How to Handle a Romantic Stalker

Is there someone who just won’t leave you alone and has crossed the line into stalking? Here’s what to do first.

by posted on April 29, 2024
Deering Romantic Stalker

In a previous article, we talked about how to nip a stalker in the bud before things go too far. But if you’re already past the point of “too far” and you’ve got a full-fledged romantic stalker—an ex who wants you back or an acquaintance who keeps asking you out after you’ve said no—there are a few things you can do.

First, understand that there’s a line between persistence and “this guy just won’t leave me alone,” and men and women don’t always agree on where that line is. For this reason, you should be very clear—one time—with a man you’re not romantically interested in. Then you both know where the line is, and if he keeps crossing it, he’s gone from a persistent suitor to a boundary-breaker.

The good news is that according to security expert and author Gavin de Becker, romantic stalkers seldom turn violent without some pretty clear and easily noticed signs building up to it. Ask yourself the following questions, taken from de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear:

“Has he demonstrated violent tendencies or said anything that indicates you deserve violence?

Does he feel like violence is his only option, or is harassing and threatening seemingly satisfying his urge?

Does he give an indication that violence will get him what he wants, or that he’s willing to give up his freedom by becoming violent?

Is he capable of violence? (AOI) Does he own weapons?”

Most romantic stalkers do not fall into this category. If he does, you should involve the police (more on that later) but if he is non-violent, this article provides a decent starting point for making the problem go away. Just because you might not be in immediate physical danger does not mean this situation isn’t making your life miserable. If he’s calling or texting excessively, driving by your house, speaking to your friends and family about you, showing up at your place of work, or otherwise not taking no for an answer even though you’ve been clear that you are not in a relationship with him, you’ve got to take action.

Ironically, the best way to take action might be to not do anything at all. That is, stop speaking to him, stop answering his texts, and cease any contact with him. A guy who won’t take no for an answer and won’t let go is looking for a relationship with you. He wants to be a boyfriend, but if he can’t have that, he’ll be a friend. If he can’t have that, he’ll be an enemy if that’s the only position available. At least it’s still a relationship. And if you’re still talking to him, even if it’s antagonistic, you are in some kind of relationship—which is what he wants. The trick is to cease contact. After all, if you tell someone 10 times that you don’t want to talk to them, you ARE talking to them—nine more times than you wanted to. If you finally text him back “leave me alone!” after he texts you 15 times, you’ve just taught him that the price of getting a reply from you is 15 texts. Of course he’s going to keep texting, because it worked.

Ignore his persistence. He’s going to be angry and disappointed, but if you talk to him, what you say becomes the issue. Like with a salesperson who is desperate to keep you on the hook, any excuse you give turns into a negotiation—you’ve just given him something he can shoot down or try to “fix.” You don’t have to explain to him or anyone else why you don’t want a relationship. He is not owed an explanation! Simply tell him this is your decision and you expect him to respect it. Say that ONCE, and then go zero-contact. Do not qualify your rejection with phrases like “I’m not ready to date right now,” because he’ll hear “I’ll be ready to date sometime in the future.” A simple “I do not want a relationship with you” is explicitly clear and to the point, and it does not give him any room for negotiation.

Normal guys will be hurt by this rejection but will accept it and move on. But the romantic stalker is going to hate zero-contact. He’ll start pushing your buttons until he finds one that gets a reaction. Then he guilts you, then harasses you, then insults you. If you participate in this process at all, he can easily turn threatening, which is why zero-contact can be so helpful.

Be aware that people who refuse to let go often make small requests that seem reasonable, but the real purpose is to keep the attachment going or gain new reasons for contact. No, he doesn’t really want his sweatshirt back. He just wants to see you again. Gavin de Becker uses the phrase “engage and enrage.” “The more attachment you have—whether favorable or unfavorable—the more this will escalate,” he writes. He even recommends going so far as to have another female record the outgoing message on your voicemail (not that many of us are leaving voicemails these days) so the stalker cannot call your phone just to hear your voice—thus gaining another point of contact, at least in his mind.

If the calling and texting gets really intense, you might be tempted to change your phone number, but de Becker says not to bother: Stalkers always manage to get the new number. He suggests you get a second phone line, give the new number to the people you want to hear from, and leave the old line active so the stalker can keep calling or texting it and never know that you’ve got a new number. Now, The Gift of Fear is a few decades old, so how relevant that advice is in the texting/social media era is up for debate, but the point is, there’s no sense in changing your phone number to try to hide from a stalker.

Fair warning: Zero-contact is really hard to do. You will be dying to do something dramatic to make the harassment stop, but any contact you make with him gives him what he wants and extends the harassment. And this doesn’t just go for you—it extends to family, friends and maybe even the police. You should bring your trusted family and friends up to speed so they know what’s going on, but having your dad or your big brother or the cops visit the guy and make threats or try to talk him down is probably not going to go over well. In the stalker’s mind, it serves as contact with you sort of by proxy.

Which brings us to the topic of restraining orders. Experts disagree on whether or not you should get one or when it’s appropriate. After all, a restraining order is nothing more than a piece of paper, and while they can be important for legal purposes—documenting the stalking and giving the police something actionable they might be able to arrest him for—restraining orders are violated all the time. In his book, de Becker explains it this way: “Most pursuers have not broken the law, so the police have few options. When police visit him and say, in effect, ‘Cut this out or you’ll get into trouble,’ the pursuer intuitively knows that if they could have arrested him, they would have arrested him. So what’s the result of this visit? The greatest possible weapon in his victim’s arsenal—sending the police after him—came and went without a problem. … Who got stronger, the victim or the pursuer?” He compares a pursuer to an addict detoxing from an addiction to the relationship. The best thing about restraining orders is that they set up a legal framework for whatever comes next, but make no mistake: They do not protect you. If the stalker hasn’t given any indications of violence, it could be smart to hold off on the restraining order, as it’s a form of escalation.

De Becker is clear, however, that police should be involved when there’s an actionable crime, which is why documentation is your friend. Keep the texts and voicemails, keep your doorbell camera videos of him driving by or knocking on the door repeatedly, and generally build a body of evidence that can be used as proof if you ever do need to get the police involved. “The first time a stalker should see police is when they show up to arrest him, not when they stop by to chat,” he writes.

Remember, you cannot control the conduct of crazy people. You can’t control what he does or what he thinks. What you can control is how you respond to a romantic stalker. Most romantic pursuers will display clear signs before they turn violent (and most never turn violent at all), so if he is not making threats or giving an indication that he thinks violence will solve his perceived problem, you might consider cutting off all contact—all contact, no matter what—and letting him exhaust himself and fade away. Inform some trusted loved ones so they’re aware of what’s going on, compile evidence in case you ever need to build a legal case, and consider carefully whether a restraining order is likely to make things better or worse. You can involve a women’s crisis center, an attorney and/or the police if your stalker begins to make threats or indicates that he’s considering violence, but early in the stalking process, watch and wait is a good strategy, because once you get into an escalating war with a romantic pursuer—making threats, issuing a restraining order, etc.—it becomes more difficult to disengage.

 

 

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