"Excuse me," she asked. "Can I buy you a coffee?"
It was a nice surprise. Most people don't buy me cups of coffee, and I was just sitting at the Starbucks trying to plot my novel. So it was kind of charming, to have a cute girl offer to buy me a free drink. I told her sure. She brought me a nice iced chai, and sat down next to me, and then asked, "So have you heard about Jesus?"
Now, as it turns out, I'm a Christian, so I'm not opposed to Jesus -– but it was a little disappointing to realize this drink wasn't done out of niceness, but as a sort of recruiting tool. Maybe I'd have been into a religious discussion if she'd said, "Hey, let's have a philosophical talk," but as it was, I felt a little betrayed. So I said that I wasn't interested, as politely as I could (for I was sipping a delicious drink), and returned to my plotting.
The next day, another girl: "Hey, can I buy you a coffee?"
This time, I was trying to work out a difficult programming solution in my mind, and she asked me at exactly the right moment to have all of my thoughts collapse like a house of cards. "Are you just going to ask me about Jesus?"
"Oh, no," she said, reassuring me. "It's just that I think you're cute." And she was kind of pretty.
"…all right," I said, guardedly. She bought the coffee. Sat down at my table.
"But if you were wondering about Jesus…" she said earnestly, and I ejected her from my table. I kept the drink, though. It seemed cruel, but she had been stupid enough to buy it for me even though I didn't want it.
Over the next week, it just got worse. Two or three times a day I'd be deep in thought, trying to focus on this tangled plotting that I needed to resolve, and some woman would tap me on the shoulder to offer me a cup of coffee. I couldn't concentrate, because sometimes they were very insistent: "You sure you don't want a coffee, sweetie?" they'd ask, sometimes lurking over me after I'd refused them, just in case I changed my mind. Sometimes they just bought the coffee for me anyway, without even asking me if I wanted it, plopping themselves across the table from me and yammering on about being saved.
It was affecting my concentration. I started to tense up at the Starbucks, waiting for the next Jesus freak's interruption. If it was a regular thing, like an hourly interruption, then maybe I could have worked around it, but it was erratic. Some days, I'd have four or five at once, other days I'd be blissedly free of interruption. But I had to be continually braced for the next hand on my shoulder, knowing that no matter what I was doing they'd be bursting into my personal space. I wrote less, my programs were buggier.
My friends couldn't understand my upset. "Dude," they told me. "You never have to pay for coffee again in your life! You've got it made! Do you know how much money you're saving?"
"But I don't want to talk to these people," I said.
"You've talked about God with us before," they replied. "Sometimes, we'll stay up until two, three in the morning discussing the nature of heaven and hell. You dig philosophy, Ferrett. If you like talking about that shit with us, then why not with them?"
"Because they're just one-note and don't really care what I have to say," I said.
"Just try ‘em, man. Some of them are cute. Maybe some of them actually want to date you!"
"I guess," I said. "But how do I know which ones are genuine without having to talk to a bunch of phonies?"
Eventually, it got to the point where I started bringing friends with me for cover, so I wouldn't get interrupted. That didn't work, either –- while it helped, the more aggressive proselytizers would interrupt me in mid-sentence to ask me if I wanted a drink. Suddenly, the Starbucks wasn't fun anymore -– it wasn't a place to hang out, but a place where I'd just constantly be bugged by attention I didn't want. And the guys who weren't getting free drinks were calling me stuck-up, jealous that I was getting all these free drinks and not even wanting them.
So I stopped going.
Okay. Clearly, that didn't happen. But I'm trying to prove a point here.
One of the things that guys don't get is why women don't like to be hit on. As a guy, when you get hit on, even if it's a clumsy attempt, it's generally a very rare and remarkable event –- it puts a spring in your step, even if you're not particularly attracted to the woman, because as an average-looking guy, scarcity of compliments is the norm. So if a girl catcalls you and goes, "Nice butt!" and appears to be serious, there's often this sort of strange pride. Hey, that doesn't happen often, she must really be into me.
So a lot of guys have this unspoken attitude of, "I wish I'd be harassed." And they don't get why women are so angry when hey, I was just trying to be nice, why you gotta be so mean?
Thing is, when it's not scarce, then even the nicest act starts to get annoying. Because you don't get to control when people are quote-unquote "nice" to you, and it happens all the time, and you know there's always a hidden cost behind it. You start to question people's niceness, because they're not doing it to be kind, they're doing it because they want something from you. And maybe, yes, that's something you like to give to certain people, but definitely not to everyone, and almost certainly not to the kind of guy who's certain you're going to give it to him if he just bugs you enough.
Harassment isn't once. Harassment comes from a lifetime of dealing with people constantly doing things to you, whether you wanted them or not, at random intervals. You learn not to trust people. And what might have been pleasant, once, as an isolated incident, starts to feel pretty oppressive when it's something you deal with on a weekly basis. It changes you, and then guys call you bitchy when you don't feel like playing along and pretending this is just about the coffee.
But I think most of ‘em would feel the same were the tables turned. So please. Think about what you're spouting.
Originally published on The Ferrett. Republished with permission.
Ferrett Steinmetz is a Nebula-nominated science fiction writer who blogs about puns, politics, and polyamory daily on his blog at theferrett.com. He's had over twenty short stories published since his writing rebirth in 2008; some of them are even good. He lives in Cleveland with a loving wife, a well-worn copy of Rock Band, and a friendly ghost. He can also be found lurking about the Twitters as @ferretthimself.