Remember my trip to the grocery store that inspired the Gratitude Jar post?
Well, I went back. And this time, I checked my frustrations at the door, took a breath, and settled into the gentle, meandering pace of Florida grocery shoppers.
I casually talked with one woman while we picked out limes and zucchinis. She talked about how the limes always roll away. She had tightly coiled brown curls and I wondered if she always wore them like that or if she’d just had her hair styled.
I had two conversations in the nuts isle: one about where the heck candied pecans would be (I said, I don’t know, maybe the baking isle?), and another about how the almond company has reduced the size of their almond tins. A forty-something woman with shiny silver bangles, a giant purse, and HUGE sunglasses picked up the
tiny slightly smaller tin and declared,
“I can’t believe this! They’re messing with us!”
The travesty! I waited patiently behind a mom who was shopping with her two kids. Their green car-shaped cart was blocking the frozen vegetables so I just waited. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed toddler blinked at me slowly and didn’t make a sound. I smiled. When the mom realized that I was waiting, she apologized, and I said,
“Oh, that’s okay. Really.”
All in all, I had 5 different conversations with fellow shoppers… including… the questionably flirtatious/borderline stalker conversation.
Here we go…
There was a guy in the canned foods isle. You know when you stare at shelf of food and you KNOW what you are looking for is right in front of you but you just don’t see it? That was happening to me, and, also, conveniently to this male shopper who was about my age. I was looking for chickpeas. I don’t know what he was looking for. On top of being acutely aware of how long it was taking me to find the dang chick peas, I was also aware that this guy was watching me.
At first it was fine. We made eye contact and shrugged like hi-we’re-both-incompetent-shoppers. After several seconds, though, I began to feel a tiny bit awkward. Maybe uncomfortable? No, just awkward. I felt like he wanted to talk, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. I found the chickpeas and we went our separate ways. For the rest of this blogpost, I will refer to this customer as “Mr. Chickpea”.
Interaction I: Am I being stalked? No.
Well, a few minutes later, I’m looking for peanuts for my pad thai. I get distracted talking with the previously mentioned female customer about almond tin sizes, and then, after she walks away, what do you know, Mr. Chickpea is standing right next to me. He says something like,
“Hi there. We meet again. Are you stalking me?”
Alright. In my opinion, accusing someone of stalking YOU is basically like waiving a giant flag that says, “I’m trying to use reverse psychology so you don’t realize that I’m a predator.” Right?! I let it go, though, because, well, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. I thought, he’s probably just trying to be friendly. I decide not to engage in conversation. I just smile and say,
As in, no, I’m not stalking you, and I’m rather busy, so, let’s end this here.
Instead of ending it there, he told me what he was looking for and tried to make small talk. I wondered if it was fair to be annoyed by this behavior. The thing is, I’ve had to deal with unwanted attention before, and technically I have been stalked…twice. So, even though I want to talk to everyone with a warm smile and an open heart, I also want to be cautious of potentially dangerous situations.
But. He honestly seemed like a nice guy, and I was in a grocery store in Florida in the middle of the afternoon. It wasn’t a dangerous situation, so I really didn’t see a reason to be cruel. He told me what he was making for dinner and waited for me to respond. I thought about something I could say in return like,
“That sounds delish!” Or, “Oohh can I come over and have dinner at your house?”
Kidding!!! No, of course I didn’t say that! Sorry, I shouldn’t joke because my incredibly loving mom, mother-in-law, AND grandmother all read this blog.
Anyway. I didn’t know how to respond to his dinner recipe. I think I said something like,
Which probably sounded kind of lame and kind of rude. I didn’t care. I grabbed mypeanuts and walked away without a “bye, now” or “nice talking to ya.”
Interaction II: Am I being stalked? Probably not.
As I made my way to the check-out line, my internal monologue starts reeling. Was he stalking me? Was he just being a nice guy? Was he trying to flirt with me? Was he clueless? Am I paranoid? Mostly I was surprised that he was so persistent in talking when I’d barely said a word from the beginning.
While I stacked my groceries up on the conveyer belt of the checkout line, I was settling on the notion that he was probably an honest to goodness nice guy who wanted to chat with fellow shoppers just like I [thought I] did…when…
…what do you know… Mr. Chickpea shows up behind me in line and exclaims,
“You would pick the shortest checkout line! Fancy seeing you here!”
AND now what am I supposed to do? I can not get out of the line without passing him. Other customers are staring at us because he’s acting like we’re long-lost friends. We’re not. I’ve just reasoned with myself that Mr. Chickpea really hasn’t done anything wrong or controlling or offensive, but I’m done with this conversation. I deliberately shove everything from my shopping cart onto the counter and decide to tune out of my surroundings by texting my friend while I wait. Surely he can pick up on the nonverbal cue and we can move on with our lives?
Mr. Chickpea pulls out his phone and starts talking to someone about directions to “your place”. I scan the exit hoping it will be my turn to check out real soon, and I notice a guy near the exit on a cell phone, too. For the rest of this blogpost, he will be known as Exit Guy. Exit Guy’s lips are moving when Mr. Chickpea is silent, and then Exit Guy stops talking as soon as Mr. Chickpea starts up again. Am I crazy for assuming they were talking to each other?
“So I’ll meet you in about ten minutes then…”
And they hang up within a few seconds of each other. Am I paranoid or am I paranoid? I miss my opportunity to have a nice conversation with the cashier because I am over talking to ANYONE right now. I pay, grab my bags, and head for the door.
As soon as I make my way outside, Exit Guy starts walking DIRECTLY behind me.
Interaction III: Am I being stalked? Possibly.
I cut left. So does he. This is a little unusual because I didn’t park in the main lot. I parked on the side of the building where maybe only 8 other cars were parked. Exit Guy follows me – closely – down the sidewalk. I walk briskly toward my car and I think I lose him. When I’m ready to cross the street, I wait for a pickup truck to pass, but instead, the driver waives me along. I say, “Thank you” audibly because my mom always did that and now I do it, too. I walk in front of his car toward mine, as soon as I do, I [almost literally] bump in to Exit Guy.
I nearly screamed.
Interaction IV: Am I being stalked? Probably.
We’re facing each other and Exit Guy says,
“Sorry – I promise I’m not following you.”
Creepy! Right? But the way he said it… his tone… it was authentically reassuring. Not scary. Although a little part of me freaked out when realized I was temporarily cornered by Exit Guy and hidden behind the pick-up truck, that moment passed quickly. I relaxed.
The truck drove along and I kept an eye on Exit Guy while I got in my car. He got into his car which was parked 2 spaces down from mine. He was not intentionally following me. He was [probably] not actually on the phone with Mr. Chickpea. I think – unlike Mr. Chickpea – Exit Guy was good at nonverbal cues and picked up on my body language. I could tell he felt really bad for making me uncomfortable.
I made it home safely.
But now I’m left with all of these questions:
What do you think? I think bad things happen sometimes, and I think people are too paranoid most of the time. I should not be afraid to go grocery shopping by myself. I probably should have been afraid to wait at a deserted D.C. bus stop by myself at 11PM… but that’s another story. [Spoiler alert: It has a good ending. A hotel shuttle driver rescued me.]
Adding this one to the Grateful Jar:
“I’m grateful for nice people who don’t stalk me in grocery stores”
Oh, and in case there are any moms/mother-in-laws/grandmothers out there worrying… don’t worry. Remember I took that self-defense class!