Dear Amy: I’m a middle-aged, white, gay man living in West Hollywood. I’d like your advice on the proper way to give a friendly acknowledgment to women as I pass them on the street.
I try to make eye contact and smile when I walk past people. However, I often find that women respond in a way that suggests they feel threatened by my attention. For example, they look down at the ground and walk faster.
I’m not physically imposing. In West Hollywood, in particular, I figured women would assume that I’m gay and just being polite, with no potentially dangerous sexual overtones.
Pretending not to see someone seems rude and disrespectful. If I were to ignore a black or Latino man on the street, I would expect them to think I was being racist. Aziz Ansari’s show “Master of None” included an episode where several women felt slighted when a man didn’t make eye contact and shake hands with them as he did with their male companions.
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I realize that I come from a position of relative safety and privilege that a random woman walking down the street alone might not enjoy.
What’s the proper way for me to politely acknowledge a woman that lets her know I’m just being friendly and have no malicious intent? I want polite human contact, but I’m tired of people treating me as though I’m a threat.
Dear Hollywood: Based on my (limited) experience hanging out in West Hollywood, if a stranger were to greet me on the street, I’d immediately think, “Wow! You must be new in town.” I don’t think of LA as a “howdy stranger,” kind of place.
You are overthinking this to an extreme degree. You assume that women don’t meet your gaze because they are afraid of you. You also assume that all women have working gaydar, making all gay men immediately identifiable; and also that gay men are universally nonthreatening because – according to your assumptions – (white) gay men never commit crimes of violence.
If this is a universally persistent issue with you, get a friend to test your street vibe (by walking with you), and dial it down, if necessary.
Aziz Ansari could no doubt make a great episode for his series from this one question (Aziz, call me?), but you shouldn’t create drama where there isn’t any.
If some women don’t return your friendly eye contact, it might be because they’re shy, rude or headed to an audition.
The answer is for you to be yourself, and to let others be themselves.
Dear Amy: I’m a 16-year-old guy and I go to a small private school. There is a girl that I feel really close to, but she is polyamory and cannot commit. This is affecting my life. I was already diagnosed with depression, but this is making it worse.
She sometimes acts like she loves me, but sometimes treats me like any other person. How can I tell if she wants to have a relationship with me or just use me as a “side guy” for when she is bored? I’m not sure. We have never hung out outside of school. I think we are both just too afraid to ask the other to hang out. I’m not sure how she feels about me.
Dear Confused: At 16, it is not unusual to be “polyamory” (loving more than one person). The teenage years are supposed to be a time of learning, experimentation and growth.
Relationships can be confusing, but the best way to try to sort things out is to communicate. You can ask, “Do you want to hang out some time?” and see how that goes. As you get to know one another better, you will be able to judge more accurately how she sees you.
I hope you will be brave, but please – always love yourself first. Knowing and loving yourself will bring out the best in you. Make sure to check in with your therapist to manage your depression.
Dear Amy: “Torn (Over) Letter” was worried about the contents of a letter his mother had given him with the instructions that he open it after her death. I agree with your advice to open it now in the presence of a therapist.
My mother had a very similar plan, which was interrupted by other circumstances, but I learned that she was intending to punish me from the grave. It was a very cruel and cowardly act, and it still hurts to this very day.
Dear Sad: I am very sorry.
Email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.