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Disgusted by a rude gawker

Dear Carolyn: I was out to dinner with my mom a few nights ago, and we were seated at a table next to a middle-aged couple. I was facing the husband and noticed immediately after sitting down that he was staring at me. I thought perhaps I knew him so I glanced over and realized he was staring directly at my chest! I am busty, but I wasn't wearing a low-cut shirt.

This man continued to blatantly stare at my chest and look me up and down for the next 20 minutes, until he left. I even made eye contact with him at one point and gave him a disgusted look and that did nothing!

His wife was completely oblivious, her full attention on her BlackBerry. No matter how much I shifted my body, pulled my tank top up even higher, and attempted to give this man a hint to leave me alone, nothing worked. I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable. My mom noticed it but told me to just ignore it and relax.

It is not fair that I should have to have a nice dinner ruined. I really wanted to say something to the man, but I wasn't sure what would be appropriate or get my point across in the right way. Any advice on how to handle another situation like this?

-- J.

A: Next time, switch seats with your mom -- or ask the host for a new table. Why wrestle with the questions of appropriateness or of getting your point across when simply turning your back has both symbolic and practical worth?

I'll answer my own rhetorical question: because paralysis is, unfortunately, a common reaction when people are faced with antisocial behavior. We're so used to having everyone conform (more or less) to an unspoken code of courtesy that when we come across someone who openly flouts that code, many of us freeze like startled woodland creatures.

That such a simple solution as turning our backs or switching seats escapes many of us is both a testament to how unnerving these situations can be, and a hint at the solution.

Since you're among those who get too unnerved to think straight, it won't come naturally for you to walk over, take his picture and say, "Look for it on patheticpervs.com." Instead, accept that you have stage fright and take a cue from pilots, Olympic gymnasts and other high-stress performers: Learn to perform under duress through preparation.

Ask yourself, now, what you can realistically hope to do in these situations, then prepare the words, gestures and/or actions. Say your plans out loud in the shower (seriously); repeat them to your friends by telling them the restaurant story and spelling out what you wish you had done. Even when practicing feels stupid, use repetition to teach your brain where the path is. In time, you'll be able to find it no matter how rattled you get.

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