Everything I Need to Know: High School Mystery Redux

AdviceTime once again for “Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Romance Novels,” where, with the power of enormous backlist, romance solves relationship problems. If you’d like advice, feel free to email me at sarahATsmartbitchestrashybooksDOTcom. I never reveal names or locations, so don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.

Here’s this week’s letter:

Dear Smart Bitch Sarah:

I’m a long-time lurker – having only commented a handful of times – but one mystery has been constantly on my mind lately… and after driving all my friends crazy about it, I thought I might graduate to driving Smart Bitches crazy. I think I’m in dire need of the Everything I Need To Know clue gun.

10 years ago I went to high school with a guy who stared at and followed me for two or three years. Deep, straight-at-my-face, eyes-following-my-every-step-as-I-moved stares. I saw him with at least three different girlfriends in that time, but he went on staring at me, even when he was with them. At first I thought he might have a crush on me, and I was flattered as he was very cute (and I’ve never felt too attractive myself), but after a while I just didn’t know what to think. He never said a word to me, or even attempted to. I knew he was very quiet, but let’s face it, he had game enough to be a minor teenage Lothario. If he had wanted to talk to the nerdy girl in the corner he deemed so stareworthy, he could have found a way – especially as I purposely dawdled close to him sometimes. But when I stood close enough to touch him, he refused to look in my direction at all.

Well, fast forward 10 years and I wound up in the same evening class with this guy. I hadn’t seen him at all in these intervening years, and at first I laughed to myself about those school memories and thought, “Geesh, teenagers! How silly are they?” But lo, first day I caught him staring at me through a window when he was outside smoking, and now he behaves pretty much exactly as he used to 10 years ago. In the classroom, he keeps looking at me furtively – sometimes locking eyes with me for a few seconds – but outside the class he looks more boldly when he thinks I don’t notice. When I look at him in class, he looks away and shifts in his seat and licks his lips nervously. Somehow he always leaves the room when I do, and sometimes brushes against me. One time he left a bit earlier but I found him waiting at the front door to hold it open for me… AND HE STILL DOESN’T SAY ANYTHING. I’m shy myself, but I started saying hi to him because I feel like I “know” him in a way, and because the awkward silence was unbearable. He was taken aback the first time, but now he says (or whispers) hi when he sees me. Yesterday I made an experiment by wearing a slightly sexier outfit than I normally would, and he behaved a bit strangely in the hall. He kept smiling to himself and when he asked another guy about the classroom we were supposed to go to, he laughed out loud, slightly hysterically. Then he said hi to me with a strange smile (a first one, that: he sometimes looks me in the eye when he’s smiling over a joke somebody else told in class, but otherwise his looks are always serious). He behaved normally with everybody else in school, and he behaves normally with the other people in the class now. I don’t know what marked me out as his staring target.

If it were some other guy doing the same things to any of my friends, I’d say he definitely has a crush on her. (Or that he’s a creep.) But with this guy, I just don’t know. Again, if a 26-year-old man has something to say, shouldn’t he be able to come out with it? I feel like I’m back in bloody high school again, analysing his every move. And now I remember just how it felt like back then: like some bizarre game. Me feeling simultaneously flattered and bewildered by his attention; dressing up for reaction sometimes; feeling his eyes on me and a nervous sensation in my stomach; and not knowing whether I would prefer to yell at him to stop looking or to have sex with him in the broom cupboard. It doesn’t help that I’m inexperienced for my age and nervous around men to begin with.

Short of confronting him on the last day and asking him upfront what he’s thinking, will I ever find out what the heck was going on 10 years ago – and now? What would a romance heroine do?

Shy and Bewildered

Dear Shy:

The smoldering hero who notices you from across the room but who, for the time being and for whatever reason, is content to stay on that side of the unspoken divide is a mainstay in the romance world. I personally have a major literary weakness for the smoldering hero.

But when I read your letter, the way you’ve presented this scenario isn’t so much “smoldering hero” as it is “immature weird guy who either likes having your attention at his command” or maybe “immature weird guy who doesn’t know what to do with himself.”

The fact that in 10 years he hasn’t matured enough to introduce himself and talk to you instead of staring at you all the time does not bode well. Neither does the weird giggling thing. I think you called it when you said it was “some bizarre game.” I’m not inclined to decipher his game, or why he’s playing it, but I think it’s time to move away from feeling the flattery, and act on the bewilderment. He might be crushing on you in a big way- but he’s also acting on it in a very creepy way, one that does nothing for him and belittles you. That shit ain’t right.

There comes a point in a romance where the hero has to man up and take a risk. Seems like you’ve been the one to push the boundaries of this stare-a-thon. You’ve said hi, you’ve approached him, and you’ve taken risks despite, as you’ve said, being nervous around men. Go on with your bad self. That’s excellent for you.

Unfortunately, he’s still staring and doing nothing about it – which is not at all excellent for him. Instead of taking a risk and approaching you, manning up and acting on what appears to be some heavy-duty noticing of you, he’s following a very unhealthy model of behavior.

That smoldering hero might be a frequent player in a romance novel, but that hero ultimately takes a step towards his interest without manipulating her. Reliving high school social interaction at age 26 isn’t a fate I’d wish on anyone – and you absolutely deserve to feel special and noteworthy by a guy who can follow up on his noticing you by, you know, talking to you. And asking you out for coffee.

I think your options are pretty simple. You could confront him and ask if he’d like to have coffee with you, knowing that his behavior hasn’t left much of an indication that he’s all that and a bag of chips in the man-up department. You can attempt to move past your current stalemate with him, but please do so with caution. A lot of caution.

Conversely, and this is the option I much prefer, teach yourself to get in the habit of not noticing him, and look around you at anywhere else but him, and maybe find another guy who you might like to get to know. The fantasy of a guy who seems interested is heady, exciting stuff, but at some point, the state of attraction has to evolve into some sort of definitive action. I worry that he somehow enjoys knowing that you’re aware of his regard, and that’s not heroic in the least. That’s bastard creepy.

A romance heroine might be flattered by the notice of the smoldering guy, but she’d also expect him to grow a pair. The best heroines stand up for themselves, and are met toe-to-toe by a guy who is their worthy equal. You’re worth way more than his behavior indicates, and he’s not acting worthy, nor does he seem equal to the task of acting on whatever has him staring at you.

He’s weird. You’re worth way more than that. Move on and set your eyes on someone else.


General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Reliving high school social interaction at age 26 isn’t a fate I’d wish on anyone

    No sh*t!

    What works for a guy in HS does not always translate to the real adult world. This guys sounds creep weird to me, not unlike a creepy character I wrote in my first (unpublished) manuscript. I would do what I could to distance myself and ignore him, taking particular pains to make sure he didn’t follow me home or discover my address. Staring at you in a class is one thing, obsessing about you otherwise borders on stalking.

    And yes, the heroine of a novel would look out for herself not only by shutting down the creep but also by picking out a worthy hero. Assuming that there is anyone else, ask one of your fellow male students out for coffee after class. You have a fifty fifty chance of success and absolutely nothing to lose :)

  2. 2
    Miranda says:

    It sounds more like this guy is trying to intimidate and harass you. Romance-wise, he’s a villain, not a hero.

    My password is set78. Set up 78 boundaries between you and this guy!

  3. 3
    canadacole says:

    Spot on advice!

    If this were tv and I’d been flipping channels so I didn’t know what I was watching I’d think I was about to watch a drama.  Criminal Minds maybe?  It’s the perfect first five minutes of the show set-up.  If it were a romance?  Well, I know which guy I’ve got picked as the candidate for creepy stalker that the hero has to shoot.  I’d not only ignore this guy, I’d cross the street to avoid him.

    Mind you, I do read a LOT of romantic suspense.  Maybe my creep-o-meter is set on full stun?

  4. 4

    Great advice. I’d ignore him and act like he didn’t exist until he grew up enough to approach me and have an adult conversation.  If he’s not capable of that, he’s not worth your time.  Move on and leave him to his high school games.

  5. 5
    Kerrie says:

    As I started reading it, my first thought was “Oh noes! A real-life Edward Cullen!” Run! Run away!

    But seriously, that’s creepy. I’d be moving way beyond the flattered stage and into confrontational territory (and I’m on the shy side when it comes to guys too) and ask him why he was staring all the time. “Do I have 2 heads or something?” But I wouldn’t be wasting my time on this game/dance garbage. There are probably other guys who are interested but not even noticed because this weirdo is drawing all your attention.

  6. 6
    Moira Reid says:

    I have to agree that the crazy giggling…well, that would have just plain scared me. LOL

    I’m trying to imagine why any man would keep staring at a woman and never approach. Any good motivation at all?? I’ve got nothing.

    Creepy stalker guy is what he sounds like—so, no no no.

  7. 7
    Susan says:

    I have to agree with everyone else – this guy’s actions are not normal or romantic and he is NOT shy. My first thought is that he is a passive-aggressive bully who enjoys getting a reaction out of you with all this weirdness. It worked in high school and here it is 10 years later, working again. I highly recommend ignoring him 100% from now on. And try to strike up a friendship with someone else in the class so that you have a little more insulation from this creep.

  8. 8
    RStewie says:

    I’m with the majority here:  He’s Creepy.

    I say cut him loose from your attentions, but at the same time, Be Careful.  This sounds an awful lot like someone that could turn into a stalker or worse.  Take care of yourself, and trust your instincts.

  9. 9
    SidneyKay says:

    Sounds like a restraining order waiting to happen.  You could always walk right up to him and ask what’s with all the staring.  However, I’ve always thought that sometimes the intense hero in romanceland would translate to a stalker in the real world.  Maybe I’ve been watching to many criminal channels on tv.

  10. 10
    Laura (in PA) says:

    I will also cast my vote for creepy. Smoldering looks for a short while is exciting. After that, it’s harassment.

  11. 11
    BethanyA says:

    I feel quite differently then everyone else. I think your self-consciousness is clouding your judgement to read the situation as it really is.  Rather than being creepy, I just think this fellow is a bit socially awkward. Be bold, ask him to meet you for coffee after class (separate cars, a well-populated place, you’re no fool). Perhaps he just needs a friend. I feel so much is misconstrued through assumption—what you interpreted as a manic laugh could just be nerves on his part.

    Unless you are secretly enjoying the thought of being in the center of a gothic romance?

  12. 12
    Jennifer Spiller says:

    Creepy stalker dude, definitely. And Bully who likes to play games. He’s an ass. Ignore him, but be aware of where he’s at from a safety standpoint.
    spamword: returned99 This dude returned 99 times and didn’t speak up once.

  13. 13
    Theresa Meyers says:

    Having dealt with something similar in high school, (oh, many many years ago) I’d vote for the confrontation and get it over with.  Take control of the game. Just ask up front. “What’s with all the staring? Do you have something to ask me or are you just playing a game?”

    Either A, he’s been crushed on you a long, long time and always felt you were too smart for him and he’s genuinely unsure of how to talk to you for fear of revealing his own stupidity (this happens with girls who think they are geeky in high school more often than you think); or B, as the wise bitchery has told you, he’s just stalker material enjoying subtle power by getting a reaction out of you.

    If he doesn’t come up with a suitable answer to your direct question, look him straight in the eye and tell him he needs to stop. That way there’s no misscommunication/him thinking you’re playing hard to get, etc.

  14. 14
    Fairly shy but not bewildered says:

    A romance heroine I’d like to read about would walk right up to this guy and say, “Your behavior makes me really uncomfortable.  Is there a reason for it?” 

    Shy and Bewildered is spending WAY too much time and energy on this creep.  And he is a creep. 

    She’s letting him victimize her and needs to turn the tables.

  15. 15
    Annmarie says:

    I had a guy in high school that did the same thing. In my senior year he threatened to kill me.  He then stalked me for ten years before finally killing himself.

    Stay away from this guy.

    Stay Far. Far. Ffar. Away.

    (ok..my captcha is: away 22. Keep a 22 foot distance away from the freak at all times.)

  16. 16
    Aimee says:

    If I didn’t know any better, I could swear I had written parts of this letter.

    This happened to me in a University night class where I noticed this guy kept staring at me, walk me to the bathroom, walk me to the subway. We were the only two ‘day’ students and apparently he was in some of my other classes but I never noticed.

    It got creepy when he rode the subway ‘to make sure I got home safe’. (I purposely went in the wrong direction). I am a storng believer in going with your gut and I was extremely uncomfortable and wierded out so, I confronted him one day and said this was really creepy behaviour and that I wasn’t interested so please stop being my shadow. He came back all shocked and said he ‘didn’t feel that way about me’ and heck sure could have fooled me. I checked in with the other girls of my graduating class and this was his MO and ‘it didn’t mean anything’. Their words not his or mine.  Which incensed me because that’s how we as females end up in these kind of bad situations when you brush behaviour like this aside.

    I can be a bit in your face sometimes but if this is not something that you are comfortable with, maybe ask him to go for a coffee during a break in class. It keeps it short and you have an out. You can then react accordingly to his response.

    My personal preference though is to ignore this guy. If he’s not man enough to own up to an interest, then I say his loss. And to Sarah’s point, if he hasn’t changed in 10 years, is he really worth the time you’ve already spent analyzing essentially creepy behaviour. The fact that you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone to approach him first shows guts and I think you should focus your attention on someone who is willing to reciprocate in a positive manner.

    As always whatever you choose to do, be it ignore him or approach him, be careful and keep safe and you can never go wrong with going with what your gut tells you.

    verification word: Act79 – why yes, actions do speak louder than words and this guy’s actions don’‘t make him hero worthy

  17. 17
    LizC says:

    At worst he’s being creepy stalker dude. At the least he’s immature and shy and hasn’t moved beyond high school tactics but then again I’m not so sure you have either.

    Both of you maybe shy as can be but at 26 and as former classmates you both have a pretty good conversation starter. Even if you weren’t friends in high school you should both be able to approach the other with a “hey, didn’t you go to such and such high school?” and go from there. Your “hi” is good but it’s nothing more than what any casual acquaintance would get.

    It sounds like neither one of you truly want to move beyond the staring and occasional “hi” so either you start ignoring him or tell him “dude, stop staring, you’re creepy” or you may have to be the one to “man up” and ask him for coffee like BethanyA suggests.

  18. 18
    Tabithaz says:

    Not to freak everyone out, but apart from being majorly creepy, this guy strikes me as potentially dangerous.

    Stalking is obviously a crime, but the problem is that what stalkers do is perfectly legal—until they cross the line and someone ends up greviously injured, abducted, or murdered.  Although this is changing, police departments often feel they can’t take action until a stalker has become a direct threat to safety.  And while a confrontational approach may work for one offender, it may exacerbate a situation to the point where an offender feels that violence is called for.  Likewise, ignoring someone can do the same thing.

    Theresa Saldana was stabbed repeatedly by a man she’d never even met, but who was utterly obsessed with her.  A young woman named Laura Black was stalked by a coworker, and after moving twice and applying for a permanent restraining order, the guy walked into her workplace and shot and killed seven people with a semiautomatic shotgun.  He also shot Laura in the shoulder, and though she survived, she has never had full range of motion or muscle control of the shoulder and arm.  Dominique Dunne was strangled and murdered by an ex-boyfriend.  Nicole Brown Simpson predicted that her ex-husband would kill her, and despite what the jury said, he probably did.  And thousands of other women have met similar fates.

    Anyone can do anything to anyone.  This guy hasn’t done anything violent, but that doesn’t mean he can’t.  Please, please, please, protect yourself.  Don’t wind up being another statistic.

    If this gets worse, 1-800-FYI-Call is the toll-free number of the National Victim Center.

    I wish that I could be more trusting of the world and agree with the people who’ve said this guy is just a creep, and leave it at that.  True, the guy is definitely a creep and not worth your time.  But guys this poorly-adjusted can become dangerous and violent.  All it takes is a trigger.

    One final note: the crazies can be good-looking, too.  Remember Ted Bundy?

    Keep yourself safe.

  19. 19
    Lynn M says:

    I’m with those that say you should summon the courage – and it would take a lot, I think!! – to confront him. Maybe it’s because as creeped out as I am, I’m also intrigued by this guy’s deal. I’d want to know what his issues were. So if you can manage it, I’d do as Theresa Meyers said and ask him what was with all the staring. Then, if he didn’t give an amazing answer like he suffers from selective mutism that he’s working through with his therapist, I’d sit as far away from him as I could. I’d also try real hard to make a friend in the class – male or female – to act as a safety precaution, someone to watch my six. Maybe if he sees you with other people he’ll move on.

    Oooh, I’m thinking 54…which could be I’m thinking there are 54 reasons this guy is not a smoldering romance hero but rather a guy with socialization issues.

  20. 20
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Avoid at all costs. This guy sounds like a prime example of what my girlfriends and I have dubbed “most likely to be found with his mother’s head in a freezer”.

  21. 21
    Madd says:

    I actually agree with Bethany about him maybe just being nervous laughter.

    I think maybe he had a thing for you in school and didn’t know how to approach you. Just because he could get girls doesn’t mean he’d have known what to do about a girl he had a crush on. Maybe you made him nervous back then and still do.

    I do agree that you need to stop giving his behaviour attention, but more for the sake of your sanity than anything else. He doesn’t seem inclined to make a move, if he really is interested, and you don’t need to waste your energy on someone who hasn’t figured it out in 10 years.

    I will say that you don’t seem to be doing much better in the “manning up” department. I’ve always been shy, socially awkward, and hate confrontation, but if someone is staring at me to the degree that I become aware of it and uncomfortable with it, I will be talking to them about it. Either they will stop, not be so open and careless in their staring, or continue to blatantly stare, in which case you know they’re doing it to mess with you and you can deal with it accordingly.

  22. 22
    Miri says:

    This story gives me the chills! It sounds like this guys is sizing her up for the crawl space under his house. Run far far away sweetie!

  23. 23

    I’d confront him, if you’re interested in anyway, by being polite. If you’re not interested being a bit more blunt.

    Good luck with him! :)

  24. 24
    Lovecow2000 says:

    He could have Asperger’s Syndrome, which is characterized by intensely focused (dare I say obsessive) attention to a few interests as well as a lack of ability to understand nonverbal language and cues.  In other words he may be “in love” with you and unable to know how to act upon it. He may also be unaware that you’re made uncomfortable by his stares. However, given that you said he’s had girlfriends, this may very well not be the case.

    Do you remember the names of the girls he dated in high school?  Have you Googled him?  Have you talked to your instructor about his behavior? It may seem more marked to you than to others, but most other people should notice at least something off.  Telling your teacher, brings someone with authority to bear on the situation.  Colleges and universities, in the wake of Virginia Tech, have behavior hotlines where you can report him anonymously if you’re really uncomfortable. It may be that he already has a record with the college and your complaint is the tipping point.  Also, if there is student counseling available, you might want to talk with them about ways to deal with this Edward Cullenesque dude.

    Largely, I don’t’ think he’s a good bet for relationship material. If he has Asperger’s (or something similar), it may be very frustrating and requires a lot of understanding and patience from you.  If it’s not something like this, then he’s probably pretty messed up and potentially dangerous.  Proceed with caution.

  25. 25
    Barbara says:

    One of the things I’ve found to deal with the socially inept fellows (and since I’m in science fiction fandom, there are probably statistically more per capita than the standard places *heh*) is to accumulate male friends. Buddies. Pals.

    Stand-in brothers.

    Nothing shakes the wierdo out of the socially inept tree faster than the gal with a bunch of male friends, who have made it clear that this is their sister and—if you f*ck with her, they will f*ck you up.

    Of course, being able to smack them in the head with a sword doesn’t hurt, either. :)

  26. 26
    Lisa says:

    I spent many years feeling socially crippled by my inhibitions and built up quite the gallery of regrets.  It took going through a small version of medical hell for me to be able to gather the fortitude to stop wasting my own time.

    If you have any interest in the guy – other than nostalgia – set up your safeties (see all other SB advice) and ask him if he’d like to meet you for coffee.

    Maybe have someone you trust elsewhere in the cafe, maybe make the invitation for just before class so there’s a time limit – AND someplace else where you are both expected.

    I know it isn’t easy gathering the gumption to approach him, but this way you will get an answer and can either proceed (with caution!!) or you can finally “set him aside” with no more regrets.

  27. 27
    XandraG says:

    I may not be reading enough into the situation, but having suffered from selective near-crippling shyness I can see that this guy might really be crushing on her and means no harm.  If he’s associative, then seeing her could very well cause him to slip back into the high-school behavior.  High school is a traumatic time for a lot of us, and confronted with a trigger from a highly-emotional time like that can shift people right back into learned-behavior mode.

    I’ll echo, though, everyone’s calls for caution.  Google the hell out of the guy, too.  But I’d want to know what was up with the staring.  You could simultaneously break the ice and creep *him* out by asking him point-blank if you have a booger hanging from your nose or toilet paper stuck to your shoe.

    spamword: specific87 you want a specific reason why his eyes find you so compelling…and probably one why he’s not aware it’s kinda creepy.  And stalking is just so ‘87,

    Then again, it could be something completely mundane, like you’re a ringer for his cousin in Topeka.  Or he might have read Twilight and thought it was a good method for picking up chicks.

  28. 28
    SheaLuna says:

    I’m in with the sheer creepiness of it all.  Frankly, if some guy acted that way around me, it would Freak. Me. Out.

    There is the vague (very vague) possibility that this guy is just socially awkward or very shy.  The problem, however, is that shy or not, a REAL man needs to seriously grow a pair.  There is nothing heroic about a guy who hasn’t got the guts to ask you for coffee.  IMHO, he ain’t worth your time of day, if that’s the case.  You deserve better.  If he can’t man up for coffee, um, what ELSE can’t he man up for?

    I’m much more convinced, however, that there is something creepy-stalker-weird going on.  The crazed giggle gives it away.  Crazed giggling is definitely not the sign of hero material.  It’s a good sign it’s time to run away.  Fast.

  29. 29

    I’m suprised by all the immediate jumps to “He’s a Creepy Stalker and Might Murder You!” responses.  I mean, yes, weird and women need to be careful about these things, but considering we only have Shy’s relation of the events it seems rather extreme. People tend to overexaggerate, especially when they are confused and obsessing over something. Also, she described his laughter as “slightly hsyterical” not “manic”.  There’s a difference.

    Miss Shy, I, too, am introverted and am frequently bewildered by men to the point of panic. Thus, I have a tendency to over-react in situations like this.  What I’ve learned is that you just have to confront it. I would agree with some sort of confrontation.  “Hey,” you could say. “I’m 99% positive you went to my high school blah blah blah. Right? Go Beavers!” Then he would hopefully, speak to you. Then you could say “I’ve noticed you looking at me a lot. What’s up with that?” Or something to that effect. IF after you’ve openly acknowledged the fact that you know each other from high school and have spoken to him with more than single syllable words AND he’s still being a weirdo, THEN be cautious/build barriers, etc. But until you speak to him and state something about the staring and the high school, the situation is just going to be a big ball of stress in your head that’s going to warp your judgment and skew your perspective both of him and the situation. It could be more dangerous than you expect, yah.  But it could also be a whole lot of nothing, too.

    If you can’t do that (the confrontation or the even speaking to him to see if he’s really creepy) then you have to ignore him. He’s probably just a douche. Or maybe he has Asperger’s. Maybe your idea of him in high school was completely inaccurate. Who knows? But to know, you have to say something about both issues.

  30. 30
    Diatryma says:

    I’m on the Potential Villain side rather than Potential Hero.  If you want to figure out what’s going on, maybe ask a friend or nonthreatening other in the class to double-check your perception (“I think he’s staring at me a lot.  Could you make sure I’m not making things up?”) then ask him, with witnesses, to stop.  Not, “Is there a reason?” but, “Stop.” 

    Then move to a desk directly behind him or otherwise out of sight.  Resolve not to look at him, even to see if he’s staring. 

    The options, as I see them, are ‘freaking you out on purpose’ in which case shut him down mercilessly and publicly, ‘stalkerboy’ in which case same, plus backup, and ‘means well, good guy, but clueless about his effects’ in which case tell him that he’s bothering you and, because he is a good guy, he will stop.

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