Do we actually share a mysterious lineage, or are they just infatuated?
January 5, 2014 6:37 PM   Subscribe

The other evening, as I was standing checking my pockets for something outdoors at a busy transit connection point, I was accosted by a person in their mid-20s (I am older) who first walked past me, then stopped and walked back towards me and said something (in an indeterminate, non-English accent, possibly of Eastern European origin, and in what struck me as an accusatory, perhaps even bitter, tone of voice) about my not recognizing someone from "your lineage."

Their tone of voice suggested at least bitterness and frustration, if not outright anger. This is a person who I've seen on-and-off for a number of years on the street in different parts of the city (though this is the first time in the last year or so), and who even began frequenting the same cafe as me at certain point (I often sit outdoors when the weather is nice, so it is within the realm of possibility that they saw me sitting there as they walked past one day and decided to start going there themselves in order to increase their chances of connecting with another person, such as myself, from their "lineage.") I have never spoken to them, though I was always aware that they seemed to take note of me in a way that most strangers do not. I should note that my city is noted for the chilliness (albeit politeness) of its inhabitants, and it is generally frowned upon to talk to strangers or people who aren't part of the same circle of friends or acquaintances.

After they said the bit about our "lineage," and my apparent non-recognition of it, they walked off, and, slowly gathering my wits, I called after them, asking them to come back (hoping to get to the bottom of what this is all about and what, precisely, our apparently shared lineage might be). However, in response to my request for them to return, they turned back and spat out (that really does seem to be the best term for it) that they are "not a dog that returns when you ask it to come back," and then continued on down an escalator.

What the hell is going on here? Do I have a stalker of sorts? Who uses this term "lineage" in such a manner, and feels justified in approaching perfect strangers accusing them of not recognizing that you (seemingly) share one? My ancestors, by the way (if that is what they were referring to when using the term "lineage"), are English, French, and Irish (though this person's accent was definitely not any of those). Should I just ignore them if/when I see them again? Is this just random weirdness? Is it more likely that this is a case of unrequited love/lust, and they are using the line about unacknowledged shared lineage to express their bitterness/frustration/anger at my unresponsiveness to them while cloaking the fact that their interest is romantic or sexual in nature? Has anyone here been on the receiving (or giving!) end of this sort of thing before?

I have left genders out of this question since, although some may feel that it might help clarify the dynamics, upon consideration I came to the conclusion that it might just as, or even more, easily muddy the waters so the wording here is gender-neutral.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This person is possibly psychotic. I'd be wary of assigning any other meaning to the situation.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:44 PM on January 5, 2014 [30 favorites]

Yeah yuck.

The best guess is that he's ethnic, you look ethnic but you don't have an accent/mannerisms of that ethnicity, and he's giving you that old world "you don't know your roots" shit. He's bitter about [whatever] about his homeworld and taking it out on some stranger.

Dude is off his rocker. Don't be alone with this guy, don't search further. There is no meaning to be found here. Just add him to your "ignore" list.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:48 PM on January 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Do not engage. This person is either nuts, launching a long con/PUA-gambit or both.
posted by carmicha at 6:49 PM on January 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

You got yourself a crazypants. Ignore.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:59 PM on January 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

This person may well be stalking you. And while most stalkers are harmless, some aren't. These comments are clearly hostile. I would be careful, and I wouldn't use deserted streets.
posted by LonnieK at 7:00 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

When you say "on the streets" or at the same cafe as you, it's unclear; is this person homeless?
posted by moonlight on vermont at 7:02 PM on January 5, 2014

Gender probably matters here.

That said, this person is probably racist, crazy, mistaking you for someone else, or all three.
posted by quincunx at 7:07 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

This sounds like a similar delusion to the one depicted in "The King In Yellow" by Robert Chambers, in which people go crazy and believe they are descended from an ancient lineage. The word "lineage" is also used in the world of the Unification Church by members who believe that only the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon can purify the bloodline of Mankind.
posted by steinsaltz at 7:19 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do I have a stalker of sorts?

Yeah, kind of. I don't think you'll find a rational explanation for this behavior (it seems mentally ill or at least very divergent from normal) and would avoid this person if I were in your shoes.
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you missing anything? An extremely similar thing happened to my mother and it turned out she had been pick-pocketed.
posted by Katine at 7:36 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I lived in New York, Eastern European people were constantly coming up to me and assuming I was also Polish or Russian. Often they would come up to me and just start speaking either Polish or Russian. I have no Slavic ancestry at all.

Perhaps you're experiencing a more intense version of something like this?

My guess is that this person thinks you're from his country and is trying to force contact between the two of you in hopes that he'll make a new friend. He's assuming that you're openly snubbing him for some reason he can't figure out, when obviously two Lithuanians living in the same small community should help each other out.

It hasn't yet dawned on him that you're NOT "of his lineage" at all.
posted by Sara C. at 8:34 PM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

If someone acts weird on our near public transport, I generally assume they are mentally ill and/or high. When I've in a position to find out, my assumption it's correct far more often than not. I don't know where you are but in my city homelessness has a huge correlation with mental illness and addiction. Additionally public transport attracts a lot of non-homeless strange people too.
posted by smoke at 8:48 PM on January 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hmmm, a few times men have come up to me (a lady) absolutely *convinced* that I am Syrian, or a lapsed Jew, or whatever. I'm never any of the things they assume I am. There's never been any real anger, but there has always been a weird presumption/certainty/familiarity about it. No woman has ever approached me in this way. This has always happened in a big enough city that I've never seen the person again.

Of course, I don't know if my experiences have any bearing on your situation. Regardless of the genders in play, the person you've encountered has made up enough of a backstory (that you're ignoring him/her, that you're insulting him/her by calling after him/her) that s/he does seem a little out of touch with reality, and if I were you, I'd be very alert and cautious if/when there is another encounter.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 8:50 PM on January 5, 2014

My first reaction was that this person sounds delusional, and I would not engage with them again. It could be that you resemble a (real or imagined) relative of theirs, or it may just be that something about you simply struck a chord somewhere in them and he or she became fixated on you. Delusions are often not rational, and trying to make sense of them as a bystander is pretty impossible. I'm sorry you had this interaction, it sounds upsetting and I hope you are able to keep your distance. If he or she approaches you again, trust your gut and call for help if at all unsettled.
posted by aspen1984 at 8:52 PM on January 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Other random thought: have you ever gone to an ethnic church/synagogue or restaurant? They might recognize you from there. Think back to when you first saw them.
posted by quincunx at 8:54 PM on January 5, 2014

I say it's projection. He sounds like a man who is self-hating of his own ethnicity. This is his yoke to carry, and seeing you roam so unshackled by a similar ethnicity-specific burden appears to set him off. His non-acceptance of you is a mask for his non-acceptance of himself.

I'd be tempted to revel in the opportunity to flush him out and set him straight. Even if you do share a similar lineage (or alternatively, come from incompatible lineages), it's clearly not a detriment on your quality of life. If it happens to be so for him, then he needs to find a way to reconcile that while, in the meantime, be decent to you at a minimum when he happens to cross paths with you. If you have this conversation, be specific, i.e. being decent to you includes no further comments on the supposedly unsavory character of your ancestry.
posted by human ecologist at 9:01 PM on January 5, 2014

Crazyperson with fantastical ideas about "lineage" (Ethnic? Alien? Magical?) Or they think you're an actual relative who is intentionally denying knowing them. Or both.
posted by desuetude at 9:14 PM on January 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

This person is either off their meds or on the wrong kind.

Anecdote time: as a woman of German Jewish descent, I have people hitting on me/striking up conversation with me about my presumed Hispanic/Italian/ Greek heritage all the damned time. They generally do not get mad.
posted by RainyJay at 10:37 PM on January 5, 2014

I'm like a Rorschach test of ethnic "otherness" and, like other respondents above, constantly have men and women from Latin America, the Middle East, the Balkans, Southern Europe, Central Asia, etc. approach me from nowhere with "Where are you from," "Do you speak Spanish," "Are you Jewish" [the Mitzvah Tank guys LOVE me], etc. I have never ever experienced any kind of aggression, hostility, or presumptuousness. Even if this person really is playing out what I and others get all the time, this one is probably also very mentally ill. Do not call them back, do not engage, do not do anything to feed what you're labeling as an "infatuation" (which is concerning). Please be safe. The overwhelming majority of people with florid psychosis or paranoid delusions are completely harmless; but a whole lot of women especially, by the age of 30, can tell you stories of being stalked, harassed, or otherwise made miserable by situations like this where they unknowingly/blamelessly encouraged a stranger or near-stranger like this by providing an opening in order to be "polite" or kind.
posted by blue suede stockings at 6:35 AM on January 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

People aren't allowed to come up to you on the street and yell at you. You are allowed to ignore people who seem unhinged and scary.

I'm concerned about you because you seem to think that you owe this guy an explanation for something, and I wonder why that is.

As a person, I have boundaries. I may smile and be polite and pleasant to folks on the street, or I might strike up a conversation about an item in your grocery cart while we wait at the check out, but I'm not allowed to ask how far along you are in your pregnancy, or your religion or even your name because in that social context it would be inappropriate.

This person is inappropriate, and beyond that it's not my issue.

Do not engage with people who don't respect boundaries. "I don't know you. You're scaring me," said in a loud voice, is an EXCELLENT way of getting people around you to pay attention to what's happening and help you, if need be.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:57 AM on January 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

This person is creepy and nuts. Do not engage. And make sure they don't follow you home.
posted by windykites at 11:14 AM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is such a standard AskMe answer that it should have its own little form letter or something, but if you haven't read Gavin de Becker's The Gift Of Fear, you should do so now. You've been noticing, and feeling vaguely unsettled by, this individual for YEARS. This isn't an intuition you should ignore.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 11:04 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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