Dear Wayne and Wanda,
I want some third-party perspective. My friend “Kelly” divorced a couple years ago. She was married a long time and has never dated in a world with dating apps and social media. When she and her husband separated, she used his social media posts to figure out his plans so she could “conveniently” run into him. We told Kelly this was unhealthy but it actually took him calling her out on it — in front of other people, he called her a “stalker” — to get her to stop.
Since then, she’s shifted her focus to our friend “Jeff.” Even before her divorce, Kelly thought Jeff was cute and kind. She didn’t want to make a move too soon after her divorce and scare him off. But instead of eventually being honest with Jeff about how she feels, or even just asking him out, Kelly pulled the same tricks she did with her ex — tracking Jeff on social to run into him, and obsessively following his social channels.
She recently said sometimes she goes to where she knows Jeff will be to just “watch him.” This sounds like stalking, not flirting. If anything, I’m concerned my friend is using social media in all the wrong ways because she’s just lost in the modern world. But at worst, what she’s doing sounds creepy. What should I do or say?
In the dating world, social media has its uses, for sure. Someone’s profile may offer an at-a-glance idea of their likes and interests, which can give clues for potential compatibility, possible deal-breakers, even first-date convo fodder. What it isn’t intended for is providing an onramp for lurkers to skulk after love interests IRL. That is, in fact, creepy.
But let’s first assume Kelly is not acting with ill intent, and is instead a hapless divorcee who doesn’t understand modern dating using today’s virtual communication tools. Clearly her ex shaming her publicly didn’t do the trick: She’s still at it, using pics and posts to quite literally cruise her crush. What she’s doing isn’t illegal. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK that Kelly is using Jeff’s personal posts to essentially follow him around. This behavior could be harmful both to her own sense of worth and reality, and to her friendship with Jeff.
Have a heart-to-heart with your friend, going into it with an open mind and heart. Coming off a divorce in a foreign world of dating apps and virtual interaction, even a couple years later, she is probably struggling to figure out norms and terrified of feeling romantic rejection once again. But you’re in a unique position to explain why her behavior is violating some basic trust between friends who are connected on social platforms, and why she’s also self-sabotaging any real chance she has with Jeff, if she hasn’t blown it already.
And if that fails, maybe it’s time to talk to Jeff directly and let him know he needs to enact some additional privacy levers on his social platforms.
First, this isn’t cyberstalking. Kelly is using social media to find out where men are hanging out, and then she’s literally going to those places to “watch” them, which elevates this just above creepy and just below stalking.
Second, if Kelly hasn’t already screwed this up with Jeff, she will soon because she’s infatuated and she’s sloppy. She’ll blow her cover — get spotted during one of her scary stakeouts, accidentally check in on Facebook at one of Jeff’s favorite spots, or reach the point where she just can’t help herself and has to make an appearance by crashing one — or many — of Jeff’s good times. And just how Kelly’s ex-husband put the pieces together, Jeff will likely realize that it isn’t some cosmic coincidence that they keep bumping into each other. Heck, this isn’t even the trailer for a — dark — romantic comedy. It’s borderline “Fatal Attraction,” “Obsessed,” or “Single White Female.”
But hey, let’s just say that Kelly’s surveillance goes unnoticed or that it actually plays in her favor: Jeff thinks it’s cool that she’s interested, that she’s fun to be around, and things start progressing. Do you think that dating Jeff will be enough for Kelly? Like suddenly some cuddling will provide the self-confidence and comfort that end her obsessive ways? Or will she step her game up to putting a tracker on Jeff’s car and somehow getting his phone and laptop passwords?
Kelly needs to give Jeff, her fixations, and her broken heart a, well, break and do some serious healing and soul searching. She is not in a good place and this activity is not healthy. She needs to appreciate that. She also needs to start spending her spare time hovering around someone else: a therapist who can help her understand how dangerous, destructive and depressing this kind of obsessive behavior can be.