I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s tonight. I had a book in front of me, a pack of Timbits, and my phone which I was checking before settling in to finish the book I was reading.
I was sitting in a corner of the Timmy’s that you’d have to go out of your way to reach — intentionally, I wasn’t inviting company — and the only people with a reason to venture near were employees passing me to go around the counter I was sitting adjacent to.
So when I saw the guy *not* in a Tim’s uniform approaching in my peripheral vision, I knew to brace for unwanted attention.
He leaned over my table looking at my book, clearly angling for an entry into conversation.
“Can I help you?” I said, looking directly up at him. He smiled and gestured at my book.
“So, that…it’s…about Japan?”
The title is United States of Japan, but I was fairly certain he wasn’t a book aficionado who had spotted it, lying flat on a table, from across the room, and just had to come over and find out what it was about. So I continued to give him a questioning look.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Can I help you?” I repeated.
He laughed, with a new nasty edge.
“Can you help me? Do you know who…you think I need your help…?” He starts sputtering, still half-laughing.
So I say,
“I’m not comfortable with this interaction right now.”
And then his face gets weird and his tone even nastier.
“So call security! Do you know who I am? Call security, then, they all know me around here!” he exclaims, gesturing widely. I kept staring at him.
A few moments later he started to walk away, still muttering about, “Can I help him…”
I watched as he left and waited till he was out of sight, and then I went back to my phone, slightly rattled but more annoyed.
Two years ago, I would probably have ignored him in uncomfortable, tense silence while he loomed over me.
Five years ago, I would probably have tried to play along politely in the hopes that he would go away.
But today I just wanted to sit in a coffee shop and read a book, and I’ve learned enough in the last few years about dealing with potential conflict that speaking calmly but firmly and holding very still — and luckily, being in a fairly public place with security within shouting distance — felt like the right call, and in this case, it was.
This isn’t the first and will almost certainly not be the last time I am approached by a random man in public for something other than, say, directions. Which I am always happy to give, by the way, geographically-challenged though I may be.
But it’s bullshit that far too many randos on the street feel entitled to a woman’s time or attention and get upset — to varying degrees of seriousness — when she makes it clear that she isn’t going to give it.
And this, my gentleman friends, is why if you see a woman wearing headphones, or reading a book, or on her phone, or otherwise engaged in living her life without the express desire for engagement with other people, just…leave her alone. Life is not a meet-cute.
Unless she’s given you a very, very good reason to approach, don’t assume that she wants you to, and don’t be surprised if you get a cold response if you do.
We can’t always tell the difference between a guy just trying to be friendly, and a guy whose rage is going to flip on a dime. And most of us don’t want to find out what happens if you proposition us, and we decide to say no.