Here, finally, are my guidelines. They seem pretty easy to implement.
1) Don’t yell (or hoot, or whistle, or bark, or honk, or make suggestions) at women you see on sidewalks, roadways, or other public places. There are two caveats to this and both are predicated on you knowing this woman ahead of time. The first is if you are supposed to be meeting this friend, date, etc., and you see her but she doesn’t see and you call her name to get her attention. Note: I said “call her name,” not shout “hey, bitch, bring that big ole ass over my way.” There is a difference. The second caveat is if you and this woman have a previously agreed upon role play deal whereby you pretend to be a jackass and she enjoys it. Outside of those two caveats, barking out of a car window is only acceptable if you actually need heartworm pills and annual rabies shots. Yelling out of passing cars generally makes women assume that you are either a psychotic rapist or a deranged child-man who is going for his first car ride. Neither is likely to get you a date. Just fucking stop it.
2) Learn to read body language and context. I typed this all out and it was great and then WordPress lost it so just assume this makes as much sense as the last version. The lost version. (That should be the story of my success: The Lost Version because somewhere out there is a version of my life that makes sense but it’s not here.) Look, if learning how to read basic body language and situational context is too hard for you, don’t talk to women, don’t talk to men, join a monastery or cult or buy a trailer on a mountain in the desert. Women are not from Venus. They are not a separate species. All that is bullshit the media told you because separatist comedy is easy and they need to sell magazines or books brokered on the celebrity of a sex video or some other nonsense.
Some women want to be told they’re beautiful. Other women would prefer you compliment their dress or shoes or necklace because they feel like your standard of beauty is out of their control. I’m in that second group. When people who aren’t my husband or my best friend tell me I’m beautiful or pretty or attractive enough not to scare small children (note: I regularly scare children), it makes me feel like a lamp or a piece of hotel artwork. I have some issues with esteem when it comes to shit I know how to do because in my head, if I can do it, it’s easy and no big deal so I don’t see it as a skill no matter how many people tell me that’s insane. When strange men at the grocery store tell me I’m pretty, I hear, “I would hang you on the wall over my couch and not get remotely bored until all the smoke from by bong got you dirty and I left you out by the road for poorer neighbors. Thus, I make a face appropriate to envisioning this rather than saying “thank you” and smiling like a beauty contestant. If you’re reading body language correctly, the right response is to accept this and leave. Inappropriate responses are to scream, stalk, threaten, or tell her she’s a stuck up bitch.
Context is key:
- At a fancy gala where everyone’s dressed up? Telling a person he or she looks great (respectfully) is fine.
- At work on Tuesday? Probably creepy unless your relationship with the person goes beyond work. (If you haven’t been to this person’s house as a guest, it’s probably creepy to complement the person rather than the clothes or shoes. And if you’re the boss, keep the complements professional and vague and neutral. Things like “sharp” instead of “sexy” You’re not stupid, you know what I’m saying.
- Strange, harried woman at the grocery store? She’s busy so if you complement her and she acts like she doesn’t hear you or offers a quick thanks and runs off, don’t get all flustered and upset and shout that she’s a racist crazy lesbian bitch down the chip aisle. Get ahold of yourself. She’s got other problems at the moment. Sorry if you think she’s the girl of your dreams. If she truly is, you’ll probably run into her again when she’s less busy. Trust the universe or something. Or just chill.
- Strange, relaxed woman at the grocery store? Let’s say she’s smiling and making chit chat with the woman in front of her in line and everything about her says she’s approachable. Fine. Complement away. However, if she says thanks and turns back to the woman in line or smiles and nods and shifts feet like she’s waiting for you to go, don’t stand there offering your number and describing your favorite sex positions. Also, she might just be in a good mood that doesn’t change the fact that she’s in a relationship or she’s not interested or she’s visiting and doesn’t want a one night stand or anything long distance or maybe she just doesn’t feel the say way about you and that’s okay. Move on. She is not all women. The next relaxed smiling lady you see at Trader Joe’s may offer you her number and tell her she’s super into your favorite whatever.
3) Be respectful. Be polite. Unless you know this person really well and you have the sort of relationship where “you look banging in that dress” is an accepted form of communication, don’t say that to strangers. Pretty much, don’t say shit to strange women that you wouldn’t want to say to your mom or grandmother or the pastor/pastor’s wife depending on your denomination. Again, context is key here, too. Also age. And the ability to move on. “You look smokin'” to the girl at the nightclub at 2am is maybe okay if you’re both in your early twenties and a little drunk. “I’d totally hit that” is just not right no matter what. I’m sure there’s a woman out there with low enough self esteem to think this vague comment that implies you’re potentially fuck-able with the connotation that there are conditions attached. There is no reason to encourage her terrible self-esteem unless you, too, have an awful self view and this comment does nothing for either of you.
If you think “I’d totally eat cupcakes off that ass” is polite or respectful, please buy that mountaintop trailer now.
By the same token, commenting on body parts makes you a creepy asshole unless you’re complementing the body parts of a person you are already in a good personal relationship with. Your wife’s breasts can be sexy to you. The woman at the laudromat? Keep that shit to yourself.
4) Keep your hands to yourself. No touching. This is partly cultural and if you live in an area where several cultures converge, you’re going to have more trouble navigating this than if you live in the same town with the two hundred other people you’ve known since birth. I have a friend who likes to kiss people. On the mouth. She claims it’s cultural, though her mother and brother both seem to know that kissing strangers on the mouth is a good way to get slapped. Point here is that if your culture has a form of greeting that you just don’t see a lot of people on whitebread media doing, maybe explain yourself to your friends and coworkers before doing it to them and if they aren’t comfortable, don’t force it.
I have another friend who kisses people on the cheek and hugs them. I’m not a big fan of touching. We’ve worked our way up to this form of greeting and I’ve adopted the quasi-fake air kissing thing when I’m around other friends and acquaintances who participate in cheek kissing. I also have long arms so it makes it easier to keep them at a more comfortable distance. Note I said friends and acquaintances, not random strangers who just came up to me in a bookstore. I don’t know you and you’re getting a handshake at best. Sorry.
As a subset of this, listen to people when they tell you not to do something or that they’re uncomfortable. There’s a guy we’ve known for years because he’s semi-attached to some work people we occasionally run into. He’s a complete misogynist, something he’s proven again and again with comments, attitudes, hiring decisions, and just about everything else he’s ever done. He’s also terribly classist and sees himself as better than just about everyone including the British royals. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve told him, politely, rudely, drunkenly, with body language, with glares, and with mild violence not to touch me. I don’t want him stroking my arm or putting his hand on the small of my back or on my shoulder. I don’t want a kiss or a hug or that weird standing-too-close-rubbing thing. Yet, if I were to just flat out elbow him in the throat, people would say I’m the one in the wrong. Don’t be this dickhead.
Understand that there are approximately a million reason why someone doesn’t want you touching them ranging from their own cultural upbringing to PTSD to germ-phobia to just being covered in something sticky from the table they were just sitting at or from changing their kid’s diaper and running out of hand sanitizer. Just accept it and move on. Sure, there’s a chance the person really is a racist, homophobic lunatic who hates fat people, but honestly, that’s only one possibility out of the other 999,999 so why shout that down the chip aisle like you’re off your meds.
5) Accept no. Accept go away. In other words, stay polite. If this person you’ve engaged for whatever reason does not want to talk to you, doesn’t want to keep talking to you, or turns and runs the other way, just accept it. Does rejection hurt? Sure. But you’ll heal. It’s not a sucking chest wound. It’s not a stab wound to the femoral artery. It’s just No.
And again, most women have spent their whole lives being told men are a dangerous species and before meeting you at seven o’clock on the subway platform, she’s probably been whistled at like an errant dog, shouted at by a dude at the corner store, told her breasts look nice in her suit at work, and followed two blocks by a kid in a jacket too big for the weather. Are you all these other people? Maybe? Sometimes we’re just tired of trying to figure it out and want to be left alone. Sometimes we’re in a relationship. Which, on the one hand, many of us don’t want to have to tell you because it annoys us that you don’t hear “no” from us as people but you accept if we’re someone else’s property. And on the other hand, sometimes you don’t listen to anyway. If I tell you I’m married and your response is to tell me I don’t need him, I need you instead, what you’re actually saying is “I’m a big dickhead who never grew ears so all I hear is the sound of sperm floating around in my head. It’s like the ocean.” Sometimes we don’t want to be in a relationship or meet new people. Sometimes we’re focusing on us or we’re in a dark place and acting remotely normal takes more energy than you can understand. Sometimes we have two jobs and three kids and an ex-husband who calls six times a day to beg for forgiveness and we just can’t deal with your bullshit. Sometimes we’re just not attracted to you or you sound boring or whatever. It happens. Sorry, again, you’ll heal.
And yeah, maybe the woman you just hit on really is just a racist, classist, sizist lesbian who hates men and has a part time job as a serial killer. It’s a possibility. It’s just not the most likely and shouting insults at her doesn’t make other women want to date you. Shouting insults to random women tells the world you have the emotional maturity of a tadpole and that a relationship with you would be like dating a young teenager. Note: though there are plenty of creepy men who like the idea of dating teenage girls, I have yet to meet a human woman over the age of seventeen who wants to date any guy under the age of twenty and I’ve never met a woman old enough to drink who wants a guy too young to.