Coffee with a shot of sex pest? Working alone is not that kind of signal

Sometimes people just want to be left alone. You should not expect a date with your frappucino.


A couple of years ago I left a Starbucks where I’d been writing alone on my laptop all day, when a male stranger followed me out to the car park and proposed going to his flat across the road to have sex.

Swoon. What a romantic.

I assumed I’d left some valuable item on the table or had three flat tyres when he ran out of the entrance to flag me down as I began to drive away.

“Excuse me, “ he said, “I noticed you, and wondered if you’d like to go out sometime?”

I warily thought him a slight romantic at first, answering his questions about my studies, and thinking maybe he was an OK guy if his mum was an English teacher. When he started talking about his BMW, the demands of being a high paid salesmen and gave me a badly designed business card; he won a place on the dodgy scale. Then he said, “Or we could go up to my flat for a coffee now?”

This dinged the FULL CREEP bell, and I silently awarded the swear word I only bestow on the truly worthy. I politely declined and drove away as intended five minutes earlier, the feeling of stolen time and a violation of the code of general respect and niceness making my cheeks flame in anger and shame. (I wrote a flash fiction about this).

A while after it happened, I found a brilliant Guardian article by Lindy West, called Attention Men: Don’t Be a Creepy Dude who Pesters Women in Coffee Shops and on the Subway. She had witnessed similar coffee shop behaviour, and asks spot on questions:

Why is it that interrupting someone in a quiet moment, wilfully oblivious to their verbal and physical cues, is considered friendly, but rebuffing such an interruption is considered rude? Interrupting is objectively worse than not wanting to be interrupted. We only get one life. Wasting someone’s time is the subtlest form of murder. So why do we let this bizarre inversion dictate so many of our interactions?

Michael Mark Cohen, in his Gawker article, “Douchebag”: The White Racial Slur We’ve all Been Waiting for, says:

The douchebag is someone—overwhelmingly white, rich, heterosexual males—who insists upon, nay, demands his white male privilege in every possible set and setting. The douchebag is equally douchey (that’s the adjectival version of the term) in public and in private. He is a douchebag waiting in line for coffee as well as in the bedroom…I believe the term “douchebag” is the white racial slur we have all be waiting for.

douchebag4Entitlement is a common theme when dissecting the douchebag’s actions, and I’ve felt particularly angry about my polite responses to the time theft and presumptions.

The man who flagged down my car has approached me twice more in the same Starbucks, each time to ask me out, both times showing zero signs of déjà vu. I remember feeling the drop in my stomach as I saw him over the edge of my laptop, staring over, then walking toward me in all his pin suited sleazery. I thought, “Surely this is not going to happen again?” It did.

I’ve also been talked at by two other guys on different occasions, neither as overt as the chief douchebag, but both searching, both ignoring my staccato answers and attempts to continue typing. I was there to work, a fact I think was obvious. Alone. Books. Laptop.

On each of these occasions I’ve unconsciously not wanted to offend, be mean or cause a scene so I didn’t tell the chief douchebag to fuck off when he propositioned me, I haven’t intervened when I’ve observed him hassling other women who are also trying to work, I didn’t ask the other guys who talked at me to please leave me in peace. I wish misplaced politeness was uncommon, but Lindy West’s article and my coffee shop observations suggest not. I feel many women, myself included, have been trained, to be tolerant, to not cause a fuss, to be ‘nice.’ In contrast, is a douchebag’s training regime to be aggressive, to be predatory, to ignore signals? Here lies a big imbalance.

I imagine the following questions might be asked by some:

  1. “What’s a bloke supposed to do?”
  2. “Can’t a man ask a woman out anymore?”


  1. All human beings, blokes included, are supposed to be nice.
  2. Yes, a man can. In a nice way. Not like a hungry predator.

Sometimes people just want to be left alone. Typing on a laptop or reading a book are strong signs of this. Maybe there’ll be an obvious thunder-bolt over the chocolate brownie display, or a natural friendship over time for a rare few people, but as a rule you should not expect a date with your Starbucks frappuccino.

Amusing interlude – remember the chief douche gave me a business card when he stopped my car? Want to know what his job title is? Colostomy-bag salesman. No lie.

This Starbucks is one of my creative refuges. It is big, light, keeps your laptop running forever with multiple plug points, and as part of the ultra rich chain it’s OK to nurse a single cup of earl grey way past its warm state.

Even though it’s a place I love, I stopped going for a while when the hassles stacked up. Since I’ve returned to reclaim my little creative corner of the place, I’ve seen chief douchebag a couple of times but he hasn’t approached me. Maybe even through his rhino skin, he can sense a change. If he does approach me, this time I’m ready. The whole thing has got me thinking about how I claim my time, and why I sometimes respond with politeness to people who don’t pay me the same favour. It’s time to untrain our misplaced politeness, and hopefully trigger some de-douchebagging.




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