So a lovely writer friend of mine is getting creeped on by someone who has also creeped on me and who probably has no idea that they are creeping on everyone else. So l'd like to talk about that, because I'm pretty sure no one actually wants to be a creeper. This blog post is done out of love, y'all.
For the purpose of this argument, I'm defining a creeper as "someone whose actions make someone else uncomfortable." That goes for in person and online, male or female, sexual or otherwise. If you have a touchy-feely relationship with your friends, this is about something different that happens between strangers, acquaintances, or one person who wants to be friends and someone else who is leaning away from that relationship. My main focus here is at cons and conferences, as those are the places where creeping happens to me and my friends. And here's how to avoid doing it.
1. DO NOT INITIATE PHYSICAL CONTACT WITHOUT PERMISSION.
This one should go without saying. If you don't have an established relationship with someone or they do not currently have their arms open to welcome your hug, you probably don't need to go in for a hug. If you go in for a hug and they make an OMG TERRIFIED RUN face, back off. Never pick someone up from behind. Never sit beside them and touch their leg with any part of your body, if you can help it. For the love of all that's holy, don't stroke their arm or touch their hair. If they're pregnant, stay far away from that beautiful belly unless you have explicit permission to touch it. In short, respect someone's space. This is the fastest way to make someone really, really uncomfortable before you've even opened your mouth.
Django Wexler, I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize for attack-hugging you at Phoenix Comicon last year. You looked terrified. That wasn't cool of me.
Also: Being alone isn't an invitation. If you see someone sitting/riding public transportation alone, that is not a sign that they really want company, and it's especially not a sign that they want *your* company. Headphones, focusing on a phone, reading a book, closed posture-- these are all signs that someone wants to remain alone.
2. CHECK THEIR POSTURE.
Someone who is interested in initiating conversation will turn toward you, have a relaxed posture, and gesticulate with their hands. Someone who does not want to talk to you will lean away, turn away, cross their arms, start talking or texting on their phone, walk in a different direction, or sidle closer to friends. Basically, if they look closed off or are sidling away like they want to escape, they're not comfortable.
I once had a fantastic conversation with Jewel Staite in a bar in Phoenix. We talked of our mutual love of fondue. And then she smiled tightly, turned away, and picked up her drink, and I recognized that she was done with our chat. I said goodbye and left. I didn't want to.
I know this pain, is what I'm saying.
3. READ THEIR FACE.
Someone who wants to chat or who is enjoying the conversation makes eye contact, then looks down, then up, then back in your eyes. They smile, and it shows in the crinkles around their eyes, in their dimples and in how they grin with their teeth. They nod and seem engaged and connected. On the other hand, someone who feels uncomfortable or cornered will avoid eye contact, frantically look away or over your shoulder for rescue, check their phone frequently, sigh a lot, have a tight or closed mouth, or have a fake smile that doesn't touch their eyes. When I'm uncomfortable, I go into Static Resting Bitchface mode and have tiny, pinched lips and a little V between my eyebrows. It's hard to hide.
4. LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY.
If someone is asking you questions, laughing at your jokes, responding with enthusiasm, and generally showing energy to keep the conversation going, that's a good sign. Someone who wants to leave the conversation might outright say they have to go or that they see a friend across the room. Or they might say, "Well, it was nice meeting you. Goodbye." Or they might go into monosyllables that show disinterest: Oh. Huh. Hm. Really? Tsk. Mm hmm. Yeah. If someone is uncomfortable in a conversation, they will most likely stop talking, and you will be doing all the talking, and they will look intensely bored, as if they wished the convo was over, which is exactly what they wish. Saying nothing means the convo is over.
5. DO NOT FOLLOW THEM.
I can't believe I have to say this, but... do not follow someone from your ended conversation to the new group they join. Do not follow them outside to smoke. Do not follow them toward the restroom (unless you're, say, in a panel or class and everyone's going to pee). Do not follow them to the bar/restaurant for the sole purpose of bumping into them again later. Do not hang out in the hotel lobby to ambush them. Unless someone specifically asks you to walk with them or invites you to go with them, and especially if they say goodbye to you or excused themselves, do not follow them. Ever.
6. TAKE A HINT.
If you ask someone out/invite them somewhere and they say anything but an energetic and enthusiastic YES or I CAN'T NOW BUT I'M SO SORRY; ASK ME AGAIN SOMETIME, do not ask again. A soft no feels kinder, but it is not an invitation to badger. If you ask someone for help in your career and they say they can't help you, point you toward other resources, or generally are unable or unwilling to give you what you want, do not keep pestering them. If you keep trying to join a circle of conversation and get cut off/edged out, that's a sign that you're not welcome. If someone yawns and mentions how exhausted they are, do not keep talking at them. If you offer someone a ride and they say no thank you, don't keep pushing them to accept. If they wanted to acquiesce, they would've done so the first time. A polite excuse is not an open door.
7. DO NOT BADGER PEOPLE ONLINE.
Look, this isn't selling vacuums door to door. You don't need to corner someone and bother them until they give you what you want. Repeatedly chatting someone who doesn't chat back, overdoing the Twitter @s when you get 0 response, getting passive-aggressive in emails, or in any way demanding that someone respond to you is downright rude. This goes for dating, friendship, jobs, and writing help-- and a lot of other areas. If you chat someone and they don't respond, let it go. If they leave the convo, let it go. If you send someone 20 @ messages on Twitter, you're going to get Muted or Blocked. No one owes you their attention, much less their respect. You've got to earn those things, and you won't do it by annoying the crap out of someone.
My least favorite:
Stranger email: Can I ask you a writing question?
Me: Sure! *answers question*
Stranger email: One more question.
Me: Ok. *answers, slightly more succinctly*
Stranger: Okay, that was helpful. Here are 14 more questions and a PDF of my book for you to read and offer critique.
Me: All those questions are answered on my blog, and if you'd like for me to critique your work, you can sign up for one of my classes at LitReactor.
Stranger: YOU THINK YOU'RE SO COOL BUT YOU'RE A BITCH YOU DON'T WANT TO HELP PEOPLE YOU JUST WANT TO SAVE ALL THE BOOK DEALS AND MONEY FOR YOURSELF YOU UGLY HO ALSO YOUR BOOKS SUCK
Me: Uh. *blocks*
8. WHEN SOMEONE CONFRONTS YOU, SHUT UP AND LISTEN.
It takes a lot of guts to tell someone that they are making you uncomfortable and to assert your right to exist without harassment or fear. If someone says that you are creeping, just apologize and withdraw. For real. Don't explain your reasons for creeping. Don't blame them for misinterpreting your behavior. Don't give excuses. Trust me-- nothing you can say will make them feel more comfortable. If you seriously, 100% don't understand why they feel that way, you can ask which behaviors in particular make them uncomfortable-- and take that information with you so you can do better next time. You're not going to win this fight. Go home and absorb what you've been told and figure out how to fix it.
9. DON'T SAY YOU'RE A GOOD PERSON; BE A GOOD PERSON.
The most common response to being told one is a creeper is, "That's not true! I'm a nice person! I didn't do anything wrong! Ask my friends!" Basically, the creeper will try to invalidate the victim's feelings because they don't want to feel like a creeper. The creeper will turn it around so that they are the victim. This is a horrible thing to do, and everyone else can see straight through it. Look at it this way. I walk up and punch you in the face. You complain about it. My response? I DIDN'T DO THAT. I'M A NICE PERSON. ASK MY FRIENDS! Do you now feel better about being punched in the face? No. No, you don't. And that's how people feel when you creep on them and then claim that you're a nice person who would never make someone uncomfortable.
"I'm just trying to be nice" is one of the worst things a human being can say. Because you only say it when you're caught not being nice.
10. DON'T SAY CREEPY THINGS.
"You'd look prettier if you smiled." "Need help unlacing that corset?" "What's under your kilt?" "Wanna tie me up with your Lasso of Truth, Wonder Woman?" "So, where do you live?" "You should be careful in elevators alone at night. You never know what some psycho could do." "Need some inspiration for your next Romance novel?" "You're too good-looking to be a geek." "So is your wife here, too?" "So can I tell your agent we're friends?" "I'd like to take you out for drinks and pick your brain." "I'd like to interview you. Not for a podcast or blog; just for me." "I'm just looking at your ink." "How far down does that tattoo go?"
All of these things are creepy, and I've heard them all, whether applied to me or someone else in my company. If you say creepy things, people will think you are a creep. Period. If you comment on their appearance in a sexual way, offer to do things to/with them, or ask for specific details about their home life or how to find them, that's creepy. If they're a writer and you're aggressively grilling them on private matters, like how to contact their agent or editor or how much they got for their advance or whether they will read your work, that comes across as creepy-- and insulting.
And the phrase "pick your brain" is one of my pet peeves, as it turns me into some sort of object you can mine to suit your own needs. A real conversation goes both ways.
If you make someone uncomfortable, you will never get what you want out of them. And if you did, would you really want it? Would you really want to accomplish your goals solely due to pity or fear? Whether what you want is friendship, sex, career advice, or something else, the harder you push, the further the other person will withdraw. Relationships and writing are a lot alike in that there is no big secret to success, no one trick that will make all your dreams come true. And from the outside of love or publishing, when you don't know how to get to where you want to be-- it feels horribly lonely and hopeless, with no clear road map to your dreams. Getting pushy is not the answer.
Interpersonal harassment will actively hinder you as you pursue your goal. Friendship, love, or a career in writing can only unfold in time thanks to effort, experience, and being both genuine and sensitive to feedback. Sometimes, it will never be a good fit, and being aggressive, sleazy, or insensitive to physical and verbal signals will only hinder your progress. Smart people can tell when you're trying to manipulate them to get what you want, and that means you'll never, ever get it.
How to not be a creeper? Be cool. Simple as that.