How to Spot and Stop Stalking Before It Starts

As far too many women know, romantic persistence can sometimes cross the line into stalking. How do you stop this before it goes too far?

by posted on March 14, 2024
Criminal Strategy Stalker

Hollywood has done women (and men) a huge disservice over the years by feeding us this “romantic” storyline:

  • Boy asks girl out.
  • Girl says no.
  • Boy asks again and again.
  • Girl keeps saying no.
  • Boy persists, making “romantic” gestures, seeking her out, following her, speaking to her friends and family, etc.
  • Girl begins to wear down and starts finding his persistence charming.
  • Boy gets girl and they live happily ever after.

It’s messed up when you think about it. We’ve taught generations of young men and women that when a woman says no, she really means “maybe” or “keep trying.” Continuing to try to win her affection for a little while after she says no is persistence; after repeated no’s, it turns into stalking. Yes, stalking. Sorry to tell all you fans of The Notebook, but Ryan Gosling’s character was basically stalking Rachel McAdams, and in real life, that’s not romantic—it’s scary.

The reality is, many women will end up at some point dealing with a persistent romantic pursuer who has the potential to turn into a stalker. It could be someone you dated for a while and then broke things off with, or it could be someone who would like to date you but in whom you’re not interested.

There’s a big difference in your average persistent romantic pursuer (OK, Ryan, you get a bit of a break) and a stalker. The trouble is, at some point there’s a line of demarcation where pursuit becomes too much, and men and women don’t always agree on where that line is. If you are already in a relationship with a man who doesn’t know when pursuit becomes too much, he has stalker potential, and if you stay with him, there’s a good chance he will turn physically abusive. Stalkers and domestic abusers have many traits in common, and there’s a good bit of overlap.

So if you can spot a man who might have a tendency to turn into a stalker before he gets too emotionally invested, you can avoid a whole lot of problems. How do you do that?

Red Flags of a Potential Stalker
Many men will display one or two of these signs, and some of the signs aren’t red flags all on their own (some, like controlling behavior, are). But if you see a combination of several of these, you’re dealing with a potential problem.

  • He’s extremely persistent, doesn’t take no for an answer, and is undeterred by things that would deter a normal person.
  • He goes out of his way to find out where you live or work; he asks around about you or researches your schedule, etc.
  • He drives by to see if you’re home or if another car is in your driveway.
  • He shows up at your home or your workplace uninvited under the guise of “romance.”
  • He reacts wildly out of proportion to a minor event (this is more common with stranger-stalkers than date-stalkers).
  • His wants and needs come first; he is extremely selfish, although he might be very good at hiding this for a while.
  • He’s excessively proud or macho.
  • He shows anger at being rejected.
  • He acts pathetic in order to exploit your sympathy or guilt.
  • He claims you made promises or commitments that don’t exist.
  • He has addictive tendencies (stalking is basically an addiction to a relationship).
  • He shows signs of jealousy or control.
  • He contacts your friends and family to seek their help winning you over.
  • He calls or texts repeatedly or excessively between your responses.
  • He claims all his exes were “crazy” or they all broke up with him for no reason.
  • He has an excuse or a sob story to explain any black marks in his past.
  • He falls for you too hard and too fast.
  • He tries to change your mind, even on little things.
  • Your friends or family don’t like him.

Not taking no for an answer can be much more subtle than you expect. If a man approaches you at a bar and asks if he can buy you a drink, and you say no, thank you, that should be the end of it. If he says, “Come on, what can I get you?” and you say “Well, I guess I could have a beer,” you’ve just shown him that your “no” really means “ask me again another way.” You’ve told him that if he pushes a little, you’ll give in. Now, he might just be a normal guy trying to pick you up. But a man with ill intent might push a little harder on the next thing, and the next, and if you continue to give in, he’s found someone he can control.

If a man exhibits several of the red flags listed above, do not give in and go on a date with him just to try to appease him. If you’ve gone on a few dates and you’re picking up on some of those red flags, bail out now before he gets more emotionally invested in you.

The way to nip this in the bud is to be explicitly clear. You don’t have to be a jerk, but do NOT try to let him down easy. Say what you mean—all of it. When you try to let a man like this down easy, he often hears that you’re conflicted and uncertain—that you really like him but just don’t know it yet. You say, “I don’t want to be in a relationship right now” and he hears that you will want to be in one later, so he’ll keep trying. What you should have said was, “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you.” And remember: Don’t ask, tell. This is not the time for the old “Can’t we just be friends?” let-down line.

Do not negotiate when rejecting a man you have any concerns about. Say no one time, clearly—and any contact you have with him after that is a negotiation, which is what he wants. Like when you’re dealing with a persistent salesperson, any explanation you might give for the rejection will give him something to argue against. Make it clear that this is your decision, and you expect him to respect it.

Author and security expert Gavin de Becker writes in his book The Gift of Fear: “Stalking is a crime of power, control, and intimidation very similar to date rape. … the stalker enforces our culture’s cruelest rule, which is that women are not allowed to decide who will be in their lives.”

The good news, according to de Becker, is that casual date-stalking situations seldom end in violence. They usually stay at the harassment level (which can still make your life uncomfortable or miserable), but there will be obvious escalations before he turns violent. Hapless romantic pursuers might be persistent, but they’ll stop when you clearly and explicitly communicate that further contact is unwanted. Anyone who does not stop when you’ve clearly communicated “no” should be treated as a problem.

 

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