To the Men in My DMs

Please excuse the group message. Also, #NotAllMen! Just those of you who’ve tried to weasel your way into a sexual conversation.

First of all, don’t send me a private message to apologize. Really. If you wonder whether I’m talking about you, don’t write me all worried and then apologize for something you might have done. I’ll make it clear who you are. As for an apology, that’s yet another way to demand my time, and I’m done making men feel better about their mistakes.

Two nights ago when I thought about writing this, I was a lot angrier than I am now. In my head, this was going to be a shrieking rant with every other sentence in all caps. But as I often find myself these days, I’m tired. Like many women, I seem to have two modes: outrage and fatigue. Which I’m sure is doing wonders for my adrenal system.

I’ll address you one by one.

1) The other night, after a shitty week for women everywhere and several sad/angry posts triggered by the Kavanaugh hearings, I posted a photo of my new pajama pants and a book in my lap. The book is about two women working in a science lab (this seems relevant, somehow). It’s called Give Me Your Hand.

One thing I’ve been trying to do more of in the last year is promote books I like. Also, I want to lighten up my timeline so people don’t think I’m one-note with all the sad/angry stuff. So I don’t think I’m one-note. Plus, I really liked my new pajama pants.

After reading for a few hours, I went to bed. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I checked my phone (yes, I’m aware that’s never a good idea). And there on my lock screen was a message from you:

“The placement of the phrase ‘give me your hand’ in that picture might be unintentional, but I enjoyed it anyway….”

And suddenly a post that had seemed purely happy, almost silly, was sexualized. A post about my fucking pajama pants. Me, on my sofa, reading a goddamned library book about scientists.

It took me a while to fall back asleep.

I haven’t posted anything on Facebook since then. Your private message had the effect of making me feel a little less free, a little less open, a little more dirty. What was meant to be an antidote to the misogyny of the day’s headlines had turned into something icky.

You and I have never met, but we like and comment on each other’s posts. A few months ago you messaged to ask if I was going to a protest here in LA. If I’d been in town I would have been happy to meet you. But after that I started getting a vibe. More messages about my dating posts, apologies if you crossed a line by saying you liked reading about my sex life. I responded to about a third, always trying to turn the subject back to something besides me. The first inkling something was really off was when you wrote, three weeks after your last message, “It’s been awhile… just wondering how things are going.” Two thoughts: 1) I post frequently and openly on Facebook, so a quick glance will tell you how I’m doing. 2) Even if something more were going on, we don’t have that kind of relationship. We don’t have a relationship at all. To quote John Cusack from Grosse Pointe Blank when the guy from high school tries to start a fight with him, “There is no us.”

I can imagine what you’re thinking right now: “I’m sorry, no harm intended, I thought we enjoyed light banter in the DMs. Since you post about sex and you know I enjoy your posts about sex, I figured you’d like a sexual comment about your non-sexual post.”

Or maybe you’re thinking the opposite, that I’m a tease who sent mixed signals. But since your timeline gives the impression you’re running for wokest man on Facebook, I doubt that’s your reaction. And if it is, fuck you. You can stop reading.

But I’ll assume you’re sorry, because I really don’t want to hear from you. Let’s stick to public comments on each other’s posts, OK?

2) Three years ago, you and I messaged for a couple of days, sometimes late. We had slept together once about 25 years before, so it wasn’t the first time we’d flirted, and it was good to catch up. Then one night, I said I wanted to enjoy my solitude and was going to sign off.

You kept going. After four more messages, I told you again I wanted to be alone.

You kept going. That night I turned my phone over. The next morning I again asked you to stop. You kept going, so I disabled notifications.

And you kept going, asking to chat, posing questions about sexual tension, describing your perverse delight in my unattainability.

After more than a week, you wrote, “Uncle?” And then I finally asked you again to please stop, that it was not fun.

You apologized, said you misunderstood, thought I was enjoying it. I said OK, I could have been clearer, apology accepted.

And then you unfriended me.

Earlier this year, you wrote me to say you were sorry you’d lost me as a friend and that you knew you’d been an asshole. You said the extended #MeToo conversation was making you reflect on your past bad behavior. I appreciated it, said thanks. We friended each other again on Facebook.

And then the vaguely flirty messages started up again. I responded the first few times but then recognized the pattern, so I began ignoring them. To your credit, most of what you’ve said is general, like how much you love living vicariously through my dating posts or how I should monetize my online adventures.

To your credit, you haven’t let me know you were thinking of putting your hand between my legs when I posted a picture of the fucking pajama pants I just ordered from The Gap.

How many times have I responded in good faith to a guy I know is going down this road? When the tone seems off but I don’t want to be rude in case I’m mistaken? How many fucking times do I have to second guess my instincts when I KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON?

3) We never said a word to each other in high school, and although apparently we said hi at a reunion several years ago, I don’t remember, perhaps because I was too drunk by that point. But soon after the reunion, you started messaging me like we were friends. First you wanted career advice, and when I didn’t respond right away, wrote, “You ducking me?” A few years later you wanted to talk on the phone about the memoir I’d drafted about divorce and Tinder. When I asked what, specifically you wanted to talk about — were you an agent, a writer, new to the dating scene? — you didn’t answer my question. You just said, “Call if you’d like. If not, I understand.”

Of course I fucking didn’t. And then you wrote to ask why. And that’s when I told you the whole exchange was intrusive. You said I was jaded. Wondering if I’d overreacted, I showed the exchange to a few friends. “Weird, right?” They agreed, yuck. One pointed out that the subtle sleaze would allow plausible deniability if you were called on it.

4) First of all, unlike the first three guys, you’re not married. Second of all, not only did you stop, but you weren’t a dick about it.

Three years ago, after a mildly flirty exchange, you asked for naked pics and said you wanted to have cyber sex. I said no, I had no interest in either. For the next year, you continued to message me occasionally asking for nudes and saying it would be weird if we never slept together. I either ignored you or asked WTF. About a year ago you apologized (likely as part of amends for one of your 12-step programs). And now your messages — when they happen, which is rare — are kind and comforting and thoroughly uncreepy. You were the first person to send me a note the morning my Dustin Hoffman story broke to ask if I was OK.

There you have it. Four men, but not all men! (Actually, there are plenty more but they took the hint when I ignored them. And I’m not even counting all the randos who write, “hello beautiful smile i would please like to know you more.”) There are so many of you who are lovely and wonderful and not creepy, and I thank you for that.

A big complaint I’ve heard in the last year is that men don’t know where the lines are — they’re confused about what women want and don’t want. So here are some tips off the top of my head:

  • Don’t assume a woman who writes about her sex life is inviting you to be sexual with her.
  • If she asks you to stop, stop.
  • If her answers get shorter and she responds to fewer of your messages, consider that she may be trying to find a polite way out. Stop.
  • If she ignores you after more than two attempts to engage her, stop. She shouldn’t have to ask, because that only invites more conversation.

What are my suggestions for unmarried men who like a woman on social media but don’t know how to start interacting with her in a way that might lead to a genuine connection? Well, I don’t know. I really don’t. Don’t be a creep, is all I can come up with.

I was about to try to think of some things you should do, and then I realized, Fuck it, I should get some sleep. Every time a woman points out a problem in this world, men demand a solution. But I, for one, am tired of working double duty.

Follow Anna Graham Hunter on Twitter.

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