“I WAS TRYING TO LET HIM DOWN EASY”

 


▪ CHAPTER ELEVEN ▪
“I WAS TRYING
TO LET HIM DOWN EASY”

With these words begins a story my office hears several times each month. Before meeting with me, the intelligent young woman may have told it to friends, a psychologist, a private detective, a lawyer, a police officer, maybe even a judge, but the problem persisted. It is the story of a situation that once seemed innocent, or at least manageable, but is now frightening. It is the story of someone who started as a seemingly normal suitor but was soon revealed to be something else.

 

There are two broad categories of stalking: unwanted pursuit by a stranger, and unwanted pursuit by someone the victim knows. The cases of total strangers fixating on private citizens are, by comparison to other types of stalking, very rare, and they are also the cases least likely to end in violence. Accordingly, I’ll be exploring those cases that affect the largest population of victims: stalking by someone who has romantic aspirations, often someone a woman has met or dated.

Though it is fashionable for the news media to report on stalkers as if they are some unique type of criminal, those who choose regular citizens are not. They’re not from Mars—they are from Miami and Boston, San Diego and Brentwood. They are the man our sister dated, the man our company hired, the man our friend married.

Against this background, we men must see in them a part of ourselves in order to better understand the issue. Giving talks around the country, I sometimes ask the audience, “How many of the men here ever found out where a girl lived or worked by means other than asking her? How many have driven by a girl’s house to see what cars were there, or called just to see who answered the phone and then hung up?”

By the overwhelming show of hands, I’ve learned that the acceptability of these behaviors is a matter of degree. After one speech, a policeman who’d been in the audience asked to talk with me alone. He told me how he realized just then that he had relentlessly pursued a female student at the police academy when he was on the staff there. She said no to him for eighteen months, all the while concerned that the rejection would have an impact on her career. “She gave me no indication that she wanted a relationship with me, but I never let up, not for a moment,” he said. “It paid off, though. We got married.”

I suppose you could say it paid off, but the story tells more about how complicated the issue of romantic pursuit is. It is clear that for women in recent decades, the stakes of resisting romantic attention have risen sharply. Some invisible line exists between what is all right and what is too far—and men and women don’t always agree on where to place that line. Victims and their unwanted pursuers never agree, and sometimes victims and the police don’t either.

Everyone agrees, however, at the point where one of these situations includes violence, but why can we not reach consensus before that? To answer this, I have to recall the images of Dustin Hoffman storming into a church, and Demi Moore showing up uninvited at a business meeting. I have to talk about regular, everyday guys, and about the dictionary. It may seem that these things aren’t related to stalking and unwanted pursuit, but—as I’m sure your intuition has already told you—they are.

 

In the sixties, a movie came out that painted a welcome and lasting picture of how a young man could court a woman. It was The Graduate. In it, Dustin Hoffman dates a girl (played by Katherine Ross) and then asks her to marry him. She says no, but he doesn’t hear it. He waits outside her classes at school and asks again, and then again. Eventually, she writes him a letter saying she’s thought it over carefully and decided not to marry him. In fact, she is leaving town and marrying another man. That would seem a pretty clear message—but not in the movies.

Hoffman uses stalking techniques to find her. He pretends to be a friend of the groom, then a family member, then a priest. Ultimately, he finds the church and breaks into it just seconds after Katherine Ross is pronounced the wife of another man. He then beats up the bride’s father, hits some other people, and wields a large wooden cross against the wedding guests who try to help the family.

 

And what happens? He gets the girl. She runs off with Dustin Hoffman, leaving her family and new husband behind. Also left behind is the notion that a woman should be heard, the notion that no means no, and the notion that a woman has a right to decide who will be in her life.

My generation saw in The Graduate that there is one romantic strategy to use above all others: persistence. This same strategy is at the core of every stalking case. Men pursuing unlikely or inappropriate relationships with women and getting them is a common theme promoted in our culture. Just recall Flashdance, Tootsie, The Heartbreak Kid, 10, Blame it on Rio, Honeymoon in Las Vegas, Indecent Proposal.

 

This Hollywood formula could be called Boy Wants Girl, Girl Doesn’t Want Boy, Boy Harasses Girl, Boy Gets Girl. Many movies teach that if you just stay with it, even if you offend her, even if she says she wants nothing to do with you, even if you’ve treated her like trash (and sometimes because you’ve treated her like trash), you’ll get the girl. Even if she’s in another relationship, even if you look like Dustin Hoffman, you’ll eventually get Katherine Ross or Jessica Lange. Persistence will win the war Against All Odds (another of these movies, by the way). Even the seemingly innocuous TV show Cheers touches the topic. Sam’s persistent and inappropriate sexual harassment of two female coworkers—eight years of it—doesn’t get him fired or sued. It does, however, get him both women.

There’s a lesson in real-life stalking cases that young women can benefit from learning: persistence only proves persistence—it does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you are special—it means he is troubled.

 

It isn’t news that men and women often speak different languages, but when the stakes are the highest, it’s important to remember that men are nice when they pursue, and women are nice when they reject. Naturally this leads to confusion, and it brings us to the popular practice of letting him down easy.

True to what they are taught, rejecting women often say less than they mean. True to what they are taught, men often hear less than what is said. Nowhere is this problem more alarmingly expressed than by the hundreds of thousands of fathers (and mothers), older brothers (and sisters), movies and television shows that teach most men that when she says no, that’s not what she means. Add to this all the women taught to “play hard to get,” when that’s not what they are really feeling. The result is that “no” can mean many things in this culture. Here’s just a small sample:

MaybeNot yet
Hmm…Give me time
Not sureKeep trying
I’ve found my man!

There is one book in which the meaning of no is always clear. It is the dictionary, but since Hollywood writers don’t seem to use that book very often, we have to. We have to teach young people that “No” is a complete sentence. This is not as simple as it may appear, given the deep cultural roots of the no/maybe hybrid. It has become part of the contract between men and women and was even explored by the classic contract theorists, Rousseau and Locke. Rousseau asked: “Why do you consult their words when it is not their mouths that speak?” Locke spoke of a man’s winning “silent consent” by reading it in a woman’s eyes “in spite of the mouth’s denial.” Locke even asserted that a man is protecting a woman’s honor when he ignores her refusal: “If he then completes his happiness, he is not brutal, he is decent.” In Locke’s world, date rape wouldn’t be a crime at all—it would be a gentleman’s act of courtesy.

 

Even if men and women in America spoke the same language, they would still live by much different standards. For example, if a man in a movie researches a woman’s schedule, finds out where she lives and works, even goes to her work uninvited, it shows his commitment, proves his love. When Robert Redford does this to Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal, it’s adorable. But when she shows up at hiswork unannounced, interrupting a business lunch, it’s alarming and disruptive.

If a man in the movies wants a sexual encounter or applies persistence, he’s a regular everyday guy, but if a woman does the same thing, she’s a maniac or a killer. Just recall Fatal Attraction, King of Comedy, Single White Female, Play Misty for Me, Hand That Rocks the Cradle, and Basic Instinct. When the men pursue, they usually get the girl. When the women pursue, they usually get killed.

 

Popular movies may be reflections of society or designers of society depending on who you ask, but either way, they model behavior for us. During the early stages of pursuit situations in movies—and too often in life—the woman is watching and waiting, fitting in to the expectations of an overly invested man. She isn’t heard or recognized; she is the screen upon which the man projects his needs and his idea of what she should be.

Stalking is how some men raise the stakes when the woman doesn’t play along. It is a crime of power, control, and intimidation very similar to date rape. In fact, many cases of date-stalking could be described as extended rapes; they take away freedom, and they honor the desires of the man and disregard the wishes of the woman. Whether he is an estranged husband, an ex-boyfriend, a onetime date, or an unwanted suitor, the stalker enforces our culture’s cruelest rule, which is that women are not allowed to decide who will be in their lives. One of the reasons stalking has increased is that women of the past abided by that rule. They had less choice about going along with the wishes of a persistent pursuer. Until recent decades, situations with unwanted suitors who wouldn’t let go were more likely to end in marriage than in stalking.

 

I’ve successfully lobbied and testified for stalking laws in several states, but I would trade them all for a high school class that would teach young men how to hear “no,” and teach young women that it’s all right to explicitly reject. The curriculum would also include strategies for getting away. Perhaps needless to say, the class would not be called Letting Him Down Easy. If the culture taught and then allowed women to explicitly reject and to say no, or if more women took that power early in every relationship, stalking cases would decline dramatically.

Looking for Mr. Right has taken on far greater significance than getting rid of Mr. Wrong, so women are not taught how to get out of relationships. That high school class would stress the one rule that applies to all types of unwanted pursuit: do not negotiate. Once a woman has made the decision that she doesn’t want a relationship with a particular man, it needs to be said one time, explicitly. Almost any contact after that rejection will be seen as negotiation. If a woman tells a man over and over again that she doesn’t want to talk to him, that is talking to him, and every time she does it, she betrays her resolve in the matter.

 

If you tell someone ten times that you don’t want to talk to him, you are talking to him—nine more times than you wanted to.

When a woman gets thirty messages from a pursuer and doesn’t call him back, but then finally gives in and returns his calls, no matter what she says, he learns that the cost of reaching her is leaving thirty messages. For this type of man, any contact will be seen as progress. Of course, some victims are worried that by not responding, they’ll provoke him, so they try letting him down easy. Often, the result is that he believes she is conflicted, uncertain, really likes him but just doesn’t know it yet.

 

When a woman rejects someone who has a crush on her, and she says, “It’s just that I don’t want to be in relationship right now,” he hears only the words “right now.” To him, this means she will want to be in a relationship later. The rejection should be “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you.” Unless it’s just that clear, and sometimes even when it is, he doesn’t hear it.

If she says, “You’re a great guy and you have a lot to offer, but I’m not the one for you; my head’s just not in the right place these days,” he thinks: “She really likes me; it’s just that she’s confused. I’ve got to prove to her that she’s the one for me.”

When a woman explains why she is rejecting, this type of man will challenge each reason she offers. I suggest that women never explain why they don’t want a relationship but simply make clear that they have thought it over, that this is their decision, and that they expect the man to respect it. Why would a woman explain intimate aspects of her life, plans, and romantic choices to someone she doesn’t want a relationship with? A rejection based on any condition, say, that she wants to move to another city, just gives him something to challenge. Conditional rejections are not rejections—they are discussions.

The astute opening scene of the film Tootsieillustrates well why conditional rejections don’t work. Dustin Hoffman plays an actor reading lines at an audition. A voice from offstage tells him he isn’t getting the part.

Voice: The reading was fine, you’re just the wrong height.

Hoffman: Oh, I can be taller.

 

Voice: No, you don’t understand. We’re looking for somebody shorter.

Hoffman: Oh, well look, I don’t have to be this tall. See, I’m wearing lifts. I can be shorter.

 

Voice: I know, but really… we’re looking for somebody different.

Hoffman: I can be different.

 

Voice: We’re looking for somebody else, okay?

This last line offers no reasons and begs no negotiations, but women in this culture are virtually prohibited from speaking it. They are taught that speaking it clearly and early may lead to unpopularity, banishment, anger, and even violence.

 

Let’s imagine a woman has let pass several opportunities to pursue a relationship with a suitor. Every hint, response, action, and inaction has communicated that she is not interested. If the man still pursues at this point, though it will doubtless appear harsh to some, it is time for an unconditional and explicit rejection. Because I know that few American men have heard it, and few women have spoken it, here is what an unconditional and explicit rejection sounds like:

No matter what you may have assumed till now, and no matter for what reason you assumed it, I have no romantic interest in you whatsoever. I am certain I never will. I expect that knowing this, you’ll put your attention elsewhere, which I understand, because that’s what I intend to do.

There is only one appropriate reaction to this: acceptance. However the man communicates it, the basic concept would ideally be: “I hear you, I understand, and while I am disappointed, I will certainly respect your decision.”

I said there’s only one appropriate reaction. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of inappropriate reactions, and while they take many forms, their basic message is: “I do not accept your decision.” If a man aggressively debates, doubts, negotiates, or attempts to change her mind, it should be recognized for what it is. It should be clear that:

1) She made the right decision about this man. Instead of her resolve being challenged by his response, it should be strengthened.

 

2) She obviously would not want a relationship with someone who does not hear what she says and who does not recognize her feelings.

3) If he failed to understand a message this clear and explicit, his reaction to anything ambiguous, or to being let down easy can only be imagined.

Unwanted pursuers may escalate their behavior to include such things as persistent phone calls and messages, showing up uninvited at a woman’s work, school, or home; following her; and trying to enlist her friends or family in his campaign. If any of these things happens, assuming that the woman has communicated one explicit rejection, it is very important that no further detectable response be given. When a woman communicates again with someone she has explicitly rejected, her actions don’t match her words. The man is able to choose which communications (actions versus words) actually represent the woman’s feelings. Not surprisingly, he usually chooses the ones that serve him. Often, such a man will leave phone messages that ostensibly offer closure, but that are actually crudely concealed efforts to get a response—and remember, he views any response as progress.

Message: Hi, it’s Bryan. Listen, I’m moving back to Houston, but I can’t leave town without an opportunity to see you again. All I’m asking for is a chance to say good-bye; that’s all. Just a fast meeting, and then I’m gone.

 

Best response: No response.

Message: Listen, it’s Bryan, this is the last call you’ll ever get from me. [This line, though spoken often by stalkers, is rarely true.] It’s urgent I speak with you.

Best response: No response.

When a woman is stalked by a person she dated, she may have to endure some judgment from people who learn about her situation: “You must have encouraged the guy in some way;” “You must be the kind of woman who enjoys being pursued,” etc.Someone will also doubtless give her the conventional wisdom on stalking, which should be called conventional unwisdom. It will include (as if it is some creative plan): Change your phone number. In fact, our office does not recommend this strategy, because as any victim will tell you, the stalker always manages to get the new number. A better plan is for the woman to get a second phone line, give the new number to the people she wants to hear from, and leave the old number with an answering machine or voice mail so that the stalker is not even aware she has another number. She can check her messages, and when she receives calls from people she wants to speak with, she can call them back and give them her new number. Eventually, the only person leaving messages on the old number is the unwanted pursuer. In this way, his calls are documented (keep the messages), and more importantly, each time he leaves a message, he gets a message: that she can avoid the temptation to respond to his manipulations.

 

We also suggest that the outgoing message be recorded by a female friend, because he may be calling just to hear his object’s voice. While people believe that an outgoing message with a male voice will lead the pursuer to believe his victim is in a new relationship, more commonly it leads him to investigate further.

Stalkers are by definition people who don’t give up easily—they are people who don’t let go. More accurately, the vast majority of them are people who don’t let go at the point most of us would, but who ultimately do let go—if their victims avoid engaging them. Usually, they have to attach a tentacle to someone else before detaching all the tentacles from their current object.

▪ ▪ ▪

An axiom of the stalking dynamic:
MEN WHO CANNOT LET GO
CHOOSE WOMEN WHO CANNOT SAY NO
.

Most victims will concede that even though they wanted to, they were initially reluctant to explicitly reject. Often, the niceness or delicacy of a woman’s rejection is taken as affection. Demonstrating this, and proving that nobody is exempt from these situations, is Kathleen Krueger, the wife of United States senator Bob Krueger. She could not shake the unwanted pursuer who had once piloted her husband’s campaign plane. When Mrs. Krueger described her case to me, she eloquently explained it from the stalker’s perspective: “We were nice to him, not unusually so, but it was obviously a big deal to him. He took it as love. I guess when you are starving, even a morsel seems like a feast.”

In cases in which the pursuer has initially gotten what he perceived as favorable attention, or in which he has actually dated or had a relationship with his victim, he may be so desperate to hold on that he’ll settle for any kind of contact. Though he’d rather be her boyfriend, he’ll accept being just a friend. Eventually, though he’d rather be a friend, he’ll accept being an enemy if that’s the only position available. As a stalking ex-boyfriend wrote to a young client of ours: “You’ll be thinking of me. You may not be thinking good thoughts, but you’ll be thinking of me.”

Another rule to be taught in the “Getting Rid of Mr. Wrong” class would be: The way to stop contact is to stop contact. As I noted above, I suggest one explicit rejection and after that absolutely no contact. If you call the pursuer back, or agree to meet, or send him a note, or have somebody warn him off, you buy another six weeks of his unwanted pursuit. Some victims think it will help to have a male friend, new boyfriend, or a male family member tell the stalker to stop. Most who try this learn that the stalker takes it as evidence that his love object must be conflicted. Otherwise she’d have told him herself.

Sending the police to warn off a pursuer may seem the obvious thing to do, but it rarely has the desired effect. Though the behavior of pursuers may be alarming, most have not broken the law, so the police have few options. When police visit him and say, in effect, “Cut this out or you’ll get into trouble,” the pursuer intuitively knows that if they could have arrested him they would have arrested him. So what’s the result of the visit? Well, the greatest possible weapon in his victim’s arsenal—sending the police after him—came and went without a problem. The cops stopped by, they talked to him, and they left. Who got stronger, the victim or the pursuer?

 

To be clear, I feel that police should be involved when there is an actionable crime that if prosecuted would result in improving the victim’s safety or putting a high cost on the stalker’s behavior. But the first time a stalker should see police is when they show up to arrest him, not when they stop by to chat.

Pursuers are, in a very real sense, detoxing from an addiction to the relationship. It is similar to the dynamic in many domestic violence situations in which both partners are addicted to the relationship. In date-stalking cases, however, it is usually one-sided; the stalker is the addict and his object is the drug. Small doses of that drug do not wean him, they engage him. The way to force him out of this addiction, as with most addictions, is abstinence, cold turkey—no contact from her, no contact from her designates, and no contact about her.

 

As with domestic violence situations, victims will often be advised that they must do something (police, TRO, warning) to their stalker. From the larger social point of view, such advice might be correct. If one thinks of a stalker as a danger to society—a virtual tiger lurking around the corner waiting to victimize someone—then it may be true that somebody should do something about it, but nobody is obligated to volunteer for that fight, particularly if it’s avoidable. If one could know and warn a stalking victim that as she rounds the next corner, she’ll be attacked, which option makes more sense: Go around the corner, or take another route? If the fight is avoidable, and it’s my wife, my daughter, my friend, or my client, I would recommend avoidance first. That’s because fighting will always be available, but it isn’t always possible to go back to avoidance once a war is under way.

Victims of stalking will also hear the same conventional wisdom that is offered to battered women: Get a restraining order. Here, as with battered wives, it is important to evaluate which cases might be improved by court intervention and which might be worsened. Much depends upon how escalated the case is and how much emotional investment has been made by the stalker. If he has been actively pursuing the same victim for years and has already ignored warnings and interventions, then a restraining order isn’t likely to help. Generally speaking, court orders that are introduced early carry less risk than those introduced after the stalker has made a significant emotional investment or introduced threats and other sinister behavior. Restraining orders obtained soon after a pursuer has ignored a single explicit rejection will carry more clout and less risk than those obtained after many months or years of stalking.

There is a category of stalker for which court orders frequently help (or at least aren’t dangerous). It is the one we call the naive pursuer. He is a person who simply does not realize the inappropriateness of his behavior. He might think, “I am in love with this person. Accordingly, this is a love relationship, and I am acting the way people in love act.”

This type of unwanted pursuer is generally rational, though perhaps a bit thick and unsophisticated. Not all naive pursuers are seeking romantic relationships. Some are persistently seeking to be hired for a job or to learn why they were not hired for a job, why their idea was not accepted, why their manuscript was rejected, etc. The naive pursuer is usually distinguishable from conventional stalkers by his lack of machismo and his lack of anger at being rejected. He just seems to go along, happily believing he is courting someone. He stays with it until someone makes completely clear to him that his approach is inappropriate, unacceptable, and counterproductive. This isn’t always easy, but it’s usually safe to try.

Because victims are understandably frustrated and angry, they may look to a court order to do any of the following things:

Destroy

Expose

Threaten

Avenge

Change

Humiliate

Note that the acronym for this list is also the only goal that makes sense from a safety point of view, and that is to DETACH, to have the guy out of your life. As with battered women, the restraining order may move you closer to that goal, or it may move you farther away. It is one management plan, but not the only one.

▪ ▪ ▪

The type of stalker who a woman has briefly dated (as opposed to a stranger she’s never met) is quite similar to the controlling or battering husband, though he is far less likely to introduce violence. His strategies include acting pathetic to exploit a victim’s sympathy or guilt, calling on supposed promises or commitments, annoying a victim so much that she gives in and continues seeing him, and finally the use of fear through intimidating statements and actions (threats, vandalism, slashing tires, etc.).

 

Recall Katherine, who asked me if there was a list of warning signs about men who might later become a problem. I’ll repeat her story, this time pointing out the warning signs:

I dated this guy named Bryan. We met at a party of a friend of mine, and he must have asked somebody there for my number [researching the victim]. Before I even got home, he’d left me three messages [overly invested]. I told him I didn’t want to go out with him, but he was so enthusiastic about it that I really didn’t have any choice [Men who cannot let go choose women who cannot say No]. In the beginning, he was super-attentive, always seemed to know what I wanted. He remembered everything I ever said [hyper-attentiveness]. It was flattering, but it also made me uncomfortable [victim intuitively feels uncomfortable]. Like when he remembered that I once mentioned needing more space for my books, he just showed up one day with shelves and all the stuff and just put them up [offering unsolicited help; loan-sharking]. I couldn’t say no. And he read so much into whatever I said. Once he asked if I’d go to a basketball game with him, and I said maybe. He later said, ‘You promised’ [projecting onto others emotions or commitments that are not present]. Also, he talked about serious things so early, like living together and marriage and children [whirlwind pace, placing issues on the agenda prematurely]. He started with jokes about that stuff the first time we went out, and later he wasn’t joking. Or when he suggested that I have a phone in my car. I wasn’t sure I even wanted a car phone, but he borrowed my car and just had one installed (loan-sharking). It was a gift, so what could I say? And, of course, he called me whenever I was in the car [monitoring activity and whereabouts]. And he was so adamant that I never speak to my ex-boyfriend on that car phone. Later, he got angry if I spoke to my ex at all [jealousy]. There were also a couple of my friends he didn’t like me to see [isolating her from friends], and he stopped spending time with any of his own friends [making another person responsible to be one’s whole social world]. Finally, when I told him I didn’t want to be his girlfriend, he refused to hear it [refusing to hear “no”].

All this is done on auto-pilot by the stalker, who seeks to control the other person so she can’t leave him. Being in control is an alternative to being loved, and since his identity is so precariously dependent on a relationship, he carefully shores up every possible leak. In so doing, he also strangles the life out of the relationship, ensuring that it could never be what he says (and maybe even believes) he wants.

Bryan would not pursue a woman who could really say and mean No, though he is very interested in one who initially says No and then gives in. I assure you that Bryan tested Katherine on this point within minutes of meeting her:

Bryan: Can I get you something to drink?

 

Katherine: No, but thank you.

Bryan: Oh, come on, what’ll you have?

Katherine: Well, I could have a soft drink, I guess.

This may appear to be a minor exchange, but it is actually a very significant test. Bryan found something she said no to, tried a light persuasion, and Katherine gave in, perhaps just because she wanted to be nice. He will next try one a notch more significant, then another, then another, and finally he’s found someone he can control. The exchange about the drink is the same as the exchange they will later have about dating, and later about breaking up. It becomes an unspoken agreement that he will drive and she will be the passenger. The trouble comes when she tries to re-negotiate that agreement.

▪ ▪ ▪

Popular news stories would have us believe that stalking is like a virus that strikes its victims without warning, but Katherine, like most victims, got a signal of discomfort right at the start—and ignored it. Nearly every victim I’ve ever spoken with stayed in even after she wanted out. It doesn’t have to be that way. Women can follow those early signals of intuition right from the start.

 

Dating carries several risks: the risk of disappointment, the risk of boredom, the risk of rejection, and the risk of letting some troubled, scary man into your life. The whole process is most similar to an audition, except that the stakes are higher. A date might look like the audition in Tootsie, in which the man wants the part so badly that he’ll do anything to get it, or it can be an opportunity for the woman to evaluate important pre-incident indicators. Doesn’t sound romantic? Well, daters are doing an evaluation anyway; they’re just doing it badly. I am suggesting only that the evaluation be conscious and informed.

The woman can steer the conversation to the man’s last break-up and evaluate how he describes it. Does he accept responsibility for his part? Is he still invested? Was he slow to let go, slow to hear what the woman communicated? Has he let go yet? Who broke up with whom? This last question is an important one, because stalkers are rarely the ones who initiate break-ups. Has he had several “love-at-first-sight” relationships? Falling for people in a big way based on just a little exposure to them, particularly if this is a pattern, is a valuable PIN. A woman can explore a new date’s perception of male and female roles as well as his ideas about commitment, obsession, and freedom. A woman can observe if and how the man tries to change her mind, even on little things. I am not proposing a checklist of blunt questions, but I am suggesting that all the information is there to be mined through artful conversation.

 

The final lesson in that ideal class for young men and women would center on the fact that contrary to the scary and alarming stories shown on the local news, very few date-stalking situations end in violence. The newspeople would have you believe that if you’re being stalked, you’d better get your will in order, but this level of alarm is usually inappropriate. Date-stalkers do not jump from nonviolent harassment to homicide without escalations along the way, escalations that are almost always apparent or at least detectable.

To avoid these situations, listen to yourself right from the start. To avoid escalation if you are already in a stalking situation, listen to yourself at every step along the way. When it comes to date-stalkers, your intuition is now loaded, so listen.

▪ ▪ ▪

The families of those date-stalkers who physically harmed their victims, like the families of the other criminals discussed in this book, have had to face a question no parent ever wants to ask: Why did our child grow up to be violent? The answers can help parents and others see the warning signs and patterns years before they get that tragic phone call or visit from the police.

 

I’ve learned a lot about this from young people who killed others, some who killed themselves, and as you’ll see in the next chapter, one who did a little of both.






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