Monday, June 26, 2017

Stalkers and creeps: WHY?

Someone I used to be friends with has been stalking me on the Internet since 2009.

My friends sometimes ask me how the heck I end up with the weirdest people obsessed with me. I honestly do not know. But I have so many bizarre stories that one would almost have to think there's some Weirdo Magnet drawing people to me. Sadly, I'm not talking about the good kind of weirdo. 

  • I'm talking about people who do stuff like write me long meandering letters about how they wish I was their mom and how cruel I am to not have sex with men, with a 100+-page manifesto attached about the author's gender identity. 
  • Or people who harass me for years about how they don't like certain parts of my website, culminating in their construction of a parody website about me (using my photos), detailing my establishment of a utopia on an island whose population is only people shorter than me, where we all perform sex acts on each other and judge whose genitals win prizes. 
  • I have had someone create a user account just to review my book and advise others not to buy it because it's trash. 
  • I have had someone steal my writings and then "retaliate" when called out, creating a whole fake web network pretending to be people who were upset that I'd stolen content from THEM (because obviously that'll show ME to think twice before defending unauthorized use of my writing). 
  • I have had someone make a 10+-minute video about how disappointing it is that I, personally, am not a vegan. 
  • I had someone write me a bizarre series of disconnected messages about transgender people's surgeries being bad and violence in America being correlated with fewer churches existing, and when I asked him not to send me weird irrelevant things, he created a six-part video series about my rudeness and the likelihood that I am lying about my age.
  • I had someone message me repeatedly with prescriptive commentary on my lifestyle that was bizarrely off in left field, opining that I should wear a badge stating my negative perspective on romance so I could warn away prospective suitors and avoid breaking poor men's tender hearts, and that I should wear boys' jockstraps under my clothes because surely it would delight me to wear something unfeminine and repellent to men.
  • I had someone hack my website's guestbook and replace every piece of feedback, manually, with the phrase "You seem like a dirty little slut. Do you suck your daddys cock?"
  • I had someone create a shaming website about me because he thought it would be funny to punish an asexual activist by starting a damaging rumor. He unearthed my legal name from an interview I'd done (before I started using my name publicly in association with much on the Internet) and included it with accusations of my being a pedophile and encouraging people to find me in real life and harass me. (I had to get a lawyer for that one. Yes, I won.)

And plenty of other baffling interactions that I don't need to dredge up right now.

But this time, we're talking about this one.

My stalker since 2009.

I'm talking about this here and now because she is still harassing me. She still hasn't accepted that I told her years ago to leave me alone and stop contacting me. As recently as this week, she's posted "anonymous" comments on one of my webcomics--comments that sound like they were written by a grade-schooler, like "You'll never be as good as me you LIAR!" (This person is around my age. And has been capable of ordinary conversation in the past. So I don't know what happens to her when she flies into these rages, but she directs them at me with regularity and has been doing so for literally eight years.) 

The most recent comment responded to the webcomic's subject of day jobs by saying, sneeringly, that I am a liar who can't even KEEP a day job. You know, after I had the same job for over ten years and had to leave the position when the corporate office shut down our branch, and after I had no trouble finding another similar job. Obviously what's happening here is I can't keep a job. It's like, a bunch of weird reality-denying stabs in the dark trying to make me feel insecure or insulted over things that aren't applicable to me in any way. You might have similar success annoying someone by accusing them of being terrible at a craft they've never demonstrated any interest in, or snorting that they'll never be rich enough to own the smart phone they're holding in their hand.

In 2006, this person contacted me after, I guess, admiring some of my work on the Internet. We had a few pleasant conversations--she could write a competent sentence and communicate clearly, though the messages felt impersonal and sometimes the phrasing was a little tortured or stilted, typically with non-standard punctuation use. Then one day, she wrote me a message that was just like all the others, and when I didn't answer it within two hours, she wrote me a follow-up e-mail about how selfish and terrible I am for not even being willing to answer an e-mail. I had crossed her, she said, and was no longer her friend, and was a liar, and she wanted me to shut up and never speak to her again and by the way I'm blocked. Etc.


Eventually she apologized, and though she offered no real explanation for what she'd done, she did say she'd recently been in a car wreck and had gotten kind of scrambled from it. I was hesitant at accepting that, but she seemed sincere and promised me she'd never blow up on me like that again. I decided to resume communication with her and figured it was just one of those things, but I remained wary. We had a few more conversations, exchanged gifts at holiday time, and one time she even visited me when her family was vacationing in my state. I won't go into detail but that meeting was super awkward. She was really really nervous (or at least, she acted like she was) the entire time, and the communication for our meeting had gone awry because she'd said we were going to go have lunch someplace but then, inexplicably, she'd been dropped off at my house alone. I never figured out what that was about.

Fast forward to 2009 when she did the exact same thing she did in 2006. 

Sent me a message asking me for help with a writing question, I answered in decent detail, she followed up to ask another question and then sent a "never mind" because she'd changed her mind about what to write, and then . . . random curse-out e-mail. I'm selfish, I'm a liar, I'm a terrible writer anyways, I "can't even help a person," etc. I figured at that point this was a pattern, not a once-in-a-while thing, and I wasn't getting anything from this relationship that made me think putting up with unwarranted, random abuse would be worth it. When she crawled back to apologize, I basically told her I'd need to think about whether I could be friends with someone whose words I can't trust, and eventually after she wheedled and pestered and poked me despite my request for some time to think about it, I responded by telling her I can't be okay with how she communicates and I don't want contact with her anymore, though I was also sure to say I forgave her because she seemed really fixated on forgiveness. I didn't wish her ill, obviously. I just wanted her to leave me alone.

I also did a little research on her to see if she had any kind of dangerous history, and found another blogger who was randomly, inexplicably harassed by my same stalker. She was receiving intermittent messages from her saying she was fat and ugly and deserved to die, and that her kids also deserved to die. Even if she'd never said anything bizarre and gross to me, I couldn't be friends with someone who periodically wished death on other people.

But she didn't stop. She sent multiple apology postcards and e-mails online. She'd forward her own e-mails to me as if I just didn't receive them the first time. She commented on my LiveJournal anonymously, asking me to contact her. She sent me a physical letter. She mailed me a gift (from Amazon, so I couldn't see who it was from and refuse the package), and she sent me her own wish list like I was going to reciprocate, and then I received a message purporting to be from her mom (but used her same stilted sentence structure and punctuation idiosyncrasies), scolding me to thank my stalker for the gift and be her friend again. She tried to call me on the phone. She sent me messages saying she was coming to my state again and needed to know what day she could come over and "make things right." Yikes. And here's the bizarre part: I also began to receive "anonymous" messages from her same IP address about how I was a shitty writer and a liar, and occasionally there'd be a message about how I needed to perform a sex act on one of my parents. (Not kidding.)

Every couple months or so, I'd get another form submission from "no one" criticizing my novel ideas and telling me to give up, telling me I'd never be published (and she continued to say that even after I had been published, but I guess she's decided it's all a lie), telling me she's a successful, published writer who is much better than me (who somehow still has the time and inclination to unceasingly dog me on the Internet bleating about my incompetence). The "anonymous" messages always took aim at my writing ability and called me a liar. Pretty much every time. They usually came like clockwork a couple weeks after I'd ignored another sappy apology e-mail, postcard, or Facebook friend request. (Yes, she tries to do that too.)

Here's an example of the apologetic e-mails she would send me:

I am writing to you with a truly sincere apology for being stupid. It was my fault, and it was out of line. I would never really hurt you, and I miss you terribly.
You are such a nice friend, really.

I wanted to you let you know that I am learning important lessons about kindness, and that's what motivated me to send you this email. I am really, honestly, truly sorry. This is sincerely from my heart, this time. It's been so long, and I want us to be friends, again.

You are sweet, a creative writer, loyal, and loving, like I am. We have a lot in common. I am still writing, too.

Another chance is what I request, here. I now know I can be kind, always. A good friendship isn't worth ruining and losing.

Please be kind yourself and give me another chance. You won't be disappointed. This is all from my heart. If not for me learning my lesson, you wouldn't be reading this now. Thank you so very much.

And then she'd follow it up with messages like this:

you are so stupid...i'm a MUCH better writer (not to mention PUBLISHED! which you will NEVER be!)

you are just mean and unfriendly, and you don't know a GOOD FRIEND when you have it!

go bl*w your ugly hag, stupid-ass DRUNK mom!

f you

(I was already published when she sent this.)

Another one:

Subject: hey stupid

just wanted to say...SHUT UP!!! you have no business deciding anything about anyone. i DO NOT have any SO-CALLED "bad-side" to me, unlike a stupid, brainless LIAR like you! go to hell, and get a real brain. of course, you'll eventually realize that i'm RIGHT. >:)

~a smarter, better, PUBLISHED writer since '98

I'm not sure what the "bad side" reference is. Surely she read something I wrote that had nothing to do with her and decided it was about her. It's weird that someone can have so little self-awareness, though--like, who sends someone a message about how they're a "stupid, brainless LIAR" and still insists they don't have a bad side to them? Like. Listen to yourself.

I've threatened to get a restraining order before. Once when I finally made a public post about what she was doing (still without revealing too much personally identifying information, like e-mail address or last name), she left me alone for about two years. But she started up again sort of recently and doesn't seem to care that I made that threat. I have since looked into it and it's sort of costly and especially difficult to get a restraining order on someone from another state. They're really designed to stop people from coming in physical proximity to you, though they also decree that the person can't have contact with you either. I don't think it would help much and it probably wouldn't be worth it to go through all that just to get some Internet weirdo to stop sending me incoherent, petty messages.

But I do have her personal information, ten years' worth of saved conversations, and an IP address and a phone number she called from, and a photograph of her that she asked me not to release publicly. (I have never done so. I promised not to and she seemed really super cagey about it.) But I have an awful lot of identifying information about her, and she knows I do--to the point that it doesn't make sense she'd behave like she's invincible when she very much does not want that information revealed. Why would you keep harassing someone if you depended on their compliance for your comfort and privacy? I mean, I realize I'm not dealing with someone who is behaving rationally, but the longest period of her leaving me alone did seem to come after I made it clear I'm not above connecting her publicly with the behavior she refuses to stop (while trying and failing to hide her identity). So I guess this is me doing it again.

I wanna finish up here by saying I think most of my harassers and stalkers over the years have been motivated by different stripes of one thing: Jealousy.

It sounds silly if you oversimplify it. "Oh, they're just bothering you 'cause they're jealous! Forget the haters! None of their criticism is valid!" Critique and commentary are actually very important to me. (Snotty comments about how someone else is ~a better writer~ and I'll never succeed don't read as valid critique to me, obviously.) But more and more, as I've pursued (and succeeded at) multiple disciplines, I find people standing around on the sidelines rolling their eyes and trying to shame me for caring about something. For being so ~lame~ as to put my efforts into something to the point that I get something out of it. For "having no life," somehow, even though my successes are evidence of my doing something pretty effective with my life. 

When you CARE about something, and you make a lot of stuff, and you get a lot of attention, there are always going to be people out there who react by feeling personally ashamed. But they can't be seen trying, because they know it's likely failure will be involved, and it's a lot easier and more satisfying to mock people who are trying (or have succeeded). If you can make their hard work and their payoff look like it doesn't matter, you don't have to feel bad for not having anything you love, or not being where you want to be in that discipline.

Ultimately this is self-destructive behavior. It's self-preservation to some degree--insulating oneself so someone else's success doesn't make them feel small and hopeless--but one thing I've seen in common from most of the people who harass me is that they pay a suspicious amount of attention to my work and activities for someone who wants me to shut up, and they demonstrate an inappropriate level of investment in targeting me personally. They sneer and condescend and badger, but if that behavior is meant to make THEM look superior, they've got it backwards. I document what my Internet jerks do because there's always a chance I'll need it later (or enjoy laughing at it), and I share stories about some of the worst ones, but . . . I don't do anything that compares to what they're doing.

I've done research on a couple of the dangerous ones, like the time I had to get a lawyer to stop someone from connecting my legal name with pedophilia just because he didn't like my work and thought it'd be a good way to hurt me. But I don't follow people whose behavior I don't like around on the Internet, or message them under fake names trying to connect with them, or comment on their websites, or harass them personally. I don't have time to stalk people like that, and I have no inclination whatsoever to do so. Probably mostly because if I don't like something someone does, I'll give them a bad book review or respond to them with a critical YouTube comment, and that's IT. I don't develop obsessive, personal beefs with people when I disagree with them, and I especially have no reason to get involved if their hideous crime is having different interests or different lifestyles. I can't even tell you how many times I've been harassed by people who target me because they think I should be more like them in some way that doesn't affect them at all. They expect me to hate them "back" or be diametrically opposed to what they stand for, but I'm basically sitting here like "uh . . . I'm good with live and let live. You do you, bro."

I don't know what the stalkers want from me or why they can't accept that I don't want to give it to them, but they really should concentrate on themselves and stop being pathetically obsessed with me. It doesn't do either of us any good.

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