Even though I mind my business, there is a married man in my neighborhood who makes inappropriate comments to me.
The first time this happened I immediately told my husband because I don’t want to keep any secrets, even if there is nothing actually going on. He laughed and said, “Oh, that’s just his personality.”
When it kept happening, I told my friend. She said that he does that to everyone, and he’s socially off because he makes the comments in front of his own wife!
But it still really bothers me. How can I get him to stop? Should I talk to his wife? Should my husband talk to him? What do you think?
Dear Flustered Femme,
First of all, thanks for bringing up this topic. It’s usually very hush-hush in our society and it needs a little time by the mic to help us all understand it more.
Regarding your situation, it is a bit murky. I don’t have enough information to tease out whether or not this guy is socially off, joking around or actually has the gall to look for something extra-curricular in front of his wife.
That part isn’t for you to figure out either. You have all the information that you need: This guy is making you uncomfortable. And you want it to stop.
You don’t need his wife to stop this and you don’t need your husband either. You simply need your voice. And maybe a strong facial expression thrown in as well.
Next time this fellow comments in a way that makes you tense up or cringe, you will be armed and ready.
Picture him saying a line. Now think of something that’s not too uncomfortable for you to say back. You will have to balance between strong and rude (aka between assertive and aggressive).
Maybe something like, “Please don’t comment on how I look.” Or “It’s inappropriate to talk to me in that way.”
If this is too harsh for you, let’s lighten it up with something like, “That’s weird, you don’t look like my husband!” Be careful: Lighter jokes actually tend to be heavier in that they are sarcastic and aggressive. If you can muster up the courage to be perfectly straight and assertive, I would much prefer to see you go that route.
More direct equals healthier. It also keeps you from looking like the bad guy. Nobody can misinterpret “It makes me uncomfortable when you talk that way.” But if you go joke route, you may end up going overboard with the meanness. And the fact that you are being mean will take the attention away from the fact that he is being inappropriate. So try to just keep it clean and direct.
The main point is to speak up for yourself. If you are not accustomed to this, you should use this as an opportunity to strengthen this muscle. Practice in the mirror, practice with a friend. Notice what goes on for you when you are role-playing. What does it make you feel like when someone says something inappropriate to you? Out of control? Shameful? And what is it like speaking up? Out of line? Risky? Get comfortable with the uncomfortable and you will master this when it comes up in actuality.
Another way to avoid hearing these comments is to avoid him at all costs, but I don’t recommend that route unless you have attempted the direct route and it failed. Now I would like to talk about infidelity in general. It exists in our community pretty heavily. From pornography to prostitutes, from coworkers to strip clubs, from massage parlors to neighbors (or in-laws!), this stuff happens.
If we want to properly deal with it, we have to first take off our demonizing glasses and see what is going on in many cases. Infidelity happens mostly from feelings of loneliness, rejection, criticism, neglect and worthlessness. Only a small portion of it is driven by libido.
We have to turn our homes into a safe haven. Criticism and blame is toxic. An eye-roll shoots lethal bullets. It doesn’t excuse infidelity, but it sure puts your spouse at risk for it. Yes, we have important things to express to our spouse. But we have to do our part to stay de-escalated (breathe, speak slowly, take a break) while expressing ourselves.
When we mess up and get critical, it is critical that we own it. “I spoke to you way too harshly. I didn’t mean to hurt you like that. While I am very upset about what we are talking about, you didn’t deserve that snide comment.”
And while I hate to gender stereotype, research can speak for itself. In the vast majority of couples, women are the masters at harshness.
At first, it is difficult for a person to even understand that what they are saying is blame or criticism. But if we open it up to our spouse and let his or her world point it out to us, we can start to soften. And the powerful connection that comes with that will make softness our default.