I was 33, single and had just been through a bad breakup when I received a private Facebook message from a man telling me he thought I had “amazing beauty”. Like me, he worked in local government, though in a different department, so we had never met. We exchanged a few messages and, though I didn’t fancy him, I found him interesting. So I agreed to go for lunch.
On the day of the lunch he was off sick. I realised how relieved I felt, so when he emailed to set a new date, I told him I’d changed my mind. That’s when he started pestering me. He emailed me repeatedly and called my office phone, begging to meet, saying, “I only want to be friends.” “We’ve got a lot in common.” “I love your voice.” “I just want to speak to you.”
I asked him to stop but the calls kept coming. One evening, he left a message saying he’d rung my voicemail just to hear my voice. I threatened to contact human resources, but he pleaded with me not to. Out of pity, I didn’t.
We had never met in person but occasionally I would pass him in the corridors and recognise him from Facebook. I kept my head down and he didn’t approach me.
Every few weeks he would go quiet, then it would start again. He’d send poems and messages to say he liked what I was wearing or how I’d done my hair. It made me feel dirty – he was spying on me. I began to wonder if I’d been too sympathetic, or if I attracted weirdos.
I told my friends and their concern made me worry even more. What if he followed me home? Things came to a head when he emailed to say he felt suicidal. Totally freaked out, I asked how I could help but got no reply and in desperation, I contacted one of his Facebook friends who told me he was safe but off sick with depression.
For months I heard nothing. Then, one day, I got an email from a man with a name I didn’t recognise who claimed he had met me several months earlier in a bar. It was possible we’d met at a colleague’s leaving party. When he invited me for lunch, I accepted.
“Are you sure he isn’t your stalker?” asked a friend. That’s when the penny dropped. I emailed him right away. “I know it’s you,” I wrote. I asked him why he’d done it and he said it made him feel closer to me.
This time, I did tell human resources; I wanted the matter on record but asked them not to contact him, in case it provoked him. He emailed me once more from yet another address but I ignored him and finally, 12 months after it all began, the messages stopped.
I heard nothing more until a few years later when, curious, I googled him and discovered he had started a new career. By then I had moved on; I was in a happy relationship, but the incident did leave its mark.
When I hear about high-profile incidents of stalking – like Girls Aloud singer Nicola Roberts, whose ex-boyfriend stalked her for five years, or Gwyneth Paltrow, haunted by the same man for 17 – I feel I got off lightly.
I was able to channel my experience into a novel, which felt cathartic. These days I’m much more cautious. My Facebook security settings are tighter and I am more wary when I meet new people – especially suspiciously flattering ones.
The Threat Level Remains Severe by Rowena Macdonald is published by Aardvark Bureau.
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