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Sometimes I run RPG events for strangers, advertising on meetup.com to get people. At these events, I spend around three hours asking the players what the characters are doing and narrating the results, trying to tell an entertaining and fun story.

I did this three weeks ago. Of the four attendees to my game, one had a very low neckline, and several times I caught myself staring at her chest. I felt bad about it and wanted to stop.

At the end of the game, the other players said things like "thanks for the game, that was fun". This player just stood up and left. I suspected that I had offended her. I was sad, because I had wanted to run a fun event for everyone.

This coming week, I posted another RPG event to the meetup. She has signed up again. I guess in some sense this is heartening -- I guess she wasn't that offended? But in a different sense, there's an awkward interpersonal situation here.

I want to avoid being distracted by her chest, and I want her to not feel uncomfortable by my glancing at it. How can I approach this situation in the least awkward or least offensive manner? I've considered saying some of the following to her:

Hey, sorry I was staring at your cleavage last game, I felt really bad about it.

Hey, maybe you could wear a higher neckline next time?

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    Might be the fundamental attribution error. How did she behave before/during playtime? Maybe she is simply an introvert or socially inerperienced (well, nerd cliché) and did not think about formalities after the game, – Sven Apr 4 '18 at 9:29
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    What is the issue here? Are you worried that she will be upset, in which case presumably next time she will wear less revealing clothing, or are you bothered by your own reaction to her attire? Your desire to ask her to cover up only makes sense in the latter case. – user Apr 4 '18 at 14:01
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    This post is being discussed on meta: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2707/… – apaul Apr 4 '18 at 21:35
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    I'm sorry, but to me your question is still unclear. There's two things you're thinking of saying, both with two different intents: Apologizing effectively for what you are afraid might have been offensive behavior on your part, or asking her to dress appropriately. Also, there is way too little information on this women's character, would you think she's open to criticism or not for example? And what about cultural background, how do people generally act where you're from? Are they expected to apologize even when they're not sure they actually committed an offense? – Tinkeringbell Apr 5 '18 at 12:18
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    We're all assuming you're a guy here. I find that kind of interesting in itself. – bornfromanegg Apr 6 '18 at 10:38

10 Answers 10

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Prompted to give an answer by @apaul, I thought I'd give a woman's perspective here :)

As per my answer over at Workplace.SE on wandering eyes, most women are fairly used to the occasional involuntary glance at our chests from guys. It happens. However, once it reaches a point of "can't take your eyes off" then it rapidly jumps into creepy territory.

Unless your player is wearing something that is blatantly inappropriate for wearing on out in public, then it really is your problem to deal with. Try to focus on her face when you're talking to her (yes, I know you will have involuntary glances from time to time), but as long as it's clear you're trying to do the right then she will likely be not overly offended.

With your question "Should I apologise?", the answer is no, let it go. It's just going to get awkward. Take the fact that she signed up again as a positive indication that she wants to continue and wasn't entirely creeped out. Yet. You may find that this time around she will take it on herself to wear something less revealing, but even if she doesn't, the onus is on you to control your behaviour, not hers.

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    If you disagree with a post, write your own answer and let the community vote on it. DO NOT USE COMMENTS TO ARGUE WITH A POST. Future comments must ASK for clarification or suggest a specific, actionable improvement or they will be removed. – Catija Apr 4 '18 at 14:28
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    This post is being discussed on meta: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2707/… – apaul Apr 4 '18 at 21:35
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – HDE 226868 Apr 6 '18 at 13:02
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    Jane flagged the comments and asked for them to be removed, @R.Schmitz, saying that she wasn't interested in responding to them or making an edit. If y'all want to have long conversations, go to chat. – HDE 226868 Apr 6 '18 at 19:01
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You're right, using mod tools to remove her from the sign up list would be wrong, and it is your problem.Take a deep breath, remember why you're there and be a grown up.

This kind of thing is a big part of the reason that women have largely dropped out of game culture... Boys will be boys, and more often than not, men will be boys. It's... Disappointing.

I'm a guy, I know what it's like to be a little distracted by an attractive person, but I know that it's on me to control myself. It can be more challenging at times, but with practice I'm sure you can too.

Often I find that it helps to get to know the person a little more. I know this will sound harsh, but reminding your self that they're a fully fledged person with likes and dislikes and not just a assembly of nice parts will help you keep your head in the game.

Always remember that the majority of people don't like to be ogled. Granted there are those that do, but that's a story for another day... If you would like to have any chance with this person, EVER, treat them like a person. Don't stare at their parts.

If it wasn't already painfully obvious, don't comment on her shirt line, cleavage, etc. She's a person, she's completely capable of dressing herself without your input. You're a person too, and you're completely capable of controlling your gaze.

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    I'm having trouble with the part of your answer that advises me to "be a grown up". It's not clear if you're confused about my age (I'm over 30) or you're trying to suggest that you think I'm being childish. I think I would prefer an answer that did not insult me in this way. – erbert Apr 4 '18 at 13:06
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    @erbert "be a grown up" wasn't meant to be insulting, more of a "you're an adult, and adults are expected to be capable of controlling these things" – apaul Apr 4 '18 at 15:42
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    Enough, y'all. This entire line of discussion about the comments under answers is done. If you want to talk about potential institutional sexism on IPS, take it to Interpersonal Skills Meta. – Catija Apr 5 '18 at 15:07
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    Could you expand on how exactly OP can effectively "be a grown up" and "control these things"? This would certainly help to make this post come across less like a scolding and more like an answer to a problem. – user510 Apr 7 '18 at 7:14
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    @henning It may be hard to explain how to control basic urges verbally. Can you explain how you control your bladder, how you don't shout insults at people you despise in public or how you don't just grab anything you like? I'd expect that neurologically those are non-trivial functions but it's hard to describe them verbally. As apaul says: they take practice and - for better or worse - they are expected in adults. – AllTheKingsHorses Apr 9 '18 at 14:56
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This is the sort of thing where it helps to get to know the person. In my experience, when I am more familiar with a person, their physical attributes become less important than their personality.

Here is my suggestion:

  1. Use your will power to not stare, and treat her as you would treat anyone else. After a 5-6 sessions, you will know what sort of clothing she wears.

  2. If she is always wearing clothing that is obviously excessively revealing, and you get used to it, do nothing.

  3. If she is always wearing clothing that is obviously excessively revealing, and this distracts you, tell her something simple:

Can I make a request? Can you wear something a little less revealing?

It wont hurt if you blush while you are saying this.

Source:

I was a lifeguard for many years, and enjoyed teaching swim lessons. I taught many adults of every age and gender. One of my students was a physically beautiful woman who wore a tiny bikini. It was so small that it made me uncomfortable. After several lessons, and we had developed a rapport, at the end of the lesson I asked her if she could switch to a one-piece bathing suit. She blushed for a second and said ok. The next lesson, she had enough coverage that I was much more comfortable. I think the important thing was that after a few lessons, we had developed sufficient rapport that I didn't come off as critical, but instead just communicating my desire to have a more professional atmosphere.

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Unless you're in a culture where someone dressing like this is a big deal, then they're going to have a reasonable expectation for it not to be a big deal. So... don't make it a big deal! Definitely don't bring it up.

On the other hand, If someone has decided to make some part of their body visible - perhaps even highlight it to a degree - you don't need to feel guilty about seeing it.

If you're not used to seeing potentially alluring parts of people's bodies, you're going to be distracted - just a fact. Ultimately, that will continue until you're a bit more used to it. So, breathe deeply and get used to it! Even enjoy it a little if you must - after all, most people choose their outfits partly in the hope that others won't find them unpleasant to look at. But be cool - and try to give at least 95% of your headspace to the other interesting things about the person as well. Like... the way they are participating in the game, for example!

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Personally, I would approach this problem from a completely different direction.

Since your primary concern is to avoid involuntary staring, and you can't control the other person's clothing or behavior, simply make it harder to for you to see her.

Assuming you are playing a game around a table with dice, etc, use a GM screen and position it to obstruct your view of the specific area of concern.

Also, depending on the game and the room you may be able to change seating arrangements, or use a higher table or lower seats. You could sit separately from the group, or stand up and walk around.

You could even wear sunglasses or depending on the game, some sort of mask, which would not only help you avoid looking, but keep her from noticing if you did.

  • If @erbert could comment specifically what sort of RPG he is playing, or if the setting of the meet-up allows for this answer that would be helpful – Jesse Apr 5 '18 at 10:11
  • @Jesse good point, I just assumed a tabletop RPG with dice. – barbecue Apr 5 '18 at 21:35
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    I don't know about the sunglasses. Do you know people who wear sunglasses indoors and aren't creeps? I'd assume that if someone wore sunglasses, they just want to keep staring without being noticed, especially after a session of "wandering eyes". Depending on your culture, it might seem impolite. And it will certainly interfere with your game, since human contact is essential and hiding your eyes destroys a lot of that. – Luaan Apr 12 '18 at 8:21
  • @Luaan Of course I do. There's nothing inherently creepy about wearing sunglasses. – barbecue Apr 12 '18 at 18:07
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It's your job to keep the game going. Now "we" have the problems that Western female attire in particular is designed for catching attention by highlighting gender specific features and conditioning everyone (actually both female and male alike) on such highlights. Civilization means not acting on getting primal urges triggered: that's why we can have nice things. Like appetizing supermarket displays: you aren't supposed to stuff yourself before getting to the counter and paying.

The reaction of the player in question likely means that she became aware of her effect on you and it might or might not have embarrassed her. She is likely to take it into account. This can happen in several directions: if she is toning down or staying put, it is your job to adjust. If she obviously increases the distractive value, chances are that she is acting intentionally (even if that's just her usual self and she's getting more comfortable around the company). In that case, it might make sense taking her aside and talking with her separately. I'd strongly suggest to only do that in person (misconstruing written or other messages delivered without immediate visual feedback on such matters is very easy) given a suitable opportunity and without putting her on the spot by forcing a reply or discussion or even continued contact: that's really only useful for a by-the-bye without anybody else in earshot.

Since that is rather delicate, I'd strongly recommend being sure that there will be escalation otherwise before even thinking of it.

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Point One:
Other answers suggest that you don't even bring this up. That may be the best advice, and I don't mean to contradict that, especially for your next meeting. However, I also realize that infringements just tend to feel less awful after they have aged out, but even bringing this up in the future could land you in more hot water than what you might think.

If you feel like you must bring this up, now or ever in the future, just don't phrase things this way. You could say, "I felt bad because I inadvertently committed the foul act of making glances that were inappropriate... multiple times." Anyone that you might say this to ought to be able to insinuate precisely what is meant. The point is, nowhere in that quotation did I make a direct mention of her chest. Make sure you don't either, because any such mention (no matter how innocent the objective) will increase the likelihood that someone may feel like you're trespassing where you don't belong. (Example: Your question made mention of this precise physical feature at least twice, as I quoted. Make sure you don't do that again, and you will be far less likely to be blamed for crossing the line.)

Point Two:
It seems like it would be ideal for you if you could just get this off of your chest, and if she would even acknowledge forgiveness of any unintended slight, and then you could walk away knowing that dust has settled and you're in the free and clear. Don't allow your fantasy of that super-desirable resolution lead you into thinking that is what you should do. It might seem super-decent to apologize, but on the contrary, that may re-traumatize (or, if she didn't notice what you're doing, initially traumatize).

Point Three:
Now, rather than just a bunch of "don't don't don't don't", I will provide some positive advice on what you can do.

Another way to handle this is to make a universal statement.

Ideally prior to not only the event, but also the sign-ups. (Okay, so she signed up, so this time around, you didn't accomplish this at the ideal time. But, if you do this again, you could adjust the parameters for the next time around.)

Something like, "Dress Code: Family friendly attire to make this safe and comfortable environment for all."

A lot of women will understand that "family friendly" is a code-word that means "non-tantalizing"/"non-provocative". Of course, that same phrasing might not work if you feel like tattoos are not necessarily "family-friendly" and you want to let Big Joe to come in his tank top and show off his latest tats. Whatever line you decide to draw, make sure it's something that can be applied universally.

Side note: She just left. If she didn't single you out, maybe she was annoyed by somebody else.

I caught myself staring at her chest.


hey, sorry I was staring at your cleavage last game,

Under no circumstances whatsoever should you allow any reference to her chest. This is simply crossing a line.

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    I don't mind the point you were making, and even though i understand that when reading a suggested answer for what to say you are supposed to modify for your own situation but... "I felt bad because I inadvertently committed the foul act of making glances that were inappropriate... multiple times" - this really feels like it could use some work because of how you used such unusually descriptive language to explain what OP was doing. In cases like these it is better to simplify and use familiar language whenever possible. – Jesse Apr 5 '18 at 7:25
  • An example of something with the same premise, that gets the message across far clearer and without such excessive descriptive language could be: "Sorry for any inappropriate glances I made last week" – Jesse Apr 5 '18 at 7:32
  • I don't know if its best to say anything at all either, but as with any apology (because that is what this is), it is best done clearly and to the point. – Jesse Apr 5 '18 at 7:33
  • @Jesse : Well, people have often commented about how my speech mannerisms can sometimes seem rather... academic. Such language is really not out of place for me. But I fully agree that one should use natural language. If what is natural is "Sorry for any inappropriate glances... last week" then, by all means, speak naturally about a serious subject. I was also trying to cover the idea of discussing this down the road, possibly with someone else. Doing so might never be a good idea, but even If ever doing so anyway, I'd at least recommend the guilty party still avoid direct chest references – TOOGAM Apr 5 '18 at 8:19
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As per @Bilkokuya 's suggestion I'm writing a new answer which addresses my concern with the currently top voted answer by Jane S and aims to provide a different perspective.

[TL:DR] Transparency is key (as per the usual in any social scenario). The reason you feel bad is because

  1. you lack transparency on what caused her behavior (with potential of you being the cause)
  2. you both lack transparency on what the respective other thinks is appropriate

The only way to address this issue is by providing a forum for each party to voice their concerns to get transparency and then negotiate a good solution.

How this abstract sentence can be turned into reality is very situation and personality dependent, maybe my longer answer below helps.


[Should] I message her before the event and say: [Any of the two messages]

No. Apologizing because you feel bad and want to feel more at ease vs. genuinely accepting a mistake which you know you have done are different things. You can't preemptively apologize for something you don't know you have done wrong. [That doesn't count ;D]

Also, what response do you expect to get? Generally you put her into an awkward situation. Either she was offended and she now has to tell you (Its always hard to tell people they did wrong). Or she wasn't offended and you create an strange situation where there is none.

It's a little bit tempting to use moderator tools to just silently remove her from my signup list, so that I won't have to deal with the awkwardness at the table.

Also no. You are dodging the problem by pretending it doesn't exist. On top you are being rude and somebody might argue that it's discriminating.


Staring at women's cleavage is a general problem. What annoys me is that a guy's perspective in this is often overlooked and he is simply guilty. Period.

I understand the argument I often hear from a women's perspective. It goes something like this:

It makes me feel good to wear these clothes. I feel bad because that guy is staring at my chest (unwanted attention). I can't control his actions. I can't say anything about it, because I don't want to cause a big scene and make him feel bad (even more unwanted attention). That would make me feel even more bad. I don't see another way of communicating to him that he should stop.

and results in her feeling uncomfortable and choosing between two bad options: a) enduring the guy's staring or b) risking to cause "a big scene".

For a guy the argument goes something like this:

I feel a constant, (literally) natural urge to look at a women's chest. Not giving in to this urge takes mental afford which is exhausting. Feeling exhausted feels bad. I can't just stare because it may make her feel bad. Making her feel bad would make me feel even more bad.

This, again, results in feeling uncomfortable and having to choose between two bad options: a) fighting a constant inner conflict against biology, which you can only loose b) risking to offend the women. [This doesn't make it okay or not okay to stare. It just shows the inevitable conflict we guys deal with.]

Who's to blame? The women for using her right to wear whatever she feels comfortable in? The guy for not having perfect solitude against biological instinct? Janne S 's answer seems to suggest the latter since she advises "It's your problem to deal with", which I completely disagree with. In fact there is no single person to blame (even though we'd love that. I see why guys take a punch here).

The problem is that you can't act appropriately due to lack of transparency in: a) realizing that the other person is in distress and b) conveying our opinion on the matter to the other person in such a way that nobody gets hurt.

A good way of acting, in my opinion, is to create a forum where a) we can signal such conflict and b) we can exchange opinions so that the respective other can take appropriate action.

[Edit: I rewrote the section below, hopefully avoiding multiple interpretations this time.]

To that end what I found works nicely is to opt for a fun and lighthearted atmosphere, because what is "inappropriate" shifts. It's the same idea as banter, where you playfully "insult" somebody but not really mean to. Your're probably doing that with your friends a lot and know what I mean, despite me potentially failing to describe it here concisely.

From a guy's perspective the idea is to paint a picture of "let's play a game: I will pretend to stare at your chest and be a douche about it, what will you do. Afterwards we will compare to my expectations and see where we stand". [I can see now how this can sound odd if you read it deadpan serious. Think about it in a satirical way.] The idea is that you create a win-win situation. She can express her actual feelings about this in a safe environment and you can express your concerns. If you run into the actual staring situation later on in the event, you both know where you stand and what is happening. The situation will be more transparent.

Of course, if she is already annoyed or you do this immediately after being "caught" staring, chances are she doesn't want to play this particular game with you. In this case, I think it's best to fall back to blunt, deadpan honesty and ask if you offended her. Potentially with a bit of humor mixed in (that never hurts). I will refrain from examples, because they have only backfired so far [seems to be a lot harder to communicate via text then expected].

However, if you don't have to respond to it on the spot chances are shes willing to play this or a similar game with you. From my experience, I haven't met a person that doesn't enjoy "what if" games. Dang it, she comes to play a RPG which is a big multiplayer "what if" game. Why wouldn't she want to play a smaller "what if" game with you, too?

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    What annoys me is that a guy's perspective in this is often overlooked and he is simply guilty. Period. This is simply false. Look at the very answer you are commenting on: most women are fairly used to the occasional involuntary glance at our chests from guys. It happens. However, once it reaches a point of "can't take your eyes off" then it rapidly jumps into creepy territory. Men's perspective isn't overlooked, and most women make accommodations for it. – Beofett Apr 4 '18 at 12:52
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    You make some good points, like the difference between apologizing just to make yourself feel better and apologizing because you understand and accept that you did something wrong. But your solution to having possibly offended a woman by looking at her chest too much is to blatantly stare at her chest and make comments about it? – Kevin Apr 4 '18 at 14:05
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    @Kevin I see now how this can be misunderstood. I didn't realize that this has an alternative interpretation, thanks for pointing that out. I will try to think of a way to express myself more clearly and update the answer. Can you clarify: I thought it was unclear IF she actually felt offended. Did I misunderstand the question? If so, then yes my answer doesn't apply yo begin with. – FirefoxMetzger Apr 4 '18 at 14:48
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    @FirefoxMetzger For what it's worth, your suggestion seems pretty clear to me, unless "repeat the problematic behavior with flimsy plausible deniability and see what she thinks" is still the wrong way to read it. (That's not to say I think it's a good idea, but after some thought, I'm at a bit of a loss how to suggest improvement without just scrapping the whole thing.) – Cascabel Apr 4 '18 at 20:04
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    While a friend of mine may be able to put on a mock show of stealing my lunch money and open a helpful dialogue, the bully who has stolen it multiple times before is not in a position where they can do the same, because no matter how funny or satirical the intent, it is simply not going to be perceived that way. – Jesse Apr 5 '18 at 7:59
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The onus of solving your situation is entirely on you. Just need a bit of practice in controlling your mind. Maintain eye contact and behave no differently than if she were a man. Strictly business.

Once you achieve that state of self control, maybe you can back off a bit since you are in a social situation. Then, in the words of Seinfeld, always remember "Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don't stare at it. Ya get a sense of it and look away."

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    How is what you are suggesting different from the accepting? And do you have any back-up to suggest this course of action? – Ælis Jan 5 at 9:27
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(Because of the down votes I feel it is necessary to point out that OP is writing "very low neckline" which I interpret as being very revealing. This is what my answer is based on. I find the womans choice of clothes is not in accordance with social norms.)

You are asking the wrong question

Imho this is a classic XY problem, i.e. you are attributing the error completely to you while she is also to "blame", therefore you cannot solve this situation by merely focusing on you.

She is probalby not offended

As suggested in the OP's comments, you are probably suffering from an attribution error, i.e. the reason that she left without saying anything is maybe due to her shyness or maybe just due to being a socially incapable person. Why else would she register to a voluntary, leisure time event again, if she did not like it?

It is also her fault

There is no reason for her to have a "very low neckline" except to be more attractive, i.e. have a higher sexual appeal to men. She might not be aware it because of the culture she grew up in ("everyone does it"). Even if she thinks "I just want to look pretty for me", prettiness that stems from showing off your body is grounded in the sexual attraction generated in mens brains. Why are there no other reasons than sexual attraction?

It is not the only solution to comfortable clothing

The neckline does not cover an area of body parts that have to be moved therefore a "very low neckline" does not decrease constricted body movement.

It is not the only solution to loss of heat

Wearing thiner or breathable clothing can aid the loss of body heat and a "very low neckline" is not required to do this.

It is not simply her freedom to dress how she wants

This popular argument does not make sense. There are various genetically inherent attributes in males that make most of them attracted to breasts. This is not their "fault", it has its biological reasons and does not automatically make them chauvinistic creeps.

Simply ignoring this fact and demanding to "wear what I want" is dumb and disingenuous. You can not do something to maximize X and then be offended that X happens.

This obviously does not mean that you can just go grab everyones breasts or blatantly stare at them from close distance. Humans developed a culture which forbids this, to facilitate a non-violent society, but one should not feel like this is urge is a sickness or result of bad upbringing.

It is also the responsibility of women to reduce the sexual attraction if it is not desired. You cannot pour gasoline in the fire and then be offended that the fire burns stronger.

Advice

"I want to avoid being distracted by her chest"

If she arrives dressed in very revealing clothes again, you could add something to your ad or invite about not wearing revealing clothes, but I think this might give people the wrong idea about whats happening during the role playing.

I think you won't get around talking to her personally. She is obviously oblivious to social norms and not aware of the effect she has.

Be factual and avoid any innuendo:

Hey X, I have a favor to ask. When telling you guys the story I came up, I need my full concentration. You might not have noticed, but I found that the kind of revealing clothing you wear, attracts attention from me and possibly other men and shifts the focus from the game to you. I know this is an awkward conversation to have, but could you please wear clothes that cover more of your body next time? This would really help us focus more and the game and would make the evening more fun and immersive. Thanks and I hope you understand my reasoning!

Don't give her any compliments regarding her body, this might come across creepy.

This will still be awkward, but I don't think there is any way around it. She might be even thankful for bringing this to her attention. Some people are just oblivious to certain social norms.

"and I want her to not feel uncomfortable by my glancing at it."

You do not know that she is. But even if she is. It is her fault mostly. She caused this but either not being aware of social norms or by deliberately causing it for attention.

"How can I approach this situation in the least awkward or least offensive manner"

See example above,

...but because you have too little information on why she behaved the way she did, I think it is better to wait and see how the next meeting goes. It could be that she just did not know when to say goodbye and what the etiquette on these meeting is (-> she lacks social intelligence). Or maybe she had a conflict with one of the other people present that you did not notice. Or she is just impolite and/or takes your effort for granted and does not feel its necessary to say goodbye. We don't know.

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    Sources should be edited into your answer. Comments are subject to deletion by mods. – Em C Apr 10 '18 at 13:38

protected by A J Apr 5 '18 at 9:32

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