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When I get asked out by a creepy library patron, my default response is to say that I have a boyfriend.  Even if I didn’t have a boyfriend, I would probably say that because it seems to be the only way to tell an inappropriate and usually far too old man that not only are you not interested, but you have something else going on in that area of your life already.  The problem is, every time I say it, I feel frustrated with myself and think that there must be an equally good way to tell a gross old man to fuck off, without feeling anti-feminist.

In the case of the gentleman (16 years older than me, looks homeless but may not be) who presented me with a single pink rose on Valentine’s Day that he obviously bought at CVS and asked, “Would you like to go for a coffee sometime?” I wanted to say “No, I would not.”  I mentally wrestled with myself before I answered him and sighed heavily before finally saying, “I have a boyfriend.”

Somehow, it seems more rude to reject them outright without having a valid (in their eyes) reason.  Just saying, “No I don’t want to have coffee with you” is like me rejecting them as a person even though in actuality I can think of about a million things I would rather do than even be next to these men in the line at Dunkin Donuts.  I do reject them as people because I know that we would have nothing in common, I’m not interested in the slightest, and I’m not accepting new friends at this point in my life.

Unfortunately, playing the boyfriend card on my previous library stalker didn’t deter him from spending far too much time trapping me in conversation, giving me his phone number and writing a letter to my boss about my exceptional customer service that prompted her to ask me ‘Who is this guy?”  So even my go-to doesn’t even work as well as it should.

Perhaps what I need is to just stop thinking of these guys as people and just be rude to them.  How do other ladies deal with unwanted advances?  Is there a magic phrase, or is it case-by-case?  My stunt ring may have worked at my other job, but I haven’t worn it yet at my new places, and really am sick of having to take that tactic.

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1.

There is a woman who comes into my place of work who has been calling me Jen for about four months now.  The first time she said it, she was walking quickly past my desk and threw out a pert “Hi Jen!”

I responded to the “Hi” part before I realized that she had called me Jen.  From then on, every time she came into the library, I would get either a “Hi Jen!” or a “Bye Jen!” I kept waiting for situations to present themselves that would straighten this out without me having to do anything about it.  I thought the time that she saw both Jen and I sitting at the desk together would clue her in, but she actually acted as if she had never seen me before, let me answer her question, and then an hour later said “Bye Jen!” as she was leaving.

I’m just leaving this alone.  The funny thing is, I don’t think she ever even talks to Jen, but I might be wrong.

2.

There is a woman who lives along the route that I run every day.  No matter how early or late it is when I run by, she will be on her porch, sitting in a plastic chair, wearing what looks like a nightgown, smoking.  Occasionally, she has with her an oxygen tank, but she’s still smoking.  I run outdoors year round unless the sidewalks are so clogged with snow that they’re unpassable, but she’s always out there, smoking.  I wonder now if we’re friends just because we’ve seen each other so many times.  I imagine that she either admires me or loathes me.  Maybe she’s lonely and wishes I would stop and chat; maybe if I tried to stop and chat, she’d throw her lit cigarette at me.

I think I’m going to phase in a friendly smile and possibly a head nod, just to see what kind of a reaction I get.

3.

There is a man who comes into my library and thinks that the two of us are best pals.  I don’t know his name, but he knows mine and has asked me out.  When I turned him down, he elected to keep me in “the friend zone” much to my dismay instead doing the thing where he awkwardly avoids eye contact or (even better) goes to a different library.  He keeps me up-to-date with what’s going on with him, even as I try to appear incredibly busy; and often pauses for long stretches which I assume are times for me to ask questions about whatever he’s prattling on about at the moment.

I refuse to ask questions.

Unfortunately, he is not dissuaded by my lack of question asking, and carries the conversation all on his own.

I’ve now taken the approach where I am trying to convince him that I’m a terrible human being.  This seemed like a logical next step after refusing to ask questions about his health or diabetes even when he would say things like “I’ve been having some health issues lately… was in Boston for a few days, that’s why you haven’t seen me.”  I put this new plan into effect when he recently asked if I had big plans for the weekend.

“I’m running a 1/2 marathon on Saturday.”

He then launched into a description of physical feats that he’s engaged in–mostly 5ks, it’s important to stay fit (he’s at least 40 pounds overweight).  Then he asked if I was doing it for some kind of charity.

“You mean, like am I raising money for cancer or something?” I asked.

He nodded.

“Oh absolutely not.  No way.  I just like running and getting medals.”

Then I waited, hoping that he would be incredibly disappointed in my lack of human decency, but he thought it was hilarious.

I need a new approach.

I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions the run-ins that I have with male library patrons.  I was catching up with International Friend via skype the other day when I finally admitted something that I’ve never said out loud before.

Let’s back up for a moment and recap all the lovely qualities of the men who have recently asked me out: one had no front teeth; another didn’t ask me out until he had already told me that he’s unemployed, divorced with kids and diabetic with no health insurance; another is closer to my parents’ ago than mine–actually, all of them are way too old, which makes it all very creepy.  The problem is, that I feel bad listing out their poor qualities like this.  I make excuses for them, tell myself that I’m sure they’re lovely people, when what they actually are are gross old men who make work uncomfortable for me.

And here’s the thing that I feel like the biggest bitch admitting: I would never date someone who had to come to the library to use the internet.

I am all about breaking down the digital divide, helping people get online who can’t afford their own computer and internet connection, but I don’t want that in my own life.  I confessed this to a friend who agreed “home internet access is a real indicator of socio-economic standing.” Putting it that way sounds so shallow and obnoxious, and I’m certainly not a rich lady, never will be, but opting out of the internet at home and using it exclusively at the public library is a whole nother thing, no?

So I put it to you, gentle reader, am I a snob? Is it snobby to put a moratorium on dating outside of your peer group, or is that something that everyone does anyway?  I’ve never been such a highly pursued female, so I’ve never had to think about my deal-breakers in this way.  If I met one of these guys at a neutral social event would I feel differently?

Someday I’ll write blogs that are less self-indulgent, I promise.

I’ve worked in customer service most of my working life.  I genuinely enjoy it because in my real life I’m not terribly gregarious, and this way I get to interact with all sorts of characters in a controlled, limited way.  I’ve seen, if not everything, plenty of stuff, enough to make me a bit more unflappable than your average newbie librarian.  Why is it then that I have forgotten about the breed of patron/customer that has brought me the most grief over my checkered career?  How remiss am I to think that just because I have a master’s degree in library science that I will not have to deal with the gross old men of the world?

My interactions with gross old men go back to high school, yes, high school.  Working at the gas station, wearing an unflattering red, later tan, polo shirt made me the target for many inappropriate men.  They would flirt, flatter, follow.  Co-workers and I would enact elaborate “save me” routines to extract one another from the clutches of these wannabe philanderers.  Thankfully, I learned quite quickly how to deflect these advances, and I think I was aided by the fact that, as a sixteen-year-old, I had the law on my side should anything get out of hand, but the comments and winks became exhausting.

I chalked it all up to living in a very small town, and moved to the big city where surely, surely, men behave appropriately around significantly younger ladies.  I got a job at Barnes & Noble, which is second only to the library as a place where the weirdos come in droves.  There I met a man who spent about 12 hours per day in that store–sometimes longer.  In the cafe, we served him breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus the occasional snack, and he sat at the high counter reading the paper, magazines, and being visited by friends.  He also decided that I was the girl for him, or if not for him, for his son.  He brought in pictures, talked the young stud up every chance he got, and introduced me to people as “my future daughter-in-law.”

When he first got the idea that his son and I were meant to be, his son was out of the country.  “He’ll be back in a few weeks,” he told me, “What will you say to him when I bring him in?”

“I’ll ask him if he wants a coffee,” I replied.

He was very disappointed in me.

Now, at my present job, I have a new fan.  He comes in all the time, right before closing, and traps me in conversation as often as possible.  “Andria, can you recommend a DVD for me?  Andria, I need articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education and I don’t know how to find them.  Andria, is Land’s End a good store to get a gift card from?”  At least some of what he asks me are actual reference questions, but not nearly enough.

Yesterday, he gave me a christmas card (with his phone number and email address included), and when I complained to my boss of his overtures, she suggested a stunt ring.

“Go get something cheap and flashy and make sure he sees it, then he’ll leave you alone.” she told me.

This is something I’ve though about before, and when I was working at tv station, the foxy meteorologist and I discussed it at length as she had been getting a lot of crude emails from many, many men, but it seems like I shouldn’t have to take these steps.  Why would a man who is old enough to be my father, who is educated, and supposedly sensible think that my being polite and courteous is anything more than me just being good at my job?  I don’t want to wear a stunt ring, and I don’t want to be a girl who talks constantly of her boyfriend, but I think it may come to that.

I was working at a wine bar before I moved to Rhode Island, and there was an older gentleman who came in often, monopolized my time, and asked me to go out with him several times.  When I heard that he had come in on my night off, asked where I was, then promptly left, I decided to play the boyfriend card.  All conversation halted– he wouldn’t even look at me. He chugged his wine, threw some money on the table, and left without saying goodbye.

I certainly don’t miss him or his company, but I was a bit hurt that all our interactions seemed to just be a ploy to…what?… get me into bed?  Does that actually ever work?

I just don’t want to have to deal with this, but I do, which I find unfair.  After this guy, there will be more, I’m sure, and once the attention stops, I’ll probably feel bad about my looks fading.