update: my boss keeps invading my personal space

Remember the letter-writer whose boss kept invading her personal space when they talked? (#2 at the link) Here’s the update.

I’m not sure I have a terrific update, but I have learned a lot more about my boss since I wrote to you.

I rearranged my desk one Friday after my boss left. Now the bottom of the “L” holds my phone and printer, and the monitor and keyboard take up the space on the long side of my desk. He was so discombobulated after I moved it. It’s been three months and he still makes comments about it (“Where is the printer? I never know where things are going to be anymore!”). However, now he can’t trap me in, but he needs to see the screen, so I pivot it 90° so he can see clearly and I can see a sliver of it. He was still getting in too close- leaning over my desk and generally being on top of me. I usually have to tell him to get off my mousepad because he makes it impossible for me to move when he plants himself on my desk.

One day, I was very flustered and said “I’m sorry, I have a thing with personal space.” He said, “Oh, should I stand over here?” and went into the conference room, 15 feet away, laughed, and then immediately returned to being right next to me.

I’ve asked if I could buy a second monitor so that we could both see my work clearly- he said it wouldn’t be possible “because you can’t duplicate the screen so that both monitors have the same information”. He then said he didn’t really need to see the monitor, so I stopped pivoting it and then he resumed standing behind me, leaning over my shoulder and breathing on me.

Finally, I started asking him to just give me the edits and continue doing his own work. His time is literally worth more than mine, and edits are what assistants do. He has responded that he couldn’t just give me the edits because “you would never understand/this is much too complicated for you/this is so above your level”. Alison, I am not stupid. It’s deciphering chicken scratch, not programming nuclear codes.

Honestly, I’ve given up. I’m looking for a new job and realize that my boss sucks and he isn’t going to change. He has no idea how invasive he is being, and how demeaning his little asides are. For now, I’m looking at the bright side- I have the luxury of job searching while being employed. It makes the job hunt much more enjoyable.

Thank you for taking my letter, and thank you to the commentariat for the support and their great tips. AAM is a lovely community and I’m so grateful to have become a part of it.

{ 196 comments… read them below }

      1. Systems Administrator*

        On Windows 7 and 10, Hold the Windows Key and hit the P button until it does what you want it to do.

      2. Specialk9*

        That was where I went, oh lordy, a dumb condescending mansplainer who gets in your personal space.

        And I’ve known someone who worked in a nuclear missile silo getting ready to push the button. From his account, they do everything possible to make things super simple, but redundant and with lots of checks. Missile *defense* is complex, nuclear codes are not.

        This guy would still find a way to pretend nuclear codes were complicated.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I know this, and when I am more tech savvy then someone, they should panic.

        Also, there are editing conventions that make it very clear that you want to delete that and replace it with this–though maybe his beliefs about the insurmountable burdens of screens extend to not being willing to learn any standard shorthand (del, stet, etc) and literally pointing and speaking is where his technical approach has hardened to granite?

        1. Elemeno P.*

          I work with edits through MS Word, and it’s baffling how many people don’t understand Track Changes; they will manually highlight each word they want to edit and make it red with a strike through it.

          1. Anion*

            I got edits back from an editor once like that; it drove me CRAZY trying to not only decipher them (she sometimes highlighted things–in any color that took her fancy–sometimes used Track Changes, sometimes added notes *in the same font and size as the text,* sometimes did strikethroughs, sometimes made comments in bold or italics…it was a nightmare, especially since she had a habit of “suggesting” new wording and adding it where she wanted it,* so I had to carefully re-read every line to make sure it was my own work. It took ages to get through. Having to go through and manually remove someone else’s highlights/strikethroughs/additional text/etc. is such a pain in the behind.

            *Note for any newbies: Editors are not supposed to do that!

          2. calonkat*

            omg yes, I had an IT guy get upset because I wasn’t “marking my changes” to a document. I had to SHOW him where the setting for viewing all changes was! Guys, just because you’re in IT (and have different parts) doesn’t mean you know the ins and outs of Word and Excel!

          3. mdv*

            Holy shit, no kidding … I don’t have to deal with many people who don’t know how to use Track Changes, and these other comments make me so grateful for that! However, I do take great pleasure in teaching the university students who work for me how to use Track Changes (when I proofread papers for them, usually), giving them useful skills for the real world!

          4. Marty*

            Good, if you are going to do that, just make the edits yourself. Word is smart enough to figure out what changed given two different versions of a document.

          5. DeeC*

            I’m probably in the minority here but I absolutely hate with a deep seething passion track changes. It drives me NUTS every.single.time. I’d much rather have updates in a diff color/font or high-lighted…the track change thing is not for this gal. :)

    1. Specialk9*

      So question – why a job hunt instead of trying one more time verbally, and then going to HR with a list of demeaning comments and his reaction to attempts to get him to stop getting in her space?

  1. Ama*

    Ugh, I’m so sorry OP. It does sound like getting out is the best option. (Also, I’m sure the second monitor issue probably not the hill you want to die on but I’d be so tempted to send him instructions from a reliable tech website about duplicating displays.)

    1. Robot Cowboy*

      If this is a desktop situation and there’s a cable going to the monitor, you can even get a splitter that takes the signal and duplicates it exactly. Hard to argue that the screens are the same if one cable turns to 2 do both screens.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        Windows as a setting for multiple monitors. You can use either or both, and if you use both, you can extend the desktop to provide additional space, or you can make the second one an exact duplicate of the first. It’s very trivial.

        When the boss asked “should I stand over here?” sarcastically, I would have taken in literally and said, “Yes, that would be good.” In all seriousness.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      …. or like 20 links from every website in existence, plus a screen shot of the Project menu on my desktop (I just checked mine – duplicate is literally the first option).

  2. Jadelyn*

    You absolutely can duplicate a screen to two monitors, just FYI. You can set it to split across multiple screens, or duplicate to multiple screens. It’s right there in the settings when you hook up a second monitor.

    But that aside, this is definitely a case of “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change”. He sounds like kind of an ass, tbh. I wish you the best of luck with your job search!

    1. Graflex*

      Came here to post the same thing.

      “I’ve asked if I could buy a second monitor so that we could both see my work clearly- he said it wouldn’t be possible “because you can’t duplicate the screen so that both monitors have the same information”

      You can do exactly that. It takes about 20 seconds to set up, on a Mac or PC. (Probably Linux too, but I don’t have any personal experience to back it up.) Your boss is full of it.

      1. Arya Snark*

        Not even 20 seconds! I use 2 monitors constantly. Just right click on the desktop display, select Display Settings and choose Extend under Multiple Displays to have two separate screens or Duplicate to have two screens with the same display.

        1. Say what, now?*

          I wish I could say just show him Arya’s comment, no pesky reading instructions or having to actually Google information… but then you’d be job searching without the job. Best of luck with that and I hope that you get something soon. Space Invaders should be a game not a lifestyle.

          1. Say what, now?*

            Also, I find it hilarious that he is trying to make a thing of you rearranging the printer once. “Oh, no! I don’t know where to find it!” It’s literally changed spots once and being a printer, it’s really not hard to spot…

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, I’m sorry for this, OP, but I do love that you used Allison’s line: YBSAIGTC. Too bad that’s not an easy-to-pronounce acronym.

    3. LKW*

      This is less a case of what is possible than having to explain this to someone who doesn’t want it to be true.

      OP – your boss is an oaf.

    4. Construction Safety*

      Yeah, he’s one of those people who, if they don’t know how to do it, assert that it cannot be done.

      He’s a 3rd degree Rumsfeldian.

  3. penny_lane*

    “He has no idea how invasive he is being”

    I think he knows *exactly* how invasive he is being – you’ve told him you need more personal space and he made a joke of it – and he’s continuing anyway. Good for you for trying to get away from this guy.

    1. Chriama*

      I think she told him once, he joked about it, and she hasn’t explicitly told him again. OP, what would happen if you just said “I’m feeling claustrophobic, can you do [specific thing]” and then if he joked about it just retorted with a straight face “actually, I’m serious. Can you please stand right here?” Maybe I’m missing something but it sounds like OP is trying to be subtle and the one time she was serious he made a joke and she didn’t follow up, so he didn’t realize how much it’s bothering her? I’m not trying to blame the victim, just point out possibilities for resolution.

      1. Future Homesteader*

        I know sometimes we’re more subtle then we intend to be, but IMO “I have a thing with personal space” is actually pretty explicit. A boss (or human being) who cares about an employee’s (or other human being’s) comfort would most likely be mortified when the words “personal space” are invoked. And joking about is exactly how they deflect. If he joked and then changed his behavior, that’d be one thing. But I agree with penny lane that he was choosing to not understand. Plus, those other comments make it clear that he just doesn’t respect OP. He sounds (and acts) like an all-around ass.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I absolutely agree that he sounds like an ass, but for OP’s mental health, I think it’s worth saying, “I’ve mentioned I have an issue with personal space; will you please take one step back? I’m happy to enlarge the screen to help you see it if that helps, but I get very claustrophobic when people lean over me or lean into my space.”

        2. santa baby*

          i disagree a little bit– to me, “I have a thing with personal space” sounds kind of vague, and she isn’t directly asking her boss to do anything. Also, after he joked about it and then came back, it sounds like she didn’t press the issue– so if he’s generally boorish, her seriousness might not have come through to him (even though most people would totally understand what she meant right away). IMO OP should try really explicitly saying “You’re standing too close to me and it makes me uncomfortable, please step over there” and not backing down from it. OP should deffo get an new job anyway, because her boss sounds like a condescending jerk whether or not he’s standing too close to her, but at this point it can’t hurt and could make her last few weeks/months a bit more bearable.

          1. Murphy*

            I think it’s a soft request that the boss back up a bit, and a reasonable person would have recognized it as such. But it’s obvious this dude isn’t reasonable.

            1. santa baby*

              totally agreed! she shouldn’t *have* to be more explicit or direct than she was, but she also shouldn’t have to deal with her boss literally breathing down her neck. imo it’s worth a try to be really explicit and direct with him even if he still ends up blowing her off.

          2. Karen D*

            I would probably just blurt out “You’re breathing on me! Please stop!”

            Not sure if that would be helpful or not but it would certainly be unequivocal.

            1. Bigglesworth*

              I would do the same thing. I’m not easily embarrassed, so saying that or, “Back up. You’re freaking me out,” are both high on the list of things I would probably say.

          3. Bostonian*

            I agree with your assessment. Most people would take the hint at “I have a thing with personal space”, but not everybody. Some people need to be hit over the head repeatedly with boundary requests.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              I agree, but also I want to note that the people who have to be hit over the head typically do know how invasive they’re being and just don’t care if it bothers the other person.

              Like, yes she could directly ask again, but no I don’t think it’s because he just didn’t get the hint the first time. It’s because people who are crappy like this don’t care if they’re bothering you and will carry on merrily unless they are forced to knock it off. Since he’s her boss, she can’t really force him, but asking a little more directly could make him shift off a little. I doubt it will get him to stop, though, so I can’t blame her for just deciding to skip it and move on.

              1. pookel*

                If this were me, and especially if I were looking for a new job anyway, I might just stop working whenever he leans in close. “I’m sorry, I can’t make these edits with you standing here. It bothers me.” “Can you please stop watching me work? I can’t concentrate.” Just fold your arms and stop typing and repeat until he backs the heck off, whether he wants to or not.

      2. babblemouth*

        OP is not trying to be subtle. She has clearly said that she didn’t like what he did, and he chose to ignore her. He’s not socially awkward, he is doing this on purpose. She can mention it again, and I bet you 100 internet points that the next reaction will be along the lines of “wow, you don’t need to be so stuck up” followed by a bad Me Too joke. And then he’ll continue the same.
        OP is right to want to get out.

        1. STG*

          Absolutely. She’s already expressed quite clearly that he’s violating her personal space and he ignored it.

          1. Faith2014*

            So she needs to double down. Some people need to be hit upside the head to get the point. Some people are just that obtuse. I like to think I’m direct, but maybe I’m just a b___h, but I certainly wouldn’t have a problem coming up with a direct spiel, and repeating it ad nauseum. If he’s isn’t obtuse, and truly is a jerk, you need to make the cost of this type of interaction with you “cost” more and he will back off.

            I mean – what’s going to happen? He’ll get snitty with her and she’ll be uncomfortable? He already is pissy and she IS uncomfortable. I dunno – if I have to suffer because of ‘you’, I will make sure you suffer with me.

            1. klew*

              He isn’t obtuse and he totally got the point. That’s why he walked 15′ away and made a smart ass comment. He knows what he’s doing and he does not care. It’s a power thing. He likes making her, and probably others, uncomfortable. That’s also why, after saying he didn’t need to see the screen, he STILL came around her desk and hovered over her.

        2. Future Homesteader*

          Maybe slightly off-topic, but if I hear one more Me Too joke, I’m going to go ballistic. I get that people are hyperaware of these things right now, but the subtext of all of those jokes is that women are oversensitive and you never know what might set us off. And I so over it.

        3. PersephoneUnderground*

          People *joke* about Me Too? Seriously??? I’m happy I haven’t seen or heard any of that, I would go ballistic. WTF is wrong with some people?

      3. neverjaunty*

        The “joke” was exaggeratedly mocking her by backing up fifteen feet before getting right back in her space. He knows exactly what she meant. Whether or not you’re meaning to blame the victim, you’re definitely giving him too much credit.

        1. Sleeping, or maybe dead*

          And it isn’t on OP to give him the credit of “maybe he’s just socially awkward etc.” in detriment of her own well-being.
          It is a 100% on him to respect people’s boundaries, specially the ones people explicitly stated.

        2. animaniactoo*

          I agree with this. For LW’s sake, I think she should look into something that will help her build confidence with enforcing boundaries – because basically he understood what she meant but then took that as the opportunity to trample all over them.

          A good response would have been “Not quite that much, but yes it’s a start.” or when he came back to right over her “Pardon me, you’re back where you started. I’m feeling really uncomfortable, can you please back up about a half a foot or so? That would be great. I can enlarge the screen if you need.”

          Because when you’re dealing with somebody (and LW will have many of these somebodies in her lifetime) the key to boundaries is not drawing them in the first place, it’s reinforcing them against repeated incursions. Sometimes that leads to permanent “training” and sometimes it doesn’t and you decide if you want to continue to deal with them or not. But to be effective at all, you have to be able, ready, and willing to enforce or reinforce them as needed.

        3. MommyMD*

          “Blaming the victim” is much too harsh and clearly wasn’t the tone of that post. However, yes, maybe OP should try once more and use the exact wording in Alison’s post. Doubtful her caveman of a boss will change though. Apologies to cavemen.

        4. Jess*

          This is exactly what I came to say too. His “joke” demonstrates not only that he understood what OP meant, but that he was deliberately going to dismiss it & ignore it. It was just a really passive aggressive way for him to say that and also has the benefit (to him) of making it more awkward/difficult for her to argue with his refusal to respect her space. Because, ya know, it was “just a joke.” OP your boss is a jerk. If he was really joking and he cared about his invasiveness whatsoever, he would not have returned to his previous position but instead a few feet back after he made the “joke.”

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Chriama, I agree that maybe she needs to be more explicit, but his comments that what she’s editing is too complicated for her to understand is more revealing that he sucks and isn’t going to change.

      1. Chriama*

        I’m not disputing the suckiness of his personality. Just wondering if OP might get better results if she tried being more forceful/insistent. For her, while she’s still working for him, a moral victory isn’t nearly as useful as a practical victory.

        1. MommyMD*

          I think one more very clear statement could be in order. But at the core Boss is an overbearing je rk. A new job is most likely the ultimate solution. People don’t change their core.

          1. Seaside Engineer*

            I had a teacher in high school that often utilized the “look over your shoulder while being very close” method of inspecting our work on the computer. I remember telling him the first time “I have a personal bubble, please stay out of it” and him laughing. It wasn’t till the second or third time that I said it that he realized I was quite serious and not just joking around because he had eaten garlic or something. Ideally, yes, people should understand and be respectful the first time. But maybe it’s worth saying it a few more times, with no laughter or smiles. My teacher stopped breathing down my neck, and started asking the other students if they’d prefer he stand further too… So it’s possible!

            1. MommyMD*

              Good anecdote. But Boss’s dismissive overreacting is a clue he’s a je rk to the core. And kudos to you for politely standing your ground in high school.

            2. klew*

              I also had a teacher like this in high school but he wasn’t inspecting our work (not on computers though. I am OLD). He was trying to see down the girls’ shirts. He also kept the temp in his room at Nipply degrees.

              All the students knew this but, like any “good” pervert, he was never quite overt enough to be called out on his behavior.

    3. Birch*

      Yeah, and he knows how demeaning he’s being, too. What a bizarre way to insist on making edits to documents–in person going through it line by line as if she can’t read a marked-up document?! Does he literally have nothing else to do?! Who has time for that?! Add in him having his paws all over LW’s space and making that ridiculous joke… uurgh. I hope you find a job where adult humans act like adult humans, LW.

    4. eplawyer*

      Oh he knows. He knows. His comments about how she can’t do the edits shows exactly what he thinks of her. This is all a power play — the standing too close, the snide comments. He knows AND enjoys making her uncomfortable. Because he knows he can get away with it.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yup, this. Also, he’s being a jerk. Standing by the conference room isn’t a minor joke—he’s doing it to negate OP’s (valid) request by demeaning her concern or making it seem absurd. Combined with his comment about her intelligence, all signs point to him being a jackass.

        This is absolutely a power/dominance play.

        1. Kyrielle*

          It’s a pity OP is better served by keeping the job until a new one is found, because I would _love_ to have found out what his reaction would be if she had smiled pleasantly and said, “That’s much better, but I think your desk is a little further that way.” and gestured. :P

        2. Sleeping, or maybe dead*

          I didn’t catch it when I read the first time, but you’re absolutely right!
          He is depriving her of autonomy AND gaslighting her.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. He’s a jerk. TBH I wonder when he will escalate. Now that I’m thinking of it – if he’s standing above and behind her, he’s not only breathing on her but may be trying to look down her shirt (eeeeewwww).

    5. Peanut*

      Agreed – he knows he’s being invasive. Keep job searching, LW, and I hope you find something quickly.

      And the next time he creeps up to you, just say matter-of-factly, “please move back.” None of the “I have a thing with personal space” or “I’m feeling claustrophobic” – all of those are making it your thing, as if you’re what’s making the situation weird/wrong. But it’s not – it’s his thing. He’s making it weird/wrong. He’s ignored your polite requests. Don’t be polite anymore – just matter-of-fact. Even if/when he ignores this, maybe it will make you feel a little better, as a reminder that HE is the one making it wrong.

      And just keep job searching. I am so sorry your boss is a total [insert appropriate word here].

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        This- sometimes regardless of the other person’s response, it feels good to have asserted yourself.

      2. Faith2014*

        Personally, I would drop the please and say instead “you need to move back”. If I’ve tried being nice/polite once already, I switch tactics if it doesn’t work.

    6. Greengirl*

      He knows he is bothering you and is choosing to continue to do so. I have a coworker who in general is great but if you ask him to stop doing it, he will keep doing it because its funny to him. Reading this website and questions like these has been great for me in showing why this is such a problematic thing to do in a workplace. When a colleague asks you to stop doing something, you stop or you lose talent.

    7. Happy Lurker*

      I would totally be tempted to keep a tissue full of “sneezing powder”, or dust in my case, very close by. I would try to sneeze loudly with full body spasms while he was close to me. He may never notice. But you could get some elbow jabbing in under the guise of sneezing.

  4. Been there*

    Ughh… that sucks, but I think you’re spot on in your evaluation of the situation. It’s not going to get better. Good luck with your search. I’m sure what you find will be much better than where you are now.

  5. Future Homesteader*

    Sending you sympathetic nods of support from a nice, safe distance, OP! I’m sorry for your situation but it sounds like you have the best possible attitude. Good luck with the search! May you find something quickly, and may your new boss be highly professional.

  6. The Woman in the Gray Flannel Pajamas*

    OP: You may not feel that you’ve resolved this difficult situation, but it is incredibly impressive to read about your calm and deliberate efforts at finding a physical workaround, telling him he’s invading your space, and then concluding, when he has refused to comply AND made demeaning comments, that it’s time to find a new job. Each of these actions can be tough to achieve in such an environment, so to manage all three speaks volumes about you and your superior abilities. I, too, wish you all the best in your job search and hope that your next employer understands what a jewel you are!

    1. Myrin*

      I fully agree!

      I think it might have been worth it to follow up his stupid “haha should I be staying over here then?” with “no, but over here at Place Where You Aren’t Breathing Down My Neck would be awesome!” but that’s more because I’m curious how he’d have reacted, not because it has any realistic chance to actually change anything.

      But apart from that, really, OP, I got a really calm vibe from your letter (even though this situation sounds absolutely infuriating!) and was mentally clapping ovations as I read along – bravo for being so level-headed and best of luck in your job search!

      1. Specialk9*

        Put tape down on the floor – red zone is where only you are allowed. Green zone is where he can stand.

    2. neverjaunty*

      This. It will be a great day when you quit and it dawns on Jerkface that you in fact don’t have to put up with his crap anymore.

  7. Anony*

    It is good you can at least see the bright side of the situation (that you can job hunt while employed). It still sucks, but sometimes bad bosses don’t change.

  8. Dani*

    If your office has unused desks / old equipment lying around, maybe you can borrow a screen, set it up and present it to him as “look, my friend the IT guru showed me how to do it, now you can have that second screen with exactly the same info, like you wanted”. Maybe add a chair for him so “you will be so much more comfortable during these extensive edits”. Sometimes, accidentally-on-purpose misunderstanding someone can be a good strategy… And you can always revert to “sorry, I must have misunderstood” and return the equipment to where it came from.

    1. Birch*

      I would be tempted to not only do that, but to get an extra table to box myself in so that anyone talking to me would have to be on the other side of the table! I cannot STAND people hovering behind me, it is so creepy and weird!

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Me too! I was even thinking she could (awkwardly) put up a darn babygate in his way – a table is much better. Haha.

      2. Drew*

        I have been known to step on people’s feet or roll over their feet with my chair, depending on whether I’m standing or sitting at that moment, when I perceive that they’re too close. “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry, I didn’t expect anyone to be that close to me!” is not the most sincere apology I’ve ever given, but I think I’m OK with that.

    2. Midge*

      I wonder if you could also take this feigned ignorance approach to making changes based on his marked up copies. He’s probably marking up the copies already, just not sharing them with the LW. So maybe you could pick a time when your boss has a ton of meetings or otherwise wouldn’t be able to sit down with you (or stand over you- ugh!), and just grab his marked up copy. It sounds like you could probably make most if not all of the changes on your own. Once you’ve done that, you could share the new version with your boss in a “you know, I wasn’t sure if this would work, but I think I actually made all the changes on my own” kind of way. Maybe once he sees an example of you actually doing the work, he’ll be less dismissive of that as an option.

    3. 5 Leaf Clover*

      All of these solutions seem aimed at getting the boss to respect personal space without having to say “I need you to respect my personal space.” Apart from one half-hearted statement (“I have a thing about personal space”), it doesn’t sound like the OP has explicitly asked boss to cut it out yet. I agree that this guy sounds like a jerk, but I’m not sure why all these complicated solution are being proposed when the simple one, to make a direct request, has not been tried yet.

      1. Former Employee*

        The fact that he moved 15 feet away, asked her if that was what she meant and then moved back to exactly where he was before breathing down her neck means that he gets it and has no intention of changing his behavior.

  9. Elizabeth H.*

    Ugh, this drives me crazy just thinking about it, especially because I cannot for the life of me picture the “L” arrangement or how it interacts with the problem. Poor letter writer. I agree that the guy sucks and isn’t going to change, but depending on how much of an impact it would have on the relationship, wondering if it’s worth trying once more just saying something really blunt like “Stop hovering over me! I can’t work like this any longer.” Or physically stand up and move yourself away from him as soon as he approaches.
    Also, this sounds inefficient. If he knows what he wants to be edited or corrected, and he wants to plaster himself to the computer monitor for the duration of the time the edits are being made, why isn’t he making them himself? Argh.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I think what happened is that OP was in or near the corner of the L when working, and there was no way to angle the screen so there was a good viewing angle for Invasive Boss, except standing near the OP. So OP rearranged things so that IB could approach and stand not-too-close and see the screen when it was simply turned, trying to encourage some distance that way.

    2. Blue*

      What Kyrielle said. I also work in the corner of an L-shaped desk, and I have had people try to walk around the long side of the L to peer over my shoulder at my monitor. I hate it so much, so I totally feel for OP. I can’t rearrange as OP did, but I was able to get a second monitor and a chair across the desk from me, so it’s hard for them to argue with a cheerful, “Please have a seat, and I’ll adjust the monitor. Hovering makes me uncomfortable.” And because these people aren’t above me in the foodchain, I can easily escalate to a firmer, “If you want to work on this together, I need you to sit,” if necessary. I am feeling appropriately grateful for all of that right now.

      (Also, AGREED. SO inefficient. And since inefficiency is my biggest pet peeve, I probably would’ve lost it on him for that alone. OP is impressively coolheaded!)

  10. The Supreme Troll*

    OP, I am wishing you all the best. You are absolutely making the right decision here. And I am even wishing your boss the best…so that he can change his “joking” behavior (which is actually really obnoxious) and not further alienate the people who wind up working for him.

  11. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I keep trying to think of something to say. But it all comes back to a protracted “woooooooooooooooooow”.

    LW, I’m sorry about your boss. But, you’re right! You can job search while employed. Hopefully you land somewhere with a better boss!

  12. Newt*


    LW, your boss’ behaviour is making my shoulders rise up above my ears.

    Invading your personal space.
    Making a joke about your attempt to express a need for personal space.
    Specifically making a joke that exaggerates/implies unreasonability on your part.
    Continuing to go right back to getting uncomfortably in your space.
    Treating you like you’re not very bright (you couldn’t understand it/it’s beyond you/it’s too complicated for you)
    Lying to you about split screens when you offer an alternative to his breathing down your neck. (They are extremely easy to do. At my work we all have 2 screens per desk and can switch between different items on each or showing the same on both. We also share our screens through Skype when showing each other stuff.)

    LW, I am getting some extremely strong Creepy Sexism Stuff vibes. I am sorry your boss is putting you in this position. What he’s doing is really inappropriate and boundary-violating. I don’t have any benefit-of-the-doubt for him that he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. I hope you can get out of the situation soon.

    1. L Dub*

      Totally agreed. OP, you obviously already know this but your boss is a jack hole. I’m sorry, and I hope your job hunt goes well because you’re totally right about him not changing.

    2. mb13*

      Yes completely agree. The teasing of going to the conference room to me feels like a way to test the LW boundaries/guilt the lw into not saying anything about personal space and the “ugh you just don’t understand my notes you have to do exactly what I say” feels way too much like the creepy people I have met.

  13. Gloucesterina*

    This is an amazing update, OP! To me the best updates are not so much the Cinderella tales but rather updates that detail how the writer weighed and deployed the advice and modelled professionalism in the process. You were incredibly clear-headed and systematic in gathering the evidence to come to your conclusion. And I love your framing of what this job now allows you to do–have a solid if certainly not comfortable/collegial place to determine your next move!

  14. Archie Goodwin*

    Hell, I’m a confirmed Luddite and even *I* know there’s a way to duplicate monitors. Your boss is being obtuse, deliberately or otherwise…much likelier the former than the latter.

    Good luck to you in your search – I hope you can get out of there soon.

  15. No Parking or Waiting*

    Dear OP,
    When you resign, which I’m sure will be early next year, please tell us how it goes.
    Can we start a pool?
    He is going to make some remark about:
    you must be having a baby.
    you need to stay home and take care of your house.
    full time work is too much for you
    your husband is done with your “career nonsense”
    maybe he’ll be generous and assume you’re going to care for a sick relative
    because why else would you leave him?
    anyone in?

    1. The Expendable Redshirt*

      I’m going to bet that boss will say “Full time work is too much for the dimwitted OP”.
      Ick! The boss is an utter donkey.

    2. neverjaunty*

      $5 on “I don’t accept your resignation” with a bonus on adding “oh and can you keep doing this work for free after you leave”.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I’m in for: If he doesn’t go angry because she’s leaving, he’ll reassure her that this job is still here for her when she gets tired of (or maybe fails at) the new one. Bleh.

    4. Sleeping, or maybe dead*

      Condescending “I did so much for you when you couldn’t even do your own job without my guidance, yet this is how you chose to repay my mentoring and kindness” is my bet


    5. OP*

      OP here! Sorry for the delay…weirdly, I didn’t have a speck of personal time or free space this morning..

      I live in the Bible Belt and my boss has said before that God has called him to a life of protecting women. He frequently asks me if I need to leave work early to have time to be with my husband.

      I am truly hoping to write in with an update of new employment with sane people. Recently I haven’t felt like I could get the jobs I was looking for- but working for this boss has been galvanizing and shown me that I can actually produce pretty good work when given the chance/I steal assignments off his desk.

      1. Drew*


        I really want to hear the update where you tell him “God protects those who protect themselves” as you spray Mace in his face.

        OK, I don’t, because you’d be posting from prison, but the fantasy will sustain me.

      2. Former Employee*

        I don’t know why it’s so common for these creepy types to act as if they are protecting women when the only protecting the women need is to be protected from them!

        Best of luck to you in your job search and future endeavors, OP.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          Protecting women =/= breathing down their necks. Where the hecking heck did he get this weird idea???

      3. Candi*

        Uh huh.

        Funny, in the book of Ruth, Boaz was able to protect Ruth just fine without getting in her space. She showed up at his fields to glean, he told her to stay there until it was harvested because the young men would leave her alone, obviously told them to leave her and other women alone, and then stayed Over There until the marrying-male-relative-of-dead-husband law came up. Which Ruth (under Naomi’s instruction) approached him about.

        And this was a highly patriarchal culture.

        Your boss is an ass.

        Also, the initial letter had the boss’ wife saying she trained him to do the personal space thing… but who really trained who?

        BTW, $5 on “How DARE you be ungrateful!”

    6. Hear to Learn*

      I’m going with him getting angry and making subtly threatening comments to the OP during her notice period.

  16. No Parking or Waiting*

    A graduate of the Anthony Scalia School of Law.
    No offense to Justice Scalia, but this guy is an Ass of Law.

    1. rldk*

      The Antonin Scalia School of Law is actually a real place! It’s at George Mason University (and right near my home :] )

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Or an ASSOL? ;)

      (They did ultimately change the school name when they figured out the acronym.)

  17. Adlib*

    Ugh. I squirmed just reading this update. Gross. (I used to have a boss who stood too close but not like that!)

    Good luck on your search! Sounds like you came to the right conclusion.

  18. Birdie*

    I think your boss just enjoys being a creep, and it comes across as just a power trip. Good luck on finding a new job soon.

    1. No Parking or Waiting*

      I just went back and checked your story. OMG. Why would someone do this? “The center of attention” is supposed to be metaphorical. You don’t have to stand in the center of me!

  19. LBK*

    Barf. This guy sounds like a sexist, through and through. My gut says he wouldn’t feel as comfortable getting that close to another guy and that he’d miraculously find a way to get edits done without basically hugging the person throughout the process. Although who knows if he’d even hire a man for this job since it sounds like he thinks it’s women’s work, given that you’re apparently too dumb to read.

  20. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

    OP, it sounds like you’ve been able to maintain a sense of humor about all this (the “chicken scratch, not nuclear codes” comment made me actually laugh out loud at my desk), which I am very impressed by. I think the stunt where your boss walked into the conference room and laughed about your discomfort would have sent me right over the edge into instant, white-hot rage, so kudos to you for keeping it together. I hope you find a better job with a better boss soon!

  21. BePositive*

    I can someone who kept putting on my hat and scarf each time we came to my desk. I *told*, not asked, twice not to do that as I won’t wear them after that until they were washed and I’d freeze going home

    Went to the boss, he was mad at me for not stressing it a third time. It wasn’t a hint. I told him I wont wear my things if they touched other people twice Especially hats. He then said I should have not put them where he anyone who could do that. I stared point blank and said ‘why should I change my behavour when its simple request not to touch my belongings. Everyone else respects each others personal belongings. ‘

    He then quit (for other reasons but this incident was a catalyst of how terrible we were to him)

    1. BadPlanning*

      That’s a weird thing to do. Once, maybe because you think it’s a nice hat and you forget to ask if you can try it on. But twice or more? WTF.

  22. OP*

    Hi all, OP here. First, I wanted to those who’ve praised my calm approach- it means so much! This is definitely a gaslighting situation, but some days I really do wonder if I AM being as stupid as he implies. So thank you for your encouragement.

    Second, to clarify:
    – I know you can duplicate screens. At OldJob, I had this exact setup with a dream boss. My current boss does not comprehend this, as he still uses Windows 95. One day the monitor will explode and I’ll be vindicated/singed.
    – I’ve stuck with subtlety because he is *so* awkward about all things. I once had to excuse myself from a marathon editing session to use the restroom, and he still brings it up, by randomly asking if I need to pee. Eight months later. Y’all have emboldened me, though….

    It’s 2017. Subtlety is dead.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      We have multiple old screens, some that need pin adapters…but pin to hdmi is pretty cheap…where are you geographically? Or, honestly, I’ve seen perfectly good (just small) screens at the bring-something-take-something shelves at Recycling. You might be able to just find one and set it up to surprise him.

    2. Elizabeth H.*

      He sounds like a complete weirdo. But the fact that he is so awkward about everything maybe means that being direct wouldn’t actually have much of an impact?
      Vindicated/singed – ha!

    3. Peanut*

      Go with the good old tactic of pretending to be deaf, and repeating yourself.

      “Please move back.” (said matter-of-factly, while you stop working on the computer)

      “Oh, so someone’s touchy today!”

      “Please move back.”

      “Whatsa matta, got your period today? Hahaha haha.”

      “Please move back.”

      “Boy, someone’s being the boss today! Your boyfriend must love that, right?”

      “Please move back.”

      If he moves back eventually but keeps making comments, start in with, “Are you ready to talk about the [insert name of work]?” and repeat.

      Even if it doesn’t change your boss’s behavior, you’re already doing everything you can to get out of the situation. But maybe this will make you feel a tiny bit better, by reminding you this is all about him. He’s the one making things weird/wrong, not you.

    4. Marillenbaum*

      Oh my God, this guy is the WORST. May he continually need to pee, but never be able to find an unoccupied bathroom.

    5. animaniactoo*

      Oh yeah. Kill subtlety. If it’s awkward let it BE awkward. Because he’s the one primarily making it be awkward and he won’t adjust unless he stops liking the results.

      He may also be somebody who just needs to be hit repeatedly with a clue by 4 to “get” anything and the only real thing that will work will be calm but blunt directions and plain speaking.

      “I think it will work. Why don’t we try it and see?”
      “Well that was too far, but this is too close. Let’s try for something in between. I can enlarge the screen if you need.”
      “Actually it is possible. I had that exact setup at my last job. It’s built into the OS now.”
      “I understand this worked when it was you and your wife doing this, but because I’m not your wife I feel very uncomfortable with you being that close to me. I think the dual monitor setup would be best, but I’m open to you just stepping back a little bit and my enlarging the screen”.

      and so on. Less request-y, more direct-y/assumed compliance.

    6. MommyMD*

      Good luck to you OP. The Walking Dead zombies have more manners and class than your open-mouth breathing, close-talker, Seinfeld caricature of a boss.

    7. Drew*

      “Why, yes, actually, I do need to pee. I’ll be right back.” [lock screen, walk away for five minutes]

      I bet if you start doing that every time, he’ll quit asking – and if he doesn’t, well, at least he won’t be hovering over you for those five minutes.

      1. Specialk9*

        Here’s not being be awkward, IP, by asking if you need to pee. He’s harassing you, and trying to make you feel like his time is more important than your bodily needs. I have IBS, and have had to leave or pause meetings, which is embarrassing, but you know how many people have ever commented? ZERO.

        You could send the awkward back to him. “You seem very concerned about my bathroom needs, is there a reason?” “You seem to be thinking a lot about me and my pee. I’ve never had a manager do that before. What’s going on?”

        1. Drew*

          You are correct, of course. A real script, if you don’t mind pushing back: “My elimination needs are really none of your business, Quincy, and I’ve had them under control since I was a toddler, so please stop making these comments.”

    8. MotherOfRabbits*

      Ewww. Just ewww. So sorry you have to deal with this. For what it’s worth, I think he totally gets what an invasive jerk he’s being with the space and asking if you have to pee, etc. and just doesn’t care. Standard grade creeper. Best of luck to you, and I hope you get a better boss soon!

    9. Else*

      Where did he even get a machine that still runs Win 95? How does he use his other software? ???!!!??? I think that you are going to have to flat out specifically state that you need him out of your personal space and that he needs to stand at least two feet from you, because I would bet he hasn’t been paying attention to recent events and has not picked up at all that boss-dude-touching-employee-woman is a bad thing, even if he would never explicitly hit on or grope you.

  23. Hecantnotknow*

    I had a boss who did exactly this. Since he refuses to stop invading your personal space, and you can’t leave your job /yet/, I have three recommendations that worked for me:

    1. Stand up. Every time he gets too close, literally stand up in front of your desk – even if you’re short, people instinctively back up a little. Start ‘talking with your hands’. Big gestures to illustrate what you’re talking about so you are creating more ‘space’ for yourself. If you accidentally whack him even better.

    2. If you have the funds, purchase an adjustable desk riser. The cheapest one I saw on Amazon was about $125. It’s a lot harder to loom over someone who’s at your eye line, and it takes away his excuse for not being able to see the screen.

    3. Say the words – it’s really uncomfortable, but you are placing the uncomfortable weirdness back in his lap. “I need more elbow room, take a step back please.” “Weird, I can feel your breath on my neck; back up a little”. When possible, say this in front of other people too – people are more wary of being shamed/called out in front of other people.

    I hope these tips help and I’m sorry he’s being a creepy jerk.

      1. Drew*


        When she was much younger, my sister elbowed a guy, right in the solar plexus, who tapped her shoulder while she didn’t know someone was behind her. In her defense, she has always had a hair-trigger startle reflex, and in this case we were at a friend’s house and she didn’t know he had a house guest staying there, but she was still fairly mortified over it. Then and now, I don’t think she had any reason to be – the guy shouldn’t have touched her. (He wasn’t a bad guy, just a bit clueless about personal space, and they’re still friends.)

  24. Aes Sidhe*

    I have been a paralegal for almost 11 years, and my attorney does this as well. In fact, all three attorneys in my office do this, and I know other paralegals whose bosses do the same thing. I don’t think it’s anything unique to your boss. They get tired of writing and think dictation is this fastest way to do it. So, even if you change jobs, don’t be surprised when it happens again.

    I’d have more issues with the snide comments than anything else, but it’s very common with attorneys. They think anyone who is not an attorney is a moron. You have to develop a very thick skin, because attorneys are temperamental. When they become stressed, they yell at everyone, including each other. They can’t be totally fine the next day. I got yelled at the other day because the envelopes weren’t sealing properly and because I filed some stuff he decided he didn’t want filed. The next day my attorney apologized.

    It’s not right they do this sort of thing, but don’t be surprised if it happens at the next firm, either.

    1. OP*

      Hi, OP here. Thank you for your input! Prior to this, I’ve worked at financial firms, so this has been an eye-opening experience.
      The comments he makes are terrible, and his perception of himself is just as bad. Thank you for showing me this isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        Whoa- just because lots of people do it doesn’t mean you have to just put up with it! Find a boss who doesn’t do this and/or enforce boundaries with future bosses so they don’t do this. You really, really don’t have to get treated badly just because you’re an assistant. The best bosses know assistants are valuable and respect them- especially in law! (My mother is a lawyer and taught me to be VERY respectful to her admins as a child.)

    2. Specialk9*

      Mental note, don’t work for attorneys. I’ve never been yelled at, at work. I’ve dealt with plenty of other issues – rampant sexism, people calling me rude nicknames, snide comments, passive aggressive mean teen behavior from grown people, etc. But getting yelled at? Nope.

    3. Roguey*

      Oh it can get worse. I interned at a law firm in college for a spring break and a summer one, and hoooo boy. Not only did the attorneys treat me like I was stupid, but if *I* said something that in any way implied they were less than capable (most of them were tech illiterate, especially compared to Millennial Me), they’d flip out and tell me in the Not Yelling tone to stop condescending to them.

  25. CM*

    I wonder how the OP should respond to questions about why she’s looking for a new job. Is this a “just pursuing new challenges!” sort of situation?

  26. I can do it!*

    Definitely cite this as a reason you are leaving in your exit interview, how physically uncomfortable he made you. I assume he doesn’t do this with male colleagues, no matter how junior? Ugh. If I had a job to give I’d give it to you, screw that guy.

  27. AKchic*

    LW – have you considered talking to the other attorney about the issue? Right now, you have someone creating a very uncomfortable work environment for you. I don’t for one second believe that your boss doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing and is enjoying his little power play. And if he truly thought you wouldn’t understand the basics of transcribing and data entry, you wouldn’t have your job.

    Talk to the other attorney? Start documenting everything. Be direct. If you have to, put some tape on the floor and insist that people stay on the other side of that tape (I know, it’s drastic, but sheesh, my claustrophobia kicks in just reading about this idjit).

    Good luck on your job search. I’d be tempted when leaving to unload on this guy. Probably not the smart thing to do, though.

  28. LW5*

    Letter Writer 5 here – thanks for all the positive feedback! I work for a state legislature, which is only in session for a limited time during the year. We’re ramping up for session in January and I have a lot of specialized knowledge. A few of your comments helped me look at this from a different persoective (opportunities for me! Opportunities for others!) and definitely helped put my sense of guilt to bed.

  29. Lumen*

    Glad you’re looking to get out of there. I am also protective of my personal space and not being touched when I don’t want to be, and when I tell someone that and they go out of their way to mock me or make me uncomfortable (like your boss is doing, apparently), it is a HUGE red flag. I mean, what other boundaries are they going to dismiss and walk all over if they don’t think they’re important?

  30. Bea*

    I hope you find something soon. In administrative work I’ve found the current job market on our side. This of course may vary depending on regions. I found a new job within weeks of starting to look. Get away from that guy.

  31. AdAgencyChick*

    Oh god, OP. I missed the original post and I am cringing on your behalf. I have dealt with colleagues who don’t respect personal space, but never my boss.

    I hope you find a new job soon (and run over his feet with your chair during your notice period).

  32. The OG Anonsie*

    Lord. I’m just guessing based on the context in the original letter, but the LW is a woman, right?

    Whenever I hear stories like this, I wonder how often male employees have these kinds of experiences at work. How much of our time and energy is spent at any given job, on any given day having to calculate ways to work around low key nasty treatment like this? Low key enough that no one takes it seriously, you know, but pervasive enough to essentially be a side function of your job.

  33. Diana M*

    I bet he actually *does* know how invasive he’s being, and likes it. The crappy joke about standing 15 feet away demonstrated that. I’m so sorry– good luck in your job search!

  34. Roguey*

    At my TechRetail Job years ago, we had a manager who would do this kind of stuff. Had to be standing in your personal bubble, would greet women by putting a hand on their shoulder and sliding his hand a little ways down the shoulder blade…He thought of himself as the store joker, and was always making vaguely sexist jokes in between sportsball chatter.

    I actually quit that job because of him – I was doing some record keeping type stuff in a central area of the store one day, and he threw a ball of fast food trash at me. When I turned to him and said “What the hell?!” he replied “Oh, I didn’t see you there, I thought it was the trashcan”. I turned in my two weeks the next day (final day was day before Thanksgiving!), and then proceeded to be unemployed for nearly 3 months. I don’t regret it – I’d rather be unemployed and depressed than in that kind of work environment again.

  35. ArtK*

    The “joke” response and then returning to the same behavior? Complaining about the reconfiguration? The condescending “this is above your level”? He’s marking his territory and *you* are his territory. Get out as soon as you can. You’ve done everything right and he is absolutely the problem. Let him learn to do his own edits for a while.

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