Quit Initiating Conversations with Women You Don’t Know

…especially at night. A brief social etiquette guide for men.

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She just wants to walk home in peace, okay? / Photo by Piotr Krzyżanowski on Unsplash

“Well hold on just a sec, Wyatt,” a man might say, “I am a shining paragon of moral decency and would never harm a lady, so why should I, a man so pure of heart, avoid women?”

Well, in that case, you still should stay as far from women at night as possible. The fact is it doesn’t matter what your intentions are. To a woman at night you’re just a strange man, so you’re going to be threatening to women around you no matter what. If you want to treat them with respect and not frighten or upset them, you’ll keep your distance.

No surprise, some men did not like what Wyatt had to say. They want to feel free to talk to the women folk, even in darkness. Maybe especially in darkness? Not sure.

This is, by far, the most idiotic article I’ve read on this site. It treats women like they are senseless paranoids. I urge anyone who reads it to ignore it and do the complete reverse. Conversationally engage with women at any time the desire occurs. The article’s author, it would seem, is trying to make women more afraid by separating from them.

I’d bypassed the other comments, but this one bothered me. So I started typing a response. And I kept typing. And I realized I have a lot to say on this subject, not just to Dave but to every man in the world, particularly those who make it a habit to “conversationally engage with women at any time the desire occurs.”

  • Imagine that when you are walking the track, you calculate your best exit strategy, just in case. Just in case one more person leaves and you find yourself at the track with only one other person: a man. He’s probably fine, he’s probably harmless, he’s probably a good guy. But you don’t know, so, just in case, you better have a plan. Is it better to stand still and scream or run as fast as you can? Does it make more sense to run for your car or to run for the restaurant two blocks away?
  • Imagine how your heart starts pounding, involuntarily, when you realize everyone else has left and it’s just you and that man, who’s been jogging slower and slower, who’s jogging so slowly now, in fact, that you’re about to catch up with him, about to be beside him, and what should you do? Do you drop your walking pace slower and slower? Or speed up and try to pass him? But then he’ll be behind you and you can’t keep an eye on his movement. Damn it. Maybe you should cut your walk short and go home.
  • Imagine the fear that grips your throat, that makes it hard to breathe, when you walk out of the shopping center and realize the parking garage is empty except for two cars, parked close to yours. Imagine the helplessness you feel as you assess: are you safe? Is there someone waiting in one of those cars, watching you? It’s too dark to tell.
  • Imagine the calculations you make every day, every time you are in a situation in which a) you are alone and b) a strange man is or could be nearby. Do you think we enjoy these calculations? Do you think we want to use our brain power this way? I’d rather memorize poetry, dude. I’d rather contemplate the beauty of the cosmos, how my kids are doing in school, what I want for dinner. But I also don’t fucking want to be raped, so I make these calculations.
  • Imagine explaining to your spouse the rules you have to keep yourself safe in almost any circumstance: The keys in your hand. The mace in your purse. The distance from any building’s entrance to your car. The steps you count out when a man is walking behind you, how many you take before you cross to the other side of the street. The time limits, usually based on darkness and how soon it will come. Imagine your spouse being shocked by the idea of ‘safety rules,’ a bizarre concept, something never considered or needed. Imagine your girlfriends; they’re not shocked. “Oh yeah,” they say. “Sure. I have those rules. I don’t ever….” And they list their rules. Because none of us wants to be harassed or assaulted or raped or kidnapped or murdered, but some men seem to think those are acceptable activities. So we make these rules, to try to avoid those men, who don’t tell us what they’re thinking. They don’t advertise their intentions. They just try to engage with us, you know, conversationally. They know their intentions. We don’t. We try not to be rude while we wonder. After a while we quit worrying about being rude, because it takes so much energy to “engage” with every male who wants to engage, while also keeping our bodies safe and unassaulted. So, so sorry I’m not smiling more, I’m trying to conduct a quick risk assessment while traveling via public transportation.
  • Imagine how frustrated you feel when you hear about another assault, another threat, harassment, rape. Imagine the sadness. Imagine the helplessness, because you know. You know she had rules, too. You know the rules don’t matter. They don’t keep you safe, because rapists don’t care about the rules. Men who choose violence will knock your rules down, and then knock you down.
  • Imagine holding your cell phone to your ear, pretending to have a conversation with your boyfriend, husband, brother (also imaginary), Dad, anyone in order to discourage that random guy near you from conversationally engaging. Imagine that your solitude is seen as an invitation by those of the opposite sex. Imagine that your headphones, your book, your refusal to hold eye contact, your brisk pace, your unsmiling gaze, your purposeful energy, all of it adding up to a clear indicator, a message — I am not here to talk to you — is disregarded by these men, who want to conversationally engage.
  • Imagine your energy seeping out of you, being drained out, slowly spilling out in these ways, day after day. Imagine how tired you get. Imagine how much work it is. Imagine how you have so little energy left, how it’s not enough energy to give a fuck about being polite when some random guy conversationally engages you because… he’s bored? You’re there? And why didn’t he conversationally engage the guy across from him, or the elderly man seated next to him, or that couple with the two kids? None of them are wearing headphones. You are. You’re the only person in speaking distance who’s wearing headphones and reading a book. Or at least you were, before you were conversationally engaged. You’re also the only person in speaking distance who is a woman, alone. Imagine how often you sigh internally, seeing this, being part of this scenario, wanting to tell him, this random guy, wanting to shout it in his face but knowing in your bones that he’ll be defensive, angry, accusatory. Knowing he’ll spin it: “Wow, really?” he’ll say. His voice will be wounded. “You think any guy who talks to you is hitting on you? Kind of arrogant. I’m just bored. I just wanted to chat with someone. You seemed interesting. Excuse me for being friendly. God. I’m one of the good guys, okay?” Okay, dudebro. You bet. Thanks for clearing that up. I can totally relax now that I know your intrusion upon my solitude, my space, my silence was out of sheer boredom, not anything else. That makes it completely forgivable. Fun, even! I totes love being a diversionary form of entertainment for bored guys, anytime, anywhere.
  • Imagine going out in public with your daughter. Imagine watching the men: the old men, the middle-aged men, the younger men, the teenage just-becoming-men. Imagine watching those men watching your daughter. Watching their eyes roll downward, scraping slowly across your daughter’s body, down her torso, down her legs, back up again. Imagine how much you want to hide her away from them, from their entitlement, from their thievery, from their engagement. Imagine how much you want to scream in their faces. That’s the kind of conversational engagement I could really go for, come to think of it.

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