What does creepy mean?
July 30, 2013 10:39 PM   Subscribe

People say that I say creepy things. But no one will ever give me an example. How do I modify my behavior if I have no idea what I'm doing wrong? Most recently a friend I had a fight with, and when I asked "like what" he wouldn't answer. I have seen a therapist for over 5 years in the past. I'm female.
posted by Socky McSockersons to Human Relations (49 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have heard some creepy statements in my time...from many different people...I'm fairly up on creepy but without some examples...specific examples I can't say...start with your most recent fight...what was that about? what did you say?
posted by gypseefire at 10:44 PM on July 30, 2013

Do you speak of mortality often? Do you talk about stalking or rape? I think it's harder for a girl to be "creepy" than a guy, and that it would involve stalking more than it would physical violence.

But even jokingly, these are some of the types of things that get interpreted that way.
posted by malapropist at 10:45 PM on July 30, 2013

Response by poster: No I don't talk about that kind of thing. The fight was because he was retweeting "shit fat girls say" on twitter and I said that was mean because I'm fat.
posted by Socky McSockersons at 10:46 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Give them permission to point it out next time they hear something creepy.
posted by mazola at 10:50 PM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

it is often off putting when you call someone out on being a jackass. Again your examples are not plentiful but I would suggest reading up on body language and become aware of social cues. Also why 5 yrs of therapy? Did it help? Just remember you can only be yourself and there is nothing wrong with that...find different friends perhaps.
posted by gypseefire at 10:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Creepy" = not respecting other people's autonomy and privacy.
It means continuing to do/say things despite evidence that you are crossing established or implied boundaries that individuals and society at large have set.

In this particular case, this "friend" just sounds like a colossal jerk who is using the word "creepy" as a meaningless crutch to excuse their own disgusting behavior that they have been called out on.

Can you think of any other examples outside interactions with this friend that have been described as "creepy"?
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 10:52 PM on July 30, 2013 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry to threadsit, the therapy was for depression and PTSD. The only other thing I can think of is when he was a little boy (like 5) he proposed to me and I occasionally joke about it with him. Like "hey I thought I was your girlfriend!" His gf isn't jealous at all and I have made it clear to them both I'm not serious. If it was bothering him all he had to do was say so.
posted by Socky McSockersons at 10:55 PM on July 30, 2013

I've been called creepy, but I have a pretty good handle on what I do that's creepy. My problem is that I want to say the creepy things anyway because I don't think of them negatively myself - they're either hyperbolic jokes, serious and legitimate curiosities, or statements that seem creepy even to me after I say them out loud. These things include being very invasively curious about other people's lives, perhaps in areas I don't realize are private (skincare routines, sex lives, personal style choices, bedtime habits... stuff that I want to know because I love knowing about other people, but other people very quickly read as malicious, naive, or nonsensical, leading to creepy) or making jokes like "your hair is so beautiful, I would wear a wig made out of it!". Things that are kind of invasive of other people's bodily autonomy, if they take my words seriously, or assume that after knowing about them I am going to judge them.

I compensate for my creepiness by being incredibly open about myself. By being open and truthful, I make myself vulnerable in other people's eyes, and that keeps them, for the most part, from being defensive and cruel. And I always apologize as fast and as honestly as possible when I really mess up.

In the case of your reply example, there's nothing creepy about it. The only thing I can think of is if you hadn't communicated with this person in a long time, and then popped up out of the blue to shame him for being a jackass. That might get a "creepy" only because it could seem to him like you've been watching and waiting to pounce, or something. Really though, without other examples, I can't say.
posted by Mizu at 10:55 PM on July 30, 2013 [14 favorites]

Mizu that seems more invasive as opposed to creepy...at least in my opinion. The wig thing is too funny to be creepy.
posted by gypseefire at 10:58 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not to defend your friend too much, but its a bit off putting to personalize a retweet as being directed to you. I would say he's being tone deaf and offensive. But saying its mean only because you're fat is sort of continuing the idea that he exists for you, and you're continuing this faux relationship a bit too far.

Is this the only friend who calls you creepy?
posted by politikitty at 11:01 PM on July 30, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree, gypseefire, and over the years I've been better able to see where I want to be invasive but shouldn't without consequences, but it remains true that I've been called creepy, exactly that word, by various people at various times, for that type of behavior.

I'm glad you think my wig joke is funny, but that also got a "...woah, you're creepy". My friend with the beautiful hair got used to me, though, and we're still friends.
posted by Mizu at 11:02 PM on July 30, 2013

This could only conceivably be creepy in the sense of violating boundaries if the comment was made in some kind of private milieu that you stalkerishly inserted yourself into or uncovered, and then chose to be confrontational about despite it not being meant for you to hear. Twitter, of all things, is not that situation.

There is another (different but related) sense of creepy, which is sort of along the lines of "sinister" or "unsettling" or just plain "strange" -- creepy like an abandoned hospital, or an old lady who mutters in a language you don't understand. I've heard this applied (with varying degrees of justification) to people who aren't well attuned to social cues, which can be unsettling to others depending on how it comes across.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:04 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Have you gotten similar feedback, explicitly or implicitly, from others? I think it's helpful when one gets these sorts of critiques to measure them against interactions with others, to help identify whether the issue is with you (in which case you're probably getting similar feedback from others) or just the other person's weirdness (in which case you've never heard anything similar from anyone else in your life).
posted by jaguar at 11:05 PM on July 30, 2013

It's a tough problem, and you're not wrong to feel like it is. This is why one basic rule during interventions is to be specific. Don't say, "You're an angry drunk." That isn't helpful to the person. Instead, be specific: "You called me a bitch and then broke a plate."

If people refuse to be specific with you, then your options are limited. You can try to be hyperaware of your comments going forward, and look for it. You can ask about various ways in which other people sometimes seem creepy, and examine whether you recognize those things in your own behavior. You can try to ruminate about personal and social boundaries.

But mostly, I wouldn't worry about it. In your shoes, I would be inclined to conclude two things about people who throw characterizations but refuse to identify specifics. First, they can't be that creeped out, otherwise it would be simple to point out examples. They'd be dying to, actually. The typical instinct isn't for characterization, but indeed to specify, "Why the hell did you say _____?" If they won't say that even when invited to, then I can't think it bothered them that much. And second, if they refuse to give specifics but freely throw characterizations, their judgment becomes suspect.

In other words, maybe you're not so creepy after all.
posted by cribcage at 11:06 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Mizu I can relate I want to know everything about everything and some people are private, defensive and or paranoid and my questions can really get their quills up...but glad to see another weirdo in action.
posted by gypseefire at 11:09 PM on July 30, 2013

Response by poster: Yes someone else said it to me several years ago but again could not give me any concrete examples. They said I tended to monopolize conversations but that isn't the same thing as creepy.

You can ask about various ways in which other people sometimes seem creepy
Okay could you give me some more examples? And I won't threadsit anymore unless there's a question that needs answering.
posted by Socky McSockersons at 11:10 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Friend: "::Mean joke::"
You: "Hey, that was mean"
Friend: "You're creepy."
You: "You're a jerk for calling me creepy instead of apologizing. You are an offensive individual. Why would I spend time with someone that offends me?"

Friend: "I'm sorry about all that. Lets get ice cream and forget this."
Not-friend: "I don't have time for your bullshit creepytalk. Creeper creeper creepy creeper."

See the difference?
posted by oceanjesse at 11:11 PM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

They said I tended to monopolize conversations...

Two types of creepy come immediately to mind: people who intrude (want too much info), and people who overshare (give too much info). The former involves asking questions, so it tends not to go hand-in-hand with monopolizing conversations. Therefore, purely for conversation's sake, if we trust your acquaintance's judgment about those two things—you did monopolize conversations, and you were creepy—then that probably implicates the latter form of creepiness: oversharing.

Do you feel like you overshare details about yourself? No need to answer aloud, but it might be worth considering.
posted by cribcage at 11:27 PM on July 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

In the last few years I have heard a lot of people saying “creepy” when they really mean “undesirable to me.” This come out mostly when somebody they think is unworthy of them asks them out, flirts with them, or somehow implies that the two could be a couple. The person may be too fat, old, poor, or in some other way unattractive to them that is really not creepy at all. I find this usage creepy.
posted by Gringos Without Borders at 11:44 PM on July 30, 2013 [26 favorites]

The fight was because he was retweeting "shit fat girls say" on twitter and I said that was mean because I'm fat.

The only other thing I can think of is when he was a little boy (like 5) he proposed to me and I occasionally joke about it with him. Like "hey I thought I was your girlfriend!" His gf isn't jealous at all and I have made it clear to them both I'm not serious. If it was bothering him all he had to do was say so.

"Creepy" may be his (not very straightforward or kind) way of saying he thinks you give him an inappropriate amount or flavor of attention.
posted by kagredon at 11:47 PM on July 30, 2013 [21 favorites]

It may be a body language thing? Maybe you stare too much or are very intense to be around and talk to? It could also be a personal space thing. I've interacted with people who step too close and continue to do so as you step away. It may also be the inappropriate jokes.

But, it may be code for what Gringos says. I find that when people say 'creepy' sometimes that's what they mean. They find it hard to articulate, so are purposefully vague about the 'creeped out' feeling they get.

Nthing that your 'friend' doesn't sound like a friend at all, though. And that he is decidedly the creep, not you.
posted by Dimes at 1:23 AM on July 31, 2013

Here's my theory. Some people find it creepy when someone won't know their place. So calling them out for being a jerk is the obvious example, you should know your place and just laugh at his shitty jokes.

But there's a second, more insidious version (which Gringos Without Borders has also picked up on) where, according to some arseholes, as someone who is not the 'correct' weight (or age or height or whatever) you're not supposed to have any kind of sexual feelings or act like you deserve any kind of romantic relationship. Joking about being his girlfriend when clearly you're not an acceptable mate is therefore creepy, and fat people should just know their place as asexual and gross beings. For another example, see this thread where several people called a guy creepy just because he has friends younger than him (he should know his place and go back to the olds). And yeah, this is difficult for the other person to articulate because they're not going to say "fat people having sex is gross" even if that's what's motivating their feeling of being creeped out.

Monopolising the conversation can also be called creepy if the other person judges you as not an acceptable person to be the centre of the conversation for whatever reason. Maybe you're not pretty and popular and thin enough, maybe you really were boring or oversharing, it's hard to know at this distance.

Now clearly this is all horse shit. You have as much right to be loved and desired and heard as anyone else regardless of what you look like. You're allowed to make jokes and have opinions and you should have friends who enjoy those things rather than deride them. You're not doing anything wrong. These are not nice people and not good friends, you're better off without them. So find less judgemental friends would be my only advice.
posted by shelleycat at 2:10 AM on July 31, 2013 [15 favorites]

Creepy is, in many cases, the unhappy collision of the overfamiliar and unfamiliar.

The overfamiliar bit is sharing something too intimate, or asking something too intimate, or joking, talking about something too intimate. The unfamiliar part is that when the other person is unfamiliar to or with you (including your mannerisms, sense of humour etc), or finds the topic weird or unpleasant to think about, then sharing intimacy is often creepy.

Which is why 'creepy' is often a function of people's imaginations as much as the facts. He shared something intimate and unusual and now I have to look AT THOSE SAME HANDS EAT A SANDWICH.

In short: share less, play safer with what you talk about don't enforce intimacy on others and be wary about your non verbal cues.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:29 AM on July 31, 2013 [10 favorites]

A creepy thing that some people do is express themselves in a way that sounds overly rehearsed and artificial. In my admittedly anecdotal experience, people with anxiety issues, and with depression and PTSD, seem to do this most. They sound like they're talking from a script. It's both what they say and how they say it--lots of cliches, somewhat monotone (or the opposite, hyper-expressive). It can make the person sound like she's trying too hard to sound impressive and articulate. That gives me the creeps.
posted by MrMoonPie at 4:03 AM on July 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yes someone else said it to me several years ago but again could not give me any concrete examples.

It sounds like you've been told you say creepy things twice in your life. The first thing you describe sounds, on its face, not creepy at all, but I suppose wording is important. So:

The fight was because he was retweeting "shit fat girls say" on twitter and I said that was mean because I'm fat.

Would you terribly mind posting your actual wording of this? Phrasing might be a part of it. Without more information it's really hard to say.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a handful friends whom I love and care for, but who sometimes give me a creepy vibe. It's not because they're fat or old or otherwise unacceptable; it's because occasionally I get the distinct sense that there's a sexual undercurrent running through our conversations where it doesn't belong. It's difficult to talk about (I've certainly never raised it or called them creepy to their faces) because it's often hard to confirm, or to separate out exactly what makes that statement or behavior 'sexualized' coming from them when it wouldn't coming from someone else, or when stated in a slightly different tone. The 'joke' about the proposal is exactly the kind of thing that might make me uncomfortable but which I wouldn't know how to address, and for the record, I think your friend handled this very poorly.

But, just to cover the bases, do you feel a sexual attraction to him? Or, hell, to his girlfriend? If so, he may be picking up on this and awkwardly trying to express his discomfort. That's not to say you're wrong for being attracted to him, either (it happens to the best of us) but it might give you some insight.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:51 AM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Creepy is all about boundaries of various kinds. It could be physical-- do you engage in inappropriate physical contact or violate people's personal space, particularly with people's "intimate" physical parts not used for social touching (eg, hair, legs, face)? It could be aural-- do you interrupt, speak loudly, and "barge in" on ongoing social goings-on without "waiting your turn"? It could be personal-- do you ask inappropriate questions of others and volunteer intimate details of yourself that people don't want to hear? Is all of this done in a way that feels artificial or some other way that people just aren't "used to" when engaged in social interactions with others (MrMoonPie's examples are great)? Relatedly, does you voice come across as being not-age-appropriate or not-situation-appropriate? Ie, do you sound flirty/sexual when you should sound professional? Do you talk in baby talk and make silly, inappropriate jokes when you are talking about a serious topic?

The answer to all these things might be "no", and your friend is just a jerk. But those are some places to start thinking about.
posted by deanc at 8:05 AM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

In the instance where you were joking about being his girlfriend, the only thing I can think of is that is bothered him and/or his girlfriend, but you weren't able to pick up on cues that it was bothering either of them. If he doesn't ever joke with you about being your fake boyfriend, I would guess that he doesn't find this joking very funny.

If you spend time responding to everything he says on twitter, or liking all his photos on facebook, or something like that, yeah that's kind of creepy. If he's posting about going away for a romantic weekend with his girlfriend, and you comment "Hey, I thought I was your girlfriend!" it might be creepy.

However, if this is an issue with one friend, who can't give you any examples, I think it's a case of your friend has a boundary issue with you that he isn't able to articulate, and is using "creepy" as a catch-all sort of term.
posted by inertia at 8:27 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a handful friends whom I love and care for, but who sometimes give me a creepy vibe.

I have this problem with a few of my friends. Without knowing you I have no idea what your specific situation is, here are some times when I might say that.

- a conversation with a friend takes a sudden turn into something boundary-transgressing (overly sexual, angry, emotional, inappropriate to the context we're in) and when I point it out, I don't get the normal "Whoops, sorry" response but either more boundary transgressing or just weird simmering resentment/anger/staring
- a conversation with a friend goes sharply into TMI territory without useful/normal recovery
- a friend is stuck on something that happened a long time ago and isn't really mindful of the fact that what they want to talk about isn't what others want to talk about. I'd call this inability to move on, basically making a conversation not just about them but about a thing they are stuck on that others don't really care about.
- a friend is talking to me as if they don't know who I am and haven't been friends with me for a long time and just sort of focusing on their own issue/monologing (and again, I point it out and things don't change)
- a friend starts being suspicious of me for reasons that don't make sense or suddenly changes their behavior towards me for no stated reason
- a friend interprets all my actions/activity through the "how does this affect me?" lens even if I wasn't talking to them or interacting with them (this is a facebook/Twitter problem often, and may be relevant to what you mentioned)
- a friend makes jokes that I don't think are funny and makes them a LOT as if trying to get a reaction from me, not just haha making a joke

I interact with a lot of socially odd people and I can be socially odd myself. I try pretty hard to be mindful of other people's boundaries even if I don't necessarily agree with them myself. I also expect a certain degree of understanding for my boundaries, though I don't always get that. At some level, however, friends are just friends. They're not your partners, they're not your family. I think people can get into the habit of assuming a level of closeness with people because they are frequent communicators that may not be reciprocated or actually present. If two people have called you creepy, that's just barely a pattern and maybe it's just them. If a lot of people have done it, I'd be more concerned.
posted by jessamyn at 8:38 AM on July 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

One more thing to add. First, though, I want to say again that a.) creepy is not my favorite word and b.) I really don't think you are to blame for this - good on you for trying to figure out if you're doing something that makes people uncomfortable.

But - I looked at your other comments (an act that could itself be described as creepy!) and I saw your old post on Mariska Hargitay. That is precisely the kind of statement that could be -and possibly is- wholly innocent but nonetheless, gauging from the comments, triggered people's 'creepy' alarm bells. My best guess for this is akin to what I stated above: it's the hint of a covert, unspoken sexual motivation in an ostensibly non-sexual context. The key here is 'covert' - people write incredibly graphic posts about their sexual desires on MeFi all the time. If you'd been like, "I have a huge crush on Mariska Hargitay and I really want to meet her," people would probably have responded more positively (although probably by saying, 'good luck with that'). But when you write "I really, really want to meet her...I'd like to spend a little time with her...I want to tell her how much she means to me..." I think people read that as sexual, and your failure to state it outright as you trying to hide it, which makes them uncomfortable, even if they can't quite express it. If I had to summarize what most people mean, colloquially, by 'creepy,' it would be exactly that: sexual desire that is partially, but not sufficiently, masked.

To go back to my first point, then, if there is something sexual about your relationship to your friend (and Mariska Hargitay) your path is pretty obvious: you either need to be honest about your attraction, or work on getting over it, probably by giving yourself some space. If you are legitimately sure, though, that you don't have sexual feelings for the people you're making uncomfortable, you need to think more about what about your body language, behavior, etc., might be giving them that impression. And then you either change it, or you decide that it's not worth the hassle and either accept your friend's reaction or move on.

PS I know you deleted that original post, so if my referencing it here makes you uncomfortable, let me know, and I'll delete it.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:42 AM on July 31, 2013 [12 favorites]

Possible explanations:
1. He's just being a jerk.
2. Your "But I thought I was your girlfriend" jokes have gone on too long and have crossed in to awkwardness. Maybe those jokes stopped being funny to him, and instead they make him think that you are harbouring some secret love for him and that when you say that you are actually not entirely kidding. Yes, you say that you have reassured them you're just kidding, but they have no way to know that is true. Hell, I'd probably start questioning it myself if someone kept making "But I thought I was your boyfriend!" jokes, years after the fact.
3. Is it possible that you aren't as good of friends with this guy as you thought? Maybe your taking offense to his tweet that had nothing to do with you was "creepy" to him because he didn't understand why you made it so personal, and maybe he thought having you publically call him out for being 'mean' would make it seem like you two were better friends than you are, and that made him uncomfortable.
4. Bringing up your weight, describing yourself as fat, can make people extremely uncomfortable. Extremely. I know this first hand because I am overweight too and I used to do the same thing. I didn't really catch on until later that I was making people really uncomfortable. Communicating to others about my weight and my feelings on it, even in jest, was something most people keep to only their closest friends. Laying that on him might have made him feel like you were confiding in him or allowing yourself to be vunerable with him, which crossed a boundary for him. Him calling you creepy could have been his (not so clear) way of telling you that you were making him really uncomfortable.

My money is on #4.

Do you have the habit of oversharing? Bringing up details of your personal life that most people keep private? (insecurities, things of a sexual nature, etc) Do you ask people you aren't super close with really personal questions?

Maybe all you need to do is get a better handle on when is appropriate to say some things, and who it is appropriate to say those things to. I know that is something I had to work on and learn. It isn't obvious to all of us...
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:44 AM on July 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

Just adding on--if you have to reassure someone that you are "just kidding" about a joke you are making, it's a good sign that they don't find it funny, and you shouldn't keep repeating it.
posted by inertia at 9:03 AM on July 31, 2013 [9 favorites]

Nthing the possibility of this being a matter of boundary-transgressing and overfamiliarity. I've experienced this lately with a new hairstylist I've seen maybe three or four times; every time while she's cutting my hair, there's a moment where she turns the conversation to talking about something like her bowel movements (in detail) or alluding to her masturbation habits or various painfully self-lacerating details about her body/weight issues, and in such a way that she's clearly fishing for details about mine. (The fact that I change the subject each time only seems to stick for that particular conversation; she always returns to these topics the next time I see her.) To be clear, these are only things I would discuss in detail with a doctor or with extremely close friends I have known for years, and yet she literally wanted to talk about them the first time we met.

She also seems to overamplify the interpersonal side of what should really just be a friendly-but-professional relationship; for example, she wants start hanging out and meeting each other's friends and families, or when she was running a few minutes late the other day (which was totally no big deal to me) she kept apologizing over and over and literally putting her face right next to mine to whisper how very, very, very sorry she was. My repeated reassurances that I was not upset didn't seem to help.

All of these things are creepy, and have added up to the point where I don't think I can get my hair cut by her any more. And it's too bad, because in other ways she's really very charming, vibrant, well-meaning, and sweet. But she comes across as someone who has a very troubled, unhappy sense of herself, which has manifested as an extreme neediness for instant intimacy without regard to perceiving (and respecting) more appropriate boundaries -- like she has an emotional hole that she's constantly advertising to be filled up by everyone around her. It makes me sad, but it also makes me really uncomfortable.

I don't know if any of this applies to you, but perhaps some of these examples will ring some sort of bell.
posted by scody at 9:11 AM on July 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

Pretty much the only thing I find fairly creepy (aside from the blatant, like talking about stealing my eyelashes or staring at my throat and breathing heavy) is when someone will talk... and talk... and talk, like they could be cheerfully talking to the wall or a tree or something and me being there is entirely irrelevant. Anecdata, obviously.
posted by Jacen at 9:22 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

The only other thing I can think of is when he was a little boy (like 5) he proposed to me and I occasionally joke about it with him. Like "hey I thought I was your girlfriend!" His gf isn't jealous at all and I have made it clear to them both I'm not serious. If it was bothering him all he had to do was say so.

To me this is completely the reason he described you as "creepy". I had a more extreme thing with my friend where he kept making jokes and at a certain point it was like "I don't think you're joking anymore." You hanging on to one thing that he did when he was five comes across as creepy to me. I'm sorry I don't want to hurt your feelings but he's not your boyfriend and he has a girlfriend. If the jokes were okay before that, they aren't now.

At a certain level when someone makes the same joke over and over again it 1) Becomes annoying 2) People start to wonder how much truth is in a joke. People often say there is a grain of truth in most jokes. He might think you have a thing for him and he has a girlfriend. Whether or not you think it's okay it should have stopped when he had a girlfriend as that's just out of respect. If at any point you had to "make it clear that it was a joke" that means that they were probably slightly offended at some point to make you have to say that clarification. For future reference that is probably a good point to stop making the same joke.

He probably hasn't said anything because he's been friends with you for so long and didn't want to hurt your feelings. Then when another issue came up - the tweeting - it all bubbled up and that's why he described you as "creepy."

I don't think he's a jerk. He acted in a jerky way. But I think he's just bad a communicating his needs and feelings for fear of hurting someone or changing the status quo.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:48 AM on July 31, 2013 [8 favorites]

It sounds like you might be less aware of body language than other people. Creepy can vary by person. Watch their body language - if they stiffen, back away or look askance then back off. Whatever you do, DO NOT push further when they look comfortable. Gently and unobviously backing off when they give the discomfort signs will help them feel comfortable with you.

Also could be neediness. If you are saying things with baited breath on the response, pushing them for closeness or validation or just in general wanting from them, it can be seen as creepy.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:50 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Familiarity is a two-way street. A person acts familiar, and we judge that behavior on how familiar we'd like them to be. It's true that the attractive people get away with sexy remarks, hyperbolic jokes, etc that the unattractive make creepy; we're receptive to more from some than from others. Missing the mark is what's creepy (or chilly, in the opposite extreme).

You do have to read the signs from other people, and I know from experience (and from being a creep from time to time) that it's hard to judge what people are receptive to. Practice!
posted by Sunburnt at 9:58 AM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm with others in betting that this:

...I occasionally joke about it with him. Like "hey I thought I was your girlfriend!" His gf isn't jealous at all and I have made it clear to them both I'm not serious. If it was bothering him all he had to do was say so.

and perhaps other things like it may be what's doing it. "Please don't do this thing" is really awkward to say when the person has allowed the behavior they don't like to go on and on (usually in the hope that subtle cues they've been giving off that it's not welcome will eventually be picked up on).

Years ago, I had a roommate who loved to flirt with male friends of ours, leaning up against them on the couch, saying suggestive things, and so on. Most of our guy friends were OK with it, but it made one of them really uncomfortable. He'd also been raised to be polite and not say confrontational things like "Please stop doing that." My roommate really did mean nothing at all by it other than having fun, and would have stopped if asked, but neither our male friend nor I could get up the courage to overcome our socialization and say it. So the male friend just continued doing things like leaning away from her, sitting on his hands, and so on.

More recently, I've said "Please don't do that" to people who had been doing things like hugging me without invitation, or shortening my first name without asking if it's OK first. It's incredibly awkward, and I only resort to it after subtle cues (stepping away from the oncoming hug, not returning it, changing to signing my full first name to all emails when I normally use an initial, etc.) don't work. And my heart still races every time I have to do that. It's not as simple as just saying so.
posted by telophase at 10:15 AM on July 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

2. Your "But I thought I was your girlfriend" jokes have gone on too long and have crossed in to awkwardness. Maybe those jokes stopped being funny to him, and instead they make him think that you are harbouring some secret love for him and that when you say that you are actually not entirely kidding. Yes, you say that you have reassured them you're just kidding, but they have no way to know that is true. Hell, I'd probably start questioning it myself if someone kept making "But I thought I was your boyfriend!" jokes, years after the fact.
3. Is it possible that you aren't as good of friends with this guy as you thought? Maybe your taking offense to his tweet that had nothing to do with you was "creepy" to him because he didn't understand why you made it so personal, and maybe he thought having you publically call him out for being 'mean' would make it seem like you two were better friends than you are, and that made him uncomfortable.

I would bet that 2. is the thing that is bothering him. An added dimension is probably that he doesn't think he can call you on it, because of the dynamic described in 3. If he called you on it, he could be accused of taking a mere joke too seriously, and/or he would have been baited into being the one observably bringing up the issue of Feelings between you when he's not the one having them.

Not saying you have Feelings or that you do intend anything other than joking, but this may be how it looks to him. At a certain point, if he feels provoked enough, it doesn't matter what your actual intent was.

Good for you for trying to figure this out.
posted by tel3path at 10:19 AM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

It could be that because of your depression and PTSD that you spend more time alone than with other people and you just need more practice having easy-going, friendly conversations. Your monologues might come having topics stored up in your head that you are anxious to get out. Keep a journal so you can get things out and avoid overwhelming people with things that may only be of interest to you. Talk less, listen more. And like several posters said, be straight-forward.

Everyone has their own group and I have a feeling that you haven't found yours. I don't know how old you are, but most people don't stay friends with the people they were friends with when they were five. Are you a friend or a third wheel? You'll have to figure that out for yourself, but don't be afraid to get out there and make friends with other people.
posted by 1smartcookie at 12:03 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

a conversation with a friend goes sharply into TMI territory without useful/normal recovery

It seems like a number of people in this thread are using creepy as a synonym for socially awkward and I find that strange.

To me creepy is someone who is manipulative and misrepresents themselves. A good example would be someone who makes a friendly gesture to someone and then shames said person behind their back or shares private information about them with others. Someone who is often driven by impulses that seem childish/primitive: hatred, jealousy, spite, sadism.
posted by timsneezed at 1:34 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's not easy to tell whether someone's behaviour is manipulative or socially awkward, and there can be overlap between the two categories.

It usually isn't clear which is which until after it's too late.

In addition, socially awkward behaviour on its own doesn't elicit discomfort, but the impression that there is no graceful way for the recipient to handle it, that there is going to be some kind of humiliation or emotional penalty for interacting with the awkward person, can elicit the kind of discomfort that is described as creepy.
posted by tel3path at 2:14 PM on July 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, there are a lot of complaints here that "creepy" is just a form of snobbishness: sexism, ageism, looksism - and if the recipient weren't riddled with nasty prejudices they wouldn't be upset by certain behaviours.

I say this as someone who has been very ugly, very socially awkward, and very infatuated by individuals "above my league" and grossly inappropriate in expressing it [1] and while I have absolutely no doubt that I was creepy, I was never actually accused of being such, even though I deserved it. I am not saying it is never said of someone simply because they were "beneath" the object of their affection, only that it's something I have yet to experience despite having spent time on both sides of the looking glass.

I also say this as someone who's turned down apparently friendly advances from unattractive people and been bitterly accused of looksism/ageism/gold-diggishness/classism/whatever, and had it implied or outright stated that I was a spoiled prom queen who'd had everything on a plate and had never known rejection.

This was trying, to say the least. I would go so far as to find it "creepy" because of its boundary violating quality, which felt like this: after looking around in your head here, have decided that your "true self" is in fact attracted to me, and it's only your "false self" full of prejudices that thinks it's too good for me.

And I also say this as someone who's turned down advances from attractive people only to be met by weird responses followed by disconcerting, unnerving, strange interactions full of manipulation and "sexual desire that is partially, but not sufficiently, masked". This was intensely creepy even though I had been attracted to them until they started acting this way. As before, the creepiness came from (among other things) their inability to take or own what was theirs and the intensity of projection onto me.

[1] guess which of these things I think meant I was creepy
posted by tel3path at 2:45 PM on July 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

The big thing for me about creepy is that it's almost never a single thing. When I would be describing people as creepy it's almost always "You did a weird thing and then when I responded as if you had done something weird, you made it weirder, not less weird" and it's often not about strangers. So it's not the guy who is staring at you necessarily, but it's your friend who, when you say "Please don't stare at me." continues staring, yells at you, steps closer to you, or a whole bunch of other things instead of "Oh was I staring? Sorry..."

However, this can sort of turn into a mixed messages situation because sometimes people think they're saying something along the lines of "Please stop staring at me." when they're actually saying something like "Haha, take a picture it will last longer" or some other indirect indication that they'd like a person to take a hint. And that doesn't always work, especially for people who are not that socially ept and then you wind up in this weird situation where maybe the person isn't trying to be creepy and are doing it accidentally OR they're actually actively creeping on you and from an outside perspective it's not clear which, there's incomplete information.
posted by jessamyn at 3:30 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

hi i'm creepy but i'm trying to be less creepy. generally i think of 'creepy' in gendered terms, but you could:
talk too much and ignore what other people are saying
stare at people all the time
not make enough eye contact
stand too close to people
assume familarity where there isn't

here's a blog that might help
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:47 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you make a lot of sexual/inappropriate jokes/comments? I have a friend who does this and almost every time they've met one of my other friends the friend comments that they seemed "creepy."
posted by Autumn at 7:06 PM on July 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Creepiness for me is repeated crossing of established boundaries.

If someone tells you something isn't funny once, respect that. If you've been using the same joke for years, let it go and come up with something new.
posted by RainyJay at 6:46 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

The only other thing I can think of is when he was a little boy (like 5) he proposed to me and I occasionally joke about it with him. Like "hey I thought I was your girlfriend!"
Yeah, this is not funny.
Unless he is literally falling on the floor in peals of laughter when you say this, it does come off a bit creepy to keep bringing it up. It reeks a bit of "methinks she dost protest too much"--like "Jesus, why is she always bringing that up, can't she see I cringe every time?"

I have a friend who shares the same name as a popular singer from the 1970's and new people he meets often say "Hey, I love your big song!" and start singing the singer's big hit and he's like "Yeah, that got old after the first 10,000 times I heard it growing up."

My advice: let the thing he mentioned decades ago go, and never joke about it again.
posted by blueberry at 2:14 PM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all your responses, you've given me a lot to think about. I think maybe the oversharing thing is it... I am a very open person. So perhaps my next question might be about how to stop being so open.

pretentious illiterate: "and I saw your old post on Mariska Hargitay."

*sigh* I was really hoping that would die but since it hasn't, allow me to explain.

I was raped. She went and became a real life rape counsellor and has a foundation devoted to rape victims. And I really used to enjoy SVU.

I understand now how it sounds creepy. What I meant but apparently didn't know how to convey was that I didn't want to be in a long line of people and have to have her sign an autograph and immediately move on. I wanted to take 5-10 minutes and tell her my story and say thank you. However, that thread so shamed me that I felt like I did something incredibly wrong, and I unfollowed her Twitter and couldn't continue watching SVU anymore. The comments (that are now deleted) made me feel like I'm a bad person.

(Slight digression but there used to be this motivational speaker, Barbara Sher, and she'd say you can get anything you want if you know what it is. On her TV show she told a story about asking someone in her audience "what's your life dream?" The woman said "To dance with Patrick Swayze" and everyone laughed. Another woman stood up and waved her arms and got Barbara's attention. She said "My mom owns the studio where he dances every week. Come by." And the woman got to go and dance with him. I definitely had that in mind when I wrote that question, and AskMe is a little bit magical sometimes in how it can find solutions to problems. So I guess some part of me was probably hoping that a Mefite might know her and say here's how you can meet her.)
posted by Socky McSockersons at 11:19 PM on August 2, 2013

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