The First Time I Was Harassed
There is a room at my college called the “Commuter Lounge.” As the name implies, it is a hangout space for commuting students. My college is something like 97% on-campus students (out of the incoming Freshman class of 600-odd students, less than 30 commute) so this room is little-used, very quiet, and absolutely perfect for introverts like myself to get some work done without disruption. Plus there is a free charging station for phones, so that’s a big plus.
I had been sitting in this room, working on my laptop, for around 30 minutes before another student walked in. She looked really surprised to see me in the room but politely introduced herself as a fellow commuter student before sitting down to work on her own laptop across the room from me. We sat in comfortable silence for approximately 5 more minutes before another student showed up. A boy. We’ll call him Tyler.
Tyler is not content to introduce himself and sit quietly. Instead, he introduces himself, sprawls on a couch close to my seat, and starts talking to me. I nod politely a few times, make a few perfunctory comments, before going back to my homework. Tyler, however, does not get the hint.
Once it becomes clear I’m not going to willingly talk to him on a subject of mutual interest, Tyler changes tack. He begins by making fun of my laptop.
“Why do you have a Dell laptop?”
“I like it.”
“That’s awful. Dell’s the worst. Why’d you buy it?”
“It was a graduation present.”
“I hope you asked for a gift receipt with it, Dell computers are crap. Literally anything is better.”
“I didn’t want an Apple computer because then I’d have to learn a whole new operating system.”
“Should have gotten an HP then instead of that thing you have.”
At this point I’m becoming angry. My laptop was a gift (an expensive one) that I was allowed to pick out. My dad helped me find a laptop that would work best for me, had good reviews from other people, also had some fun and exciting features. I own a nice laptop and I have carefully decorated it with stickers to personalize it even more. I love this thing, and I am not happy this idiot boy is insulting something I take such pride and joy in.
Very coolly, maintaining eye contact for the duration of this sentence, I tell Tyler, “I did not ask for your opinion on my computer. I like it, it works well for me, and I don’t need or want your opinion on it, thank you.”
“Your mouth said one thing but your eyes said another,” he says in what I’m sure he thought was a suave manner.
“You can’t even see my eyes since I’m still ignoring you, moron!”
I go back to working, thinking that’s the end of the matter.
Tyler switches gears. He talks to the other girl (whom, I come to find out, already knows him) and begins telling her all about his ex-girlfriend (very careful enunciation on the word “ex”, not-so-subtle glance in my direction to make sure I heard him) and how he’s very good at braiding hair and doing nail polish and stuff because his ex-girlfriend and his sisters let him practice on them. The other girl makes a benign comment about how useful it is to know how to braid hair, which Tyler emphatically agrees with. He’s repeatedly looking at me to gauge my (non-existent, I might add) reaction. I debated pointing out the obvious — that I have a pixie cut so braids don’t work for me — but decide it is smarter to keep ignoring Tyler.
Finding none of his normal methods to be working Tyler starts to devolve. He directs questions at me and nags me until I answer, much like the sixth graders I’m observing for an education class do.
“What’s your major?” he asks. “Come on, what is it?”
“I asked first,” he protests.
“I know,” I say, not looking up. “Ladies first.”
Stuff like that. Harmless questions (at first, but they got slightly more invasive as he started probing to see if I had a boyfriend), but all of my return comments are sarcastic and cutting. I am clearly angry at him, irritated at his interruptions, and tired of playing this game. The other girl in the room does her best to distract Tyler, sensing that I am ready to throw something at him. But Tyler won’t be sidetracked now that I am replying, even if I am verbally destroying him after every question and comment of his. He does his best to compliment me (You are really salty, I like a girl with that kind of humor, etc.) but I am having none of it.
Now, throughout this entire one-sided conversation, Tyler’s language has been anything but gentlemanly. Foul language makes me uncomfortable, especially when used in excess, and it has only gotten worse the longer he’s been trying to talk to me. I have finally reached the point where I know that, A.) Tyler will not be leaving me alone so long as I am in the room and B.) I will have to leave if I want to go back to doing my work.
It took me roughly three seconds to grab my bag and start packing things up, yet in that timeframe Tyler’s attitude changes entirely. “Where are you going? Don’t leave! I was only joking around!”
I risked looking at him and could see his posture had changed; he was sitting forward on the couch, like he was ready to get up at a moment’s notice. I knew if I didn’t respond he would get up and follow me. So I lied to his face.
“I have class.”
“Oh. That’s a good enough reason to leave, I guess. I’ll see you around! We’re friends now, right?”
“No we aren’t”
“Nah, this is how I make friends. I just latch on and never let go, right [other girl’s name]?”
“He’s right,” she says rather gloomily.
“So you are like a barnacle?” I say. “Just attaching to whatever comes closest to you? That’s annoying. You have to pry barnacles off with a knife.”
I left very quickly, hoping I’d stunned him enough to keep him from trying to follow me.
My next class wasn’t for three hours, but I made for the building it was in anyway. I hurried up to the English Department on the 3rd floor, counting on the fact that if Tyler followed me (a small chance but I wasn’t taking risks) I could easily claim that I wanted to talk to my teacher before class. My advisor would let me hide in her office if need be.
In the quiet aftermath of this encounter I try to decide if he has harassed me. I felt harassed. But I have never been harassed before this, and I didn’t quite know what I was feeling emotionally. Creeped out, certainly. Not scared, since I carry pepper spray, but not unafraid, either. This was the first time I felt the need to run away from a man, too. It took me a few hours of texting my brother and my best friend to feel normal again.
But I bet if you asked Tyler he’d say he was just casually flirting with a girl and would describe himself as a “nice guy.”