Women make minute-by-minute calculations about their own safety all day every day. And sometimes we get it wrong.
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.”
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.
[Image: Google maps]