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9 Things That Make a Man Seem Creepy

Staring, unwanted online contact, and more.

Source: Pars Sahin / Unsplash

No man wants to be viewed as creepy. In fact, some avoid it so much that it interferes with their ability to engage with romantic interests.

But, according to Blaine Anderson—an online dating coach based in Austin, Texas—there’s a big difference between coming on to someone and coming off as creepy.

In fact, she suggests that steering clear of nine tell-tale behaviors associated with creepiness (e.g., staring, unwanted contact on social media, inappropriate comments, controlling behaviors, pressure for sex, etc.) is a surefire way to avoid sounding the creepiness alarm. I recently spoke with Anderson to discuss her ideas and to hear more about some of the dating advice she has for men. Here is a summary of our conversation:

Mark Travers: You recently fielded a survey about what it means to be creepy in an online dating context. What inspired you to undertake this effort, how did you conduct it, and what did you find?

Blaine Anderson: Earlier this year, I noticed an increase in the number of prospective clients who contacted me saying something like, “I’m afraid to approach women because I don’t want to be perceived as creepy.”

Hearing this sentiment over and over made me realize that:

  1. ‘Creepy’ lacks a clear definition in a dating context.
  2. The murkiness around what it means to be ‘creepy’ is problematic from a dating standpoint.

If it were clear what made a behavior creepy, men wouldn’t worry about unintentionally being perceived as creepy. But because it’s unclear, fear of being creepy can cause deep social anxiety for many men.

The confusion about what is and isn’t creepy causes problems for women, too. Obviously, women don’t enjoy being subject to creepy behavior, so increased clarity around what is and isn’t creepy might reduce the likelihood women have creepy experiences.

Perhaps as important, it’s also bad for single women if terrific single men won’t approach them out of fear of being perceived as creepy.

These problems inspired me to nail down a crisper definition of ‘creepy’ in a dating context. I decided to commission census-style survey data from 2,000 American women ages 18 to 40 to understand exactly what behaviors are creepy, as well as census-style survey data from 1,000 American men ages 18 to 40 to understand the extent of the “I’m afraid to approach women” problem.

The findings fascinated me. The key learnings were:

  • Women regularly experience creepy behaviors. 82 percent of women reported experiencing creepy behavior "sometimes," "often," or "constantly."
  • Men avoid women out of fear of being creepy. 44 percent of men said the fear of being creepy “reduces their likelihood of interacting with women” generally, which jumps to 53 percent of men who reported that they are single.
  • There are 9 creepy behaviors men should avoid. Some are more obvious than others. The complete list is (1) staring, (2) unwanted contact on social media, (3) inappropriate comments, (4) controlling behaviors, (5) won’t accept "no," (6) unwanted physical contact, (7) pressure for sex, (8) clinginess, and (9) physical stalking.

MT: What do you tell men to help them avoid coming off as creepy?

BA: Most men don’t need a professional to tell them that behaviors like pressuring women for sex or physical stalking are wrong. The creepy behaviors that are the most subtle require the most attention because they’re the easiest to exhibit unintentionally. The top three are:

  1. Staring
  2. Unwanted contact on social media
  3. Clinginess

MT: What are the most common stumbling blocks when it comes to online dating, for men and for women?

BA: I like to say that online dating provides a very "flat" experience. Each service has its own flavor (e.g., on Bumble, women message first), but whether you’re using Bumble, Tinder, The League, or anything else, your profile is made up of the same couple of photos and lines of text. This lack of depth means you’ll never be able to communicate who you are (or understand who you’ve matched with) at the same level of depth as even just a 60-second in-person conversation. I’m always more enthusiastic about my clients learning to meet prospective partners in person for this reason.

Women tend to struggle with a "needle in the haystack" problem. As a woman, it’s hard to ascertain the information you want to know about a prospective partner from just a few photos and lines of text. It’s easy to experience a stream of disappointing dates with incompatible people and feel discouraged with online dating as a result.

On the other hand, men tend to struggle with a "one in a crowd" problem. The majority of men on dating apps have indistinctive profiles and fail to get many matches as a result. This leads to the widespread sentiment, if untrue, that dating apps are rigged against men.

MT: Do you have a preferred online dating service or does it depend on your client and their background/interests?

BA: For my clients who want to date online, I often recommend Hinge as a good place to start. Hinge is easy to onboard and use, it has a large user base of attractive singles, and I like how they market their service as "designed to be deleted."

Stepping back, I help my clients identify the right channel to meet women given their personal interests and preferences, whether that’s online or in person.

Historically, many men have this misconception that they’re supposed to meet women at bars, and there’s something wrong if they can’t. This couldn’t be further from the truth, today. There are endless opportunities to meet women outside of bars, both in person and online, once you’ve learned to market yourself and built confidence in your approach.

MT: Beyond not being seen as creepy, what are your biggest tips for men who are looking to be more successful at online dating?

BA: For online dating specifically, here are three tips:

  1. Get an outside opinion on your photos. Through coaching more than 1,000 men, I’ve learned that few guys can reliably predict which photos of themselves are, or aren’t, attractive.
  2. Be as specific as possible with your written bio and prompts. If you only communicate generic things that could apply to almost every other guy on the app, like “I love to travel,” you won’t differentiate yourself, and you won’t get many matches.
  3. Your profile’s performance will reflect the effort you put into it. Many guys race through creating their profiles after downloading a dating app so they can begin swiping ASAP. This tends to be a wildly unsuccessful strategy.

My number one tip for men, generally, is to depersonalize rejection. A woman’s interest in you can depend on hundreds of factors that aren’t only outside of your control, but also may be entirely unrelated to you. Accept that rejection is part of the process. It often has nothing to do with your approach, and even when it does, rejection doesn’t reflect a character flaw or personal shortcoming so much as an opportunity to improve yourself.

Facebook image: Uesiba/Shutterstock

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