Taking Chances

Women make minute-by-minute calculations about their own safety all day every day. And sometimes we get it wrong.

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I was waiting to cross the street. Waiting through two light cycles. The crosswalk signal changed from “stop” to “walk” for the second time, and still I hesitated. Because like all women, I’m constantly scanning my surroundings, and I could see what was waiting for me on the other side.

I don’t know if he was dangerous or not. It was hard to tell, and I didn’t want to risk finding out. All I know is the guy standing on the other side of the street scared me. He was underweight, unwashed, wearing lounge pants and a t-shirt and a camouflage necktie as a headband. He was yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs. He stood on the balls of his feet, his entire upper body leaning forward in an aggressive way that said he was going to take a swing at the next person who got too close.

This was in broad daylight, about 11:30 in the morning on a Thursday, downtown Ann Arbor on the corner of Main and Ann, across from the courthouse. There were other people around, but not enough people. Nobody else seemed to be going my way.

I couldn’t cross on the other side of the street. Sidewalk repairs. Street closed. I’d either have to walk a two-block circle or take my chances with yelling guy.

I was about to take the detour when I saw him. A man of about thirty, in a dress shirt and pants, walking in my same direction down Main Street. He wasn’t huge, but he was big enough. More importantly, he looked confident. He sized up the situation and maneuvered himself to stand on the other side of me, so that he’d be between me and yelling guy when we passed him. We crossed the street together.

“Thanks,” I said when we’d put half a block between us and yelling guy. “I really didn’t want to walk past him by myself.”

“No problem,” he said. He held out his hand. “My name is Christopher.”

“I’m Alex.” I shook his hand. “Thanks again, Christopher. Have a great day.” I kept walking.

Christopher kept pace. “Are you single?” he asked. “Can we be friends?”

I stopped walking. My jaw dropped. “Are you serious right now?”

“What?” he asked. “We can’t be friends?”

“Don’t be that guy,” I half-whispered. “Please, don’t be that guy.”

“Yeah, all right.” He smiled as he sauntered off. “Have a nice day…Alex.” He added that special little lilt at the end, the one that says, “I know something about you.”

I had at least ten years on Christopher. Maybe fifteen. My hair is going gray. I was wearing what I describe as “mom shoes.”

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None of that mattered. Christopher had walked me across the street. He had bought my attention.

I should have taken my chances with yelling guy.

And that’s what I hate most about this whole thing. Of the two men, Christopher looked like the safer bet. Women make these moment-by-moment calculations all day every day, and sometimes we get it wrong.

It was a small encounter, more annoying than dangerous, but it might not have been. What happens when a man like Christopher walks a woman to her car, in the dark? What happens when he insists on being more than friends?

I told this story to some girlfriends and they sympathized with me. They understood it because they’d all been through some version of this. But my guy friends all said, “Oh no! What a tool. I would never do that.” And I believe them. They wouldn’t.

But guys, here’s what you have to understand. For every one of you, there is at least one Christopher out there.

And he’s ruining it for the rest of you.

#YesAllWomen

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories under her own name and science fiction thrillers under the pen name MH Mead. Her characters often walk alone, even in unsafe places.

[Image: Google maps]

9 responses

  1. Sorry that happened to you, Alex. So scary. Hate it when crap like this happens. Had a similar experience at the mall! the other day. I hate coming off as a jerk, but I don’t converse with random men in public anymore for a reason, for a Christopher reason.

    1. Thank you, Jen. And I’m sorry it happened to you, too. #YesAllWomen

  2. Yeah, you did the right thing, THREE times. First: used available help to handle the issue with the initial discomfort. Second: you detached clearly from the creepy-guy (listening to your instincts). Third: sharing your experience.

    We’re all too often silent about encounters like these, perhaps fearing ridicule or those “well meant” statements that we somehow overreacted.

    Good guys take a gentle “no” for an answer without being angry about it. They understand. Good guys know things like it’s creepy to get too chummy with a woman who is walking alone. Poorly socialized guys make missteps, sure, and we all make mistakes, yes…but the issue here isn’t simple awkwardness, it’s that hint of threat you picked up on. Good for you!

    Gavin de Becker in “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence” speaks of the “helpful” guy that…really isn’t. About the actual case of a woman (as an example of many cases) who gets that “vibe” but keeps allowing Creepy Guy to be near her and continue to “help her” because of a misguided notion of “being polite”… he keeps not responding to her hints — and in the end, she barely escapes with her life.

    Signals are important, you were right to pay attention!
    Beyond de Becker’s often repeated quote “‘No’ is a complete sentence…” also this:

    “It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different–men and women live in different worlds…at [the] core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at [the] core, women are afraid men will kill them.” -Gavin de Becker

    And Martha Stout in “The Sociopath Next Door” points out our tendency to think (or perhaps to WISH) Those Who Harm are physically recognizable in some way:

    “…people who do hideous things do not look like people who do hideous things. There is no ‘face of evil.’” -Martha Stout

    A very worthy post, indeed! Be safe, writing-friend!

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. Women often ask themselves, “Am I over-reacting here?” I’m learning not to second guess myself.

  3. I don’t blame you for one second for not wanting to get near Yelling Guy, and there was no way you could have known Christopher was going to be anything but a gentleman. That “Can we be friends?” thing is just weird. The last time I said that to someone I was in second grade. If anything he could have handed you his business card and suggested having a coffee sometime. There are ways to flirt without being obnoxious, or threatening. I met a guy through an online dating site years ago, and we had a drink and talked a bit, and I realized we had nothing in common. When he contacted me about getting together again, I told him as nicely as I could that I wasn’t interested, that I didn’t think we were really a good match (translation for any guys reading: I didn’t like him). I got a long diatribe back about what a snob I was (he pointed out I was driving a Mercedes, which for the record was a 20-yrs-old 190E that I bought when it was 13 yrs old) and how awful I was, blah, blah, blah. So, anything but a “yes” is apparently their cue to go off on us.

    1. Sigh. Oh, dear. I am so sorry that happened. That sense of entitlement is just awful. I’m glad your instincts told you not to agree to a second date. Your instincts were spot-on.

  4. I’d like to enthusiastically second Elizabeth’s answer. Women are often afraid to be seen as impolite, and predators take eager advantage of that. Always prefer the slight discomfort you might feel at saying “No” to a clueless but harmless guy to the danger you might face by giving any advantage to someone who intends to harm you. You done good.

    1. Thanks, Bridget!

      It occurred to me just now that the moment I said thank you and that I didn’t want to walk past yelling guy by myself, was the moment Christopher decided to hit on me. Because I’d admitted I felt vulnerable.

      Christopher is the reason we can’t have nice things.

  5. I just don’t understand this neverending sense of entitlement so many men seem to have. I’m so sorry you had to experience a Christopher. He’s absolutely the reason we can’t have nice things.

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