The phone rang minutes after we got into her apartment. A couple of messages already awaited her on her answering machine, and the girl — I'll call "Amanda" — let out a deep sigh.
"What, do you have a stalker?" I said glibly, not expecting her answer.
"Yes, and he just keeps calling me," she said.
Amanda alluded to mounting difficulties with an ex-boyfriend who seemed unable to accept the fact that their relationship was finished. She also intimated that there might have been police activity.
Amanda and the stalker had not been together long, mayb a few weeks or months. I never pried. I wanted to convey an image of strength and support, but we were not meant to be.
My brief spell with Amanda lasted only two weeks. She said that she was too confused to get into a relationship with me or anybody else at the time. This encounter was years ago, but to my amazement, she was not the only woman I've met battling stalker issues.
A Serious Crime
Stalking is serious business. Nearly every state has some kind of law against its various forms, and there is even such a thing as Internet stalking. It's all tantamount to harassment and closely tied to domestic abuse.
It has also created a cottage industry of made-for-TV movies.
We've all seen those shows in which some unstable guy refuses to take "no" for an answer, whether with an ex-wife or simply a woman he met at the mall. There's also that famous mantra we've heard from some of these nuts: "If I can't have her, nobody will."
Believe me, I am not making light of domestic abuse or stalking. There is no excuse for doing anyone physical and/or mental harm. While nobody ever wants to be rejected, some guys obviously have a difficult time coming to terms with it. Some just do not get the picture. Rejection is a big part of life and a huge part of dating — so get used to it, dudes.
Every time a stalker does something crazy or tragic and ends up on the front page of the paper or on the evening news, it raises red flags in every woman's mind: "Is this seemingly nice guy also a stalker?"
Last year, I met a great girl I'll call "Nat."
We exchanged pleasant e-mail messages, and had a nice conversation. I understand safety concerns, especially with blind dates; however, unless you're actually set up by friends or family, just about every date is a blind date. You don't really know that person other than what your instincts tell you.
Nat and I met at a restaurant not far from where she lived. She was deliberately vague about her residence because she and her roommate had recently moved there in the middle of the night.
Nat's roommate, you see, had a restraining order against a guy she went out with once or twice. The guy was calling and spending time hanging out outside of their apartment, peering into their windows at all times of the day and night.
After he tried to break in, they picked up and relocated.
Nat was understandably concerned; perhaps I could be another one of those types.
And then there's my friend "Viv," who described how a longtime male friend turned obsessive after they briefly became "more than friends."
When their relationship fizzled, he called her 25 times a day (at home and at work), and became verbally abusive. Then, he stopped eating.
Viv's parents eventually intervened, contacting the stalker's own parents and threatening to call the police. He finally left her alone.
More recently, at a Jewish singles event, I talked with a woman who had a daughter at "a Pennsylvania college."
"Oh, Penn State or U. Penn?" I asked.
"I can't tell you. I'm an honest person, but there is a guy here who I've had trouble with," she said, "and I can't reveal information like that."
I was not going to start stalking this woman or her daughter. We were only talking!
These stalkers make it tough for normal, well-adjusted guys to gain the trust of women. At least I can offer enough of a public paper trail to prove that I have not been arrested, and am really who I say I am.
A Bit of Wisdom
And even though I'm not an advice columnist, I feel confident in offering the following helpful hints to both genders.
Ladies: Perfunctory background checks may help you protect yourself, and if there's "paper out" on a guy, then you should probably stay away from him. Should you hire a private investigator for background checks on every guy you meet? No.
But ask intelligent questions and pay attention to the answers. Follow your instincts. And you probably shouldn't meet a guy you don't know very well in front of your home or place of work. There is no reason to risk sharing too much too soon, perhaps putting yourself in a dangerous situation.
Cellular phones and free e-mail services that can be closed or changed in a moment's notice offer some level of insulation. But please keep in mind that not every guy who shows a persistent interest in you and remembers details about you is a stalker.
Gentlemen: Try to remember what they taught you at freshman orientation at college: "No means no!"Not every woman who makes eye contact with you at a party or grocery store wants to be your next girlfriend. So when a woman rejects you, take the hint and let it go.
After all, there are plenty of other women out there to blow you off.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.