A few weeks ago I began receiving private messages on Facebook from various men who all began by telling me how beautiful they found me and how they felt there was a deep personal and spiritual connection between us. It got to the point where I was receiving so many that I felt uncomfortable. Obviously something brought me to their attention.
Now, the simplest solution would be to unfriend them and avoid friending anyone I don't personally recognize. But I don't want to do that. I am on Facebook because I want to attract attention and connect with people outside my personal circle, but as a writer, not on any kind of romantic basis.
I don't bear them any ill will (irritation is another matter). I get it's a long day in Nigeria or wherever and there's absolutely nothing personal about their efforts. They're looking for vulnerable people they can scam out of money. I'm not a good target in that a) I'm not vulnerable, b) I have a sense of humour and a grounded sense of reality and c) I have no money to send them even if a and b didn't apply.
It did get me thinking, however. Especially when I came across another pair of articles: Gretchen Kelly's post on how women automatically de-escalate and dismiss a variety of offensive and predatory behaviour and Liz Goodman's account of a man sexually harassing her 13 year old daughter in front of her.
I was lucky (sort of). I had an awkward phase which lasted well into my thirties (and one could argue is still happening). I didn't get the sort of attention which Gretchen Kelly describes, at least not with any kind of frequency. But I still had all the lessons drilled into me about always calming the situation down: make a joke, walk away, or apologize.
My first reaction on reading Liz Goodman's account was that she should teach her daughter some key jokes to make potential jerks back off in a hurry. (I'm an undercover police officer, I'm the real life inspiration for Fatal Attraction, and my personal fave: mention that you have some kind of surgical scar leaking fluids.) But that's no guarantee, which is also why I'd also recommend a good self-defence class.
That's when it hit me, I'm doing the exact same thing that Gretchen Kelly is talking about. When the messages on Facebook got uncomfortable, I posted a joke about how disappointed they'd be when they found out I didn't have any money. I did it deliberately to get them to back off. (In retrospect, perhaps I ought to have started demanding money from them ... opportunity lost.)
I'm not sure where the answer is. De-escalation is almost always safer than angry confrontation. A jerk who is willing to leer and grab at a clearly unwilling target is not likely to have an after-school-special reaction to a lecture on decency. For most predators, the method is not important, it's the act of exerting power which they enjoy. And they're usually much more comfortable with escalating than their targets.
In a story, I can wither predators with my witty repartee, I can defeat them in a flurry of perfectly timed kicks and punches. I'm never lost for words or tactically outmaneuvered. In a story, I can always win.
But I don't get to write the final drafts of life. Which means I have to be a little more cautious when dealing with predators out there. But rest assured, in my head, I'm kicking ass.