Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 11/12, June 2005 (
When Courtship Persistence Becomes Intrusive Pursuit:
Comparing Rejecter and Pursuer Perspectives
of Unrequited Attraction
H. Colleen Sinclair
and Irene Hanson Frieze
Two hundred forty-one undergraduates described their experiences with unrequited love,
both as pursuers (actors) and love interests (targets). As expected, targets and actors perspec-
tives differed. As targets, participants reported being on the receiving end of more unwanted
courtship tactics, violent and nonviolent, than they reported using as pursuers. Further, par-
ticipants in the actor role—particularly men—tended to overreport receiving signals that their
love interest was reciprocating, and to underreport receiving rejections. Meanwhile, targets—
particularly women—claimed numerous attempts to reject, including explicitly stating “I am
deﬁnitely not interested in you,” and indicated minimal positive reactions to the unwanted
pursuit. Implications of these differences, and others, in perspectives for understanding difﬁ-
culties in differentiating persistence from stalking are discussed.
KEY WORDS: courtship persistence; unrequited love; stalking, rejection, and comparing accounts.
Intimate violence is a prevalent problem in
the United States. It is recognized by the National
Institutes of Justice and the National Institutes of
Health as a leading health risk for women. How-
ever, the focus of much of the dialogue about and
research on intimate violence is on battering, and,
to a lesser extent, sexual assault. As a survey of
texts on intimate violence and violence against
women would show, an examination of stalking
behavior is often neglected. Yet, stalking is a form
of intimate violence (Coleman, 1997; Douglas &
Dutton, 2001; Kurt, 1995), affecting approximately
1 million women and 400,000 men each year (Tjaden
& Thoennes, 1997), who are primarily stalked by
current or former love interests (see Spitzberg &
Cupach, 2001, for review). Although the public
stereotype of the stalker may be the crazed fan
of a celebrity, the romantic context is actually the
most common context in which stalking is likely to
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occur. The majority of stalking victims are stalked
by an intimate or someone they know (Tjaden &
Thoennes, 1997) often as a relationship is breaking
up (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Palarea, Cohen, &
Rohling, 2000; Logan, Leukefeld, & Walker, 2002;
Mechanic, Uhlmansiek, Weaver, & Resick, 2000).
However, preceding the passage of California’s
ﬁrst antistalking statute in 1990, “stalking,” as it is
presently known, lacked a name and deﬁnition. Ref-
erences to what would now fall under the label of
stalking behavior were termed “obsession,” “love
sickness,” “a form of sexual harassment,” “infatu-
ation,” or “psychological rape” (Lowney & Best,
1995). California set a precedence with the ﬁrst an-
tistalking statutes; deﬁning stalking as the “willful,
malicious, and repeated following or harassing” of
another person (National Institute of Justice, 1993,
p. 13). Deﬁnitions vary state by state, as do pro-
(Deﬁnitions of stalking by researchers
also lack consistency [Davis & Frieze, 2002]). Many
states deﬁne stalking in terms of perspective. In many
Examples of stalking-related behaviors that are often included
in the deﬁnitions include lying in wait, surveillance, harassment,
intimidation, threats, and vandalism.
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.