth of ignorance you encountered. Way to go!

  5. Anonymous

    Well said. Thank you.

  6. NewInTown

    In addition to the brilliance of this post, I’d like to add that I absolutely do not trust the “let’s Be Friends” pest.

    1. What grown man approaches a stranger asking to be friends? I haven’t used that tactic since first grade.

    2. A man that can’t take no for an answer in a simple context likely won’t take no for an answer in critical moments. This is an important test of character for me.

    3. The LBF pest is almost always incredibly inappropriate and creepy. These are the guys who think nothing of trying to get friendly in a dimly lit parking garage, at the reception desk of your workplace, alone at a metro station at 5:00 am, on a jogging trail, etc. These are the guys who follow you into stores they had no intention of shopping at to pressure you for a phone number, embarrassing you and making a scene. They bring up how they’ve been watching you for a period of time and indicate that they know where you live. Chilling.

    Now does that sound like a shy nerd type to you? Not me. That’s the modus operandi of a practiced, manipulative creep. This isn’t someone who has trouble talking to women, this is someone who applies pressure tactics to get what he wants – unwilling recipient be damned.

    And quite frankly, I could care less if someone is supposedly socially awkward. You don’t get to make me uncomfortable, and I don’t owe you a phone number or a date to restore your faith in womankind. Your time for dating would be better spent trying to figure out why you think you are entitled to someone else’s body (let’s be real, it’s not about friendship or affection with these guys – they don’t know anything about you except for your physical being) just because you want it to be so.

    In other words, get lost, creep!

  7. Salil Maniktahla

    Well said. What a creep. You dealt with him as best you could. Bleah…

  8. Anonymous

    The only thing guys learn from this site is A) hot guys can get away with anything, if you’re not “hot” you’re in serious trouble, and B) there are a lot of bat-shit crazy women is this town and if you’re not “hot” but want still want to meet women you better keep you lawyer on speed-dial, because regardless of how nice and honest you are, damaged women believe they can read your mind and their divine insight always reveals that the only reason you’re speaking with them is to initiate your secret rape ritual.

    You call it female intuition (mind reading) but it’s really a form of crazy involving a snap judgment based on looks. Guys who try to talk to a damaged women (especially those with the power to read minds) only have one chance, they need to fit into her impossibly narrow, preconceived framework of the ultra-hot movie star of their favorite romantic comedy, if they don’t, she automatically queues the soundtrack to a horror movie in her head and starts playing her favorite roll “the victim”.

    I respect your efforts to write intelligently Can’t We Just Be Friends but all your post really says is that you have psychic powers, you’re totally ignorant of the world we live in and that stranger “scare you senseless” whenever they talk to you, which indicates you’re not playing with a full deck.

  9. Danna

    I am astounded the mods let creeps like anon just above me post their misogynist bile. Isn’t this a place to get away from Nice Guy trolls?