Opinion

on Nice Guys Who Creep, and How to Speak Up

Roe McDermott portrait
Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies. You can contact her at dubinq.com/ask-roe.

Dear Roe,

My question is about Tinder. I have my Instagram linked into my Tinder account and I like doing that. I feel like my Instagram gives a bit of insight into who I am – and has some nice photos of me! I also prefer when men link in their Insta accounts because usually you can see their full names and make sure you’re not being catfished. The problem is, I keep getting loads of messages on my Insta from guys I have left-swiped. I think that’s creepy and weird. I know I could just unlink my Insta, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to just because these men can’t just take rejection. What do you think? Thanks!

Dear Letter Writer,

I’m completely with you on this one. I find any guy who randomly messages you on any social media without having any previous interactions with you a bit weird. Yes, I’m sure some people have found love and joy after a strange man sent them a message on Instagram or Twitter, but generally, there’s a reason we say “sliding” into your DMs, or “creeping” on your Facebook – because it’s creepy.

If you’re not interacting with her, then you’re just looking at her, and then making a move without any encouragement, which will forever remain a mystery to me. Why wouldn’t you have some banter on Twitter first, or leave some nice compliments on her photos? That not only acts as a way of notifying her to your existence, but will also encourage you to, y’know, find out a bit about her and treat her like a person instead of asking her out based purely on her avatar.

I’m not completely unsympathetic to these guys, though. The well-intended ones see a wonderful woman like yourself on Tinder, they love your witty profile, they look through the Instagram photos you’ve shared and see that you have hiking/ComicCon/a meme addiction in common – but then they realise you haven’t matched with them. “What the hell,” they think. “I’ll drop her a message. It’s harmless enough, she can easily ignore me, but maybe if she gets a glimpse of my personality, she’ll give me a shot! Because she should! I’m such a Nice Guy!”

Except, here’s what these guys don’t understand. From the woman’s point of view, here’s what has happened: she has signed up to a dating app with very clear-cut rules. Only if she matches with a guy can he message her. Maybe she even signed up to because of that feature; it, unlike other dating sites and apps, prevents her from being inundated by unwanted messages. She’s followed all the explicit and unspoken rules of the app, hasn’t led on guys she’s not interested … and then.

And then messages start landing in her Instagram/Facebook/Twitter/whatever. Messages from men she doesn’t know, who she’s never seen before (not true factually, but true in her reality, because who remembers people they left-swipe?) Her right to choose not only who gets to message her, but she’s even lost the right where she’ll be receiving agenda-laden messages from men.

When she chooses to log into Instagram or Twitter or wherever, the app where she only expects to be posting photos or sharing links or chatting with friends, her world has suddenly been interrupted by strange men propositioning her. Some of these are polite enough. Some probably aren’t. But she has to deal with all of them, when she has not chosen to – when, in fact, she has specifically chosen NOT to.

So, let’s recap: A woman expresses no interest or expresses disinterest in a man, and he crosses her boundaries and invades her personal space to push his desire for her onto her, despite her wishes. This is the online version of cat-calling, and it needs to stop.

Incidentally, this is why I can’t stand rom-coms. Which may sound like a leap, but bear with me. In nearly every rom-com, the hero – who, remember, is always a Nice Guy – is ignored or rejected by his love interest, until she finally comes around and sees what a Nice Guy he is, the Nice Guy she’s been waiting on!

Sometimes, this even happens when she’s at the alter ready to marry someone else, because everyone knows that women can’t be trusted to make the big decision in her life, and if she just gets a compelling Instagram message – sorry, I mean dramatic speech – by a Nice Guy, her mind will finally be changed and she’ll choose the right guy, the Nice Guy.

These movies and messages that men receive convince them all that they’re “Nice Guys”, and that if they just work hard enough, put the time in, the world will eventually see it. Coincidentally, their methods often involve crossing women’s boundaries and being creepy as hell – just check out this Reddit thread of women’s worst Nice Guy stories.

Now that we’ve made that clear, it’s back to you, dear Letter Writer. Obviously you shouldn’t have to put up with this nonsense, but unfortunately the world rarely pays attention to what women shouldn’t have to put up with, and so we need strategies to deal.

Obviously blocking these guys, declining their messages, or replying to them and telling them to piss off are all options, but I’m guessing you’re looking for something that also acts as a deterrent, as well as a reaction.

If you can sacrifice some characters from your Tinder and/or Instagram bio, feel free to put a “If we don’t match, don’t message me” disclaimer – it’ll act as a very clear deterrent from those “Nice Guys” who think you wouldn’t mind a message from.

If you prefer to let pictures speak louder than words, I see no ethical issue in taking screenshots of the men who message you, cropping/blurring out their handle, and posting the photos to your Instagram with a caption explaining why this is messed up. This will serve two purposes: it will let guys on Tinder see that you don’t stand for that nonsense, and could also help start a conversation among your male friends and followers about why that action is problematic.

Or just send them the link to this. I can’t promise they’ll understand that it’s about them – Nice Guys rarely think anything critical applies to them – but it’s worth a shot.

And Dear Nice Guy, if you have received this link from a woman you’ve been messaging, stop. Immediately. You have officially creeped out a woman. Do not message her again, do not object, do not apologise, do not message her to tell her that you’ve seen the light and want to discuss toxic masculinity further over coffee – just stop. And realise that if you continue to cross women’s boundaries just because you believe you’re entitled to their attention, you’re not a Nice Guy. You’re not even a nice guy. Just stop.

***

Dear Roe,

In your last column, you replied to a man who wanted to know how to addressing his homophobic brother-in-law. In that situation, the two men (I’m guessing) were of a vaguely similar age or of the same generation. But I’m wondering what your advice would be about addressing much older relatives who have homophobic and transphobic views?

At Christmas, I’m going to be having dinner and spending time with my grandmother, and a few of my aunts and uncles who often use homophobic slurs and are loudly dismissive and insulting towards LGBT people. My aunts and uncles are all in their fifties, and my grandmother is in her seventies.

I suppose because of the generational gap, it feels more intimidating confronting my aunts and uncles, and it feels just mean to confront my grandmother. She’s a conservative Catholic, and while she’s less aggressively homophobic than my aunts and uncles (in her language anyway), she is very anti-same-sex-marriage and thinks thinks LGBT people are deviant or damaged.

If she was my age, I wouldn’t put up with her views, but she’s old, and from a different generation. I don’t know what to do because I don’t want to upset her by having an argument, but I also don’t really want to be around her when she makes homophobic comments, so I feel like I lose either way. Any advice?

Dear Letter Writer,

I really empathise with your problem. It’s one thing to confront people of your age, or general education or even energy level, but – and obviously this varies greatly from individual to individual – confronting someone elderly who may or may not be in great health or energy, and who comes from a different generation and education feels different.

And the perhaps uncomfortable fact is, it is different. You’re talking to someone who simply did not have the information that we have about gender and sexuality, and spent at least fifty years absorbing messages from the Catholic Church, from the media, probably from most of their peers, that all said that LGBTQ people were deviant and/or damaged.

Now, I hope it goes without saying that these messages are wrong, deeply wrong, and caused an unforgivable amount of violence and silencing and bigotry. LGBTQ people are still battling the aftermath, ripple effects and remnants of these beliefs today, and that too is simply, unequivocally wrong.

Do you know where you can see some of these remnants? Friends. You know, the biggest, most successful sitcom of all time, now available on Netflix. I loved Friends. I remember my awesome, feminist, educated parents letting me stay up late on Mondays to watch it on Network Two, one of our four TV channels. Everyone I knew watched it, loved it. Its success on Netflix indicates that many still do.

Friends is fucking TERRIBLE. Joey is a raging misogynist and sexual abuser who exposes himself to unsuspecting women. Chandler is a homophobe who ostracises and mocks his father for being transgender. Ross is the walking embodiment of #NotAllMen, who freaks out over male nannies, his son playing with a doll, the fact that his ex-wife is now with a woman, is bizarrely possessive of his sister … the list goes on.

And then there’s the almost complete lack of any discussion or representation of race, or poverty, or ableism. It’s just horrible.

Now, I know there were people, both LGBTQ and not, who immediately recognised how goddamn awful and offensive Friends was. But the majority of people did not. The majority of us supported this show, delighted in it, turned it into a cultural phenomenon.

Now, if you google Friends, you’ll find endless thinkpieces discussing how terrible it is.

What shifted?

Our education did. Our discourse did. Our ability to connect with others did. We got the internet, and secular sex ed, and more diverse media. Sexist, homophobic and transphobic institutions lost some of their power to censor educators and researchers, and so we were presented with factual evidence that sexual orientation isn’t a choice, or a disease, or a symptom, or something negative.

More and more LGBTQ people came out, and were visible, and shared their thoughts and experiences and writing with others. The internet and cable TV meant that ideas were shared more easily. Ideas about feminism, and sexuality, and gender, and LGBTQ rights, and race, and representation.

And with those ideas and that information came awareness, and empathy. And we got better. (Well, some of us. Trump is the US president-elect, after all.) We know better. Hopefully in 12 more years, we’ll be better and know better than we do now.

Friends only ended 12 years ago. We have come a really long way since then. Now multiply that time by five, take away all the resources I just listed, and answer honestly: can’t we all empathise, even slightly, with older relatives who don’t know better?

Empathising doesn’t mean excusing. It doesn’t mean we have to accept people’s bigoted views. It doesn’t mean we can’t react to them. It just means being aware that we knew much less, and were not that great either, not too long ago. And the resources we had that allowed us to grow and evolve and learn? They weren’t available to everyone.

That doesn’t mean that conversations can’t happen. It just means that we start from there.

You know better than I do about your relatives’ level of info, awareness, exposure and openness to information and education about LGTBQ issues, so you’ll have to judge where their exact starting point is. But let’s look at some general strategies for speaking with them.

(Now, before we get into how to have conversations, I need to say: you don’t have to have them. There is a balance between tackling bigotry and engaging in self-care. I think if today’s political climate has taught us anything, it’s that we need to endure uncomfortable situations and conversations in the interest of tackling bigotry. But there’s a difference between discomfort and harm. If you think that starting conversations with these relatives will actually harm you, feel free to disengage until you have more support and feel safer doing so.)

Just a note on where to actually have the conversation: if you feel like it’ll be generally amiable, fire ahead wherever suits. If you suspect it’ll get combative, I’d recommend not actually having it over Christmas dinner. For one thing, even though you’re in the right wanting to address their bigotry, if it turns dinner into a heated family feud, everyone’s going to be left in a crappy, blame-happy mood.

Also, if you can enjoy a cosy Christmas dinner, everyone will hopefully be in a happier, more warm-hearted emotional place afterwards, which might help people enter the after-dinner discussions from a more loving, empathetic mindset.

First of all, figure out who your allies are, and what your outlets are, i.e. – who will help you have these conversations, and how will you be able to continue the conversation beyond the Christmas reunion?

Who are your relatives who will support you in any discussions about LGBTQ issues and shoulder some of the burden of these conversations with you? Are your parents or your cousins willing to chime in if their parents say something problematic – it can sometimes be more comfortable for adult children to talk to their parents rather than their aunts, uncles or grandparents.

And beyond their conversation with you, what resources can you either refer to or share with your relatives so that they can continue learning, either with you or on their own? Are they Facebook friends with you, do they pay attention to pop culture, are they readers, are they on Twitter, do they have kids?

Arm yourself with books, articles, TV or film recommendations that you think could be helpful, or that they’re already familiar with and could be a good way of engaging them in a conversation. Having an idea of what you could connect with your relatives over means that you can offer to share these resources with them and, if you’re comfortable, continue chatting at a later date.

Now, that’s all the prep, and it’s all designed to facilitate conversation. But you get to set boundaries, too. I know it’s tricky to do so with older relatives like aunts and uncles, but remember: you’re an adult now. You are their peer. You get to speak to them as an equal and that involves demanding respect. Being an adult also means you have a very effective tool at your disposal: the choice to have them in your life, and to let them know that your choice is dependent on their behaviour.

Should they use any offensive slurs or say something offensive, a simple “Please don’t use that language”, or “That’s actually quite offensive, could you not use it please?” clearly and effectively sets some ground rules. (You can always be generous and preface it with “I don’t know if you know this, but [that term’s actually offensive/whatever]”, to soften the statement slightly.)

Hopefully they respond positively by apologising, or even neutrally by asking a question, at which point you can tell them, “I’m happy to chat with you about it/explain why [after dinner], if you like?”

If they respond negatively to you asking them not to use offensive language, reiterate your request and let them know that there will be consequences if they don’t stop. “I’m glad to see you, and would be happy to talk about this topic [after dinner], but like I said – that term/that statement is offensive and so for us to continue talking I need you to stop using it.”

Once you set the boundary, act on it. If they keep saying offensive things, either demand a subject change or exit the conversation. Make it clear that they’ll have to conduct themselves by the rules of any adult conversation; you have to be respectful of people’s boundaries, or you don’t get to participate.

Later, if you feel up to it, approach them and restart the conversation, and use the tools and resources you’ve prepped.

When it comes to your grandmother, soften as required. Remember that she did not have the information that you do, and so start at her level. Introduce her to new ideas instead of just berating the old ones she grew up with.

If she uses offensive terms, offer a, “Gran, people don’t use that word anymore, say [XYZ] instead.” If she makes a bigoted statement, begin any corrections or statements with a, “It’s different now,” or a “Things have changed.”

It’s just a simple way of acknowledging the truth – that society has changed – without blaming her specifically for her beliefs.

Beyond that, it’s up to you how far you push. Hopefully all goes well, but it may well come to an impasse where you have to decide whether to push the topic, avoid it, or accept that your relatives are unwilling to learn any more, and may continue to say offensive things.

With the latter, you may have to decide if you’re willing to continue being around them, and having them in your life. If you’re leaning towards cutting them out, let them know.

Write them a letter or email saying you value them dearly and want to have a relationship, but you can’t if they continue expressing such bigoted views. Having it put so clearly may make them realise the consequences of their actions, and it allows them to offer an olive branch.

If they don’t, at least they’re making an informed choice.

The best of luck.


Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

 

Comments

  1. Log in to leave a comment.

Advertisements

We use cookies to allow visitors to log in to our website and read our articles. We don't use any third-party cookies. By clicking 'I accept' or continuing to use this site, you consent to the use of cookies.

I accept