After my most recent post, I got quite a few questions regarding the specifics of the situation I described (in which I and a man I didn’t know helped a young woman out of an awkward entanglement), the gist being, “Are you SURE intervention was necessary? Couldn’t she have just told him herself that the interaction was over and left?”
I won’t go into any more specifics here, except to reiterate that yes, in this particular case, there is no question in my mind that intervening was the right thing to do. That said, I am 100% in agreement with the idea that it is best to teach and empower people to disentangle themselves from unwanted interactions. So that’s what today’s post is all about.
I’ve already written a bit about the art of rejection. Quick review:
The ABC’s of rejection:
A. Admiration. Find something, anything to admire about the approach: “Clever opener,” “What a refreshingly direct approach,” or “It takes cojones to make the first move,” etc.
B. Brief statement of disinterest. “…but I’m not feeling it.” DON’T list off your reasons. Keep it short and to the point.
C. Close off quickly and decisively. A friendly “Have fun” or “Good luck” followed by a turned back or walk-off is usually quite effective.
Altogether, it goes like this:
“You’re funny! Thanks for the entertainment, but it’s a no on the date. Cheers.”
In most cases, a casual rejection like this one is all you will need, so long as you deliver it with confidence.
But what do you do when you’re dealing with someone who just won’t take no for an answer? Or who has a strongly negative reaction to your rejection? And how do you deal with someone whose approach was in no way friendly or admirable, but was clearly intended to intimidate or dehumanize you?
Here are some concrete suggestions for making a clean get-away in these stickier situations.
First off, you must be able to recognize that you are in said sticky situation. When it comes to identifying a situation that merits stronger action, trust your gut above all else. If you begin to feel genuinely afraid–not just butterflies in the tummy, but really scared–then it’s time to go. NOW. You don’t need external evidence, and you don’t need to make excuses for yourself. Just get the hell out of there, to a more (NEVER LESS) secure location.
When it comes to getting out of a really uncomfortable situation, short of breaking the law (remember: you can still be charged with assault if you attack the approacher first!), just about anything goes. But here are some tried-and-true methods that have worked for generations.
NOTE: I ordered this list from least to most invasive, so I recommend starting at 1 and moving on to 2 only if 1 fails, and so forth. Also, these methods are most useful (and some of them are ONLY useful) as long as you remain in a public place. If a stranger or near-stranger tries to isolate you for any reason, or starts hitting on you in an isolated location (i.e. an elevator, an empty or nearly-empty bus or train car, or in the woods), you may need to use techniques like these instead.
1. Call me
Obviously it isn’t always possible to plan ahead. Say, if you’re approached at a bus stop or coffee shop. But if you’re going on a date with someone you don’t know well, or going clubbing, or anyplace where you’re more likely to get approached, it’s a great idea to set up a back-up call.
Picture this: you’re having a lousy time, but this dud just isn’t picking up your signals. You send a short text under the table: CALL ME. The phone rings a moment later, and your friend is in *terrible* distress.
“Oh no,” you tell your date, “this sounds serious. I need to go talk my friend down.”
You can also set it up for a friend to call you at a certain time without prompting, just in case. If things are going well, you simply ignore the call, or better yet, take the opportunity to brag a bit.
This can also work without anyone on the other end, so long as you know how to make your own phone ring on command. I recommend learning this trick, as it has bailed me out of more than one unfortunate interaction.
2. I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date
It may be cliche, but it works.
All this trick takes is a quick look at a clock, and distressed expression, and a panicked, “Oh no! I’m late!” Then you just grab your things, give a quick, “Sorry, gotta go,” and you’re outta there.
3. When you gotta go, you gotta go
It’s hard to deny someone an immediate, physical need. If you suddenly have to pee, or you feel ill, or you spill something all over yourself, there are few approachers who will try to keep you from heading to the facilities.
And if s/he does try to keep you there, or follows you to the bathroom? Feel free to start acting like you’re going to vomit on him/her, pee your pants, etc. If you can rip a really juicy fart, or burp right in his/her face, do it.
Gross is good. Nothing shrinks a boner like icky bodily functions.
Another tried-and-true method of grossing out unwanted approachers is to pick your nose and wipe it on your clothing. This is a great trick on public transportation, where there are no facilities and just up and leaving isn’t necessarily an option.
4. Go crazy on you
If any/all of the above didn’t do the trick, then you’re probably dealing with someone with a couple of loose screws. So, why not turn the tables and loosen your own screws a bit?
A quick illustration: a friend of mine was getting a little too much attention from a much older man in a park. She was polite at first, but when he sat down next to her uninvited and started to put his hand on her knee, she busted out her improv skills, turning to him with a suspicious look and saying,
“Who sent you? Was it THEM? Did THEY send you? Well you can tell them I’m NEVER COMING BACK! They’re not going to keep running experiments on MY brain, even if those aliens DID implant a microchip in there!”
She ranted on like that for several minutes, until finally he made his excuses and left.
5. You make me wanna SHOUT
You may be surprised how effective it is simply to raise your voice. Most people don’t like “causing a scene” and will get anxious if you start yelling. Besides, a nice, strong yell right in the face can snap them out of their one-track-trance and make them realize that this has gotten serious. “NO” or “STOP” are good go-to yell words.
And if that doesn’t work? Well, this is where a rape whistle comes in handy. But anything you can get your hands on that makes a loud noise will do.
A sudden loud noise will also alert others in the area that something untoward is happening, and you may be able to solicit some back-up.
Speaking of which…
6. Requesting Backup
A lot of the time, when something not so good is going down, onlookers are nervous about stepping in. But when clearly invited to do so, they are often happy to intercede. Alas, you can’t, and probably shouldn’t, count on that, but you can learn some clever ways to leverage their presence, regardless.
Try randomly involving an onlooker into an awkward conversation. Ask a question, seek an opinion, compliment their shoes, do whatever you can to get them to respond. If they stay and chat, this will offer safety-in-numbers, and even if they don’t, it will send a clear signal to the unwanted party that you don’t want this to be a one-on-one interaction and aren’t afraid to involve others.
Sometimes, though, you may need to take more drastic measures. Try to make eye contact with someone (or even better, a group of people), and send out distress signals with your eyes. Once you think they’ve gotten the message, call out,
“There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!”
and walk toward them. Unless the person is seriously oblivious, or just kind of an asshole, they will almost always play along. This works especially well if you are female and can disappear into a group of women.
Meanwhile, if ever you see someone in a precarious situation and wish to intervene, here are some tips for doing so safely and effectively:
– Address the person who looks like they’re in trouble, NOT the person causing said trouble.
– Ask first. “Need a hand?” in a friendly, upbeat tone works nicely. If they say no firmly, simply smile and say, “Just checking.” If they say no with hesitation or in a manner that seems unsure, say,
“Okay. I’ll be right over here. Let me know if anything changes.”
– If they do ask for help (or are visibly unable to do so), ignore the troublemaker completely. Even if they speak to or threaten you directly. First priority is to get the person you are helping, and yourself, out of there and into a more safe environment.
– As in everything, there is safety in numbers. A whole group of people extracting one person is always going to be safer and more efficient.
7. And if all else fails, Let’s get physical!
I really recommend avoiding getting into a physical tussle if you can. There are just so many things that can go wrong, and it’s easy for onlookers to mistake you for the attacker and back the wrong side.
There are, however, some situations that absolutely merit a hands-on approach. If someone is getting very handsy and won’t stop when asked to, do your best to block/remove said hands, and then create enough of a safe distance between yourself and the approacher that a recurrence will be easy to curtail. In other words: get out of the intimate/personal zones and back into the social/public zones.
If, on the other hand, s/he is actively attempting to restrain you, then going on the offensive is the best move you can make. A nice, hard slap (or drink!) in the face is a classic choice. That will show her/him that you aren’t afraid to go on the attack, and should provide enough of a shock factor that you are able to disengage and GTFO.
Above all, do your best to disengage emotionally from the situation as soon as it becomes less-than-enjoyable. Because the most powerful weapon a stranger can have against you is your empathy.