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oh god, it's too early for this stuff
October 15, 2012 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Every morning I make idle chit-chat on the bus with a young man around my age. Lately I've been getting the impression that he wants a more personal relationship between us. Me, not so much. Keeping in mind that this is someone I will have to see every weekday morning for the next three months at the very least, how can I minimize the number of uncomfortable bus rides in my life?

Background: I'm 20 years old, female, commuting a few hours to and from college every day. A bit more than a month ago someone strikes up a conversation with me on the bus. We have a perfectly pleasant conversation about where we're going (me: to school, him: to work at a nearby warehouse), the weather, and how much it sucks to have to be up at the asscrack of dawn, and then his stop comes, we bid each other a good day and that's that. The same thing happens the next day, and the day after, etc etc.

About a week ago I started noticing that:

1. Sometimes during a lull in conversation or something, he just turns and looks at me for a few moments. Seeing as we're sitting side-by-side, it's a pretty noticeable head-swivelling -- the first couple of times I remember being a bit confused and thinking he was about to tell me I had something on my face, so I also turned my head. He just kept smiling at me, I gave him a somewhat baffled smile and looked away.
2. He keeps finding small ways to come in physical contact with me: sitting closer to my seat, patting my arm, resting his head on my shoulder, etc..
3. He gets on the bus at a different stop now. That is, uh, my stop. When I told my this to my friend she totally flipped out, so I'd like to note that we used to get on at consecutive stops, and it is totally possible that the two stops are equidistant from his house. But yeah, the two of us now wait alone together, in the dark, for the bus.

Now, I'm pretty terrible at reading social cues at the best of times; at 6am in the morning, during one of my more butch-looking phases? Totally blindsided. One last note is that, despite the above, he seems like a perfectly decent, non-creepy, if somewhat awkward dude. The confrontation-hating side of me says to just change bus routes, but this would necessitate waking up another 30 minutes earlier, as well as be a bit of a dickish thing to do without warning, imho... What now?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (59 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd mention that I was seeing someone and hope that he gets the hint. That gives you an out that leaves you blameless and you need not acknowledge that you've noticed his affections.
posted by litnerd at 7:40 AM on October 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


2. He keeps finding small ways to come in physical contact with me: sitting closer to my seat, patting my arm, resting his head on my shoulder, etc..

Not cool. Next time he does this, move away (as much as possible, even if it's just a little shift in your seat) and say, "Hey, you know what, I really don't like people touching me without permission, so can you not do that? Thanks." I think that will send a message that your relationship needs to stay casual.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:42 AM on October 15, 2012 [18 favorites]


Indirect: Partner, real or imagined. Talk effusively about them a few times.

Or

Direct: "hey you're creeping me out"
posted by French Fry at 7:44 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd both mention that you're seeing someone and change up your route. Doesn't your school schedule change a bit? Go earlier. Go later. Take another bus for awhile. Next time you see him: "Oh hi! Yeah my schedule's all over the place... and sometimes I stay over with my SO." [Study book for test with headphones on.]
posted by amanda at 7:44 AM on October 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


How busy is the bus? Could you sit next to someone else instead of sitting on an empty seat so that he can sit next to you?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:52 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is creepy. Tell him not to touch you. Can you take an earlier bus?
posted by empath at 7:54 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The confrontation-hating side of me says to just change bus routes, but this would necessitate waking up another 30 minutes earlier, as well as be a bit of a dickish thing to do without warning, imho

Wake up 30 minutes earlier for your safety.

Don't worry about being dickish to some creepy guy you don't know and don't want to know. YOU DO NOT OWE HIM ANYTHING.
posted by mibo at 8:01 AM on October 15, 2012 [45 favorites]


Headphones. And books. Apologize for being distracted, but don't stop listening or reading. Reduce your chitchat a lot - if you had 15 minutes of chatting before, now you have three. You're not being a bitch, but you're reducing the attention he gets from you. When he gets off the bus, look up from your book (or away from the window you've been staring out of as you listen to music) and give him a little wave or nod or something (ie. be polite) but that's it.
posted by Kololo at 8:05 AM on October 15, 2012


I don't want to jump into "creep" territory based on what you said (although the head on the shoulder bit seems a bit forward, but different folks have different backgrounds for this kind of stuff). If I were you, and I wanted to handle it kindly, I would take four progressive steps:

1. Define the relationship you're willing to have, including a prohibition on the physical contact and see if he says, "Of course, I didn't mean to offend you.".. if so, all's good.

2. If that doesn't work, step two is sitting in a different seat.

3. If that doesn't work, take a different bus

4. If that doesn't work, call the police the next time you see him approaching you.
posted by HuronBob at 8:06 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The people here who think he's creepy or worried about your safety are just shocking to me: this is a completely typical experience between two single people who are around the same age and see each other a lot. The dude has a little crush on the OP! Touching her arm, or doing stuff to spend more time with her - that's what shy guys do when they have a crush! That doesn't make him dangerous or creepy! It makes him normal! It makes the OP, who doesn't feel the same way, completely normal! At least according to the info given to us by the OP, nothing about this requires a new bus route or concerns for safety. The number of times that a woman is going to have to gently let a guy down is many, this is a perfectly reasonable time to get used to the experience.
posted by Kololo at 8:09 AM on October 15, 2012 [39 favorites]


Reasonable, respectful, appropriate way for him to try to turn this into a personal relationship: ask "would you like to go get coffee/go on a date/etc.?".

Unreasonable, disrespectful, inappropriate way for him to try to turn this into a personal relationship: touching you without your permission during your bus ride and changing his routine so he is now waiting at your bus stop with you in the dark.

Sorry, but as a woman who is used to paying attention to personal safety, this sets off my radar. He is not behaving in a way that shows a good understanding of interpersonal boundaries or prioritization of your comfort level. It just makes me uneasy. If a guy did these things, I would not think it was normal flirting behavior. I am seconding that you should mention a partner and change your bus route ASAP. This is a matter of preserving your personal safety--it is not dickish and you do not owe this veritable stranger anything.

Please listen to your gut here, and don't give this stranger with boundary issues any further opportunity to familiarize himself with your routines and insert himself into them.
posted by anonnymoose at 8:09 AM on October 15, 2012 [32 favorites]


Headphones are your friend. Act a little cold. Talk about guys you're interested in -- basically make it clear that you have "friend-zoned" him.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:16 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Touching your arm is one thing (I personally don't like casual acquaintances touching me) but resting his head on your shoulder? Not cool.

Get up 30 minutes earlier and do not worry about it seeming to be a dickish move to simply disappear from his schedule. You do not owe him an explanation as to why you're changing schedules. He is a casual acquaintance at best, and one who makes you uncomfortable. The reasons for being uncomfortable do not matter; it only matters that you are. Listen to your gut!
posted by cooker girl at 8:17 AM on October 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


nthing headphones
posted by kellybird at 8:27 AM on October 15, 2012


I'd really like to hear a bit more of why you think changing bus routes would be "dickish". Do you feel that he would need to be informed first? Or that he would have to grant you permission? What if you did tell him you were changing routes and he told you that wasn't going to be acceptable? That would send this into scary as hell territory really fast, but if you believe changing bus routes without his knowledge is "dickish", it implies you want his approval to do so.

That coupled with your admission that you hate confrontation says to me that you have been raised to be "nice", even when being "nice" is making you exceedingly uncomfortable.

I urge you to read The Gift of Fear, not because I think this man is going to track you down or has any unseemly intentions, but because it will give you permission to remove yourself from uncomfortable situations, even forcefully, without second thoughts about whether you are being "dickish". Sticking around when something in your mind is telling you to go can be the start of a bad path, you have to feel empowered to refuse to take the first few steps down it.
posted by Dynex at 8:34 AM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


kololo: Typical or not, it's inappropriate and unacceptable. See: Hi. Whatcha reading?
posted by elsietheeel at 8:39 AM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sounds like just an awkward young guy who's trying to be relaxed and groovy with you. Oh well, best bet is an "oh sorry, I didn't see you come in... totally engrossed in this (audio)book. Do you mind if I keep on (listening)reading? It's some stupid chick lit thing, but it's funny anyway." (Cutting off the "What are you reading?" comebacks by saying it's chick lit which he probably won't be interested in.) Change the audiobook to music later if you want to space out, or just keep your nose in books for a while.
posted by guy72277 at 8:42 AM on October 15, 2012


I feel for you OP. While I don't think this guy will threaten your safety, he is consistently encroaching on your personal space in a manner that makes you uncomfortable, and you have a basic right to occupy a public space without being bothered. Unfortunately, unless he comes out and damn well asks you out so you can say no and be done with it, you're stuck in a position where you don't want to be rude but you don't want to be pestered. It's a common issue for those on public transport, and really folks (even the otherwise nice, but shy ones) should be more aware of appropriate times and ways to communicate.

Alack, your situation being what it is, I think you should decide which option would be more uncomfortable: riding the bus with this fellow, or getting up earlier. If you do change route, don't feel guilty about it - he's an adult, and if he doesn't ask you out directly he runs the risk of never seeing you again. If you don't, try doing your homework on the journey ('sorry, dude, can't chat right now') or mentioning a boyfriend a couple of times and hope he gets the message.

If it were me, I'd do a combo of all three: take the other bus for a few days, mention you've been staying at a boyfriend's, then suddenly have a spate of last minute work.
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:02 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, changing busses "without warning" is not something you need to worry about here.

If you want reassurance that it won't be a social faux pas: look, that's just not the nature of this sort of interaction. If you get in the habit of chatting with someone on your bus, or at your morning bagel place, or whatever, you accept that one morning you might just never see them again. That's true whether you're trying to flirt with them or just pass the time. Friendships like this are just inherently ephemeral, and people for the most part accept that.*

But honestly even if it was a social faux pas, I'd be suggesting you do it. Being nice or polite to strangers is less important than taking care of your own boundaries. If you want to stop interacting with him, stop interacting with him and don't apologize.

*And on the other hand if you do run into him again and he's angry or upset that you started taking a different bus: run. I mean actually literally if necessary, but at least start making a concerted effort to keep distance between yourselves. A guy who gets mad about something like that is not in any way a good or trustworthy guy.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:04 AM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Another vote for reading The Gift of Fear. It's hugely helpful in letting you feel like you have the right to set and enforce your own boundaries. You do not owe this guy anything -- yes, maybe he's an innocent puppy dog of a guy, but if he's making you uncomfortable, that's real. His intent doesn't make you less creeped out.
posted by pie ninja at 9:04 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]



The people here who think he's creepy or worried about your safety are just shocking to me: this is a completely typical experience between two single people who are around the same age and see each other a lot.


I would agree, except that he rests his head on the OP's shoulder! Ick!
posted by jgirl at 9:23 AM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


He keeps finding small ways to come in physical contact with me: sitting closer to my seat, patting my arm, resting his head on my shoulder,

nope nope nope nope nope

I would find this so creepy from someone you have never interacted with outside a bus/bus stop. I don't think this dude has any further nefarious intentions necessarily, but still. The baseline should not have to be "I have to put up with this person's expectations of me until they do something that everyone agrees to be creepy".
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:26 AM on October 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


Yeah, I'm wondering if Kololo missed the head-on-shoulder part. There's nothing "completely typical" about that; the guy's taking liberties. I do think Kololo's right about this, though:

The number of times that a woman is going to have to gently let a guy down is many, this is a perfectly reasonable time to get used to the experience.

Poster, you might want to consider this episode a chance to practice getting better at asserting your boundaries.
posted by mediareport at 9:29 AM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Listen, I think you have every right to be annoyed, you have every right to be uncomfortable, and you should, since this guy seems like someone who can't read cues that well.

But this doesn't mean you have to give him the full wrath of everyone's anger. Creepstering is creepy, but there's being a stalker-creep, there's being a pushy-creep, there's being a nosy creep, there's being a not-judging-boundaries-creep, and there's a touchy-young-kid-creep. All legitimately creepy, but not all at equal levels of creepitude.

The head-on-shoulder thing is creepy, but to me it doesn't come from an immanent threat, it comes from a disrespecting of boundaries. Which is, of course, in of itself, threatening. But I think for someone like this, the clarifying of boundaries is most important, since from his perspective, he's thinking -- "I put my head on her shoulder the other day, and she didn't move or say anything -- maybe she likes it? Maybe she likes me?"

If you strongly assert your boundaries, you would be changing that to "I have a crush on her, but it's clear that she doesn't like me touching her or talking to her too much - I guess she's not into me". I'm not saying that the burden/responsibility is on you to understand his position and empathize with him, I'm just maybe trying to elucidate what a helpful response is by examining what his thoughts could be.

In the end I think your response should be appropriate, and crystal clear, without any vagueness - seconding RockSteady's answer. It can be delivered in a friendly way but firm way -- smile a little but say firmly "Sorry, I really don't like other people touching me, thank you." Or, if he strikes up a conversation: "Sorry, I'm really not in the mood to talk today." Friendly, but firm.
posted by suedehead at 9:35 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I sort of feel like he has taken away some of your wiggle room to deploy a casual, cheerful "no thanks, I just want to read my book today" response during your ride by choosing to wait for you at your bus stop, thereby almost forcing an interaction with him rather than keeping this a casual interchange between two people who happily meet by chance everyday. I'm sorry to double-post, but yeah, this really jumps out at me as a red flag thing that is outside the norm.
posted by anonnymoose at 9:46 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


He's pushed boundaries with you in a way that makes you uncomfortable. (They'd make me uncomfortable, too, honestly, but that's not important) So you need to either say "Hey, you've made me uncomfortable" and then alter your routine to avoid him for a while. Or you need to skip the "Hey, you've made me uncomfortable" part and alter your routine for a while. This is not fair but it's wise. Altering your routine can be as simple as refusing to chat with him and not sitting next to him anymore or it can be changing your schedule or bus stop--whichever you think is more appropriate.

Some of his behavior is the sort of behavior that falls on both sides of the Flirtatious/Creepy line, unfortunately. A person you recognize by sight, see regularly and talk to, regularly and pleasantly, might touch you on the arm. Especially if he's trying to flirt. He's not necessarily bad for doing it, nor necessarily trying to make you uncomfortable. A person who takes a bus line and has a choice of stops might reasonably pick a different one, if the other stop makes the ride more pleasant, such as happens when you no longer have to wait in the dark for a bus. Again, he's not necessarily bad for doing it, nor necessarily trying to make you uncomfortable. But putting his head on your shoulder is definitely a line he should not cross. However, it's not your duty to do anything except protect your boundaries and re-establish your comfort in your own neighborhood.

You have been made uncomfortable and you are more than reasonable in being cautious about appearing to reject this attention. But you do not need to apologize to him for it. You just don't. When I was 20, I wouldn't have known that. When I was 20, I would have been really afraid of offending him. I wouldn't have said anything to him directly, but I would have changed my schedule, probably changed my stop, and definitely would have found a woman to sit next to, even if there were empty seats on the bus for the next several months, in hopes of breaking this cycle with this guy without provoking any kind of backlash. I would have worried the whole time that I was a bitch or over-reacting or Doing it Wrong. A bunch of unnecessary angst over doing the right thing: which is recognizing that you are being made uncomfortable and asserting your need to stop him from making you uncomfortable.

Now that I'm 40, I'd just say to him "Look, please don't touch me, and definitely don't put your head on my shoulder. That's not appropriate." I'd still alter my routine for a while, though. Then, if I did run to him again, I'd just say "good morning" but avoid further conversation with a direct "Please don't talk to me this morning; I'd rather read." You can read standing on the street corner waiting for the bus as well as sitting on the bus itself.

Don't hesitate to protect your personal boundaries. Just don't. Even if those boundaries have shifted as your interactions with a person have changed. It's a hard lesson to learn, really, really hard, but it's one of the most important things you can do to improve your life.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:52 AM on October 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


Waking up 30 minutes earlier just to avoid someone who isn't really giving off creepy vibes is pretty silly. I would say, as others suggested, to cut down on the friendly chit chat. Study for school, or read, or mention that you're starting to learn spanish through some podcasts, or something, and just be busy instead of talking to him. He'll get the idea.

And yes, mention someone you're seeing (or fake seeing, as long as you can do it non-awkwardly). Don't talk about them incessantly, but if the bus-guy asks how your weekend was, mention a guy's name and mention something that you did. If you're not actually seeing anyone, it can be something you actually did do with a friend that weekend (so if he asks questions about it, you won't have to lie), but just always mention the same guy's name, even if you do things with different friends.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 9:59 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


When he put his head on your shoulder, what did you do? If you let it stay there, then he thinks that you're okay with that behavior, and thus, maybe you want to date him. I think most of the advice here is good, but you might want to practice squashing these actions when they happen, not two weeks later. Start taking the bus at a different time, walk to another stop, break up your routine, and learn to define your boundaries. You don't have to have some big dramatic scene with him, but you should figure that you're going to have to have a direct conversation with him at some point, along the lines of "You're a nice guy, but I'm not looking for a relationship/date/romance. G'by and good luck."
posted by Ideefixe at 10:09 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


This doesn't set off my creep-dar at all, sounds like normal dude with crush behavior, but that doesn't mean that she should have to put up with it.

OP, if changing your bus schedule doesn't work (or if you notice that he changes his to match your changes, which is definitely yikes territory), I would recommend just straight up telling him not to touch you. And when he inevitably says "but it was okay before...," just keep repeating that you don't like being touched. Don't waver from that at all.

You could also, if you want to go scorched earth, tell him you have bedbugs.
posted by troika at 10:09 AM on October 15, 2012


"Hey, can you not touch me please? It's a bit creepy. Thanks."

Awkward now. But he stops touching you, and he learns that touching girls on the bus is creeper behaviour and you have done the sisterhood a small favour.

And if it gets awkward? Slap a textbook out on your lap and get some cram time ahead of class, headphones in. Your commute time belongs to you. You've shared bits of it with him, but ultimately it belongs to you and you have a right to be comfortable and spend that time how you want.
posted by Jilder at 10:19 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you were one of my friends, I'd tell you that if he put his head on your shoulder, you shrug hard.

Look, it's normal to get crushes on people you ride public transit with. But public transit is actually one of the places where social boundaries are most in effect — you can just tell someone "Don't do that," and not have to justify anything else because, you know, there are norms and he's violating 'em. A bit of a peevish look and he should knock it off. If he wanted to ask you out, he shoulda done it. Otherwise, dude gets to get used to disappointment.
posted by klangklangston at 10:35 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stop sitting next to him. Remove the opportunity for "accidental" physical contact.

If he tries to initiate contact, step back or shrug or remove his hand etc and give him the tight-lipped "nope" look. If he doesn't pick up on that, you may have to escalate to an explicit verbal "no." If you don't want to memorize a clever phrase, a firm "no" is brief and fine.

At the bus stop or on the bus you are now "really busy with school" and you've got your nose in a book or listening to language lessons on headphones. Fine to have a brief, closed-ended exchange like "how are you today? yup, I'm good too. Welp, gotta get this reading done." This is also an explanation for why you really can't be sitting next to him - "gotta concentrate, sorry."

Different bus is a good idea, even just some days, then when you see him again you have the ability to make clear that he does not figure in your plans. You don't mention the bus change, and don't mention anything about the fact that you haven't seen him for a while - because he doesn't figure in your plans. If he asks where you were, or whether you're taking the early bus tomorrow, you say "my schedule's so unpredictable these days".
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:00 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Hey, we have some fun conversations on the bus, and I enjoy our casual convos, but I want to be clear that there is absolutely no romantic chemistry between us and there never will be. I apologize if my directness sounds hurtful - and maybe I've totally got the wrong impression about your intentions - but lately you've been doing some stuff that bothers me and is really a little bit creepy. For example, resting your head on my shoulder without asking me violates my personal space, and changing the bus stop you wait at just to spend time with me makes me very uncomfortable. I know you're probably just trying to be friendly and you don't mean to convey this impression, but I have to be honest with you and tell you that it's making me uncomfortable."

Then you observe how he responds, because this is actually a test and should inform your future behavior. If he apologizes and offers to wait at a different stop, then he's probably a nice guy and you can continue socializing with him as long as he respects your boundaries. If he continues to wait at your bus stop despite what you've said, then he's a "Nice Guy" (aka a threat to your safety) and you need to take measures to avoid him, even if it means waking up a bit earlier.

TL;DR - You don't have enough information currently to assess whether he's a threat or not. You need to start asserting boundaries and observe his response to said boundaries to determine this.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2012


OP will need to go with her gut on this one. I wouldn't give that rejection speech to a guy alone at a bus stop, wolfdreams01. In a perfect world, we should be able to ask for what we want/need and have it be responded to in the spirit in which was offered. Being direct in this way is hard, sometimes especially so for women. Being able to respond without showing defensiveness or hurt is also hard, sometimes (apparently) especially so for men.

My feeling is: disengage. By whatever means seems most expedient and comfortable for you. And, if you need to be direct, there's been some great scripts suggested for that here.
posted by amanda at 11:14 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The people here who think he's creepy or worried about your safety are just shocking to me: this is a completely typical experience between two single people who are around the same age and see each other a lot. The dude has a little crush on the OP! Touching her arm, or doing stuff to spend more time with her - that's what shy guys do when they have a crush! That doesn't make him dangerous or creepy! It makes him normal! It makes the OP, who doesn't feel the same way, completely normal!

No, touching a stranger on the bus isn't normal. Putting his head on her shoulder - wtf? This isn't a bunch of camp counselors getting drunk after work. These are two strangers on a bus.

The big alarm bell is that he changed his stop to the OP's stop. How lovely - he gets to be alone with you in the dark! As a woman who used to primarily use public transportation, I know that this kind of thing really sucks, this guy is being creepy, and the OP needs to figure out a way to get him to leave her alone. Mentioning a boyfriend is a good first step, but not sitting next to him is a good move. I'd switch up my commute for a few days, too.

If he asked the OP, she'd have the opportunity to say yes or no. As it stands, he's slowly escalating his behavior and backing her into a corner.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:15 AM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't see it as OMG CREEPY but you know, long bus commutes are excellent opportunities for students to study, read, and listen to lectures and notes via earbuds. The semester has kicked into high gear and midterms are coming up. You need to buckle down & focus on school now.
posted by headnsouth at 11:20 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Next Monday, ask him how his weekend was. When he says it was fine, and asks how yours was, say "Great! My boyfriend and I (insert activity here: i.e. went camping, saw a movie, played chess) and had a blast!"
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:23 AM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Let me echo everyone who says that it is not an asshole move to change your schedule without warning. We don't know whether this guy is clueless with a crush or a creeper testing boundaries. What we do know is that OP doesn't like it. And that's all that matters.

Take the earlier bus for a week, or two. Then go back to your regular schedule. Do not sit next to him. Either sit next to someone else, or if the bus is empty, put your bag on the seat next to you. If he asks you to move it, explain that you have to get some work done on the bus.

If he asks you where you have been, or why you have changed your routine, do not engage. You have a lot of stuff going on in your life, and you'd rather not talk about it. It's perfectly okay to get a little frosty. You don't owe him anything.
posted by ambrosia at 11:27 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Before rearranging your schedule, I'd simply try getting all your reading and work done on the bus and cutting the conversation with him. I think he is probably just socially awkward and probably does not realize his behavior bothers you.
posted by beyond_pink at 11:47 AM on October 15, 2012


No, touching a stranger on the bus isn't normal.

They aren't strangers, they are two people who have spent every morning together for about two months. (I also think that that age group has less of a strict threshold for touching - the high school/college years are filled with casual touching amongst friends and acquaintances.)

I agree that the head-on-shoulder thing is weird, and i'd be creeped out by it, but there's a big jump between "guy did something odd that i didn't like one time" and "that guy is someone you should be scared of or angry at".

If every 20 year old who did something weird in an attempt to flirt was actually a danger, pretty much every single 20 year old would be considered dangerous. They are solidly in the 'figuring out how this works' stage of romantic life, and there's lots of first times and experimentation, and let's not jump to accusations and fear. Let's just help the OP figure out how to get out of an awkward situation.
posted by Kololo at 11:56 AM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there a friend who can give you a ride to the bus stop? Or to another stop further on the route? Or another route? These are all things I've done when people have made me feel uncomfortable on the bus.

Also: I have never regretted the times I've acted to protect myself based on my gut feelings- the times I've ignored them, I regret. Listen to what your instincts are telling you and give yourself permission to make proactive choices regarding your own safety
posted by spunweb at 11:57 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If every 20 year old who did something weird in an attempt to flirt was actually a danger, pretty much every single 20 year old would be considered dangerous. They are solidly in the 'figuring out how this works' stage of romantic life, and there's lots of first times and experimentation, and let's not jump to accusations and fear.

This is not helpful if you're a young woman who's already been socialized to be nice and accommodating to the point of putting up with behavior that creeps you out.

The fact that he changed his bus stop is creepy. Maybe he's just an awkward dude trying to flirt, but the onus is not on the OP to put up with this shit.

OP, do what you gotta do.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:18 PM on October 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


They aren't strangers, they are two people who have spent every morning together for about two months.

They are two people who have schedules that happen to put them on the same bus at the same time each day. That makes them something slightly less that total strangers, but really not very much more.

there's a big jump between "guy did something odd that i didn't like one time" and "that guy is someone you should be scared of or angry at".

One can set boundaries without being either scared or angry. In fact, it's important that women be able to draw some bright lines without accusations of fear or anger. Accusing a woman of being wrongfully afraid or unjustifiably angry has been used frequently as a tool to dismiss a woman's concerns or gaslight her into second-guessing herself. OP has every right to be out in the public sphere and be left the fuck alone. This is a concept that I did not grasp in my twenties- I mistakenly believed that I needed to be nice, to let guys down gently even if they were creeping me out, because hey, he's just fumbling and awkward and probably harmless.

It's nice to be nice, don't get me wrong. But being nice comes second. Owning the right to be out in public on my own terms comes first.
posted by ambrosia at 12:22 PM on October 15, 2012 [22 favorites]


One can set boundaries without being either scared or angry. In fact, it's important that women be able to draw some bright lines without accusations of fear or anger. Accusing a woman of being wrongfully afraid or unjustifiably angry has been used frequently as a tool to dismiss a woman's concerns or gaslight her into second-guessing herself. OP has every right to be out in the public sphere and be left the fuck alone.

I 100% agree with all of this. Draw boundaries to make yourself comfortable, but don't jump to conclusions that require you to limit your happiness and freedom. (Fear and anger do that. And lots of folks on here are encouraging fear and anger.)
posted by Kololo at 1:15 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's out of line to avoid people you neither have nor want any sort of relationship with, even if they're harmless grandmas who just want to chat. I know that must sound cold, but I'm a city-dwelling introvert and my need for personal space doesn't disappear the moment I step out onto the sidewalk. This is especially true on public transportation, where you run the risk of being a captive audience to anyone who doesn't pick up on your "hey, not interested in talking today" signals.

So, yeah, I wouldn't hesitate to take an earlier route for a couple weeks. If he asks, make up some sort of story about school being busy. Bring books.

Is there any way you can avoid having him sit next to you on the bus? Let him get on first, or sit next to another person?
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:23 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


ambrosia:OP has every right to be out in the public sphere and be left the fuck alone.

Absolutely. People have a right to set their own boundaries and have those boundaries respected. But the OP hasn't set any boundaries. She hasn't told the guy to back off, she hasn't said "don't put your head on my shoulder," she hasn't indicated that she doesn't want to talk with him anymore.

Women* absolutely 100% have a right to their own space and their own boundaries, but they have an obligation (to themselves) to speak up for themselves to establish those boundaries. Another unfortunate result of that socialization to be nice is that women are uncomfortable speaking their mind and setting those boundaries, but other people can't read minds. If you don't say what you want/don't want, you can't expect those around you to know what you want/don't want. As far as this guy knows, she wants to talk to him, wants to be moving toward something more intimate than commute-smalltalk. She hasn't indicated otherwise.

Now, once she makes it clear she's not interested, if then he's still mincing around doing the nonverbal testing-the-waters thing with her, then he's moving into creepy territory. But he's not crossing any lines at all by being friendly with someone who hasn't told him she doesn't want to be friends.

*This is true for everyone, but I understand the point about women being socialized to be nice ... identify with it too closely myself as well, actually.
posted by headnsouth at 1:40 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Folks, you need to sort of cool it with arguing with each other in here. If you have advice, offer it, and be okay with the fact that other people may have different opinions.]
posted by cortex at 1:49 PM on October 15, 2012


Nthing imaginary boyfriend response. If you really want to shut it down fast, and don't feel comfortable laying out (I understand, don't like those kind of convos myself) get a male friend/family member to go with you one morning. Introduce as your BF, hold hands, sit next to each other. That will kill any inappropriate behaviour very quickly, and you'll only have to do it once.
posted by smoke at 3:24 PM on October 15, 2012


I think lying about a boyfriend is a terrible suggestion. It leaves open the possibility that there will be a time when the bf is not in the picture, thus keeping hope alive for the stranger, and ignores the deeper issue of the stranger's clearly inappropriate behavior and the poster's need to speak up about her boundaries when violations happen.
posted by mediareport at 3:44 PM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


It sounds like he is kind of captivated by you. He just wants to look at you and be near you. Which is sort of yuck especially considering you guys aren't friends at all, and you have no interest in seeing him outside of the commute, and he has apparently not actually tried to get know you better. Coming to your stop is pretty bad, though I think it's more juvenile and foolish kind of bad than creepy danger bad, going by how you say he is decent, non-creepy, awkward.

(You didn't ask him what was up the first time he showed up at your stop?)

Switching the time you wait for the bus is the way to go I think. I'm not sure how easy it would be to "friend zone" him if you're not friends, and it doesn't sound like you think there will be any friendship or anything there, ever. Don't get into the business of managing this guy's emotions because it sounds like it will be difficult to kill his crush if he's this juvenile and naive.
posted by fleacircus at 4:00 PM on October 15, 2012


If you really do not want to switch the bus time (and I don't think you should have to) next time he touches you make a joke about maintaining your personal space. "Oooh, sorry man, I got a thing about my personal space" while moving your hands in a half-circle around your body. Maintain eye contact so he knows you're not actually kidding, and if he asks if you're kidding tell him you're serious. If he does it again, tell him "Seriously, that's not cool." And at that point time for bus-stop switching. If you do not want him to touch your arm that is a solid message that it's not going further.

I agree with Kololo that this is not necessarily a "Gift of Fear" situation. It's pretty common in flirting (it's even taught in totally not-creepy, not PUA flirting guides) to start initiating light physical contact to see if the other person responds. The problem starts when you can't tell the other person doesn't feel that way, and gets worse when you can't tell they don't want it after you make try.

So if you are shy and awkward and you're misreading "Not aggressive rejection of touch" for "Romantic interest, all systems are go", you may try to escalate the overtures (like resting your head on the person's shoulder) and set up ways for you to hang out more together (like switching stops so you guys can spend more time together). In this guy's brain you're probably a shy girl who also gets butterflies about him and are too shy to ask him out. In that case, to his brain the bus stop switch would be a welcome escalation of contact for the both of you.

But you're not interested and the guy is too clueless to realize that. A dude who is truly just shy and crushing will immediately back off in terror and shame once you turn down the arm-touching and whatever. A dude who is creepy will keep it up.
posted by schroedinger at 5:19 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't feel like I have enough detail to know whether he is creepy or just crushing on you. I'm a woman, so I definitely have my antenna up for safety reasons.

I relate to both of you in this story. I did all kinds of weird and awkward things when I was 20 and had crushes. I would not have thought twice about changing bus stops to get to spend more time with someone I had a crush on (although I would have been more "smooth" about it and invented some weird "oh, hey, what a coincidence!" excuse). I'm cringing right now thinking of some of the dumb things I have done, not all of them 20 years ago.

On the other hand, I also tend to get uncomfortable when I have ongoing casual contact with people. I like it for a while, but then I just don't know how to negotiate it. In your place, even without the head on the shoulder, I would be feeling uncomfortable and wanting to change buses. Which sucks!

I don't think it's too late to make your feelings clear. Mentioning a made-up boyfriend isn't horrible. Being blunt and saying you're not interested is brave, and probably better, though. I do think it's important to set boundaries and enforce them. Only you know how high stakes this is. If you feel like it is dangerous in any way, then don't. But from what you've written it sounds like this is still something that you can nip in the bud. If you still want to chit chat with him on the bus, that's allowed, too. You're allowed to have a bus chat buddy who is nothing more. You're also allowed to decide you don't want a bus chat buddy at all any more.

I don't think you should take an earlier bus for a few reasons. First, this is just the kind of thing that will happen to you a lot in life, and dealing with it in a forthright manner now will make it easier to do it next time. Second, changing your schedule to avoid "a perfectly decent, non-creepy, if somewhat awkward dude" seems like an over-reaction. What if there's another chatty guy on the earlier bus? Do you then get an even earlier one? And, I feel like re-arranging your life to avoid this guy is a weird way to limit yourself in the world.

Even if you decide you don't want to just tell him to knock it off (which is what I think you should do!), you don't necessarily have to get the earlier bus. You could get up 10 minutes earlier and go to a bus stop 10 minutes earlier in the route, to avoid sitting at the bus stop with him. You could plead mid-terms and spend the time reading. You could sit at the front of the bus and make idle chit-chat with the bus driver.
posted by looli at 6:22 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The simplest and best solution is to be clear and direct. You can wait until the next time he does something flirtatious, but you don't have to. It can be a complete non sequitur. Say, "I just want to make something clear: I enjoy talking to you, but I'm not interested in you romantically." Feel free to tailor this slightly to your own comfort level - e.g., if you don't actually enjoy talking to him, take that part out. You can say this very nicely. You can even stick an apology in there if you want,* but keep it to one sentence. The shorter the better (and the easier to say). It's the last six words that are the essential part.

It's tempting to be indirect. But look, everyone here has experienced crushmind. And crushmind, I think we can all agree, is absolute gangbusters at denial. Even in the bleakest conditions, if a scrap of hope exists, crushmind can find it. Wearing earphones, mentioning a nonexistent boyfriend, taking an earlier bus, even saying "Don't touch me" all may seem like obvious signals of uninterest, and any of them might be enough for him to get the hint. But the problem with relying on hints is that everybody has to guess at what's really going on (case in point: the situation in which you now find yourself) and his perspective is probably biased to some unknown degree by crushmind. Being straightforward allows the least amount of room for confusion, spin, and doomed hope on his part.

That said, if I were you (and a if I were person who follows my own advice), I'd probably switch to the earlier bus for awhile anyway after The Sentence. Although you might want to wait and see what he does, lest you wake up thirty minutes earlier only to encounter him shuffling to the bus stop hoping to avoid you, but instead you must now wait alone together, in the dark, in silence. Awkward!

*Of course you have nothing to apologize for. But if you're anything like me, your resistance to saying such a thing is partly a fear of breaking his fragile heart, but moreso a fear that it will turn out you were WRONG and he's actually not even into you you presumptuous fool and now you've insulted him for no reason and how could you ever think that even a guy you're not into would be into you /foreveralone/ /weeping stone pillar of shame/. So if a preemptive just-in-case apology makes you feel more comfortable, so be it.
posted by granted at 1:32 AM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


None of this sounds at all scary or creepy to me, just unwanted.

I would probably employ the headphones ("Hi, can't talk today, I have to listen to these taped lectures for my X class/I'm learning Portuguese" wash and repeat), though the "How was your weekend? I had this great experience this weekend when my boyfriend and I went to the corn maze" has its charms as does "ooh, sorry, I just have a thing about my personal space."

Sorry, anon., 6 am really IS too early for this stuff! Hope you figure out a solution that works for you.
posted by feets at 1:50 AM on October 16, 2012


Why is it a woman's responsibility to be direct when the man hasn't been? (He hasn't asked her out, but she needs to explicitly reject him).

Why is it important for a woman to enforce widely acknowledged social boundaries (physical contact in particular)?

My answers are that, when dealing with a stranger, it's not and it isn't.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:11 AM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why is it a woman's responsibility to be direct when the man hasn't been? (He hasn't asked her out, but she needs to explicitly reject him).

It really has nothing to do with the other person being a man. If it were an annoying woman on the bus, or a child kicking the seat behind her, or a dog shedding or drooling on her clothes ... the other person and the other person's particular behaviors aren't the point. As a woman it's my responsibility to be direct for myself.

When I am direct, I get what I want. When I am direct, I establish my own boundaries. When I am direct, I am acting on my own accord rather than reacting to someone else. It's less male/female and more ask/guess.

Why is it important for a woman to enforce widely acknowledged social boundaries (physical contact in particular)?

For strangers in some settings, no physical contact is a widely acknowledged social boundary, yes. But for friends and for people interested in pursuing romantic relationships, physical touch is a widely acknowledged social custom.

The problem here is not that the commute-buddy touched the OP. If she also was interested in deepening the relationship, the touch would be widely interpreted as a positive sign that she could express interest without fear of rejection (although it is 2012, it's still widely acknowledged that the man is supposed to express interest first).

But as she isn't interested in deepening the relationship, the widely acknowledged appropriate response is to say so. Verbally, nonverbally, whatever works. But it's a give and take and by not somehow indicating "not interested in what you're giving, bub" the OP is allowing the misguided guy to keep thinking that what he's doing is ok with her.
posted by headnsouth at 9:29 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just want to join in and say that telling him you are in a romantic relationship is a big mistake (even if true). This will show him that he has upset you and that you are off balance, and he will just try more to take advantage of it, as long as you let it go on.
Anecdote: My wife was once in a similar situation, and after she said she is married, his next question was "so how's the sex?".
These people have no respect for women's personal space or privacy, and they are encouraged to continue to encroach on you by anything but a flat out rejection.
If you are unable to do it yourself in a clear forceful way, I would suggest that you ask a friend to approach this person for you.
A third party intervening will cut short his fantasy of being in a "relationship" with you, which, believe me, is what he does think he is in now. And a third uninvolved person, even female, won't have the baggage that you now have with this person where you feel that you may have "led him on", and will be able to be blunt and direct.
posted by Mai2k3 at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is it a woman's responsibility to be direct when the man hasn't been? (He hasn't asked her out, but she needs to explicitly reject him).

Why is it important for a woman to enforce widely acknowledged social boundaries (physical contact in particular)?


This guy is manipulating social norms (politeness, giving people the benefit of the doubt) in order to to get away with violating social norms (respecting boundaries). He thus puts the OP in a position where any choice she makes sacrifices her own comfort. Being polite means continuing to put up with behavior she finds unpleasant. Avoiding the guy means she has to lose an extra half-hour of sleep. Enforcing her own boundaries risks seeming presumptuous and rude.

That's not to say he's thought it through to this degree - he probably hasn't, and is just self-protecting. (Actually, right now he's probably in the "Has she not asked me to cut it out because she's into me, or because she's just being nice?" spiral. That's what you get for not being upfront dude. But I digress.) Regardless, he created this situation, and she's not to blame for the fallout. I think that's what you're getting at, and you're absolutely correct. In that sense, no, it's not her responsibility to be direct; it's his. If she chooses not to be, that's her right. But as a matter of practicality, she's in the situation she's in, for better or worse, and the simplest way out of it is for her to be direct even if he won't.

To your second question: Whether or not it's important for women to enforce social boundaries, it's incredibly important for us to enforce personal boundaries when they're being violated. (When else would we enforce them?) Yes, we shouldn't have to, especially when - like in this case - a personal boundary is also a social boundary and the guy should know better. But like so many before me have said, we've been socialized to feel more discomfort from being impolite than from having our boundaries violated. That's why encouraging and supporting their enforcement is so important, as well as accepting reluctance to do so as totally understandable.

Again, the OP did not sign up for this shit and no, directness is not her "responsibility." But that doesn't mean she should avoid directness if she decides it's in her best interest.
posted by granted at 12:55 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


[Hello, this is not a space for asking rhetorical questions and debating with other commenters; this is for answering the posted question. Please address the OP and help to answer the question, or go elsewhere to chat about the general topic.]
posted by taz at 6:07 AM on October 17, 2012


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