Today as I was sitting under a tree at the Cité Universitaire (the student residence campus where I live in Paris), working on my computer, a man approached me. He asked me how I was doing, and I responded a bit hesitantly but politely, and he asked me if I lived at the Cité and what I was studying. When I told him “politiques publiques et études des femmes,” he asked, like everyone does here, “études des femmes?” Yes, études des femmes, I always repeat, and brace myself for the next response. “Alors tu est une femme très femme,” he said. You’re a very woman woman.

Ha ha, you’re so clever.

He told me he had just finished his doctorate. So you’re clearly too old for me, I thought, why are you creeping on me? I responded with polite interest and wished him une bonne journée, turning back to my computer. A friend of his passed by and he talked to him for a few minutes, then turned back to me to try to engage me in conversation again. “En tous cas,” he said, “ça m’a fait plaisir de te voir,” it gave me pleasure to see you, “j’espère qu’on se reverra,” I hope we’ll see each other again.

God, I hope not.

Here’s the thing. I want people to randomly approach me when I’m sitting outside and say hello. I want to get to know new people, and make friends with strangers. But when they’re male, I can never know if they’re just being friendly or if they’re hitting on me (and generally, I assume the latter, because it’s often the case). The same when I go out latin dancing, and a man I’ve been dancing with wants to keep dancing or talk to me for a while or asks for my number; I don’t know if they just want to get to know me because they enjoy dancing with me or if they want something more. And it’s because this “more” is often the motivation of men who choose to interact with me that I have to be on my guard, and I act cold; I want to be friendly, but I have to be suspicious. And I wish I didn’t have to be.

Men, when you talk to a woman just trying to be friendly and she isn’t friendly back, don’t assume she’s a bitch. She’s probably just been approached by too many men telling her that she’s pretty, asking for her number, or telling her that it gave them great pleasure to see her. She feels like a sex object much of the time, when sometimes she just wants to be seen as a regular human being.

Women, I’d love to hear if you’ve had similar experiences. Do you ever feel this way in public or in your interactions with men?