my coworker tried to reassign my work to other people, my sister tried to get me fired, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker tried to reassign my work to other people

My coworker covered for me while I was on vacation for a week. When I came back, she sent an email to the team, including me and our manager, about the tasks normally assigned to me that said, “Team, this is how we will divide the tasks responsibilities…”

What I should do? Should I confront her or should I just send an email on top of the one she sent saying “Thanks for your help, but l will take it from here”? Or in the email, reassign responsibilities?

What? That’s seriously odd, to the point that it’s worth talking to her and asking what’s up. Talk to her one-on-one and in-person and say this: “I’m actually planning to take all of this work back over, just like it was handled before I went on vacation. Is there anything making you think differently?”

Assuming she doesn’t have an explanation that makes sense, then say, “Okay, I’m going to send out an email letting people know these are just coming back to me like they normally are,” and then do that.

You could also touch base with your manager first if you want to, saying something like, “Hey, I’m planning to take back all the things that Jane was covering for me while I was on vacation and so will send out a correction to that email she sent this morning. But first I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t some reason you wanted to redistribute that stuff.”

2. My sister tried to get me fired

My coworker overheard my sister, who is also employed at my company and is the one who writes out the checks, talking with my manager and commenting on how many times I’ve been late this last pay period, and she went on to say that my manager should fire me. I was not happy about that at all, considering that my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and fell down our basement stairs and was in the ICU for a few days. She’s 83, and I ‘ve been the one missing an hour here or there for my mom’s doctor’s appointments, and also my own doctor’s appointments because of an injury to my back at work..

Anyway, when I asked my manager if my sister was commenting on my tardiness. my boss said yes, but I didn’t ask her about the being fired part. Can my sister be fired for what she did?

In theory, sure, but that’s not something that someone would normally be fired for. People are allowed to express concern about their coworkers’ attendance.

The bigger issue here is that your own sister is advocating that you be fired! For absences related to taking care of your mom! That’s pretty outrageous, and you should talk to your sister about that (outside of work and as a sister, not as a coworker).

3. I think a colleague asked me out

I am a woman working in an office of 800+ people. I recently was caught very off-guard by a lunch invitation from a man who also works for my organization. We don’t work together at all; our relationship had previously consisted of occasional small talk in the hallway or kitchen, and after I gave a waffle-y answer like “maybe!,” he asked for my name so he could email me.

So, at the point that this conversation occurred, he had no idea who I was or what my job was. I don’t believe he is a scattershot “network-er” with everyone in the building, because I don’t know anyone who has received a similar invitation from him. I am guessing his interest is romantic, but I do not reciprocate that interest, and I do not want to go to lunch with him.

Now he has sent an email asking to plan lunch “in the next few weeks,” and I don’t know how to reply. I am totally comfortable politely declining a social invitation from a man who I meet at a bar or party, but since he is technically a colleague, he has plausible deniability with respect to his intentions. I feel like I can’t say, “you seem great, but I’m not interested,” or “actually I’m in a serious relationship.” Do I have to endure this lunch, or is there a polite, firm, professional way to shut this down?

You definitely don’t have to go to lunch! You can fall back on something like “My schedule has gotten really busy, so I can’t do lunch after all.” If he continues to try to push for a social outing, like by changing it to coffee or something like that, just be firm: “I really can’t — sorry!”

And if he follows up in a few months asking if things have freed up for you yet, it’s fine to say that they have not and you’re still quite busy. Or you’re using your lunch for the gym, or to read, or run errands, or so forth.

(And since I know some people will read this and think he could just be trying to connect professionally with a colleague: Sure, he could be. But the letter-writer’s vibe is that his interest is romantic, and she’s entitled to trust her sense of his intentions.)

Read an update to this letter here.

4. My manager wants me to share more work with a colleague I don’t like to rely on

I work on a remote team, and I am on exactly opposite time zones of my closest colleague. I was hired before he was to start up a new department, but we have the same roles. He often offers in team meetings to take on some of my admin work overnight, since it is clear I have the heavier workload. However, if I leave something with him, it doesn’t always get done, and is often quite late if it does. It can be frustrating to hand off something and forget about it, only to find out it was never done weeks later.

Our manager has gently suggested handing off some responsibilities, but I would rather do it myself and count on it getting done rather than rely on my coworker (who I generally love, but had his own responsibilities that get in the way). I get the impression that my manager feels like I am micromanaging and not sharing my workload enough, though she hasn’t said anything directly. To be clear, I don’t have a performance issue with my coworker; he’s just not as helpful as he appears to be in team meetings, and is fully busy, even though he has less responsibilities than I do. Am I reading too much into this situation or should I bring something up with my manager on why I’m not sharing my responsibilities more?

Talk to your manager about the situation more broadly. If you have the sense that she thinks you’re micromanaging and she’s suggested in the past that you hand off some responsibilities, that’s not something that you want to just leave out there unresolved. Bring it up and talk about it! In general, when you find yourself thinking “I get the sense my manager thinks Critical Thing X about me but hasn’t said it directly,” it’s good to just ask about it and get it out in the open.

I’d say something like this to your boss: “I know you’ve suggested in the past that I hand off some responsibilities like X and Y. I haven’t done that because when I’ve taken Fergus up on his offers in the past to take on particular tasks, they’ve ended up falling through the cracks or getting done really late, probably because he’s very busy himself. But I sometimes have the sense that you might think I’m micromanaging and not delegating enough, and if that’s the case, I wanted to talk it through and see if you have feedback about what I’m doing or want me doing things differently.”

Then if she still pushes the Fergus route, talk openly about why don’t think that’ll work, and hash it out with her. What you don’t want is her having vague thoughts (or not-so-vague ones) that you could be doing a better job if you relied more on Fergus, without actually saying it openly to you in a context where you can respond and give her information that might change her perspective (or where she can give you information that might change yours).

5. Can I keep awards from college on my resume?

I’m about two years out from graduating college. I work as a production assistant in the entertainment industry and have been at my current position for about a year, which is a rarity in the industry.

I plan on looking for another job soon, since there’s no hope of advancement in my current company, and it’s generally accepted that assistants like me hold out for a year or so before moving on to better things. As I’m retooling my resume, I’m not sure what to do with awards I earned in college. These weren’t Dean’s List type awards; I earned multiple grants to create short films, as well as a summer stipend from academic departments for nonprofit work, and all these awards were earned in 2013 and later. I’m proud of these achievements, but I’m not sure if they’re appropriate to keep including on my resume; I’m worried it makes me look like I’m harping on college too much. For what it’s worth, I’m still applying for these kinds of production grants now, and hopefully will get some more to include on my resume soon.

So, should I keep them? Strike them? A friend suggested I repurpose my “award” section as a “leadership” section and retool my descriptions.

From three years ago? Leave them. But yes, as you get more recent achievements, move these off. (Whether you should group them as “leadership” rather than “awards” depends on the details of what you have to say about them. If you can legitimately spin them as leadership, then sure … but really, the way you talk about the accomplishments matters more than what heading you put them under.)

{ 372 comments… read them below }

  1. Junior Dev*

    “And since I know some people will read this and think he could just be trying to connect professionally with a colleague: Sure, he could be. But the letter-writer’s vibe is that his interest is romantic, and she’s entitled to trust her sense of his intentions.”

    Thanks for this. It’s hard enough to get advice on potential inappropriate behavior without a bunch of people jumping in to play devil’s advocate.

    1. MillersSpring*

      OP3: you mentioned that you’ve seen the guy in the hallway and kitchen. Does he ever come by your desk? You could add a framed photo of your SO. Or maybe wear a bright scarf or necklace one day–if the guy compliments it, you could mention it was a gift from your BF/SO.

      Just in case he hears “I’m busy” as “I’d really love to see you socially and hope my busyness is soon over.” Because some guys are slow to get hints, especially randos from the kitchen.

      1. Artemesia*

        It is so demeaning to have to excuse yourself from pursuing dates with someone you don’t want to date by making clear you are owned by some other man — I hope the OP can be firm without using this ploy.

        1. MK*

          Eh, I understand why some might feel that way, but to me it’s simply making it clear that the answer will be no before the other person asks. I don’t see it as different than, say, telling your coworker who is trying to sell you cosmetics that your sister sells them too and you buy from her.

          1. Edith*

            But that example is problematic too. They both rely idea that a woman’s no isn’t really a no– the idea that women are playing hard to get or don’t really know what they want. It betrays a lack of respect for the woman’s autonomy. A woman shouldn’t need a pre-existing romantic partner or a sister selling Mary Kay to legitimize her refusal.

            1. MK*

              But I disagree that this necessarily has a gender slant. Most men I know would also use a polite excuse like that to softly reject a co-worker if it was available.

              1. MissGirl*

                And if that excuse is not available and there is no S.O.? Would you have her lie about some fake boyfriend? What if she has one and they break up? Better to be straight forward and polite at the get-go. Give the man the benefit of the doubt he can take rejection like an adult and behave professionally. Then she doesn’t have to spend her working days being careful about what she says or ducking this guy.

                1. Observer*

                  Then find another excuse. I agree that lying is a bad idea. But finding a true excuse makes life so much easier when you can do it, and it’s not just for dates.

                2. Koko*

                  I agree with both of you depending on context.

                  I’m not engaged (I have an on-again/off-again boyfriend and tend not to date much when we’re on a break) but I wear a fake engagement ring to ward off men because it’s easy and effective. It has the benefit of being a broadcast signal that many men can see, that works without any further effort on my part.

                  But I don’t tell anyone I actually know that I’m engaged. Even my coworkers know the reason I wear the ring is because of my lack of interest in dating, because I have no interest in inventing some fake fiancee that I have to make up stories about on a regular basis. Heck, even if I get to talking to a nice guy at a bar and he asks about it, I freely admit that it’s not real and explain why I wear it. I assume at that point, once we’ve been having an actual conversation and I’ve decided he’s decent, that he would respect the real reason as much as the fake one that the ring leads people to believe.

                3. Jennifer*

                  Well…anyone who’s dealt with a creeper dude who will only take “Some other man claimed me” as an acceptable reason to say no will disagree with that one.

                  Unfortunately, some guys truly can’t take rejection and behave professionally, we don’t know if this guy is one of them, and the stakes end up being too high to “give him a chance to take no for an answer well.” If he doesn’t, what then?

                4. MsCHX*

                  Completely agree with this.
                  I am very good at saying “No.” to people when they ask me to do something I don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or are unable to do. That’s it. No qualifiers.

                  It is a complete sentence when you need it to be.

                  And it bothers people. But I don’t exist to make those people feel okay with making demands on me. I don’t need to make up an excuse in order to make YOU feel comfortable about your request. That’s crazy.

                5. MissGirl*

                  I stand by my original response. A man who lacks boundaries won’t care if you have an SO; he will keep trying until he gets the answer he wants. A person who lacks boundaries hears what they want to hear. If you say, I have a SO; they hear I would date you if this other person isn’t in the picture. Most guys keep persisting because they haven’t been shut down completely because women have a hard time being “mean.” If you cite being busy as an excuse, they will keep asking until you’re not busy.

                  A firm no shuts it down most of the time. I don’t hold with the excuse that because he might not take it well, I should come up with some lie. An excuse is what keeps the situation going too long. If he persists, then you can escalate the situation to the proper people. Always start though with the assumption that people behave professionally because that’s the best way to ensure you behave professionally. What’s your other choice?

                  Back to the OP, this man hasn’t indicated that he’s off kilter so better to not assume. Assuming he will react badly risks making this situation way more of an issue than it as to be. If he does, then deal with it.

              2. JessaB*

                This absolutely has a gender slant. It’d been shown for instance that people who bother women on the streets or in bars do not do this if they think they “belong to another man.” Good or bad, our culture teaches (especially with the political climate right now) that unattached women are “up for grabs,” and you don’t “mess with another man’s stuff,” said “stuff” being a woman.

                Women are literally being taught to make up another man to get out of this garbage. It’s wrong.

                1. MK*

                  I don’t dispute that declining a date by saying you are already involved is very gender-oriented (though, as I said, most men I know would jump at the chance to go with “I am already seeing someone” instead of “no, thanks”). What I was replying to was Edith’s comment that equates being asked out with people selling stuff, and that in both cases making the polite excuse “I am already getting mine elsewhere” is betraying a lack of respect for a woman’s no. Polite excuses are pretty common for both men and women.

                2. Kassy*

                  @MK – I think I understand what you are saying. If you can allow the other party to save face, why not do so? We can all pretend that it’s not embarrassing to get rejected, but it is.

            2. GlamorousNonprofitSquirrel*

              This, so very much this. The OP has zero obligation to the guy asking her out other than limited professional courtesy. “No thank you” or “thank you, no” is all that’s required. “Sparing the guy’s feelings” assumes that the OP owes this random dude something and that’s sexist BS.

              1. MK*

                What the OP owes this man is not the only issue; it’s for her to determine how polite she wants to be. While professional courtesy is the minimum requirement, most people are willing to offer more to their co-workers to have a more cordial workplace.

              2. Trout 'Waver*

                I don’t think the OP even owes professional courtesy because it wasn’t extended to her. Professional courtesy means not making passes at coworkers.

                1. Jean*

                  I’m confused. Doesn’t making a pass at someone involve physical contact, or an attempt at physical contact? No such contact happened in this situation.
                  I also agree with MK that there’s no reason to be rude in reply. The invitation was puzzling–because it came out of nowhere–but not blatantly rude. Thus a matter-of-fact response, or a soft rejection (if OP can word it with finesse) would be most appropriate.
                  One can always escalate to rudeness later. It’s polite to hold off unless the coworker says something truly crass such as “Hey gorgeous! When can I get you and your beayootiful [specify body part] alone for lunch? Oh, and by the way, what’s your name?!”

                2. CoffeeLover*

                  I think you can make a professional “pass” at a coworker. Politely asking a coworker if they would like to go for lunch when there are no conflicts of interest (as it sounds like is the case here) seems appropriate to me. Plenty of people meet their SO through work and it has to start somewhere. It becomes unprofessional if the person continues to pursue when they’ve been given a clear no, if their pursuit is full of overtly inappropriate innuendos/compliments, or if it’s someone in a position of authority.

                  You could say the guy in OPs case is in the “continues to pursue” category, but I don’t think she’s given him a clear no yet.

                3. Trout 'Waver*

                  I’ve always heard and used “making a pass” similar as “asking out” with a slightly tacky connotation.

                  Also, I’m not suggesting the OP give a rude response. I just don’t like the thought that the coworker is owed a polite response. Asking out someone who is working is rude.

                4. fposte*

                  Yeah, I don’t think it’s unprofessional to ask out a co-worker. It’s unprofessional to be annoying and not to take no. (Which hasn’t entirely happened yet.)

                  But I wouldn’t worry so much about plausible deniability, or letting the other person be in control of it. “If it’s a business thing, I’d like meet in the mornings when I’ve got flexibility; if it’s a social thing, I’m just using lunch to catch up withthese days. Let me know if I should book a morning time and what the topic is.”

                5. Ellie H.*

                  I disagree, there isn’t any evidence that the coworker is being discourteous or disrespectful to the LW. Yes, it is rather unusual that he would invite her to lunch when they haven’t had any meaningful contact before (even if it were for *professional* networking!) but it’s definitely not inherently rude, he didn’t hit on her at all, much less in a tasteless way, and he hasn’t done anything wrong. I think sometimes people have the attitude that being asked out is always inherently uncomfortable or something but it’s really not, as long as everyone is polite.

                6. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                  I see no difference in asking someone out that you make small talk with in the break room than asking someone out that you make small talk with at coffee shop. And the OP can say no however she normally would if she isn’t interested. I would say this is less about being professional courtesy and more about human courtesy.

                7. Koko*


                  “It becomes unprofessional if the person continues to pursue when they’ve been given a clear no…”

                  I agree with your list, but would take this one one step further. In a workplace context, it becomes unprofessional if the person continues to pursue unless they’ve been given a clear yes. Moreso than outside of work, when you ask someone out you to need to be really, really sensitive to the possibility that they aren’t interested but aren’t comfortable rejecting you, and assume that’s what’s happening if you don’t get a clear, resounding, enthusiastic yes.

                8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Jean, “making a pass” refers to hitting on someone. It doesn’t have to be physical (and as we know, people can engage in all sorts of non-physical conduct that’s not appropriate).

                  With respect to this comment: “I see no difference in asking someone out that you make small talk with in the break room than asking someone out that you make small talk with at coffee shop.”

                  There is a massive difference, namely, that you may or may not run into someone at a coffee shop again, but you’ll certainly run into someone you work with every. single. day. If a coworker wants to ask another one out, then do it outside of work (and not by doing something creepy, like looking up a private number only available through work-created documents), and behave like an adult if the person blows you off or says no. It’s really not appropriate to make your workplace your dating pool and then go fishing in it.

              3. Amy G. Golly*

                I can agree with arguments from many sides of the debate – from “if you can be kind, why not be kind?” to “be firm from the beginning” to “don’t perpetuate the idea that women are always available to men unless they’re in a relationship.” I could agree with any of those statements, depending on the circumstances.

                What strikes me most is the sheer volume of responses to this question, and how much scheming and plotting is deemed necessary in order to properly reject a request for a date. Surely, a woman should be able to turn down a date in whatever manner feels comfortable and have that decision respected?! Why does it sound like we’re preparing a legal argument that has to stand up in court? “Oh, let him know someone else has a prior claim, he can’t dispute that.” “Don’t tell him you don’t date coworkers, it creates a precedent you’ll have to abide by later!” It’s insane!

                I don’t think it’s the way that women choose to reject men that’s the real problem, is what I’m saying.

                1. embertine*

                  Amy, you said it. And as for “Why does it sound like we’re preparing a legal argument that has to stand up in court?” – possibly because there is a non-zero chance that we are.

                2. fposte*

                  @embertine–but there’s a non-zero chance of that with every interaction, and there’s a cost to doing so that needs to be factored in as well.

                3. Christine*

                  I like Alison’s answer. There is no telling when there is a shift in department, promotions, etc. You have to be police to save the others’ face per say. The OP may end up in the same department, working on a project together, etc.

                  I think he should have made a point of doing a bit of chit chat to know a person before asking them out, etc. I have never liked it when a man asks me out because he likes the way I look. I prefer someone to at least know my name and had a few conversations with me first. He could have done some get to know you without that vibe before asking her out. Because when a stranger at work asks a woman out, he likes the way she looks . . it’s physical attracting in the forefront.

              4. Anion*

                I don’t think it’s sexist BS to be kind to other people or aware of their feelings. I expect men turning down a date to be just as kind as I’d expect a woman to be. I think we all “owe” each other kindness and respect, honestly.

                I agree that “No, thank you,” is fine as an answer and no one is obligated to say more than that, but the idea that it’s somehow demeaning to be kind to another person really bugs me.

          2. MashaKasha*

            But it’s not a no. It is a conditional no. It’s a “no, because I’m taken, but if something happens to that, you can be first in line”. Whereas what this guy needs to hear from OP (and get it through his head) is a firm “no”, not likely to change to a “yes” under any circumstances, period.

        2. Susan*

          I don’t think it’s demeaning or that it implies she’s owned by another man. It’s just a way of sparing the guy’s feelings, rather than saying, “I don’t like you and I don’t want to go out with you.” Sure, it would be valid for her to say that directly, but most people wouldn’t consider that very polite. Rejection hurts, and if you are going to reject someone, I think it’s kind to do it in a way that minimizes embarrassment.

          1. Myrin*

            My go-to is the very simple “I’m sorry but I’m not interested”, something I don’t think (and hope!) most people would consider especially un-polite.

            1. Sadsack*

              Yes, this should be sufficient. If you get a negative reaction from this response, that’s on the guy asking, not you. No made up excuse should be required.

              1. namelesscommentater*

                I try very hard to never apologize for not being interested in a man. While I understand the inclination to use “I’m sorry” to soften the blow, it’s another crutch used to demean the women’s choice into something that needs to be apologized for.

                1. Myrin*

                  I hear that sometimes and understand the reasoning and thought process behind it but have to admit that I simply don’t see it that way. I’d personally be very uncomfortable just saying “I’m not interested.” and then letting there be silence because it feels very, hm, not directly harsh but definitely brusque and it definitely goes against my usual polite speech patterns that I use with everyone.

                2. Myrin*

                  Addendum to my own comment after I’ve read some other posts: I’m now realising that I might well substitute “I’m sorry” with a simple “Thank you” – I’ve done that, but totally forgot about it!

                3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  I’ve been trying to get myself to stop saying “I’m sorry” in general — and it was probably hear that I first heard, and then realized that it was true for me, that folks often say “I’m sorry” when we really mean “thank you.”

                  “I’m sorry for saddling you with so much of the Peterson account work!” = “Thank you so much for helping me out with the Peterson account!”

                4. fposte*

                  I know that’s a thread of discourse on female apology, but I don’t see it that way; I love apologies, and I think that’s to do with other cultural strands. The best encapsulation I’ve heard was the British comedian David Mitchell, who said that “the rhetorical power of the apology lies in stealing the language of the problem from the other person.” Nothing to do with weakness for me and everything to do with strategic human dynamics.

                5. MK*

                  For me the problem is that in English “I am sorry” has come to be a synonym for “I apologise”. In my native language “I am sorry” has stuck with the literal meaning “I feel sorrow” and is not associated with apologising at all; if you mean to apologise, you are expected to spell out “I apologise” or “I beg your pardon”.

                6. Loose Seal*

                  My sister used to say “I’m sorry” all the time (although it never occurred to me that she really meant “thank you”). Once though, I was at a baseball game for her step-son and it started pouring the rain in one of those summer showers in the south that are over in minutes but dump a lot of water. We were standing under the overhang of the concessions building and she said, “I’m sorry it’s raining.” And I, being my usual blunt self, said, “Oh, you’re sorry it’s raining. Since when have you had control over the rain?” And she was so taken aback that she started to hear herself rely on “I’m sorry” and started to catch herself doing it. So now if she slips back in that mode, one of us supportive sisters will sarcastically say “I’m sorry it’s raining” just to help her out. You know, like sisters do.

                  But I do think, now that it’s been pointed out above, that what she’s really meant all these years is “Thank you.”

                7. Ellie H.*

                  To my mind, it’s not “I’m sorry that I am not interested in you,” it’s “I’m sorry I can’t accept your kind invitation [blah blah blah].” This strikes me as fine and polite w/o any further implications.

                  I have a lot more thoughts about apologizing in general (women doing it, me doing it etc.) but that’s neither here nor there. I do think that a lot of the time “I’m sorry” and “Thank you” are interchangeable when you are using it for politeness. “I’m sorry I can’t accept your kind invitation, but I have to feed my cat” vs. “Thank you for your kind invitation, but I actually have to feed my cat that night.” They come off the same.

            2. Tequila Mockingbird*

              Yes – a simple “I’m sorry but I’m not interested” is all that suffices here (though OP3 could also add “I prefer to keep all my work relationships in the office” or something along those lines).
              If the guy takes offense to that, that’s his problem.

          2. DArcy*

            I disagree. Women should absolutely say things like, “I don’t like you and I don’t want to go out with you.” Framing that as “impolite” is hugely sexist; it’s basically saying women aren’t allowed to directly turn down men’s advances because men’s feelings are paramount.

            You owe it to yourself to leave no room for argument when you turn down an unwanted advance. Don’t be “kind”, be aggressive and leave no room for false hope.

            1. Colette*

              “I don’t like you” is unnecessarily harsh as a first response – and it would be harsh regardless of whether it was in response to someone asking you out, a colleague asking for a ride, or your sister asking whether you wanted to go to a movie. By all means, deliver a clear no, but leave the personal attack out of it.

              1. LJL*

                I’ve always had luck with “I’m flattered that you would ask, but I don’t think it’s a good idea” “have a boyfriend (if it’s true)” or even nothing at all (i.e. “How thoughtful of you to ask.” )

                1. Koko*

                  Yes, I always say, “Thank you, but I’m not interested,”or, “I’m flattered, but no thanks.” It is really, really hard to train yourself not to feel like you have to explain why you’re saying no. But (perhaps surprisingly) most people won’t press any further when you say something clear but non-specific. They usually have enough social intelligence to understand what the reason is without having to ask.

                  And if they do follow up with some question like, “Is it because X (you have a boyfriend, we work together, you’re busy this week)?” then it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “No, I’m just not interested.”

            2. MK*

              If a man rejected a woman with this, I would call it rude too. Actually, if he gave this as a first response to any proposal, I would think him a hysterical jerk. You don’t have to be aggressive and rude to give a clear answer that leaves no room for argument; if the other person doesn’t accept it, escalate.

              1. Koko*

                Agreed. Just because I don’t want to date someone doesn’t mean I don’t like them. (Which is in itself a pernicious assumption people make about women – that if we like a guy we should be willing to reward him with sex.)

            3. GlamorousNonprofitSquirrel*

              You really do have to take this approach. It’s a slippery slope from “sparing the guy’s feelings” to sexual assault. You absolutely cannot leave one iota of a glimmer of hope – you never know if this person is going to be a sexual predator. And unless you have been a victim of this kind of office harassment, it would behoove you to stop insisting that women accommodate male aggression.

              1. Observer*

                This is nonsense. The guy who is a predator is not going to suddenly behave himself because you were clear with him. Talk about blaming the victim!

                And, yes, I have some first hand experience.

                1. fposte*

                  Yeah, that’s my other problem with this. I think stalkers will read a yes into whatever you say, and predators who get upset when they’re turned down aren’t affected much by the manner of the turndown, so I don’t think it gains you much safety to finely calibrate the “No.”

                2. Julia*

                  Right? What if you say “I have a boyfriend” and he hears, “I only need to get rid of the boyfriend so I can have her!”?

              2. Koko*

                I don’t think that asking someone out to lunch rises to the level of “male aggression.”

                If a guy has been told no once and didn’t want to hear it, sure, then it’s appropriate to repeat your no without mincing words. (“I’ve already said no, Bob. Don’t continue to ask me.”). Just because every man is Schroedinger’s potential predator doesn’t mean they need to be treated like a predator as you’re suggesting. Just like because every man is Schroedinger’s potential best friend/future husband doesn’t mean they need to be treated like they’re that, either, the way some MRAs seem to feel. There is a middle ground where you remain politely neutral until you collect more information about which type of treatment is appropriate.

            4. Zip Silver*

              No, that is an incredibly rude way to shoot somebody down. Just say “no thanks”. It’s not difficult.

              1. Anon for this*


                I could see this as a response to someone who won’t take a soft “no” for an answer and is getting increasingly, weirdly persistent. But otherwise, it’s pretty unnecessarily harsh.

            5. MashaKasha*

              Is “I don’t like you and I don’t want to go out with you” even a thing? “No, thanks” should be enough. She doesn’t owe him an explanation. If he continues to demand one, that’s another reason not to go out with him.

            6. Tequila Mockingbird*

              No – this is a work environment, not a bar. There’s no reason to be unnecessarily rude to a colleague.

          3. Allison*

            A direct rejection doesn’t have to include something harsh like “I don’t like you.” “I’m not interested” or “I don’t think about you that way” are fine. But if someone is being vague in asking you out, like asking you to “hang out” or grab lunch, then it’s fine to be indirect in response, unless you’re brave enough to say “I’m getting the sense you’re trying to ask me out. If I’m wrong, I apologize, but considering the vibe I’m getting I think it’s important to let you know that I’m not interested in dating you, and any social interaction between us is and will be platonic in nature.”

            1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

              This. A “no thank you” is a perfectly pleasant and professional response.

              1. Allison*

                Of course, if you’ve already agreed to do something with someone, backing out is a little complicated. Possible and acceptable, but tough to do gracefully.

          4. MC*

            But it’s that kind of mentality that diminishes people’s ability to allow women to control over their choices. By saying “oh, I’m already attached to someone” you’re implying that had the person not be attached, there is the chance she’d be interested. It’s not terribly different than saying “Oh, I don’t date co-workers” – it implies that if either makes a career change, there is the possibility of a relationship. By allowing people to say kindly “No, that’s very kind but no thank you” there is no implied condition that if changed, would allow this to proceed.

            No is a complete sentence. No thank you is the polite version. You don’t owe a veritable stranger anything more than politeness. You don’t owe them an explanation, treatise or powerpoint presentation outlining all of the reasons why you don’t want to spend personal time romantic or otherwise with them.

        3. thebluecastle*

          This. Right here. This is why one of my female friends purchased a fake engagement ring on Amazon to wear when she goes to Starbucks to study. Because she is approached so often by men who want to ask her out that she has to create the illusion of belonging to another man in order to get them to stop.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            I actually did this when I was younger, and I found it didn’t help. At all. The men who would back off after a polite “no thank you” stopped approaching me, but they weren’t the ones I was trying to get rid of. The really persistent ones that wouldn’t take no for an answer were not phased at all by the ring or by my saying that I was engaged/married.

            Which, I think, is another reason to put into practice the firm but polite “no” because then there’s no “unless” clause to muddy the waters and make the person think there might be a chance if things were different.

          2. Hope*

            I used to wear a fake engagement ring, and while it helped ward off guys who ascribe to that “even if you get rejected 99 times out of 100, you’re still winning 1% of the time” viewpoint, it didn’t stop the really determined/predatory guys. One time, I was in the checkout line at Walmart and the guy behind me, even after I’d lied and said I was engaged, persisted and asked me if I was “the cheating type”, trying to talk his way into my pants.

            I could not get out of that store fast enough, and I made sure not to go directly home, because dude had made it clear he couldn’t take any kind of “no” for an answer.

            If you get bothered all the time, it can be the easiest way to cut down on interruptions from dudes, but nothing’s going to keep them all away. I also wish we could get away from this romanticized “she’s just playing hard to get” idea. If you’re not getting an enthusiastic yes, just leave the other person alone.

        4. many bells down*

          And frankly, it doesn’t always work. I had the older brother of one of my students ask me out multiple times despite the fact I’d mentioned my engagement and wedding plans to him. Repeatedly.

          1. Searching*

            I was married (wearing a wedding ring), 7 months pregnant, and had my 3-year-old with me when a guy in a sandwich shop tried to hit on me. I had to repeatedly tell him it was not a good idea before he stopped. Still shaking my head at the memory.

      2. Mookie*

        Having a partner doesn’t preclude people from having emotional or sexual relationships with other people, though.

        Because some guys are slow to get hints


        1. Jean*

          I think that at present it’s still tactically most effective to assume that if a Person of Interest has a significant other, the relationship is monogamous and faithful. If the P of I is polyamorous (which means belonging to a minority of the population) or superficially monogamous but willing to cheat on the SO, he or she can speak up to clarify the situation and explore possibilities with the person expressing interest for increased social contact.

          1. Sadsack*

            Eh, this is just so unnecessary though. It makes it seem that OP’s acceptance is solely based on whether or not she is available, as opposed to whether or not she is actually interested in this person. Maybe you think it is an easier let down for the guy, but if he can’t accept that she’s just not interested, then he has a problem that’s not hers to solve.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yes, exactly. It’s actually kinder to say she’s not interested rather than saying she is in a relationship because that sounds like she might say yes if she weren’t.

              1. JessaB*

                Especially if the OP wants to say yes to someone at another time. It just gets into a convoluted mess. “Thank you, but I’m not interested,” is an acceptable response. And I totally agree with everyone who says that “I’m sorry,” should not be part of this conversation. Also don’t say things that wouldn’t be true if you like a person. IE don’t say “I never date coworkers” unless you mean it, because it’ll come back to bite you if you later do.

            2. Observer*

              Firstly, the issue is not always that a guy “can’t accept” but it makes things awkward. I don’t think it’s that terrible if a woman uses an excuse that makes things less awkward as long as she doesn’t open the door to discussion of the excuse.

              Secondly, and more importantly, the major problem most women I know are trying to solve is not the asker’s emotional well-being, but to get the guy to back off with the minimum amount of fuss.

              1. AnonAnalyst*

                Yes, to all of this. Particularly in this situation, where this is her coworker. It’s not some random guy in Starbucks or a bar who she won’t see again; she’ll still run into him in the office. If she thinks the easiest and most convincing way to turn him down is with an excuse, then I think that’s a perfectly legitimate option for her to consider.

        2. Allison*

          Not to mention, having a partner won’t necessarily deter an interested party. I’ve had guys cling to me, waiting in the wings for me to become single, and then immediately ask me if I want to grab drinks in the wake of a breakup. They make it seem so well-meaning, but I can smell their agenda a mile away.

          And then there’s the guy who sexually assaulted me at a party, and when I told him I had a boyfriend he said “well he’s not here now, he clearly doesn’t care about you” and then proceeded to ram his tongue down my throat and grope me.

          NOT that the guy in OP’s story is a rapist, I am not suggesting this man will also jump her bones the first chance he gets, nor do I think he would try to talk her into cheating on her guy, but it does happen, and it’s why I often don’t bother bringing up my boyfriend when I’m really just not into someone, and wouldn’t date him even if I was single.

        3. Observer*

          Both things are true. BUT – and this is a biggie – it tends to work. If you are comfortable with “Thank, but it’s not going to work.” and the person on the other end takes it well, that’s great. But, for a lot of women, it’s more important to get something that works well right off the bat. It’s a matter of being effective in attaining a certain goal vs being correct.

      3. MissGirl*

        I really don’t like going the whole S.O. thing. What if you don’t have a significant other and are very much single? “I’m flattered by your interest but no thank you,” is a perfectly fine response. Otherwise you’re required to lie to someone you might have to see on a regular basis. She doesn’t have to go through subterfuge. Give him the benefit of the doubt to take the rejection like an adult. I also like the suggestion to ask, “What is this meeting concerning?” That way she doesn’t she can reject him without any worry about it being work related.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          Give him the benefit of the doubt to take the rejection like an adult.

          Thank you for saying this. Sonetines the best way to handle a situation is politely, but directly. Creating the subterfuge of a SO just creates a lot more drama, including leaving this guy with the idea that the *only* reason she is saying no is here SO and that he has a chance.

        2. NotASalesperson*

          I would LIKE to give men in general the benefit of the doubt to take rejection like an adult, but my life experience says it’s safer not to.

          I still advocate the “polite but direct” route, but would be prepared for backlash just in case. Not saying it happens every time (or even most of the time), but when it does happen it can be nasty.

          1. MsCHX*

            +1 I do not attempt to “spare guy’s feelings” when I turn them down. My life experience also says to if you’re not interested.

      4. neverjaunty*

        Why all the indirect signaling? I mean it’s one thing to say “I have a boyfriend”, but a whole different level to drop little hints and then waiting for them to get noticed.

        There is no reason the LW needs to play games; she can simply follow AAM’s scripts.

      5. Tequila Mockingbird*

        I respectfully disagree with AaM’s advice for OP3 to say “My schedule has gotten really busy.” Pushy guys DO NOT HEAR “NO”– they hear “she’s too busy RIGHT NOW, I’ll try again next week,” and OP3 will still be dealing with the issue a month from now.

        I’m also not a fan of passive-aggressive refusals. If OP3 doesn’t want to go to lunch with the guy, she should say so plainly.

      6. neverjaunty*

        That’s why hinting is a terrible idea. Guys who are “slow” to get them, or who more bluntly don’t want to get them, won’t.

    2. Bramble*

      Not doubting the letter-writer’s vibe, but a few times I’ve had guys I’ve had a professional relationship ask me to lunch/coffee/whatever seemingly out of the blue. And while my mind went immediately to something romantic it turns out that what they were interested was selling me on their financial planning services, or insurance, or some other side business. Still a good reason to turn down the lunch invitation through.

      1. Jill*

        #3 You can always ask the totally reasonable, very professional question, “May I ask what this meeting is regarding?” If it’s romantic interest, that will be apparent quite quickly and you can shut it down without having made any assuptions about his intentions.

        1. CoffeeLover*


          Seriously, this is what you should do. Takes out all the guess work and is perfectly polite. Then if he says something that sounds romantically inclined (i.e., “I just want to get to know you”), you can follow-up with “I’m sorry, but my days are usually packed. It’s hard for me to make time unless it’s something work related.” Or however you want to phrase it.

          1. Shazbot*

            Meh, even that is too indirect. “My days are USUALLY packed”, “it’s hard for me to make time”…these are weasel words (well, phrases). If you’re not interested in someone who is expressing a romantic interest, do not then phrase your rejection in a way that makes him/her think that he/she can get to you via a pretended work meeting.

            Just decline politely without making excuses.

        2. Artemesia*

          good idea — both getting the agenda and calling the thing a ‘meeting’ — that makes, no thanks, I’m not interested in that a lot easier to say.

        3. Lissa*

          This is my favourite response so far, honestly — it doesn’t assume anything, and puts the ball in his court to say “I want to date you” or not. I honestly thing one of the most frustrating things is the “…did that person just ask me out?” interaction, because there are so many ways it can go horribly wrong. Regardless of gender. also nobody likes rejecting somebody romantically, regardless of the movies it’s far more likely a romantic rejection will involve the other party awkwardly making excuses, not throwing a drink in your face. work makes it way weirder.

      2. DuckDuckMøøse*

        Yeah, once I accepted a lunch invitation from a work contact (tangential manager – manager on a project I was working on, but not my manager; he was some of the other teammates’s manager – I didn’t think it was romantic, since he obviously wore a wedding ring; I was hoping it was a mentor situation) and it turned out be be a “great opportunity” to get in on a MLM scheme! :p Ugh.

        1. Workfromhome*

          Yes that also came to mind when I saw this question. It could be romantic but it could just as easily be a pitch for Multi Level Marketing. Many years ago I made the same mistake. I would often run into another sales person of the opposite sex in my rounds who would spend more than a little extra time chatting etc. We were in totally unrelated fields (and it was far before networking or even email was a big thing). I did not get up the courage to ask for a date but was delighted one day when she asked for my card so she could “get in touch”. A few days later when the phone rang I was very pleased until I heard “My boyfriend and I have started our own business and when we started talking about who else loves to make money we thought of you can I send the information to the address on your business card). I politely declined. Point being it was my own ego (I was in my 20s) that lead me to think that this person wanted a date with me. IF the OP does not want a date, multi level marketing or cant think of any other reason they would want to have lunch with this person they should decline but there is no reason to do it other than with common courtesy. If they are comfortable saying “I’ve though it over and I’ve decided lunch isn’t going to be a possibility. ” then that’s fine. If they feel more comfortable putting some reason behind it even if it might be white lie “I try to spend free lunch time with my significant other” courtesy is a much nobler cause than trying to make some statement about your right to say no (especially when it doesn’t appear the other person has been in any way rude or harassing). As long you as you are kind but definitive it should be fine (I did keep getting flashbacks to the How I met your mother Episode where Lilly doesn’t ant to shoot down her old boyfriend by saying “I can’t be with you…right now”.

        2. the gold digger*

          That would tick me off even more than being asked on a date at work. An acquaintance with whom I wanted to be friends asked me to lunch once, telling me she had a job idea for me. She was a writer and I thought she had some freelance suggestions and contacts.

          Nope. She wanted me to sell makeup for her. I was angry that she would use our quasi-friendship to try to trap me into an MLM.

          1. Artemesia*

            My book club has an annual retreat and one year we were sitting on the deck of a lake cabin when the people at the lake cabin nearby were practicing their pitches to friends to rope them into an MLM. The first one we heard was smooth and we thought it was actually someone talking to a friend ‘my boss asked me if I had any friends who were sharp and ambitious and I immediately thought of you yadda yadda.’ Then in their turn the trainees stumbled through the exact same dialogue. All the flattery and the guilt inducing ‘friends help friends’ stuff is totally scripted.

          2. many bells down*

            UGH I hate that. An old friend from high school messaged me on Facebook and I was thrilled because we used to be really close but had lost touch (she was even my date for Grad Nite!)

            No, she just wanted to pitch Arbonne to me. Not even a “how have you been?”.

    3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Also, if he has a professional reason for wanting to meet, that will come out over time. “Hey, can we get coffee next week?” “No, sorry, I can’t.” “Ok, but I’d really like to get some time together to talk about how we’ll approach the Pendle proposal.”

  2. Oh what, oh what, oh what*

    For #2 – My first thought was now LW can take care of mother full time and her sister won’t feel guilty (any more) for not helping at all. Hopefully you have talked to your manager about your hours, your responsibilities, and your health and you are both on the same page. And I’m sorry about your family situation.

      1. Marcela*

        Perhaps it’s not the same thing since it’s in Spanish, but I never say “our mom” when talking about my mother. Not even when I’m in the presence of my siblings. Of course, now I’m thinking my example does not apply to OP’s situation, since she’s explaining things to us, but…

      2. Zillah*

        That stuck out to me, too. I’m wondering if the sister is a half-sister or step-sister or something.

      3. Myrin*

        That doesn’t really need to be determining – I know plenty of people who don’t say “our” in such situations unless it’s really important that a thing is “ours” (one could argue that the situation described in the letter would be one such situation, though). I actually knew someone online for years who would always say “my mother” and “her husband” so I just automatically assumed she was talking about a stepfather and then much later it was made unambiguously clear that the mother’s husband was indeed the person’s biological dad, she just never phrased it that way for some reason. From the letter, though, it could really be both.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          I’ve used “mom’s ex” for my paternal DNA contributor, and those are both the politest things I’ll ever say about him.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I already loved you for your username, and now I am indebted to you for that phrasing. I’m going to have to start using “mom’s ex”, that’s absolutely amazing.

        2. Cookie*

          I know someone who did the same – refer to her dad as her mother’s late husband. I believe she did so because she didn’t really know him or think of him as “dad.”

      4. LQ*

        I could totally see saying “my mom” rather than “our mom” even if she was “our” mom in this case. If I was the one caretaking? I’m much more clear and very rarely say “my sister” when referring to my step sister. I don’t have a half sister but I could see being clear about that too. So I think that if you are going to be semantic about “my” vs “our” you have to take into account the OP just said “my sister” not “my step sister” or “my half sister”.

        1. EddieSherbert*


          If I was the OP, I would have differentiated if she was anything but the assumed definition of “sister”.

        2. many bells down*

          See, I’m the opposite. I have two half-siblings and I always refer to them as “my brother” and “my sister”. The only time the “half-” thing comes up is when someone asks about the big age gap between us.

          1. Anna*

            Same. For one, it’s too difficult to keep saying “my half sister.” Two, it opens up possibility of a conversation I don’t necessarily want to have with everyone. Three, some of us don’t give a shit if we have the same mom and different dads. We’re sisters

    1. Kelly L.*

      I was thinking this too–sister wants OP to be free all the time to care for Mom, so sister doesn’t have to do any of it.

      1. Ama*

        I have a friend (“Jane”) with two sisters whose mom became seriously ill a few years ago. Even though one of the sisters wasn’t employed full-time, both of them expected Jane to take off work every time their mom needed to go to the doctor (which was 3-4 times a month at points). This went on for a couple of years — during which time Jane started a long-distance relationship with someone in a distant city. When she moved to be with him, the sister that worked part-time was so furious she wouldn’t speak to Jane for almost a year. Apparently it was some kind of betrayal for Jane to put her own life first for once and make the sisters actually take their turn caring for their mother.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’ve seen this happen before, too, and it is maddening. Folks have many reasons for not being able to contribute to caretaking, but the sheer selfishness of expecting another sibling to essentially put their life on pause so that you don’t have to blows my mind.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – This is so bizarre. Waiting until you got back to send the email? What’s with that?
    I’d go straight to the manager over this one and seek clarification. First because of job duties and second because she’s acting like your supervisor.
    You’ll need your managers support to shut this down.

    1. Myrin*

      Yeah, that’s seriously weird.

      I first didn’t read the letter carefully enough and thought the coworker had decided to redistribute work while covering for OP while she was on vacation. Like she realised that while OP is someone who can do that amount of work, she can’t (or can’t on top of her regular responsibilities) and asked others to help out during OP’s holiday. But then I read it again because Alison’s answer didn’t make much sense and only then did I realise what it actually said and yeah, super strange – especially since with the OP being back it seems like these tasks aren’t in her purview anymore anyway.

      1. Bluesboy*

        It’s actually so weird that it makes me wonder if it’s just a misunderstanding. Maybe she had misunderstood and thought that her colleague was away for two weeks, had struggled to get everything done in the first week, and decided to redistribute for the second week while she waited for OP to come back?

        1. Lore*

          Or is it possible she had sent a message to the team at the beginning of the OP’s vacation and was forwarding it to let the OP know who had handled what…but did it in a really unclear way? (Or somehow set it on delayed send to the OP as an FYI?) I know, stretching to find generous explanations but it seems like such a strange thing to do!

          1. Kassy*

            I don’t think this is such a stretch. I might have done that to let an employee know who had covered what in case she had questions about anything that was done in her absence (although I would have explained what it was before sending it).

            1. Kathleen Adams*

              I wondered that too – and I also wondered if perhaps the coworker thought the OP would be on vacation for two weeks rather than one? Because otherwise it’s just so weird!

        2. CM*

          I was thinking that OP #1 could at least pretend it was a misunderstanding to help smooth things over — in her email to the group, she could say, “Thanks for covering for me while I was away last week. I’m now back from my vacation, so I will be covering these tasks as usual.”

    2. Harper*

      It’s way weird and I really agree that LW1 needs to pull in the manager. I’m concerned that the manager was copied on the email and hasn’t responded, so I think LW1 needs to work that out first — is this coming from the manager or with the manager’s support? Ugh, hope we get an update! Good luck, LW1!

    3. Artemesia*

      I agree with the idea of meeting with the manager but I wouldn’t ASK if she wanted the work redistributed or give any opening for this undermining being authorized, I’d assume it is your work and it needs to come back and the co-worker is overstepping and that you are giving the boss a heads up. The boss can still stop you and tell you that yes you have been demoted in your absence, but dont offer an opening to let this aggressive co-worker take over.

      For the c0-worker it is ‘I appreciate your covering me when I was out last week but I am handling my work now and don’t need you to deal with it any further.’ And definitely do this in person.

    4. Rocky*

      I’m sure it’s either a poorly-worded (or forwarded) email or the manager has moved duties around. I’ve had many times when I found out tangentially that I was no longer working on the XYZ projects and would now be fulltime on F, because F’s project manager got in touch!

  4. Weekend Warrior*

    Re #3 Given the size of the company and that they don’t work together, lunch requester’s interest is most likely social but the OP could suss that out by replying “sorry, my schedule’s very tight and I don’t have time for lunch. If you have a work related topic to discuss, maybe I can suggest someone else for you to connect with.” Or just go the shorter route.

    1. SophieChotek*

      I like this — it leaves the door open in case it is genuinely work-related, and the guy is just super awkward about it.

      On the other hand, it could also give him an opening to say “yes, it’s work related” but then at lunch…it becomes so clear it’s not.

  5. Fiona the Lurker*

    OP#2, I’ve been in a similar situation; my sister constantly tried to undermine my care for my mother, to the point of formally alleging that I had criminal intentions (she suspected fraud of some kind). She even asked me point-blank *why* I was doing it.

    My experience suggests that you and your sister are never, ever going to be on the same page over this; the important thing is to make sure that your employer understands what’s going on and is comfortable with the arrangements you’re making. Your sister can complain all she likes; she just comes over as totally unsympathetic and obstructive and I’m pretty sure you can rely on your employer to see this from your point of view rather than hers.

    Good luck; it’s a big task you’re taking on, but IMHO it’s absolutely the right thing to do.

    1. CM*

      I wonder, too, whether OP #2 has told her manager about the reason for her tardiness? It doesn’t make things better between the sisters, but at least OP #2 wouldn’t have to worry about her manager agreeing that she’s having performance problems. (I’m assuming the manager would be sympathetic, which of course may not be true.)

      1. JessaB*

        If the OP is in the US and the company is big enough she should be able to get FMLA protection for taking care of her mother. I’m pretty sure parents are covered in the “to care for a relative” bit.

  6. Engineer Girl*

    #2 – there isn’t enough info to tell what is going on except that the two sisters don’t get along.
    I’ve seen sisters use caregiving as an excuse for underperforming in other areas. I’ve also seen sisters acting entitled and expecting the other to bear all the caregiving burdens.
    What is important in this situation is that you talk to your boss and find out what the expectations of the job are. Then meet those expectations with no excuses. If you need time off then make sure your boss is OK with it. And keep checking in if you have to take time off. Your employment is between you and your boss. If you are performing well then your boss will tell your sister to keep out.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, and as JessaB noted, please consider formally requesting FMLA coverage if you’re eligible.

  7. Nerdy Canuck*

    So, let me make sure I have OP3 correct – the guy *didn’t even get her name* before asking her out?

    Frankly, even if it was a networking thing, that would still be completely out to lunch, wouldn’t it?

    1. Misc*

      that would still be completely out to lunch, wouldn’t it?

      Nonono, *avoiding* going out to lunch is the point :D

    2. Gandalf the Nude*

      I read that as him knowing her first name but needing the full name to suss out the email address.

      1. BeautifulVoid*

        Gosh, I hope so. If not…ick. While generally, I am not opposed to the idea of asking someone out at work (with the usual caveats about power differentials and whatnot), on my first reading, it did sound like the invitation to lunch came before “hey, by the way, what’s your name?”, and that’s not a good sign in any situation. I’m also kind of side-eyeing the guy’s use of work email to continue trying to plan this lunch when they’d never had reason to email each other before, but I may be reading into things a little too much.

  8. Rey*

    #3, Alison is right that you don’t have to go to lunch with anyone you don’t want to. Be polite, but be definite.

    If you want to cover all of your bases on the off chance that he wanted to talk about work, in your reply you could ask him if what he wanted to meet about is something you could discuss over email. But that is completely optional on your part, and it’s ok if that’s more than you want to get into. If he wants to talk about something work-related, it’s his job to bring it up.

    1. Mookie*

      Alison is right that you don’t have to go to lunch with anyone you don’t want to.

      Seconded. You are not responsible for letting anyone (including people who are not romantically or sexually interested in you) “down,” you don’t have to put yourself out by acquiescing to something you’d rather not, and you don’t need to cushion your words, hedge, or obfuscate for the sake of their feelings. And you definitely don’t have to disclose anything about your personal life, including having a partner; the partner is incidental and, anyway, it’s not fair that women’s choices are sometimes only acknowledged and abided by because some other third-party has dibs on them. The colleague was bold and self-confident enough* to ask for a lunch, and so you’re more than welcome to be bold and self-confident in politely declining, even if it means maybe missing out on some networking opportunities.

      *Though as you say, LW, this type of overture is used because it is so safe; being frank about what you want makes you vulnerable, and generally the people who employ it do so because they can’t handle outright, unambiguous rejection, which they find offputting and humiliating (typical of abusers who feel other people’s preferences and boundaries are inconvenient, and therefore hurtful and wrong). For that reason, you’re not obligated to decline in a way that suggests the offer was for a date. Alison’s advice is good: if you feel you can’t handle this like you would in a non-professional setting (“no thank you on lunch for eternity no backsies good luck”) treat this like any other invitation you have no intention of agreeing to and let him wear himself out. If it ever becomes too wearying, use your words. Yes, he may freak out and treat you like you’re delusional–women are brought up feeling that “crazy” (non-compliant) is the worst of all female sins, and therefore sometimes behave contrary to their own interests and desires in an attempt to be a Chill, non-manic Girl–but you both know the truth. Allow him his wounded ego and hyperbole but make it clear you’re not going to be harassed over this and that your answer is final. Never let the potential reputation for being a meaniehead stop you from exercising healthy, self-loving behavior.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        People use that type of overture when they don’t know someone, not because they’re scared of being vulnerable. It’s a screening thing to determine if there’s even a shot at compatibility. Not some psychological defense mechanism.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, this seems well within the bounds of normal to me, and I think everybody involved in dating is scared of being vulnerable.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, it is normal. The degree to which someone handles rejection can be all over the map, and that’s why we see all this advice about hunting and mentioning boyfriends and “let him down gently.”

            1. fposte*

              The rest of this makes perfect sense and I’m sure I’m missing something obvious–advice about hunting? Are women being advised to wear blaze orange or hide in a blind :-)?

              1. neverjaunty*

                Bite your tongue. You know there is some designer who is plotting to make blaze orange the “must-have” workwear color next season.

          2. Mookie*

            To reiterate, I’m talking about people who ask for a date in conventional terms (so, not generally directly because, as you say, it’s hard to do and for a lot of people appears too aggressive), but when are given a firm answer, deny that they were asking someone out. I’m not casting aspersions on this particular man at all, nor do I think that we have to exert superhuman strength about our romantic feelings. Vulnerability is natural, provided you don’t lash out afterwards or try to punish someone when they take on an equal or greater amount of risk in politely but directly declining you.

      2. Anon for this*

        Woah, wait. Being nervous about unambiguously asking someone out does not mean someone is an abuser.

        You’re not obligated to decline in any one specific way, but not because of that.

        1. Artemesia*

          Yes. There is nothing wrong with asking a co-worker you don’t work closely with out when you are not in their supervision line. And there is nothing wrong with saying ‘no’. The problem obviously is knowing if it is a social overture and in that case asking what the ‘meeting is about’ can clarify and then the ‘no’ can be delivered. The guy didn’t assault her, he asked her to lunch. If she found him attractive she might have said yes; she doesn’t so she should say ‘no’ kindly but clearly.

        2. Mookie*

          I am specifically talking about people who ask a roundabout question and then, when they get a pointed answer they don’t like, deny the obvious intent behind the question (“I wasn’t asking you out on a date, don’t flatter yourself, etc.”), referring to the plausible deniability the LW mentioned. I am absolutely not labeling this man or anyone who asks someone out to lunch an abuser.

    2. Mookie*

      If he wants to talk about something work-related, it’s his job to bring it up.

      Yep. By being mysterious about this, he really only has himself to blame if you “misinterpreted” him. Any confusion that exists between you emanates from his behavior.

    3. blackcat*

      Right. I’ve experienced exactly this sort of thing–men (always older men) strongly implying they wanted to get dinner who swear up and down they want to talk about my work and then never follow up to an email where I turn down the meal and instead offer “I’d love to pick your brain about X! Here are some questions I’ve been pondering. Do you have [not meal time] available to talk?”

      It makes it clear from my end that I am excited about the idea of mentorship, but that any meeting would be purely about work. Creeps never respond. Awkward, but genuinely helpful people do–this even includes people who may have been interested but are super respectful of the clear boundary I draw.

      (And for people saying “I have a serious boyfriend” would work here, that specifically has NOT been my experience in the workplace/at conferences. I wear a wedding ring. Most of these men are married. I get the sense that the dinner invite is more of a “let’s bang” than a “let’s start a relationship.” It is all sorts of icky, and it seems to go with being a young-ish woman in a hugely male dominated academic field. It may be less gross is settings that are more balanced.)

      1. CM*

        I really like this approach! Not for OP #3’s situation, since she doesn’t care to make a professional connection with this guy either, but for other times when you have a professional but not a personal interest.

        I like Alison’s advice too. If it turns out that this guy actually does have a professional interest in talking to OP #3, he could always respond to “I’m too busy” with, “OK, but I was hoping to talk to you about [work-related], could we have a quick meeting about that?”

        Also, just wanted to note that it can take a few “too busy”s to get the message across — my personal feeling is that ignoring the second “too busy” is socially awkward at best, and ignoring the third is solid evidence of creepiness. I think after one or two “too busy”s I would feel free to say, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m not interested in having lunch.”

  9. Random Lurker*

    #2 – what struck me most in your letter is the ending when you asked if *your sister* could be fired for what she did. Now both of you are trying to get the other one fired (or are at least thinking about it). There is obviously some anger and resentment between both of you that needs to be worked out. Hopefully you can do this outside of work. This isn’t good for either of you, and if it’s bleeding into the workplace, it really shouldn’t.

    PS: very sorry about what you are going through with your mother.

    1. sstabeler*

      Frankly, in a similar situation- someone KNOWS you are caring for a sick relative, and tries to get you fired for attendance issues directly related to it, I would be wondering about if I could get them fired too.

      To clarify- the issue is the sister is trying to get LW#2 fired purely because she needs to take time off to care for her sick mother. If LW#2’s manager noticed her performance was no longer satisfactory, that’s a different mmatter, though I would still argue for sympathy.

      1. Liane*

        If LW’s manager is concerned about the LW’s work, she should be discussing it with LW, not LW’s Sister or anyone else.

        Ths is the second comment, so far, that implies that Manager and Sister talking about LW’s job performance is okay if LW is not doing her job well. Nope, Manager should have shut Sister down immediately.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          I actually agree; even though normally a manager should pay some attention to a coworker’s comment on you, I’d be wary of taking a relation’s comment (especially in this situation, where you are out taking care of your mother!). I’d probably assume something personal is going on…

    2. Shazbot*

      I actually read that as worry for the sister. The OP already has to take care of a mother with Alzheimer’s, I doubt she wants to have to deal with a suddenly unemployed sister to boot.

  10. LiptonTeaForMe*

    If you have been at your job for a year or so and your company has a significant amount of people (cannot remember the actual number), you may qualify for FMLA to take care of a sick parent. Something to check out which should shut your sister up.

    1. Natalie*

      Yes, and it doesn’t need to be 12 weeks in one go – you can take “intermittent FMLA” if necessary. And your state may extend protections to smaller employers or workers with a shorter tenure.

      If you have them, assert your leave rights now. You might not need the protection, but if you do it’s hard to get retroactively.

      1. Judy*

        At a former company, a co-worker’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. It was expected to be an “easy” one, and as she had worked there for a while, taking a couple days for the surgery plus day every other week to go with him to chemo was well within her available vacation days. A manager friend suggested that she still file for FMLA, just to cover the routine absences. Based on what happened later, I’m pretty sure she would have lost her job if she hadn’t done that. Once some things became clear, she was able to leave the job on her own terms.

        1. JessaB*

          Yes, I have had many bosses suggest doing the FMLA thing not because they wanted to be nitpicky but to protect ME. I had one job where the personnel manager was someone I’d known for years. I had informal accommodations all over the place, but when she left, people started complaining, so I had to go back and do all the documentation that I could have handed her on my first day. But now that stuff was too old (wouldn’t have been if it was already filed) and I had to go out of my way to get it re done. Just because today’s management is fine with you being late doesn’t mean tomorrow’s will be. Cover your paperwork.

        2. Natalie*

          It’s like a seat belt. If you’re wearing one and you don’t need it, no big deal. But if you end up needing one and you don’t have it, you’re fucked.

  11. The Wall of Creativity*

    That poor old guy in #3. If he is asking her out for romantic reasons, he’s already been labelled as a dangerous pervert by everyone here. OP only has to say no.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Nobody has labeled him a dangerous pervert. But he is “that guy” that makes unwanted advances on his coworkers.

      1. Workfromhome*

        I find this overly judgmental based on the information we have. Its a big company where they don’t work side by side so they are co workers only by the loosest definition. Defining “hey would you like to have lunch sometime” as an unwanted advance seems really over the top to me. Heck we don’t even know for sure the intent was romantic. I feel sorry for men these days. What if he’s just shy, thinks she’s cute and wanted to ask for a date but would simply take no for an answer and move on? Why should someone like that be labeled that guy” that makes unwanted advances on his coworkers? Is it now taboo to ask out someone who works for the same organization? How do you know anything is unwanted unless you ask as long as the asking is done in a respectful manner ?

        1. Dot Warner*

          Exactly. It isn’t as if he sexually harassed her or catcalled her. He extended a polite invitation over e-mail, which the OP hasn’t yet declined. Don’t hang the guy for a crime he hasn’t committed!

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          First off, trust the OP to recognize a romantic advance vs a professional request.

          Second, the coworker didn’t even know the OP’s name. If you don’t know someone well enough to know their name, you certainly don’t know them well enough to ask out to lunch. Generally, if you’re going to ask someone out, you should have at least established a friendly rapport. Even on online dating apps, asking for a face-to-face too soon is seen as a red flag. Going straight from “What’s your name?” to “Let’s go out for lunch” without the stuff that should come between those two things is likely what set off the OP’s and prompted them to write in.

          And, the reason he should get the label “that guy that makes unwanted advances on his coworkers” is because he is that guy that made unwanted advances on his coworkers.

          1. Dot Warner*

            You’re… making a bit of a leap there. Since they’d made small talk before, he probably knew OP’s first name but not her last name (hence the asking what it was so that he could e-mail her). Since the two of them work in different departments, maybe he figured lunch was his best opportunity to get to know her.

            I’m having a really hard time understanding why this guy should be seen as a creep or a sexual predator when all he did was send a woman an email asking if she’d like to have lunch with him. Maybe when she declines, he’ll get angry… or maybe he’ll just go back to work and not give it another thought.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              You’re making several leaps of your own. The fact of the matter is that the OP received an unwanted advance. Who’s fault it is that?

              The reason he’s coming off as a creep (nobody is saying sexual predator) is because he skipped the get to know you stuff. There’s also the fact that he’s obviously not socially aware enough to realize his advance was unwanted.

              Asking someone out puts them on the spot. Doing it at work forces them to have to follow work conventions when rejecting the advance. Doing it in a round-about way to maintain plausible deniability is often used as a defense mechanism to save the asker’s ego. Brushing this all off as “She can just say no” completely ignores all the shitty things people do to women who reject their advances.

              1. fposte*

                It’s nobody’s fault, because it’s not a bad thing; it’s just an undesirable thing. If somebody offers you an ad flyer you don’t want, it’s not a fault.

                I think you can be aware of the long history of asymmetry of male-female power and the tendency for payment for that to fall on women and women’s bodies and still think your description is catastrophizing an innocuous situation.

                1. fposte*

                  Yes, it’s an innocuous situation. That doesn’t mean he’s for sure a great and safe person; it just means right now the behavior is nonthreatening, common, and within the bounds of propriety.

                2. Anna*

                  That is alarmist and completely bizarre. Based on your forecasting, no woman should ever go out or say no to a man ever because it may go bad. You’re essentially telling this person not to drive a car or get on an airplane because you just never know. It’s paranoia defined.

                  This is getting too close to saying men can’t help themselves when the vast majority of them can and do on a pretty regular basis.

              2. BRR*

                Because some get to know you stuff is for the date. How much get to know you stuff are they supposed to engage in at the workplace?

                I’m fully agreeing with you that some men can’t accept no as answer but to get there from what’s in the letter is a real stretch.

              3. Emilia Bedelia*

                But, he’s trying to get to know her, by inviting her to lunch. And I don’t think you can say it was on the spot, because he emailed her! I think this is honestly the most reasonable and easy to reject advance that someone could make.
                Are you arguing that men should only ask out women when they are 100% certain that the woman would like to go to lunch with them? I really disagree that that’s necessary.

                1. Dot Warner*

                  Exactly! Email is the most unobtrusive way to ask someone a question, and it’s hardly putting her on the spot when he wasn’t even in the room when she opened the email.

                  Trout ‘Waver, I get that there are a LOT of bad people out there, and I get that some men have selective deafness about the word “no” – I’ve known a few of them. I don’t get where there’s any evidence whatsoever that this guy is one of them, and I don’t think merely asking someone if they want to have lunch with you is an “unwanted advance.” Being catcalled or sexually harassed? Those are unwanted advances. Someone asks you to lunch? That’s just an invitation. Accept if you want to, say “no thanks” if you don’t, and move on.

                2. Trout 'Waver*

                  I’m arguing that men should ask out women when the woman has given some sort of sign or interest that it would be welcome. This clearly was not the case here. (He didn’t even know her first name!) Just asking out someone at work because you find them attractive without knowing anything about them is not appropriate.

                  Dot Warner, how else would you describe an advance that wasn’t wanted?

                3. Emilia Bedelia*

                  Well, I guess that’s where we disagree. I don’t think it’s egregious to ask someone out when you don’t know them at all.

                  I don’t think an “unwanted advance” is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. I think that’s pretty deliberately making the situation sound more dramatic than it was.

                4. Dot Warner*

                  Trout, well, I guess you and I have very different ideas of what’s an advance and what’s not. “Hey, would you like to get lunch with me some time?” is not an advance to me, and somebody asking that isn’t automatically a creep, pushing boundaries, or socially unskilled. They extended an invitation and as I said, if I don’t want to go I’ll make like Nancy Reagan and just say no. No reason to get upset or to think anything ill of that person. Like Emelia said, referring to a polite invitation as an “unwanted advance” makes it sounds more sinister than it actually is, and more importantly, minimizes the severity of actual sexual harassment.

                  As other commenters have said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking someone out if you aren’t sure whether they’re interested – the whole point of asking is that you don’t know and you want to find out!

          2. fposte*

            He didn’t know it was unwanted when he asked, though; that’s how you find out. I also think “makes advances” is a more sinister phrase than the situation justifies. He asked somebody out. I can’t support a ban on ever asking anybody out at work. He should have been clearer so the OP could be clearer, but this is still only advanced beginner to intermediate civilization. Person asks you for social time; you don’t want to give social time; you decline.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Agreed. At this point, he’s a guy who hasn’t been clear in his communication, which has caused the OP to be skeptical about his reasons for wanting to connect. If she says no and nothing else happens, all is well.

              1. fposte*

                I think we’re just not going to see this one the same way. I don’t think it’s sinister to ask somebody out. I don’t think it’s sinister to do it in a bar, to do it at work, to do it on the train, to do it in the rain. Asking is okay. You don’t have to be able to read signals or parse body language–you can just use your words to politely inquire about a reasonable possibility. The fact that sometimes people screw that one up doesn’t mean the polite inquiry is no longer okay.

                Most of the people who become boundaryless pains and dangers are going to be that whether they ask somebody out or not. I don’t see that shelving a reasonable social convention protects anybody against them.

                1. Trout 'Waver*

                  You’re right that we’re not going to see it the same way. I didn’t say it was sinister to ask somebody out. And, asking someone out out of the blue is not politely inquiring about a reasonable possibility. If you don’t even know their name, a date isn’t a reasonable possibility. And it certainly isn’t polite to ask someone out at work when you don’t even know them. It puts them in an awkward spot where the best case scenario is status quo.

                  Anyway, before asking someone out, you should be reasonable sure your advance is wanted. This requires basic social skills, but isn’t that the bar to clear for a relationship anyway?

                2. TL -*

                  The point of asking someone on a date is t0 politely inquire if they are reasonably interested and to signal that you are. We don’t know if he had no clue who she was or didn’t know her last name (very different scenarios! I know many people well enough to ask out without knowing their last names!).

                  And, in this guy’s favor, he didn’t even specifically ask her out – he asked her for a no-intentions lunch over email, which is probably his way of making it super low-pressure and easy for her to ignore or say no. I believe the OP’s reading of the situation, but he’s leaving her with the option of a polite pretense that it was a networking luncheon.

                  If he follows up after a no, that changes the situation entirely, but right now – he met a woman, he was interested, he asked her out in a very low-pressure, polite way, and it sounds like he’ll be able to give her lots of space when she rejects him. That’s…not a bad scenario. Awkward, sure, but if nobody was awkward in life we’d never get anything done.

                3. Crazy Canuck*

                  “If you don’t even know their name, a date isn’t a reasonable possibility. ”

                  Untrue. I have gotten dates with women whose name I did not know before I asked them out. Hell, I’ve had entire one-night stands where we never exchanged names in my past. As long as you are polite and respect their answer, I strongly feel that someone of either gender should feel free to ask out another adult on a date whenever.

                4. Anion*

                  Not to mention, what’s creepier: Meeting a person at work, finding them attractive, and emailing to invite them to lunch even though you don’t know them well; or meeting a person at work, finding them attractive, deciding it’s improper to ask them out because you don’t know them well, and so repeatedly showing up at or near their desk, or the breakroom when they go into it, and hanging around engaging them in conversation in order to get to know them well enough to ask them out?

                  If he did the second, then he’d be that weird guy who’s stalking her, as opposed to that guy who’s appropriately trying to get to know her better so he can then invite her out to lunch, right?

          3. The RO-Cat*

            Now, I tend to see a lot of projection here. All we have is a guy asking a female colleague out for lunch without knowing her (exact) name, and OP’s hunch this might be a romantic interest. We don’t know for sure he can’t or won’t take a straight “no” for an answer, which is the case that would qualify him to your label. I fear you jumped a few steps in your reasoning and constructed a story unsupported (as yet) by what we know.

            He’ll turn into “that guy that makes unwanted advances on his coworkers” when he’ll know his advances are unwanted *and* will pursue despite this knowledge, not before.

            1. The RO-Cat*

              … aaaand this will teach me to refresh before posting. It looks too much like a pile-on for my taste.

          4. TL -*

            The coworker didn’t know her name enough to find her email – it’s quite possible she was introduced to him as Kate and her email was I’d ask. I have a horrible memory for names; I don’t know most of my coworkers’ last names unless I have to email them regularly. And I can’t find them in our system unless I know their last name.

            And he’s not making unwanted advances, really; he asked for a very low-pressure lunch, over email so she had time to respond, and privately. There are tons of outs here for the OP to take – he’s not pressuring her or putting her in a tight spot. Asking someone out is not an inherently creepy act in and of itself. Please don’t treat it like it is.

            1. The Rat-Catcher*

              ^this. I’m known by a shortened version of my name and my last name is difficult to spell. For people that actually do need to contact me, they have to be told “she’s listed as Katherine Jones in Outlook,” to use the above.

          5. Anon for this*

            Hm, I just don’t see that.

            I’m not one to defend “that guy” behavior or any kind of sexual harassment – I honestly have an extremely short fuse on the subject – but it’s a leap to assume that is what’s going on here right now without OP’s input.

          6. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            Eh…I’m the person who would much rather go on a face-to-face date rather than exchange a ton of messages with someone. Often I have found the people I have great texting chemistry with are duds in person. And this sentiment is pretty common across my friends.

            Believe me, I understand the concerns and have seen some egregious behavior. But in this case, a guy has been having a few casual conversations with a coworker and then asked her out. In some places I’ve worked, it would be seen as highly unprofessional to ask out a colleague, in other places half our staff was married to each other.

          7. Indie*

            I know this is late, but I would do a getting-to-know you date with someone who didn’t know my name. You wouldn’t? That’s cool. On my parents first date neither one knew the other’s name! They had the happiest marriage I’ve ever witnessed. Your standards and preferences are not everybody’s and if the guy wants to know hers, he ASKS. Personally I prefer the guy who is immediately upfront instead of navigating the ‘pretend friend’.

            1. Indie*

              Also you misread the letter. They’d had some chat and he asked for her FULL name for email purposes. No mention of ‘he doesn’t even know my first name.

        3. Bird*

          As I see it, the problem is not that he asked; the problem is that he asked at work. It’s a bit disingenuous to then expand this question into every situation by asking “How do you know anything is unwanted unless you ask?” Furthermore, OP cannot know that he will be reasonable and take her “no” gracefully. And if he doesn’t, she has to potentially deal with him on a regular basis, even though they don’t work together closely now. Finally, and I am only speaking for myself, it’s annoying to have to deal with the possibility of a romantic overture when I’m just trying to do my job. I’m at work because I have things to do. I don’t go to work to find someone to date.

        4. neverjaunty*

          Yes, poor men these days, having women actually concerned for the personal and professional consequences of turning down an advance. Truly, we live in trying times.

          1. Amy G. Golly*

            Exactly. This guy may or may not be unreasonable – there’s not enough detail in the letter to tell – but it’s not as if the concerns being raised here are coming completely out of left field. These issues are far too common to dismiss out of hand.

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            Exactly. I’ll worry about feeling sorry for men these days when women don’t have to worry so much about how they react to being hit on.

        5. Anion*

          Totally agree.

          It’s easy to say “how dare he make unwanted advances,” but sheesh, how is he supposed to know they’re unwanted? He politely invited her to lunch, he didn’t back her into a corner and start groping her while whispering dirty words. What in the world is so bad about that? We don’t even know his motives or intent at this point, much less that he’s some dangerous abusive pervert.

          Years ago I’d just moved to a new (small) town, and went to the mall there to have a look around. I ended up chatting with a guy who worked at a record store who seemed to have some of the same interests as me, and he mentioned this other record store that carried the kind of thing I was looking for (i.e. punk). So I went back the next day, really nervous but excited, because I’d literally only been in town a few days and was really hoping to just maybe make a friend or two. I went up to him and said, “Hey, you mentioned a record store yesterday, would you maybe want to go there with me?” He gave me this kind of weird look and said, “No.” And walked away. I was totally crushed and hurt; it was so abrupt, so harsh. And it seems like there are plenty of people who think that was totally justified because I’d made “an unwanted advance?” I just wanted to go to the store, which he hadn’t told me the name of, and maybe meet some people to hang out with sometimes. When did being unnecessarily harsh and abrupt, and being offended by another person’s polite invitation, become the Right Thing To Do?

      2. Purest Green*

        But he can’t know it’s unwanted before he asks. How would anyone date or become friends otherwise?

            1. Solidus Pilcrow*

              My thoughts exactly. In fact, there is a matchmaking service called “It’s just Lunch” that advertises themselves this way: it’s not a commitment, it’s just lunch.

              It sounds like the asker and the OP don’t have any business interaction where they can know more about each other, so this is a very reasonable approach to getting to know someone.

              The issues come in if the asker doesn’t take “No” for an answer.

              1. The Wall of Creativity*

                Any guy that waits until he’s 100% sure that she’s interested before suggesting a get together will find that she’s gone off him the meantime. You need to take risks.

                In poker, anyone that says they’ve never shown down a bluff isn’t taking enough risks.

                1. Anna*

                  1. Mookie, that is a turn of phrase to describe not liking someone in other English speaking countries. So…not really a sandwich.
                  2. The Wall of Creativity, you just described a man pushing past a woman saying no because clearly she’s bluffing. That is not the case. If you ask someone out and they say no, believe them. Otherwise you are harassing that person; you are not “showing down a bluff.”

                2. The Wall of Creativity*

                  Showing down a bluff = taking a risk and finding it doesn’t come off = asking someone out when you’re not 100% sure they’ll say yes and they say no

                  Showing down a bluff isn’t not taking no for an answer. You take the risk, it doesn’t come off. You take a hit (to the pocket or to the ego, not around the face before someone accuses me of condoning domestic violence). You put it behind you and you move on.

                3. The Wall of Creativity*

                  You’re trying to stretch the analogy too far Trouty. I’m saying it’s a risk (to the guy’s ego) of asking out a woman when you’re less than 100% certain she’ll say yes. And, to be clear, the reward (not the prize) is the date (not the woman).

                  I know how Jesus felt in Mark chapter 8.
                  “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees…”
                  “But we haven’t got any bread!”

          1. Purest Green*

            I guess this is a difference of what people think is acceptable dating practice. I personally don’t see anything wrong with asking someone out I’ve seen on occasion (“our relationship had previously consisted of occasional small talk in the hallway or kitchen“) even if I don’t know much else about them. And a date is for getting to know someone better.

            I agree with Bird above that work wasn’t the best place for him to ask, but we can’t assume that this guy won’t respect OP’s answer just because it sometimes happens.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I’m on this side as well, and I don’t even see it as a problem for him to ask at work. If somebody’s alarmed by a person asking at work, they’re going to be doubly alarmed if they get a phone call from him after hours, or run into him at a bar where he’s turned up accidentally on purpose.

              I’m more eHarmony than Tinder, but we’re in a world where Tinder is popular and meeting in bars is a hugely common thing. I don’t see why just because it’s a workplace the guy suddenly has to treat the situation like it’s the 1950s and get to know her hobbies and parents before he asks her out.

              1. Amy G. Golly*

                I was actually thinking the “ask her out in order to get to know her” approach is much more old-fashioned. I was born in the 80s, so it’s not like I was there, but from what I gather it used to be much more common to walk up to a girl you liked the look of, ask her for her number, then call her up later for a date. If the first date went well, you might call her a few days later and ask for a second date, but it wasn’t a sure thing. It took many such “get to know you” dates before a couple was considered to be “dating”. (Or “going steady”, as it were.)

                The idea that you should get to know someone before dating them is a much more recent invention, I believe. (If anyone dated in the 50s or 60s, I’d love to know if I’m off-base or not!)

                FWIW, I don’t know that it’s his failing to get to know the LW that people are objecting to so strongly – rather, that he doesn’t seem to have done a very good job of gauging her interest before he (presumably) made a move to ask her out. It wouldn’t be such a faux pas in a social context, but in the workplace, where the stakes are (potentially) higher for turning him down, it makes a bigger difference.

          2. Elsajeni*

            How do you suggest getting to know a coworker you’ve been making small talk with better, other than asking if they’d like to join you for coffee or lunch?

      3. Artemesia*

        And if he were attractive to her, he would be that guy who make wanted advances, finally, on his co-worker. How are people supposed to meet and date if they can’t ask other people out. If this were a continuous hassling that would be in appropriate; this is ONE invitation to lunch. It is perfectly normal and not creepy behavior.

      4. Shazbot*

        Meh. He has made AN advance, one, and it was unwanted. The OP can turn him down and no more need happen. He isn’t a problem; whether he becomes one is just speculation for now.

    2. SignalLost*

      In a world where men can and do kill women for rejecting them, in a world where it is generally understood that there are ways to ask people out at work and knowing their name is a prerequisite (I particularly liked the guy at my work who stopped me in the hall to very obviously hit on me and then asked of I was married – he still doesn’t know my name) and in a world where women face the burden of making unwanted attention acceptable but men are not required to not even determine if attention is unwanted, two things.

      A) this thread completely grosses me out in it’s assumption that what this man has done is acceptable and appropriate, and LW not agreeing that she finds it appropriate is not;
      B) WHY ON EARTH is he “that poor man” and other epithets???? Why isn’t she “that poor woman, who is receiving attention she doesn’t want”?

      1. fposte*

        It is very clear from the comments that there is no generally understood way to ask people out at work.

        And I don’t think either of them are “poor.” She’s not receiving ongoing attention–she got asked something. She doesn’t want the thing. She’ll say no to the thing. That’s normal human discourse, and speaking as a long-time feminist, I think feminism is getting diluted here with women’s cultural unease about saying no, which is not simply a response to male behavior but a struggle all on its own.

        1. Brogrammer*

          Yeah. Talking about societal issues is all well and good, but it’s not always helpful to people trying to navigate real life situations. OP isn’t saying the dude is creepy or scary or that she feels threatened.

        2. Myrin*

          As usual, I’m loving all your comments here, fposte!

          This whole discussion has also made me think of cultural habits and regulations and “how things are done”s. There are cultures (like mine) where people usually suss out if they’re interested in someone in some kind of group setting and where “dates” are for when you’re already a couple (the idea of a “date” in the sense of “going to have dinner together and only really getting to know someone there” is something I only encountered well into teenager-hood and that is still a bit mysterious to me). But on the very other end of the spectrum, I’ve encountered cultures where it’s totally fine to see someone you find attractive and just ask them out based on that.

          I don’t really think that’s at play here since I seem to remember all of you guys being from at least the same country but it’s been generally fascinating to think about.

          1. fposte*

            I do think that people are right when they suggest it’s better if he feels the situation out a little more extensively before asking somebody out at work. But I don’t think that makes what he did unprofessional or inappropriate, just suboptimal.

            I also think this discussion reveals that even in the U.S. we clearly don’t have universally accepted norms on this! We’re all just muddling through.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Eh. I don’t think this is about accepted norms being vague so much as the accepted norms being a minefield. If we had accepted norms where women could directly say “no thanks” to a date invitation without having to worry about letting him down gently, being accused of being stuck up for assuming romantic intent, etc, than this letter would be a non-issue.

              1. fposte*

                I think they’re both true. People are posting with convictions about what’s acceptable as far as asking somebody out in a workplace and many of them are mutually exclusive. It’s either never acceptable at work, acceptable only if you ask somebody only outside of work, acceptable if you know somebody fairly well, or okay, period (well, absent supervisory conflicts–I think we’re in agreement on that). That’s a good sign that there really isn’t an accepted norm.

                1. Navy Vet*

                  I recently saw a book (that I fully intend to read on my cross country flight this week) about the different cultural regions of the US and the historical reasons for that. So, much of what we are seeing here is probably just that. The US is really not as “uni-cultural” (not sure of the correct actual word…) as we would think. Interesting theory.

                  I do have to say that it’s hard to gauge asking someone out at work. I go back and forth between varying opinions myself. Most of my thoughts are in response to the fact that I have been threatened, bullied and harassed for having the audacity to say no in the past, and we all know the guy who just can’t take no for an answer. (Head explodes)

                  Then, you do still want to make human connections….so it’s very hard to say…but OP, if you have no real reason/desire to go out with this guy for any reason other than work related, then say no.
                  Try to just say “no thank you”, it’s hard and awkward because women have been taught to be accommodating, but it gets easier every time, I promise.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  Sure, but I mean the accepted norms on how to deal with an unwanted advance – the cultural norms are a mess, because of the whole dance between “you’re not supposed to hurt his feelings” and “you’re not supposed to lead him on.”

                  Interestingly, in the last workplace training on harassment I attended, we were told that while maybe 15% of women would find a workplace advance flattering, something like 80% of men would. So there’s that whole extra layer of not-getting-it-ness.

                3. fposte*

                  @neverjaunty–that is a really interesting statistic. I’m not surprised there’s a difference, but it never even occurred to me to consider it, and I bet you’re right that that matters.

        3. JB (not in Houston)*

          I agree with a lot of what you say, but women’s cultural unease about saying no comes from the reaction we often get when we do it, especially when it comes to being hit on. Feminism isn’t being diluted by that. It’s a real issue that feminism is right to address.

      2. Jessie*

        The OP isn’t getting weird stalker vibes from him. She’s not getting stressful harasser vibes from him. She’s not getting scary anger vibes from him. She simply is getting vague romantic interest vibes, and isn’t sure how to turn him down when the invitation was a little ambiguous. She simply had work etiquette question, not an “oh help I’m being stalked and I am scared” question.

        So, there is no need for any “poor woman” advice here. She just wants to know a work-acceptable method of rejection.

        It is a vast overreaction to treat every encounter with a male that involves a request for lunch as a life-threatening exchange.

      3. LBK*

        A) this thread completely grosses me out in it’s assumption that what this man has done is acceptable and appropriate, and LW not agreeing that she finds it appropriate is not;

        Uh…what? Asking her to lunch is unacceptable and inappropriate?

        I think you’re projecting a lot of your own experiences here. The OP doesn’t even particularly upset about the attention, she just wants to know how to reply to a semi-ambiguous invitation in a way that’s not going to be unprofessional if it turns out the invite was work-related and not meant to be romantic.

        I’m not saying that no man ever has ill intentions or makes inappropriate advances, but this hardly seems to qualify as one of those times.

      4. Kassy*

        LW didn’t say that she found his actions inappropriate; she just wasn’t sure how to respond to them and needed some advice.

    3. nutella fitzgerald*

      Not only has everyone else made him out to be a dangerous pervert, but now we’re throwing “elderly” and “penniless” into the mix :(

  12. animaniactoo*

    LW3 – you could also try going the direct route of *asking* what the intentions are: “I realized that I’m confused about why you’d like to go to lunch and I’d like to clarify that before setting up plans. Are you asking as a date, to discuss work, or to generally socialize?”

    The primary reason I think this is a better method to go is that Alison’s recommended path is a dodge with massive pitfalls. Like the one where he sees you headed out to lunch with somebody else. And then wants to pressure you about your “too busy” schedule. No, he shouldn’t – but if he lacks appropriate boundaries he will, and then you’re in a bigger mess than you started with.

    However, if you can clarify upfront what his intentions are, you can make clear what *your* intentions are in return, and if he says “a date” or “generally socializing and maybe a date in the future” or something like that, you can politely say “Thanks for the interest, but that’s not something I’d be open to (or “want to pursue” or “am interested in”, whatever you feel comfortable saying)”.

    1. fposte*

      I’m fine with the clarifying, but I really don’t think you need to plan every move as something that you can defend if it turns out he’s loosely wired.

      1. Natalie*

        Yeah, that sounds exhausting. We’re not locked into how we’ve treated someone in the past – approach this person as you would any reasonable human being, and change tack if it turns out he is loosely wired. (Good phrase, btw.)

      2. animaniactoo*

        Given the above convo I can understand how this came off that way a bit – but for me this is part of a whole male-female dynamic where women in particular are so trained to “soften” a message, and not be direct and clear, that it ends up creating two additional problems. 1) It creates more confusion on the part of the recipient than if they’d just been clear to begin with, and 2) It leaves the giver of the message feeling less empowered to just say “no”, and often jump immediately to “that was inappropriate!” because the other person didn’t read the “signals” correctly. It increases the risk for drama over the whole thing, and in the case of somebody who doesn’t have appropriate boundaries (or particular social training that would help them read the clues/not be hurt and offended by the excuse blockade) it creates a bigger hassle in the end. “Softening” the message just gives someone whom you’re trying to avoid a hassle with another avenue to hassle when they figure a way around your indirect message – and if hassle is what you’re trying to avoid the way to get around that is not to give indirect messages, but to be clear and upfront.

        So yeah, I’m talking about an overall mindset, but not about a case-by-case basis of “what if this person is a loose wire”? From another standpoint, to me, it’s also about basic courtesy. I vastly prefer giving someone the respect of giving them correct information to work with and factor into their own thinking so they can adjust to a situation rather than leaving them hanging in limbo as it were.

        1. Susan C.*

          I support normalising the practice of spelling stuff out explicitly for socially awkward dummies like myself. (The “taking plausible deniability away from creeps” part is an added bonus)

        2. fposte*

          You’re making some interesting points here. I think for me that while “I’m busy” overlaps somewhat with the picture-of-a-boyfriend trope in being a female evasion of direct communication, I also think that it’s got so much history as a broader and non-gendered social convention that I don’t see it as softening the message so much as employing standard social code.

          But I think you make a compelling case for the justice to both sides of not coding the communication, and I would agree that that’s the ideal.

          1. neverjaunty*

            But the communication the LW needs to convey is “I don’t want to go to lunch with you”. Being direct is a little different than cross-examination, and while I’m a fan of cross-examination in many circumstances, this is not one where it is going to get anywhere productive.

            1. fposte*

              I agree with what you’re saying and am not advocating the OP query the guy on whether it’s work or social, not least because it prolongs the exchange and makes it look like a bigger deal. I was just thinking that animaniactoo may have convinced me that clear no is better than a code with coded reasons, even if the code is transparent to me. So “Sorry, I was wrong-footed there for a moment, but I’m actually no on lunch. Thanks for asking” rather than “I don’t socialize at lunch.”

              1. neverjaunty*

                Oh, I agree. I’m just not getting all the leaping on the OP to dissect whether she is right about the guy’s intentions (despite, you know, AAM explicitly telling people not to do that) and presenting her “no” in a way that takes all possibilities into account. All she really needs to do is to convey a clear “thanks, but no thanks” in whatever manner is most comfortable for her. Trying to figure out whether she was right about his intentions, I mean, who freaking cares?

                1. fposte*

                  Yeah, I’m there. It’s not like she’s going to miss something important by not going to lunch with him even if it’s not romantic. There’s no “default yes to socializing” rule.

    2. neverjaunty*

      The OP doesn’t want lunch with the guy. No need to pre-screen him, especially since a lot of guys save face with the whole “don’t be so stuck on yourself” thing.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Not necessarily – OP doesn’t want lunch because they don’t want to encourage a potential romantic interest. It’s really not clear that they wouldn’t want lunch if it was just general getting-to-know-a-friendly-person better.

        Most guys who try to save face by saying something like “don’t be so stuck on yourself” are doing so because somebody has *assumed* that their interest is romantic and that this is a date and acted on that assumption. Asking it as one of the potential possibilities (vs *the only one*), does not usually lead to that same kind of defensive reaction.

        1. neverjaunty*

          “I am guessing his interest is romantic, but I do not reciprocate that interest, and I do not want to go to lunch with him.

          And, again, it’s not necessary for her to calculate the odds of how to best present a reaction in order to suss out his intentions and elicit the best face-saving response. He’s asked her to lunch, she doesn’t want to go, and quizzing him gets her nowhere.

          1. animaniactoo*

            I’m sorry, but to me the implicit indication in the sentence is that not wanting to go is solely based on *guessing* (but not knowing whether true) that the interest is romantic. There is no clear language (there) that makes it clear that they don’t want to go under any circumstances whatsoever, in which case figuring out what the intention is DOES benefit the OP because it gives them a wider range of options to act on that they may want.

              1. animaniactoo*

                Nah, it’s fine. She’s clarified below that she’d rather not deal with it at all, and I’m good with that – I was simply debating the original point of the value in asking the question which is worthwhile if she was open to a casual friendship. Particularly as she did make it clear that she wished *he* had been clear about what his intention is.

  13. Beezus*

    #4 – I’m in almost the same boat, except I have two Ferguses, and they will always do the base work assigned to them, but they will refuse to learn the logic and theory behind it, so I still get called in to troubleshoot problems, only without the benefit of being involved day-to-day in the work, which makes understanding the problems easier. Then they complain that my projects are more interesting than theirs (because of all that icky logic and theory I’ve taken the time to learn. :P)

    I talk to our manager about this stuff in our one-on-ones. It was really helpful to get it out there, that when I was handing something off to these to, I was only handing off the day-to-day base work, and that the higher level work was still probably going to come to me – because that also meant I could hand off more tasks, once we both understood that I wasn’t getting the relief of handing off the whole task, and Ferguses 1 and 2 weren’t taking on the workload of the whole task.

  14. Sandy*

    I have been in #4’s position and it really sucks. In my colleague’s case, he wanted to be involved if it was easy and high-profile; as soon as he would realize that it wasn’t, he would either dump it back on to me or ghost until it became obvious that everything had gone off the rails.

    I don’t have a grey solution for you- my colleague was already looking for another job and finally left- but I will put in a word of warning- make sure your reluctance to work with him, as understandable as it is, doesn’t get labeled as “doesn’t play well with others” when it comes to your performance review and references.

    1. JessaB*

      But also there’s a bit of an issue here as well. If you’re delegating x and you know Fergus is going to be difficult, there’s a need to follow up. The bit about forgetting about the task and then finding out it’s not done is an issue that’s on the OP. Yes at first it’s more work but if you keep up with Fergus you’ll know way sooner if it’s off the rails. Also it’s possible that since OP is not following up, Fergus puts it on the back burner not realising it’s important to get it DONE.

      1. hbc*

        If I was being forced to delegate *and* being held responsible for babysitting the delegatee, I would be beyond pissed. No way should the OP be blamed for not nagging Fergus to do the task he agreed to do. In fact, OP may need to let go a little *more* and let Fergus crash and burn a couple of times to make clear that this isn’t a good arrangement.

      2. Sue Wilson*

        Eh, they’re coworkers no manager and supervisor. If manager asks that a task be reassigned, then manager is responsible for following-up.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Yes, you have to be completely clear to your manager about the reasons you will not work with him, with specific examples. Then, at a minimum, if you have to work with Fergus your boss knows why the project was late.

    3. Is It Performance Art*

      That’s really aggravating. Sometimes you just need to allow people to fail, so it’s clear that they aren’t or can’t do their work. On the other hand, if their failure is going to be viewed as really your failure, it may not be a good idea. I’ve found letting your manager know what you’re doing to make sure they get it done is often helpful. your manager might have some suggestions and if it doesn’t work it should be clear that there is still something amid.

  15. Aloot*

    #3: Honestly, I think you should just treat the situation as if he explicitly said that it was about work-related issues. As in, how would you act if it was a coworker wanting to discuss work/workplace things with you and you were not willing to spend your lunch doing so?

    So tell him that sorry, but lunch doesn’t work for you, how about he gives you a headsup on what work-stuff he wanted to discuss and you’ll see if you can book a meeting for you two or if you can do it via email.

    Cause if this guy wants to fly under the flag of Plausible Deniability, then take that away from him. Make him either fess up that he’s not interested in talking about work-stuff or back off.

  16. voice of experience*

    OP#3 just say, “I’m not interested in lunch.” and get comfortable saying “no” without an excuse. It’s a good life skill to have. If he has a work topic to discuss, he can ask you for a meeting. You NEVER have to go to lunch or do anything to be polite. Polite doesn’t mean make others happy at your own inconvenience or expense.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        You’re absolutely correct, but in this case I think something more like, “I’m really sorry, but I don’t date anyone who works for the company” is a little more appropriate.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But she specifically asked for a response that doesn’t assume it’s a date (and she’s not interested in hanging out with him regardless).

          Plus, she might be perfectly open to dating people at work and doesn’t want to announce a policy that says otherwise.

  17. Jessesgirl72*

    Re OP3: I am 100% in agreement that no one has to agree to anything they don’t want to, and the best response to an unwelcome romantic advance is a polite but firm “Thanks, but I’m not interested” without needing anything else said. That is not impolite, and makes things crystal clear. I’m a big advocate of my friends’ teenage daughters learning that it’s always okay to say no to anything!

    However, a lot of the comments are piling on the guy for daring to (half) ask. No one is a mind reader and the LW is chit chatting with him on a somewhat regular basis so it’s reasonable for him to think she doesn’t find him repulsive. Even though there are good reasons to not date a coworker, a big percentage of people still do meet their SO’s at work, and in this case, they don’t even work with one another, just for the same company. It’s not obviously and majorly inappropriate for him to want to ask her out. If she were attracted to him, she wouldn’t have written in at all. She’s not wrong, but neither is he- at least not yet, and for simply asking if she’d be open to lunch some day. If he doesn’t take no for an answer, then pile away!

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      I don’t think it’s the gravest of sins to ask out a colleague as long as you’re ready to accept a no, but it is still a different dynamic than asking out someone you know socially. I feel like the asker needs to be pretty certain that the offer will be welcome, if not accepted, which requires a bit more than occasional chitchat.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Totally agree with this. All the people saying, “How was he to know the advance was unwanted if he didn’t ask?” completely miss the point that you should be reasonably certain your advance is welcome before making it.

        1. BRR*

          I strongly disagree wth needing to know somebody would say yes before asking them to lunch. That feels to me like shifting from being upfront to being indirect. Doing the whole I’m going to somewhat flirt but want to be able to deny that I’m flirting with you if you’re not interested.

          1. LBK*

            I think you need to feel generally confident that the person won’t definitely say no, but I agree that you don’t need to be sure that they’ll say yes. Flirtation and friendliness do have a lot in common, especially in a workplace where professionalism dictates that overtures not be so blatant, so at some point you just have to ask the question.

        2. TL -*

          That’s a little extreme. The whole point of asking someone out on a date is because you don’t know if they’re interested, you only know that you are. If not, you would ask for a good time to schedule a date, not a date itself.

          Asking someone who has clearly signaled no is rude. Asking when you’re not sure is normal. (And I can’t tell you how many of my friends think they’re being completely obvious about their interest when really no one can tell.)

      2. LBK*

        Eh, I think that only needs to apply when you work more directly with someone, because then there’s concerns about how the personal relationship could impact the professional relationship. It doesn’t sound like they’d have much reason to cross paths professionally so I wouldn’t be too concerned about it, especially since it’s a big company. My boss’s wife works for the same company as us but in a completely separate division that has nothing to do with ours – not all inter-office relationships are inherently a professional risk.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          I think it applies more in that context, but I hold that it should be the case for anyone you’d frequently see at the office, professional relationship or no. To me it’s also about not making someone’s work environment uncomfortable, which can be done even when you’re not sharing the Crumplebottom account.

          1. LBK*

            Fair enough – I guess it depends how often they run into each other. I read it as pretty infrequently, such that it would be easy to avoid each other if things got awkward, but if he works on her floor or something and therefore might see him a few times a week, I can see how that would be uncomfortable even if they don’t work together directly.

            For the record, I work at an office roughly the size of the OP’s, and I have had to dodge someone who work in my building but not on my floor or with my job function at all. It was pretty easy since I basically just had to pretend to be looking at my phone if I passed him in the cafeteria but it definitely would’ve been harder if he worked on my floor.

      3. Meghan*

        I totally agree with this. This woman isn’t at a bar or on Tinder where it’s reasonable to assume she’s open to meeting a romantic interest. She’s at work, where it is reasonable to assume she is there to do her job, and asking women to be OK with getting asked out at work “because how else will he know” really shifts way too much responsibility to her, when she’s *at her job* and shouldn’t be expected to deal with romantic advances. If you want to ask out a coworker, you should already know they want to go out with you, and that does mean putting in more ground work (like, you know, finding out her name) and more than occasional chit chat. I do think this guy jumped the gun, (assuming the LW’s take is correct, and I see no reason to assume it’s not) and should have spent more time talking to the LW and assessing her interest before asking her out.

        1. LBK*

          As I said above, I think that is definitely the case when you work directly with someone or work in a small company where you know and see everyone whether you work with them or not. But it sounds like they have no cause to interact aside from running into each other occasionally in the building, so I think the risk to their professional relationship if things don’t go well with their personal relationship is pretty low. The worst that happens is they don’t say hi to each other in the hallway anymore.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Given the situation in the letter, that they don’t say hi anymore would be the best possible outcome. There are a lot more negative ones.

            1. Natalie*

              Really? It seems like the best possible outcome would be that she declines lunch, he doesn’t make a big deal about it, and they continue to have a cordial work relationship.

              You seem to be really stretching to read this person as a predator.

                1. LBK*

                  I read the same implication in your comment – if not a predator, at least implying that there’s a good possibility he could go off the rails if she rejects him. I don’t see anything in the letter to suggest that. He’s been perfectly pleasant so far, and the OP doesn’t even seen to find him creepy, just someone she’s not interested in. It is perfectly possible for someone to be nice, normal and sane and still not be into them.

          2. Meghan*

            I don’t actually think the fact that they don’t work together is that relevant to whether he jumped the gun. Organizations change, people get put on projects together, you run into each other in the break room. But I really disagree with the notion below that we should all just expect to have to deal with romantic advances everywhere, particularly at work.

            My lens may be a little dirty here in that I just started at a company with a mostly male workforce, and I feel like I’m constantly getting “felt out” (not up) in the break room, and I just want to do my job and not have to constantly be throwing out the “not interested” signals. I’m at work. I just want to be treated like someone doing my job. I shouldn’t have to deal with this stuff every day. Being attractive, young-looking and female in a male-dominated environment makes it hard enough to be taken seriously. It really hurts me professionally to be viewed as a potential date and not a competent professional. And so yes, I really think that it behooves the asker to have a few more break room convos (and point of fact, they’ve had at least a few, so big deal, he has to wait a couple more weeks). Generally, at work, I think people should err on the side of not bringing romance into the office. And if he didn’t know her name already, he didn’t know enough about her to be asking her out yet.

            1. animaniactoo*

              I think this varies from workplace to workplace, and it’s possible to be seen as both a competent professional AND a potential romantic interest.

              One of the better things imo about being direct on both sides is that you don’t have to be concerned about throwing out not-interested signals as much. You don’t worry as much about what they’re thinking, and if an approach happens, you say no and get back to work. I realize that this is more problematic in workplaces that traditionally have been more dominated by one gender or the other, but everything I’ve ever seen is that the willingness to be direct generally gains respect about the whole issue a lot quicker. Particularly if you can be cheerful about it. “Nope, don’t date co-workers. Too much drama at work. How about them Yankees?”

              1. LBK*

                Heck, sometimes being a competent professional is the reason you get seen as a potential romantic interest. Many of the same things that make a good coworker (reliability, courtesy, intelligence, etc.) are also pretty attractive qualities in a date, no?

                I do see that it can be exhausting to constantly feel like you have to have your guard up and be broadcasting “not interested” signals in all directions any time you’re at work. I wish I had some good advice there as I’m not really sure how best to handle that situation – it definitely sucks and sounds tiring, though.

              2. Meghan*

                I’ve been in a lot of workplaces, and the kind of place where guys feel comfortable going to scope out the new chick in marketing is not the kind of place where they are also taking her seriously as a professional. I think people shouldn’t be expecting their workplace to be a place where their romantic and social needs are met. If you meet someone and they’re into it, that’s cool. I don’t think asking a coworker out is in and of itself a bad thing. I just think it requires more lead up than if you’re out in the world generally, and if you get even a slight not interested vibe, you gotta drop it entirely. I still think this guy didn’t know this women well enough to ask her out at work (again, assuming that is what happened).

        2. animaniactoo*

          Conversely, I think that people of both genders should expect to have to deal with romantic overtures/advances at all times, and know how to politely and unambiguously decline them.

          Anything else is asking people to guess too much and continue to run the current risk of “misreading the “signals”” which today’s guy just might be guilty of doing.

          And how is he supposed to be able to spend more time with her that would allow them to progress beyond “hey did you see X last night?” or “how’s it going today?” if their interactions are going to be eternally limited to hallway and kitchen chitchat… because at work, you really can’t spend *more work time* getting to know someone that you don’t work directly with and only have casual contact with.

          What nobody should have to deal with is *repeated* romantic advances from people they have already turned down. Everyone can have a pass for the first one. After that, all bets are off.

          1. LBK*

            I agree, as long as that first advance is respectful and not done in a way that includes any pressure to say yes (which I’d say describes the invitation here). If the OP says no and the guy tries again, that’s when it will start to get into bad territory.

        3. Julia*

          Yeah. I get that sometimes people meet at work and you fall in love, but what if she’s just tired of being asked out romantically at work when she just wants to do her Job?

  18. memoryisram*

    #2: I just wanted to say how sorry I was for your situation. My grandmother has dementia and my mother has had a few issues at work with getting time off help care for her. I do suggest FMLA, like the others, if you can make it work.

  19. JanMA*

    #3 – A guy who suggests lunch “in the next few weeks” doesn’t sound very interested (at least romantically) to me. I wouldn’t dare jump to a “Sorry, I’m not interested” because you mind find out his intentions weren’t at all romantic and be mortified!

    1. voice of experience*

      Doesn’t matter what his intentions are. He can ask and she can refuse without alluding to the fact she suspects romantic intentions. A simple no thank you solves this problem.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Why would you be mortified when he was the one being vague about his intentions?

      And way better to wave him off with an equally vague “don’t really have time but thanks” than to agree and find out it’s a date.

  20. Scorpio*

    Similar to LW #5 – I am 3 years out of college, job hunting, and have my awards on my resume still. Is this ok? My sister told me to get rid of them but I’m still proud of it and only have 2 jobs post-college so I thought it would show my achievement. I went to a “new Ivy” type school (i.e. expensive but good reputation liberal arts college).

    They’re Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and one award in my major.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I personally feel like those are different -and less applicable – than professional grants. But you’re only a couple years out of school, so I wouldn’t be “turned off” if you included them! They just wouldn’t really “give you a leg up” either.

      1. Scorpio*

        Thanks! They fill a little space on my resume and I want to avoid the “skills” list that just entails most technology that any office worker should know how to use. I’m getting some good responses in my search so I will leave them for this search.

        1. Jennifer Needs Some Thneeds*

          > I want to avoid the “skills” list that just entails most technology that any office worker should know how to use
          If you mean machines, like copiers, I quite agree. But if you mean programs, like the M$ Office Suite, you might think again. I’ve got quite the reputation among my colleagues because I know how to use some only-slightly arcane aspects of Word and Excel. (I wouldn’t go into detail about specific functions, but if you can say you’re an “expert user of” a software, even a fairly common one like those, that’s a good thing.)

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      It can’t hurt to leave them on, but make sure you’re focusing the prime real estate of your resume on your work experience. It’d look weird if you focused on the college awards rather than your work experience.

  21. Sas*

    # 1 Woah, that is unnecessarily rude and mean. How sad. Why would someone have done that to you at work. Work bully much?

  22. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Reading about the coworker asking LW out makes me glad I’m gay, married, and about 15 years younger than my almost entirely male colleagues. I don’t think he is totally wrong or a predator to ask, but it certainly is awkward for LW.

    I’m just glad I never have a worry like this. I can be sure my work friends are not, you know, interested. Honestly, since I’ve gotten harassed lately with the rise in hate crimes, the coworker vibe is more older-brotherly and less parental. In fact, my closest coworker went to several craft stores for these tiny brass safety pins, and then used them to make me a tiny flag pin out of safety pins! He said, well, this is still your country too, you can be patriotic and also annoy the kind of people who would pick on you this way!

  23. voice of experience*

    Doesn’t matter what his intentions are. He can ask and she can refuse without alluding to the fact she suspects romantic intentions. A simple no thank you solves this problem.

  24. AVP*

    OP#5, I am the hiring manager who hires people in your position and I think you should leave them on for another year or two, until you have newer accomplishments to knock them off.

    It can be a little annoying to have PA’s who are often going on about their own personal work, so the types of awards you listed here are a good way to indicate that you’ve done your own projects without having to go into it too much.

    1. wildfirefly12*

      I work in the film industry as well, and I do think it is good to leave them on until you fill out your resume more with professional work.

  25. Rusty Shackelford*

    One important thing about #3 is that the guy didn’t even know the LW’s name before he made the lunch invitation. So whatever he wants, it requires that he know very little about her, and is therefore almost certainly not work-related (it seems unlikely that someone would have told him “No, I can’t help you on the Sucrocorp contract, but you should ask that blonde woman that you sometimes chat with in the hallway”).

    1. TL -*

      It’s quite possible he needed her last name and/or full name for the email; if he knows her as Kate, that’s not going to help him find katherineofaragon on the internal webpage.

  26. Teclatrans*

    OP#5, Your stipend for administrative work sounds like an internship, not an award. That should either go into your employment section or go away now. I would only keep it if losing the experience weakens your resume.

    As for the other awards, those are different from being on the honor roll or graduating summa cum laude. They sound really relevant to the work you do, demonstrating both experience and excellence in the earliest stages of your field.

    What I was taught in grad school is that the point of including past awards was to reassure potential grantors that other people have decided you were worth money/effort; this makes it feel like less of a gamble for them to give you a chance too. This seems like it could translate to employers: when you have little work experience, those awards show that your past work was good enough that you were chosen ovee others to receive those funds. As you accrue work experience, that will be what begins to set you apart from the other PAs you are competing against with your resume. Eventually the awards will demonstrate excellence in a past stage of your career, making it irrelevant (and kinda tone deaf) to include.

    Same goes for experience: there will come a time when the work you did through those grants is surpassed by other work. One year/one job out, I think those awards still help distinguish you from other PAs at your stage of work.

    So, having established that your (industry-relevant) awards should stick around for awhile, I don’t think the section should be called Awards. Depending on the exact nature of the awards (and maybe considering what sorts of extracurricular accomplishments things you might accumulate through your career’s early years) you might call it Industry Recognition, or Production Grants or something.

    Example time. I have lots of administrative experience, followed by university, then graduate studies in a particular area. I have volunteered in that interest area my entire adult life, and have done other volunteer work as well. I have recently been applying for administrative positions (yay, Bay Area economy), and when it’s for a job outside of my field I just have a “Volunteer” section. But when it’s for a position within my field, and I want to show how suited I am to the position in comparison to everybody else,” I have a section called something like “[Topic] Community Service” and then “Other Volunteer Work” (the latter because they demonstrate some skills and experience that support claims about my ability to work under pressure and play well with colleagues). I don’t know if this is considered a normal approach to resumes, but I find it helps build a road map for employers.

  27. animaniactoo*

    LW2 – okay, your sister is a snake – and yes, have that conversation with her about “what’s up with that?”

    But ultimately, I think that’s a sideline to the conversation you need to have with your boss beyond asking if your sister has commented on your tardiness. “Do you have a problem with how I’ve been handling the need to help my mom this week? Is there something that needs to be adjusted?”

    Because unless your boss is a weenie, this is where the issue will most likely come from that could actually endanger your job.

    If HR has any standard for reporting absence issues in emergencies, make sure that you have followed through on them as well so that you’re covered. If you’re going to need to help your mom more frequently (aka, this wasn’t a one-off, you can expect some other emergency to pop up next month and then 2 months after that), you should talk about what you need to be able to do that and protect your job – are you eligible for FMLA? Given that you have an HR department, I’d guess that you probably have a large enough company to be eligible and you should work on getting the paperwork ready now so that a) you don’t have to deal with it as one more hassle at a point when you’re trying to deal with bigger issues for/with your mom and b) you’re protected if your sister tries to keep up this campaign.

  28. Doodlebug*

    #3. As a woman who worked in IT in engineering companies with only 5 women in the whole company, I often asked male colleagues to lunch. If I asked them to lunch “in a few weeks” it was to let them know there was no pressure. For me it was friendly and just to get to know more colleagues. I had no idea the intrigue I caused by asking male colleagues to lunch. Maybe this guy is being friendly. Is he relatively new?

  29. Westfield*

    #2 Actually going to disagree with Alison in this one.

    As far as work is concerned, your response to your sister bringing up tardiness was to ask your manager if she was complaining about you? From a manager perspective it looks like you care more about tattling than you do about being late. Now you are going to talk to this coworker about not talking to your boss about being late? Essentially telling a coworker not to speak to your boss. That’s a big no no.

    Lets be clear – your sister is being a jerk at work but you have to act at work like she is not your sister. Talk to your boss, explore FMLA, and get an arrangement at work that accommodates you and your mom. Do not talk about your sister in any of this.

    Trying to talk to your sister as a sister will only backfire on you at work. The fact that your sister is already dragging this to work is all the evidence I need to reach that conclusion. Do not give her more fodder to use against you at work. The safest thing you can do is leave work at work and not talk to your sister about work at all.

  30. OP #3*

    Alison and commenters, thank you so much for your insights and guidance! I think my response will include a combination of some of the advice I have received here, so I am guessing it is bound to disappoint everyone! I am open to hearing more feedback (if anyone is still looking at this comment thread).

    Anyway, here is my current plan: I’d like to thank him for the invitation, say that I am currently too busy with work for social lunches, and then – after first offering my apologies and embarrassment if I’m misinterpreting the situation – let him know that I am in a serious relationship.

    My concern with just saying that I’m too busy is that sometimes I do get lunch with colleagues, and I don’t want to feel nervous about being spotted. I also want to avoid the risk of him following up later to see if my schedule has freed up… and, in the meantime, for him to think that a social outing is still pending. I feel like it could be a “lead on,” when I want to politely nip this in the bud.

    I know my approach will be perceived as cowardly by a few of you, and I don’t disagree. Being too busy for lunch is a white lie, and being in a relationship is beside the point. I agree that everyone should feel free to say “no thanks!” to just about anything, and women particularly should not feel like they must invoke the authority of a man to spare another man’s feelings. Since this person works at the same place as me, I guess I am yielding my own principles a bit to help him save face.

    Many of you suggested giving him the opportunity to clarify whether there’s a work-related reason behind the invitation. To me, it was pretty clear that this was not a work thing, and not just because of vibes: At the time of the initial invitation, he did not know my first or last name, my role, etc., and in the email follow-up, he did not mention any work-related reason for meeting. I don’t want him scrambling to create a work-related pretense for this.

    Also, while I don’t think it is necessarily inappropriate to ask out a colleague, I guess I have developed a few thoughts on how it should be done. I wish he had put more effort into gauging whether there was chemistry or mutual interest, because with someone you see a lot, the possibility for awkwardness after such an invitation is high. I also wish he had made it explicit that it was a social invitation. While it was clear to me that this was not a work thing, the fact that he hadn’t SAID that was what really flustered me as I was trying to respond… Normally when a co-worker invites you to grab lunch, it would be totally inappropriate to respond with, “No thanks” or “I have a boyfriend.” I wish he’d said something in his email like: “Hey, do you have any interest in grabbing lunch in the next couple of weeks? I’m interested in hanging out with you socially – but if you’re not on the same page, no problem!” Maybe this would come with its own set of problems, but it’s definitely how I wish this had gone! I think it would have made things easier for both of us.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      Oh, goodness, OP. Don’t worry about disappointing any of our feminist sensibilities. Get the result you want. It is your prerogative to prioritize that over being A Good Feminist (TM). :)

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes. OP, I hope you will see a lot of the comments here as disgust about how we have to navigate these issues (such as “I have a boyfriend” being the only Approved Response for a lot of dudes), and not a lecture to you about handling this situation in a way that maxes out your feminist cred.

        I don’t think it’s necessary at all for you to complicate this by asking him questions about his intentions; your describing it as a “social lunch” is great because you’re allowing him the fig leaf of just wanting to be friends.

    2. animaniactoo*

      With the added info, I think you could avoid a lot of awkwardness by just being upfront with him “Hey, I answered in the spur of the moment, but have realized that I’m not really up for this. Sorry for not being quicker about that, and thanks for the invite.”*

      Also – I still think you could ask the clarifying question: “I realized that I’m confused about why you’d like to go to lunch and I’d like to clarify that before setting up plans. Are you asking as a date, to discuss work, or to generally socialize?”

      Because – you don’t know. Work thing might be “I don’t really have anyone to talk to about this, you seem friendly, can you explain why people do X here?” And either way, it helps to be able to toss it in as an additional possibility between “date” and “just socializing”. If you can’t read his signal of which it is likely to be, I think it’s just as much on you to ask in a no-big-deal way as it is on him to have clarified upfront with you which it is (as you would like him to have done). But if you really don’t want to go that route, I would still favor being direct about “having thought about it” vs “the slow casual letdown” which I think is often more hurtful and confusing to people – particularly those who don’t have the same social code understanding as you do – than just being kindly direct.

      *If he asks why (which he shouldn’t), I would just own it and say that you don’t feel you know him that well and would feel awkward about the whole thing. And respond to any further pressure (which you really shouldn’t get unless he’s completely boundaryless) with “I said no, thank you.” Because if he is that boundaryless, putting him off via “too busy right now” and “subtext I have a partner and will make this clear in future conversations” is unlikely to help, and if he isn’t, it’ll all be over fast and clean and shouldn’t be a big deal at all.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        The coworker has already shown himself to be (at best) socially unaware. I don’t think digging any deeper into this situation is going to provide any benefit to the OP.

      2. LBK*

        I got the sense that regardless of the intention, the OP isn’t particularly interested in saying yes, so her trying to feel out the intention is more so she knows the appropriate way to phrase the rejection. As such I think asking a question like that would be kind of weird, because it implies that depending on the intention she might say yes.

    3. The Rat-Catcher*

      Gandalf the Nude is spot-on here. “I’m seeing someone” is commonly used as a polite rejection, and not to imply that “If I were not seeing someone, I’d absolutely do this.” If I wanted to go out with another person that badly, I’d be doing some serious re-evaluating of my relationship.

    4. fposte*

      Honestly, OP, whatever works for you (absent, like, murdering him and dumping him in landfill) is fine. The ends matter more than the means here.

    5. Chomps*

      Thanks for responding! I think the fact that he didn’t know your first or last name when he asked you out in a work environment is not great. If a coworker wants to ask me out, they should know my name at the very least. Work is for working, not socializing and I think it’s weird to not make even a small effort to find out that info from you.

    6. TL -*

      Honestly, you could always just answer, “no, but thanks! See you around the office” or whatever. I don’t think he’ll be offended if you don’t explain. Especially over email – shorter is better.

    7. Dot Warner*

      Thanks for responding, OP! Just tell him no however feels best for you – nothing wrong with a short email – and don’t stress about it. Since you don’t work in the same department there’s not likely to be much awkwardness later.

    8. The Wall of Creativity*

      We do need a follow up though, OP. Just to let us know you’re OK & that he’s not a bunny boiler.

  31. JanMA*

    #3 – Oy, I think you’re probably waaaaaay over-thinking what’s going on here. A friendly colleague asks someone to lunch (for whatever reason) – no big deal. If he knew it was going to give you this much angst, he never would have asked. I’d say let it go and stop worrying about it!!

    1. Jessie*

      A colleague who asks someone to lunch but does not even know the person’s name is weird, though. I have never in my life, in a work setting, been asked to go to lunch by someone who then had to follow up with “And what is your name?”

      In a bar, yup, I’ve been hit on by men who don’t know anything about me other than what color my hair is. Which is why I can understand the situation seeming strange at work, and why I can understand someone wanting advice. Because inviting without knowing your name makes it seem like a pick-up attempt, but having that happen at work is just… weird. (To be clear, asking someone out at work isn’t weird…. But asking someone out whose name you do not know at work, and thus treating work like a hook-up bar, *is* weird, and I can understand why OP would then need to process what happened and what she should do).

  32. Product person*

    #4: Then if she still pushes the Fergus route, talk openly about why don’t think that’ll work, and hash it out with her. What you don’t want is her having vague thoughts (or not-so-vague ones) that you could be doing a better job if you relied more on Fergus, without actually saying it openly to you in a context where you can respond and give her information that might change her perspective (or where she can give you information that might change yours).

    I’d suggest a slightly different approach here. If the manager still pushes the Fergus route, I’d agree but ask for advice on how to make sure that, when Fergus takes responsibilities like X and Y, these tasks don’t end up falling through the cracks or done really late as you’ve seen happen consistently in the past.

    If, however, it turns out that your boss doesn’t really care that the tasks that Fergus take over aren’t done on time, I’d let it go, and not worry about it anymore. Either the consequences of poor follow-through are not important in the grand scheme of things, or they are, and Fergus and your boss should be dealing with with the consequences.

    If, however, the issues truly matter for your organization (or customers) and your boss is just too incompetent to see the negative impact, you could also come up with some suggestions of your own, such as a method for task owners to communicate when they’re done. For example, a shared spreadsheet that you could consult from time to time to see if everything is under control, and if not, escalate to your boss so he or she can take corrective action, or at least gain more visibility into how often things are falling through the cracks.

    Good luck! I know how frustrating it can be to deal with people who can’t be relied upon to finish work assigned to them in a timely fashion (especially when it looks like we are able to complete work on schedule despite having a larger workload…).

  33. Anon for the day*

    Oh #3…

    I work for a mid size company 20% female, and I might be the only single woman under 30… this happens unfortunately too often. My male coworkers don’t understand I’m here to work, not flirt, not meet my partner, etc. My go to whenever I’m asked what I did this weekend or what I am doing my go to is … “My boyfriend and I… (insert blank)”

  34. DMC*

    So, I couldn’t finish reading all the comments, but I do heartily agree with the person who asked why this is sounding like we’re preparing a legal brief? Be polite. Turn the guy down. That’s my advice. Don’t fret over the exact wording — whether you say “I’m sorry” or “thank you.” Don’t be rude or mean unnecessarily. It’s okay legally for a coworker (someone not in a position of power) to ask another coworker on a date politely, once. If you think there might be a business thing, you can always ask, “Is there a business matter you’d like to discuss?” If you’re pretty sure that’s not the case, a simple, “No, thank you” with any number of softeners on either side will be just fine. A reasonable person will get the hint. An unreasonable person will end up in HR no matter what you say.

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