I bet that title got your attention, didn’t it?
So recently, one of my previous posts, my attack on the “friend-zone” construct as a way to shame girls into dating boys they don’t like, has gotten popular again. And I’m always looking for ways to pass on wisdom to others so they don’t make my mistakes, so I thought this was a story it was time to tell.
Frankly, most of the time, I try to forget about it. Not because it’s traumatizing, but because it’s uncomfortable.
Let me set the scene for you. In 2009, I was a senior in high school. I was about 5’6″, 110 pounds, sarcastic, witty, even more of an avid book nerd than I am now, and blossoming with newfound confidence. That was the year I discovered that I was a good actress. I’d gotten the lead in my school play in my first show.
Now let me introduce you to *Kaiden. (*I’m changing everyone’s name within this post for privacy, even though I highly doubt it will ever get back to anyone.) In 2009, Kaiden was a freshman in high school. He was roughly 6′ tall, easily over 200 pounds (more fat than muscle but still not exactly someone to mess with), had a lazy eye, and lacked social skills. We’ll come back to that last part later. But suffice it to say that Kaiden would not have looked out of place in a crowd of football linebackers.
The first time I saw Kaiden was after one of my rehearsals for the play in October. It was the end of practice and everyone was getting ready to go. We’d been sitting on the stage getting our notes about what we needed to work on and everyone was walking off to get their things. I turned and happened to look into one of the stage’s wings. The wing itself was dark but there was a hallway beyond that was lit. All I could see was a figure standing in the doorway, unable to make out any of his features. All I knew was that he was staring in my direction. For a moment, I almost thought he was a ghost, but then he moved away down the hall.
It freaked me out.
One of my friends who was also a freshman saw him and knew who he was. He more or less rolled his eyes and gave off the impression that no one liked Kaiden.
Besides the fact that it was a little creepy, I didn’t think anything more about it or him until around February, when we started rehearsing for our spring musical, The Sound of Music.
If you’re unfamiliar with the musical, it’s the story of the Von Trapp family (a widowed father and his seven children) who hire Maria, a local postulate, to be their governess. And it’s all set in Austria just as the Nazis are coming to power.
I played Liesl, the oldest girl who is sixteen-going-on-seventeen. It was a bigger role, so I needed to be at most every practice, especially since I had to help the rest of the kids (ages 5-15) learn their dances and lines.
Kaiden got a role as an extra/chorus member. Even though he didn’t need to be, he was also at most practices.
At first, he was simply an annoyance. It was clear early on that he had some kind of infatuation with me. He tried to be in my general area as often as he could. He even befriended my Rolf, who was a home-schooled musical prodigy, which gave Kaiden even more of a reason to hang around me, since Rolf and I were usually together for scenes.
I need to introduce two others as well. Because of their roles as Georg Von Trapp (my “father”) and Friedrich Von Trapp (my “little brother”), I’m going to call them Fred and George. Ironically, they are actually quite similar to the Weasley twins.
Both Fred and George were class clowns, though George was a senior like me and Fred was a freshman. George was the head of our drama club, a former football player, just over 6′ tall and also over 200 pounds. He had the respect of everyone in the group and no one dared cross him. Fred, as a low-man on the totem pole, didn’t have the same respect, but people generally liked him for his goofball tendencies.
Both of them became my protectors.
Kaiden started to let it be known that he had a crush on me. In typical high school fashion, he told George who was supposed to tell me about the crush while Kaiden watched my reaction from somewhere else. While I don’t remember what my reaction was, it must not have dissuaded him or impressed him.
So Kaiden did more to get my attention.
He started memorizing my schedule and showing up wherever I was. Even though he didn’t eat the same lunch period as me, he started showing up at my lunch and sitting at the table with me and my friends (who included Fred, the freshman). He started crossing my path in the hallways during the school day. And, of course, he intruded on every moment he could at musical practice. Like if I was working on a scene with the kids in a hallway, he was standing there watching and talking to Rolf.
It started to creep me out, but I didn’t say much of anything. Sure, my friends knew and they helped me run interference so I wasn’t alone with him, but it didn’t feel like a problem. Yet.
Then he started getting violent with my friends, specifically Fred. Because they had a history, I think he felt like he could do more to him. I just remember one lunch period where Kaiden showed up unexpectedly and sat at the table. Fred, who had a short fuse to begin with especially when Kaiden was involved, made one snarky comment too many for Kaiden. Kaiden grabbed Fred’s books and hit him over the head with them. It was obvious that Fred was in pain, but Kaiden was laughing about it.
I tore into him. I yelled at him. I told him something along the lines of hurting my friends was not a way to earn my affection. In fact, it was doing the opposite.
He left like a dog with his tail between his legs. But he wasn’t done either.
Through all of this, I didn’t tell any adults. At 18, I thought I was old enough to handle my own problems. Besides, nothing had really happened besides the lunch time violence and even that would have probably looked like teenage horse play to a teacher. (As a teacher now, I can confirm that boys do stupid stuff like that all the time.)
Still, I felt uneasy just going to practices at this point. Kaiden always found a way to get near me. And he had little concept of a “personal bubble,” so whenever he’d sit by me to talk, we were practically touching. And that was something I certainly didn’t want.
So I talked to my friends. George, who already hated Kaiden anyway, came up with the idea of being my pretend boyfriend to dissuade Kaiden from pursuing me. I agreed.
On the afternoon we put it into effect, I sat in the choir room waiting for practice to begin. George was hovering in wait nearby, watching for Kaiden to come in. When Kaiden entered, he started to make his way over to me. George cut him off and took a seat next to me. “Hey babe,” George said, sliding his arm over my shoulder and pulling me in.
Kaiden quickly changed directions and walked away. He started asking around, clearly not believing our ruse at first, but he started to buy it when my friends (who were in on it all) started backing it up.
Like most teenagers, we celebrated our victory by making fun of Kaiden. Out of his hearing, of course. We thought we had won.
But it was about to get worse.
Later in that same practice, I was standing in the darkened wing watching my friends practice their scene. While I wasn’t going to be on for some time, I liked watching how everything would all fit together.
Kaiden appeared out of nowhere and cornered me. Where I was standing was about four feet wide at most, with some of that room being taken up by the thick stage curtain. So when Kaiden stood in front of me, my back was to a cinder block wall and he was so close we were nearly touching. And he was towering over me.
“How long have you and George been dating?” he asked, trying to get as many details as he could. He was smiling as he asked me, like he was happy for us. I went along with the story, fabricating something as I went while sending glances in either direction as a cry for help.
No, Kaiden hadn’t touched me. He hadn’t threatened me. He hadn’t technically broken any rules. But I was so incredibly uncomfortable with the situation that I was desperate.
Thankfully, two of my friends who were extras saw my distress and faked an excuse to get me out of there, claiming they needed help with their dances. Kaiden watched me go and when my friends got me alone, we came up with a “distress code.”
We were stupid, but we went with something inconspicuous. I had a habit at the time of playing with my hair, so that was our signal.
If I wasn’t careful, though, it looked like flirty hair twirling. I didn’t realize that until much later.
Near the end of practice, Kaiden cornered me again. This time, I was standing on the edge of the stage when he approached. He left me nowhere to go except to fall off the stage and started talking to me. I could see my friends were frantically talking to George, telling him about how Kaiden had cornered me and our new sign.
I tugged on my hair and George came quickly to my side, my knight in shining armor. He wrapped an arm around me and we talked to Kaiden for a few minutes until Kaiden walked off.
Then George turned on me. He was angry that I hadn’t told him about the signal, that I had let myself get cornered by Kaiden, that I hadn’t asked for help sooner.
At the time, I didn’t think it was that bad. I was sorry I’d upset George, but Kaiden wasn’t going to hurt me. Looking back, though, I can see why George was worried. I can understand better why all of my friends kept urging me to be more careful. While I still don’t think to this day that Kaiden would have hurt me, I have to admit he was something of a lose cannon. He was unpredictable at best.
But that day was the last straw for me. I told my parents what was going on and, while they found elements of it all funny (like the hair-twirling and George’s plan), they told me I needed to tell someone at school.
So on Monday, I arranged to talk with the assistant principal, whom I’d never had a conversation with before. I told him about Kaiden’s advances and his violence against Fred (which still happened from time to time in moderation) and how he was showing up during a lunch he didn’t even have.
The vice principal took notes and said he would have a talk with Kaiden and if things didn’t change, I was to come back.
Thankfully, a talk from authority was all it took to dissuade Kaiden and convince him I had no interest. He started keeping his distance and, while not exactly avoiding me, didn’t try to engage me every moment either.
A week or so passed and I was able to put it out of my head. I came to school on a Saturday to help build sets when the issue came up again. My director, who I’m going to call Mr. Darcy and who is perhaps the best person I know and love and respect, called me aside to talk. The vice principal had told him what had happened and he wanted to know why I hadn’t come to him.
The truth was that I hadn’t wanted to disappoint him. I valued Mr. Darcy’s opinion of me over virtually everyone else’s. But by not telling him about this very real and fairly preventable problem, I had disappointed him all the same. And it hurt.
Thankfully, it all blew over in my case. I know this is not the case for others. I was able to move on and I wasn’t emotionally scarred by it all. Others are not so lucky.
I’ve only had two or three run-ins with Kaiden since, when I couldn’t avoid him. The last instance was in May as I tried out for a community theater. When I saw Kaiden, I did everything I could to stay away from him, to avoid eye contact and to be as inconspicuous as possible. But Kaiden and I got put into the same audition group and there was no avoiding it anymore.
But Kaiden barely even recognized me. He had to ask me what my name was and only vaguely remembered that we’d gone to school together.
So maybe it did all scar me a little more than I thought.
If you find yourself in a situation like this, where you find yourself the object of a guy’s unwanted affection (whether it’s even more minor than mine and especially if it’s more major), you need to tell people in authority. At school, that’s easy–counselor, principal, teacher, coach. As a teacher, I can assure you that that news makes its way through the right channels to make it stop. I get emails frequently to keep X away from Z or to watch the halls to see if anyone starts bullying Y. The more teachers and administrators know, the more they can help you.
Maybe it’s something that’s happening at work. If it’s a coworker, you need to talk to authority, stat. And yeah, that might be really difficult. Perhaps you have a horrible manager/boss who doesn’t believe you or care. Maybe the offender is your manager/boss. If that’s true, maybe you need to find a way to go higher or even perhaps call the police department (the non-emergency line, not 911) and try to get help. (Depending on the severity, a restraining order may be possible.) You should not have to feel like a victim just because you don’t return the feelings.
I was lucky. Mine happened in a place that was always populated with other people. There was almost zero chance of it turning into something worse than just being followed or being watched. Others of you may not feel as safe. Please do what you can to keep yourself safe. Make those around you aware of the problem. Don’t be alone with that person. Walk to your car with someone else. Keep your phone close so you can dial for help if you need to.
It absolutely kills me that I am telling you to follow all of these defensive strategies. You shouldn’t have to. Nothing makes you feel hunted more than trying to avoid and outsmart the hunter. But unfortunately, there are places and times in this world where that’s unavoidable. Mollie Tibbetts did everything right in order to fight off her attacker and it still wasn’t enough.
I can’t help but wish sometimes that in this world, it was more ok for women to have agency in their own feelings and wants. Oh, you don’t like this guy? Fine, he moves on. No big deal. But more and more often, I’m seeing that’s not the way many men view it. Some men see themselves as deserving that affection and when they don’t get it, they get angry. It’s like women are an Affection ATM: men push the buttons and love comes out. These kind of men see it as their right to have a girlfriend, to have your love whether you like it or not. You as a person do not matter to them. You are an object, something for them to possess. It’s a horrible realization and a cruel reality.
Please, please, if you find yourself in this kind of position, promise me that you will get help. Telling your friends, your family, your coworkers is a good start if they can help protect you. But you have to go higher if you can. And perhaps nothing will change. In the workplace, this push-back is somewhat common. They’re not going to fire someone over being creepy.
I thought the same thing with Kaiden, that there wasn’t anything they could do. He hadn’t broken any rules. But the truth is that sometimes the guy doesn’t realize that they’re coming off too aggressive and simply having someone in authority tell them to back off is all that’s needed.
If you need advice, I am here for you.