So, a thing just happened (almost happened) to me, and I hesitate to share it, partly because I feel really stupid and partly because not much actually happened. But I feel like it’s yet another data point that explains something women have been saying for quite some time. So here goes.
My son and his girlfriend are volunteering in Phoenix today, so after dropping them off I went to a nearby park to play Pokémon GO for a little bit before getting some work done. As I cruised by the water fountain and restrooms, I noticed a man about my age. He looked … well, normal. A guy. As I do with just about anyone I happen to see (especially while slow-rolling to get some Pokémon mileage so as to not look too weird), I gave a nod and a smile of acknowledgement. I actually had to use the restroom, so I pulled into a parking space.
He approached the car.
I cracked the window just a tiny bit. He held up a dead Android phone, nodding to the cord I had plugged into mine and into the car charger.
“You have a charger I can maybe use for just a couple minutes?”
I figured what’s the harm, and cracked the window a tiny bit more and held out my hand. He mailed the phone through, and walked away from the car. I thought that was a nice respecting of boundaries.
While the phone was charging, he went back over to the water fountain and splashed water on his head a handful of times. It’s already getting pretty warm out, and he looked like he was feeling it. After a few minutes, he came back to the car. I checked his phone, told him what it was at, and made to hand it to him.
“You think maybe you could give me a quick lift to the bus stop on 24th?”
I should have thought about how it seemed a little fishy he didn’t ask right away, or maybe how it seemed fishy that surely there was a bus stop a little bit closer that he could easily walk to (turns out there is, on 29th, but I’m not familiar with the area and am an idiot about directions anyway). But I didn’t (think, that is). And I always try to help people when I can. I’ve picked up a couple of pets and reunited them with their owners, picked up some trash one morning with a volunteer, and driven a few people around parking lots when they couldn’t find their cars. Nothing huge, just that kind of thing. So I figured, what’s the harm?
I unlocked the passenger door and scooped my stuff off the seat.
“Just to 24th?”
“Yeah,” he said, and then tried to launch into asking me about myself: if I’d seen the softball game going on, what I like to do, if I had a boyfriend or husband, what I was up to that day.
I managed to work in the fact that I had a husband, because instinct always tells a woman to remind a guy about another guy’s claim on her. And I really didn’t want to talk about myself. I just wanted to drop him off. But I didn’t want to seem rude, so I smiled and responded noncommittally to most of the things he said. Because what’s the harm in being nice?
Then he asked me if he looked nice. I just kind of laughed politely.
“But, I mean, am I cute?” He looked self-deprecating, and I figured it was because he was sweaty from walking in the heat.
“You look fine,” I said. Because what’s the harm in paying someone a compliment?
Now we were nearing 24th, and I was just looking forward to having him out of the car. I felt a little silly, since he hadn’t really done anything at all, but I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable.
“Where’s the bus stop?” I asked.
“Just drop me off wherever. Down this side road is fine.”
“No, like where’s the actual bus stop?” I realized I was checking to make sure my own door was unlocked in case I needed to open it, and felt a little paranoid. He’d only tried to make conversation, after all.
“Actually, can you turn back down this side road and go back to the park? I forgot something.”
“No, I think I’ll probably just drop you off right here if that’s OK.” (“Right here” at this point wasn’t really near anything, not the park we came from or a bus stop, but he was starting to look like he didn’t really care where the car went as long as we were both in it.)
“OK, that’s fine. How can I pay you?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“No, seriously, I have to pay you.”
“You know, I really like married women.”
“Did you hear what I said?”
“I heard you.” I was starting to wish I knew where the local police station was.
“We have to do something for payment. How about some fun?”
“Yeah, no.” I was really starting to feel like an idiot and also really starting to wish I knew the neighborhood better.
“I mean, how about…” and he started to thrust his hips to make a point. He indicated his crotch with his hand, waggled his eyebrows. “Eh?” It looked like he was reaching for his waistband.
“I really do like married women. Hey, where’s my phone?”
His phone was on my center console, and he used grabbing it as an opportunity to begin moving in my direction. And that’s when I saw three large men standing at the curb around a tow truck.
“I’ll drop you off here.”
“Uh, OK. Just pull up to the corner.”
“No. Here is fine.” We were right next to the tow truck guys now, and at least one of them was looking at us.
And that’s it. He decided it wasn’t worth the risk, if he was going to go through with it at all, and got out. I eventually circled back around (after thanking the guys at the curb), and went back to the park. He was already back.
I’m not sure if I should have called somebody or not, but I was too flustered and angry at the time, so what I ended up doing was driving around and telling any other women who were in the area. He saw me talking to at least one group of women. When I left, I was going to try to get a picture of him, but he was on the far outskirts of the park, and didn’t look like he was heading back in anytime soon.
I’m still a little flustered. But my point here is, this is why women can’t afford to be nice. Each time I was friendly, he took it as license to go a little bit further — until it was too far.
So what are the good choices here? Don’t help people? Or do, but know exactly the right moment to stop being friendly? What if he had gone through with trying something? I was probably asking for it, wasn’t I? I let him in my car. I was nice to him. I didn’t even really call him out when he started being creepy.
Nothing really happened, which is why I hesitate to share a story when people have so much worse happening to them every day. But this is what women mean. If I can look frumpy and mom-ish and still be a target, then once again: Not all men, but yes all women.