Recently, I had an encounter with a stranger that doubled as a lesson in why we are taught not to talk to strangers, or at least why we need to use caution, especially when the stranger is a member of the opposite sex.
I met the guy while traveling with my sons. At first, he seemed normal, and so friendly that I expected him to latch onto other people besides me. Hours later, however, things got a bit uncomfortable. One sniff told me that he’d been drinking. His tone and behavior reminded me that too much alcohol can do unattractive things to a person. I thanked God that we were in a public place. Still, I felt trapped as he bounced from one random topic to another, sat way too close to me, and made inappropriate suggestions. I didn’t have the guts to ask him to leave or to call for help. I figured that as soon as we reached our stop, I’d be out of there and he’d probably move on to someone else. But as I gathered our luggage and exited, reality started to set in.
When I told my sisters the story, I recognized red flags that had been waving wildly, even at the “he seems like a nice guy” stage. He’d hooked me with a sad story and seized every opportunity to connect with me; his interests echoed mine; the fact that I was with my kids and said I was married didn’t hinder him; he sat beside me uninvited even though I was clearly focused on something else. Then there was his unsettling habit of casually touching me. That’s when I got a little freaked out. What if I hadn’t been in a public place? What if I’d been traveling alone? What kind of message had my tolerant response sent my sons? And it had all started with nothing more than being friendly. News stories of rapists and serial killers played in my mind like a sobering slide show. How many times had I heard or read, “He seemed so nice?”
“Unfortunately,” a friend said, “When you’re friendly, some people take that as an invitation. I’ve learned to be aloof in certain situations. I’d rather be perceived as rude, than deal with weirdoes.”
As much as I hate to leave people feeling ignored, I decided to start taking my friend’s advice. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scary people out there who appear safe on the surface. Being female immediately makes us vulnerable. This experience has prompted me to ask God for sensitivity to red flags—to help me recognize them early on and have the courage to say no to inappropriate behavior.
In case you find yourself in a similar situation (and I hope you don’t), here are a few things rules that I made for myself:
• Be leery of strange men, especially if they are alone and seem bent on talking to you.
• If he strikes up a conversation, share as little as possible about yourself. Don’t tell him your name.
• Stand or sit at least an arm’s length away.
• Avoid friendly gestures like smiles, extended eye contact, and getting caught up in sob stories.
• If you’re in close quarters and feel uncomfortable, make an excuse to move. (“Excuse me. I need to ask that police officer a question.”)
• Take advantage of those around you. Start talking to someone else if you sense that he is getting too clingy.
• If he asks “Do you have a boyfriend” or “Are you married,” and the true answer is no, just say “I’m spoken for.” Your heart belongs to God.
• Don’t be afraid to say, “I need you to leave” or ask for help. If he gets mad or you’re shaking inside, at least you’ll be safe.
Remember that, as much as we want to be friendly and kind, it is not our job to be everyone’s friend. God wants you safe for His purpose and so you can impact those that He brings into your life.