Advances I Am Unprepared For
January 23, 2010 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I've found myself in an awk situation. The awk part may be me. Ever since I've become "legal", men who are significantly older than me seem to pick up on this and become quite taken with me. Is this weird, and how can I make them realise that *just because* we both like music from the 70's and I talk to strange men like we're BFFs...doesn't mean we were meant to be?

So, I was totally innocent to the fact that there even were 30 year old men out there trying to date 18 year old girls...until last year, when some strange guy came and sat down next to me and started talking to me. I was waiting for a friend, so I have to admit I did have two hours to kill. Apparently, he mistook this for a spark of some kind and out of the blue (after about 1h45...) he started asking me "what my type was" and "what my phone number was". And oh did I get out of there quickly after that. But...before that happened, I thought we were just having regular strangers talking friendly conversation.

Anyway, after that I was so much more weirded out than I thought I'd be, and everywhere I went I covered up (long sleeves in the summer, that kind of thing) because I thought men were unclothing me with their eyes all day long. I cooled down after a while, and now I've had to tell myself "those men aren't looking at you....they're not looking at you..." so the only problem has come to be when they do actually talk to me.

Now, this isn't a problem in itself because my interests also tend to be held by this demographic of men who are significantly older than me. I mean that unlike most of my peers in college, I walk around with a stack of books and articles for my own reading, and I will talk about political theory and psychology and things like that (I think they might like me because I talk back and don't blankly stare when the conversation drifts over to political theory and whatnot....not like I really know what I'm talking about, but I guess I sound smart to them or something.)

And surely I like meeting strangers in the cafés and talking about these things that I like to talk about. However, I feel like they think I came out of the sky and they have to try to date me or something. This suspicion has prohibited me from comfortably talking to strangers and I've caught myself trying not to sound "too interesting" to men. I've met one person, however, and either this is happening again or he doesn't know what boundaries are. When I see him he talks to me for hours and lately he's taken to sitting extra close to me. He is quite interesting though, and I would hate to think that his next sentence will be " what's your type?" I'm afraid to say "OMG, stay away from me!!" because that would be embarrassing for everyone.

If it helps, I live with my mom and she thinks every man I talk to wants to kill me in the woods (She knows about this current guy...."He could put something in your drink!!" is her reaction to him), and she has had terrible relationships with men. Furthermore, I am NOT looking for a relationship and the idea itself makes me uncomfortable...I never realise someone is trying to come on to me until it's much too late and I've given them all kinds of signals...I naturally talk to people like I know them, even if I don't. And...I would hate to just stop talking to these people altogether because they really can be quite interesting; they just think my interest means something it doesn't. I just want to be as respected as one of their male peers. How do I thwart them? Do you guys have any anecdotes??
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (70 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, just say... "Sorry, I'm not interested." That's all you need to say. Your mom's idea of the world is wrong and these men are not going to hurt you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:09 PM on January 23, 2010 [8 favorites]

Tell them to go try picking up women their own age. These guys need to be told that.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:13 PM on January 23, 2010 [25 favorites]

showbiz_liz has it right. These dudes could have 100% good intentions, and there's nothing inherently wrong with a 30 year old dating someone in your age range. You just need to learn to politely turn them down.

Of course, if they persist after that, you'll have to start rudely turning them down.
posted by sid at 1:19 PM on January 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

Not abnormal at all on the guy's part. Especially if you're unusually attractive. Men are suckers for pulchritude.

None of this means it's not a pain in the ass for you or that you want the attention.
posted by dfriedman at 1:22 PM on January 23, 2010

Tell them to go try picking up women their own age. These guys need to be told that.

posted by Lobster Garden at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd imagine a good way to head off romantic intentions early in an interesting conversation would be to work in a reference to your boyfriend early on (whether or not one exists). That should solve the problem for the nice guys, and the rest you'll have to tell off.

If you're in a situation where you have to wait for a friend as you described, bring a book that you "need to read" i.e. for a class or something, which is a friendly way to avoid a conversation. Or, if a conversation is taking a turn you're not interested in, you can excuse yourself to the restroom, call a friend and ask them to call you in a minute. Then when your phone rings, lose the guy.

Your mom's view of the world is a bit exaggerated, but she's not wrong that you should be careful to keep an eye on your drink. Dudes all have 100% good intentions except the ones that don't.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:27 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you are uncomfortable waiting to see if they misunderstand your interest, you can always send a signal that you are not interested or taken. Most common strategy I think is to mention your boyfriend a few times. If you aren't comfortable with the lie, find a chance to talk about how you really enjoy having friends of all different ages but when it comes to romantic relationships, you are really only attracted to guys your own age.
posted by metahawk at 1:29 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

"So, what's your type?"
"Guys about half your age."
posted by contraption at 1:30 PM on January 23, 2010 [22 favorites]

If you sit and talk one on one with a guy for hours, he's going to think he might have a shot with you, and if he's interested he's probably going to ask you out. If you're not interested, then say so. Simple enough.
posted by amro at 1:30 PM on January 23, 2010 [14 favorites]

Unless they're obviously on their way to high school, it's really really hard to tell the difference between someone who's 18 and someone who's 25. There's not really a need to shame the guys or make them feel like a pervert.

However, you also have the right to not be bothered by people you don't want to talk to. You just need to tell them politely and firmly "sorry I'm trying to read" or whatever excuse you want to use. But then you said you like talking to them. I don't know- maybe you just need to pick your spots- only talk to guys who don't give off that "needy" vibe? It's actually pretty natural for someone to ask someone out after a good conversation- that's kind of how people meet each other, actually. You could also mention a "boyfriend" up front and see if they lose interest I suppose.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:32 PM on January 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Welcome to being a woman. Unfortunately, way too many men will take any sort of friendly interaction as an indicator that you desperately want to fuck them. This is why many (most?) women end up developing the so-called "bitch shield."

And sorry, I have to disagree with showbiz_liz -- many of these men *would* hurt you if given the chance because they don't see you as a real person, they see you as an object that owes them the sex that they feel they have a right to. I don't think that most men are this way, but creeps who pursue much younger and obviously relatively innocent/inexperienced women usually do so because they see them as more easily manipulated targets than older, wiser, more experienced women who have learned how to spot and avoid the creeps.

My advice to you is to stop talking to or interacting with the creeps as soon as they reveal themselves as creeps, even if they are interesting. Because time wasted talking to creeps is a lost opportunity to meet non-creepy interesting people (both men and women) that you could be conversing with instead. Since non-creeps don't have as strong of an incentive to approach you as creeps do you might not encounter non-creeps as often, but you will meet some from time to time, and thus you should screen the creeps out of your life as quickly as possible to leave yourself time and emotional energy to make friends with the good people instead.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2010 [24 favorites]

Maybe you should stop talking to strange men until you're more comfortable with adult dating rituals. Stick with friends of friends. There are tons of people your own age who like to read. (Many of them are on this site.) Make an effort to meet them.
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:38 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Jacqueline, why are these guys automatically "creeps"? The OP has said nothing about them that comes off as creepy to me. I mean, yeah, an 18 year old with a 30 year old is a little ooky, but it's not illegal or anything. It's pretty unfair of you to assume that any man with whom you have an interesting conversation thinks "you desperately want to fuck them."

Give the OP some credit, maybe she is actually interesting and intelligent and the men she speaks with want to get to know her better.
posted by amro at 1:39 PM on January 23, 2010 [34 favorites]

What amro said.
posted by greta simone at 1:51 PM on January 23, 2010

It's great that you haven't needed to develop what Jacqueline calls "the bitch shield" until now, but, honestly, most women learn to do this at a younger age than 18. I'm guessing that maybe you recently started looking and/or dressing more like an adult than a teenager, and that's what's bringing on this new attention.

You have to understand that strangers don't know anything about you other than what you tell them and what image you're projecting. Most people have a few distinct personalities/demeanors that they employ in different situations, depending on their comfort level and what they expect out of specific interactions. For example, people tend to be brisk and businesslike when dealing with people working in service positions, friendly and enthusiastic when dealing with young children, and somewhat reserved and distant when talking with people they don't know and have no romantic interest in. Since most (single, actively looking) people also take excitedly talking with someone they're attracted to about mutual interests as a romantic opportunity, if all they're doing is stepping up the (perceived) flirtation, there's not necessarily something wrong with their actions.

Also, there are people your age who are interested in talking about academic stuff. I promise! You'll probably be more comfortable if you spend some time seeking out these people, and not men old enough to be your father.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:52 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would guess that the majority of older men who see much younger, attractive women sitting alone and decide to start a conversation do not do so because they assume attractive young women sitting alone will be fascinating conversation partners. It doesn't make them creeps, necessarily, just people who are interested in something (flirting/asking you out) different from what you're interested in (having a good conversation).

I don't say that to malign men. I simply mean that if you want to have conversations with smart, interesting people, including men and including a range of ages, without the strong likelihood that your conversation partners are just waiting to ask you out, you need to target populations more likely to be interested in friendship only (or friendship first, as the case may be). Find classes, organizations, or clubs that allow you to meet a wide range of people. Use those opportunities to have hours-long conversations about the topics you like.

Stop having hours-long conversations with strangers. Those situations can take on heightened intensity for someone looking to "make a connection" (guy sees you and thinks you're cute, strikes up a conversation, an hour later you're still talking to him and he thinks "wow, she's totally into me"). It makes you deeply uncomfortable to get into these awkward situations of unwanted advances. It doesn't matter if you share interests with the men who hit on you: your participation in these conversations leads to outcomes you don't want. Stop having them. Flirt with people you want to flirt with, but don't think that just because you actually like political theory, talking about it with someone who is trying to flirt with you is a good idea.

I don't mean that no woman should ever have long conversations with a stranger, simply that for the OP's purposes, it doesn't seem like continuing that behavior is going to get her what she wants.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:53 PM on January 23, 2010 [11 favorites]

@amro: Because most older men who pursue significantly younger women usually do so because there is something wrong with them that keeps them from getting women their own age and they see younger women as easier targets. Also, OP is not flirting with these men, she's just talking to them, yet despite any indication of romantic/sexual interest from her they are doing things like sitting really close to her, asking her out, etc.

More signficantly, both OP's and OP's mom's creep-meters are being triggered by these guys -- OP is so distressed that she came here to ask for advice, and OP's mom's is afraid that one of these guys is going to date-rape her, which is a pretty strong reaction even for an over-protective mother. Gut feelings about something "not being right" about a person or situation are usually there for a reason. In our lifetimes we have seen millions of repetitions of normal, non-threatening human behavior -- we know what "right" looks like. We don't know what predatory or sociopathic behavior looks like before we encounter it, but we can tell that it's "not right." Listen to those instincts.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:53 PM on January 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's actually pretty natural for someone to ask someone out after a good conversation- that's kind of how people meet each other, actually.

This is important, and killing two hours talking to one person alone is going to give them the idea you're interested. Talking to strangers in cafes may give them the idea you're interested. It might not seem fair, or as you'd like things to be, but it is how they are.

I would have related a lot to this question ten years ago, and as much as it pains me now to admit it, I realise there are questions to ask when someone over 30 is having very long conversations with an 18 year old instead of with someone their own age who shares their interests - and there are a lot of people/women who share the interests you mention. (There are exceptions, and maybe it's hard to tell your age also, but the caution is worthwhile.) It's not that they're all out to murder and eat you, but at the very least you should be wary of enjoying the attention of a two-hour conversation and then being surprised if they ask you out.

I bet there are people in college, maybe not in your classes but at readings or lectures or in clubs or interest groups, who'd love to chat to you and have good discussions about your interests. I promise there's at least one tiny group of people. If you pour your time and energy into those interactions, with people closer to your age and used to the social cues of your peers, you'll likely find the situations easier to read, good training for spotting the harder cues, and a source of many conversations.

I'm not being snarky about the attention - it's a bizarre power and I miss having it.
posted by carbide at 1:57 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

More constructive advice for OP: Stop talking to random strange men who approach you based on what you look like and instead make an effort to strike up conversations with your classmates and professors. Professors are used to talking about interesting intellectual topics with younger people, and while some are creeps (and you should avoid the ones who give you the creep vibe or do creepy things) most are not and you can have great conversations with them. After all, professors went into that career so they could have interesting conversations, in person or via journal articles, all day for the rest of their lives.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:59 PM on January 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

I've met one person, however, and either this is happening again or he doesn't know what boundaries are. When I see him he talks to me for hours and lately he's taken to sitting extra close to me. He is quite interesting though, and I would hate to think that his next sentence will be " what's your type?" I'm afraid to say "OMG, stay away from me!!" because that would be embarrassing for everyone.

You can talk to him about this issue just like you would with someone your own age. When developing a close friendship with the opposite sex sometimes boundaries need to be discussed, especially if you get an inkling that there are unbalanced feelings. If he starts to cross into more-than-friendly personal space zone, take the moment to candidly tell him you are not interested in him romantically or physically, and you want to check in to make sure you are both on the same page. You don't even have to bring up age. Just don't just squirm, don't say OMG GO WAY, but especially don't try to ignore your discomfort. Friendships with age disparity can definitely form organically and be great, but it has be mutually respectful. So far he is sending you an intimate non-verbal cue and you need to respond with a platonic verbal one. If he doesn't respect that, you should stay away. You'll get used to doing this directly but delicately, and hopefully your future interactions will be less "awk" for it.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 2:01 PM on January 23, 2010

Turning on the "bitch shield," as Jacqueline puts it, is a good way to guarantee that the guy talking to you will see you as a non-human entity not worthy of his respect. If you're looking to give the opposite impression, then that might not be the way to go.

I never realise someone is trying to come on to me until it's much too late and I've given them all kinds of signals.

If you are 18 and the guy is 30, and you are attractive and show interest in what he's saying, then he is going to assume that you're interested, at some other level, the majority of the time.

I nth the suggestion to mention an imaginary boyfriend early in the conversation. It's not even a lie, really; more like a conversational trope.
posted by bingo at 2:06 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Unless you find them interesting and attractive, don't feel like you need to be their sounding board or conversational partner.

They're choosing to talk to you because THEY find you interesting and attractive. I think too many women feel the need to accommodate some guy "just because" and not respect their own wants and predilections.

Next time a guy bugs you, remind yourself what YOU like doing. You like just talking in a cafe, right? Tell them that, and say you're not interested in dating.

There's no need to be rude or curt (unless he's really being aggressive or creepy). At the same time, there's no need to be overly accommodating either. If you are not attracted to the guy, but still decide to play the coy game and not voice your own position, you are wasting both your time and his time.
posted by thisperon at 2:09 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

And when I say talk to him like someone your own age -- I mean remember he's a real person. Not just a backboard to bounce ideas off, not a professor, not a spiritual guru, not Mr. Rogers the friendly neighborhood conversationalist, and not necessarily a person who accepts the "half your age plus seven rule". Assume he is a dude hormones that you need to deflect. With the bitch-shield if necessary.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 2:14 PM on January 23, 2010

Unfortunately, anything that isn't purely businesslike or idle smalltalk will be read by a significant portion of the male population as a signal that you enjoy this man's company and might like more of it. Which, of course, you do, just not in that way.

A man showing interest in someone showing interest in him isn't necessarily a creep. (Although, the ones who are literally creeping closer and closer: Yes.)

They're asking you out because they like you and you are within earshot. That is really the whole criteria. Decline, give him the stock "as a friend," whatever. You might want to do this VERY early on somehow (the phrase "my boyfriend" is indeed a magical platonicator, no matter how obviously false), just so they can't accuse you of stringing them along or something dumb like that.

But, yeah, most guys are used to "I'm flattered, but no" or some variant thereof. It's not a big deal, really. If he acts like it is, run.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:15 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

@amro: Because most older men who pursue significantly younger women usually do so because there is something wrong with them that keeps them from getting women their own age and they see younger women as easier targets.

I think that's incredibly wrong and unfair to say. There's nothing wrong or evil about what's going on here. If OP is uninterested, all she has to say is no.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:22 PM on January 23, 2010 [26 favorites]

Semi-related advice for the OP: I recommend reading the entire "Hi. Whatcha reading?" thread from a few of months ago. It's an intensive burst of vicarious life experience of women's experiences being approached by men and why they need to be cautious. I think reading through that could help you develop a better sense of which people/situations are not OK without having to personally go through a bunch of bad experiences yourself.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:22 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Tell them to go try picking up women their own age. These guys need to be told that.

No, they really don't. Their particular tastes in whom they find attractive are none of your business.

The age difference is a canard. Heck, the genders are a canard. The point is, if you don't enjoy where a conversation is going, leave. If someone expresses romantic interest and you don't share it, say so. If you enjoy the friendship, but not the advances, say so. If they continue, they really weren't your friend.
posted by gjc at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

Once you're out of college everyone is just kind of ambiguously adult-ish, the age boundaries are not as clearly defined. Also since you are not sitting in classes with your peers all day long anymore a good way to meet people is to talk and exchange numbers with people you meet throughout your day, for platonic or romantic purposes.

I'm in my mid-20s and I don't think I ever realized this explicitly until I got out of college. I moved cross country to a place where I didn't know anyone after school and I'm not sure how else I would have made friends (or gone on dates).

If I sat next to someone and we talked for 2 hours I would probably ask for their number too, whether or not I wanted to date them, and I consider myself semi-shy around strangers.

If you don't want to talk to strangers, do what I do and listen to your iPod or read or something.
posted by bradbane at 2:38 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

To quote Two and a Half Men:

"Oh, I'm sorry sir, I don't have daddy issues."
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:39 PM on January 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

@amro, I wish I could favorite multiple times.

As a man who is about 40, the fact is that I'm attracted to women from about 18 to 50. My range just gets wider as I age. If I was talking with a young woman, especially if it was initiated by her, and the conversation was going on for a couple hours, and she seemed actually interesting instead of vapid (most younger women come off as vapid, sorry but true), I'd ask her out.

How is that creepy? It seems natural to me. No harm, no foul. She can always say no, and I'd forget it. No problem. *That is how people meet*

I think the age thing is far too limiting. My ex-wife was almost 10 years older than me, my current GF is 10 years younger. Who cares as long as it is legal and doesn't have too many power-dynamics involved?
posted by Invoke at 2:56 PM on January 23, 2010 [13 favorites]

It's not even the friendly conversation bit (I'm fond of chatting with strangers too), it's the time commitment. Two hours is a long time to invest in a discussion that you do not intend to continue at a later date.
posted by desuetude at 2:57 PM on January 23, 2010

Just don't talk to guys you're not interested in.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:09 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm a very chatty conversational type of person as well and this used to happen to me all the time when I was in my 20s. I'd be at an airport or a bookstore or something and find myself embroiled in a long conversation about whatever, just because I happened to be interested in other people in general, and then find that I had inadvertently given off a signal that I was sexually interested, which I typically was not, at all. Unfortunately, if your goal of these conversations is just to make a new friend or pass the time, it is going to be hard to set those boundaries.

The worst thing about some of these encounters is that you find yourself going along with the flow without really meaning to, because you are afraid to speak up or be clear about your intentions. For example, because I wanted to give some of these dudes the benefit of the doubt that they were only interested in talking to 24-year-old-me because of my superior mind, I would meet up with some of these guys later on, and go out with them, never really understanding that I was on dates. These situations were usually hella awkward. It's better to assume the guys are interested in you romantically and head it off at the pass than vice versa.

Basically, if you don't want to talk to them, be clear about it. This is very hard because many guys will pressure you into trying to talk to them and/or be weird about it. Saying you have an exam tomorrow or whatever is a good way to get them to leave you alone.

I second mentioning a boyfriend very early on although some dudes will then ask you all kinds of weird questions about the boyfriend.

However, there's really nothing to worry about as these dudes aren't going to do anything to you. In all my years of dating nothing terrible happened to me as a result of going on blind dates, meeting random strangers, etc. and if you don't put yourself in a situation where you're alone with them, then you have nothing to worry about. But don't give out your number if you're not comfortable, don't go out on dates if you don't want to. Learning to be assertive and say "I'm sorry, you seem like a nice guy but I'm not interested in going out with you" is very hard but the sooner you can do it in an empowering way, the sooner you can take control of these types of situations rather than feeling like the guy is subtly running the show (which is what used to squick me out).
posted by alicetiara at 3:13 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

This reminds me of a conversation I heard at the bus stop and then on the bus...

Some late-30s guy was chatting with a 20-year-old girl. The guy was pretty annoying, talking about himself or just goofy things like his job - he flies helicopters.

I thought the girl would have ditched him once she got on the bus, but nooooo, he some how wound up sitting next to her on the bus and kept saying his stupid things about hotel rooms and trucks. If he was interested in the girl, he showed zero ability at smoothtalking and charm.

The girl, though, kept on interacting with him, even asking him questions, offering her own information, which irritated me, until I thought she might be interested in this clown.

It turns out he was a helicopter pilot, and ferried helicopters all over North America, and had a second house in Mexico.

If it had been me, once the girl had asked "Oh, you're a helicopter pilot?" I would have said, "Yes, you ever been in a helicopter? Would you like to go for a ride in one?"

But the bozo never did.

posted by KokuRyu at 3:20 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I still am not seeing the super-creepiness here. Especially because, as you say, you can hold your own in the conversation and keep it going. It's not like you have a giant 18!!! sign over your head. There are posts here all the time from 28-year-olds that are mistaken for high schoolers. I am similarly bad with age-guessing.

But, as you explain, it's a problem. And you recognize it, which is the first part of solving it. I think you've had great advice here thus far, including the casual boyfriend mention. You don't have to scream it, or be all "wink-wink". While you're talking, somewhere in the first ten minutes, just throw in something like this:

"What kind of music do I like? I'm really into stuff from the 1970's. My boyfriend made fun of me all of the time, but I made him listen to _____ and now he's converted. One of my favorite bands is...."

There you go. Seamless integration. The listener isn't embarrassed by asking you out later or pursuing you when you aren't interested, and you aren't put in this awkward position that is hard to dig out of.

And for what it is worth, I imagine you'd be just as likely to have an 18-year-old slip something in your drink as a 30-year-old. But either way, it's not a healthy way to view men. It seems from the tone of your post that you see them as these barbarians who for some unfathomable reason, would like to date a girl with cool interests and who like to talk to them. Perhaps your mother's mistrust of men is wearing off on you, which could be problematic in the future when and if you are looking for a relationship.

But back to the question. This guy that you're worried about now is possibly interested in dating you. Why? Because that's what people do if they're single! They look for other fun people and if there is a conversational spark they try and take it to the next level. That's why if you are not able or do not want to date them, it is good form to use the boyfriend conversational tool pretty early on to establish boundaries.
posted by amicamentis at 3:45 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're a young, physically attractive female, you should just assume that every hetero older man you meet, in any context, is mentally undressing you (at least at first)... yet only a very small subset will take action in an attempt to attract you.

Once you take that as a given, and accept that a man being attracted to you is as commonplace as spam from Nigeria, the question becomes:

How do you want to manage your response to this situation?

Here's one possibility:

Make a clear, distinct mental picture of any guy annoying you. Then mentally push the picture down to the level of your feet, and then out into the distance, so he becomes just a tiny and indistinct smudge, a dot, a pinprick; a tiny, insignificant little pinprick, one miles away. Pretend everything he says is far, far away...

Do this several times quickly, as fast as you can-- do this five times, ten times, over and over again, as quickly as possible... while he's right there-- and you'll find yourself not really caring a whole lot about some old smudge. Instead of being angry or scared, you can just let yourself be comfortably indifferent.

And as you succeed at doing that, you'll probably begin to adopt it as a habit. You'll find yourself noticing the men you like, and not paying attention to the flailings of the others. (How personal an affront is spam offering you a vacation cruise? Not very. Spammers just do what they do; this is much the same thing.)

And as you adopt that as a habit, you'll probably find yourself becoming ever more secure and confident, in ways that surprise you.

So: Don't worry about the old guy's feelings. Don't make a big deal of it. You're interested, or you're not. And if you want to pursue a friendship, understand that a part of him is probably wondering about the possibility of sex with you, and may continue to wonder for some time. And remember-- for men, meant to be is usually a less decisive criterion than might just happen anyway.

And with this particular older guy you've just met, ask him the same question you've just asked in this AskMe question, and position him as your confidant: "Wow, Wise Obviously Impartial and Not Attracted to Me Older Man, I keep getting hit on by old men! What's your wise advice on how to avoid this, because I'm not attracted to older men? I really want your perspective on this, because you're so old and wise, and unlike a lot of older men, you obviously understand boundaries..."
posted by darth_tedious at 4:23 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had to use the google to find the meaning of "pulchritude" and it's so unusual that a word that sounds hideous can mean just the opposite.

I talk to strange men like we're BFFs
If you do this, yeah a lot of them are probably going to ask you out, that is just the way things are. This kind of thing has happened to me plenty of times, not to mention being completely oblivious to the fact that guy friends of mine were not my bros, they were interested in me, and ending up accidentally on dates with some of them. It seems pretty comical now.

Is this a thing about wanting guys to respect you because you're smart and like to talk intellectual talk.. and you can't reconcile that with the fact that they also engage in these conversations because they find you attractive? I hear you. After I thought about it a while, personally it seems like I had trouble coming to terms with the fact that any guys found me attractive, because I survived school (up until college) being a sarcastic nerd who learned to reject people before they rejected me. I was a theory wonk (lit crit) because the stuff interested me, but at the same time I used too much reading as an excuse to push people away, and it was kind of a shame. Could it be that on some level you might like to meet a guy who interests you, but you're afraid of it at the same time, so you're putting yourself in situations where you can talk to guys and not date them?

All I can think to say is, be yourself, but don't dismiss and reject your peers - college is an important time, and you can't have these years back! There have to be at least some people your age who share your interests. Try joining college radio or other clubs or going to campus events to find them, and if you meet guys your own age it's OK to tell them you are just looking for friends, and then be friends. Once college is over it gets harder to meet people with common interests and many of them will drift away from intense study of whatever they did care about in college, so it's no wonder 30 year old guys think you just fell from the sky, to them, you kind of did.

Oh and try checking out some feminist theory! Take classes from women professors, I found the best classes when I was in college, for me, were rigorous and inspirational and taught by brilliant feminists. Your intelligence and abilities are valuable and worthy of respect, point; it's cool if you tend to share more interests with male peers than female (I did), but you don't need validation from male peers on their terms, try not to get caught up in needing to win their respect.
posted by citron at 4:24 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

my interests also tend to be held by this demographic of men who are significantly older than me. I mean that unlike most of my peers in college, I walk around with a stack of books and articles for my own reading, and I will talk about political theory and psychology and things like that (I think they might like me because I talk back and don't blankly stare when the conversation drifts over to political theory and whatnot....not like I really know what I'm talking about, but I guess I sound smart to them or something.)

I bet you have plenty of peers in college who read interesting things and have interesting conversations. They just might not be as self assured about approaching you first.

Furthermore, the percentage of people who are smart and interesting to talk to doesn't dramatically increase as people age.

Sometimes the reason it's easier to have interesting conversations with men who are attracted to you is just because they tend to be more attentive and are pre-invested in engaging with you.

It seems like you might have a bias towards these older men, maybe similarly to how they have a bias towards you. There's nothing wrong with that but if you're aware of that, it might
a) let you look for and appreciate intellectual compatibility among a wider range of people
b) let you be more in tune to the subtext of your conversations with them.

'Bitch-shield' is kind of a general term but there are dozens of variations on it and you'll have to find what works for you. Mentioning a fake boyfriend is one way of establishing distance and it could be a helpful shortcut for you but you might still have to be prepared to either take the lie further or to cut off the conversation because it will not slow everybody down.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:28 PM on January 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

You need to assume that most men who are in their 30s that come talk to you don't want to be your friend. It's just how society is. Men don't usually approach random women because they think they might be a good friend. It'd be different if you were sitting next to each other on a plane or a bar and you clicked, because the man didn't come up to you based on your appearance, you just happened to be near each other.
I wouldn't call it the "bitch shield," because I don't think it's rude not to show interest in people you are not interested in being friends with, but you need to learn to be less earnest, I guess. If you are a young adult woman, you will probably have men trying to talk to you on a regular basis, and if you don't like older ones, you need to learn to shut them down fast. This means short responses, not asking questions, nodding or disinterested "uh-huh" responses instead of engaged ones.
In a perfect world, these men would want to be your friend and y'all could hang out and talk about bands and all that, but 95% of the time, unless the guy is gay, he is hitting on you and only wants to date you. I can relate to not wanting to directly tell them to leave you alone because you're modest and don't want to presume that they want you, and you don't want to be rude or hurtful, but there are ways to show disinterest.
Another tactic I've used with the particularly dense ones is comparing them to my dad, who is in his mid-40s. They'll say something they like to do, and I'll be like, "oh, my dad likes to do that." They get the message pretty quickly.
posted by ishotjr at 4:49 PM on January 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

It took me a couple years to learn this once I was 18, but if a guy you don't know approaches you out of nowhere even though you're not doing anything particularly interesting and attempts to engage you in random conversation, it means he thinks you're attractive. If you are friendly to him, he will try to ask you out because he thinks that means you want him. If you don't mind turning guys down, and they're respectful when you do so, then go ahead and be nice. Eventually you'll have some guys be overbearing assholes about it though. You'll decide for yourself whether being friendly is worthwhile, then. Personally, I got so sick of male attention that I'm terse and look at other things as if I'm busy and uninterested when I'm approached (and still some guys are assholes about that). Honestly, in some ways it's nicer than wasting their time anyway. Here's hoping you never reach that point.
posted by Nattie at 5:07 PM on January 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

Yeah...I kinda have to agree with BlackStrapMolasses. It struck me as a really twee question. Perhaps incorrectly, but it read to me as a simpering "OMG, I'm so young and cute, and I keep flirting with all these older guys, why do they keep asking me out, don't they know they're all gross and old and stuff?"

Seriously, if you don't want a guy to ask you out, don't waste two hours of his time being BFF. If you talk to a man for two hours, and he doesn't ask for your number, he's gay. And even gay guys will ask for a number if you're as interesting as you seem to think you are. Just because someone asks for a number doesn't necessarily mean that he wants to jump your teenage bones.

If you spend hours talking to anyone, they're going to assume that you want to continue the conversation, or that you're making a connection of some sort. If that isn't what you want, then you should probably stop flirting with strangers.

And as for the people who are all "He's old enough to be your father..."; the difference between 30 and 18 is not that big of a difference. It would be different if we were talking about guys in their 50s who were having a midlife crisis, buying a Corvette and trying to buy a new high-school girlfriend. But we're talking about the age of a college freshman and someone who could be in grad school. I have dated plenty of guys that were 10 years older than me, and I've dated men that were 5-7 years younger. 30 is not old enough to be a college freshman's father. Sheesh.

All that said; always trust your instincts when someone feels "creepy". The only times in my life that I've ever been really hurt is when I ignored my instincts. If someone feels creepy or wrong, get away from them and stay away from them.
posted by dejah420 at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2010 [21 favorites]

Thinking about it a bit more, I want to say that if you really aren't attracted to older men, you should change what you are doing. Everything you said makes you sound like a potential partner to me, an 'older' man. (sorry if I sound creepy, really, I have a GF, this is just advice)

I would suggest you seriously consider whether you are fooling yourself about your attraction. If not, stop interacting using several of the tips above.

If you are attracted, that's another matter, but the way you wrote your question, it doesn't seem that you are. For myself (if I was single), I'd need a direct rejection to stop pursuing you, assuming you are cute and funny, and I'm about as PC as they come.
posted by Invoke at 5:19 PM on January 23, 2010

Thinking about it a bit more, I want to say that if you really aren't attracted to older men, you should change what you are doing. Everything you said makes you sound like a potential partner to me, an 'older' man. (sorry if I sound creepy, really, I have a GF, this is just advice)

By "change what you are doing" I hope you don't mean she needs to act like a vapid teenager. There's nothing wrong with being a smart, friendly woman. The OP just needs to know it's OK to honestly tell people to leave her alone when she wants to be left alone. Telling her she has to act like someone she's not in order to avoid people hitting on her is intimating that it is her fault these men might be attracted to her. It's not.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:58 PM on January 23, 2010

Welcome to being a woman. Unfortunately, way too many men will take any sort of friendly interaction as an indicator that you desperately want to fuck them.

This. And it makes evolutionary sense, too: a man who incorrectly assumes a woman is interested when she isn't is much more likely to get some than a man who wrongly assumes she isn't interested when she is. (Same thing applies to the way you sense danger: wrongly assuming something is dangerous is much better for you than wrongly assuming that it isn't- assuming a harmless snake is deadly is much more likely to keep you alive than the reverse).

If you talk with a strange guy for more than 10 minutes and show ongoing interest in the conversation and keep it going, he's going to assume that he's successfully picked you up. If you aren't interested, don't do this.
posted by Maias at 6:10 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A minor point: a few posters have referred to the 'fact' that if you talk to a man for 2 hours they will be convinced that you want them. Perhaps I'm odd, but I've only possessed that feeling a few times: in every case it was with someone I indeed got closer to or someone I had to gently let down.

When I was single, after a couple hours with an attractive woman I was *desperately hoping they could learn to like me*. Which is a far cry from being convinced they wanted me.
posted by carterk at 6:21 PM on January 23, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - time for a thread reboot. If you don't like answers, please say so reasonably, don't call people dumbasses or WTF everywhere.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:43 PM on January 23, 2010

I just wish someone (some woman) would've told me that it was OK to be rude to older men. And by rude I mean simply not continuing a conversation with them after they started to creep me out. It would've saved me a whole lot of trouble. I guess what I'm saying, OP (take this from a 36-year-old woman who at 13 was attractive and smart in the way that older men liked), it's totally OK to just get up and walk away or even say, "Well thanks for the chat but I've got to... (whatever you can come up with)" and get out of there if you are uncomfortable. It doesn't make you a bad or mean person.

(And eff the movie Beautiful Girls while I'm at it.)

posted by Kloryne at 7:05 PM on January 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

OP, I'm interpreting you as a young girl who has not had much interaction with guys your age throughout your teenage years, or hasn't received much male attention until very recently. Maybe you have been sheltered about men or what have you.

When I was in high school, I was friends with a large group of guys. We were really comfortable with each other and would hang out and make jokes and were touchy-feely in what I thought was a completely platonic way -- I'd sit on their laps, we'd go bra shopping, etc. I had absolutely no clue that a guy would get turned on just from me sitting on his lap. The idea would have been ridiculous to me since it certainly didn't affect me sexually at all. We have to be told that men are different, and not just in a romantic-comedy-movie "men think about sex every 10 seconds LOL" kind of way.

Basically, all (straight) men really are mentally undressing you. As I've read around here, every man, when he sees you, immediately evaluates you as a potential sexual partner. He imagines having sex with you. That's nice guys, bad guys, young guys, old guys, classmates, waiters, professors.

You can assume that every man who is nice and friendly to you wants to sleep with you. And by "sleep with you" I don't mean "chop you up" or "date-rape you," but just that their attraction to you is motivating their actions. Obviously there are men who have other reasons to be nice to you, but strange men approaching you, who have no other relationship to you, or who are being nice and friendly beyond what would be normal based on the level of your relationship, are pursuing you with the eventual goal of having sex with you.

I'm not saying that you're not smart or interesting or whatever, but for a lot of men, you being smart just means that you can better appreciate how smart they are. There's a saying that a "good sense of humor" means, to women, a man who makes them laugh, and to men, a woman who laughs at their jokes.

You want to know how to be able to have nice friendly conversations with strange men who approach you in public places without it turning romantic or without them interpreting your platonic interest as sexual interest. Well, now that you know that these men who approach you are doing so not because you're so smart or interesting or because they're just looking for a gender-neutral somebody to shoot the breeze with, but because you have a vagina and are attractive, you can be on the lookout from the start of the conversation for signs that they're starting to inch over the platonic border and beat them at the pass.

How? Well, the "boyfriend" thing will work sometimes. But I wouldn't put all my eggs in the "boyfriend" basket. A lot of guys don't care, or, since you're talking to them so animatedly and are so interested in them and what they're saying, they might think that you don't care and will still date them or sleep with them.

You need to be straightforward. I know that it's much easier and nicer to just ignore or laugh off "what's your type" type things, or pretend you don't think he means what you know he means, but it absolutely does not work. He'll think you're being coy, or that he wasn't being clear enough in his intentions, and he'll just try again/harder. Personally, I think "what's your type" is kind of a creep question because it's not yes/no -- he's trying to lure you into romantic talk without declaring his own feelings, and there's no way to not answer it without seeming rude. But you can say "Why, do you have someone you want to set me up with?" Push him to ask a real question, to which you can say "No, thanks" without explanation. If he says "Can I have your number?" you say "No, sorry" without explanation. If he says "What's your phone number?" you can say "Why?" If he says "What's your number, I'd like to go out with you sometime," then you can say "No, thanks though."

Your approach, if you really insist on having hour-long conversations with strange men, is to act like you think everything is hunky-dory-platonic until they explicitly ask to go beyond that, to which you will say no. You can willfully misunderstand everything that is not an explicit and direct question/declaration of their intentions. However, this is only an act, and you need to learn that it's pretty much never hunky-dory-platonic unless he's gay or ten or your brother.

I wish I'd read The Unfair Sex when I was twelve, and I literally give a copy to every teenage girl I can. Should be required as part of sex-ed. It's a really fun, somewhat-antiquated but still-relevant look at how to interact with guys while keeping yourself out of situations where you're "cornered," and how to keep them from being able to make passes at you. And it predates man-hating and feminism.

Sorry this is so long, but I really wish someone had given me this kind of talking-to when I was young, instead of assuming I just knew.
posted by thebazilist at 7:08 PM on January 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

Huge difference between being attracted to a younger woman, as in recognizing her attractiveness, and actually being able to develop a genuine friendship with her that goes beyond lust. Can't blame anyone for who they are attracted to, can blame them for acting on it. Relationships work best if people are of a similar mental age, therefore a 30 y.o. man who can have a genuine friendship with an 18 y.o. woman probably does have some problems. Is the 18 y.o. up to being the caretaker of these problems? Should it even be asked of her?
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 7:18 PM on January 23, 2010

Before I read this thread, I thought the "old" was going be like 40s, 50s! I'm in my mid 20s and if I met a nice attractive girl who I had great a conversation with in a cafe, why wouldn't I ask her out? Age isn't always so obvious as well, while I don't think its a great idea for someone in their 30s to date an 18 year old, I think its ridiculous to assume some kind of mental derangement if they do.
posted by mattsweaters at 7:31 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been going out a bunch of times lately with a friend who is single and on the prowl, and it's been really interesting watching how it has been working. He's not a creepy perv, not even a tiny bit, and he's careful to only approach women who look open to conversation -- no one hidden behind a book or with earphones. He'll walk up and say "hi," and if she's friendly and chatty he stays to talk. If there's a "fuck off" vibe, in body language or in words, he moves on. If the chatting goes well, he follows with a request for a number, or invites them for a date. All very straightforward and simple.

But my point is that you are doing a great imitation of the women who are actually interested -- they engage him in conversation, their body language is open and friendly verging on flirty, they don't give off any "leave me alone" signals. You are not at all imitating the women who aren't interested in being approached -- the closed off body language, the fast mentions of boyfriends (real or imaginary), the lack of flirtiness.

So if you are sending signals of openness, why be surprised that people will perceive that as an invitation to conversation and flirtation? If you want different results, you will need to change what you are doing.

Over and above that, a lot of actual creeps rely on taking advantage of young women's lack of assertiveness and socialization to be open and welcoming. It's painful to watch, but it happens all the time. Don't let yourself get backed into providing personal information or even conversations that you are not interested in having -- have the confidence to close off conversations that you not interested in having, rather than feeling that you need to be "polite" despite your discomfort.
posted by Forktine at 9:02 PM on January 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Talking to people everywhere is something I do; it makes my life richer. I've wound up at a dinner with a Booker Prize winner (whom I still keep in contact with), just found a job for someone I met on a bus who was in danger of becoming homeless, filled in as the lead singer for a Metallica covers band (I am the least metal person in any given room), introduced two lovely introverts who are now engaged, and I'm constantly learning just how little I know about other cultures and lifestyles, just how much there is out there in the world.

If that's who you are, if you like people and sharing, please don't think you have to stop. If, when you read about Stanley Milgram's connectors, you thought, "Wow, I'm not so strange, after all...", you'll know there are other people like you. Even better, you're intelligent, helping to dispel the stereotype of connectors as vacuous socialites. Some of us just love good conversation and new points of view.

But, just as a practical matter, you do need to make it clear to guys from the onset when you're not romantically interested. It might be creepy for someone to ask you out when they don't know anything about you, but if they've been talking to you for a couple of hours and you're connecting, it's different.

It's actually really easy to take care of this, if you address it right at the beginning. It sets the tone for the entire conversation.

My girlfriend is gorgeous, only a couple of years older than you, and she talks to *everyone*. She loves people and being open to knowing the things beyond our little lives.

When she meets a new guy, she mentions me almost immediately, and shortly after, mentions somewhere we're going to be going on holiday, or something we did maybe two years ago. That makes it concrete, more than just the standard "I have a boyfriend". If he makes flirty innuendo, she isn't rude, she just does this thing where her face goes completely blank and she says, "That's not funny". As soon as he acknowledges that the conversation isn't going to be like that, she goes back to talking to him just as normal. It's not aggressive the way she says it, it's just like stating a fact ("Sydney received 14 milimeters of rain last night").

She's always very firm in bringing the conversation to a standstill as soon as the tone becomes teasy or flirty. Seeming emotionless, like stating a fact, works so much better than witty putdowns. A witty putdown makes some guys want to think of a comeback and intensify the flirtation (if you don't believe me, just try it).

If you don't have a boyfriend, my little sister who is your age and also very social, normally starts talking about a guy she likes, or asks the guy for his advice on what the guy she likes means when he says such and such. She actually gets some insightful advice; it's like polling the hive mind, but with the additional information that comes from face-to-face contact.

You can also be quite upfront; I once hit it off wonderfully with a young woman who said, "Everyone else here looks like they got dressed up to go meet people and have casual sex or whatever; it's hard for me to relate, I'm the opposite". She didn't have to say it, but I knew what she meant. It cleared the air, so we could get on with enjoying the conversation.

Best of luck, you'll soon find that these people who seem like strangers, most of the time actually know a really close friend of yours, or their aunt was best friends with your mum, or you guys were actually at the same party a couple of years ago. And apart from the adventures, you'll also make incredible friends who will be there for you when others aren't.

Be safe, though. Let me know how it goes; my mefi mail's in the profile.
posted by surenoproblem at 9:08 PM on January 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

Up until I ws 17, nearly 18, all of the interactions I had had with men fit into two categories: boys my own age and men older than me. With the boys, some were romantically interesting / interested in me, some not. That all made sense to me. We were the same age and allowed to date if we wanted to. The older men I knew were my 20 year old camp counselors, my 25 year old teachers, the 40 year old fathers of my friends, the 30 year minister at my church, etc. They didn't have to necessarily be all that much older than me, but the thing that united them was that none of them could legally or ethically initiate a romantic relationship with me. I was off limits to them. I didn't realise this at the time - just assumed that they wouldn't be interested in me as I wasn't interested in them. There was an imaginary line separating us that wasn't crossed. (Yes, I realise that I was incredibly lucky that none of them ever crossed that line)

Once I hit 18, I started going out into the world on my own - into the workplace, volunteering at non-school organisations, going to uni, driving myself to cafes, flying by myself. I all of the sudden (to me) started running into lots of men who in my mind clearly fit into the second category of male - older, not romantic possibilities. And yet, here they were, hitting on me and asking me out! It really freaked me out. All of the category 2 men I had previously interacted with I had been able to talk to, to argue with, to subtly or explicitly express pleasure in their company - in the same way that I would with my father - and they would respond to me as if I were a daughter, not a sexual object. It was really surprising, shocking even, to meet men who (in my mind) should have been treating me as a daughter but instead were asking me on dates.

Looking back, they weren't (usually) doing anything wrong. It's just that the situation and the rules had suddenly changed without me being informed. They had more experience than I, they were used to living in the wider adult world where people ask out other people whom they fancy. I was not at all used to this world. In my world, older men couldn't ask me out and it felt really wrong when these guys did.

I eventually learned the rules of this new world I had come into. If two strangers start chatting and really get along, one of them will probably ask the other out. As previous posters have said, a simple "I'm flattered, but no thank you" is generally all it takes. There are lots of other things I have learned since I was 18, including to listen to my gut about strangers and to avoid putting myself into situations that might be dangerous.

If what I've described sounds similar to you, my advice would be to realise that the rules are different than what you're used to and to observe the world more closely, try to figure out the way things work, and try to negotiate the way you want to fit into the system. While you're figuring all of this out, you might want to stop having long interactions with strangers. At some point you might again decide this is a good idea, but you're still figuring this system out and your gut might not be tuned into the right things yet. It only took me a couple of years to sort these things out (although I still fine tune with every new experience) and now I can generally spot the difference between "nice conversation with person who just wants a chat" and "this guy is sussing me out as potential date material."

Best of luck.
posted by neznamy at 9:29 PM on January 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

Sorry, it's super creepy. When you are in your early twenties you'll see how creepy it is. Even at this age, you wouldn't date an 18 year old. It would be ridiculous. Beg to differ with the other posters. Do yourself a favor and stay away from these guys.
posted by xammerboy at 11:09 PM on January 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

> Personally, I think "what's your type" is kind of a creep question because it's not yes/no -- he's trying to lure you into romantic talk without declaring his own feelings, and there's no way to not answer it without seeming rude.

That's funny, I took it quite the other way; he's interested but has noted the age disparity and wants to feel her out to find out whether he's got any kind of chance, so rather than making the conversation awkward with a direct proposition he's giving her a chance to speak in general terms about who she's attracted to, which could easily be a group that explicitly excludes him. He saves face, she doesn't have to feel like she's just directly turned him down and the conversation can continue.

I don't think a guy in his 30's is automatically a creep for asking out a much younger woman he's been talking to for hours, but the OP has said these guys are undesirable to her due to their age. In other words, they're not her type. If they ask "what's your type?" the obvious and honest answer is "not you." That question shouldn't necessarily creep you out, it may in fact be an attempt to express attraction while keeping things as uncreepy as possible.
posted by contraption at 12:02 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The answers to your questions seem self-explanatory. When you hold an interesting conversation with anyone for an extended length of time, people tend to feel a connection with the other person. The connection may be platonic, sexual, intellectual, whatever. A connection is made or else a two-hour long conversation most likely wouldn't happen.

Whether you are 18 or 45 years old, the natural social progression is that someone will probably seek further contact to continue the conversation. The person might be your BFF without any romantic misunderstandings. The person might have ulterior motives to get in your knickers, your wallet, your whatever. Be cautious. Be assertive.

The simple answer is you need to set boundaries and make them understood. When the context is right (or even when it is wrong but necessary), open your mouth and communicate that you do not have romantic interests. Communicate you want to be viewed as an intellectual equal, regardless of race, gender, creed, etcetera. Communicate that you are a firm believer in some sort of unsentimental philosophy that will brush off their doe-eyed confessions of soul mates or fate. Communicate whatever you need to tell the other person so they understand what you are communicating to us in this question and explanation on AskMetafilter. Apply this to life in general.

It kind of seems, from asking this question and your self-described social interactions with strangers, that you need validation from other people.

For me personally, the older I became and the more interactions I had with men who were interested in more than my conversation, the less time I had for them. I was young and submissive and felt I had something to prove to the world (My intelligence, education, ass was good enough for me if other people acknowledged it). I misinterpreted their conversation and interest as validation that I was smart, fun, pretty, fill in the blank. At that point in my life, I took flattery too seriously and I desperately needed to be told who I was.

Nothing dramatic happened to me that made me change. I mean, I dated a few older men who weren't for me. I dated a few more men my age who weren't for me as well. Quite simply, I got bored of preening for the world to hopefully witness. The world was usually preoccupied with their bills or grocery lists. I decided to grow up and answer to myself first and foremost. I also stopped worrying that I would cease to be amazing or interesting if I asserted my boundaries.

I still like meeting new people but I no longer seek their approval. When I meet people, it has become less about who I am or how they view me or what attention I get and more about who the other person is and whether we can find a way to get along. Perhaps the lens has widened.

In short, common sense and boundaries.
posted by fiasco at 1:16 AM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Please don't do the "oh my booyyyfriend loves that tv show too!", at least not as a signal.
It signals that they shouldn't make a move because you belong to someone else, not that they shouldn't make a move because you are not interested.
posted by Iteki at 5:00 AM on January 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Don't talk to strange men like you're BFFs.
posted by GComes at 7:41 AM on January 24, 2010

That's funny, I took it quite the other way; he's interested but has noted the age disparity and wants to feel her out to find out whether he's got any kind of chance, so rather than making the conversation awkward with a direct proposition he's giving her a chance to speak in general terms about who she's attracted to, which could easily be a group that explicitly excludes him.

I think you're maybe more honest and perceptive than the average guy, though. Your interpretation of the conversation seems a couple of steps ahead in experience of where anonymous is.

The age difference isn't necessarily an issue, if she were intentionally flirting. But a 30something year old man has to be willfully clueless to not discern along the way when a smart-but-naive teenager is pleasantly chatting to pass the time, rather than overtly indicating sexual interest.

Yeah, yeah, people aren't mind-readers. But the judgment call seems to land so often on the side of "what the hell, I'll take a shot," which makes it the girl's job to do the rejecting. This is weird and awkward when it seems out of the blue (to use a hyperbolic example, imagine suddenly being propositioned by blue-haired grandmas every time you let them take your seat on the bus), and as others have stated up-thread, often verges into "taking advantage of good manners and politeness" territory.

Each dude acting solo isn't necessarily a creep, but collectively, the phenomenon is creepy, and starts getting exhausting, thus all the suggestions that she start guarding against it.
posted by desuetude at 9:00 AM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

To find out if these guys are REALLY creepy as opposed to the generally creepy nature of the 18 to 30's age difference, tell them you are 16 (read: not legal) and see if they continue pursuing you.
posted by bigwoopdeedoo at 9:19 AM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're immature and you haven't learned how to set boundaries in your dealings with other people.

Having hours-long conversations with guys, and wondering why they are interested in you, is a sign of severe immaturity.

Focus on learning to set boundaries ... starting respecting yourself enough to do so.
posted by jayder at 9:40 AM on January 24, 2010

And I think dejah420 nails it with regard to the disingenous, "twee" nature of this question.
posted by jayder at 9:42 AM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Btw, 16 = legal in many states, 17 is legal in NY and 16 = legal throughout Canada.
posted by Maias at 11:52 AM on January 24, 2010

Please don't do the "oh my booyyyfriend loves that tv show too!", at least not as a signal. It signals that they shouldn't make a move because you belong to someone else, not that they shouldn't make a move because you are not interested.

Honestly, sometimes that's easier for a woman to say in an awkward situation. "I have a boyfriend" isn't a personal kick in the pants the way that "I don't like you like that" is. And the odds are better* that a guy will back off if you say that, as opposed to busting out the "Give me a chance!" speech. (I can count on one hand the number of guys who politely went away without arguing with me after being honest with them about lack of interest.) Remember, she doesn't know for sure how creepy the dude is, and the goal is to find her way out of an awkward situation the best that she can, not to be honest and fair with someone who's giving her the icky vibe and might not listen to an "I'm not interested" anyway.

Oh, and 30-year-olds trolling on an 18-year-old? That's nothing. When I was that age I was being trolled on by 50-year-olds who also weren't fond of taking no for an answer. So I say, whatever you gotta do to get out of it. She doesn't owe random older strangers an honest response as to how she feels about them sexually.

Man, this thread makes me want to drink heavily. I really do hate that a(ny) female can't expect to have a conversation with any heterosexual male for longer than 5 minutes without him thinking about how much he'd like to bang her. Okay, not all of you do that, but I still find it frustrating that you can't just treat guys the way you would a chick who wants to talk to you while you're in line at the store.

* though obviously, that doesn't work all the time either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:06 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

It signals that they shouldn't make a move because you belong to someone else, not that they shouldn't make a move because you are not interested.

I totally agree, and hold to this myself...but I'd say that this is like 300-level stuff, and anonymous is still in her 100-levels. First step, anonymous has to learn to gauge the situation better, then she can move on to finding a way to express her lack of interest both firmly and honestly.

The nice thing about the boyfriend reference is that the majority of guys, the ones who aren't actually intending to be creeps, will use it exactly as it's intended, as a sign of "I'm enjoying this chat but I'm not going to go out with you so don't bother asking." She can move past the fake-boyfriend crutch when she's ready.
posted by desuetude at 12:29 PM on January 24, 2010

It signals that they shouldn't make a move because you belong to someone else, not that they shouldn't make a move because you are not interested.

Apologies for the derail, and I completely understand the sentiment of not wanting to be seen as only refusing a date because one is previously attached rather than noninterest. However, I do believe that this is the kind of white lie that both is mostly harmless and saves both the conversational partners from potential awkwardness and hurt feelings. Hell, if you already do have a boyfriend then it isn't even a lie.

I agree that women shouldn't have to be put in this position simply by existing, but unfortunately for our gender and the OP, it will happen no matter how hard I wish it were different. It seems like the best remedy is to face it head on, and to recognize that if you act BFF with guys they may see you as a potential romantic partner. If you are not interested in reciprocating that affection, you either have to head him off at the pass or deal with his intentions becoming known down the line.

On the plus side, you'll get to know fast those that were just interested in getting your number versus those that are into the conversation.
posted by amicamentis at 1:41 PM on January 24, 2010

Here are some examples of triggers to let you know that the conversation has missed the mark of being simply friendly and is now going into the territory of personal interest…
-if a guy starts talking directly to you in a social setting by saying your name outloud. "So [insert your name], where are you from?" or addresses you individually in a social setting after you are introduced
-If someone is starting to ask about your hobbies and interests. He is doing quick scan to potentially suggest ideas for a date
-if he points out certain positive qualities in you and praises you
-When someone sits closer is another sign. Or touches you whether it be a pat on the arm or a playful push
-when someone starts to ask about your age or get to it by inquiring about your college education and graduation year. This is a dead give away, age. Some women look young but no dude wants to get surprised and hit on someone who is too old or too young and not in his range
-Also a remark like, "well your boyfriend must be jealous" is a dead ringer.
-Or when the focus of the conversation is about the other person’s job/profession/what kind of car they drive/their house/money/prestige etc... you know these are all red flags for heading toward the territory of trying to impress a girl
-if he offers to get you a chair, a drink, ice, food, in a social setting
-Plenty more examples… but you should take these as tips and understand them in the context of your situation (ie are you at a bar? Are you in a school setting? Are you alone in a coffee shop?)

If you can see that this is going into the wrong territory, you can control the tone of the conversation and take pre-emptive attack. You don’t always have to pull out the bombs of rejection with too much force. You can say something like “I would never join face book because I would never want a random guy to ask me out” and stare at the person. If that doesn’t kill the momentum, you can also stop giving input into the conversation. Stop being responsive to what the other person has to say and give one word responses. If it already gets to the point where you get asked out, just state objectively that you are not interested. Don’t feel guilty about saying no because guys get rejected all the time and it’s not like they can’t handle it. Leading someone on is ten times worse.

Basically, you need to think about what characteristics you are looking for in a potential mate. And be able to screen from potential people when you are introduced. That way you can also quickly figure out what would be potential, and what would have no chance. Not simply just the physical features but personality/background/culture/religion as well. This cuts down a lot of people who are seemingly hitting on you. If someone is within potential, go from there. But make sure to figure out for yourself whether this person is serious or not. And you will have to figure out on your own how serious a person is, based on that person's actions. Not all guys are scum bags, they honestly have to go through the horrific process of having the guts to approach and talk to a girl. How else are they suppose to ask a girl out? Yet, just be prepared to hold a defensive stance. More often than not, guys fear rejection. The others, are pretty sophisticated to begin with if they have the guts to come out of no where and talk to a girl. You can be equally evaluative of the other person, it's a two way street.
posted by proficiency101 at 3:21 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

We're way down thread at this point, but given the tenor of some of the prior comments, I guess I feel like chiming in anyway. For the record, I'm a straight male who has both hit on many a woman and also learned to develop a bitch-shield of my own after living in a predominantly homosexual neighborhood for some time. There's quite a bit of good advice in this thread, OP, and I hope you've found it useful. Here are a few lessons I hope you don't learn:

That you've done something wrong, and are a fool for not realizing that men chatting with a man may encourage him to flirt or ask you on a date.
Figuring out how romantic signals work is hard. It's very, very common for 18 year-olds and sometimes even 30-somethings to get flirting mixed up with friendship. AskMe is filled with questions from men and women begging strangers to tell them if their crush likes them romantically or merely as friends. My own experience is filled with just these sort of mistakes. Asking a girl out who only wanted to be friends. Leaning in for a goodnight kiss on what I thought was a date - only to learn, quite awkwardly for both of us, that it wasn't. And learning 5 years too late that a serious crush was dying for me to make a romantic move. Bottom line: maybe you're encouraging these men. Maybe you're not. None of us really know. But there's a good chance you don't know either. It takes time and experience to figure these things out. You'll get better with practice.

That all men who chat you up are creeps.
Here's how men don't meet women: wait for a woman to walk up and start chatting with you, then ask you out on a date. Why? Because it will almost never happen. Here's how you do meet a woman: Go to a coffee shop, or a tavern, or a class, or a club, or a party and try to meet someone interesting. Start conversations with women who seem attractive and cool. Watch carefully for signs of interest. These will probably be kinda subtle... for example, if she enthusiastically continues the conversation. If you pick up enough signs, take a deep breath and as nonchalantly as possible, ask her out on some sort of low-key, non-threatening date. At this point, things often go badly, especially when I was younger and worse at picking up legitimate signs of interest. And I'd slink away, feeling embarrassed and like a jerk for putting the girl in a bad position. I don't think, however, this made me a creep. It made me a guy who didn't want to be alone the rest of my life. The majority of guys you meet are just like this. They're not undressing every woman they meet. They don't assume you want them simply because you make idle conversation. They're not instantly trying to get in your pants - although, hey, nice pants. They want a smart, attractive girlfriend. That's about it.

That all of these men are safe.
Having come to the defense of my gender, it's now time to warn you about some of them. Some men - men who at first glance seem normal - are anything but. They're obnoxious, or socially maladjusted, or selfish and self-centered, or just plain crazy. Men don't have sole license on crazy, by the way - in my experience, women are just as well-represented in this spectrum. But here's where men do have pretty much exclusive dominion: violence and aggression. Men and women stalk. But men stalk and beat. And stalk and rape. And stalk and kill. So you do need to be careful, because we don't wear signs that sort out the well-meaning, girlfriend-seeking men from the creepy and the dangerous. So those men that chat you up in coffee shops? There is good reason to be wary of them all. But be especially wary of any man who doesn't show the utmost respect for your wishes. Does he continue to press a conversation after you've made it clear you want it over? Warning bells should go off. This is a man who feels very comfortable imposing his will on you. And puts his desires above yours. That's a very bad sign. Shut these guys off immediately, and don't feel the least bit bad about it.

That's about all I wanted to say. My advice is to be careful, continue to be open, and practice giving off the "I'm not welcoming your approach" vibe, also known as the bitch-shield. Although it doesn't necessarily come across as bitchy. And finally, to take all the advice on this thread with a grain of salt. I thought about 40%-50% was really warped. The rest was pretty awesome. Distinguishing reliably between the two will probably required at least a few years experience dealing with guys. Try to have fun practicing, and good luck.
posted by centerweight at 6:35 PM on January 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

As a woman who started a two year relationship with a man when he was 33 and I was 19, I agree with those who say these men are not necessarily creeps. Most men, regardless of age, will take interest in an intelligent, friendly young woman who they can have a stimulating conversation with. This is especially true if she seems mature for her age, which you do.

You do need to develop a clear way of telling them you're not interested, and you also need to make sure that afterwards, you don't continue to lead them on. Continuing to talk/be friendly to men in these situations can often give the impression you might potentially still be interested.

Always keep yourself safe and always risk being rude/embarrassing over being polite if men like this go too far or make you feel uncomfortable. However, I also think that seeing older men who approach you in this way exclusively as creeps is unnecessarily pessimistic.
posted by abundancecafe at 10:53 PM on January 24, 2010

This type of thing will happen throughout your life. Unfortunately, you have to learn to deal with it. I used to get very freaked out and upset when this would happen. Sometimes, even now, I will just flee the situation by saying, "I have to go. Bye," and walking away without waiting for a response.

In more recent years, I've decided to amuse myself instead of freaking out. Sometimes I'll just make up random things just to see how they respond. Once I told someone that I was actually about to die and my body just looked young, but that I was actually 94. When someone asks for my number, I'll tell him that phones are against my moral beliefs and I have never owned one. If they ask what your type is, come up with something goofy such as a Cyclops. It tends to throw these guys off and they'll often get flustered or be at a loss for words.

I think it's fair to assume that having a long conversation with a male stranger will eventually end with him asking you out. If you want to have conversations with strangers, come up with a plan to ward off their advances. I find that guys who ask a girl what her type is seem to be universally creepy. On the other hand, someone just asking for your number isn't necessarily creepy.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:11 PM on January 25, 2010

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