Miss Information

Men catcall me everywhere I go. How can I learn to trust anyone?

by Cait Robinson

Have a question? Email missinfo@nerve.com. Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.

Dear Miss Information,

I have an ongoing problem that's difficult to talk with about friends. I am in my early twenties and have been blessed (or cursed) with physical dimensions usually found on porn stars. I am quite aware that most people find me to be sexy and beautiful, but while this is my greatest weapon, it's also the weapon used most frequently against me. 

I started developing a womanly body when I was quite young, and because of this I started getting sexually harassed by adult men starting at the young age of eleven. This escalated as I came into my teen years and led to a traumatizing date rape before I had even had a real boyfriend. When I went to friends for advice, they explained to me that I was "too pretty," as if I'd somehow deserved it. Since then I've endured sexual harassment from many men, including my parents' (former) close friend who had watched me grow up. It's all starting to weigh down on me. 

Even though I dress far more conservatively than most girls my own age, I encounter extreme sexual harassment everywhere I go. It's hard for me to be vulnerable in relationships with potential boyfriends, because I'm so incredibly ashamed of how I've been treated. Among all the people I've dated, I feel I've only had one "nice" boyfriend, and I suspect that more than one of them were just using me to impress their friends. I've come a long way since the night I was raped — I actually enjoy and crave sex — but I don't know how to escape the constant attention I receive at work, walking down the street, outside my apartment complex, at a bar, at school, or anywhere else. 

I come from a nice family and have many wonderful friends, and I know that I deserve good things, but I can't seem to eliminate this cloud of shame that seems to follow me everywhere I go. I've been told not to "let it get to me" by most people, including my parents, and while that worked for a few years, it's no longer working. How can I heal from this?

— Bombshell

Dear Bombshell,

This situation sucks, profoundly. The worst part is that you draw a line between your own body and your sexual assault, effectively internalizing the "she was asking for it" lie. I know you don't see yourself as to blame per se, but you seem to see your build as part of the catalyst, which effectively pits you (smart, together, respectable) against your body ("asking for it").

Let's be clear on something: men can control themselves. Even if you're walking down the street naked, pouring Gatorade over your head and slowly shaking it off, "no" still means "no." Men respect this. Rapists do not. The problem is that it's hard to tell the wolves from the sheep. 

Seek therapy to work through your assault and trust issues with men, if you haven't already. These kinds of scars run deep. It should help to have someone outside of a romantic relationship to process things with.

Meanwhile, when you meet a man, how can you get a better sense of his character? You share an equal-and-opposite problem with the plain girls out there. Some of us may not be head-turning, so we cultivate other attributes: wit. Cooking ability. Clowning skills. We may not snare a vast number of men, but when one laughs at our "I am stuck in a wind tunnel!" mime routine, we know we've found a winner.

I suggest you do the same. A guy who's in it for the arm candy won't stick around for your impassioned twenty-minute speech on the sound design in Lilo and Stitch. If he isn't meeting you on intellectual and emotional levels, don't bother with him. If he pushes for sex or won't respect your boundaries or timetables, don't bother with him. If you're worried all of these standards will be impossible to clear, don't be. The boys will get tripped up, but the men will do just fine. 

I don't suggest you play games, but I do suggest you be highly discriminating. Your problems may be different, but ultimately you have to learn the same thing the rest of us have to: how to catch the losers early and hold tight to the worthwhile ones.

Dear Miss Information,

I've been out of my last (and only) relationship for three years now, and I'm still having trouble getting back in "the game." In the past three years I've been kissed once and been with a woman zero times. Unfortunately, I'm having those "special nights to myself" all too often.

For a while, I blamed it on my lack of confidence. I was stuck in a dead-end job, making minimal money. I wasn't happy with my weight and general attractiveness, and I will admit I still wasn't over my ex. Recently, things have changed for me. I've landed a job that I really like and am making good money; I've gotten back into my workout routine and have shed some weight; and I've gotten over my ex. My confidence is on the rise — I'm finally trying to get myself back out there. But I always seem to get stuck in the "friend zone." 

I have several female friends. Girls like me; I just don't know how to get them to like me in a relationship sort of way. I've even asked my female friends to put in a good word with some of their friends, but it doesn't matter where I meet these girls — the end result is still the same. I hang out with these girls, have a great time, and become friends with them while watching them fall for someone else.

Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places? Maybe I'm taking the wrong approach with every girl I've recently met?

— Gal Pal

Dear Gal Pal,

If one line in your letter can tip off where you're stumbling, it's this: "I've even asked my female friends to put a good word with some of their friends." If you're employing your friends as half-hearted cupids, you've already lost the battle. 

I'm assuming that even though you're recently confident, cute, and outgoing (well done on the big life changes, by the way!), you've still got the mental framework of the frump-ball. How could you not? If you spent three years in a less-than-ideal place, it'll take time to really own your new, better self. And that's fine. But don't keep the same meek attitude — and with it, the assumed readiness for rejection — that you may have had before. It will get you nowhere.

"Putting in a good word" is a passive, timid strategy. It makes you come across as a wet blanket, rather than a cool guy who could have any girl in here but just happens to choose you, you're welcome, girl. If you like a girl, don't be afraid to show it. Talk to her specifically all night. Ask if she'd like a refill on her drink. Laugh at her jokes and touch her arm. These are all universally recognized but low-stakes flirting signals; be confident enough to use them.

In short, believe in your own charm. Ladies don't want the guy passing them a note that says, "Do you like me? Circle Y/N." They want the guy who lets a mischievous smile ask the question.

Commentarium (55 Comments)

Dec 26 11 - 2:11am

LW1, I know Cait said it, but it cannot be emphasized enough: You need serious trauma therapy. If you've already started work, that's great; if not, I would give it serious, serious consideration. Unfortunately, shame, anxiety, and fear don't simply go away because we realize they're irrational. I don't disagree with Cait's advice, but I kind of wish she had given one of her "do you" speeches instead; it really sounds like you could use some time off from the business of looking at yourself through the eyes of men.

Dec 28 11 - 10:44pm

@nope Word. I should try to bottle those speeches so I can spray them at will. (Joke aside, valid point.)

Dec 26 11 - 3:08am

Seriously though, Lilo & Stitch is a masterpiece.

Dec 28 11 - 12:29pm
Alex Heigl


Dec 26 11 - 4:39am

Bombshell, your situation happened to the girl I am dating almost verbatim. The difference between me and every other guy was a few specific things that have already been covered.
1. I respected her boundaries and time lines for everything. This includes setting up future dates and actually asking her out the right way.
2. We both had standards we had, and both met each others standards. My favorite quote from her was "Why would anyone want to date someone that is average?"
This says 2 things. She knows she's above average in life/ability/looks/ambition. And she knows I am as well.
3. We connected intellectually and emotionally after the initial physical attraction.
So, you have to accept that guys thing you are hot. So be it. Now just set up some standards. Real men like Cait said, will be just fine. I waited 6 weeks to get my first date, and then she asked that night to be my GF. I knew I was awesome, so I was patient. If a guy knows he's the best thing you'll ever meet, then he will have patience. She calls herself a creeper magnet. Sounds like your problem. Just maintain clear and strong boundaries with people. Your cloud of shame is just that, yours. You can let it go whenever you want. Its not your fault they are average and can't handle themselves. You didn't choose to be good looking.

To GALPAL. I have a few suggestions- "The Game" by Neil Strauss. and "Way of the superior man" by David Deida. Read those, follow whatever they lead you into. There are many forms of social science. Research them all, take what you like, ignore the rest. Apply it and watch the women flock to you.

Dec 26 11 - 9:44am
Alan Coffee


Dec 26 11 - 10:24am

Absolutely do not read The Game by Neil Strauss, LW2. Not only is that book incredibly misogynistic, but all you will accomplish is generating an unhealthy complex regarding your confidence. The Game is not a form of social science; it is a Chick tract for sad men who only see women as an assemblage of holes. Cait's advice is perfectly fine. Don't bother with Neil Strauss.

Dec 26 11 - 10:44am
John Son

I watched The Game, it was an awesome flick, I don't have a clue what shit that fuckin' idiot mmm is mumbling about. None of that was in the movie, dipshit.

Dec 26 11 - 10:50am

Narc - nars - narcss - er, how do you spell narcissist again?

Dec 26 11 - 10:34pm
Only Average

...I wouldn't know :(

Dec 27 11 - 11:29am

I'm quite sure bob wouldn't know either.

Dec 27 11 - 2:34pm

Dude, I don't know who is also using KingPellinore for a name, but that guy up there isn't me. Shame, too, his comment was actually kind of funny.

Dec 27 11 - 2:44pm

Why are you telling me this?

Dec 27 11 - 4:45pm

I have no idea. I don't even know who that is.

Dec 27 11 - 5:29pm

By "that guy up there" did you mean... uh... me?

Cause I'd be pretty pissed about that, and I'd have to smite thee with some pretty powerful shit, KingPellinore.

Just sayin.

Dec 26 11 - 8:53am

Cait made an important point about bearing the burden of blame. You being hot, or being considered hot, did not lead to your rape - a really awful person doing a despicable thing to you is what led to your rape. Full stop, end of story. Being mistreated and violated that way does not begin with you. It is not your fault. Real men (and women) who find you hot will still respect you and treat you like the valued person you are. I hope you one day are able to embrace your attractiveness as something to celebrate, not something to fear. But Cait is on the money in advising you to put some energy into developing your other great qualities to flesh out your repertoire. Good luck, see a good therapist and don't ever agree to take the blame for some bastard's evil act.

Dec 26 11 - 1:32pm

For Bombshell, try online dating using carefully selected photos. You can focus on talking and getting to know each other first before meeting in person. You'll know he'll be there to meet the girl he likes and wants to date.

Dec 26 11 - 2:38pm

Nice piece of fiction. I don't ever hear anyone catacalling anyone anywhere ever anymore.

Dec 26 11 - 2:50pm

Hahaha... bullshit. I've been catcalled since I was 12 and I'm not particularly hot, either.

Dec 28 11 - 2:23am

ditto to "nope's" comment

Dec 28 11 - 11:23am

Right. "I'm not hot but for some reason all guys really dig me."

Same as: "I consider myself really hot but don't want to appear to be conceited so I'll say I'm not but add that guys love me."


Dec 28 11 - 12:23pm

No, it's just because catcalling isn't a great testament to hotness. It doesn't take much energy and I always get the impression it's more a way to assert power over women and show off for bodies simultaneously more than anything. A great testament to hotness would be whether hot guys are willing to date me and respect me, which in general they're not.

Dec 28 11 - 1:18pm
Alan Coffee

OK. Say you're right for a moment. I never see guys catcalling fat ugly chicks with short hair and glasses. (Excuse the political incorrectness.) As a guy, I would have to say, for myself only, catcalling is not a "power over women" ploy. And if I was catcalling a chick, I'd almost certainly be willing to date her - and respect her, if she respected herself. So... if you're sincere... I can only speculate that you're selling yourself short in a difficult marketplace. You're probably a lot hotter than you think you are if guys are catcalling you. $0.02

Dec 28 11 - 3:53pm

Skeevy. Catcalling isn't the same as trying to chat someone up at a bar. I don't care if you'd be willing to date and respect me; if you're yelling "HEY HOT BITCH SHOW ME YOUR TITS" at me on the street, I wouldn't be willing to date or respect you. It's not about making a genuine connection or showing attraction. It is absolutely about power. "fat ugly chicks with short hair and glasses" get harassed on the street as well, and it is just as degrading. Don't catcall girls, dude. Just don't.

Dec 28 11 - 7:59pm
Alan Coffee

Actually, you are correct. I looked up "catcall" and according to Wiktionary, it is "A shout or whistle expressing dislike, especially from a crowd or audience; a jeer, a boo."

In fact, I was unaware that the word suggested dislike - in fact, I thought it meant the opposite - like, or appreciation. E.g. "Ouch!" or a whistle of appreciation.

And just for the record, I don't catcall or whistle. I said "if". I now agree with you, in the accurate sense of the word, to catcall a chick is demeaning and cruel. My bad.

Dec 28 11 - 11:22pm
No biggie.

Glad to have had a good conversation about it! It's all about context. :)

Jan 29 12 - 10:25am

I hate this "I will respect her, if she respects herself" mentality. It's just another power play, a way of telling a woman that she must conform to your expectations of her if she wants to be respected. Or hell, even just to be herself. Which obviously she can't do if she's always having to live up to other peoples expectations. Respect should not be an "if:then" scenario. Alan Coffee, it takes two equals to make a relationship, not approver and approvee.

Dec 26 11 - 5:28pm

LW1: this confirms what I've always thought--even as a pretty teenager/20-something, the kind of attention I'd get from strange men would be "good morning, how are you today?" (seriously, this happened all the time--a smile and a "fine, thanks" would end the conversation). And all I ever met were sweet guys. Such is life with breasts so small I can't even fit an AA bra: one doesn't register on the sexual radar of assholes.

LW2: for what it's worth, I met a guy in your situation (except still overweight, badly dressed, and unemployed to boot), and proceeded to fall for him so hard I doubted my sanity. We just celebrated our 9th anniversary. Sometimes luck just happens. (Not sure if there's a lesson to be drawn between this and the above--maybe adjust your tastes to flat-chested women?)

Dec 26 11 - 6:19pm

Fuck, I LOVE small breasts!!!!

Dec 27 11 - 8:19am

Everyone on this site sits at the edge of their seat, waiting to hear the particular, excited sexual preferences of whatever stranger happens to amble into comments section. In fact, LiquidCourage, I'm sure all the ladies with a small rack will have an extra spring in their step today thanks to your bold, alternative vision for human sexuality.

They were just going to go home and cry into their pillow, but now that they know you like their breasts... well now they know their life has value.

Dec 27 11 - 10:43am

Goddam, I feel wonderful when I've done a good deed! Thanks!

Dec 28 11 - 2:26am

I have teeny-tiny breasts, yet have always gotten catcalled more than I wanted. I call shenanigans. It has to do with where you've been living or something.

Dec 28 11 - 11:25am

Damn, woman. Some guys just dig small breasts. Some dig big breasts. It would be a gross oversimplification to state that "all guys prefer huge breasts". It's a grey scale. Now - show me yours?

Dec 26 11 - 6:57pm

Pics of Bombshell or gtfo.

Dec 26 11 - 7:04pm

LW1, I'm so sorry that you've endured so much harassment in your life. Men can be entitled pigs. Don't blame yourself! I'm pretty, not stunning, and I get catcalled on the street and treated differently at work. My guy friends have disappointed me, too, by assuming that I'll date them. It's exhausting and demoralizing and it leaves me wondering if there are any good ones out there. Hang in there, sister. Don't lower your standards, keep strong. If a guy doesn't respect you, drop him immediately.

Dec 27 11 - 11:37am

Good lord almighty, what a pillow-biting diatribe. It stirs me to purchase spare boxes of kleenex and curl up with a Harlequin on a rainy afternoon. Ah, the tribulations of being physically beautiful... sniff, sniff...

Dec 29 11 - 10:38pm

hh, I'm sorry you don't feel more attractive yourself. But being harassed on the street is terrible. If you haven't experienced it firsthand, you can't know. You keep jumping in here and bitching about this issue, and it's unfair of you. I have been harassed, as has every single girlfriend I have. It is very much a power play--as is following and molestation, which are associated with catcalling. I've experienced it myself as have many of my friends, regardless of their physical type. Making women feel shameful for the way they look and 'make' men react is something too many men do. It's a sad and degrading experience. Instead of bitching at these comments, why don't you encourage other men to be more respectful towards us? Give a dirty look when you see it happen? Maybe even step in when that creepy guy tries to run his hand up my thigh on the train or whips his dick out at me? I've stepped in. It's not hard. And it's a better use of your time than making ignorant comments.

Jan 11 12 - 12:00am

@yeah: Excellent response. You are spot-on. This kind of shit DOES happen, it happens to beautiful and plain alike, and it's all the fuck about power.

Dec 26 11 - 8:18pm

I feel LW1's pain and frustrati0n. In my teens and 20s I was pretty, had large breasts, and was also naive and sheltered - a dangerous combination. I ended up in some bad situations with some predatory people. I was never raped, but came very close more than once and was only saved by dumb luck.

I would never presume to know what's best for you, but a few things helped me over time that might help you. First, I stopped blaming myself for other people's bad behavior. Often when something did happen, I beat myself up for "being stupid". This led to a lot of negative self-destructive behavior, which often landed me in even worse situations. Surely you have at least a few people in your life - whether relatives or mentors - who treat you in a respectful way. Look to them as proof that people ARE capable of self-control and decency, and the people who don't offer you these things made an independent choice not to do so. That frees you up from feeling responsible for other people's behavior, and allows you to take responsibility for the only thing you can control - your own reaction.

This focus on my own reaction was probably what got me through my 20s relatively undamaged. I was "fortunate" enough to land a really dangerous job when I was 23, a job that involved high stress levels, an angry population, and the constant threat of attack. When I returned to civilian life two years later, I noticed a subtle but vital change. I wasn't getting cat-called anymore, and men on the street treated me with cautious politeness rather than disrespect. I eventually realized the only change was my body language and demeanor. I was constantly on alert for threats, I was subconsciously sizing everybody up, and I didn't project vulnerability or self-doubt anymore - both huge and potentially deadly liabilities in the work I'd been doing.

I think what is making you afraid, at its root, isn't necessarily your "porn star dimensions" or the resulting cat calls; it's the fact that you were hurt, and you feel vulnerable now. There's NOTHING wrong with this reaction; it's natural when your defenses have been breached so gravely. But it isn't helping you. At the end of the day we're still animals, and people with predatory intentions aren't sizing up your body, but your level of fear and perceived vulnerability. Once you get to the root of your fear, you may find you have the ability to handle the negative attention or even dissuade it. This may involve getting cognitive therapy or counseling to deal with the residual emotional effects of your rape, or training in self defense (Krav Maga is awesome for street attack situations), and maybe even standing up to some of your cat-callers in a safe and controlled public environment. Again, I don't presume to tell you what's best for you, but getting my own fear under control and learning to project quiet strength and capability did WONDERS for me in my day-to-day life.

Dec 26 11 - 9:54pm

What does LW mean?

Dec 27 11 - 11:30pm

...I could comment on the post above this one. It's a fucking mile long, and has the text of a novel in it. Looks fucking boring as hell. Who would read all that shit?

Dec 26 11 - 10:14pm

"LetterWriter", I'd guess, in their own little clique "John Son" inside-joke way.

Dec 26 11 - 10:43pm

Eh, thanks anyways.

Dec 26 11 - 10:55pm

I am having hard time masturbating to Bombshell without an image, I will try harder now.

Dec 27 11 - 12:38pm
Better Advice

They both should try Nerve dating!!!

Dec 27 11 - 2:11pm

They should try dating each other!

Dec 27 11 - 5:01pm

Clever writers/advice columns but the comment sections on this entire site make me laugh so I hard I cry.

Dec 27 11 - 5:31pm

Laughter is healthy. I appreciate the feedback. :-)

Dec 27 11 - 11:32pm

Great advice and great article! I went into reading Bombshell's article thinking that I'd get an eye-roll and an oh please out of it, but I've gone through a lot of the issues she has, not necessarily because of my body, but because of my low self confidence. I let men take advantage of me and blamed myself. Like you suggested to Bombshell and Gal Pal, I've realized that my standards have been too low and I need to find someone who can live up to my standards and surpass being a boy to be a man. I've recently met and began dating a great guy because I showed a little more confidence and a lot more discretion.

Dec 28 11 - 3:21am
Mr. Man

I had a gf with an almost comically large chest. It was her preference to greatly downplay her figure by the way she dressed. Or at least for work and when seeking less attention or compliments. It's an option that is practical and doesn't mean you've sold any feminism away.

Dec 28 11 - 10:28pm

great advice to lw1. higher standards is what you need. you may be called a bitch but for some of us it's literally what we have to do to get men to leave us alone. and yes, men WILL try and take advantage of arrtactive girls, thinking they've done crazy things before, that they want it, or just as a trophy. it's pretty sickening.

Dec 29 11 - 10:25pm

Regarding LW1 and comments. Its not an issue of "oh poor me, I'm too pretty!" its about looking a certain way and getting oppressive amounts of unwanted and threatening attention from it. Years of catcalling, stalking, threats and several experiences with sexual violence have left me with a set of rules for minimizing getting messed with. Very modest clothing. Nothing tight or low cut. Minimal makeup. No going out alone at night. All this from a liberal feminist who hates, hates, hates this situation and wants to scream and cuss every time some creeper rolls along side me in his car as I'm walking down the street (in the middle of the day) and he gets to sling vulgar and humiliating crap at me until I find a store to duck into and wait him out. Because yelling back makes it much worse. For the guys reading this and are like, "I never see anyone catcalling, these crazy women must be making it up." Street harassment is opportunistic, they don't want a lot of witnesses, other than their bros they are trying to impress. There isn't much threat in a shouted "Hey girl!" but there is a lot of groping and intimidation that women are supposed to brush off because they weren't physically harmed. This may be a tl:dr but, my point is, there should not be a level of sexual harassment against women, men and especially transgender persons that is considered acceptable. No matter how pretty they might be.

Dec 31 11 - 1:08pm

I feel for ya, girl. A lot of people think that the exceptionally attractive types lead charmed lives, but this is a perfect example of the serious side of suck that can go along with it. It's definitely a major uphill climb to fight against the onslaught of objectification. I'd like to say that there's something you can do (besides living in a burqa) to make it end, but honestly, it's something that just cures itself gradually with age. If you're in your 20s, you might have a good decade to get through.

The good news is that you CAN get through it. Please stop being ashamed at the unfortunate treatment you've received. It's really not your fault that there are so many assholes in the world. You will probably want to talk to a professional about the effect it's had on you so far.

But even if you simply tell yourself, "that guy, what an asshole!" every time you receive a shitty remark, you'll be assigning the blame to the proper party-the asshole-not yourself. Remind yourself that you're a good person who unfortunately has to put up with assholes, and that you're doing THEM a favor by ignoring them instead of, say, pepper-spraying them in the eyeballs.

Even if you choose not to see a therapist, I highly recommend getting into a physical fitness program, especially one that teaches you strength and/or defense. The practice of becoming a more physically powerful individual (even if you never have to "use" it) is a fantastic antidote to the shame that comes from behavior you've experienced so far. It will help you redefine your perception of your body as something besides a sexual object and give you a way to appreciate what your body can do in a way that is timeless- because physical power doesn't have to have anything to do with youth or beauty or sexual allure. It has to do with our humanity at its core.

Note that I didn't give any advice in the "relating to men" department. Well, we're all flawed human beings, and I have a feeling that you're going to continue to notice that 95% of dudes will continue to make their flaws known to you with their established pant-entrance techniques of varying transparency. That's why my advice is to work on developing and appreciating your own capabilities so you can appreciate yourself and not define yourself (positively or negatively) from the reactions of other people.


This guy is trying to rely on the inherently-flawed "hang-out" technique that works so poorly because it serves as an expressway to the friend zone. Less confident guys try to pussy their way out of potential rejection by putting themselves in situations where they're just orbiting the opposite sex instead of interacting with them.

Quit "hanging out" with these girls and ask them on a fucking date. They can paint their toenails and watch Seth Rogen movies on DVD with their own girlfriends, they don't need you there. If they say no, well, consider it this way: 95% of girls who say no still think you're a swell guy, and may consider your application at a future date, because you've established romantic potential right off the bat. That will still give you better odds than breaking out of the "hang-out" induced friend zone.

Jan 03 12 - 9:53pm

About LW2:

"Putting in a good word" is a passive, timid strategy. It makes you come across as a wet blanket, rather than a cool guy who could have any girl in here but just happens to choose you, you're welcome, girl. If you like a girl, don't be afraid to show it.
In short, believe in your own charm. Ladies don't want the guy passing them a note that says, "Do you like me? Circle Y/N." They want the guy who lets a mischievous smile ask the question."

"Ladies don't want..." as the start of a sentence on an advice column? Because all ladies want the same thing?
I'm a lady, and I would decidedly *not* perceive such a person as a "wet blanket". I find timidity adorable, actually.

I'd definitely take a cute note over an attitude that "I'm 'a cool guy' and I can have anyone I want, thankyouverymuch". Certainly, there are women who prefer the latter -- perhaps they even constitute the majority -- but women like me exist, too.

Perhaps as an earlier poster alluded to, the problem is not that all women want alpha males, but rather, beta males unrealistically aiming for women who want alpha males?

Jan 11 12 - 4:43am
Mike M

"Frump Ball" will be the name of my next cat.
And possibly my current one.