to the dudes at the bar

You were sitting next to each other at the counter in what was otherwise a completely empty bar, 8:00 p.m. on a weeknight, fists wrapped around sweating bottles of Bud Light. You turned on your stools to look when we walked in. We were five women passing through the doors one right after the other, and I know it must have felt like Christmas come early; like God had smiled down and personally delivered a bonanza of tits.

You had so many questions, right off the bat. Why were we wearing nametags? What were we doing? Why were we out? We patiently explained that it was the flagship meeting of our photography club; that we were walking around taking pictures and stopping at bars in between.

You offered to buy us drinks, and we smiled and said thank you, but no. We said we were going to pay for our own, and then continue our meeting.

But as we were taking turns ordering, we splintered. One of us sat down at a table while others went to the restroom or stood at the counter, and you took that opportunity to sit next to her. Being the good sport that she is, she managed several minutes of awkward, uncomfortable conversation with you before the rest of us noticed and swooped in to “save” her. 

Our group retreated to one side and pulled in tight, but you both kept circling. “You going anywhere after this bar?” one of you asked, interrupting our conversation.

“No,” my friend said firmly. “We’re old married ladies, we’re tired and we’re going to go home after this.”

Hint. Hint.

“You sure we can’t get you girls some drinks?”


“Maybe some shots?”


You returned to your seats at the bar, and we enjoyed our hard-won space for a few moments. Until you came back with one last question: “Would you like us to take a picture of you?”

We needed a group photo for the club, so we agreed. We handed you a cell phone and squeezed in next to each other on a bench.

One of you held the phone aloft and, swaying slightly under the neon sign, made a big show of framing the scene. “One… two…”

On three your buddy ran in from the side and threw himself across our laps like he was sliding into home base. It was total setup.

We reflexively laughed and kept our eyes locked anxiously on the camera, waiting for the flash to go off please just go off. And you said it was no good and you had to take another, so we stayed there frozen with a man in our laps, mouths curved upward to show our teeth, and it was only then that the alarm bell that had been ringing in the back of my brain got good and loud enough for me to hear.

Anger surged up from my stomach and into my hands, and I nearly used those hands to push you off of me. I wanted to stand up and yell that we just wanted to be left alone, but I didn’t, because we were in public and I didn’t want to cause a scene. So I stayed there, we stayed there, unmoving, until you gave us back the phone.

Immediately afterward we abandoned our half-full glasses on the table and fled, looking over our shoulders all the way back to our cars to make sure we weren’t being followed.


I would like to be the kind of person who recognizes when a situation is sliding sideways and shuts it down immediately. I would like to be brave, strong, outspoken. I’m not. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, or making anyone uncomfortable, or coming off as unreasonable.

But here’s what strikes me as most unreasonable about that evening:

  • That a group of people couldn’t quietly enjoy its own company without two others constantly trying to ingratiate themselves;
  • That some perceived standard of polite behavior prevented us from protesting an unwelcome stranger in our laps;
  • That an unwelcome stranger making himself at home in our laps isn’t already widely regarded as impolite;
  • Bud Light.

I realize now, of course, that my friends and I made several key missteps that likely left those dudes confused about our intentions. Like declining their drink offers, for example, and telling them we were married, and physically moving away from them. I see how these could all be construed as invitations to continue talking to and touching us.

I see, in retrospect, that we really brought it upon ourselves.

I see now that declining unwanted attention gently doesn’t work. So I’m going to just warn you now, future Dudes at the Bar, that next time I might come off a bit rude. Next time, I might make a scene.

Next time, I might wear a baggy shirt that says “NO” in big block letters, and when you ask me what it means I will shout “NO!” and hiss at you like feral cat. Next time, when you offer to buy me a drink, I might throw mine in your face. Next time, I might leave my hair unbrushed and my face undone, and if you still dare get close enough to touch me or my friends, I will whip a pointy fork out of my pocket and start jabbing it threateningly in your direction.

Extreme? Sure. But hey, whatever helps plant the idea in your brain that you should stay away.

Next time you can’t get mad, bro, because you’ll have brought it on yourself.

19 Responses to “to the dudes at the bar”

  1. I’m always rude – rude until given reason not to be. I was even rude to Josh the first two times I met him (he was drinking both times – one was at a bar) because it’s just how I react, just in case. My mother, never known for wisdom of any kind, did tell me it’s better to hurt someone’s feelings than get hurt physically. I live by that, whether right or wrong.

  2. Barf. Keep that fork handy, lady.

  3. Gaaah. Rage. Murder. More rage.

    This sort of situation is so frustrating because I, and most other kind-hearted women, want to let a well-meaning doofus off the hook with his dignity. So like you I go the polite route — mention I’m married, decline offers of drinks, move away from the guy who’s trying to converse with me — to give him the opportunity to realize “oh, she’s not interested, I should stop trying to chat her up” and go do something else.

    Most of the time that works. But when it doesn’t, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. If you say “get off my lap, give me back my phone, and leave us alone,” you’re a “psycho” and you’re “overreacting.” If you don’t do that, well, why are you complaining when you allegedly didn’t “do anything” to stop the behavior?

    Grrrr. Women don’t exist to provide amusement to anyone in the vicinity who’s bored. Why is that so damn hard for people to get?

  4. I think one of the most surprising things about marriage to me is how ineffective “I’m married” is at warding off creepers. I had a guy on the train respond to my “oh here’s my ring in your face” move by showing me his own and saying, “I’m married too!” without letting up the heavy flirt AT ALL.

    This is not to say, of course, that single women should have to deal with this kind of crap either. Just: express disinterest should be enough to end these encounters.

    • It SHOULD! And yet it’s too often not, which is maybe the most disturbing part of all. There’s this element of “I won’t take no for an answer” that runs through so many of these interactions.

  5. Frustrated and angry and commiserating.

    I don’t know how to communicate to jerkwads how unsettling and upsetting it is to have your night ruined and space invaded in this way.

    • This! How how how? I can do polite and just grin and bear it and move away, I can do “rude” and yelling, but neither really gets it across to them just *how* their actions are wrong. Either was feels like a temporary patch and not an actual solution. They’re just going to do the same thing to the next person. Rarg!

  6. I also try to let a guy retain his dignity by dropping the same hints. But if he’s not getting the picture, then I become direct. If that’s considered rude, well then it’s tit for tat. He was rude first. I will directly tell a man that I’m not interested or remove his hand from my arm. I have even been known to tell the bartender someone is bothering me if it gets obnoxious. There is no reason my night should be ruined by some jerk who thinks I’m there for his entertainment.

  7. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to be rude and tough and make a scene in order for this stuff to stop.

    I’m really sorry you ran into such fuckwits.

  8. It’s well past time for us ladies to stop being polite. If dudes like this can’t take repeated hints then they need it spelled out to them.

  9. UGH. I hate this. I was raised in the South for several years as a young kid, which is when they teach you all the smiling, quiet, politeness. Sadly we moved before I was old enough to get the lessons on how to freeze people with a look or a few words. So now I go with rude Northerner. I hate every minute of it.

    I’m so pissed off for you. GTFO of my lap, asswipe.

  10. I’ve stopped being nice. I really have. It feels a lot better.
    I hate that this happens. It just does not make any damn sense.

  11. The closest I have ever come to being able to explain to a guy how this sort of treatment feels like is to compare it to how incomfortable they would be if a gay man hit on them and wouldn’t leave them alone when they said they were not interested. They often just do not get how unsafe this kind of stuff makes women feel, they just see it as a funny joke. Even really nice caring guys who would never intentionally frighten or threaten you can need a lot of explaining to get it.

  12. I’m always really late to your blog party because I catch up on blogs like eight times a year, BUT: the thing that has really freed me in these situations, as you alluded to, is simply no longer caring how I seem to the jerk in question. They will call you a bitch, of course they will. In fact, I have a story about that and I am going to write you a super long comment in order to tell you that story right now.

    Lately and inexplicably, I have shifted from the person who grins and bears it and then hates myself later (which I don’t think any woman is to be blamed for, just so we’re clear — fear and anxiety makes us act strangely, and freezing is part of a survival instinct for sure) to the person who goes all apeshit at the drop of a hat. I don’t think anything magical happened — I think I finally had just fucking had enough.

    The first time I snapped, not that long ago, I had already endured the same bullshit a few times in the space of an hour, because I was in workout tights and it was apparently Asshole Day. For the last straw, a guy followed me in a parking lot late at night, calling me honey, complimenting the rear view (as he hadn’t even SEEN the front, I don’t think) and asking if I work out. Without thinking, in total exasperation, I whirled around on him and just said, very loudly, “EW!”

    A juvenile reaction, but in the end I think it was more appropriate than anything more eloquent I could have come up with, given more time. We always think we have an obligation to be all composed and handle it gracefully, but an EW is absolutely what he deserved and I’m not sure why I’ve always held myself to a higher standard than that.

    He practically reeled backward from the amount of scorn in my voice, and I took that time to scurry to my car and lock myself in it, and by the time I faced forward in the driver’s seat, he was already yelling through my windshield about how he was just trying to be nice, and I don’t have to be such a bitch. Ah, a bitch. There it was! The accusation I had carefully avoided for so many years! The actual practical consequence of being called a bitch is … nothing, it turns out. Huh.

    I returned everything he said (and he had plenty to say) with “Nope! You’re creepy! Nope! CREEPY! Nope! CREEEEPY!” in a finger-waggling nuh-uh voice I did not know I had, and then realized I didn’t have to stay for any of this, yelled “Bye now!”, threw the car into reverse, and left him standing there, still yelling out of his dumb purple face. I laughed all the way home, because oh God, it felt so good, because fuck that guy. I had always WANTED to be able to do that, to recover from my horror quickly enough to just let the guy have it right then and there. I had fantasized about it so many times. As have we all. I wouldn’t say I did it that WELL, but who cares? Why do I have to?

    Up until then I had worried, at least subconsciously, about being disliked, but at that point I finally hoped, so dearly, that he absolutely hated my uppity-lady guts. I hoped that hate burned all the way home and into the night, that he couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to tell his friends about the bitch in the parking lot so they could all sooth his ego and agree that I sure was one heck of a crazy bitch in a parking lot. And I hoped it shook his confidence and he paused for at least a fraction of a second at the next girl, unsure of whether she was going to laugh in his face from behind her windshield.

    It has only gotten better from there. If I can do it, anyone can do it, because I used to be the most polite, most uncertain, most carefully inoffensive girl out there. It took dealing with a blatant gym stalker, several drive-by hooters, and Dark Parking Lot Man to push me over the edge. But things have been so much better ever since.

    I even took care of that gym stalker, while I was at it.

  13. I don’t know why but I’m always good at shutting this kind of thing down.

    Also your photography club sounds awesome.

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