3/25/2024 | By Amy Dickinson

A woman has become fearful of a man who seems stalk her on her morning walks, but she isn’t sure of the socially acceptable response. Advice columnist Amy Dickinson suggests she embrace the “gift of fear.”

Dear Amy: 

Most mornings I walk by myself on a forested walking trail. Like most women, I keep a special eye out for my safety (regularly checking over my shoulder). 

(For context, I’m fairly attractive, or so I’ve been told.)

Recently, one man (aged in his late 40’s) has starting appearing on my walks. At first he seemed OK, and so I said “hello” back to him after he greeted me.

But very quickly I started to get what can only be described as creep-vibes, based on the way he was looking at me, the way he’d try to engage me in conversation (as opposed to a simple hello), the way he’d show up on the more secluded parts of the track I walk and seemed to be waiting for me.

I stopped saying hello because I wanted him to get the hint: I’m not interested, so leave me alone. And yet, he keeps persisting; his behavior is getting weirder. 

I’m changing the time I walk so I won’t run into him. But I want to know what is socially acceptable in these situations.

Women seemed conditioned to think that we must be friendly, but I don’t buy it. And while I want to expressly tell this man to get lost, I don’t know how to say it in a way that doesn’t engender a dangerous response. What if he is a deranged stalker? What if he has deluded himself into thinking that my not saying hello is a signal for interest?

Legs of person walking alone in the woods. Red shoes the honestly look like bowling shoes. Which is a weird choice for a nature walk but whatever.

I’m worried that’s the level of crazy I’m dealing with.

What would you do?

– Solitary Walker

Dear Solitary: 

The first thing I would do is to find another place and time to walk. (You’ve done that.)

I would also notify whatever entity is in charge of this trail. Other people might have reported similar concerns.

I would also consider walking with another person, and/or carrying a bottle of protection spray.

Next, I would override that inner voice about what might be “socially acceptable,” and focus completely on self-protection.

I would also reread “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence” (2021, Back Bay Books). This book is author Gavin de Becker’s own gift to people – women, especially – in instructing us to pay very close attention to our body’s signals for when we are in danger, and to act on those instincts.

Women have been socialized to be polite, and to even ignore our own instincts to flee, in order to make a stranger comfortable.

My suggestions might seem like a serious overreaction to what others might believe is nothing more than an annoyance.

But you should never disregard your own instincts. This is “the gift” of your own fear, and this fear, concern, and caution is legitimate.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers – ranging from the gift of fear to clearing the empty nest and a wife’s wrinkles. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

Amy Dickinson