Walking Alone at Night: A Man’s Perspective

Last week I posted about how I feel when I encounter a man while walking alone at night. Not surprisingly, many of you commented that you feel exactly the same way. Anxious. Fearful. Alert. And ready to run.

One comment from a reader really stuck out to me. Marybeth wrote that she wondered if every time a man encounters a woman at night, if he wonders if she’s afraid of him. Sarah jumped in and said she’d had this discussion with her husband, who said he knows when women are afraid because he’s seen women tense up or get their phones out fast and that he realizes there’s nothing he can really do to make them not scared.

I feel like this post is helped by sharing several very unscary pictures of a man who loves his golden retriever.
I feel like this post is helped by sharing several very unscary pictures of a man who loves his golden retriever.

So I asked N. Here’s how that discussion went.

Me: Do you ever worry that you scare women when you are walking and you see a woman by herself?

N: Yes, definitely.

Me: Like, every time? You always think about it?

N: Of course. You can’t not think about it.

Me: Do you ever do anything differently once you think about the fact that you might be scaring her?

N: Not really. I don’t feel like there’s much you can do. Pretty much anything you do that might make her less scared could also scare her more. Like what are you going to do? Say hi? Walk faster? Smile? All of those things might freak her out even more so I usually just keep walking. Sometimes I’ll cross the street, if I needed to eventually anyways, and hope that makes her less scared. There’s just not much you can do though. What could a guy do that would make you less scared?

[I think for a minute, and come up with nothing]

Me: I honestly can’t think of anything. You’re right, anything he might do would probably make me more scared.

[Moving on]

Me: How do you feel about possibly having a daughter someday and knowing that she’ll grow up and have these same experiences?

N: Sad in a weird kind of way. Because it sucks that we live in a world where your immediate reaction is to not trust someone. But I wouldn’t necessarily want her to be that trusting.

Me: Do you have any other comments?

N: I love you.

[I roll my eyes and give him the “take this seriously’ face, while smiling just a bit]

N: I don’t know. I would say that I wish people would be more trusting but at the same time, that’s not good advice.

I don’t really know what to do with this besides just be like, huh. I really thought that it didn’t occur to men that women were afraid. But that isn’t the case. As N said, he thinks about it every single time he sees a woman alone at night.

So I guess that in most situations, there are two people walking alone at night. One is afraid, the other is afraid that he’s making the other one afraid. It’s kind of funny but mostly sad, right?

Now here’s a little blogging homework (if you don’t mind feeding my curiosity). Ask a man in your life these questions. Report back here and leave a comment with his answers. How do they feel? Is there anything they do to try to make women less afraid? And women, what could a man do in this situation to make you less afraid?

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  • If I asked my husband that question he would give me the side eye. Not kidding.

    That aside, this post brings to mind a blog post by someone in the BlogHer network regarding…well, it’s a completely different topic that I don’t want to mention on here. But let’s just say it’s related to what’s happening in Ferguson and how men of a different race react around women of a different race. How they’re taught to hunch a little, make no eye contact, or refrain from boarding the same elevator of a woman that’s of a different race. It’s a little related, but I think gender + race play a much bigger part than just gender alone.

    • I agree with Lisette–race plays a big part in it. I’m wary of encountering any man when I’m by myself, but I’m automatically more wary of men of different races. Not because I dislike people of other races in any way, but because I have no idea what their racial feelings towards me might be. I think it always makes the situation a little more volatile, especially since racial hate crimes have been on the rise.

      • This is always an interesting discussion to have. My boyfriend is a large black man and fits the general description of most of the muggings in our diverse college area (which is always something like 5’9″-6’2″ 175-250lb black man with a white tshirt). He has told me of a couple incidents where he has had multiple people cross the street when they see him, start walking closer to their friends, and locking their doors at a stoplight where he was waiting to cross the street. It was always sad to hear stories like that because I’m sure I’ve done similar things, but maybe a little less blatant than crossing the street. He knew that people were a little intimidated by him so he made sure to appear friendly and keep distances from people so they wouldn’t be scared.

        I think these safety issues are always going to be a fear for women and we just have to make sure we’re being as safe as possible (no music, no talking on cell phones, being alert, etc).

        ps. I read that if you look into the faces of people coming on, then you’ll be less likely to be mugged. The theory behind this is that the mugger would decide that you have seen their face too much and could ID them so they decide to pass over you.

  • I asked my husband and he said pretty much the same thing. He’s aware that the woman/girl he is passing is probably nervous. I asked him what he would do about it and he said, “probably nothing but maybe say hello.” When I told him why I was asking and how a woman’s first instinct when seeing a man walking by/in their direction is to be nervous, he said, “you should be.” And like N said, that is kind of sad to think about because most people are truly good but we are bombarded with horrible new stories to the contrary on a daily basis.

  • My boyfriend wasn’t too helpful. He said he doesn’t worry that he scares women. He said “Nah, I don’t think I appear threatening.” Maybe it’s because he’s 5’6?
    And when asked if he ever notices if a woman is afraid of him walking by at night, he said, “I don’t really pay attention. If anything I’m also looking for creepy people, especially if I see a woman alone at night; I look around for them, for her.”

  • My ex tried to make me feel crazy for not wanting to walk by myself at night…he said its a safe area. Sorry I grew up in LA where you just don’t ever go anywhere by yourself…especially at night! It’s a bad idea and I think it’s smart to have some sort of alertness on your surroundings when you’re out walking so you can avoid a bad situation.

  • I think michael would respond similarly. It’s so insane that it’s 2014 and it still has to feel like this!

  • This is actually really interesting this way around, to be honest I’ve never really considered how men feel in that situation. There really is nothing that they can do.

  • Very interesting! I guess I hadn’t really thought about it from the guy’s perspective. It must suck to be automatically not trusted.

  • It’s very interesting to hear a guys perspective, I think I need to ask my honey tonight!

  • This is really interesting! I also thought most men never thought about it. My boyfriend probably never did before, just because he’s usually driving if he’s out late at night, but I think now he has a new awareness of this kind of thing because I always complain about it!

  • I cannot contribute as I am living alone (and people outside speak Portuguese which I do not 😀 ) but it left me sad. See, how is not trusting anyone going to save you from being hurt? Really. So I wonder where we are going as people, when this is what we want to teach our children.

  • Interesting post, I never thought about it that way, either!

    Also, as a side note unrelated to this post I will be getting you my Fantasy Football money tomorrow! 🙂

  • This is so true but I agree with N – if he smiled or said hi I would be more scared!

  • ahh this is so interesting! i def feel nervous when i’m alone at night or walking somewhere strange but never thought about what the guy might be thinking. will need to ask jarrod!

  • I just asked my husband and he said exactly what N said. He also said that one time he was wearing a hoodie walking home in the winter and there was a girl walking near him that he knew but she couldn’t see him. She got on the phone to pretend to talk and when he got closer to her he tapped her on the shoulder and took off his hoodie to show her she didn’t need to be scared. She stopped and slooooowly turned around and then saw him and said “oh thank God it’s you I was so scared I thought you were going to mug me.”

  • This is really interesting perspective hearing it from a guy. It’s true though, there really is no easy solution to making the situation less, well, tense.

    -Steph
    http://www.iolablog.com/

  • Living in the South (and Memphis, the 2nd worst city in the nation for crime) for almost 3 years now, I’ve had to really adjust to that “southern hospitality”. I’m a yankee girl, born and raised – so when a man is overly friendly, day or night, I get very tense and defensive. But MOST men down here are being quite genuine when they’re talking to you/being nice to you.
    I still keep my defenses up around strange men, because you never know

    I know my male friends probably feel the same way N does, and I’ll be sure to ask them!

  • I asked John if he ever worries about making women nervous or scared and he said, “Only if they happen to be going the same way as me, but that is with people in general”.
    Then I asked if he tries to do anything to help ease their mind and he said, “I try and walk slower if I think about it, or make it obvious that I’m not trying to follow them”.

  • Nice perspective! I took a nonfiction writing class in college and remember a male classmate writing an essay that mentioned this topic. He had been walking home at night and there was a girl a few yards in front of him who stopped to pull out her keys and unlock a gate. He didn’t want to startle her as he passed so he stuck both hands deep in his pockets, focused his eye contact on the ground and veered to the edge of the sidewalk, giving her a wide berth as they passed each other. He also announced his presence like a runner, “on your left.”

    The essay wasn’t actually about that moment, he just mentioned it in passing, but it’s the piece that stuck with me. Up until that point, I had never really thought about how dudes must feel when that happens.

    I like that N crosses the street when he can. When I’m walking home by myself at night and see guys do that, I always really appreciate it. So on behalf of all the women who don’t get a chance to thank him: thank you!

  • This is such an interesting topic; I’ve never given the guy’s perceptive any though at all! I had to ask my boyfriend of course, and he answered that he usually slows down if he sees that he’s going in the same direction as the woman in front of him. I would say that slowing down or crossing the street are the best options 🙂

  • I’ve never really considered the male perspective on this subject. If a guy speaks to me in any ways when I’m walking alone at night, I immediately become somewhat more scared – even if he doesn’t say anything particularly scary or threatening. Maybe it’s because I feel like he’s trying to catch me off guard or lower my shields by engaging with me. It makes me trust him less, which is sad. If a guy tried to smile, it may come off a creepy, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m not sure what males could do to make me feel more safe/less scared in situations like that. It always helps when I see the male engaging in something else while walking, like talking on the phone or listening to music with both ear buds. It makes me think he’s more interested in something else, besides possibly chasing me down in a deserted parking lot, but maybe that’s just me.

    Thanks for the interesting dialogue on this subject!

    xoxo

  • Emily Crane

    I absolutely LOVE that this is being talked about! I don’t think there is anything that a man can do to make the female he is walking behind or near more comfortable. The big issues are the gender stereotypes and expectations that we are continuing to enforce ourselves and that we pass on to our children. When a boy can wear a dress because it makes him fee beautiful, when a teenage girl doesn’t need to worry about getting verbally harassed by the older men she walks by because it’s the summertime and she’s in a dress, when men aren’t expected to be the bread winner and act aggressively, and when women aren’t expected to be all things. We have to teach our girls that a man doesn’t act a certain way. Teach our boys that no means no. And that turned a little bit into a feminist rant, sorry about that.

    I love your blog, though. And I might love you a bit more, now that I know you enjoy Doctor Who. And see a framed Harry Potter wand! A girl after my own heart!

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