update: my assistant keeps commenting on my appearance

Remember the letter-writer whose office admin kept commenting on her appearance? Here’s the update.

I am the OP who wrote in asking about how to address my unit’s administrative assistant commenting on my appearance. All the comments were very helpful and I am thankful for all the great advice from them!

Right after writing in, I was out of town for a week and not in the office for about a week and a half. After coming back, I was waiting for her to make another comment so that I could address everything in the moment with her. Well, to my surprise, shock, and utter embarrassment, she went a step further. I was at my desk after lunch one day in an area with 3 other male coworkers. She comes back with a young man and proceeds to call out my name and bring him over to my cube. She then tells me in front of him how nice he is, repeatedly, and about his favorite after-work activity, which is one that I have zero interest in or knowledge about.

What made it truly awkward though is that while there, she looks over and drops something off to male coworker 1, but doesn’t bring the man over to the male coworker for introductions, and then as they are leaving, she skips over introducing this young man to male coworkers 2 &3, even though she was walking right past them. When they cleared the area, one of the male coworkers shouts out, ” So that was a set-up, wasn’t it?” Followed by laughing and lots of comments about how uncomfortable it was.

Needless to say, a day later I had a conversation with her about how uncomfortable it made me and that I would prefer in the future not to have her do any of that. She attempted to say it wasn’t meant to be anything and explain her way out of it, but ultimately I just stated that it made me uncomfortable and I would like to keep my work environment as professional as possible and would like that, as well as comments on my appearance, to stop. I also addressed that I would like her to come to me with any issues she sees with my work, rather than other coworkers. She nodded and agreed to all of it, and thanked me for talking to her.

Ever since, she has kept her distance from me, but I feel much more comfortable with the situation now than when I was before. Thank you so much for your help and advice in this situation!

{ 84 comments… read them below }

  1. MR

    So she tried to set you up with some random guy? By bringing him into the office? Talk about awkward, not only for you, but for him…

  2. Katie the Fed

    You handled it well, OP.

    Of course if I were her boss I’d want to know about this, but I know you probably can’t really say anything to the boss. But still. If she’s doing that to other people it’s hurting the office.

  3. Marcy

    Huge boundary issues. It’s not quite as horrifying as the receptionist who liked to give full body hugs, but still over the line. Icky-poo.

  4. Heaven's Thunder Hammer

    Nice to hear that the situation got handled and she’s giving the OP some distance.

  5. Gene

    The most annoying 7 word sentence in the English language, “But I was only trying to help!”

  6. Sascha

    Gah! How embarrassing! Sounds like you handled it well, I’m glad she is no longer making the comments and doing “set ups” (!!!).

    I once interned as an office assistant for the director of a small nonprofit, and the director was also very motherly and would try to set me up – even though she knew I had a serious boyfriend (whom I later married). She would bring random guys to my desk and have them talk with me. So glad it was just a 3 month job!

    1. Lanya

      I also worked at a small nonprofit where the admin was very motherly. She tried setting me up a few times. I never asked to be set up. She didn’t even know anything about my love life. I wasn’t exactly looking!

      I would never dream of trying to set anybody up, at work or at home, unless they specifically asked to be set up!

      What is it with these people?

      1. Sascha

        My director had one successful set up and decided she was The Matchmaker of the Universe, so she just couldn’t resist setting up people she thought would work together. She was very much a “I think, therefore I’m right,” kind of person.

  7. hayling

    Wowza. I can’t believe that she crossed the line like that – that might be something worth taking up the chain.

    Good for you for having the confidence to talk to her about it.

  8. Celeste

    Wow, what timing. I’m so glad you were ready to address it when you came back. She was only getting worse, and now you’ve put a stop to it. Well done! I have the feeling that nobody has ever stood up to her about her ways before.

  9. Anonsie

    Sometimes I really wonder what it’s like to be one of those people who thinks that the most important thing a lady can do is look pretty and giggle so she can meet a nice man and get married.

  10. LizNYC

    OP, I’m glad that the other people you work with found this as strange (and unfortunately uncomfortable) as you did! And good job with how you handled things.

  11. Puddin

    Sounds like a case study from the Michael Scott School of Appropriate Work Boundaries – Not!

    Glad it seems to have settled down for you.

    1. Kate

      Now I’m just picturing Michael Scott smiling into the camera while an awkward set-up attempt is going on behind him.

  12. Rayner

    Sweet Jesus, how inappropriate was that? OP, you handled it well, but man alive, that woman.

    *shakes head*

  13. AMG

    Well, she certainly did you give you something to address right away. Jeez, how awkward. So glad you nipped this in the bud before she came over and rearranged your kitchen cabinets and cleaned out your bedroom closet.

    1. Chinook

      Hey – if someone wants to come over and rearrange my kitchen cabinets and clean out my bedroom closet, I will give them my key and tell them “have at her.” I used to love it when my mom would come over and do that (even if it was without asking.) I just can’t visualize the organizatino I crave.

      1. Rayner

        I have a vision in my head of a tidy apartment, a nice orderly life, and paperwork in perfect sequence.

        It doesn’t happen.

        Ever.

  14. Overkill

    Matchmaking in such cases is often deemed a form of defense mechanism, allowing the matchmaker to live vicariously on a romantic level through one or both of the people concerned. In reality, the matchmaker wishes to pursue a relationship with at least one of people but is inhibited in doing so. As the impulse does not abate, matchmaking becomes the next best thing, as she no doubt, were you both inclined to acquiesce to her suggestion and date each other, would want to be privy to the intimate details of the relationship.

    It’s so much fun having this thought in mind whenever I come across or am embroiled in a matchmaking.

    1. esra

      I have a friend who matchmakes professionally and this doesn’t sound like her or her industry friends at all.

      1. anonintheUK

        Probably not professional matchmakers. But it has often seemed to me (as a straight woman) that women who try to persuade you to date their male acquaintances have a bit of a thing for said male acquaintances themselves.

        1. Pennalynn Lott

          Well, the few times I’ve set up friends with guys I know, it was specifically because I thought the guys were awesome. I can’t imagine setting a friend up with someone I thought was a creep or a jerk or even just “meh”. But just because I liked the guys didn’t mean *I* wanted to date them (largely because the only time I’ve played matchmaker is when I’ve been in a long-term committed relationship), and I sure as hell never wanted to hear any intimate details if they decided to date each other!

  15. ClaireS

    Sounds like you handled this perfectly. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if you need to have that conversation again in the future. She’s giving you space now but attitudes like that can be very ingrained. Hold strong and don’t let her slip back into old patterns. You’ll be better for it and she will too!

  16. Mena

    Boundaries!!!! You have set a boundary. Hopefully she respects it but she may need a reminder or two.

  17. Malissa

    Wow! Good for you for holding your ground OP. I still remember the day I had to tell some one in my last office that she was not my mother. I will caution you that you will have to draw a line in the sand and enforce your boundaries. This situation will arise again.

  18. Poohbear McGriddles

    Wow, poor Randy probably felt like a piece of meat, too! But it’s so hard to find a nice girl who shares his love of knitting cat sweaters, so he doesn’t tackle the boundaries issue either. At least you got her off your back.

  19. Romola

    My manager at a nonprofit I worked for signed me up for a “Lesbian Cougar Dating” website because I was single. I don’t work there anymore.

    Never again. Never. Again.

    1. Poohbear McGriddles

      I didn’t realize that was even a thing. I’ve always said whatever you’re into, there’s a website out there devoted to it.

    2. Bea W

      I am so glad I did not have any liquid in my mouth. I’m in a packed subway car and that would have been awkward.

    3. bad at online naming

      Is the never again about working there or going on a lesbian cougar dating adventure?

      Because I’m imagining you there, at the lesbian cougar dating happy hour… and then your manager showing up… and pretending not to look for you… and some forced laughter… and other scenes from every bad romcom I’ve ever seen.

      (or a horror stalker movie, your pick)

  20. anonintheUK

    I have had a similar issue with an older, male colleague.
    Eventually, I sat him down (I think it helped that though I was not his direct manager I was several grades above) and said, very simply, ‘You need to keep out of my personal life. This is not a request.’

    1. Jill

      “This is not a request”.

      Bingo! This is the best statement ever. Otherwise this goofy gal might just think the OP is being bashful or playing hard to get or just didn’t care for this particular fellow. “Stop X” followed by “This is not a request” is so perfect for making it clear how totally inappropriate you find her behavior.

  21. Ruffingit

    Total and complete lack of boundaries. It’s amazing how many people do not understand that there needs to be a hard line between personal and work issues. This woman apparently delights in playing “mother of the office” perhaps because she can’t get recognition or feel better about herself in the office environment in any other way so she’s taken on this role. Problem is, it’s not a role that is open in any workplace environment because it’s entirely inappropriate to behave that way. Adults are not in need of women playing mommy to them in the workplace. This woman REALLY needs some training on boundaries and what is/isn’t appropriate. She clearly is beyond clueless.

  22. Lydia

    I once had this issue with a coworker who was older, female, and completely socially awkward. I was young, (in my 20s,) single, and got the sense that she either had somewhat of a girl crush or was a little jealous of my physical appearance. She had friended me on facebook and then encouraged her male friends to friend me as well… which I allowed at first, but then stopped as they started making inappropriate comments on my photos. After I unfriended her friends, she started texting them during the day to describe my clothes to them and loudly reading the descriptions to the entire (small sized) office. I was made to feel incredibly uncomortable, and like she was pimping me out via text message. I almost took it to HR, but luckily didn’t need to, as this coworker’s other crazy issues started becoming such an issue for the company she was needed to be dealt with around the same time.

    1. The Real Ash

      That is absolutely disgusting. It’s too bad you weren’t able to report her sexual harassment to HR. I can’t believe her male friends didn’t find her behavior creepy (i.e. describing the clothes a complete stranger was wearing in an attempt to sexualize her). Yuck.

    2. MaggietheCat

      I have a co-worker who is constantly making comments about Facebook and why are we not friends on Facebook… I am a pretty private person and as a general rule do not connect with anyone from work on social media. After the first few times he asked, he ended up getting really aggressive and he came over to my desk with his phone and said I can’t find you so you friend me and I’ll accept it right now. It was really uncomfortable! Now he just walks by my desk and says that I’m missing out on all the awesome things he posts – No thanks!

      1. JessB

        Maggie, how hilarious would it be to respond “I know I’m missing out on what you post, that’s the point.”

        What a jerk!

      2. Editor

        Once again, I feel pleased I limited facebook to family and a few friends who live far away. No work colleagues are on my facebook list, even after they leave work. Which turns out to be a good thing, because I’m now in an office with half a dozen people I worked with over the last decade. If I had friended them after they got other jobs, I’d now be trying to figure out how to unfriend them.

    3. KitKat

      I have no words. I am completely lacking the proper vocabulary to express the revulsion I am feeling from that story. Glad she’s nowhere within 500 feet of you anymore. (I hope.)

  23. BCW

    I’m not defending the behavior, but I honestly don’t think I would have been as upset about that. If someone brought a nice looking lady to meet me while I was at work, trying to set me up, I’d probably just laugh it off at worst. Or ask the girl out on a date But I’ve definitely realized my reactions aren’t necessary the common reactions that the posters on this site have.

    1. Bea W

      I’m not sure if yours is a typical male reaction, but for a lot of women, even if they are looking, being caught in a surprise set up is really uncomfortable, even more so if they have no interest in the guy and definitely at work. YMMV.

      1. HannahS

        My guess is that if a mother-hen-type woman set you up at work, it would still be inappropriate, but would likely coming from a place of admiration, instead of coming off as condescending or a power-play.

    2. Anonsie

      It’s a whole package problem, really, with somewhat poor execution. If someone I worked with thought I would like someone and wanted to introduce us, they could certainly do it in a more subtle way than this without anyone getting ruffled. It’s the combination of the awkward/obvious situation and the constant comments about her looks and about how she’s single that make it a big fat slice of crazy cake.

      Once I can tell you are frequently preoccupied with my love life, you are going too far.

      1. Tinker

        Yeah, a lot of the awkward comes in the circumstances under which it is delivered. I’ve twice had folks come up to me with propositions of the form “So, I know the perfect guy for you, he’s my sister’s hairdresser’s cousin’s son Lester, he’s terribly shy and watches anime and plays WoW all day but he’s a nice guy, and you would get along so well because you’re so similar!” Fortunately, they did not drag Lester to the office. Unfortunately, I once gave the date a try (the other time, I was dating someone else and not available). About this the less said, the better.

    3. Tinker

      That’s not an uncommon issue — one thing I notice that makes it difficult for men is that they tend to imagine the person in the scenario (whatever it is) as being someone distinctly dateable, and they don’t tend to visualize as clearly any prospect of inappropriate behavior, either at that time or in the future. So it ends up being more of a “You brought me cake?” scenario.

      Conversely, something I note women don’t understand about those reactions, which in some cases would be real useful to understand, is the bit that involves not feeling implicitly pressured to indulge the proposition. There are reasons that women feel that way — there’s usually a weight of prior experience of being told that it is not right to be inaccessible, somewhat akin to the pressure that is applied to men to overtly display heterosexuality — and it’s not something that can be disregarded entirely because it governs people’s likely reactions (particularly those of people who have already shown themselves to be heedless of boundaries). It’s still useful, though, to look at the matter from the perspective of someone who generally does not carry the same set of cultural material to the interaction.

  24. Bea W

    Can we get the admin from this letter writer’s workplace to go work with the earlier letter writer who is sad about being single? Sounds like a win-win.

    1. BoundariesAreGood

      What do you say, AAM – can you help these two make a (virtual) connection? ;)

  25. BoundariesAreGood

    I feel compelled to mention a great book that I’ve found VERY helpful – “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud. I read it a few years ago and it had a lot of interesting insights. And the good thing is, it’s applicable in the workplace or in personal relationships.

    I swear I’m not the author – I just really like the book! :)

    1. Fish Microwaver

      I have read this book too. It should be mentioned that it does use a lot of biblical references to illustrate the points made.

  26. OP on this one

    Thank you everyone for your support and comments! I feel better knowing that she really is a ” slice of crazy cake” as one commenter put it and it wasn’t just me being sensitive. I have my fingers crossed that my going to her with it will be the last of it, I hope. Now I can laugh it off, especially after reading all these amazing comments!

    1. Editor

      Yes, the woman is out of line. If you want to feel grateful, go over to Slate and read the latest Dear Prudence column, where the couple who don’t ever plan to marry are dealing with his parents, who have booked a church and reception hall for The Event That Will Not Happen.

      I understand how Some People might want other people to do what Some People want them to do. I do not understand why Some People would matchmake at work or plan weddings for couples who don’t intend to get married or call babies by other names because they don’t like the names the parents chose or tell co-workers they have to take their husband’s name after marriage. Clearly I do not understand Some People.

  27. KrisL

    Good for you! But be careful; she might just decide to be sneaky about what’s she’s been doing.

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