I have an inappropriate coworker and our mothers are friends

A reader writes:

Last year, a family moved onto my street last year — a woman and her daughter, “Alice.” The mother and my mother are friendly and generally do neighborly things like gardening together, occasionally doing grocery trips, etc. Alice and I both attend university in different cities, so we hadn’t met until this summer, when we’re both home from school.

During the summer and for a bit of the fall season, I work as an intern at a medium-sized company. I guess my mom mentioned this in passing to Alice’s mom, and she encouraged her daughter to apply if they were hiring more interns. Alice happened to make it through the hiring process and while she wasn’t placed in my department, she did end up being part of my team for a summer project the company was undertaking.

Since we are neighbors, Alice often comes to me to talk or for advice, which I normally wouldn’t mind if her topics weren’t so inappropriate. For starters, she often makes remarks about our team lead (who is also my department manager) like, “Oh he’s so attractive” and “His girlfriend is super lucky.” At first, I sort of understood this since the manager is one of the younger employees here, and a lot of previous interns have had crushes on him.

But as time went on, Alice’s comments became increasingly invasive and at one point, when we were on lunch break, she confided in me with way too many details a sexual fantasy she about the manager! It’s getting to a point where, despite my efforts, 50% of our interactions somehow lead back to the manager. There is another intern on the team who kind of knows about Alice but thinks that she only has a crush, since he isn’t always around for her rants.

Naturally, this is something I am not at all comfortable with, especially since she will blatantly approach me in the workplace to talk about it. I don’t want to get in trouble for this sort of talk in the office, and I also don’t want to associate with her on a personal basis. I’ve tried explaining that this is not something she should be sharing with me, as well as the fact that the manager is engaged. I tried avoiding having lunch with her one-on-one for a while until my mom mentioned that Alice had complained to her mom about my “coldness.”

I don’t really know how to get away from this or make her stop, especially since we share a commute ride home (50 minutes!) and live on the same street. I don’t want to embarrass her or affect the relationship between our moms, but her comments are really starting to dig into my own work time (since she always get sidetracked when we’re working on the project). I also don’t feel comfortable approaching the manager about his since he is the topic of the problem. I have considered talking to Alice’s mom, but telling someone that their daughter needs to understand sexual boundaries is not a conversation I have ever wanted to have. What should I do?

Yeah, I wouldn’t talk to Alice’s mom — that would be pulling her into a situation that she doesn’t really belong in.

Instead, it sounds like you need to be clearer with Alice. The next time she starts up about your manager, say this: “I don’t want to hear this. Please do not talk to me about this again.”

That’s probably going to feel a little rude to you because it’s so blunt. But the thing is, the softer approaches you’ve taken haven’t work, which means that you need to get much more direct. If it feels rude, keep in mind that Alice is the one being rude here, by ignoring the previous times you’ve asked her to stop. She’s forcing you into being more blunt because she’s ignoring your more diplomatic attempts.

If she continues after you say that, say this: “I’ve asked you very clearly not to discuss this with me. Is that something you can do?”

If she keeps it up, it would be perfectly appropriate for you to escalate this to her manager, your manager, or HR; the fact that you’re being subjected to sexualized conversation that you’ve made clear is unwelcome is usually something they’d want to know about and put a stop to. If you want, you could give Alice a heads-up first — as in, “Look, I’ve asked you numerous times to cut this out. I’m at the point where I’m going to need to talk to HR/Jane/Fergus if you don’t respect that. I really hope you don’t put me in that position, but I’m at a loss about how else to get you to stop this.”

Also, if you’re don’t enjoy commuting with her (and it sure sounds like you don’t), you’re allowed to stop doing that! I can’t tell if you’re carpooling or sharing public transportation together, but if you’re carpooling, tell her that you want to start driving by yourself. (You can say that want the flexibility to meet up with friends or run errands after work.) If you’re taking public transportation and there’s an option that gets you on a separate train/bus/subway if you just wait a few minutes longer or leave a few minutes earlier, do that.

You also don’t need to resume having lunch with her just because your mom mentioned that Alice told her mom you were being cold. The solution there is to either do nothing with that info and continue what you were already doing (not eating lunch with Alice) or to say to your mom, “Yep, she’s been making me really uncomfortable at work and I decided to stop eating with her.” If your mom tries to intervene because of her relationship with Alice’s mom, it’s entirely reasonable for you to tell her, “Thanks, Mom, but I’ve got this.”

If Alice were a man telling you about his sex dreams about a female coworker, I bet you’d more clearly see this as creepiness and sexual harassment. You really, really don’t need to subject yourself to that just because your mothers are friends.

{ 88 comments… read them below }

  1. addlady*

    Your coworker has creepiness issues x1000. Definitely tell her to knock it off, loud and clear.

  2. Heather*

    Is your coworker overly familiar with everyone, or is this because your mothers are friends?

    1. Heather*

      I should have added this. The reason I ask is because it doesn’t sound like she has many people to share those thoughts with. She may have trouble making friends, or think that your mothers being friends makes you friends.

      1. motherofdragons*

        This could be the case, but whether Alice has 0 friends or 1,000, discussing sexual fantasies about a manager with another coworker *in the workplace* is inappropriate. I’m hoping that OP speaking up and holding firm boundaries sends Alice this message, but I also worry that if she doesn’t see this behavior as problematic in the first place, she may just find another coworker friend and do the same thing.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yeah, why can’t the Op just plain tell her that? She clearly doesn’t know and is still in some sort of high school mindset like a teenager crushing on their teacher.

  3. Artemesia*

    Great advice. OP you are a grownup. Your Mom’s friendship is irrelevant and if your Mom pressures you again, you need to make it clear that a boundary has been crossed as Alison suggests. People who don’t take the hint need to be told bluntly to cut it out. And stop commuting with this parasite if you can manage it.

    1. Dawn*

      OP have you told your mom straight up what’s going on with Alice, as in “Mom, Alice has told me numerous times in intense, graphic detail how much she really wants to bang Hot, Engaged Manager and she will NOT stop no matter how many times I tell her clearly to stop”? Cause I feel like at that point your mom would probably go “Oh OK that’s different…” At least I hope she would!

      1. fposte*

        I would lean away from that, actually–I’d want Mom to accept it’s my call to negotiate my work relationships rather than accepting it only if she liked my justification. Plus she’ll tell Alice’s mother for sure.

        1. themmases*


          Also I just really wouldn’t want to discuss this with my mom. The OP is already being subjected to creepy and unwanted sexual talk… It doesn’t solve their problem to get manipulated into more.

        2. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Ah, good points. What I had picked up from the phrasing, though, in the letter was more like ma conversationally passing on info rather than pressuring OP to be nicer. I do trust my kid to handle his relationships and will even more so when he is older, but, I also figure I’m capable of being discrete and a sounding board for him. I don’t discuss his personal life with others.

        3. JessaB*

          I would also lean away from that, especially since you cannot take it back and if mom is likely to tell coworker’s mom, you have a huge problem there that you don’t need. Like fposte says there’s no way to put that horse back in the barn once it’s out there.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            I don’t see anything wrong with Ops mom telling the other mom. Sounds like they’re all chummy and neighborly so why do they all need to be cryptic? Just put it out there already.

        4. Turtle Candle*

          I think this really depends on the LW’s relationship with their mother. If it’s usually good and mom doesn’t usually meddle, I don’t think there’s any harm in a “ma, here’s what’s going on.” (I’d probably do that because my relationship with my mother is such that I could go “mom, listen to this, wtf!” knowing that she would go “wtf!” too but would not talk to Alice’s mom about it, spread it around, or try to pressure me to take any given course of action.) If there’s any concern that mom will take it as an invitation to a referendum on the Issue of Alice, or that she might run back to Alice’s mom with a “guess what I heard!” or etc, though, yeah, I’d definitely steer clear.

          1. AnonInSC*

            I agree. With my mother, I could tell her what was going on and she’d be in total agreement with me. And not go blabbing to the other mom and make my life difficult. However, not all parents are like that. I trust the LW knows if it would backfire on her!

            1. Dawn*

              Yeah that’s where I was coming from in suggesting that. I know with my mom that if I laid it all out she’d go “Oh my GOD!” and we’d never speak of Alice again.

          2. sara*

            I agree. I would not be able to resist telling this story to my mom because we are huge gossips with each other. :) But I know not everyone has that kind of vibe with their parents.

      2. Doodle*

        This. I get why you probably didn’t say this initially — it’s awkward, your moms are friends and you wanted to deal with it yourself, etc. But now that you’re getting blowback from your mom, you should tell her the full details of what’s going on.

      3. Observer*

        I would hope so too. The reason I don’t suggest it is that right now Alice’s mom seems to have gotten the parents involved. And, that generally needs to stop at about the point where kids get out of high school (if not sooner.)

        If Mom had said “Alice seems like such a nice girl, and her Mom is a doll. Why don’t you invite her over?” or whatever, that would be a time to say “Don’t even mention it again. ” But, I really wouldn’t want this to be situation where the parents are dealing with this.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “Mom, Alice is NOT her mother. At all. Let’s just let it go at that.”

      4. Dynamic Beige*

        I vote for this. Provided, of course, that OP’s mom also isn’t an over-sharer and will keep that information to herself so it doesn’t devolve into a whole “My daughter said that…”/”*My* daughter would *never* do that! How dare you!” thing.

      5. themmases*

        I really disagree. The OP doesn’t need their mom’s blessing to stop associating with Alice. IMO it puts their mom in an awkward position and really, it gains them nothing.

        Lots of people look at someone like Alice, behaving inappropriately, and even if they don’t want to excuse the behavior exactly, they do want to rationalize it away. Find a sympathetic reason like shyness or an illness. Speculate about the person’s thought processes and why the behavior seems OK to *them*, even though it doesn’t really change the problem or the solution. It happens in these threads daily. My own mom is like that.

        Add in the fact that this is the mom’s friend and neighbor, and lots of people would be highly motivated to basically minimize the problem, even if that’s not what they mean to do. It’s basically the same as what the OP is doing, feeling like they can’t act or need to act differently because of a second- or third-hand connection. If I were the OP I’d keep the details away from mom unless pushed, and find someone else to confide in if I just needed to talk about it.

        1. Biff*

          She might though — this sounds like a college job. If Mom is providing car, food, utilities and a home, she may very well be a little irrational about this, especially since this is her best friend’s daughter.

          1. themmases*

            I think it would be a pretty extreme parent-child relationship if the parent tries to insist their adult child befriend someone, just because they are living at home for the summer.

            1. Connie-Lynne*

              Really? Man, you never went to my church then.

              “Our child is home for summer! So is yours! Let’s have them hang out!” Was fairly common, even if we hadn’t hung out for years.

              So you’d go to some large family event, meet the child, sigh about parents together, and hope everyone backed off.

      6. Biff*

        My mom went through this (thankfully short) period where she OBSESSED over me making friends and for whatever reason, didn’t understand that I couldn’t magically find something likable about the “new kid” just to make them feel welcome. (To be fair, though, there was nothing creepy about the new kid, she was just weirdly… not there. I always felt like I was talking to a hologram who had poorly-coded parroting features.) I bring this up because I’ve noticed that some people’s parents never quite leave this phase and it can cause all kinds of trouble.

        I do somewhat wonder if OP’s Mom would be the sort that would come back with a perfect rationalization for everything Alice is saying and insist her daughter is exaggerating Alice’s gross lack of boundaries. If she is, she might have quite a bit of power to insist on the carpool, especially if she owns the car. I really hope that the Mom isn’t the type that would pull this, because frankly, it’s this kind of behavior that lets creeps float along in life.

        I think no matter what, OP needs to speak to her manager/HR. Alice needs a rude awakening. If she’s a real creep, it won’t make a dent, but if she is just wildly socially awkward, this might be the kick in the seat to get help.

  4. motherofdragons*

    Seconding this: “If it feels rude, keep in mind that Alice is the one being rude here, by ignoring the previous times you’ve asked her to stop.” This requires an override of the “don’t be rude to anyone, ever!” conditioning you might have (I certainly do!). And there’s a good chance that it will be awkward in the workplace, and on your commute, if you stand up for yourself in this way. But frankly, Alice started the rude, and the awkward, by having these wildly inappropriate conversations with you! So go ahead and return that awkward to sender, as Captain Awkward would say.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Match what you see coming at you. If you try low level interventions and that does not stop it, then you are free to just say “Stop. That’s enough.”

      1. motherofdragons*

        Yes, exactly! Yet somehow there is this internalized messaging of, “It’s more rude to call out/respond to rudeness, than it is to be rude in the first place.” I know I struggle with it, and have heard of many others struggling with it as well.

  5. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Oof. If you are both female, she might somehow have made a leap to “we’re Summer BFFs!” and is an over-sharer. I co-sign AAM’s advice.

    If you feel like doing a send-off with some advice, personally, I think life is easier w.r.t. dating and crushes if one avoids the 3 C’s — anyone who is, has been, or can be a Colleague, Contractor, or Client. Yes, Marie and Pierre Curie shared a lab while being married, but, seriously, how many people can do that?

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      I agree — I think she hasn’t moved on from being in school and having a crush on the youngest, best looking teacher, and she needs to.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yes. She is just doing what she sees others doing around her. I remember the one job I had and talking about one’s sex life was the norm. There were lots of other parts to this story and this was the only job I cried going into work and cried going home from work. If she has had any work experience at all, maybe she saw this on a previous job. That is a possibility.

  6. Cheesehead*

    And I would suggest that after you use Allison’s suggested ‘stop talking about this’ comments, you might have a backup topic of conversation in mind and launch right into that (after a short pause to let it sink in). Like: “I don’t want to hear this. Please do not talk to me about this again. (pause) Did you see that MegaStore has their big shoe sale going on now?” Kind of like modeling for her what an appropriate topic might be, like you would for a small child.

    No, you wouldn’t necessarily need to do this, but I’m getting the impression that you don’t want to ignore her completely in case she went running to mommy to complain about you again. So if you give her an opening of something that she CAN discuss with you while exerting your boundary about the inappropriate stuff, that might make the other part a bit easier so she can’t complain about how you won’t even talk to her anymore. It’s a CYA move.

    Then if by chance she still complained to mommy, then you could always say (in exasperation), “I DO talk to her! We talk about a lot of things, like shopping and work stuff. But I had to draw the line when she started telling me, in great detail, about the creepy sexual fantasies she was having about our manager! And she won’t shut up about it! So I told her to stop talking about that one thing, which is inappropriate work talk anyway, and now she’s acting all put out. I can’t win.” I think if she has the gall to complain to her mom about you (presumably doing it because she wants your mom to intervene), then all bets are off and perhaps it needs to get back to her mom about the inappropriate comments that she’s making.

    1. Tex*

      I would modify the exchange with mom in the last paragraph to something more along the lines of “She’s been making inappropriate remarks at work and I want to distance myself from that behavior so my own professional reputation at work remains intact.”

      OP’s mom might need to be gently reminded that OP is beginning a new phase of life and the parent’s school oriented rules and behavior patterns (be nice, make friends, etc.) don’t universally apply in adult situations. Drive home the point that doing well at an internship can mean a job after graduation and life-changing choices; these aren’t worth jeopardizing over mom’s insistence to be playground friends.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, the school oriented rules DO apply. Make friends is a good rule in most cases, but there are many exceptions. Be nice is also a good general rule, but it shouldn’t mean that you let people run over you or cross your boundaries. That’s true in school and true at work.

        The real problem is that we are often not taught about how to maintain our own boundaries, and this is especially true for women.

      2. BTW*

        You make it sound like a business discussion. Most girls don’t talk to their Mom the way you described lol. Cheesehead is right on point with the words that would come from my mouth.

  7. Catalin*

    Alice needs to hear this. She sounds young and clueless: what passed in high school is criminal in the workplace. Tell her clearly what behavior she needs to stop immediately. She may not have a clue what she’s doing is inappropriate.

  8. Observer*

    I can’t say I’m all that surprised that Alice is a boundary crosser. Why would her mother speak to the OP’s mother about their relationship?

    OP, if your mother says anything to you again, don’t get into too much detail. It’s way TMI. Also, you really don’t want to get your parents involved in this situation. Instead, tell her that you need to manage your work relationships and friendships. If your mother says “But Alice’s mom…” just point out that your relationship to Alice is not related to her relationship to Alice’s mom. You can tell your mother that if it comes up again, she can just say that she’s spoken to you and there is nothing else she can do.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Not picking on you Observer, but I’m wondering why a lot of people are assuming Ops mom is being pushy. The impression I’m getting is that Alice mentioned it to her mom, then her mom mentioned it to Ops mom, Ops mom probably found that curious and casually mentioned it to Op.

      1. Observer*

        I’m not assuming anything about the OP’s mom, but about Alice’s mom. The OP’s mom mentioned the job to Alice’s mom who then encouraged her daughter to apply as well. So far, so good. No boundary violations. The problem is that the OP didn’t go to her mother about her relationship with Alice – Alice’s mother complained to the OP’s mother about the OP and Alice’s. THAT is out of line.

  9. FCJ*

    Don’t feel like you have to manage your mom’s relationship with her mom. This is an issue you’re having at work, and it’s inappropriate for THEM to be trying to intervene here, as if you’re two little kids who don’t get along at school. Do what you need to do in terms of shutting Alice down (be professional, of course), and if your mom brings it up again, you can either use the script that Alison gave, or say something vague about not really hitting it off, or even just say, “Huh,” and change the subject. You don’t need your mom’s permission or understanding in this situation.

  10. animaniactoo*

    Yup, I was coming to say, don’t be put off by being accused of being cold. Own it. “Yes, I am. Because I’ve repeatedly asked her to change something that’s a problem for me, and she won’t, so I need to spend less time with her.”

    “I’m sorry she’s upset, but I tried to resolve this with her and it didn’t work out, so I’m being civil, but we’re not going to be good friends. Sometimes, people just aren’t up to being friends, even when they live next door or their parents are friends or whatever.”

    1. CM*

      Yes, absolutely! So much of this letter is about being nice. Setting a firm boundary and being “cold” is much better than being nice and letting someone do something that is making you uncomfortable and could be professionally damaging. There’s no reason it needs to affect your mothers’ friendship, and you can continue being polite and acquaintance-friendly with Alice as long as the behavior stops.

      1. Jenna*

        This is something that I wish that I could go back and tell my own twenty something self.
        I know women are socialized to be nice to everyone and not make waves, but, it’s really better in the long run to be able to defend your boundaries in a civil fashion. Don’t let people walk on you. You are allowed to stand up for yourself. You don’t have to be best buddies with the whole world, and it is absolutely ok if some people don’t like you. The world will not end, and you will have practice identifying what you need and asking for it.
        Hand that awkwardness right back to the person trying to get you to take it. You don’t have to accept it.

        1. fposte*

          This is a huge education for young people. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to convey it to younger staff.

          1. OhNo*

            A bit off topic, but since you mentioned trying to teach this to young people: the way I finally figured it out was just by doing it, and getting support from my manager afterward.

            If you can give them chances to assert their boundaries and support them when they do, they’ll probably figure it out pretty quick.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            One of the best pointers I’ve come up with is to say, “Oh, let’s not GO THERE!” It gets the point across but sounds informal and it’s quick, not a long lecture-y thing.

            My husband used it with customers when they were getting a bit graphic. He had a cute voice inflection so they laughed. But the point stood and they changed the conversation.

      2. themmases*

        Sometimes I tell myself that boundaries *are* nice. I know if I were doing something obnoxious, I wouldn’t want someone to a) never tell me, b) just go along with it, and c) resent me because they felt like they “had to”. And if someone did that, I certainly wouldn’t thank them for it or think they were “nice”.

        Most people won’t have the insight to stop doing something if no one ever let them know it was a problem. I certainly wouldn’t.

        I think my first real engagement with this idea was reading Dan Savage in college, about why you shouldn’t feel guilty about dumping someone. Sometimes getting dumped over a behavior is how people wake up and realize they need to change it.

        1. TuxedoCat*

          In certain light, setting boundaries in this situation and being explicit is kind. Maybe it won’t be seen now as kind, but the letter writer could’ve gone to the manager or HR by now.

          1. myswtghst*

            Completely agreed! Plenty of people lack the self awareness to see these things in themselves, and while it might not feel kind in the moment, it’s definitely kind in the long run to help nip someone’s bad behavior before it comes back to bite them.

  11. Menacia*

    OP, your moms should not be part of the conversation. This is a workplace issue, Alice is being inappropriate in the workplace, and your avoiding her is actually you being nice, but as Alison mentioned, it sounds like you need to be more direct. Don’t worry about the relationship between your mom and hers, this really has nothing to do with them, but with you and Alice.

  12. some1*

    I assume that you are talking about a 50 min commuter bus or train ride? If that’s the case, I can understand why you would not want to wait any longer for the next bus or train to avoid her. But this is where a screen with headphones or a book comes in.

    If she tries to sit with you & chat, just say lightheartedly you want to use the time to catch up on reading, TV or podcasts.

    1. saminrva*

      +1 for headphones. I used to live in NYC and commuted 40 min each way on the subway and always had headphones with me just in case and would occasionally put them in even when I wasn’t listening to anything. In my experience, they’re a lot more effective than a screen or a book (which some people will just ignore).

  13. Jessie*

    I appreciate AAM pointing out that there’s no difference between a female coworker acting this way and a male coworker acting this way. I’ve met many people who think nothing of a female saying something sexual about a coworker, yet consider the opposite to be clear sexual harassment. Its hard to combat that sort of thing in the workplace if there’s a double standard.

    1. Pineapple Incident*

      I do too- that is important to remember. I really want us females to be equal to men, and obviously that requires a serious commitment to respect and decorum in the workplace for superiors and coworkers alike. No mention of “explicit sexual fantasies” – YUCK! from basically anyone but in this case is especially awful. Men and women ABSOLUTELY have to be judged with the same high bar for sexual harassment, or we’ll never be rid of it.

      1. moss*

        You can start by referring to yourself as “a woman” not as “a female.” Female is an adjective. If you refer to yourself as “a female” you are participating in your own dehumanization.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s coming on a little strong–let’s not form a circular firing squad, okay?

          1. Elder Dog*

            Moss wasn’t trying to form a circular firing squad. Moss was trying to help Pineapple Incident focus on her target better next time.
            I don’t think Moss’s comment was too strong. I think it was educational. Calling women “females” is on the same order as referring to them as “girls” or “ladies” to avoid referring to them as if they’re fully functional adults.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t like female or girl either, but I dislike even more when women turn on each other over language nitpicks. That hurts us a lot more than nomenclature.

            2. anonderella*

              I’d also just like to point out that you don’t feel the same way on this as all people – you would be in the minority on this opinion among those I know, for example. Where I’m from, there’s heavy usage of the word female, from all genders, and it can be distasteful, stereotypical, inclusive and exclusive – just like the word women. Also, you have to think about what word would have gained a stronger emotional response during someone’s childhood; what it would have come to mean to them over time.
              Women speaks more to age than female – and besides, both words are formed from an addition to the masculine word version pointing to a decidedly male-centric language system, so I find them both insulting (in the way that language speaks to our perspective). However, just because we have different emotional reactions to the words, I wouldn’t go out of my way to point at every commenter here and say Woman! Woman! Why not say Female [for these reasons]?? Just leave it be and let it go – I strongly disagree with you, and it’s insulting when you reason this way as if I can’t think for myself.

              1. Alix*

                both words are formed from an addition to the masculine word

                Surprisingly, this isn’t actually true in the case of woman. It’s built from an old root that originally meant people – “man” – and “wifman” (later evolved into “woman”) and “werman” meant “female person” and “male person” respectively.

                ‘Course, that doesn’t change the “male-centric” part of your point, since eventually werman got dropped in favor of an equation between man and male, but I always find it interesting that this is actually problematic in essentially the opposite way we’re used to – it’s not the word for female person being built off of a generic for male person, but the word for male person taking over the generic for human.

  14. Bend & Snap*

    Your coworker has serious boundary issues. If you don’t have to talk to her for work I’d just ice her. She’s creepy and inappropriate.

  15. Turtle Candle*

    Wowwww. At the beginning I was like, “Eh, when I was younger I had the occasional ‘omg so-and-so is a hottie” conversations about coworkers with friends of mine. But then I got to where she was doing this IN THE WORKPLACE. And including DETAILED SEXUAL FANTASIES. And my jaw just dropped. That’s beyond the usual “sometimes people take some time adjusting to workplace norms vs. school/friend norms.”

    Everyone else has given you great advice, so I’m saying this because if you’re like me (and many people) you may be feeling a little guilty for shutting her out, especially if you’re getting a maternal guilt-trip and if Alice doesn’t have many other friends in the area. So I want to validate that you are 100% justified in being skeezed out by this and concerned about professional reputation, and 100% justified in shutting her down bluntly and drastically reducing contact. You’ve got nothing to feel guilty for.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      Seriously…the only person I want to hear detailed sexual fantasies from is my boyfriend. Coworker? #nothanks

  16. Trillian*

    If your company has a sexual harassment policy, make a copy, and the next time she starts up, hand it to her, say ‘You need to read this,’ and walk away.

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think that’ll help much, though, and it’s not a substitute for the OP making it clear that this conversation is unwelcome.

  17. Lora*

    You can be super-blunt with this. Really, you can just say, out loud, “NOPE, NOPE, don’t want to hear it, cutting you off right there, don’t want to think about your swimsuit areas, don’t need to know, TMI, you think he is a cutie, I got it, changing the subject RIGHT NOW”. I’ve found that being the least little bit subtle or polite or nice about such things usually does not get the message across or people will creatively interpret it in such a way that they can claim they didn’t understand or thought it meant something else. It’s better to give absolutely no wiggle room on this particular subject, regardless of the gender of the person in question.

  18. Katie the Fed*

    OP, if you wanted (and you’re really under no obligation), since she seems to think of you as a mentor of sorts, you could have a pretty firm conversation with her like:

    “Alice, I know you’re new to the working world but I need to tell you that the kinds of sexually explicit comments you make about manager are highly inappropriate and could land you and the company in legal trouble. You need to stop – not just with me, but with anyone else. This is a professional workplace – in this and ALL professional workplaces you need to handle yourself professionally.”

    And then cut her off each and every time if she starts again.

    1. LQ*

      I like this and I think this works well even if you’ve been putting up with it for a while. Ideally you’d shut it down on the first instance, but it can feel tricky to shut it down once you’ve let it go a few times. This would be a good way to come to it after it has been happening a while or at the start. (Heck if you cut the first part of the first sentence it could work for anyone.)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I like this technique and I have used similar ideas with success. People struggle with explanations that should be obvious, but for whatever reason are not. And there really is not much need to struggle. Just break it down and explain it, like Katie has here. The explanation should include:

      What is wrong (explicit comments)**
      Why it is wrong (inappropriate and legal issues)
      And how the person can fix the problem (stop talking about sex)

      Now you have yourself set up for future instances if any should happen. “Nope, we’re not discussing this, remember?”

      **Here’s the real kicker, some people honestly do not know what is wrong.

      Many times they are embarrassed because after the problem is identified they realize they should have known better. This is easy to fix. All you have to do is point to a time where you were doing something out-of-norms and someone helped you to understand not to do it.
      Sometimes people won’t admit that there is a problem. That is when you say, “Okay, then the point is do not talk to me about X. I don’t want to talk about it.”
      The ones in the middle of the range are the trickiest. These are the people who ask GOOD questions but their voice is ANGRY. Here, I ignore the tone of voice. I keep my voice calm and I answer the exact question that was asked. They might have follow up questions. Usually the situation calms down and I can get them laughing over a story about some stupid thing I did. Situation over/done.

  19. Rusty Shackelford*

    Oh yeah, you need to be very blunt. I’d say “Alice, I don’t want to hear any more of this. It’s sexual harassment and you need to stop.”

  20. Jeanne*

    This is one of the tough parts of growing up. Your mom doesn’t know best in this situation (she doesn’t have all the details) and you need to stick to your best path even if mom gives you s guilt trip. You can just make noncommittal noises when your mom brings it up and ignore her perspective or you can be honest with her. But you are doing the right thing and you shouldn’t change because your mom heard you don’t eat lunch with Alice. Alice has some growing up to do but she’s not your responsibility. Be blunt and tell her to stop the sex talk and don’t worry about her feelings on this one. I would be needing serious brain bleach after the sort of story you mention.

  21. Self employed*

    OP, good for you that you recognize the issues here and reached out for a solution. I’m sure if I were an intern in your shoes, I might not have had the confidence to shut it down. Way to go.

  22. FiveWheels*

    Fancying your manager – fine
    Having sexual fantasies about your manager – fine
    Telling a colleague who you don’t even know that well about the fantasies – WTF!

  23. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I think if your mom says anything to you, you can say that you don’t want to repeat the particulars, but in general Alice was talking about stuff that is not appropriate in the workplace. And you explained to her that she needed to stop talking about that stuff.
    Your mom presses on and asks what stuff, then you say, “Mom, I really don’t want to repeat it.”

    Relationships bring on different levels of obligation. I can see your mom wanting answers. It appears that you live with your mom so that makes it harder not to say something if asked. Reassure her that you were trying to help Alice and that it is really not your story to tell.

  24. Isabel C.*

    And also, parents and future parents: please, *please* do not try and make your children be friends with people whose parents you know or like. Especially when it’s not a matter of younger kids being in the same place while the parents have bridge night but rather of expecting high-school or college-age pre-adults to hang out together on their own time.

    People can make their own friends. This sort of thing just ends in awkwardness and annoyance. Leave it.

  25. BTW*

    I really did not get the impression that OP’s Mom is in any way guilt tripping her or forcing her to “play nice.” I feel like she mentioned it in a casual, ‘care to talk about it?’ kind of way. The OP took it upon herself to start hanging out with Alice again. At the end of the day that was OP’s choice regardless of what her Mom did or didn’t say. So as much as people are telling future parents not to do this to their kids, I think it’s just as much OP’s job to be an adult and not feel the need to placate her mother. But again, I didn’t get the sense that Mom was forcing her to be friends.
    All thay aside, I too believe that blunt is the ONLY way to handle this. I’ve had many attractive managers and my coworkers and I *equally* joked about it. But we never crossed these extremely inappropriate boundaries. (Then again we were also closer than Alice and OP so there was more of a comfort level there and the boundary line was generally further than just a regular coworker relationship haha!) Blunt and straightforward.

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