Incompetent Boys

“How old are you?”

This is the charming opening line from a pale-faced hipster who has now prowled past my seat on the train three times. I remember him from the observation car. He saw me staring at him (in fascinated disgust) as he waxed poetic to some old white guy about how to fix the world’s problems.

“I wish we would’ve just stormed the White House. Show them we still mother-fucking run this country,” he had said.

He must have mistaken my eavesdropping for interest.

“I’m 20,” I tell him. I’m cuddling my sister, who could be my girlfriend, for all he knows. He completely ignores her.

“That’s too bad. I’m 25. I was going to ask if you wanted to get sloshed in the lounge-,” he brandishes a small bottle- “but I guess not.”

Me (fake regret): “Yeah, that’d be illegal.”

Him (real regret): “You’re beautiful.” He holds eye contact for a good fifteen seconds longer than comfortable. Still hasn’t said a word to my sister, who is holding my hand and has her legs draped over my lap. “Okay, I guess I’m off.”

He meanders up the aisle, presumably to find a more age-appropriate person to get sloshed with.


I bought a book called Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates during my first year of college. Enlightened, I read the entire section called “women in public places” in the bookstore. Things I never would have had the guts to call harassment, what I used to call “getting hit on” were laid out in bare statistics. 1 in 3, 1 in 5, 87%... Utter bullshit. Street harassment. They get us here, there, and in the between time.

In a bitter twist of irony, on my way home from purchasing Everyday Sexism, a car full of college-age guys pulls up beside me at a stoplight. They roll their windows down; I inch mine back up. The group of them starts yelling at me. I become temporarily deaf, staring straight ahead, and breathe a sigh of relief when the light turns green. But they proceed to drive beside me, speeding up or slowing down in sync with my car, like a sinister predator stalking its prey. I glance shakily at Everyday Sexism in the seat beside me. You were right, Laura.

What do men think they’re accomplishing, just by honking and yelling at an innocent woman? Do they expect me to shed my clothing and leap into their speeding car?

I got all sorts of attention during my cross-cultural semester. Cuban men are real charmers. One guy just shouted “Novio! Novio!” at me, which means boyfriend! boyfriend! I wasn’t sure if he was asking or offering, but either way, it was a hard pass. Another guy casually mentioned that he lived just down the street. How convenient.

My first wolf-whistle came when I was in the seventh grade, which means I was 12. The guy was driving a huge jacked-up truck, which means he was at least 16. At the time, though unsettled, I thought it was a compliment. That’s what my mom told me, when I relayed the incident to her. He must’ve thought you were pretty, she said. She gave me a loving smile, which meant he’s right, you are pretty, which meant it’s fine, what he did.


The world is a dangerous place. Facebook is no exception. It makes the average male think anything is possible. A girl he’s afraid to approach in real life suddenly becomes the victim of his aggressively tragic attempts at seduction. Imagine his hand hovering over the mouse, the Jaws theme thudding in the background.

A few weeks ago, a guy I knew in high school added me on Facebook. I remember him vaguely from band, where he played the trombone.

Heyyo, he says.

Hey, I respond, very confused. How are you doing?

We exchange a bit of small talk. Then comes the kicker.

Can I tell you something? he asks.


I really liked you in high school. I think it is one of my regrets, not seeing if we could have hung out more often.

Thanks for telling me, I say. It is too bad we didn’t get to know each other better. (I don’t actually think it is too bad. But what the heck, he lives in Florida now.)

I just think about it a lot. I wish I was braver back then.

Well, you told me now! (I am ready to be done with this conversation.)

Well, to be totally honest…I still really like you. A lot.

I let him down easy. He’s not done yet.

I’m really sorry, he says. I’m sorry for all that I did.

Now I’m confused and slightly concerned. What exactly did he do, besides professing his love via Facebook messenger? I tell him it’s fine.

I just feel dumb for not being braver, he says.

And suddenly I am responsible for his emotional well-being. He wants me to comfort him. It’s amazing how guys do that. I flounder for a while, uncomfortable, not sure what to say. Except my sister tells me I’m not responsible for his feelings, and I should stop responding, which I do.

A week later another message slides in.

I really am sorry, he says. I wanted to be with you.

When I tell my roommates about this sorry little guy, I accidentally call him the Tromboner. The name sticks.


This predacious male incompetence comes in many forms, some more subtle than others. I pride myself on mostly dating Nice Guys who Respect Me and Aren’t Creeps, but one time I slipped up.

It was spring of my freshman year of college. He said he first noticed me on a rainy day when I was wearing my yellow slicker. He was older, and sexy. He thought I was a great writer. “You need to write a novel, please,” he told me. “Your word choice is so good.”

We were basically dating, although we never made it official. It was complicated, as it often is. He was deciding whether or not to transfer (back) to Goshen College, hundreds of miles away. I was deciding whether or not I trusted him after he sent me a bunch of drunken videos and sketchily disappeared for three weeks around spring break.

He had a weird habit of screenshotting every single Snapchat I sent him, even the ones where I was asking him why he felt the need to screenshot everything. One night, circa 2 a.m., we were hanging out in a piano practice room in the basement of the music building (his idea). Cinderblock walls, soundproof. A lovely spot. He showed me the file on his phone where he had all the photos saved, a rolling slideshow of my face. It was a strange mix of flattering and creepy. At the time, I opted for flattering. It was a little too scary, I think, to entertain the thought of what else could have happened in that secluded basement room.

I still found him charming. He was smart, and cool. One night we lay down in an abandoned country road, gazing at the night sky while we talked about religion. I felt so deep and intellectual. So this is dating in college.

It wasn’t entirely heartbreaking, though, when he decided to go back to Goshen. I moved on, with great ease. Then the following fall, I noticed some strange activity in my Google drive. One of the files I had shared with him that spring had been recently opened- by him. Curious, I clicked on it. And I saw. In perfect MLA format. His name. At the top of my story.

What the hell?

At first I was dumbfounded. This couldn’t be real. How could he be so blatant about it, so careless? He could have copied and pasted it, or downloaded it, or even simply removed his own name from the top after he printed it out.

But no, this was real.

Then I was furious. I seethed, I stomped, I stormed around campus, calling my dad, texting my friends. I burst into my adviser’s office.

“I’ve been plagiarized,” I announced with great importance.

Turns out, he knew the Goshen professor whose name my ex had so helpfully left on the document.

“I’ll send her an email,” he assured me. “Justice will be served.”

I felt violated. What a great betrayal, to steal my words and pass them off as his own. What a freaking idiot, to think he wouldn’t be caught. A few days later my adviser called me into his office. He told me that the Goshen professor was taking “necessary disciplinary action.”

“How well did you know this guy?” my adviser asked. “Because he’s apparently very enamored of you.”

The Goshen prof said he, my ex, had written some love poems about a certain Elizabeth for that very same class. I wonder what sort of cognitive dissonance he had going on. He loved me so much he stole my work.


And so here we are. Women, the casual victims of modern courtship rituals. Why can’t the human male be more like a peacock? Just some pretty feathers, no need to talk. Or like a song bird. Woo me with a beautiful song, don’t have to ask my age to do that. Or like salmon! What if we just deposited our eggs somewhere and let guys wander by later to fertilize them?

Train Guy, the Car Honkers, the Tromboner, the Incompetent Plagiarizer…where did they get their start? They didn’t just pop out of a void. Nobody is born to be a creep. Something in our world, our society, our boys will be boys and can’t you take a compliment? has caused this.

Guys of the world, here’s a helpful hint: if you see a cute girl you want to talk to, don’t honk your horn at her. Or slow down and drive beside her while she runs. Or try to get her drunk. Or send her five messages in a row without waiting for a response.

Above all, don’t ask her age. At least not before you’ve asked for her name.

About the Author

Elizabeth Nisly

Elizabeth Nisly is a senior writing studies and Spanish double major at Eastern Mennonite University. She loves to find the ways her two areas of study can intersect and feed each other.