Are You Creepy? Here’s How To Read Women’s Verbal & Non-Verbal Cues

Even the most innocuous behaviour can be creepy if it’s not welcome – especially on social media. We show you how to read the clues (and non-clues).


Lauren Larson |

I was sweating profusely on the train platform on a sticky summer day when I spotted a man I knew from varsity. I hadn’t particularly liked him back then, but I remembered that only later. In the moment, the surprise of a familiar face in a new city’s busy commute system caused me to greet him with an enthusiasm I usually save for Uber Eats deliveries. We exchanged brief, friendly chit-chat and what I assumed were insincere promises to hang out “someday”. I immediately forgot about the conversation.

Related: We’re Taking A Stand Against Gender-Based Violence And So Are These 7 South African Celebs

I am incapable of delivering disappointment to men. I say, “Let’s hang out someday” when I have no interest in hanging out, and I say, “Sorry, I have a boyfriend” when I really mean “Leave me alone”. And when the man from the train sweetly reached out to me on Facebook a few hours after the fact to make plans to hang out – I had, after all, said we should – I replied that I would be out of town for a while. I would be out of town for a while, and I hoped his invitation would wither in my absence. It did not.

Over the next two months, he kept reaching out, sending me messages every week. Each began with “Yo yo!” followed by an inquiry into my schedule. At first I responded with excuses (“weird time at work!”), but then I stopped responding. The “Yo yos!” kept coming. The dynamic hadn’t started out creepy, but when he began to ignore the clues that I wasn’t interested in hanging out, as friends or otherwise, it started to feel sinister.

I can understand how a guy might wonder why I didn’t just tell the man from the train that I wasn’t interested, why I didn’t just block him on Facebook, and why I expected him to be able to hear “No” when I’d said, “Yes, definitely!” But I don’t think I should have to explicitly reject a man I chatted with on the train. If a guy were to tell me he was “too busy with work” or if he failed to respond when I texted him three times in a row, I’d consider that an explicit enough rejection.

Very little separates a creepy man from a non-creepy man beyond the ability to tell when a woman isn’t interested in what he’s putting out there and to back off accordingly. But since sex-education teachers spend more time instructing kids how to suit up a banana than they do on the subtleties of non-verbal cues, we all hit adulthood totally unfit for social survival, predisposed to creep and be creeped on.

Related: How To Slide Into Someone’s DMs Without Being A Creep

So here are some guidelines:

1. That women can tell a guy is creepy just by looking at him is a myth perpetuated by “incels” and other “men’s rights” proponents online.

We have no radar for creepiness, which is why I once went on three dates with a man who thought he was a prophet. Creepiness has nothing to do with appearance (although a pencil moustache suggests a certain alienation from civilised society). Michael Shannon, for example, may look like the personification of the dark basement in The Conjuring, but he’s still a low-key sex symbol because he’s so polite.

Shannon has, in 2019 parlance, “big dick energy.” BDE, the opposite of creepiness, is characterised by quiet confidence. I bet that if a woman didn’t message Shannon back right away, he would be very cool about it. He would not send her a 300-word message tirade about how women are teases, and he would not continue to fire off invitations just in case she changes her mind. Likewise, a guy can be objectively attractive and wholesome looking and still come off very creepy. James Franco may look like Firefighter Jesus, but it was still unsettling when he repeatedly booty-texted a 17-year-old girl.

2. Creepiness has very little to do with specific behaviours and a whole lot to do with context.

With the exception of criminally creepy behaviour, like upskirt photography, very few actions are inherently menacing. While I might be thrilled to get a dick pic from a boyfriend, receiving one from a stranger on Tinder is always unwelcome. And I’d be perfectly comfortable with a guy sitting on my side of the booth on our second date, but it was creepy when a guy once boxed me into a booth on our first date. The trick is knowing where you’re at on the intimacy spectrum. There are circumstances when that’s really straightforward – a 17-year-old girl cannot legally be interested in James Franco in the US, so that’s an easy one – but in most cases you have to pay really close attention.

Related: Are You Mansplaining? And What Is Mansplaining Anyway? A Guy’s Guide

3. It’s rare that a woman will tell you when you’re being creepy.

Women are nice to men for the same reason you don’t eat blowfish every day: each bite might be the one that kills you. I’ve seen a lot of those daytime TV crime classics, so when a man starts talking to me, looking at me, or standing too close to me, I’m always aware of the chance that he may stalk me relentlessly until I’m forced to move to a remote farm in the Karoo, where he will find me years later in the embrace of a swole local and go insane with jealousy, killing us both. So instead of explicitly rebuffing a man’s creeping, I try to passively deflect it. Nicely.

4. But there are degrees of niceness. If a woman is interested in you, she will be very, very nice.

She will make eye contact when you’re talking. She will answer your texts. She will ask you questions about your life. If you’re getting anything less than extreme niceness from a woman – even if  she’s still being base-level nice – you  should take a metaphorical and literal step back. If a woman is even a little bit rude to you, she’s probably extremely uncomfortable. Failing to respond to the man from the train’s messages is as un-nice as I get. (As at the time of writing, he seems to have finally got the point.)

Related: Here’s Why Men Should Care About Everyday Sexism

5. If you’re at all worried you’re creeping on a woman, you should back off and see what happens.

If she starts to pursue you, she’s interested. If she takes no action, she’s probably relieved that you’ve stopped bothering her. In this era, women aren’t “playing hard to get” anymore. If I’m interested in a man, I text him back immediately. I tag him in memes. I miss work and skip funerals to hang out with him. Sometimes I can be a little bit creepy.

READ MORE ON: better relationships consequences dating healthy relationship women advice

Copyright © 2019 Rodale Inc.