Sometimes a Girl Just Wants to Get Her Work Done
A female friend of mine, after reading the story, asked me
“Hey Colin, what was your response to this piece? I have a guy friend who isn’t responding well and I’m trying to explain it to him, but it might be helpful to have a male perspective.”
The only response I could come up with was to recount a story; a scene I’d seen play out in a coffee shop where I often spend my afternoons writing.
A few weeks ago, I watched an attractive university student get subtly harassed for over half an hour. Though, the man who was trying to catch her attention wasn’t actually doing anything wrong–per se.
The middle-aged man spoke briefly to the student while he was in line to get coffee and she was working on her laptop at a table near the counter. When he’d been served, she went back to work, and he went to sit down… at the table right next to her. What’s more, he had bought her a coffee. She awkwardly accepted it, went back to work, and he busied himself looking out the window.
The awkward silence lasted for about five minutes.
At this point, apparently annoyed his coffee hadn’t grabbed her attention, he started talking to her. Eyes locked on her computer, you could see her short, one-word answers from across the café. He backed down, only to try again five minutes later. Then again five minutes after that, again and again trying to strike up conversation. What he was doing wasn’t wrong per se. However, he did seem completely oblivious to how uncomfortable he was making her.
Throughout the ordeal, the student kept throwing glances around the shop, trying to catch the eyes of the other patrons. I know I, and a couple other people, gave her reassuring smiles, letting her know we were there if she needed us.
After around half an hour of this terse back-and-forth, seemingly frustrated his gentle advances weren’t working, the man leaned in, inches from her ear, and whispered. I have no idea what he said, but the shocked look on her face, and her silently mouthing, “What the fuck?” was a strong enough clue.
Regaining her composure, she looked at him and said nothing. A few minutes later, she packed her bags and left. A few minutes after that, he walked out the door. The entire coffee shop burst into activity: checking he hadn’t walked the same way as her, and analyzing how awkward the scene that had just played out had been.
Everyone in the café had been watching, everyone knew it was wrong, but no one had done anything. Why? Because the man’s actions weren’t wrong, per se. All he did was buy a cute young girl a coffee, and try to strike up a conversation.
But his actions were wrong. They were unwanted, they were unwarranted, and they were unacceptable. His pleasant-enough approach had disrupted her, made her visibly uncomfortable, and forced her to leave a place where, before his arrival, she had been working happily for over an hour.
I spend hours every day writing on my laptop in coffee shops. I’ve talked to strangers at coffee shops, I’ve made friends at coffee shops, I’ve asked girls out at coffee shops. Never once have I been forced to leave a coffee shop.
So if you don’t understand how the polite advances of a stranger, someone who seemingly only wants to talk, whether in a café or on the street, could be considered harassment, ask yourself: when was the last time you were forced to leave a place because someone made staying unbearable?
Sometimes you just want to get your work done.