Yes, you can tell that creep you’re married

If you’re a female travelling alone, cat-calling and unwanted attention is pretty well guaranteed.

I mean, cat-calling is a part of everyday life. But it’s a little more unnerving when you’re in a strange country and unfamiliar with the territory.

I’ve gotten pretty adept at tuning out unwanted attention. I usually just ignore the person and be on my merry way. Often I look like a greasebag anyway, and admittedly it’s often part of the plan to deflect unwanted attention. But sometimes, sometimes those scumbags are persistent. Sometimes a person’s unwanted advances makes your heart race, and your palms sweat, and you kinda just wanna scrub your skin down with boiling water to feel clean again.

That happened a LOT in Italy. I’d rather not speculate on why Italy was creepier than most other destinations I’ve been to, but it was definitely one of the worst.

I read an article awhile back about how women shouldn’t lie to men about being married to deflect unwanted attention — we should firmly say “no” and make it clear that we’re not interested. Sometimes people have trouble with rejection. The fascinating and infuriating “Bye Felipe” Instagram account chronicles this issue quite well.

And yeah, I get the logic behind this “I’m not interested” thing. But sometimes it just won’t work. Actually, most of the time it just won’t work. I know, because I keep fucking trying.

That article’s been on my mind a lot when I travel. (Ironically, I can’t find it anywhere at the moment.) I always try to mentally talk myself into standing firm and resolute against unwanted attention. To be honest, I’ve felt a little ashamed to to otherwise. I’ve felt like it was my obligation.


It was May in Cinque Terre, and my evening in Vernazza had ended a little late. My friend Sal and I had dinner and then parted aways, but we were headed in different directions. I still had a 45-minute wait.

“You go,” I told her. We had been hiking all day, and there was plenty of people around anyway.

With her gone, I lingered around the one-room station and checked the schedule a second time. I was bleary eyed and tired. I realized a guy had walked up behind me — I was looking at the schedule on the board for a few minutes.

“Where you going?” he asked. He was a slight Italian dude who seemed harmless enough.

“Oh, Levanto,” I said. “Just waiting for my train.” I didn’t mind disclosing this info — Levanto is a big town.

“Ah! Come have a drink!” he said, and clapped his hands together.

The entire street was well-lit and busy. People were hanging out all over the place — seated at the sidewalk tables, or strolling through streets. For some reason, I assumed he had friends and was inviting me to join them. I’m honestly still not sure why I thought this, except that he motioned to a busy area with a group of people gathered around a table.

“Sure!” I said. I was excited to meet a friendly local. He told me he owns a bar in the next town over, and sure enough, he seemed to know the bartenders in Vernazza quite well. He ordered us two drinks, and I kept my eyes on the pint. So then we went to awkwardly sit outside as the bar started closing down.

I had been hiking a gruel route all day long. I could feel the salt spray from the sea layered on my face. I was wearing sweat pants, and my hair was a mess. There was nothing attractive or attention-drawing about me. (Although I suppose the yoga pants make my butt look great. Fair play.)

(Look at me making all kinds of justifications.)

He immediately asked me where my boyfriend was and why I was alone. It was like an accusatory thing — why would your boyfriend let you out of the house alone? I said that I often travel alone, but there’s a friend staying in Cinque Terre with me.

Dude’s gaze had the intensity of the sun, and like a true ginger, I burned underneath it. I tried to ask him questions about his bar and his life in Cinque Terre, but he didn’t want to answer those. If I hadn’t been so freaked out, I would have been amused by his persistence — I was literally twice his size.

“Look into my eyes,” he said. “I can tell you want to kiss me. I can see in your eyes that you want to kiss me.”

No, you shit biscuit. This is the look of pure terror.  

The questions never let up and I still had 30 minutes before my train arrived. He placed a hand on my knee. I pushed it off. “Come on!” he said. “I’m not interested!” I said.

But he would not. Stop. Pushing.

I finally gave up. “I’m recently divorced,” I said. “That’s why I’m here. I don’t want to get involved with anyone.”

It was like a lightbulb going off in his head. He kept persisting anyway, but it became more reluctant. And I could feel the shame spreading through my body like a disease; I was half mortified I had to lie about an unlikely marriage, and half devastated that I’m just a piece of meat otherwise.

He walked me back to the train station and I handed him the glass of beer. “Just finish it and leave it here on the bench,” he said. The disappointment was radiating from him; I can almost reach out and touch it. He disappeared into the night and I placed the beer on the ground next to the bench.

The train ride home felt longer than usual and when I stepped off the platform into Levanto, I wanted to sob. I think I did sob, actually, much to the surprise of the hotel security guard who let me in. In my hotel room I locked the door and all the windows and sat on the floor and looked at my laptop and wondered how to articulate such shame and embarrassment over breaking that girl code and also being treated like meat. Not long before that I had been on a disastrous date with a pushy Greek man who wouldn’t take no for an answer. So you’re disrespected if you say no, and you’re disrespected if you say yes. Sleep didn’t come easy that night.

So yes, wear your fake wedding rings and tell men you’re married if it means you’re safer. There are no rules in this game. 

  • September 27 2016

    Bought a fake wedding ring for 25 cents in Ecuador 10 years ago. I have not taken it off since, in the last few years I even paid $13 to have it fixed. It’s become part of my identity. Just a little something my friends and family know the story behind but the random observer at a bar/mall/bus stop assumes I’m married.
    Now I actually am spoken for/though no closer to actually married than I was ten years ago. My 25 cent ring is much cheaper than an actual wedding and my relationship means no less. Bonus more money for more travel!
    It was worth every penny not to have to tell men (between ages 7 and 70) a dozen times that I was not married but they still could not have my phone number.

    • September 28 2016

      Hahaha. I’ve never tried the fake wedding ring thing, but now I’m curious to try it out. Like a sort of experiment.

  • September 27 2016

    I’ve had my share of creeps. Don’t let it get you down. Next time try a line like ‘I killed my last boyfriend but I just got let on on early parole.’ And see if they run. Otherwise invent a buff boyfriend named Bruno who is the jealous type! Good luck!

  • September 28 2016

    That is a sad fact about Italy. I had a few incidents where I was harassed and followed when I visited the country several years ago. I’ve had no desire to go back since.

    • September 28 2016

      Oh, that is AWFUL. :( I think I’d still go back. At the end of my trip, I had a really great experience with an Italian guy who showed me around Capri. So, it’s not all bad.

  • September 28 2016

    Hi Candy,

    I have had similar experiences, and sadly, it has happened in different countries around the world. When I was in high school, I was walking home and wearing a large sweater and loose jeans, and a guy pulls up in his car and asks for a blow job. I was shocked and my immediate response was to laughingly say no. He looked disgusted and sped away, and I was left feeling a bit gross. I grew up in Chicago, and went to college in LA, and I started getting cat calls from the age of twelve. Usually, I could ignore it and keep going, but I grew up learning to be aware, to make sure I knew where to go to be safe, and to hold onto my house keys, one key between two knuckles, when walking alone, just in case.
    In Ireland, I was at a dance club with friends, having a great time, and a man from Africa started dancing with me. Afterwards, he asked for my number, and I thought, ok, no harm done. It turned out to be a big mistake, he kept calling, and getting aggressive in the phone, and once I spotted him in the street and hit behind my friend so he wouldn’t see me.
    In India, I was walking alone, and a young boy started walking beside me, and then said bluntly, Will you have sex with me? Again, my immediate response was laughing out an incredulous, No! But he kept walking beside me. Luckily, I wasn’t far from the house I was visiting. But when I left, I soon discovered that he was following me, and I took shelter in the shop before crossing the rice fields, and called my friends, who came quickly. The boy, once he saw me go into the shop, hid behind some trees and peeked out a few times. My friends walked me back to where I was staying.
    In Greece, while walking in a park in Athens, I was again followed and approached by a man.
    In India, again, at a train station in Delhi, a man from Africa came up and read my train ticket and asked if I was alone. Inside, I was praying for some help, and luckily was saved by an American flight attendant on holiday who stepped in to say I was her sister.
    I am sorry for your experience in Italy, and I read this article because I will soon be traveling to Italy for stint in teaching English. A woman I know from Spain has also warned me about Italian men.
    I have been traveling on my own for nearly ten years, and have faced a few close calls. Sometimes, it was another who intervened. Sometimes, my shaved head saved me. Luckily,I have not had to face a physical altercation. Men who travel alone do not face the same attention, and do not see it. I know of friends who also traveled to India, and each time, the man in the pair did not understand the woman’s fear. That fear hit me quickly, when the boy bringing my bag to my first hotel room casually laid his hand on my boob. All I could think was, just get him out. So I said Thank you, Goodnight, and locked the door, put my knife under my pillow, and didn’t sleep a wink. I knew I had to keep moving until I felt safe somewhere.
    It is sad that violence against women is permitted in most parts of the world, at least culturally. It is generally accepted that it happens, and it is sad, but men are men. I was warned with a story about a woman who was raped in the bathroom of a flight filled mostly with Middle Eastern men, and nothing happened to help her. And in India, you were never to get into a shared jeep unless there were other women in it.
    Anyway, thank you for the article. And I am glad you are okay, and have shared your story. It is not the fault of any woman for a man to be persistent and disrespectful. We are human, and that is the ground we should meet on.

    • October 05 2016

      Aimee, reading about your experiences had me in tears this morning. I’m glad that at least in North America we can openly discuss what happens to us on the road. I’ve had a few other scary incidents, including a taxi driver in Berlin who wouldn’t let me get out of the car, but as you’ve pointed out in your comments, I’m grateful there are usually people who will step in. (I love that the flight attendant did!) Also, kudos for not letting it hold you back.

  • September 29 2016

    Yep, Italy. Mostly love it, but often hate it for the harassment. I was once in Naples with a friend (also a tall white girl …. we literally towered over the average man on the street) and it was so bad on the fairly short walk from the train station to our hotel that we refused to set foot outside again that night to find food. The next day, we sprinted to the train to go to Pompeii, stayed there until the very last train back to Naples, and again locked ourselves in the hotel that night. There’s a limit to how much discomfort I can stomach in the name of making a point and trying to convince the world to be the way it COULD be rather than the way it IS, and Naples crossed the line. Also, now when I get the inevitable question on if I’ve ever traveled to a place that I hated, I have an answer!

    • October 05 2016

      Ugh, that’s awful! It’s weird that Italy doesn’t get talked about more for its harassment issues. Although my experience in Naples was entirely different, and it ended up being one of my favourite cities. Life is weird.

  • October 24 2016

    I feel like all those articles about how women “should” respond to harassment or aggression from men are a load of bullshit, frankly!

    Any man who is aggressive or persistent like that believes that he has the right to behave that way, and doesn’t view women as an equal human being, whose preferences need to be valued and respected. He won’t suddenly develop respect and awareness of boundaries because the woman he’s hitting on insists that she’s simply not interested.

    If simply saying “I’m not interested, thanks” works to dissuade a man who is asking you out, he probably would never be aggressive, rude or scary in the first place. Women should do whatever is necessary to be/feel safe and to prevent their experiences and travel from being disrupted as well.

    As a side note, I find that acting like a “crazy woman” tends to help sometimes as well.

    • October 25 2016

      That’s SUCH a good point, haha. I agree entirely.

      I’m not sure how well I can pull off the crazy girl thing. I haaaaaate drawing attention to myself, although I suppose I would if necessary.

  • March 02 2018

    I dont know how many times I told guys I have a boyfriend and they answer “He dont have to know about this” or ” I can be your boyfriend in this country”.
    Maybe telling them Im married will work better.

    The worst men are without doubt the arabic men.
    Jossus Travelpics recently posted…Missoni keeps me warm

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