When Friendliness Is Seen As Creepy, We All Lose

Photo: innovatedcaptures, SolStock | Canva 
Woman feeling creeped out by neighbor waving to her

The other day, I had a frank conversation with my friend Sam* about the local bar scene as of late. Sam had stopped using Tinder as a result of the fact that he was literally getting zero bites on the app  —  and that’s actually the norm these days.

I mean, Tinder’s literally over 80 percent male. He’s looking for a lady. It’s not a good place to go if you are a man looking for a woman. (If you’re a woman looking for a bad time, it’s great, though. I’ve seen the mess.)

Sam decided to go to a bar to try his luck. Though he’s incredibly kind and decent-looking, he got no bites. People didn’t even want to talk to him. He did, however, feel bad and drink a bit. He turned to me and asked if he was doing something wrong.

I thought about it and realized something. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve actually had a man approach me at a bar. In fact, I thought back to that weird yacht party I went to where no one spoke to me despite how friendly I was.

It felt so isolating and wrong. And that made me realize something. It never really hit me until now, but there is a growing stigma around being friendly to strangers.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Start A Conversation With Literally Anyone

Have you ever had a moment where you wondered why things were so messed up, only to realize that you weren’t behaving the way people expected you to behave? I’m known for being aggressively friendly  —  and I always knew that was a bit weird for some.

What I did not realize is how unusual it’s become to actually meet people who are friendly without any ulterior motives these days.

This is especially true if you’re male or older. To a point, it makes sense:

1. The internet has made it harder for people to trust others. 

Yes, I know I tell people to vet dates hard, but I also tell people to actually go out and meet others. A lot of people no longer trust the guy at the bar because they read one too many stories about being roofied. This means that the person who recognizes you from an online group and greets you in person might come off as a stalker, rather than a friendly person.

2. Society now assumes that being friendly is a sign of desperation or trying to find someone to sleep with. 

While it’s true that a lot of the time it can be about intimacy, it’s not always about intimacy. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, you know what I mean? Unfortunately, reaching out to others with a friendship offer is often seen as a sign that you’re desperate or low-status.

3. The isolation of the pandemic made a very large portion of the population uncomfortable with talking to people face-to-face. 

This is the crux of the issue. We, as a society, have forgotten what it’s like to talk to people in a non-professional environment. As a result, a lot of people panic when they’re approached at random. They actually feel like they have to plan it out, or they simply don’t know how to react anymore.

4. All the “stranger danger” left its mark on society. 

We all had the phrase “don’t talk to strangers” embedded in us. So, why are we shocked when talking to strangers becomes weird?

It gets even worse when you’re trying to actually spark some romance with someone. No, like, really. Can we actually blame men for being hesitant to talk to women outside of a dating app? I don’t think so.

RELATED: How To Make Friends As An Adult, According To 22 Experts

Here are some of the hurdles a typical guy faces when talking to women:

1. Society also sees flirting in public as a sign of desperation or creepiness. 

I mean, not all the time, but it’s common enough that it’s actually hard for me to remember the last time I was flirted with. I can’t blame people for saying that dating is becoming impossible.

2. The number of places where people can even meet new people is shrinking.

I can’t name how often women have said that they shouldn’t be approached at the gym, the club, the bar or anywhere else. I’ve even just tried to strike up a conversation at clubs only to get a weird look from some groups. Exactly where, then, can you approach people without running the risk of being called a creep? Third places, also known as common ground places, are shrinking. Eventually, there won’t be any appropriate places to meet new dates left.

3. Men, in particular, are terrified of getting told they’re harassing women if they try to befriend them at work.

This is a legit fear and I honestly think it’s warranted. It only takes one trigger-happy woman to ruin a man’s career.

I’m lucky because I belong to several groups of hyper-social people, but not everyone fares well in a club setting or in nightlife. Most people also haven’t worked in an industry where sleeping with your coworkers is the norm. 



Though actually trying to chat people up is growing stigmatized, our society is one that yearns for connection.

I don’t think that I need to explain how lonely our society generally is. I’m lucky because I literally hang out with a minimum of six to eight people per week  —  and that’s just in person. Part of that is my aggressively friendly attitude, and part of it is belonging to extremely tight-knit communities.

Most people don’t have that.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans don’t interact with anyone at least once a week. Oh, and of the people who spend a crazy amount of time online, 62 percent would prefer in-person meetups. Imagine that.

I don’t think people realize how lonely we’ve become. Sixty-one percent of young Americans say they feel serious loneliness on a regular basis. (The overall percentage, per that same study, is 36 percent of all Americans.)

RELATED: 4 Smart Psychological Tricks To Make Someone Feel Instantly Connected To You

Despite all of us yearning for people around us, we have managed to kludge together a bunch of social norms that isolate us. It’s gotten to the point that friendly gestures are often misconstrued as creepy, especially when it’s male-to-female.

We’re in a jail of our own making. 

The funny thing about the way society has worked itself up is that it doesn’t have to be this way  —  at all. We’re all lonely, and the tool to end that is to start going out and actually talking to people. 

The key to ending loneliness is to start exchanging numbers, giving people a chance to show they’re cool and to start hanging out as friends. It’s really that simple, even though it could take work to start doing again. 

It does not behoove us to side-eye everyone who actually takes an interest in conversation. Being alone can keep people safe, sure, but it also can take away from what makes life enjoyable: memories. 

In a weird way, chatting up others has turned into a rebellion that I’m not sure people have even discussed. I mean, it takes bravery to actually say “hello” in a society that’s as closed off as America’s.

I never thought I’d see the day when being counterculture could just mean talking to everyone you see as if they’re your new best friend, but here we are. Maybe it’s time we rethink what we stigmatize and start talking to others again. 

RELATED: The 7 Types Of Loneliness (And Why It Matters)

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others. 

This article was originally published at Ossiana Tepfenhart. Reprinted with permission from the author.