To Ignore or Not to Ignore? That is the Question

I admit that I played a role in the rude comment I received. But did I invite it? I’m not sure. Here’s the story:

I like to swim for exercise. Since it’s July 4th, and a very warm day, I hustled out before noon, hoping to get in the pool before it became too crowded for lap swimming. In fact, I got there so early, the lifeguard was still running the little vacuum-type cleaner cross the bottom of the pool, so I, along with several other early birds, had to wait to get in the water.

With one exception, everyone there was female. One very loud, obnoxious, exception. The guy was at least 60, paunchy and gray. He arrived with a much younger woman. I might not have noticed him, but he kept up a running commentary, mostly to or about the young lifeguard. I didn’t pay much attention, but I did notice that she seemed to haphazardly clean the end of the pool where the loud guy had set up camp, and moved on quickly.

Once I started swimming, it became more difficult to ignore the boor. Every time I reached the end of the pool where he was, he was saying something about one, or several, of the women there. About the teenager near him, he opined that “It’s all about the tan. She’s uncovered as much as she can.” About the two Asian women who were also swimming, he noted that, “They have very little body hair.” On my next lap, as I reached his end of the pool, I could tell his companion was finally taking him to task for his loud and embarrassing statements, and I have to admit that instead of making the turn back to the other side, I paused to hear what he would say in response. I can’t deny that I was eavesdropping. He said, “Well, women just come to the pool to be seen, so of course I look.” Before I even thought about it, I looked right at him and snorted – rather loudly and with a shaming frown. With a grin at getting my attention, he added, “You’re ripe, but still firm.”

My response flew out of my mouth so fast I was surprised to hear it. “One more word and you drown. And everyone here will applaud.” Then in a huff I swam away. I got out of the pool, just so I wouldn’t have to be close to his end again. As I sunned on the deck, I couldn’t help eyeing him from under my ball cap. My comment hadn’t done a thing to discourage him. He had gotten in the water to cool off, and then harassed the teenage girl by dripping water on her back as he went back to his chair. She got up and left.

When I got back to my condo, my husband had an ice cold rum drink waiting for me. As I slurped it down I told him what the guy said to me, my face still flushing with anger. He frowned, waiting for the whole story. “OK,” I admitted, “I did stop swimming to listen and then I snorted at what he said. I suppose that’s what prompted him.”

My husband nodded. “You know,” he said, “I’ve found it’s really better to ignore assholes who are just trying to get attention.” I’ve been mulling that comment ever since.

It’s true, I did insert myself into the situation. Every other woman, with the exception of the one he came with, did not respond to his comments, choosing instead to ignore him. And certainly my husband’s advice is something I’ve heard from the time I was a little girl. I can still hear my mother saying, “Don’t give him the satisfaction of even acknowledging him.” And it’s true that my comment to the creep did nothing to stop his obnoxious behavior.

But here’s the deal – Why should every woman there, include two who undoubtedly heard him commenting on their racial background, have to try to rise above or block a continuing stream of rude behavior? Isn’t what this guy was doing in essence a form of bullying? He made every woman there uncomfortable. Were we supposed to endure, hoping that another man would come along to rescue us by telling the ass to stop? The thought that, years from now, an icky guy like him could be sneering at one or both of my beautiful granddaughters, making them feel like meat on display simply because they appeared poolside in swimming suits, still makes my blood boil.

Yet I also feel like I made a mistake by making my displeasure clear.

Maybe my husband, and through a many-year extension, my mother, are right. Maybe by engaging the creep I only rewarded him. It certainly didn’t stop him. God knows I didn’t want his attention. But through my own actions, I did put myself in his line of fire. So I find myself on the horns of this dilemma: I’m not sorry that I let him know I thought his comments were in appropriate. But I am embarrassed that I left myself open his insult.

So readers, I’m open to your thoughts  Ignore or don’t ignore? That’s the question. I’m interested in hearing what you think.