Love Me, Love My Stalker

Recently, I was fixed up with a man who announced that he had a stalker. “That’s awful,” I said. “What was she doing?” He told me she had e-mailed him a few times asking questions about the date they went on. I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t. I was intrigued, and I began to ask around. Women who stalk, I concluded, are definitely on the rise. But hey, it’s not a problem: New York men have begun to take pride in being stalked; it’s a benchmark of their desirability. Having a stalker no longer means being in physical jeopardy. When it comes to the seeming explosion of women stalking men, it’s fashionable, not criminal. Witness the glittery “Stalker” printed across the front of a tank top in the window of Buffalo Chips in Soho last month. The new breed of stalkers is all about confidence. After all, only a woman who knows she can get any guy she wants would wear a T-shirt that carries a connotation of menacing desperation. There’s an unwritten “You wish!” on the back of the shirt.

What about men who stalk women? It’s just not the same. For one thing, whereas a man’s stalker tends to be savvy and sexy-someone who could easily pass for a supermodel were she not devoting herself to her stalkee-a woman’s stalker tends to be Ted Bundy.

Still, what exactly constitutes stalking is an open question. It used to be that when a woman called one too many times or refused to take “it’s over” for an answer, she was a nuisance. Now, she’s a stalker.

Richard, a Brit who lives in the West Village, said his stalker would circle the block on her bicycle until she saw him. When I suggested that maybe she was simply riding around the neighborhood, he shook his head violently. “Oh, no. She was waiting for me. She was obsessed with me.” Mystified, I inquired what he might have done to inspire such devotion. “I’m not sure, but it’s not the first time it’s happened. Girls just become obsessed with me. It’s quite odd.”

Some stalkers, it seems, are essentially what used to be called ex-girlfriends .

Take Paul, who is 33 and lives in Tribeca. His ex-girlfriend, he said, was stalking him. The root of the problem was what he described as his thwarted attempt to break up with her, which apparently happened on a regular basis. “I would summon up the courage to say, ‘I don’t love you anymore, I don’t want to be with you, and I want you to move out.’ Then I’d go for a walk to unwind. When I came home, she’d act as if nothing had happened. She’d ask what I wanted for dinner, and at that point all my strength would be gone, so I’d say, ‘I don’t know-Indian?’ She wouldn’t let go.”

He tried several methods of terminating the relationship, he said, such as e-mail and trans-Atlantic phone calls. Nothing worked; it wouldn’t end. “I’d be in the middle of Home Depot in upstate New York and my cell phone would ring, and it would be her. I’d end up having a screaming fit in the light-bulb section. I never knew when she’d strike.” Pressed to be more specific about what it was that made this woman a stalker, Paul said that she had a constant need for discussion. “The postmortem on the relationship was endless.”

Some men with stalkers don’t even bother to try to cut them off. I know this because I recently dated one. When I first met Jack, he told me his stalker was an ex-girlfriend who wouldn’t “let him go.” I pressed for more details. Was he calling her? “Yes.” Seeing her? “Yes.” Helping her out with her rent? “Yes.” Staying in touch with her family? “Yes.” Walking her dog? “Yes.” Doing her taxes? “Yes.” Sleeping with her?

“Not since I met you,” he said. We’d been going out for two weeks.

But dating a guy who has a stalker can be tricky, as I found out. Andrew’s stalker called five times a day, he said. (Calling five times a day is apparently a stalker trait, which suggests that if a woman calls a man more than once a day, it immediately registers in his brain as five.) Like Edward’s stalker, she rode a bike with a basket. He told me stories that demonstrated how infatuated she was with him, how she wouldn’t accept that he wasn’t interested in being in a relationship. Sitting there over sesame noodles at China Fun, I stopped listening. I had a vision: I could see him sitting in the same restaurant eating the same noodles, only a new girl was sitting in my seat. He was telling her the exact same story-except that I had replaced Caroline as the one who “just didn’t get it.”

And yet I continued to date him. There was something strangely seductive about the dynamic. The talking, the walking, the stalking-it all worked. His half-hearted attempts to persuade me he felt sorry for Caroline only made me find him compassionate, if misguided.

Soon, I discovered that Andrew had quite a few stalkers in his past. In fact, pretty much every ex-girlfriend had turned into one. He told me they’d show up unannounced, wanting to “discuss the relationship.” I told him that wasn’t stalking; it was communicating. Then there were the stalkers he slept with. “She would come over, all dolled up. What was I supposed to do?”

Something was wrong. I began feeling empathy for his stalker. Shortly thereafter, Andrew and I split up. But by then, something strange had happened: His stalker had become obsessed with me !

Or so he said. Maybe it was his technique to get rid of me. Who knows? But he mentioned it often enough that I became paranoid. One day, I was walking uptown near the Metropolitan Museum, and I noticed that a woman on a blue bicycle was riding alongside me-and the bike had a basket . I told a friend of mine about this who knew what Caroline looked like.

“Did she have brown hair in a ponytail?” she asked.

I thought back. She did! It had to have been her.

The more I thought about Caroline’s stalking me, the more curious I became. Who was she? I had to know. So I began, briefly, stalking my stalker.

She taught a Pilates class. I persuaded a friend of mine to take one of her classes. Her report: the best class of her life. My friend has now signed up for a month of classes.

I knew where Caroline lived. Andrew had pointed it out, and as I passed by one afternoon, I wondered: Is she loitering outside my apartment while I’m loitering outside hers?

I had to stop. I was afraid if I didn’t, I’d want to befriend her. I could see where it was going. First, we’d have coffee. I’d get her side of things. We’d talk, end up allies, bonded, like Vietnam veterans-we’d survived Andrew. She’d persuade me to stalk in tandem, and I’d be torn. What if I wanted to stalk on a Saturday, when she was teaching a class? It could get messy.

Plus, I don’t have the patience for stalking.

But I’m in the minority. Stalking, it seems, is the new flirting. We exist in a culture in which, between cell phones and e-mail, we don’t actually have to see people. We’re satisfied with limited contact; it’s an intrusion if someone wants an in-person meeting. My friend Nina has a friendship stalker-someone she met through work. “We had dinner once, and it was fine. But I didn’t expect it to turn into more. Now she wants us to be closer and to hang out on weekends, and she calls a lot. With my real friends, we’re too busy to get together.” If someone has the time and the tenacity to pursue getting together, there’s only one conclusion that makes sense any more: She must be a stalker .

Love Me, Love My Stalker