A reader writes:
I moved to my current role in late November last year. Many of the other employees have known each other for years and socialize together out of work. In principle I prefer to keep my work and personal lives separate, but I will go to lunch from time to time and to the ‘yay we met our targets’ drinks.
The problem. One of my male colleagues has taken a fancy to me and asked me out. There is no policy against dating your colleagues where I work, just not your direct supervisor/ee. However, apart from the fact that I don’t care to star in the office gossip mill (there seems to be what I would consider a LOT of over-sharing going on), I have spent enough time around him in the last five months to know that I am not at all attracted to him.
The first time he asked, I had no interest in either him or the show, so declined and told him that I preferred to keep my social life well away from work. Unfortunately, this apparently was not enough, as he asked me out again two weeks ago, proferring tickets to a concert the following weekend. This time, I told him that I was sorry if my previous statement had been ambiguous in some way, but I was really not interested in dating him and not to ask me again.
To make matters BAD rather than just a trifle awkward, it appears i) that this was a crushing blow to his ego and ii) that he told his confidants at the office what he was planning to do, in the expectation that I would be delighted with his offer. I found out this when I was asked on the Monday in a ‘nudge and wink’ fashion how I’d enjoyed the concert on the weekend. Further, one of his confidants attempted to reproach me for turning him down, to which I told her that my personal life was really not her business. However, ever since then the Unwanted Admirer has been wandering the office like a huge dark cloud, sighing and glaring, and pointedly avoiding talking to me even when I am the best person to ask a question of.
Frankly, this just convinces me that I was right not to date him and that office relationships in general should be approached with extreme caution – if he’s still behaving like this two weeks after I turned down a date, what would he have done if I had dated him and broken it off? However, we still have to work together and our mutual boss, who has been out on leave, will be back next week and will want to know WHY he is behaving like this. I realise that the action to which I feel most inclined – whacking him about the head with a file and yelling ‘PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER’ – would not help and would probably get me fired. What alternatives do you suggest?
It’s always interesting when someone’s bad behavior just serves to confirm that you made the right decision.
Also, good for you for telling him unambiguously not to continue his overtures. People often aren’t straightforward enough about this kind of thing, assume the person should read their cues, and then are upset when the person doesn’t.
Anyway, as for what to do: I’d say to ignore his sulking, treat him completely professionally, and figure that if he wants to look like a fool, that’s up to him. (I suspect this is what you’re already doing.)
And if your boss asks you why he’s being such a douche to you, you don’t need to protect him from his own bad behavior: It’s fine to say, “It started after I turned down a social invitation from him, and I’m hoping it’ll be short-lived.”
For that matter, you don’t need to wait for your boss to ask. You could go to her yourself and give her a heads-up about what’s going on. You sound averse to drama, but remember that this isn’t your drama — it’s his.
It’s also worth mentioning that — at least if you’re in the U.S. and you work for a reasonably large company — your HR department would probably put an immediate stop to this if you told them about it. While the date requests themselves don’t sound like harassment in the legal sense, his behavior since then does raise some harassment/hostile workplace issues. (The legal concept of a “hostile workplace” isn’t just about being hostile, so simply being a jerk doesn’t qualify. However, when that hostility is linked to hitting on you, it can.) HR isn’t going to play around with this kind of thing, and it might help to have boundaries clearly spelled out for him by someone in a position of authority.
That said, it doesn’t sound like you do feel harassed, but rather like you’re just annoyed at this guy’s childish behavior, so this may not be an option you want to exercise. (By the way, be prepared for the possibility that your boss may feel obligated to involve HR if you tell her, in case it does raise potential legal issues for the company. And if that happens, again remember that it’s not your drama, it’s his.)
And as a side note, I will also add: Trust your gut too. Given how immature and egocentric this guy sounds, if you have any fear about retaliation resulting from you talking to your boss/HR, mention that to them in the same conversation. Don’t ignore your gut on this kind of thing.
What do others think?