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2016-02-04

Three women share their experiences of stalking

As a new study finds that women who watch rom-coms are more likely to tolerate stalking, three women discuss times that things got pretty weird pretty fast

A new study has revealed what we all already secretly suspected – that watching rom coms are damaging for women. The study, from the University of Michigan, found that women who regularly watch romantic comedies in which the man is depicted pursuing the woman are more likely to tolerate stalker-like tendencies in their personal lives.

Now, really you don’t need a bunch of scientists, with their data modeling and their fancy degrees, to tell you that watching rom-coms are bad for your health. I’ve been forced to sit through Love, Actually and have an A in GCSE Chemistry, and I could have told you that for myself. (Although I’ll defend Coyote Ugly to the death, whatever that makes me).

It’s not just romantic comedies that are the problem, although at the rate they’re churned out by Hollywood execs they’re a particularly pervasive issue. Society embeds these values in our cultural DNA: the idea that women are to be pursued, and men are to pursue them. It recurs throughout literature, the arts, even our language. I have a literature degree I literally never use, but one thing it taught me was that the motif of man-chases-woman (otherwise known as courtly love) has been knocking around for nearly a thousand years. And nothing’s changed. Think about the plot of pretty much all of your favourite films – chances are, there’s probably a riff on boy-meets-girl-boy-chases-girl in there somewhere.

Stalking isn’t a comedy plotline, it’s not romantic or cute. It’s important to recognise that there’s a huge difference between a spontaneous romantic gesture and actively pursuing and harassing someone. Is it okay that Ted Stroehmann hires a private detective to follow his old high-school girlfriend in There’s Something About Mary? Is it okay that Edward Cullen creeps into Bella’s bedroom to watch her sleeping in Twilight? Well, it’s not, but we’re teaching girls through billion-dollar franchises that this is how a man shows your worth and value – by possessing you. Of course, a raging double standard means that when women do this, they’re not romantic and impulsive. They’re the sort of crazy mother-fuckers who’d boil a bunny or put a stiletto in your eye if you’re not careful.

Of course, women as well as men are equally capable of being stalkers. But, as the Michigan University study shows, women are more likely to tolerate stalker-like behaviour – maybe it’s all those roms coms. In an interview with Canada Global News, report author Julia R. Lippman urged women not to "discount their instincts" about stalking behaviour, because these instincts keep people safe. To find out more, we spoke to three women about their experiences of being stalked, to show that the reality of being stalked is something women should take seriously. Below are their stories, with names changed to protect their identities. 

Chloe, 27

I once went on a date with a guy. He was cute, though a little bit edgy – which at the time, I put down to nerves. It all went fine, and at the end of the night, he said he wanted to make me a mixtape of songs that he thought I’d like. Although I wasn’t sure at that stage if I wanted to see him again, I said sure, whatever, that would be nice. I then left, went to bed and headed off to work the next day. Turns out he did go ahead and make that mixtape, only he'd headed to my work before me that morning to drop it off. At the time, I thought that was quite a sweet move – but then things got weirder. After two more dates and a little ghosting from me, he found my address and started leaving little tokens outside my door: including sketchy love letters, random packets of chocolate buttons, and a DVD of the film District Nine. I don't know if there was a hidden message in there somewhere, but it was all really fucking weird – and only made weirder by the fact his secret girlfriend ended up sending me a Facebook message telling me to stay away from him. 

“He kept on calling, and then I found him hiding in a bush outside the house. Me and my girlfriends call him Bush Man”

Becky, 23

I had a drunken one-night stand with this guy (lets call him Greg) when I was 18 and in my first year of university. I didn’t particularly fancy him, and I got the vibe he didn’t particularly fancy me either (we had next to no connection), so when he left in the early hours of the morning, I penned it up as a poorly-judged mistake and moved on, thinking we’d never speak to each other again.

About a month later, I started getting missed calls from him in the middle of the night and texts just saying “hello”. Assuming he was trying to pay me a booty call, I ignored him completely and didn’t think much of it. As the months went on, the calls started getting more frequent and he began messaging me continuously on Facebook with “hello?” and “can we meet up?” and “I love you”. I eventually blocked his number and his Facebook account, but he kept creating more Facebook accounts and messaging me from them. After experiencing this for a whole two years I eventually flipped and sent him a long message on Facebook telling him that we will NEVER be together, that I am in a long-term relationship, and that I would prefer if he never contacted me again.

It worked for about two weeks and then the messages started again. I am now 23, and he still messages me from different accounts and different numbers to this day: “hello” “I love you” “I miss you” “I would make a great BF”. Recently, he managed to get hold of me on WhatsApp before I managed to block him. I could have sworn I’ve seen him lurking across the road from me, but until he does something threatening, there’s not a lot I can do.  

Jenny, 45

I was stalked by my ex-boyfriend when I was 23. We'd been going out for a few years, but I realised things were seriously off when I found out he’d been going around telling all of my friends that we were engaged without me knowing. He actually threw me an engagement party without me knowing! My friends were like, what the hell is going on?

At the time I was a makeup artist and he was a photographer, and we went on a work trip away together and he started getting possessive and acting weird. Then, finally, he hit me. I knew I had to end it, so when I came back to England I broke up with him. I planned it because I was scared of him, I only packed my clothes in a bag and left the rest of my stuff behind.

He came looking for me at my Mum’s house, and she sent him away and told him I didn’t want to see him. Anyway, he kept on calling, and then I found him hiding in a bush outside the house. Me and my girlfriends call him Bush Man. You could see his face poking through the bush. It wasn’t actually funny, it was scary. I laugh about it now though.

If you're concerned you're being stalked, the National Stalking Helpline can help.