Auntie SparkNotes: Won't You Be My Neighbor
Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I'm a freshman in college. It's my first time living in the dorms, and I befriended some of the people on my floor during the first few weeks of school. We had some really good times hanging out, but I've run into a problem with one of them, who I'll call James.
It started out small--whenever I was heading out anywhere he would pop his head out of his door and ask where I was going. At first I would just say pleasantly that I was going to see a friend or study or something, but it became annoying after a while. I've been super busy studying on top of my other commitments, and I'm really enjoying getting out, so I'm not in the dorm as much. I think he took it as a personal rejection and got upset. I wanted to talk to him and explain that I was just busy and it had nothing to do with him -- but the problem is, now it does. He reacted by being extremely passive aggressive and melodramatic, laying around in the hallways so that I would have to practically walk over him to get to my room, standing outside my door, and texting me constantly asking what he'd done wrong.
It's hard to explain exactly what makes his behavior really strange. He will knock on my door and when I tell him to come in he just stands outside saying "I wouldn't want to bother you." Whenever I'm out of the dorm for a couple hours he texts me wanting to know what I'm doing or who I'm with. It isn't like he doesn't have other friends to hang out with, but he will break engagements with them just to mope around nearby if I'm in my room. It's making me crazy. I never want to go back to my dorm anymore because he will be there, hovering and listening in on private conversations between me and other friends. I don't want to have to dash into my room and lock it and pretend I'm not there. I want to handle this maturely. With anyone else I would just say "hey, give me some space," but he is sensitive to the extreme. The slightest, remotest whiff of rejection sends him off the deep end and I don't want him to do something stupid, even though I know it's not right to let him manipulate me like that.
I don't want to be friends anymore or even see him anymore, but of course, we live on the same floor, and will do so for the next semester. I want to solve this before we leave for Christmas break. . . and don't want to move off my floor to avoid him because I adore my roommate and we get along fabulously. I really don't need this added stress on top of finals approaching either. Please help, Auntie!
Oh, honey. I mean, of course I'll help! But I'll only be telling you what you already know. Because let's be real: I know that you know that we both know what you have to do, here. Your problem is just finding the guts to go through with it.
But, just for the sake of clarity/the record, yes, you have to tell this guy to back off. And I know: he's sensitive, and you're a good person, and you don't want to create a big pile of drama. But the fact is, the drama is already there—lurking outside your bedroom, listening in on your conversations, and generally violating any and all boundaries you've tried to establish in order to keep him at arms' length. Which, of course, is why it's so hard to pin down what's strange about his behavior; it's not so much what he's doing as it is that he's blowing through multiple STOP signs to do it.
Which leads us to the part where you have to tell him, directly and in no uncertain terms, that you need some space. Because whatever his reasons—whether it's that he knows he's making you uncomfortable and is counting on you being too spineless to say so, or, alternately, that he's terrible at reading social cues and hasn't a clue how awful he's being±it's going to keep happening unless you speak up.
So, take a deep breath and repeat after me: "I'm sorry to have to tell you this so bluntly, but your behavior is making me really uncomfortable. I need you to respect my space and my privacy, stop texting me all the time, and not intrude on my private conversations with other friends. Okay?"
And that, darling, is how you handle the situation maturely. And if he can't react in kind, it won't matter—because once you've let him know that you're done with this nonsense and distanced yourself accordingly, he's free to pitch a fit and have a tantrum all he wants... in his own room, all alone, where the only one affected is him. (And if he refuses to disengage or ups the ante on bothering you, then don't be afraid to report his behavior for the totally inappropriate harassment that it is. Not just for the sake of your own security, but for that of your fellow students—so that when the next girl he latches on to complains about him, your administration will know that it's part of a larger pattern.)
And while yes, he'll probably get butthurt about it, and yes, things might be awkward and uncomfortable for awhile... well, they're not exactly comfy right now, are they? And as awkward situations go, the kind that comes from having stood up for yourself is always, always preferable to the kind that comes from allowing yourself to be imposed upon and intimidated by a person who makes you go *squick*.
Have you ever had to take a firm line with a lurker who wouldn't stop lurking? Tell us how you did it! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: How to Creep Out a Creeper