should I tell my employer about my boundary-crossing coworker?

A reader writes:

I have a coworker who continues to cross professional boundaries and I’m not sure when/if I should escalate this to my manager, his manager, or HR.

I work at a regional office of a medium size company. I transferred from another site and have been working at this location for about six months. There are about 10 salaried employees. Since we’re so small, everyone is friendly. I hit it off with one employee and we became friends. However, it got really weird. To clarify – I am a woman in my early 20s and he is a man in his early 60s. It went from chats once or twice a day, to him asking me to go out to lunch once or twice a week, to him texting me outside of work hours (it’s not weird for my group to have each other’s cell numbers – however, we typically only use them in case of emergencies). When I tried to pull back to a more professional relationship, he thought I was mad and bought me a candle (I mentioned once in a conversation that I like candles). When I still “seemed mad,” despite repeatedly telling him that I was not, he asked me to lunch and tried to have a heart-to-heart type conversation. It was pretty one-sided, as I was trying to maintain the professional boundary.

The breaking point came when he sent me a very long text one evening, which was incredibly inappropriate. Nothing sexual, but stuff along the lines of how I “need to let my armor down” and how he cared a lot about me and “would never hurt me.” I texted him back and told him that his text was incredibly inappropriate and that I would like to just be work friends. He replied and apologized and said that he was deleting my number.

Things got more normal at work and I though the issue was resolved. However, he came to my office a couple of weeks after the text incident and asked to have my number back! I of course, said no. Later that week, he IM’d me and asked if I had thought anymore about his request. I replied and said that my answer hadn’t changed and that I would just like to remain work friends.

Since then he hasn’t done anything majorly out there, but he does continue to talk to me about non-work related things (what are you up to this weekend? what are your plans for the holidays?) that from anyone else would be normal but with his history of crossing professional boundaries makes me uncomfortable. Anytime he comes to my office or IMs me I get anxiety that it’s going to be a weird or uncomfortable interaction for me.

Since our office is so small and I need this guy’s job expertise/experience fairly often, I didn’t bring any of this up to my manager, his manager, or HR. But now that I’m getting anxiety about every interaction and he continues to pursue a friendship, should I bring it up to someone, even if that makes a potentially awkward environment? Or should I try again to explain again that I only want a strictly professional relationship?


You’ve handled this really well. You told him directly that he was being inappropriate and that you wanted to confine your relationship to work. When he pressured you after that, you told him that your answer hadn’t changed. That’s all excellent — you’ve set really clear boundaries here.

But yes, I would also tell someone else at work about this, because it’s good to have a record that he’s already ignored your clearly stated boundaries twice (asking to have your number back, and then asking again later that week after you’d already said no). Maybe he’s gotten the message now from your multiple no’s, but maybe he hasn’t — and if that’s the case, it’ll be useful to have already alerted someone to what’s going on. Plus, it’s possible that this is part of a pattern that you don’t know about, where he’s done this to other women too. For all we know, he’s already officially been told to cut it out — and if that’s the case, it’s really important that your employer hear that it’s still happening.

You might feel weird about that because he hasn’t made overt sexual advances. But anyone looking at what’s happened here is going to understand that that’s a likely subtext, and no reasonable employer is going to want an older male employee hassling a young female employee for her phone number after she’s already told him no. (They shouldn’t want it if the ages were different either, but this lines up so closely with a common problematic pattern that they’re not likely to miss it.) So you’re on solid ground in talking to your employer about this.

Whether to go to your manager, his manager, or HR depends on the people involved. In general I’d default to HR for harassment issues because they’re trained to handle them in a way managers often aren’t, and they’re more likely to know if there have been other reports of problems with this guy. But if your manager or his seems especially on the ball with this kind of thing and you’re comfortable with them, that’s an option too. There’s also the combo option of talking to HR but giving your manager a heads-up that you’re doing it.

You’re also allowed to be chillier with him if you want to. If he comes by your office or IMs you to ask about your weekend or your holiday plans or whatever, you’re not required to have that level of intimacy with him. Because you have to work with him, you should be polite (as long as he doesn’t cross another boundary), but you can treat him like you would an acquaintance who you didn’t know very well … meaning that you can give a pretty perfunctory answer and then make it clear you’re turning back to your work. (For example: “Oh, no big plans. Just seeing family. I’m on deadline so I’ve got to get back to this now.”)

Or you could be very direct with him if you want to. For example, you could say something like this: “Hey, I’d like to keep our relationship to work topics only. You made me really uncomfortable with some of our previous interactions, and I don’t feel comfortable having a social relationship with you.”

But really, good for you for clearly telling him to back off. So often in these situations, people worry about being polite or hurting someone’s feelings or causing tension in a work relationship and so they end up accommodating increasingly inappropriate behavior. You didn’t, and I think your instincts are serving you well here.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 431 comments… read them below }

  1. Murphy*

    I second everything Alison said.

    Even if it’s not sexual, it’s still weird, it’s making you uncomfortable, and it’s continued after you’ve clearly asked him to stop. Definitely talk to someone about it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Co-signed. Alison is bang on.

      OP, you’ve handled this really well. Tell someone. He’s pushing on the boundaries on purpose, and you’re right—it’s incredibly inappropriate.

      1. TheSassyAccountant*

        I totally agree. While this maybe potentially sexual in nature ( I just feel like he’s trying to “groom” her) it doesn’t have to be in order to be uncomfortable. We have a newish co-worker at my job and she pushed boundaries to be friends to the point that she made me VERY uncomfortable. I became increasingly anxious that she would trap me in a conversation before I could sit down or when I heard her flip-flopping back to my desk I’d cringe. The last straw was when she came to me desk with a STACK of papers. What were these papers? Houses that she had looked up and printed out that she thought maybe my husband and I would be interested in. Turns out she eavesdropped on a conversation I had with another co-worker where I mentioned I was house hunting. So with a conversation she had no first hand knowledge of and not knowing a thing about our styles, price points or geographic location ideals she did this. Then would pester me about whether I had call to arrange a looksee to the ones she especially earmarked! After that I refused to be overly polite and stopped engaging with her. Anytime she tried I’d tell her I was busy or I had to go. She eventually confronted me over this and cried she thought we were going to be friends but I told her we were co-workers and that ended up being that. Now I can work in peace and I’m VERY careful of when and where I discuss anything even work related (since it maybe sensitive in nature and nothing to do with her job).

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      I’m kinda of the fence on whether to call this sexual or not. I’ve never seen men target people of their non-preferred gender with this type of attention.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Why do you think the LW is not the coworker’s preferred gender? She said nothing about his sexual orientation either way.

        1. JHunz*

          I think you’re misunderstanding. Trout is saying that OP is probably the preferred gender of the coworker, and that’s a contributing reason for the boundary pushing.

        2. hermit crab*

          I think Trout means that it’s inherently sexual, because people don’t tend to behave this way toward people who aren’t in the category of potential partners.

          1. Former Hoosier*

            But regardless of the man’s attentions and regardless of anyone’s gender, this is inappropriate and shouldn’t happen once someone has asked them to stop even if it isn’t sexual

          2. Say what, now?*

            Yes, they don’t push as hard for intimacy of any level when they’re truly just looking for a friend and get turned down.

          3. Trout 'Waver*

            This. Sorry if I was unclear. I’ve seen this happen so often in my career and there has always been a gendered aspect to it. And, it has never been an isolated occurrence of the boundary-pusher only creeping on one person.

          4. straws*

            Yes, intimacy doesn’t have to be sexual, but it’s inappropriate to pressure another person about it regardless.

    3. Jesca*

      Yes. That is the clincher. I am apt, through experience lol, to avoid people who inappropriately push boundaries particularly at work. This goes for males and females. I mean typically each push boundaries for a whole host of reasons (like a lot of attention – and ammunition, like to latch on to people in some weird co-dependent way, sexual aggression/entitlement, obsessiveness, etc.), but the outcomes are normally the same. It is really good to have some intuition on these things, as some people don’t. And some people then continue to push the narrative by the aggressor: they are just “nice” or “really don’t mean anything by it”. Right? Making it harder for others to come forward. I think once you report this, you will find that others have had similar experiences.

      But whole rambling point here is that it doesn’t matter what the intention was; what matters is that the behavior is continuing and aggressive after being asked to stop. That is a huge red flag for anyone to do!

    4. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes, don’t let anybody derail you – not him, not a boss, not a friend or your husband – by trying to act like it’s only an issue if/when he actually hits on you. It’s already harassment because you’ve asked him to keep it professional and he’s refusing. When this happened to me, I had a Greek chorus of people in my life – mostly people I liked actually! – being like But He’s Only A Confused Old Man and Also It Doesn’t Sound Sexual. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t (yet) sexual, Greek Chorus!! Go away!!

      1. The New Wanderer*

        In my case, the Greek Chorus was in my head telling me it was weird but not sexual. The older man definitely had the ‘friend-collector’ complex along with ‘needs-constant-validation’ and didn’t limit his friend-seeking to just women. However, when I eventually decided to cut back significantly on the socializing aspect because I just didn’t want to deal with his neediness, he did in fact go there.

        So it might not happen, but it also could just be a matter of time. Feel free to shut it down completely before that happens.

      2. Alienor*

        Old men have had longer than anyone else to learn what’s appropriate and what’s not, and IMO they totally use their knowledge and their age to get away with as much as they can. When I worked retail years ago, old men customers were the absolute worst when it came to making creepy comments to the young female employees, and you’d look at them and just *know* that they knew exactly what they were doing. Yuck.

        1. Dorothy Lawyer*

          “Old men have had longer than anyone else to learn what’s appropriate and what’s not, and IMO they totally use their knowledge and their age to get away with as much as they can.”

          You are so, so right. This sentence is right on.

        2. Q*

          Cosigned. One old guy told my male manager to “keep an eye on me” because I was “flirting with old men” (which I was definitely NOT).

          And then they makes jokes about how they’re just an “old fart” or whatever and they’re harmless.

          Not how that works.

          1. Executive Assistant Barbie*

            Ick. I had a manager in a retail job once come talk to me about my shoes and skirt being “too sexy” after I overheard him discussing me in a more “appreciative” way with an older male customer. A) make up your mind whether my outfit is okay or not and b) respect me enough not to objectify me with customers.

            It is absolutely true that older men know they are violating boundaries and know the best ways to get away with it.

        3. Paper tiger*

          The majority of the time that’s true, but there are occasions where someone suffering from Alzheimer’s or a similar disease makes sexual comments or performs sexual behaviors that they never would have done in the past, due to the damage to their brain.

          It doesn’t sound like that’s a factor in this case. Even if it were, the advice to go to HR/manager is still good. This kind of harassment shouldn’t be tolerated regardless of whether it’s intentional or a side effect.

      3. I See Real People*

        It’s true. I had a coworker who was slightly older and married. We made friends right away. His stories were cool and he was a good sense of humor. Not long after, he started making overtures. I told him I wasn’t interested AT ALL, and he said “Oh I didn’t mean anything by it” or “That’s silly. I’m married.”. But it was very obvious he was trying to groom me. He kept on, so I went to the city manager, who was my direct report, and he fixed the situation.

    5. Serin*

      There’s a pattern of escalating intimacy that the letter writer hasn’t consented to. Even if it isn’t sexual — even if it never turns sexual — that doesn’t mean it’s ok.

      1. Plague of frogs*

        And if/when he decides to turn the attention sexual, he wants a nice, long history showing that she was “leading him on” and “asking for it.” But LW outsmarted him there :)

      2. Natalie*

        The “mom” letter we got an update on recently is a good example – that wasn’t sexual (at least I hope it wasn’t!) but it was still plenty inappropriate.

    6. MK*

      There is this unfortunate focus on the sexual aspect when it comes to harrassment. Even if this guy sees the OP as a surrogate granddaughter, it’s still inappropriate and unwanted behavior.

    7. Jadelyn*

      To be honest, the fact that it’s *not* sexual almost makes me more convinced that it’s deliberate/predatory – someone who’s genuinely clueless and just not reading signals would’ve already pushed it into that territory, but by keeping it juuuuuust this side of overtly inappropriate, he retains plausible deniability, as evidenced by OP being unsure of whether or not to report it. I would bet he’s relying on that uncertainty to keep OP from pushing back too hard on him while he’s working on wearing her down.

      1. Not Australian*

        This encapsulates a problem I’ve been dealing with – inappropriate touching by a member of staff in a well-known furniture store. I reported it to management immediately it happened, but nobody even bothered to take my name and address, and I’m now trying to convince Head Office that the guy needs training not to do it again. I guess he thinks that because he’s white-haired and ‘charming’ he’ll just be taken for a harmless old codger, but that sort of thing of course is standard M.O. for predators who rely on nobody ever thinking there’s anything wrong. There needs to be a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate touching IMHO, and women need to be listened to when they complain; otherwise, the message conveyed is that they’re just plain not worth caring about.

    8. Agatha_31*

      Absolutely thirded! And if he EVER suggests that you’re somehow “misinterpreting” his behavior, and the way he behaved is somehow totally kosher for “work friends”, I would IMMEDIATELY bring up the question of whether he’d behave like this toward a male co-worker/superior/anyone else he’s “just friends” with:

      “stuff along the lines of how I “need to let my armor down” and how he cared a lot about me and “would never hurt me.””

      Hell, no. That was some serious boundary-pushing. Good on you, OP, for shutting it down so well.

  2. Foreign Octopus*

    I totally agree with Alison here. You’ve handled this really, really well already. It’s not your fault that he’s not understanding the situation now.

    I think you should, at the very least, give HR a heads up. If you still have the text message he sent you, maybe give them a copy as well.

    It doesn’t matter that it’s not overtly sexual. It’s still making you uncomfortable and you are well within your rights to protect yourself in the future.

    Good luck and let us know how it goes.

    1. TimTamGirl*

      Oh, he understands the situation. He is CHOOSING to continue to pressure the LW. No excuses here, please.

      1. Observer*

        It doesn’t really matter if he understands or not. Either he’s refusing to understand which is an obvious problem. Or he’s too thick to understand which makes him a problem in another way. And, if he deals with outside entities, it may make him an even bigger problem.

        1. TimTamGirl*

          100% correct. I’m just effing tired of the ‘but I didn’t KNOW this was disgusting boundary-violating behaviour that I somehow managed to never perpetrate against men or people with more power than I do!!!!1!!!1!!’ nonsense – especially in this case, when the LW has made her boundaries eminently clear. But you are still correct: even if he is miraculously ignorant of the impact of his actions, he’s still in the wrong and he still needs to be stopped.

          1. PB*

            Ugh, yes. Even if you somehow don’t know that it’s wrong to tell a coworker that you’re never going to hurt them (ick), then the clear message of “Don’t contact me” should be respected. It’s really not hard.

          2. Anonyna*

            Ugh, yes. This time last year I would have read this and rolled my eyes and mumbled about obtuse coworkers not understanding plain language and normal social boundaries. Now that it’s no secret how insidious and rampant this behaviour is, or how detrimental the effects are, I get angry enough to eat nails.

          3. Newt*

            THIS SO HARD.

            I actually *do* have difficulty reading social cues, as well as less well-developed social instincts and abilities in general, and sometimes make mistakes or misinterpret people’s boundaries.

            When someone expresses a boundary clearly to me? I am *grateful* that it’s been presented to me in a way I can absorb. I make extra effort to account for and respect that boundary. If I learn that I have accidentally overstepped or violated a boundary someone had? I am mortified. In practice I give people a little more boundary space than I think their stated boundaries call for because I would rather potentially miss out on closer intimacy with someone than risk that.

            Someone who continuously ignores your boundaries, and either continues to ignore, or pushes against, or complains about those boundaries when you state them explicitly may be one of two things:

            1. A predatory arsehole who knows damn well what they’re doing and is pushing on purpose anyway in the hopes of getting what they want at your expense (whether “what they want” is something sexual or not).
            2. A socially awkward arsehole who doesn’t care enough about other people, you included, to learn to do better.

            Either way, they’re an arsehole. But personally I have run out of “benefit of the doubt when I see the same patterns of behaviour exhibited by countless older men towards people who are always younger, in positions of less power, or in some way beholden to them.

          4. SusanIvanova*

            That’s prime Geek Social Fallacy behavior. And they generally do know – the ones who legit don’t are mortified when you tell them.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        Hey TimTamGirl. In absolutely no way was I excusing his behaviour and I agree that he is choosing to pressure the LW.

        Perhaps I chose my wording poorly, when I wrote “It’s not your fault he’s not understanding the situation now,” I meant that it’s not the OP’s fault that Skeevy McSkeeverson is doing what the majority of men who are pushed back in this situation do and plead “oh, I was only trying to be nice, I’m a nice guy, look at my fedora*.”

        Unfortunately, I was on my way to teach a class and didn’t have the time to write it down properly. You know how it goes. You understand yourself perfectly and forget that other people can’t read your mind.

        *No offence to fedoras intended. Then again, only Harrison Ford should really wear them.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I make an additional exception for Christian Kane in one episode of Leverage – don’t remember which one – and I remember being so mad like “STOP WEARING THAT AND LOOKING GOOD IN IT, DAMMIT. I WANT TO KEEP HATING THOSE.”

    2. Panda Bandit*

      There have been studies done that show these men completely understand the situation. They know the answer is “no” but they don’t like the answer and they’re trying to get around it.

      1. Katniss*

        Yes. I recommend everyone look up the article Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer for more on this.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          What a great read. I never thought about the issue of “no” being awkward to say, or that it not only communicates a refusal, but a willingness to be blunt and fight. Thanks for sharing.

      2. NO*

        A lot of women pull that crap too, about not liking the answer and trying to change it. Let’s not act like only men do this. Even “historically”, women have done it as long as men have. It is just done more under the radar and in different ways.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          Hello? We are discussing the letter at the top of the page. In addition, you are answering a comment referencing a study specifically about male-identified people.

          #RedHerring #Deflection

        2. Katniss*

          But this is a post about the behavior of a man, and this discussion has been about how this plays out when men do it.

        3. sin nombre*

          I was going to make a smartass comment about #NotAllMen, but this isn’t even #NotAllMen. It’s the even more not-useful, not-constructive, totally-derailing, #SometimesWomenDoBadThingsToo. What a contribution. Thanks.

        4. NaoNao*

          Actually, a “lot” of women don’t “pull that crap”. Because the specific behavior we’re discussing is about men who stay *just* this side of plausible deniability and deliberately overlook “soft” no’s from women they’re interested in, claiming they “didn’t understand” or “social awkwardness”.

          Women in general aren’t being accused and convicted *in the dozens* by hundreds of men of all ages, races, and backgrounds of sexualized, systematic harassment of men younger and less powerful then them. It’s all part of the same toxic culture. Louis C.K. very likely did understand very well that agonized silence and uncomfortable laughter and a very reluctant “I guess….?” response to his *extremely inappropriate request* to perform sexual acts, does not equal enthusiastic consent. But because he didn’t like that answer/conclusion, he ignored it and did what he wanted anyway. He got it. He just didn’t like it.

          When someone tells a woman they’re dating or friends with “no” and they argue or disagree or don’t listen or pretend they didn’t hear it or try to manipulate a “yes” out of someone, sure, that’s an issue and it does happen. Women tend to ignore signals that a man’s not interested in a long term commitment, not that he’s not interested *at all*.

          But in my (and pretty much everyone else on this forum’s) experience, pretending they don’t understand the “soft” no’s and then getting really angry at “hard” no’s…which they forced the victim to say because they didn’t accept the soft no’s or negative, closed, scared, annoyed, disgusted, or bored body language and non verbal signals…that’s an overwhelmingly male phenomenon.

          A large part of the blame for it being so male in nature lies in the media and entertainment presenting stories that say, in essence “Persistence is sexy/romantic” and “No means try again/later” and “She needs to be taught or convinced that the “underdog” is right for her”.

          Another part of the blame lies with sexist crap (which is enforced by other women as well as men, women aren’t blameless here) that says women who date a lot, date casually, have sex casually, or enjoy sex, or pursue men, or even seem “too available” are sl*ts, and have lost “worth”. This is a SUPER GROSS opinion and I hate it, but it contributes to men thinking (and being told by MRA and PUA blogs) that they have to “overcome resistance” and “allow her to give her disclaimers” because she really wants it but can’t admit it.

          And as others have said, responding to a discussion about one man’s actions with a derail about how “women do crap too!!” is disingenuous at best and it’s not a great look.

        5. Panda Bandit*

          I said these men. I didn’t say all men and the letter is about a very specific man. Learn. To. Read.

      3. Cedrus Libani*

        Yep. The people I know who are legitimately bad at reading social situations (due to inexperience, neurodiversity, or both) tend to be really self-conscious about it, and they will err on the side of caution rather than risk being That Guy / Girl.

        Creepers know precisely where the line is, which is how they can go juuuust far enough over it, such that you can’t punch them without looking even more out of line.

  3. Erin*

    I was in a very similar situation when I was also in my early 20s and also with a man in his 60s and also in a very small office (under 10 people, actually). You’re already handling this MUCH better than I did.

    Yes, please tell someone. Continue to be chilly towards him and shut him down. Don’t worry about hurting his feelings or anything like that. Really.

    With the person it happened to me with, I later found out he had a history of doing this sort of thing, and so did men on the board, and others involved in the company, and so forth. Please speak up so this doesn’t continue or happen to another coworker of yours, or future employee at that company.

  4. KatieKate*


    Back up your texts, print out the emails, and start keeping a log of every time he tires to boundary cross. If he pushes back on any of this, you will want to be able to show the pattern of harassment. I sorry this is happening to you LW. This guy is gross and needs to back off.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      I second this. Document everything. Times, who was around, the gist of the conversation. Make copies of your log. Give one to someone you trust. It can escalate. Tell someone at your work now, whether that’s HR or whoever.

    2. Irene Adler*

      Yes- exactly !!

      Even if you think the problem is resolved, take the time to gather all evidence together. And hang on to it. If he should do something later on, you’ll regret not having this evidence prepared. Don’t want anything he does in the future to be dismissed as an isolated incident.

    3. Crystal*

      Yeah, all I could think when reading this is that she needs to send him an email kindof outlining all of this and stating once again “work relationship”/parameters, etc.

    4. Julia the Survivor*

      Screen shots of the texts and email them to your personal email – copy your work email if you’d like them there also. In the subject line put “Text re:_______ ” and the date, so you can find them easily later.

    5. BadPlanning*

      And the documents aren’t only for you to prove to someone else what happened, they can also be immensely helpful to you. I once had a similar situation with a coworker — only it got weirder. I was so uncomfortable, that my brain tried to downplay the events. Then I reread my notes to reinforce it was weird and I was not overreacting (fortunately my manager took it seriously).

      1. Jadelyn*

        I use tags on my (private, personal) blog to do this. My father was verbally/emotionally abusive and the insidious thing about that is, sometimes it’s so hard to actually take your own hurt seriously, because nobody actually physically hit you, it’s just words, right? And abusers are very skilled at using that to their advantage. So having an external record of “this is exactly what was said” can help you remind yourself that no, you’re not crazy, you’re not making things up, this actually happened, and it’s worth taking it seriously.

  5. Xarcady*

    And remember–any awkwardness that occurs was created by him, by not respecting your clearly drawn, absolutely normal boundaries. If awkwardness ensues, he is the one who needs to deal with it.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      This this this this this this this. It’s so hard to remember this, but it’s so important and true.

    2. kb*

      YES! Most all of these guys totally know what they’re doing and what their intentions are (even if they won’t admit them), so you should not feel bad at *all* about taking this to HR or someone above you. In the off chance he is one of the elusive male bumblers who truly doesn’t know how he’s coming across, you’re doing him a favor by making him aware before he makes it worse.

      1. Observer*

        If he really is one of those rare birds, though, HR really needs to stop him anyway. Because someone who is that incompetent around people and who has such bad judgement is a dumpster fire waiting to happen. Doubly so if he interacts with outside people or organizations.

        1. kb*

          That’s what I mean. Her telling HR would hopefully give him a wake-up call as to how he’s coming across. If he doesn’t accept the wake-up call, that’s on him.

      2. Umbrella*

        Yes! The male bumbler – —-
        “The bumbler takes one of our culture’s most muscular myths — that men are clueless — and weaponizes it into an alibi.”

        — how I “need to let my armor down” and how he cared a lot about me and “would never hurt me.” = Hell No. He is trying to weaponize your feelings against you OP. He can read situations just fine if he is noticing you are annoyed & have put up boundaries. He just wants to muddy the water calling it mad & armor. He wouldn’t be telling the new male interns to let their guard down to make new friends.

        Good for you for handling it!

        1. BusinessCat*

          That was a great read. Another thought I’ve had is that in addition to using gender stereotype to escape culpability, is that there might be a legal defense ploy as well. I think the bumbler excuse is 100% true and a way predators try to escape judgment in the eyes of the public, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is also a way to not admit fault so that they can’t be sued as easily. Any lawyers know anymore about admitting fault and liability?

          1. Natalie*

            Very unlikely, I think, for any number of reasons. For starters, this kind of harassment usually isn’t handled in a personal, civil case. A lot of the lawsuits you hear about are people trying to get out of contracts or suing *their employer* (who has a duty to protect staff from sexual harassment), not the individual perpetrator. Also, the idea that apologizing for things is the same thing as admitting legal responsibility is largely a myth.

            1. BusinessCat*

              Thank you so much for your response! As a non lawyer, part of me wondered if they might be trying to kill two birds with one stone, especially with how god awful and insincere apologies have been in the recent harassment stories (i.e. “I’m sorry my actions were perceived this way”), but it turns out they are just terrible, as opposed to being terrible and more defensible.

        2. Specialk9*

          I hadn’t yet read that article, and wow, yes. There is a lot of uncomfortable truth there!

          “The line on men has been that they’re the only gender qualified to hold important jobs and too incompetent to be responsible for their conduct.”

          Yeah, that’s… That’s it right there.

    3. Marillenbaum*

      Bingo! Creepy dudes like this rely on the plausible deniability factor that allows them to pretend they didn’t know they were making it weird. The vast majority of the time, they absolutely know they’re making it weird, and they’re relying on your desire to avoid weirdness to allow them to trample all over your boundaries. His weirdness–his problem. Absolutely tell someone, because this derivative broseph has already shown he can’t be trusted to just do the right thing.

      1. KRM*

        This happened to me! I left a job, and an older male coworker I was friendly with kept asking me to lunch (via email). I didn’t really think we were the kind of friends who would go to lunch (I couldn’t think of any conversation I could sustain with him, for one) so I said no. Then one day he called me to say he was coming over to visit! I still don’t know how he got my number/address. I told my old boss, he was confronted, and then he emailed me apologizing about how the LUNCH INVITES were “misconstrued”. So yeah, he knew it was weird, and he tried to make out like the (relatively) innocent part was the part I had an issue with, and he was so sorry I had an issue with a simple lunch invite. Ummm, you basically stalked me. It’s not about the lunch invite!! This dude strikes me as the same kind of person. Call him out! Make him uncomfortable! Don’t accept his excuses!

        1. Former Hoosier*

          And how often have we heard the “misunderstanding” explanation from someone accused of harassment lately?

          Most people know the difference between someone asking them out, hearing no and moving on and the persistent harasser who makes a person feel uncomfortable.

          I am so sick of this. If there was truly a misunderstanding, one and done would be all it took!

        2. Julia the Survivor*

          It’s not just in harassment situations that people do this. My mother was master of pretending to be clueless so she wouldn’t have to deal with anything or take responsibility. I’ve also seen others do this in relationships. It’s not always about being sued – it can be about the person not wanting to be responsible or accountable or grown up in any way.
          It might seem like they’re getting away with it, but over the long term they can’t keep friends and their relatives stop talking to them. They end up alone, pretending not to know why. :p

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yup. I like how Captain Awkward describes this, which is “returning [awkward/uncomfortable/weird] to sender.”

    4. Former Hoosier*

      Exactly. And this perfectly highlights one of the problems with how we perceive harassment and handle it. The person who is being harassed is expected to address this and handle it when often they are scared or have been threatened or just don’t know how to handle.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Yup. I got skeeved out at the, “I would never hurt you” bit because who says that to someone they’re not dating/trying to date or is otherwise already committed to?

      1. Oranges*

        I get skeeved out by unasked for “I would never _____” statements for one reason: it’s told me that you have thought about doing something bad and want a cookie for… NOT DOING THAT right at this moment.

          1. Specialk9*

            I read “I would never do [X off topic criminal behavior] to you” as a threat, with only the thinnest veneers of deniability. They want you to imagine them doing that thing to you, and be scared. Because they ARE thinking about doing that to you, it’s why it came out of their mouth.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          That’s another good (and gross) point. I just always hated it because it sounded like some mess out of a Harlequin romance.

        2. Brittasaurus Rex*

          Yes! I had a much older guy at my first job tell me “I wouldn’t try to rape you.”


          Why would that even occur to you, weird and gross guy?

          1. Oranges*

            My shoulders are trying so hard to go higher than they physically can reading that sentence. Uggggghhhhhh. That’s horrible.

          2. Lissa*

            Ewwww. Yup, I had an older gross guy say similar things to me. Not as blatant as that but like, I’m a very hands-off person and if I took a step back when he was talking to me he’d say shit like “What? I’m not going to DO anything.” He also blocked me in the freezer once in order to take a box out of my hands because “in my world women don’t carry things.” To which I responded eloquently “your world is stupid” because I was a pissed off 20 year old.

          3. Emi.*

            I smacked a guy in college who kissed me with no preamble (on the cheek, but still), and he apologized and then added “But that was a really hard smack. If I had been trying to rape you, I’d be very deterred right now.”

          4. Relly*

            Holy crap I am shuddering just imagining that. If someone said that to my face, I would probably buy pepper spray.

        3. Big Fat Meanie*

          It’s basically making the case for dating you because you meet the baseline standard for decent behavior. It’s like saying people should buy your makeup because it won’t give you a rash, or come to your restaurant because the food won’t make you sick. I would hope so!

        4. aebhel*

          Right. Unless you’re actually being accused of doing something awful, just coming out with ‘I would never hurt you’ type statements just smack of protesting too much.

        5. CM*

          Yes, what Oranges said. I find a good response to “I would never ____” is a sharp, “Don’t talk about _____.” Like, “Don’t talk about hurting me.” And then you can reiterate it when they come back with a wounded, “No no, I said I would NEVER hurt you!” “STOP TALKING ABOUT HURTING ME.”

          1. Competent Commenter*

            Excellent. Because it’s so, so weird when someone says this kind of thing. Why would they bring it up if it’s not something they’re actually thinking about doing?! It’s so flipping transparent. So this is such a great answer.

      2. Amy*

        Yes!! The only times I can see that coming up are 1) in a dating relationship, or 2) when the person saying it does in fact think they might hurt the person they’re talking to, and therefore has the possibility on their mind. It doesn’t just come up out of the blue in everyday life, and it’s absolutely weird for a work-only relationship like the one you’ve specifically told this guy you want, OP.

      3. MashaKasha*

        Yes!!! Isn’t it kind of implied that our coworkers are not going to hurt us?? So much so that stating it explicitly creates a very weird situation? What’s next, “I will never break into your car”?

      4. Sloan Kittering*

        It was the “let down your armor” comment for me. This is a classic neg, where a guy tries to manipulate you to “proving” you’re not whatever thing he’s accusing you of being by … doing what he wants.

        1. Big Fat Meanie*

          Yes, that made me nope all over the place. If I’m guarded around someone, I get to stay guarded until I decide I feel safe around that person, it’s not something they get to request I change early. It’s basically telling someone “you need to feel safe around me.” It doesn’t work that way.

        2. Competent Commenter*

          Yeah me too. I mean, I have great friendships with some of my close coworkers and we definitely share things that would be considered inappropriate/too intimate by some people, and everyone’s fine. But never have I texted them to let down their armor, or said I won’t hurt them. That’s the kind of thing that if it’s ever said “appropriately” is said in the context of a romantic/intimate relationship. It’s not coworker talk! Never! That one text says it all for me and I also hope the OP kept it, while understanding the she might have said “Ew!!!” and hit delete.

          1. OP*

            I don’t know if you saw my comment elsewhere in the thread, but I did in fact say “Ew!!!” and hit delete. Didn’t want to read it ever again or even have it on my phone. Looking back I know I should have kept it for evidence purposes but oh well, can’t do anything about it now (I talked to Apple, it’s gone forever). Lesson learned!

      5. Slammy*

        In The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker talks about how predators will say phrases like that because they know exactly what they are trying to do. So a man trying to force a woman to let him carry her groceries who says “I’m not going to hurt you” should get your hair standing on end. Same thing here.

      6. A Nonny Mouse*

        Have you ever read The Gift of Fear?

        There are a number of signals that predators will give you, and one of them is the unsolicited promise:

        “The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, ‘I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,’ usually means the chosen victim will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited ‘I promise I won’t hurt you’ usually means the person intends to hurt their chosen victim.”

    2. OP*

      In the moment I deleted the text message. It was so “ICK” inducing that I didn’t want to read it again. Looking back, I know this was a mistake. By the time I realized I should have it for evidence purposes it was too late to recover from a phone back up. I do have a saved IM conversation that is proof of the weirdness though. Something is better than nothing. Hopefully this doesn’t happen again in my career but if it does I know better now.

        1. MashaKasha*

          It might be. Can you check with your provider, OP? When I got a new phone two years ago, they said they were going to “sync my messages” and all of a sudden, something like two years’ worth of texts from a recent ex (that I had all deleted a few months earlier) showed up on my new device. Maybe they can do this per request?

      1. Amy*

        Your phone company probably has records still. I don’t know if they’ll release them to you or not, but it might be worth contacting them to ask.

        1. OP*

          I contacted apple since it was an iMessage and there’s not anything they can do. I’m not sure if phone providers have access to iMessage since it’s not a text.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If you have another Apple device, sometimes opening iMessages there will load a bunch of old texts you thought were gone. It depends on how old it was though.

            1. Natalie*

              But also, I wouldn’t stress too much about it. There’s a lot of other crappy behavior, and if you’re in the kind of situation where your employer isn’t going to back you up because you don’t have the receipts, so to speak, might as well find that out now. (Just remember to keep his texts in the future!)

          2. AnonInSpringfield*

            Did he write this from a work phone or a personal phone? If he was using a work cell and hasn’t deleted, HR could ask IT to retrieve it.

          3. Solidad*

            If your HR tries to tell you they can’t act without “evidence”, remind them that in criminal trials, the majority of evidence presented is witness testimony. Your WORD is evidence.

            It should be enough.

            Also, it’s not “hearsay” because you directly experienced it.

            People get both these concepts wrong all the time. Sometimes purposefully so when they don’t like the outcome otherwise.

            Even if HR thinks you are overreacting and he “didn’t mean it,” you have an absolute right to say that you do not want any co-workers contacting you outside of work hours for non-work purposes. This includes your lunch breaks.

            You do NOT have to have a reason to say no.

            “I don’t want to have contact with Fergus and he’s ignoring my wishes” should be sufficient. You shouldn’t have to justify it because he’s creepy.

            That’s additional worry, but it should not be necessary.

            “No” is a complete sentence.

          4. Observer*

            I agree with Natalie that you don’t have to stress too much about this. Make copies of what you have and a detailed log of all events, including ones that don’t have any associated texts.

            If I had to choose, the repeated requests for your number would be the most important thing to document.

      2. Competent Commenter*

        Don’t be hard on yourself over it, OP. It is SO understandable, and I say that as a person who obsessively documents things. I mean, who wants that in their phone? It feels so invasive. So sorry you had to deal with this. :(

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously. I have never heard of anyone telling their friend to let their armor down. I’ve never heard of anyone saying it to their coworker. I’ve only heard people who are boundary-crossing with romantic (or similar) intentions use it. When I read that, a chill went down my spine.

      1. Solidad*

        Unless you are a therapist or a spouse with a closed-in partner, these words should never come out of your moth.

        1. H*

          Not trying to typo-nitpick, but I am unreasonably scared of moths, and now I’m just picturing a tiny, terrifying moth flying toward me with creepy feelers whispering “Why so scaaaared? I would neeeever huuuurt you…” with creepy maniacal laughter. And I’d still prefer that to this f’ing guy.

          1. Oranges*

            Okay, are you me from another universe or a clone? You shared Mythcommunications and now moths….

            But yes, creepy moth > co-worker and congrats on making me giggle

            1. H*

              Twinsies!! I love Mythcommunications so so much. I have it saved on my phone so when this stuff comes up in in-person conversations I can bust it out right away with a triumphant “actually, science says no!” even in basement bars with no internet. (Not sure what it says about me that I’ve been in that situation more than once.)

          2. Former Employee*

            That reminds me of one of the Dracula movies. When he first shows up he looks really small – like a moth.

  6. CR*

    What a timely letter with everything we’re reading about #MeToo these days. He’s disrespecting you and your boundaries, and it will only escalate. Do something about it now.

  7. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Yes, you are doing the right thing. And, taking Alison’s advice and telling the firm about this is also important.

    You’ve already handled it much, much better than I probably would have in my 20’s (and before finding this site!)

    1. EddieSherbert*

      OP, you are handling this so incredibly impressively. Not just for someone in their 20’s but for ANYONE of any age!

        1. Jesca*

          Every time I read these, I’m like … her too, huh? I think its starting to come down what women hasn’t this happened to?!

    1. Reba*

      It made me think of an essay by the fabulous Rebecca Traister recently in NY Magazine, about the particular harm of sexual assualt and gender based harrassment *in the professional context.* She writes that it’s not just about physical vulnerability:

      “Rather, it’s about the cruel reminder that these are still the terms on which we are valued, by our colleagues, our bosses, sometimes our competitors, the men we tricked ourselves into thinking might see us as smart, formidable colleagues or rivals, not as the kinds of objects they can just grab and grope and degrade without consequence. It’s not that we’re horrified like some Victorian damsel; it’s that we’re horrified like a woman in 2017 who briefly believed she was equal to her male peers but has just been reminded that she is not, who has suddenly had her comparative powerlessness revealed to her.”

        1. dottie*

          So you have been forcing messages on people you know were unwanted. Creepy! This is just an example to show how other comments nitpick imprecise language and deliberately misunderstand the intended meaning. It is not serious.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        That essay was so excellent. I’ve been sending it to everyone, especially people who are into the whole “oh, he didn’t know better” bullshit.

        1. Reba*

          Yes, it’s so, so important to connect these “misbehaviors” to discrimination and the question of real parity and how we’re going to get it.

      2. Actuarial Octagon*

        This is excellent. It gets exactly to the point that a lot of my friends and colleagues have been trying to find. Such a good read.

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    Gross, gross, gross.

    I would start with talking to your boss, unless you have reason to believe that your boss will minimize your concerns. That way you and your boss can work out whether it makes the most sense for your boss to go to his manager, you to go to HR, or some other solution, and your boss knows about the situation so she can have your back and she feels like she’s in the loop.

    But if you think your boss might brush this off or tell you it’s no big deal, I’d go straight to HR, and make sure you tell HR that you want this handled in a way that doesn’t result in retaliation either from the creeper (because he’s mad) or from your boss (because you “made trouble”).

  9. Snark*

    God dammit, fellow workplace men, can you have some god damn chill around younger women? Can you all just assume that they don’t want to have lunch with you and don’t want to let down their armor around you and don’t want texts from you and don’t want candles from you and don’t want to interact with you outside business hours and don’t want to give you their number and don’t want your creepily insistent emotional intimacy, even if you’re heroically restraining yourself from making overt and specific romantic or sexual entreaties? And can we continue to assume that unless given absolutely explicit, unambiguous go-ahead from said women, you should just treat them the same way you’d treat a younger male coworker? And by “absolutely explicit, unambiguous go-ahead,” can you assume that I don’t mean “is friendly and collegial to me in the context of working together in the same office” or “converses with me regularly” or “pastes on a superficial smile and uses padding language when I run roughshod over reasonable workplace boundaries?” JFC. *facepalm*

            1. Brittasaurus Rex*

              Target and World Market carry them too, if you have those near you. Tim Tams are delightful.

          1. writelhd*

            I recently heard of the TimTam Slam, in which If I remember correctly, one dips TimTam in hot coffee, lets it melt, then drinks. Just adding to the thread de-rail because TimTams really are amazing, I am an American with an Aussie BFF who knows the secret. Now back to regularly scheduled programing.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        +1 on Tim Tams. So amazingly good.

        Yes. This. All day long. I’m lucky in that I’ve not had to worry about creeper colleagues like this, but say it louder for the people in the back.

    1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

      Can we just add this paragraph to every employee handbook in America? Thanks.

    2. Birch*

      +1 the forced emotional intimacy part in particular. People tend not to believe that makes women uncomfortable but it’s just another way to demand attention.

    3. MashaKasha*

      OMG yes!! Isn’t emotional intimacy a two-way street; in that you cannot force it on an unwilling person? Especially a coworker, whose livelihood depends on their ability to interact with you in a professional way, instead of telling you to go to hell and blocking you everywhere, like they would have done otherwise? OP is a captive audience for this guy and his idiot candles. She cannot stop coming into work, and he is somehow interpreting it as consent. Blergh!

        1. Totally Minnie*

          The scents for Idiot Candles should be named things like “Pay attention to me!” and “I hope this will make you forget I did a dumb thing.”

    4. neverjaunty*

      Snark, thing is, the people you’re yelling at don’t see young female co-workers as people in the same way they look at young male co-workers. Take a gander at the Rebecca Traister piece upthread.

    5. Candi*


      Neverjaunty, Snark’s piece isn’t about trying to convince pervy guys that they’re wrong. It’s encapsulating All The Problems with their behavior and bringing it front and center.

  10. I am Fergus*

    Today he’s over stepping boundaries tomorrow he becomes Harvey. Print everything and go ahead and hurt his feelings. After the texts you should

  11. Anna*

    It makes me really angry that instead of having a great professional relationship with a younger colleague and perhaps being able to mentor someone not quite as far in their career, this guy decided the only possible outcome was to cross boundaries and be a creep. THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!

  12. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Creepy behavior doesn’t have to be sexual, although the converse is certainly true.

    Recent headlines have tied creepy behavior with sexual predatory behaviors. That’s great, but I’m worried that situations like yours fall through the cracks because of that missing element. Not so!

    And you really should let down your armor. Kidding! I’ve gotten something similar too, and I’ve long thought this nonsense came from male protagonists in romcoms who don’t take no for an answer and claim to know their love interests better than the women themselves.

    1. fposte*

      I really like your first sentence there, Snarkus. Even if he just wants a loving daughter figure in his life, it’s freaking creepy to try to pry that out of your professional co-worker.

      1. Snark*

        Funny how creeper didn’t look to a younger male coworker for his platonic workplace fatherly relationship.

              1. Oranges*

                I just collapsed in a fit of giggles (my coworkers are used to me by now… no one batted an eye). You win today.

    2. paul*

      That’s a useful distinction in general but I’m kind of skeptical that it’s the case here; the guy seems to be heading for a romantic/sexual interest to me? IDK, I can have a hard time reading situations like this, but this doesn’t seem like something you’d expect between people just interested in friendship.

      1. Shiara*

        I do know some guys who look for emotional intimacy/labour from women even when there’s no romantic/sexual interest there and enjoy casting women in either maternal or daughter roles so they get to be emotionally intimate with them in a safely masculine sort of way.

        It’s incredibly gross the way forced emotional intimacy always is, even when there really is nothing sexual about it. This could be romantic/sexual, or it really could be wanting someone to play dependent daughter to be protected and mentored.

        1. Kiki*

          >and enjoy casting women in either maternal or daughter roles so they get to be emotionally intimate with them in a safely masculine sort of way.

          I’ve gotten this before from a previous job where many of the people I worked with were men in their 50’s and 60’s. I was early 20’s at the time. I got called “dear” a lot, they would compare me to their actual daughters, and would try to advise me on different things in my life (that I never asked their opinion on). Not sexual at all but still felt super gross. I also felt like it undermined my competency. Because no, I am not your actual child! I have a fully developed brain and can indeed take on complicated projects!

      2. Elsajeni*

        I agree, but I think Snarkus might be reacting in part to the OP describing the texts as “nothing sexual.” I think a lot of us have that instinct to downplay not-explicitly-sexual inappropriate behavior because we can imagine (or have experienced) WAY more inappropriate come-ons, or because we’re afraid of the “HITTING on you? I would never! I was just being friendly!” response; given that, it’s useful to know, hey, this behavior is inappropriate whether it’s stemming from a sexual interest in you or not.

    3. Agnodike*

      Couldn’t agree more. Harassment is about power. Some people find it pleasurable to leverage a power differential between themselves and another person. Doesn’t matter if it plays out sexually or in another inappropriate way (insisting on too much emotional intimacy, “bullying” behaviours, inappropriately trying to control someone’s actions, etc.), it’s unacceptable and it can be really scary to be on the receiving end of.

  13. Amber Rose*

    LW, you’ve handled this incredibly well and should continue doing your awesome thing, but you don’t have to handle it all alone. It’s good to have someone else know what’s up so they can back you up if this dude steps up his creeper game.

    Unfortunately, sometimes you need some extra border guards on your boundaries. :/

    1. OP*

      I’m glad you brought this up, I actually did tell a close friend about this. It took me a couple of weeks to tell her about it because for a while I thought 1) I was handling it and 2) it was my fault somehow. I just finally let loose one night when we were out and told her everything. She is the best border guard I could have asked for. I know a lot of you are commending how I’ve handled it so far (thank you, really) but it was a combination of me, my friend, and reading AAM frequently. I’m in the process of documenting everything and plan to tell my manager. I genuinely think it’s over, but in case it’s not I don’t want to start from square one.

      1. Solidad*

        Even if it’s over for you, he will likely do it to whatever new young woman the firm hires.

        Men like this never do this once.

        I don’t believe in morally requiring people to report stuff like this, but if you are willing, it may help you but will certainly help future victims.

      2. Lady Phoenix*

        Honey, this shit aint your fault and you can definitely see a ton of stories where women employees like yourself suddenly have to deal with a dudes emotion/romantic/sexual baggage with all the finesse of a cat presenting you with a dead mouse… scratch that, at least the cat is trying to feed and care for you. Men just want a girlfriend/escort/therapist.

      3. Laura*

        OP, you should definitely tell friends. Having done that was taken as serious corroboration in many accusers’ stories recently and carries real weight.

  14. ritzsandwichcracker*

    something really similar happened to me when I was in college with a professor. nothing sexual, but lots of boundary-crossing that I was too young and inexperienced to recognize for what it was. it ramped up so gradually that I didn’t know how to get myself out when I started to get freaked out – e.g. he invited me to his home for a holiday party he and his wife were hosting, and I thought they were just being nice because I wasn’t going to be celebrating otherwise, and I wasn’t the only student invited, but once he had my number he would call me to ‘check on me’ at the end of the semester, i.e. how I was doing with semester stress and finals. I still think he really just did care a lot, and emphasis on nothing sexual ever, but when he started getting upset when I didn’t call back right away it was awful. He would leave messages saying I needed to learn to ‘lean on friends for help’, etc. I’ve never felt so alone and miserable and isolated and helpless in my life because I didn’t know how to get him to back off without jeopardizing my grad school applications/professional reputation.

    luckily that was years ago and I ended up being ok and extricating myself. I don’t tell people about this because I feel like it won’t reflect well on me that I let it get so far, but this letter reminded me of that, and I just wanted to share on the internet. Even if it isn’t sexual, it can still be creepy and awful! OP has my sympathies.

    (also Alison, please don’t publish this comment in the future in its own post. I know you sometimes do that, so I just wanted to put that out there).

    1. ArtsNerd*

      >I don’t tell people about this because I feel like it won’t reflect well on me that I let it get so far

      This doesn’t reflect poorly on you at all. At all. I hope you know that, and I’m sorry you were ever put in that position to begin with.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        See the thread of responses to SJPxo below, particularly

        It’s not her job to outsmart every creepy inappropriate gesture he makes.

        (today I learned how to quote on AAM!)

    2. Amy*

      Ugh, being in grad school makes you so vulnerable to potential nonsense from your professors. This doesn’t reflect badly on you AT ALL–you didn’t do anything wrong here. He started with things that are fairly normal from mentor-y professors. (That holiday party that multiple grad students were invited to doesn’t read as a warning sign to me either, it seems pretty normal based on my experiences with professors and grad school. I would also have read that as him being nice and generally involved with his students, not as an attempt to get creepy towards one student in particular.) And then he chose to escalate in a weird and gross direction, which you couldn’t have known he would do–and even if you had known, it was HIS job to be an appropriate professor, not YOUR job to somehow keep him in line. His awful creepiness is 100% on him.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      I hope you’ll also take Alison’s comments to heart from an older post about handling this stuff too:

      First, let me say that no one tells you how to handle this stuff, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up for anything you did or didn’t do. You tried to be friendly to someone who you thought was being genuinely friendly to you. You’re not responsible for him crossing lines with you or for not perfectly shutting it down when he did.

  15. AKchic*

    LW, you are handling this very well. Please make sure to save all of the texts, emails and IMs. Document all in-person talks (date, time if possible).
    Just because it’s not sexual now doesn’t mean that if left unchecked, it wouldn’t turn in that direction later. That’s usually how it goes. Little boundary pokes to see what is appropriate, then the continual pokes at that wall until the wall cracks and finally a small hole in the wall so a few casual sexually-charged comments can go through without challenge, then more, then inappropriate touching…

    I’m not saying you’re being groomed. I’m saying that’s generally how grooming works. You have every right to think that this behavior is hinky.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Seconding this. Honestly, when I read or hear a story like this, and the woman (because so far it’s always been a woman…go figure) says “he hasn’t done anything sexual” I always find myself mentally adding a “YET.” And I no longer feel bad about assuming that this is the end game when the boundary pushing starts. There are reasons these jerks generally target younger women, who tend to be less confident, less willing to “make a fuss” and so on.

      (I’m sure it has happened to some men, somewhere, sometime – just hasn’t been my experience.)

      Lastly – OP, you did great. You’re doing great at handling this. Alison is spot on. Continue defending your perfectly reasonable and normal boundaries, and keep being awesome!

      1. fposte*

        But I like the other point, which is that it doesn’t have to be sexual to be creepy and inappropriate. Maybe he’s just seeking somebody to flatter him and hang with him and do emotional labor and really doesn’t have any sexual feelings–it doesn’t matter, because it’s still unacceptable to hunt for that at work and to bludgeon people into it.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          It’s true that it can be creepy and inappropriate without being sexual. I just don’t see a need to offer even that much consideration to the creeper in these situations. For me personally, assuming that the boundary pushing is eventually going to turn sexual, even if it hasn’t yet “gone there” is just something of a time saver. Either way, the behavior needs to be shut down and the ways to handle it don’t really change.

          Maybe it’s more that the intent doesn’t matter all that much, so far as I’m concerned? If assuming it’s eventually going to turn sexual makes it easier for a woman to summon the courage to shut it down, I think that’s fine. If she feels fine shutting it down regardless of the intent, that’s good, too.

          1. Natalie*

            I don’t think the point is to offer him any kind of consideration. But rather, LW can just short-circuit any kind of “maybe it’s platonic, maybe he wants to be a mentor” conversation whether that conversation is in her own mind, with Creepy Coworker, with her boss, with HR, or here in the comments. She doesn’t have to interrogate every interaction with him looking for sexual subtext, because his behavior is out of line regardless.

          2. LKW*

            I think the issue is the word “sexual” implies romantic intent. Whereas what this is, at least to this point in the story, is that this guy would likely NEVER say to a young man “you need to let your armor down” and “I won’t hurt you”. So the behavior runs along a division of gender. But we don’t call it “gender harassment” … yet.

      2. paul*

        I don’t think sexual even *has* to enter into it, but I’d bet that’s where it’s headed. But it’s so frigging inappropriate *anyway*.

  16. SJPxo*

    I may have misunderstood but OP did you accept the candle from this guy? And when you say that he thought you ‘seemed mad’ and he invited you for lunch and then tried to have a heart to heart there which makes it seem like you accepted that lunch invite despite trying to pull back?

    I do think if yes to both of these he may have gotten mixed messages. Not saying he’s right or anything cause he does seem creepy but you say you tried to pull back to a more professional relationship but if you then both accepted the candle and went to lunch with him again that blurred that line and he thought it ok to continue..

    Just my 2 cents..

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think there’s a message in candle receipt that would have changed anything here, and he should have realized that was a weird thing to do with a co-worker whether she accepted it or not. And now it’s a moot point, since she’s made it crystal clear he shouldn’t text her any more and he’s till trying to get her number again to do just that.

    2. Observer*

      No, she did NOT send mixed messages. She was TRYING TO BE POLITE to someone who then proceeded to use that against her.

      Keep this in mind. Once she told him that his message was totally inappropriate, he was on notice that he was NOT welcome to continue. And once she refused to give him her number AND was shutting down conversations with him, there is NO WAY he could genuinely think she was ok with it. That second request is complete proof that he pushes boundaries that he knows are there.

      Let’s stop trying to blame women for trying to be polite (and then call them all sorts of names for NOT being polite) and excusing men for crossing clearly drawn boundaries.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — especially at work, where there’s built-in pressure to be polite and not blow up the relationship, and where it can be really easy to think “well, coworkers go to lunch sometimes, so I guess that’s okay.”

      2. MuseumChick*

        I know it doesn’t work in a workplace but your post made me think of advice from one of my favorite podcasts (let’s see who can guess it!)

        The advice is: F*** Politeness.

        It surprising useful in all kinds of situations.

          1. MuseumChick*

            YES! Not going to lie, my dream is for Karen, Georgia, and Alison to do something together. They could title it “How not to get murdered at work”

      3. Turkletina*

        THANK YOU. Being polite to a coworker you need to interact with regularly isn’t sending “mixed messages”. It’s protecting yourself from worse consequences and trying to navigate a fraught professional environment (which, really, is only fraught because this guy is making it fraught).

        When I was walking downtown on Sunday and a stranger came up behind me and asked if he could talk to me, I said “no, sorry, I don’t have time right now” with a smile on my face. The smile wasn’t a mixed message, it was a defense mechanism. Same thing here.

    3. Maiasaura*

      Nah. He’s doing those things to manipulate her into feeling like she is obligated to him. It’s not her job to outsmart every creepy inappropriate gesture he makes. Having a less than perfectly planned reaction to preposterously creepy actions doesn’t send mixed messages. The whole intent of the actions is to upset and imbalance her. There’s no way someone on the end of this can handle it without “mixed messages” that a determined-enough creeper can’t ignore/dismiss.

      1. Snark*

        I love how you phrased this. It’s like guys think workplace boundaries are chess, and they just need to get that knight into position to leapfrog your queen and CHECKMATE! No, dudes. You cannot checkmate someone into emotional or physical intimacy with you.

        1. Oranges*

          This is EXACTLY how they think of it though. At least to my outside observations. Like if I can just logic you into being my girlfriend magically you’ll fix everything wrong in my life. (Like p*ssy has magical powers? I… really don’t know.) But in order for that to happen I must overcome your own wants/needs because silly woman, autonomy is only for men.

          The idea is still nebulous in my head but there’s this entire social construct of male power and everyone talks about the little things because it’s so large/insidious that it’s hard to fit into a single thought.

          1. Candi*

            But it does have magical powers! It can both completely control men into becoming good little socially-contributing drones, and lure them into the deepest and darkest of horrible sins. Often on the same women! It makes her totally responsible for his behavior, because he’s incapable of thinking for himself!

            Unless, of course, someone’s needed to run the country, the business, the club…

            /Sarcasm in spades

      2. Cassie*

        Having to outsmart them is exactly it, thank you! This sort of person speaks in code, or act like it’s a huge boardgame.

        At one of my old jobs, a international coworker started calling me a nickname that was an aggressively flirtatious term in his culture. I had no familiarity with his culture, and thought the term meant something else. When he escalated and I complained, he pointed out the term and said I “should have known” based on that.

    4. MuseumChick*

      I don’t see either as a mixed message. In my experience a small gift from a co-worker isn’t all that unusual (a woman I currently work with brings in chocolate once every 2 – 3 months and offers me some, I accept, its perfectly professional, it doesn’t mean I’m going to invite her to go get our nails done every week). Additionally, going to lunch with a co-worker is nothing outside the norm in my experience.

      The issue here is that the guy doesn’t seem to understand professional boundaries (such as, just because a co-worker accepts a lunch invite doesn’t mean they want to be BFFs)

    5. Drew*

      Can we please not blame the person being creeped on here? “I am being polite because we are coworkers” is not a mixed message – it’s a survival technique.

      LW, in addition to Alison’s fantastic advice, you may want to let your boss know that you don’t want your cell number shared with anyone, including coworkers. I can easily see this guy going to your boss and making up a sob story about how he accidentally wiped his contacts and he needs your number and can’t find it. Alternatively (or additionally), you could preemptively block HIS number.

      1. SJPxo*

        I am not blaming anyone, I just mean from the sense that often time men aren’t always going to understand things as clearly, so if she did accept the candle, and then after trying to pull back the relationship she goes to lunch with him again he’s going to see that as an OK to start it all back up again.

        Im not victim blaming, I literally am just putting a point of view across that this is my bet on how he’s seeing it and trying to rationalise it in his little creepy head…

        1. MuseumChick*

          I would like to point out that this position is pretty insulting to men. Most of the men I know completely understand professional boundaries with woman. I know its not your intent but basically what you are saying is “Oh, poor men, they just don’t have the capacity understand so woman HAVE to be super-duper careful not to lead them on!” It’s, as I said, insulting the VAST majority of good men out there and places all the blame on women like the OP who are harassed.

          1. One of the Sarahs*


            I am always surprised that as a lesbian feminist, I have a lot better opinion of men in general than a lot of people who try to defend the ones who behave badly. This idea that men are fundamentally uncontrollable beasts, with no ability to logic when they are sexually attracted to someone, is completely bizarre to me. We are not two different species!

        2. ArtsNerd*

          Yeah, boundary crossers have all kinds of rationalizations.

          In my experience, they’ll cling to them whether their target / person of interest provides cover or not. There’s no winning if you’re on the receiving end of it unless you throw out all of your social conditioning (which is hard!) and stay extremely firm on your boundaries AND get backing from someone else who the boundary-crosser will actually listen to.

          Accepting or not-accepting the candle is moot.

        3. fposte*

          He can rationalize anything he wants in his creepy little head, and it make any difference what she does with a candle or a lunch invitation.

        4. TimTamGirl*

          Well, but you just said it: he’s ‘trying to rationalise it in his creepy little head’, so there is *no way* the LW could make him see differently. He is dead set on pushing his own (gross icky disgusting wildly inappropriate never OK) agenda. He is not open to her input. ‘Mixed messages’ as a concept does not apply, because he’s not at home to any message that isn’t ‘YES PLEASE CONTINUE TO BOTHER ME DUDE I SUPER LOVE THAT’. He is going to read that into anything he can, no matter how plainly the LW indicates otherwise.

          And that is why this is a useless point to raise: it will accomplish nothing except to make the LW feel like she could/should have done something differently. And if you want to see how damaging and pervasive that mentality is, let me direct you to ritzsandwichcracker’s story above.

          I urge you to think carefully before saying similar things in the future. You are doing harm, whether or not you intend to, because you are contributing to the culture that puts the responsibility for policing the violator’s actions on the victim/survivor. We don’t need any more of that in the world.

        5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          You may not have intended to blame OP, but you are. And you just doubled down.

          It’s not OP’s job to get into his creepy head and figure out how to cut off his rationalizations. He’s already rationalized why it’s ok to boundary-cross with her, and he’s going to continue to do that regardless of what she does. She could dress in all metal armor and be rude, and he would still try to boundary-cross.

          It is not helpful to OP or anyone else in this situation to try to “explain” why a boundary-crosser will take every opportunity to boundary-cross. She obviously already gets that.

        6. Amy*

          This isn’t fair to men. The majority of men manage to figure out how to understand basic social cues and act accordingly. Adult men who are capable of functioning in the world well enough to hold down a job are pretty much universally capable of understanding clear communication like “I do not want a relationship with you outside of work”.

          There is a minority of creepy assholes who either think considering others’ needs and feelings is beneath them and they shouldn’t have to do it, or think they can get away with violating others’ boundaries without consequences if they just pretend to be clueless hard enough. This is a choice these guys make; they know this is bad behavior on some level, but they think they can get away with it, so they do it anyways. If we collectively respond to that by letting them get away with it, or by asking their victims to work around it, or even by calling them on it but letting them off easy, we’re proving them right. The only way it’s going to stop is if they start consistently suffering the full consequences of their actions.

          1. H*

            There is a great post about exactly this on the Yes Means Yes blog (that I will repost whenever it is even remotely called for). Basically, men understand soft nos (noes?) and social cues just as well as women. *Predatory* men (well, people, but mostly men) *pretend* not to understand them to accomplish a very goal of pushing past them in the way that is hardest to fish agains and prove. It’s gross.


        7. Elizabeth West*

          The thing is, with these guys, ANYTHING is an excuse to rationalize. It’s not just a candle. It’s anything. They can convince themselves someone who avoids them completely is not talking to them because they’re overwhelmed with feelings. You can literally do nothing and they’ll tell themselves whatever it takes to continue their delusion.

              1. BeautifulVoid*

                When I was in music school, we had a grad student who liked to creep on some of the undergrads, and I was one of his favorites. After a minor incident involving his conducting baton, after my friend and I had our “wtf, did that just happen?”moment, she flat-out said, “the baton is his penis, isn’t it”. Yep, probably.

                There were some discussions about whether or not he was just awkward, or a ” bumbling male”, and so on. I think I was the one who pointed out that he wasn’t so touchy feely with the male students.

          1. No, please*

            I had a client tell me how he tried to lure a woman with toothpaste. He couldn’t believe she wasn’t taking the bait! It’s a long and insane story I’ll never forget. Your comment triggered this memory and I’m still laughing to myself about it:)

            1. OlympiasEpiriot*

              He dropped bits of it on the floor for her to follow?

              Something tells me I won’t find this funny in the least.

              1. PB*

                Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I can’t begin to imagine what luring a woman with toothpaste would involve. I can’t think of any circumstances in which a story about trying to lure a woman, by any means, would be funny.

              1. No, please*

                I think I’ll keep it to myself, as much as I would like to share. Mostly because two commenters above have already decided it can’t possibly be funny even though they haven’t heard/read it yet. This is why I barely ever comment. For a group that hates bullies, there sure is a lot of bullying in the comments section (not you, not everyone). I think I’ll just read letters and skip the comments from now on. Maybe I’m too sensitive today or just not a good fit for this community.

                1. Zebra*

                  To be fair, we are discussing a letter involving a creepy man, people are relaying their similar stories, and your anecdote involved the word “lure”. We lure animals into traps, not women into relationships.

        8. Drew*

          First off, speaking AS a dude: we’re not that dumb.

          Second, whether or not the guy intends to be a creeper is completely irrelevant to how the LW feels about what he’s doing. He’s testing her boundaries and he needs to stop.

        9. Observer*

          I literally am just putting a point of view across that this is my bet on how he’s seeing it and trying to rationalise it in his little creepy head…

          If he’s that stupid he needs to be fired stat, because he’s dangerous.

          Again: HE SENT HER A MESSAGE THAT’S COMPLETELY OUT OF THE BOUNDS OF A WORK RELATIONSHIP – even one in which people take lunch together. THEN she told him to bug off, quite clearly Yet he is STILL pressuring her to give him her number!

          There is absolutely NOTHING in this sequence of events that can possibly be a justification for him to pursue this line of behavior. And trying to claim that there is, is SO useless that it doesn’t matter whether you intend to be victim blaming or not – questioning the behavior of someone who is being victimized, even though their behavior has nothing to do with the problem is a garbage thing to do.

        10. AKchic*

          Honestly, it is time to stop with this “men aren’t always going to understand things as clearly” trope. Men understand things just fine. Some men (and women) happily feign emotional/mental ignorance in order to continue getting away with poor behavior because it suits them. They pretend to be emotionally stunted manchild (or womanchild) things in order to not be called to the carpet because the behavior falls under “boys will be boys”, or “well, he’s a guy”, or even “social anxiety” in some cases.

          No. Unless you have a diagnosable issue (and even then, there’s debate), a human being of any gender can learn social cues and figure out acceptable boundaries and learn to accept a “no” and understand when they are acting like a creeper.
          Just because a creeper can rationalize away their behavior doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t creepy. It just means that the creeper is good at rationalizing their behavior to themselves. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing, we all know this. It doesn’t mean the LW has to put up with it or allow the behaviors to continue.

        11. mrs__peel*

          “often time men aren’t always going to understand things as clearly”

          I have to call BS on that. Some creepy men *pretend* they don’t understand social and workplace conventions because they prefer to keep creeping on people. But they DO know better. They do.

          1. Mananana*

            If you were responding to AKchic, I think you mis-read. She said “Honestly, it is time to stop with this ‘men aren’t always going to understand things as clearly’ trope.” So you’re agreeing on the thing you are calling BS on….

            1. AKchic*

              I thought mrs__peel was responding to the very same comment I was, and was quoting the same thing I was, therefore reinforcing what I (and others) have said. It’s just coincidence that we commented in the same way.

        12. Candi*

          They will if they’re taught properly. Sometimes their parents do it (waves), but sometimes these guys have to learn out in the field, frequently the hard way.

          A hard no is a hard no. Period. I used “no” on one- to two-year-olds when I was working daycare. They didn’t comprehend all the ins and outs, but they understood that Teacher was Unhappy. And often stopped the behavior.

        13. MamaSarah*

          I appreciate your POV, SJPxo. While we all deserve a healthy and safe work environment, I did wonder how many lunch “dates” were accepted and to what extent the LW engaged in the relationship. I am a big fan of personal/radical responsibility.

          1. Kismet*

            Interesting that you seem to only be into “personal/radical responsibility” for the woman involved, and not the creepy older man. Does he have no responsibility to back off when told to back off, respect others’ boundaries, or even check to see if his advances are really welcome?

          2. MuseumChick*

            So it’s her fault she’s being harassed? Or do we need to know what she was wearing before we make that call? #sarcasm

          3. AnonEMoose*

            Wow. Way to blame the victim. A lunch with a coworker is not, by default, a date, and the OP is not to blame for assuming that the lunches were not just lunch with a coworker. If the creeper intended it to be a “date,” then it’s on him to make that intention clear. Why is all that radical responsibility on her and not on him?

    6. Anlyn*

      She gave him a clear “I want to keep this relationship professional”. There are no mixed messages here, and if he thinks there are, he’s being obtuse.

    7. Snark*

      See my rant above, particularly the part where one should not take the target’s plastic smile and attempts to do emotional labor to defuse the awkwardness the guy created as an indication that she wants him to cross the boundary.

    8. PHDInerd*

      It was inappropriate of him to give her a candle regardless of whether she accepted given her past boundary settings. Also you have to recognize that women have been socialized to “be nice” and its generally socially considered rude to refuse a gift, no matter who the giver is. So him giving her a gift was further perpetuating a power dynamic in the situation. So please don’t victim blame whether she accepted the gift or not.

    9. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      I go to lunch with many of my coworkers. That is not an invitation for them to text me outside of work about how they would never hurt me or with other personal diatribes.

      I accept Solstice gifts and birthday gifts from my coworkers. That is not an invitation for them to ignore requests to stop asking personal questions and hassle me about not having my phone number.

      She told him to stop. He hasn’t. This is completely on him and not on her. There are no blurred lines because of normal work niceties / actions taken because of fear of retaliation.

      Out of curiosity, if she had turned down the candle and the lunch and wrote in instead about that and how he had blown up at her and is now torpedoing her career, refusing to work with her on projects, would you be asking why she didn’t just “do the polite thing” and accept the candle and go to lunch? (Your gut instinct will be to respond “OF COURSE NOT!” but I am asking you to really think about it before answering.)

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Exactly, once somebody gets creepy there’s actually no way out for OP; either blow up the relationship when you refuse abruptly, or be accused of encouraging it if you try to let him down more easy.

    10. SJPxo*

      Like I wrote in a sub comment above, i’m not victim blaming i’m just trying to put it out there that this guy is probably like “oh well she accepted the candle” and then after OP tried to pull back on the relationship and he invited her to lunch and she accepted he’s again thinking “this is fine”
      I think that is probably how this creep would be trying to rationalise and excuse his behavior to himself. This is obviously info relating to before she said she wants a purely work interactions with him!
      After she was very clear and she said no and he carried out that’s next level weird, but I think if she did he probably took that as cues that all is ok (when its clearly not ok)

      1. Snark*

        And you’re missing the point of all the responses: he doesn’t think “oh well she accepted the candle.” He’s not stupid. He’s using the candle, and the lunches, and the forced emotional intimacy, to try to outmaneuver her, to checkmate her objections. It’s not like he honestly thinks he’s got an in because she accepted the candle, he’s using the candle to set up a dynamic where shutting him down hard would be awkward and cause feels and drama, and because he knows she wants to avoid all that.

        1. fposte*

          And it’s a moot point because giving her the freaking candle in the first place was sufficiently over the line to tell somebody about.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Do you really think he’s this stupid? Or that OP is this naive? OP sent no cues that his behavior was ok. She didn’t send mixed messages. She is not required to hack his creepy little brain, which will bend all situations in favor of rationalizing or justifying his creepiness.

        I rarely do this, but I want to strongly urge you to take a step back and really think about what you’re saying and doing by these comments. The explanation you’ve given is literally the explanation abusers give for why it’s ok to continue to abuse their victim. That does not change the fact that the abuser is leveraging power dynamics to transgress boundaries. The same principles apply here, and by suggesting OP sent mixed signals, you are effectively blaming her for the bad behavior of her coworker.

      3. MuseumChick*

        Again, the position you are taking here is horribly insulting to men. Your basically saying they are to stupid to understand professional boundaries so all the responsibility for harassment falls on their female victims because, hey, men just don’t understand so you should know not to do normal things like go to lunch with a co-worker.

      4. Sutemi*

        Does he do this to other co-workers? The ones who aren’t younger and female, the ones above him in the org chart?
        He clearly has enough emotional intelligence to not be inappropriate towards powerful male colleagues, why do you think he cannot apply it to all his colleagues?

      5. Agnodike*

        1. Regardless of how you intend it, saying or implying that someone is the target of harassment as a direct result of their own actions is the very definition of victim-blaming. You are victim-blaming. If you don’t want to be perceived as victim-blaming, don’t say things that call into question the role that someone played in their own harassment.

        2. What is the point of what you’re saying here? Why is it helpful to understand the inner workings of a creep’s mind? The letter-writer behaved reasonably. Accepting a small friendly gift is reasonable. Accepting a lunch invitation is reasonable. Should she stop having reasonable interactions with colleagues just in case one turns out to be a boundary-crossing creep? It doesn’t matter if he thinks that accepting a candle means she’s madly in love with him or that she is a lizard person from outer space and asking her to let her guard down is the only way to get past her shields and destroy her before she invades Earth; he’s not responding appropriately to her reasonable behaviour, and that’s 100% on him and not on her.

      6. Katherine*

        This man was told explicitly that the OP does not want to be friends, was turned down MORE THAN ONCE when asked for her number, and has been told his behavior was “incredibly appropriate.” And you want to give him the benefit of the doubt because not turning down a gift is a mixed message. You are being outrageously unfair to the OP here. She provided NUMEROUS examples of times when she was clear and unambiguous. There is no way this guy does not know what he’s doing. People don’t ignore clearly and repeatedly stated boundaries to cherry-pick ambiguous non-verbal cues that conveniently encourage them to continue in creepy behavior *by accident.* It would be like if I said “well, my coworker told me not to eat any of her lunch, but then she left it out on her desk when it was right in my line of vision, so she must have changed her mind. So I ate it.”

        I do not understand why you keep doubling down on this point. Now you’re saying “this is how he rationalizes it.” And? Who the fuck cares why/how he rationalizes inappropriate behavior that he’s been told to stop more than once? Why even imply that the OP did something wrong here?

    11. OlympiasEpiriot*

      This comment and your comments below are disingenuous in that the

      [n]ot saying he’s right or anything cause he does seem creepy but you say you tried to pull back to a more professional relationship but if you then both accepted the candle and went to lunch with him again that blurred that line and he thought it ok to continue.

      part reads like a papering over of distinct victim-shaming/blaming.

      She should have the same right to a friendly relationship with a coworker as males of her age and station, especially the more senior people who may be in a good position to mentor and sponsor in the workplace. How do you think networking works? Why should women have to select themselves out of networking? Why should women have to worry about creeps before worrying about their careers?

      If you are about to write “Well, that’s the way the world is and she needs to know that men are all potentially trash”, then (a) you are still telling her that she has to limit her professional life to stay safe and (b) you REALLY think very little of men.

      1. Observer*

        I suspect that they don’t think that anyone of her age and station (ie young female) really does have a right to a purely professional friendship with co-workers.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*


          She is a Young Female instead of Junior Copywriter, Engineer Grade I, Medical Resident, Apprentice Mechanic, Cub Reporter, etc. etc. f’ing etc.

    12. Detective Amy Santiago*

      So here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how the OP reacts because this dude has put her in a no win situation and he knows damn well that’s exactly what he’s doing.

      If she refused to accept the candle, he’d retort “I’m just trying to be nice! Why are you being so rude? It’s a GIFT.”

      Women have been socialized for decades to be polite and men like this rely on that socialization to push boundaries like this.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Agreed. I’ve shared this so many times, including with a coworker who said he would never text a female employee (about a purely scheduling/work question) “in this climate” and then was surprised to see my hair turn to snakes of flame and blood pouring from my eyes.

  17. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I think every time I see someone go “But how do I interact with women now?!” I’m going to link them to this post and say “Not like this.”

    1. Snark*

      That’s such a bullshit thing to say. It’s like….dude, just interact with them like people. Interact with them like you would someone whose pants you don’t want to get into. Interact with them like another dude you don’t know especially well. This is not rocket surgery. There’s no land mines.

      1. boop the first*

        Right? Sometimes I wonder about guys who think being inappropriately touched by random men to be “no big deal” and what they imagine their equivalent to be? Like, perhaps they always imagine being hit on by beautiful women? I wonder if they’d feel the same way if they imagined it was a rather large and looming fellow man instead?

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah, people don’t get that when it comes from a higher-up guy it’s rarely a compliment / attraction thing – it’s usually more of a power thing. They want to see you squirm and know you can’t escape them. It’s really not that flattering. Sometimes it’s also from a deluded person but it’s rarely from a person you actually want to like you.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I really want to say to heterosexual guys – “If a gay guy said it to you, would it make you uncomfortable? If yes, then don’t say it to a woman.”

          1. Oranges*

            Yes! I you’re a male and are uncomfortable with “the gays” because what if they hit on you… think about what you’re saying. You’re uncomfortable getting an unwanted advance from an equal. Then think about what happens if you’re in a less powerful position. Congrats and welcome to what 50% of the world goes through!

            1. AKchic*

              I use the “would you want a big burly biker-looking guy in prison to say this to you?” If something doesn’t pass the prison power dynamic sniff test – it’s going to be inappropriate.

          2. Lissa*

            Yeah I’ve heard arguments not to use that type of line before because it can promote homophobia but I honestly think for some of these guys it really does help them to get it a bit. I have used “Would you do this with a guy?” before, because so many of these interactions…like, I feel they are coded as sexual not because it’s overt, it often isn’t. But because you KNOW he would never send something similar to a guy. He’d never tell a guy “let down your armor, I won’t hurt you.” Just wouldn’t happen.

            1. Natalie*

              I don’t think the thought exercise has to lean on homophobia because the distinction should be “people you don’t/can’t have sexual feelings for”, rather than “ick, gay men!” For a hetero man, other men are in that “no sexual feelings” category, so if you wouldn’t say it to your friend Paul, you shouldn’t say it to your friend Paulette, either. But you could use family members – cousins, aunts and uncles – for a similar thought exercise as well.

            2. Emi.*

              Any related homophobia is rooted in the fact that these men, deep down, do understand that what they’re doing is weird and wrong. When men say “I don’t see anything wrong with this behavior” they don’t really mean “I don’t think this is creepy.” They mean “I don’t mind creepiness as long as the target is female.”

          3. Trout 'Waver*

            I get the sentiment, but I think most non-homophobic guys have a much higher threshold for feeling uncomfortable than most women, given the history and other stuff. I know I’ve gotten some lines that I found humorous or complimentary that I would never in a million years say myself.

            There’s also the frequency aspect to it. As a straight dude, I get hit on once a year, at most, by a gay guy. It’s easy to take it as a compliment and say, “Thanks, but no thanks” when it happens that infrequently.

            1. Myrin*

              Yeah, I have to agree (although that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot saying it anyway), and I really feel like frequency is a huge factor in that.

              I’m a woman but for some reason, there seems to be something in my aura/DNA/looks/the water I drink which makes me basically a non-target for advances, unwanted or otherwise. I’m 26 and I’ve been creepily hit on four times in my life (once by a woman) and non-creepily three times. And whenever there’s a discussion of sexual harrassment or the fear inherent in being a woman, it’s something I can understand logically and in my head and also because I am still a woman growing up in a world with our history but in my deepest heart of hearts, I can’t understand because I don’t share the experience. And, again, I am a woman, so I’d imagine it would be tenfold as foreign for someone who isn’t.

        3. Candi*

          According to media, it is a sign of status to be hit on by beautiful women, and the man should always be ready to go to bed with them. /snark

          If a man stalks a woman, it’s a horror movie. If a woman stalks a man, it’s likely a romcom. He should be proud she’s interested in hiim! Dis-gust-ing.

          I have a bit of a beef with representing men as creatures who lose control of their zucchini the minute too much thigh is shown. It’s both insulting to the fact that men are reasoning creatures, and allows far too many excuses in pardoning frankly nasty behavior.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Totally agreed that it’s bullshit. For some reason, millions of people are able to go to work and not treat their coworkers unprofessionally. It is truly not that hard.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Right? My male coworker was saying that crap and I was like “if you wouldn’t say it to a dude friend, don’t say it to a woman” and “all women are different so PAY ATTENTION to how they react and actually LISTEN to them”. It’s really not that hard.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      It’s so fascinating to me that men who ask this question think it’s an absolutely reasonable response that the expectations should be changed because they lack the skills to navigate their workplace or society equitably. Like, I’m not sure a dude like this has ever thought, “Wow, I literally have no idea how to interact with with women in a non-predatory manner. Maybe I should take a sabbatical from leadership and decision-making and figure that out.”

      1. mrs__peel*

        ^^^^ This!!

        If a guy actually IS that dumb or incompetent, why is that *my* problem? Or the problem of my female co-workers? There are plenty of competent people out there who do respect social norms and who can do his job perfectly well.

  18. Knitting Cat Lady*

    So, I tried to post a link. I think it got caught in the spam filter.

    Anyway, there is an interesting article called ‘The myth of the male bumbler’. I suggest LW reads it. And everyone else, for that matter.

    1. Observer*

      I read it. Some good points there, but also somewhat over-drawn.

      One things I REALLY agreed on, though, was the idea that somehow men can get away with being given all sorts of responsibility while getting a pass on “not realizing” and that makes absolutely zero sense. Stopping that would go a LONG way to stopping abuse.

      1. Liz T*

        Thank you! This is fascinating and should be required (perhaps in less academic form) in all health classes.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I read it, and second the recommendation. I am 50, for goodness’ sake, and I still keep encountering the male bumblers in my life. “But I thought you wanted it?” “But I just wanted to get to know you better?” “But I thought she liked it when I followed her around for two days, I am not understanding why she complained to you?” You can literally tell these guys to their face “NO” and “I’m not interested” and “this is not happening” (all real things that I said) and they would still be “How was I supposed to know? I am not a mind-reader”. Oh get the F out, dude. We are on to your ridiculous game.

  19. Naruto*

    I think you need to report this to HR (or your manager or both). If he doesn’t take the hint, if he’s a problem for other women… they need to know. And, if he starts sabotaging you at work in retaliation, you want this record established in advance so it’s clear what is going on.

  20. CS*

    Like others I agree that LW handled this very well! That gut feeling of being uncomfortable is always the best sign for me that something doesn’t feel right. I hate that people (especially women) have to second guess themselves on reporting these things because they fear it will hurt their career or make the workplace awkward for everyone else, because in the perfect world it shouldn’t. I hope more HR departments and workplaces make it clear that the victim will be supported.

  21. Sloan Kittering*

    Something almost identical happened to me at my first job, when I was 20. The guy was so old – at least 60 – that I didn’t think about it the way I would have done if a younger guy had crept up on me like that … I just kept thinking he was being grandfatherly or something. It got worse and worse (expensive gifts left at my house, etc – how did he get the address?) and when I pissed him off by repeatedly declining his advances, he sent me this terrible screed via email about what a monster I was. Clearly he was unhinged. I replied something like “glad we worked it out” and begged my manager to change my shift so we didn’t work together again. Luckily, she did but now that I’m older I realize I should have told more people the issue. He probably went right on to the next young girl and did it to her.

  22. boop the first*

    The “deleted your phone number” just rings Nice Guy to me. Ugh! “Nice Guys” always seem to take a perfectly calm request and turn it around by being weirdly dramatic to try to make you think that you’re causing such a horrible inconvenience for him. Maybe he expected you to backpedal immediately out of guilt…

    I had one much older coworker try similar dramatics on me, but when it didn’t work, he ended up encouraging the spread of rumors that we were, in fact, dating. No one would believe a story from a teenage girl, which meant that my employers no longer believed anything I said and I actually lost professional credibility over the whole thing.

    I take a good chunk of blame for being a confusing kid at the time (I was a huggy type for a while), but after a concise and specific “no”, that should really be the end of it and I expect grown-ass men to get the hell over it. This is what happens when you don’t try to get ahead of it before creepy rumors start flying.

  23. K, Esq.*

    OP told colleague she wants to be work friends. Work friends say things like “What are you up to this weekend?” OP should be clear she does not want to be work friends and wants to keep it strictly professional.

    1. Snark*

      Do work friends text each other outside work hours demanding that they let down their emotional armor and buy candles for each other? Do work friends typically feel the need to assure each other they will never hurt each other? Do work friends typically need to say “I will never hurt you?”

      No, no, and no. You are so far off base you’re buying beer and hot dogs in the stands.

      1. K, Esq.*

        Nope. She told him she wanted to be work friends after those things happened. Since she told him that, he’s said things “that from anyone else would be normal.”

        1. SallytooShort*

          And she isn’t saying she wants him to stop him from speaking to her. She is saying she is concerned about escalation again.

        2. Snark*

          Oh, silly me, I forgot entirely that those are the magic freakin’ words that completely erase his entire history of creepy and progressively more intrusive attempts to engender emotional intimacy with a woman young enough to be his daughter! That makes it okay to continue doing that. She needs to use the right magic words next time, I guess.

          From anyone else, that might be normal, but he’s not anyone else, he’s the creeper. Protip: if a person you’ve been attempting to get close to at work ever says anything like “I’d like to just be work friends,” they ARE telling you they want things to be strictly professional, with a veneer of collegial pleasantness, and they’re also telling you that you crossed a line you shouldn’t come within miles of going forward.

          1. OP*

            Snark, you are giving me life through these comments. Glad to have you in my corner, even if it’s just through AAM comments! <3

          2. K, Esq.*

            OP asked if she should tell him she wants it to be strictly professional. I think the answer to that question is yes. Telling someone you want to be work friends is different than telling them you want a strictly professional relationship. If he asks OP if she has weekend plans, that’s a perfect opportunity to say she doesn’t want to share and he’s making her uncomfortable. Telling her manager/HR/whoever that colleague was previously inappropriate is also a good step so that if the situation does escalate there’s documentation. But the anxiety surrounding potential future interactions is getting in the way of actual work-related conversations and that is a problem because OP says she needs this colleague’s expertise fairly often.

            1. AKchic*

              Coworkers can ask about weekend plans in a general fashion. However, after his previous behavior, I’d be questioning his motives too.
              I’d keep my answers vague. “Stuff and things”. “Shaving temporarily embarrassed poodles.” “Volunteering at the nonya farm.”

        3. Purplesaurus*

          The subtext in this being that OP is to blame for continued boundary crossing. OP already told him to stop, but did she say it in a bold font with increased text size so he could read it more easily? Did she, the victim, make every effort of clarity on her part to accommodate this boundary-crossing coworker? Because if not, well, there’s your problem. Obvs.

          1. an infinite number of monkeys*

            Exactly. OP’s doing an intricately choreographed dance of avoidance, politeness, and carefully enforcing appropriate boundaries; this is like criticizing her footwork while ignoring the three-ton rhinoceros stomping all over in Frankenstein boots.

      2. Big Fat Meanie*

        If someone sent me texts like that and I said “I just wanna be work friends” it’s probably because it sounds better than “please never speak to me again.” And when you make an advance on someone that ends up making them feel uncomfortable, you don’t immediately get to be besties with them, you dial things way back until you earn their trust.

        1. Oranges*

          As a lesbian who has hit on straight women. Hells to the yes. If I do hit on you and you turn me down, I’ll give you some space before trying to initiate any sort of non-romantic relationship. Because I know the fear of “I just turned down someone. Are they gonna be weird about it and try to get into my pants anyways even after I told them no”.

          It’s a way to reassure the other person so that there is the possibility of a friendship/work relationship/coffee cohort which is only possible because you respected their “no”.

          1. Oranges*

            *hit on women who I thought were gay/bi/+ OR I didn’t have enough data at the time to know one way or the other.

          2. Big Fat Meanie*

            I often keep someone at arm’s length for a long time after I’ve turned them down for that reason. I’m always worried some guy is either going to eventually go off on me for letting him get close when there’s no chance for him to get what he really wants, or he’ll expect that by being friends he has another chance to try a new angle in 6-12 months.

            1. Oranges*

              Yep. It sucks to be turned down but if I behave like a decent human being I can probably still have a friendship with that person. All relationships are opt-in, otherwise you’ve got a whole different (and probably illegal) kettle of fish.

              Thankfully most people have been awesome about turning me down.

      3. Nea*

        You are so far off base you’re buying beer and hot dogs in the stands.

        Snark, your comments are always a delight to read.

    2. SallytooShort*

      She’s just concerned that those ostensibly work appropriate things will eventually lead to boundary crossing, which has happened twice.

      That’s why she should document past behavior so if it does escalate she has a clear pattern established.

    3. MashaKasha*

      She said that, *as opposed to everything he’d done and said before*, she’d like to be “just work friends”. I read this the same way as when someone you’ve had a date or two with, tells you “we should just be friends”. This person does not mean “let’s hang out on evenings and weekends and meet each other’s family and take vacations together and, if one of us gets married, the other will be in their wedding party”. It’s a polite way of saying “this is not working, we are not dating anymore, have a fun life”.

      Even if he was not familiar with the usage, he could have understood it from the context in which it was said. Hell, I bet he DID understand it. He just thought “work friends” was a great excuse for him to PRETEND he did not understand it that he was asked to stop.

    4. mrs__peel*

      She was *ALREADY* perfectly clear, and he ignored her. He knew better, but chose to continue being inappropriate anyway.

  24. Secretary*

    Even if you don’t take this to HR or your manager and he never bothers you again, documenting stuff like this can actually help with the anxiety. I would just do it for your own sake, because it helps you to not second guess yourself and what you experienced.

  25. Orlando*

    OP, is your coworker Littlefinger? “Let your armor down” and “I would never hurt you”… seriously.

  26. Junior Dev*

    One thing I want more people to realize is that harassment doesn’t need to fit a stereotype of “man expresses unwanted attraction to woman” to be harassment. In my case I’ve had a lot of bullying directed at me that included inappropriate sex-related statements. In OP’s case there’s no overt reference to sex but it’s still inappropriate behavior over a long period of time. Both are harassment (and I’m not a lawyer so I don’t mean this in a legal sense, but in terms of how they should be understood and treated in the workplace).

  27. Traveling Teacher*

    OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this. Truly, I wish you the best and that Creeper will leave you alone and that you will be heard if/when you take this up the ladder.

    For my two cents: this is absolutely not normal, not okay, and you’re doing everything right, especially given the circumstances. I’m really impressed that you have drawn firm lines in the sand and are sticking to them!

  28. Shiara*


    Just because I am not interested in a closer relationship with you/hanging out after work/chatting at all hours/engaging in smalltalk while on a deadline/baring my soul to your curiosity/spilling my guts in your ever-listening ear/crying on your sympathetic shoulder, does not mean I am mad/upset.

    Or I wasn’t. Originally. I am now because you won’t just let it goooooooooooooooooooooooo.

    Sorry, that part of the OP just struck a little close to home.

  29. Lady Phoenix*

    Captain Awkward just covered a letter like this too!

    Blech, if they want conpanionship, they can go online. At work, I want to work — not be your pet.

  30. Gandalf the Nude*

    Adding to the applause for you clearly telling him to back off, OP. If you want to be even clearer about it, though, and if you’ve actually been using the words “work friends” when you talk to this guy, I’d suggest changing that language. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s hearing “work friends” as “friends who just happen to work together,” or at least using that interpretation as his shiny veneer of plausible deniability. At this point, it doesn’t seem like you’re even your interpretation of work friends. But it’s so open to interpretation, that it would be easy for him to use it as a cover. You say you just want to be work friends, and he might say he’s just doing what friends do. And for the purely professional relationship you want with this guy, you don’t want to be any kind of friends.

  31. kas*

    You’ve done well setting boundaries (even though he chooses to ignore them). I wish I could’ve done the same a few years ago. I had a job in college and three male coworkers behaved like this with me. One was much, much older and he constantly asked me out for drinks and would make comments about us getting to know each other and how we could be more than friends. Another one was more aggressive and would corner me and grab me when no one was looking – I would shove him every time. The other one, we had mutual friends so I gave in and hung out with him once and he tried to take things further so I left right away and tried to ignore his texts after.

    I didn’t report any of this because I didn’t want to make things awkward/uncomfortable. I needed them to do my job so I kept quiet. Same thing happened at my next job after that with a man probably twice my age, still didn’t report it. If it were to happen again I would put a stop to it immediately, something I wish I did before.

    Document everything, you may end up needing it.

  32. BadPlanning*

    OP, this had enough similarities to a proto stalker at my job that I had to take a break from reading.

    When it started to get weird, I told my manager that I didn’t need help yet, but the coworker was being pushy friendly and making me uncomfortable and I wanted to give him a heads up in case things didn’t resolve.

    I had told coworker to stop (literally, I told him we could be work friends, but not friends outside of work. He was not to call me on my personal number anymore).

    Then coworker stepped over the line to straight up creepy (late night phone calls demanding lunch, gifts left at my desk, and more) so I was able to tell my manager, I need help now. Fortunately, my manager immediately saw the actions as inappropriate as well and talked to my coworker.

    Coworker stopped bothering me, but it did eat at me. I was surprisingly relieved when coworker was let go later.

    I mentioned this in an earlier comment, but documenting everything actually helped me keep things in perspective and not downplay it.

  33. Lissa*

    Ohmy freaking god that text, it combines two wretched things that no man should be saying to a woman especially not a freaking *coworker*. The first, can older guys stop trying to “instruct” young women to do things like let down their armor, let their friends help them, don’t be so guarded etc.? I used to get this a ton frome creepy dudes when I was younger, it’s so transparent and icky as hell.

    The second is of course the “I would never hurt you”, like …. WTF does this guy think is happening here?! I feel like he’s invented/dreamed up a nonexistent relationship and when you respond differently than what he has envisioned he needs to “fix” it, oh and also the fact that you aren’t responding how he wants is totally just you misunderstanding his good intentions, but if you just knew he “would never hurt you” you’d definitely want to hang out all the time! Ew no.

    This guy just feels too, too familiar to me.

    1. donna*

      Agree that the guy is completely wrong but can we stop bringing age in as a factor. Most places age discrimination is wrong.

      1. Lissa*

        Hmm, I really can’t agree me pointing out the common demographic here is discriminatory. I’m noting a dynamic where it’s very common for older guys to go after young women in these specific situations, and I think just as we can say it’s not sexist to note it’s guys who do this, it’s not ageist to note that there’s a particular type of this behavior that seems to play out when there’s a big age difference. Same age harassment occurs too but often has a different “flavor” .

        1. donna*

          1) Do you think that the behavior is wrong or it is wrong because it is an old guy? Would it still be wrong from a young guy, an old woman? Surely we should concentrate on the behavior.
          2) Do we send the message that it is ok to judge based on age, gender or other factors.

          1. Lissa*

            1) Sure, it would still be wrong if it was from a young guy, but I think calling out patterns and dynamics is important, like how we specifically are calling out powerful *men* for the pattern of sexual harassment.
            2) I don’t consider bringing up the fact that some patterns keep coming up to be sending that message, personally.

        2. AKchic*

          There are many reasons why a lot of older perpetrators go after younger victims.

          1) Because younger victims are more naïve and easier to manipulate.
          2) Because this is the perpetrator’s preferred type. Everyone has a “type”.
          3) Power imbalance in their favor (which coincides with item 1).
          4) Status. For older men (and women) it is a badge of virility (and honor) to have a nubile young woman (or man) on his (or her) arm. We see this played out time and time again in the public arena.
          5) Denial. Yes, denial. By continuing to “chase” younger victims (or in their minds, potential partners), they can deny their own aging. As long as they keep going for younger partners, who are showing interest in them (whether they actually are showing interest, or if its cognitive dissonance kicking in is moot), then they can say “I still got it!” and pretend they aren’t as old as the DMV says they are.

          However, most of the time, the age disparity happens because the perpetrator is looking for a power vacuum so they can control the situation. They want younger victims so they can manipulate and play out their fantasy longer, or try to actually get the end result (dating in most cases).

        1. donna*

          In many of the cases people are not discussing the role of age difference. They are simply using the trope of “creepy old guy” as a slur for old being a synonym for unattractive. His behavior is wrong but is necessary to concentrate on physical attributes rather than behavior?

          1. TL -*

            They’re calling him a creepy old guy because…he’s creepy, old, and a guy. Nobody has commented on his looks. Creepy men aren’t attractive because creepy behavior is a turn off, not because they’re ugly.

            1. jibe*

              So you would be happy also with someone casually using over-emotional woman or blonde girl as a stereotype for example? By using creepy old guy you lose credibility to challenge someone using terms you might find less palatable.

          2. AnonEMoose*

            “Old” does not necessarily equal “unattractive.” I for one find some older men very attractive. Sir Patrick Stewart, for one – but even some men I know in real life. My DH is a bit over a decade older than I am.

            But there is a specific dynamic that is happening in this letter, and according to more than one person commenting here has happened to them personally (and it has happened to me, too) that involves an older, generally higher status man creeping on a younger woman. And it’s about power dynamics, and status, and all those other things an earlier poster mentioned. It’s not just about the specific behavior; it’s about the pattern and the dynamic, as well. In this case, the age is relevant.

            Because the same behavior from a guy closer to the woman’s age doesn’t read quite the same way. Still creepy and wrong, but it isn’t quite the same thing. I’ve been creeped on by guys closer to my age, and by older men in a somewhat similar way to the OP, and it really isn’t the same.

      2. Former Employee*

        Age discrimination is something that applies to employers, not to coworkers. I think the guy is using his age as a way to get over on the OP. As in: I’m just this friendly old guy, so harmless, why would a young woman not want to be my “friend”? Ugh!

        1. donna*

          Ok thanks I used the wrong term. I think I meant ageism. It might not have legal meaning but it is still unpleasant.

        2. AKchic*

          Yes. OP said the guy was in his 60’s and she was in her 20’s. He could easily be her late-life father or her grandfather. The “older quirky gentleman taking a young, naïve girl under his wing” thing gets old. Or the “grandfatherly old man” routine.

          I work with a wonderful magician who is in his 60’s. Part of our shtick is to flirt with each other. On stage. Why? Because my character is a wench. My job is to flirt with everyone. Plus, I pull foam “balls” out of different places and well – it devolves from there. Any kids that get the innuendos – that’s on the parents, not us. We don’t tell the dirtier jokes or do the more obviously risqué bits in front of kids, but there are some tamer things that still have slight innuendo.
          However – off stage? Nope. Paragon of propriety. Unless I knot my corset laces and need help. Then we devolve into helpless giggles and bad jokes. Because it’s just too funny. Otherwise though – total friends and no creepiness. Men know the difference. Some purposely milk the “harmless old man” routine. My uncle is loving the balding, gray head and false teeth because now he feels he can say whatever he wants. I point out that he’s been divorced twice, single and lives in his mother’s house, so obviously he’s failed somewhere.

      3. mrs__peel*

        Disagree in this instance. Age is very relevant to power dynamics in the workplace (e.g., if the harasser has more seniority and the potential ability to affect a younger employee’s career).

        And this particular dynamic (older-man-gives-patronizing-life-advice-to-younger-woman-he-has-probable-romantic-interest-in) is very common in harassment situations. It’s a particular flavor of gross. So it sounds like age is probably a relevant factor to mention here.

        1. Lissa*

          Yes, thank you! It’s the “patronizing life advice” part that I think is correlated with age, not the creepiness. Anyone of any age can be creepy.

  34. Louise*

    If you’re feeling weird about reporting it, another way to think about it is in terms of protecting other women that you work with. If this is happening to you, who knows how many other women it has happened/will happen to. You’ve done a stellar job in setting those boundaries, but there might be other women who aren’t as comfortable or as skilled in that—I sure know I would have a hard time with that. You could be saving a lot of other people pain by starting the paper trail on his icky behavior, or, who knows, maybe there already is one going and this will be evidence of a pattern of icky behavior.

    This isn’t to say that everyone who is harassed and doesn’t report is doing something wrong. We all do what we need to to stay safe, but if you’re comfortable reporting and just aren’t sure it’s “bad enough,” this might be a helpful way to frame it for yourself.

  35. Bobstinacy*

    LW you’re handling this really well, I know it doesn’t feel like it but really you are.

    Please mention something to your boss, even just an informal sit down where you can say “X has been happening and I’ve tried to shut it down but it’s not working, what do you think the next step should be?”

    In the meantime if Creepy McPushypants tries to hector you at work about your number etc. I’ve been using some variation of the phrase “Don’t make this weird” lately with great success.

    Call ’em creepy they get mad, inappropriate they get defensive, use “I” statements and you’re too emotional. Weird seems to throw them off. I used this at my last job where the customer base was 90% men over the age of 50 and I was the only woman in the building most days.

    ” You have a nice figure, very womanly”
    ” That’s a weird thing to say”
    ” I just meant that you’re very beautiful!”
    ” Mmm, getting weirder”
    ” No, but…”
    ” C’mon man, don’t make it weird.”

    Delivered in the same friendly tone that you’d use to tell your friend of a wardrobe malfunction, because of course you’re not looking to be weird, are you?

  36. Mananana*

    OP, you handled this whole bucket o’ inappropriateness with an enormous amount of skill and maturity. In my early 20s I would have NEVER been able to react so professionally. Heck, I’m 52 and have been working since I was 18 — still not sure if I would handle a similar situation so masterfully. You should be proud of yourself.

    (And do what Allison and many others have suggested: report it to HR or your manager. We’re pulling for you.)

  37. Agnes*

    I have a close friend (male) who is genuinely somewhat socially awkward, and sometimes crosses boundaries. He comes from a family that is super extroverted and lived in the same community forever, and he sometimes forgets that, no, not everyone in the world is your close friend, the way it was in your childhood. I can totally imagine him giving a gift to an officemate who didn’t think they were close. But here’s the thing – he would also do that to a boss, a man, an older woman – anyone who he’s chatted with. And the few times he has been told to back off, he’s always been super-embarrassed and immediately done so.

    1. OP*

      I remember reading a post/comment thread on here once about social awkwardness vs predatory behavior. Socially awkward people tend to back off and feel embarrassed whenever they’re called out. Predatory people double down – which is what my colleague is doing. I don’t think you were defending the guy I work with but still wanted to point out that distinction.

        1. Lady Phoenix*

          And OP’s point is that her coworker is not one and even if he was, his behavior is not ok. What are you trying to say?

          1. MashaKasha*

            She is saying the same thing most of us are – that he knows damn well what he is doing, and knows that his behavior is not ok. at least that’s the way I saw it.

          2. diane*

            Whats with the bad attitude? Just read the post. It is not difficult to understand what agnes is saying. Your post is most unkind.

  38. Akcipitrokulo*

    He’s almost certainly grooming you. He’s creepy as anything and just reading about his behaviour is making my skin crawl!

    You have handled it wonderfully so far. Now it’s time to tell someone.

    You may also be protecting someone else who isn’t able to protect their boundaries as well.

  39. Not Nice*

    Yes, good for you OP. I had a similar situation at church a couple of years ago. An older man would frequently chat with me, request to friend me on social media, leave voicemails complimenting me, call me nicknames, ask me to dinner. None of it was technically inappropriate, but it made me feel uncomfortable. I never responded to his messages and I tried to convey with my body language that he made me uncomfortable, but he didn’t or wouldn’t pick up on that. Finally I responded to one of his emails and straight up told him that he was making me uncomfortable. I asked him not to contact me again – not to apologize, not to clarify, nothing – and that if he did, I would be looping in our ecclesiastical leader. Of course he responded to tell me I couldn’t take a compliment, so I contacted me leader to let me know that while I didn’t feel endangered, I wanted to make him aware of this man’s behavior in case it was a pattern. My leader thanked me for letting him know. I’m not sure if he ever talked to the man, but he didn’t try to contact me again and I moved not long after (for completely unrelated reasons).

    I don’t know if this man was actually abusive/predatory/manipulative or if he was just awkward, but a signature move of predators and manipulators is do needle you with small things that aren’t technically “wrong” or, when you call them on something to gaslight you into thinking you’re making a big deal out of nothing. I was actually proud of myself for communicating really clearly without worrying about being nice. A woman’s (or man’s) obligation to be nice ends when they ask someone to stop doing something and that person refuses.

  40. Student*

    OP – you are going to have to change tactics and expectations if you want to end his overly-intimate behavior toward you. That’s not fair or just – you did enough that any reasonable person would’ve backed off – but if you want results instead of giving in, feeling like you “did enough”, then you have to do something different. And, added injustice, you will probably have to pay some social price for it. I’m sorry for that, really. I don’t like it and I wish, for myself, you, and everyone else who’s been in our shoes, that it’ll change. But we aren’t there yet, and wishing won’t get us there.

    You have options. The general idea is to break his mental image of you as a “nice girl” whom he believes he is entitled to attention from. Make yourself specifically unappealing to him.

    One option is to start getting outright, baldly rude to him. No being kind at all, no softening, outright rudeness, maybe some cruelty – the idea is explicitly to make him think you are not kind and safe and sweet. Make him not want to be with you. If you know things he particularly finds offensive/unpleasant/undesirable, latch on to those and use them to drive him away.

    Different option – violence. People say violence doesn’t solve anything; they’re liars. Frankly, as a woman, you get a huge social discount on this, too – people nearly never believe female violence is “serious” unless it’s directed at them. If he touches you, slap his hand away, or shove him away if standing. Throw something (unlikely to cause injury – paper or pens are good) at him or at the ground in front of him. Get angry and hit a desk loudly. Slam a door. You don’t have to hit him or injure him to get violent in front of him and become intimidating. If you’ve never done this kind of thing before, this is probably not a great place to start – but if you know what I’m talking about, time to dig it out and deploy it. You can also roll into this idea a physical over-reaction to stuff he says or does – showing visible repulsion, disgust, anger, sneering, eye-rolling can be a very fast non-verbal way to become off-putting (and it’s really hard to call out effectively). There is a huge grey area here to exploit; weaponize it.

    Going to management is better than these – if it works. If it doesn’t work, because the managers take his side, or minimize your concerns, or are too non-confrontational or ineffective to hold the guy accountable, then try these so he leaves you alone.

  41. JYD*

    OP, as the others have said, I think you’ve handled this beautifully. I do second what Allison said about being chillier towards this guy, because you certainly don’t owe it to him to be polite.

    I also want to thank you because I’ve been going through the archives looking for letters that I could use to address a similar situation at work. I’d hit it off pretty well with a colleague who’s a few years older than me, but one day after a lunch out after our shifts, he insisted we should continue our conversation , and hopped on the bus I was taking home in hopes that we would find a cafe near my place (even though I had already told him I was tired and wanted to go home). He spent the entire ride asking me about “walls” around people’s hearts and saying “don’t you feel obliged to let down your walls once you see people working hard to know you better”? I’d already gotten uncomfortable with his excessive complimenting, how he was treating me like his therapist, and some pretty creepy outright staring in the office, so I slowly tried to distance myself and finally told him that his behaviour made me uncomfortable and that I would like him to stop. His reply was, “boundaries are selfish”, and told me not to think that he was interested in me romantically because “it takes a lot more to get me interested”. (?!) I finally told him that I did not want to interact with him anymore, and he backed off… for a while, until he started ambushing me at my desk or at the office lift, apologising and asking me to explain where he went wrong (?!). I’ve been going mad wondering whether I’d reacted too strongly, or whether I’d gotten the wrong idea, but reading your letter really put things into perspective for me.

    1. Observer*

      Good heavens! Please go to your boss or HR, if either is in the least bit competent. The guy is TROUBLE personified.

      You did NOT react too strongly at all. Unfortunately, what you need to do now is to document what’s happened, and EVERY SINGLE TIME he does this. Also tell him CLEARLY with absolutely no ambiguity, “niceness” or softening that you do NOT want to discuss this with him. You do not want to discuss anything outside of work with him.

      DO NOT worry about being too strong. If anything you didn’t react strongly enough. Not really – you said enough to make any reasonable person understand that you don’t want to talk to them. But the insistence that he is entitled to further discussions shows that being nice would not have made things any better.

      When you go to HR / Your boss please point out that he has EXPLICITLY told you that he doesn’t intend to respect boundaries.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      I got to “boundaries are selfish” and started swearing like Yosemite Sam.

      JYD, you absolutely need to report this to someone at your job. Your boss, his boss, HR, someone. And anytime he comes to you looking for more explanations or attention, say “I’ve already told you I don’t want to interact with you. Please leave me alone.” then leave the area if it’s at all possible.

      I’m so, so sorry you’re in this situation. Your coworker sucks and I hope the organization you work for doesn’t let him get away with it.

    3. mrs__peel*

      PLEASE report this to HR or someone you trust at work, and tell them that *he followed you on your way home* and harassed you. There is no universe where that is okay, and you didn’t overreact in any way. That’s stalker behavior and it’s serious.

  42. Candi*

    Tch. All the way down here, all the awesome links, and no cup of tea?

    It’s on the same theme as “Would you do it to The Rock?” :) It’s more about straight-up sexual consent, but a lot of the ‘don’t do X if you wouldn’t do it with tea’ applies across the board.

    In the end, the point is about impact. The impact is bad and hurts the victim. So don’t do it.

    LW, you rock.

  43. LeRainDrop*

    So many behaviors here that are blatantly NOT OKAY! He is way over the line of reasonable co-worker and has stepped many times into boundary-breaking, disrespectful, creepy territory. I hope you can document these incidents. In any event, if I were you, I would report him to HR so that they can take action if they believe it’s warranted (who knows if he already has a record of doing this to other people) and so that they preemptively understand if he comes to them complaining about you.

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