How to deal with bumping into a stalker-y former friend in public?
May 3, 2016 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Soon, I'll be face-to-face with a former friend who's been harassing me. What are some things I can say/ do to get out of there, while also keeping the public 'scene' to a minimum?

I have this friend, 'Ellen', who was really great, but lately she's become increasingly dependent on me and clingy and jealous (we're both women, in our 30's). I told her that it was becoming a problem for me and asked if she could de-cling herself, please. Instead her behavior escalated. Weeks of drama ensued as I figuratively tried to peel her off my leg, with no success. Finally, I sat her down at a cafe and told her I could no longer continue to be her friend, that I was ending it, that I was really sad and sorry because I'll always treasure the friendship we had, but that this was unhealthy for both of us and I was out, and would she please turn to her husband and her therapist for support.

That was 4 weeks ago. Since then, I've gotten over 300 texts, emails, phone calls, gifts dropped to the house, messages carried by her children, emails to my parents, etc. All of them plaintive and begging, "But I want to be your friend so bad! Please just be my friend again, pleeeeeease." I haven't responded to any of them, except to say 'please stop contacting me' the one time she did get me on the phone by accident, and the one time I called the police when she threatened suicide by email ('I have a plan and will be ending it shortly since you don't care about me'. She was totally fine when they arrived).

The latest bit of drama happened just yesterday, when out of the blue she and her husband called, texted, and emailed me over 20 times between them, asking me to please meet her at a local park so that she could read me something she'd written and give me a handmade gift.

I have all the standard filters on my phone / emails, etc, and I'll just continue ignoring while documenting. It's still super distressing to be harassed this way.

The complication is that we are neighbors, and our kids are in the same classroom at school. I've managed to avoid her in person so far, but it's inevitable that I'll bump into her in public from time to time. It's likely to be at school and I expect that she'll make a beeline straight for me and demand that I 'explain' and 'reconsider'. She'll follow me around if I walk away-- she's done it before.

I don't want anything more to do with her. I just want her to leave me alone. However, I'm one of those too-nice people and I don't do well under face-to-face pressure. So I don't want to inadvertently say/do something that gives her hope and encourages her to keep trying to contact me. Can you give me some suggestions for extricating myself from a situation in which a stalker-y former friend corners me in person, bearing in mind that little kids will be watching?
posted by (F)utility to Human Relations (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh my god, I would switch classrooms and get a restraining order. The suicide thing is either bad news if it's real or a serious waste of municipal resources.

Get away from them as much as you can. Tell the teacher and school admins in private if you have to. This is serious business.
posted by St. Hubbins at 6:24 PM on May 3, 2016 [25 favorites]

Report this behavior to the police and see if taking a restraining order out is a possibility.

This is NOT normal and the fact that she's got her husband doing it too (instead of committing her) is really disturbing.

This is harassment.

If and when you see her in public, if she initiates contact, tell her firmly, "This behavior is inappropriate. Leave me alone." Then extricate yourself.

Just say that. No openings, no listening, no pausing.

You seem to think that this won't escalate or turn dangerous, but this behavior is so outside of the realm normalcy that I'm concerned it may turn violent. Seriously.

I'm so sorry you have to deal with this, it's kind of a shitty situation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 PM on May 3, 2016 [34 favorites]

Step 1 is to stonewall her. Say, "Ellen, I've already said everything I'm going to say about this," and walk away from her. If your kids are there head for the car and continue ignoring her. Any time she tries to talk to you again give her absolute dead silence. Any kind of further response will only encourage her.

If she's still following you and attempting to talk to you the next day, or if she lays a hand on you or the kids to stop you from getting in the car I'd go straight to the principal's office and ask them if they can call the police for you. Then I'd tell the police I'd like to file a restraining order and give them the evidence of how she's been stalking and harassing you.
posted by MsMolly at 6:28 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Since this potentially affects your kids and hers, get the school involved. If something weird and potentially dangerous is going on with parents, the school staff will be able to help the kids better if they are aware something could spill over onto the kids.

Do you have school resource (police) officers? Make sure they are in the loop. They are there to protect the students and this has a lot of potential for impact for all the kids if this woman nuts out in the parking lot or hallway.

Can you get someone to accompany you to the school at least for some of your visits? Husband? Another friend? Maybe not someone who can deal with the harrasser but certainly someone who can get the kids out of earshot while you deal with her.

But honestly, I don't think it matters so much what you say in the moment. You've told her "No" in many different ways and she has decided not to hear you. Everything you say is an opening to her. There is no magic sentence anyone can come up with that will finally get through to her. Just get your kids and leave.

And keep your phone charged and in your hand when you are in her vicinity. Do not hesitate to call the police. Your kids' safety and yours it at stake. Good luck.
posted by Beti at 6:56 PM on May 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

One thing I would make very sure the school knows is that she is NOT allowed to take your kids home with her. She does not have permission to pick them up or check them out of class under any circumstances.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:59 PM on May 3, 2016 [87 favorites]

Echoing other sentiments that you MUST inform your children's school. Tomorrow morning. This lady is unhinged and you need to protect your children. You may think I sound alarmist but her behavior (and her spouse's quite frankly) is worrisome.

I would take all the documentation you have to the police and file a restraint order. Hire an attorney to send a letter noting that you've filed that restraining order and she (and her husband) are no longer allowed to contact you or your family.

Make sure the school is aware of the restraining order.

If you see her simply get your children and leave. Don't be alone, if you can help it. If your children are old enough give them a dumbed down version of what's going on and tell them to never go anywhere with her.
posted by teamnap at 7:25 PM on May 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Forget the good manners: go ahead and make a damn scene if she bothers you or your kids. Not necessarily screaming, but certainly telling her "I've told you before: leave me alone!" in a voice loud enough for everyone nearby to hear.
posted by easily confused at 7:34 PM on May 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is beyond just clingy. This is like obsessive, stalker, afraid- of- my- physical-safety behavior. Please get a restraining order and do not feel ashamed to yell and scream to get rid of her.
posted by sheepishchiffon at 7:41 PM on May 3, 2016 [12 favorites]

Can you give me some suggestions for extricating myself from a situation in which a stalker-y former friend corners me in person, bearing in mind that little kids will be watching?

Your only useful choice is to leave, quickly and quietly. She is not reasonable.

The only words you can say to her, if you absolutely have to speak to her, are "no" and "leave me alone." You can start saying those quietly, if you like.

I also want to suggest that you prepare yourself to actually need to make a scene. People like you and me—rational, polite people!—have a very hard time screaming HELP when we are in danger. It is super hard to learn how to do. Honestly thing the best thing you could do is to practice yelling for help at home, and you can use that if you feel you are in over your head or feel you, or children, are in danger.

There is nothing wrong with attracting attention when you feel unsafe. You don't need to be getting stabbed to ask people around you for help.

And you don't need to explain. Asking for help can run the whole spectrum:

"Help, this woman is harassing me and she won't leave me alone!"

"Help, this person is hurting me."

"Help, I have an emergency."

"Help, I need a doctor."

You don't even have to tell the truth. All that matters is you get out.

It is very hard to do this, and it makes us feel stupid and dramatic, and you'll feel embarrassed, and none of that matters. Practice that, and you'll be prepared for anything.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:43 PM on May 3, 2016 [15 favorites]

It sounds like you've done all the right things. At this point, putting yourself in a situation where you see her again is to be considered unsafe. The choices are for her to go, or for you.

If your stalker were a mentally ill man, would you feel more comfortable issuing a restraining order? This is a mentally ill woman. She deserves treatment and you deserve peace.
posted by samthemander at 8:31 PM on May 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

You're asking about what to say to her in the hope that you can keep her from being crazy when she's around you. That is magical thinking. Ellen is crazy, you can't stop her from being crazy. Her crazy has a good chance of getting worse the more you interact with her - as you've seen, telling her you don't want a relationship has let her to escalate.

Respectfully, the way you've handled this so far has not been good. I don't mean that to attack you; it's what often happens in this situation. Normal people with normal communication skills don't realize how to interact with psycho stalkers. Your communication to her to leave you alone has not been in writing (that you mentioned), so it hasn't helped build a paper trail. Sitting down to explain that you don't want to be friends any more often leads psycho stalkers to escalate. Running into her at school and asking her to leave you alone would continue this pattern.

My advice is that you start pursing every possible avenue to keep her away from you, and that you start that now.

First, someone who is stalking you, is unstable, and is fixated on you should not have any contact with your kids. This is dangerous to them, and you should take seriously that a psycho stalker could potentially be with your kids when you're not there. Take your documentation of her harassment to the school and demand that she have no ways to reach your kids. That includes messages carried by her children (something she has already done), so her kids need to be moved to a different classroom and kept from contact with your kids. Note that your kids don't move, hers do, because she's the psycho stalker.

Second, talk to the police. You might want to have a friend or family member go with you. Be prepared that sometimes police minimize stalking, particularly by women. If that happens, ask to talk to someone else. Be persistent until you get someone who takes this seriously. Bring the documentation of how much she is contacting you.

Third, talk to a lawyer. A domestic violence shelter might have suggestions for attorneys who have experience in stalking cases. You need good legal information about what options for a restraining order are available in your area, and at what point you could file for one.

Fourth, read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. This will help you better understand stalking, and has suggestions for how to cope.

Fifth, if you don't already have a home security system with motion-activated cameras that record activity outside your house, you need to get one. She lives in your neighborhood and knows where you live. If she's dropping gifts at your house, video of that is valuable documentation. In the future, this could show that she violated the restraining order.

Sixth, start thinking about how you will interact with the people she sends to plead her case. It can be very distressing to have her husband, her children, your parents, or others coming to you arguing that you should be nicer to your psycho stalker. Plan something to say to them, like "I don't want any communication from the person who is stalking me to go through you. Please stop."

Finally, to answer your question about what to do if you see her in person. Call the police. Tell them your stalker is approaching you and you are scared. Every time. Even if kids are there. She is relying on your niceness and unwillingness to make a scene to make it easier to stalk you.
posted by medusa at 8:51 PM on May 3, 2016 [30 favorites]

"That includes messages carried by her children (something she has already done), so her kids need to be moved to a different classroom and kept from contact with your kids. Note that your kids don't move, hers do, because she's the psycho stalker."

Just FYI, at this point in the situation, it will almost certainly be your kids who have to move, not hers; the right to an education inheres in the child, not the parent, and for the child to be forced to move classrooms the child will have to commit a suspendable act against yours or you will have to have your child get a restraining order against her child.

It's possible the school may decide differently as a matter of practicality and discretion, but if the other parent objects to having their child move classes and it becomes an education rights issue, your children will have to move.

However you should absolutely make clear she should have no contact with your children at school and teachers should be on watch to ensure she doesn't use her kids to contact yours. Most schools even have a form for this because noncustodial parent disputes are so common.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:49 AM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also in general a restraining order will really help with the school issues. Interparent disputes are hard for schools to deal with because of educational rights and access issues. A restraining order gives them more options to help you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:54 AM on May 4, 2016 [8 favorites]

However, I'm one of those too-nice people and I don't do well under face-to-face pressure.

This hasn't been addressed yet. My suggestion is to practice with a trusted family member or friend. Brainstorm how things might possibly go, and what the best response would be (informed by info about stalkers such as has been mentioned above). Write down your responses. But most importantly, role play the situation, with a trusted family member or friend acting out the role of "Ellen" (and possibly other potential bystanders as well) to practice actually saying your responses. Tell your family/friends ahead of time that the main goal of this practice is to increase your comfort and confidence - they should be giving encouragement after each practice role play, not critiquing your response. Then practice some more.
posted by eviemath at 8:40 AM on May 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Agree that this is serious business.

Disagree that you should just "stonewall" her and say something like, "I have nothing to say." That will just make this, in her mind and possibly in the minds of bystanders including young children, about you not wanting to see her just because you don't feel like it and are possibly just kinda mean or stuck up or whatever. (Not saying this is accurate- just saying this is what it will be perceived as.) You need to turn it around and make it about HER being inconsiderate. You need to say something that BLATANTLY, CLEARLY points out that she is doing something WRONG, for the record and for the benefit of children nearby:

"You are NOT acting like a friend. You are disrespecting my wishes. You are scaring me. You are being very rude. You are not listening to me. You are ignoring my boundaries. That's not what friends do."

Seriously. You would be surprised how many people who act like this are genuinely clueless because they've never been called out, and they have no idea that the problem is no longer "she won't see me" and has become "I am reacting inappropriately." Clearly name this problem for her benefit, for your children's benefit, and for the benefit of police records. You think it's obvious, but it's not.
posted by quincunx at 8:49 AM on May 4, 2016 [16 favorites]

As someone who has been stalked, I want to second medusa's advice. You need to never have contact with her again and you need to involve the legal system. All due respect, the other well-meaning and thoughtful responses are not coming from a place of experience or expertise if they are imagining a snappy comeback or somehow obtaining an order of protection as though it's just something you can pick up at the store would do anything here.
posted by kapers at 9:56 AM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

nthing medusa's advice, this is gross and scary.

If I were in your shoes, I would seriously consider doing everything I could to pull my kids out of that school ASAP (luckily, summer break starts soon, I hope?) It's not fair that your children's lives have to be upended because of the inappropriate behavior of other student's parents (and that's plural, because the husband is actively involved in her harassment of you now) -- but it might be what's best for them long term. It's also totally reasonable for them to stay, for a variety of reasons (financial, personal, commute-based, etc), but know that this will be easier for you if you pull them.

If your children are going to stay, you'll need to work with the administration to keep them, and you, safe. They probably have procedures in place to protect kids from abusive/non-custodial parents, and you should see how they can be applied to you. As mentioned above, the school needs to know, in writing from you, that Stalker is under no circumstances allowed to be alone with your children. Depending on the school's policies, an order for protection covering you and your children against Stalker + Husband may be enough to have the school help you to keep them off of school grounds, but probably not (Stalker's children have a right to an education, Stalker has a right to be involved in that).
posted by sparklemotion at 12:03 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are what, six weeks to the end of school? Please hire someone else to do pickups for your kids until then. Spend the summer getting a restraining order, and with that in hand, make a plan with the school for September.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:13 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, I am familiar with this subject matter as I was on the receiving end of similar behavior from someone I had to end a friendship with. You did the right thing in telling this person you no longer wanted to receive any sort of communication/contact from them (that's step one). Once you do that and they continue, you can file a police report for harassment (do it!). Make sure you document everything. When this happened to me, I made a spreadsheet of all the unwanted letters, calls, emails, texts, home deliveries of sent gifts, uninvited visits to my home - everything and I turned it all over to the police. The detective assigned to my case called the stalker and gave them a verbal warning that any further communication would result in their arrest for harassment. It seemed to work for two weeks, then it started up again. I made an additional call to my detective who then paid the stalker a personal visit. I don't know what the detective said or did, but it worked! That was the end of it. It's been almost a year now and no contact.

My detective advised me that if I inadvertently ran into into the stalker at the grocery store, Target or where ever, to leave and do not initiate contact. I did see this person while I was walking in town. I was filled with anxiety, my heart started racing and I broke out in a sweat. I averted my eyes and calmly walked past. He said hello to me, but I didn't respond.

You definitely need to get the police involved (you have children to protect). Don't be nice about this! You said this has gone on for 4 weeks. If you don't stop it, it will go on for months - like mine did. I kept thinking that it would stop if I ignored it. It didn't. He became more persistent and angry because I wasn't responding. Please think about filing a restraining order, a peace bond, or both. This is a dangerous situation and this person is obviously unhinged and unpredictable.

Sorry you're having to go through this. I know it sucks, but stay strong. Message me if you have any questions.
posted by ATX Peanut at 1:02 PM on May 4, 2016 [9 favorites]

Captain Awkward has good scripts for unwanted social attention.
posted by ohshenandoah at 5:44 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you all for your responses.

I had a quiet word to the school almost as soon as this started, so their antennae are certainly up and I think things are reasonable well-sorted regarding my kids.

I want to keep police/legal involvement as an absolute last resort. Based on my experience with that kind of thing in another matter, I know that there are a thousand little ways that going the 'official' route can be really emotionally damaging to the person seeking help, even if in the end it does achieve its stated goal. Metafilter addressed a similar issue here. I am, however, fully prepared to do so if it is necessary, and I like ATX Peanut's suggestion of making a spreadsheet.

I've marked kapers's and ATX Peanut's responses as best answers given that they've been in my shoes and have seen what works and what doesn't. My plan with Ellen is to avoid avoid avoid, if she corners me say only 'no' or 'leave me alone' and then get outta there, and to yell and call 911 if it comes to that.

ohshenandoah, thank you so much for the link to Captain Awkward! Scripts are exactly what I wanted, but didn't know the words to ask for. Already, the archives there have been super relevant, especially this, this, and this. OK, they're mostly about romantic relationships, but some of the dynamics are similar to the ones at play in my friendship with Ellen. I'm linking them here in case someone with a similar dilemma reads this question in the future.
posted by (F)utility at 4:08 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

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