my coworkers keep asking me out

A reader writes:

I work in a smallish department of a medium sized division of a huge company. I’ve been here for about a year and I’ll probably be leaving for a new job very far away in a few months. I’m wondering if there’s a tactful way to suggest to the heads of the department on my way out that they might want to run some harassment (or interpersonal? is that even a thing?) training. I wouldn’t think that what I’ve been dealing with was legally actionable as harassment (I am a lawyer!), but it’s annoying and I think some sort of training or something might be able to stamp it out.

Over the past year, four of the men I work with have asked me out, and at least one other has indicated that he sort of wants to, so I’m avoiding him. Some of them were my supervisors. Every time this has happened, it plays out in the same way: they are a little too interested in me, I try to indicate that I am definitely not going to be into them asking me out (ignoring/laughing off their hints/misunderstanding their jokes), they ask me out anyway, I say no as nicely as is possible, things get weird. I understand being a little awkward for a while, but this is going beyond that. Things like my supervisor telling me I looked hot with my hair up in a ponytail, or a team lead asking me not to join his group for lunch because it would make his ex-girlfriend, who eats with them, unhappy because she knows he likes me. I’m TIRED of this. And furious about it. I know this is happening to other women here, too.

I know the department would take this seriously, but I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, and I’m fairly sure if I mentioned what’s been going on it would be pretty obvious who one of these guys is. And it’s not just him, it honestly feels like it’s everyone right now.

Is there a way to suggest some sort of training in such a way that it doesn’t get anyone in trouble? Am I crazy for thinking this is even an issue that needs to be dealt with? Also, the job I’m expecting to jump to will be in a male dominated field with a very strong/necessary social aspect to it. Is there a way to shut this stuff down before it starts while still being open to friendships? I’m just so exhausted and demoralized by it all.

No, you’re not crazy for wanting to be able to go to work and do your job without feeling like your co-workers are assessing your attractiveness, sizing you up as a potential date, putting moves on you, and making you a factor with jealous exes. And some of these guys have been your managers?! That’s particularly bad. You’re not overreacting, and you should speak up.

Your idea of suggesting some training is a good one — please do that! — but my fear is that if your suggestion doesn’t include a mention of what you’ve personally had to deal with, it won’t carry the same weight and urgency as if it does.

I hear you that you don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but not wanting to get anyone in trouble is probably one of the biggest reasons that sexual harassment doesn’t get reported (along with the very real concern people often have that reporting it will cause tension in their working relationships and make their work lives more difficult). I’m sympathetic to that, and I don’t want to minimize it. But it’s also true that this kind of behavior won’t stop as long as we worry more about getting people in trouble than about shutting it down.

And really, some people in the scenarios you’ve described should get in some trouble. That’s not the case with a co-worker who asks you out and is able to take no for an answer and behave normally afterward. But a manager who tells you that you look hot with your hair up or a team lead telling you not to join a conversation with other colleagues because it will upset his ex-girlfriend? Someone actually does need to talk to them and make it clear that they can’t behave that way.

And in particular, it sounds like your company needs to do a much, much better job of training managers and making it clear they can’t make sexually tinged comments or ask out or otherwise come on to people whom they have authority over (ick). That one’s not negotiable; legally and ethically, part of being a manager is that you don’t get to hit on people who work for you. And they need to train everyone else, too, that work isn’t the place to troll for dates.

To be clear, it’s not that consenting adults never meet and date at work; of course they do, and not all instances of someone asking out a co-worker are unwelcome. But as your experience shows, it can be incredibly uncomfortable to deal with ongoing romantic interest from co-workers, and so anyone interested in asking out someone at work needs to be particularly attuned to signals that it would be welcome, and needs to back off immediately if they’re not getting those signs. And part of the deal with expressing interest in someone at work is that if it’s not reciprocated, you must be prepared to immediately return to interacting with them normally — no moping, no pointed remarks, no behavior that makes their work life less comfortable. (And again, for managers, it’s a blanket ban regardless. The power dynamics inherent in the relationship mean that managers can’t date, flirt with, hook up with, or otherwise interact on a romantic or sexual level with people in their line of authority, period.)

Some of this is about legal liability for the company and making sure that they’re complying with federal and state laws against sexual harassment. But even beyond that, decent employers want to ensure people can come to work and not have to deal with the crap you’re dealing with.

So yes, talk to someone. That person shouldn’t necessarily be your department head though. If you are 100 percent sure that your department head will understand the problem you’re describing and respond appropriately (meaning shutting the behavior down and effectively educating everyone about why it isn’t okay), then maybe. But usually with this stuff, HR is your better bet. I don’t recommend going to HR for most things because your boss is more often the right person to talk to, but this is one area where HR makes sense. They have the training to recognize this for the problem it is, and they understand the legal liability for the company if they don’t take it seriously and respond appropriately. That, unfortunately, isn’t always true for managers as a whole.

And last, your question about whether there’s a way to be friendly and social with people without opening the door to this stuff. There certainly should be — but remember that this crap is ultimately about choices these guys are making, not about something you’re doing too much of or not doing enough of. You should be able to be warm and friendly to co-workers. You shouldn’t have to be cold or pull back on social relationships, particularly in a field where you know they’re important. You shouldn’t have to put “I’m not flirting; please don’t ask me out” in your email signature, or shoulder the burden of initiating an awkward “I’m not interested” conversation with overly flirty colleagues. You’re not responsible for managing their feelings so that they behave professionally. That’s on them. So to the extent that you can, try to shift the awkwardness they’re dumping on you right back over to them — because they’re the ones causing it, not you.

I know that’s easier said than done, but the solution here can’t be that you have to pull back on social relationships that matter in your field while your male colleagues get to go on having them.

I originally published this at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 477 comments… read them below }

  1. AnonEMoose*

    I can’t add anything to Alison’s excellent advice, OP. I did want to repeat this: This is not about anything you are doing, or not doing. This is about choices these guys are making. Bad ones. Please do talk with someone about this before you leave, and be sure to give specific examples; those who handle such things at your company need to understand not only that this is happening, but the extent of it.

    1. Yup*

      I’m certain others have said this below, but I HATE hate hate that, as women, we’re so overly trained to worry about other people’s feelings (men especially) **even when they harass us**!!!

      OP, why would you not want to get these men in trouble? You’re not responsible for their actions and feelings; conversely, they are VERY MUCH responsible for theirs. That manipulative “oh don’t come to lunch bc poor me and my ex-GF” move is plain bullshit – and yes, very much emotional manipulation. Your options to socialize are curtailed bc this guy creeps on you? NO. He knows better.

      Please do report this, if only to spare others the same fate. You’re doing the right – and LEGAL – thing.

      1. Jennifer*

        To be fair, sometimes women get into some kind of trouble when they report, i.e. they don’t get believed and then get shit for it.

        1. Yup*

          Fair point – I may have misread the OP, but it seemed to me she didn’t want to get *others* in trouble, which is what I was reacting to. But you’re right of course.

    2. Annonymouse*

      And OP you said yourself that other women at your work are getting treated the same way and they don’t get to be safe in the knowledge they’re changing jobs soon like you.

      You have a duty to make sure that work is just for work for yourself and these women.

      Just because someone is attracted to you it doesn’t give them the right to treat you as less than a business professional.

  2. Katniss*

    Jesus christ, the entitlement of these men infuriates me. I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this OP. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. If you get any backlash from the company or people in your life implying that this is something you’re inviting by being friendly, remember that this is about their inability to control themselves and have basic respect for you, not your fault in any way.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      This. If nothing else, OP, remember that this is happening to other women, too. What are the chances that all of the women experiencing this behavior have all been doing something to encourage it? So, logically, the common thread here is not something the women are or are not doing – other than simply being women.

    2. 42*

      So infuriating. I’m bristling for you. I wish you were in a position where you feel comfortable enough to raise this issue NOW, and not in a year when you’re out the door anyway. But I understand your feelings, and it blows that you’re in this environment.

    3. Dawn*

      Yuuup. It’s sad that “being polite” is taken as flirting by some… hell, most people. If we’re not all smiley happy perky, then we get accused of having RBF and told to smile. If we smile and are polite and friendly, then oh hey obviously you wanna date me no don’t come to lunch it’ll make my ex jealous ha ha ha.


    4. Jonno*

      As a guy, I get more and more frustrated and sad the more I learn that this is a reality for so many women today and that this kind of thing is something women always have to think about. Ugh. So much empathy for the OP and I hope she can help to curb it by going by AAM’s suggestions.

      1. WildLandLover*

        Thank you, Jonno, for your comment. I’m way past the age where I have to deal with this anymore, but I remember how things were when I was in my teens, 20s and 30s . . . I am glad to see that things are changing . . . slowly, but they are. And men like you are helping make the changes stick.

  3. Troubled Teen Rick Faber*

    gurl, if you don’t want unsolicited attention from men, send em my way CUZ MAMA NEEDS A BOYFRIEND.

      1. some1*

        It’s also not helpful to men to perpetuate any myth that this is a compliment as long as the woman in question wants a boyfriend. Because no.

        1. IT unicorn*

          Then they need to learn when and where such “kidding” is appropriate, as well as why comments like this are unhelpful, inappropriate and foolish.

          “Just kidding” does not excuse it.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        Well, if he had a good woman at home he wouldn’t need to sexually harass anyone. So dating a harasser is a win for everyone!

        (In case it isn’t obvious to everyone this is 100% sarcasm.)

      2. Pissed off*

        You know what’s particularly shitty about this type of situation? I bet these men don’t even see what they are doing as “sexual harassment.” Training is absolutely required here. They think it’s funny, cute, their right, whatever. Really tiresome and annoying. My boss told me yesterday he’d like to see me jump up and down. He said it in a joking way, and it was supposed to be a funny comment to go along with something else we were talking about, but it still made me feel ick, and it took me off guard. We just want to be treated with respect, and not like an object that’s just around for others’ enjoyment. I don’t need to hear what you feel about my clothing that day, or anything else about my physical appearance. I just want to do my work.

        1. Nonprofit Nancy*

          +1 they think they’re not harassing a woman if they’re not like, snapping her bra, feeling her up in the break room, or telling her to perform sexual acts if she wants to get promoted. This is just good ole fashioned flirting, in their minds – but they’re completely overlooking the power dimensions at play here and how this makes an employee or coworker feel.

          1. Marisol*

            I think they know full well, but do not care. Someone on this site pointed me to an article about that but I don’t remember the site. The gist was that men can in fact read subtle cues that women give them, cues that say, “I’m not interested” for example, but choose to ignore them. It was something like an anthropological/linguistic study that demonstrated this. So in a way, calling men “clueless” (which I always did) is giving them too much credit. They may *say* it’s only flirting, but they are in fact feigning ignorance. Of course there are clueless men out there, but they are not the predatory type. The ones doing the disgusting behavior know damn well they’re being disgusting.

            1. Gadfly*

              The NPR report someone pointed out.

              And I think it is made worse because there is that general cultural narrative that if you just wear her down, you win. “There’s Something About Mary” or any of a billion other rom-coms that say that if you just ignore those signs, if you believe no doesn’t mean no, in the end she will submit and discover she does like you. So they see them but don’t read them as stop/not interested but as not interested YET/redouble the effort instead.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                Yes, and the whole “The Rules” thing also creates the perception that women are playing some sort of hard-to-get game with regard to dating that reinforces this idea. The book version of “The Rules” came out when I was in high school, and I found it to be gross then. It seemed so much easier just to be upfront and honest with guys, and that usually worked out pretty well for both people I did and did not want to date (though I never really went out with the thrill-of-the-chase type people either).

                1. twig*

                  slight tangent — I was working in a bookstore a year or two after The Rules came out (it was fresh in paperback) and I always used to move our store copy or hide it somewhere.

                  One time a lady with teenage daughters came in and said that her girls wanted to read it. I talked her into buying reviving ophelia instead.

            2. Yup*

              Totally agree. They know full well, and are trying to get away with it. Plus the emotionally manipulative pouting to make OP feel guilty for maintaining boundaries? Please – she’s not kicking any puppies. They’re making life hard for her for saying no, and there’s no way that’s innocent.

            3. Katniss*

              That might have been the Yes Means Yes article “Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like the Answer” .

              1. Oryx*

                That was one of my mantras when I worked the front desk at a library: “My not giving you the answer you wanted doesn’t mean I didn’t answer your question.”

    1. Important Moi*

      A poor attempt at humor maybe?

      Being constantly approach for romantic pursuits by people you’re not interested in is not fun or flattering or anything else along those lines.

      To be perfectly honest, not that anyone asked, I used to jealous of folks’ who got that kind of attention – then I matured.

      1. Marisol*

        In a similar vein, I pursued acting for many years here in Los Angeles, which can be brutal. I am attractive but not a bombshell, and L.A. is crawling with beautiful ingenue bombshells. A casting direction pointed out to me that that type of look can be very limiting, because there are more roles for average-looking people than there are sexy “perfect” types. I am sure that there is a similar dynamic in play in the everyday world, with some people finding that their looks can, in some ways, be a hindrance. So those people you were jealous of have their own kind of burden.

        1. Hermione*

          You also seem to have left the line between funny and unfunny behind you at some point. OP doesn’t deserve to be treated as though she’s lucky to be able to decide between multiple suitors when she’s legitimately being harassed. You’re perpetuating the problem that allows jerks to get away with this crap, and you should apologize.

    2. kac*

      Oh, god, really? Someone is harassed, and we’re going to tell her to “take is as a compliment.” Gross.

      What happened to this woman is not “unsolicited attention;” it’s unwelcome harassment, and has zero place in a professional environment.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        This. Unsolicited attention is being at a bar or a nightclub and a guy asking you out. When your boss asks you out at work and excludes you from work-related meetings because “you’ll make my ex jealous, haha,” that’s straight-up sexual harassment. HUGE difference.

        1. Meg*

          Unsolicited attention can come from anywhere, as Alison pointed out that many people do indeed date their coworkers. Unsolicited attention doesn’t mean it’s not sexual harassment though.

    3. SouthernLadybug*

      This attempt at trolling isn’t any better than your last one. Though congratulations on inspiring me to check your username.

  4. Elizabeth*

    A good boss will definitely want to know about this. I’ve had this happen to my direct reports twice in the past. The first time was something I observed on my own and told my employee that if the guy was bothering her, to let me know. The second time was something I only found out after the fact; my employee was worried she’d get in trouble, so she didn’t mention it until after the guy’s contract was over. I hated the idea that she’d been very deeply uncomfortable the entire time but was too scared to tell me about it. Unfortunately, you don’t always know how your boss might react even if they do come across as someone who would want to know about it; what people say and what they do when it comes to these types of issues are often two different things.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I’m curious too hear opinions about this. My instinct would be that getting involved would be unwanted by the woman in the first situation unless she specifically told me she was uncomfortable, or there was another factor like a pattern of behavior or a power dynamic involved. It seems to me to be ‘white-knighting’, which I think is just as obnoxious to some people.

        To people who have been in this situation, what say you?

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I think it is different when it’s a work situation vs. a social situation. If you’re the boss, and you see something inappropriate, I think you have a responsibility to speak up, even if the harass-ee hasn’t asked you to. Because you have a responsibility to the organization to look out for its interests, and allowing harassment to go unaddressed would not be a good move for the organization.

          If it’s a social situation (by which I mean there’s no professional aspect), then I think it’s (most of the time) more appropriate to see if the person wants help. Even then, I think there are exceptions. And one of the most effective ways to intervene might be not to say anything to the aggressor. Instead, start talking to the victim. Not even necessarily to ask if they’re ok – just start talking to them, and give them the opportunity for an “out” without having to get directly confrontational.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            I’m sorry for being vague. If I witnessed harassment I would immediately act. But there’s a lot of grey area between obvious harassment and respectful behavior. What about things that fall in that grey area?

            1. Random Citizen*

              I don’t think you can go wrong by asking the employee if they’re uncomfortable with the situation and would like you to step in and put at stop to it as the manager. Talking to the guy without asking the harassee first could cause issues, even if it’s just that she felt weird about you having overheard a particular interaction, but offering to stop it would probably be welcome in a work situation.

              1. Natalie*

                “Talking to the guy without asking the harassee first could cause issues”

                I would probably change “asking” to “telling” – as a manager, there are going to me a lot of times when you need to say something for the good of the company and the overall environment, even if your employee would prefer it be dropped. But it is good to give the employee a head’s up, so they aren’t blindsided by it.

              2. Mookie*

                Also, at a certain point, it doesn’t even matter if the actual recipient of the flirting or harassment doesn’t “mind”; the person doing the open flirtation is a distraction from business at hand and enabling it sends the wrong signal out both to the team and its clients and whoever else might be regularly witnessing it.

            2. Marisol*

              I’m not so sure there’s a lot of grey area here…what sort of things would fall into that category for you? Like maybe a male supervisor complimenting a woman’s outfit?

        2. Lucky*

          In my understanding & experience, “white-knighting” is when a man jumps to the defense of a woman with the specific intent to curry favor with her, not to correct legit (or non-legit) harassing behavior.

      2. Elizabeth*

        In the first situation, it was more benign than what the OP is experiencing (I don’t think I was clear enough in my original comment) — think of it more as a Jim Halpert / Pam Beesly thing where she worked a reception desk and he came over and chatted a lot in a way that was friendly/flirty but that could easily transition into something problematic if it was unwelcome and went unchecked. She was fairly young (21-ish, maybe?) and so because I wasn’t sure how experienced she might be with dealing with overly friendly coworkers herself, I discretely pulled her aside one day and let her know that if anyone was making her uncomfortable or otherwise bothering her, she could let me know and I would deal with it.

        I dealt with it that way for three reasons: 1) it gave her agency to decide if she wanted to do something about it if she was uncomfortable, rather than me just assuming how she felt; 2) it hadn’t yet progressed to a point where I felt the need to intervene regardless of how she felt about it; and 3) it gave her an out to come to me on multiple fronts, both if she was feeling uncomfortable in the way OP is describing but also if he was just plain old distracting her too much while she was trying to do actual work.

  5. some1*

    “a team lead asking me not to join his group for lunch because it would make his ex-girlfriend, who eats with them, unhappy because she knows he likes me.”

    $20 says the ex-GF doesn’t care but he thinks you’ll see as super-flattering. (Not that it’s at all appropriate regardless)

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Not only that, but it prevents her from networking. And why in the living hell is this guy’s EX-GIRLFRIEND eating with them at a team lunch?! (assuming she doesn’t work there)

      1. J.B.*

        Maybe she does work there, and maybe it would also be worthwhile for OP to casually touch base with supposed ex-girlfriend, because what other creeptastic stuff has this guy done?

      2. OhNo*

        I’m assuming she DOES work there, which really tells you something about this guy – he probably asks out a lot of the women in the office.

        And can you imagine being the ex-girlfriend, and finding out that your ex is stopping people (potential business contacts! coworkers!) from meeting/talking to you? Yikes. Gross and controlling as hell.

      3. Zahra*

        OMG, I missed it was an ex-gf. That makes me go even more “What the… ?!?”

        Whether she works in the same organization or not is neither here nor there. They’re ex and that should be enough.

    2. Tex*

      I’d not only go to the lunch but sit next to ex-girlfriend and be impossibly friendly and pleasant. Maybe even make plans with her to have drinks or something later.

      1. Your enemy's enemy*

        Twice I ended up having a longer relationship with a guy’s ex-girlfriend than I did with the guy. Dude doesn’t want you at the table because he doesn’t want you and the ex-girlfriend to become friends and talk about him and discover what a [insert appropriate word that won’t get this comment moderated] he is.

    3. BRR*

      I wouldn’ t be surprised at all if that’s the case (backdoor I like you) but even if she does care why the hell should this guy care if she’s upset? Ugh this letter is just incredibly aggravating.

    4. Gadfly*

      Or dude thinks a catfight would be hot. Because he is essentially 14 or so and thinks that is how people act.

    5. Marisol*

      I think you’re on to something, but I have slightly different theories. Yes, the ex-GF doesn’t care, but the creeper 1) likes to flatter HIMSELF that she would care, and 2) wants to increase his perceived “value” in the OP’s eyes, i.e., someone cares enough about him to feel jealous, therefore, he must be a real catch.

      Either way, blecccch.

  6. Pwyll*

    I swear, lawyers are so bad at following our own advice.

    Agreed with the above comments, this isn’t about you but about their behavior, which is not only affecting you but is affecting other women (and, frankly, everyone)’s ability to do their job in a harassment-free workplace. While I understand the urge not to get anyone in trouble, it really does a disservice to the next woman who joins the company and will need to fight off the unwanted attention. Certainly not your obligation to address, but at least one consideration as you (thankfully!) move on to greener pastures.

  7. Murphy*

    Ew. That is super gross, especially from managers. (That’s just so obviously inappropriate!) I’m sorry you’re dealing with that and I agree 100% with what Alison said.

  8. Raging Dragon*

    This sounds like a combination of three things:

    1. An old school boys club male work culture that seriously needs training on things like “don’t ask your underlings on a date”.
    2. The OP is young and very attractive
    3. The OP is nice and friendly

    My sister is 2&3. All of my friends were horndogs over her – it got old. Guys were always calling our house, her cell phone rang all the time basically. My parents raised a genuinely nice girl and discouraged “bitchy” behavior. In some ways, it has caused her alot of annoyance over the years, as 99% of guys meeting a girl like her are so surprised by how genuine she is and easy to talk to become smitten immediately. It honestly says something about how screwed up our culture is.

    1. some1*

      I get what you are saying, but 2 and 3 are irrelevant even if they are true and I think you a disservice to women by including it, but a lot of us women who have dealt with sexual harassment don’t get taken seriously because either we should expect it as the price of admission for being pretty and/or young or we should be flattered because we aren’t pretty or young.

      1. J.B.*

        I don’t see that at all in what he is saying. Let’s just leave it as there is a double bind – be nice and some think that is an opening, be less nice and you suffer a penalty at work. (In other words, its perceptions of women rather than the women themselves that are the problem!)

        1. SystemsLady*

          As a special bonus, you’ll probably get encouraged, directly or indirectly, to attack women on the other side of the coin either way at some point (or at some point you fall victim yourself).

        2. Mookie*

          Right, but the double bind needs to be destroyed, not explained and then handwaved away as something unsolvable. Men are nice and polite at work, and they don’t court harassment nor should they be expected to bear it lightly. “Nice” is a red herring. “Being female” is more of what you’re thinking of.

      2. Hotstreak*

        I agree with you that there’s nothing in the letter to indicate she’s young or attractive. She does seem nice and friendly though, based on what she wrote. Especially when she says she “laughs off their hints” (instead of shutting them down), and the fact that she doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble. Usually if someone laughs in response to flirting, it’s a sign of interest. The alternative is that she’s laughing AT them, which would be weird and unprofessional in it’s own way. Some may disagree that laughing is showing interest, but I think we can all consider that it’s also not an affirmative “no, I’m not interested”, and giving that affirmative “no, I’m not interested” as a response to the initial flirting might head off their advances and save a lot of headaches for OP (for the rest of her career, wherever she works, until this sort of behavior is stamped out for good).

        Everything afterwards, like being excluded, is inappropriate, and it’s very inappropriate for her boss to be expressing any interest in her at all, and obviously the company should put a stop to those things.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          I’m assuming you’re a man, because in my experience, usually when a woman laughs off flirting, she is trying to avoid an angry response, escalation, or retaliation. You should not have to look very far to find examples of this.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            This. When you consider that it’s far from unknown (in fact, it’s far too common), for women to be physically attacked, badly injured, or even killed, just because they said “no” to some guy, “laughing it off” makes a lot more sense. It would be nice to think we’d be safer with coworkers than with random guys in a bar or something…that’s not necessarily true.

            This article is about a different situation, but the dynamic is still there:

            1. Jennifer*

              Oh, reading that article just pulverizes you.

              That fun game of having to play along like someday you might want to bang the guy, while secretly hoping you won’t have to be forced to bang the guy. God.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yep. A lot of the time, laughing means “I know you’re hitting on me, but I’m going to let you save face – because, as a woman, I’m in a vulnerable position and am forced to let you save face – by pretending it’s a joke.”

        2. Katniss*

          99% of the time, if I’m laughing in response to unsolicited flirting, it’s because I’m uncomfortable or even scared.

        3. Beck*

          Have you ever said “no, I’m not interested” to someone hitting on you at work? While the flirter is the one creating the awkward situation, it’s not rare that the flirter will just say they were being friendly and they didn’t mean it that way and now the flirtee will be blamed for making the situation awkward.

          1. Koko*

            Yep. Men rarely just directly ask you out. They keep hinting and hinting, but then willfully ignore when you try to communicate back in the same language of hints.”She hasn’t responded to any of my previously flirtations, it can’t possibly be because she isn’t interested in me, it must be because she hasn’t gotten the hint yet so I’ll just keep trying until she gives me a clear flirtation back.” Then when you try to use the language of direct rejection, you’re a stuck up/conceited bitch for assuming they wanted you when look at you, you’re barely a 5 and he could do much better.

            As a woman you are constantly expected to do men’s share of emotional work in addition to your own and manage their feelings for them. It’s exhausting and I’m only in my 30s, I can’t believe I have to do this for several more decades.

              1. Cleopatra Jones*

                Eh, not really. I just find that instead of getting hit on by guys my own age, it’s now men old enough to be my father.
                And I am always surprised by how they throw their wives under the bus so I can sympathy screw them. Ugh, no.

                1. Jennifer*

                  My friend got fixed up with a guy who’s still married and living with the wife and three kids, but he plans on leaving her…once he finds a replacement. He (and her jerk friend who fixed her up) said he’s a “catch” and she should be so desperate to get him. I say he’s already been CAUGHT.

                  He also ordered a ton of food, in a cuisine he hated, refused to eat it, or refused to pay for any of it. “I’ll get it next time.” You think there’s gonna be a next time?!

            1. Tomato Frog*

              They keep hinting and hinting, but then willfully ignore when you try to communicate back in the same language of hints.

              Yes. Perfect. I never put it together like that before, and it is so so true.

            2. Annie Moose*

              I heard a suuuuper interesting story on NPR awhile back on this topic, about how guys (it’s usually guys) willfully misunderstand hints when it comes to situations like this. They discussed a couple of different studies that have been done on the whole “but guys just don’t understand those MIXED SIGNALS women are giving, they need to EXPLICITLY SAY NO” thing, and how studies consistently show that yes, men can understand hints about a lack of interest just fine. So when it comes to “missing” hints that a person isn’t romantically inclined toward them, it’s not that they don’t or can’t understand–it’s that the person in question is willfully pretending they don’t understand, because they don’t want to believe it.

              IIRC, the studies looked at “hinting” in other social situations (e.g. asking someone to hang out in a non-romantic context, and someone letting them down easy by saying, oh, I’m busy or whatever), and found that both men and women have no problem understanding that sort of hint, that someone doesn’t want to be friends or doesn’t want to hang out with you. It’s specifically when the same things are said in a romantic context (e.g. getting asked out, and saying you’re busy to get out of it) that suddenly there’s a problem understanding the hints.

              So yes, these guys 100% can understand the hints being given by the woman that she isn’t interested. They’re just choosing to ignore them and pretend that it’s confusing instead of admitting that no, she really isn’t interested.

              1. Raging Dragon*

                I think it boils down to few circumstances:

                1. Some guys just get off making women uncomfortable. Bunch of a-holes who give the rest of us a bad name.

                2. They think she’s playing hard to get and to keep going until she says no.

                3. Their attraction to the woman puts them into a state of denial when she does something that would make the guy have to admit to himself the need to move on.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  4. They neglect to consider that part of the equation of asking someone out/sleeping with them is that other person needs to demonstrate reciprocal interest/attention. They genuinely think that their own interest is reason enough to proceed. (Also known as “my attraction to you entitles me to demand your attention and be irked if you don’t want to give it.”)

                2. blackcat*

                  +1 to Alison’s comment here. It describes my entire dating experience prior to dating my husband. Granted, I started dating my husband when I was 20, so I can blame some of that behavior on the youth of my then-suiters. I’d really, really like to blame youth.

                3. Blurgle*

                  Alison’s right. The small minority of guys who do this see women not as people but as a commodity – a means to an “end”, to put it bluntly. It’s not that they don’t think she has agency, though; it’s more that they think she’s just playing with them. She couldn’t actually not be the tiniest bit interested in giving him what he wants?!

                4. Mookie*

                  As an addendum to Alison, they figure they can probably bully you into one good lay, whether you want it or just want them to shut up. Again, the assumption is you exist for the fulfillment of other people’s sexual desires rather than exist to do as you please and experience your own pleasure on your own terms with people you joyfully choose.

                5. Turtle Candle*

                  Big agreement with Alison’s point. This becomes clear when you see some of the contortions guys go to to explain away a woman’s lack of interest–I have actually more than once had a man explain to me that a “Oh, no, thank you, but it was nice of you to ask” or other minimizing/face saving language wasn’t a “clear no,” despite having “no” right there in the sentence. I’ve had men explain to me that even just a “No, thank you” wasn’t a “clear no.” I’ve had men explain to me that “No, I’m married” wasn’t a “clear no” because, y’know, some people get off on infidelity, so maybe it was a come-on if I smiled when I said it, how is the guy supposed to know? Their argument seemed to be that a screamed “NO!” followed by a “and never, ever ask me again, I am definitively not interested for the rest of eternity!” was too “soft” for men to understand.

                  Which of course is nonsense. The constantly-moving goalposts of how strong your “no” needs to be to stick (what’s next, it’s only a “no” if it’s notarized with three witnesses? it’s only a “no” if I add an explanation that I can’t date them because I’m secretly a lizard alien in a human suit and my species reproduces by fission?) is transparent–these same guys can understand “no thank you” in other contexts just fine. The point they’re trying to cover for is not that they can’t understand ‘no’ but that they just plain don’t want to. They don’t think I should be able to say no–they don’t think I have the right to say no–and so they constantly shift the rules to make it so that I can’t, by defining “no” out of my reach over and over and over.

              2. Retail HR Guy*

                I don’t know if this was the same article, but I read that the theory is there is an evolutionary reason for that. If males are going to maximize the spreading of their genes, they need to err on the side of continuing to think that the female is into them despite many clues to the contrary. The cost of a “missed opportunity” to reproduce is just too high.

                Kind of depressing if true.

                1. Aurion*

                  See, I really don’t buy evolutionary instincts as a reason/excuse for any of this stuff. Whether or not they’re true is totally besides the point because even scientists aren’t sure. But even if it were true, I’d like to think we humans have evolved to the point where we aren’t led solely by our baser instincts.

                  I’m not directing this at you, Retail HR Guy, I’m just really irked by that line of reasoning.

                2. SarahTheEntwife*

                  Eh, that may be true on some instinctive level, but given the magnificent lengths humans will go to overcome various other instinctive behaviors and in other ways use our giant critical-thinking-y brains, I’ve rarely seen evolutionary psychology used as anything other than an excuse for not using higher brain functions in this specific case because it would mean not getting to whine about not getting laid.

                3. KR*

                  I agree with Aurion – if I can get my dog to understand that he shouldn’t hump other dogs then men can understand that they shouldn’t flirt with women at work.

                4. Retail HR Guy*

                  Aurion et al, please don’t think that because I was offering up a possible explanation for a bit of human nature that I was trying to excuse it. A lot of people like to commit the “appeal to nature” fallacy, that because something is natural it is good. That’s not what I was trying to do. No matter what the underlying reason is that some men can’t take a damn hint they should learn to knock it off. I just found the theory interesting and think it makes sense.

                5. Aurion*

                  Retail HR Guy, I didn’t think you were championing that line of thought, and I don’t think the rest of the commentors did either. It was just a short rant on how fed up I am with that theory.

                  To put it mildly, that train of thought sets my teeth on edge. It’s one thing if someone says it as a dumb joke, but if someone actually says that seriously as a reason, then I think a lot less of them right there. (Hey, if they want to follow their biological instincts without applying critical thought, then do I get to treat them like animals? No? Boo.)

                6. MashaKasha*

                  Great news, it’s not true at all!

                  Gawd, I cannot stand evo psych, or at least what I’ve seen of it. I’ve seen it used on dating-advice blogs to basically justify the worst kind of traditional gender roles. Man has to spread his seed, woman has to be nurturing and concentrate on one male and his offspring, it is science, deal with it. When I tried to use logical reasoning to show what BS that was, I got called anti-science and was invited to go back to the dark ages. Oh for the love of god.

                  Not directed at you at all, Retail HR Guy. I can tell it makes about as little sense to you as it did to me when I first saw it.

                7. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

                  Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, along with brain studies performed over the past couple years, resulted in evo-psych being pretty thoroughly debunked.

                  However, the popularity of the field persists, especially on the internet, because it wraps up the large spectrum of possible human behavior, in all of its rich complexities, into a glib “just-so” story that upholds the existing patriarchal structures which separate people into hierarchies and keep them oppressed. Evo-psych makes easily debunked claims about women’s so-called “natural” role as targets of male gene-spreading, and as such, is part of the structure which upholds the hierarchy.

                  Please note, I’m using the class-based definition of patriarchy; ergo, while mostly men are at the top of the hierarchy, few men in total are. In other words, I doubt anyone commenting here is a Fortune 500 C-level or board member.

                  When women are socialized to think it’s okay to initiate interest in heterosexual, potential romantic situations, they do so. Most, however, aren’t — and most men, conversely, are raised to believe they must always initiate. Within that group, a minority of men, albeit a not-insignificant percentage of them, are raised to pursue women romantically “at all costs,” including by ignoring overt and subtle but perceivable signals of disinterest and disengagement, to the point that their female targets are made uncomfortable and made to feel like targets. Those men are the men who create problems for women like the OP. Depressing? Heck yeah, it is. No disagreement there! I’m neither heterosexual nor single — my partner and I are married, in fact — but I present high femme and look extremely young for my age, so I’ve been dealing with the sort of behavior the OP’s facing for nearly two decades now. If I could say anything to the OP, it’d be this:

                  1. It’s not your fault.
                  2. It’s not appropriate.

                8. Marisol*

                  a lot of studies are crap. and a theory is just a theory. I read either a theory or study years ago about how women are more attracted to men who have a nurturing side, since they needed a partner in child rearing as much as a provider/protector. This would be at odds with the gene-spreading theory you mention, I think, which suggests that willful ignorance of a woman’s desire, to the point, possibly, of aggression, is something men evolved to. Nah, I don’t believe it.

                9. Klem*

                  Not sure if this will show up in the right place, but also agreeing with Alison’s comment. Very apt description, and it also explains how those things go so quickly from “fun” flirtation to anger at being rejected.

                10. Mookie*

                  Except that “gene-spreading” indiscriminately does not benefit our species because–surprise!–our knowledge of human reproductive fitness tells us that children survive and thrive and live to propagate the species further when pregnant people have enough resources to maintain a healthy pregnancy and when many adults play a part in raising those children, not to mention the fact that women exhibit concealed ovulation, so a quickie before running away doesn’t guarantee offspring at all. Finally, sex for humans is a pleasurable, bonding experience and people engage in it, have always engaged in it, for more than procreative purposes.

                  Conclusion: self-serving evpsych twaddle is twaddle.

              3. Tau*

                I’ve definitely seen a study along these lines. I have to admit it makes me feel vindicated, because as an autistic person who so happens to be female the whole “but you women give off these COMPLEX SIGNALS and it’s CONFUSING to the POOR MEN who aren’t as good at this BODY LANGUAGE thing and can’t interpret HINTS and INDIRECT SPEECH as well as women” thing gets really, really old.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  It’s a real slam to men, as in “us men are so incurably dense that you have to explain every little thing to us or we can’t possibly process what we see accurately.”

                  No, that’s not true.

            3. MashaKasha*

              “Then when you try to use the language of direct rejection, you’re a stuck up/conceited bitch for assuming they wanted you when look at you, you’re barely a 5 and he could do much better.”

              This!!! No coworker will ever come out and say “I want you, female coworker”, because he knows better. He’ll be dropping hints. If the woman responds with a direct “I’m not interested”, then all of a sudden it is all in her head and he was never interested in her at all, and she should learn to understand people better. If she doesn’t, he takes it as a green light to keep dropping those hints. It’s a win-win situation for him and a lose-lose one for her.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                “Gee, maybe you should learn how to speak in a straightforward, unambiguous manner such that women do not think you are hitting on them. You know there’s a lot of women who are burned out from getting hit on, so this would be a good skill for you to develop.”

            4. Critter*

              The other night I watched Cloverfield for the first time (really enjoyed it), and that part where TJ Miller was clearly harassing Lizzy Caplan’s character at the party? “I’m documenting. Like at a wedding? Everyone’s recording a goodbye.” “I really don’t know him, I only came to say hello to my friend.” “Yeah. Yeah. But, I’m documenting.” “No, that’s okay.” “But, just a short one.”

              I wanted to claw his eyes out.

          2. CanadianKat*

            Not work, but similar… I was in a community theatre production. The play director (a very nice guy, but totally out of my age range – about 10 years older than anyone I would ever consider dating) approached me and very politely, very directly asked me if I would go out with him. No hints, no ambiguity. He was clear that he was interested in dating. So I gave him a similar direct, pleasant, and firm No. Didn’t create any awkwardness for us at all, and we were able to continue working together as if nothing had happened.
            I remember this fondly as a very mature interaction on both sides.

            1. Jennifer*

              Men like this are rare. I treasure the memories of the very few men who have asked and politely taken no for an answer.

              1. bridget*

                Not to mention, the types of guys I trust to take no for an answer are, not coincidentally, more likely to get a yes answer from me. If I’m on the fence about whether I’m interested in a guy, I’m going to say no to the one I don’t trust to take no for an answer every single time. That’s because the type of guy who whines about the first “no” also whines (even louder) about the “you know, I’m glad we went on one date to get to know each other better, but I don’t think it’s a connection and I’m not interested in a second.” If somebody seems mature, I can risk “leading him on” for one date.

          3. any mouse*

            I’ve tried that, not in a work setting but I have and got called nasty names, harassed verbally and followed around. And I’m not even super attractive or thin.

            It’s just guys think they are entitled to a positive reaction and the only way they know how to respond is with threats, harasment and violence.

        4. VintageLydia*

          The problem is she was laughing off HINTS, which by their nature aren’t something most people can directly shut down. Hints are ambiguous. You hint at something so that you can save face if the thing you’re hinting at isn’t received well. And depending on the context, sometimes laughing it off is the only socially acceptable way to reject a hint.

          I’ve tried to to directly shut down hints in the past. It Did Not Go Well. It never Goes Well. It usually ended with me being accused of thinking too highly of myself and why would I ever believe he was serious?

          1. sayevet*

            The indirect approach I’ve been trying is making a weird face and saying “That makes me uncomfortable.” It’s not as aggressive, and it makes me feel like I’m sharing my discomfort with the person who made me uncomfortable.

            1. Anon7*

              Another option might be the “What do you mean by that?”/”That’s an odd thing to say” follow up. It keeps feelings out of the equation, which sometimes helps. I’ve had one or two experiences where the second feelings enter the discussion it becomes even more uncomfortable.

          2. Vicki*

            I wonder if the OP could take some advice from Miss Manners and, instead of laughing, say things like:
               – I’m sorry, what did you mean?
            – I didn’t quite understand that, could you explain
            – could you repeat that?
            or the simple
            – wow. really?

          3. an anon*

            It’s the same dynamic street harassment. “Hey pretty lady, I would love to get to know you” turns into “stuck up ugly b*tch” on the turn of a dime.

          4. Lissa*

            Yup. This is the worst, and tbh, the type of frustration I experience most with rejecting people. It’s not that the guys are too aggressive and I’m afraid of retaliation, it’s that they won’t *say* anything outright so I’m put in the position of ignoring or “prejecting” them, and, like you said, it never goes well.

        5. Newby*

          I’ve heard many guys complain about the fact that women won’t directly reject them and is it really that hard. The problem is that there are a significant number of men who take outright rejection very very badly and it really only takes once to learn that not directly saying “no, I’m not interested” is safer and usually works just as well.

          1. Aurion*

            Ha, but there are a lot of people (men and women) who never directly ask someone out. If you don’t ask directly, then you don’t get to complain about not being rejected directly. And that’s ignoring the very real concern that some people do not take rejection well!

            I (a woman) asked a guy out directly (using the word “date”, not just “let’s go grab coffee”) when I was in university and my roommates were astounded. Astounded, I tell you.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Okay, correct me if I’m wrong–I know coffee is actually a date, but isn’t it kind of like a mini-date? You meet for coffee to see if you want to actually go out on a date date? (I’m out of practice, blergh.)

              Of course, with a coworker, lunch or coffee could just be work-ish. So that’s a real poser unless the person is very direct about it.

              1. Aurion*

                Hahaha, I am the worst at dating (I may have mentioned here before, but I feel like I’m sort of on the ace spectrum–ace-ish, but not aro). Basically all I know about dating is what I picked up from perusing the internet, but it’s not really intuitive understanding :)

                As far as I know, coffee is like a mini-date–or I prefer to think of it as an overture of friendliness. So in the context of dating, it’s a low-key way to gauge your interest for nicer dates; at work it’s an attempt to build a relationship beyond “Will who does the TPS reports” and might not have anything to do with romance at all. It’s more of a “hey, I think you’re cool, can we know each other better?” gesture. It may or may not lead to a deepening relationship, for whatever kind of relationship you want.

                I’m better at observation now so I can sometimes pick up hints of flirting (I used to be incredibly obtuse about it), but for me it’s still kind of like reading off a checklist–I notice things like “oh, did he just touch me on the shoulder?” or “…he just called me dear by accident, didn’t he” or “he’s holding eye contact a second too long” but it’s very much trained observation and not intuitive. I’m usually better at noticing when I’m a third party rather than when people are interested in me. Which is why I tend to be very, very explicit :)

                That said, I assume all interactions with me are platonic unless I observe overwhelming evidence to the contrary; my feelings, the incredibly rare time they do occur, move at the pace of glaciers. Predictably, I don’t recall many instances of people flirting with me–people probably give up long before I get the hint.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I assume all interactions with me are platonic unless I observe overwhelming evidence to the contrary

                  I think this needs to be an automatic default at work. :)

                  Thanks for validating my perception re the coffee.

                2. Susan C.*

                  Ahahah…. yes. Oh gods. Aro and oblivious, and in addition to what you describe: bi and very much not ace, having a dang hard time of it because with other women, being subtly physically affectionate goes from ‘platonic’ straight to ‘inappropriate’ – do not pass ‘flirting’, do not draw her number on a cocktail napkin.

                  Learning to use your words really is the only way to go.

              2. Bluesboy*

                I was told once never to ask a woman out for coffee. The logic was that coffee is kind of a ‘daytime’ date, which screams colleague, buddy, ‘friend zone’ and leads to never getting any closer than that. Ask her out for coffee if you want to be friends, ask her out for drinks or dinner if you want more.

                Admittedly I don’t live in the States, and things could be different there, but it seems to work like that here in Italy (or at least in my city). So at least here coffee wouldn’t be considered a ‘mini-date’!

            2. Lanon*

              My 5 cents here as a guy. If I want to go out with someone, first of all I don’t go out with coworkers and doubly not with direct reports, but if I want to go out with someone, I just ask. If there is chemistry and she’s interested, thats nice. If not, at least I know where it stands and don’t need to pursue further.

              Dropping hints and counter hints seems inefficient to me, and if someone is not into you, they’re not into you, and no amount of annoying them will change that. To the contrary, actually.

          2. ginger ale for all*

            There are guys who take it hard. I am on a dating site and every so often, guys will write in their profile that women won’t respond to them when they send the one word flirts of hello or the such and then rant about ungrateful women, etc.

            1. Blue Anne*

              Yeah. I do a whole lot of not-responding to guys on dating sites. Mostly they just give up after one message, but some of them really go off on me for not responding to them. And then male friends ask me why I just don’t respond instead of flatly rejecting these guys…

              1. many bells down*

                I follow some of those “bad dating” blogs, and they’ll get an ask one day that says “Just tell them you’re not interested!” and they’ll post a collage of women saying “I’m not interested” and having dudes argue with them. Then the next day they get “Just ignore the message if you’re not interested!” and they’ll post a collage of Guys Not Getting the Hint of being ignored.

                And then the next day will be “It’s rude to not reply!” and the cycle repeats.

            2. justsomeone*

              Check out the tumblr whiteboystexting – you’ll see soooooo many examples of that it will make you sick! or I think the other is the IG Feministontinder.

          3. TootsNYC*

            “I’ve heard many guys complain about the fact that women won’t directly reject them and is it really that hard. The problem is that there are a significant number of men who take outright rejection very very badly…”

            Specifically, those guys who are complaining are the guys who will take outright rejection very very badly.

            Because guys who don’t take rejection badly? They’re willing to understand and accept the soft no.

        6. OlympiasEpiriot*

          I am a woman, I have friends and acquaintances who are are women. We don’t laugh in response to hints. Frequently, we are trying to be diplomatic in the response. I — because I am a certain kind of angels-fear-to-tread-be-damned kind of person — DO shut them down when it is unwelcome for whatever reason (inappropriate work contact, disgusting, whatever) but I can assure you, I am nearly alone in that in my circle.

          Women laugh in response to this in order not to make the flirter angry.

        7. Observer*

          It’s more likely that she’s laughing off the hints, because she knows that actually saying NO will have repercussions. After all, when she DOES say no. it “gets weird” – including being professionally punished! Of course she’s going to minimize their advances without being actively “bitchy”. Because saying no to a hint is treated as being “bitchy” and saying no at all is grounds for harassment.

        8. MashaKasha*

          Ugh, no. I’m not “young and attractive”, but I was at some point. When you’re in that position, *any* response to unwanted flirting, short of a kick to the crotch, is being interpreted as “showing interest”. For the plain and simple reason that a young, attractive woman in a male-dominated workplace is rarely, if ever, taken seriously. How can she possibly know what she wants? Her older male coworkers know better and are always eager to tell her what is good for her: to date them, of course. Any attempt to shut them down will be blown off. I guarantee you that “I’m not interested” would be read as playing hard to get, or as “she’s supposed to say this, but she doesn’t really mean it, because she said it in a nice voice and wasn’t scowling”… more flirting ensues.


          1. Annie Moose*

            See also: that time that I said the words “I’m not interested in dating you” and the guy immediately said “well, maybe sometime”. I literally said the words “not interested” and he heard it as “possibly interested”. What else are you supposed to do at that point? What possible ambiguity is left?!

            1. Critter*

              Once told a guy directly, when he hinted, “I am not interested in that way. Do not ask me out.”

              He asked me out.

              1. many bells down*

                My sister-in-law was talking to a guy on a dating site, and he started telling her they should go camping, for the weekend, alone as a first date. She said “That makes me really uncomfortable and I’m no longer interested in meeting you.”

                He replied “omg why are you sending these mixed signals can’t you say what you mean?”

                1. MashaKasha*

                  Holy cow! Did she say what she meant? “Well normally, when I go on a first date, I expect to get back to my friends and family in one piece, preferably on the same evening”

                  Or would he have called this a mixed message too?

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Presumably their conversation before that was along the lines of “yes, I love camping, and I go camping all the time, even with men I’ve never met.” That would be a mixed signal. :-/

                3. AnonEMoose*

                  Argh. One of the reasons my husband is now my husband is that he showed, right from the first, that my boundaries were important to him. We met at an event, and exchanged numbers. His behavior was respectful, but he made it clear his interest was romantic.

                  We talked on the phone after that, and when he asked me out, he was the one to suggest meeting in a public location. Which said to me that he understood that I would have concerns about my safety, and didn’t take it as a personal slam.

                  I do understand, up to a point – if you’re a decent person, it’s shocking and upsetting when someone treats you as a potential threat. But for women, the stakes are huge, and we’ve had it drummed into us, from a young age and a variety of sources, that if something does happen to us, the chorus of “why did she…” and “why didn’t she…” will start up immediately.

                4. many bells down*

                  @Rusty: I believe the conversation was about hobbies, and she said she enjoyed camping … and then he jumped right to “alone in the woods for several days would be a great first date!”

                  Clearly a “mixed message” because if you like camping you must want to do it with anyone who asks, right?

                5. Observer*

                  @AnonEMoose To me the issue isn’t even what people are going to say, but something an old driving instructor used to tell his students about defensive driving. “Yes, you may have been right and the other guy wrong. But, you’ll still be in the hospital if you are lucky.”

                  Some people are incredibly judgemental. But even if you don’t care about that, when the risk is that high, you need to protect yourself. And, if a guy doesn’t get that, that’s a problem. If I don’t know you well enough to form an opinion it’s just to dangerous to give you that much benefit of the doubt.

            2. all aboard the anon train*

              I’ve had variations of that reply. The latest being, “but you’re always single when I see you, so maybe eventually”.

              I said “no, I’m, not interested in dating you”. I’m not going to change my mind years later. My life is not a romantic comedy where I decide I really did love this dude five years after he first asked me out.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yeah. The argument seems to be that anything short of, “I would literally not even date you if we were the sole survivors of an apocalypse and humanity’s only chance for repopulation. I would be like that guy in that Ray Bradbury story who ran away from the last woman on Mars and lived out his entire life in peaceful isolation forever. I would spend the rest of my life consuming canned goods and breaking into libraries for the reading material, completely alone, rather than date you, ever” is a “soft no” because maybe someday!

                And even if I did say that, I get the feeling that some guys would be like “oh come on, by year 30 of isolation among the zombie hordes, you’d change your mind. I’ll ask again in a few days.”

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  If I were humanity’s last chance for repopulation, the species would be doomed, anyway!

                  But yes, I know one guy who, at various times, I have wanted to look at and say something like: “I am never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, going to sleep with you. Not going to happen.” I never have, because situations being what they are, it’s easier to ignore it. But I’ve really wanted to!

        9. Marisol*

          I think you might be reading the “laughing” in a way that the OP didn’t intend, or at the very least, you’re reading it differently than the (other) women commenting. There’s laughter that says, “ha ha ha, I’m delighted that you’re so funny,” and there’s laughter that is polite, but more dismissive in nature, like when you chuckle and wave your hand in a way that says, “oh, you and your crazy notions.” I am assuming it was the latter kind of laughter. And men are perfectly capable of distinguishing between the two in a real conversation–they just choose to ignore the signal.

      3. The invisible (to some) woman*

        I understand your frustration. I would also ask you, however, to be compassionate towards women who get their backs up about this. As someone who has been actively mistreated in professional settings because I am an unattractive woman, it’s hard not to read accounts of women who receive constant positive attention from men as a humblebrag.

        Now, that’s **my problem**, I know. I understand on a logical level that it’s just the same side of the coin of valuing women based on their appearance. I would definitely not want attention from the type of man who would act like that, and I realize that it can make women feel (or be!) unsafe. However, as someone whose professional opportunities have been limited by my inability to please heterosexual men visually, it still stings to read these types of columns and comments.

          1. Koko*

            And in fact, her professional opportunities are also being limited, by her ability “to please heterosexual men visually.”

            1. MashaKasha*

              Very true! Hard to make a name for yourself professionally when your colleagues think of you as the blonde with the boobs. BTDT

            2. Pissed off*

              And let’s not forget having to prove yourself once you get into a job to demonstrate that you were hired for me than your looks…say, for example, your ability to do a great job.

                1. MashaKasha*

                  Depends on the field. I’m in IT. Until my early 40s, it was the same thing at any new job: you walk into the office and everyone is OMG BLONDE, QUICK, HIDE ALL OF THE CODE, SHE’LL BREAK EVERYTHING!

                  Though I admit, on occasion, it was easier to get hired; but for the wrong reasons. Which again meant that you had to work twice as hard to prove yourself to everyone; both that you can do the job you were hired for, and that you’re not secretly blowing your management in the parking lot in exchange for raises and promotions. (I had a former coworker spread a variation of this rumor about me once. Wish I was kidding. It got back to me on the very next day.)

          2. KG, Ph.D.*

            Agreed. Sexual harassment is NOT positive attention. Unwanted sexual attention is not a positive thing, ever, for any reason. Just because it feels positive to the person doing the harassing or to the person nearby not receiving the same attention does not make it so.

        1. Observer*

          You are apparently totally misreading the issue here. Never mind the fact that behavior that makes women unsafe, or even feel unsafe is hardly something to be so dismissive about. The simple fact is that women who are being hit on in ways that letters like this describe have their professional opportunities limited in the very same ways that women who are unattractive do. And, then when they complain, they get put down for being too full of themselves and thinking that they are SOO attractive, when all they want is to be left alone and allowed to have the same professional opportunities as men without having to visually (or sexually!) please the men in their organizations. AND they also get to have their qualifications, credentials and success questioned because they “must have slept / flirted their way to the top”.

          1. The invisible (to some) woman*

            All excellent points by some1, KoKo, KG, and Observer; I was apparently careless with my language.

            My point was that while women pay a professional penalty for being women in the workplace–whether they are limited by an excess or a deficit of male attention–unattractive women perceive that we bear an additional social penalty as well in all settings, which is why this sample size of 1 has not always reacted as supportively as I wish I had when other women shared stories of harassment.

            By writing “positive” attention, I meant things that could be perceived as pleasant *if* they were wanted attentions–compliments and so on. I was contrasting this with things like having doors slammed onto one’s face, being mocked, and that kind of undeniably cruel treatment. But it’s true: if it’s objectifying, it all sucks.

            1. Tobias Funke*

              Yep. I’ve been barred from training and many opportunities because NO FAT CHICKS and NO UGGOS and whatnot. I have spent many a night wishing I was pretty enough to be worth sexually harassing because then at least I could get some better experience to parlay into leaving.

              1. Nonprofit Nancy*

                I try to remember that it’s all the same toxic soup we’re all swimming in. Both women who are deemed sufficiently attractive, and women who are not, are both being victimized by the culture, and the least we can do is try to have each others’ backs and not be set against each other.

                1. MashaKasha*

                  Oh, I agree 100%, it totally is. These are two sides of the same disgusting coin, which is, being objectified and evaluated on our ability, or lack thereof, to be a proper sex object, instead of being seen and treated as an individual, a professional, or a colleague.

                2. Golden Lioness*

                  This!!! And then, the same toxic soup pits women against women to further give men more power by getting women to treat other women horribly. I have seen first hand how very attractive women were treated with horrible jealousy because other women perceived they were getting advantages they weren’t. It’s just sad.

                  The worst experience for me personally was a serious case of sexual harassment (I had to quit immediately without notice) by a boss, who was also a teacher at my last course at university…. and on top of that unpleasant uncalled for and unwanted harassment by him, every morning I would have an abusive voicemail from his wife threatening to beat me up, telling me I was a wH0#3 and she would never give him up to me… sigh. This one was so bad that almost ended with police getting involved.

              2. Observer*

                Don’t kid yourself. Unfortunately, being that pretty doesn’t get you better experience. Again, this letter is a perfect example – she got shut out of work meetings because of this. How many times have we heard of women who weren’t allowed to get a certain assignment, or go on a particular business trip, either as retaliation or because someone’s spouse wouldn’t be comfortable with her working with someone?

                As Nonprofit Nancy says, it’s all the same toxic soup.

            2. LCL*

              You explained yourself very well. I totally get what you said and have similar experiences in my past. That was one of the reasons I got out of the restaurant business; I looked realistically at who got promoted and knew that I wasn’t in that group. I never hated my prettier sisters, but I hated the game.

            3. Marisol*

              Invisible Woman I think your response to the criticisms above is magnanimous, and I appreciate you sharing your perspective. I did not think you misread or misunderstood anything. Your opinion of the situation is informed by your experience, just like all the other commenters here, and you incisively delineate the difference between your logical understanding of the situation as presented, and your emotional reaction to it. You used the word “positive”…so what. Unwanted attention may not be positive in strictest sense, but you were comparing two situations, and when compared to a deliberate attempt to hurt and belittle you, I would say an unwanted request for a date *is* positive, at least the more positive of the two. I personally would rather be asked out on a date multiple times than be mocked for my appearance multiple times. And I say this as an ardent, uncompromising feminist who takes the subject of sexual harassment quite seriously.

              Yes, they are two sides of the same coin and yes, women of all types have it hard in the workplace. However I think the people who have been quick to parse the semantics of your comment and disagree with them have failed to understand your broader point–you asked for compassion. I don’t see a lot of compassion in the comments and I think that’s a shame. I am trying to imagine what it must be like to experience things like doors slammed in my face and it is almost too hurtful to think about. I don’t think women who complain about sexual harassment are humble bragging at all, but I do think you have contributed meaningfully to this dialogue by sharing a different point of view.

              My mother spent some time modeling before she got married, and I inherited most, though not all, of her good looks. My sister was adopted, and is not conventionally pretty. She also has a slight case of cerebral palsy that gives her a limp, and my heart grieves when I think of her experiences in school compared to mine. She didn’t go to prom; she wasn’t in school plays, etc. etc. On the bright side, she has never had a problem having long-term boyfriends, possibly because she has always managed to have a good relationship with my father (unlike me), so her relationship skills serve her well and are significantly better than mine. Still, the differences in the way I think we have been treated throughout life make me sad.

              I am normally more of a “thinker” than a “feeler” and tend to eschew sentimentalism, but in this case, I think people reading your comments should use their heart when considering what you have said. I try, as much as possible, to consider other women as my “sisters” and not to invalidate them. I get the impression that you asked for something simple, just some understanding of where you are coming from, and instead got an unnecessary rebuke. Perhaps some people read your comment as invalidating or dismissive toward those who want to combat sexual harassment, but I didn’t. You have a point of view that differs somewhat from what the majority here are saying, and I think your perspective is valuable, and would have made great fodder for further dialogue. It’s too bad it didn’t go that way, but I admire your courage in sharing.

              1. Observer*

                I think you missed something important here. I certainly understand where she is coming from. And, I most definitely do have compassion, because what she’s experienced stinks and should not happen. But when you wave away things that make women feel unsafe – or actually BE unsafe, when you call degrading and negative attention positive, when you deny the genuine damage that many women suffer, that’s every bit as invalidating as you claim others have been.

                Let’s be clear. It is absolutely true that in many circumstances women who are attractive fare better than women who aren’t. But that’s true of men as well. To some extent, the difference is greater for women, so there is that. And, we do need to acknowledge that women do tend to get judged more on looks than men do.

                But, what this letter describes goes well beyond that. Repeated, clearly unwanted requests for dates are NOT at all “positive”. This is not just a “strict” reading of the words. What you seem to miss is that these requests come from the same place that the behavior to Invisible comes from. In both cases, women are not valued as people. So, if you are fat or ugly, you’re on the outs from minute one. If you are reasonably attractive, or at least not unattractive, you have value as eye candy and a source of amusement and pleasure to the men around you, and nothing else. The repeated requests for dates are an expression of that. If you don’t believe me, look at what happens when she says no.

                Perhaps your sister has better luck with long term relationships in part because her looks automatically filter out the jerks who look at women as sources of pleasure and nothing else.

              2. Mananana*

                What a lovely, well-thought out response to Invisible. I read her “positive” comment as being the opposite of the negative attention she’s received. Not that she thought that being harassed was a positive experience. Personally, I’d rather be subjected to the advances of an ardent suitor than being called a fat cow. And I speak from personal experience. On both ends of the spectrum. Being found attractive by someone I wasn’t interested in was far easier on my psyche than being denigrated for my weight.

              3. Lissa*

                Marisol, thank you, you articulated what I was thinking perfectly. I for one, really appreciated Invisible’s comment and didn’t read it as dismissive in the slightest.

      4. kac*

        I really didn’t read it as a “price of admission.” I think there is a particular slice of sexual harassment that falls on the shoulders of young, conventionally attractive women who are “nice”–i.e. non-confrontational. When women are taught to laugh things off and/or “not get the joke” as a way to thwart unwanted advances, instead of telling these men firmly and unequivocally that they are being inappropriate, these men continue to push the line and “nice girls” continue to be at a loss for how to handle the situation.

        Age is a factor in that, for a lot of women, as we get older, we get more comfortable just saying no. (Although I have dear friends who are 50 and still struggle with this.)

        I’m not saying this kind of harassment is worse than any other kind of harassment. But I do think it’s a special “flavor” that young “nice” women may find themselves facing.

        1. Nonprofit Nancy*

          Unfortunately, when “nice” young women assert themselves, the penalties are often extremely severe. I was also “nicer” when I was younger because I was just starting out in my career and didn’t have much skills or experience to offer – one vindictive boss, or even coworker, could probably have destroyed me with a bad reference. It’s easier to be more assertive if you’re slightly more immune to an individual’s reaction. Also, it’s problematic when our solution is to tell women to toughen up – it’d be nice if we spent at least equal time telling men not to be d*cks.

        2. TootsNYC*

          And because older women get more comfortable with just saying no, men are less likely to bother us. It’s not really because we’re not “pretty” anymore; it’s because they know they’ll catch shit for it, and they don’t want to bother.

          We look strong. Younger women appear weaker. And I’d bet, kac, that those women over 50 who get that are women who in some way appear more vulnerable or more traditional.

          Our age, and our life experience / confidence also means that we won’t be vulnerable to the pushback that these guys will give to younger women. It’s still all about the power, and even younger women who stand up for themselves will be seen (by these guys) as not having enough power to make a difference. They’ll just amp it up because their stereotypes are telling them, “This woman CAN’T have enough power to thwart me.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I agree with this. Some retail settings are viewed as meat markets by some men. It’s was very funny to me to watch a guy’s jaw drop when me and my gray hair would walk over to bail out a younger coworker.

            My younger self was not especially pretty, I was the girl guys made rude remarks to because I did not fit their idea of pretty/beautiful. At first that bothered me, then I realized just it was another type of people filter that I could use. A guy who let me know he thought I was a “dog” within the first minute of conversation, I knew I could just move on, no fuss, no muss. It was a very easy decision.

            But honestly, it made it hard for me to trust men. One comment I found helpful was to say, “If someone was talking to your mother/sister/girlfriend/niece the way you are talking to me now, what would you say to them?”

            1. many bells down*

              I am feeling this comment because I was also the weird, ugly, frizzy-haired flat-chested big-nosed girl who got called all sorts of rude things by men. And then I hit 30 or so, and some combination of self-confidence and outward presentation changed me into “attractive.” So now I get what are quite possibly genuine compliments but I don’t trust them. They make me really uncomfortable. Even though *believing* that I looked good was part of the equation, I still am not sure anyone *else* believes it.

        3. La*

          “When women are taught to laugh things off and/or “not get the joke” as a way to thwart unwanted advances, instead of telling these men firmly and unequivocally that they are being inappropriate, these men continue to push the line and “nice girls” continue to be at a loss for how to handle the situation. ”

          Men continue to push the line regardless of whether women are firm or not. There have been plenty of stories in the comments already of women saying no explicitly and being burned or ignored.

          Women cannot be the only ones responsible for enforcing the social behavior of men, particularly since women have less social, financial, and political power in our culture. Men continue to push because they are taught that pushing is the way you succeed. Women were taught to be non-confrontational as a survival tactic.

          1. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

            Women are also taught from a young age to be non-confrontational because it’s considered a critical aspect of performing femininity, and femininity and the gender “woman” are often treated as interchangeable. That’s why the discussion upthread where posters concluded that we swim in the same sick pool, regardless of appearance, is so crucial. As adult females in the workplace, we’re all judged, sometimes VERY harshly, on our ability to perform femininity, and failure to perform this in a manner considered becoming and appropriate — with “failures” ranging in scope and definition, from a direct “no thanks” to pest-like incessant flirting, to an appearance and demeanor that is judged “not feminine enough” or “too feminine” according to the random, vacillating, and highly arbitrary standards of the individual(s) doing the judging — results in penalties. Those, too, range in severity. A “mild” penalty for some of us could be a huffy “You’re not so great anyway…just who do you think you are?” — while a severe penalty can and does include dismissal or even being pushed out of an entire industry.

            Bottom line: Women are held to capricious, arbitrary, and unfair standards in our behavior, dress, demeanor, etc. and the penalties for flouting those standards are often as random and cruel as the ways the standards are devised, applied, and judged.

          2. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

            This. We need to stop socializing men to be pushy. (With women they are interested in, and in all situations. Just think of the glorification of vicious-tempered, unethical male executives, or of the swaggering young job seekers who proclaim things like “you’re missing out on one of the greatest minds of the 21st century.”)

          3. Jennifer*

            And men usually to frequently don’t listen to anything we say anyway, like “No, I don’t want to boink you.”

      5. Lanon*

        To some extent that is true though. Through some of our biological urges, a large amount of men will just fawn over attractive young women. Its a matter of having them know when to not act on it, though.

        But as unfair as that sounds and as much as that sucks, there is no changing the inherent urge, and individuals with no self control will always find ways to act on it in a way that will make their targets uncomfortable.

    2. Temperance*

      I hope your parents also raised her to speak up for herself and have a backbone. IMO, the problem is that girls are socialized to consider other people’s feelings too often, to their own detriment.

      1. Gadfly*

        Well, and (as pointed out elsewhere) so that the men do not retaliate and hurt (physically or professionally) or even kill them. Nice both makes you more vulnerable and protects you. It is part of the basic catch 22 damned if you do damned if you don’t any choice you make is wrong situation women face.

        1. Nonprofit Nancy*

          +1 I so agree. There is a reason women tend to be nice, and it’s not just bc we’re silly. It’s a protective measure also.

        2. Lucky*

          Margaret Atwood seems apt here: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

          1. Gadfly*

            Unfortunately that quote is apt so often that you can just say Atwood in a lot of places and EVERYONE can chant it in unison. It is universal enough to be a tag :/

    3. always anon*

      “Genuinely nice” usually means non-confrontational and polite, which usually leads to women who don’t know how to stick up for themselves when they’re in an uncomfortable situation. Men are rarely raised with the same lessons.

      Also, “bitchy” behavior is so subjective. Some people think women saying no are being bitchy. Also the phrase “a girl like her” is just….well, I’ll refrain from expanding on my thoughts on that term. Ugh.

      1. Marisol*

        I don’t think they really think so-called “bitchy” behavior is bitchy; I think more often it’s just a way to emotionally blackmail women into submission–“if you don’t do what I want, I’ll think you’re a bitch” despite the fact that on some level, the person using this threat recognizes that the woman’s position is valid. I think when a woman can own her anger (her “bitchiness”) and tolerate other people’s disapproval, the idea of a bitch loses its power: “yeah, sometimes I’m a bitch, what of it? I’m going to move forward anyway.” Just like men who want to get ahead in their careers have to be ok with sometimes being an asshole, or being regarded as such. I’m not saying that the “bitch” label is *never* a legitimate obstacle, but I think a lot of the time it’s illusory, and the trick is to see through it. Hope that makes sense…I’m in a food coma right now…

        1. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

          The definition of “bitch” is often as simple as “a woman who insists on being treated like a human being.”

    4. Jennifer*

      A lot of guys take a woman being young and being even barely polite to them as a sign that she wants to bang them, unfortunately.

      I don’t know how the hell you’d handle it. I try to NOT be anything but barely cordial to some people and they still take it the wrong way.

  9. Zahra*

    Does not joining a group lunch because your boss is attracted to you something that constitutes discrimination in the legal sense? Male coworkers get to build rapport and business relationships that will help them in their career at the organization and during their whole professional careers.

    I guess it would if other women are excluded on the same basis too and if it was more than an instance here and there.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The stuff with the managers is potentially really legally problematic, absolutely. And it doesn’t require other women to face the same treatment in order to be actionable.

    2. Karo*

      I definitely originally read this as OP being asked to join lunch because it would make the ex uncomfortable. Which would be petty and icky, but what actually happened is just…wow.

    3. JHS*

      The “my bosses became weird to me after” part definitely could be impermissible retaliation. I’m not sure why OP is so sure it doesn’t constitute legally cognizable harassment. I am an employment lawyer, and this definitely could rise to that level. It is highly fact specific, so I am trusting OP knows that, but there have definitely been discrimination suits filed for less.

  10. Anonymous in the South*

    I think this is something a lot of women have to deal with, but we usually do so privately, as in, we say nothing and try to pretend everything is normal. Many women are taught to be “nice” from an early age and part of that is not hurting anyone’s feelings or getting anyone in trouble. The fact is what these men are doing is illegal and they need to be “getting in trouble”. Until the men who do this type of thing understand women are not put on Earth for their enjoyment/entertainment, every single one of them needs to be reported and they need to be in trouble.

    OP, this has nothing to do with anyone you are doing; it’s all on the men who are doing these things to you. Please suggest the training and give specific examples of what you have been through.

    1. JMegan*

      Yes. One of the things that came out in the Jian Ghomeshi story (which is easily google-able, if you’re not familiar with it) is just how many people had been impacted. Like, not just the handful of women who brought charges, but it sounds like he had hit on nearly every woman at the CBC at some point or other. And most of them didn’t say anything at the time, because they didn’t want to get in trouble, didn’t want to get him in trouble, didn’t think they would be believed, and so on.

      This kind of thing happens to so many women, and so many women don’t talk about it for one reason or another. Which is not to say that anyone does have an obligation to talk about it, if they feel unsafe or for any other reason. But there is often some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone, and there is (unfortunately) more believability and more chance of meaningful change, as more people do start speaking up.

      1. Catabodua*

        I might not be remembering this correctly – but wasn’t one of them fired after she rejected his advances? I mean, they came up with another (legal) reason, but the message got out that if you complained you’d get fired and nothing would happen to him.

      2. Girasol*

        I read an interesting article that said that often men who catcall on the streets do it not to impress the woman but to show off their masculinity to other men. OP’s letter reminded me of that. If they’re all hitting on her, are they doing it to impress one another?

        1. Judy*

          In my ’20s, my first job out of college, I had about 5 guys flirt and ask me out in the first 6 months I was at that company. I found out later from someone else, that they always have a betting pool about dating any female new hires. I think even some of the married guys put bets into the pot.

          That was more than 20 years ago, though.

      1. Anonymous in the South*

        Yes, I was raised to be “nice” but all that “niceness” died the day a coworker decided he liked my behind, slapped it and decided to grind me all within the view of the manager. The manager was smiling like it was all good until I turned and put a knee in the coworkers crotch and shoved him to the floor when he bent over double. I was 17. If I were the person I am today, I would have filed sexual harassment charges and named the manager as a witness.

        1. Lucky*

          That would be sexual assault in many states, not that it would have been prosecuted then or would be now. Sigh.

        2. Marisol*

          Well southern women are strong as hell too, which you clearly are (good on ya!) and I never saw them as being afraid to be bitchy at all, it was just bitchy with a nice veneer of social graces…nothing wrong with that, in my opinion…

        3. Clever Name*

          :( How awful. A coworker of mine had something like this happen to her at a prior job. She told management and the only thing they did was to make sure they didn’t work together any longer, but he faced no disciplinary action. Fast forward a few years, she joins our company and sees that he has applied for a job here. She tells the hiring manager, and they don’t interview him. Thank goodness.

      2. Anonymous in the South*

        Yes, I was raised to be “nice” but that ended the day the coworker that had been complimenting me on my behind decided to slap my behind and grind on me, all in view of the manager. The manager was smiling like it was all good until I turn around and put a nice in his crotch and shoved him in the floor when he bent over. I was 17. Had I been the person I am today, I would have filed sexual harassment charges and named the manager as a witness.

      3. many bells down*

        I raised my daughter to take no crap, and she is remarkably good at standing up for herself among her peers. But then the 3osomething manager at her very first afterschool job started texting her dick pics. And she still “didn’t want to get him in trouble.” Societal pressure to not rock the boat is really hard to overcome.

        (She was apparently not the only teenage employee who got to see Mr. Manager’s Tallywhacker. He was fired.)

  11. Amber T*

    Ugh. There’s a huge difference between a coworker who acts a bit awkward because of a crush, asks you out, then acts awkward after rejection. That’s life, and while ideally that wouldn’t happen in the work place, it happens. I don’t think anyone should be penalized for that.

    HOWEVER, that’s not what’s happening here. First off, those are creepy comments. Period. Personal or professional, just ew. A manager (A MANAGER) telling you you look hot with your hair up is 100% inappropriate and NOT COOL. As Alison said, that is a comment he should get in trouble for, because it’s wrong and gross and makes you uncomfortable (therefore, is detrimental to your ability to work).

    I agree that you should report it when you leave and consider reporting it if/when dumb crap happens like that again; however, I understand if you’re hesitant to do so, given that it’s BLEEPING MANAGEMENT pulling this crap. I don’t know if I picked up this trick here or elsewhere (I’m going to give credit to Alison anyway), but the next time someone says something ridiculous to you, just stop and stare and let out a good “wow,” and walk away. Never underestimate the power of a “wow.” It’s not confrontational, it’s not snotty or snide, but it does give the message of “what you just said is not cool, is pretty ridiculous, and don’t do it again.”

    (And sorry for all the random yelling/capitalization… this kind of crap always astounds me)

      1. VintageLydia*

        Unless you’re me and can’t physically do that and it becomes a weird paradoxical squinty/wide-eyed look.

          1. Snork Maiden*

            Also bonus points if you have glasses – you can look over the tops of them. (This also helps if you don’t feel comfortable making eye contact and are really nearsighted.)

        1. OhNo*

          Honestly, any expression of surprise/disbelief/astonishment will do equally well. I can’t do the single eyebrow either, much to my continual disappointment!

  12. Observer*

    You’re a lawyer, and you don’t think it’s legally actionable? I’m not a lawyer, but how could excluding you from a work lunch not be actionable? Especially if it’s part of a pattern.

    Please, absolutely, DO tell HR. And don’t worry about getting someone into trouble. If it is were ONE person, ONE time, it would be one thing. But this is a pattern, which means this is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Especially since it’s not “just” your being demoralized and tired, although that’s bad enough. It’s the fact that you not only suffer workplace repercussions for your “temerity”, you are suffering in ways that are specifically professional for issues that are purely personal and that zero to do with your ability to get your job done.

    On top of that, what kind of idiot makes workplace decisions and demands based on what his ex-girlfriend thinks / will think? That’s just incredibly bad judgement, even if potential sexual harassment were not in the picture. Ask yourself how you would react to a guy who said “I’m going to exclude Joe from some of our team meetings because my GF doesn’t approve of tattoos.” And then ask yourself how you would react if he said that it was because of his EX-gf.

    1. AMT*

      The whole letter read like, “I don’t want to make waves and I don’t think this is legally actionable, but my coworkers have set the building on fire and are dancing among the flames.” It just shows the extent to which women are socialized to think that this kind of behavior from men is normal and expected.

      1. PlainJane*

        “It just shows the extent to which women are socialized to think that this kind of behavior from men is normal and expected.” YES. I’m almost 50, and when I look back on the garbage I tolerated when I was young, this was so often the reason. Since sexual harassment started in about 6th grade–and no one did anything about it, ever–I learned that this kind of crappy behavior was just something I had to learn to put up with. It’s a form of conditioning that leads some of us to tolerate behavior that meets the definition of sexual assault, because it isn’t that much more extreme than what we’ve had to tolerate since forever. I’m so happy to see more women speaking out and refusing to put up with this kind of treatment. So, OP, please speak up. You deserve better.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I don’t think this is a one off in law. From what I am hearing there is plenty of sexual harassment to go around. Was it said here? Lawyers think they can get away with it because…. well, they are lawyers.

      3. Yup*

        AMT: not so much that the bahaviour is normal and expected, but that we as women are socialized to appease men and mollify their poor hurt feelings. Something I’ve realized only in the last few years, and I’m not that young anymore. UGH.

      1. Koko*

        Would that this kinda stuff stopped back then. It was also the plot of a Season 1 episode of Ally McBeal. Her college ex’s new girlfriend (who is a lawyer at a different firm) hires their firm to sue her own boss, who transferred her into a less-prestigious section (corporate mergers) because his wife didn’t like him working alongside an attractive young woman and “my family comes first.”

        That show aired in 1997 and that kind of stuff was still common enough to be a plausible plotline at that point in time.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          At the beginning of an old job of mine (not that long ago), my coworker warned me, “Hey, look out for Ron’s wife Lavender; she doesn’t like me because she thinks I’m too pretty to work with him. She might be snooty to you.” She said Lavender treated her very coolly from day one (coworker was indeed pretty and considered quite attractive there). Not that there was any chance of Ron straying–he was the soul of propriety, as far as we knew. He wasn’t super good-looking, just pleasantly average. But he was a very polite and affable man and everyone liked him.

          Lavender never acted unpleasant to me, and we did end up with a friendly rapport because I bent over backward to be nice to her, thanks to my coworker’s warning. The coworker and I joked that I probably wasn’t her type!

      2. many bells down*

        Reminds me of the letter last month from the woman debating what bathing suit to wear on a work retreat. And someone told her wearing a bikini would “piss off the board members’ wives.”

    2. A Lawyer*

      I am a lawyer and am confused as to her certainty that this is not actionable. There is almost certainly a strict company policy against managers asking their subordinates on dates, and from a legal perspective, there is a straight-faced argument that this rises to the level of a hostile work environment.

      Whether or not she decides to file a formal complaint, internally or externally, the OP should probably speak to an employment lawyer (who would tend to have a perspective and understanding of the nuances that are valuable), and acquaint herself with her company’s policy about dating in the workplace.

          1. Hermione*

            I googled a little and figured out this was a line from the show, but gosh I thought this was just the rudest comment when I first read it.

    1. Project Manager*

      THAT HAPPENED TO ME TOO! Way back in 2006. It was his friend’s boat, and my reaction was, “You want me to go out on a boat, where I can’t leave, with you, a near-stranger, and a bunch of total strangers, who would almost certainly be drinking and might well drink to excess??? No, I would not like to be the inspiration for next week’s episode of CSI Miami!!” So I declined. Kinda wish I had said all that to him, but it was over email, so instead I just ignored it (easy to do because I had been away from my desk all day due to an office move, and this was before I had a work laptop or a smartphone).

  13. just another librarian*

    You’re not getting anyone into trouble by reporting their poor behavior. They are getting themselves into trouble.

    1. 42*

      This is an important point that that the OP should consider and deserves highlighting, and I wish I too had considered it when I replied up above.

      Because I actually said it once to a friend who had a restraining order on her partner. There was a no contact stipulation which included electronic contact. He sent her a text, it upset her, and I made sure she reported it. Her response was “I’m going to send him to jail for a text??”, and my response was “No, he’s sending himself to jail for a text.”

      Tangential anecdote, but the same lesson holds.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        That is such a good point. I really like the way Captain Awkward puts it, too – that you are not the one “making it awkward.” The person who did whatever already made it awkward; you’re just returning the awkward to where it belongs.

        1. the gold digger*

          A friend and I took a self defense class years ago. The instructor showed us how to gouge out the eye of an attacked, but then cautioned, “But think really hard if you would be willing to blind someone who is attacking you.”

          I didn’t have to think at all. Yes. If you try to harm me, what happens when I defend myself is your fault, not mine.

          1. Observer*

            Actually, the instructor was right. The question is not whether it’s “OK” – of course it is. The issue is that you need to think this through otherwise, when push comes to shove, you may not be able to go through with it, or you’ll do it and then be traumatized. You might still be traumatized, but much less so if you knew what you were dealing with going in.

            1. OhNo*

              Much as I hate to say it, this is true. Especially when you learn things that hurt people (whether that’s self defense tricks or how to shoot a gun), you really do have to think about what you’re able to live with after it’s all said and done.

              That said, I HATE how many self-defense instructors phrase it. They don’t say it like “think about it, because you have to live with it later”. Instead they tend to present it like, “think about it, because you might wreck someone’s life just because they decided to assault you”, which is absolute BS and makes me want to roll my eyes so hard they’d fall out of my head.

              1. Amber T*

                I remember, when I was a kid in Tae Kwon Do, learning self defense, specifically if a grown man attacked me how to kick him between the legs. My instructor (a man) drilled it into our heads that if someone is attacking you, you attack right back until you can get away.

                If you are being attacked, it won’t end up good for you. You will be hurt, physically and mentally. The person attacking you knows this and is choosing to do so anyway (really, is choosing to do so for that reason). If someone were to physically attack me, I have no qualms kicking and scratching and biting – they made their decision to attack me, and I made my decision to fight back. I’ve never been put in this position and I pray that I never will be, but I think the amount of pressure a victim gets to feel guilty for fighting back is utter horse manure.

              2. Amadeo*

                This is what I love about my TKD instructor. I can’t run to save my life to begin with, so I had to learn to fight. She’d be pretty miffed with most of her students if she’d heard one of them didn’t fight when they needed to.

              3. A Non*

                Ugh. My self-defense teachers made sure we knew what injuries were likely to result from each move we learned, but that’s so that we had a sense of proportionality if we ever had to use this stuff. Like, don’t hit someone’s neck unless you think your life is in danger. Here are the signs that your life is likely in danger. Here is how the cops are going to view it when they show up. (A couple of my teachers were cops, they dealt with this stuff constantly.) The lack of mercy or sympathy for the attacker was awesome.

              4. neverjaunty*

                Exactly. Big difference.

                There’s a scene in a Marge Pierce novel, if I recall correctly, where the protagonist is attacked by a friend of her brother and fights him off by breaking an expensive bottle over his head. Her grandmother approves, and tells her “Don’t worry about hurting the man. He certainly isn’t worried about hurting you.”

            2. sometimeswhy*

              Yep. AND if you can’t, if you have a good long talk with yourself and realize that you just can’t, then you know not to train that scenario. Don’t embed something in your muscle memory that your brain won’t let you do and discover that you freeze when you need it. Train something else you can live with until you can do it in your sleep to someone three times your size.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I read a book about cops’ spouses and the whole fear of them never coming home thing. The authors talked to some of the cops who had survived deadly encounters, and the majority of the ones who lived were those who had visualized the scenarios ahead of time. Everybody talking about the ones who didn’t said something like, “He/she never thought this could happen to him/her. He/she couldn’t react in time.”

                I know that’s an extreme example, but you can do the same thing with workplace confrontation. If you’re in a situation like the OP’s and you don’t know if you can say “Patrick, please stop saying that. It’s inappropriate,” to your boss or a partner, it really helps to practice.

                1. Marisol*

                  I second this idea–practice like that is always a good idea, even for things like difficult conversations you need to have. I had a life coach who made that kind of practice a regular thing for all her clients, and she would always say, “everybody hates doing this, and everybody gets it wrong” so that people would feel free to hate the exercise, and then suck at it, while still doing it. We would role-play a conversation with the coach (workplace convo, difficult family member convo) and then when the time came, it rolled off the tongue, even if it still felt uncomfortable. I found it so effective and it really trained my brain to be more successful in all difficult conversations, even the ones that came up spontaneously that I couldn’t practice in advance.

                2. Marisol*

                  Also, if anyone is interested, the coach is Barbara Deutsch and you can find her online. It would be structured like, the person who feels confident in her ability to respond (in my case, the life coach) would be you, and you would be the person you need to have the dialogue with (boss, toxic friend, whoever). So you would witness the conversation playing out successfully as the friend/coach does your part. Then roles would switch, and you would be you, and the friend/coach would be the other person, and you could try out your new script that you just observed.

                3. cercis*

                  That’s such a good point. I constantly rehearse “scripts” for conversations I think might be awkward (being asked to apply for a job I don’t want or at a place I WON’T work, being asked why I quit my previous job, etc). 95% of the conversations never happen, but when the 5% do I’m ready with an answer and don’t stammer and sound really stupid (or say things that I really shouldn’t have said like “are you f’ing kidding me – that place is a cluster-f—“).

                  I also spend a lot of time thinking of worst case scenarios and planning how I will handle it. My husband says this makes me a pessimist. I say that it makes me someone who is prepared. My previous boss HATED it and constantly referred to my negative attitude (one of MANY reasons I quit). So far, the worst case has never happened, but I feel that if it did, I wouldn’t waste time trying to come up with a solution because I’d already have one ready.

                4. A Non*

                  Yes, this! I’ve stood alone in front of a mirror and tried to say “no, that’s not okay”… and been unable to do it. I was shocked. Turns out practice is really important.

                5. Connie-Lynne*

                  I agree! I was harassed in a hotel bar last year and I very calmly took the man’s arm off my shoulder and said “I do not feel like being hugged by strangers tonight.” I was so amazed that those calm, clear, direct words were what came out of my mouth at the time, but then I realized that after a workplace boob-grabbing incident in my 20s, I had made a habit of visualizing how I would deal with various other types of harassment. I was prepared, and it mattered (Mr Wouldnt-Stop-Trying-To-Hug-and-Grope got removed and banned).

            3. 42*

              That’s a bingo. I’m a former karate instructor, and it may feel more natural to do a technique like that when you’ve been training for years and years, but that is an excellent point to reinforce to a self defense class. Plus you have to fully commit to the move you’re about to make, or else you’ll just piss them off.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                When we learned very basic self-defense in my middle school PE class, we were warned not to go for the crotch kick unless we were in a setting that allowed for escape afterward, because we would have just pissed him off a lot. Which, now that I think about it, provided the subliminal lesson of “if you don’t think you can get away, either be nice or kill him outright.”

          2. Xarcady*

            A man, on our board of directors, once visited my small company office when he knew I would be alone there–the other three employees were away for a week at a conference. This was back in the early 80s, I was only a few years out of college, pre-Anita Hill and awareness of sexual harassment.

            He snuck up behind me, reached around and grabbed my boobs. Years of self-defense classes came into play, and in a few seconds, I had stomped on his foot, turned around and kneed him where it would hurt the most, while screaming my head off. I didn’t even think–I just reacted.

            The guys in the office on the floor above heard me and came running downstairs.(They knew I was alone for the week.) Which was nice, as I had somehow managed to break the guy’s foot while stomping on it, and they were helpful in getting him to the hospital.

            He tried to pass it off as an accident incurred while cleaning his gutters, but my boss was more than happy to tell everyone in our small industry the truth. I had to endure some jokes about guys being afraid to even speak with me, for a while. But this was a very masculine industry with not a lot of women around, and I didn’t mind that reputation one bit.

            I have no regrets about what I did. That guy got exactly what he deserved.

            And for once, I was grateful for growing up with 6 brothers, and deciding that when they all started taking karate and other self-defense lessons, I needed to take them as well, just so they wouldn’t feel able to practice on me.

            1. sometimeswhy*

              Amazing. I am going to keep this in my imaginary pop-up-book of happy thoughts.

              This is way, WAY more satisfying than the time I screamed “GODDAMNIT DON’T TOUCH ME!” at the top of my lungs, prompting people to run out of their offices to find out what was wrong only to find my boss standing next to me, looking at his hands (which were still just above my shoulders where he’d decided to give me a surprise massage) like they had mutinied and gone off and done that thing on their own.

              1. Rana*

                One thing that the self-defense class I took in college emphasized was the importance of Name, Identify the Problem, Correct with Precision, when dealing with bad behaviors. e.g. “You are touching my arm. I do not like it. Remove your hand from my arm.”

                It’s super effective, especially if you say it in a stern, calm voice, but there’s something to be said for the WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?! approach too!

            2. sometimeswhy*

              Same boss, btw, who joked every time when sensitivity and harassment training came around that he’d need an intermediate or advanced class to get better at it.

              har har har get it har har get better at harassing get it har barf /deadpan

    2. One Esk Nineteen*

      EXACTLY. The consequences of their actions are not your fault! If they didn’t want to get in trouble for harassing you, they could have easily avoided that by…drumroll, please…not harassing you! Very simple, really.

      Obviously, of course, it’s not as simple as “press button, make guilt go away”. We’ve been socialized to care so much about everyone else. So if you feel guilty about it, go ahead. Bene Gesserit it and let the guilt pass over you and through you, and then do what you gotta do.

    3. Marisol*

      This is a wonderful maxim, and I would think nearly universally applicable any time someone misbehaves. The victim isn’t responsible for the perpetrator’s actions–they (the perpetrator) got *themselves* into trouble.

  14. Bend & Snap*

    I have such a lemon face reading this. YES it needs to be addressed, NO you’re not overreacting, and HOLY SHIT does the company need to make some changes.

    What a terrible work culture and feeling to endure.

  15. Edith*

    Can I just add how tired I am that sexual harassment is treated as an infraction on the same plane as tardiness or handing in an expense report a day late? When I complained about my harasser the response was literally “Oh he’s bugging you now? We’ll talk to him. It’s been a while since we talked with him about it. He needs reminders every few months.”

    He’s not forgetting to hand in his leave reporting form. He’s targeting the women he works with. And periodic reminders to knock it off aren’t effing good enough, FFS.

    1. Mabel*

      Management’s response to this is unbelievably cavalier. What a bunch of asshats. This is so infuriating.

      1. Edith*

        It gets better. I knew when they had the promised talk with him because whenever we passed in the halls he began making a huge production out of stopping in his tracks, turning, and fleeing in the opposite direction. I believe he thinks he’s being cute. And HR promised they’d keep my name out of it, which clearly didn’t happen.

    2. Katniss*

      Seriously. Sexual harassment isn’t something you put someone on a PIP for or having a gentle talking to over. You FIRE people over it.

        1. Edith*

          Yes, but this case was clearly not his first offense since I was told there’d been complaints from several others and that every few months he needed to be reminded to stop harassing his coworkers.

          1. blackcat*

            Now I’m thinking of women using double-sided tape on themselves as a deterrent. I don’t think it would work…

            Perhaps spray bottles, then?

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        Not to downplay the seriousness of sexual harassment, but there are certainly different levels of offense. Sometimes immediate firing is called for (“Ludwig, seriously, did you just grab Annette’s ass?”) and sometimes maybe not (“Sally, we’ve talked about this. No risqué jokes in the break room. They make some people uncomfortable and you need to stop.”)

        1. Edith*

          The problem is when they treat each instance of Sally telling lewd jokes to unwitting bystanders as its own individual thing and not a pattern of behavior and her willful disregard of previous warnings. By the time the fifth separate person reports Sally cornering them in a room alone to tell a dirty joke you’d expect some sort of actual fallout. But all too often you hear “Oh Sally’s up to that again. We’ll talk to her about it.”

    3. Sunshine*

      What the actual fork? Like he’s just FORGETTING to be a decent human being and needs a reminder?? For the love of Mary… what is wrong with people???

      1. OhNo*

        Seriously, this. If they genuinely think he just “keeps forgetting” not to do something, why is he still employed there? What else does he “keep forgetting” to do – his job, perhaps?

        1. Lance*

          And really, reminders? Reminders? No, you do not give reminders, you give warnings, because harassment is a very real issue.

  16. Merida May*

    LW, I know you say you don’t want to make it weird, but it’s important to remember that things are already weird *for you*. You have co-workers and managers (!!!) who are propositioning you for dates and then there is a noticeable change in their demeanor when you don’t accept. If you don’t think this is going to factor in to raises, promotions, layoff considerations or general career building opportunities I’d think again. You’ve spent more than enough time having the emotional burden of managing their feelings on your conscience, the weirdness needs to shift back on to the instigators, pronto.

  17. Mike C.*

    I’ll echo everyone here who says that this behavior is both absolutely terrible and that the OP is not to blame for it.

    I’m really, really torn on the approach of training as a solution to this issue. One the one hand, I think it’s really clear that sexual harassment is a widespread problem for this department and perhaps even the company at large. To veer back into some workplace lingo, when you have widespread noncompliance, you need to look at changing processes and culture rather than people.

    On the other hand, there are a few things that stick in my craw. One is that “training” shouldn’t be a substitute for having management/HR take direct action against those who are clearly sexually harassing the OP. It’s 2016, we all know what sexual harassment is and it should be punished. I’m also concerned that training will be used to paper over any deeper issues going on here – I can imagine a situation where everyone watches a terrible video, signs attendance and management washes their hands of the whole situation.

    How do you balance these issues out? Am I wrong for favoring direct punishment over training? Perhaps both should happen?

    1. Dawn*

      I think direct punishment and training should go together. Management shouldn’t skirt uncomfortable conversations by going “Oh well there’s a couple of bad apples so we’ll just have ‘educational training’ for the whole office and hope it sinks in” (guess what management tactic my current office takes…)

      To some degree tho… I don’t think we all know what sexual harassment is. I mean, some of us know exquisitely and uncomfortably exactly what it is and isn’t, but there’s plenty of other people who are from the old school, or who genuinely haven’t ever had it spelled out, or who just don’t think about it, or who aren’t clear at all what is or isn’t, or who are digging their heels in about “giving in to the PC culture” or whatever. So when management is dealing with something like this, really uncomfortable conversations need to happen with those individuals who have been guilty of sexually harassing behavior wherein they are educated on their behavior and given the chance to reform by 1- being explicitly, immediately, and sincerely apologetic to all parties involved, 2- going happily and with zero complaining through any and all sexual harassment training including general training given to everyone at the company and potentially individual training given solely to them addressing specific situations, and 3- adopting a sincerely contrite attitude for the rest of their employment and genuinely doing a 180 on behavior so that it’s obvious to all that they know they screwed up and have taken their re-education to heart. I also think that it’s a great time to have extremely frank sexual harassment training so that everyone’s on the exact same page about what harassment is and isn’t, so that there’s zero chance of confusing moving forward.

    2. JMegan*

      Yes. Truth be told, I don’t see much potential for change in this organization, unless a bunch of people get fired. The fact that it’s management who is behaving badly, to the point that a lawyer has been gaslighted into believing that it’s not actionable, suggests to me that the problems in that office run pretty deep. Which is not to say that change isn’t possible, just that it needs to take a firm, visible, and immediate commitment from the people at the top – you’re right that a training video isn’t going to cut it here.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      One potential benefit of training – it removes “plausible deniability” on the part of the perpetrators. If they’ve been through training that specifically says “no asking out subordinates,” they can’t claim they didn’t realize it was a problem. Which may make it easier/more palatable for the company to hand out firings, demotions, and/or reprimands. It can be not so much about hoping the training will actually get them to change, as about handing them the rope so they can hang themselves, so to speak.

      1. Newby*

        Training is a good thing. It isn’t a punishment; it is laying out what is and is not acceptable so that everyone is on the same page. I had a friend whose company recently did one and he was irate that he was angry that he isn’t allowed to give physical compliments to coworkers because how else is he supposed to let them know he is interested. It took a while for us to convince him that his normal work behavior actually did have the potential to make many people uncomfortable. We then had to explain that women being nice did not mean that they were flirting. It was strange to see how much he really just didn’t get it (he does better now).

      1. A Non*

        Ideally it starts in preschool with age-appropriate concepts like ‘your body belongs to you, and their body belongs to them, no touching unless you both are okay with it’. And then add on to it over the years.

      2. Clever Name*

        It should start earlier. My son is 9 and it’s an ongoing discussion. Radio and tv give plenty of opportunities to discuss things like if a girl isn’t interested in you, she isn’t interested in you and she’s not “wasting her time” being with someone else or *gasp* with no one.

    4. Jillociraptor*

      I’m really curious to learn what others know about this. My workplace has been in the news for several really icky sexual harassment cases. Some people were disciplined (though no one fired if I recall correctly), and all staff had to complete a training. The training was actually a very good example of digital learning. It wasn’t terrible to do. But when people are accused of sexual harassment, they always lean aggressively into the gray (“It was a friendly, professional hug!” “We were just joking around, can’t you even joke anymore?” “How could a man possibly know that this was unacceptable unless he’s told?!”). It’s like a willful desire to not moderate their own behavior.

      I wonder if it would be more effective if that training were less like a discussion circle with Jeffrey Weinerslav from 30 Rock, and more like direct, 1:1 counseling and coaching about boundaries, emotional intelligence, continuous consent, monitoring and reading others’ reactions, etc.

      The challenge with punishment, especially if it’s firing, is that that person just ends up elsewhere, harassing someone else. It kicks the can down the road, but doesn’t actually net out, I don’t think, to more people with the skills and mindsets to manage themselves well. Even though they might eventually get the hint, in my experience the kind of person who gets let go from multiple jobs for sexual harassment just thinks that everyone is too sensitive. It’s too subtle to actually fix their behavior.

      But I’m curious to hear if anyone has worked on this before!

    5. neverjaunty*

      Training is not just about “how not to harass people”. It’s also about how to make reports and how to address situations that are not necessarily egregious but that can be corrected.

  18. Lily Rowan*

    This is the kind of shit that makes me want to burn everything to the ground and become a lesbian separatist. I’m not even a lesbian!

    1. anon for this*

      I know you didn’t mean any offense, but I’d be careful about saying something like “men are awful, this makes me want to be a lesbian”. A lot of lesbians or bi women find it to be pretty offensive and seen it as straight women appropriating their identity merely because they’re annoyed with men.

  19. The Grammarian*

    I think you should document every time something like this happens and bring all of this info to HR…especially regarding the managers making comments, etc. There’s a power differential there. Also, everyone deserves to not feel uncomfortable and harassed at work.

  20. anonforthis*

    wow… I didn’t realize this was a problem. I had a coworker try to sleep with me and when i said no he acted like a HUMONGOUS D-BAG. like a totally horrible person. I never even thought of looping my boss in…

    1. Lance*

      Next time, absolutely do so. That kind of behavior isn’t alright in any situation, and someone else should absolutely know about it; trying to solve it on your own, while admirable, doesn’t always work so well. After all, you never know with some people.

  21. Employment Lawyer*

    I wouldn’t think that what I’ve been dealing with was legally actionable as harassment (I am a lawyer!)
    You’re wrong. Google “Hostile environment discrimination.” I’d say this probably qualifies. Talk to an employment specialist in your state.

    Short version: repeated dating requests, sexual comments, and ‘penalties’ for refusing to date are all actionable harassment.

    1. Retail HR Guy*

      I don’t think it’s quite that clear cut. The “repeated” dating requests was really one request each from four different people, the one sexual comment mentioned was over the line but not extremely so, and the only concrete penalty mentioned was a missed lunch. Probably more importantly, OP hasn’t brought any of this up with HR or upper management in order to give them a chance to correct the problem. One of the first questions the EEOC investigator would ask would be, “And who did you report all of this to?” There’s also the issue that it isn’t clear that OP has suffered any real damages, especially if she is leaving the company soon for unrelated reasons.

      I’m NOT saying that OP should just suck it up or shouldn’t take steps to remedy the problem for the next woman that might end up in her shoes at that company. But I am agreeing with the OP that as it stands now this would be a sexual discrimination claim that wouldn’t have legs to it.

        1. Retail HR Guy*

          She says that several individuals were doing several different things, some of whom were her supervisors. Inappropriate things, to be sure. But I am arguing (along with OP) that it wouldn’t rise to the level of being legally actionable. (Probably. There are few certainties in employment law.)

          Let’s pick her interaction with one of her managers, that you are wanting to say is legal harassment. She had a supervisor ask her out, she said no, and after that he was acting “weird” around her. One day he said that she looked “hot” in a ponytail. Did she ever ask him to stop acting “weird”? No. Did she ever speak to a higher level manager? No. Did she ever speak to HR? No. Was she fired, demoted, disciplined, or denied a promotion? No, no, no, and no. I just don’t think that even the EEOC would bite on this one, and without their blessing you have no lawsuit.

          1. neverjaunty*

            1) hostile work environment doesn’t require a concrete adverse employment action
            2) although being excluded from work functions is a pretty good sign of an adverse work action
            3) you don’t need the EEOC’s “blessing” to file a lawsuit; that isn’t what a right to sue letter is
            4) there is really not a rule that harassment by a manager doesn’t count unless you tell an even higher up manager

            1. Retail HR Guy*

              There’s two different ways to analyze this. The first is from a technical, theoretical standpoint: “Given how the law reads, does this count as sexual harassment?” The second is from a practical, strategic standpoint: “Given the facts in evidence, how successful of a claim might OP have?” I’m only really addressing the second analysis here, and considering things like what harm was done and what steps the claimant took to address the issue are very much a part of it.

              And, no, you don’t technically need the EEOC’s blessing to file a lawsuit, but you do if you want it to be a successful one. The EEOC dismissing a claim because there is no reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred means most attorneys wouldn’t touch the case with a ten-foot pole. (If your evidence can’t even convince the EEOC, how do you expect to convince a jury?) A Right to Sue letter is very much the EEOC saying: “Yeah, there’s a little meat to this one. We’re not going to initiate the suit ourselves, but go for it buddy!” Whereas a Dismissal and Notice of Rights is the EEOC saying: “You got nothing here. Let it go.”

          2. Observer*

            She doesn’t need to ask him to stop making personal comments about her appearance, ESPECIALLY since he’s a supervisor.

            And, she actually DID suffer at least one clear adverse work reaction – one team lead excluded her from work meetings over this.

            Lastly, when there is a *pattern of ongoing behavior* that would make life difficult for a reasonable person, then that’s actionable. Her supervisors know about it – they are part of the problem. Even if any one action were not problematic, the fact that it’s ongoing IS a huge issue.

  22. Artemesia*

    I get so angry that this is still happening in 2016. It was this way my entire career. I am reasonably but not fabulously attractive and was never a flirt. It is about them and their privilege not about us.

    1. Sunshine*

      “Never a flirt”… This. Laughing at a joke, asking about your weekend, and generally being a nice person does NOT mean I want to sleep with you.

      (Hypothetical “you”, of course. Not Artemesia.) :-)

  23. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Yet another saying “…but remember that this crap is ultimately about choices these guys are making, not about something you’re doing…”

    That line sums this all up.

  24. Nervous Accountant*

    Question: is it still harassment/wrong if the woman in question WERE interested in any of them? coworker or manager?

    1. Student*

      This question seems to be motivated by a common misconception.

      We aren’t enraged by being asked out. We’re enraged by bad behavior after being asked out. It’s nominally okay to ask out a co-worker. It may be culturally inappropriate, or annoying, but some would welcome it; it’s more like microwaving fish in the office than microwaving aluminum foil in the office.

      It’s not okay to make a big deal out of it in the office if you get rejected. It’s not okay to make a big deal of it in the office if you actually get a date, or a relationship. It’s not okay to retaliate professionally against a woman who rejected you. It’s not okay to ask her out again after getting rejected – if you really need a rule, then for 3 years or 2 promotions, whichever comes first.

      It IS still wrong if there is a co-worker/manager dynamic. Even if both parties agree. If both parties agree, it’s not direct harassment but it is morally wrong on the part of the manager, and also bad management. That can become a form of indirect harassment to other people under the manager. If there is a general perception that, say, women can only get ahead by dating the manager, that’s bad, even if someone voluntarily dates the manager, and even if that manager does not allocate special favors to his girlfriend. If the entire department thinks that is what is happening, it can lead to the male co-workers treating their female co-workers poorly because they assume they’re getting special favors from the manager, or obnoxious rumors, and certainly to low morale all around.

      1. Gadfly*

        Well, and let us not forget that we are also upset at our careers and working relationships all having to pass through a lens of “can I make this a personal relationship” for the male co-workers. Even if a personal relationship might be welcome. Even if we might want to date them. Basically don’t screw up my job and professional interactions to feel out if I might ever might be interested in screwing.

      2. Nonprofit Nancy*

        I’d recommend the same standard that Alison suggested for asking out clerks and other people at work (I don’t think I can post a link without going to moderation, but it’s an article here on the site). The basics were, approach it with extreme caution, don’t do it if you have doubts it’d be welcome, and give them an easy way out if they’re not feeling it. Work dynamics are already weird with the pressure to get along with your coworkers, and many people, particularly female people, are socialized to be nice and not your feelings. They may struggle to make it obvious that they are uncomfortable.

  25. Eric*

    It is an element of harassment that you have to identify specific instances?

    Asking a co-worker out (not harassment, read that once and just assumed it was true)
    Asking a subordinate out (harassment)
    Saying you look hot in a pony tail (harassment)
    Acting awkward around somebody you find attractive (not harassment)
    Telling somebody that they can’t go to lunch with them because their girlfriend is insecure (harassment)

    1. Karo*

      While acting awkward around an attractive person may not be harassment on the street, it can really negatively effect someone’s work life. If I’m so awkward around some guy that we can’t be put on the same projects, that’s a problem. If I’m so awkward that I can’t have a professional conversation with him, also a problem. So I don’t know if it is legal harassment, but it could certainly be detrimental to OP’s career.

      1. Sunshine*

        And are we saying “acting awkward” or is it more overt? A little awkward silence would make sense. Avoiding, leaving out of meetings, spreading gossip… not okay.

  26. Vicki*

    Why do people always say “I want this to stop but I don’t want anyone to get into truble”.

    When a co-worker is doing something shifty / creepy / unethical / harassing / illegal / inappropriate / that the boss would want to know about, the goal is to make the behaviour stop.

    This is not kindergarten. “Tattling” is not a “thing”. Some people only see the light after they’ve been spotlighted.

    It’s not your responsibility to protect your problematice co-workers from “trouble”. They’re already _in_ trouble.

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Women are very aggressively socialized from a very early age to be attentive to and prioritize the feelings of others. Women are punished for failing to do this, especially at work. My partner recently had a conversation about harassment with a colleague of his who mentioned that she wished she had never reported it because the response was immediately to blame her for taking it so seriously and making it such a big deal.

      I don’t disagree with you in principle, but for many women, the idea that their feelings matter and are a good enough reason for something to change is totally mindblowing.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      People say they don’t want to get into trouble because people do get into trouble for being the victim that dares to say “knock it off!”. Look how many contenders there are for horrible bosses of the year just from people who write to Alison — those people aren’t doing the right things for their employees and many of them do think people need to “suck it up”, “stop tattling”, “work it out yourselves”, etc. It is 100% not right, but, for people that need a job and know they aren’t working in a supportive environment, I can see how the decision to report is difficult. (I had to work with a team a few years ago that used “don’t be a woman!” as an insult, which I found gross, but I am the primary provider for my family, and we can’t pay the mortgage, etc. without my income. I’d be willing to risk that over sexual advances or someone in a position of power over me behaving as described in the original post, but, in this situation, I chose to mentally categorize those team members as asshats and keep my distance professionally.) I find that a lot of bosses want the problem to go away, and, if the easiest way to do that is to remove the complainant, that’s the route they go because filing an employment complaint/suing is time-consuming and not something a lot of people have the time/money/stomach for.

      It sucks. It is 2016, and people should know not to comment on their coworkers’ bodies/appearance/genders and that they can’t ask out their subordinates. Harassment is not okay, but there is the issue that even while it’s morally and legally wrong, it’s not terribly uncommon and is even accepted in some workplaces.

    3. Marisol*

      I look at it like this: I tell the truth when I make a mistake, and I tell the truth when other people make a mistake. It is very straightforward for me. I may not go to great lengths to point out my errors, but if a supervisor asks me, “did you do xyz task?” and I forgot to do it, I will tell them that I forgot, apologize, and get to the task. If a supervisor asks me, “why didn’t you do xyz task?” and the reason is because Bob never gave me the info, then I tell them that. I don’t deliberately try to sabotage Bob, but I’m not taking any heroic measures to protect him either. I am simply reporting the facts in a neutral way.

      I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with your premise that the idea of “tattling” shouldn’t factor into the decision of whether or not to report someone’s bad behavior. If you can’t do your job effectively because of a bad actor, then you have an obligation to report that fact. It should be viewed through the lens reason and facts, not emotion and relationships.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      When you try to get someone to stop doing what they like to do, there is going to be trouble. We are just left to figure out to what degree.

      The second that one person has to have a sit down meeting with another person, then that is usually construed as “I am in trouble”. Reality is that we cannot prevent other people from thinking they are in trouble, nor should we try to prevent them from thinking this way.

    5. Sue Wilson*

      There is, imo, an underlying and sometimes accurate/reasonable fear that “getting someone in trouble” will adversely effect your relationship with both that person and the company, which will threaten your career.

  27. Master Bean Counter*

    I hate this topic. I hate that we still have to discuss it in 2016. But what I really hate is that when a woman, or anybody really, tries to shut this kind of behavior down it’s seen as wrong. I’m tired of conversations that go like this:
    “hey Lucinda you look sexy in that shirt”
    “Carl, did you really just say that?”
    “What’s wrong with telling you that you look good.”
    “No reason to be a B about it.”

    OP, please speak up now. You are in the right. More training is definitely in order. Also the company should be aware that they are employing jerks.

    1. many bells down*

      I just had this conversation with a guy on a social site:
      Him: ur so gorgeous
      Me: I don’t really think my looks are relevant to the conversation
      Him: well what do you want me to do say ur ugly?!
      Me: …or talk about one of the seven hobbies/interests I have listed on my social profile? My face isn’t your only option.
      Him: ugh bitch im reporting you.

  28. Anon today*

    Although any adult who was raised right should understand this isn’t okay, it is possible to raise it without it seeming like a swat at individuals. Whether they are identifiable or not, you can make the conversation around the environment and that the company needs to do a better job at educating folks. If that many of your co-workers are clueless jerks then there is something systemic going on and it’s the company’s responsibility to train on it and have an appropriate reporting mechanism/non-retaliation policy so it gets identified and corrected when it does happen.

    1. NW Mossy*

      I think we can safely say that some of the individuals in this letter forfeited any claim they have on remaining anonymous when they attempted to date a subordinate.

  29. BBBizAnalyst*

    I am willing to bet the coworkers are self-proclaimed “nice guys” too. Women don’t exist for your consumption, folks. Amazes me that we’re still dealing with unwarranted harassment in 2016. Makes me sad!

    1. TootsNYC*

      “Women don’t exist for your consumption, folks.”

      I have recently figured out that this is what is meant by “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”

      And that the damage this sort of shit does is the reason WHY coveting qualifies in the top ten. Twice.

  30. HardwoodFloors*

    To OP I feel for you. Check if company has a ‘Code of Ethics’ (which includes sexual harassment) that had to be signed every year by all. Actions that violate the companies own Code of Ethics can be reported (without talking to boss, especially if they are one of the problems.)

  31. Nonprofit Nancy*

    I am so sad that women continue to be gaslighted about whose fault this is. As a very young employee I was stalked by a (much older male) coworker and I was SURE it was all because I had been too friendly, “lead him on” somehow, or failed to make a gracious exit. I was angry only at myself and invested way too much time trying to figure out how not to hurt his feelings and not get him in trouble. I was an idiot and he was a predator – seriously, old enough to be my grandfather and he didn’t think it was a problem? All my fault, at the age of 18? My head was on totally wrong because I’d always been raised to be SO. FREAKING. NICE. that it barely occurred to me that he should have known better. At an older age, I don’t take that crap anymore but I see the same philosophy everywhere from women. I wish we could create a new dialogue but it doesn’t seem like we’re making much progress.

    1. motherofdragons*

      All of this. Gaslighting is a really apt term for what happens to women who are targets of this kind of gross behavior.

      1. Catherine from Canada*

        And how and why does it start so _young_?
        When I was eight or nine, I was lured behind a tree and beaten up by two teen-aged boys, probably under 15 years old. I was furious with _myself_ for being “so stupid.”
        Seriously, it took until I was in my late forties to realize, “Wait a minute, what the hell was wrong with THEM?!” and get furious all over again.

        1. Nonprofit Nancy*

          Exactly! On the most extreme end of this spectrum, this is what happens to rape victims – they blame themselves and are ashamed and embarrassed about what happened … which of course their attackers count on. And our culture perpetuates this by expecting victims to act a certain way (physically fighting back the whole time, running immediately to police as soon as it’s over, participating vigorously in any investigation, never being confused about exactly what happened or how) and casting doubts on their story if their behavior departs from this in any way.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          That’s how I felt after being raped in college. My I’m-so-stupid guilt trip (along with the fact that it was scary as hell) was so strong I literally blocked it out of my memory for a YEAR.

          1. halpful*

            oh. I’m *still* on a guilt trip (although thankfully I got away before anything bad it went that far). that conditioning is really damn strong…

          2. Golden Lioness*

            So sorry to hear that. Virtual hugs from an internet stranger that always enjoys reading your comments.

      2. Marisol*

        It was either Pia Melody, or Melody Beattie, (both are authors who write books about co-dependence) that wrote about “transferred shame,” a concept where the perpetrator, in denying his/her sense of shame, somehow transfers the shame to the victim. She was referring specifically to children who are abused by their parents, but I believe it applies to all victim/perpetrator relationships. So the victim bears the emotional burden instead–a sad irony.

    2. KR*

      This kind of thing happens in retail/customer service a lot too – because it’s stressed that the customer is always right and you should always be cheerful and accommodating, so young women don’t want to assert their boundaries because they’re scared it will get them in trouble for not putting the customer first. I’ve been in that position and I always try to stress to my employees now that if someone is making them uncomfortable or being inappropriate, I will back them up and defend them. Once someone starts being inappropriate to them, customer service can go right out the window for all I care.

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        +1 Good for you. Some jobs really emphasize “service” and there’s a huge need to explain where the boundaries are.

  32. Retail HR Guy*

    I want to chime in on the “not getting anyone in trouble” aspect here. Soooo many people don’t want to report problems for this reason and end letting the problem hang around unnecessarily, or let the problem get worse. The thinking is that, this behavior is kind of “misdemeanor” level professional wrongdoing and going to HR or the big bosses is therefore overkill. Kind of like calling the police on a jaywalker.

    But in a well-trained company the solution to problems like these isn’t always disciplinary. HR doesn’t only fire people and issue write-ups. They can also just help to explain to people confidentially why what they are doing makes others uncomfortable. When done well, it is not an uncommon reaction for people to be horrified to find out that their actions are being perceived differently than they expected, or that they were are making life difficult for co-workers without realizing it. People can be a little dense in their own little worlds, and every now and then we all just need things shoved in our faces so that we can see it. No formal corrective action needed.

    HR is also in a position to come up with strategies to help change the company culture in situations like OP’s in which the problem seems to be systemic. These also don’t always involve getting specific people “in trouble”, but rather things like training and getting key people on board with a commitment to no longer turning a blind eye to the problems.

    (Of course, this is in a well-run company… I’ll be the first to say that many HR departments out there kind of suck.)

      1. Marisol*

        Yeah, well said. I know our HR manager is great and would have exactly this kind of response for a low-level yet unmistakable offense. I think if you have an HR department that sucks, you probably know it and can manage your expectations, but if it’s reasonably good, you should talk to them if you need to.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yes, this! Also, HR may have (if other people have talked to them) perspective that the OP might not. “Hmmm. We’ve heard about this from departments X, Y, and Z now…and nowhere else. Let’s check in on other departments, but those three all report to Percival, how interesting….”

      And, “All of these are first-time events and we need to talk to people, *except* for Fergus – this is the third time he’s propositioned a direct report, and clearly our discussions with him and PIPs aren’t working. We need to show him the door.”

      And OP, if you do report and someone does get fired, please remember that you might not know that they’d already been reported by others, but it may still have happened.

  33. ANON4NOW*

    In the 1980’s when I went to college, one of my friends was always being asked out by fellow co-workers and class mates. She was from another country and planned to return to her home town after college. So she started to wear a ring and told all the guys that she was engaged! By doing this, many of the guys left her alone!
    I am not suggesting that the OP should do this. I am just sharing a success story.

    1. motherofdragons*

      Really sad that sometimes the only way guys will leave a woman alone is if she’s “spoken for” by another man.

    2. Annie Moose*

      Yeah, friend of mine worked for awhile as a receptionist at a doctor’s office, and for some reason that job in particular got her hit on constantly. She had to resort to the fake wedding ring trick too.

      Soooo sad that this is a thing, though. (even sadder is the guys who STILL hit on her, even though they thought she was in a committed relationship)

        1. Blue Anne*

          I always remember that bit in the first season of Homeland, where the female lead (forget her name) goes out to a bar to pick up a guy and wears a ring. She hits it off with a guy and when he asks, explains that she’s not looking for a real relationship and all the ring does is put off the guys who want something serious.

          I’m sad-laughing into my beer right now.

    3. many bells down*

      I *was* actually engaged, and the older brother of one of my students kept persistently asking me out anyway. Even with the ring and the repeated mentions of how I was planning my wedding. Apparently one day when I was out sick, he showed up in a suit, with flowers, and yelled at my substitute teacher when she wouldn’t tell him where I was. I believe she had him banned from campus, because I never saw him after that.

    4. Golden Lioness*

      And you never got the “It’s OK I’m not jealous” response?
      hahaha you’re so witty (not!)… aaargh!

  34. Justin*

    I had a couple of coworkers go through this. One sat next to me and we were sort of friends so I had a front row seat for some of it. Awkward dudes just would not leave her alone. It helped that her boyfriend also worked at the company so no one asked her out, just weirdly flirted with her.

    The other one was single and guys messed with her WAY more. One guy was so smitten that he would get all drunk at work parties and cry about her and whatnot. His aunt was her boss and the boss gave her a huge raise which we all suspected was due to the guy’s crush on her. She also sort of encouraged it though, spending lots of time with various guys, flirting at work, making out with a couple of them.

  35. motherofdragons*

    “Am I crazy for thinking this is even an issue that needs to be dealt with?”

    This makes me so sad. And angry. Time and time again, I see women who experience dreadful behavior second-guess themselves for speaking up or addressing it. Total gaslighting, as Nonprofit Nancy stated. You are not crazy for not wanting to receive sexualized comments in your workplace, or for wanting to walk down the street without being harassed by a complete stranger, or for wanting to leave a relationship where someone makes you feel like crap.

  36. Greg*

    “team lead asking me not to join his group for lunch because it would make his ex-girlfriend, who eats with them, unhappy because she knows he likes me.”

    um what…. there’s like what 5 things wrong with this?

    1. he has an ex at work hinting he does this repeatedly
    2. he’s letting his ex dictate his behaviour (less about the op and more about this guy and the ex)
    3. he’s made it known he’s interested in the op to others
    4. openly excluding the op
    5. outright admitting he’s treating her differently due to sexual attraction.

  37. Court*

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, OP. This has happened to me 3 times as well, and it’s awful. Every time, the guy for some reason thinks he’s entitled to me saying yes and gets weird when I say no. Thankfully this hasn’t happened with any of my supervisors but it’s still so uncomfortable when it happens with a peer. The worst part is they make it seem like you’re the one to blame and you’re responsible for their emotional health when you shatter their fragile little ego by saying no…as if you’re not entitled to choosing who you want to date just like they are.

    Hang in there. You’re not alone and if you stand strong, it will get better eventually. It’s often a matter of retraining (which we should not be responsible for but unfortunately get stuck doing). We believe in you. <3

  38. Gene*

    Over the past year, four of the men I work with have asked me out, and at least one other has indicated that he sort of wants to, so I’m avoiding him

    Rather than avoiding him, why not simply say to him, “I get the feeling you are romantically interested. Isn’t going to happen, so don’t ask.”?

    Asking a coworker out is not harassment. It may be a violation of whatever policies are in place at one’s workplace. Repeatedly asking a coworker out after being told “No” may be. Treating a coworker badly after being told “No” almost definitely is.

    A supervisor asking someone out is not harassment, though it isn’t right. A supervisor treating someone badly after being told “No” definitely is.

    At the risk of being accused of MCP tendencies, asking a coworker out if one is attracted to them isn’t a huge violation. The supervisor’s hair comment was out of line, and the team lead wanting to use you to piss off his ex – that’s major a-hole territory. But asking a coworker out; no.

    1. Panda Bandit*

      Did you miss all the posts upthread where people told someone not to ask them out and that someone went ahead and did it anyway, or are you willfully ignoring them?

    2. Jennifer*

      I’ve seriously debated saying something like “I get the feeling you’re interested, don’t ask,” but others have reported the vicious responses along the lines of “Bitch, why would I ever be interested in your disgusting ass?” and the like if you try, so….

  39. BobcatBrah*

    “they ask me out anyway, I say no as nicely as is possible, things get weird. ”

    Beyond going to HR, maybe you should be forceful with your rejections. Something along the lines of “I don’t sh*t where I eat” whenever they don’t catch the hint.

      1. BobcatBrah*

        *if she says no

        From the way she wrote it, it doesn’t really seem like she’s saying no. It sounds more like she’s dancing around it. I mean yeah, no means no, but saying no helps makes the communication clearer.

        Most things that pop up on AAM could be solved by clearer communication…

        1. Katniss*

          Men understand soft “no”s. Don’t paint your own gender as too stupid to understand when someone is telling you no, even if they don’t use the word.

    1. Yup*

      BobcatBrah, this type of comment is liable to really rub women the wrong way. It turns the situation around and blames the woman for being subject of harassment – as if it resulted from something SHE didn’t do. No means no. If a guy can’t hear that for what it is, it’s on him. It’s honestly infuriating to have the responsibility placed on the woman for a man’s jackass behavior.

      1. halpful*

        not only that, it’s dangerous advice – sadly there are still plenty of guys out there who get violent (or retaliate in more subtle ways) when given a direct no. :( at best, she’s risking verbal abuse; at worst, death.

        damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

        1. BobcatBrah*

          Ok when was the last time a woman was killed for turning a guy down for a date in the workplace? That seems like a completely ludicrous thing to even bring up.

          1. Blue Anne*

            How would we even know that? Do you think they put that in news reports?

            Some men absolutely do get obsessive, aggressive and violent towards women. Some of those guys stalk, assault and murder those women. This guy’s behavior is aggressively sexual and out of line with social norms for the workplace; those are red flags. It’s nice for you that you’re in a position to think it’s completely ludicrous.

            1. BobcatBrah*

              This whole thing just seems like a “boogeyman” though. Not like something that actually happens.

              It would take a special kind of weirdo to kill somebody for getting told a simple “no”.

              1. Blue Anne*

                Sure it would. Unfortunately weirdos aren’t *that* unusual – take a second to google “woman stalked by coworker” and you’ll come up with tons of stories and advice articles about how to deal with this not-super-rare situation, including from this site.

                Because the thing is… how many people have you had social contact with over the years? At school, clubs, work, church? How many thousands? What is the likelihood, do you think, that a couple of them have been special kinds of weirdos? Pretty high. Maybe you can think of a couple, or maybe you didn’t notice because you weren’t in situations with them that would prompt them to show off their weirdness.

                For women, a lot of those situations do come up more regularly, just while we do life.(Personally, I realized this at 15 when for the first time, I was the only other person in the busy convenience shop with the clerk I had bought my daily mountain dew from for months.) So trying to manage the emotions of people who are exhibiting red flags, like the guy in this post or my creepy store clerk, is a habit for many of us.

              2. Katniss*

                Here you go:

                “St. John’s University student Tiarah Poyau, 22, was walking the pre-West Indian Day Parade route with three pals early Monday when she was accosted and told the man, “Get off me,’’ according to a source.

                Her friends, who were walking ahead of her around 4:15 a.m., then heard a shot and saw her fall at Empire Boulevard and Franklin Avenue. Poyau had been shot in the eye “at close range,’’ the source said.”

                Also google “When Women Refuse”. It happens. Often enough for it to be a genuine, logical worry. And in fact many stalkers of women start at workplaces.

              3. Panda Bandit*

                A couple years ago in Connecticut, this boy asked a girl out to the prom. When she said no, he tried to strangle her, then pushed her down the stairs and stabbed her to death. I know that’s school and not work, but this happens a lot, and it happens everywhere.

          2. Observer*

            Oh, and she needs to risk losing her job?

            Here is what we do know. When she DOES say no NICELY, she gets harassed. She gets stupid comments about her looks and gets excluded from WORK MEETINGS!

            In what universe does someone who reacts so badly to a NICE rejection react well to a forceful rejection?

            All this is, is a way to shift the blame from where it belongs.

            1. TootsNYC*

              “Oh, and she needs to risk losing her job?”

              Right! Because violence is on the table.

              But you’re right; it may be the least likely consequence.
              MORE likely is: getting fired; getting sandbagged (the guy sabotages her work, obstructs her in her work, trash-talks her convincingly to her supervisors or others in her field), treats her nastily at work…

          3. Mreasy*

            Google “woman killed for turning a man down” and see how many recent news stories come up. It’s honestly horrifying.

          4. Ruby 16*


            This is the last time it happened where I live, off the top of my head. I can think of a few more cases but I can’t recall all the details, although I would be happy to find out, if you will understand that this is a real concern.

            I am very well aware that the statistical chances of being murdered by a coworker for turning down a date are slim. But nowhere near unheard of, either. The chances of some other adverse consequence, less severe than murder, are much greater.

            It’s just that it’s a really tricky thing to figure out what is to be gained by speaking up. I’ve been there a few times myself and the amount of energy it takes to grapple with this is incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t actually been there.

    2. Blue Anne*

      Because what every woman wants is an aggressive co-worker who gets horny *and* thinks “That bitch!” when he looks at her.

      Look, women don’t do this niceness stuff purely because we’re lovely pink kittens or something, a lot of it is self-preservation.

      1. BobcatBrah*

        I’ve turned down female coworkers (and an older employer trying to set me up with her, admittedly cute, daughter) by telling them that I don’t sh*t where I eat and it’d be inappropriate.

        I don’t see the difference here.

        1. Blue Anne*

          The difference is that you are infinitely less likely to 1) suffer professionally from that attitude or 2) be stalked, assaulted or killed by the women you turned down. It’s very clear from what you’re saying that those are things that don’t even enter your thinking. They do for women.

          1. BobcatBrah*

            I think it’s a very wrong sort of thinking. It sounds like you’re instantly jumping to the worst-case-scenario and accepting it as fact.

            In reality, you’re not going to be stalked, assaulted, or killed for rejecting a date.

            1. Blue Anne*

              No one thinks that everyone they reject for a date is going to stalk or kill them. But you’re not denying that it happens to people, right? “Let him down gently” is just a habit like “put on your seatbelt” for many women.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think what you’re discounting here is that most women have had more than one experience of turning down a guy and having him become really aggressive in response. When you don’t know someone well, it’s really hard (if not impossible) to tell “aggressive, scary, and hostile but he’s just all talk” from “aggressive, scary, and hostile and he might really do something.” And women do run into “”aggressive, scary, and hostile” in response to rejection quite a bit.

            3. Yup*

              >> It sounds like you’re instantly jumping to the worst-case-scenario and accepting it as fact.
              I’m sorry to say it, but it sounds like you’re a man.

              Women absolutely get harassed for rejecting a date –> **like the OP just detailed**.
              I once said no to a guy who wanted to dance with me at a nightclub. Not once; around 12 times because HE WOULD NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER and followed me around, touched me, and harassed me. Luckily I had friends there.

              You don’t know what women experience; when they tell you, believe them.

            4. Mreasy*

              The problem is, it only takes being that rare exception case once for you to be attacked, assaulted, or worse. This is lived reality for women.

            5. blackcat*

              I don’t think it’s likely I’ll get in a bad car accident every time I go out, particularly if I’m just driving less than a mile to the store. In fact, I think it’s profoundly unlikely. I still wear a seat belt every time I get in the car.

              We’re all familiar with the idea of protecting ourselves against low probability events with severe outcomes. It’s why you have smoke detectors in your house, why you buy insurance, etc. Don’t pretend this is an unfamiliar idea. It’s not.

              Some women *do* get killed for turning down dates. People have told you how to find those stories. Now it’s unlikely to happen to any given woman, but it does happen. And a lot of women do experience harassment after turning down dates. Most of my friends have at least one story. And you never know when a harasser will get violent.

              Going back to the car analogy, the frequency of fender-benders probably makes all of us more likely to wear seat belts. Accidents are reasonably likely, even if serious ones are relatively rare.

            6. Mookie*

              In reality, you’re not going to be stalked, assaulted, or killed for rejecting a date

              Please stop repeating this myth.

            7. Observer*

              In reality, you’re not going to be stalked, assaulted, or killed for rejecting a date.

              As others have mentioned, this is simply NOT TRUE.

              And, in a workplace context, there a huge number of negative repercussions that can happen, and most of them happen on a regular basis. This kind of nonsense puts women in an impossible position.

        2. Observer*

          The difference is that you can say what you want, and you won’t suffer any consequences. Women DO.

          The OP has clearly said no to going out with the men in her office. She gets retaliated for this. You don’t.

  40. Photoshop Til I Drop*

    A telling moment for me in this vein was when a customer asked me out, and I thanked him politely but declined. After he left, my very young coworker turned to me, wide-eyed, and asked why I didn’t tell the guy that I was married. I responsed “Because I don’t need to give him a reason for saying no. He has to respect my answer for myself, not because I’m claimed like property.”

    She then explained that her mother told her to always say that she couldn’t go out with the admirer because she had a boyfriend, so the admirer wouldn’t get mad. I wanted to light my own hair on fire when I heard that.

  41. Witty Banter Optional*

    I had a male coworker confide in me that a woman 30 years his senior at the company was hinting around at wanting to…uh…be alone with him. He wanted some advice about how to deal with it, and knew I wouldn’t tell anyone else about it. I honestly was so shocked that I was rendered totally speechless. He was strangely reassured by my reaction – me looking as though I was having a difficult time keeping my lunch down for a moment.

  42. Candi*

    OP, you are not wrong. Report the guys who will not back off.

    Men can control themselves and treat women as people and equals.

    I have a teenaged son, “Klaus”. I’ve raised him to respect women. He hangs out with a group of friends who believe the same. These are ninth through twelfth graders, and they get it.

    A few moments:

    -Klaus was walking in the school hall when a teacher told a girl, dressed within dress code, to cover up her shoulders because she was sexually distracting the boys. Klaus promptly confronted him and informed him that her personally found it neither sexy or distracting, and most of his friends would agree, AND the teacher was being sexist by telling her to cover up without telling the boys to keep their minds out of the bedroom. Funnily enough, I only heard about it months later when Klaus told me. (I personally put a high creepy rating on a teacher looking at a teenaged girl and deciding how sexy she currently is.)

    -Klaus was hanging out with a bunch of his friends and others in town center. One of the guys cat called an attractive woman passing by. One of the girls thumped his arm, while one of the guys smacked him upside the head and called out an apology to the woman.

    -Another occasion, a smaller group was hanging out again in town center, along with the sister (“Agatha”) of one the friend group. (Let’s call the sister Zeetha.)

    Klaus made an off-color joke. (We had a discussion about not doing that again, ever.) Zeetha objected and told him to stop. Klaus: acknowledged her request and: apologized for making the joke in the first place.

    Agatha’s jaw hit the floor. She was just shocked that any guy would even do that. Turned out she’d been raped.

    The group spent some time assuring Agatha she was perfectly right in her feelings, it was okay to feel that way, and it was okay to speak up. Klaus told me, “It was important to reassure her her boundaries matter.”

    Boundaries matter.

    Boundaries matter.

    A group of high schoolers get it. The OP’s coworkers should be able to!

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Would you give your son a hug for being awesome? Seriously. We need millions more like him.

      As some you know, I volunteer with a local to me science fiction convention. And, unfortunately, we also have to deal with issues of harassment and consent. I think we’re making progress, but some people just refuse to get it.

  43. boop*

    11 hours ago

    I’m usually very sympathetic to this kind of thing, but is it just me, or do I sense just the slightest hint of pride that she is the object of so much attention?”

    The first comment usually sets the tone for the rest of the comments and this one is just gross. This is right up there with “I don’t know what women complain about, catcalling is a compliment!” I don’t know how else this woman can describe her experience without making other, strange women feel inferior about NOT being harrassed everyday.

  44. ElleKat*

    What worked for me (back in the day when I was young, single, and getting hit on by males old enough to be my father if not grandfather) was wearing a wedding or engagement ring. Apparently that scared some off.. Not that we should have to protect ourselves from unwanted attention – it was just a deflection tool… and helped cut down being hit on..

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