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Annie’s Mailbox: If not interested, say it, mean it

Kathy Mitchell And Marcy Sugar

Dear Carolyn: I have rejected this guy (first nicely, now firmly) for weeks. He always says “I’ll change your mind someday” and insists on touching me and making me his territory. I think we would be great friends, but I feel like his touching me is a violation of my expressed wishes – I constantly tell him to take his hands off – and it’s gotten to the point where other men back off because they think we are together. I have told him why we will never date (he’s hooked up with one too many of my friends … and enemies) but he won’t let it go. What now? – D.C.

Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Part I, saying what you mean: If you want him to keep pestering you to “change your mind,” then you’ve found the perfect strategy. That’s because the more you explain why you will never date him, the more you encourage him to believe you’d really want him if it weren’t for these superficial obstacles.

If instead you want him to back off, then tell him you aren’t interested, period. You didn’t need to justify yourself in the first place, and you certainly don’t need to do so now, after he’s crossed so many lines.

Part II, mean what you say: If you secretly like his attention, again, you’ve got just the right strategy. You’re telling him to take his hands off you without backing that up. You’re still socializing with him, standing next to him, seeing him as “great friend” material (!), not leaving the room when he mauls you. Your message to him: “Touch me all you want.”

To change that message, you have to stop tolerating his unwelcome advances. From now on, you will, as needed: shrug his hand off, or leave the conversation, or leave the rooms he’s in, or leave the parties he attends. As he escalates his attention, you escalate your avoidance, until you’ve made your point.

His behavior is presumptuous, possessive and verging on creepy; in the event of mixed messages, the only respectful choice is to assume the “no” message prevails unless one is explicitly told otherwise.

However, you are the one allowing yourself to be his personal petting zoo. Figure out where you want the line to be, draw it, then enforce it. No matter what the circumstances, this baseline always applies.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at 9 a.m. Pacific time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.
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