Saturday, July 16, 2011
How to not be creepy.
My name is Holly Pervocracy, and I used to be a creep.
Not the worst kind of creep; I was certainly never dangerous, and it wasn't to the point where I drove everyone away, but I was definitely called creepy a few times. And given the side-eye-while-edging-away a few more times. I had a strong and unusual sex drive, a tendency to be attracted to pretty much everyone I was friends with and a lot of people I wasn't, and didn't know how to express these appropriately. I made jokes that weren't jokes about "ha ha, we should totally make out right now, wouldn't that be hilarious," I shared my fetishes too loudly and way too publicly, and I expressed attraction by puppydogging my crushes pathetically. I gave people the goddamn creeps.
I don't agree with Clarisse Thorn that "creepy" is a meaningless or sexist term. (See Pandagon's response.) I think it has a very clear meaning: someone who is creepy is someone who makes you feel unsafe and uncomfortable in a sexual way. And while you may be unfair in your discomfort--for example, if you feel uncomfortable around anyone who admits they're into BDSM--it's still real. When it's realest are the times when you don't know why you feel it. If someone strikes you as "creepy" and you can't put your finger on it, you feel a little unfair applying the label because they're clearly so nice but you just keep having this feeling--do not get alone with them. "Creepy" may be a pejorative sometimes; other times it's the goddamn Gift Of Fear.
But what if people think you're a creep, and you don't deserve it? I don't think the answer is to tell them that they're being wrong and unfair--you can't argue with a feeling, and trying to debate a person into not being afraid of you is kind of creepy in itself. Sometimes you may just need to move on to another social group. But sometimes there are things you can do to make people feel safer and more comfortable around you, even as you continue to pursue sex and romance. Take it from a recovering creep.
1) Work on your social skills in general.
I'm not going to go in-depth on this because it's an entire topic unto itself. I wrote a post about social skills a while ago that expresses my thoughts on the topic; Succeed Socially is another good resource. If you don't know how to talk to people at all, you're going to come off double-extra-awkward when you try to talk to them about going home with you.
2) Don't treat your life as a quest for sex.
I've done this. I've shaved my pubes before going to social gatherings, gone to them with "am I gonna get laid, am I gonna get laid?" foremost in my mind, and come home alone with my head hanging. Not only did this make me miss out on all the other fun I could have had, not only did this hurt my chances of getting laid by someone who'd like to get to know me a little first, but it was creepy. It meant that I'd do things like:
-Only talking to people I wanted to bang, and ignoring others (people really notice this)
-Turning the conversation around to sex (and specifically, to my sexual desires) too eagerly and too often
-Propositioning people as soon as they seemed remotely friendly
-Giving the impression that I was desperate and would fuck anyone (people are not flattered by "so, you seem to have a pulse" as a come-on line)
-Publicly sulking when it became clear I wouldn't be getting laid
-Emitting loud, obvious vibes of "I'm only here to get laid" (people are amazingly good at receiving those vibes)
All of these were creepy-ass things to do. Once I started going to social events to socialize, with an attitude of "if I get laid, great, but if not, I'll definitely get to hang out with my friends and meet new people," not only did people feel more comfortable around me, but I got laid more often to boot.
3) Don't try to "cheat the system" to avoid rejection.
That is, if you want to date someone, don't come up with elaborate schemes to force yourselves together in inescapable situations--oh look, we got assigned to the same work/class group, guess we're stuck together now--or ask them on clearly not-date activities that you plan to secretly turn into dates. Don't try to arrange any romantic-comedy "coincidences." Don't target your efforts at people who seem like they'd have trouble saying "no" (whether because they're young, new to the area or the social group, or just meek)--you don't have to ignore these people, but everyone will notice if you're going after them preferentially.
And if you want to have sex with someone, for God's sake don't be this guy. In every case, just freaking ask. The point of asking someone is not to get a "yes" by any means necessary; it's to find out how they feel about you.
Realize that, post-high-school, most people are not cruel in saying no. Rejection is awkward and painful for the rejector too, and anyone worthy of your affection is going to be gentle about it. If you know each other at all as people (and sometimes even if you don't), they're not going to laugh or insult you or tell all their friends how gross you are. They're just going to tell you that you won't be dating them, which is a situation you were already living with.
If someone says no, that means no. Don't keep asking and don't ask "why not?" The answer to "why not" is never something you want to hear, and forcing it out of someone will never change their mind; it'll just be excruciating for both of you.
4) Don't get angry or resentful.
It shows. Oh god does it show. If you feel like you're not being treated "fairly" when you ask for dates or sex, if you feel like you're not getting what you "deserve," if you're just angry and frustrated by the world in general and by attractive members of your preferred gender in particular--go home, pour yourself a beer, watch some TV, take some deep, deep breaths, and don't go back in the dating pool (or, ahem, commenting online) until your head has cleared.
When it comes to sex and romance, get the concept of what you "deserve" out of your vocabulary--and as much as possible, out of your mind. You deserve safety and respect... but someone can give you those without going out with you. When it comes to deserving a particular person, or deserving to have a partner or to have sex--think of a job interview. Would you hire the candidate who tells you that they really need this job and it would be unfair to give it to someone else, or the candidate who seems like they'd be good at the job?
5) Don't scare people.
The feeling of being "creeped out" is, ultimately, a feeling of fear. And if you make people afraid that you could genuinely harm them, then it doesn't matter how smooth and sexy you are; you're going to be treated like the worst kind of creep.
Here are my handy-dandy hints on how to not be scary:
-Don't corner people. Propositioning someone in an elevator, a moving vehicle, a deserted area, or in the metaphorical corners created by their job or their academic career--super creepy.
-Don't talk about violence. When you say "I oughta have punched that guy for how he talked to me," what I hear is "if you talk to me wrong, I might punch you."
-Keep your grubby little mitts to yourself unless you have their enthusiastic consent. (If you're not in a BDSM/feminist setting, this consent may be with body language and implications rather than explicit words, but there's still a very obvious difference between "consent" and "not resisting.")
-Don't publicly insult your preferred gender or advocate politics that degrade them. No one believes you when you try to turn on a dime and say "but you're different, honey."
6) Aspire to be a friend to everyone; the sex will follow.
Not in the Nice Guy sense of "be a friend to get sex." But if you can become popular in a social group--be someone that people like to talk to and laugh with, someone they call when everyone's heading to the bar and someone who's likely to show up to help out before the party--then you're much less likely to be perceived as creepy. And you'll probably get laid, just because knowing people and having connections means that you're likely to know and be connected to someone who wants to fuck you.
The least creepy people I know are the ones who can socialize with everyone in a pally, casual, undemanding way and just relax and have fun with it. This might be more important than everything else on this list; if you're good at being a friend, I think uncreepiness comes along almost inevitably.
7) Brush your teeth.
And don't wear a raincoat indoors, especially when it's not even raining.