Rachael Carter just wanted to sit in a theater and enjoy Avengers: Infinity War.
She went by herself, but she wasn't in the theater alone. She went to the Alamo Drafthouse in Lake Highlands on opening weekend, when Marvel's latest juggernaut made an estimated $640.9 million worldwide ($258.2 million in the U.S. alone) and broke the record for biggest opening weekend of all time. But one guy ruined the movie for Carter, according to a video she posted on Facebook.
The initial interaction could be considered innocent. Before the movie started the man, whom Carter did not know, sat next to her and told her she had a beautiful smile. Kind words, but they were accompanied by what Carter describes as "a hard lean into me." She says she smiled and acknowledged the compliment, then tried to ignore him, hoping he would take the hint.
He didn't. He repeatedly made advances, asked Carter where she lived and even tried to convince her to let him pay for her food. Eventually he left, but he returned halfway through the movie to continue the pursuit. Even after she told him she has a boyfriend, the stranger persisted, asking for her number and getting physically close until another man, whom Carter had requested help from previously, stood up to go find a manager. After the credits rolled on the movie, an Alamo Drafthouse security guard walked her to her car.
She told the story in a 12-minute Facebook Live video on Sunday, the morning after the incident, during which she candidly describes how anxious the ordeal made her. A representative from Alamo Drafthouse confirmed that the incident happened on Saturday evening. Carter praised the company's swift reaction to her predicament, which began after she subtly wrote a call for help on the meal order form the dine-in theater chain is known for using.
Y'all, we should be past this.
I wouldn't have thought anyone needed the reminder, "Don't talk to a woman while she's in a movie theater enjoying a film." It should be common sense, especially at Alamo Drafthouse, a theater chain known for being strict about things like talking during movies. But then, I thought the same thing about talking to women wearing headphones, yet we had to go over that lesson in 2016.
And because I know what the social media comments will look like: Yes, this guy's actions would still be wrong if the genders were reversed (or otherwise re-arranged). I don't know about you, but if someone kept trying to talk to me while I was watching Infinity War, I would not react kindly, whether they were hitting on me or not.
Here's the issue: While this is a societal problem, it's also a geek culture problem.
What happened to Carter could have happened anywhere, but it's significant that it happened at a showing of Infinity War. Harassment is far from a uniquely geek problem, but it is a problem we nerds need to address. Why else would we need so many signs at our conventions reminding people that "cosplay is not consent"?
Geeks -- and I'm one of them -- can be inclusive and welcoming, sometimes as a direct result of being excluded and not welcomed by other people in their lives. It's not hard to walk into a convention like the Dallas Comic Show and walk out with several new friends.
But the things that make us great can also be weaknesses. Growing up, I struggled to flirt with women. And yet, I knew better than to talk to a woman watching Avengers.
One of the problems is that I followed the video game rule of attraction. I subconsciously took bad lessons from games like Harvest Moon, which unintentionally rewarded me for being a stalker as I played. To convince a virtual woman to marry my virtual self and come live on my virtual farm with me, all I had to do was talk to her and give her a gift she liked every day. Nothing mattered but persistence, and as long as I was nice, patient and followed the right steps, I would win the girl. Many games with romance elements (including the wide variety of games focused solely on dating) fall into this same trap.
That's not how the real world of dating works, though. Here's the thing: Don't hit on somebody in a place where they can't reasonably get away from you, like during a movie or at their place of employment. Trapping somebody isn't a good way to start a relationship.
This isn't just about one guy
You can write off one isolated incident, but most women have stories like this. Many have several. More than a few, sadly, don't have pleasant endings. As Carter says in her video, "All women know those men exist."
"They're the guys [to whom] you can say 'no' five times in a row, in a public place, loudly, even when being polite, and they still constantly think that it's OK to talk to you," she says. "That it's OK to touch you and that it's OK to invade your space, even when you said no."
Some will try to rationalize this man's actions by saying, "Well, he was being nice, wasn't he?" that defense doesn't hold up over time. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and as corners of the internet like Reddit's r/niceguys forum consistently prove, people who claim to be "nice guys" often aren't. (And, let's be real, no truly nice guy talks to you during a movie.)
You might say that women in Carter's position should be more forceful with their denials, but not only does that often fail, it can also be dangerous. Some men respond to rejection with violence -- and some have even gone as far as to murder the woman who dismissed them. Nobody should ever have to worry that turning down a suitor will be the last thing they do.
Start 'em young
Carter ends her video with a reasonable request: "Parents, if you have sons, I know that y'all are probably already doing this, but teaching your son that rejection is an OK thing, and that rejection sucks but it's part of life, is great."
I'd take that a step further and apply it to anybody, regardless of gender. No matter who you are or who you're hitting on, know when to walk away.
Yes, some people are bad at reading body language. In that case, lean on actual language: If somebody tells you something like "I have a boyfriend" and repeatedly refuses to give you their phone number, repeated asking isn't going to change their mind. Just stop.
And for Thor's sake, don't talk to anybody when they're trying to watch Infinity War.