Apparently, there are people who lie awake at night wondering if they are sociopaths. The advice that they get that by now is bordering on being cliche goes something like “If you’re worried about being one, then you aren’t one. But if the idea excites you that you probably are.” Lots of people also mistakenly apply this advice to worrying about being creepy. It’s an understandably tempting notion. A lot of people are really scared of being creepy, sometimes to the point of panic. For people who cling to this myth in order to sleep at night, the fact that it’s fallacious can be difficult to digest. However, effectively solving your creeping problem or your creeping anxiety problem requires putting this myth to rest.
Let’s begin with the myth itself:
Usually, it begins with a guy who’s recently had an interaction that didn’t go exactly as he had hoped. He can’t put his finger on what might have gone wrong but he’s starting to worry that he might have come across as creepy. This distresses him greatly. He replays the interaction in his mind over and over again but still can’t seem to figure out what creepy thing he might have done. Then, whether through the internet, a friend’s advice or something he comes up with himself, he concludes that his fear is enough to prove that he couldn’t possibly have made a mistake that made him seem creepy.
The truth is, you can worry about being creepy and still be creepy. I’ve already covered in previous posts how worry and anxiety can actually make matters worse. When people think about the creepers who are not worried about it, they usually imagine boorish, egotistical fuckboys, or evil, mustache-twisting predators. Notice how the goal posts have been moved since the start of this thought? Being creepy began in this situation as The vague, subjective thing that it is. Being creepy by accident was an accepted possibility until the end where it somehow condense into being intentionally evil and/or not giving a fuck. In this way, some of the comfort people get from this logic comes from magically erasing accidental creepage from the realm of possibility. This brings us back to the “But my intentions were good!” myth. For many, this also creates a false dichotomy in cases of creepage. Either there’s been a horrible false accusation made against you ( perhaps even to defame you on purpose for no good reason), or you really are a terrible, creepy, disgusting human being. After all, only real, nasty creeps need to be concerned right?
So yes, even if you aren’t titillated by the idea of making someone uncomfortable, accidents can and do still happen. While this revelation may be aggravating your anxieties for the moment, I intend here to show you a way of dealing with them that can actually make matters much better than your current strategy might.
We really can’t talk about fear of being creepy without discussing the specter of creep shaming: the idea that for men in particular, being seen as creepy can have catastrophic life-ruining consequences and will effectively blacklist them from female attention for the rest of their lives as word spreads about what an awful, creepy creep he is. The ways people imagine creep shaming can range from being shunned by every female in your vicinity to being placed without trial on some kind of informal sex offender registry with all of the consequences of being on the real thing. This isn’t to say that word will never spread, particularly if you do something really extreme or threatening, or something that might make others see you as a perverted predator. Groping, peeping, stalking and extremely lewd and egregious sexual harassment might fall into that category. So in this case, the idea that you have to be an intentional predator in order to have to worry about consequences has a little bit of truth to it, at least in the case of large-scale social ostracism. For some perspective on how this works in real life, I’ll give you some examples from Creeper cases that I’ve covered elsewhere on this blog. Of all the creepers that I’ve detailed on this blog, none of them are experiencing any lasting social consequences from their actions. Even creepers like Doorstep Guy and Toshiba are currently in positions right now where nobody that they are in contact with has any awareness that these guys have stalked women for several-months-long stretches (that is, unless they continued their behaviour wherever they went but that is most certainly on them). In contrast, the social consequences for being a little awkward one day and pushing the conversation a little too far with someone who wasn’t into it are about as fleeting as they come.
Why being afraid is not helping you
Many people who are afraid of seeming creepy tend to see their anxiety as protective. They see it as the thing that guides them away from any missteps and serves as proof that they are a good person. The truth is, clinging to fear fails at both of these things.
Take the example of stereotype threat. Studies on various groups of people in various situations have shown that people who feel they may be judged negatively on their abilities based on some aspect of their identity tend to perform worse when reminded of that possibility. This is shown to be true for women taking math tests, African Americans an academic situations in general and likely also applies to nerds and shy guys talking to women. What’s more is that in the studies that controlled for how much the subjects cared about whatever it was they were being tested on, caring about performing well correlated with worse performance under the pressure of stereotype threat. The fear and pressure don’t make you any better. They just make you nervous to the point of screwing up your performance.
The point about fear making you a good person in this case, is only half-true at most. The truth is, there are a number of reasons why a person might be afraid of seeming creepy – and not all of them are altruistic.
Certainly, you may be afraid of being creepy because the idea of making someone uncomfortable or scared bothers you. There are also fears of what may happen to your reputation or fears of simply not getting what you want out of the interaction. While the latter two definitely hinge on how the other person feels, this is not the same as caring about their feelings and treating them as if they do misses the point. Fortunately, it is not difficult to tell which of these fears you’re acting on. It all depends on how you react when you find out that you’ve made someone uncomfortable or creeped them out. Someone who is acting out of concern for the other person’s feelings will generally apologize and not press the issue.
People whose fears have more self centered origins or whose fears put them into a panic and alter their judgment however, often try to use their fear as a shield. Despite having just made someone uncomfortable, the creeper tries to make himself into the victim by pointing out just how terrified he is of being creepy and how horrible it is that the other person is making him scared and guilty. This isn’t showing concern for the person’s feelings. Quite the contrary. It’s basically saying that your feelings should take priority no matter how the other person feels and that no matter what they wish to do about it, your idea of what they should do is the right one for them. The idea is that you aren’t in the wrong for doing something that confirms your fears but rather they are in the wrong for pointing out what you did. The interaction then, becomes an argument with a referee over what they believe to be a bad call. Even if the fear is totally genuine, this behavior can also be a tactic used to pressure women out of rejecting them at all much less reject them and feel creeped out. Attempting to undo this in this fashion is futile and pressing the issue only serves to make the person even more uncomfortable which doesn’t help you not seem creepy.
So as we’ve covered here, fear in this case is mostly useless. Instead of hanging on to something that doesn’t actually prevent bad things from happening and also makes you feel terrible, why not learn to not be creepy while also being confident and comfortable in these situations?