She Won't Stop Pestering Him

Q: I'm 31, and a certain 21-year-old lady somehow got my personal number. She seems madly attracted to me. She started to send text messages telling me so. I tried to ignore it for some time, but when I got annoyed I got into a conversation with her to get her identity. She told me lots about herself, but when I investigated, I found out what she told me is false. Finally I got her identity and learned that she lives just a few blocks from me.

I certainly don't like her, and especially her attitude. My problem is she thinks she owns me and keeps sending me messages that seem to assume a relationship. I confronted her to tell her that I have no interest in her whatsoever, but she keeps doing the same thing. In a small town like ours it's so hard to hide from someone who's just around the block. I thought ignoring her messages might work, but I think she has a psychological problem and she's not stopping. No harm done so far, but I tend to expect the worst. This is bothering me in my work and social life. Any insights or professional advice? -- Mark

Dr. Susan: If this woman was more or less normal, and you absolutely never responded to her messages -- ever -- she would eventually get bored and give up. But what you've done is give her what's called "intermittent reinforcement." When we get rewarded now and then for something we're doing (like pushing the buttons on a slot machine), we develop this amazing tenacity. We tell ourselves: just one more try, just one more try, it worked before, just one more try. Now that you've engaged in conversations with this person, she'll keep trying to get more of your attention, exactly as you fear.

Which makes her a stalker. My advice: Stop ALL contact. I know it's hard in a small town but you can do it if you're determined. If two weeks or a month goes by and she's still pestering you, send one short message: Stop NOW or I'll be forced to get a restraining order. Don't engage in ANY conversation. And it wouldn't hurt to get some advice from your local police department.

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