Make yourself a cup of tea and get comfy, this is a long one.
Stalking is unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group towards another person. Stalking behaviors are related to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person or monitoring them – Wikipedia
I’ve been at my new job a few months now and for the most part, I really like it. Everything’s going well, I’m in a better headspace and I’m losing weight from running around all day. There’s just one tiny thing. I have a workplace ‘stalker’. The reason I’ve put the word in quotation marks is because I hesitate to actually call it that. The situation isn’t quite as clear cut as the definition above suggests.
Its not the first time I’ve had to deal with something like this.
Let me start from the very beginning.
Back in 2008, when I was 20, I was working for a well known technology chain in my local town. One evening, an older man came in looking for some assistance. He’d had a stroke and due to struggling to communicate, combined with his blunt personality, was having trouble getting his point across. I tried my best to understand what he wanted and he seemed to really appreciate the help I’d given him, thanking me before leaving. A few days later, he came back and was looking for something else and came straight to me, having seen me restocking an area of the store. This is not unusual behaviour for regular customers in retail, if they get on with a particular staff member they will tend to gravitate towards them.
We got to chatting and he mentioned he lived in the town I had just moved to, which I was happy to talk about. I noticed, after about 20 minutes, that he was continually standing a bit too close for comfort so I casually backed off and tried to continue my work in the hopes that he would take the hint. He didn’t. One of my colleagues came over to see how I was getting on and the gentleman finally went on his way.
Several days after that, he returned and wanted me to instruct him on how to use his new laptop. I’m not in anyway technically minded, other than knowing how to do the basics on a computer. He didn’t want to sit with the shop’s professionals and only asked for me, wanting to know how to access the internet and so forth. I agreed, and sat by him, showing him what to do. He spent the entire time asking me questions, growing gradually more intrusive over the half an hour. Being young and naive, I didn’t quite see what he was doing until he was gone. He was trying to gain knowledge about my life.
Then, he seemed to return every other night, asking questions that I didn’t want to answer under the thinly veiled guise of tech advice. He seemed to suss out when I was available and would often be waiting when I returned from my breaks. When I started noticing his car pulling up outside, I’d disappear into the warehouse, in the hope I would be able to wait it out long enough for him to give up and leave. Unfortunately, it never seemed to work like that and I’d always end up backed into a corner.
It seemed as if he in the shop as much as I was.
Things came to a head when he caught me off guard one evening and asked a question that pushed things too far. The look of distress must have been evident on my face because two of my male colleagues came to check on me and gave me a discreet excuse to disappear into the staff room for a few minutes until the customer left. After that, I was told that I was not to be alone with him and must find a manager immediately. I just let it go over my head as a weird situation.
Over the next few years, I’d have encounters like this a dozen times. I’d have odd characters being overly chummy and trying to befriend me, even when I made it clear that I had no interest in talking to them, to the point where I’d be slightly afraid. The boyfriend and I have joked about it many a time. “Michala, you don’t half attract the strange ones” he’d say and we would laugh because it was true.
And its begun again.
The shop I work in is small, there are only 7 members of staff including myself, so we know everyone and everyone knows us. Its nice to have that bit of banter with the customers, as much as I hate that word. It makes the day go faster. I’m the newest staff member, everyone else has been there since the shop opened, so people are still getting used to me.
The man in question was not a regular at the time I started, he only became one afterwards. That is not out of the ordinary, the shop only opened a year ago. Many people have come to visit more often in the last few months. This particular guy, on one of my very first days, came in looking for a few bits and pieces. I didn’t know much about the stock then, so we were putting it together between us to find what he needed. As I was sorting his stuff out we were making small talk and that was that.
He came back a few days later and I was available, so I served him. He was telling me about his job, which I won’t mention as its fairly unique. I happened to mention a family member had an interest in the type of work he did so he left me his card, paid for his goods and left.
Later on, he called saying he’d left one of his items in the store. I knew for a fact that he hadn’t as I’d helped him carry them out to the car. I told the manager this, but the man was insistant that he wanted to speak to the girl who had served him. My manager told him I wasn’t available as I was serving a customer, so I thought that would be the end of it.
He came back to the store later that night and when I mentioned that I’d helped him load the goods into the car, he suddenly remembered where he’d put them. I am a forgetful person and do things like that all the time, so it didn’t strike me as odd for someone else to. He hung around the shop and told me how much he loved coming in to see me and one of my colleagues, he said he liked to visit with ‘the pretty girls’. This was a bit creepy but honestly, as a woman, you deal with people saying things like this all the time. You learn to ignore it. Which is horrible, but a fact.
After that, he’d come in every couple of days to buy a few small bits and pieces, I’d make small talk and he’d always try to draw me into a discussion about something or other. However, I was consistently professional and clear that I had to be working. One afternoon, the shop was empty and he came to buy some things and asked me what I was up to that evening. Not thinking, as I had been discussing the same thing with someone else a few minutes earlier, I said that my boyfriend was working so I was going to have the night to myself. He perked up and invited me round to his place for a drink. I laughed it off and said something along the lines of “Thank you, but no” and he seemed a bit hurt but as if he was trying to hide it.
A few weeks pass and he comes into the shop every few days, umming and awwing and never often buying anything. We get that a lot as well, its nothing new and it never crossed my mind to think twice, until a few days ago. However, I was gradually becoming more and more aware of his over the top friendliness, that I wasn’t reciprocating. I was to the point and didn’t even make small talk about the weather. If anything, he became more persistant in trying to engage me in conversation.
Later that week, I walked into the building and one of the managers told me that he’d come in asking about me, a few days earlier. It was then that I started to realise that he was coming into work to see me. Everything dropped into place and I started to feel uneasy.
As standard, on one particular day of the week I tend to work in the morning but someone was off and the rota had been amended to accomodate it, so I ended up working in the evening. The next day I was in work after that, the man came in again and mentioned that he’d been looking for me on that particular day. I told him I had a different shift to normal, not going into details. He then asked me what shifts I worked. It wasn’t just a nosy question, he was fishing for information. I just brushed it off and said that it was whenever they needed me, I didn’t have set shifts. Which is actually true, but even if it wasn’t, I wasn’t going to tell him my hours.
I put his order through and he asked me what I was up to during the week and I told him I didn’t know yet. He asked me what time I finished work and when my break was. I kept trying to be evasive and I could tell he was getting frustrated with my vague answers. His questions were worrying me. I didn’t want to talk with him but at that moment, I was alone on the counter and couldn’t just walk off.
I heard my supervisor come around the corner so I twisted casually towards him, and he knew immediately that something was wrong as I never usually turn away from the customers like that. He came over to the counter, took one look at the customer and they exchanged pleasantries before he told me to take my lunch break. The customer then literally shouted at my retreating back, asking me where I was going for my lunch. My supervisor, aka saviour, lied and told him that I didn’t get long enough to leave, as I disappeared into the staff room.
I was due my lunch break anyway, so I grabbed my stuff, waited for him to go, and then went to find my supervisor. He said he had seen the man looking around but neither him, nor the other staff member saw which direction he’d gone. I had forgotten my food, so I needed to pop to the local shop for a sandwich, but my manager was too worried to let me go alone.
I had to be escorted to the shop.
When we got back, I went for my lunch and my supervisor went to keep an eye on the front of the shop, with the other member of staff. My colleague said the man had been wandering around, seemingly looking for something, then drove off in the direction we had gone in. My supervisor called our store manager and explained the situation to him. They both agreed that I should not serve the customer anymore and if he came into the store, they’d have a word with him about staff intimidation.
Until that moment, I didn’t realise it was the beginnings of a serious situation.
It had to be nipped in the bud.
Up to the point of shouting across a shop at me, I felt sorry for him. He came across as an obviously lonely person and I simply thought that he was lacking that bit of social interaction. I used to work in a call centre, we’d often end up on the phone with old people who just wanted someone to chat with. I never thought anything more of it. Then I started to see it for what it was.
I did the thing that everyone does when they are in a situation they don’t like. I blamed myself. I was too nice. I wasn’t indifferent enough. Odd people always seem to gravitate towards me. I didn’t challenge his behaviour. I didn’t say this, I didn’t do that.
What it comes down to is I did nothing wrong. I was polite and friendly, as I am with everyone. I shouldn’t have to think about how my nature will be interpreted by people who want to see more than what is there.
Is he stalker material though? I don’t know, he could be.
Who is to say how these things start out?
For now, I’ll be keeping a distance from the man in question and try not to get into situations where I’m alone. The fact that this has happened more than once, tells me that at the very least, its intimidation – which is something no one should have to deal with.
What do you think? Tell me in the comments below!