I’m a college freshman who’s not sure how to deal with this one guy. Let’s call him Dan. We first met in class. According to my TAs, he has ASD but can go to my uni because he’s exceptionally good at academics. In the time I’ve known him, he’s gotten 95s on tests where the average is 70. I knew he might’ve had trouble making friends, so I started being friendly with him.
When I’m near him, he’ll lean in about three inches away from my face and lock eye contact with me as if we’re in a staring contest. When I’m further away from him, he’ll stare straight at me. I was in the library once and caught him staring at me from in between the bookshelves.
And then he found out where my dorm was and started sending my cards and valentines made from red construction paper. I ignored them until I started getting them at my job and extracurricular activities, too. Sometimes the messages would be sweet, sometimes a bit uncomfortable like, “Your boobs are pretty.” He’s started showing up at my job and clubs, too, something that my manager and club mates have noticed.
When I ask him to do something, he’ll start asking a bunch of “why” questions. When I once asked Dan nicely if I could be left alone, he said, “Why? Should we talk about something different? Why would you rather be alone?” And he won’t stop. When I told him that I wasn’t interested in dating him, he said, “Why? Will you be interested tomorrow?” When I told him that I’d never be anything more than friends, he said, “But why?” No matter what I say, it’s more “why”s.
I went to my RA for advice, who contacted someone else for help. I ended up having to meet with some faculty members and got a stern talking-to about how un-inclusive and ableist I was being with Dan and that my concerns were going against the campus’ virtues on diversity. Auntie, is it wrong that I feel uncomfortable around Dan? I just want to go to class in peace!
Well, let’s put it this way, Sparkler: if preferring not to be stalked around campus by the world’s most persistent, oblivious, boob-complimenting suitor is wrong, then we can all forget about being right.
And though it probably goes without saying, the faculty members who lambasted you for your completely normal, natural reaction to Dan’s boundary-trampling behavior were really in the wrong (and if it were up to Auntie, they’d each receive a wallop with the punishment salmon along with a Valentine’s card containing uncomfortably explicit compliments about their private bodily regions, just to see how they like it). This is the kind of thing that would make any reasonable person uncomfortable—and while concessions should of course be made for the guy’s disability, those concessions have to co-exist with the right of all other students to live in peace, with their boobs un-commented-upon.
Unfortunately, this problem puts you squarely at the intersection of two big-deal campus issues (sexual harassment on one hand, the rights of autistic students on the other), which means you’ll have to tread carefully. Basically, between his stalking behavior and the sexually explicit notes, I would wager that Dan is fully in violation of your school’s statutes surrounding sexual misconduct—which means that you have the power to escalate this problem to your school’s Title IX office and make it into a massive, hairy mess for everyone involved.
But you don’t want to do that. You don’t want Dan to be expelled. You just want him to stop following you around, writing you notes, and showing up at your workplace… which is what you should say to his on-campus advocate as soon as humanly possible. Someone worked with Dan and his family to help him negotiate the transition to college. Someone explained to your TAs that he’s on the spectrum and needs certain accommodations in class. And that same someone does not want to see Dan expelled for behaving inappropriately toward his female peers. So find that person, explain that this has become a problem, and ask for help resolving it. They should be only too happy to work with you on this—especially considering that Dan’s ability to recognize and respect boundaries is as important for his success as it is for the comfort of the people around him. After all, the next girl he pursues might not be so hesitant to kick up a fuss that gets him in serious trouble.
Barring some hideous stroke of bad luck (like, for instance, that Dan’s advocate is actually one of the troglodytes who told you that stalking must be tolerated in the name of campus diversity), this should be the end of it. But on the off chance that the hideous bad-luck-thing happens… well, you’re not without options. For one, there’s still always the possibility of filing a formal complaint. But there’s also the possibility of explaining to Dan, in the bluntest terms possible, that you don’t like him and he’s going to be in serious trouble if he doesn’t stop bothering you. The difference between “I want to be left alone” and “You are bothering me”—or between “I’m not interested in dating” and “I am not attracted to you”—may not seem significant to you, but for someone who takes things very literally and can’t read between the lines of social interactions, it matters. The truth is, you will probably have to be rude to Dan (or at least, what feels rude to you) in order to be understood by him: “I do not like you romantically. Stop asking me why. It doesn’t matter why. Stop sending me notes. Stop showing up at my workplace. It is inappropriate.”
That may not be the most comfortable conversation to have, but it beats getting entrenched in a lengthy, irritating, unpleasant administrative action to accomplish the same result—which is not to get the guy in trouble, but to convey a message that can’t be misunderstood.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.