My online stalker broke up with me this week.
He left me a voicemail from a random phone number because I had blocked him from calling me. Sounding weary, he told me he'd been trying unsuccessfully to get ahold of me and was now giving up.
"This is not working out for me," he said. "You have such sick articles and you sound interesting but why are you so boring to talk to?... I need someone who can actually have a stimulating conversation, an intellectual one."
Then he wished me good luck and said bye. I hope it'll be the last I hear from him, but based on our history, I have my doubts.
This man and I had no relationship to speak of. We've never met and up until a couple weeks ago, I had never replied to any of the messages he sent me on OKCupid—messages he's been sending for a year and a half, occasionally changing user names and pretending to be a different person when he had no luck eliciting a response.
When I complained about his aggressiveness to my single girlfriends, I realized I was in good company. Many had similar, and in some cases much more frightening experiences to share about being hounded online by men they'd outright rejected. According to a Pew survey, 26 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 24 say they've experienced online stalking and 25 percent say they've been victims of sexual harassment on the web compared to seven and 13 percent of men, respectively.
It got me wondering—who are these dudes who can't take "no" for an answer? And what causes them to remain so fixated on women they don't know?
One of my best friends blocked a man from OKC who was explicitly sexual with her right off the bat, telling her he wanted to "ride her wild." Instead of taking a hint though, he started following her on Twitter and private messaging her work Facebook profile, referencing things he'd seen on her Instagram feed, including a pair of joke underwear that I'd bought her for Christmas.
"Knowing that he knew where I worked and my full name was pretty scary actually," she told me. "It felt like he was violating my privacy from behind his computer screen. I could imagine him just sitting there creeping through my social media profiles at night and for the first time I became uncomfortable about the extent of material about me that was available online."
The messages from my own suitor started out corny but innocuous enough before becoming increasingly desperate and finally, unnerving, when he correctly "guessed" my full name and where I worked, and starting giving me feedback on my articles.
Then, after 14 months of silence on my end, he sent an apology for messaging me "too much" and said he hoped he hadn't ruined online dating for me.
That's when I gave him my phone number.
Women who have these types of encounters are not expected to engage, and to report and block men who won't leave them alone, sometimes repeatedly. If it's extreme enough, we're told we should speak to the cops. But frankly, those options are time consuming on our end and will likely have very little net gain in terms of stopping the behaviour. If anything, the guy will just find a new target. Given that reality, I was itching for an IRL confrontation, in which I could ask him why he thought his actions were OK in the first place.
Even though I made it clear I was only reaching out for the purpose of doing an interview, he immediately began texting and phoning me several times a day, acting as if we were a couple. He greeted me good morning and goodnight, called me on his work breaks, and punctuated his texts with nicknames like "beautiful" and "pretty brownin.'" He left voicemails—the only person besides my parents to do so—repeatedly asking my schedule, whereabouts, and when I wanted to meet up for "pad thai and ice cream."
My editors ultimately convinced me meeting him would be too much of a risk, and while I understand their position, it was frustrating. Throughout this whole scenario, I'd served as some kind of fantasy for this guy who was seemed to think that just because he was physically attracted to me, I was obliged to reciprocate. Then, when I tried to assert some control over the situation by facing him, I was told it's too dangerous.
Had I faced my stalker, I could've explained that he's not entitled to go out with any of the women whose profiles he comes across, even if they are an "87 percent match" and that no one owes him an explanation for their lack of interest.
I would have stressed just how disconcerting it is to have a stranger throw personal information about you in your face, under the guise of wooing you, when you've made it clear you don't want a relationship with them.
And I wanted to tell him he was right, he did sour online dating for me, and guys like him do that to women all the time.
Unfortunately, I won't have the chance to achieve that kind of catharsis, and most women probably don't, though there's some comfort in knowing lots of us have been through the same nightmarish experience. But really, it's just one more violation of safety and space we can add to a list that's already painfully long.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.