When Your Day Job Means Engaging With a Reader

Writing for Psychology Today can put you in the middle of things.

Posted Jun 27, 2019

It’s extremely rare that I get up close and personal with people reading and commenting on my blog posts here on Psychology Today. But one I wrote recently about boundaries between men and women sparked a cyber-conversation with a reader who asked my advice about an episode her son had recently had. Because I am not a licensed mental health professional, I felt I was free to engage this mother in a back-and-forth about what happened considering we are living during “Me Too” times.

Source: pixabay

Here is what transpired.  I will not use names.

A dapper, confident young man saunters through an art gallery when he spies an attractive young woman. She appears older than him, but that does not stop him from approaching her. She is smiling and open for a chat. At first. He makes small talk. He thinks things are going well. Then he throws out a comment about how he admires the shape of her body. 

She reacts negatively, making it clear that his comment was not appropriate. He then defends his comment as if he has not truly heard her. A small but uncomfortable discussion ensues as if he is trying to convince her he was in earnest. She is so incensed he doesn’t “get” it that she slaps his face. He shrinks away.

The young man goes home, his face stinging and his ego bruised. He tells his mom about the incident. Probably remembering how she felt when receiving the wrong kind of attention, Mom defends the young woman. She is glad her son had been taught a meaningful lesson about what many women consider inappropriate these days.

Then Mom contacts me, having read my article while thinking about the incident. She wants my take on it. I wonder if it’s appropriate to answer, but soon I do. I agree with the young woman's reaction. He was off-base. But I may not have been so demonstrative. I am of another era, and the “lady”’ thing was drummed into us.  Thing is, I am not such a lady anymore.

Then the young man emails me. What? His mom told him of our email exchange and tells me he wants to go back to apologize (he is still very interested in the woman and thinks they could at least end up “friends”). I tell him he should let it go, take it on the chin and move on. I tell him it’s even possible that this young woman might react badly to his insistence on speaking with her again. Is he looking for a second slap?

This has now turned into a full-blown dialogue between the mother, the son, and me, as if I am the referee of some sort. It's light-hearted and we all laugh through it, if laughing were possible with email. But wait. There's more. A month later the young woman herself emails me to thank me for being involved and describes the incident. She eventually does let the young man speak to her again (he must have told her about my involvement), but this time she takes on the role of an older sister, taking him under her wing and teaching him a bit of etiquette. She offers no apologies to him. I have to admire how she, unlike most of us in my generation, refuses to accept attention that makes her feel uncomfortable but turns it in into something positive.

And so a learning experience comes full circle with me in the middle of it. Why, I am not quite certain. I guess you had to be there but that makes no sense because I wasn’t. At any rate, a young man learned something very valuable along the way. And that, as they say, is the end of my own Psychology Today story.