how to deal with a coworker who has a crush on you

It’s Valentine’s Day, and at Ask a Manager, that means a full day of questions about workplace romance, as well as our speciality: creepy, inappropriate coworker behavior. Here’s the first one (of six!).

A reader writes:

How does one deal with a coworker who you suspect has a crush on you? I won’t detail all of the reasons why, but he will stare intently at me when we pass in the hallway, and he’s said a couple of not-very-appropriate-for-work things to me. Looking back, I realize I should have called him out on the inappropriate remarks, but I was fairly surprised and couldn’t really think how to react in the moment.

I’m married, so I feel it should go without saying that I am Not Interested. I know in the past you’ve advised the direct approach, but it seems like it shouldn’t be necessary for me to march into his office and declare that I have no intention of cheating on my spouse in general or with him in particular. Other than keeping my distance while still being professional, is there anything else I can do?

Well, it’s hard to give a perfect answer without knowing a bit more about what he’s doing, but unless he asks you out or makes some kind of pass at you, it doesn’t sound like there’s a need to directly confront him. Instead, the most graceful way to handle it is to simply set and maintain very clear professional boundaries, making more of a point to do that than you might with a friendly coworker otherwise. There’s no need to announce, “Bob, I am not interested in you, so stop it with the soulful looks.” You can simply maintain appropriate boundaries.

But you should address the inappropriate remarks if they happen again. It’s sometimes hard to do this in the moment if you’re not prepared for it, so you want to have a couple of phrases ready to use. For instance: “That’s inappropriate.” “Hey, I’m not comfortable with that.” “Please don’t say that to me.” “What do you mean by that?”

If it gets to the point where it’s really making you uncomfortable, you might handle it differently — but you don’t mention that that’s the case, so I’m assuming it’s no more than the “I’m the object of a colleague’s crush” discomfort.

{ 97 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    “Bob, I am not interested in you, so stop it with the soulful looks.”

    Cannot stop laughing. Is it wrong that I now want to loudly declare this to every single person with whom I work today? And as no one sees me as anything more than a number crunching extension of my computer anyway would make it extra funny.

      1. Janet*

        Oh Lord, at an older job, I worked with a woman who firmly believed tons of people had crushes on her. She’d say things like “She’s so mean to me because she’s jealous that I’m young and pretty” and “He couldn’t be my manager because he had feelings for me, he was always staring at my breasts, that’s why I got transferred” and “It’s so hard to work here because they don’t take you seriously if you’re not old and fat.” She was something special.

      1. Jamie*

        I didn’t mean it – please don’t complain and get me banned from here. Sadly you guys are my only social group and without you I am on a fast train to becoming Howard Hughes.

        This kind of reminds me of when my youngest was maybe 3rd-4th grade and he came home from school and slammed the door and shouted, ” I AM SO SICK OF PEOPLE FALLING IN LOVE WITH ME!”

        Apparently it was the second little girl to have a crush on him in one school year sent him clean over the edge. He’s always been a little truth screamer.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I nearly spit water all over my keyboard at this mental image. Thanks for the Valentine’s Day giggle!

        2. Jazzy Red*

          I can just see that as a valentine, on red heart shaped paper, with lace trim, in calligraphy. Actually it would be cute to give to your honey.

      2. Anon*

        Haha, this is so cute :). I like this response the best – it’s nice, and not hurtful. And light-hearted, gentle and tactful. If this coworker DID have a crush on you, this might just be a nice ‘heads up’ for them – it’s not a crime to like someone from afar, and maybe they just didn’t realize their emotions were seeping out, so if you say this in a nice, almost joking way, I think they might think twice next time they stare at you ‘intensely’. If they DIDN’T have a crush on you, this is still a nice heads up for them, because maybe… they were just trying to be nice and get to know you better? And this is a (gentle) sign that their behavior is interpreted the wrong way, so they’d get the hint that their doing something unappreciated.

        I’m also generally curious why you think they like you. I’m just asking because people have mistakenly thought I’ve had a crush on them before especially when I was younger, not so much now. But people would think that because I was very nice and warm towards them, I liked them, even though I was like that with everyone I was close to and/or felt comfortable, safe with. Most people who get to know me and have the chance to observe me in multiple settings just realize that this is my personality, but I’ve been surprised when a few people thought I liked them when I was younger. It was really unexpected.

  2. Nameless*

    I get very uncomfortable with women who think we want to bed them at work [all the time]. While I don’t doubt you know when a man is hitting on you or not, sometimes I think you get it wrong. You have every reason to be defensive but coming from a man: unless I explicitly asked you out, I might not be interested for all we know. There is this lady (single) at my work place who is all tense around men, she will get up and leave if she is left with a man only on a table, it really makes me uncomfortable. I am now hesitant to approach her with an honest question. I have a sister and I hate for you to think when I open my mouth I want to holla at you.

    subtle flirtations don’t kill anyone, healthy for workplaces too

    1. Anonymous*

      It someone isn’t comfortable with someone else’s subtle flirtations, and can be considered sexual harassment…

      1. Jen in RO*

        I think that Nameless’s point was that the subtle flirtations sometimes *aren’t* flirtations at all.

      2. Jamie*

        Actually – the bar for sexual harassment is higher than being uncomfortable with subtle flirting. The person who is uncomfortable has to tell the other party to stop. If it persists after they were directly told to stop it may rise to that level, depending on the action.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “If someone isn’t comfortable with someone else’s subtle flirtations, and can be considered sexual harassment…”

        No, it can’t. Sexual harassment must be severe and pervasive. Not “subtle flirtation.”

        1. In-House Counsel*

          It’s actually severe OR pervasive, so if it becomes pervasive (it happens all the time), “subtle flirtation” could violate the law even if it isn’t severe.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I can’t imagine “subtle flirtation” ever rising to the legal level for harassment. What, laughing and telling jokes? Looking interested when someone talks? The occasional “you look nice”? That’s what subtle flirtation is, and that’s not going to be found illegal. Maybe we have different definitions of “subtle”!

          2. In-House Counsel*

            (I hit “submit” too soon.) To be sexual harassment, the flirtation would also have to impact the recipient’s ability to perform his or her job…

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        I understand that people might not be used to this idea, but if we think about it, we can all come up with a few understandable reasons that this may be the case. I often see on this website pleas for people to consider that we all have different lives and pasts, so if we encounter “odd” or “bizarre” behavior, we should consider that there’s a legitimate and real reason someone might be behaving in a way we wouldn’t. I guess I just want to add this plea to that pile. I know a lot of people who are dealing with things that would make them uncomfortable around men for a time, so… let’s just not make any assumptions.

      2. Rana*

        It could very well be religious. Or she may have a history of abuse that makes her uncomfortable in such situations. I don’t see any point in being personally offended by this woman’s actions. (Not to imply that anyone here is, but rather that this is something that’s really only her issue.)

    2. Anonymous*

      maybe it’s against her religion? or something happened to her and shes uncomfortable being around a man alone? but there are totally people who think everyone is ~all up on them~ and that’s annoying.

    3. Anon*

      Nameless: I agree with you – this person could be reading this all wrong. I’m finding this a bit frustrating. I will now get flamed and someone will say, “You don’t know what she has experienced in the past to make her feel uncomfortable!” That’s right – I don’t – and neither does this poor guy. How is anyone supposed to know – and should we all walk around on egg shells with everyone we come across, for fear we may inadvertently make someone uncomfortable? Outside of not doing and saying stupid, insensitive things, what else can we do to make sure no one we come across is ever made to feel uncomfortable?

      1. KellyK*

        Um…if they ask you not to do something, because it’s making them uncomfortable, stop. And avoid touching and/or staring at coworkers.

        I find it frustrating that people jump straight to “She’s interpreting it wrong.” Without any idea what the guy has said or done, you assume that he’s the innocent “poor guy” and she’s arrogant or looking for something to get upset over.

        Could she be wrong? Sure, he may not have a crush on her. Is he acting inappropriately based on what she’s said (the staring and inappropriate remarks)? Also yes.

        1. Jen in RO*

          Anon (or the OP) didn’t say mention anyone asking anyone else to be left alone. He/She only said that, *before* someone says something, there is no way to know what makes other people uncomfortable. Something innocent, like a teddy bear, could be a trigger for a rape victim – how is a regular person supposed to know that?

          1. KellyK*

            Anon is describing the guy in the original letter as “the poor guy” and assuming the OP is misinterpreting his stares and inappropriate comments, and is equating “Don’t stare,” and “Don’t make inappropriate comments” to “Walk on eggshells forever and be expected to read people’s minds and know in advance what would upset them.”

            Pretty much no matter *what* behavior a woman describes as uncomfortable or inappropriate, there will be people lined up to tell her that she’s imagining it or misinterpreting it, and that she’s being unfair to all men by making them have to walk on eggshells and not be able to be friendly.

            I agree that we shouldn’t expect people to read our minds, and if someone does something that bothers you, you need to politely tell them to knock it off. I just get tired of the “poor innocent guy and overreacting woman” trope being trotted out again.

        2. Jamie*

          There are a million reasons people can stare, and even lots of reasons people may make inappropriate comments (I’ve certainly had them made to me in a non-flirting way…more as they forgot to whom they were speaking. But we can only go by the OP’s letter and we can’t just assume unstated facts. He said inappropriate things and stares – that would make many people uncomfortable.

          Funny thing about staring – my husband was kinda staring in my direction the other night and I misinterpreted that. In my lame attempt to be playful I asked him if he was staring at me because he was wondering how I can be so smart and yet so beautiful at the same time.

          Without missing a beat in total (annoying) honestly he said he was thinking about how the kid’s tub needs to be re-caulked and he should call the SOB who just remodeled the bathroom to fix his crappy caulk job, but he’ll just do it himself.

          Nothing makes a girl swoon like anger at a contractor and a discussion of bathtub sealant.

          So sometimes when people are staring it’s totally not for the reason you may think, but we can’t assume that about the OP.

          1. K*

            Also, in the workplace, it’s not appropriate to stare at your co-workers regardless of the reason for it. I mean, I’m not saying anyone should be drawn and quartered for it, but a “cut it out” is reasonable even if it wasn’t intentional.

          2. Job seeker*

            This is so funny Jamie. That sweet romantic man. Sounds like our house. Honestly, I think this OP should just talk a lot about her husband. Get gushy and brag on her husband. Go overboard and this person will get the message loud and clear. I am not available.

            1. Jamie*

              Ha – sweet romantic husband forgot Valentine’s Day but when we got back from picking up our daughter from class piled by our front door was a pink teddy bear, a single rose, and TWO heart shaped boxes of candy. My daughter’s name was on the bag it no note – she’s going crazy trying to figure out who left them since she isn’t dating anyone and has no idea.

              Not making my husband look good, when an unknown stranger can show you up…:)

      2. fposte*

        You’re imagining a fight here just as much as your theoretical woman is imagining a crush.

        You stick to basic rules of behavior for both sexes–don’t talk about their body parts or their sex lives, stay a reasonable distance away from them when they’re talking, and unless you know them very well limit compliments to work matters and no touching.

      3. Schnauz*

        I think I see what you’re saying, but I think you’re looking at it slightly off key. In the case of the woman who is uncomfortable with men only, of course there is no way for people to know what her issue is if she’s not sharing. In fact, I would guess if her issue is with past abuse, then she is probably doing the most professional thing she can. She is not comfortable, so instead of asking them to accomodate her, she is moving away. However, now the men aren’t sure what’s going on and it’s not their fault, but they need to not take it personally. No one is asking anyone to be perfect, you can only act on the information you have at any given time.
        Here’s what you do. #1 – evaluate your actions. Did you act professionally and reasonably? In the case of the woman above – did you sit a reasonable (US mores) distance away or did you crowd her? #2 – If yes to #1, then you’re in the clear and don’t take it personally. You can only control your own actions, so try to not internalize guilt or ascribe motivations onto others when you don’t know the truth. And if it bothers you that much, then consider approaching someone to ask what’s going on – but only if it’s because you have a genuine desire to help rather than prurient interest.

    4. VintageLydia*

      Thinking someone has a crush on you with staring and inappropriate comments (and more!) as evidence is hardly an over reaction. Your coworker’s behavior is odd, but has nothing to with the OP’s situation. Why do you think it does?

    5. MB*

      Wait – how are subtle flirtations “healthy for workplaces”?? I agree that there are people who can misconstrue genuine friendliness as a come-on, but work is meant to be a professional place, so I’m dying to know how flirting can be healthy in that setting.

    6. OP*

      I totally understand your perspective. Most of the technical staff at my workplace are men, and our office culture involves a fair amount of joking around, and yes, sometimes mild flirting. I am okay with all of that, and I certainly participate in the camaraderie/mild flirting. Again, without going into specific details, the things this coworker has said to me aren’t on the same level of the normal teasing/joking around that happens at my office. I certainly don’t think all of my male colleagues have crushes on me, and I really hope they don’t think I have a crush on them because of the office culture. That would be weird.

  3. Dennis*

    As a man working with mostly women, I am automatically thinking just because a man looks at you doesn’t mean he wants to date you.

    On the other hand I think the inappropriate comments have to stop. Good advice on shutting those down.

    1. fposte*

      The fact that the stares are “in the hallway” are significant to me, because in general it takes a fair amount of work to stare at somebody when you’re passing through a corridor. (Plus they’re from the same guy who’s making inappropriate comments, so it’s not exactly a leap.)

      However, it’s a lot easier to shut down a comment then a looking at me funny, as every parent knows, so it’s simplest to stick to the comment.

      1. Nichole*

        I’ve found “can I help you with something?” to be an immediate shutdown of starers. Your staring-is-harder-in-hallways comment made me wonder if this approach would work on a moving target. After much deliberation, I decided it would work just as well if not better, at least in theory. If he didn’t intend to stare, he has now been stopped in his tracks, his day was interrupted, and he’s been notified that he’s staring. If he did intend to stare, control of the situation is now back with the OP.

      2. OP*

        Exactly. I actually brushed it off for a while until I started thinking about the lack of eye contact made when I pass other coworkers in the hall. We have a small office, so people are walking by others all the time, so it’s not the type of place where one smiles/nods in passing.

  4. De Minimis*

    Nothing like a spammer on Valentine’s Day….

    To me a subtle flirtation would just be going out of your way to stop by a co-worker’s office to say hello or something. It quits being subtle when something is being said/done that an onlooker would think was inappropriate.

    There was a guy here who would “invite himself” to join a group of female employees who walked together at lunchtime, and kept asking them weird questions about where they lived. He was eventually let go, although I don’t know if that was the sole reason, but people still talk about him as “that weird stalker guy.”

      1. OP*

        Oh, you’re referring to a comment Alison deleted. I was feeling defensive after some of the above accusations. Apologies!!

    1. Josh S*

      I thought it might have been spam because of the generally vague nature of the comment — who leaves a comment just to say “I may have to read this blog more”??) — but it was subtle enough (and not entirely distracting) that I gave the person the benefit of the doubt.

      1. fposte*

        I was reading a blog recently and *all* the comments were those nonspecific spammer comments. It was like watching a genre collection.

        1. Jamie*

          I am really amazing sometimes of how lame a lot of comment sections are. Even on sites/articles which I find interesting and thought provoking and I think there should be a lot of discussion and alternate points of view and it’s all either spam or a bunch of people bickering in text speak…or usually a combination.

          You would think there would be more intelligent discourse out there. So I am really grateful Alison is as diligent as she is keeping the spam out of here – because once it takes hold it can drive out legitimate commenting pretty quickly.

          1. Your Mileage May Vary*

            When I send people to this blog, I always tell them to read the comments. It is so refreshing to have reasonable people debating different points-of-view instead of posting things like “FIRST!!” (which I’ve never figured out the point of).

            So, yes, thank you to Alison!

            1. Layla*

              Yes !
              And totally worth abandoning my rss reader by clicking thru to the comments
              Not sure if the ads pay per impression , if so good effect / side effect !

          2. Rana*

            Moderation is crucial, at least for setting a minimum expectation of civility, in my experience. If you want good conversation, not just civil conversation, then there needs to be someone – usually the blog owner, but sometimes a group of regulars who understand and reflect the blog’s “culture” – who actively participates in that conversation, tells people when to knock it off, and generally acts as a good and alert host.

            It’s the sites without moderation, and which have that feeling of nobody’s minding the store, where things get ugly.

            1. Rana*

              So here I think a huge amount of credit goes to Alison for making it clear what sort of community she wants for her blog, and calling people to task when they get into dangerous territory, and to the regulars here who help encourage good behavior (by modeling it themselves) and discourage bad behavior (by calling it out without turning things into flame wars) when Alison’s not there.

              Y’all are great at this, in other words!

      2. Elizabeth*

        Well, the “name” of the commenter (which I think was blue, meaning it was a link) from the comment I saw was something like “fix your credit card debt in ten minutes” rather than something like “Josh S” or “CoffeeLover.” That’s a pretty common tactic in comment spam on blogs – leave a contentless-but-innocuous comment, but link your username to whatever enterprise you’re advertising.

  5. Nikki J.*

    Women are interesting. Their level of singleness (or not singleness) dictates how they perceive actions of someone who may or may not have a “crush” on them. Often the married, or something like it, ladies find gestures wrong, assuming, and inappropriate. They label the guy/girl as creepy and out of line. Not all men are out to date, hook-up or make babies with you. Some people are just on another level socially, have cultural differences they are learning or aren’t aware of what their face looks like. Stop assuming the worst, especially if you aren’t going to confront it ladies.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      Ya I’ve noticed this. Coming from a single gal, I go through life being blissfully ignorant of any crushes. Unless a man comes right out and declares his undying love for me, I will feign ignorance and assume he’s not interested. Also, a lot of people consider me a flirt when I’m honestly just trying to be friendly. I think peoples ideas of what flirting is can be really broad. Unless he’s full blown hitting on you (making inappropriate comments about your appearance or meeting up after work for some woopie) I would just ignore it. Oh and to me inappropriate appearance remarks are things like “nice legs” or “nice bonkers,” and not “nice blazer.”

      1. CoffeeLover*

        Also AAM, when I first tried to post this it said I couldn’t because my comment “appeared to be spam.” I posted it again and it worked, but just thought I would let you know…

    2. Xay*

      Speak for yourself.

      Work crushes happen. Inappropriate behavior (by men AND women) happens at work. I’m fortunate because I have never been the target of that behavior, but I have certainly witnessed it.

      I’m tired of people making excuses for inappropriate behavior. Everyone comes from different social/ethnic/cultural backgrounds and experiences, but when you are at work, you are there to work. If you can’t work with someone without behaving inappropriately or making your coworkers uncomfortable, you don’t get a free pass because of your background.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        I think the problem here is that, culture aside, some people look into things more than others. Like I said above, I’ve had many situations where other women have construed my interaction with a man as flirting. The fact of the matter is I was just being friendly and talking to the guy the same way I would a girl. No, we shouldn’t be acting inappropriately at the office. And yes, we are there primarily to work. But when you work with someone regularly, it’s ridiculous to be walking on eggshells the whole time so you don’t accidentally make them feel uncomfortable for looking at them too long or something like that. Part of it is being aware of how you’re behaving, but another part is developing a thicker skin. As far as I’m concerned, you leave your sex at the door. I completely forget whether I’m talking to a man or a women most of the time. This means a)I’m not flirting and b)I’m not picking up misconstrued signs that the other party is flirting c)I don’t give a damn if they’re flirting because I’m not interested, and until they “make a move” I don’t care because most people never do (especially if you or they are married).

        This of course does not apply to blatant inappropriate behavior as with case of the wandering-hands doctor in the newer post.

        1. Jen in RO*

          This pretty much reflects my thoughts on this issue. We don’t know exactly what the OP’s coworker is doing and inappropriate remarks do need to rebuffed, but I think there’s a lot of exaggerations in the comments today. You just can’t know if something that seems harmless to you is making a coworker uncomfortable. Like CoffeeLover also said, I never know that someone is flirting unless they make it really, really obvious (and maybe not even then). So, if a coworker is making you uncomfortable, either talk to him/her or ignore it… but don’t expect him/her to read your mind!

          1. Anonymous*

            Had someone ask me out once, who was offended when I turned him down. Said he wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t flirting with him. Astonished, I asked how I’d flirted. “You said hello!” Alrighty then… Took my business elsewhere.

    3. Anon*

      Thanks Nikki! I don’t like where this is going. I see innocent people getting in trouble at work over someone misinterpreting and overreacting to things.

      1. OP*

        The last thing I want is for this to become some huge issue at work. I just am trying to handle it professionally while maintaining boundaries.

    4. TychaBrahe*

      Personally, I remember being very single and very innocent as in, “Oh, he couldn’t possibly mean anything untoward with that comment (or that one, or that one) because he’s a married man.” And that naive delusion was shattered when I took something down to his office and found myself being embraced and kissed.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, in my experience, it’s far more common for people to think “Oh, he can’t possibly mean anything by that” when in fact he does (as opposed to thinking someone is interested when they’re not).

      2. jmkenrick*

        Agreed. The issue is here is the price for assuming the worst (being more distant, setting boundaries) is relatively low, while the price for assuming the best (suddenly discovering that a man believes you reciprocate his feelings, or him stepping up his advances) is a higher.

      3. Mel R*

        “Oh, he’s just being fatherly! After all, I live with his daughter, she’s a year older than me, and he’s our landlord.” And then he grabbed me and stuck his tongue down my throat. :-/

      1. fposte*

        And, I think, inaccurate. Ask any, say, barista or bartender how many men have been convinced that a woman in that position is into them merely because she’s doing her job.

  6. Amanda*

    I don’t see what being married has to do with it. Inappropriate comments are inappropriate, whether the person they are being directed at is married or single.

      1. some1*

        Added: I get that it seems more bold for someone to hit on an OP, especially if she wears a wedding ring, but I am a woman & I haven’t been in a serious relationship in a long time. That doesn’t mean it’s ok for my co-workers to hit on me because nobody put a ring on it.

    1. Rana*

      I think the feeling is that it’s doubly inappropriate to hit on a married person at work.

      If you hit on a single person, you’re simply being unprofessional (at minimum – I’m thinking flirtation level stuff, not stalking or touching or making crude remarks).

      If you hit on a married person, you being unprofessional and sending the message that you think they are the kind of person open to cheating on their spouse. Ugh.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on the context, of course, but it can be useful in forcing people to have to spell out exactly what they’re hinting at or (more commonly) skulk away in shame.

  7. Linda*

    I have used the following,” I’m pretty sure my husband wouldn’t like it if he knew you said that to me.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Maybe it’s a minor quibble, but one issue I’ve always had with that type of statement is that it puts the responsibility for objecting all on your husband. You’ don’t like it, either — and you also wouldn’t like it if you were single (presumably).

      1. KellyK*

        Yeah, I don’t like that line either, for the same reasons. It would feel too much like hiding behind him. (I’m a big girl, and I can police my boundaries all on my own without my husband to defend me.) It also gives the impression that single women are “up for grabs” and that being “taken” is the only valid objection to being flirted with.

        But, it is a minor quibble, and if it’s the first thing that pops out of your mouth to let the guy know it’s inappropriate and you don’t appreciate it, it’s much better than saying nothing.

        1. some1*

          & if God forbid the OP got divorced, she’s not rebounding with this guy. I remember when I broke up with my first long-term BF, and the first time I went to a part without him, people kept asking where he was. When I told two of the guys that we’d broke up, they both said something to the effect of: “In that case, let’s go out/can I call you/you should page me sometime (yes, it was that long ago)”. Not, “Would you *like* to go out now that you’re available”, they just assumed available = willing

      2. Mel R*

        Not to mention that I’ve seen that sort of line interpreted as “He wouldn’t like it, but I think it’s awesome, keep talking like that.”

  8. Malissa*

    First thing, just because a person is married, doesn’t automatically meant they aren’t interested. Oh how I wish this wasn’t true. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of posts today to prove this point.
    If this truly is a crush, chances are it will eventually go away on it’s own. How many posters here that they were going to marry on of the members of New Kids on The Block? Crushes eventually go away. So ignoring it may be the way to go.

    1. Rana*

      True, but it’s sort of insulting to have someone assume that you’re the sort of person who’d cheat on your spouse, regardless of whether you would or not.

  9. ThursdaysGeek*

    In terms of staring (but not in the workplace), I once had a guy staring at me when he first met me. We ended up being friends and then marrying, but I also found out that he wasn’t staring at me at all. He has a short attention span and was not paying attention to the people or conversation, and his head just happened to be facing me.

    Because of that, I ignore most staring, knowing that it very likely isn’t about me at all.

    1. All Eyes*

      I accidentally stare at people sometimes because of my bad eyesight. It didn’t used to be this bad, but now I have a cataract in one eye (my doctor wants to wait until it gets worse and the other catches up before operating) and if I’m out of my department and wandering around at work, I’m likely to stare just because I’m trying hard to figure out if I know the person I’m looking at or not. I’ve always been very proud (probably too proud) of my ability to remember names and faces, and it KILLS me to not be able to recognize people at 30 paces anymore. I can either accidentally stare at people I don’t know or accidentally fail to recognize someone I do know–so I usually choose the former. :-)

      FWIW, 10 or 15 years ago I knew a guy who had the exact same problem. I thought he was SO rude, because I had been introduced to him two or three times, and yet every time I passed him I’d say hi and he wouldn’t know who I was. Finally it happened when I was walking with someone else who had known him a long time, and when I made a snarky remark about how he couldn’t ever remember my name, they told me the situation.

      Please note that I’m not saying that this is happening with the OP–the inappropriate remarks are certainly not because of impaired vision.

  10. AdAgencyChick*

    (This assumes the OP is not misinterpreting things, and the comments from the coworker are actually inappropriate.)

    I think it’s good to have a stock response for inappropriate comments, just because it’s so easy to get taken aback by them. I know when someone says something totally off-base or invasive to me, I can get caught off guard and not know what to say. (Sadly, I will never be one of those super-witty people who can manufacture a devastating comeback on command. Alas.) Having a stock answer ready means that even if you’re momentarily stunned, you have *something* to say. Mine is “Did you just say that out loud?”

    1. OP*

      That’s a really good one. My response to the latest inappropriate comment was, “Where the Hell did you hear that?” He was quoting some factoid about sexuality. Yeah.

  11. Lulu*

    We were (un)fortunate enough at one place I worked to have to go through some really goofy harassment training, which provided a couple of phrases for us to both joke about but also pull out when conversation crossed someone’s comfort zone. They were silly enough that no one sounded overly aggrieved (i.e. that someone was being intentionally forward when they were most likely just not thinking), but still indicated that the topic needed to change immediately. Similar to just saying “whoa… TMI!” I suppose it depends on the environment and individuals involved how well this would work elsewhere.

    I’ve worked with enough people with limited concepts of comment appropriateness that I tend to assume weird comments don’t mean much more than cluelessness on the part of the speaker, but that doesn’t mean I want to put up with it, either. I’d hope just responding to it in a WTH way would make it clear you weren’t interested, and hopefully make him less likely to… overshare, if he really does fancy you.

    1. JS TBL*

      We had those several years ago – Red Light, Yellow Light, Green light – like the game kids play? Some in my office used them to the extreme – Red Light. Red Light Ran. Camera got the tag. Oh no SEMI TRUCK!

      These (and I) were the ones who remarked that we had to go to “Sexual Harassment Training” because apparently we still weren’t doing it right. You get your laughs where you can.

      Seriously OP, plan it out, have responses ready for a variety of statements he might make, situations you might be in. Hopefully you will never need them, but preparation is key to confidence. Be strong.

  12. Nya*

    Had the same thing happen to me except a little more annoying. A male high up made it his part-time job of following me around like Dennis The Menace ducking around corner, patroling up and down the isle past my desk every morning, invading department only functions, and attempting to initiating unauthorized monitoring of my team just to try to get close to me! I am very direct but in a professional environment I had to play it save and non-verbally make it clear that I was at the time, HAPPILY MARRIED!!!! Photos of my hubby and me embrassing, my kids photos – the whole shebang and this numbskull would not be deterred! The creepiest thing is that he NEVER and we NEVER, EVER had a conversation or anything of the sort for him to even get a WRONG idea! What an idiot. I confided in an older female co-worker that claimed to be a christian and she just told me that I was “Over-reacting a little and….well…that’s how men are…take it as flattery and everything will blow over” even though I was at the brink of tears while sharing this with her. She even blew off the fact that he pops up EVERY where I AM! And manipulated his authority as a Quality Control expert to go ROGUE in order to to infiltrate my department. When he manipulated my team leader into agreeing that he needs to sit with someone to know our processes, he announced thaqt he wants to sit with…wait for it…wait for it…ME! I was thinking to my self during this “HELL-2-THE-NO YOU’RE SITTING WITH ME TOMORROW!!!” as soon as he left I marched to my boss and TOLD him that I’ve talked to , and another co-worker volunteered for the shadowing session who is a very capable and more qualified candidate who everyone goes to for instruction would step in. The next day, here come The Grim Reaper, skulking down my isle beelining toward my desk trying to be slick and debonair and speaking SEDUCTIVELY (???) Homeboy forgot he was at work for real. I immediately informed him that plans changed and he can sit with “HIM…OVER THERE—>” sat back down and watched him smoothly walk away. He didn’t even say something like, “What?, oh, ok…well…he’s over there you say???” NOPE. He knew I was on to him so he didn’t say anything. BUSTED! After that he exhibited some tom foolery behavior that was purely immature, nonsensical, and crazy! like following me closely down the hall way and having a buck-eyed rapist facial expression on his face!. I could have roundhouse kicked him if I wasn’t a lady! Finally, I got so fed up and tired of the following, stalking, skulking and psychotic antics that I told the christian co-worker that I’m reporting him to Human Resosources the next day and what did she say??? “Don’t get me involved!” like a paranoid crackhead. I was sooo hurt she would say that because she and some other single older women in the office complained about a dirty old man that was part of the buildings maintenance department and got him reassigned! I was highly pissed and wanted to let her have it with both barrels at the double standard. And this is why although I’m a female, I CAN’T STAND desperate older women in the office! The are always gossiping, getting in young folks business, judging us, watching us, sizing us up and getting vendictive and catty! I told her I didn’t care about going at it alone because I know what proper behavior looks like and he’s crossed the line. So, I put on my big girl boots and did it. He didn’t get fired (i didn’t want that anyway) to my surprise, just a stern warning to keep his distance and avoid me because my team leader was called in an revealed that he had NO BUSINESS or authority to “Monitor” our department so he was totally BUSTED! Later the desperate co-worker comes and ask me with her tail between her legs if i got justice. I was soooo pissed off that I was very curt and told her that he was busted and the H.R. rep was upset with me for not reporting sooner. Then she gets all sad and guilty and asserts that she felt that she didn’t see the antics PERSONALLY even though it didn’t matter, if you have confided with ANYONE about a harassment and confided details about it, you can provide some vital insight that would help them. She’s confessed before that she’s a doormat and a spineless mermaid that can’t handle pressure before anyway so surprise!, surprise! Bottom line: Human Resources is there for a reason! Use it and if no one wants to back you up, DO IT ANYWAY.

  13. kitten*

    know how you feel i also a married woman who had worked with this man for a few years he is in a relationship and a younger man .always just be friendely to me until i lost a lot of weight for 10 months he was following me around everywhere i say friends only he get mad turned up at the club as he watched all my moves on facebook. so attracted to me he was terrified of me and couldnt be around me much hes finally got the hint but now avoids me .i ended up getting mad at him and i got into trouble at work .

  14. Jay*

    I’m kind of in the same boat and need opinions please! I am an EMT, and at my station the helicopter is also stationed there with the medic and nurse. So I did a fly along because that’s my dream job and I wanted to see if I would enjoy it. The medic had the idea to help me start working out. It was really late. He told me that I wouldn’t be as sore if I got a massage. So in my head I figured maybe a rub of my neck, but he started running everywhere. The next couple of days he had been texting me very flirtatious messages. I’m trying not to be mean considering I have to see him all the time and he is also the supervisor over the EMS helicopter which is my future dream job. I am married and so is he. What are something’s I can do or say to let him down easy without him getting upset with me?

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