Being approached by people I don't know sets me on edge in a heartbeat. I've had enough experience in these type of situations to be able to detect, based on the first few words the person says to me, whether it's an innocuous encounter or a dangerous one.
The easier type to deal with are strangers who inquire about directions to someplace, and depending on whether I'm familiar with the route or street name, I may be of some help or at least look it up on my phone for them. The type of strangers I usually hope to avoid is the kind who chat me up with the intention of getting something from me that I have no interest in giving them.
It was an unusually warm day, although it was technically still winter. As I sat outside the library to soak up the sun, a guy walked over. "Hi," he said and then sat down right next to me. I didn't answer and instead stared at him. He looked to be around or close to my age. When he said hi again, I echoed the word back at him. I could feel the awkward tension rising.
I could not have sounded less enthusiastic yet somehow he took this as an invitation to continue conversing with me. He introduced himself by his first name, which I didn't hear clearly but I didn't bother to ask him to repeat it. That's how little I cared. I did feel bad for thinking so negatively of the guy as I didn't even know him, and another part of me felt nervous about coming across as rude if I bluntly told him right then and there that I wanted him gone.
My mind, at this point, was trying to puzzle out if he was attempting to sell me an advertisement. He prompted me for my name. I reluctantly gave it to him. After that, it was a series of basic questions on his part, which I answered sparingly with a lot of "Yeah's" or only followed up his comments with the minimum of answers. He went from general chatter about the great weather to asking for my ethnicity after not even five minutes since he started talking to me. It was clear he was trying to reel me in for something.
There was a period of silence where we just sat there, it all began to feel like an awkward scene inspired by Napoleon Dynamite. I thought about how ridiculous the situation was and that any passerby who noticed us probably might assume we were friends. It wasn't a full minute of silence before he asked me the question that I knew was coming. Except, he worded it in a weirdly aggressive way. "So, here's what I think you could do. Give me your number and I'll text you in the next hour so I can take you out sometime. How does that sound?" I was in disbelief at his attitude.
Did he really expect me to just hand over my number just like that? To a complete stranger like him? I admit it, the socially anxious bit of myself considered taking the cowardly way out by complying with his demand. For two seconds I imagined typing a fake number and pretending it was my real number but that idea quickly died out once I realized I would be caught lying if he tried to text me right after I gave him the alleged number.
My throat tightened. I could feel sweat starting to collect under my armpits. The only thing that gave me the courage to blurt out what I did was knowing there was no other way to make him leave. "No, I don't think so," I said. When he asked why, I replied, "Because I'm not comfortable doing that." After that, I expected him to go off on me because I rejected him. Instead, he got up wordlessly and walked away.
His back was turned to me as he waited at the street stoplight. He peered at me with what seemed to be an upset gaze. I simply gave him a raised eyebrow look.
Just moments earlier I had been afraid of upsetting him because the people pleaser in me never wants to upset anyone, even people I don't know, but upon seeing evidence of anger on his face, I remembered how inappropriately he behaved with me. And no, I still would not have given him my number even if he had made more of an effort to chat casually with me without making it so obvious what he was after.
What I learnt from this particular experience:
Saying no to someone is completely fine. You have the right to assert yourself, especially in situations where your gut tells you something is wrong.
You don't always need to settle for the easy way out of a situation just to appease another person.
Sometimes, peace can't even be found by the library!
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