What is rude?

Why is it considered rude to tell a total stranger who has initiated a conversation with you to stop?
Why isn’t it considered rude to initiate that conversation?

I was at work the other day and overheard a conversation that made me think about this. This guy walks into the movie section and starts talking to a lady he doesn’t know. “Found anything good yet?” She replied, but a little hesitantly. He then went on to ask her what kind of movies she liked and to tell her what kind he liked. Then there was a long ramble about having time to watch movies. He talked so much I thought he was flirting with her, and it didn’t seem like she was really enjoying the conversation. I got to thinking about this. Why didn’t she just say “Look, I’m not interested in talking with you.” That would be honest, but it sounds rude. But why isn’t it rude for him to start the conversation?

It is not uncommon for older guys to hit on me at work. These are often newer patrons who don’t know anything about me – not even my name. I have to wear a nametag so that really is lazy to not know that. Why would anyone ask someone out when they don’t know anything about them? Are they really that desperate? I wear a very unambiguous gold wedding band as well, so the fact I’m married is also not a secret. They don’t even miss a step when I tell them I’m married. One said “That doesn’t bother me and the crowd I hang with!” Uh, that bothers me. Another said “Well, invite him along!” Again, that is weird. I feel that hitting on me is a violation of my space. It seems to me that it is also a violation of social rules. Yet why do I feel like the bad guy? They are the one who crossed the line. Every interaction with them after that is really awkward – but it is their fault for hitting on me. I wonder if they fish like that. Do they use wide-range nets? That isn’t the way to get anything worth having.

Then I have issues with people who try to impose their tastes on me. Patrons assume that I like the same kind of books they like. Almost always they are wrong. I have very eclectic tastes. My tastes range from zombie fiction to religious nonfiction. I don’t read Christian fiction. I don’t read romances. I don’t read murder mysteries. But these categories are what people insist I should read. I always feel awkward when they tell me I should read whatever thing they find to be essential. Why do they think I want to read what they read? Why don’t they bother to ask me what I read first before they impose their tastes on me? Why do I feel weird telling them that I’m not interested, like I’m doing something wrong by disagreeing? It would be easier to say “OK, I’ll remember that” but I feel that is lying, and that it will encourage more of the same kind of interactions from that person.

Then there was a salesman. He was a regular patron and we had talked several times. Then he started a card business. He wanted me to watch a “short three minute video” to learn about his business. He insisted I take his business card. I wasn’t interested. I didn’t watch the video. I threw the card away. Then he came in again, and we went through the same thing. This time I told him that I didn’t want to watch the video. He said OK, but then he insisted on sending me a card to work. I thought, fine. If that will make this stop, OK. But it didn’t. He then called to make sure I got it. This was crossing too many lines. At that interaction I reminded him that I had told him that I wasn’t interested, but he kept pushing. I told him that wasn’t cool. He kept talking. I repeated myself that I wasn’t interested. I said this is not a way to run a business. He backed off, and I said I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said sorry at all. I was the one who was imposed on. I did nothing wrong. He was the offensive party. I said no and he didn’t listen.
Are guys taught that “no” means “try harder”? This is a recipe for disaster in a society where girls are taught to be pleasing and peacemakers. We are taught to not be pushy or aggressive. When girls finally gather the strength to rise up past their socialization and state their mind, it is a disaster when guys don’t listen and continue to push their own agenda. Whether verbally or physically, if a woman says No, men must learn that means No and they must stop. Their own desires are not more important. Both parties must be playing the same game for it to be fun.

I’m starting to see these conversational interactions as an invasion of space. In the same way I wouldn’t let someone come up and punch me, I shouldn’t let people come up and have a conversation with me that I don’t want. I often am surprised when people are rude to me. I am stunned that they are walking all over my boundaries. These are boundaries that I feel are perfectly normal ones. I do have an unusual reaction when my lines are crossed, however. For many years I would develop a sort of deer-in-the-headlights response to unprovoked attacks. Someone would just start yelling at me for no reason. I would then just stand there and take it. This situation then created a fear response in me. I would be shell-shocked and be afraid that other people would suddenly jump on me. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy because they would “read” my fear. Bullies can always read fear, and will take any opportunity to jump on someone they perceive as weaker.

Two things helped. One – I went on a drug that is for high heart rate and high blood pressure. But it is also for stage-fright. It stops the flight-or-fight response. My flight-or-fight was neither – it was stand there and take it. And at the same time I was watching the show “The Dog Whisperer”. He was all about the idea of having a calm assertive energy. It was amazing watching him walk into a room where a hyperactive dog was. The dog would see him and he would calm down instantly. People aren’t dogs, but they are animals. We forget that. We forget that we respond to unspoken clues all the time. We forget that we “read” energy. If someone acts like they are going to get jumped on, they usually do. If that same someone projects a calm energy, expecting everything to go well, it usually does. This is totally sounds like blaming the victim, but it works. You have the power to change your environment, but you have to take the first step of being aware that you can – and then being aware of how you present yourself. Sometimes it is also time to reinforce those walls.