I’m in the gym today doing deadlifts. If you don’t know what a deadlift is, I’ll describe. Imagine the bar — the same one we bench press with — on the floor, with weight plates on it. The exercise is like lifting a dead body off the ground; I think that’s where the name comes from. Many lifting experts call the deadlift the best total-body strength exercise a person can do. Once I learned proper technique and saw/felt the effects of deadlifting, I’ve loved it. The testosterone rush that comes with lifting using every muscle in your whole body is addictive.
I lift heavy (meaning, I put a lot of weight on the bar, not to mean a high number of actual repetitions) when I do deadlifts, which matters in that I take ample time — 5-10 minutes — between sets. I stretch and do some core exercises between my sets, all right there at the squat rack.
Today, some guy who I don’t know was doing his own stuff about 25 feet away from me. Big deal; there are a lot of people in the gym every day. Thing was, this guy seemed to be angling for my attention, and I wasn’t comfortable with his methods.
If you lift weights regularly, you’re familiar with how you may “walk-off” your sets. Explained simply, when you finish a set of an exercise, lifting or not, your body taxed, blood rushing and maybe out of breath, you walk away from where you were doing your movement to gather yourself, catch your breath and allow blood flow to return to all extremities, turn and walk back to the spot, ready for your next set. This is a perfectly normal thing; I do it myself all the time.
Today, as I was between my deadlifting sets, the guy in question would finish his reps of whatever he was doing and do his walk-off directly towards me, all while looking directly at me.
I noticed this. Even when you’re not looking in a person’s direction, you can feel when that person is looking at you — especially if the look is paired with physically moving towards you. Our lizard brain’s sensitivity to this has kept us alive for a long time. Still, I ignored this guy the first 2-3 times he did it. Seemingly emboldened by my ignoring him, each one of his walk-offs crept closer and closer to me. The fourth time, he was about 8 feet away from me, again staring.
I returned his look with a clearly unfriendly what-the-fuck-are-you-looking-at glare. He immediately averted his gaze and walked back to his stuff.
I finished my deadlift set and went to another part of the gym, where I see the same guy again as I’m walking by, staring at me. I walk past and ignore him.
I finished my workout and left the gym. But thinking of what had happened in there, I didn’t feel quite right about how it all went.
For one, I think this guy was gay. His attire, mannerisms, body shape (he was lifting as if he knew what he was doing, but had no muscle definition) and just his general energy all said “gay” to me, or one of the most feminine straight guys I’d ever encountered. I don’t have any problem with the LGBTQ community, but I’m not a member. If he was gay, his walk-over-and-stare activity reminds me of what I’ve seen too many thirsty heterosexual men do to females in lieu of actually, you know, speaking (more on this in a moment).
Another thing, the most important thing: This guy’s actions, intentional or not, had disturbed me.
Let’s say this gym gentleman had been super-masculine. Big muscles, Basketball-player attire, stern, aggressive body language. Let’s say THAT person was doing the exact same thing. How would I have felt about that? I would feel threatened and challenged, and would have prepared myself for a direct and possibly physical confrontation. Why, because his nonverbal communication was indicating that’s what he wanted. The only difference today was that this man had much more soft and feminine energy.
This made me think about women’s plight. I’m from a lower-middle class all-Black neighborhood, and have spent half my life hanging around athletes. Athletes and Black Guys— especially athletes who are black guys— have a reputation for being aggressive in going after women, even non-verbally. That’s kind of scary to think about.
I’ve seen men do things to get a female’s attention that went far beyond creepy or innocent catcalls. I’ve seen men get right in a woman’s face and stare at her without speaking. I’ve seen guys sit intimately close to a woman — again, without words — to get attention. And I see men stare women down from across the room all the time. It makes me wonder how a woman can go through her day, knowing she’s going to deal with this no matter where she goes as long as men are anywhere present.
I’m glad I’m not female.
Standing outside the gym, I felt like I’d avoided the situation instead of addressing this guy. And I don’t avoid things. There was a clear conflict between my actions, and my self-image. That is what made me uncomfortable.
So I had two choices, as we all do when this conflict exists.
- Create a new story about myself: I can brush things off that bother me and forget about them. It wasn’t a big deal, Dre. He didn’t do anything to you, just looked at you. Maybe he thought he knew you from somewhere. You don’t have to be Mr. Bold Macho-Man about everything. Learn to let things go! There’s just as much strength in that too.
- Take action that aligned with my self-image: Go back into the gym, find the guy, and make it clear that what he was doing — even if by accident — wasn’t acceptable.
I went back in the gym.
I found the perpetrator. I got his attention quickly and stepped really close to him. Why so close? So that 1) no one else heard the exchange, and 2) to invade his personal space — subtly communicating that this is not a friendly approach. Watch a movie where there’s a one-on-one verbal altercation and you’ll see this all the time.
I let him know that I didn’t know if he was gay — but that I’m not. So his habit — of walking off his sets so close to me, coupled with the staring — was not OK and he would be wise to not have it happen again.
He did what any passive-aggressive person does — got the dumb “Who, Me???” look on his face and played innocent. He stammered out something about not knowing what I was talking about and he was just walking between his sets… or something like that. I don’t know exactly because I cut him off.
“Listen,” I said, “I don’t know if you’re gay, and I don’t have a problem with it if you are, but the way you were walking up on me and looking at me — I’m not that guy. Don’t walk up on me like that.
“Am I making myself clear?”
He tried explaining himself again; I interrupted.
“Am I making myself clear?”
He agreed that I was. I left the gym. Then I wrote this.
Here’s what I want you to take from this.
In my experience, one of the biggest problems people have — a large source of unhappiness, frustration, disappointment and anger — is a failure to address things that need to be addressed. Whether it’s a pay raise at work, lack of communication in a relationship, or a possibly-gay guy staring at you too much in the gym, our unwillingness to just address things directly makes us weak, fearful and even more susceptible to the next time it happens.
The root cause of this problem? Fear. Look at my story. Where could I have been fearful? Fear of looking like an over-aggressive person who takes exception to every little thing (this is the #1 tool of the confronted passive-aggressor. If you can’t tell, passive-aggressors are pussies to me— especially when they have a penis). Fear of the possibility that the person I’m addressing — or a associate of that person — being just as aggressive as me and maybe kicking my ass in the middle of the gym. Fear of people avoiding me in the future because I’m the don’t-look-at-me guy at the gym. If we actually did 10% the things that we don’t do out of fear, our lives would change quickly and drastically.
When people know you’re the type to allow stuff to go on and not do/say anything, they will not only keep doing it, but they’ll use it (or the threat of “it”) against you. Fear is the most powerful way to control any living thing.
Most of the stuff you avoid and/or are afraid of are not the threat you see them as. From experience I know: most people avoid direct (possible) conflict like the bubonic plague. Your willingness to use it moves people out of your way in immaculate ways.
The next (first?) time you DO address something that needs it, you’ll experience a rush of energy that’s part boldness, part confidence, and part relief from the pent up energy you’ve been holding in.
Everything you leave unsaid and undone eats away at you from the inside. Can you read people’s’ minds? Neither can anyone read yours, so speak you mind. And anything you don’t do, will probably never be done.