Dear Strangers Who Talk To Me In Public

Men, please start listening to women when they tell you they want to be left alone.

This happened:

I was in the mall waiting for my mum to get off work. There is an area in the mall with comfortable chairs. I was sitting in one of these chairs & reading a book. I was sitting there with my book when an elderly woman sat down in a chair next to me. She started talking, & I’m generally more forgiving of elderly women who do this, so I spoke to her. We talked for probably about ten or fifteen minutes before she got up & left. She was very sweet, but I was glad once she had gone. I went back to reading my book. Within five minutes of her departure, someone else sat down. I didn’t really pay attention to who because I don’t give a fuck. However, I found out in very short order who it was because he thought I seemed super nice & wanted to talk to me. He was a drunk, middle aged man who looked like he hadn’t bathed or washed his clothes in a very long time.

Now, if you’re dirty or drunk or needy, I don’t care. However, those things added together do not equal a person that I fancy a nice little chat with on the best of days. Even if I’m in the mood to talk I will not want to talk to you. Do you understand? Of course you don’t, you’re drunk.

So. This man started off by telling me how pretty I was. Then how nice I was. Then he asked me for money. I gave him money in the hopes he would leave. He did not. Then his girlfriend came over & they started telling me their life story. I ended up walking away. Then he wants to know where I was going! I told him I had to meet someone & tried really hard to walk, not run, away from whatever the hell was going on.

Now, I’m sure they were nice enough people. They didn’t give me any indication otherwise. However, that isn’t the point. This happens to me a lot. I’m doing something, & someone just decides that now’s a good time to have a novel’s worth of dialogue between us. Know what, though? Now’s not a good time. I’m out because I have shit to do & I don’t care if it doesn’t look important to you. It isn’t my job to keep you entertained. I don’t even know who you are. Go away.

This is not the end of the story. After I left, I gave up on reading my book. I was too frustrated & plus I couldn’t sit in my comfy chair anymore. I went into a store in the mall where a buddy of mine works. We aren’t close, but we get along fairly well & I like visiting him from time to time. There were some people wandering around the store, & he was sitting at the till reading a book. I found it remarkably amusing that he was reading, due to the complaint he was about to hear.

I greeted him with, “You know what I hate? When you’re sitting there, reading your book all quietly, & people keep interrupting you with pointless things & won’t leave you alone.” I thought I was being funny & he agreed. (If you don’t understand the humour, he was reading his book at work & people were interrupting him constantly, but that’s because he was at work. Get it? Get it? See what I did there?) I then told him what had happened.

However! The various people that were in the store all left in very short order, & each & every one of them was completely outraged at what they’d heard me say. We overheard one man talking about how selfish I was for wanting to be left alone.

Wait, I’m selfish? So, let me get this straight. One person is clearly in the middle of something & another person, who doesn’t know them, interrupts & expects their full attention & time, & the person who was busy is the selfish one? When the fuck did that become a rule? I’ll say it again. It’s not my damn job to entertain you.

Maybe some people enjoy being approached by strangers & talking for twenty minutes, an hour, however long you’ll stick around if you’ll let them. & that’s cool! Go forth & find those people! You have my blessing & encouragement. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be social. But when someone politely makes it clear that they aren’t interested in talking to you just accept it & move on, buddy!

What wasn’t really present in that story was how offended &/or angry some people get when I make it clear that I want to be left alone. I get called names & sometimes they try to intimidate me. I feel it’s worth mentioning that it’s always men who are angry about it. I usually keep my headphones in, even if I’m not listening to music, just so people think I can’t hear them. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes men will actually poke or tap me to get my attention so they can start talking about nothing or hit on me.

There’s something really unnerving about that. I shouldn’t have to pretend like I can’t hear you.

There’s a lot more I’d like to say on the subject, but it’s a pretty simple concept:

There’s this thing I do frequently where I need to be out for some reason. Maybe I’m grocery shopping, or on the train on my way to work. Maybe I’m waiting for my mum’s shift to end & I’m sitting in the mall, reading a book. Whatever the case is, I am in a public place & I’m by myself. When people are out in public, sometimes there’s a reason to talk to them. Maybe they dropped something, or you bumped into them & want to apologize. That’s totally polite & fine. However, please understand this: Expecting someone to enter into a lengthy conversation with you on your whim & for no real reason is creepy, invasive & unreasonable. What I am doing is not less important than your desire to be distracted from your day. Find someone else to talk to.

“I treat people the way I want to be treated. I leave them the hell alone.”

I’m not sure who said that, but it’s bloody brilliant.