Friday, June 11, 2010

no really--you shouldn't have

Guys (and gals)--take note of this: approaching someone you know casually, with declarations of undying love and the details of how you've f*cked up your own life in hopes of winning them -- not the turn-on you might imagine.

The last couple weeks I've had some thoughts about the dynamics of friends, fans, stalkers. As a public service, I'm going to share them here.

Friends bond over shared interests. Initial interaction is shallow and polite, and the mutual interest is outside of themselves. Over time, they may share personal information and develop an emotional bond. That's a normal, natural progression.

Fans find something in the work or the creator that feeds some basic unconscious or semi-conscious need in the fan. It's an isolated facet of the whole, usually, and highly subjective, which is why fans spend all their time bickering over details. They twist their observations to fit their own needs, which makes any disagreement potentially threatening. Now, that's not to suggest that all fans of everything are demented or divorced from reality. Fantasy is a healthy thing if it's kept in proportion with reality. But in my costuming business I've had people objectify me as the provider of their fix--they assume I'm their friend because I helped feed their habit. Or they assume that I'm into new-age spiritual crap because I practice tai chi. Or whatever.

Stalkers, at least the type I've dealt with, are an extreme type of fan. They latch onto the person, and then cultivate, or feign, interest in subjects that interest the object of affection. This is not the basis for a healthy relationship of ANY kind.

It's also the reason so many love affairs and marriages fail. If you meet someone, and crush on them, and try to get close to them by being something you aren't, it may work in the short term--because who, after all, wouldn't be flattered by someone praising and supporting the work that is most important to her?--but eventually the facade will wear down.

This is also how those "How to get women" books work. And it sounds good in theory, but it's not a good long-term game plan.

The difficult thing is that people who become fans and/or stalkers often don't have enough real-life experience, or options, to see the fallacy in the their fantasy (assuming there isn't some underlying drug use or more severe disorder). That's why they sometimes turn violent--the bubble will eventually burst, and they lash out in frustration, trying to regain control.

It's a sad but true fact: until the stalker has something else, something worthy and rewarding to focus his energy on, he will not abandon the obsession.

Happily, I've never had to deal with a violent stalker, or one that was more than mildly annoying. I think that's partly because I'm not the kind of person who'd get caught in an abusive relationship in the first place. I don't empathize, I don't negotiate, and I don't care if the other person feels like shit, (or hates my guts!) so there's no way for a potential abuser/stalker to manipulate me.

But there's another kind of stalker, who happens to be attracted to women like me--as the Eurythmics put it, "Some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused." Submissives, you might call them. My type of stalker is invariably awkward, weak, and attracted to my capability and confidence.

When I was in my early 20's I had a guy follow me around for about eight months. He sent me letters describing how he could love unconditionally--even if I were disfigured by burn scars or dying of cancer--and bits of fiction containing scrotum-crushing scenes.

I believe now that it was classic erotomania--the guy was being treated for various anxiety disorders and may have had delusions as well. It didn't matter that he was 20 years older than me, and from a completely different social, educational and economic background. In fact, I recently read that erotomaniacs tend to fixate on people who are "out of their league." I suspect, given the general ineptitude of these stalkers in all aspects of life, that this fixation expresses a desire to be rescued and "taken care of."

Anyway, I eventually got rid of the guy by ignoring him. I told him no, sent back his letters unopened, and hung up the phone when he called. I guess I'm lucky that he quit, although I will take some credit for never letting it get past the first stage. I later found out he pursued another girl with similar, but more escalated results.

There's another fan I half-seriously refer to as my stalker. He's been hanging around for several years. He's bought my fiction, sent me letters and birthday cards, and when we meet at Cons, he tries to strike up conversations as if we were just talking on the phone the other day. I just say hello politely and then move on, but the guy won't get it--his latest innovation is to approach my husband in the same overly-familiar manner. Luckily he's an old, slow guy and I can simply avoid him.

That's really the only thing you can do with a stalker, or an admirer who's approaching creepy territory. Ignore them. Pointedly. Sometimes this means acknowledgement of their presence or behaviors without reaction. You have to say "no" without giving them an emotional response, which is what they want. You have to be a cold calm bitch, and tell them unequivocally that the behavior is inappropriate and unwanted.

I don't know yet about this new potential stalker--he crossed a major line, but it's the first such incident, and so doesn't yet qualify as "stalking" per se. I think he may be having a breakdown of some kind. The fixation on me is only partly about me, but more about my status in the social circle we share. The rest of the circle is drawing in around me, so I don't feel particularly nervous or threatened--just annoyed. I refuse to carry the weight of somebody else's problems.