Gut instinct

You know how sometimes people say a dog can sense if someone is a bad person, or someone to be afraid of? That’s not quite true. Dogs are pretty basic creatures.

But dogs can sense (actually, smell) fear, especially in their owners. People tend to downplay fear and ignore it, for all kinds of silly reasons. Mostly, it’s out of an overriding fear of looking stupid or being rude. A weird guy gets in the elevator with you, and you immediately want to get off. Your instincts are practically shoving you out the door.

But you don’t want to look RUDE! No, better to stay in the elevator with someone who skeeves you out. And our subconscious is brilliant at picking up things we might not consciously notice. Maybe the creepy guy on the elevator has a suspicious lump in his jacket pocket. Maybe it’s that he’s wearing a jacket at all, when it’s ninety degrees outside. We might not immediately recognize what’s wrong in a way we can categorize it, but our subconscious does, and it lets us know in a big way.

That’s what dogs sense. Dogs can’t even speak, but they aren’t stupid, and they don’t ignore their gut when it tells them something is wrong.

Nah, we do that. Sometimes this whole higher intelligence stuff gets in our way.

All the stories I tell on the blog are true. You know that, right? Usually I poke fun at my own stupidity, or I tell a funny dating story, or I talk about how some life event impacted me. This story involves my own stupidity, it’s definitely a dating story though it’s not funny, and it’s a life event that certainly made an impact. I only have like 30 blog followers, but if you know anyone in a situation like this, please feel free to forward this story on.

In my early twenties, I worked at a Waldenbooks part time, after my regular job at the brokerage firm. I didn’t really need the money, I’m just a workaholic, and I can’t possibly enjoy myself unless I’m working at something for 60 hours a week. (Hello, writing career.)

One Saturday, this clean cut blond guy came in. He was probably between 25 and 30. I’m not going to tell you his real name just in case there’s ever a chance he could trace me back through this blog, so we’ll call him Ed. He came to the register with some finance or real estate book and I did my little sales pitch for the book club, and he flirtatiously declined, and I flirtatiously pushed, and he finally said, “I only read about one book per year, so it wouldn’t be worth it to me.”

Flirt flirt, swipe the credit card, off he went.

An hour later, I took my lunch break. On my way to the food court, I saw him sitting on a bench in the middle of the mall, reading the book he’d just purchased.

All right, so you know how you sometimes have a moment and you know the stars are aligning? I knew, right then, that I was supposed to talk to this guy. I mean, why would he be sitting in my path? After we’d flirted like that! And he gave me the perfect line.

I walked up to him and said, “For a guy who only buys one book per year, you sure are in a rush to read it.”

He smiled and asked if he could join me for lunch.

He was good looking, clean cut, and charming. Of course I said yes.

We started dating. At the time I was also riding horses. Flipping OTTs if you speak “horse.” Basically, I’d buy cheap ex-racehorses, work with them for a few months, and sell them for a profit. I wasn’t making much of a profit because I was doing one horse at a time, but I told him about it, and he was completely behind it.

See, he had money. Legit money. Self-made, too. See, this guy knew how to work people.

He was completely behind the horse thing. He started working out a plan to buy horses, have me retrain them, and we’d sell them. Together.

Oh, didn’t I mention that on our first date, he brought up the topic of marriage?

Did you just read that sentence and have a little flare of warning in your head? Yeah, I was sitting across the table from him, and I experienced that same frigging flare. But I was stupid, because in the same sentence he was saying, “Horses! I’ll buy horses for you to ride!” and saying things like, “I really want to get married…” (pause for the meaningful look) “…to the right girl.”

This went on for a few weeks. He constantly showed up at the bookstore to see me. I thought this was adorable, until he showed up one night I wasn’t working. He called my apartment, “just to make sure I was there.”

Hello, flare.

He wanted to go out with me all the time. Like every night. Again, at the time, I thought it was adorable. I felt wanted. But really, he wanted to make sure I wasn’t seeing anyone else.

Here’s a touch of irony: at the time, I was good friends with the man who is now my husband. We’d chat on AOL at night. (Give me a break. This was like ten years ago.)

Ed hated that when he found out about it. Hated it. Insisted I end my friendship with Mike.


My dog hated him. I still have her. She’s about 11 years old now, and she’s a terrier mutt I got from the pound. She’s adorable and energetic and loves everyone.

Except him. The first time he walked into the apartment, after we’d been dating for a couple weeks, she did that dog thing where she dropped and snarled at him. Lifted lip, true growl, the whole show. Like I said, I’ve had her for over ten years, and I have never seen her react that way to anyone. Ever.


I ignored it. See, there’s this biological part of being a woman that seeks a man to take care of her. Be as feminist as you want, there’s something inside all of us that cries out for money, strength, and control in a man. We want to be taken care of. We do. It’s nature. That does NOT mean we can’t take care of ourselves. It means we want a man to come along and prove he’s strong enough to shoulder some of the load.

Some guys do this admirably. My husband springs to mind.

Some guys think control and strength and money mean they get to play dictator. It doesn’t, but it’s hard for women to sort this out at first.

Finally, I visited Ed’s apartment. We’d been dating about three weeks, so this wasn’t a lengthy relationship. He said, “I really think I need to tell you something.”

Flare. I don’t think I was even surprised at this point. I knew something had to be coming. I was expecting him to reveal he was married, or he was older than he’d said, or maybe that he didn’t have the money he said he did.

He said, “I spent seven years in a Federal prison.”

You find me someone else who’s heard those words from a guy on a date, and we’ll go out for cocktails.

Now, I work in the financial industry. I know there are a lot of non-violent crimes that can land you behind bars. When he said he was convicted when he was in college, I started thinking, “Okay, maybe it was totally white-collar crime. Maybe he swiped money while he was on an internship. Maybe he stole some corporate checks during his first job. Maybe it was some stupid youthful mistake that he genuinely regrets.”

I’m telling you, this guy did not scream “prison inmate.” He didn’t even whisper it. He was completely white-bread. You know that term WASP? His picture could show up next to the definition.

So of course I asked him what he did. It wasn’t murder, but it was bad.* Bad enough that I knew I shouldn’t be on a date with this guy.

Flare. Come on, how could I ignore this one?

I did. I went out with him again. But now my instincts wouldn’t shut up. I kept fidgeting, even though we were in a public place. All day, leading up to our date, I told people about him. I asked their opinion. Everyone told me I was nuts. How could they not? Really, I was probably subconsciously letting people know where I would be, and asking for external validation of what I was feeling. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I’d been stupid, so I needed a dozen people to hammer it into my head.

I didn’t tell him at dinner. I waited and told him over the phone, later. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with it, and I couldn’t see him.

Then he started calling. All the time. One night I was on the internet (this was when it was dial-up), and when I finally turned off the computer, the phone immediately rang. It was him. I barely said hello, and he was screaming in my ear, insisting I’d been cheating on him with someone I met on the internet, saying he’d been calling for hours and had gotten a busy signal, yelling, hollering, you name it.

I hung up on him.

The next day, the bookstore called me and told me not to come in. They said he’d been sitting on the bench in front of the bookstore all day, and that he was waiting for me. I called the police, and they said he was in a public place, just sitting there, so they couldn’t do anything.

I missed three days of work at the bookstore because of this.

In retrospect, I’m glad he didn’t know where my day job was, because he probably would have showed up there.

That Friday, my best friend Erin spent the night. I’d gone 24 hours without a phone call, and we were planning on going to the Horse World Expo the next day. We got a bottle of wine and prepared to have a nice evening.

Then he started calling. He’d call, I’d answer, and he’d hang up. Then he’d call again. I’d answer, he’d hang up. I stopped answering. He kept calling. Again, and again, and again.

Now, I lived in a locked building, but I was on the ground floor. So someone could walk right up to my back door, which was sliding glass, and take a baseball bat to it to get into my apartment.

Luckily, he started with the buzzer. Laying on it, so it was this long, loud piercing sound in my apartment.

Yeah, you read that right. He showed up where I lived.

Erin and I had shared a bottle of wine, but we weren’t too blitzed to miss that this meant trouble. I called 911.

Okay, here can be the funny part of this blog. Since the guy was laying on the buzzer, my dog was going ballistic. As I said, she’s a terrier mutt. She barely weighs 20 pounds soaking wet. But she’s got a deep bark, and when I was on the phone with the 911 operator, the woman said, “Ma’am, do you have a way to confine that animal?” And the way she said it, I knew she was thinking I had some 100 pound pit bull or something.

Yes, my badass Josie dog.

Anyway, the cops came, he ran, and that was it. He called the next morning and Erin answered the phone, and told him I was out. He laughed and said she was a bad liar.

We snuck out of the apartment, looking for his car. When it looked safe, we got in my car, and left.

As soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, his car pulled out right behind us. I drove straight to the police station. He didn’t follow me into the lot.

And I never heard from him again.

This could have gone a lot differently. I’m glad I went through it, because I’ve learned to trust my instincts about people. I’ve learned to believe in myself, and not think it’s okay for some man to control my life, just because I want a man who’s in control of himself.

The best book I can recommend for every woman to read is The Gift of Fear. I cannot speak highly enough of this book. It’s well written and an entertaining read, first of all. It’s not some boring tripe about women’s self defense. It will teach you a lot about yourself, and about men, and about violence and manipulation. Every woman should read it. Every woman.

As an added bonus, this is one of my favorite books for writers. If you want some solid insight into criminals and why they act the way they do, (i.e., if you want some fodder for designing fantastic villains), this is the book for you.

* I’m not telling you what he did because I don’t want there to be any chance of someone knowing him and letting him find me through this blog. If I know you personally, you can ask me, and I’ll tell you.

3 thoughts on “Gut instinct

  1. Wow! You are so brave. I don’t know that I would have ever gone back to the apartment. I totally agree with you about trusting your instincts. You gave me that book a while ago and I read part of it, but it freaked me out. I will definitely revisit it though. I think we have such an important job as parents to teach our girls to trust themselves. Sorry that you had to feel threatened, but proud that you stood up for yourself!

  2. Nice story!
    There was one boy in high school who gave me the willies. My mom thought he was wonderful, and, at the time, I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that scared me about him. It was only as an adult that I realized he was trying to control me with phone calls and driving by my house and walking with me to every class (until I started taking different routes). Fortunately, I only went on one date with him and don’t know the rest of the story.
    Scary stuff for you. Glad he gave up when he did.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys! Sorry for the delay — blogger wasn’t sending me emails for some reason. I’m always amazed to hear other people’s scary date stories. I love that people keep sharing them, especially nowadays, when kids need to hear these kinds of things.

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