Dear Kiki: Casual conversations gone wrong

Questions about love and sex in the city of Iowa City can be sent to (queries can also be sent anonymously using this form). Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.

Dear Kiki

Dear Kiki,

Why do older gentlemen that I meet out and about, and through friends on social media, consistently mistake my kindness for sexual attraction and make unwanted advances? What causes them to think I am interested, considering I’m at least fifteen years their junior (I recently turned 30) and candid about being in a committed relationship? This is a frequent enough occurrence that I am now hesitant to even engage in casual conversation with men over 45.

— Just Trying to be Nice

Dear Nice,

I really don’t know what’s going on here, but it sounds like either you are hanging out with sleazy men who have no manners, or you are incredibly sexy and beautiful and flirtatious and you’re accidentally biting your lower lip Audrey Horne-style while you talk to them. Or you’re a bartender.

First of all, if you’re on the receiving end of unwanted lewd or aggressive texts, emails, calls, gropes or visits, I want you to stop being nice right now and treat that as dangerous harassment. Because that’s what it is.

If it’s milder attention you’re receiving, I’m going with the “general misunderstanding” argument. Men over 50 are likely to have a more direct and old-fashioned approach to flirting, dating and wooing than younger, more jaded/egalitarian/socially alienated generations. They’ve been doing it longer, and the mores and gendered expectations have changed significantly since the ’70s, when you just had to toss a woman over your shoulder and haul her off to your cave. This era of men may also have kids, a marriage or two under their belts, and way less patience or willingness to spend time trying to determine someone’s initial interest level, so they play all their cards up front. By today’s standard, you may feel that this sort of direct male courtship is aggressive and invasive.

I don’t believe that you should feel responsible for being hit on, but, unfortunately, it is up to you to cut off contact or verbally rebuke these suitors when you’re uncomfortable. In general, if you’re an attractive young woman inundated with suitors of any age, it may be wise to turn down the “kindness” dial to about a three with acquaintances until you know them well enough to be your free and friendly self.

There is also nothing unkind about clearly stating your boundaries and comfort level to anyone who goes over the line. Passively deflecting advances, or using your relationship as an excuse, may not be direct enough. Women are socialized to feel that we must be nice to everyone all the time at our own expense. But Nice, being nice does not mean letting uncomfortable situations play out until you’re feeling victimized. If these men are your friends or are otherwise valuable in your life (teachers, colleagues, customers, friends’ parents) you can let them know one time clearly and firmly that you’re not interested. If they can’t respect you or listen to you, I’d find that not-so-nice place deep down inside and cut off contact, or let them know where to stick it.

— xoxo, Kiki

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This article was originally published in Little Village issue 206.

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