Ask a random woman if a man has ever made her question her safety just by talking to her, and chances are you’re going to hear an immediate yes. Not all interactions with strangers lead to discomfort, of course, and sometimes it just comes down to basic gut instinct. There are also varying levels of discomfort when men talk to you as a woman, from “Oof, this is awkward” to “I feel creeped out right now” to “I wonder if this guy is a serial killer.”
When a man starts talking to us in a way that makes us uncomfortable, we generally make it known in some way. Most of us won’t come out and say, “Back off, dude,” unless the behavior becomes super egregious, because 1) it may not be in our personality to be blunt, 2) we expect that the guy will take the hint eventually or 3) we sense that confronting the man would make us even more unsafe than we already feel.
More often than not, we make our discomfort clear in our body language and the way we respond to questions. Long story short, if we don’t show we’re interested, we’re not interested.
A viral video from TikTok News shows an interaction between a 19-year-old woman selling stickers at a retail shop and a man who kept asking her questions about herself. It’s a masterclass in what not to do as a guy and a perfect example of what signs to look for to determine that a woman isn’t picking up what you’re laying down.
Watch the interaction:
So first of all, after the first few questions about her age and where she goes to school, the guy should have gotten the clue that she was not interested in conversing with him further. Her answers were short and to the point. She didn’t offer any additional details, nor did she reciprocate with questions about him. If a woman is interested after you strike up a conversation, she will not answer your questions this way.
She didn’t add what she’s studying or whether she likes school. She didn’t ask, “How old are you? Do you go to school?” She shows no interest whatsoever in keeping the conversation going.
Second of all, her body language is a clear indicator. She’s not smiling warmly. She’s not leaning casually over the counter toward him. She doesn’t go over to him when he asks for help. She stands still, fidgets sometimes and only moves when she needs to in order to do her job.
This is the body language of a woman who is uncomfortable. Not “just shy.” Not “playing hard to get.” Uninterested and uncomfortable, clearly.
Why wouldn’t she just refuse to answer his questions, or be direct and tell him to leave her alone? For one, she’s working. He’s her customer. There’s a certain level of courtesy and friendliness that is customary and expected from an employee working with the public. And it’s not always easy to gauge exactly when it crosses the line into inappropriate-enough-to-say-something. While this guy’s behavior got creepier and creepier as he ignored her cues that she wasn’t interested, nothing he said was clearly problematic.
That’s part of what is so frustrating about interactions like this. It’s not like the guy is being gross or saying anything over the top. It’s the relentlessness that’s the issue. Question after question about her life. Some might say he was trying to be friendly or “just making conversation.” No, he wasn’t. Conversation is a two-way street. It’s not a man peppering a woman with personal questions continually as she gives one-word answers and clearly doesn’t want to keep talking.
Is it possible that he just isn’t good at reading social cues? Sure. Is it possible that he thought he was flirting and that she would feel flattered by it? Sure. Is she still uncomfortable? Yes. Is his refusal to give up still creepy and inappropriate? Yes.
I’d venture a guess that nearly every woman out there has been in this young woman’s shoes, unsure of whether our safety is at risk. It’s easy to say, “Oh, come on. He was just talking.” But this is a man who doesn’t seem to respect boundaries in conversation—why would she expect him to respect boundaries in any other way?
Women constantly have to calculate whether men who make us uncomfortable are just awkward or if they are a threat, and it sucks. Just as we have to look for signs of potential danger, we certainly should be able to expect men to look for signs that we’re not interested.
And if the man actually did notice her signals and purposely ignored them, then she was right to be wary. Being friendly is one thing. This is entirely another.