Note: If you haven’t read the intro, I suggest you do so before reading further for terminology clarifications.
Often times, the first cognitive wall Creepy Guys hit in making sense of being called creepy is the tendency to blame the entire incident on their accuser and take no responsibility for what took place. This is not an irrational conclusion to come to, I might add. Many Creepy Guys have a background of having dealt with some degree of social anxiety and fear that others will think negatively of them. As a result, many of them have been fed some version of the line “You can’t control how people will react to you.” in the hopes of getting them to stop fretting about the outcome of any one exchange and just go out there and take some chances already. This is not bad advice in itself. Quite the contrary, it tells people that there is no way to guarantee that any particular person will like you and that waiting until you figure out a way to interact with people that will win friends 100% of the time is a surefire way to remain socially paralyzed.
Unfortunately, upon being accused of creepery, many Creepy Guys have taken this perfectly sound advice to mean “I don’t have to change anything about myself ever! People who don’t like me must simply have issues!”
This may indeed be true. If so, the Creepy Guy would go on with his interactions in life free of the Creep-stain because his accuser really was just a one-of-a-kind fluke and his behavior really isn’t bothersome to most people. More often, however, Creepy Guys see the same sequence of events pan out for them over and over again and still rely on the same “It can’t be my fault! Something must wrong with these women!” explanation of why this happens. They never quite understand that the common denominator in these situations is them and this often leads to wild butthurt theories as to why women are just generally awful, shitty people.
Here’s the problem with that.
Saying “You can’t control how people react to you.” is NOT the same as saying “You have zero influence on how you come across to people.”. Otherwise we would not have things like manners, hygiene, makeup, or clothing with brand names emblazoned obnoxiously across the front.
The “You can’t control people’s reactions.” line is meant to steer people away from black/white thinking in their social interactions; the idea that normal people never get rejected and that rejection means something is wrong with you. It’s there to remind people that there’s no surefire way to prevent rejection and when it does happen it isn’t always because you did something wrong. Indeed, being called a creep is no different. However some people, and particularly some Creepy Guys, instead of considering all the shades of gray and other various factors that come into play in a social situation, convert their black/white thinking to white/white thinking. You never see anybody refusing to take credit for making a good impression or admitting that they themselves cook up make-believe stories about the people they meet. It’s only when they make bad impressions that others’ impressions in general are written off as merely fictions drawn from their own psychological baggage. It’s heads-I-win-tails-you-lose.
“But my intentions were good! I don’t know what I did to creep her out!”
“She didn’t tell me anything! She just blew up at me/ran away/stopped talking to me!”
And you know what, Creepy Guy? I believe you. You probably really are a good guy. I believe you because I’ve been there and I know what it’s like to have girls start yelling at you out of nowhere when as far as you know, you didn’t even do anything. And from experience, I can tell you that it may be time to examine how you come across especially if this has happened to you more than once.
If you subscribe to the idea that people are just blinded by fantasy in their social interactions and therefore, impressions are worthless, then it would make sense as a standard of decency for everyone to take for granted that your intentions are at least neutral. Otherwise we’d live in a world where we go around making judgments on who is safe or unsafe using methods that are about as reliable as a coin flip. Fortunately for everyone (and unfortunately for you), that’s not how the world works.
It is a mistake to believe that if you’re good on the inside, people have to like you or else they’re bad people. It’s also a mistake to believe that your good intentions should be self-evident. Even if you don’t believe people should ignore their impressions of others, you may still be failing to take into account other factors in your approach and your presentation that may be inadvertently signaling to people that you may be an unsafe person. It is not on other people to uncomfortably continue on in spite of those possible red flags in order to figure your behavior out.
To give an example: I have a friend who back in high school in addition to being generally angry and unfriendly, insisted on shaving his head and coming to school every day wearing a bomber jacket and pants tucked into a pair of Doc Martens. For whatever reason, it simply did not make sense to him that the rumors spreading around school that he was a skinhead might have less to do with people having some kind of vendetta against him and more to do with the fact that he projected anger every-which-way and dressed himself in what’s basically the skinhead uniform. But nope, clearly kids were just being mean to him for no good reason and there was just nothing he could do about that.
Self-awareness helps. So too does the realization that when talking to a woman, there’s a lot more involved in the interaction than your good intentions and her imagination. There’s the setting. Were you in the college cafeteria or in an empty parking garage? There’s body language. Was your stance relaxed? Imposing? Did you come across as hiding something? Then there’s the physical aspect. Do you stink? Do you stink and not care? Do you look like a skinhead? And most importantly there’s the cultural subtext. In a world where women need to be wary of potential assault, why should she second guess her safety so you can not have to deal with properly communicating that you are safe?
Awareness of their signals is another important part of this. Are they closed off? Are they sitting in a place or position that would suggest they want to be left alone? Are they busy or engaged in something else? If you can’t get a read, when in doubt, ask if something is okay. Don’t do what I used to do and keep upping the ante til you get a reaction. Yes, a person can poorly manage their boundaries in a way that leads to these sorts of problems. There are ways of dealing with that.
The good news is, even if you still have no idea why you scare the shit out of the women you try to talk to, you can figure it out and it can be changed.