Behaviors That Are Non-Sexually Creepy
One of the bigger social worries people have is that they'll come across as creepy.
When someone creeps you out they make you feel vaguely uncomfortable, wary, on edge, or squicked out. Your brain doesn't conclude they're so dangerous you need to get scared right then and there. Instead something about them makes you believe they could be a potential threat, even if it's a very small or abstract risk. (People use the term "creepy" in all kinds of nuanced ways, and I know that definition doesn't perfectly cover all of them, but it's good enough for the purposes of this article).
A good chunk of the behavior that's considered creepy makes people feel sexually or romantically uncomfortable. For example, a guy would likely creep out his female co-worker if he constantly stared at her chest, and then sneakily looked up her social media accounts and started leaving flirty comments on every post she made. There are already plenty of articles that go over how to avoid being sexually creepy. This one will cover the behaviors that can creep people out in a non-sexual way.
Put your fear of being seen as creepy in perspective
It's not good to be thought of as creepy, but some people are excessively concerned about it. Keep these points in mind:
Being seen as creepy doesn't always mean you are creepy
There are absolutely times where getting called creepy is a sign that something is off about your behavior, and you need to take that feedback seriously. However, in other moments you might be thought of as a creep when you didn't do anything wrong.
- Some people use the word way too loosely. They'll call someone "creepy" when what they really mean is "lame", "odd", or "unexpected" (e.g., "Brandon knows how to sew? That's creepy.")
- Some assessments of creepiness are based on harmful, inaccurate stereotypes about people with certain hobbies or values. Someone may get labelled a creep when their only "crime" is living a less-conventional life (e.g., "Women who don't want kids creep me out" or "People who prefer to stay in on Friday nights creep me out.")
- Some people have an overly sensitive "creep detector" and will see harmless, everyday behaviors as creepy. For example, "Abby brought donuts to work for everyone. That's so creepy. What does she want from us?" (Note, this isn't the same as women generally being more attuned to creepy behavior, because they're more vulnerable and have justifiable reasons to be alert for red flags.)
If you find out someone thinks you're creepy consider whether their complaint is legitimate or not. If it is, figure out what you need to change. If you decide there's nothing to it, then go on with your life, knowing your behavior is fine. Try to accept that dealing with the odd unjustified "creepy" label is sometimes a price for living in a non-mainstream way.
Being thought of as creepy won't necessarily ruin your life
Also, know that if one or two people unreasonably see you as creepy, it's not instantly going to destroy your reputation. The word isn't a magic curse, where if just one person utters it about you then you're tainted for all time. If most people see you as well-adjusted you'll be okay.
There are severities of creepiness. Even if you behave in an undoubtedly creepy way, your social life will survive if it what you did was a mild, one-off mistake. A single instance of low-grade, accidental creepiness may irk or confuse people, but they won't run for the pitchforks.
Behaviors people can see as non-sexually creepy
The things below might creep people out, but won't set off that reaction every time. Creepiness has a huge Je ne sais quoi factor to it, where we can't always explain why one person will trigger the feeling in us, but another won't. Though even if they don't creep anyone out, most of these behaviors are mistakes for other reasons.
Seeming as if you're monitoring someone's activity or movements
- A friend lets you use their Netflix password. One day they casually say, "I saw you watched two episodes of Stranger Things last evening. You normally go to your mom's for dinner that day. Did it get cancelled this week?"
- You're talking to a friend and they say, "I saw you liked Aubrey's Instagram photo yesterday afternoon. Normally you aren't on your phone at work. Did they have you working in the back that day or something?"
In each case you'd probably feel a bit unsettled and think, "Why do they know that? Why are they following what I do so closely?" On an unconscious level you may wonder, "Are they obsessed with me? Are they stalking me?" People have a deep aversion to being watched and followed. Even if you stumbled across the information harmlessly, be careful about saying anything to people that implies you're monitoring them. You don't want them to get the wrong idea.
Unintentionally sneaking up on people
For example, quietly walking up behind a co-worker then startling them when you say something. This can set off the "I'm being stalked by a predator" part of our lizard brain. If you're naturally, unintentionally stealthy, try doing little things to make noise and let people know you're there.
Showing you're trying to dig up info on someone
For example, you start at a new volunteer position, and a month into it you learn one of your colleagues had been asking around about you, and was trying to pry personal details out of everyone. You'd want to know why they were so keen to learn about you, and feel uneasy about what their motives were.
Showing you have dug up info on someone
That is, you share a fact about them that you wouldn't know unless you, say, read through their five-year-old posts on an obsolete social media platform, or Googled their name and found an old newspaper article they were quoted in. Even if your curiosity gets the best of you and you do some internet sleuthing on someone, don't let them catch wind that you've done it.
Asking a lot of overly probing, invasive personal questions
Especially with someone you've just met, where there's no way it would be appropriate to grill someone like that. Being prodded for really personal information makes people wonder why you want to know it. It also makes them think, "If they don't realize they shouldn't do this, how else could their thinking be off?" It's fine to take an interest in someone, but save the really personal questions for when the relationship is more established. And even then, back off if they don't seem comfortable revealing that kind of information.
Having too good a memory for minor details about someone you barely know
This one is the bane of people with naturally good memories. They may mean nothing by it that they can recall the details of a two-minute conversation they had with someone they met once a year ago. However, if they share their recollection, the other person may think, "Ewww... how on earth do they remember that? Have they been fixated on me all this time?" If you have a good memory you may want to pretend you remember less than you do. It's not fair, but people may judge you if your recall seems too on point.
Moving too fast in a friendship
For example, you get along with a new co-worker and go out for drinks with them one evening. The next day they start texting you about how happy they are to have such a close, amazing new friend, and that they can't wait to hang out again. You can't help but be a little creeped out and think, "Whoa, this is too much. I barely know them. We went out for drinks one time. Why are they acting like we're soulmates now? Do they have poor boundaries? Are they a bit unstable? Are they going to get so attached that they'll lash out if I reject them or spend time with someone else?" Even if you hit it off with someone or could see yourself being good friends with them, don't be too eager about expressing those feelings or try to move too quickly. Let things unfold at a more natural pace.
Being an overly attached, smothering friend
Doing things like:
- Wanting to hang out with a friend excessively
- Trying to take up all of their time during group hang outs
- Liking or commenting on everything they post on social media, minutes after it goes up
- Liking everything they like, and changing their old opinions to match theirs
- Trying to change their personality to mold themselves into what they think their friend prefers
Similar to the point above, an over the top level of enthusiasm and devotion unsettles people.
Coming across as angry and bitter, in a simmering, repressed, pent-up way
People aren't creeped out by temperamental hotheads who are open about their anger and aggressiveness. Annoyed or scared, yes, but not creeped out. They can feel uneasy if someone fits more of a ticking time bomb stereotype. Behaviors that can cause this sense of unease are:
- Seeming as if they hold on to their anger, and are unable to confront the people that irritate them
- Generally being negative and complaining a lot
- Going on about all the slights people have committed against them
- Seeming to get annoyed at little things
- Having tense body language, like they're agitated, but trying to swallow it down
- Muttering to themselves
- Seeming to have unrealistic expectations about people's behavior or what they deserve from the world (e.g., brooding for days because an acquaintance walked by them on the street without saying hello)
Seeming unable to take a hint about being rejected
For example, not realizing that their colleague doesn't want to be friends when they decline an offer to hang out after work for the sixth straight time, with the most flimsy, transparent excuse yet. This inability to pick up on the social cues of rejection can make people, particularly women, think, "If they can't notice these signals, would they also ignore signs of rejection in an intimate setting?" Another deeper fear this behavior taps into is, "If they're that oblivious about what I think of them, one day could they delusionally assume we're in a relationship, and then do something obsessive and scary?"
Overreacting to rejection
If someone sulks, stews, or has a fit over an everyday rejection it triggers a fear of, "Are they so upset about this that they're going to snap one day and do something dangerous and unhinged? Do they have a warped view of the world where they think they're entitled to never be turned down?"
Being happy and chipper in an excessive, forced way
Over the top cheeriness can unsettle people because it reads as fake and unnatural. There's a stereotype that extremely chipper people are making themselves act that way to repress and overcompensate for their inner turmoil, and that one day they might snap.
Having really intense, animated energy
There's nothing wrong with being bubbly and enthusiastic, but sometimes people are a bit too intense. One reason it can trip that hazy danger alarm is because someone can get like that if they're on drugs or they're having a mental health issue, like a manic episode. We don't know what to expect from that.
Like someone telling a total stranger at the grocery store how you were abused as a child. Having zero sense of what things are acceptable to share in different contexts can be a sign you're not that mentally stable, which can put people on edge.
Casually approaching or chatting to someone in a setting where most people would be on guard
For example, striking up a conversation with a stranger at a lonely bus stop in the middle of the night. Of course, depending on the dynamic, this could be straight-up scary, not creepy. Like if a hulking guy started talking to a young woman, she'd probably feel frightened, not vaguely unsettled. However, even if there's no physical threat involved, being so casual in an inappropriate context shows a disconcerting lack of empathy, judgment, and knowledge of social protocol.
Being overly pushy and persistent, not taking 'no' for an answer
This one is adjacent to sexual creepiness. If someone's disrespectful of others' boundaries and preferences in a day-to-day social setting, people may think, "If they're this pushy over the fact that their friend doesn't want to order pizza, are the same way in the bedroom?", and then feel creeped out. A guy may not think anything of this kind of behavior, other than feel it's annoying, but a woman may be more attuned to its possible implications. Someone could also unconsciously conclude, "If they're this comfortable disregarding people's feelings about small things, would they also feel a lack of empathy and remorse if they hurt someone in a more serious way?"
Forcing unwanted physical contact on people
For example, someone makes a joke or comment that puts their co-worker on the spot to give them a hug or accept a shoulder massage. Naturally, this one can be sexually creepy as well, but people don't always appreciate platonic touching either.
Taking photos of people without their permission
Obviously this is sexually creepy if, say, a guy sneakily snaps a photo of a woman's butt at a bar. The socially creepy version is doing something like going to a festival and taking pictures of strangers for a photography project. It's in a public place and may be technically permissible, but not everyone will like having their privacy violated like that. They may wonder what you want the photos for. If you want to take someone's picture in a context where it's not expected, the considerate thing to do is ask.
Making tons of dark jokes about hurting people
Of course, if someone's humor revolves around rape jokes, that's just sexually creepy. If they make one too many jokes about things like kidnapping or dismemberment it makes people think, "What's wrong with them? Why do they find the idea of hurting others so amusing?" There's nothing wrong with the odd tasteless or edgy joke around people who like that style of comedy, but don't overdo it.
Having a mean-spirited, sadistic sense of humor
For example, playing pranks on people that make them genuinely embarrassed or uncomfortable, or making really cutting jokes that expose someone's deepest insecurities. A nasty sense of humor can creep someone out because they think, "Why do they get such a kick out of other people's pain? How else might they like to hurt people?"
Seeming to use manipulative social techniques
You meet someone and they strike you as a little too smooth and confident. Within minutes of talking to them they've used your name several times - a well-known ingratiation technique. They're also obviously mirroring your body language, and seem like they're trying to tell you everything you want to hear. When we talk to people who are clearly trying to use social tricks to win us over we may mainly think they're fake, insincere, or desperate. However, this behavior can also creep us out. We think, "Why are they being so manipulative? Why can't they get to know me in a more natural way? What do they want from me? Do they often approach social relationships in such a calculating way? What kind of person does that?"
Speaking using unnatural, canned wording
For example, when an office manager responds to a co-worker's basic question with a paragraph of vague, evasive corporate PR-speak. Or to make fun of my own profession, when a therapist says something like, "My Helping Self is so honored and appreciative that you can open up space to invite me to explore your system with you." When someone speaks to us in an unnatural way, when simple everyday phrasing would do, it can be a tad unnerving. We think, "Why can't they talk normally? Why aren't they communicating like a normal human? Are they being fake? Do they have an agenda?"
Being deceptive / hiding your intentions
The sexually creepy example is someone who pretends to want to be friends when they really want a relationship. Here's a more mundane scenario: A friend asks you to go for a walk and suggests a route. Your stroll takes you past a restaurant. They ask if you want to stop in and get something to eat, and you agree. Later they tell you their plan was to go there all along, but they didn't ask up front because they thought you might say no. Many people would feel a bit rattled upon hearing that. They'd wonder why their friend felt they had to deceive them. They'd question what else they're lying about.
Behaviors associated with shyness and awkwardness that can read as creepy
I know, I know. Shy, unconfident people have enough on their plates. Why do they have to contend with being thought of as creepers too? Unfortunately, some shy behaviors can seem creepy. It's not fair, but it is what it is. Fortunately, shyness doesn't always come across as creepy. People can usually tell when someone's behavior is due to nerves or inhibition.
Being extremely quiet
Some of us are less-chatty than others. People get that and aren't going to be weirded out if someone chimes into a group conversation a little less than usual. They can feel creeped out if someone doesn't talk at all for very long stretches. It mainly unsettles them because they don't know what the person is thinking - "They haven't said a word all evening. They're just sitting there and watching all of us. What's going through their head?" If you're extremely quiet, you don't need to become the life of the party, you just need to talk at least a little.
Lingering on the edge of an event and watching people, but not talking to anyone
On an unconscious level this can make people feel like gazelles that are being sized up by a lion. There's more to it than that though. If you're at a party or bar you may see several people standing off to the side looking at the crowd and not feel creeped out. The following can push a sideline watcher into creepy territory:
- Spending a lot of time staring at one person or group, instead of looking out over the crowd as a whole
- Looking tense or calculating, rather than happy or relaxed
- Seeming to follow a particular person or group around
- Only ever watching people, not seeming to have other reasons to be there
- At bars: Being poorly dressed, not seeming like they're a part of that scene or crowd
- Obviously being there alone, when combined with several of the above (if someone's alone, but otherwise seems well-adjusted and there for a reason, most people won't think anything of it)
You can be at a bar or party, even on your own. Just don't uncomfortably watch people the entire time. What if you're there to practice your social skills and try to start conversations, but are feeling nervous, and are worried you're going to come off as creepy despite yourself? Here you have to weigh your long-term goals against the short-term risks. It's possible being thought of as creepy by a few strangers is a small price you'll have to pay to practice and develop your interpersonal skills. It's also good to remind yourself that if you know you're not doing anything wrong, being thought of as creepy won't instantly ruin your life.
Being extremely secretive
Shy, insecure people can be guarded and secretive because they worry they'll be judged and mocked if the wrong information about them gets out. If someone's got an overly mysterious personal life it might get people thinking, "What are they hiding? What unsettling facts about themselves are they trying to keep under wraps?" The not knowing makes them fill in the gaps with possibilities much worse than reality.
Ways their appearance can make people seem creepy
Dressing or grooming yourself in a stereotypically creepy way
Here I mean your style and grooming is generally unfashionable, and then on top of that you add a few cartoonishly stereotypically creepy touches like a beige trench coat with sweatpants, glasses with oversized frames, or a bald head with long, greasy hair on the sides. Most people know better than to look like this, though some can accidentally slip into the creeper zone if their overall fashion sense isn't great.
Being unkempt and poorly dressed
This can put people on edge because when someone has a more severe mental illness they often neglect their grooming and appearance. Even if they intellectually know the risk is small, most people can't help but feel cautious around those with significant, obvious mental illnesses. Even if you're obviously not having a psychotic episode, if your grooming and fashion sense are a little too below average, it may set off other people's alarms just enough that they feel wary around you.
Interests that can get you pegged as creepy
As I said in the intro to this article, it's often unfair when someone gets labelled as creepy over their hobbies or lifestyle. The good news is someone may find a particular hobby creepy in the abstract, but when it comes to how they react to any specific person with that pastime, they'll consider their other traits. If someone has a "creepy" interest, but otherwise comes across as affable and socially adjusted, most people won't see them as creepy overall. However, if they seem creepy in other ways, then their hobby will be taken as further confirmation of their creepiness.
Being really into weapons and combat
For example, owning a bunch of knives or swords, reading a lot about guns, or always talking about how you know a dozen techniques to break someone's wrist. It's not hard to deduce why some people see this as creepy. They think, "Is this person obsessed with violence? Do they have fantasies of hurting people? Are they going to snap and use their weapons on someone one day?"
You may be thinking, "Ah come on. That's not fair. I'm a regular, stable person. I'd never hurt anyone. I just happen to think swords are interesting. I like the history behind them, and fencing is a fun way to exercise and meet people." Like I said, if you seem like a regular person on the whole, no one's going to be that creeped out by your sword collection. If you own a bunch of longswords, and seem like you're angry and bitter at the world, that gives them more to be wary about.
Being into death and other morbid subjects
You may assume I'm about to start bagging on goths, but I'm not. I think outside of some more sheltered, traditional types, most people aren't especially creeped out by goths, even though they're into spooky things. Your average person gets that being goth is a whole alternative subculture, and isn't just about being fixated on death. They may not choose to be goth themselves, but they understand why some people are drawn to it.
Goths put any interest they have in morbid stuff out there, in a disarming, exaggerated way. What's creepier is if someone otherwise seems mainstream, but it turns out they collect animal skulls or know a lot about embalming or taxidermy techniques. It clashes with their "normal" surface impression, and can make people wonder, "Why are they secretly into this stuff? Is something wrong with them?"
A death-related topic that usually gets a pass is being into True Crime and learning about serial killers. It's morbid for sure, but it's a fairly common interest, and most people aren't going to be put off by it.
Being really into conspiracy theories
Conspiracy theorists are often thought of as off-kilter because they're overly paranoid and draw bizarre conclusions about the world. Another red flag is when someone goes on unsolicited, long-winded rants about the theories they believe. It triggers that worry of, "Is this person's mental health alright?" If you believe some conspiracy theories, use your judgment about who you bring them up around.
Having classically creepy pets like snakes and spiders
Many people see those types of animals as inherently off-putting. It's easy to see how someone could make the inaccurate mental jump of, "Tarantulas are gross and creepy... therefore anyone who's super into them has to be creepy themselves."
Being into new age stuff like crystals and energy healing
Most people think an interest in this stuff is kooky at worst. However, there is a stereotype that people who are into new agey things are strange and vacant, and might be mindless members of some twisted cult.
Being really into a group or organization that has a reputation for encouraging cult-like devotion
For example, someone may feel creeped out by a friend who's gotten way into a multi-level marketing company or self-help movement - "It's like they've being replaced by a brainwashed follower. They talk about the company all the time with this forced, blank smile on their face. They act like it's going to change the world, when it's just a bunch of over-priced meal supplements. If I try to say anything skeptical about it they've got some retort ready to go about how I must just be afraid to take charge of my health. They've drank the Kool-Aid for sure. Ugh, it gives me the heebie jeebies."