It's tough navigating this world of ours, what with all the ways it's possible to create awkward situations, and all the things that can go wrong socially. Think along the lines of networking, dating, or simply interacting with coworkers and friends — there are so many moments where it's possible to come off as creepy, without even realizing it, or to make someone uncomfortable completely by accident.
And believe it or not, experts say this is likely to happen during moments where someone is trying to be kind since, weirdly enough, kindness and creepiness can so easily overlap. "Every culture has its social norms and right or wrong, they establish what is typical and what is not, as well as what is OK and what is not," clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, host of The Web radio show, tells Bustle. "Go against the norms and it's possible to run the risk of having an interaction — which may be genuine, heartfelt, and sincere — be very misinterpreted and seen as creepy, rude, or inconsiderate."
Of course, it's important to remember that not everyone reacts to situations the same way, and that by accidentally making a person uncomfortable, someone isn't automatically a creepy person — situations can typically be resolved by openly discussing what went wrong, and moving forward from it. That being said, we've all been there, which is why it's important to keep in mind how some comments and situations — however kind they may seem — may come off as a creepy. That way, we can all be more aware during our social interactions, and thus less likely to create awkward or uncomfortable moments. Here are a few gestures experts say can come off as creepy, as well as what to do instead.
1Oversharing Personal Information
In a world where sharing everything and anything online is encouraged, it can be difficult not to overshare IRL with friends, coworkers, and new acquaintances. And yet, so many people do, often as a way of getting conversations going, or connecting on a personal level. Of course it's totally OK to share what you feel comfortable sharing, but sharing too much too soon can come make other people uncomfortable in certain contexts.
"Sharing personal information with someone who hasn’t asked for it, can feel inappropriate," says Klapow. "Even asking if it's OK to share the information can feel creepy."
But this social mishap can be easily avoided by simply reading the room. "It’s important that one gauges how long, in what context, and how well does one know the person before offering personal or highly personal information," Klapow says. If it's a group of close friends, sharing is often OK. But if it's colleagues at a networking event, it may be better to hold off.
2Hugging Or Kissing As A Greeting
Plenty of folks appreciate a hug or a kiss as a greeting. But since these gestures can make others feel uncomfortable, it's often a good idea to avoid them until you know someone better.
"A hug, a kiss, a gentle non-sexual embrace can be a way of showing someone you care about them. But it depends on how long you've known them," Klapow says. "In our culture, a hug, a kiss, or an embrace are for closer relationships." Not for the workplace, or when meeting new friends, for example. "If you haven’t progressed from handshake, to hug then (in most cases) even if you have great intentions, don’t go for the kiss or embrace."
3Giving A Gift To Someone Right After Meeting Them
It's always a good idea to bring a small gift to parties and get-togethers. But random gift giving might make someone uncomfortable — especially when bringing someone a gift after only just meeting them, therapist Naphtali Roberts, LMFT tells Bustle.
"Let's say you met someone at [the bar or the park] and you have a great conversation with them," she says. "In that conversation they mention that they love XYZ. You really enjoyed the conversation with the person and hope/plan to see the individual again. So what do you do?" While some people might rush out and buy the object their new friend mentioned as a way of being kind, it's not always the best course of action.
"As much as gifts are kind and many people like them, giving a gift after knowing someone only a short time — just because you enjoyed them — [might not be received well]," Roberts says. It's much better to store the gift idea away for the future, once everyone gets to know each other a bit better.
4Giving A Gift That Seems Too Romantic
Similarly, certain types of gifts can cross the line into romantic territory, and that's not always appreciated. "Something as simple as flowers can send the wrong message," Klapow says. "A spring bouquet as a 'thank you' is a kind act; a dozen red roses [not so much]. A gift card to a mall is a kind act; a gift card to a jewelry store can be creepy." Again, it's just about reading the audience, and making sure that gifts are appropriate for the person it's being given to.
5Checking In On Someone Multiple Times
Lots of people check in on their friends, family, and partners as a way of showing their love. But calling or texting too often can actually come off as a overbearing, instead of sweet and caring.
"Calling/checking in with someone is nice, but doing it constantly throughout the day can be smothering" counselor Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT tells Bustle. "A simple, nice gesture is usually appreciated, but if a person overdoes it or does it excessively, then it becomes unwanted and intrusive."
If someone is sick, a quick check-in can be appreciated. Same goes for texting a friend in order to catch up, if you haven't talked to them in a couple of days. Calling every few hours, on the other hand, can violate healthy boundaries, and is a habit we should all avoid falling into.
6Showing Up To Events Unannounced
We've all had that moment where we get a party invite, forget to RSVP, and then decide to go to the event anyway. And while that can be OK with the right person — like a close friend or family member — forgetting to RSVP might mean showing up to a party where there's no more space, no seats at the table, etc. While not necessarily "creepy," it can cross certain boundaries.
The same is true for going to events without an invite. "If someone is ... throwing a party you heard about but were not invited to, it may make them uncomfortable," if you show up unannounced, says therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW. "Doing what you think is nice may not come off that way to others."
7Sending Unsolicited, Flirty Texts
Everyone loves to get a text, and know that someone's thinking about them. But it's so easy for it to go a bit too far — especially when the texter is trying to be cute or flirty.
"Texting or emailing something that reminds you of the person — [such as] sending a picture, meme, or joke — may come off as 'too much'," Hershenson says. In situations like these, it's always best to err on the side of caution, and save cutesy texts until a relationship is more established.
8Doling Out Compliments
Complimenting others can be a tricky thing, since it's not always easy to predict how the receiver will take it. Will they be offended? Will they be happy about it? It can be a tough call.
But what makes situations like these even more precarious, is how the compliment is said. For example, saying something like, "I love what you are doing with your hair," can be a nice compliment, Dave Popple PhD, president of Psynet Group, tells Bustle. Going into detail about why the person's hair looks great, can be a little uncomfortable.
While most people don't mean to be creepy, and are often just trying to be nice, it's important to keep in mind how comments like these might be misconstrued. Compliments that are brief and goodnatured will usually land best.
9Buying Someone A Drink
Buying someone a drink can be a kind gesture when done in the right atmosphere, such as on a date. But it can easily seem creepy in situations where there shouldn't be any romance, such as during a work meeting.
It also often puts the recipient in a tight spot. "It’s easy to assume that the giver will want something in return for their gift," therapist Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW tells Bustle. "When you don’t know the individual, it can become even more awkward because you don’t know [their] intentions and politely declining may put you in a bad situation." So when in doubt, don't buy the drink unless you are buying a round for a group.
10Touching Someone While Talking
Similarly to the hugging and kissing mentioned above, things can turn creepy real quick when unwanted touching is added to an everyday conversation. (Think along the lines of touching someone's leg whilst making a point, or putting an arm around them.)
But it can be even more subtle than that. "Many people use touch to get the attention of another individual. They’ll tap their shoulder or squeeze their arm," says Powell. "However, this gesture is usually without warning and can be alarming to an individual who did not expect it." It can also violate personal boundaries, or upset someone who isn't into touching, or who enjoys their space.
That's not to say, however, that warm gestures aren't always welcomed. But gestures like these should be saved for people who know each other, and are in comfortable environments.
11Taking Someone's Photo Without Their Permission
It's fine to snap photos at a party, or a wedding, or during a fun night out with friends. But be wary about taking photos of people you don't know as well. "It's nice and all, but it crosses a boundary," life coach and astrologer Joshua MacGuire tells Bustle. "You should at least ask if you can take a picture before snapping away like you're paparazzi." More than likely, the other person will be down to be in the photo. But if not, they'll at least appreciate having been asked.
We're all going to have awkward moments, and we're all going to mess up occasionally. And that's OK. But as long as we have good intentions, and take into account how our actions can affect others, we can seriously reduce the creepiness factor in the world, and help others to feel more comfortable.