real life

'As I sat on the beach, a man sat himself on my towel. What unfolded left me baffled.'

It was an otherwise unassuming summer day where the sun was bright, the sky a bright form of blue and the air so warm, there was little to do but find yourself a beach and sit yourself down.

It was early January, so people were flittering around, but a weekday; the spaces in the sand hinting to the fact many others had gone back to work.

I walked down to the beach closest to my house, towel in hand, book in other. It’s a calm, quiet stretch of beach that has a funny way of soothing the most frantic of minds.

I lay down and began reading. Within moments I had company.

“Hi,” he said. He had an inflatable lilo in hand and, such is the universal beach uniform for men, wore a pair of board shorts and not much else. “I am just going to sit here.”

It wasn’t a question. He would be sitting down ‘here‘.

‘Here’ was on the edge of my towel. He positioned himself on top of his desperately oversized lilo, which covered a corner of my towel.

I was annoyed, not least because a sand-infested lilo was staining the towel I only just shook clean, but because my time alone is not the kind of thing I appreciate being invaded.

I was impressed by how many different thoughts consumed my mind in the space of just a few seconds. Do I indulge him? Be polite? Tell him to f*ck off?

“Sorry, I’m actually just reading,” was the response I settled on.

He looked at me. There was no doubt he was taken aback. Perhaps every other time he sat his entitled arse down on someone’s towel, he had stumbled on a person much better, much more polite, than me.


Wow, okay. Now, I am definitely just going to sit here for a bit.”

Like a boomerang, it was my turn to look a bit like a deer in headlights. I did little to hide how taken aback I really was.

I sat up, crossed my legs, turned my back to him and continued reading. He looked out to sea.

A flurry of thoughts shot through my mind. The two overriding ones were feelings of being totally exposed and others of pervading guilt.

Zara McDonald. Image: Supplied.

Though the beach is a public place, it can be a supremely personal experience.

For one, I was in nothing but a bikini. Of course, that was my choice. However I expected my experience at the beach that day would be one that didn't involve anyone else. Suddenly he made himself part of that experience, and I automatically wished I had clothes on. It would've been, I guess, like an armour of sorts.

The other half of me was acutely aware that other people around us may have overhead our conversation. Did they think I was an awful person? Too rude? Was I too brusque, my tone too harsh?

After 10 minutes of re-reading the same paragraph in my book over and over - my mind far too distracted to actually consume any information - I began texting my mum and a friend. How in the world do I get rid of this guy, short of telling him to shove it?

Before they had a chance to reply, he quietly picked up his absurd, fluoro-coloured lilo and left. It had been about 10 minutes, but felt like 10 hours. As he walked away, back to his friends a few hundred metres down the beach, a group of girls close by cheered.

In hindsight, it didn't have to be 10 minutes. In fact, every time I tell the story, I'm always met with confusion as to why I didn't just tell him to leave.

But here's the thing: I don't actually know why I didn't say anything. I froze. I was so, so hyper-aware that people around me would be listening. At the end of the day, I didn't want to risk be branded - by strangers, no less - as rude. After all, women are overrun with messages that tell them they always need to be polite.


LISTEN: A woman called the MMOL team for advice, on how to politely tell a lingering man to leave. (Post continues after audio...)

When I asked the people around me what I should have said, the answers went a little like this:

You're making me uncomfortable. Could you leave?

I'm so sorry but I've actually come for some peace and quiet, could you leave?

In the days since, I've thought about the exchange a lot. His intentions were probably innocent, but at the time, it felt like the ultimate power play. He had a group of friends at the beach, I didn't. He had back-up, I didn't. And although it was my home ground, it felt like he had the advantage.

There's a time and place for a man to approach a woman, and a woman to approach a man, but this didn't feel like it. This felt like an entitled man playing games, assuming because I sat alone, I owed him a conversation. Assuming because I didn't have company of my own, I'd embrace his.

It amazed me how little power he afforded me in that scenario, as if my opinion didn't matter, my body language void of meaning and the fact I didn't want him there just a tiny blip on his intention to stay.

What would have done in this scenario? Tell us in the comments below.