how to reject a coworker who’s romantically interested in you

A reader writes:

I am writing on the subject of office friendships/relationships. There are many friendships throughout my office. It is a very casual workplace. Many of my coworkers and I hang out socially. But being the only female on the job, I find I do receive a little more attention than I would like. There is a guy at the office who I feel has begun to encroach on my personal space. I have told him that I do not enjoy when people hover over my workspace, yet he continues to linger. I also drive him and another colleague home after work and he continuously asks to hang out, which is a nice gesture but I would rather do other things with my time, but there are only so many times I can be noncommittal. When I am unable to drive him home from work, he still walks me to my car. All very nice, but I am feeling smothered. I am getting the romantic vibe, yet I am not attracted to him.

It seems to me that he does not have too many friendships outside of our working circle. How do I let him down without having feelings hurt all the while avoiding awkwardness, and keeping my personal space?

This is your problem: “There are only so many times I can be noncommittal.”

When someone isn’t getting hints, you need to be direct, not noncommittal. This is especially true in cases where someone is romantically interested in you and you’re wondering why he hasn’t gotten the message — it’s because you haven’t told him. (And yes, sure, people should pick up on cues, but not everyone does. Clearly.)

The next time he asks you to hang out, you’re going to need to be more direct. If this weren’t an office where people hang out outside of work, you could simply say, “No, thank you. I like to keep work separate from my personal life.” But since he knows that you’re hanging out with people from work socially, that won’t work … so you’re left with having to be even more direct: “No, thank you. I’m not interested.” Say it nicely, but say it.

And yes, you may feel rude, but he’s not getting your lighter message, so you need to be more direct. Frankly, you could argue that this is kinder anyway, rather than letting him continue to try, but that’s not even the point; the point is that your non-committal answers haven’t conveyed what you thought they would convey, and so now you need to be clearer.

Additionally, when he offers to walk you to your car, say, “No, thank you, I’m fine.” If he insists, then you need to get firmer — “No. I’m fine.” And you say this in a serious tone — not smiling, not lightening your tone. People (especially women) often try to lighten their “no” because they feel rude. But if someone is showing you that he’s not hearing or respecting your no, then you need to be much more clear, and that means risking offending the person, because your right to assert your own boundaries needs to trump your desire to be nice.

And when he lingers at your desk and disengaging isn’t getting the point across, be direct: “Bob, I need to work. Please don’t stand there.”

Frankly, you also might need to stop driving him and your other coworker home after work, at least until you’ve re-built the boundary there.

Again, you are going to feel rude, most likely. But it’s also rude to allow this guy to be strung along without telling him directly that you’d like him to stop, and more importantly, you’re entitled to speak up when someone is making you uncomfortable.

Say no, and say it clearly.

{ 241 comments… read them below }

  1. Christi*

    I think the problem here is that she wants to “avoid awkwardness” and telling someone you aren’t interested in them romantically is one of those awkward things in life. But she needs to just tell him directly, like suggested. The thing to keep in mind is that she cannot control his reaction and needs to know that if he acts like a big baby about it (moody, etc.) that is not HER fault. That is all on him.
    As for the lingering, I often tell coworkers that like to do this “Hey, did you need something? I’m really swamped right now, but I can make time to come talk to you if you needed to talk to me about something.” This typically makes them have to have a reason to come into my office and sends the message that I expect they should be coming into my office for a purpose, not just hanging out.

  2. EngineerGirl*

    Great advice. Make it direct and make it final. “I’m sorry, George, I’m not interested.” If he asks you why not do NOT give him a reason that he will argue with. Simply repeat “I’m not interested.”

    It isn’t rude to draw appropriate boundaries.

    1. fposte*

      And do so succinctly, as EG demonstrates. Especially since he’s doing the “pretend it’s not romantic” thing for plausible deniability, don’t expand or explain further or mention romance; he’ll try to wriggle out through the “but this wasn’t a date or anything” loophole if he thinks he can. There is no loophole; don’t give him one.

    2. Lisa*

      omg yes, never give a reason.

      Passive Aggressive Translations for 800 Alex:

      “I am not dating at the moment, I’m working on myself” – She needs some time alone, but then in a few months we can date.
      “I have a bf” – Once this obstacle is removed, I’m IN!
      “I don’t mix work with pleasure” – The second either one of us gets a new job, we’ll be together”
      “I’m a lesbian” – My new girlfriend admitted she loves threesomes. I’m so lucky!

      1. Ryan*

        I second the advice to not give a reason. You don’t need a reason…you made a personal decision and you don’t need to justify it to anybody. (plus…like was stated above…it’ll be subject to interpretation and argument which you also don’t need)

    3. Anon*

      I would just add one caveat here. It is absolutely unfair, but if the person outranks you in the workplace AND you may doubt the level-headedness of their response to your rejection, it may be advisable to tread lightly.

      1. Liz*

        This. If the guy was mature in handling conflict he woukd have asked her out directly (risking rejection but giving her a say) And if he were concerned about her feelings he would have taken her hints (assuming she isn’t sending too mixed a message for fear of offending). This type isn’t going to take it well, so the fallout will have to be managed.

      2. Camellia*

        If the person outranks you, you must immediately start documenting everything, stop driving him/them home from work, and do everything in your power to keep your exchanges with him strictly professional. You may be at risk for stalker/rejection/harassment issues. Take care of yourself. Firmly!

        1. Camellia*

          Wish there was an edit button. After re-reading my reply I need to point out that the same risks are there if the person is NOT a higher rank than you are, it’s that that any disparity in rank has its own problems.

  3. Anonymous*

    I just don’t understand people who don’t get the hint. If I ask someone a few times to hang out and they say no every single time…I would just stop asking. How does that not compute with everyone else?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is an interesting question to me too. I assume when this happens, it’s a person who doesn’t interpret social signals in the way that other people do. I’d actually love to hear from any guys (or women, although that seems to be less common) who recognize themselves in the guy in this letter — it would be an interesting perspective to hear.

      1. anonintheUK*

        On a different tack, having been the subject of an Office Crush twice myself, I think some people get confused about the fact that what would be a sign of interest in one situation is not in another.
        Basically, people at work exchange pleasantries with you, offer to get you a coffee when they’re making their own, and so on, because you work within 3 feet of each other. Not because they want your body.

        1. fposte*

          Oh, that’s a good point–I know waitstaff, etc., talk about this being a problem.

          I also think that it’s not all that different from the blindness people get about how much their partner is invested in them, which I actually hear more often from women–he’s moody or wounded or whatever instead of just not all that interested. We all have our own rose-colored glasses.

          1. Katie*

            Yeah, I think people just might be wishful thinkers when it comes to romance. And honestly, if I’ve learned anything from the comments on this blog, it’s that people will have a wide range of opinions on acceptable office interactions and boundaries. One person’s idle chit-chat about an email is another’s person’s waste of time, etc.. Without hard and fast rules, all we can do is try our best to be fair and do right by each other. That effort will fail a lot, but it’s all we’ve got.

      2. Ryan*

        I usually have the opposite problem…I’m usually oblivious to others interest in me unless it gets to the point that it’s not just obvious to me but to everybody. I tend not to view people at work in a romantic light as a default position. (don’t s*** where you eat to quote my father)

        1. Bridgette*

          I’ve run into this as well (though thankfully not at work). I can be friendly (I swear I can! if I’ve had caffeine beforehand…) and helpful and some people have mistaken this for romantic interest.

      3. KellyK*

        Ooh, I want to hear that perspective too. When I’ve been on the receiving end in that situation, it’s been from people who are socially awkward, and I’ve also been really uncomfortable and hesitant saying “no.” It was also complicated by the fact that these were fun people I liked hanging out with, so it was just “No, I don’t want to date you,” not “I don’t want any social interaction with you at all.” My guess in those situations was mixed signals.

        I think people who are very direct and up-front tend to miss hints and implications because they don’t operate that way. If someone says, “I’d love to, but I’m busy,” six times, they may take it at face value and keep asking. Which is complicated by the fact that every polite brush-off (with the possible exception of “I have to wash my hair”) can be a legitimate reason to not hang out with someone you really would like to hang out with.

        It can also be disrespect or willingly ignoring another person’s “no.” (I think they’ve done studies where people who interpreted those social signals correctly in non-romantic situations still treated them as a “maybe” in romantic ones.)

        1. Karen*

          Socially awkward is the key term here. I can’t say how many clear hints I’ve given, people still keep trying. Sometimes I wonder if these people were raised by wolves.

          I realize that sounds a bit harsh, but I think as women we have a hard time being mean to someone who’s interested – so at least for me, it’s upsetting when I have to put my ‘b**** hat’ on because someone else just isn’t getting it. (But I imagine this happens to men dealing with socially awkward women as well!!!)

          1. Emily*

            A guy friend of mine was telling me recently how he got “blocked” out at a club when a girl who sat down near him and chatted with him for a while ended up going home…with her boyfriend who she came with. He insisted she had been flirting with him. I told him, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re the reason girls learn to be bitches in public: Because every guy we’re friendly to thinks we’re offering ourselves up to him and makes inappropriate sexual advances on us. By our mid-20s lots of us just stop being friendly.”

        2. Elizabeth*

          Yes, I’ve definitely known people who don’t read subtext, but take things literally. If I ask someone to hang out on Saturday and they say, “Sounds fun, but I already have plans” – I’ll ask them again some other time. If they tell me that several times, though, and never end it with, “…but how about next Tuesday after work?”, then I stop asking.

          For some people, though, they treat every incident as isolated from the others. The fourth “I can’t tonight, I’m busy” doesn’t carry any different weight than the first three. They honestly don’t see the difference, and walk away from that fourth rejection thinking, “Susan is a pretty busy person! I’ll have to keep asking to find a time when she’s free.” With people who don’t “get it,” it truly is kinder to be a little blunter.

      4. BCW*

        Well, this is the problem in a nutshell. Women try to drop hints and guys (myself included) just don’t get them. For the most part guys are direct when we want something. We get to the point. Women for whatever reason drop hints that they may or may not be interested, hints on what gifts they want, hints on where they want to go. If the girl would just say I’m not interested, it makes things much tougher. So for someone who said “I don’t get why people don’t get the hint” my response would be to stop giving hints and just say what you want. Its that simple.

        1. fposte*

          While I think you’ve got a point, it’s worth noting that in this case (which isn’t unusual) the man isn’t being direct either.

          1. BCW*

            I don’t know. I think if he’s asking to hang out, just the 2 of them, thats pretty direct. Maybe you think its not direct because the word “date” isn’t explicitly used, but I think he is making his intentions known.

              1. Hari*

                But not if she follows it up with “Next time” or “Maybe later”. No is direct enough but that no turns non committal when you put conditions on it.

                Women need to realize we don’t need to give excuses when we don’t want to do something, it doesn’t make us rude.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              We females actually think we can hang out with you, just like we would girlfriends. (I’ve said below that I now understand that if a guy asks such a thing, it likely does mean he’s romantically interested, but I didn’t get that when I was of the age to get such requests.)

              1. Liz*

                I am really weirded out by the mindset that people of the opposite sex would only hang out together if there were a sexual interest. It seems really provincial, and I grew up on a farm. So I might miss that clue to interest unless the guy made it seem really date-like.

            2. Natalie*

              You seem to have a bit of a double standard here. How is the man’s failure to clearly ask this woman out “pretty direct”, but at the same time her deferrals are not similarly direct?

              1. BCW*

                I wouldn’t say its a double standard, I’d say its a generational thing. I’m 30. I can honestly say I don’t remember the last time I have said to a girl “Do you want to go on a date” in those exact words. I may say “Can I take you to dinner” or “Can I buy you a drink”. Same with my friends. I think the venue and how I act (paying, etc) makes it clear that it is a date without that word being used. I may even tell a friend I went on a date, but don’t necessarily use that term when asking them out. Its like how people used to say “going steady”. No one says that anymore.

            3. Zed*

              I ask people to hang out, just the two of us, all the time, and 100% of the time I am not asking the other person out on a date. Generally, I indicate this by not saying, “Would you like to go on a date?”

            4. Hari*

              I agree. If a guy I worked with asked me to hang out just the two of us I would be a bit worried that he had romantic interests in me. I think that is pretty direct. However if I still wanted to be friends with him I would go but make it clear if his advances continued while we were hanging out that I would be only interested in being friends. If I didn’t, I would just straight up say “no” without any “perhaps some other time” or “maybe laters”.

          2. Henning Makholm*

            That (the man not being direct here) may actually be the key. Suppose he’s shy and cannot bring himself to make an explicitly romantic proposal, and therefore is stuck with suggesting to “hang out” and so on. Perhaps he’s like AnotherAlison and donesn’t think hanging out necessarily constitutes a date. He might believe he’s pining for her secretly.

            … one day, one glorious day, I will have the nerve to ask her on a date. Until then, I’ll at least act like we’re friends. That’s how people become friends originally, right? …

            If he doesn’t think he’s sending her any signals, it stands to reason that he wouldn’t even be looking for any signals in response.

            But what do I know. The OP’s description is also consistent with behavior that couldn’t possibly be explained this way.

            1. Laura L*

              “If he doesn’t think he’s sending her any signals, it stands to reason that he wouldn’t even be looking for any signals in response.”

              Hmmm… that’s a good point that I’ve never thought about before!

          3. Laura L*

            “it’s worth noting that in this case (which isn’t unusual) the man isn’t being direct either.”

            Thank you! Men don’t get criticized for being indirect. Just women.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think that’s absolutely right — women shouldn’t rely on hints in these situations, particularly when they’re not working. But WHY don’t some guys take these hints, when most other people do? That’s the part that really interests me. Why are they continuing to pursue someone when they’re not getting any return of interest? Why aren’t repeated hints sufficient? (And again, I absolutely know that they’re NOT always sufficient; what I’m curious about is why that is.)

          I can speculate on all sorts of reasons, from pop culture signaling that men should relentlessly pursue and will eventually get the girl, to mild social disorders … but I’d really love to hear from a guy who considers himself someone who needs to be rejected outright before he gets the message. That perspective just really interests me.

          1. BCW*

            Personally, I will ask a couple times and then give up, but thats just how I operate. However, there are plenty of girls I know who will freely admit to “liking to be chased” and “making a guy work for it”. I’m not into those games myself.

            But I think it comes down to what the rejection actually is. Its like someone said, if the “rejection” is “I can’t hang out, I’m busy this weekend”. That is very vague. Depending on the girl it could mean ask for another time, or it could mean I have no interest in you. If the girl says, “thanks, but I’m not interested” thats a direct rejection and if a guy doesn’t get that, then yeah, its a problem.

            1. Ariancita*

              Here’s something to help: a vague I’m busy = not interested. Always. Unless they give a reason why they are busy and offer to reschedule, they’re not interested. I thought that was a universal rule. :)

              1. BCW*

                Thanks for the info :). But seriously, why not just say “I’m not interested”. Makes things much easier for everyone and takes out any doubt. Wouldn’t you agree.

                1. Ariancita*

                  I would agree. And I do. Using it as an excuse and understanding the excuse are two different things. (And it goes both ways–from what I’ve seen, men are rarely direct when rejecting and almost always use the “I’m busy” excuse.)

                2. Broke Philosopher*

                  I can only speak for myself, but I know that some guys will say “why?” and be super pushy if you say you’re not interested, trying to get you to change your mind, or will make a big deal of pretending they weren’t asking you out when they clearly were to save face. If I know a guy pretty well and know that he won’t pull that, I’ll be upfront. But with a guy I don’t know well or a guy who might not seem as respectful or whatever, I don’t feel like taking that risk.

                3. Natalie*

                  Actual responses I have gotten, from adults, to a simple “No, thank you.”

                  – “Whatever, I’m just trying to be nice” followed by lots of dramatic sighing

                  – “Why don’t you want to?” repeated ad nauseum

                  – “Stuck up bitch.”

                  -A statement, but to quote George Michael Bluth, “If I clean it up it’s not really a sentence.”

                  Granted, none of these responses occurred at work, but when you get enough childish pouting, badgering, or outright aggression to completely reasonable behavior, you have a tendency to avoid that behavior in the future.

                4. KellyK*

                  Pretty much what Brooke and Natalie said, plus the fact that it’s considered mean for a woman to reject a guy for pretty much any reason.

                  *Also* if the other person isn’t being direct either, it’s hard to directly respond. You can give a direct “No thank you,” to every specific request, but it’s going to be viewed as presumptuous to say, “I’m not interested,” when the guy hasn’t (technically) asked you out.

                5. Hari*

                  Going off of what a lot of other women said on here, it is seen as a bad thing for a woman to reject a man and is met with all sorts of ugly and disrespectful remarks. So I get why women would feel they shouldn’t directly reject a man. However I take a different approach, I am direct. Also I have gotten plenty of “Well you are a stupid slut anyway” in return but imo its a small price to pay for me speaking my mind. Misogynistic jerks will be who they are and I can’t change that but I also don’t let that stop me from saying how I feel. I know every woman cannot adopt this stance for their own reasons but I hate to see women feel like they have to because they are scared of a negative response.

                6. Zed*

                  In addition to what other people have said, I think the work element should not be overlooked here. A woman who has received negative attention after being direct about romantic interest or the lack thereof (whether with a friend, a stranger in a bar, or a man on the street corner) may be hesitant to risk having something similar happen at work. Hostile or aggressive behavior from someone you can choose never to see again is one thing, but from someone who you have no choice but to see every single day? Someone who may one day have influence over your career?

                7. fposte*

                  That may be true, but leaving somebody to think you might date him–IOW, not rejecting him–is no zone of safety either, and it’s certainly not an ethical place to stand. While it’s true that there are experiential reasons why women are dissuaded from direct rejection, women’s tendency not to ask directly from what they want and to shy from discord is not limited to situations where there might be that kind of risk, and I think it’s incomplete to suggest that it’s entirely logic driven. Women really aren’t likely to be more at risk than men in asking for a higher salary, for instance, but nonetheless, we are apparently dissuaded from doing it.

                8. Good_Intentions*


                  I completely understand your frustration with the lack of directness from women about romantic situations. However, I will defend 51 percent of the population by saying that women choose to be indirect and make “vague” statements because they fear retribution and/or hurting the guy’s feelings.

                  Look at the statistics on violence against women based on rejection. It’s truly startling and is something that has been drilled into the heads of women since before puberty. If a woman declines a man’s invitation to dinner, he may punch her, run her over with a car, stab her, stalk her, shoot her or turn to any other violent and potentially deadly retaliation for being out-rightly denied attention and/or affection from his object of desire.

                  Please understand that I’m not saying all or even most men are likely to resort to brute force, but women don’t know who may or may not do such a thing. Also, it’s so incredibly prominent in our culture that the ladies prefer, to the annoyance and confusion of many men, to soft pedal their lack of romantic interest behind excuses.

                  I hope this provides a bit of perspective. You and many other readers will likely disagree with my assessments, but I wanted to put it out there.

                9. Rana*

                  But seriously, why not just say “I’m not interested”. Makes things much easier for everyone and takes out any doubt. Wouldn’t you agree.

                  Because for every guy who is okay with that and behaves like a civilized person, there’s another one who gets all angry at you on the bus and calls you a bitch for daring to reject him. Women who are blunt get punished in ways that women who are more vague are not.

                10. fposte*

                  Good Intentions, I think that the statement about rejection as precipitating violence is a little misleading, though–I think that *leaving* in an established relationship is a common precipitating event, but that’s very different from rejection of an overture. (I also am not familiar with statistics that break down precipitating events to that degree–can you tell me who’s got those? That’d be interesting to see.)

                11. fposte*

                  Rana, I’m not entirely convinced that’s true, at least not in the way you’re meaning “ways.” For one thing, too an asshole, if you’re blunt you’re a bitch, but if you’re ducking the question you’re a tease; for another, I think that’s buying into the myth that it’s our behavior that’s controlling the situation, and I don’t think that’s true–it’s running into people who are exercised by our Living While Female (see Fat, Ugly or Slutty for a host of examples). I understand the anxiety that drives the unwillingness to speak up, but I think we’re wrong in thinking that ducking stuff makes us less vulnerable, and I think that that ends up furthering the kind of passivity that *does* make us vulnerable.

                12. moss*

                  fposte, i appreciate your comments. But let’s remember that our response is not the problem. If people can’t handle rejection, that’s their problem. It shouldn’t matter what we do to precipitate their behavior. Someone who doesn’t know how to act needs to look within and learn how to treat other people well, not blame their method of rejection.

                13. fposte*

                  I think we’re actually agreeing. I’m certainly not saying that passivity makes it a victim’s fault instead of an aggressor’s; I’m saying that the notion that passivity saves you seems unlikely to be true, and that overall passivity hasn’t actually served women very well.

                14. Natalie*

                  fposte, just wanted to respond to one comment of yours:

                  “That may be true, but leaving somebody to think you might date him–IOW, not rejecting him–is no zone of safety either, and it’s certainly not an ethical place to stand.”

                  As someone who chimed in with some experiences I’ve had when rejecting people, I want to clarify that I’m not suggesting that being vague is the best or even a good solution. An explanation is not necessarily the same as a justification or an excuse.

                15. moss*

                  cool, glad to agree. (Also please pardon what seemed to me, on re-reading my comment, my sort of gross sounding condescension.)

                16. fposte*

                  Natalie, that’s certainly true, and I am definitely not meaning to criticize anybody an individual situation here; we’ve all heard those wonderful responses you note. I just felt that the discussion of women’s anxiety about responses as justifying behavior was needing a little interrogation of its own :-).

                17. fposte*

                  moss, no problem–just negotiating threading in the multi-nested levels is straining my style considerably!

                18. Rana*

                  fposte, I don’t actually disagree. I tend towards the blunt, myself, especially since I had self-defense training that emphasized the importance of clearly stating the offense and what you want the offender to do about it. (Ranging from “You are touching my breast. That is sexual assault. Remove your hand now.” to “It bothers me when you read over my shoulder. Don’t do it again.”)

                  I was more explaining why some women might not feel as comfortable about being blunt, if they’ve had bad encounters in the past.

                19. fposte*

                  Ah, okay, I was thinking of it more generally. Yes, it’ll certainly make you a little gingerly about the next instance.

                20. Laura L*

                  Going back to your previous comment:

                  If a guy says he wants to hang out with just the two of us, he’s being direct, but if a woman says she’s busy she’s not?

                  Why can’t the guy directly say he’s interested in her romantically? Then he’ll get a direct response back.

                21. Jennifer*

                  Another reason why women are vague when trying to say no: the guy who doesn’t get the hint the first four times she said she was busy is, in my experience, more likely to take a flat out no badly. The guy who doesn’t take no for an answer is a walking Bad Sign right there.

                  I can count on one hand the number of guys who were nice and sane when I said no. I treasure those people in my memory, even if I didn’t want to lay them, because they are so rare.

          2. fposte*

            There’s some not-entirely-crazy argument that it’s actually evolutionary–that it’s to the species’ benefit for people to err on the side of pressing their suit rather than backing away.

            I still think there’s an obligation to learn beyond this tendency even if it’s true, but it could explain why it’s so widespread.

          3. Ariancita*

            I’m not a guy and I don’t suffer from inability to read hints, but I think a lot of it is for them, hope springs eternal. I think the persistence happens, in a lot of cases, when they really really really like someone. You may know what it feels like to really like someone: you read into everything a hint of possibility, you hope that they’ll someday suddenly change their minds, etc. I think for a lot of guys, they ignore the “no” hints because they’re so busy looking for the “yes” hints and a “no” might become a “yes” tomorrow. I’ve been on the receiving end, and I’ve had to say: “No, I’m not interested and I never will be.” Harsh? Hardly, when those particular guys *still* attempted a negotiation.

            1. Bridgette*

              Just like job applications! Our interviewer says, “I enjoyed talking to you,” we think it means an offer is forthcoming. I think the reason why some guys don’t get the hints and some do depends on how interested in the person they are. Like you were saying, they are so wrapped in up looking for that yes, they ignore the obvious no. And we are so wrapped up in looking for that job offer, we scrutinize every tiny thing from interviewers.

          4. Dan*

            Ok, let me rework your question in the general case: You’re asking why some people don’t understand and/or follow social norms/etiquette.

            Without waxing all philosophical (I’m an engineer, after all) it’s along the lines of asking why people smoke pot when the norm is that pot smoking is illegal. Some people just play by a different set of rules.

            The short answer is that some people are literal people (I’m one of them). You might be busy this weekend, but isn’t there a weekend you’re less busy?

            All of that said, I work in a male dominated environment, and am married (meaning I don’t have to be the socially awkward guy hitting on my coworkers.) When my female coworkers come up to me and say ZZZ is hitting on them, it makes them uncomfortable, and they’re thinking of going to HR; I ask, have you said “no” in so many words? They always say “no.” I tell them that as a dude, I think they owe the guy a flat out no, and if he doesn’t respond to that, then HR is fair game. Otherwise, you just make a socially awkward situation worse, and nobody wins.

            1. Natalie*

              “You’re asking why some people don’t understand and/or follow social norms/etiquette.”

              Another thing to consider is that social norms are not universal, as much as we might like them to be. Some communities follow a norm of being more direct than other communities.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              “When my female coworkers come up to me and say ZZZ is hitting on them, it makes them uncomfortable, and they’re thinking of going to HR; I ask, have you said “no” in so many words? They always say “no.” I tell them that as a dude, I think they owe the guy a flat out no, and if he doesn’t respond to that, then HR is fair game.”

              Amen to this. It’s very frustrating when women complain about a guy not leaving them alone, when they haven’t actually told him to.

          5. Steve Martin*

            I guess I fall under your category here. Hints won’t work because my likelihood of picking them up is very low. Unlike the case in question, I think my default in the absence of hint-reading or direct answer is assuming women are not interested. I’m not sure if I’ve ever made a woman uncomfortable with my actions. Either it hasn’t happenned or they’ve never gotten to the point of being direct about my need to back off. Everyone I’ve intentionally pursued has given me a direct go/stop answer pretty quickly, but if I was being annoying by just being me and not (consciously) pursuing… who knows.

            What I do know is there are at least two women and one gay man out there who tried very hard (for 2-3 years each) to send signals that they were interested, and I didn’t catch on until after they’d given up on me. Two of them were somewhat obvious in retrospect (once they were pointed out to me), the third one I still don’t get.

            1. fposte*

              “I’m not sure if I’ve ever made a woman uncomfortable with my actions.” Is it something that’s occurred to you as a possibility? Because I think being aware of the potential for this is really key. I remember a post a while ago where there was a tangent about really tall or big guys who made a point of not being physically imposing when they talked to people, which I thought was a fabulous illustration of how people could know that their intent was good but also realize that others might have trouble seeing that if they weren’t careful.

              1. Steve Martin*

                Have I thought about it – yes. Is it always (or even usually) in mind when interacting – no. I’m more likely to just be me and trust to the people around me to tell me it’s too much (or just avoid me).

                As far as I know this has worked so far. But then if people are silently putting up with me or hinting I should change/stop I’d never know.

                1. fposte*

                  Well, I think always in the mind would probably be excessive, which is a problem in its own right–it really isn’t good to always be asking yourself “Do they really want me here? Did they mean that lunch invitation?” As long as you think of it on your own sometimes and don’t entirely make it somebody else’s job to point out boundaries, I think you’re probably doing just fine.

          6. Minous*

            I worry when people can’t or won’t hear me say “no”.
            The “Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker has some insights that I have found useful.

            1. Job seeker*

              I had never heard of this book “Gift of Fear” until I saw it mentioned here. Boy, I must really be out of touch.

      5. J*

        Part of it might be that sometimes it works?

        I’m extremely shy and introverted and don’t have a lot of close friends because I turn down offers to hang out so frequently that very few people DON’T give up on me (it took a while for me to a) realize it was my own behavior and not everyone secretly hating me and b) realize I am kind of a jerk). Until I became self-aware enough to explain that my rejections aren’t an indication that I don’t like someone, I was pretty clueless as to why people would stop trying to hang out with me.

        So I can see why some people might think, “Oh, she’s just busy. I can ask her again some other time!” Because I expected other people to actually think that about me.

    2. Rana*

      Because there’s a lot of stupid cultural stuff about the persistent person getting rewarded for being persistent and not giving up. Sometimes it takes job form (keep applying! call the HR manager every day!) but romantic relationship models frequently depend on that idea of the “persistent suitor” who eventually wins over the girl (it’s almost always a guy trying to “get” the woman in this scenario). I mean, how many rom-coms are there out there where the guy is basically a stalker and it’s treated as charming and romantic? Given that, being annoyingly hovering seems like no big deal to some people.

      1. McGuest*

        +1 There are a LOT of movies* that give the message that being very persistent in the awkward guy’s pursuit will get the girl to change her mind.

        In other words, the message a lot of awkward guys are getting is that Stalking Works(TM), and according to the script, it will make a beautiful girl love him.

        * A partial list:
        The Graduate
        Say Anything
        Something About Mary
        Against All Odds, Flashdance
        The Heartbreak Kid
        Blame It on Rio
        Honeymoon in Vegas
        Indecent Proposal

    3. TheSnarkyB*

      I think a lot of times it comes from too much contact with the many, many, many people who feel like they have to be indirect or less-than-forward, or not just ask for what they want. Once you have a lot of those interactions, it becomes really hard to read between the lines. If you’ve ever had a multitude of passive aggressive friends at once, you know what I mean. “Are you mad at me?” “No.” Then three weeks later…
      I hope this doesn’t come off as blaming the victim, I just think that so many of us are socialized to be indirect and that ends up biting society in the ass as a whole.

    4. Camellia*

      The OP may not be saying ‘no’ every time. She said there’s only so many times when she can be ‘noncommittal’. That doesn’t sound like a direct, firm ‘no’.

  4. Anonymous*

    His inability to respect your requests that he back off is disrespectful. Do you both the courtesy of being unmistakably direct. I’m with Alison on not driving him home, not letting him escort you to your car. You aren’t being mean, you are being clear. As it is, he’s wanting to read your kindness as a “yes.”

    There’s a great book that helps break down this kind of dynamic, & the hazards inherent in it – sometimes small scale hazards, sometimes not – THE GIFT OF FEAR by Gavin deBecker. The second half of the book talks about things like you’re describing, the first half of the book deals with a lot of violent situations. Don’t be put off because your situation isn’t dire, this is a very practical book. Wish I’d read it at your age.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Excellent book. The information in it can be used in so many situations where paying attention to your gut and dealing with persistent people is important, whether they’re stalkers or just clueless.

    2. Andy Lester*

      Related to “The Gift of Fear”, and a bit of a counterpoint to relying on gut feel, is Mary Ellen O’Toole’s “Dangerous Instincts: Use an FBI Profiler’s Tactics to Avoid Unsafe Situations”.

    3. Anonymous*

      Just ordered my own copy of it from Amazon. Tried to read it in college, but I was too busy that I didn’t get the chance to read it before someone requested it back.

  5. Ivy*

    Yes, great advice!

    The only other thing I would suggest is to clearly establish the friend zone. I like to avoid acknowledging the other person likes me. This is where the awkwardness comes in. He hasn’t confessed to you or anything, so really, he could just want to be friends (I mean we all know he doesn’t, but I’m saying pretend ignorance can be bliss). If you’re not ready to employ the “direct approach” that AAM talks about, try the friend zone approach. This is where you make those typical comments such as: “I would NEVER date anyone at work. That’s just asking for trouble.” Is this the best, fasted way? No. Is it super passive-aggressive? Yes. But trust me he’ll catch on eventually… The biggest benefit is that it lets him save some face making things less awkward.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      My husband has informed me that men don’t want to be friends with women. In my twenties, I had the OP’s type of problem more than once, both with male coworkers and in college (all engineers). Someone asks me to lunch, and I’m all, “Sure, I’m starving. Let’s go.” I’m thinking we’re friends, and he’s thinking, “Yessss, she’s interested.” I got married when I right before my sophomore year in college, and somehow that engagement ring and wedding ring never even registered with these guys (well, at least one didn’t care. . .scum). One guy actually asked me on a date, and another male in our class jumped in and said, “Hey dude, she’s engaged,” because I found the whole thing really embarassing.

      So, what I’m saying is I think women and men interpret the friend zone differently, and I’m not so sure they always pick up on those really broad hints. : )

      1. Liz T*

        My guy friends always have multiple female friends. I was friends with my boyfriend for five years before we dated–and he was SHOCKED when I asked him out.

        Once a guy I was dating told me that no guy wants to be friends with a woman, and that all my guy friends secretly wanted to sleep with me. That relationship did not go well.

          1. Bridgette*

            Yep. I have lots of male friends, but the difference is their attitude. All the guys I have known that have the attitude that Liz T described have been scumbags.

            1. Ariancita*

              Yeah, the only time I had a bf tell me he didn’t like me having guy friends was when he himself was a big fat cheater and lying pants. :)

          2. twentymilehike*

            I’ve heard the ‘all your guy friends want to sleep with you’ bit before, and I think I lean toward it probably being true.

            According to my husband, the smarts ones just won’t let you know. And the ones that really do legitimately enjoy your friendship, don’t TRY to sleep with you, but they wouldn’t say no if you offered. As women, think we’ll never know the truth …

            1. Liz T*

              I just don’t get how a guy could possibly know that ALL OTHER GUYS are exactly the same as him.

              It makes me sad for those guys, the ones who would only hang out with women as a means to a secret end, and would never spend time with women they don’t want to sleep with.

              1. twentymilehike*

                I think you might be reading too much into it. My point was really just that there really is no way of knowing for sure if you are face to face with a guy and the guy may or may not want to have sex with you at some point, or that the idea didn’t cross his mind ever at any point in the entire time that the guy has known you. I mean, its not impossible, and based on what I learned in sex ed, guys don’t seem to have a lot of control over where their weiners want them to put them. I’ve had a brief moment of “hmm that could be fun …” with most guys I’ve probably been friends with, and I’m a female with a fairly low libido. It seems like an overwhelming majority of males like having sex more than I do, so logic would dictate that most men have thoughts like, “hmm that could be fun …” also. I think that’s where my husband was going … NOT “every guy you ever talk to wants to rip your clothes off at every moment he’s with you.” Perhaps?

                1. Ariancita*

                  But there’s a big difference between a guy thinking about you that way and not saying no if you offered or even hitting on you once or twice and a guy who’s only motivation for being friends with you is to sleep with you. And the theory that men are incapable of being friends with women (all straight, of course) is predicated on the later, and what I think is flawed, premise.

                  It’s like the difference between a friend asking for a slice of my pie or accepting a slice I offer and a friend who’s only friends with me because they want my pie, covet my pie, or can’t have a conversation with me without their eyes continually darting to the kitchen in clear hopes of spying some pie. :)

                  I’ve got no problem with a guy falling on the spectrum of having thought about sleeping with me and wouldn’t say no if offered (I mean, who doesn’t want a guy who would say yes to an offer?). I mean, that’s human nature. I have a problem with the premise that the majority of men are only friends with women because they want to sleep with them. That’s a pretty big disservice to men.

                2. twentymilehike*

                  I’ve got no problem with a guy falling on the spectrum of having thought about sleeping with me and wouldn’t say no if offered (I mean, who doesn’t want a guy who would say yes to an offer?). I mean, that’s human nature.

                  haha yes! Well said. I think all of those cliche statements stem from the human nature aspect of this, it just gets taken way out into left field most of the time. I think most of us can agree on somewhere in the middle :)

                3. Mark Samuelson*

                  I’m a person with a penis and one of my best friends for years is a person with a vagina whom I don’t want to sleep with at all (and no, I’m not homosexual and neither is she). This female also has other close male friends for years who are also not homosexual. I’ve had other richly rewarding friendships with persons with vaginas that were free of some foundational desire in having intercourse with our sex organs.

            2. djx*

              I think Ariancita is exactly right, though I’ll add something further out on the spectrum: I’m a guy with women friends who I have thought about (imagined) sleeping with but know not only will they not offer that, even if they did I couldn’t agree because I’m married. So there is effectively zero possibility. And I still enjoy the friendship.

              1. fposte*

                And that’s something that women often feel, too (and, for that matter, people can feel for their same-sex friends). But “Sure, I totally could” is not the same thing as “and it drives my thoughts so much that a friendship is impossible.”

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Liz & Ariancita – this is what I thought when I was 25, too.

          Really it is a bit of hyperbole that guys do not want to be friends with women. Both of us have friends of the opposite gender, but it’s very situational. I think just hanging out with the opposite gender without your s.o. ends when you’re married — maybe not for everyone, but I have a fairly large circle of married friends and I don’t see that happening much. I might go to happy hour with several guys from work, but I’m not calling them up on the weekend or texting them one-on-one.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I meant to put a winky face in my first sentence. I am not trying to be condescending. . .I just came from a place when I was young (15-25) where 90% of my friends were male & I thought it was cool. Then I realized I had no friends because it didn’t really work anymore.

            1. twentymilehike*

              I just came from a place when I was young (15-25) where 90% of my friends were male & I thought it was cool. Then I realized I had no friends because it didn’t really work anymore.

              Ditto! It’s sort of weird now when I’m around one of our unmarried male friends without my husband. And I still hang out with my male friends from before my marriage, but just not as much, and more often with my husband around. I don’t know … just being married changes relationships a little, and I think its just some fun combo of socienty and natural instinct.

          2. Ariancita*

            I’m well over 25 and have tons of married friends who hang out with their opposite sex (or same sex for my gay married friends) solo all the time. If that doesn’t happen in your life or circles, that’s great. But it’s by no means a universal truth that there’s an agenda when solo time is involved, or there’s something off about it. The tendency to lean one way or another may be cultural too (urban vs suburban cultures, ethnic cultural differences, religion differences, etc).

            1. COT*

              Yes, it totally varies by person and culture. My husband has close female friends and I have close male friends, and we do hang out one-on-one with them as well as in groups/couples. It works for some people, but certainly not for all.

              To connect this back to the OP’s question, we don’t know whether this coworker is really just trying to be friends or wants something more. I trust the OP’s intuition that this guy might be romantically interested. It doesn’t matter either way, though. She needs to set a clear boundary and make it clear that she isn’t interested in spending time with him in any social/romantic capacity.

        2. Long Time Admin*

          “Once a guy I was dating told me that no guy wants to be friends with a woman, and that all my guy friends secretly wanted to sleep with me.”

          When Harry Met Sally. I guess it’s a universal truth!

          1. Liz T*

            No…he was wrong.

            Also, it just occurs to me: I met him through a mutual female friend. I should’ve asked him if he’d been trying to sleep with her.

      2. Ivy*

        I have majority guy friends and have dealt with the whole liking me thing with a good chunk of them. From personal experience, I know that they do EVENTUALLY pick up on the hints. It takes a while, but I’ve had a pretty fantastic success rate in avoiding confessions. We both can pretend the other one had no idea there was anything more than friendship feelings. Now, for the ones that have romantic feelings, I doubt they ever get to 100% nothing more than friendship feelings. But, who cares. As long as we both know it would never work out and have no intention of pursuing it, the matter can drop.

        That’s only talking about guys that have liked me. There are plenty of guys who can genuinely be just friends with a girl from the beginning. I find the ones that think guys only want girls for one thing, are the ones who aren’t comfortable in themselves and who are just… chauvinistic.

      3. Job seeker*

        Your husband I think is right. At least that was true when I was in my twenties. I did date some people where I worked ( mostly engineers, a lawyer,) and was also asked out by some guys there I did not go out with. One manager there asked me out and he was my future husband’s boss. I did not go out with him. That was so uncomfortable when I had to see him at work events. If you do choose to date someone at work, it is very uncomfortable when you stop going out with that person and you see them daily. One person, I dated I ended up marrying and we are still happily married now.

        I can’t make myself hurt someone’s feelings. It was hard for me to think up a reason to say no and not feel horrible. But, I really do think it is wrong to let someone think there is a chance when there isn’t. I just wish there was always a sweet and kind way to do this.

  6. Anonymous*

    Don’t feel like you’re the one being rude — he is by not respecting your personal space, but not respecting your answers to his questions, etc. You have the right to be safe from this kind of thing at work. You are not the bad guy, and screw that guy if he tries to make you feel bad about his unwanted advances.

    Mini-Rant: I hate it that society socializes women to be nice because it causes so many awkward situations (or worse). Women can’t be direct because that makes us a “bitch”, but we can’t be indirect because then we’re “leading someone on”. You can’t get too defensive about not liking someone because then it’s a case of “the lady doth protest too much”, but if you are nonchalant about it, then of course you must like the guy because why would you pretend that you cared so little?

    1. moss*

      yes, and the threat of violence is always there. Even from a “Nice Guy”… perhaps even especially from a “Nice Guy.” He’s already invading your personal space…what would he do if you were intoxicated and he thought you were rejecting him?

      1. Jamie*

        I disagree. I mean sure, people have to be careful and sometimes people are dangerous under the surface – but every one of us who is, or who has ever been, in a romantic relationship started out with attraction before it went anywhere.

        Before we got together and my husband was interested in me, but I’m sure if I had rejected him he’d have gotten on with his life and hurting me wouldn’t have crossed his mind.

        Expressing an interest in someone – sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t…but turning dangerous or creepy is the exception not the rule.

        1. moss*

          Expressing interest is one thing. Invading personal space, repeated overtures and insisting on being in someone’s company is something else.

          I know I will get piled on for this remark. People can look up the numbers on sexual assault and see for themselves.

          1. fposte*

            The numbers don’t have any bearing on whether this particular situation represents increased risk, though.

            I do think the “Schrodinger’s Rapist” notion is something that men should be familiar with–that despite the fact that most situations don’t turn into violence enough of them do that we’d be unsafe not to have that thought. But that’s different from saying it’s likely in this particular situation.

          2. Jamie*

            I’m not disputing that people need to be careful and aware of warning signs. What I took issue with was the statement that he treat of violence is always there.

            I interpreted that to mean that every man expressing interest is potentially dangerous and hats not true. The sat majority of men are not violent and interest is just that…no threat involved.

            Being wary of people you don’t know, sure, people should be wary. But being cautious when you’ve got fear signals is one thing, but it shouldn’t be the default that all men are threats to women.

            Based on the limited information we have I don’t see anything intrusive. Clueless, sure, but I didn’t interpret the actions outlined by the OP as scary. Unless the OP has her own office, hovering co-workers is a fact of life. I used to wish I had a bear horn to chase people away from my desk before I had a door.

            I’ve been walked to my car at night when parked in an unlit part of the lot – and I guarantee you there was nothing more to that than courtesy.

            I just think these things can be interpreted differently depending on your pov and I cringe a little bit for all the good and decent men when it feels like the default should be fear for innocuous gestures.

            1. moss*

              If this guy’s actions made the OP so uncomfortable that she wrote into AAM, then it’s not necessarily innocuous.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think that’s a big leap. The OP didn’t indicate in any way that she was feeling unsafe or uncomfortable about anything other than the fact that she was getting sick of him hanging around.

                1. moss*

                  There is a guy at the office who I feel has begun to encroach on my personal space

                  He’s hovering. She feels smothered.

                2. moss*

                  I’m not trying to derail this or in any other way be annoying about this, BUT, she uses words indicating unease, she may feel uneasy and not have said so, and people can be in danger without knowing it. I’m not saying this guy is a secret serial killer. I am just saying there’s more on the line potentially than one man’s hurt feelings and for her to be careful.

              2. fposte*

                I’m not sure what you’re using “innocuous” to mean here, but I think people ask about solving problems of being uncomfortable all the time without it meaning impending violence. And most people who hang out hopefully with their romantic interest don’t turn violent and do dial it back when firmly told to go. That is also an important fact.

                I’m with you in keeping people aware and empowered about possible threats, but I think it’s possible to overread one potential at the expense of the other in specific situations.

      2. BCW*

        Oh come on. That may be the most sexist thing I’ve ever heard. “The threat is violence is always there”. So now every guy who gets rejected might get violent. That is ridiculous. I’ve gotten rejected plenty of times, drunk and sober, and I have never gotten violent with anyone.

        1. moss*

          I’m happy for you but it’s not sexist to acknowlege that women are often at risk from violence from men. It’s just a fact.

        2. Karen*

          BCW, the threat of violence can be there with any human being who feels rejected…male or female. I don’t think moss was hinting that all guys are violent. I honestly suspect we’d be having very similar themes pop up in a thread where the interested party was a woman.

          1. BCW*

            Karen, moss blatantly just said “women are often at risk of violence from men”. So yes, I think that is a sexist statement. As you said, anyone could be at a risk of violence from anyone else (have you seen the show “Snapped”). However, if I was to make a statement like men need to all be wary because women are all crazy and may slash your tires, it would be labelled sexist.

            1. moss*

              BCW, do you know the statistics on sexual assault? Do you feel the need to protect yourself against sexual assault? If you’re a man, probably not. If you’re a woman, you probably take some precautions just as a matter of course. It’s not being sexist to acknowlege that there is a societal problem with violence against women and that that violence is usually done by men.

              In fact, ignoring and dismissing and minimizing the fact that women have to face these types of calculations allows this type of behavior to continue.

              1. BCW*

                Look, no one is denying that these things happen, and its awful. However, I think to say that all men are have the threat of physical violence is a bit of a stretch. If that is really what you think, then there is no changing your mind. I don’t know your situation, and maybe you have had horrible men in your life. But anytime you make a statement regarding an entire group of people, I think its ignorant, and again wouldn’t be tolerated if I made a blanket statement like that about women or a particular minority group.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Maybe you should consider why a woman would say that. As a part of the group that she’s making a “blanket statement” toward, it would be really nice if the group that never has to worry about leading guys on or are asking for it or walking in dark streets at night would consider that this is the why women are taught to feel. The more guys who understand that, the better the likelihood that women wouldn’t say all men have the threat of physical violence. Please consider this.

                2. BCW*

                  Oh yes, we men are all evil because we come from a position of privelage and power, so we all are clearly going to get violent when we get rejected. I guess at bars every weekend every woman should be scared for her safety if she rejects a guy.

                  Again, I understand all these stats you are mentioning. And I understand that some women have a very valid reason to be very cautious. But again you are making a very bad statement about all men here, and I think the double standard is just ridiculous.

                3. Anonymous*

                  BCW, just the fact that you’re telling us women that our fears are unfounded goes to show the lack of respect you have for us. That’s a huge problem because men that have respect for women won’t even DARE tell a woman that her feelings are unwarranted. And most men who lack respect for women don’t care about their feelings and they just play the victim card when they’re rejected.

                  Please take your mansplaining somewhere else.

                4. RG*

                  You’re not evil by having a privilege and prestige. It means you may be insulated from effects of NOT being part of that group. And we of that group (non-male) are trying to tell you is that this is a thing we live with.

                  We know that all men are not evil, and many of them are pretty great. But we also know that we have to watch for those signs of violence, even from men we know, since assault is far more likely from someone I know than from a stranger. Not that we expect to find violence, but we have to be aware. Things like having my keys out and ready to go before I get to the lock so I don’t have to dig around in my purse and lose awareness of my surroundings.

                  And that’s what we (or at least I) define as the potential for violence – being aware and cognizant of how things could go bad, even if it’s likely that they won’t. Potential is the capacity, not the likelihood.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Hey. That’s unwarranted. I’m not going to host a gender war here, nor do I think most people want one. Please do not attack people personally here, and respect my earlier request and move back on topic. Thank you.

              2. Jennifer*

                I just want to point out here that statistics need to be truly evaluated and not always taken at face value. Female-perpetrated violence against men is grossly under-reported (which is a whole other issue with a basis in society norms and gender inequality).

                I think we ALL need to realize that gay, straight, male, female, transgendered, etc there will always be a threat of violence, emotional abuse, etc and be aware.

        3. Lisa*

          But BCW, nearly woman has a story about a man that became threatening (yelling, getting too close, overly attentive, all of it makes us think the man will instantly become violent, because let’s face it – the stats show the majority of women have had some type of experience like this). You are basically telling women not to listen to their instincts and ignore them, this is how women get killed by not trusting their internal warnings. What are the stats violence on women by men? What are the stats of violence on men by women? It happens, we are taught from a young age to look for warning signals.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah. I totally understand men taking offense to statements like “the threat of violence is always there,” if they know that it’s not there with THEM. But women can’t know that for sure, at least with men they don’t know well. And the reality is that my interest in not being assaulted trumps a man’s interest in not being considered potentially violent. It just does. Both are damaging, but one is potentially far more damaging than the other.

              1. fposte*

                And in assaults, period, men are more often victims than women–and one reason for that may be that they’re not inculturated in wariness the way women are.

                1. fposte*

                  Why? The point is the risk of human interaction and that the caution most women are accustomed to is actually not a reflection of disparate risk.

                2. Lisa*

                  Are you nervous / afraid to walk down the street with a bunch a women walking toward you ?

                  It doesn’t matter if they are silent or loud, do you get any warning signals when this happens?

                  As a woman with even a single male (any age / any race) walking toward me on a sunny afternoon even in a crowd of people, I become hyper aware. Moss is right, it matters who you are facing. Men facing men might feel nervous, but men facing women do not necessarily look around to determine an escape route if necessary. When women come across a man, a stranger or acquaintance, our instinct is to be hyper aware when most men wouldn’t be in the same situation.

                  As for the crowded situation, how many women have been groped at a concert, brushed up against to on a train, or stared at when walking past a construction crew? Trust is earned, and too many men in the world have hurt women for me not to be cautious of the opposite sex in ANY situation.

                3. twentymilehike*

                  But who are the perpetrators?

                  Interesting question, but (and I in know way mean any offense by this) I don’t think it really matters. A stranger is a stranger, in the case of people you know … you just have to use your judgement on a case by case basis. Part of the whole upthread discussion going on is a lot of generalization. Yes, some generalizations are made because they are trends that we can witness, but we all know that there are exceptions to every rule.

                4. fposte*

                  twenty, that’s where I am for this part of the conversation. I think there are legitimate conversations about women’s caution of men, but there’s no need for this to be restricted to that. Some of the caution women exercise is not simply a result of being female–we’re actually not as likely to be mugged by a stranger as we fumble for our keys as a man is, and if men aren’t thinking about their vulnerability at that moment, that’s foolish.

            1. A Bug!*

              To make an imperfect analogy, it’s similar to why people get contracts in writing rather than just relying on verbal agreements. It’s not necessarily that Party A mistrusts Party B or vice versa, but neither party can truly be sure. Insisting on getting a contract in writing isn’t saying “I think you’re going to screw me over,” it’s saying “I’d like the terms of our relationship to be clearly defined.”

              And unless one party doesn’t want the relationship to be clearly defined (perhaps because a poorly-defined relationship is easier to manipulate), I don’t see why either party should have a problem with that.

              That said, I’ve known several people that take extreme offense at the suggestion of getting things in writing, because those people don’t understand the difference between “I don’t trust you, specifically, because I think you’re a bad person” and “I need to protect my interests.” While that can make for an awkward exchange if that happens, as far as I’m concerned it’s just confirmation that that person is not a person with whom you want to have business dealings.

        1. Liz T*

          I’m dismayed that this thread has gone someplace where I’d have to say this, but:

          -Most sexual violence is perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
          -This frequently includes previously trusted people.
          -In the same thread, we’ve had one guy tell us there’s no threat of violence around us, and one guy tell us there’s SUCH a threat of violence that we can only drink around people we know really, really well. That perfectly sums up the way women are trained to react to violence: you’re a bitch if you try to prevent it, and asking for it if anything happens.

          This should not be a blog where men tell women when to be afraid.

          1. Hari*

            I think don’t get intoxicated around people you don’t trust is good advice for anyone, male or female.

            1. fposte*

              But I’m with Liz in considering that advice to be a response to upstream discussion in a way that again makes it the victim’s fault if a guy is violent, and ignores the fact that it’s mostly people you *do* trust who are close enough to hurt you.

              That’s to me the dark and problematic side of the de Becker narrative–he never acknowledges that people are rewriting their memories of others they now know to be violent, and by suggesting that instinct is inviolate he implies that if you do trust somebody then they won’t hurt you. And it’s not that simple.

              1. Hari*

                I don’t think its the victims fault as things often happen regardless if every precaution is taken. But its just a precaution. Yes, in context it could be seen as dismissive but it is still good advice all around.

          2. Mike*

            Wasn’t my intent to victim blame at all. The OP was clearly uncomfortable with the person so “what would he do if you were intoxicated and he thought you were rejecting him?” just seemed like a stupid scenario to find one’s self in (“This guys makes me nervous but I’m gonna go get smashed with him”). Everyone (male and female) should know how to avoid the easy to prevent situations.

        1. Ryan*

          It’s pretty funny…though it doesn’t really describe my sisters…all of them will pretty much tell you what for, how come and why w/o having to be prompted.

          1. Ariancita*

            Definitely enjoyed it, but I’m probably like your sisters. I see as stop and I say: Hey pull over; I need food. Stop whining, we’re pulling over. :)

  7. Mike*

    As a guy who’s a bit socially awkward I implore you to just be direct. It can be done without being mean but don’t put any vagueness into it.

    1. Anonymous*

      Probably most women posting in this thread can tell you about a time when they were direct with a guy about not being interested and they were harassed in some way (called a name, threatened, followed, etc.). It’s nice that *you, personally* want a woman to be direct, but it’s not something that we can automatically do because of statistics and personal experience.

      1. Hari*

        I disagree and I am a woman. I have definitely been called all types of things for flat out rejecting a guy before but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop saying my opinion because some misogynistic d-bags could not handle. Safety wise, I understand fight or flight, and some people will react in the way of the least conflict. I’m not putting down a woman for feeling uneasy about speaking her mind for fear of retaliation, I’m just personally believe being direct is usually the best option.

        1. fposte*

          And the reactions aren’t because you’re speaking directly, they’re because you’re rejecting somebody. People who are assholes about being rejected are assholes about being rejected however they get the message. But unless you want to accept them, what’s your alternative? I think we’re leaning towards being overly forgiving of ourselves for not initiating awkward conversations here.

  8. Andy Lester*

    It is absolutely not rude to say “no thank you” to people who propose things in which you not interested.

    I’d like to suggest to everyone that they follow Miss Manners column. I read it syndicated in the Washington Post (latest column here) but it’s in other newspapers and other newspaper websites as well. She is absolutely the queen of how to say the right thing in those tough situations. She also constantly reminders her Gentle Readers that there is no sin in standing up for yourself.

    Also, if you can find it, get a copy of her Basic Training: The Right Thing To Say, which covers so many of the topics handled here in AAM. How do you handle the coworkers who comment on your lunch? What do you say to someone in the lunchroom who says “When are you going to start having children?” And more importantly, *why* should you answer these questions with firm but polite deflection!

    1. Good_Intentions*


      Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve occasionally read the newspaper column, but I didn’t know about the book.

      Now, I’ll have to request it from the local library.

      Much appreciation for the info!

  9. AnotherAlison*

    Why you must be very direct, courtesy of Dumb & Dumber:

    Lloyd: What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?
    Mary: Well, Lloyd, that’s difficult to say. I mean, we don’t really…
    Lloyd: Hit me with it! Just give it to me straight! I came a long way just to see you, Mary. The least you can do is level with me. What are my chances?
    Mary: Not good.
    Lloyd: You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?
    Mary: I’d say more like one out of a million.
    Lloyd: So you’re telling me there’s a chance… *YEAH!*

  10. K.*

    I had to get really firm with a guy at work once and it was SUPER awkward because I was 18 and the guy was older. It was a summer job and I was leaving for college at the end of it, and I thought I could just keep dropping polite hints until the end of the summer and then I’d never see the guy again. He made so uncomfortable, though, that I had to nip it in the bud. I said “I am not interested in having anything but a working relationship with you, and that’s never going to change.” He left me alone after that. (If he hadn’t, I’d have gone to my boss, probably, who I had a very good relationship with.) Sometimes you really do have to be that direct.

  11. sheLovestea*

    As a socially awkward woman, I’ve pursued to the point where the guy had to be direct with me. I guess being a very direct person myself in an indirect world makes me a socially awkward girl? (I now have Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’ stuck in my head)

    When it’s brought to my attention what was supposed to be ‘obvious’ I’m not offended, just confused and hurt that the information wasn’t relayed to me sooner. To explain my perspective, I do take things literally and at face value. Subtle messages rarely have the intended effect with me.

    1. Anonymous*

      Are you just socially-awkward, or do you have a diagnosed disorder? I am honestly not trying to be rude, but you may want to look into this if it’s something that affects your day-to-day life. That way you at least know what’s “wrong” and can work on it through therapy, socialization techniques, etc.

        1. Anonymous*

          Yes, that’s my point. But knowing what the specific issue is will determine what type of help is necessary, and how intensive it needs to be, etc.

      1. sheLovestea*

        It’s not like I’ve had restraining orders or anything. I like who I am and my ability to get to the point. I don’t think I need to be indoctrinated into the art of ‘beating around the bush’ – I want no part in it. It doesn’t mean that I’m mentally ill or need training. It makes me pragmatic and transparent. I have lots of friends and manage to have healthy romantic relationships that truly appreciate this quality. I was just trying to share what it’s like for someone like me, not seek a way to ‘fix’ it.

        1. Elise*

          I don’t think Anon was saying that you needed to change. Just that the techniques could help you pick up on what others were trying to communicate.

          There are some online resources too that can help. I might focus on teach you to read body language more than words — since the words will vary more in different settings.

      2. LadyTL*

        As someone with a diagnosed disorder though sometimes therapy and techniques don’t really help. They can’t cover every situation and sometimes you are just stuck trying to clean up an awkward situation. More people being direct rather then hinting at things is really refreshing when you are lucky enough to get it.

        A couple of examples: A job I had my coworkers didn’t believe I really had a problem because I have been in therapy and could adjust and cope to a point. This then caused them to think I was being deliberately rude and mean to them when I wasn’t. They never once came to me and said what bothered them about my behavior or words and instead stewed about it and were resentful until management found an excuse to get me to quit since they saw me as the problem.

        Current job, people took me at my word and are more direct (mostly) even with me coping well. This leads to when I am awkward or do or say something wrong, they tell me and I can try to not do it again. This helps us both since my therapy and such can’t cover everything and never will given my disorder. I work better with them because they are being more direct even if that means not hanging out with them or not hearing about certain things (not work related) until later or at all. I still have a couple coworkers who would rather hint and such about them having a problem with me or talk about it behind my back and yes things are difficult with them since they refuse to actually be direct like I have asked. It just something to deal with and something therapy isn’t going to help me with since I can’t affect it.

    2. Bridgette*

      Ah yes, I experience this even without the romantic element. I am also a direct person and sometimes get told I’m too brusque and unfeeling. Le sigh.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’ve had a former boss tell me that I was too “blunt and assertive.” Because speaking my mind and being direct is a bad thing. Right there with you.

  12. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I think this is where the disconnect is: I don’t think anyone here is saying that every man is someone who could turn violent on a woman. Rather, the point is that a woman can’t know who will and who won’t (at least not until she knows someone really well, generally better than you know a coworker). And since women can’t know for sure, they need to proceed with caution and an awareness that that potential is out there.

    See the difference?

    In any case, we’ve gotten off topic here and on a contentious issue. Let’s steer this back to the subject of the letter.

  13. twentymilehike*

    Oh dear. My boss.
    I have a U shaped desk where I sit facing the little U center. I have a place for people to sit on one arm and the ability to turn my monitor so we can “conference” with the desk between us. My boss, for almost ten years, has walked around my desk and stood over shoulder, and leaned over to look at my monitor thisclose to me. I have asked him not to, and told him that it makes me uncomfortable SO MANY times. Now when he does it I literally yell at him for it. And his reponse? “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” WTH.

    Some people just hear what they want to hear. OP, hopefully you won’t have to yell :)

    1. Bridgette*

      Gaaahhh it’s so true. I have a coworker who does this. He will stand behind me and linger when I’m trying to work, and I will ask him to leave and he acts all surprised, like, “Oh, I was hovering behind you again? I didn’t realize it.” How does he NOT realize it??? He also has told me on a number of occasions that he is hyper-aware of hints people give him to leave their office and he always wants to respect that…but actions speak louder than words I suppose.

      1. Andy Lester*

        How does he NOT realize it???

        Because he just doesn’t. My first guess might be that he’s one of those people who is unaware of other people and their emotions and social cues, perhaps from Asperger’s.

        1. Bridgette*

          I realize I did let my frustrations get away with me as I was commenting. I know I can be unaware of some of the things I do unless someone points it out to me, and I can be just as frustrating to some people.

        2. twentymilehike*

          How does he NOT realize it???

          Because he just doesn’t.

          But if he’s been told multiple times? It’s like telling someone learning to drive that they have to stop at a stop sign and they say, “oh okay.” Then they drive through the next stop sign and say, “oh, I didn’t realize I had to stop.” It stops being an excuse after a while. Especially if he claims to be someone who is aware of signals that people give him.

          But yes, a social disorder or something could be culprit, but I can understand Bridgette’s frustration as most people don’t keep repeating behavior like that.

          1. Andy Lester*

            Nobody’s discounting her frustration.

            Nobody’s making excuses, either. “Excuses” get into moral failings, and I don’t think that’s appropriate here.

            Telling someone multiple times not do to thing X doesn’t help if he is unaware of his doing thing X, and may well not even be able to tell that he is doing it.

            1. twentymilehike*

              Telling someone multiple times not do to thing X doesn’t help if he is unaware of his doing thing X, and may well not even be able to tell that he is doing it.

              I definately see where you are coming from, but I don’t believe it to be her responsibility to be constantly reminding him. It would be his responsibility to learn how to function appropriately in the workplace.

              Regarding my situation, the guilty party does not have any such issue–he has a nasty reputation for pushing buttons, crossing boundaries, lying and cheating. He knows what he’s doing.

            2. Rana*

              I think then what you do is offer an alternate behavior so they can’t screw up without knowing it.

              “It bothers me when you stand behind me when I am at my desk. Please stand on the other side of the desk when you talk to me.”

          2. Jennifer*

            I’m tired of everyone claiming they have Asperger’s and don’t realize any social cues these days. I’m pretty sure these dudes who have been doing the same shit over and over and over after having been asked over and over and over are not, at this point, 100% genuinely clueless and mentally unable to process that ever. I think even folks with Asperger’s would probably get a “Please move back” message and act accordingly after several repeated admonishments. This is, of course, assuming they want to get that message.

            At this point, the dude is CHOOSING to ignore a woman’s stated wishes to back the hell off. He doesn’t care that she said no and keeps saying it, he’ll keep doing it and “forgetting” for as long as he can get away with “forgetting.” And that’s another red flag behavior there.

    2. Anonymous*

      Have you thought about getting out of your chair when he does this? Tell him not to stand there, & if he doesnt you might stand up and move away from him, & even offer him your chair. You could move to the “conferencing” chair & turn the monitor to share it. If he moves to stand behind you at that chair, tell him to back off, get up & move again. At that point tell him that you’ll be glad to work with him when he is ready to be appropriately respectful & walk away. (Restroom, coffee, check mail, or some such.). You’ve “accepted” this behavior – clearly yelling isn’t penetrating – so long that you will need to do something that breaks the work process to get his attention.
      Have you told your boss’ boss about this?

  14. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hey. That’s unwarranted. I’m not going to host a gender war here, nor do I think most people want one. Please do not attack people personally here, and respect my earlier request and move back on topic. Thank you.

  15. Dan*

    I’m one of the socially awkward people who thinks “I’m busy this weekend” means you’re busy this weekend, and I should ask if there’s a better time. But I’m smart enough to not be pushy about it — the proper follow up (for the awkward types) is: “Is there a better weekend that works for you?” The proper blow off answer is: Man, my weekends are a mess right now, and after work, I just like to go home and crash :)

    One of the hardest things about being socially awkward (and of the literal type) is when your own comments get misconstrued for being stronger than they are at face value.

    1. Jennifer*

      Right! If they never offer to check their calendar and find a free date, then take the hint. Thank you!

  16. Eric*

    I’m so glad that I’m not a woman in a professional workplace. I find a professional woman very attractive. As a male, I just can’t help to wonder what somebody I work with would be like in the sack. Maybe I’m broken, but I think most males are like this. As a result, I end up not socializing with most women and stick to the male population. I think it affects my professional relationship with women in the office.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think that’s fair. I’d rather Eric didn’t feel that way, but I think he put it relatively ungrossly and honestly, and I actually think it’s useful to know that somebody feels like this.

      2. A Bug!*

        I’m not sure Eric’s post is any less useful than your own, Anonymous.

        Eric, I don’t think you’re ‘broken’, but there are a couple things in your post I’d like to address. You don’t need to respond if you don’t want to, but maybe I can give you some food for thought. First, your issue with women isn’t a gender thing. It’s a you thing. Although you may be correct that “most” men are the same way in this respect, that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, or that it’s something that’s outside your control.

        Second, you say you are literally unable to view fully half of the population as regular individual humans, to the point that you are not able to interact with them in a normal fashion. Doesn’t this sound like a problem to you? Doesn’t this sound like something that you should be trying to change by seeking therapy? If not for the sake of the women you objectify, but for the sake of yourself and your career and your relationship prospects?

        1. fposte*

          Excellently put, Bug. I’m reminded of a female officer’s point about the Citadel’s long refusal to enroll female cadets: then they’re not actually preparing their students for the military, because the military isn’t male-only.

          As noted upthread, Eric, being able to work with women more effectively doesn’t mean you never get to think of anybody in social/romantic/sexual terms; it just means being able to focus on other things when appropriate. That might be a difference you’d find useful.

        2. Eric*

          Hmm. I do appreciate this post.

          I realize I left out a big step in my post. I’m incredibly nervous around women and that is why I choose not to socialize with them. Socialize is a poor word choice. I mean interact. I recognize it as a problem that I can’t think of women as colleagues first. I feel like when I’m working with a woman, that I’m dating again, trying to impress them. My wife of 14 years thinks its cute that I’m like this. Go figure.

          Meet woman.
          Think about sex.
          Get nervous.

          1. moss*

            Well I hope you’re not involved in any hiring decisions. Not allowing someone a chance to have a job because you can’t handle working with a female person isn’t ‘cute’ at all.

          2. twentymilehike*

            Eric, I give you major credit for being honest about it. They say admiting you have a problem is the first step, right? … and it sounds like you have a wife that you can bounce things off of and you are aware of what is and isn’t appropriate.

            You could be like some people I know and actually go around trying to hump everything female ….

          3. A Bug!*

            Eric, I strongly urge you to seek some sort of help for your problem. Your wife may think it’s cute but I just want to take you by the shoulders and shake some sense into you.

            If you can’t see how it’s inherently disrespectful that you’re unable to interact with a woman without getting anxious over your sex thoughts, then at least understand that your avoidance of women is something that can have a negative effect on your career and by extension your ability to help support your family.

          4. Rana*

            I agree with the other people here that it might be helpful to get some therapy or counseling to deal with this. It’s not having the sex thoughts that’s the problem; it’s allowing them to control every other aspect of your interaction with women.

            (Assuming you have some control over your behavior; you’re not throwing yourself at random women, are you? Or wanting to mack on elderly ladies, or your female relatives? If not, you can learn to control yourself when around women you think of as attractive as well.)

  17. Chriama*

    I think it’s a little harsh to harp on men for not noticing indirect cues. The OP hasn’t stated that the guy has actually done anything inappropriate to her, aside from crossing boundaries that she hasn’t made clear. While some indirect cues are widely known, I don’t find it reasonable to expect all men to understand all subtle hints.

    I think it’s also important for everyone to consider the role socialization plays in this. Over the course of several centuries, certain behaviours and ways of thinking have been refined and handed down, and no one can deny the role they play in defining our social norms. In this day and age we are challenging these old mindsets, but that requires direct and honest communication. The only way to move towards a gender equivalent society is if both sides agree to play by the same rules. While men need to learn to accept a woman’s right to define the boundaries of a relationship, women need to learn to define those boundaries. This means that women SAY “no” instead of “maybe” and men HEAR “no” instead of “maybe”.

    Being oblivious to implied hints doesn’t make a man an aggressive chauvinist any more than being direct about boundaries makes a woman a b****. We see things most clearly from our own perspective, and both sides need to cut each other some slack.

    1. fposte*

      It’s not women’s right to set the boundaries of a relationship, though-it’s every individual’s right to set the boundaries for his or her own intimacy, and without that consent there *is* no relationship. There’s no gender immunity from hanging on when the other person is saying there’s no relationship here–women do that as often as men do.

      1. Chriama*

        I agree that boundary-setting is a right of both men and women, but what I was trying to address was the irony of some comments which seemed to state that men should be able to pick up on whatever subtle hints women choose to employ. Also, a lot of people seemed to want to attribute this lack of perception (on the part of the pursuer) to “social awkwardness”, some sort of condition (e.g. Aspergers), or being blinded by hopefulness. It won’t be ok for women to be direct with guys as long dropping hints is considered a real form of communication. Obviously this holds true for men trying to set boundaries with women.

        I guess what I was trying to say is that as individuals, we should always try to consider things from the perspective of whoever we’re interacting with. This means making an effort to pick up on their non-verbal cues, but ALSO not expecting them to perceive our thoughts if they haven’t been explicitly stated to them.

        I guess it would have been more accurate if I used terms like ‘pursuer’ and ‘pursuee’ instead of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

    2. Hari*

      This is very well put. Also just to add, I think everyone would like to approach it from this objective stance but often times in practice objectivity gets pushed to the side by the subjectivity of previous experiences. If a guy got his last gf by being super persistent cause “she liked the chase” then going forward he probably isn’t going to consider that a lot of women wont respond the same cause thats what was successful for him. Same with a woman who if she rejected a man and received a negative response from it would be inclined to avoid being direct again. It’s hard to be objective to situations when it is in our nature to stereotype situations based on previous experience.

  18. Not So NewReader*

    I am not totally convinced this guy is looking for a romantic relationship. It could be that OP just has not set boundaries.

    OP, what do your coworkers think? If you can find out that he was helicoptering others, too, then maybe he is just lonely and this is his way.

    Some people do need many points of contact during the day. Sometimes the recipient does not want that many “check ins” during the day. Consider ideas such as “I will talk to you at afternoon coffee break, but right now I have a bunch of things to get done.” I have friends that talk to me daily and other friends that I hear from once a month. Both types of friends are happy with the level of contact. Differences in people.

    I have worked a couple places where it is nice to have someone to walk out to my car with me. Okay- it was necessary to have someone walk out to my car. Perhaps you can find others willing to walk out with you or perhaps you can build a group of two or three people that will walk out together.

    Lastly, no, there is no way to tell him something and NOT hurt his feelings. Stop looking for it. What about your feelings of being smothered? Don’t your feelings deserve respect, too? Maybe you can just say “Every time I turn around, there you are. What is up with that?” Then tell him to stop the helicoptering. If nothing else the boss is not impressed- consider this whole question from the angle of your reputation as a worker and the type of impression the boss may get.

  19. Britanny*

    As a woman who apparently doesn’t take hints, I implore you please, be direct.
    When I was younger (high school and college) I had two instances in which apparently boys hinted they didn’t want to go out with me and I didn’t get it. I don’t understand what’s so hard about saying no if I ask if you want to go to the dance (even if we ARE friends, it’s not like I’ll never talk to you again), but apparently it is hard.
    In one of these instances, the boy I had asked out actually sent a friend to talk to me and tell me he was not interested. Yes, using an intermediary. Humiliating? You bet.
    Similarly, my husband went out on a coffee date where his “date” brought her brother. I guess she really didn’t want to go out with him, but thought the way to let him down gently was to recruit a family member to make it everything awkward.

  20. Henning Makholm*

    Um, who is this addressed to? Brittany directly above you does not seem to deserve this. If she’s trying to gender war, she’s doing it so subtly that I’m failing to see the clues.

    1. Ariancita*

      Perhaps she needs to stop hinting at it and just be direct with a firm declaration of gender war! :)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It was supposed to post as a reply to Anonymous at 12:15, re: the “mansplaining.” Posting from my phone never works right. I’ve moved it up there.

      1. Henning Makholm*

        It think it’s WordPress’s threading acting up again. Currently I’m seeing Britanny 1:05, Anonymous 1:30, Sandrine 2:26, Alison 12:21, Henning 1:22, Ariancita 1:41, Alison 2:07, Ariancita 1:42 at the bottom of the thread, all apparently as toplevel comments, and shown out of chronological order.

        (Testing: This comment is, as I type it, a reply to Alison 2:07. Double-checked).

        1. Ariancita*

          Yes, agree with Henning. There’s something wonky going on. I also got a dublicate message warning even though there was no duplicate. I’m also “replying” to Henning to test if it nests or not (my previous ones close to the bottom here were supposed to nest but didn’t).

  21. Anonymous*

    This is an interesting topic, because I was actually rejected by a coworker not long ago who was also a friend of mine before I started working at that particular job. We’re still friends, and we still hang out, and it’s because she rejected me in a direct, straight manner. She did not drop “hints” about her being unavailable during certain times, but rather saw me in person one day outside of work and explained that she simply was not interested in pursuing a relationship. She told me why she wasn’t interested, but honestly she didn’t need to, her straight-forwardness was enough for me, and we’re still good friends.

    The thing that I can’t for the life of me understand is why so many women (and men too!) insist on doing whatever they can to avoid saying “no, I’m not interested.” Yes, rejecting people sucks, and it’s hard not to feel bad when you do it (I had to reject someone earlier this year, and it was HARD,) but consider it like removing a bandaid. Do you want to drag the guy along in uncertainty or do you want to be clear and honest with him? And yes, there are always going to be those, women and men, who take a forward and honest rejection terribly and respond very rudely, but I think that’s in the minority and it’s not fair to punish someone who wouldn’t do that to you just because somebody else did.

  22. Sandrine*

    I’m a woman. I’ve worked with men and women. I haven’t ever needed to go through something like this in the workplace, but I remember something when I was around 21 and going to get a degree.

    I was in a friendly trio with a guy and another girl, same age. The guy ended up being my brother in law, too. The girl went nuts when he refused her advances and never realized her persistance was making things awful. When she realized he was actually dating my sister, it was horrifying and I pretty much cut ties with her because she was trying to get at my sister, too! Eeek!

    As far as the comments about men and women and violence and all that stuff… I understand the “Gift of Fear” comments. I understand the comments about being cautious…

    But shouldn’t we focus on making sure *everyone* is cautious *everywhere* ? Not cautious to the point a “hello” is automatically suspicious, but cautious to the point where you don’t automatically go out at night alone. Man or woman.

    I have to admit the discussion makes me sad. Not sad in the “you are all idiots speaking about this” sense, but sad in the general human sense. I feel great sadness when I see that society has got to a point where women feel so defensive about such things, and where men get berated because they also defend themselves…

    Maybe it’s because I’m in Europe. I don’t know. A guy wants me and I don’t want to ? Screw him, I’ll tell him off if I need to. Same thing in the workplace, I don’t get just blunt, I do get rude if someone gets persistant in anything that I cannot stand.

    And yup, I might be at risk sometimes, but I’ll take the risk over being walked on, anytime, unless it involved a bullet or a knife!

  23. ArtsNerd*

    Has someone suggested wonderful, pithy, socially acceptable and compassionate phrasing to communicate:

    “You haven’t explicitly asked me out in a romantic context, but I am not interested in dating you. I am, however, happy to accept if you are trying to make plans as a platonic friend.”


    Because I’m seeing a lot of myself in the OP, and while I’m ok with saying no to specific requests, I have yet to find a successful way to handle the ambiguous invitation. I tend to either go overboard with “I’m not interested” and humiliate myself and/or the other person, or I just disconnect and avoid them.

    And even if I’m off-base in comparing myself to the OP, I’d still like some suggestions!

    1. Anon in the UK*

      This would be so useful. I cannot be the only person who has been on a date which (s)he did not realise was a date until the other party made a move.

  24. EM*

    This is somewhat timely as I’m pretty certain a coworker has a crush on me. I’m married, so I’m assuming this is an obvious enough signal to him that I’m not interested. So far, it hasn’t gotten to the point where he’s making any kind of advances, so I’m just pretending that I don’t know that he stares at me or he blushes when talking to me (which makes me blush because I’m embarrassed. Oy!) :/

  25. AsBs*

    your right to assert your own boundaries needs to trump your desire to be nice.

    Alison, I LOVE this line. I am going repeat this to myself whenever my niceness threatens to make a situation worse than it is.

  26. Anon in this case*

    I’d just like to second fposte’s recommendation about Schrodinger’s Rapist. I think it’s the best description of how a person who feels threatened regards possible threats. It helps explain why women often feel the need to be vigilant more than statistical evidence might indicate.

    Maybe part of what is needed is a clear standard for workplace etiquette. My recollection training about avoiding sexual harassment is that it never dealt with the beginning of dating, although it dealt with pressuring someone to have sex.

    So the training made it clear that really bad behavior wasn’t appropriate, but it didn’t address the intermediate behaviors of helicoptering co-workers, burgeoning unreciprocated romantic feelings, or actual invitations for dates. It seems to me that people who have trouble interpreting behavior would be well-served by seeing a video where someone accepts a courteous “no thank you” or “thanks for the invitation, but no” or “I’m sorry, but I’m not available.” That would help normalize a direct response as proper.

  27. Paisley*

    I am in a similar situation, and your answer has really opened my eyes as to why my socially awkward workplace admirer won’t take my hints. I don’t like to offend anyone if I don’t have to, so I’ve been politely declining outside-of-work interactions with him but I’ve never outright said “I’m not interested in you.” (I figured he would get the point, especially since I have a serious boyfriend, but nope, he’s still way too persistent). Time to be more assertive and direct…I’ll consider it my early New Year’s Resolution :)

  28. Grace*

    I like what Gavid De Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, had to say:
    “I’m not interested in you and I never will be.” De Becker says
    that people who can’t hear “no” choose people who can’t say

  29. Gordon*

    I have totally enjoyed reading these comments. I have very recently been in this situation, as the guy making the advance. Here’s the story.
    I have talked to her for the last six months, thought I saw signs and asked her ” do you want to go to lunch with me?” She said yes.
    We went to lunch, all seemed good. The following Monday I sked her if on the following weekend “go out with me?”
    She said ” I can’t I have a tournament the next three weekends”
    I said i”s that a permanent No?” She said “No thats a permanent Maybe”
    So later in the day I pushed harder, and just said “When are you going to answer me?” She replied “well the thing is I sort of have a boyfriend, blah blah blah something about changing her mind in three weeks”.
    I was trying hard to be direct, She was trying real hard to beat around the bush. I still don’t understand why. But I have taken this as a direct no, and certainly won’t ask again, but it goes to show, sometimes a Woman does not want to be direct sometimes, for whatever reason.
    If anyone has any insight on this, I would be Interested in hearing it.

  30. Mo*

    I’m going through this right now, except that I work in a factory and can’t really move around. Like this woman, I don’t know how to let him down. I’ve dropped hints that I’m not interested, even said that I’m not looking for a relationship (which is true) and that I don’t have a desire to hang out with co-workers outside of work (also true).

    He doesn’t seem like a bad guy but… he’s at least twice my age (I’m 20. Also want to point out that I’m the youngest woman at my job) and has three kids (one of which is my age, if not older then me). Not to mention he comes off a bit strong, and has tried several occasions to get my number, or give me his. It got to the point that an hour before ended and (somewhat forcefully) gave me his number written on cardboard.

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