It’s not illegal to talk to someone you don’t know. If we never spoke to strangers, we’d never make new friends. And before apps and dating sites came along, there was only one way to find new people to hook up with, and that was to approach them in person. But it’s amazing how often flirting can become harassment, even if we think we’re just being friendly. If you want to chat folks up, you need to know the difference.
You might think this advice for men, but it’s for everyone.
It’s true that guys are often the culprits. For example: as I’m writing this I’m sitting in a pub with a female friend. A bloke just came over to us to asked for a light for his ciggie. We declined (neither of us smoke). Five minutes later, he’s back at our table again wanting to know ‘where the good clubs are’ (it’s five on a Wednesday afternoon.) He’s clearly looking to strike up a friendship with one or both of us (probably my friend, because she smiled at him when we sat down.) But we have our notebooks and laptops out, and it should be obvious that we’re working and not looking for dates.
He’s not a bad guy. He’s just ‘having a go’ at hitting on some chicks in a bar, perhaps with less social awareness than average. But despite our polite refusal to talk, he keeps coming back with new questions. We don’t want to say ‘go away’ because we can see he doesn’t mean any harm. Also, he’s had a few drinks and we’re afraid that telling him to go away might make him angry. So we just sit here, try not to make eye contact and hope he gets the hint.
Experiences like this are the reason it’s so difficult to talk to women in public. We’re always trying to avoid risky situations. It means that even when we do want to meet people, we’ll often shut down conversation from strangers because we’re nervous.
It’s not just guys that are the problem. It’s a fact that most of us suck at flirting – I’ve been sexually inappropriate, insensitive and have missed the signals that my object of affection wasn’t interested. I have also been the victim of sexual harassment by other women. Because Aussie gendered culture assumes women are never the sexual aggressors, some ladies don’t have a very good awareness of the times they invade the personal space of others. (Try going to a women-only strip show e.g. a hen’s night, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.)
When I was twenty years old, I hung out at a lesbian bar in Sydney with my friends. The older ladies all had punk haircuts and acted tough. I thought they were cool. But one time, a woman took a liking to me and got all up in my face about it. She said, “you’re a keeper!” and then she literally picked me up and started carrying me away from the pub, down the street. I mean, what the fuck? I was saying “put me down” but she laughed it off.
To be clear, this was someone I had never met before and we hadn’t agreed to any physical contact. I didn’t know where she was taking me. Finally, I convinced her to put me down and I got back to my friends. I don’t think she really wanted to abduct me… She was simply demonstrating to me that she was bigger, stronger and tougher than me, and because she found me attractive, she could do whatever she wanted.
Here are a couple of ways to ensure your attention is wanted.
The Rock Test
The ‘Rock Test’ was created by Anne Victoria Clark, in a blog post for Medium. It’s intended to be sarcastic, but the idea is useful.
Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson is a fine actor and all-round human being. He’s also built like a bloody tank and could probably tear you limb-from-limb.
If you saw the Rock in the street would you walk up to him and say, “Hey babe, want some dick?” Would you come up behind him and grab his butt? Would you shove yourself into the middle of a conversation he’s having with friends?
Not unless you had a death-wish.
So, what would be appropriate? “Hey, just wanted to say I think you’re awesome!” or perhaps “Do you mind if I interrupt to say hi?” So, this is how it works. Would you say it to the Rock, or would you keep it to yourself in case he beat your head in? If you wouldn’t say it to him, don’t say it to a hot person at your local.
Give them space to say no.
Pick-up artists use a variation on this – they call it the ‘time-limiter.’ They’ll walk up to a woman and say “Hi! I have to go and meet my friends over there in one minute, but I want to speak with you first.”
The time limit makes women more open to listening, because they feel safer – they know he will move on in a moment. This gives him the time he needs to work his ‘magic’ (by which I mean, bullshit.) The bit the pick-up artists are doing wrong is when they fail to actually go away.
Have you heard the phrase ‘if you love something, set it free’? Say hi, state your time limit (“I’m going back to my table in a second, but I just wanted to let you know that…”) and your invitation (“…I think you look really interesting and I’d love to chat with you.”) then get the hell out of there.
Giving someone space is awesome – it shows you’re not pushy or desperate, and gives them time to think about whether they want to engage with you. If they do decide to come over and talk to you after that, you’ll know the exchange is genuine and not just for fear of offending you.
To pull this move off, you need to be comfortable with rejection. You’re giving your partner an ‘easy out’ by walking away.
Giving the other person space to say ‘no’ demonstrates respect … and it shows you’re not desperate, which is an attractive characteristic in a potential hook-up.
What if you’re the target?
I’m wary of offering too much advice, because I don’t think it’s the victim’s job to stop sexual harassment. However, I’m also a realist. Sexual harassment happens all the time. Having the skills to get out of an uncomfortable situation or say ‘no’ confidently can sometimes help. So I’m going to list a few things that may assist you, depending on the situation.
- Safety first
Whatever you do, don’t take any action if you think your safety is at risk. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are literally impossible to escape from unscathed. There might be the threat of violence, you may be in an isolated location, the person harassing you could be your boss (and you’re worried about losing your job.) If this has happened to you, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. Please use your own best judgement to decide what’s best for you.
- Gather your allies.
My friends and I used to have a secret code. If someone tried to hit on one of us at a club and we weren’t interested, we’d introduce ourselves to the unsuspecting guy as ‘Martha’. This was a signal that we wanted to be rescued, and our friends would immediately make up some sort of excuse to get us off the dance floor. I’m told the Queen of England does something similar at public events: she uses the position of her handbag on her arm to signal her security staff.
- Say ‘no’.
Say it confidently, respectfully and in a tone that de-escalates the situation. Security guards are good at this – they project confidence in a low-key manner. Good humor is also useful: “Ha, ha ha! Sorry, no, see ya!” A ‘no’ delivered with confidence and good humor is more effective than a scared or angry ‘no’ that increases tension. Of course, there’s no guarantee that saying it the ‘right way’ is necessarily going to work, which brings me to the next point…
- The other person’s reaction is not your responsibility.
We can’t control how people react to rejection. We can only do our best and walk away if they act like A-holes. This is the hardest part, because even when you’re on your best behavior you might not always get the right reaction from others. At least you know you’ve done your best.\n
Flirting is a lot more fun when we have some safeguards in place. When you treat others respectfully, it encourages them to open up to you… And practicing saying ‘no’ makes it much easier to say ‘yes’.