An Open Letter to Everyone Who’s Asked for My Phone Number and A Polite Explanation for Why I Refused

I need a little rant now after being chatted up fairly intrusively at the bus stop yesterday evening.

It sucks being rejected, I know. You see an approachable person in a public space and decide to have a go. Maybe you just feel like having a chat with someone to pass the time. Maybe you think you’ve met the love of your life and want to take your chances so you won’t regret later that you let that one go. Fair enough. But sometimes that person has no interest in you whatsoever, and that’s all right, too. It doesn’t feel nice, but you need to understand that the person you would love to talk to could have a million valid reasons for not wanting anything to do with you right now, and most likely none of them are personal. So do make the move and strike up a conversation, but if the other person looks away, seems uncomfortable or clearly doesn’t want to engage in a conversation, let go. There’ll be other opportunities.

I want to make this very clear: I am not public property. So what if you think I’m “really pretty” and you just “have to get to know [me]”? I’m not in the public space for your use. I’m not a fashion model in a show so it’s not my duty to look good, and whether I do or not I’m unlikely to be interested in anyone’s opinion. I have better things on my mind. Even if I don’t have headphones on or my face buried in a book, I might be planning a novel plot in my head and wish not to be disturbed. Whatever I’m thinking of will always be infinitely more interesting than an endless interrogation of “Where are you from?” “Are you married?” “Has anyone told you you’re really pretty?” (A: My mother’s womb; None of your business; Yes.) or explaining as politely as I can why I don’t want to give my phone number to someone I met twenty seconds ago.

To the guy on Seven Sisters Road last year: You probably saw yourself as a cool guy heading home after a cool concert, flirting with a girl who was shyly flirting back and playing a bit hard-to-get. I saw you as a creep who tried to follow me home late on a Friday night in the dodgiest part of town and I had my phone at hand not because I was eager to exchange numbers, but so I could dial 999 if needed and maybe leave a quick message so my body could be found in case you raped and killed me. You asked, “Why are you making this difficult for me?” It wasn’t a game. I wasn’t a challenge for you to tackle. I was a real human being who’d had a long day and who just wanted to get home as soon as possible.

You might ask, how are people supposed to meet each other if you can’t chat people up in the streets? First of all, sometimes chatting up in the streets, or a bus stop, or in a park, is all right. Do keep trying if you believe those are the best places to meet people. This is how you’ll know the person is interested: they’ll answer your questions and ask you something in return; they’ll smile and make eye contact. If they don’t do any of those, give up and move on. If this doesn’t start happening, try places where people go to meet each other. There are tons of Meetups, reading groups and singles’ events full of people looking to meet someone like you. There are thousands of people in this city looking for a new friend, a chat with a stranger, a relationship or casual sex, and you will come across them if you’re patient. Make conversation without an agenda. Don’t just use those impersonal chat-up lines that mean nothing and only make you look desperate. Show them a bit of your personality by commenting on a book they’re reading or something you saw on the news or something that’s happening locally. Ask them about their interests and make interesting conversation just for the sake of it, and a time will come when someone offers you their number and says, “Let’s meet up sometime to talk more about this.”

But me, at the bus stop trying to read a book – I am not that person. I’m not socially retarded or extremely shy: if I’m interested in having a conversation, it will show. If I try to ignore you, you need to leave me alone. To everyone I’ve refused to give my phone number to: I’m sorry that you had to be rejected when you made yourself vulnerable and took a risk. I do not apologise for refusing my number, however. It’s nothing personal. Keep trying, minimise the creepy behaviour, know when to move on, and some day you will find exactly what you need. I wish you the best of luck in that.

Irina x