Mean Emails from Strange Men

So I had an experience recently that has left me feeling pretty weird…

I used to be a writing tutor in undergrad and so, looking for a little extra work, I signed up for a tutoring website here in Ireland. It’s the sort of site where you make a profile and people get in touch with you if they’re interested in having you as a tutor. Things had been pretty quiet for while cause I hadn’t really fleshed out my profile, but then I got a message from this guy who wanted help with an essay he was writing.

We sent a couple messages back and forth and he said that he would like me as a tutor – we didn’t really seem to be on the same page about what my job really is (i.e. it seemed like he kind of wanted me to write things for him), but I figured we would clear things up when we met. He then went on to say that he wanted to meet the next day and called me to confirm that I was available. He then sent me an email saying he would like to meet at his apartment. I replied that I would rather meet at a coffee shop (because I feel weird meeting someone I don’t know in their home). He said that it wouldn’t really be possible because he only has a desktop, none of the cafes around have internet connection, and that public places are really distracting to him. He offered a local place to meet if I “insisted”, but it didn’t really seem like that be conducive to working, given his circumstances, and it struck as me a little weird that he was so hesitant to meet outside his apartment.

So, this is where I get weird – at first, I replied that we could meet at his apartment because it sounded like a coffee shop wasn’t plausible. But the more I thought about it, the weirder I felt about the whole thing. My gut just didn’t have a good feeling about this guy. There was something about our communication that made feel uneasy and I was already really stressing out about meeting with him. So, even though I know it was unprofessional, I canceled at the last minute. I sent him an email saying that I was so sorry, but that something had come up and I wouldn’t be able to tutor him anymore. I suggested he find another tutor on the website and apologized again. I didn’t mention anything about feeling uncomfortable about meeting him, I just said that I wasn’t able to do it.

He then sent me back an email saying that what I was doing to him was “absolutely unfair” and that he wasn’t a “human hunter”. He said that he had offered a public place to meet (which to be fair is true, although to me, it didn’t really feel like a genuine offer) and that he was left feeling very bad. He implied that I had essentially screwed him over for his papers and that he has had many other tutors from the website that have helped him without complaint.

So this is where I feel weird: did I do the right thing here? I have always been taught to go with my gut on things like this and, as a young woman, I feel like I’d rather be careful and risk being mean than not cautious enough and end up in trouble. At the end of the day, I don’t think we would have made a very good tutoring pair anyway given we had very different expectations of my job, but why am I left feeling so guilty about making someone feel bad who also made me feel deeply uncomfortable? How come in order to keep myself safe, I have to be on the receiving end of mean emails from men I don’t know, regardless of whether or not they had ill intentions?

Has anyone else dealt with this sort of thing? I’m genuinely curious if there’s anything I should have done differently or considered that I didn’t or if you would have done the same…


  • Catherine Curtis

    Maddie, the previous commenters were thorough and correct in their reponses, to which I say “Here! Here!” I just want to add that as someone who wants to be nice to everyone myself, I have learned that boundary-setting is a must. In this case it was possibly lifesaving for you. It was both your gut-feeling and your wisdom that informed your decision not to be manipulated into a dangerous situation. Our desire to be nice can be manipulated against us. I am grateful that you trusted yourself. Release yourself from feeling guilty.

    • Madeline Brady

      Hi Catherine,

      It is so hard to prioritize yourself sometimes, especially when you feel so compelled to be nice! You’re certainly right, though, that boundaries are key and this has definitely taught me to stick to my policies and trust my gut.

      I am definitely feeling so much better and have been completely overwhelmed by how much support I’ve felt the last few days. Guilt, officially released 🙂

      Thank you for your comments!


  • Kk

    Nah this dude is sketchy. He may not have actually been a predator but the fact that he responded the way he did says all you need to know. He’d be bad news to work with

  • Michele Santucci

    You ask if I’ve dealt with this sort of thing before. Yes. I have. I even taught a class called “Grooming the Ladies”, about predatory behavior by men who aim to victimize women. It’s my opinion that you successfully disengaged from and didn’t buy into the efforts of this person, to manipulate you into what was probably a dangerous situation.
    His behavior meets all the classic maneuvers:
    Set Up: – Can you help me? I need your help.
    Control: – But I need your help on MY terms. And if you don’t agree, then you’re being unreasonable. In this guys words,”absolutely unfair” .
    Manipulation: – You didn’t buy into the guilt and refused to comply, so he starts blaming you for his feelings and his situation. You “left him feeling very bad” and “screwed him over his papers”.
    And then he plays the most signature tactic of a predator:
    Assurance: – he explicitly addresses the fear by name: “I’m not a human hunter”. And in this case Maddie, I think that is exactly what he was. By explicitly addressing your fear, he hopes you’ll think, “Well if the guy is willing to mention my fear by name, and says that it is not the case, then he’s got to be ‘OK’.”
    Congratulations. You’ve successfully out-maneuvered a predator.
    That’s the ‘dark side’ view of the situation. The ‘bright side’ view would be that, he was just a loser of a guy, who doesn’t take responsibility for his own feelings, trying to get you to write his papers for him. It would have been a waste of your time, because you already identified that you two did not see eye-to-eye on your role. He would have kicked you out of his apartment without paying you because you didn’t finish the papers. =)
    You ask, “But why am I left feeling so guilty about making someone feel bad who also made me feel deeply uncomfortable? ” First off, you didn’t make him feel anything. People choose to feel what they feel. Don’t let others make you accountable for their feelings.
    Secondly, when someone asks YOU for help, and you express discomfort with any aspect of their request, the healthy and professional response to your concern would be an offer to do anything reasonable to make you feel comfortable, period.
    You Ask, “How come in order to keep myself safe, I have to be on the receiving end of mean emails from men I don’t know, regardless of whether or not they had ill intentions?”
    Because when you don’t buy into or comply with behavior by a man who wishes to manipulate you, he gets mad. And when he gets mad, he tries to blame you. Maddie, throughout my 50+ years of being a woman in a mans world, I have found that this happens, to some extent, throughout most aspects of life. In almost any circumstance. At work with colleagues. When shopping for a car. When getting an oil change. When negotiating for a new a/c system. When shooting at the range. It’s just that when women voice their discomfort about a situation, we are often told we are being ‘over sensitive’ or ‘paranoid’. Or we are ‘playing the victim’. Well guess what, World. That’s exactly what we are trying to avoid . . . . being a victim.

  • Anonymous

    As someone with a deep interest in your safety and well being I feel the need to respond here. This has nothing to do with “gut”. It is a plain and simple fact that to meet with someone you do not know (other than through the Internet) at a private place is just a bad idea (frankly for either a man or woman). You absolutely made the right decision.

    Perhaps your guilt is because you relented. Had you insisted on a public meeting and explained that following that perhaps you might, and I stress might here, feel comfortable pursuing working together would have fairer to both of you. Or better yet, when he said he wanted to meet at his apartment perhaps it would have been better to immediately say thank you however I am not comfortable meeting someone I have never met in a private place so please look for another tutor. Sometimes when we try to meet someone halfway it just turns out badly for everyone. This is my big take from working with horses — know your needs, be clear when you say this isn’t going to work for me, don’t try to ease the refusal by being wish you washy, and walk away.

    Lastly, if you need further proof you did the right thing, I think his uncontrolled response to your discomfort may be all the proof you need.

    • Madeline Brady

      Hi Kathy,

      I know we already chatted a little about this, but I think you’re so right about being wishy-washy in my initial refusal to meet. That felt like a huge part of my resulting guilt – that I didn’t completely make a decision about how I wanted to handle things. It made me feel like because I had initially said yes and then backed out that I did, somehow, owed him a meeting. I think a lot of that has to do with the politeness that is too often conditioned into women’s behavior – I did something rude and therefore needed to be polite in order to make up for it.

      All in all, though, I’m obviously glad that I didn’t go and this whole thing has turned into a really interesting point of discussion. Thank you for the comments!


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