When it comes to meeting women, the popular wisdom still encourages guys to go to a bar and strike up a conversation. But as a recent Reddit thread points out, lots of men could do with reading the room a little better, and knowing when their attention isn’t wanted. Because what may well be innocently intended as a friendly comment can be interpreted as something more sinister, depending on the context.
One woman recalled having to consistently, politely rebuff her coworker’s advances over a period of five years: “Point is if someone turns you down they probably aren’t playing hard to get. Try once. If they turn you down and you suspect they’re playing the stupid hard to get game then ask them directly. Don’t pester them constantly for years. That is scary behaviour.”
It doesn’t help that in portrayals of romance in pop culture, perseverance is depicted as a good thing that’s rewarded in the end, and you just have to hang around long enough, being a Nice Guy. No, my dude. If she’s not interested, then what you’re doing is harassment.
“Maybe it’s just me but, asking if I live alone,” said one woman. “Now if at this point of inquiry there was an already established friendship I suppose it’s okay. But if you are a stranger or an acquaintance that would freak me out.” Plenty of commenters agreed, and recalled times when that question from a stranger made them feel uncomfortable, and they would pretend to live with a roommate or boyfriend in order to dispel the unwanted attention.
Similarly, men insisting on continuing conversations with women they’ve just met, perhaps thinking they are being friendly or chivalrous, can actually end up making women feel incredibly uneasy. “A guy who sat next to me on a plane and wouldn’t stop talking to me (even after I put on headphones) tried to walk me to my connecting flight even after I refused to give him my phone number,” said one commenter. “He finally left when I went to the women’s restroom.”
Other women on the thread cited behaviour that men might see as innocuous but actually comes across as threatening, such as “blocking an exit while trying to start a conversation” and “following me slowly in a car while trying to talk to me.”
It all comes down to the dynamics of the situation. A man might think he’s just being chatty, because through his eyes, the scenario is entirely harmless. But a woman will experience that exact same interaction very differently: plenty of commenters shared stories of going along with conversations because they had no way of knowing how a man might react if they tried to end it, or if the encounter might end in violence. (Sadly, this is a very real fear.)
Nobody wants to be creepy, or make a woman feel unsafe. So read the room, and pick up on the signals a woman is sending you. If she seems quiet, nervous, or non-responsive, then back off. If she’s genuinely interested, don’t worry, you’ll know about it.
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health