So many options . . .
September 17, 2010 10:10 PM   Subscribe

I live and work in midtown Manhattan and was walking home from work today when I was stopped by a woman. I'd guess she was somewhere between 50 and 70 - yes, I'm terrible at estimating age. She was dressed well and conservatively. She told me I reminded her of someone she used to know, that she lived nearby, and wondered if I'd like to get lunch or dinner with her sometime later during the week.

FWIW, I look like I'm in my 30s (I'm actually younger) and was wearing a suit. She sounded perfectly sane, though my initial reaction was that she was mentally ill/senile (option 1). After pausing for a second, I started walking again and I told her over my shoulder that I was busy at work and declined. As I kept walking, I found myself wondering if my initial assumption that she was mentally ill/senile was wrong. I came up with three additional possibilities: (2) that she was lonely or otherwise genuine in her desire to get a meal, (3) that she was some strange type of escort, (4) that this was a con of some sort (the one time I was conned it was part of an elaborate scheme that started with someone stopping me to ask for directions). Has anyone experienced something like this? Is there any reason to think this isn't option 1? Are there other options I haven't thought of?
posted by slide to Human Relations (42 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I vote for lonely older person. You reminded her of something positive from her earlier days and since she is slightly insane (senile is unlikely since she said you reminded her of someone. SHe would have thought you WERE that someone if she was senile.) asked you for lunch. I wish I knew what would her response have been if you said yes. Maybe she was a very rich old lady and she would have bestowed lots of money or at least free lunches on you. Should have asked for her number so you could call her later to set up date.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:17 PM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

You know, it's not crazy to think that she was asking you on a date. May-December romances go in both directions.
posted by davejay at 10:20 PM on September 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

I am of the opinion that you should trust your instincts in situations like this. It's possible that she was both a mostly harmless, lonely, well-intentioned woman AND a little crazy in a way that would have made both of you worse off had you gotten to know each other. Don't worry too much about it.
posted by Nixy at 10:20 PM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would guess lonely old gal. I would have had to take her up on it though, just to see if she was running a con. If not, I would assume she would have some great stories.
posted by sanka at 10:20 PM on September 17, 2010

I vote for the con artist theory, myself. There's just something that doesn't add up right in your account to make me think it was "lonely old person."
posted by KingEdRa at 10:24 PM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm with contessa. I would have taken her up on it! That's the kind of stuff life is all about. Last time I was in Seattle, I was looking at the little replica of the Statue of Liberty they have there on Alki Beach, when an elderly woman named Penny started chatting me up. We ended up talking for like an hour and a half! She had been a flight attendant back in the halcyon days of Pan Am and had great stories. What a great lady to talk to. I wish I'd gotten her last name! - AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:26 PM on September 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Totally a con. No question.
posted by The World Famous at 10:26 PM on September 17, 2010

Maybe you reminded her of someone very important to her that had passed away, like a brother, husband, or son?
posted by jbenben at 10:26 PM on September 17, 2010

This exact thing happened to me outside the time Warner Center, back in March or April.

The older woman asked me my name, what I was doing in town, and whether I wanted to have dinner in her apartment.

I'm also in my mid-30s, fwiw.
posted by dfriedman at 10:31 PM on September 17, 2010

All snark aside, do you look like a rube?
posted by JaredSeth at 10:38 PM on September 17, 2010

My ideal self would say that any number of other options exist for her behavior, and that's probably true. Nevertheless, I admit that I would most likely have reacted as you did, even if she didn't ask you to do something that would have put you in danger, which it doesn't sound like she did. That kind of automatic mistrust of a stranger's motives is an unfortunate effect of living in a big city. I admire those who would override that mistrust in themselves (or who would not have it in the first place) but I know myself well enough not to let that admiration get the better of my own mistrust.

But, on the other hand, standing outside the situation, I still think that there are any number of possible explanations for her behavior other than mental incapacity, and, indeed, I think those unknown explanations are more likely than mental incapacity.
posted by blucevalo at 10:42 PM on September 17, 2010

Probably innocent. A lot of people randomly talk to me on the street (I guess I look friendly) and while that lead to playing frisbee with an old guy in the park for a couple months, playing a robot in a home movie, getting offered free pot, etc. I've never been physically threatened. If it's late or they're particularly sketchy or they ask for any amount of money, then you move on.
posted by miyabo at 10:44 PM on September 17, 2010

I've run across people who remind me of certain somebodies; you have too. Was it enough to motivate you to approach, engage and ask out this stranger? Me neither. I vote con.
posted by klarck at 11:26 PM on September 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm not generally a cynical guy, but I'm voting for con. Friendly older woman says you remind her of someone? Wants to go out to eat with you? I have never in my life contemplated asking someone out (for lunch, dinner, whatever) because they reminded me of some random other person.
On preview: I'm w/ klarck.
posted by Gilbert at 11:30 PM on September 17, 2010

Cynical and bitter, here, voting for it sounded like a legit offer. I have an Uncle who is extroverted and charming and I have been with him in Manhattan when we have been invited to dinner with strangers (and at other times invited strangers to dinner with us) we just met. He is able to routinely pull this off. None of the encounters were cons or ended badly - in fact, he has made friends this way.
posted by mlis at 11:42 PM on September 17, 2010

I'd immediatley think "con"/mentally ill - except that you're asking this question, which gives breathing room for the idea that it could be something else. In the abstract (a privledged stance) it might be a different answer: that is, my initial (protective/realistic) reaction to such is always going to be different than the one I have from the remove of space and time of my home, where the possibility that I glorify/glamorize/fictionalize such people is much safer - as the safety of my own kitchen windows, as I look down onto the streets, makes me a different person etc, etc.

Answer: Who knows?

But it's good to bother wondering.
posted by marimeko at 12:52 AM on September 18, 2010

Generally people would have tried to strike up a conversation for a while before asking you to dinner, but who knows.
posted by delmoi at 12:55 AM on September 18, 2010

Don't discount the possibility that she could have been hitting on you. The only way to find out would have been to have dinner with her.
posted by rdr at 12:58 AM on September 18, 2010

Mentally ill, con, or just plain weird. Your spidey-senses exist for a reason.

But if you do want to try something out like this, arrange to meet in a public place, like you should if you were arranging a first date from or something.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:01 AM on September 18, 2010

Was it Columbus Circle? A Mefite I know tweeted last week about being hit on by an older woman there. He has a photo - I'll try to find it later.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:33 AM on September 18, 2010

(if so, I vote con.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:34 AM on September 18, 2010

Wow, you folks are harsh!

From my somewhat older perspective, I would speculate that this may have been innocent and harmless.

When I was younger, I was much more guarded than I am now. I distrusted people I didn't know, strangers were dangerous.

Now, meh, not so much. I'm much more inclined to speak to people, engage them in conversation, I've established some interesting acquaintances that way. You get to a point in life where the fear of missing a great experience overides our culture's paranoid mindset.

I suspect you missed out on a fine meal and some interesting conversation.

That said. Would any of you like to meet for dinner?
posted by HuronBob at 6:13 AM on September 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

I was going to suggest that she's ordinarily in a comforable financial situation, but has fallen on hard times and is hungry, and was counting on you to ultimately pay for the meal, but that doesn't completely jive with the meal later in the week thing.

Since I like to give people the benefit of the doubt (though I am also a jaded NYer) I'm going to go with she messed up some of her meds and is acting wacky because of it.

Or she's desperately lonely, figured she has nothing to lose by approaching complete strangers. It's a numbers game, eventually someone would stop to chat with her (like me, if I were in that sort of mood at the moment).
posted by newpotato at 6:19 AM on September 18, 2010

I vote probably harmless. If it were a con wouldn't she offer the meal now instead of later that week?
posted by applemeat at 6:22 AM on September 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers - I realize that I'm the one who had the encounter and am the only one in the position to experience the intangible aspects of the interaction - condense fact from the vapor of nuance and all that.

But it's fascinating how many different reactions people have had. I'm certainly the type of person to stop and chat with strangers, usually when I'm a little drunk, but I've never contemplated stopping a complete stranger, who was listening to her iPod and walking briskly, and asking her out to a meal (I realize with the genders reversed it sounds a bit different). And I agree that some of my best experiences have come out of just that: buying a McDonald's meal for some roma children, discussing hitching rides on container ships with a homeless guy, getting trashed at a strange topless dance club and the like. But I've also had the one experience where I was stopped to ask for directions, was accosted by a separate person claiming to be an undercover cop and accused of an illegal currency exchange, and had about 30 dollars surreptitiously stolen from my wallet (still impressed btw).

I can't imagine ever going along with someone who didn't try to establish at least a little rapport up front. Maybe the "you're hot, let's fuck" or "you looked beautiful from across the room, let's go get a drink" or "you remind me of someone, let's get a meal" work for some people, but I don't think I'm at a place in my life where I can ignore the 5 minutes of baselin getting-to-now-you/socializing conversation and take someone up on an offer like that. It just seems too outlandish to me. Whether this is jaded or rational, I don't know, though I'll admit, I kind of aspire to become someone for whom it's acceptable.
posted by slide at 6:39 AM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

In other cultures, this might be a perfectly normal way for a person to make friends or acquaintances. Unfortunately, in urban American culture, it reads like a scam or an instance of mental instability, so you are well advised to have let it go.

It's sad that we can't forge bonds so easily, but it's the price we pay for living in an atomized society in which we can move freely and do as we please without the risk of public castigation or ostracism. (Atomized society gets a bad rap these days, I think.) Dogs are free to express instant and honest affection; we are not.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:46 AM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I had that happen a couple of times on Newbury Street in Boston many years ago. Scientologists would approach people, start chatting and invite them to lunch or dinner (without revealing their affiliation). Now they do identify themselves and hand out a flyer with directions to their center, etc.
posted by ericb at 7:49 AM on September 18, 2010

Even if it was a scam, what's the worst that could happen? If you see her again, offer to buy her a cup of coffee. I want to know the rest of this story.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:54 AM on September 18, 2010

Hold on. The description is really vague. "50-70 and conservatively dressed" can mean a lot of things. At this point it's all curiosity and speculation, but was she dressed like a granny in a mumu and a shawl, or in a skirt suit like a power broker or something? Did she ask confidently? Aggressively? Absently? Wistfully? They way it's presented, you're asking, "Person older than me, not dressed like an on-duty stripper, asked me to lunch. Scam?"

For no particular reason, FWIW, my intuition says regular ol' cougar on the prowl.
posted by cmoj at 9:06 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, now you have us all curious, too. Do you take the same route at the same time each day? And you've never noticed her before? I was all ready to say "con", but if it were, I would expect that you would have seen her before in the same area, trying the same thing on someone else. Why don't you keep a lookout for her and if you see her again, engage her in conversation to attempt to get a better idea of where she's coming from. You seem to have had enough experiences under your belt to be able to determine whether she's for real or not.

Then by all means, let us know what happens!
posted by ourroute at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2010

That happened once a teenager when I was showing a visiting cousin around San Francisco, where he was approached by an older (60s) conservatively dressed woman. He started chatting with her and it became apparent pretty fast that she was mentally unstable - asked if we were Irish, when he responded that some of our ancestors came from there, she started into a profanity laden tirade about hating the Irish. Later when I mentioned this to some of my Model UN nerd friends from SF high schools, they rolled their eyes and said she was a well known nut case around town.
posted by gov_moonbeam at 11:17 AM on September 18, 2010

Response by poster: I'll definitely keep an eye out for her and I do take basically the same route to and from work every day, with slight variations based on when I hit lights (I've got a whole system...).

Someone (I'll let the person name him/herself if desired) actually sent me a photo via memail of a woman, asking if it was the woman I met . . . and while it's not entirely clear from the blurry picture, I think it is the same woman. According to the sender, she hit on someone else randomly near midtown.

The funny thing is, even with this additional information, I feel like none of the options are ruled out, so if I see her again, I'll see what happens.

Oh - and I'm shocked I didn't come up with the possibility of prosletyzing - it always so annoyed me when I used to live elsewhere, but hasn't happened in such a long time that I damn near forgot it was an option.
posted by slide at 11:42 AM on September 18, 2010

I am an attractive 50 year old woman. I think I am going to try this out...
posted by wandering_not_lost at 1:37 PM on September 18, 2010

Was it Columbus Circle? A Mefite I know tweeted last week about being hit on by an older woman there. He has a photo - I'll try to find it later.

Suspicious data point: the same thing happened to me about five years ago, also in Columbus Circle. An old (70s?) lady walked up to me and said, "You look nice?" I stammered thanks. She said, "Would you like to come to my apartment and have dinner with me?" To my shame, I looked at her like she was a mutant, said "No!" and fled.

I have felt guilty about this ever since. I didn't mean to be rude. She just took me totally by surprise. Afterwards, I felt HORRIBLE, and I still feel guilty whenever I think about it. I know how how rotten I would have felt if the roles were reversed. Even knowing that it might have been a con, on the off-chance that it wasn't, I so wish I'd been more of a gentleman. I'm married, so I wouldn't have gone with her in any case, but I could have at least been polite. Ugh. Slap my hand, please!

But since this seems to be happening repeatedly (at least twice) in the Columbus Circle area, maybe it IS a con. Which makes me feel a little bit better. On the other hand, that old lady is the only stranger who has ever tried to pick me up. So now I also feel less special. I guess that's my karmic punishment for being an asshole.
posted by grumblebee at 1:42 PM on September 18, 2010

Although your situation sounds different, Jonathan Ames has written about wealthy ladies in Manhattan who want 'companions' - men to take out to dinner and generally be seen around with so they're not lonely.

As an additional data point, a friend of mine worked in the store of the Museum of Modern Art for a summer. An elderly female customer struck up a conversation with her and took her out to coffee once. But they had found something in common to discuss beforehand. It does seem odd to ask for a meal straightaway.
posted by theflash at 8:23 PM on September 18, 2010

grumblebee, you have nothing to feel guilty about. I truly believe sane people do not invite total strangers to their home-- for a meal, or anything else, just because, at first glance, they look nice. You did absolutely nothing wrong, you are not an asshole. Even desperately lonely old ladies, while they have their brain cells intact, do not invite strange men home with them. Think about it: you could have been anybody (bad, I mean.) You weren't polite because you got freaked out, that's all. I have never lived in a small town, but I don't believe even those inhabitants invite absolute strangers home.
posted by uans at 11:20 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of when I was in Costa Rica a few years ago on Christmas Eve. I was in a park getting ice cream from a cart vendor, and a Costa Rican guy about my age walks up and gets one too. I sit down on a nearby bench, and a minute later he comes and sits next to me and tries to strike up a conversation. At first I was a bit taken aback because this never happens in the U.S. but I went with it. We ended up talking for about 10 minutes and he asks me if I want to come hang out with him and his friends, so I said sure why not.

I ended up going to his friend's house for a bit, meeting a couple more people, and then going along for a ride while he dropped another friend off at work at the 5-star hotel on the coast (about a 40 minute drive). He then took me to his hometown to meet his family, and his mom cooked us a modest but delicious lunch. After that we went on a tour of the countryside, and then back to the town where I was staying. We visited his girlfriend at her parent's house and they invited me to stay for dinner (Christmas Eve, remember) and drinks and watching soccer. After dinner he drove me back to my hotel and I never saw him again. All total I spent about 12 hours with a guy I didn't really know, had a fantastic time, and was shown a level of hospitality that blew my mind.

My point? Sometimes you just have to go with it. You'll never know what will happen! Some people really do have good intentions in mind... and most people are good people. If you live your life being too cautious and afraid of other people, you don't know what you're missing.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 9:29 AM on September 19, 2010

Here's a picture of the Columbus Square woman, and my friend's account of his encounter with her. For what it's worth, he assumed she was hooking.

"So after work today, I'm sitting on a bollard in Columbus Circle, outside the mall/office building where I work. And, I'm reading email on my phone when this little old lady comes up to me. She was sweet, well-dressed, and looked like someone you'd see at theater matinees or Lincoln Center or the art museums. Maybe 65 or 70 years old, though I suck at estimating age.
I looked up from my phone, and she said, "You look like the kind of person who might live in New York."
Me (assuming she's going to ask me for directions): Yes, I do live in New York.
Little Old Lady: So do I. I live not too far from here, at 57th and 9th.
Me (now just assuming she's somewhat batty): Ah, okay.
Little Old Lady: After you're finished reading your email or whatever you're doing on your phone, would you like to come over?
Me (confused now): ---
Little Old Lady, continuing: I think we could have a good time.
Me: No, thanks. I think I'm headed home after this.
Little Old Lady: Oh, you're going home? Are you sure? I'm very good at what I do.
Me: No, thanks.
She shrugged and walked off.
I thought I was beyond being surprised by stuff I see in NYC, but this one amazed me. I sat there for maybe ten more minutes, and watched her go up to about six people and proposition them as well."

Is this the same woman you guys saw?
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:21 PM on September 19, 2010

Gah. Columbus Circle. Sorry, hungover today.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:21 PM on September 19, 2010

grumblebee, you have nothing to feel guilty about. I truly believe sane people do not invite total strangers to their home

Thanks. The only thing is that I've been extremely lonely in my life. I once went for nearly a year without ever talking to anyone, except while I was at work. It's horrible. I didn't walk up to strangers and proposition them, but that's just because I almost never talk to strangers about anything. I'm shy and introverted. But I understand the urge. And, you know, she might not have been completely sane. But she didn't seem dangerous. I still wish I'd said "Thanks. I'm really flattered, but I'm married." Frankly, even if she was a hooker, I think I should have been polite. She was certainly polite to me.
posted by grumblebee at 1:46 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is this the same woman you guys saw?

It happened too long ago for me to remember what she looked like, but it sounds like her, and it was the same location. I probably freaked out and fled before hearing the "I'm good at what I do" part.
posted by grumblebee at 1:47 PM on September 19, 2010

The very same thing happened to me outside the Time Warner Center. I was looking at my phone about to walk down the stairs into the subway on 58th and 8th. A elderly woman approached me and said, "you have a kind face". She invited me back to her apartment and suggested we could have a "good time". There was no doubt in my mind about what she was suggesting. It's happened to a number of my co-workers as well...
posted by Shanachie at 7:04 AM on September 22, 2010

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