An open letter to the guy who followed me while I was on my bike

Dear Guy,

Last weekend was pretty nice, wasn’t it?  We both wanted to take advantage of the fact that it wasn’t a monsoon outside, which is why I took my bicycle and you took your motorcycle and we both went for rides that took us around Walsingham Park.  That park is one of my favorite places to go, with all of the trees providing shade over the roads and trails that twist around the lake.   The shade is especially important now as most days it gets into the 90s, and that’s really hot, even when you’re on a bike with your self-generated wind blowing past you.

I had hit my turnaround point and was on my way out of the park when I heard your motorcycle engine come up behind me.  I figured you wanted to pass, so I moved over as close to the edge of the road as possible, and then I waited for you to pass.  And I waited.  And then I waited some more.  The entire time, I heard the low grumble of your motorcycle just a few feet behind me.

It was fine for a minute or so, but as I kept pedaling and you still did not pass, I started to wonder just what the fuck you were doing.  Were you trying to make sure I had plenty of space?  I did, that’s for sure. There were no other cars coming from the other direction, so you could have easily passed.  Were you just trying to enjoy the last few minutes in the park?  Did you see a particularly lovely oak tree, maybe with a bromeliad up in the branches, and it captivated you with its beauty?

I have no idea. All I know is that I was trying to come up with a lot of reasons as to why you were driving so slowly right behind me, and I was searching hard for scenarios in which you were not being creepy and threatening.  I don’t like to move through the world assuming the worst about people. I prefer to assume people are innocently minding their own business and that they are too involved with their own shit to notice me until I have good reason to think otherwise.

But after a mile had elapsed and you were still there, I realized I was starting to have a really good reason to think otherwise.  I started considering that maybe the lovely view with which you were so engrossed with was the sight of my Lyrca-clad ass bent over and up in the air.  And I have to tell you, that was not something that made me feel great.  In fact, it made me feel really gross and shitty. A few minutes earlier I had been feeling free and happy, riding my bike in one of my favorite parts of the county, and then all of those good feelings evaporated in the space of a minute.

Don’t get me wrong – I know people have eyes and they like to use them to look at other people, particularly people they find attractive.  I don’t have a problem with this. It would be hypocritical of me if I did, because I do this too. What I do have a problem with is people who do more than look – who make comments, who follow the person around, who make weird gestures and noises at them.  Because at that point, it’s no longer about admiring someone you find attractive and it becomes almost entirely about making sure the person you find attractive is aware of and affected by your existence.

I don’t know if you noticed, but I started pedaling a lot faster at this point. I knew I had about a mile left until I was out of the park, and I wanted to get this encounter over with as quickly as possible.  I was afraid that you might pull up alongside me and try to talk to me. I even briefly thought that you might try to knock me over and do….I don’t even know what, but it would have been scary and painful.  You probably never even thought of such things, but how am I to know that?

This is the thing – I don’t.  I have no way of knowing if you are just a random guy who is clueless about the impact of his behavior on other people or if your motivations are more malevolent and ill-intentioned. (See also: Schrodinger’s Rapist)  All I know is that you are the kind of guy who uses his motorcycle tails a woman on a bicycle for two miles in a deserted park, and that this doesn’t particularly make me feel confident in your ability to respect my right to be left alone.  Surely when I phrase it this way, you can understand where I am coming from?

I eventually got out to the  main road and onto the bike lane, and then you turned out onto the main road as well.  When you rode past me I held my breath, hoping you would just ride on, which you did.  The whole encounter, which lasted about five awkward minutes, ended about as well as I could have hoped (although truthfully, I would have much preferred if you had just ridden past and saved me the whole experience).

I ended up talking to a couple of people about this, just to sort of check myself and make sure I wasn’t blowing this out of proportion.  Everyone agreed with me – it was creepy.  Someone suggested that maybe you thought you were flattering me, which, if that is what you really thought, allow me to disabuse you of that notion – I was not flattered. I did not feel good about myself and my butt. I was scared.

So in the future, I’d like to ask that you consider a couple of things in the future: one, that it is not essential for a woman to know you find her attractive, especially if letting her know requires you engage in some shady behavior, and two, that your actions, no matter how innocent it may be in your mind, can come across very differently to someone who has been raised her entire life under threat of rape and assault.  I imagine that none of this feels like that big of a deal to you, but please try to empathize with me and understand where I am coming from and to understand that I am not the only woman who feels this way.  I know I would appreciate it, and so will all of the other women who will be spared the dubious honor of being followed by you and your motorcycle.

Sincerely,
Caitlin

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42 responses to “An open letter to the guy who followed me while I was on my bike

  1. Ewwwwwww. I’m pretty sure there is something about women on bikes that some men find to be a challenge to their masculinity.

  2. So sorry your ride and peace of mind was spoiled! I have to say, I no longer believe in the phenom of the nice-but-clueless guy who just somehow doesn’t *realize* that he’s being creepy, intimidating, or aggressive. It’s not rocket science to NOT threaten women. So unless he’s under the age of maybe 19 and not completely socialized yet, I don’t cut him any slack at all. I don’t like to see blog posts where women rush to explain to creepy men how not to act creepy (your post isn’t in this category) because IMO they’re just teaching a sociopath how to disguise it better and get closer to women! And, everything else aside, following a bicycle closely with a motorized vehicle strikes me as, at least, extremely rude and inconsiderate, no matter the genders of the people involved. So I don’t think you’re blowing it out of proportion at all.

    • I agree that, hands down, there’s no way that men can’t know when they’re being creepy in a case like this, and will pretend they were unaware in order to shift blame.

      However, I actually do think the word “creepy” is thrown around, usually jokingly if cruelly, more than it needs to be in our culture to describe socially awkward people doing awkward things that, in my opinion, aren’t such a big deal.

      • I agree that a lot of what is described as “creepiness” is social awkwardness, and I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt when I suspect they are just not really sure of themselves. The only time that changes is when I’m feeling unsafe, in which case that takes priority over not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, but it takes more than just someone being weird for me to feel unsafe.

  3. That entire beginning read a lot like what happened to Treyvon Martin. Put it in exactly the right perspective. Also, fucking hell that sucks. I agree with Ginger – I no longer believe in the phenomenon of the nice-but-clueless guy.”

  4. I felt that shuddering, tense, chest and heart tightening creepy feeling as I read your post. I am so sorry you had to experience that. I ran across a link the other day that reminded of this exact same thing. http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/06/its-okay-to-call-a-guy-creepy/277256/ There is this whole thing now on the internet claiming that the word “creepy” is an over used and cruel term to describe men who are being… well, creepy. That we women are just so mean to feel a certain way around a so-called “socially awkward” guy. Give me a Freaking Break. We are allowed to feel the way we feel, to go by our GUT instincts (they are there for a reason: to protect us), and react accordingly. Note some of the comments on that article, too. Interesting how some people defend the creeps and their “right” to be creepy. Yuck.

    • Thanks for this. I had some assface chasing me around Reddit trying to get me to explain what “creepy” meant because his “female friends” call guys creepy and he didn’t understand what that meant. I told him to ask his female friends, as they might have a better idea as to whether he was creepy or not. No, just kept following me.

      • Reddit can be a scary place at times. The whole MRA “movement” on there attracts a lot of lecherous, stalker-ish, misogynistic ass hats. I’ve been stalked and aggressively confronted by a few of these douchebags on reddit as well. It is deeply frightening to me that so many of these guys actually exist. The anonymity of the internet and reddit allows them to truly express their actual opinions and it is downright chilling at times.

      • I think your mention of them brought them out of the woodwork, because now I’m starting to get a bunch of comments (which I will not be approving) from them telling me I’m basically being a fool for expecting men to break the rules for me. *eyeroll*

  5. There is a segment of males in the population that think their telling women that they’re “sexy” or other such choice words make women feel good about themselves and boosts their self esteem. Instead, it does the opposite. I started running and biking a lot about five years ago and got a really awesome biker/runner body because of it, but unfortunately the slimy comments started coming too. I run and bike for ME to feel good about myself, not so some sleezeball can make comments. I agree, that lycra bike shorts on the road aren’t an open invitation. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

  6. It’s amazing how unaware anyone can be about their impact on others. I’m glad you’re okay. I’m glad you wrote this letter. Keep on keepin’ on. And by all means, roll on!

  7. What an absolute creep.Poor you. When I lived in France, this used to happen to me quite a lot when I was running along quieter roads: cars would often cruise alongside me… really horrid.

  8. I have had this on the bike with a young man who kept overtaking me then hanging back and overtaking me over and over. Initially it just annoyed me, but when we were out in the countryside it freaked me out.
    I don’t know if men don’t realise ( I have had male runners stomp up behind me and silently pass me on dark roads before, which I would never do to another female runner without verbally warning her), or just relish the power thing. I sincerely wish for the former.

    • I have no idea. I’m sure that it’s some of both. Like you I choose to believe it’s just not understanding as opposed to something deliberate.

  9. Yes, yes, yes, this is problematic. You explained it perfectly. Besides the perceived threat of danger, you are absolutely right-on in highlighting that he ruined your mood/ride. It’s so frustrating when other people don’t realize / don’t care about their ability to have that effect.

  10. Terrifying. Even more so because I girl from my hometown did disappear while biking and it is thought that she was sideswiped off the road, abducted, etc … they found her bones a few years later. All my worst nightmares come true. I have two daughters. Wish me the luck and wisdom to keep them both free and safe.

  11. Thanks for posting this and being so honest about it. I totally get the joy and freedom you were feeling — and how it fucking evaporated as you suddenly had to be aware and wary and on your guard against…who knows what.

    The problem, too, is that confronting someone like that (which would be my [unwise] choice, as in fuck off!) could probably just encourage him or escalate it to violence or some other shit.

    Men are so tedious in their insane demands for our attention and validation of their gaze. So sorry you had to face this — and glad you are OK.

  12. This sounds horrific! Sadly, most women have had this experience at some point. I’ve had a few hairy moments myself. It makes you feel angry that you can’t have a Hulk reflex where you just expand by about 15 feet either direction and be like “YES? CAN I HELP YOU?”. Scary thing is that guy maybe had a wife or something waiting for him at home, while he’s out worrying other women- but then, as you say, who knows! Glad you are ok. Alanna

    • A Hulk reflex would be awesome! Funny thing is, I usually feel enough like a hulk when I’m on foot that I don’t get messed with too much but I felt seriously vulnerable on my bike. With those skinny little race tires, it wouldn’t take much to knock me over.

  13. Please carry a can of “Halt!” dog spray with you on your bike! One quick shot will stop any dog — whether they have two legs or four. I some jurisdictions this jerks actions would constitute “stalking.”

  14. Something like that happened to me several times last season, but with cars. Once a guy was following, overtaking, waiting somewhere by the road, following, overtaking again. I only realized it after a while as the road was quite busy. Another time, I was in a rather secluded mountain area, a sports car started to overtake me, turn around, pass me, turn around, overtake me again.

    When realizing, I always tried to make plans how to react when, for example, he would try to cut me off and make me stop or sth. I thought about in which pocket my mobile was and made step-by-step plans on how to act. Each time I showed no sign of recognition of what was happening as I thought that might exactly be what he wanted me to do: Show fear.

    What I didn’t do however (and that’s what my boyfriend was really angry about later), but think now I really should have done: I didn’t memorize the number plate.

    I should have called the Police and let them know. Just in case this guy was not doing this only once, just in case another woman wouldn’t be lucky enough to escape with nothing happening later, just to let him know this kind of behaviour is not acceptable at all.

    In the future, I won’t hesitate to memorize such a guy’s numberplate and make the neccessary further steps later on!

    • Holy shit, that’s really scary. There are so many ways in which that can go wrong, and not just if the driver decides to actually DO something. Like what if he hit some loose gravel and lost control of his car, or sprayed you with rocks, or any number of things? Cyclists and runners are so vulnerable, and I think a lot of drivers forget that, for whatever reason.

      Anyway, I’m glad you’re safe and that it didn’t turn into anything worse. I’m just sorry you had to deal with it in the first place.

  15. I have had this happen too many times (once is more than enough). Motorcycles, cars, other bikers…so annoying and it isn’t always men. Good you kept your wits about you and didn’t engage him.

    • Yikes, I’m sorry this happens to you on a regular basis! I’ve gotten comments and random annoying things like that before, but I generally just let that shit roll off, but this was the first time where I was seriously questioning what the hell was happening.

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  18. I hate feeling like someone is following me. I honestly usual make a U and start heading back the other way and then turn around once they move on. What a creep-o. Glad nothing happened though!!!

  19. Calling that kind of behavior creepy is too nice. Honestly, that sounds like a potential predator. In my experience, if someone is tailing you, it is much better to find a way to either end or speed up the interaction. Don’t worry about escalating the situation – if he thinks you are going to be too much trouble (loud, may fight back, he may risk injury) it is more likely he will look somewhere else for a victim. If saying “fuck off” is not your style, no problem. Just turn around and wait for him to pass, if he passes you’re good and he was a creep. If he does not, then at least you’re facing him – no surprise attack possible. I’m glad nothing happened. That’s a very scary situation.

    • I really just wanted the whole thing to go away, which is why I started riding faster. This is not an experience I’ve ever had before so I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. Hopefully it won’t happen again.

  20. The park has clearly posted rules. “No passing without (i) clear signals and (ii) confirmation from the other vehicle.” The instant you reached the main road where he was allowed to pass you, he did. You’re blowing this encounter way out of proportion.

    • And yet somehow drivers in cars and trucks manage to pass me by all the time while inside that park without any sort of issue. Funny how a guy on a motorcycle – which last I checked is much smaller than a car – can’t seem to manage what people in cars and trucks do all the time.

      But thanks for letting me know that I was blowing it all out of proportion!

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