Friday night, I was at happy hour celebrating a friend’s birthday. It was the usual yuppie setting: drinks, the obligatory “So, what do you do” conversations with strangers, and a guy with a camera working the room to document the fun. I wasn’t necessarily in a bad mood, but I wasn’t in a particularly social one either. I didn’t engage much with the strangers who tried to make conversations, preferring the company of just my friends and my glasses of Jameson and ginger ale.
As the Picture Man made his rounds, he asked me and my girls to group up for a pic. I wasn’t enthusiastic about having my photo taken and he could tell, asking if we needed to get a few more drinks in before we felt photogenic. “Yeah,” I said, just wanting him to go away.
When he returned, I still wasn’t in the mood to be photographed, so I inched away while my girls happily obliged the Picture Man. He snapped another pic, where I knew I was in the background, and I dipped my head down so that my fro would block the view of my face. Picture Man was disappointed by this, but I didn’t really care. I’d decided I didn’t want to be featured on anyone’s website that night and I was sticking to it. Apparently, Pushy Picture Man wasn’t having it because he returned AGAIN, this time turning the camera on he and I so that we could take a selfie. At this point, I’m starting to feel like the guy from Green Eggs and Ham. How many different ways did I need to say I didn’t want my photo taken before this man would respect my wishes? I didn’t spaz out on him, though. I simply put my hand over my face and turned my head as the camera flashed.
“Aw, c’mon, He went in for the selfie” one of my friends stated. CT, who was also in attendance, just laughed and shook her head knowingly. “The fact that she says ‘no’ just makes them come back for more.”
[She's absolutely right. My "no" is too often interpreted as a request for persistence and it drives me insane. When I'm undecided, I'm vague. When I say "no," it's always because I mean "no."]
To make things more awkward: later, we were having a conversation with a guy who ended up being the frat brother of a friend of ours. While we all marveled at what a small world we live in, he snapped a quick flick of CT and I with his phone to send to our common acquaintance, saying “Hey. Look who I just met.”
Of course Pushy Picture Man was standing right behind me as this happened.
And of course, this grown ass man who I imagine has a grown ass life with bills and other adult trappings frowned and said “Oh. You just didn’t want to take a picture with me?”
I didn’t understand why I owed this stranger an explanation on my picture choices, so I just sorta stared blankly at him and shrugged. He said “I see how it is,” and walked away. Thankfully, I wasn’t asked to take any more photos that night.
This was just one of many interactions I’ve been having in public spaces—be they physical spaces or online—that make me question the level of entitlement people adopt in public domains. This happens to me on Twitter pretty often, where someone I don’t know will make an unsolicited remark in my mentions about something I’ve tweeted, then get angry when I make it clear that I don’t appreciate their approach. “This is a public space. If you don’t like it, leave.”
Is this how public spaces work now? We’re forced to engage with strangers because they demand it and owe them explanations when we choose not to? By being accessible, we’re immediately obligated?
This is why I routinely say that I’m not a “nice” person: I don’t owe anyone my engagement. I don’t have to speak to you. I don’t have to let you speak to me however you wish. And I certainly do not owe strangers explanations when I don’t want to be bothered. Why the hell isn’t it enough for you that I just don’t? And furthermore, what do you have to say that is so important it invalidates my right to my space? Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
Some people think this level of discernment makes me rude. You know what I find rude? Stranger ass strangers trying to bully me into engaging with them. Or people demanding that by being present, I forfeit all preferences for how I wanted to be spoken to.
I get it. We live in an all-access world. But believe me when I tell you that I don’t give a shit. You don’t get to decide what I will put up with. Perhaps this makes me mean. It may even make me a bitch. If calling me names makes you feel better, I’m all for it.
Can you say that while you’re walking away, though?