4 Rules to Avoid Crossing the Line from Friendly to Obsessive.

If you ever watch television, you’ve probably heard the term “stalker” before. Still, you may not have thought much about what the word means, or what the consequences can be if you’re accused of stalking someone. By definition, a stalker is someone who focuses an obsessive amount of unwanted attention on another person*. As you read this, you may think “there’s no way that applies to me,” and hopefully you are right. Still, it’s important to make sure that the people around you feel the same way.

You can’t make friends if others are uncomfortable around you. You might think that persistence is the way to win people over, but in many cases, it ends up pushing them away. In extreme cases, it can get you into a whole lot of trouble.

Even when you only have good intentions, your actions can still make the wrong impression on those around you. This can be a bit confusing. It can be hard to tell the difference between “just being friendly”, and crossing a line. To help keep your friend-making efforts from being misinterpreted, we’ve put together a few rules:

1.    Know When You’re Giving Unwanted Attention. You may think all attention is good attention. After all, you’ve probably heard that paying attention to someone is a good way to let them know they’re appreciated. However, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it can make people uncomfortable. Usually, you’ll know your attention is unwanted if it is not reciprocated. That means that this person does not try to contact you, or look for you at school. They do not make plans with you. When you talk to them, they keep their responses short and they don’t ask you any questions. They may avoid eye contact, or try to walk away from you. When this is the case, the best thing you can do is give that person space.

2.    Don’t Look for Loopholes. If a person has made a boundary clear to you, it can be extremely damaging to the relationship, and your reputation if you look for a way around it. So don’t do it. For example, you should not try to find personal information that they have chosen not to share with you such as their address, phone number, or schedule. Don’t take pictures of this person without their permission—especially if they have asked you not to. Don’t go to a party or event that they are hosting without an invitation. It might seem that being sneaky will help you get the relationship you want with this person, but the reality is that it will make them uncomfortable and less likely to be your friend. If you ever want to become friends with them, then you’ve got to respect their wishes.

3.    Listen. Not everyone will tell you outright if they’re uncomfortable, but some people will.  And when this happens, it’s important to listen. Refusing to take a step back communicates that you don’t respect what they want, and you aren’t concerned about their feelings. It could also get you into a lot of trouble in and outside of school. If someone tells you something you’ve done is bothering them, the best thing you can do is apologize and avoid doing the same thing in the future.

4.    Seek Positive Friendships. You can’t win over everybody. Unfortunately, some people will not want to be your friend even if you’re always nice to them. Continuing to peruse that friendship isn’t just an annoyance to that person, it can hurt you in the long run. The best friendships take give and take. Both people have to be invested in the friendship. By spending time trying to win someone over with unwanted attention, you could be missing out on the chance to form a friendship with someone that really wants that attention.

Even though you might not see your own actions as “stalking,” it’s important to see how certain behaviors can be misinterpreted by those around you. By choosing to ignore someone else’s efforts to create space between you, you could earn yourself an unwanted reputation. Just as bad, you could miss out on your chance to build positive relationships with people who are willing to give you the same amount of attention and interest that you’ve given them!

*Definition of “stalker” taken from:  OxfordDictionaries.com. Accessed October 29, 2014

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Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More