Conversational Rapists

Last night I was at the gym and there’s a guy there that I see often, has a bum knee, does a weird sort of loping thing on the elliptical that favors his good knee and takes the pressure off his bad one. Its not unusual for him to be at the gym, but It is unusual for him to be shout-talking across the elliptical bay to a body building enthusiast as he’s stretching out for the night. Because one thing I’ve learned at the gym, is that we don’t really talk there. Leaving out the creepy old men who only come to stare, we’re all kind of grossed out by everyone else. And except for the ladies in the cardio-strip-kick-yoga class, we’d all much rather be doing this alone in our house if only we had the money.
So while talking to your fellow gym-member is not taboo, it is out of place. Especially at what I like to call Friday Gym, which is where the sad, the fat, the old and the obsessive tend to make up the ramshackle gathering of about 10 patrons. If we decided to have a Friday Gym hockey team, they could buy the rights to the documentary and turn it into a Disney movie.
Anyway, after the body building enthusiast is gone, The Loper gets off his elliptical and scouts out the rest of the gym. There’s two huge, ornery looking fat dudes, a younger black bodybuilding enthusiast, one of the creepy old voyeur-guys, a 40-something business guy (running with his bluetooth phone headset on-as if anybody calls you at Friday Gym), an older asian lady on the weight machines, me (also on the weight machines), and a small 30-something lady running on the treadmill.
The 30-something is definately not here to talk. She has her ipod on, is running at a good clip and she is doing this on one of the three fancy treadmills our gym has. These treadmills mean business, they have about a million settings and an incline max of, like, 80 degrees. They’re not fucking around. Which makes it interesting when The Loper heads over and climbs onto one of the punier treadmills sitting next to hers and begins to shout-talk to her. 30 feet away, on the calf machine, I can hear him shout-asking her questions over the sound of my ipod. Judging by the silence between his questions, she is probably not answering him or using one monosyllabic word at a time.
I remember right after I got hired at my current job, I had mistaken another bus rider for a co-worker and by the time I realized that I didn’t have to be nice to this stranger, he already knew my name, which he yelled down the street the next day as he ran to catch up to me like we were old friends. Except that we weren’t old friends, I was a woman riding public transportation alone for 2 hours at each end of her day and he was a slightly creepy dude definately 10 if not 20 years my senior, possibly with a personality disorder.

Feeling really stupid for talking to him the day before, and not knowing how to say “look, I thought I had to be nice to you because I thought that we worked together. Ordinarily I would have never talked to you because I don’t talk to strangers, please go away” to this generally non-threatening but totally annoying man, I chose the cowards way out and yes-ed and no-ed whilst walking really really fast and looking around the street for someone I actually did know to maybe come and save me. It took 2 days for him to get the hint.
Back at the gym, The Loper shouted “have a nice work-out” in a slightly resentful tone at the running woman—who definately didn’t say anything back this time—as he walked towards the locker rooms, and I began to think about conversational rapists.
There are friendly people who are nice and like to talk to other people. That can be me or pretty much anyone on any given day. Someone is looking at a product that I’ve used in the market like they might want to try it so I say “I’ve used that, worked like a dream” or “I wouldn’t recommend that, love.” They can take or leave my friendly overture as they see fit. Elevator banter etc, all fits into this sort of friendly strangers talk. It’s nice, it reminds us that there are other people in the universe, or our market, or our workplace, or whatever. The key is to be able to notice when someone is open for a quick friendly convo, and when they’re closed
The conversational rapist is unable to unwilling to interpret another persons open or closed sign. They are the person who shakes the door of the store even when it is locked. Then they cup their hands around their eyes and look in. Then they go around the back and get in through the service entrance, walk around, and pick things up like a normal shopper except that they are totally not supposed to be there. And they act like it’s normal to have to talk to someone 100% in questions even though that’s not how conversations go, and they walk really supper fast to try and keep up with you and keep asking you questions that you barely answer, and they get resentful and tell you to ‘have a nice work-out’ when they obviously didn’t really want you to have a nice work-out or they wouldn’t have climbed up next to you in the completely empty treadmill bay and started shouting questions at you over the sound of my ipod and yours.
But of course the kicker is that the conversational rapee only makes it worse (in my experience) for not saying “I don’t want to talk to you.” We are faced with a person who possesses an inability to read signs, and instead of reading it for them, we just try to make it larger. Eventually it will work, by incrementally increasing the volume of our body language, chances are they will notice at some point, but it would be so much less a waste of time to just say “I don’t want to talk to you.”
This is especially relevant to me because, as a person who regularly doesn’t understand non-verbal communication I would appreciate a little heads up once in awhile. I’m sure I get a little conversationally rapey on occasion. And while it does hurt a persons feelings to have to be told “I don’t want to talk to you” it doesn’t hurt as much as being treated shittily while you’re just trying to have a friendly convo.
At least I think that’s good advice. I don’t actually recall being told “I don’t want to talk to you” by a stranger except for when I was collecting signatures supporting gay marriage in Orange County. But I got told a lot of other things while I was doing that, “I don’t want to talk to you” being one of the more positive experiences in the bunch.
So, even though the purpose of this blog was to write something funny about people who don’t interpret social cues vary well, I’ve sort of made myself wonder if I’m more of a conversational rapist than I already thought I was. Like, I know that I misinterpret social cues, like, constantly but I really hope I’m not that retarded. But I probably am. I think that we all are at least once in awhile. It’s like drinking. A little conversational rape here and there isn’t such a big deal, it’s when you find yourself doing it every day, and people at work are starting to make comments, or your wife leaves you, so you conversationally rape alone in your house with the lights out that it really becomes a problem.

One Reply to “Conversational Rapists”

  1. I don’t think that you can be a conversational rapist, unless there’s intent. Because you can’t accidentally rape someone, as far as I know.

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