I worked with a man for a month, let's call him Fred.
Fred and I were both editors at the same company and worked in a small room with two other people. Because of the small space and number of people in the room we had talked everyday, however I considered us strictly work acquaintances.
When I left the company, we had not exchanged numbers. He did not have my personal email address. We were not Facebook friends, and did not follow each other on any social media platform. I didn't even really enjoy working with him as his conversation starters would usually consist of a series of increasingly personal questions, which would make me very uncomfortable.
I was not friends with this man, did not enjoy working with him, and did not know him well at all.
A week after I left the company, I got a text from one of the other editors in the room. She was asking if I had gotten an email from Fred. Confused, since we had not exchanged any contact information, I ended up checking my Other Messages folder on Facebook. I found a short message from Fred along with a link, asking me to not think any less of him after I had watched the attached video.
I cautiously hit play and had to stop watching after 30 seconds because I was so uncomfortable.
The link was to an unlisted YouTube video that was a 3-and-a-half minute (bad) stop-motion animation Fred had made to ask me on a date. Watching it was the most awkward 3-and-a-half minutes in recent memory.
It detailed how he would think about me constantly during the day, how he spent the entire way home on my last day wishing he had mustered up the guts to ask me out in person, and ended with a list of about 10 different activities we could do on our date because he just wanted to spend time with me doing anything at all.
I sent a message back politely turning him down, and I guess that we are on good terms. I'm not really sure, like I said I don't actually know him.
However, the responses I've gotten to this story have bothered me. Remember, not only did I not like working with Fred, I did not know him personally at all. I thought it was incredibly inappropriate for him to send a video like that, something that he very clearly spent at least an entire day making, in order to ask me out on a first date.
What concerns me is that the large majority of the responses I've had from other men to this story have been concern over Fred's feelings after I turned him down because he "seemed sweet" or to chastise me for "overreacting."
I am not on overly romantic person, and maybe that is part of the reason that my gut reaction to this was to be creeped out. However, the majority of my women friends were genuinely concerned for my safety. Most of them actually asked to make sure Fred didn't know where I lived and all of them checked to make sure he didn't have my phone number.
There was one man who did not expect me to go on a courtesy date with Fred, and that was the 4th editor in the room. He (rightly) assumed that this video would strongly affect whether I would work with that company again as long as Fred was employed there. He actually confronted Fred about it, and I don't think either of us were surprised when Fred said he never thought about it that way.
Clearly Fred's plea for me not to think any less of him was not sincere because not only did he still send the video, he hasn't taken it down yet! He is so convinced that what he did was OK that the video is still online months later. There is no doubt in my mind that he is saving it to show how romantic he is to some girl in the future, perhaps to bemoan how he did all this work for that one girl who turned him down.
And so, I guess I am confused as to what sort of messages men are receiving where they think it is OK to make sweeping declarations of affection to near-strangers, as well as why the message women are receiving is (apparently) to humor them as they do so.
I was talking to my younger sister around the same time. She is in high school and was telling me about all the extravagant ways that boys were asking their dates to prom regardless of if they had a romantic or a platonic relationship. Her date last year ended up spelling "Prom?" in the grass with candles outside her window and had brought along several of their mutual friends as an audience.
When I asked her if she was happy, she said that she knew she would have a great time at prom, but she didn't feel like she could say no, not with that many people there.
Her response to this story, by the way, was "That sounds like something you think is cute in a movie until it actually happens to you." We are kindred spirits.
The message that many young men are apparently receiving is that women expect and love these grand gestures. I can't speak for all women, but this woman specifically is wishing it would stop.
Again, every man but one thought that I was overreacting, but every single woman thought Fred was a stalker. It is not sweet to spend an entire day making a grand sweeping gesture to ask someone you barely know out. It borders on obsession and that's creepy. That sort of thing might be appropriate to ask someone to marry you, not to ask someone out to coffee.
I've noticed this more with men attempting to woo women, but this applies across the board. If you think it might be weird, or feel the need to offer a disclaimer, then it's probably super creepy and you shouldn't do it!
And as far as the "courtesy" aspect goes, I don't care if you spent years planning something to ask your partner of decades to marry you, that in no way affects their answer! They can still say no and are under zero obligation to say yes just because you put in an unusual and un-asked for amount of effort.