By Kelcie McKenney
Many things in life can be considered scary, like bugs with lots of legs, horror movies that leave your skin crawling, or hearing weird noises when you’re alone in the dark. But these things are predictable or easily solved. It wasn’t until recently, when my safety was at risk because of another person, that I discovered the feeling of true fear.
Over the past year, I have been trying to live my life around a constant fear, one that permeates my job and career, my personal relationships, my home life, and even my plans for the future. Every aspect of my life was changed because of one thing: a stalker.
This person, let’s call him Jack, taught me true fear. Now, I’m not hiding his name to protect his identity, but rather I want you to know this story doesn’t have to do with him and his actions—it’s about how it affected me.
How It Began
Jack was an old coworker of mine, and we worked together for about a month before he left the company. While he knew I was in a serious relationship at the time, he developed feelings for me. I thought it was harmless at first—why can’t two people just be friends? But I was wrong.
We stayed friends after Jack left the company. We’d hang out in groups and occasionally text, sometimes about work-related things and other times about personal topics. After a few months, Jack offered to teach me how to code. When he left the company, we never hired his replacement, so it became my job to take over his previous duties—which included managing the website. His offer seemed friendly enough, and in the process he was going to help me rebuild my website. This was a harmless work relationship, right? Wrong.
Over the next few months, Jack’s crush grew into an obsession. He started sending me more emotional messages—about how beautiful I was or how smart he found me, that he thought I was the perfect girl, or that I was his “little lady.” On multiple occasions—sometimes in front of friends—he told me loved me, but naively I thought he was just being overly friendly. And to top it off, he constantly told me how much he hated my boyfriend.
I hated how uncomfortable he made me feel, but I appreciated his help with work and my website, and I didn’t want to sever a relationship over something “silly” like me being uncomfortable.
But Jack had “fallen in love with” me and had convinced himself he was the victim of me not loving him back. When I denied his advances and reiterated that I was in a serious relationship, he grew frustrated and rude. Ultimately, the emotional burden of it all became too much. I couldn’t handle one more comment about how much he hated my boyfriend or one more late night text about how much he cared for me. I told him we couldn’t be friends anymore, and I stopped responding to his messages.
Then things started to get worse. Jack began sending me endless messages across text and email. Some would be rants about how he “would do absolutely anything” to get me back or others repeated links to a song with lyrics that said, “All because of you I haven’t slept in so long. When I do, I dream of drowning in the ocean, longing for the shore, where I can lay my head down. I’ll follow your voice. All you have to do is shout it out.” That website we had spent months working on? He pulled everything down, removed all my files, and emailed them back to me, saying, “Have a nice life.”
Now, none of these things seem inherently threatening or concerning, but when someone is sending you repeated, unwanted messages saying they’re in love with you and they’d do anything to be with you, the culmination of it all starts to weigh you down. I started to feel anxious every time my phone vibrated, and every new message he sent made me feel helpless and defeated. I was lucky to have close friends that I felt comfortable talking to about Jack, but even with their support I felt like there was nothing I could do to stop him. I had stopped responding to his messages, yet they continued to flood my inbox.
What Is Harassment?
The state of Kansas, where I live, defines stalking and harassment as: “Intentional harassment that puts you in reasonable fear for your safety. Harassment means repeated behaviors or actions that seriously frighten or annoy you and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress.”
Jack’s messages alone caused me “reasonable emotional distress,” but it was Jack’s conversations with a mutual coworker and a close friend of mine, Joe, that pushed me deeper into my fear. When he wasn’t messaging me about his feelings for me, he was texting Joe—telling him how heartbroken he was that he loved someone who didn’t love him back.
After I ended our friendship, Jack became emotionally unhinged. It was a combination of our friendship imploding and personal events happening in his life that he shared with Joe. My boyfriend and I went on a double date with Joe and his wife; afterward, Jack deleted Joe on social media because of it, only to later add him back a couple days after.
One afternoon he showed up at Joe’s house acting weird—making both Joe and his wife concerned for the safety of their child—then left without notice and texted Joe, “Eat shit and go fuck yourself.” Immediately after, they called me with concern for my safety. Suddenly, Jack was at a greater risk of lashing out and doing something unreasonable. At this point, I truly began to fear for my safety—and my privacy.
Jack knew where I lived, he knew where I worked, he knew what car I drove, and he had my email address and phone number. An obsessed person with that kind of information is terrifying. While I didn’t know if Jack would do anything to hurt me, I also didn’t know if he wouldn’t. One thing could change in his mind, and suddenly I could be in danger. It was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.
I Did Nothing Wrong
Looking back, while there are things I could have done differently, I did nothing wrong. I never encouraged Jack’s behavior or responded to his advances. I was clear from the beginning that I was in a relationship and that I was not interested in anything beyond friendship. Nothing I did warranted his behavior towards me. Not once did I deserve to be in fear.
Even if I had encouraged his behavior, I still didn’t deserve to live in fear.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 6.6 million people are stalked in one year in the United States, and one in six women experience stalking during their lifetime. This is based on the legal definition of stalking, which “would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”
My experience with Jack got to a point where my daily life was affected. I worried about whether or not he would show up at my work or my home. Because of this, I filed a police report outlining Jack’s messages and the fear I had experienced. Then I went public. I wrote a personal blog about my experience with Jack, and I was shocked with the number of women who reached out to me expressing similar situations they or other women had experienced.
That’s where I was lucky. I felt comfortable enough sharing my experiences publicly, and because of that I had a community of support surrounding me during my fear. Many women don’t have that. Often, victims of stalking feel alone and hopeless, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime: “The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population.”
How do you live your life when you are facing every day with fear?
Forty-six percent of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next. Twenty-nine percent of stalking victims fear the stalking will never end.
It has been two months since Jack has last contacted me. But while the messages have stopped and I haven’t had to contact the police again, my life has forever been altered. My distrust in men has increased drastically. No longer do I feel comfortable beginning a new friendship with a man without being extremely cautious. I worry about new relationships at work, lest they become a repeat of what happened with Jack.
My dating life has become more complex. It’s not that I assume every man is going to become obsessed with me, but it’s that I now always assume the worst in everyone. I go into every situation so guarded because a seed of fear is still lodged deep inside me. The way I communicate has changed because one person felt they deserved a different level of my attention than I was willing to give.
I won’t ever be the person I was before Jack took advantage of my emotions and altered the way I approached my daily life. But I can learn to grow from it as best as I can. Some days my phone vibrating still makes me feel anxious, but other days I feel stronger for being brave, admitting my fear, and publicly facing it head on.
If you or anyone you know feels as if they are being stalked, womenslaw.org is a powerful resource for safety and legal advice. Even if you aren’t physically being followed, there are legal protections against physical and digital forms of repeated harassment. Contact your local police station if you have further questions.
Kelcie McKenney is a writer, editor, and artist who is passionate about feminism. She currently works as a Content Studio Writer at Barkley in Kansas City, where she writes many puns for social media. You can find Kelcie watching internet cat videos, eating brunch, taking photos, and reading mystery novels.