So I’m a fearful person. I don’t like horror movies or even most news events. I worry about people a lot. And I have social anxiety that’s manageable, but it flares up on occasion. The scariest things to me are social situations and encounters. I don’t like performance, but even personal interaction is nerve wracking. I have trust issues with most people I’ve known for decades, so I don’t put any faith at all in strangers. Zero.
So now that I said all that, I’m going to tell a story about justified fright…one reason my social anxiety, while it can improve, and has improved, won’t ever really go away, at least not when being in public with strangers is concerned.
I had to go to a big, crowded store without J to run an errand one morning, after picking up our son from the sitter. J’s back was injured, and he didn’t want extra time in the car or walking around if he could avoid it. I wasn’t really afraid to go without him when I left. J makes me brave that way.
But as my son and I were walking out of the store, we were approached cold by a sketchy looking man from between two cars in the parking lot.
We didn’t see him until his approach, but I have no doubt he saw us coming from a ways away. (Just to make it clear we made no eye contact at all until he approached…he was not out in the open, trying to catch the eyes of any potentially helpful stranger…he was hiding.)
He had a scraggly beard and dirty blond hair and was smoking a cigarette that he didn’t bother to hold away from us.
Scary Stranger: Ma’am, could you do me a favor?
Me: No. <I said under my breath to my son to be alert and take his hands out of his pockets and we began walking faster toward our car…we didn’t stop…we didn’t even slow down…I withdrew eye contact and I’m pretty sure my son did too>
Scary Stranger: You’re not even gonna listen? <He was calling after me a bit; he didn’t leave his obvious strategic position in between the cars.>
Me: No. <I called back to him loudly without slowing down or turning my head toward him…The Boy and I loaded up the car as quickly as we could, got into the car, locked the doors and left in haste.>
When I got home, I told J I was no longer going to that particular place without him. It frightened my son too.
I guess I’m writing about this today as kind of a pseudo public service announcement, that if you are a man, and you truly are in need of help in a public place, hiding between cars in the parking lot and approaching a small woman with a child…a woman you’ve never seen or spoken to before…is not the optimal way to get the assistance you need. Perhaps you should enter a nearby store or restaurant to ask for help. Perhaps you should approach another man…a man who is not with children.
Because unfortunately, in the world we currently live in, approaching a woman…especially a woman who is much smaller than you and occupied with her children, even if you don’t know she has nearly crippling social anxiety…especially from a position of hiding between two parked cars…especially when it seems as though you are ONLY asking her and have ONLY asked her…is very likely to be perceived as a threat. It will seem like you are choosing a target, rather than seeking help.