I was Stalked Around the World

I was Stalked Around the World

I woke up in a boat this morning. It’s not exactly a cruise ship. It’s facilities include… a bench. So when I arose busting for the loo, I did what any hobo skipper would do and made for the starboard bow for a refreshing tinkle into the seas of Karlskrona. Unfortunately, the port of this small Swedish town was already surprisingly busy, with young children and people taking panoramic photos all around me. It was an uncomfortable morning of mind over bladder.

A week ago, I could not have predicted finding myself in this country, let alone this predicament. Travel is full of such spontaneous tangents and surprises, both pleasant and unwelcome. On the downside, I’ve been robbed and conned by friends, frenemies, prostitutes, people from Adelaide and ne’er-do-wells of all kinds and creeds in every country on my itinerary. It’s a wild world out here, and being a mild-mannered white geek from the coast, my laissez faire, glass-half-full-of-goon attitude sometimes makes me a little too trusting for my own good.

This is especially true when you’re travelling alone. You’re constantly looking to make new allies any way you can, starting awkward conversations in hostel toilets, playing the “Hey, I met your cousin when he vacationed in Sydney five years ago, so let’s hang!” card on Facebook, and even (shudder) using Tinder.

My Finnish friend Merja would know. She’s been away from home most of her adult life, and has been living the work-for-yourself dream in Australia for three years now. Before Oz, she was in Switzerland, and before that, Ireland. She drove all the way from one to the other with only her cat Gucci and three-legged whippet Libby to keep her company.

Basically, Merja’s a fairly typical hobo. I mean, she runs five businesses and can whisper to horses like she’s from Narnia, but my point is that she is a real, regular person. Why am I pointing? Because you might be tempted to think that her unnerving story of being stalked around the world is a little out there. I did – I mean, as a guy, it’s not something I’ve had to worry about. But, it’s likely happening more than you’d think. Most people who are stalked never talk about it due to embarrassment, or fear of losing work or relationships.

Merja and her stalker met online when she was in Ireland. She was keen on a holiday to Australia, so figured it could be good fun to go there, explore and meet with a local guy as well. I’ve certainly been there (“Swiping in Amsterdam”, amirite?). From the beginning, Merja was emotionally invested. She has this hopeless romantic streak that he milked the shit out of, intoning all of the right “cheat codes”. To quote Merja: “It’s amazing what we don’t see and put up with when we feel lonely and need validation.”

She eventually got tired of the whole hot-and-cold game: he only wanted her when he couldn’t have her, and then when she became available, he would go all distant and detached. After months of trying to change herself to have reciprocated commitment from him, she gave up and told him that it was just like her vacation: over.

Shortly after, he travelled to Ireland (with a ticket she had purchased for him when they were still together), and began turning up at her work, home and parties, despite being told repeatedly by everyone around her to leave her alone and not contact her again. After this, he started to harass her clients, so she got a restraining order against him, which he broke several times.

The Irish police advised Merja not to communicate with him for any reason: “If you see him, or even have a sense that he’s lurking around, call the emergency number and we’ll send a car around to check everything.” If it wasn’t clear before, now it was: he was not going to get it. And he could be dangerous.

Merja did not feel safe anywhere, so she left Ireland to live in Switzerland with her sister. Meanwhile, charges were being brought against him by the Irish police. Eventually, Merja returned to Australia, and it seemed like it was all done and dusted.

However, in March this year, 18 months after the stalker’s last contact, Merja was visiting a friend on the central coast of New South Wales when he appeared and approached her on the street. Have you been to the Central Coast? I didn’t think so. I grew up in Woy Woy – I think they have a book store there now. There’s not much going, and not much reason to be on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs – so there is very little chance that he was there for any other reason than that he had followed her. This meeting caused her distress, and she and her friends agreed that it was best to call the police in case this was not a coincidence.

The police came out and took some notes, but said it probably was just coincidental: there was not enough for an AVO. Merja felt defeated, exhausted and unsafe again. All the old fears of being watched came back.

Since then, Merja’s stalker has attempted to track her down by keeping an eye on her friends’ house and contacting the cops with false claims of harassment. As a result, has put himself on the radar of the NSW Police.

The silver lining is that Merja has learned a few things about how to stand up for herself, talk about embarrassing things openly and ask for support when she needs it (in fact, she considers herself lucky). From her view on the other side, she has the following advice for both men and women:

“Be aware of people who make you feel like a princess or prince. Many manipulators put you on a pedestal and then begin to tear you down once they have you hooked. Also, know your own value, so that you don’t fall into everyone’s compliments… Learn to say that you’re not interested; learn to set appropriate boundaries.”

Already got a stalker on your hands? Merja can offer support and tips on how to deal with them, and how to empower yourself enough to not end up in this situation again. She wants to remind readers that even though your situation may feel embarrassing, we all make mistakes in life that we regret. You are not alone. If you want more information on how she can help, you can contact her through her website.

Merja is still a romantic – just not a hopeless one, and is now in a pretty swell long-term relationship with an Australian guy. She does not intend to discourage men from approaching women or vice versa with this tale of woe; even after her experience, she despairs for a species that is getting lazier and lazier when it comes to building meaningful relationships (“Swiping in…”). So, express your interest and sing your love/lust/affection from the rooftops – but if in doing so you run up against aforementioned boundaries, respect them.

“It’s one thing to be flirty and funny, and completely another to be obsessed and manipulative… There are plenty of fish in the sea, so if you get a “no”, just move on. Harassing someone to the point of annoyance will never make them interested in you.”

Cover by Afchine Davoudi