When I go walking in the park, I wear dark clothes, headphones, and big, dark sunglasses. I am not there to be social, I am there to work out. I don't talk to anyone and, with the rare exception of someone asking for directions, nobody talks to me.
On Saturday, I was doing the last mile of my second lap when I noticed somebody jogging next to me. Jogging very close to me, slowly, to keep the same pace as my speed walking. I looked over at him, annoyed. Usually, people in the park follow etiquette and pass each other or allow for a certain amount of personal space. Then, clocking his interested look, I realized why he was jogging so close to me.
I stopped walking, letting him run a few paces. He stopped too, then turned around and walked back toward me.
This is when I noticed that even though it was Saturday afternoon, and even though we were on the "safer" side of the park, the stretch of track where we stood was in the shade and completely empty of people. That's when I got scared. I realized that even if I sprinted, the closest person was easily a hundred or more feet ahead of me. If he had some kind of weapon on him, I could be in trouble.
I was rooted to the spot, unable to move.
Just before he reached me I said, with great hostility, "Can you please leave me alone?"
He paused, then walked out of the park. I finished my workout, a little shaky, hating the guy for making me feel unsafe in a place I frequent, in broad daylight.
That night, I went to a concert with my friend Music Mandy. The two of us got to the venue early and chose a spot where nobody was standing, to crowd watch and wait for the first opening act.
A few minutes later, I sensed a guy standing right next to me, I mean right next to me, when there was plenty of open space around us. I groaned inwardly, because the guy was hovering, and I knew he was going to try to talk to one of us soon. I faced away from him, chatting with Mandy, but a little while later I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned around, bracing myself. Standing next to me (too close!) was an older man with a dark pony tail.
"Can I take you out sometime?"
"Um, sorry, but I'm kind of seeing someone." I smiled awkwardly and turned back to Mandy.
*tap* *tap* *tap*
I turned back to him.
"What's your name?"
"Well, can I get a number for your so that we could talk some time?"
"No, I'm sorry." I gave Mandy a Look and murmured, "Let's take a walk."
That's twice in one day. I'm sympathetic to the fact that it takes a lot of guts to make that approach, that it's not easy to put your ego on the line. However, there's a difference between casually expressing interest and making a woman feel deeply uncomfortable (or worse, actually afraid for her safety) with one's interest. Respecting personal space is key, as is noticing a woman's body language. If I'm wearing dark glasses and not looking in the guy's direction, or if I keep turning away to talk to my friend, it should be pretty obvious that I'm not interested.
After these two unpleasant incidents, I felt more guarded than usual, though I did end up enjoying the darkly experimental, noisy concert.
I ended up at a club with friends after the show, where some drinking, dancing, and socializing raised my spirits.
A group of us took over a stretch of banquettes and later in the night, this guy came over. He looked like he was trying to sit on on one of the unstable end tables, before changing his mind and sitting next to me.
"That's much better," he said.
"Yeah, I don't know why you'd sit there when there's miles of couches in here."
"Well, I wanted to sit near my friends."
"Oh, you know these people?" That's when I really looked at him, noticed he was actually pretty attractive.
"Yeah. What, you think I came over just to hit on you?" He raised his eyebrows, smiled.
I laughed. "Well it's been a strange day for it..."