How To Approach A Stranger And Not Be Creepy

My last post on sexual harassment and the problem of being creepy had a lot of “don’ts” in it, such as don’t corner someone you don’t know, don’t invade their personal space, and so on. But what about the “dos”?

One blogger, an author I know (Marie Brennan), listed a bunch of her “dos” in this post. She introduces her post by linking to John Scalzi’s An Incomplete Guide to Not Creeping and writes: “See, sometimes you get guys responding to this kind of thing by wailing that they’ll never be able to compliment a woman again, or whatever. And that just isn’t the case. You can say nice things to a woman, or even touch her — or even try to hit on her! — without weirding her out. Here’s how.”

She recounts actual scenarios she’s been in, emphasizing the importance of politeness and not pushing. If someone’s got boundaries, respect them. You’re allowed to indicate interest, but don’t assume that it’s reciprocated.

I know my boundaries are a little different than other people’s simply because of sex research; while someone else might be creeped out by a stranger talking about sex with them, I’m generally not. Then again, it all depends on the context. If I’m at a party and there are people I know around, then sure, someone I don’t know could approach me and want to talk about nearly anything and I’d probably be comfortable with it. Those kinds of conversations tend to feel safe because they indicate a shared interest or enthusiasm, along the lines of “How cool that you write for a sex blog! Have you ever heard of…?” (insert name of favorite sex blogger, sex toy, sex position, whatever)

Establishing a common interest early on makes it easier (for me at least) to pursue a conversation with a stranger and not feel threatened. That common interest could be a hobby, a food, or almost anything. That common interest might, in fact, be revealed by a compliment on my body art (tattoos or clothing style), which could start a conversation about body art in general, or personal experiences getting tattooed. But this could also be particular to me – I try to be gracious receiving compliments, since it’s just one of those things I do as a performer. Other people might be less comfortable receiving compliments or having their body be the topic of conversation.

Taking a genuine interest in the other person and not being offended when the level or intensity of interest is not returned seem to be two key elements here. If that Super Awesome Person you meet at a bar or party doesn’t reciprocate your fascination with them? Oh well, plenty of fish in the sea. And why would you waste your time pursuing someone who’s not that into you? Maintaining an open mind and having good self-esteem seem like important ingredients in the “meeting strangers without being creepy” equation as well.

What’s your comfort level in being approached by strangers? Or, alternately, how do you approach strangers and present yourself as non-threatening/creepy?

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About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.