my married colleague might be coming on to me

A reader writes:

I work at a medical clinic with over 22 doctors. I usually work with one specifically and do X-rays on other days. I had a doctor come up to me a few weeks ago and tell me that he wanted me to run his clinic while his regular person is gone on maternity leave. I informed my manager of this.

Last week, he asked if I was starting with him. He was fun and nice when he said it and I joked back that I did all I can and he will have to check with my bosses. He said not to worry because he was on it.

Well, I brought cupcakes to work last Friday to get rid of leftovers. I told him I would save him one. (I also gave cupcakes to all the other doctors, not just him.) I got his number from his nurse to let him know that I left the cupcake on his desk.

I thought this was innocent until he started texting me that night asking about what I did for fun, telling me he owed me a beer, and then said me that since another boss had eaten his cupcake (off of his desk), I “owed him a goodie…next Wednesday sounds good, you know where to find me.”

My husband and I were very offended by this text. I’m not sure if we’re just overreacting, but I can think back and see how him being nice could have been him flirting with me. He knows that I am married and he is married as well.

He sent me another text today asking me how my day was. I just ignored him. 

Both my manager and the manager above her are on vacation for a week, but I know they will answer my call if need be. How do I handle this?

I enjoy my job with the doctor I work with and have even been promised a promotion in two months. But my husband is getting deployed soon and the last thing I want is to worry about a doctor flirting and texting me.

I know you meant it entirely innocently when you called him outside of work to tell him that you’d left him a cupcake, but it sounds like he might have taken that as license to start a more personal relationship with you. This is absolutely not your fault — you should be able to make a nice gesture without someone interpreting it as anything other than that (especially when the someone is both married and above you in the office hierarchy) — but it sounds like that may be what happened.

It’s also possible that this isn’t the case at all and that he didn’t intend for his texts to come across as anything other than platonic friendliness. (If so, he’s being naive and a little silly, especially given the power disparity in your relationship with him.)

Either way, here’s what I advise: Starting immediately, be very vigilant about preserving professional boundaries with this guy. Make it clear through your demeanor that you are Only Interested In A Professional Relationship with him. Don’t return texts, don’t be chatty, don’t bring him cupcakes, etc.

There’s a decent chance that he’ll pick up on your cues and back off. But if he doesn’t, then you need to tell him directly that you prefer to maintain professional boundaries with coworkers. And at that point, as a preemptive measure in case he doesn’t take that well, you also need to tell your manager about what’s going on. Because he has authority over you, at that point your manager does need to be in the loop about this, even if it’s just you saying, “You know, I’m not sure whether there’s anything to this or not, but I do know that it’s making me uncomfortable.”  In other words, you don’t need to have a rock-solid case that this guy’s intentions are bad or that it’s Harassment with a capital H; it’s enough to simply say (to both him and your manager), “I don’t like this and I’d like it to stop.”

But since the behavior has been relatively mild and a little ambiguous so far, I’d start by seeing if you can get it to stop just through a couple of days of vigilantly enforcing boundaries.

What do others think?

{ 128 comments… read them below }

  1. Jubilance*

    I’m wondering why the OP felt they needed to text the doctor to let him know that she left him a cupcake? Eventually he would have seen it right? Or maybe she could have left him a message with one of his nurses that she left him a cupcake?

    Totally not blaming the OP, but I agree with AAM that he may have taken the initial text as an invite to be more friendly than professional.

    1. Amina*

      These mistakes happen, especially in workplaces that market themselves as “friendly” and “Like A Family” (as if *that* would help!).

      As for the text, maybe she thought someone would steal the cupcake unless she told him directly somehow.

        1. anon.*

          “and then said me that since another boss had eaten his cupcake (off of his desk),”..

          The OP did say that the cupcake HAD been taken.

    2. Nikki*

      Hmm, I wondered that too (also not blaming the OP). Usually in these situations we just send an office-wide email that there are cupcakes about.

  2. moe*

    Good idea to start patrolling boundaries more firmly. It seems odd to seek out this guy’s personal number, communicate about a non-work matter, then get offended that he… wants to communicate about non-work matters. Sounds like he took it further for sure, but she opened the door.

    Also, was she responding to these offensive texts? Most people don’t just send out a barrage of texts with no reply… and most won’t get the hint if you go along with it politely.

    I’d add that while some people are definitely just creeps, *usually* when people cross that boundary, some mixed signals have been sent out well prior. I’ve seen this over and over with women in the workplace sending out signals, then getting super offended when they’re responded to.

    1. Ellie H.*

      On the contrary . . . some people DO send out texts (probably not a “barrage,” but definitely several or a handful) without a response and totally don’t pick up on cues. It’s tricky because everyone has different priorities for how often they respond to texts – one of my best friends never replies to texts despite really liking me, and some people I’m not even particularly close to really like texting and are very responsive. This can lead some people to keep texting obliviously even without a response. So I can definitely believe that he continued to send her a couple texts even after she didn’t reply to his first one or two.

    2. Andrea*

      Okay, then, *usually* when men do creepy things and blame it on “mixed signals,” it’s *usually* because they were creeps who misinterpreted normal, friendly behavior as some kind of super-secret mixed signal that a woman was interested in them. *Usually,* those men get all upset when they find out that they were wrong, and then they blame the “bitch” who sent mixed signals. I’ve seen this over and over with men in the workplace and in other settings, and it’s somehow never their fault for being creeps with no social skills. They *usually* have the gall to get super offended and to call the woman that they were so interested in all kinds of names, and sometimes, that behavior escalates. Meanwhile, the woman fears for her safety, and all because a creep couldn’t read social cues or act like a normal person or respect her as a human being who wanted nothing to do with him or deal with rejection.

      1. CC*

        Strong language, but overall I agree with Andrea. I’m appalled at how quickly everyone is saying “Well, it’s her fault!” when he’s the one who responded to “Here’s a cupcake!” with what sounds like a date invitation.

        If only we stopped trying to read subtext into every nice gesture! Unless people explicitly say they are interested in a date, I assume they’re just being friendly.

      2. Ellie H.*

        I can see both points of view. I think that he’s being over-personal and that it’s reasonable for the OP to be offended. However, I also think that it’s reasonable that, from his point of view, he perceives that she made a personal, social overture by seeking out his phone number and calling or texting him on it. In conclusion, I don’t think his behavior is warranted, and I don’t think it’s “her fault” or that she implicitly invited this kind of interaction – but I also don’t necessarily think this is proof that he is an incontrovertible creep with no social skills. I think that this is ultimately a misunderstanding, but that he is being overpersonal. Ultimately I agree with AAM that the best course of action is to continue to send non-mixed signals and wait for something more demonstrative to happen before calling managers’ attention to the behavior as harassment.

      3. Anon*

        Agreed. I’ve been sitting at a reception desk for awhile, and and it’s become apparent that, to some men, simply having breasts and being a normal level of nice is indistinguishable from throwing my underwear at them.

        1. The gold digger*

          Alas, even throwing your underwear (new slinky underwear from Target – I should have gotten the granny panties so I could have played it off as a joke when it didn’t work) at someone doesn’t always work, I am sad to say. And embarrassed. Embarrassed more than anything else. What was I thinking?

          PS I was single at the time. So there’s that.

      4. moe*

        Please, I’m not apologizing for sexual harassment or continued pursuit after someone has indicated they’re not interested. Come on! Totally different situation. OP hasn’t even let on to the doctor that she’s not interested, let alone offended!

        I see nothing here to suggest the doctor is a total creep (well, besides the married and possibly willing to cheat with a coworker part). He just misread, just as she misjudged the cues she was putting out (to my reading at least). This kind of miscommunication happens all the time in interpersonal relationships, and it’s no reason for hysteria from anyone. Tell him no, not interested, deal with any HR issues, and then if he continues to pursue — I’ll be right there with you calling him a creep.

        1. VintageLydia*

          I can’t speak for all women, obviously, but everyone I’ve talked to on this subject, including myself, has seen this behavior. You can be friendly, either because it’s your job to be nice (like in most customer service roles,) it’s your boss and you certainly don’t want to be rude, or you can just be a friendly person, and the male you’re being friendly to takes it the wrong way. Maybe that’s why so many women here are willing to believe the worst. Many of us have experienced the same thing multiple times.

          1. helen*

            Or you chat to your colleague sporadically, or get him coffee when you are getting your own from the kitchen, and he assumes this is because you are consumed with lust for him rather than because you sit within 3 feet of one another.

        2. Emily*

          I think your “usually” and “the woman is sending out signals” is what got everyone’s hackles up. “Mixed signals” is usually a case of misunderstanding where both parties were misreading each other’s intent, but your sentence worded it as though the signals were being incorrectly sent by the women, rather than the signals being incorrectly read by the man. The “usually” modifier made this assignment of blame worse, since I probably can’t come up with a single solitary woman I know who hasn’t had a guy pestering her to the point she had to be overtly bitchy for him not to misinterpret her ordinary friendliness as an invitation to be pursued.

          See this guy:
          This guy’s “mixed signals” include such things as “you played with your hair a lot” and “we had a nice conversation.”

          I don’t think we have enough info on this particular situation to know who is the Jezebel or who is the creep, but when you make a broad generalization that it’s “usually” the woman’s fault for “sending out signals,” you’re gonna irk some people.

      5. Amina*

        Yeah, that’s my sitch at work in a nutshell! I even blamed losing weight and keeping longer hair as the reason he wouldn’t leave me alone. Then I realized other people weren’t acting like him, so it couldn’t be my fault. Plus, he was creepy when I was heavier with shorter hair too.

        Anyway, it’s made me be so on my guard with other people now, fair or not.

  3. Sydney*

    Without being able to see him or hear what he said, I’d say this is probably innocent. There are a lot of professionals that missed the social class in high school or college because they were busy studying. He could just be socially awkward and his attempts at friendliness is off base. It’s very easy to misinterpret meaning when your only cues are text.

    Unless his behavior before the texting was flirtatious, he’s probably just being friendly.

  4. Michael*

    I generally disagree with your first few paragraphs, Alison. The OP is the one who made a display of giving gifts and contacting the doctor outside of work time via a personal medium such as a phone. If this had been passed as a note through a secretary/nurse or some other “official” channel as an FYI bundled with other business I could see your point. However, I’m assuming the doctor is older. If he is, this sort of open-handed friendliness is very common among those of older generations. He hasn’t said or done anything inappropriate. All I see is him responding to a coworker who has taken it upon herself to be friendly and to do so outside of normal work channels. In this regard, I do believe it is her fault since she made moves to take the relationship out of the office. If he’s not older, it could very well be a cheeky way to warm up to the OP but that reaction seems just that, reactionary, and smells of being a tad paranoid especially if it’s among the initial response, which it seems to be. All in all it reeks of a social standard women can initiate contact with men outside of work in a completely friendly way while men can’t do the reverse without POSSIBLY having an ulterior motive. This makes zero sense. Reverse the tables and if you still think the guy was out of line then I would challenge that your perspective is a bit askew.

    As written, I see nothing more than someone who initiated friendly contact outside the work place and is suddenly surprised that the other person would warmly embrace this and *gasp* even be friendly back. Unless the doc is being otherwise creepy I see nothing wrong. If the OP feels uncomfortable with him being friendly back then I suggest she not be friendly in the first place. We can’t control other people or their reactions. It’s not her fault she didn’t know precisely how the doctor would respond but she should have expected some response. In this case it simply seems that the response was one beyond what she expected. My advice is simply to mark this up to how this individual operates and to adjust future interactions noting that the doctor responds easily, albeit a bit excessively per the perspective of the OP, to friendly actions.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The problem here, in my opinion, is that he’s in a position of authority over her. Not only did he reciprocate her out-of-work text, but he then took it further — asking what she did for fun (a weird question to text someone, as opposed to it coming up naturally in conversation in the office), texting her the next day to see how her day was, etc. She sent one text about one cupcake. He then escalated it.

      When you have authority over someone in the workplace, you need to be really careful with this kind of thing, because it’s often NOT perceived as just being friendly. It’s perceived as imposing an obligation to return that friendliness, whether or not you want to, because there’s a power dynamic at play. And it gets a bit more charged when you’re dealing with the other sex (whether you’re a man or a woman). The issue is his authority over her, and that’s something he should be more cognizant of. If this were a peer, I doubt she’d have written in.

      1. Michael*

        While her workplace may contain heightened anxieties of such nature, which I will point out it’s her choice to work in such a place if so, perhaps I’ve simply been among managers too much. Being in a professional non-management positions myself, I often work along side managers and other decision makers so I can write the software they want. And, if you can’t work with them on some sort of personal level then you probably won’t have a very long career since you’ll come across as not being a team player or being jaded. This has ranged from drinks, to personal joking jabs, etc but nothing inappropriate has ever come of it and that’s speaking to interactions with both men and women. Even when a colleague has confided that “so and so” was attractive you just mark it up to them being people and move on.

        If you look, there were reference to two sets of texts. She mentions she texted him and that he texted back later that night. There is no record if he responded right away and if there was a close to that interaction and that the text from him later on were part of a separate interaction. Having a management role, it’s very plausible he didn’t get the chance to respond until later that evening. Also, you can say all 3 things he mentioned in the initial response from him in a single text so I doubt he sent several messages, though that’s possible. Then she just mentions him texting her again out of the blue without context. This means nothing and honestly comes across as a victim mentality as she’s only sharing a view of events that supports her conclusion. If she ignored the first set he may have simply been asking how she was without being too nosy about it. I think she’s at risk of damaging her professional relationship with this doctor and even making him a bit jaded toward her since she went from friendliness to giving him the cold shoulder. There are several ways to navigate a social situation and mitigate any hard feelings and to play things off in a friendly manner where everyone can walk away without a second thought.

        She should just be friendly back without getting defensive about it. I agree with the Anonymous post below about suggesting all their significant others get involved by inviting everyone out. This is actually quite common based on my experience and can lead to both a bit more personally friendliness and increasing professional respect. I highly recommend it though the OP may have difficulty navigating such a thing if she had problems with what’s already happened.

        1. Esra*

          This has ranged from drinks, to personal joking jabs, etc but nothing inappropriate has ever come of it and that’s speaking to interactions with both men and women.

          No sarcasm here, but have you considered that nothing inappropriate has happened because this sort of thing is generally* coming from men and aimed at women? As several women mentioned above, I’ve noticed in the workplace that an average level of friendliness can be misconstrued and abused, and I’ve had male managers who try and push things too far.

          *I’m certainly not saying it doesn’t happen with women toward men, or men aimed at men, but I think it’s safe to say it’s often women getting the short end of the stick on this one.

          1. Michael*

            To be perfectly honest whenever I have been around the flirty types at work it comes from women just as much as men and when women do it they more often than not take it to more direct extremes (such as bending down with an already low cut blouse) than men because they know the ‘sexual harassment’ card is more readily available to them than it is to a man. What you say may have been more historically true but contemporarily speaking each sex is no more innocent than the other.

              1. Michael*

                I was speaking from what I’ve seen. When it comes to one person pursuing another, women are most often the most egregious of the ‘bad touch’ line and I believe this to be due to the fact that legally speaking women can actually claim rape even if a certain type of contact began consensual and she later changes her mind even mid-action and the guy stops immediately and most women know this. Men may throw down more ‘hey baby’s than women but women are more apt to ‘accidentally’ show herself in some way, which evens things out to me. Neither sex can claim innocence in this department.

              2. Esra*

                Wow. I guess I can’t say much to that except that anecdotal evidence really can’t stand up that well against actual studies. I’m hoping you realize that what you’ve seen in the workplace would differ rather starkly from a/ others’ experiences, and, b/ statistically provable realities.

            1. Kelly O*

              I have to say that I take offense to the idea that a woman is somehow flirting if she bends down while wearing a top that is a little low, or a skirt, or whatever. That might not be flirting – that might be a wardrobe malfunction, or simply not realizing how something looks from another angle. I’ve been guilty of that, and most women I know will tell you they’ve worn something and not realized how it moved until later in the day.

              I dislike immensely the idea that a woman has to be hyper-aware of her clothing because gosh those men cannot control their thoughts, and it’s her fault for wearing this or that and then moving around, because that comes across to the male mind as flirting or sexual or whatever. You as the individual are responsible for your actions. If you think my shirt is too low cut, there are ways to let me know without thinking I’m trying to get in your pants. (Pardon the crude expression.)

              1. Michael*

                Yes, because I said that all women who bend down with a low-cut top are clearly flirting and didn’t simply use it as an example of when they are actually flirting. Right…

                Anyway, I similarly take offense that some (read ‘most’) women walk around with an air that the world should bend and allow them to do whatever they want without consequence. Women should be aware of their clothing, just as should men. It should not be acceptable to have a nip-slip and simply chalk it up to a wardrobe malfunction whereas if a guy exposed himself in public it would be go straight to jail, don’t pass go, don’t collect your $200. It’s ridiculous. Both men and women should behave like grown ups and be held to the same standard.

                This is why I see nothing wrong with what the doctor was doing in the OP. So what if the OP didn’t like it. She invited contact outside of work and was suddenly offended when the doctor did the same. It doesn’t matter that it was ‘just about a cupcake.’ It’s a friendly gesture and he was responding in kind. If she didn’t want a married man being friendly back to her then she shouldn’t have been friendly in the first place especially being married herself. Inviting someone out to dinner is hardly ‘will you sleep with me?’ She could have responded several ways instead of just clamming up and assuming he was trying to make a b-line to her v.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                The end of that comment was fairly vulgar. Please don’t go there on this site.

                In any case, what you’re hearing from women here is the reality that men often assume women are flirting with them or indicating they’re receptive when they’re in fact just being normal, friendly people, and men are seeing signals because they want to see signals. I’d suggest paying attention to what women are telling you here, and considering that perhaps they’ve had a different perspective on these experiences than you have.

              3. Michael*

                I can accept that guys some times do ‘go over the line.’ The same is true for women.

                “and men are seeing signals because they want to see signals”

                I don’t see any signals going back and forth. It’s great to have a debate in the abstract but I thought the scope was this article. I see I was clearly mistaken.

                “I’d suggest paying attention to what women are telling you here, and considering that perhaps they’ve had a different perspective on these experiences than you have.”

                I am clearly listening. I’m not saying men are the ‘new target.’ I’m saying both men and women should be behave like grown ups and think there is nothing wrong with that statement. If you think otherwise, I’ll stop commenting on your articles. However, in acting like grown ups, we shouldn’t be assuming things that either were not clearly intended or said. The doctor didn’t corner the OP while she was in a compromising position, he didn’t do any creepy ‘touchy flirty stuff.’ Instead, he simply contacted her in same manner she contacted him and the majority of the responses I see here are basically saying ‘bad doctor.’ Seriously?!

                I know you mentioned the power dynamic. Do you not think he respected this dynamic as he contacted her in kind only after she opened that avenue of contact? If he was really the type to go sleeping with all the women in the office, do you honestly think there wouldn’t have been other, previous contact that would have set the OP on edge that would have rendered the reason for her writing in useless? She was have already known what his intent was. This is a first occurrence for anything outside of the work place, or at least that is the tone of the submission. Jumping to the conclusion that he was trying to get in her pants (which apparently is an acceptable crude comment here) is just reaching. The dinner can be kinda-sorta iffy but in no way did he link it back to her job so it should remain no harm no foul. Either a ‘thanks but no thanks’ or ‘great! when can my husband and I join you and your wife’ would have worked as well.

              4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                No, I do think the scope is this article! But I think many women are reading this letter and seeing obvious signs of attempted flirtation from the guy — this wasn’t returning one text; it was taking it much further. You don’t text someone “how was your day” and “what do you like to do for fun” if you’re not attempting to escalate the relationship. When you have power over someone, you can’t be the one to try to intensify the relationship in non-professional ways, because the other person often won’t feel as free to disregard those advances as someone who’s a peer.

                Every time I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of thing and told myself, “Oh, he’s just being friendly and I’m overreacting,” it’s turned out that I was not overreacting. Every single time. And yes, statistically speaking, I do think that in our culture women are on the receiving end of this from men more often than in reverse. That doesn’t mean it’s never reversed. Of course it is, plenty of times — but women deal with it far more often.

              5. Michael*

                Color me confused. I don’t know why escalating a relationship requires the next step be an illicit one. I also find nothing wrong with the concept of playful flirting. Not everyone is open to it, granted, but that’s about as much as I can read into what was given without my B.S. meter going off.

                Concerning raising it from playful gift giving to ‘let’s hang out’ I can see your point, though I still disagree from the ‘people are going to be people’ perspective. And, sure, women may deal with the situation of work place dalliances more often. I just become disturbed when it becomes a turning point where small non-professional behaviors from a guy turns into a platform for a proverbial witch hunt especially when those behaviors were invited. She may not have explicitly stated that she was open to dinner invitations but she did make the method of contact open to him outside of work hours. But I digress.

              6. Joey*

                Nothing wrong with a doctor playfully flirting at work? You don’t believe that do you? Doctors hold an enormous amount of power at their workplaces. Although they generally don’t supervise anyone except their first assist they can throw their weight around to get just about whatever they want. They are responsible for the inflow of monies you know. You can’t believe it’s professional for a doctor to flirt when he has enough influence to determine who gets hired, fired an promoted. In the situations when they do flirt you see an incredible amount of dysfunction and frankly an unspoken quid pro quo environment.

              7. Michael*

                No, I don’t. People are people and people are sexual creatures who flirt and do other things to find mates. This is nature. By definition, you are flirting when you compliment someone on their appearance. You are literally saying you are attracted to them in some way and telling them this. It doesn’t have to be sexual attraction, mind you but it happens all the freaking time.

                Also, this doesn’t mean that he has to be engaging in illicit behaviors with those he works with just because he’s ‘flirting’ with them, which, again, nothing from the information given to us indicates he was. Asking someone how their day was is not flirting. Asking someone what they like to do for fun is not flirting. These can be precursors but we’re not there yet. Bringing him a goodie is not flirting though it could have been some double entendre. However, until the doctor has some display of similar previous behavior we shouldn’t immediately assume that’s what it is. It’s judgmental and obtuse. Given the context of the cupcake situation, I gotta go with that.

                No, I don’t believe flirting is professional. However, it’s not professional regardless of context. It doesn’t matter if a guy or girl starts it. It doesn’t matter what their stature is in relation to each other. Flirting is not professional, period, unless of course you’re a call girl or some other sex worker.

              8. Joey*

                Youre watering down how most people define flirting. Whether or not he was really flirting doesn’t matter. When people perceive that he’s flirting it’s just as much of a problem.

              9. Michael*

                I’m being a realist and sticking to the facts we’ve been given. Fact: she left a cupcake. Fact: she tracked down the doctor’s number. Fact: she texted him about what she did. Fact: he texted her later that evening. Fact: he later texted her asking her day was.

                Based on that alone, I see nothing wrong. I’m not watering down anything as people claiming the above as ‘flirting’ is pretty weak already. Him ‘owing’ you a beer is often just a tip-of-the-hat type statement. If nothing else, I’d say he was simply being friendly. He made no threats and was otherwise a pleasure to work with and seen as friendly. What if this is simply how he treats his office managers? He did mention that’s what he wanted her to do was to fill in. Maybe this was his way of asking for a status report as he sounds like the type of doctor who isn’t in all the time and is busy elsewhere. We just don’t know and statements otherwise are conjecture.

              10. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Okay, then going back to the original question and answer, isn’t the original advice the best way for her to proceed? (Ensure she’s sending the correct signals about the professional boundaries that she wants, and then be direct if his behavior continues to make her uncomfortable.)

              11. Joey*

                We can sit here and argue whether we define his behavior as flirtatious but it doesn’t matter. If it can reasonably be mistaken for flirting it’s inappropriate.

              12. Michael*

                “Okay, then going back to the original question and answer, isn’t the original advice the best way for her to proceed? (Ensure she’s sending the correct signals about the professional boundaries that she wants, and then be direct if his behavior continues to make her uncomfortable.)”

                Sure. I was only disagreeing with you first few paragraphs, which I said, namely the bit “it is absolutely not your fault” bit since she did initiate contact about non-work matters, in a non-work phone during a non-work time and then the previous discussion ensued.

                “We can sit here and argue whether we define his behavior as flirtatious but it doesn’t matter. If it can reasonably be mistaken for flirting it’s inappropriate.”

                There has to be some objectivity involved in what is and isn’t flirting otherwise the OP writing in and Alison writing a response was useless. Objectively speaking, I simply can’t see how what the doc was doing was something ‘wrong.’ At best, he was simply trying to make a new friend outside of work. Given the impetus of her mode of contact and the subject matter, I probably would have done something similar.

              13. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Well, I think the lesson here is: don’t :)

                Not if there’s a power disparity.

                I understand that you don’t see anything wrong with it, but the fact that so many other people do will hopefully cause you to examine that. I’m sure you don’t want to be making people uncomfortable or conveying something you don’t intend to convey, even if you think they’re wrong.

              14. Joey*

                Actually if they were in my workplace I’d wag the finger at her similar to Alison although Id be more blunt. To her: don’t go out of your way to contact a doctor for a non work related reason from your personal phone if you don’t want him to reciprocate. And make your boundaries clear. And if it continued he’d get a finger wagging too even if he said he didn’t mean anything by it.

              15. Dan*

                These two should clearly NOT be working together since he’s too friendly for her taste and she’s too sensitive for his professional reputation.

              16. Emily*

                The best definition for flirting I have ever heard (and subsequently adopted in my own mental dictionary) is: the art of building sexual tension.

                Flirting is entirely subjective. Complimenting someone’s appearance could be flirting, or it could be being nice. It all depends on how you meant it AND how it’s received. Part of flirting requires you to be able to “read” a situation and tell if sexual tension is being built. To me, the doc’s text sounds pretty dodgy/borderline, what with the “you know where to find me” bit, which comes off a bit coy. It’s also inappropriate for a boss to tell a lower-ranked staff member that she “owes him” anything outside of work. No matter how playfully that was intended, the fact that a boss has power over you never leaves your mind and there is a pressure to give in to these kinds of things rather than risk alienating someone with power over you by refusing them. “Would you like to have lunch with me?” may very well be appropriate in many workplaces, even between a superior/inferior, but “You owe me a goodie” is almost certainly crossing the line in any workplace.

              17. Michael*

                That sounds more like a book subtitle, honestly. But anyway, blanket statements like you just said: “You owe me a goodie” is almost certainly crossing the line in any workplace. That simply isn’t true. You’re reading the words and applying a serious tone, which *could* have been the intent but we don’t know. I had a boss that I was out of work friends with and that kind of banter was exactly something we might have said to each other on any given day and often said things far ‘worse’ and I left that position amicably and he’s still a reference I give out to other employers. So, it *can,* in fact, be acceptable.

                Back to this situation, I read it more playfully but I guess only the doctor himself could give actual insight if he sent it via text as even the recipient is going to read a tone in the words.

                We also don’t know if saying no to a lunch invitation is actually potentially harmful in the work place in question. It could be. However, I’ve never had a bad experience post-refusal and I’ve refused managers plenty of times. Though, I’m not sheepish about it either. I’ve got stuff to do so I guess I’m not putting a dodgy air about it so they probably have never thought about it.

                However, I will agree that the effects of flirting are completely subjective. A ‘hey, nice skirt’ between a couple friends of opposite sex could just get a ‘thanks’ but the same followed by a wink could be a lead in to something else. It’s entirely up to the individuals in question. That’s why I touched briefly on previous behavior patterns with the OP. If the doctor was the type to actively bed the female members of the office, there more than likely would have been a pattern of behavior with her that would have made her question unnecessary since she would have already known the answer as she’d be familiar with his personality already. I also highly doubt anyone would ask a newbie on the job to manage an office if it’s not their explicit role so she’s probably been around for a while.

                As I said, just be grown ups about it.

          2. Amina*

            So true. Contemporary standards are relatively recent and only apply in the abstract. People assume it’s okay for men to approach women even though it’s the workplace and should be somewhere a woman should be safe and unbothered.

    2. Diana*

      “Reverse the tables and if you still think the guy was out of line then I would challenge that your perspective is a bit askew.”

      Asking “how was your day?” is not over the top. Asking what you do for fun could be interpreted as trying to establish if you have anything in common. Saying I owe you a beer (in payment for a cupcake I didn’t get?) is a little boundary crossing for a boss to say. Wouldn’t coffee be more professional? Still not a problem, could be a culture thing. Everything up to the last comment could be interpreted as being friendly.

      I tried reversing the tables and I still think the last comment was out of line. I even tried imagining it from same sex people and it sounds weird.

      Same scenario, both women:
      A woman brings in cupcakes for the office. The doctor’s cupcake gets eaten by someone else so she texts the woman to say she owes the doctor a goodie and to find her next Wednesday. This is not over the top? Really? Cool. Next time someone brings in treats for the office and I don’t get one I’m going to text them that they owe me a goodie and I’ll let them know when is a good time to bring it to me. Especially if it’s someone who works for me. Call it my way of being friendly.

      I could see the comment differently if it was in the context of a report “… next Wednesday sounds good” is setting a deadline, “you know where to find me” is a little off, wouldn’t she just leave the report on the desk? It is putting it in the context of a “goodie” to be delivered in person that adds innuendo. As a joke, it falls flat.

      1. Jamie*

        This saved me time typing as I agree with everything you said.

        Well, with one little caveat:

        “Asking “how was your day?” is not over the top. ”

        It may not be over the top, but I don’t like that either. Sure, said in the hallway or while getting coffee it’s perfectly fine workplace small talk. Sent via text is weird. That’s not the kind of thing you text someone unless you want it to open the door to a chatty conversation…also weird in text in these circumstances.

        I don’t want to get non-work related texts from co-workers, where-ever we fall in relation to each other on the org chart. I think the OP gets that she shouldn’t have texted him about the cupcake, which admittedly I found odd – but even though it could be interpreted as her opening the door that doesn’t give the doctor the right to blow past all professional boundaries in response.

        Doctors are managers – he should know better.

        1. Michael*

          “Doctors are managers – he should know better.”

          This is factually false more often than not. Most offices have office managers, separate HR departments, etc. Doctors in several practices are simply treated as specialists in their field. Being a doctor does not automatically grant you manager status. There are a lot of non-doctors who can fire doctors.

          1. Jamie*

            Managers in the sense that they have authority over subordinate employees.

            You can have a great deal of authority over someone even if they are not your direct report…and there is no question that doctors wield a great deal of professional power even though other people are paid to do the day to day managing.

  5. Anonymous*

    I think ignoring the text would be weird, especially since the OP tested him first.
    If he offered a drink, responding with something like ‘I’ve always wanted to meet [his wife]’, or ‘I’d love for [your husband] to meet some people from work, we should all get together some time’ Keeps it friendly and enforces boundaries at the same time.

    1. Suz*

      I was going to say the same thing but you beat me to it. It enforces the boundaries but doesn’t go overboard if he was just trying to be friendly.

      1. Anon*

        Ditto. This will allow him to grasp the situation and save face if he did misread her message and gives him the benefit of the doubt if he didn’t mean it in a creepy way. Ignoring him without that seems juvenile in a jr high sort of way. This isn’t a clear cut case of creepiness, yet. If this doesn’t resolve the situation, then yes, ignore.

        Frankly I feel as uncomfortable by her request for his personal contact info as his response. Neither of them seem to have much of a mastery of social cues. In future, avoid this situation by keeping professional relationships professional and in work channels. I think its less about blame than about noting that two mistakes were made here.

    2. Kristin*

      I agree, ignoring the OP’s text would have been awkward. Although I really like the idea of everyone getting together it may create more drama now that the line from professional to familiar has been crossed.

      OP – My best advice is to stop texting anything with potential to cross the line from professional to familiar.

      Familiarity – welcome only when welcome and limited to those they want to reply. Better yet – just stop texting/creating drama and for heavens sake, leave your goodies at home and maybe apologize to your spouse. This kind of suspicion coupled with gossip and drama can destroy more than a career. It’s just not worth it over a cupcake or leftovers for that matter.

      1. Anon*

        She could always respond with a text thanking him but claiming to have dinner plans with her husband on Wed. Same effect without agreeing to a social contact.

        1. VintageLydia*

          He may just suggest another day if she did that (which is more mixed signals saying she’s not against the idea, just not that particular date.)

          1. Miri*

            “No thanks, male coworker, I can’t hang out with you outside of work because I’m spending time with my husband” isn’t a mixed signal. That would require willful misreading.

            1. VintageLydia*

              Turning the doctor down based only on previous plans without elaboration as suggested by Anon @8:44 might. I’m just going by my own experience, here. I’ve had more than enough men try to suggest other dates and times when I’ve tried the “I’m sorry I’m busy with my boyfriend/fiance/husband” line. I know not all men are ignorant or deliberately misunderstands when a woman is trying to politely turn them down, but enough do that saying something like “I do not fraternize with my superiors” would be better.

            2. BC*

              Men think differently about this than women. Not trying to be sexist or generalize, but it’s true. Men think, “I’ll just tell her I’m not interested. End of story.” Women think, “How do I let him know I’m not interested without hurting his feelings? What if he really ISN’T interested, and I end up looking stupid? What if things become really awkward at work?”

              1. Amina*

                Because apparently as women we are supposed to tiptoe around men’s feelings. Best not to. Best to assume, as AAM said, you’re not overreacting and to lay down the line right away. He can bluster or get upset or genuinely surprised as he might’ve genuinely meant well, but he might as well know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Everyone, men and women, need to be able to take other people’s boundaries.

              2. Dan*

                I don’t know about that. It seems unnecessarily brusque and almost rude. It’s almost like shoving someone who bumps into you on the street so that they clearly know they’ve invaded your personal space. It’s a bit much isn’t it?

                He hasn’t done anything to warrant a rude response yet, so I would want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  6. Wilton Businessman*

    Awkward at best.

    I’d keep ignoring for a little bit and then go to him if it persists. If it persists after that, I’d go to my supervisor.

  7. Andrea*

    What about the fact that she’s supposed to be taking over for his assistant while she is on maternity leave? That central issue seems to have been lost here. Ignore the cupcake, but she is going to be faced with working with him. That ups the uncomfortable factor immensely on both sides.

    1. Suz*

      I was thinking the opposite. Maybe he’s being overly friendly because he’s trying to get her to want to work for him.

      Part of the problem is all the OP is going off of are text messages. There aren’t any facial expressions or body language to clue you in on the sender’s intentions.

      1. khilde*

        That’s exactly what I started wondering, too? Maybe he’s just trying to be nice and overly friendly so that she’ll be convinced to come and work for him? It’s a stretch, I know, but a possibility?

    2. Dan*

      I said this in an erlier post. These two should clearly NOT be working together since he’s too friendly for her taste and she’s too sensitive for his professional reputation.

  8. Katie*

    Maybe I missed social class, too, but I’m not certain that his messages were flirtatious and would be mortified if I acted as if they were and found out that’s not what he’d meant at all. I’d pretend I didn’t catch any subtext, if there was subtext, and keep it strictly professional from here on out. If he does make any further overtures, just make it clear that you’re happily married. I want to say, I can totally see how he might have misconstrued this behavior as more than just friendly (I don’t routinely save cupcakes for coworkers, then go out of my way to track down their personal number just so I can let them know I left it on their desk–a post-it would work just fine), so I don’t think it’s necessarily *creepy* that he responded as he did, however inappropriate or immoral. I just think it’s important that going forward, the OP go out of their way to enforce professional boundaries and keep the relationship professional.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “I’m not certain that his messages were flirtatious and would be mortified if I acted as if they were and found out that’s not what he’d meant at all.”

      Yeah, I agonized over that too before answering. But ultimately I just don’t think you send texts like this to someone you have authority over in a professional context. You just … don’t. (And I say that as someone notorious for thinking, “Oh, he’s not really hitting on me” when someone actually is.) And if you do it anyway and the person misinterprets it, well, that’s the risk of ignoring that power imbalance to begin with.

      1. Karthik*

        You have to remember that this guy is a doctor…and many doctors, along with many engineers and scientists, tend to be socially awkward and are only really good at dealing with interpersonal relationships in a strictly professional sense. How does a cupcake fit into this? Chances are he has no idea what an appropriate reply is.

        Chances are, this has happened to him several times in the past:

  9. "cupcake girl"*

    I wasnt really sure what to call myself. I am the one who asked the question and I completely agree with everyone who said that i kind of opened the door by talking about a non work issue with a coworker, even a doctor. I know that texting a boss about a cupcake sounds really stupid- I bring them to work a lot and have lots of co-workers that are bunmed when they didn’t know about them. I was trying to be proactive and make sure this doctor got one when he asked me to leave one aside for him. I honestly was surprised by the response that I got by text ( a little more flirtatious then nice) and that was why I sent the question. I told a close coworker about what happened and asked her opinion. Apparently this doctor has gone out to “fancy dinners” with other female coworkers. Now while I realize this is all speculation I also know that the coworkers chose to go out with this doctor. It may honestly just boil down to a man that has a “flirtatious personality.” ( i know that is not an excuse )Because of that I think the biggest thing for me is to know that even if I have the best intentions that non work issues belong outside of work, to make sure not to blur that line and know that I need to be very professional in my responses. Do you think this is a good attitude? By the way – thank you for all of the responses.

    1. Emily*

      OP, I think you’ve gotten a pretty good handle on the situation as it stands now. Next, you have to figure out how you’ll handle teaming up with the doctor while his usual partner/teammate is on maternity leave. Is that something you want to do? Is it up to you? I’d make that decision right away and, if necessary and/or possible, express your decision to your bosses and/or the doctor clearly.

      When the doctor asked you if you’d be working with him and you said he’d have to ask your bosses—ordinarily, this might be the perfect neutral response because it takes your own feelings out of the decision and leaves it up to your bosses, who will make the call based simply on what’s practical. However, I wonder if someone with “a flirtatious personality,” as you put it (I know what you mean!) might interpret that as “playing hard to get.” Since it sounds like there’s already been at least one misunderstanding, you probably want to make yourself very clear from here on out, which means avoiding ambiguous statements that could inadvertently send mixed signals. The sooner you can firm up the plan for whether or not you’ll be working closely with the doctor, the better, especially because it sounds like he might have already expressed his preference for your assistance to your bosses.

    2. Dan*

      You may really be asking for trouble here.

      If the doctor’s “flirtatious personality” is going to make you get heartburn after every interaction, you may not be compatible.

      He’s either too friendly and making you nervous. Or he wants something more that a professional relationship and you don’t.

      Make a list of pros and cons if you have to, just don’t go into it thinking it will just work itself out.

  10. Not usually anonymous*

    This is creepily familiar. Higher-up (but not in my chain) was always friendly, but became borderline flirtatious. I talked myself into thinking he was just being friendly, personable, and enjoying the banter because he was married and was always a nice guy to everyone. It became obvious even to my oblivious eyes that he was hitting on me, and not in a subtle or smart way. Now I think he’s a reckless idiot and wonder how far he’s gotten with other women.

    I echo AAM’s advice to clamp down on boundaries and, unfortunately, be a little less friendly and more strictly business. I wish I had done that sooner rather than agonizing about hurting his feelings if I was overreacting. Trust your gut.

  11. Anonymous*

    I’m just going to assume this guy is a cheating cheater, because I’ve worked with plenty of “flirty” people who turn out to be that type. This does not automatically mean they will sexually harass anyone, but they will use their “charm” to test the waters, so to speak. Since the OP is getting flirty vibes, she should listen to her gut and assume he’s doing what she thinks he’s trying to do.

    In that case, OP, listen to the other posters and keep it 100% professional. No meetings outside of work, no texts, no special delivery of treats. If you use iChat at work, don’t chat with him. Do not mention your husband’s deployment. If he’s interested in sneaking around, he will never overtly hit on you, but he will find opportunities to invite you out for a “friendly” dinner or drink. Just keep saying “no thanks!” Unless he’s a total creep, he will get the hint and move on.

  12. Anonymous*

    As someone whose relationship with my manager which at best blurred the line between personal and professional, I can assure you OP that what you do next here is absolutely key. My boss and I exchanged emotional, overly-personal Facebook messages, texts, and IM’s while working together for over a year. It made working for and with him increasingly difficult and as AAM points out, was inappropriate given the employer/subordinate relationship involved. I won’t pretend to have been innocent in the whole thing, but the takeaway is, learn from my mistakes.

    Given the opportunity to do it all a different way, I’d take the path of least resistance. Don’t respond in kind with ANY text messages or other form of personal communication, awkward or not, and going forward, refrain from using this medium to communicate with anyone (especially a higher-up) professionally. It’s too personal. And if issues of this nature persist, I believe AAM’s advice for handling any sort of escalation is sound.

  13. Dixie*

    People are people. Mixed signals will happen – especially at work. You meant it one way; he takes it another way. You just need to rein it in, and make sure all of your future communications are on the up-and-up. Might seem hyper vigilant, but unfortunately, that’s just the way it goes – especially when there is any type of power imbalance between two employees.

    I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it – these situations happen to everyone at some point. It’s not your fault, but it is good to look back and reflect, “Is there a way I could have done that/said that differently?” And just as an aside: trust your instinct. If you have to convince yourself that his behavior is “innocent”, it’s because deep down, you don’t believe it is. If your instinct is telling you that he’s flirting, it’s ok to acknowledge that feeling. This doc could just be trying to be friendly; he could be “testing the waters” with you. But however you instinctively feel about it, don’t try to convince yourself otherwise.

    I’m speaking from personal experience, by the way. I know how it feels: you don’t want your instinct to be “wrong” (it usually isn’t) and you don’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings/create an awkward work situation if you’re right. There will probably be some discomfort for a little while; the doc will figure out that you’re not interested in a more “personal” relationship, and it should work itself out.

  14. Also not usually anon*

    I was quite surprised to see this as a question because I think this happens all time. (Which, by the way, makes it a great question!) I don’t think you should have to stop being friendly to people at work because your intentions are innocent. I’ve seen married men hitting on women in the workplace, and it’s not pretty. Good luck, take the advice of these people and make it totally clear you’re not interested but don’t let these things turn you into a different person.

  15. Joey*

    I’ve got a slightly different view. First, I agree that it’s kinda weird the op got his number( and in essence gave hers) to tell him she left him a cupcake.

    And some might jump on me for this, but in my experiences there are a surprising number of doctors (both married and single) who freely date their techs, nurses, sales reps, etc. What’s interesting is because they don’t usually have standard work hours they hang out more than what I’ve seen in standard office environments. I’m not sure if that’s the reason, being a dr makes them more attractive or I’m just oblivious to to the fact that it happens that much everywhere.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’ll stay away from the health-care specific comment, but I believe that in a non-standard (that is M-F 9-5) work environment, staff will tend to gravitate toward each other socially more so than they otherwise would.

      I used to for an airline, and my shift was 2p-10p with Wed and Thurs off. Exactly who is my social circle going to be outside of work associates? At one place, I worked the midnight shift — 9p-5a with Mon and Tues off.

      When you work in environments like this, it’s only natural to have a closer than normal relationship with your work mates.

    2. Anonymouse*

      I agree with this. The OP rather artfully found a way to get her person cellphone number into his hands. Jane Austen would be proud.

      From what she describes here, she flirted with him. He flirted back. She’s married. He’s married. This does not make one of them a creep. She needs to be all business if she wants this to end here.

  16. LCL*

    Wow, that’s a lot of drama. You and your husband don’t need the stress with his deployment coming up. Don’t tell him about every workplace aggravation, because you will reflect and magnify each others’ stress.

    The simplest way to avoid these situations is to not use text to contact anyone you work with, ever. If you want to pass on a non-business kinda message, use email or phone or a real note.

    For this situation, just follow Alison’s advice and be strictly professional.

  17. Amina*

    Also, I’ve never understood why a married man should behave this way. He’s not available, so what difference does it make to him if he thinks she is?

      1. Amina*

        Being married doesn’t make it obvious that he’s not available? Wow, what happened to plain English?

        If he’s got some swinger deal going on with his wife, then he should stick to places where others do the same sort of thing. If he’s legally separated, again, stick to or somewhere else where he can be open about this.

        1. Anonymous*

          I don’t think BC is trying to condone infidelity – just pointing out that married men (and women!) do sometimes make themselves avaliable.

  18. Kelly O*

    Can I just say that I read somewhere that women need to be be careful about bringing too many baked goods to the office, or otherwise blurring the lines between professional and domestic, and I think this might be a good object lesson in how that blurred boundary can cause problems?

    I am one of the cupcake makers for our office. We take turns making them for birthdays, and it’s kind of a fun thing for us all. However, I do not bring them for random occasions. It just seems to add to that whole potential issue of “mothering” that some bring to the workplace. (It’s also why I don’t keep a candy dish, or put up too many decorations at my desk – it’s not a social circle, it’s not my living room, it’s my cubicle.)

    1. binkle*

      I would love this (baked goods from home) as a separate thread. Just spent 15 minutes typing up a comment but need to stew on it for a bit – and don’t want to digress from the OP’s main topic.

        1. EA*

          AAM, yes, I’d be interested in having a thread on this also! I coincidently just had a discussion about a coworker about this just a few weeks ago!

  19. BC*

    The thing with these situations is, it’s all about perception. Yours, his, etc. Whether or not he’s just being “friendly” doesn’t matter – the OP is interpreting it as flirting. That’s why these situations are delicate. It doesn’t matter if we think he’s just trying to be “nice.” She’s interpreting it another way, and she should respond accordingly.

    That said – next time, just leave the cupcakes in the back room with a note to the whole office. Problem solved.

    1. Anonymous*

      Perception works both ways.

      What about the OP? It doesn’t matter if she’s just trying to be nice, *he’s* interpreting it as flirting, and he responded accordingly.

      1. BC*

        Exactly! There’s no point in attacking whether or not the OP was correct in perceiving this as “flirting.” Likewise, you can’t really attack the doc for perceiving it on his end as “flirting.”

        1. Anonymous*

          Ditto. It’s not a question of who’s in the wrong, it’s a question of how she’s going to clear the signals.

  20. ANON*

    I have seen this behavior from other employees claiming to be “innocent”. All she had to do was leave the cupcake with a brief note saying who it was from. Or, just leave it and when she saw him in the future, identify the giver. I really think she is using her flirtatious behavior for career climbing purposes whether she is consciously aware of it or not. 9then claiming innocence). Where is your break room? did you forget to just leave the box on the table for all to enjoy??? This is a classic scene from a healthcare environment!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow, that’s a really accusatory thing to say based on absolutely nothing. Just because you’ve seen it from someone else doesn’t mean it’s happening here.

  21. Sandrine*

    I actually agree with Michael here.

    I understand that in general the feeling about that kind of thing is different in the US than it is here in France (or maybe I’m just weird) but… you’d probably be shocked if you worked with me.

    Sexual and suggestive talk happens all.the.time in the team. We even spoke that way around our previous manager. The key element is that we all know that not one member of the team wants to sleep with the other. We just get inappropriate on purpose, so it becomes something that isn’t really inappropriate, just completely nuts and we are aware of this. We practice the “know your audience” thing and it works out well. (Yes, we can be weird that way)

    Now, due to everything I read about the US, I wouldn’t behave that way in an American company, I’ll be honest on that. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to assume the doctor has any bad intentions: in fact, I would even be inclined to do something like previous posters suggested, aka “let’s have a social drink/dinner” with spouses included and go from there.

    I am actually a bit scared that in this day and age, people see nothing wrong with interaction from a woman to a man, but the reverse raises red flags. Power or not, we are all humans on the exact same scale, and while I may, for example, pay more attention around coworkers having authority over me or people I could have authority on in the future, that doesn’t mean I won’t be as social as I am now.

    1. Jamie*

      “I am actually a bit scared that in this day and age, people see nothing wrong with interaction from a woman to a man, but the reverse raises red flags. Power or not, we are all humans on the exact same scale, and while I may, for example, pay more attention around coworkers having authority over me or people I could have authority on in the future, that doesn’t mean I won’t be as social as I am now.”

      For me it has nothing to do with gender – if it was a male who texted about the cupcake and a female who responded there would be no difference.

      It is, however, about disparate power in their respective roles. Also assuming for the sake of discussion that nothing sexual or inappropriate was meant by either party.

      If a co-worker who is lateral to me asked me to dinner or send non-work related texts I’d respond based on whether or not I wanted to become friends outside of work. That’s happened and there’s nothing inappropriate about it.

      If someone who out ranked me did the same thing, even if not my direct manager, it would be far more awkward. I’d wonder why I was getting texts asking about my day and my hobbies. Do I have to respond? If I don’t will it offend them and could I be seen as unfriendly? Could being seen as unfriendly affect my current or future projects? Will this be remembered the next time a discretionary bonus is being parsed out? So, assuming no ill intent, I would most likely engage in painful and fake chit chat in order to not offend someone who could affect my job.

      I certainly wouldn’t want someone to humor me in that way, and resent my attempts at escalating to a friendship. Which is why I would never text a subordinate asking how their day was.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is exactly why the power dynamic is a problem — there’s always the question of whether you “have to” respond a certain way or face repercussions, even subtle ones, that isn’t there with a peer. And even when the person with authority doesn’t mean it that way at all, and would never handle it like that, the person without the authority is still left wondering about it.

        1. Sandrine*

          Yeah, but that’s the thing with being assertive and clear : if the person who initial contact is clear from the get go, no need for anyone to panic.

          I completely understand your POV, Allison, and maybe I am more “zen” and relaxed about this than I thought I was.

          For some reason, for example, I can totally imagine being friends with my boss, and same boss not hesitating to kick my ass on a Monday morning after a heavy weekend because I forgot to do an important task.

          With my former boss, it was like that. We’d joke and say stupid things as if we were teens, but the moment it was about work, BAM, back into work mode, and we did what we had to do as well as we could. Worked like a charm, and it made me feel at ease :) .

          TL;DR : I don’t think I could work with someone I couldn’t be friendly with.

            1. Sandrine*

              Then I guess we could work together, heh :P .

              I wasn’t always mature like that, mind you. It’s just that after a while I have learnt that my energy is precious, mental or physical, and I’m not going to waste it on useless stuff XD .

              For example, in the OP’s situation (and I totally see myself doing exactly what she did, to be honest :P ) , next time I saw the doc at work, I would say something like “It was nice to hear from you at X time, I just hope your partner/spouse/SO isn’t bothered by those things. You know how people get sometimes, you send a text and BAM you have bad intentions! Silly, isn’t it ?” then I would have considered the response and adjusted my attitude accordingly.

              Or something like that that doesn’t look like random babble XD .

              1. Helena*

                You bring up a good point in your first post – is there a cultural component to this misunderstanding? Professional boundaries vary from country to country. Lots of people have been pretty hard on the doctor for being “creepy” and “missed social class”, but if he comes from a more flirtatious or alcohol-loving culture than the OP’s, that might explain the miscommunication. And that goes double if English isn’t his first language.

            2. Jaime*

              Exactly. One of my former managers was a pro at being able to be a good manager AND a good friend. Another manager pointed out that one of the reasons he could be so good at that is because we employees were good at it too. We didn’t resent him or try to put him in awkward positions. Mutual respect for each other as people and our roles in the company enabled us to have a really kickass team dynamic.

              He’s no longer our manager, but our team is relatively small and works odd hours (afternoons and all evening). So, we call it “magic hour” – that time when the day staff are all gone and we can relax. We talk about all kinds of work inappropriate things – sex, toilet issues, kids, current events, etc – and we just talk about it without having to whisper or use a private instant messenger. It’s awsome. No one gets offended, or rather no one feels like they can’t say “hey, that’s offensive, knock it off”. We range in age from 20s to late 50s, so it’s not a generational thing either. We just all act like mature human beings with common sense who give each other the benefit of the doubt. *shrug*

              So, Sandrine, you can have it in the US too, it’s just very much “know your audience.” You can even have it in the midwest, bible belt. ;)

              1. Sandrine*

                Maybe one day I’ll come and try for an internship then :P .

                Because AAM’s blog has scared me from ever trying to work here (the US) full time XD .

  22. Anonymous*

    One man’s “friendliness” is another man’s “flirting.”

    I hate to say this, but if a female peer got my cell phone number (I don’t publish it in the company’s directory) to tell me she left a cupcake on my desk or wherever, I’d consider that crossing the “just being nice” line. That’s a clear signal in my book.

    Whether or not the doctor’s responses are on the up-and-up for a married man can be debated, but I’m going to be a bit harder on the OP than most and say that she needs to own up to her piece in this.

      1. Amina*

        It sounds like she made a mistake and is learning from it now. I’m giving OP the benefit of the doubt that she crossed a professional boundary *unintentionally* and *in good faith*, and the creepy married doctor the benefit of the doubt that he reasonably misunderstood her, despite having made a life commitment to another person. However, if she doesn’t respond to him, as she hasn’t at least once, if not twice, then he should back off completely.

        1. BC*

          I don’t think you can call the doc a “creep”. They’re both married. They’re both interpreting each other’s signals differently. The point is, be more mindful of your communication in the workplace – especially if you’re in any position of authority – and leave the damn cupcakes in the break room! ;-)

    1. Jaime*

      Agreed. And why in the world did his nurse give her the cell number? I would be so mad if one of my coworkers gave out my private cell number just so someone could tell me they left a cupcake on my desk – even if I’d asked them to save me one. A note on my desk would definitely suffice.

      1. EA*

        Most of us in my company got work cellphone, and the numbers are in the directory. So I wouldn’t asssume that it was a personal cellphone # that the OP got a hold of.
        But like a few feedback here, I’d say not to take this too seriously. If the doc is a flirt, he’ll move on quickly if you don’t respond the way he wanted you to, assuming he intentionally tried to flirt with you. If he didn’t mean to flirt, then problem already solved!

  23. Charles*

    Wow, just wow is all I can say reading all these comments. I will add one thing though, it sure makes me glad to be gay. There is little to none of this “he said, she said” crap.

    For the most part, a gay guy only need ask another gay guy straightforwardly (no pun intended) is do you wanna have sex*? The answer is “yes, my place or yours?” Or the answer is “sorry, but you’re not my type.” No harm no foul – we just move on.

    * language cleaned up for AAM’s site to remain “safe for work.”

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