Judging from the number of men who make it their duty to inform women to smile in public, greeting the world with anything less than a beaming grin is downright rude. Yet a viral Twitter thread about why women might seem "cold" to men they don't know shows how quickly seemingly innocent encounters can go wrong. When a short conversation with a stranger can end with someone hustling across the street, taking a roundabout route home in case the stranger followed her, it's no wonder many women choose not to engage in passing conversation. What's more important: to make small talk with some man you may never see again, or to stay safe?
On Jan. 4, Lily Evans took to Twitter to describe a frightening experience she had with a stranger while out walking her dog. (Bustle has reached out to Evans for comment and will update if we hear back.) Rather than brushing it off as a one-time thing, she saw it as an example of the reason women may come across as rude in public. "Why some women are 'rude' or 'cold' or 'standoffish' to men in public: a thread," she began.
What followed is, unfortunately, a familiar experience for many women. While she was walking her dog, she stopped to snap a photo of the sunset. As she paused, a man on a nearby bench fed her dog a cracker and struck up a conversation.
"I hate making small talk but, well, he had been very nice to offer my dog a treat, so I mentioned the nice weather," she tweeted. "He asked if I lived in the area."
For Evans, that was red flag number one. "Now, as a woman, I don't like that question," she said, noting that he could have easily figured out she lived nearby from the fact that she was walking her dog. She made her excuses and went on her merry way — but that wasn't the end of the conversation.
She stopped again further down the road and heard his voice again. The stranger pestered her about where she lived, asking if she was on the way home and whether she had any family in the area. He said he had seen her walking around before, even though she had never noticed him, suggesting he had been keeping an eye on her. He even asked if she lived alone.
With a few short questions, the conversation went from uncomfortable to scary.
Before Evans could cross the street to get away from him, he grabbed her in a bear hug. "I was terrified he would squeeze tighter because I knew he could hurt me if he wanted," she tweeted.
When he finally let her go, she couldn't go straight home like she wanted. If he followed her once, he could do it again, so she took a roundabout way back, hoping to lose him.
She explained that the encounter's consequences reached far beyond that night. Now, she has to plan an alternate dog walking route to avoid him. "I gave him an inch and he took a mile," she said.
Evans says this isn't the first time she has been frightened or taken advantage of by someone who seemed perfectly harmless at first, but she still feels social pressure to continue going out of her way to be friendly to strangers.
That's why she tweeted about the encounter — she wanted to illustrate why a woman may not engage with a stranger. It may come across as unfriendly, but she's actually protecting herself.
She concluded, "So next time you wanna get butthurt about it... consider that if she is nice to a man who later turns creepy people will tell her she should have been more careful."
Sure enough, that's what happened to Evans herself. Her thread went viral, with more than 40,000 retweets, and while many people commiserated with her experience, others said she shouldn't have answered the man's questions.
However, many women chimed in with their own, similar experiences and applauded Evans for speaking out.
Unfortunately, street harassment, assault, and other forms of violence are a consideration in virtually every woman's daily life. Even when we travel with buddies, plan to avoid being out alone after dark, and check the many boxes involved in protecting ourselves, Evans' tweets show how quickly a situation can go downhill. In a perfect world, women could be as friendly as they wanted, and men would consider their actions more carefully. Until then, no woman should put politeness before her own safety.