11. Being Stalked

I have never been stalked and I think it unlikely that I will be. But unless they’re a very, very famous celebrity I think anybody thinks it ‘won’t be them’. And yet week in week out you find stories of ordinary lives ruined by stalkers’ obsessive attentions. I’m sure there are many reasons for stalking but the one that resonates – the one that people think of when they hear the word – is romantic obsession. It’s frightening because it’s a curdling of something which can often be welcome, even sought after. And it’s also frightening because it’s a twisted version of emnity as well as love.

An ordinary enemy may well be scary but you generally know what they want and you have a few strategies to stop them (avoidance, confrontation, reconciliation, and so on). A stalker is different – they would never admit they’re your enemy, and so the usual strategies won’t work. Avoid them and they’ll track you down; confront them and they might take it as a sign of your attention or affection; treat them nicely and they’ll come back doubly keen. The legal means – court orders and so on – available to fight it seem puny: how can words and a piece of paper keep two people apart?

An extra frisson of fear is added by how easy it now seems to get all sorts of information about people. The legion of online data-merchants are only too happy – this is anxiety not knowledge talking – to sell everything they know about you, no questions asked. And what could be wrong with that – if you meet someone you really like, aren’t you curious about them? Like a lot of unpleasant behaviour, stalking is only a couple of removes from what might be classed as normal – so the fear of being stalked is bolstered by the thought that nobody will believe you’re being stalked. For some people, after all, stalking was considered a legitimate part of courtship.