can I accept gifts from a boss who has asked me out in the past?

A reader writes:

I work in a retail store, and they recently had to replace several managers at once. All of them came from outside the company, so there was an awkward transition where the new managers were trying to learn the basics about our store. We front-line workers had to show them how to do a lot of things (register functions, for example) since the company was only interested in training them for their management duties.

I get along great with just about everyone I work with, and these new managers are no exception. But one of them is male, and when I went out of my way to make them all feel welcome (knowing the higher-ups had basically thrown them in to drown), I think he thought the attention meant I was interested in him. After a couple of weeks, he asked me if I “liked him liked him.” Maybe I should have said no, but the first thing that popped out was that I thought he was married. He said he was but “I don’t have to be.”

I told him I was flattered but that his being married was a deal-breaker. (I don’t know that I’d be interested anyway, but his being married made that moot). He pressed a little bit, even giving me his number a few days later, but I feel like I did a good job of being firm but not rude about it. So we get along great at work and I don’t feel awkward around him.

Over the past couple of months, he’s given me a few little gifts. They weren’t anything huge or out of nowhere—we’d been talking about this restaurant which had just opened up nearby, and I mentioned I used to love going to the one in my home state. The next time I came in, he gave me a $25 gift card to the restaurant. I felt a little weird because of him having asked me out earlier, so while I was really happy about it, I took him aside later and said that as much as I appreciated the gift, I just hoped he understood that I still felt the same way about getting involved with him. He said he was fine with that and had just thought the card would make me happy.

Since then, he’s given me a DVD I’d been waiting for the release of and a batch of chocolate-covered strawberries from Godiva. I tend to chatter at work about things I’m excited about (things I’ve bought, new movies coming out, etc) and he must have heard me telling other people I liked or wanted these things. Because I’d been firm about not being interested in him, I didn’t see anything wrong with accepting them.

But I’ve had a few conversations with people (not coworkers, since I feel like that could bite me in the butt) in my life that now make me wonder. They seem to think I broke some rule of ethics by taking the gifts. This is a retail job to pay the bills while I look for something better, so I don’t worry about the ramifications on the same level that I would if I were on a career track. But suppose I were already at that first “real” job and the same thing happened. Would it be better not to take gifts from the boss if they’re not for a specific holiday? Or is it only inappropriate if you know the boss has feelings for you?

(Note that I’m aware it’s not smart for him to be doing this because he’s the manager, and he’s absolutely an ass for wanting to cheat on his wife. But he’s an adult and knows what he’s doing, so I feel that’s his problem, not mine).

You need to stop accepting the gifts, immediately. And you’re being way too nice to this guy, and have been from the beginning — and might be engaging in some fairly active self-deception here as well.

First of all, a manager should not be asking out an employee. I realize that this might not be taken quite as seriously in retail, but it doesn’t change the fact that managers should not ask out employees — because dating an employee is in direct conflict with the manager’s ability to fully do her job. Furthermore, no matter how nice and unthreatening a person the manager might be, many employees in this situation don’t feel fully comfortable saying no to someone who controls their paycheck, so the idea of true consent is compromised at best. So your manager is already a huge ass for coming on to you in the first place.

Add in the fact that he’s married, and he becomes even more out of line and gross. Then add the fact that he’s continued to pursue you after you turned him down, and my head wants to explode.

However, do you not see that after his first overture, you opened the door for him to continue? Responding to his overture with “I thought you were married” rather than with “no” essentially said that if he wasn’t married, you’d be open to something more. It doesn’t matter that he’s married — you’re not interested in dating your boss, and that’s the message you need to convey.  Not that you’re flattered (!), and not that the problem is that he’s married — because both of those things undermine the “no” that you should be delivering.

And now he’s giving you gifts, and you’re accepting them. I can’t tell if you sincerely believe there’s nothing wrong with this, or whether you like the attention and feeling of being favored by him, or whether you just want the gifts. But come on — he’s not giving everyone else gifts, right? He’s giving them just to you.  If you’ve convinced yourself that this is okay because you’ve told him you won’t get involved with him, you’re fooling yourself — accepting gifts in this context is basically saying you’re leaving the door open to inappropriate involvement with him. Because accepting gifts from your boss in this context is inappropriate.

So you need to stop that.  The next time he gives you something, say, “No, thank you. I can’t accept this.” If he presses you, say, “I’m not comfortable accepting gifts that are being given just to me and not to all employees. Please respect that.”

You wrote that because you’ve told him you’re not interested, it’s “his problem” if he continues to see you in a other-than-professional light. But you’re continuing to engage with him in an inappropriate way, and believe me, he’s considering that to be a message that contradicts your statement that you’re off-limits. (Because, frankly, it kind of is. At a minimum it’s coming across — to him and probably others — that you like the attention, and it’s possibly coming across as more than that.)

Professional adults do not give each other gifts like this, particularly when one has already made a move on the other. Put a stop to it, today. And frankly, it’s probably also worth doing some thinking about whether there are other situations where your actions haven’t been consistent with a message you felt you were giving, and why, and how you can change that.

{ 216 comments… read them below }

    1. Sharon*

      In old fashioned terms, he’s courting you. I agree with AAM and Dave. Put an end to it. Guys like this only understand one one-syllable word, stated loudly and confidently. You cannot hint, you cannot be nice. He’ll take any possible opening that he can get.

  1. Christina*

    I agree! For men who are interested in cheating on their wives, leaving the door firmly closed is the only way they can believe a “No.” This also includes ignoring your manager as best you can, not engaging in non-work-related conversations, and making sure you are never caught alone with him. Men like this are creepy and I’d look for another job ASAP.

  2. Kit M.*

    Um, chocolate-covered strawberries from Godiva? With a movie? From a guy who already expressed the desire to cheat on his wife with you? I don’t think this could get more inappropriate if he gave it to you with a card that says “I want to have sex with you.”

    Stop accepting the gifts. For heaven’s sake.

    1. Jamie*

      Um, chocolate-covered strawberries from Godiva?

      Totally OT, but seeing as it’s the holidays if you have a chance to try some of these (not purchased by a creepy boss) they are fabulous!

      1. Jamie*

        How totally weird is this – I am sitting here at my desk eating a chocolate covered strawberry. Given to me by one of my bosses – no less!

        A vendor sent them and she said it was my duty to eat one to stay healthy for the company since strawberries have anti-oxidants. So I complied – purely for health and business reasons of course. :)

  3. Janet*

    I know that this feels awkward – you sound like you’re younger and that this may be one of your first jobs but this is not normal. Not normal and not right. I know it’s hard to stand up to a manager and say “Listen, I’m not interested in you romantically in any way. I prefer to keep our relationship work-only. Please do not give me any more gifts.” In fact, I would return the gifts that he did give you. If you’ve already used the gift card, buy a new one and give that him.

    When I graduated college, a close friend accepted a job at another location for my company and the manager started pulling this with my friend. Dropping by with steaks and wine since she was new to town and probably hadn’t had a chance to go grocery shopping, giving her a gift card to a restaurant he liked since she was new to town and probably didn’t know where to go to eat. He sent her flowers to the office after she had a bad day. Then he started calling her. Then he wrote her a two page note (on legal paper – we’re talking about a LONG note) saying that if she would go out with him, maybe he could help her out and she could get a promotion because he really cared about her future.

    Fortunately she confided in friends and we told her to save everything – save the answering machine tapes, save the flower note, save the paper note. She told him firmly “I am not interested in you. We must keep this relationship work-only.” and it continued and escalated (He stopped by her apartment at 3 a.m. she did not answer the door).

    Her other friends and I told our boss that this was going on – since this was all the same company (just different locations) she had to report it as sexual harassment. They brought my friend in for a meeting and said “Do you have any proof that this is happening” and she went home, got the shoebox full of notes and tapes and handed it to them. He was fired by the end of the day.

    This is a serious thing. This is not normal. This is not right. Tell him firmly that it needs to stop and if it does not stop, you will report him. If he continues, report him to your management.

    1. Sasha*

      I totally agree that she should give back the gifts, but I wonder about giving back a gift card she has already spent. Would that seem like she was giving him a gift in return, even though OP knows that’s not the case? It’s more obvious with a box of uneaten strawberries or unopened DVD that you are giving it back, but I worry that giving him a gift card would send the wrong message.

      Either way, gift acceptance should just be stopped no matter what.

      1. Jamie*

        No. I don’t think it’s like giving him a gift in return it’s returning something she shouldn’t have used in the first place. I think in legal terms it’s called “making him whole” or something – not that she’s legally obligated…but this would clean the slate as she wouldn’t have materially benefited from this.

        In fact if the strawberries were eaten I’d do a gift card for the amount to whatever vendor sells them – I wouldn’t give him a box of strawberries. That could be misconstrued.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        On the other hand, giving back the gifts might just make this more drama-filled. I think it would be perfectly fine if she simply stopped accepting any more from this point forward (and gave back anything very recent that she still has), but if she goes out and buys replacements to give to him, it starts feeling more dramatic than it needs to (and may cause him to feed on that drama too). I think it would be fine for her to not worry about what’s been done in the past, but just resolve to fix it going forward.

        1. Jamie*

          I didn’t think of it that way – but you’re right. I was just thinking of sending a message, but that would just fuel the drama.

          I retract my previous and erroneous advice. :)

          1. Kat*

            I think that, if the OP does feel the need* to return the gifts in some way, the thing to do would be to pay the manager in cash for the gifts’ value. That seems more distancing and impersonal than buying a duplicate of a given gift to give back to him.

            *Especially if the manager gets pushy about the OP owing him in some way due to accepting the gifts in the first place.

            1. twentymilehike*

              *Especially if the manager gets pushy about the OP owing him in some way due to accepting the gifts in the first place.

              Tell him it’s “Asshole Tax” LOL.
              I’ve actually been in a similar situation (and oddly enough I still work for the guy AND everyone knows what a creep he is). Everytime he tried to give me something I’d take it and tell him he was wasting his time and that I was keeping it as “asshole tax.” The whole situation is comical (not to mention completely unprofessional), but I think the point is being very clear and confident that he’s wasting his time trying.

              It is really REALLY weird to work for someone who you can verbally assault and they will still tell you how much they appreciate your hard work and they are so glad you work there. WTH?! I swear I work at a circus …

              1. Jamie*

                When are you writing a book?

                Seriously, I will be the Stephen Merchant to your Ricky Gervais if you ever want to take your dysfunctional workplace into the next Werner-Hogg or Dunder Mifflin.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP, Janet gives a great example of what can happen.
      Yes, it is just a retail job. What happens here DOES matter.

      Everyone likes attention. Everyone. Find positive attention from people who will buoy you UP, not from people who will tear you down. People who are giving you positive attention will compliment you on the job you are doing- you handled X well or did a great job with Y.
      If you found out tomorrow that he was telling your coworkers that the two of you are dating – would your reaction remain to the gifts remain the same?
      Not all attention is good attention. Be picky.

      This guy probably has done this with many women. He probably has a history. Furthermore, once he is done pursuing you, he will find someone else.

      And remember- always remember- some one who gives you something expects something in return. This is true 99% of the time.

      1. Nichole*

        “Not all attention is good attention. Be picky.”
        I wish I could print this on one of those little auction signs to carry around and hold up as needed.

    3. EngineerGirl*

      By accepting the gifts you have given him “proof ” that is was consensual, irrespective of the truth. Sorry to say that. Which means you’ll be the one fired.

      Stop NOW. Tell him no NOW.

      1. Jim*

        I don’t think accepting the gifts makes his advances consensual. If the boss has done things like this before, he probably knows full-well that women under his power will either accept the gifts because they want a relationship with him, or they will accept the gifts because they’re too afraid to say ‘no’ which could result in getting fired. It’s likely that he knows he’s in a position of power and is using it to his full advantage.

        Sadly, OP, you’re going to risk your job regardless of what actions you take….whether you confront him on his behavior, or refuse his gifts. And it sucks that people have to go through things like this, but it’s better to stand up to it now than to let it continue for weeks if not months. (Sigh. If only everyone kept the work-place and their sex-lives separate…)

  4. Jamie*

    I just want to THIS everything Alison said 100x.

    I also feel bad for your co-workers who either are or probably feel like they are getting lesser treatment because they aren’t on his list of people to date. Is he giving you preferential treatment in scheduling? In task assignments? If so, it’s really unethical to take advantage of that.

    And quite frankly I can’t get past this:

    he asked me if I “liked him liked him.”

    Unless this establishment is owned and operated by 12 year old than I have no idea how this was even spoken. Is this a grown up conversation?

    Seriously – stop accepting the gifts and if it were me I’d give back what I’d already accepted. Say something about rethinking the message accepting the gifts sent and you want to clear the slate.

    1. Another Jamie*

      Ha! I thought the same thing. I wondered maybe if there was a note asking “Will you go out with me?” and checkboxes for “yes” and “no.”

      Now that I type that out, I kind of wish dating still was like that.

      1. Jamie*

        I wish work was like that!

        Will I be getting a raise? Check yes or no.

        If yes, how much? $___________

        Now THAT is one efficient performance review.

        1. Anonymous*

          Yes, it is! That’s all I really need to know anyway since the annual appraisal itself is such a joke. Just give me the bottom line – $0 or how much >$0.

        2. Dan*

          I did that once. I was servicing corporate jets on the midnight shift, and rarely saw my boss. I would always kiss our repeat clients’ arses to keep them happy. (Happy client = happy boss = happy life.)

          For my second review, I walked in, chewed the fat for about 30 seconds, looked at the boss and asked what clients X and Y thought of the service from the midnight shift. When she looked at me and said “they love you guys” I looked her dead in the eye and said, “Now can I get my raise and get out of here?”

        3. Heather*

          OK, forget this stupid appraisal form that I’m supposed to be filling out. I’m doing it Jamie’s way.

  5. Karen*

    “This is a retail job to pay the bills while I look for something better, so I don’t worry about the ramifications on the same level that I would if I were on a career track.”

    I actually think you SHOULD be worried — if and when you move on to another position, your previous managers often get called to confirm employment and for reference. Even if you move on to a different field completely, there is still a chance that this situation can create problems for you.

    1. Jamie*

      Another point is worrying about protecting this job for now.

      It’s not uncommon for people like this to move on if they aren’t getting what they want in a timely manner…and when he does the OP could find her days numbered because he no longer likes having her around once he found someone else.

      It happens all. the. time.

      I wouldn’t report it at this point, because IMO you’ve been encouraging him – but if you start now by drawing a firm line in the sand and not wavering then you can start collecting evidence should you need to report this.

  6. DA*

    The manager is only doing what the OP is encouraging him to do – because she won’t put her foot down. The OP is the problem and the only one that can be the solution.

    Reading the letter, it seemed like she was trying to pin all of the blame on the manager, but the first time she let his advances go, it was the green light he needed.

    I’m highly skeptical the OP will rebut the managers advances (I suspect she really likes the attention and it will be difficult, if not impossible to put an end to it), but I would love to see an update on this situation a few months down the road.

    1. Karen*

      I agree that the OP needs to put her foot down and the only one that can be the solution, but I think it’s unfair to say that OP is the problem — treating one employee differently than the others and giving gifts to an employee are problematic as well.

      It can be very hard to walk the line between being friendly but firmly not interested, and being considered a “bitch.” Especially when the person you’re interacting with, as Alison put it, controls your paycheck. Which is why the manager is also a problem here.

    2. Josh S*

      We need to be clear. The bad behavior is coming from the manager here. The onus is on him to stop the bad behavior, and to direct his advances toward the appropriate person (his wife).

      No, the OP is not doing the things in her power to stop it (which she absolutely should do as a responsible person), but it is NOT her fault that the manager is coming on to her. Let’s not participate in ‘victim-blaming’ here. It’s just not cool.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’d actually say that the OP does bear a bit of responsibility here. The boss is WAY more at fault, but the OP has been not just allowing this to continue, but happily accepting his gifts and telling herself that it’s okay because she told him she’s not interested and so it’s his problem if he wants to keep giving her gifts (which she will happily accept). Again, her responsibility pales in comparison to the boss’s, but she’s playing a role here too.

        1. Josh S*

          I understand, but it still feels like ‘victim-blaming’.

          “She was leading him on.”
          “She shouldn’t have dressed like that.”
          “If only she would do _____, he wouldn’t feel the need to beat her.”

          Yes, rape and abuse are VERY different from what we are talking about here. But the mentality of 3rd parties is what I’m calling out. It is NEVER ok for a man to rape a woman, even if [fill in the blank]. It is NEVER ok for a person to beat their spouse, even if [fill in the blank].

          And it is NEVER ok for a boss (let alone a married boss) to make romantic overtures to an underling, even if [fill in the blank].

          Yes, the OP has it within her power to firmly shut the door and take aggressive action against the Manager. But even if she does not, that is not a justification for the Manager’s actions. It was NEVER ok for him to pursue her via gifts, even if she was less-than-firm in her refusal to have a romantic relationship.

          If for no other reason than the professional power imbalance that you’ve referred to (he controls her paycheck), it is NEVER ok for this guy to take these actions, regardless of her actions.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Of course. No one is saying the manager is justified. Of course what he’s doing isn’t okay.

            But some of us (most of us?) are saying that the OP plays a role here too. Those are two different things. (And excusing her from any responsibility for her own actions is antithetical to seeing women as full-functioning, capable adults.)

            1. Josh S*

              I agree with that — the OP has the ability to and should take action against this creep. What I want to avoid is putting any blame on her for his actions, which is what DA said above:

              The manager is only doing what the OP is encouraging him to do…

              The OP is the problem and the only one that can be the solution.

              …the first time she let his advances go, it was the green light he needed.

              I reject this premise. The OP has action that she can and should take, but the onus for proper behavior from the manager is the responsibility of the manager.

              Just because a person knows karate (or whatever) and has the ability to defend herself does NOT make it ok for a mugger to attempt to steal her smart phone. Even if she’s walking alone at night with earbuds in, head down, and phone in her hand, in a skeezy part of town. The mugger is to blame, even if there are precautions that the person could (and should) have taken.

              1. Amouse*

                I understand where the OP is coming and I think I understand what you are saying which is that she did not ask for this attention. I don’t think anyone here is blaming her for his actions, just trying to get her to see her role in it. I believe she may in rationalization la-la land and for her own health and sanity, she needs to get out of that place because if she does not, the gifts will continue and probably negative consequences will follow. Like I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy, egged on by her continuing to accept his gifts one day, what seems like “Out of the blue” to her, makes a move on her.

              2. Anon*

                Thank you for this. Unfortunately, we live in a culture where “no” means “try harder”. I would put money on it that once she stops accepting gifts, she is going to see negative repercussions.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  For what it’s worth, plenty of people — probably the majority — don’t take “no” as “try harder.” We don’t know if this guy will, since he hasn’t actually been given a clear and firm “no” yet.

                2. BW*

                  @AAM – sure your average person takes “no” as “no”, but a skeezy guy like this is one of the non-majority that is likely to take “no” as “try harder”. BTDT.

                  The OP should totally be saying a clear “no”, but I think she should also be aware that that may not be the end of it. If this guy was a stand-up person with any respect for her or his wife, he wouldn’t have started pursuing her in the first place. I would expect a “No” to go one of two ways.

                  1. He keeps trying.
                  2. He moves on to someone else, but is cold to her and treats her badly on the job or otherwise punishes her in some passive-aggressive way because he is a manager and he may make decisions about things like her hours, what works she does, and whether or not she gets a raise.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Agreed — I was responding to Anon’s statement that “we live in a culture where ‘no’ means ‘try harder,” which I don’t think is actually so widespread. For what it’s worth, it’s probably going to be harder to get this guy to take a “no” now than if he’d received a clear “no” at the start, which makes this messier than it had to be.

              3. Jamie*

                Right – the manager is fully responsible for his actions just as the OP is fully responsible for her own.

                I’m not seeing the argument.

                1. Josh S*

                  Looking back over Alison’s responses, I think I misread her as agreeing with DA’s original comment. On second reading she is not agreeing with DA, but simply emphasizing the part of things that are within the OP’s power to do.

                  I agree. As I’ve said a few times, the OP can and SHOULD put a stop to this.

                  I think the only argument I have is this: Even if the OP does not take the actions that are within her power, it remains the manager who is at fault here.

              4. Elizabeth West*

                I disagree with your analogy. The OP KNOWS she isn’t interested but she is making excuses for accepting the gifts. That reduces none of the manager’s responsibility. But it does make the OP look like she’s using the situation. I’m sure she does not want that to be the impression she gives.

              5. some1*

                Josh, I totally get what you are saying, and I have stood up to people a lot (on this blog, too), who engage in slut-shaming and blaming a woman when a man bears responsibility. However, there’s a big difference between, “Who wears a short skirt to work when she knows her boss is married?” and ‘Who accepts romantic gifts from her boss when she knows he’s married?” The first one I could care less about. The second one I feel the LW has some onus to refuse these gifts, nevermind that her boss shouldn’t be giving them to her in the first place.

                1. Josh S*

                  I get what you’re saying, but to me this isn’t even a typical feminist argument. It’s a managerial argument. I don’t care if it was a female manager making overtures to a male underling or vice versa — the blame/fault lies with the person in the position of power. In this case, that happened to be a male boss.

                  Yes, she needs to refuse these gifts (as I’ve said elsewhere more than a handful of times). But the overtures are NOT her fault for “leaving the door open” or anything else. And I’d be saying the exact same thing if the roles were reversed and it was a female boss.

                  The bad behavior is on the part of the boss. The underling can and should make every effort to be clear that they do not want the overtures. But regardless of how firm the no is (or isn’t), the boss has the moral obligation to cease pursuit (really, to never start it in the first place).

                  The power dynamic is such that I don’t care how wide open the door has been left for romantic overtures. It’s inappropriate. It’s inappropriate on the part of the boss. And it’s the boss’ fault for failing to make it stop.

                2. Jamie*

                  I do get what you’re saying about the power dynamic and I agree that the boss is far more culpable, but to remove any responsibility for professional behavior from the subordinate employee is where you lose me. I know you’re saying she should still set boundaries, but the phrasing about the power dynamic is what’s making me bridle a little bit because it feels like youre removing her from a place of power entirely.

                  That’s what feels squicky to me, the inference (correct me if I’m wrong) that no matternwhatshe does or how she responds he’s totally wrong and her actions don’t matter. But they do, and they would to HR sould it get to that.

                  Scenario #1: She goes to HR because he keeps doing this and is asked and admits she kept the gifts and that it’s not that big a deal as its not awkward at work.

                  Scenario #2: she goes to HR and says she has told him repeatedly to stop, yet he continues to buy her gifts even though she doesn’t accept them.

                  Scenario 2 gives her a lot more power. Calling her a victim when that’s not how she defines herself and the implication that no matter what she does it’s all about the boss puts her in a position where she has no power to control how people interact with her and how she is perceived and thats not true in this instance.

                  A lot…most? All? Of women have been there. Maybe not at work, but I don’t know one woman who can’t tell you stories of some older man trying to take advantage of our naïveté when we were younger. I have a 19 year old daughter who is learning this crap now (I help) and two sons just as handsome as she is beautiful, but don’t have to fend off advances from married older women on as regular a basis – or ever.

                  We’re just trying to help the OP who seems young from our experiences. She’s not a victim in this scenario and she has more power than it seems like you’re implying she does.

                3. Josh S*

                  You’re right that she has a lot more power if she takes certain action now (under Scenario #2).

                  But my point is that regardless of whether she does Scenario #1 or #2, both have been predicated by a boss that took negative action toward her. It was his fault for instigating that behavior, regardless of her response.

                  She has MUCH more power in that relationship and more broadly at her employer if she takes action toward Scenario #2. IMO she should work toward #2. But that does not mean that a lack of action makes the boss’ behavior acceptable, forgivable, or permissible in any way. Which was and is my main point, especially in response to DA’s comments to start this whole thread.

            2. Laura L*

              I agree with Josh S that DA’s post seemed like it was blaming the victim. I also agree that the OP can take steps to diffuse the situation. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to say “the OP is the problem.” Both people are the problem.

          2. Ellie H.*

            The LW in this situation isn’t really a victim though – she specifically said she doesn’t even feel awkward around him. The only negative consequence she is experiencing is some free-floating guilt about having accepted gifts.

            1. Josh S*

              Just because she doesn’t feel awkward about (what is clearly) sexual harassment doesn’t mean she isn’t being sexually harassed.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Without knowing more details, it’s hard to say for sure, but sexual harassment needs to be unwelcome conduct. The OP doesn’t seem entirely clear about whether it’s unwelcome or not. She hasn’t said it’s making her uncomfortable, she hasn’t said she wants it to stop, she’s only said that a friend raised questions about whether there are ethical issues with accepting the gifts.

                1. Josh S*

                  If a 3rd party noticed the gift giving and/or romantic overtures and was made to feel uncomfortable, would it be considered sexual harassment? (Of course, we have no way of knowing if this is the case or not. I’m just asking…)

        2. Long Time Admin*

          I disagree. The OP sounds very VERY young, and because of that was probably targeted by the manager. Consider him using a 9th grade phrase (do you like me like me) that she would feel comfortable with instead a grownup phrase (would you like to go out for drinks with me?).

          It sounds like the OP is just learning about the grownup world and the business world. Let’s face it – none of us came out of our mothers’ wombs knowing all the ways of the world. It takes time to grow up. At least this young woman had sense enough to write in for advice.

          1. JLL*

            That’s exactly what I thought. This is not an “adult” in a work experience sense- he’s creeping on a newbie who doesn’t have the foresight to say “get out of here.”

        3. napalmnacey*

          What the heck is she supposed to do? Refuse the gifts? That would be way awkward for her, and he’s her superior, she’s probably too scared to say no.

          I think you’re being very unfair on her and blaming the victim in this situation. There is no onus on her. This is the boss’ wrongdoing.

          1. Jim*

            This x100. The boss shouldn’t be taking advantage of his employees to begin with, and if he has done things like this before, then it’s probably very likely that he is fully aware of the power he has over the people (in particular, women) in his work-place, and that they would be hesitant to refuse him if he came onto them from a position of power.

            And if the OP is young and inexperienced, that makes the situation worse. Because it’s hard to say no to a boss, especially when nobody has told you what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace. For example, I remember my first job as a dish-hand; every day I put up with insults and derogatory comments from my boss until a colleague told me I shouldn’t have to. I just assumed that mean-ness and insults were common-place in the work-place. Sometimes you need someone to tell you what to do. The OP hasn’t done anything wrong. She’s dealt with the situation in the best way she can while avoiding conflict or a firing.

        4. DR*

          Wow, this victim-blaming under the guise of “we just want her to see her *role* in things” is vile. It really is. This is a matter of a person in power acting inappropriately. Period. Her taking the gifts or not taking the gifts isn’t “making it worse”. It already IS worse.

      2. Ellie H.*

        I agree . . . this question is written from the perspective of someone who wants to get permission for what she’s doing, not someone who wants advice on how to get the situation to end.

  7. Josh S*

    NO! No, no, no, no, no, no!

    This needs to stop. If you consider this guy a friend at all — even in the slightest — you need to stop this. The reasons are many:

    A) You are opening up the company to sexual harassment claims. What this guy is doing to/for you is likely worthy of a claim by you (not that you are likely to pursue it, I know). But if someone else is made to feel uncomfortable by it, THEY can pursue such a claim.

    B) He’s married. Even accepting these gifts has the potential to ruin his marriage. If the spouse finds out, it can cause a ton of undue stress to their relationship (at the very least).

    C) It’s unprofessional to the Nth degree. You are there to work. Inevitably friendships will form, and that’s fine. But the focus needs to be on the job at hand.

    D) It runs the risk of him losing his job– or you losing yours. If it is uncovered by the Powers That Be that a potential relationship is forming, it is likely that one of you will be fired/told to quit. There are the harassment issues and liability to consider, not to mention the fact that it calls into question his ability to remain unbiased as a manager. And if the company is going to fire someone, it’s likely going to be you rather than the new manager that they just went out of their way to put in place.

    I could go on. But the point is you need to tell this guy flat out, “I do not desire any relationship beyond a professional one. I am not comfortable receiving gifts from you. Please stop.” Do NOT apologize. Do NOT say that you are flattered. Do NOT tell him that you appreciate his friendship. Any of these can/will be taken as “hidden signals” that you really like him and are wanting something more.

    Refuse future gifts. If necessary, tell him that you find the behavior harassing if it continues, and report the behavior to a higher level manager/HR department.

    This needs to stop. Pronto.

    1. Zahra*

      “B) He’s married. Even accepting these gifts has the potential to ruin his marriage. If the spouse finds out, it can cause a ton of undue stress to their relationship (at the very least).”

      As I said lower, his marriage, his problem. And if it’s not her, I’d be willing to bet he’s cheated/will cheat on his wife with someone else.

      But, yes to the rest and especially:
      “Do NOT apologize. Do NOT say that you are flattered. Do NOT tell him that you appreciate his friendship. Any of these can/will be taken as “hidden signals” that you really like him and are wanting something more.”

      And I’ll add: do NOT do the embarrassed smile either. Take your most serious face with you and keep it on each time you rebuff him.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It may be “his marriage, his problem,” but most people who think of themselves as good people aren’t interested in involving themselves in someone else’s adultery. That doesn’t change the fact that he’s responsible for his own marriage (and I loathe people who blame the “other woman” or “other man” more than they blame the cheater), but come on — that doesn’t mean that meddling in someone else’s marriage is a perfectly okay thing to do. (Not saying the OP is meddling; responding here just to Zahra’s comment.)

        1. Jamie*

          Well put. If my husband were to cheat on me my anger would be fully directed at him. He’s the one who made the promise to me, not her.

          That doesn’t mean she would be winning any decency and ethics awards either…and yes, I don’t think highly of people who disregard other people’s marriage vows – but the fingerprints on the knife in my back would be his. Not hers.

  8. Joey*

    Gosh. I know way too many girls who’ve done this and were flabbergasted when the guy laid it on thick. And that “felt a little weird” that’s your conscience trying to tell you you were doing the wrong thing.

    1. Another Jamie*

      She said she was not interested, right up front. Sure, she didn’t do it in the best way possible. But it’s really obnoxious that a woman can’t just say “no” once and continue to be friendly afterwards without fear of sending signals. And then having it be her fault that the guy continues to “lay it on thick.”

      Women are generally conditioned to be friendly, even to people they don’t like. Way too many guys take advantage of that.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I agree with that in general, but I’m not sure it applies here. Women do bear some responsibility for how they conduct themselves and interact with others. We are not children who need to be protected or chaperoned; we’re adults with free will who are responsible for our own actions. Yes, socialization plays a role, but it’s not the answer every time (plenty of women would handle this situation quite differently, for instance) and I think falling back on that as a default can actually be quite damaging.

      2. Jamie*

        When I was young I had a friend who allowed this guy who had an indescribable crush on her to pay her rent. Co-sign for a car loan and she ruined his credit. Buy food, pay bills, put gas in her car…whatever immediate need at the moment if he could take care of it he would.

        She never felt a twinge of guilt because “he knows I don’t like him like that – we’re just friends so if he wants to do this who am I to stop him?” Well, few people want to pay other people’s bills unless there is something in it for them.

        Was he an idiot for thinking this would eventually win her heart. Absolutely. As his friends told him, repeatedly. But she was just freaking evil and manipulative to allow someone to pour that kind of money on her when she knew why he was doing it and she had no interest whatsoever.

        So, yes, the conditioning to be friendly (which I’ve managed to escape, it seems) is an issue…but once you start accepting stuff it goes to a different place.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          this makes me sad :(

          Then again I won’t even accept drinks from guys I’m not interested in. How is it possibly ok to let some guy pay your rent just because?

      3. Ellie H.*

        This is a good point. I was on the point of replying to Joey to say that I agreed and that I thought the LW really wants to continue with this interaction and just have someone tell her that it’s sanctioned – I was going to say that, if I were in her position, I would have just told the guy no straight up, not “But you’re married!” Then I realized that that really isn’t necessarily the case. There have been quite a few times in the past when I’ve done the same thing – been friendly and open to someone I knew wanted to date me, when I wasn’t interested in him that way (often when it was someone I had once thought I might be interested in, or hadn’t made up my mind, but then decided I wasn’t). That’s not to say that I don’t still find the way she wrote the question somewhat off-putting and self-deceptive, but that I really see your point.

      4. Joey*

        C’mon Another Jaime,
        That would be like the op going out for dinner with the guy as long as its “just as friends.” It’s not real smart to give the guy excuses to continue the unwanted behavior.

        1. Another Jamie*

          I agree that’s how it works, unfortunately. I’d just be nice to be able to say something like “just as friends” or “no thanks” and have the words actually mean what they are supposed to mean.

          1. Elizabeth*

            Though in this case, there’s not really a “just as friends” way for it to be okay for a boss to buy chocolate-covered strawberries for one of his subordinates. Even if he’d never expressed any romantic interest in her – heck, even if he were gay, or a straight woman – it’s unprofessional favoritism to shower just one of your employees with gifts.

  9. A Bug!*

    You’re working retail, and you don’t really think what happens here is that important, career-wise. I can understand that. But these “unimportant” jobs are actually an extremely valuable opportunity for you to learn how to interact professionally in a setting where you’re less likely to end up with a black spot on your career. You let this boss press at your boundaries because it’s easier to avoid the confrontation, and because hey, free gifts are great, right?

    But what happens if a similar situation comes up in your “real” career? You won’t have any experience to lean on in helping you get through it without harming your professional reputation.

    Learning how to gracefully (and clearly, and firmly) rebuff inappropriate workplace interactions is exactly something you should be doing now, when it doesn’t matter. So when it does matter, these things roll off like water from a duck’s back.

    1. Karen*

      “Learning how to gracefully (and clearly, and firmly) rebuff inappropriate workplace interactions…” should be part of some kind of class somewhere. Learning table manners for business dinners, learning how to shake hands correctly, and learning how to rebuff advances: incredibly valuable course.

      1. Heather*

        That reminds me of the section in The Gift of Fear where the author says he wishes that we could have classes for teenagers where we teach the girls to say no and make it clear that they mean it, and the boys to accept the no without questions. The practices could be held over a dinner table so they could learn which fork to use at the same time. ;)

    2. Cindy*

      Absolutely. Women who are okay with attention from married men tend to find married men willing to pay attention wherever they go. This will absolutely come up in the OP’s “real career.” This is an amazing opportunity to learn how to stop this from happening ever again.

      OP, if you find his behavior harmless, it might help to imagine things from the perspective of his wife. How would you feel if your husband was buying chocolate-covered strawberries for a subordinate?

  10. Zahra*

    Stay with me here, I’m going to say something controversial, but I’ll redeem myself, just read it through before you comment.

    I think the OP is right in saying “… he’s absolutely an ass for wanting to cheat on his wife. But he’s an adult and knows what he’s doing, so I feel that’s his problem, not mine.” True, very true and the world would be a better place if everyone remembered that the cheater is the one that chooses to cheat, not the person they’re cheating with, whether that person knew (or not) that this relation was extra-conjugal.

    However, I agree with the “You should put a stop to this ASAP!” choir. Not because of the cheating aspect, but, as many pointed out, because of the workplace potential problems (what if he escalates, what if you want to change jobs and he decides to be an ass about references, what about your coworkers who are not being treated the same, etc.). You may need to be more blunt than polite and you may need to repeat your “I’m not interested/do not give me anymore gifts” statement a few times before it sinks in (and, yes, keep proof in case he decides to be an ass). I’m going to go and ask a classic:

    AaM: Is it legal (told you it was classic!) to fire an employee because she refused your gifts/courting behavior? Does it fall under sexual harassment? Or is it harassment only if the manager menaces to fire you if you refuse?

    1. Karen*

      “Is it legal (told you it was classic!) to fire an employee because she refused your gifts/courting behavior?”

      Is that not the very definition of sexual harassment? I would assume it’s completely illegal.

            1. Heather*

              Phew…I thought you were saying it was legal to fire someone for that and I was about to start hyperventilating. :)

    2. Amouse*

      This mentality I adamantly disagree with. Both people partaking in the cheating whether they are the cheater or the one involved in the cheating itself are equally at fault.

      1. Zahra*

        Yeah, but my thinking is this one: Did the cheater say he was cheating? Plenty of guys and girls (not the manager mentioned in the OP) will not disclose being married and yet, the “other person” gets blamed as much as, if not more than, the cheater.

        Anyway, I’d suggest dropping references to the “he’s married” part of the OP’s statement, because that’s not really what’s at stake here (and I realize that it’s derailing the conversation). It makes the manager extra slimy, but most of our advice would be the same without that information.

        1. Amouse*

          Zahra I get what you’re saying about dropping “He’s married” references here and I can appreciate your point, but in this case I think it provides valuable context and added facets to the situation that make me even more concerned for the OP. Also, it says something about his character which is part of the overall picture so I don’t think you can just omit that fact. Just my opinion.

      2. Anonymous*

        I do not think they are equally at fault, but I still think that the person involved with the cheater is still at fault in some degree— just because you aren’t the married one doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a conscience. How can someone seriously destroy someone’s marriage without thinking they are doing SOMETHING wrong?

        1. Amouse*

          True, we can haggle over equal or one having more blame than the other. My point was, both people are to come extent, at fault.

        2. Zahra*

          Why is the “other person” the one destroying the marriage? At worst, they are *helping* destroy the marriage (and at best, they have no idea), but the cheater is the one trying to destroy their marriage. I agree that it’s not all black and white, but I tend (as you can all see) to think that the cheater is darker grey than the “other person”.

          And with this I’ll try to stop commenting on the cheating angle.

            1. Zahra*

              Woudn’t it be guy-code violation if a guy slept with a married woman? Anyway, blaming the other woman just smacks me of sexism. I don’t know if guys blame the other guy to the same extent, but I don’t feel like they do, which would be a double-standard.

              1. Joey*

                I’m not sure why you think it’s sexist. It’s exactly the same for a guy. Anyone that’s in a relationship is off the market, period, girl or guy. (Unless all parties agree otherwise.)

            2. Chinook*

              I don’t think there is such thing as a “girl code,” atleast when it comes to guys. We can be quite possesive when we want to be.

      3. Mike C.*

        The other person didn’t take any vows or sign any marriage licenses.

        Besides, it may be an open marriage.

        1. Amouse*

          If it were an open marriage, my advice would still be to not get within ten city blocks of the situation, but that’s just me. The part about him being her boss would further persuade me to give the same advice.

        2. Ariancita*

          I agree with this. I wouldn’t date a married person, but the only cheater in that scenario is the one who took a vow.

      4. BW*

        In cases where the the “other wo/man” knows the person is married or in a committed relationship, I think you can make this argument, but in the case where the other person doesn’t know because some cheaters will lie about their relationship status, the sleeziness is squarely on the cheater.

        1. Amouse*

          I agree–up until the second they find out the person is married if they do. At that point, if they continue the relationship in any way, shape or form, they are culpable.

          1. KellyK*

            I agree with you, though I would say “the second they find out the person is in a committed, monogamous relationship.” That is, it’s still cheating even if it’s just breaking a promise and not a vow with legal paperwork attached.

            1. Jamie*

              ITA. It’s the “are you lying to someone else about where you are when you’re with me?” more than whether there is paperwork behind it.

              Don’t get me wrong – I love paperwork. I’ve been married twice and I’m a big fan of the institution when done correctly (hence having to do it twice) but it’s not for everyone and if there have been promises of monogamy exchanged it’s just as crappy whether the state recognizes it or not.


          2. Job seeker*

            I am up very late tonight got back on the computer and re-read this. I have actually been on both sides of a similar situation. I have never act badly with or been interested in any married man, but I have been asked out when I was younger and single by a few men in management. I never went out with any of them. But, I have also been the wife. My husband is in management and many years ago, my husband’s secretary in another state tried to get too close to my husband. I was a mother at home with our three small children at the time. My husband did nothing wrong. She however, went out of her way to imply things. I noticed this OP seemed not to realize the signals she was giving out. My marriage is 30 years strong. This secretary didn’t stand a chance, but she didn’t think twice about my little children and their home. I would never want to be that kind of a person.

    3. Xay*

      It’s true, his marriage is not the OP’s problem. But aside from the moral issues, you can bring a world of drama, pain and humiliation from messing with someone who is married. Even though they took the vows, the other person will pay a price in some form or fashion.

      1. Rana*

        Not to mention that someone who’s willing to break their vows and legal contracts for a bit of nookie on the side isn’t exactly a prize.

  11. Amouse*

    (I don’t know that I’d be interested anyway, but his being married made that moot)

    Oh gosh, you remind me of my younger self. Wow. If I could tell you just one thing it is that you do not want to be within ten city blocks of this situation. You sound like you understand this intellectually but a part of you still considers it a moral gray area and does not appreciate the full gravity of the situation. Any man who says “I’m married but…I don’t have to be” is a slimeball. Please understand that. He is manipulating you and you are either consciously or subconsciously allowing it t to continue.

    The fact that you wrote in to ask if this was OK tells me that part of you understands it isn’t and part of you is trying to rationalize it. Please tell every voice in your head that is rationalizing that this is wrong on so many levels. Read and re-read Alison and others’ advice here when in doubt. This situation can only lead to some kind of bad if it isn’t stopped.

  12. Ashley*

    I don’t give a crap about the implications on your professional life. You need to step back and think about moral code. Do you really want to be a woman who accepts chocolate covered strawberries from a married man? How would you feel if you found out your significant other was giving gifts with such a “romantic” connotation to another woman?

    1. Jenny*

      “How would you feel if you found out your significant other was giving gifts with such a “romantic” connotation to another woman?”

      Uh…I’d be more angry at my significant other for being a cheating-asshole than the girl who accepted gifts from him for whatever reason. Why is the OP being blamed for this? Yes, she is sending the wrong message by accepting the gifts, but it’s not her job to keep her manager’s marriage together. ESPECIALLY if he has acted this way before. He’s probably going to ruin his relationship all by himself.

  13. Anon*

    She said she isn’t interested in him, and he is ignoring what she wants (to be left alone) because it comes into conflict with what he wants (to date/sleep with/whatever her). Let’s be honest: she has NO good options here. The OP may see negative repercussions for turning the guy down, because he is her manager, and there is a power imbalance.

    Now, it sounds like the OP doesn’t care that much about the job, so AAM’s advice is the right way to go, but his behavior is outrageous, and in a setting where the OP couldn’t just walk away from the job, it would be much more difficult to give useful advice.

  14. Anonymous*

    Reading this made my skin crawl. The OP’s boss sounds like a huge creep, which doesn’t excuse the OP’s behavior though. The OP needs to grow a spine and put her foot down– no more presents, no more advances, nothing. If he continues, it should be reported to HR immediately. You haven’t done anything wrong in terms of possibly getting in trouble for “inviting” the attention, but it is wrong for you to possibly be leading him on by accepting his gifts and making your relationship seem more than a professional one.

    If nothing else, just look at all of the posts so far pointing out how gross and creepy this whole situation is. You have to know that this situation isn’t right and you need to do something about it.

  15. Lana*

    Hypothetically speaking: if the OP’s manager was single and the OP liked him back, what would be appropriate to do for them to be together? They obviously can’t determine if they’re right for each other without dating, but would either of them have to quit their job right away to avoid dating a co-worker?
    When dating a co-worker or your boss is ever okay if both parties are single and attracted to each other? Couples do meet at work, so what is the way to handle it? I’m curious.

    1. Chaucer*

      In this situation, no. Even in places where dating coworkers is allowed, dating subordinates is not allowed.

    2. Josh S*

      Depends on the employer’s rules for office relationships. Some require disclosure to the company and a signed form saying that sexual harassment claims between these people are invalid.

      IMO, workplace romances are frought. For all the reasons Alison lists here:

      If you ARE going to date someone in your workplace, it’s generally a good idea to make sure that the two people in the relationship are not in each others’ chain of command. So if you’re about to get into a relationship with a supervisor/manager, you gotta figure out who is going to transfer (at the least) or quit.

      It’s also quite worthwhile to act as though you’re not a ‘couple’ while you’re at the workplace. Treat each other as professionally as possible and leave relationship stuff for after hours.

      So to answer your question–no, it’s not forbidden to date a coworker. But it’s difficult to do well. Just proceed with a large amount of caution, and keep in mind that if your relationship ends badly it might impact your employment situation as well (not that you’d lose your job but that your workplace would become miserable, particularly if you still have to interact with your ex).

      1. Lana*

        I am personally not going to date a co-worker :)) but I was curious because a lot of people invest all their time into a career and employment which doesn’t leave them too much time to meet people outside of work.

        1. Jamie*

          I totally get that – personally if I were single I don’t know where I would meet anyone outside of work.

          But to your point – the whole management/subordinate thing that makes it skeevy beyond just complicated – for reasons already mentioned.

          Weird case in point – my dad met my mom back in the 50’s when he was her manager. All of their kids had the same reaction when we found out how they had met….ewwwww…and we were kids and didn’t even know the office politics angle – it was just creepy thinking of our dad selecting our mom out of a room of keypunch operators. However, I prefer to think of that as a one in a million destiny thing (you know, until their divorce, which makes this whole thing a lot less romantic) but mostly I give it a pass because I appreciate having been born. :)

          Other than that – it’s just skeevy.

          1. Lana*

            I think that relationships between subordinates are not that uncommon but it does depend on the circumstances of the parties. If there is love and all the good stuff involved, you can’t really tell yourself not to love someone because you work together although I agree with everyone on the terms in this case: either has to quit. At the end of the day though, we work to live and not live to work and people fall in love. :)

              1. Lana*

                This is probably this time of year when one wants things to be magical and romantic. I understand that it has little to do with reality. :)

        2. Josh S*

          That was the ‘hypothetical you’. Not “you” as in “Lana,” but “you” as in “some person, somewhere, who might try this.”

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Dating a coworker, for me, is a deal-breaker. I don’t have much earning power right now and I cannot, absolutely cannot, afford to lose a job over a guy. It’s better and easier just to nix the idea completely.

        I have no problem being friends with coworkers, even outside of work, if we’re not in the same department, although I find that once you leave the job this tends to fall off. I still do have at least one good friend I met at work (she came down to watch me skate on Saturday!). But no dating, no way.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Lana, you’re asking about coworkers dating, but the key factor here is that this isn’t just a coworker — it’s her manager. Managers can’t date subordinates, period. Most employers have policies against it, and even if one doesn’t, managers still shouldn’t date subordinates. A manager’s ability to do her job correctly is compromised if she’s dating someone she’s managing — she’s unlikely to be able to be impartial and objective when it comes to managing the person, evaluating their performance, giving tough feedback, and making decisions about promotions/raises/layoffs/firings. And even if the manager is somehow magically able to be impartial about this stuff, no one around her will believe she’s impartial, so there’s a huge perception problem.

      Plus, it opens the company up to a possible harassment lawsuit down the road if the subordinate later says she felt unable to resist the person’s advances or leave the relationship without negative consequences at work.

      Plus, there’s the fact that relationships where one person has professional power over the other are icky and problematic in numerous ways.

      Basically, if you’re a manager, part of the package is that you don’t date employees. If you want to, one of you needs to quit first.

      1. Karyn*

        I worked for a company a long time ago where my manager was dating one of my coworkers. It was a terrible, terrible experience for all involved. When they were together, he gave her the best shifts, the best products, the best everything. And when they broke up, we were all expected to take sides. It isn’t fun for ANYONE when managers date subordinates.

        I will say that I met my current boyfriend at my former place of employment, and we dated for six months before I switched companies – but we weren’t even in the same department, let alone the same chain of command. It was great, because if we did have a fight, we didn’t ever have to see each other during the day, nor did we work on any sort of projects together. But even still, it was a wonderful day for both of us when I got a new job – because let’s face it, when you both come home at the end of the day and have the same office drama, life gets boring! :)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Not to mention, as you did, that if you have a fight, you don’t have to see his big fat face at work when you want to just get away from him before you punch him!

          1. Lucy*

            Whoa! This comment is really disturbing considering the gender and power play roles in the OP’s question. Extra disturbing that Amouse thinks this is funny. Would it be funny if it was a male commenter making jokes about their girlfriend’s big fat face and wanting to punch her?

            1. Amouse*

              I take your point. What I interpreted Elizabeth’s comment as because she’s a regular commenter and seems like a reasonable person was that it was a comical exaggeration laced with some sarcasm not that she would actually threaten to punch anyone’s face. Also, this appeared to me to be a sub-conversation stemming from Karyn’s comment about relationships in the workplace in general and did not specifically refer to the OP’s situation, hence why I did not find it disturbing and you did. I guess there’s a double-standard with that if you reverse it. To be honest, I didn’t thoroughly analyze it before that angle before commenting.

              If you’ve read through even a fraction of the comments here, absolutely no one has made light of the OP’s situation. That I’ve read anyway.

            2. Jamie*

              FWIW – having read Elizabeth’s posts for a long time I took this in the same spirit as when I muttered under my breath earlier today “just kill me now” over some work thing.

              It was just hyperbole to make a point which is how I read the comment.

              I don’t think Elizabeth would advocate anyone being punched in the face any more than I seriously wanted to take a hit out on myself.

    4. KellyK*

      Because he’s her boss, yes, he would have to no longer be her boss for it to be appropriate for them to date (assuming singleness and mutual interest and all that other good stuff). It depends on the company whether you’re allowed to date coworkers or not, but dating your boss is just too much of a conflict of interest to ever be okay (even if there’s technically no rule against it).

    5. zemkat*

      I recently attended a sexual harassment training at work where they specifically said manager/subordinate dating was allowed, as long as it was disclosed so that somebody else could do the performance evaluations.

      Still seems like a bad idea though.

  16. KPP*

    This guy is pinging all the danger signs of “she’s nice to me, that means she likes me and things are a go for me.” (sometimes it’s enough that you’re not openly rude). Reverse course, accept no more gifts. Stick to topics of work and work only, do not seek him out for conversations unless it’s absolutely work necessary. It may feel like you’re acting like a (female dog), but embrace it. I have a friend that attracts creepy guys and we’re always telling her that she needs to develop an ice queen face to drive some off these off at the pass.

  17. Job seeker*

    This guy is bad news. Any man that will behave this way surely you know what they are about. If you respond this way, speaking as a wife of a man that is in management what does that behavior on your part make you? Just cut it out, simple.

  18. Lisa*

    Hey OP, are you reading?

    If so, boy do I ever know how you feel! I’ve been the youngest female in the office at multiple jobs, and therefore I’m the token “married guy looking for a mistress” bait. I’ve had a coworker try to get me over to his place by asking me to help him talk to his 13-year-old daughter about a problem… I was only six years older than her! (Then he tried the ol’ “I’m a photographer and you should model for me” ploy.)

    I’ve had a coworker ask me to meet him in the breakroom for a “hug goodbye” (creepy) and then Facebook-like all my profile photos and then delete his Facebook account (extra-creepy). I’ve had a married guy offer to pay for an international trip after I casually mentioned there was somewhere I’d like to go “again, someday” in a platonic conversation.

    Being married-guy-bait is a pain in the ass, but you’ll grow out of it–they’re probably fetishizing your youth and the idea of having a mistress, not actually obsessing over you as a person. Sorry, honey, I know it’s fun to think you’re just irresistible, but that’s the way it is. It’s not you, it’s them. In the meantime, yes, unfair as it is, you ALWAYS have to be the ethical and responsible one, even though the older person in a managerial position SHOULD be the one with the better judgment. Also sucks, but also sorry, also just the way it is.

    Return any gifts that you still have and tell him clearly, “I’ve thought about accepting gifts from you and decided that it’s not ethical for me to do so. Thank you for the thought, but please do not give me any more gifts, and please do not ever again express your interest in me either romantically or sexually. I am not interested.”

    1. Josh S*

      This is good. I like your wording at the end, too, with the exception that you should remove “Thank you for the thought, but”.

      Just, “I’ve thought about accepting gifts from you and decided that it’s not ethical for me to do so. Please do not give me any more gifts, and please do not ever again express your interest in me either romantically or sexually. I am not interested.”

    2. Anonymous*

      +1 all around.

      I could have written this. Wow. Didn’t know there were others!

      At this point I probably wouldn’t return them because it would cause more drama, but definitely, a clear no is required. Many people do not take a hint. It’s unfortunate that he is putting you in this position.

    3. Omne*

      I’ve never personally been able to understand that whole thing. I’m in my mid 40s and a while back a co-worker in their early 20s expressed some interest in me. The first thing that went through my mind is that I’d feel like a child molester. The second thing is that I had nothing really in common with her. Luckily everything went well and we ended up with a normal workplace friendship.

  19. Anonicorn*

    OP, your manager is gross, and he’s trying to take advantage of you. Because, quite frankly, you seem young and a bit naive about what is considered an appropriate work relationship. Your manager is extremely inappropriate.

    Even in a non-work, regular dating scenario, wouldn’t you consider continued pursuit even after rejection just a tad creepy?

    Please take AAM’s advice and stop accepting his gifts and firmly decline any further advances.

  20. Tiff*

    I understand where OP is coming from. Especially when you’re young, a little male attention can go a long way to making you feel attractive and powerful. It’s almost like, “Awww look how sweet, he’s still giving me gifts!” as you chuckle with your girlfriends.

    There’s a reason so many people are sharing their stories of how this dynamic can go completely wrong. I’ve got my own, which includes a very cute girl who was plucked from Outback steak house and promoted to office manager. I’ll skip the middle of the story and get to the part where she was canned in spectacular fashion, complete with tears and a very awkward 2 week period where she still had to work before her official last day.

    I’ll agree with everyone else in that you should stop accepting his gifts. I wouldn’t worry about giving the old gifts back, just don’t accept any more.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      It’s almost like, “Awww look how sweet, he’s still giving me gifts!” as you chuckle with your girlfriends.

      Am I alone in thinking that this attitude some girls have is entitled and bitchy? I seriously can’t stand girls who act this way. They always seem to turn out to be bridezillas when some dummy marries them. It just gets worse because no one calls them on it.

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t know – I was probably very close to this at 14-20…especially after about 18 because it’s that weird age where you start dating older guys, but are just figuring out how very different grown men are from the dopey guys you dated in high school.

        There is a big learning curve there. This attitude tends to go away with a little maturity and the realization you should be more careful or other people’s feelings.

        1. Min*

          I think it’s both. Like you, I was a bit like that at that age. Looking back on it, however, I cringe because it was so bitchy and awful. I would encourage guys that I was not interested in just for the enjoyment of having someone treat me that way. If you’d have asked me at the time, I’d never have admitted to encouraging them. I’d have just said I was “being friendly”. But really, that’s just an excuse for the high you get when you know someone is attracted to you.

          Or maybe I was just a bitch. :D

      2. Lisa*

        I don’t know, I think it’s normal when you’re first at the age where you get a lot of attention from older, affluent men. How else do you expect someone to react, especially if they grew up without having everything they need, much less everything they want, upon suddenly discovering that they have the power to get something for nothing without even asking?

        It takes time to learn that the ability to get that kind of attention and lavish gifts has a cost, and that you really don’t WANT that attention with the particular strings that are attached. I wouldn’t expect a young girl just reaching adulthood to understand that right away if she hasn’t had the benefit of a female mentor to prepare her for it and talk her through it.

        1. Amouse*

          Or -(just maybe)- a bunch of strangers on the internet cautioning them strongly and emphatically against it and providing personal stories and insight? :-)

        2. Job seeker*

          Lisa, not every girl that has not had everything would respond this way. When I was younger, I had a lot of male attention on jobs. That made me feel very uncomfortable because I was shy and not world wise. There were a few people higher up that asked me out. I did not go. I was very sheltered and naive but still had common sense. I think a lot of women know this is wrong on so many levels without needing anyone to tell them. Someone can not justify doing things that are not right because they want things. I don’t think you need a female mentor to tell you this, at least I didn’t.

          1. FormerManager*

            It’s not always about not having had everything either. In my experience, there’s a lot of importance placed on having a boyfriend when you’re in your teens and 20s. For someone who guys ignored in high school, suddenly receiving attention from an older guy at work, might feel pretty good. In a perverse way, I might add.

            Throw in someone who has been sheltered, like my best friend who was homeschooled, and you can have a recipe for disaster….

      3. Lucy*

        It could be seen as entitled and bitchy. It could also just be, as others have pointed out, naive. In my late teens and early 20s I had roommates who were absolutely clueless that the guys hanging around them were not just there for friendship. Not entitled, not bitchy, just ignorant of the cutesy signals they were sending out were being interpreted as flirtations.

        They don’t all turn out as bridezillas. Some of them become divorced single moms and medical doctors. But it’s always easy to make snap judgements regarding random, one-sided observations.

        1. Jamie*

          Some of them become divorced single moms and medical doctors.

          And some of them run into the really nice guy who never deserved the shabby treatment of her youthful stupidity years later…after they’ve both been married and divorced from other people.

          And then sometimes they get married. It will be 10 years in March. Never underestimate the power of a sincere apology – I’m telling you. They can be life changing.

        2. Jesse*

          “Not entitled, not bitchy, just ignorant of the cutesy signals they were sending out were being interpreted as flirtations.”

          Likewise, the guys had to learn that questions and curiosity about your hobbies from a girl doesn’t mean she’s flirting. She’s just genuinely curious about that handcraft bow you modeled after the LOTR description from the books.

          I *hated* that learning that lesson the most. All of sudden what questions I asked about a person meant something. It just made me sad, and stop talking in groups.

          1. Jamie*

            Of course she’d be interested in the bow. Hey, if discussing whether Martin Freeman or Elijah Wood makes a better hobbit means yours a whore then I’d better find that scarlet A to put on my sweater….

      4. FormerManager*

        Depends. I had such a self-esteem problem in middle school and high school that if an older man had showered me with gifts early on in my career I would have been flattered. Especially after being boyfriend-less the last two years of high school.

        Plus, if you’re young and haven’t had much relationship experience, your “creep meter” can be defective. And trust me, guys like the OP’s boss can smell someone like this from miles away.

        Anyway, for all these reasons, the OP needs to take a stand NOW. This way she’ll become stronger and hopefully prevent something similar from happening in the future.

        1. saro*

          My creep meter was very, very defective and I’d say most of the teenage girls I grew up with had the same issue. Not to say we didn’t have common sense, but the stuff I put up with then – well, I would not put up with it at all now!

      5. Tiff*

        Ok, I’m all kinds of late with this….but I have to disagree. The OP sounds pretty young, and she’s probably cute. I was the same way when I was younger and it’s really just…not knowing how to act in adult situations I guess. Or finally realizing and enjoying (ok, borderline abusing) the “power” your looks have over some silly guy. And if the silly guy is in a position to know better (he’s married, he’s older) then chuckle all the more and hope the last laugh isn’t on you. I think that’s pretty much where she is.

        What age and experience teaches is that there really isn’t a happy ending to these kinds of situations, and the gains aren’t worth the cost. Nobody wants to work at Melrose Place.

  21. Elizabeth West*

    If he weren’t married, you would be leading him on by taking the gifts, even if you didn’t mean to, because he is interested and you are not. You think he’d be getting you presents if he were just a work buddy? No. STOP. IT. NOW. There is no excuse that makes this okay.

    How would you like it if you were his wife and you found out he was giving gifts to some girl at work? And worse, she was accepting them?! You would hate it. You would hate it so much.

    1. BG*

      How about I’d be pretty pissed off if I were his wife because my husband is giving gifts to a young woman? How about the dude stop giving her gifts? Also, women totally never feel obligated to take gifts from their bosses because not doing so might put their jobs in jeopardy. Nope. Never.

  22. Dog Mom*

    In addition to all of the above, don’t you care about your reputation and respect in the workplace? Coworkers seeing your married boss showering you with chocolate covered strawberries are going to be justifiably angry and disgusted.

    1. mimimi*

      The co-workers, if they are thinking anything about the situation, are probably assuming the two of them are sleeping together.

  23. anon in tejas*

    I am really surprised that this wasn’t called what it is… sexual harassment, especially by this blog.

    There are a ton of reasons why she may not have said strongly “no” from the outset. Being scared and concerned about her job future could be one of them. As someone who’s been in that retail situation, and sexually harassed by my boss. It’s not easy, especially if you’re younger, inexperienced (with the work place and what’s appropriate and not), and dispensible (can be easily fired and replaced).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I didn’t call it sexual harassment, because it’s not clear to me that that’s what it is. One of the tricky things about sexual harassment is that it has to be unwelcome, and that’s generally in the eye of the beholder. In this case, the OP didn’t say she wants the behavior to stop or that it’s unwelcome or that she feels uncomfortable. If she does feel any of those things, that would change parts of my answer (although I would still tell her that she needs to give him a clear and unequivocal “no” and not undermine that by other signals).

  24. Blinx*

    I’m late to the party, but just… ICK! Not much to add, but I’m curious what the age difference might be –how old is the OP vs. the Mgr. I’d almost bet that the Mgr. has wooed young innocents at other stores. I can also understand the OP just blurting out “I thought you were married…” because that’s something I’d do. I think I’d be more shocked at a married guy hitting on me than a boss (but it’s a close call).

    JMHO, but the gifts received weren’t “little” gifts. A cup of coffee or a pack of gum is a little gift. I’d also be on guard for any upcoming holiday presents — which actually might be an excellent opportunity to put the kibosh on the whole matter. And the phone number? I’d be tempted to write it on the restroom walls with his full name, but I’d chicken out.

    AAM – please earmark this thread — I’d love to get an update on how things turn out in a few months.

  25. Diana*

    …”accepting gifts in this context is basically saying you’re leaving the door open to inappropriate involvement with him”

    This is called victim blaming; stop it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Actually, it’s not. It’s about giving a clear and unequivocal “no” so that you’re clear about where you stand.

      The OP is not responsible for her creepy manager’s inappropriate behavior, but she is responsible for how she chooses to respond to them, and issuing a clear “no” is part of that. (Unless she feels in danger professionally or personally, in which case my advice to her would about reporting the behavior and protecting herself, but she didn’t indicate that was the case.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Dude, the OP hasn’t indicated she feels like a victim of anything. She said she’s happy to accept the gifts and only wondered if there was an issue because her friends suggested it might be unethical.

          And we don’t tell people to shut up here.

    2. Z*

      How is there something wrong with pointing out the role that the O.P. is playing in signaling to this guy that his behavior is okay? I don’t know how this letter could be answered without explaining that to the O.P.

      If that’s victim blaming then I guess it’s also victim blaming when we tell people how they sent the wrong signals in their interview or in a meeting with their boss. If nobody points out what you are doing wrong then how can you be expected to learn and do it differently in the future?

  26. Some European*

    Just reading the letter there is a wide range of possibilities, from the most innocent to the most creepy and it worries me when many people just assume the worst.
    (For all we know the manager could be already in the process of getting divorced and prudently trying to further a new romantic interest, while the LW just did not know she was sending signals that there may be something by accepting those gifts or the manager could be trying to take advantage of her, while she could be wanting to take advantage of him giving her gifts by encouraging him.)
    To me it would be more logical to adhere to “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

    1. Amouse*

      Regardless, he’s still her boss and is obviously still married. If we take out the courting component, even if this were just a manager giving gifts to a subordinate, the nature of those gifts, the power dynamic of the relationship, the fact that he is giving gifts to her and no one else on staff, signals the many ways in which this just does not seem innocent on any level. Also just the way he is speaking to her is creepy and inappropriate. I’m also a person that tries not to assume the worst but in this case, the facts seem pretty sketchy and suspect to me.

      1. fposte*

        I think there are some situations where I might not call it creepy (it would depend on the actual guy, the backstory, etc.), but I would always call it inappropriate. However, that’s hairsplitting, because it sounds creepy to me here.

        I also think they’re both focusing, perhaps willfully, only on what is literally stated. He’s decided that her reservation was that probably wouldn’t date her because he’s married, and she’s decided that since she stated her objections to dating the gifts must not be about pursuing her romantically.

        So, OP, here’s where the old adage about “actions speak louder than words” raises its head–“I accept Valentine’s Day style gifts from you” doesn’t say “I won’t date you.” Maybe you hoped it meant “My romantic rejection of you doesn’t it mean we can’t be friends,” but that’s not what it means. At this point you can’t be friends anyway, because neither of you are drawing boundaries (he can’t be trusted to and I don’t think you know how to yet) that would make that work.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      No. Even if the guy is single, giving chocolate-covered strawberries to a girl you’re interested is a really clear message of “LET’S HAVE SEX.”

      1. Min*

        As I read it, Katie was saying the implication came from the gift not the recipient. And even if you are correct and I read that wrong, your reply is truly offensive.

  27. Katie the Fed*

    So, you might not even see this, OP, but consider it a cautionary tale.

    Many years ago, when the earth was still warm and I was very young, I was friends with a married man at work. He was interested in me but I was very clear that I would never get involved with a married man. But I failed to set appropriate boundaries and engaged in some flirtatious banter with him from time to time, etc.

    Well, his wife found a banter-y (friendly but not inappropriate) email between the two of us and quickly realized that her husband was being WAY too familiar with a woman she’d never met. Now, women respond to perceived threats to their marriage differently. This woman looked up my address, my family members’ addresses, my employer, etc and sent everyone letters telling them I was a whore who was screwing her husband (just so we’re clear – I was not). I wrote her and explained that her husband and I were only friends but we were too close and it hadn’t been appropriate and I wouldn’t talk to him anymore. That just added fuel to the fire. Long story but I ended up having to retain a lawyer to threaten her with slander and pursue a restraining order against her.

    The moral of this story: stay away from married men who have made it clear they don’t intend to honor their marriage vows. That’s a whole bunch of crazy that you don’t need to get involved in. You might never lay a finger on the guy but if he’s got a history of cheating and there’s a suspicious wife, and you’ve been anything less than 100% professional, you could be in for a world of hurt.

    Just stay away. Keep it professional. I am NEVER friends with married men now unless I also know their wives.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        As I stated, I wasn’t involved with him. My point is that even the APPEARANCE of impropriety can lead to a lot of drama and crazy. Just avoid it at all costs.

  28. Anonymous*

    All I can say is Wow…been there and done that. The OP sounds young, naive, and this creep smells it. After reading this post I almost wanted to take a shower, his behavior is just gross. Draw the line OP and keep your distance, also don’t take anymore gifts! If he offers you another one, just politely decline and then suggest he give it to his wife….good luck!

  29. FreeThinkerTX*

    In my younger days, when men I worked with gave me gifts after I’d told them I was not interested (whether they were married or not), I’d act all excited and say, “Awesome! I can’t wait to share this with [names of 2 or 3 other co-workers, including a manager]! They’ve always wanted to try this [chocolate / restaurant / whatever].” In all but one case, the guy wanted his gift back right then and there. That guy got written up by the Director when he asked me, “Why would Joe (the asst mgr) want to give you a personal gift like that?” My answer, “I dunno. He asked me out once, and I told him I wasn’t interested. I figured it was a friendship gift, which is why I’m sharing it with my other work friends.”

    I did similar things with male acquaintances who wouldn’t take No for an answer. I was happy to share their gifts and notes with their other guy friends, and let them know that their buddy was shot down by me several times. I never did it to shy guys or those who were socially awkward and had gotten bad advice about the best way to a woman’s heart, just to a-holes who thought their Y-chromosome gave them a free pass to anything female.

    Bottom line: You want to give me gifts, that’s fine. But everyone will know about it, and everyone will know that I’m not interested in you. If you’re married, or a manager, or a certified a-hole, it’s going to be painful and humiliating to keep hitting on me after I’ve said No. But I’ll still take your gifts, under those circumstances. My other friends and I will enjoy them immensely. >;-)

      1. Forrest*

        What do you mean? She’s cleverly found away to get rid of unwanted, inapporiate attention from coworkers/higher ups.

        1. Joey*

          Shaming people who do wrong (even when its wildly inappropriate ) is never good for your professional reputation. Take the high road.

          1. Anon*

            They’re the ones who should have shame. Unfortunately, there are a lot of men out there who won’t take no for an answer unless it’s brought to the attention of many other people. Besides, she gives them a way out. They have the opportunity to take back their gifts, with the understanding that she holds them accountable to respectful behavior. If they opt out, knowing she’s going to make them public, that’s their fault.

            Actions have consequences. People know when they’re being out of line. They just want to see how far they can get away with it.

          2. forrest*

            She did take the high road. She told them she wasnt interested and they continued anyway. Shes not obligated to indulge them and frankly, if theyre not taking no for answer the first time they probably wont the second time. She shouldnt have to repeat herself an d she found away to make it stop.

            And it sounds like it happens one on one, so it doesnt seem like a public shame. And frankly, theyre attempting to shame her by offering the gifts.

  30. Brought to you by the letter "S"*

    This is a retail job to pay the bills while I look for something better, so I don’t worry about the ramifications on the same level that I would if I were on a career track.

    Sorry, OP, but even if you don’t consider this a “real” job with “real” implications for your career, it is “real” life and how you’re acting in this situation reflects poorly on you, not only as an employee, but as a person. The actions you take in your life matter every day, whether they can be summarized on a resume or not.

    Another thing about actions: we all agree that he’s a creep for pursuing you. I am not “victim-blaming,” but if you’re thinking one thing but acting another way, guess what? No one else can testify to what you’re thinking in your head. If no one sees you rejecting him, guess what? You’re not rejecting him.

    1. Joey*

      I remind myself of mantras for situations like this:

      Its not what really happened that matters. It’s what you can PROVE happened that matters.

  31. Anon*

    Also, as a woman, you will be judged more harshly. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but you really don’t want to be known as “that chick.” Also, if you were to get promoted, people will assume you slept your way to the top. Again, not right, not fair, but yes, it happens.

  32. Amouse*

    I’ve been reading through these responses for a few days and have come to the conclusion that in my opinion we’re getting “blame” and “shame” mixed up with “empowerment” here in several cases.

    I can only speak for myself, but as a woman who has gone through something similar to what the OP appears to be going through, the predominant message here from most commenters, to me, is: “empower yourself “. Many of us here are telling the OP “You do have power in this situation” “You can take responsibility for yourself and your actions, ” Now in implying responsibility for herself, several seem to be reading that as “shaming or victimizing the OP” or “Blaming the OP for her boss’s actions”. For myself, I can categorically say that that is not the intent here. The intent here is to help the OP to recognize that she does have power, that she can and should be direct and assertive in this situation and that she doesn’t deserve this treatment.

    In order to express power, create boundaries and build up one’s own precedents for learning how to act in response to the inappropriate behaviour of others, do we not need to recognize our own power and our own role in our lives of controlling what we can in a given situation?

    I think it took many of the women here years to learn that they did have have to just accept the behaviour of men who acted this way around them and that they could control themselves in the situation. There are outside resources -or should always be- for when that treatment continues after a woman (or man for that matter) has given a firm no and impropriety continues, but I think what I’m trying to tell the OP is that when she looks back on this situation, she will be a much stronger person if she can clearly see her power in it by doing everything in her power and that is the opposite of being a victim.

    1. Josh S*

      Thank you for saying this much better than I did above. Yes, she should empower herself to take action against the guy.

      And the only time I called out someone for ‘blaming the OP’ was when DA said, “The manager is only doing what the OP is encouraging him to do…”, “The OP is the problem and the only one that can be the solution”, and “…the first time she let his advances go, it was the green light he needed.”

      That is wrongly blaming the OP. Everything that others said was indeed empowering to her so that she knew what was appropriate.

      Thank you for saying it so much better.

      1. Amouse*

        I agree to your response to those comments for sure :-) I think we’re on the same page here. I hope the OP is able to find the positive in this situation and recognize her power. Life is so much better when you see what you can and can’t control.

  33. Revanche*

    I agree with the commenters saying that there are two roles being played here and the OP’s best bet is to do what she can to take the healthiest possible actions for her, regardless of what the boss wishes/does. It’s one of the best protections you have as a subordinate and as a professional. If this wasn’t about gifts and advances, if it was about being singled out and mistreated, I think we would still advise the OP to take whatever actions that would protect her best as well: distance yourself, document the behaviors, etc.

    As usual, we can’t *control* other people but we do have choices in our actions that may help.

    I had a similar gifting situation from a married boss who played favorites but it wasn’t clear whether he was trying to court me in my early 20s. I was pretty sure that it was mainly that he wanted to buy power, authority and respect, most importantly our friendship, but if there was more than that, I couldn’t tell because he never said anything in the early years. The other stuff he wanted (and couldn’t earn on the basis of his work) to obtain by manipulation was complicated enough!

    He definitely tried to be way more in my life than I felt was appropriate – he always wanted to know what I was going to be doing, when, where, why, and how, even though he pretended that we had a right to our private lives separate from the office at first. I’ve become a much more private person because of him – I used to be willing to have casual conversations about things I liked to do, read, watch, etc.

    When I took my first vacation out of town on a budget, he tried to give me a substantial amount of cash for it out of his pocket. I was very uncomfortable with this and what it meant – he was definitely not a close friend to be lending or giving me this kind of money, he was my boss for goodness’s sake and if he was going to be giving me money I wanted it to be for my work and appropriate compensation via my paycheck!

    My parents had been known to be very generous to their employees to the extent they could be and wondered if perhaps he just felt sorry for me, but ultimately my decision on the situation was that I simply couldn’t take the risk of accepting a cash gift from a male, married boss who seemed too invested in my personal life, more than he was in anyone else’s. With his personality, I knew that he’d badger me the whole time about taking the money so I pretended to but just returned the money after the trip with thanks for the generous thought but that I simply didn’t spend anything on the trip to warrant using his money. He was insulted but had to pretend that he wasn’t and let it pass. It wasn’t perfect because he still got the feeling that I would have accepted it even though I didn’t.

    Therein lay the biggest reason that whole situation was so dodgy: the fact that I had to pretend that I would have accepted it to smooth the situation over to preserve the peace and probably my job was because of our power dynamic. That should never have happened.

    I withdrew from the office conversations quite a bit after that and was very careful about anything I said or shared so as not to give any openings for that to happen again. Because he was a web snoop – I’ve never yet opened a public web profile, I never opened a Facebook account while I was working there. I didn’t start a LinkedIn account until I was almost gone from there.

    While he never made any real advances, that initial situation was representative of his true personality: if you didn’t give him what he wanted – unlimited access to your personal life, he would punish you personally and professionally. Noticeably, during the period I was distancing myself, he didn’t pay any attention to concerns about a coworker who didn’t do any work, but the moment he caught wind of that coworker hitting on me …..

    His games of favoritism played out in cycles over the years in increasingly unhealthy ways and made me very grateful I’d kept myself apart from it from the beginning. As it was, that was a horribly creepy working relationship.

  34. Min*

    I am so confused by all of the people who see a victim here. I’ve gone back and re-read the letter multiple times trying to see what I’m missing because I don’t read a single thing that implies the OP feels harrassed or victimized.

    Quite the opposite, actually – she doesn’t feel awkward around him, she feels they get along well, and she sees no problem with accepting the gifts (which are things that she specifically likes and wants). The only reason she appears to be questioning the situation is because her friends don’t think it is appropriate for her to accept the gifts.

    So where on earth is the poor, harrassed, vicitmized female here and why are so many of the commenters insisting on turning her into one?? I am quite honestly baffled.

    1. Amouse*

      Me too quite honestly. A few possibilites I can see are maybe pople who see that have been in a similar situation and they felt victimized so they are seeing it through the lense of their own experience or that the surface context, i.e older married man in position of power gives younger co-worker gifts, and they are commenting on the broader stereotypes of the situation without allowing for the individual variation in this specific case, ie., that this OP doesn’t feel victimized and all else you summarized above.

      To me it victimizes her far more to say she’s powerless in the situation and that there is nothing she can do. Even if she had given a clear assertive “no” to the gifts, she could still take action against him if it continued but based on her letter, you’re absolutely right that this is nowhere near that point. Maybe one person in this entire thread that I can think of said it was her fault this was happening and that her boss was not to blame, so how she’s consider a “victim” or how this is possibly “victim-blaming” baffles me as well Min.

      1. Min*

        To me it victimizes her far more to say she’s powerless in the situation and that there is nothing she can do.
        Yes! This, exactly!

        1. Chinook*

          A victim is someone who has has something done to them against their will. She doesn’t state that she doesn’t want the gifts. If she did, regardless of whether she saoid no, she could be considered a victim. Instead, she seems to want the gifts without the attention ( or that she likes the attentin too and doesn’t see where it could lead). That is most definitely not a victim.

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