Ask Dr. NerdLove: How Do I Apologize for Being a Creeper?


By Harris O’Malley

Hello Doc,

Owing to my reflection on some recent events in my own life within the last week or so, it occurred to me that I may have accidentally creeped someone out a bit over time, and now may be facing some social consequences for it, to say nothing of feeling like an idiot.

For background information, the someone is a young lady who I have had an off and on fancy for, whom I happen to have shared a musical ensemble with for about a year and a half or so. She seems fairly shy and fairly hard to read, which has proven a bad combination with my social ignorance: she has shown interest off and on, e.g., randomly bothering me or asking what I am doing, even fairly recently, but I have not acted on her signals in a timely way. Consequently, our relationship has mostly consisted of occasional brief chats and awkward eye contact across the room, other than the occasional outings with the other ensemble members.

In the past month or two, though, I felt stronger feelings for her and, in what I now rather feel was a mistake, attempted to hang around with her more around campus as a puppy might. On top of that, in what I now know and believe to have been a terribly stupid way to try to signal my interest, I took to seeking more eye contact with her. I think this fawning may have backfired rather badly. I was more or less politely signaled to piss off with a round of “I don’t know where we’re goings” to what seemed to be a group meeting a few weeks ago. While there may have been other reasons, I now suspect that it was probably not unrelated to making her or others uncomfortable by my nonverbal social stupidity.

Fast forward to this week, more or less. Things seemed a bit better, and I was tired of my not making my intentions relatively clear, so I asked her by text to coffee with a firm option of Wednesday or Friday. After a notable delay, she said she was very busy and was not sure that she could manage anything. Given everything else, and my understanding that she had just quit her job, I figured she was just letting me down gently. However, things have been appreciably more awkward since, as may be expected. The main differences I have noticed with her is that she is now often blushing when I am around, but she also seems more averse to contact in general, though she does not present with obviously defensive body language or anything like that, and does seem to glance at me every now and then. I can’t help but wonder if she is actually trying to get my eye contact or is trying to check if I am looking at her. Feeling like I cannot win, I have tried to ignore her and give her space since that exchange, out of my fear of having creeped her out, but I find it hard to completely ignore her as she still confuses me. Now I worry that she was just trying to spare my feelings, and my reaction to that is sending the wrong message of my being angry with or otherwise insulted by her: this is on top of my concerns that I have become the “weird guy” in the group for the time being, which makes it difficult to assess how involved I should be with anyone for the moment.

So the rub of it is this: I would like for things to at least be cordial, if not amicable, between us and her social circle, as a lot of them are my fellow musicians. I believe I accidentally did some socially stupid things and may now be viewed with some suspicion or other form of disdain. I am tempted to apologize to her for having creeped her out over the last few weeks, but I am not even completely sure if I have offended her, and am worried that apologizing for what could be nothing could make me appear to be an insecure and paranoid person, which I admittedly am to a degree. Asking her if I have bothered her seems like an even worse idea. However, I also rather naturally would prefer to not be a pariah in the group on account of all of this, and would like to correct things as smoothly as possible.

Any and all advice would be appreciated.

Did I Err?

One of the keys to social success is self awareness. Sometimes that means having a good handle on your emotions, understanding how you feel and why you feel that way. Other times, it means understanding the social dynamics of a situation and recognizing when, say, someone’s being polite, rather than flirting. And sometimes that self-awareness means recognizing that maybe you aren’t actually reading the room correctly.

I think you’re really not reading things correctly, DIE. In fact, I think pretty much everything you’re dealing with is spiraling out of your being a little socially unaware and you’re drawing all the wrong conclusions from… well, damn near everything.

If we look at the inciting incident, for example: the behavior you’re describing and the way you’re describing it doesn’t really sound like someone who’s showing romantic interest in you. It sounds much more like someone who’s being cordial with an acquaintance. As a general rule of thumb, one of the ways you gauge the difference between someone who’s being friendly and someone who’s flirting is to look for repeated patterns of behavior, especially ones that stand out from the norm. Occasionally saying hi is fairly typical. Making a point of talking to you, asking about your plans beyond trying to make casual conversation, finding reasons to be around you when she doesn’t have a reason to be…. those are signs that she may be interested in you. If you’re not sure, start by examining whether she acts like this with other people or if it seems to be something she does around you.

So I don’t think you were really getting the signals you thought you were getting.

But the way you were acting around her wasn’t exactly signalling your interest, either. I can tell you from personal experience that hanging around someone like a lost puppy doesn’t really endear you to them. Neither does trying to make prolonged eye-contact from across the room. Being in someone’s proximity and nothing else doesn’t create or engender feelings. Neither does giving someone the hairy eyeball, for that matter. Spending time with someone makes you more familiar and that familiarity can increase comfort as they get to know you… but that has to be paired with actually interacting with them in some way. There’re folks I see every Wednesday at my local comic store, but that doesn’t mean I’m particularly warm to them; they’re just folks I see regularly. On the other hand, there’re bartenders, waitresses, store clerks and other folks I see on the regular and talk to frequently; those are folks I’d say I’m on friendly terms with, since I actually chat with them and have gotten to know them over time.

Eye contact works much the same way. It’s not just meeting someone’s gaze, it’s using eye-contact as a form of non-verbal communication. Someone meeting someone’s eyes — say, a waitress dealing with a troublesome customer — and giving a knowing smile and an eye-roll, for example, is a way of communicating. In this case, it’s sympathizing with her and saying “well, get a load of THIS asshole.” Similarly, doing the classic “meet her gaze, look away, look back and smile” is a way of signaling interest; you’re showing that you saw her looking at you and you like that. Just staring at someone could mean anything from “you look familiar and I don’t know why” to “you’ve got something stuck in your hair” to “I want to lick the inside of your ribcage.”

So no, I don’t think the issue here is that you’ve been getting mixed signals. I think the signals she’s been sending, such as they are, are pretty clear; she thinks of you as another guy in the group. The only mix-ups have been that you’ve let some wishful thinking color your interpretation of things.

I think your misreading things is causing you to severely overthink… well, everything. I suspect the most likely answer to all of this is that you made it clear that you had a crush on her via the hanging around etc., you asked her out on a date, and got turned down. Now she’s trying to do the polite thing of just acting like nothing happened and just continue on as normal. The problem is that because you’ve been trying so hard to read the tea leaves and determine whether you’ve creeped her out and if you’re about to get kicked out of your group that you’re accidentally sending all kinds of weird signals and she’s not sure what to make of it.

The best thing you can do, honestly, is to assume the best: you got a crush on her, shit got a little awkward, now you got your answer: she’s not interested in you the way you’re interested in her and now things are basically normal. You just need to calm down about everything and go back to behaving under the assumption that nothing’s wrong and you can just relax. Getting hyper-vigilant about “oh god does she hate me now” is just going to make you more anxious and throw a bunch of false-positives your way that’ll only make you even more anxious. So take a deep breath, relax, and assume that the status quo is where things were before you did your lost puppy routine. Everyone’ll be happy to get back to the status quo and you can start relaxing.

And in the meantime: maybe spend some time working on your social skills; I have some exercises on the site that’re designed to help you learn to be more socially fluent and better able to read the room.

Good luck.

Hey Dr. NerdLove.

I’ve got a situation that’s completely confused me, and I was hoping you had some insight. I met someone – let’s just name her J – on a popular dating website. We exchanged messages on the site for a few days, and I eventually asked her out for coffee. When we met in person, we seemed to click pretty well. We talked for a good hour and a half, and I asked to see her again. She agreed.

We proceeded to go on a total of 3 dates, and things seemed to be going well. The 3rd date, which was a movie, ended with us holding hands, and I felt pretty good about things, and she seemed to as well. During this period, we texted each other a lot, and things were getting fairly flirty, with her calling me “handsome” and “sweet”, and even asking things like “Are you a cuddler?” as well as making a quick joke about “keeping the bed warm at night”. Needless to say, I thought things were going fairly well.

Fast forward to our fourth date – dinner and movies at my place. We texted each other about how much we were looking forward to it, and she even asked to bring a bottle of wine.

During the date, we held hands some more, and I was tempted to make a move to kiss her. However, the last couple of times I had tried to make a move with someone, it didn’t work out, so I was a little gun-shy.

At the end of the date, we hugged and she left. I texted her a few times, but she didn’t respond much, her responses limited to brief sentences.Finally, a few days later, she responded to a text from me by saying the she didn’t feel a “romantic connection”, and said those 4 little words nobody wants to hear – “Let’s just be friends”. Ugh.

I was tempted to ask her why she felt this way, and would have liked an explanation, but I didn’t want to come off as needy or worse, stalker-y. So I told her I understood, that I was sorry she felt this way, and that I was a bit disappointed, but accepted her decision. I also told her if she ever wanted to talk or hang out, I was willing. She replied that she;d keep that in mind. However, to date, I haven’t heard from her since.

So, here’s what I want to know: what did I do wrong? How did she change her mind about me so suddenly? And what could I have done different? If anything? I don’t have much dating experience, and have often found myself having trouble recognizing signals, but I still thought I knew how things were going.

Confused and Lonely

This one’s simple, CaL: you didn’t act like you were interested in her sexually or romantically.

Now I’m going to preface this by saying that there isn’t really a “schedule” by which you should be getting sexual. Everyone out there’s got the pace that they’re the most comfortable with and it’s better to go at your own speed than to try to stick to an artificial and arbitrary deadline. Some folks take time to warm up to it, some folks are ready to bang from the jump, and that’s all valid.

But there’s a difference between someone whose sex drive is a slow-burn and someone who isn’t giving ANY indication that they’re attracted to their date at all.

In your case, CaL, you were sending off confusing signals to your date. On the one hand, you were being flirty via text, but in person, your behavior was entirely different. While there is no schedule, there are cultural expectations surrounding dates and sexual activity and we still live in an era when the third date is considered the magic number — even if people aren’t necessarily expecting to fuck on the third date, if nothing’s happened by then, they’re likely to assume that nothing is going to happen. In your case, by the third date you were holding hands. Your fourth date, a date at your place for dinner and movies — an honest to God “Netflix and Chill” date — nothing happened.

I’m not surprised that she wasn’t feeling it; you weren’t giving her anything to feel. Even if you were demisexual and needed more of an emotional connection in order to warm up to getting physical with someone, there’s still an expectation that there’s some sort of sign of interest in being more than cuddle-buddies. It might be emotional, it might be verbal, especially if you’re ace, but there’s got to be something.

Since there wasn’t… well, she decided she didn’t want to spend time on a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere and moved on. She was probably confused by the seeming incongruity between your behavior via text and in person and decided the simplest answer was to just go find someone who wasn’t giving mixed signals the way you had been.

And honestly man, I get not being sure how to read signals, but she was sending out some increasingly clear messages that she was into you and would’ve liked a hell of a lot more than holding hands during the movie. I mean, asking about whether you’re a cuddler and talking about needing someone to keep the bed warm are pretty good indicators of just what she was hoping to get from you.

(Dick. The answer was “dick”. She was hoping to get fucked, she just didn’t want to phrase it like that — either out of her personal sensibilities or the fear of being seen as being a slut.)

I understand feeling a little gunshy about making a move, especially if you’ve had some bad experiences before, but there’s being hesitant and then there’s being frozen. You can’t hope that the other person is gonna do all the work and make the move for you; dating means being willing to take risks. If you’re going to go on dates, you’ve gotta be willing to roll the dice and take your chances and the only way you’re going to learn is by making mistakes. It sucks to make a mistake, but not only does it teach us what to do differently, but it also teaches us that mistakes aren’t fatal. And when you recognize that, it’s much easier to take a chance when you’re less than 101% certain of your odds… which, incidentally also teaches you how to read the odds correctly.

Now this doesn’t mean that you have to just throw shit out at random and hope you got the right time by chance. If you’re feeling like it might be the right time but you aren’t sure, then the key is very simple: use your words. You can lean in close and say “I really want to kiss you right now” or “I’m trying so hard not to kiss you”, which gives her the chance to either say “yes” or give you the wave-off.

It also has the benefit of being sexy as hell.

So let this be a lesson to you, CaL; you made a mistake this time around. Next time, make your move a hell of a lot sooner. Let your dates know you’re interested in them as a potential lover, not just a friend. The more comfortable you get with taking those chances, the better you’ll do in the long run.

Good luck.

Previously published on doctornerdlove.com and is republished here under permission. 

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