women-only Valentine’s Day gestures, employee is having affair with client’s spouse, and more

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

1. My coworker wants to send flowers to all the women for Valentine’s Day

I have a question about Valentine’s Day at work. I have a coworker, “Martin,” who works overseas in London, and he recently visited one of our U.S. locations and met several people in person for the first time. I work in a different office and have never met him in person.

Martin messaged me on our work IM asking me what I thought about his idea for Valentine’s Day — he wants to send flowers to all the women he met at the U.S. office he visited. I didn’t think his idea was a good one, mainly because I feel like there’s a bit of a sexist undertone to singling out the women for gifts on a day associated with love and romance. Why isn’t he sending the men flowers? Why does he feel that women alone need some kind of present on February 14th?

He said his intentions are harmless (which I acknowledge) and that calling it sexist is a stretch, but I feel like this may be a case of a man not being able to accept that what they consider to be “innocent” behavior can be sexist in nature. He also said that in London nobody would think it’s strange, and compared it to sending someone a birthday gift, but I don’t see how that’s related at all. I suggested sending chocolates to the entire office instead, but he seems pretty adamant that his flowers-to-the-ladies is the way to go. What do you think?

Yeah, tell him not to do that. Since he doesn’t see how it’s sexist, you might have more luck just explaining that a lot of women will find it icky and patronizing.

Generally when you’re treating people at work differently based on gender, you’re on the wrong path.

2. My employee is having an affair with a client’s spouse

I have a very difficult question to ask pertaining to an employee having an affair with a client’s spouse. This employee happens to be a personal friend, which is why I know about the affair. However, a scorned spouse could cause ramifications to my business in a small town.

I have already told the employee/friend that I do not approve of the relationship (as a friend), and I feel that I may need to fire her to protect my business. What legal ramifications could occur if I do fire her, or if I don’t and the spouse finds out?

You can have a rule that employees can’t date clients or people to close to clients. Many businesses do have that rule, because they know that they’d risk losing the client if the relationship went south. Your employee is showing awfully bad judgment here and a total lack of concern for how her actions will harm you and your business, and it would be reasonable for you to explain that she’s putting your business from the client in jeopardy and that you can’t keep her on your staff (if indeed that’s what you decide). If she has trouble understanding this, ask her if she’d continue to employ, say, a housekeeper who slept with her husband.

Unfortunately, it sounds like it may be past the point where she can salvage the situation — even if she broke off the affair now, the damage has been done.

3. Did I go to a networking meeting or on a date?

I am a senior in college who will be graduating in the spring. My childhood next-door neighbor, who is a few years older than me, recently contacted me by text, saying, “Hey, I saw on your LinkedIn that you are interested in data science. [My company] has an opening on our analytics team. If you want, we can talk about it and catch up :)”

I was very interested, so I looked into the position myself and did some surface level research about the company. We ended up going to a Panera to chat. We only talked briefly about the actual position — most of the conversation was dominated by what he does there and what I have been up to at school, which didn’t strike me as odd for a mentoring/networking meeting. However, when we were parting ways, he said, “This was fun, but I don’t think it’s going to work out.”

So, I may be hopping on the crazy train here, but did I go on a date with this guy? His language at the end there is not language I would use to tell someone I didn’t think they were right for a job. I thought it was a networking thing, but looking back it reads sort of like a date. He did pay for lunch. Anyway, if it was a date, can I still ask him to put in a good word for me even though it’s not going to work out between us (ha-ha!)?

If I did not go on a date with him, does he have the authority to reject me from the position? He is not the hiring manager, and does not work in HR (not to mention I have not submitted a formal application). I know that contacting a company after being rejected can be obnoxious, so any advice you have would be great!

Eeeww, yeah, it sounds like he invited you to a networking chat, but then treated it like a date, complete with unsolicited rejection. I suppose it’s possible that “I don’t think it’s going to work out” referred to the job — but given all the context you describe, it really doesn’t sound like it. (And if it did, he was incredibly awkward and unclear about it, and you are in no way to blame for not understanding that.)

But no, you didn’t go on a date with this guy. You went to a networking meeting. He may have been on a date in his own mind, but if that’s what he wanted it to be, he should have made that clear from the beginning, rather than using his company’s job opening as a way to hang out with you.

It’s possible in theory that he does have some authority to screen candidates, but there’s nothing here to indicate that’s the case. So go ahead and formally apply for the job. I wouldn’t ask him to put in a good word though — he seems sketchy and I’m not sure it will help you. (The exception to that is if he seemed genuinely enthusiastic about you and your work, aside from his weirdness. But it doesn’t sound like there was even time in the conversation for that.)

4. Application system had no way for me to upload a portfolio of work

I work in a creative industry (graphic design) that, when applying for jobs, generally requires the ability to submit examples of previous work. In my recent job search, most of my applications have either gone to an email address where I could attach my PDF portfolio, or have been on a website that included a space for me to upload my portfolio separate from my resume.

However, I recently applied for a position in a non-creative industry, and their web application process didn’t include a space for my portfolio upload, despite one being required to apply — I’m assuming because this is not an industry that generally has to worry about seeing one — and nowhere could I find information for their HR or hiring manager to follow up. (I should note that I did try to upload a resume/portfolio combo, but got an error, which makes me think they had a file size cap on uploads.) A couple weeks later, I received an email informing me that I hadn’t been offered the position BUT they foresaw a need for a second position opening the coming months, and I would be encouraged to apply again because they thought I was a strong candidate.

Would it be appropriate to respond to this email thanking them for the opportunity, but also somehow tactfully pointing out that I was unable to attach my work samples? I can’t help feeling a little bitter — if I’d been able to provide my portfolio, would I have fared better in the selection process? I don’t want to sound rude and sour their impression of me just in case I do apply again further down the road, but at that point, I’d be faced with this same problem all over again.

The way around this is to put your portfolio online somewhere and send a link to it in your cover letter. If you don’t want it online because you’re concerned about privacy, you can host it in the cloud (like by using Dropbox) and send a link to it there (and so people won’t be able to just randomly come across it online).

5. Should I avoid saying my coworker was laid off?

I started at my company immediately after grad school, and I have been here for three years. After I had been here for one year, there was a small round of layoffs, and my coworker (with more than 15 years of experience) was let go, leaving me in charge of our small work group. Although my title did not change, this was a large increase in responsibility for me and there was no transition time. I did well in the role and was given an excellent performance review the following year.

I’m now searching for a new job, and I’m struggling with how to mention my coworker’s departure during interviews. I feel it’s important to bring up that I’ve handled a larger amount of responsibility than is typical for someone at my career stage, and that after just one year, my company felt comfortable having me take over the leadership role. I just can’t find the right words to describe what happened, because it feels impolite to mention that my coworker was laid off. Should I just say that she “left the company,” or “left the company abruptly” or is there a better way to describe this situation?

It’s not impolite to mention a layoff! Layoffs are a normal thing that happens, and you don’t need to dance around that, especially when it’s so relevant. You can just say, “My company did a small round of layoffs. My coworker’s job was eliminated and I took over much of her work, including X, Y, and Z.”

{ 842 comments… read them below }

  1. Circus peanuts*

    L#1 – I would leave it. He asked for your opinion and you gave it to him and he rejected your common sense. Going back to him a second time after he told you that you were wrong (and you are not wrong) is going to be useless, know. You did what you could. Sometimes, you just have to let someone learn from their mistakes. He is going to look out of touch in addition to the casual sexism.

    1. David*

      I’m all for letting people learn from their mistakes in general, but in this case, is that necessarily going to happen? Martin is a whole ocean away from the people he’d be sending flowers to, and he might never find out about it not being well received.

      If he steadfastly refuses to believe LW#1 no matter what she says, then sure, at some point leaving it alone makes sense. But based on the letter, it sounds like there might be room to tell him again in stronger terms before that point is reached.

      1. Say what, now?*

        I’m in agreement with David here. But more because he’s going to be perceived poorly and possibly affect his working relationship with some of these women if they find it “icky.”

        Explain it to him as a cultural difference. That way you’re acknowledging that it would be a lovely gesture in England but it’s not the same thing here where the cultural climate has been shifting away from office interactions that could be seen as patronizing will be particularly poorly received. He’s possibly unaware of the recent women’s marches and the dialogue about workplace propriety sparked by Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo movement.

        1. embertine*

          LW has updated below, but I’d be wary of explaining it as a cultural difference, when it really isn’t. It allows him to save face I guess?

          1. Say what, now?*

            I’m pretty for letting him save face. If you don’t mind, what name are they posting under? I’d love to read the update.

        2. Lokifan*

          Speaking as a Brit and Londoner – he’s definitely aware of that movement, we’re having these conversations too, and this would be creepy and patronising here too.

          1. SarahKay*

            Seconded. I’m a Brit, although not quite a Londoner, and I would say it’s sexist and patronising. I would think considerably less of him for doing this if I were getting flowers from him while none of my male coworkers did.

            1. The Bimmer Guy*

              It’s been my experience that when anyone says, “People wouldn’t find this offensive in MY culture,” they’re usually wrong, and they know that, not that it should matter. It’s often just a defense for wanting to plow ahead with something someone has outright said is offensive.

          2. Say what, now?*

            Oh, wow. And he’s still saying it’s in line with workplace norms with all of that going on there, too? Craziness! Thanks for clarifying that for me, Lokifan.

          3. Koko*

            I’ve honestly often felt the Guardian has done a better job with a lot of the coverage of #metoo than US media has.

            1. Jotpe*

              The Guardian has made a concerted effort to gain left-ish American readers. About seven or eight years ago landing on the site from an American ISP triggered a readership survey that really strongly suggested they were trying to suss out a gap in the market. I’m pretty sure they see American news as part of their patch. (And I agree they are making a contribution.)

              1. Anion*

                The Guardian is a garbage rag that ran a fawning article about a group of people that personally and viciously harassed myself and a number of others in my particular professional community, portraying these people as “standing up for the little guy.” They did zero research to discover how false their claims were and are, and never retracted the article or ran any kind of opposing one when it was pointed out to them repeatedly–with proof–that they were promoting a group that stalked, harassed, defamed, and doxxed innocent women for the “crime” of expressing an opinion about a product they paid for.

                Sorry, I know this is OT, but if you care about women’s rights, autonomy, and safety, please do not support the Guardian.

                1. Starbuck*

                  What happened to you sounds awful, but I don’t think this kind of comment is going to dissuade many from reading it without some kind of source included, or even a more specific indication of what the issue was about.

          4. London Grammar*

            As a fellow Brit. I would find the gesture extremely patronising and sexist. I think it would be deemed as an inappropriate thing to do.

    2. Oilpress*

      I would also leave it because I would enjoy watching Martin’s attempt to show off fall flat. While sexist, this isn’t going to hurt anyone. It’s just going to make Martin look like a poopus.

      1. Observer*

        Really? I mean, sure being creeped out by a pompous casual sexist isn’t a Harvey Weinstein level of bad, but it’s still something that people shouldn’t have to endure in order to provide entertainment to others.

      2. Susana*

        Yes, it hurts someone – it demeans the women in the office, who wold be treated like the secretarial pool in a “Mad Men” episode. I would be humiliated if the happened to me in my office.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Maybe all the women can ban together and put all their flowers in a public/common space in the office and send him a pic when they receive the flowers.

      3. Hey Nonnie*

        I’d say it would be quite likely to hurt someone. I don’t know about you all, but flowers on Valentine’s Day heavily implies romantic intent to me (or in a lot of cases “I wanna get laid” thinly disguised as “romantic intent” in the expectation that this will fool women into cooperating or make it more palatable to them). This is even more the case when someone goes well out of their way and/or spends a lot of money to achieve said flowers — which would be a given when arranging for flowers internationally. AKA, in a workplace, sexual harassment. I’d be willing to bet at least one recipient would be speaking to HR about it.

        1. sin nombre*

          I absolutely would be. I work in a pathologically male-dominated industry, my patience for patronizing behavior from men is zero, and I would be talking to HR instantly.

        2. TardyTardis*

          And it really is sexist. My husband *adored* getting flowers presented to him in class at school. It made some of the teen guys think and most all the girls went ooh and aaah.

      4. Aeryn Sun*

        Hurt may be a strong word (though it certainly could hurt someone) but it will most likely make people uncomfortable.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          Yes. “Hurt” doesn’t necessarily mean insulted, it means “harmed.” I would certainly feel confused and demeaned if a male coworker I had met once sent me Valentine’s Day flowers. Also, Valentine’s Day has religious origins and not everyone considers it a secular holiday or wants to take part in celebrating it, for a variety of reasons. An office cake, a few decorations? Cute. Sending individual romantic-coded gifts only to women employees? Weird and gross.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Not knowing everyone’s personal history this most certainly could cause harm to someone. Psychological/emotional harm is still “harm” i.e. “hurt.” I think it is best to refrain from making blanket statements about how a certain word may or may not be “strong” simply because we don’t know what any given person (in this case and particularly in this type of sexual harassment scenario) has had to deal with in their life.

    3. Mike C.*

      But he’s going to make all the women feel creeped out. why should they have to suffer so that this guy might learn a lesson?

      1. Penny Lane*

        I agree it’s inappropriate — not because it’s creepy in the stalker-y sense of the word, but because sending flowers is typically reserved for romantic relationships. But are they really going to *suffer*? They’re going to get lovely flowers that they can enjoy at work, take home or throw in the trash as they see fit, and chances are high they’re going to think of the guy as merely clueless about social norms, that’s all. I think it’s overly dramatic to suggest that they are going to “suffer” — it’s not as though he is sending them sexually suggestive jokes or texting pictures of his junk or telling them that their outfits look sexy.

        1. Meandre*

          You have no idea if any of those women have something about them where this might be triggering.

          What if one of them is being stalked? Flowers showing up might freak her out for a second.

          What if one of them was harassed by a coworker who sent her flowers? This would trigger bad memories.

          What if one just lost her spouse? Maybe she’s just trying to get trhoufn the day.

          I’d there are say, 50 women he’s sending them to, the odds that someone will have emotional pain upon receiving them are pretty high.

          Flowers on Valentine’s Day is not a neutral gesture. It’s bound into cultural norms if romance, gender, etc.

          You say it’s over dramatic. I say have no idea either way.

          I have personally seen people suffer when someone send them flowers. I knew a woman who had lost her husband horribly and tragically and someone sent her flowers on their anniversary. She suffered.

          I have personally known women who were stallied who were triggered when an anonymous gift showed up on Valentine’s Day.

          So it’s not over dramatic for those of use who have seen women suffer because of forced romantic gestures by strangers in the workplace.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I think this is so over the top. It’s FLOWERS. Somebody who is so traumatized that they are triggered by a common place item one can buy in the grocery store is not the norm. Your acquaintance who suffered because of being sent flowers on her anniversary (which is not a hugely uncommon thing to do!) is not the norm either. A lot of people appreciate that particular gesture even, it’s clear that whoever sent her flowers made a mistake in not knowing her situation well enough to realize she would not appreciate it but it’s a pretty honest mistake. And re. stalking, you said it yourself, “What if one of them is being stalked? Flowers showing up might freak her out for a second.” The operative word here is “second.” We can’t go through life advocating for measures that protect everyone (especially women – it’s infantilizing) from the slightest second of discomfort, it will end up being paralyzing. I seriously doubt that there is a high frequency of people who will experience emotional pain upon being sent flowers. I still think he shouldn’t DO it, because it’s an inappropriate gesture to send your coworkers stuff on Valentine’s Day and more inappropriate to single female coworkers out when sending stuff on Valentine’s Day, but I think the idea that the reason you shouldn’t do it is that it’s a serious trauma risk is ridiculous.

            1. Ani are you okay*

              Assuming there are numerous women in the office, which it sounds like there are, it will become clear very quickly that the flowers are not actually intended as a romantic gesture since they went to all the women. It’s a stupid and patronizing thing for him to do, but I don’t think anyone is going to actually think he is trying to sleep with all of the women thus I don’t think this rises to some kind of emergency that LW must stop at all costs. He’s said his piece, maybe he can try one more time, but in the end if this guy is such a doofus LW may need to let him dig his own grave.

              1. Anion*

                +1 to you and Elizabeth H.

                Let’s trust adult women in the workplace to be capable of navigating daily life without an attack of the vapors, shall we?

                The man in question here has at least met these women, hasn’t he, and none of them shrieked and shied away in fear when he attempted to shake their hands, or otherwise indicated that they were terrified of a friendly gesture from a man?

                Don’t get me wrong, I agree it’s inappropriate, but it’s hardly a crime.

                (And at my husband’s workplace in England–which was not London, admittedly–this would have been seen as an extremely charming and welcome gesture by the women receiving the flowers, so it’s not as if this guy is completely, way way off base in thinking women might enjoy receiving flowers in the workplace, either.)

                1. sin nombre*

                  Oh, third-hand reports that some women somewhere in England hypothetically might have found this charming and welcome? Well then! I now find this charming and welcome!

                  (I do not. Many, many, many women clearly do not. Enough that I’m very skeptical an office exists in either the US or UK in 2018 where the women uniformly would find this charming. They might _pretend_ they found it charming. That’s not the same.)

                2. Anion*

                  It’s “condescending” to say that I believe adult women in the workplace are capable of handling unwanted flowers without collapsing into tears?

                  I find it condescending that some people seem to think we’re not capable of that, frankly. And I’m not the only one. If we’re this fragile, perhaps the workplace is not the place for us, and we should retire to our fainting couches where nothing and no one not pre-approved by us will ever be permitted entry.

                  Sin Nombre, I’m pretty sure you either missed or failed to understand the part where I said I also find this inappropriate. I in no way implied that any woman should find it charming and welcome–again, I *specifically said I did not.* For you to read that into my comment–wait, no, I don’t think you actually did read that into my comment, and I don’t think you missed it. I think you were simply desperate for a way to argue with me so decided to raise this ridiculous strawman objection implying that I said because the women my husband worked with–five or six of them, in that very small company, all of whom used to gather to examine with coos and sighs of envy the flowers one of them was semi-regularly sent by a client–would find this charming, all women should.

                  P.S. The commentariat here may indeed be representative of many, many women. It is also NOT representative of many, many *other* women. Once again, women are not a hivemind. We are not the Borg. Some of us like things others do not.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              What if she has a strong flower allergy? Why should someone snuffle and sneeze their way through the day to soothe this guy’s ego?

              It costs him nothing to NOT do this. Why defend a situation where (risk of harm > 0 and harm of not doing it = 0) , even if ‘risk of harm’ is small?

              1. Totally Minnie*

                Oh, man. I am HORRIFICALLY allergic to flowers. I would have to throw them away in someone else’s trash can, far away from me. And if every woman in the office got the same flowers, I might actually need to go home.

              2. Not Rebee*

                It literally costs him money to do it, when it’s in no way necessary, so why do it when it literally costs him nothing to not do it?

                IDK, in school as a kid everyone gets a valentine but once you grow up that is creepy. Especially because it’s so gender specific in this case. Like, sure, get everyone in the office flowers for VDay if you want? But if you’re not because it’ll be weird to give guys flowers, maybe stop and think that your brain is weird because the weird part isn’t the guys or the flowers by themselves. Firstly, some guys really like getting flowers because they never get them, secondly, maybe try getting the whole office something everyone will like. Food is always good. Get the office an edible arrangement and combine flowers and food.

                1. Ruth ok*

                  In the UK we don’t have the whole class Valentine’s tradition and it’s generally a pretty heteronnormative give to the opposite gender thing. Even little kids would only give to someone they ‘fancy’. There does seem to be some noises about the day before Valentine’s, being Galentines or other made up word that means appreciate your friends and once a female best friend gave me a card, but that’s pretty unusual.

            3. SarahTheEntwife*

              I agree that a workplace shouldn’t feel the need to prevent someone from encountering flowers at all, but flowers anonymously or otherwise unexpectedly sent to you personally at the office *isn’t* a common occurrence, at least anywhere I’ve worked. I’m sure some women would be charmed by it, but most will find it at best vaguely weird and inconvenient.

            4. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

              Agreed. I am a woman and I feel a lot more patronized by this thread’s apparent fear of women not being able to handle flowers than I’d feel uncomfortable by being sent flowers (along with all the other women in the office). Please treat us like we’re fellow human adults, and not delicate flowers (ha!) needing constant protection.

              1. soon 2be former fed*

                THIS. And unpopular opinion warning, but Valentine’s Day and Valentine’s Day 2 (Sweetest Day) are primarily womens holidays that most men would get rid of if possible. I’m speaking in a heterosexual context, which is what I know. Woman here. I have learned not to judge a man by his actions on these days, and I love flowers. My husband gives them to me at random times (I also buy them for myself), and I love it. I gift him at random times too. Keeps things fresh.

              2. sin nombre*

                It’s not about not being able to handle flowers. It’s about being completely fucking sick of being patronized at work because of my gender. Which this is.

              3. RUKiddingMe*

                It’s not a matter of ‘protecting’ women. Women are fine protecting themselves. Several are pointing out that they think this would be creepy and would not want this but a other people are dismissing their legitimate objections by saying chill out, it’s only flowers thus denying them the agency to ‘protect’ themselves. It’s not done. Dude needs to not do it. Full stop.

              4. Starbuck*

                “Please treat us like we’re fellow human adults, ”

                But that’s exactly what this guy is NOT doing, by sending flowers to all women but not any men. He’s not treating them like adults, but like high school sweethearts. That’s what the objection is. I don’t need to be protected from flowers- I need to not be singled out on the basis of my gender!

            5. JHunz*

              The premise you’re arguing from is ridiculous. There are quite a number of things available at my nearest grocery store that it would be incredibly inappropriate to send all the women in my office or any office. Condoms. Tampons. “Sorry for your loss” bereavement cards. Deodorant.

              1. Former Employee*

                So, if a woman goes out on a date with a man and he send her flowers afterwards, that’s equivalent to his sending her tampons.

                Just, no. Flowers are not equivalent to a personal hygiene product.

                Sending flowers is like sending chocolate or a fruit basket or some other treat.

                I think it is weird/inappropriate to send flowers to the women rather than sending a goody basket to the entire office, for example, but I also don’t see why the women would have a breakdown over it, either. I would think the reaction would be more along the lines of the women deciding he is a bit odd and then chalking it up to the fact that he is British.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          There are different levels of “suffering.” Mike isn’t suggesting that it’s as bad as if they caught the plague. But it would certainly make me feel creeped out and belittled and even demeaned. It would remind me that some of my male coworkers see me first as a woman who needs to be treated special instead of just a coworker. That’s what Mike is getting at.

          1. sin nombre*

            Exactly. This. And it’s not okay. It doesn’t have to be life-shattering trauma to be unequivocally not okay. I get so many reminders, subtle and not, that my male coworkers view me differently, and it really adds up. And I would be livid about this.

          2. Kelsi*

            Yep. It would definitely disrupt my “I am happy and comfortable and feel respected in this office” groove.

          3. soon 2be former fed*

            I wouldn’t feel this way at all. I would wonder why this man wasted his money like this. Seeing us as women doesn’t mean we are seen only as women or even first as women.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Women put up with enough garbage in the workplace and already have a hard enough time being viewed as serious employees and not giggling typists. While this is not in line with, say, having your fingernails pulled out, it’s definitely something that’s worse than just a ham-handed gesture. Giving it a pass because it’s not exactly physical torture feels a little too much like guys getting away with inappropriate behavior under the guise of being “awkward”. It’s still inappropriate.

          1. myswtghst*

            Completely agreed. Just because it isn’t the worst thing to ever happen doesn’t mean it isn’t one more frustrating / potentially upsetting thing being added on top of everything these women are already dealing with on a daily basis.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Well you know, boys will be boys and the women must assuage their fragile little awkward egos when they make a ‘goof’ like this…yes even when they were told not to do it.

        4. Natalie*

          I don’t know, I think you might be taking “suffer” a little bit too literally? I wouldn’t be traumatized or anything, but I would be very uncomfortable and anxious if I received flowers from a coworker, especially if I didn’t know that he had sent them to a bunch of people and at least one person had tried to talk him out of it. Women are often embarrassed when they are targets of sexual harassment – not that we should be, but it’s an incredibly common reaction – so I could totally see myself quietly throwing the flowers away and never asking anyone about them.

          OP updated downthread that they were able to convince Martin to do this, but if they hadn’t been I’d say the best thing the OP could do at this point is give their coworkers a heads up about Martin’s dumb idea.

          1. Penny Lane*

            This is the “women as weaklings” argument. I certainly appreciate that someone who has been the victim of a stalker might react negatively to receiving unexpected flowers, but then that same person might react negatively to receiving a basket of fruit sent by a client too and you can’t predict all of that. (BTW, I’ve had clients send me flowers when I did a particularly awesome job on something. It so happened it came from a team of a man and a woman. It was nice. It also wasn’t Valentine’s Day so there was no mix-up of romantic interest.)

            I can’t see why you would be “anxious” though. The guy’s overseas; it’s not like he’s in the cube next door and about to look you in the b@@bs instead of in the eyes when he’s asking you about a work matter. (And if he looked you in the b@@bs, you could remind him that your eyes are up here.)

            We women really need to take our power back as opposed to being anxious and frightened and squirrelly over every little thing. Save the uncomfortable and anxious for something that deserves it. As a fifty something woman, I am very disconcerted by the trend of younger women to react to unwanted advances by retreating into emotion as opposed to dealing with logic and reason. This is an inappropriate misstep from someone who lacks an understanding of social norms but in the absence of anything else, warn him and let it go; this isn’t pussy-grab in the hallway.

            1. Mike C.*

              I’m not calling them weaklings, I’m simply saying that there’s more than enough garbage women have to deal with in the workplace to justify not having to deal with one more thing.

            2. Natalie*

              Wow, you are making a shit ton of assumptions about me that aren’t remotely warranted from the actual words I wrote! I didn’t say anything about fearing for my personal safety or stalking, and trust me, if I could “save” anxiety only for things that deserve it I absolutely would.

              Have a good day.

              1. sin nombre*

                What you wrote totally resonated with me and I think I’d feel and react the exact same way. Solidarity. I’m sorry people are taking your post as an opportunity to, uh, idk, whatever that was.

            3. LBK*

              Speaking as a man, it’s not women’s responsibility to push men into not being creeps, intentionally or not.

            4. Elizabeth H.*

              I couldn’t agree more with all of this. It is so disempowering and unproductive to focus on reacting to and condemning things that make you uncomfortable rather than actually dealing with them. Like you said it’s an inappropriate misstep, not something to be frightened by.

              1. sin nombre*

                … You deal with things first by reacting to them. I honestly can’t even follow this line of reasoning. However, to be transparent, I personally am not interested in debating whether or not my personal emotions are valid or legitimate, and am not going to continue this discussion any further.

              2. myswtghst*

                Reacting to and condemning something that makes me uncomfortable IS dealing with it. The Martins of the world will only stop doing things like this if they’re told, early and often, that it is unwanted, and regardless of good intentions, is something that is likely to make women uncomfortable and affect their perception of him. Treating the women in your workplace significantly different than the men IS a problem, even if the difference is a well-intentioned “positive” gesture.

              3. Plague of frogs*

                “It is so disempowering and unproductive to focus on reacting to and condemning things that make you uncomfortable rather than actually dealing with them. ”

                The only way this sentence makes sense is if by “dealing with them” you mean “silently putting up with them.”

                I think I’ll just go ahead and keep speaking out about sexist behavior in the workplace, and deal with the non-existent hit to my empowerment and productivity.

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  What I meant by “dealing with them,” is if somebody does something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you say “Please don’t do [x], you are making me uncomfortable.”

                2. RUKiddingMe*

                  @Elizabeth H. I can’t reply directly to your comment:

                  “Please don’t do [x], you are making me uncomfortable.”

                  Instead of this I think it’s best to say: “Don’t do [x].” “Please” is a request and in no way am I requesting they stop/don’t do [whatever] and why is none of their concern.

            5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Hard disagree. Your argument about “women as weaklings” is the same argument Kellyanne Conway made with respect to Hope Hicks dating Rob Portman. It’s not about women being weak or fragile or whatever. It’s not about our deficiencies. It’s about living in a world in which constant sexual discrimination and harassment has real impacts on our advancement, economic parity, and safety.

              It’s not right or reasonable or ok to critique women for being affected by predatory/discriminatory behavior, nor is it ok to say they’re being overly “emotional” instead of relying on “logic and reason.” Harassment is not limited to “pussy grabs” or Harvey Weinsteins.

              Instead of being disconcerted about women who are unwilling to put up with “low-grade” harassment (or criticizing them for caring about the spectrum of bad behavior instead of just the most egregious behavior), please focus on addressing badly behaved men. And enlist good men in that effort, because it shouldn’t be on women to fix patriarchy alone.

              1. sin nombre*

                This. Thank you. I am glad you are here. These comments are depressing the hell out of me this morning.

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                “Instead of being disconcerted about women who are unwilling to put up with “low-grade” harassment (or criticizing them for caring about the spectrum of bad behavior instead of just the most egregious behavior), please focus on addressing badly behaved men. And enlist good men in that effort, because it shouldn’t be on women to fix patriarchy alone.”

                So much this!

            6. Jadelyn*

              Gosh, I’m so glad you’re here to tell us all how we’re allowed to feel about things. It’s really helpful to the cause, thanks!

            7. Perse's Mom*

              This is incredibly unfair, unkind, and unnecessary. We ARE taking our power back, and a significant part of that is NOT ignoring the subtler forms of harassment and sexism as somehow unworthy of being addressed just because it’s not ‘as bad’ as the more blatant examples.

              1. LBK*

                Excellent point. Taking back the power means not tolerating harassment at *any* level, from “innocent” things like this all the way up to sexual assault. Letting the small stuff slide is part of how we ended up with a culture where men feel unashamed to do the big stuff – and how they can get away with it.

                The onus shouldn’t be on women to explain and defend their reactions to the shit men do. The onus should be on men to explain and defend why it’s even remotely necessary for them to do things like send flowers to colleagues – which, if you really think about it, is a really strange action that has no place in the office. It’s only normal because it just folds into the culture we have where men are empowered to treat the office like a dating pool at no cost to their own careers.

              2. myswtghst*

                Yes, very well said. Using “not as bad as” to dismiss women’s experiences with microaggressions is a great way to ensure we never actually address any type of harassment, because something else will always be “worse than”.

            8. Mountain Woman*

              Okay. I wouldn’t be freaked out. I’d be mad as hell. Reason dictates there is no business reason to treat me differently from my male colleagues on Valentine’s Day. Logic dictates doing so is inappropriate in the workplace. I’d be annoyed that my gender trumped my working relationship with someone on a day culturally and commercially known for love and romance. It’s not whimpyness, it’s frustration.

            9. Emac*

              “I am very disconcerted by the trend of younger women to react to unwanted advances by retreating into emotion as opposed to dealing with logic and reason.”

              As a forty something woman, I don’t think this is a younger woman thing. I think it’s a result of it starting to be slightly more acceptable for women to express their true feelings about sexism and harassment. It wasn’t that women in the past used more “logic and reason,” but that they had to suppress their emotional reactions to this kind of behavior because the backlash against them would be worse than against the man.

              Also, having an emotional reaction and using logic and reason are not mutually exclusive. I would actually argue that recognizing and acknowledging your feelings about something allows you to be more logical in deciding what action to take. If you’re not acknowledging the feelings, you might think you’re acting logically in response, but there’s always going to be a hidden emotional reaction that’s impacting things.

            10. myswtghst*

              One woman sharing her experiences and feelings, and acknowledging how women have been socialized to respond to unwanted advances from men, is not arguing that all women are weaklings. We don’t need to play oppression olympics about how receiving flowers isn’t the worst thing that could happen – we can take people at their word that they would be uncomfortable or anxious without judging them for it.

              “We women really need to take our power back as opposed to being anxious and frightened and squirrelly over every little thing.”

              No. We need to support each other, and listen to each other’s experiences, not to invalidate or judge based on what (we think) we would do in someone else’s shoes, but to learn about how others experience the world so we can work together to make it better. And we need men to step up (as Mike C. and others are doing in this thread) and acknowledge that no matter how good their intent may be, the actual feelings of the actual women their actions impact need to be prioritized over their desire to do something they perceive as “a nice thing.”

            11. Robin Sparkles*

              “As a fifty something woman, I am very disconcerted by the trend of younger women to react to unwanted advances by retreating into emotion as opposed to dealing with logic and reason.”

              I think you are misreading what Natalie is saying. I agree 100% with her. And really, I don’t think it’s our job to tell other women how to react to unwanted advances. If retreating into emotion gets the same message across as “logic and reason” would – then let’s honor that. I don’t need to “take my power back” because I didn’t give it away. It would be far more helpful for society to start dealing with the root cause- men misbehaving and deliberately ignoring what women are TELLING them is demeaning under the guise of “but I was being nice”. Frankly, I think we are treating men like they are unable to understand anything beyond blunt responses rather than polite rejections. We know that men figure these things out quite easily from other men, from their bosses, from people in power. So it’s rather frustrating to get these messages that women need to change how they respond.

            12. soon 2be former fed*

              THIS. I would throw the damn flowers in the garbage if I didn’t want them, and not give it another thought. Don’t let stuff steal your energy.

            13. RUKiddingMe*

              “I am very disconcerted by the trend of younger women to react to unwanted advances by retreating into emotion as opposed to dealing with logic and reason.”

              This is frighteningly too close to saying that women are incapable of logic and reason. This is a sexist statement. We need to stop treating emotions/feelings as anathema to logic and reason and to stop insinuating that women aren’t good are thinking things through because…’emotional.’

        5. Jadelyn*

          Why are we auditing someone else’s potential for being negatively affected by something? There’s a lot of that going on in this set of subthreads. Does it really matter whether the women being included in this gesture will experience negative effects to the level of calling it “hurt” or “suffering”? Do we really need to nitpick and quantify that down to what the “appropriate” level of reaction would be? This is an inappropriately gendered gesture. It will almost certainly have some level of negative effect. Do you need to police the level of negative effect on total strangers?

          1. JessaB*

            Thank you. Microaggressions hurt. It’s a death of 1000 cuts. That one minor thing might not be a big deal but if it’s the 20th minor thing of the day that becomes HUGE. If we don’t get on the little things, they become big things. And caring about the little things does not make the big things less important.

            1. soon 2be former fed*

              Forty years as a black woman in the professional workplace, I know a little something about aggression, micro and macro. If an incident rises to the level of macro, I escalate. If not, I educate. Then I get back to focusing on my work and my goals. I know that in my lifetime, the workplace is not going to become “fair”, and I had to decide how to best manage it for my own best interest. If you would feel empowered by rejecting unwanted flowers, do so! Let that man know how you feel! I certainly don’t take crap, but I don’t rent space in my head to folks that aren’t worth it.

              1. sin nombre*

                in my lifetime, the workplace is not going to become “fair”

                It can get a hell of a lot closer if we stop quietly putting up with shit there is no reason we should have to put up with.

          2. Hj*

            To the pro flowers commenters-
            I’m a Brit. I was sexually abused as a kid by a relative who enjoyed sending me flowers, poems and gifts well into my adulthood, until I threatened to go to the police. Flowers were part of the abuse. Flowers are a trigger that sets of days of PTSD symptoms. You wouldn’t know that because:
            – I have done a crapload of therapy
            – I don’t disclose to employers dye to the stigma
            but I would be affected, it would make my life and ability to focus on work a lot harder and the insistence that I should laugh or be flattered would be extra work to on top of managing what is a disability. I am not delicate, I survived child rape and am a courageous activist. Anyone willing to step up and tell Martin to knock it off would be an ally to me.

            Just because you can’t take the perspective of another womam, doesn’t mean hers is not valid.

      2. MillenialAnalyst*

        My goodness, since when does “creeped out” equate suffering? I’m creeped out when I see a spider in my bedroom, but I wouldn’t say I’ve suffered anything, and it’s hard to see how any woman would “suffer” by getting flowers. This is what I consider victim shaming. You’re making a mockery of women who have actually suffered through some inappropriate action or trauma.

        1. Mike C.*

          gerund or present participle: suffering

          1. experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant).

          From the definition above, there is a spectrum here. Why are you presuming that I mean the most extreme sense of the word when I referred earlier to being “creeped out”, implying a much less extreme context? Being subjected to some creeper who wants to do something like this is certainly an unpleasant experience, is it not? How does pointing it out mock women who’ve faced more serious issues or otherwise shame victims?

        2. CdnAcct*

          Your comment reminds me of people who say, “Women who get catcalled are just getting complimented, they should feel flattered.” It’s not flattering or enjoyable to be reminded in your workplace that you have coworkers who see your gender first before your professional skills. This is especially relevant for Valentine’s Day since it’s so tied up in gendered relationship norms, it’s not usual to give presents to people on Valentine’s unless it’s related to romance or family.
          It’s odd to me that people think women are ‘too sensitive’ to not want to be creeped out by gestures that could be romantic, when men receiving these same gestures from other men would definitely be uncomfortable. If the British coworker sent flowers on Valentine’s to his male coworkers, do you think they would be creeped out?

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’m glad I’m not the only one seeing shades of “It’s a compliment!” in a lot of these responses.

            1. Perse's Mom*

              Right. ‘I would kind of like flowers from a strange man I’ve never met, so clearly it’s a total overreaction on the part of everyone else to NOT want surprise flowers from a strange man they’ve never met!’

              1. Perse's Mom*

                In case that seemed kind of sarcastic, I was trying to agree with you. Random flowers = ‘compliment’ from stranger = BOTH CREEPY

              2. Anion*

                But he’s NOT “a strange man they’ve never met.” He’s a co-worker they did in fact meet personally. That’s why he’s sending them flowers to begin with.

                Flowers from a stranger would be extremely creepy. Flowers from a coworkers from overseas, with whom you have interacted personally, as a “Have a great day, it was nice meeting you in person,” gesture is inappropriate at best.

                1. dawbs*

                  eh, my own experience flowers from a stranger = creepy. Flower from a very distant acquaintance also = creepy.

                  THis should be discouraged for no other reason than it ‘normalizes’ this crap. I mean, can you imagine next year, the newly hired intern?
                  “I really want to do something nice. Everyone made polite noises when Fergus sent every female employee a flower. I’m sure it’ll be even more sweet when I send a bunch to every female employee”
                  The more this goes on, the more people think this sort of thing is acceptable and ‘done’, instead of knowing it’s a crappy thing to do.

                2. Perse's Mom*

                  I have coworkers overseas who have been to our local office and we met in person. We spoke regularly on conference calls before and after that. It would STILL BE CREEPY if he decided to send flowers to all of us on a day that’s built around *romance.*

          2. myswtghst*

            ” It’s not flattering or enjoyable to be reminded in your workplace that you have coworkers who see your gender first before your professional skills.”

            Yes, thank you. And thank you for summing up what I’ve been trying to figure out how to say – all of this sounds way too much like the all too common responses that treat catcalling and street harassment as a “compliment” that women (especially those of us who are not conventionally attractive) should appreciate, and it’s really disappointing.

        3. Kelsi*

          “This is what I consider victim shaming. You’re making a mockery of women who have actually suffered through some inappropriate action or trauma.”

          Glad you looked into your crystal ball to know that no one here (or at LW’s office) has suffered “inappropriate action or trauma.” Survivors of sexual harassment and assault DEFINITELY police women feeling uncomfortable about microaggressions, and never ever speak out against those microaggressions themselves.

          Oh…wait. Or not that at all. Stop assuming that survivors are easily identifiable or that you’re not talking to one. We’re not a monolith (heck, you might be one too, I have no way of knowing!) and we can speak for ourselves, thanks.

        4. myswtghst*

          “This is what I consider victim shaming. You’re making a mockery of women who have actually suffered through some inappropriate action or trauma.”

          Can we not treat this as a competition where only those who have been most wronged are allowed to express their feelings? Acknowledging that different women deal with different experiences in different ways is not “victim shaming”, it’s reality. Sure, a few women in the office may be thrilled to get flowers from a random coworker, or just not care, but plenty of others are going to be uncomfortable with what is commonly perceived to be a romantic gesture from a coworker, or frustrated that this coworker did something so clearly gendered when he could have just sent something for the whole office to enjoy.

          “it’s hard to see how any woman would “suffer” by getting flowers”

          Really? Because multiple people in this thread have given examples of how a woman might suffer in this situation, and none of those scenarios seem far-fetched to me.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        Exactly. Why is his need to learn a lesson more important than the comfort and feelings of safety and freedom from sexist treatment more important? Oh, it’s not.

    4. Larisa*

      LW1-Martin is from UK where men frequently buy flowers for all women in their offices for International Woman’s Day, on March 8th. This is probably where he got the idea…Would it be appropriate to suggest to Martin to do this on March 8th instead??? As European woman, I know I appreciate being celebrated that one day in the office…My boss even let’s all women leave an hour or two earlier on March 8th.

      1. Star*

        I’ve worked in many offices in the UK, and have never seen this happen on International Women’s Day, and as far as I’m aware it doesn’t happen for any of my female friends either. Maybe it’s just that my offices don’t bother (though I’ve never heard of it at all until today!), or is it more of a thing in mainland Europe? I would find it very odd (and potentially a bit creepy) to receive flowers from anyone who wasn’t my boyfriend or my grandmother, regardless of the day.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Same – I have literally never heard of this practice as a Brit. I think Martin probably thinks he can get away with things as a Brit in the USA that he never could at home (I have male friends who are seen as “charming” working in USA cities, in ways they never were in the UK, purely because of their accents) and is just pulling bullshit. What surprises me is he doesn’t seem to see how easy the “That’s how we do it in London” is to disprove…

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          It doesn’t matter if he did get the idea from that, which by the way I seriously doubt. It isn’t done in the US. Many, many, many UK commenters say it isn’t done there either so him saying it is, is a lie. He needs to not do it. American women by and large will be creeped out. It is sexist and stalker-y, and borders on sexual harassment. He needs to just not do it.

      2. Mary*

        Martin is lying. Buying flowers for IWD is something I’ve seen in Germany & I think it happens in Russia and probably other parts of Eastern Europe, but I’ve absolutely never heard of anyone doing it on the UK. I’m sure someone does it somewhere in the UK, but it’s by NO means a normal custom.

        Martin is weird.

          1. Mary*

            Ha, yes! This could be like the bit in James Bond where Bond figures out that the other guy is a double agent because he orders red wine with fish.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, it’s definitely done in Russia as well. There was an IWD event from the Russian student’s association at the university I work at and one of our student employees brought me a flower. It would normally have been kind of inappropriate but it was so clearly a festive gesture that had no romantic subtext whatsoever so it was just really cute.

      3. Nanani*

        It’s still sexist and counter to the point of international women’s day.
        Flowers = Hey female colleagues! We still see y ou as romance objects! Instead of, like, colleagues.

        Just no.

      4. embertine*

        This isn’t a UK thing either. I know it happens in other European countries but it really doesn’t here.

      5. Susana*

        Huh. Me, I’d just rather get equal pay and an equal shot at promotions. I don’t want flowers from someone I’m not involved with or personal friends with – and that should be what it’s about, not a work relationship. No, this isn’t sexual assault or harassment. It’s troubling in a more enduring way – it’s saying that the company or its execs see the “gals” in the office a giggly girls first, wanting flowers and compliments, instead of as female colleagues and equals.

      6. Nita*

        This thought did occur to me! It still seems like it would be awkward though – first, because it’s not all the women in the office, only those he met, and second, because it’s not his office and he doesn’t know them well. And of course, this is not a thing at all in the US and they would be surprised, not necessarily in a good way. He’d be effectively singling them out with what over here looks like a romantic gesture.

    5. Jotpe*

      If Martin did send the flowers, and OP was in a position to do so, could they intercept and have the florist put them in the lobby or break room or something? And then send out an email saying anyone who wants to bring a bouquet home can? If he insists on spending his money this way, ok, but if I were the manager (or even the office manager) I don’t think I’d be comfortable letting my female staff have to deal with this each at their own desk. I don’t know.

      1. Natalie*

        Not sure if you saw below, but the letter writer did update to say they were able to talk Martin out of it. That said, if Martin had proceeded, this is a great idea and IMO would be completely appropriate as a manager.

        1. Jotpe*

          Ah, phew! The more I thought about it the more I imagined a florist unloading a van full of Unwanted Advances into this office…….

  2. sacados*

    OP1: Yeah I would just explain it as a cultural thing, especially since he’s arguing that “in London nobody would think it strange.” Cultural norms around Valentine’s Day vary widely from country to country, even in an office setting (case in point, all the giri-choco exchanges going on in my Tokyo office right now).
    So the easiest thing is probably just to say that even though he means well, it would be taken the wrong way in an American office and is generally just Not Done.

    1. Sandy*

      In one country where I used to work, tradition has it that the men of the office give all the women flowers on Mother’s Day. Ew ew ew.

      1. Femme d'Afrique*

        That actually happened to me too! I did not (and do not) have children, but a man sent me a Mother’s Day card because – and I quote – he “didn’t want me to feel left out.” {Puke}

        1. Say what, now?*

          I get your puke, but at least it was because he was trying to be inclusive? At least the card didn’t say something outrageously creepy like “I sent you these even though you’re not a mother, because you possess all of the necessary apparatus.” I had an ex-boyfriend ask me (jokingly but still grossly) if I wanted to “try to be a mother on Mother’s Day.”

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I don’t see much difference. “Happy Mother’s Day, because you’re a woman” basically translated to “even though you’re not a mother, you possess all of the necessary apparatus.”

          2. Femme d'Afrique*

            The thing is, I’ve never wanted children (which he had no way of knowing since we didn’t have that kind of relationship) so yeah, the gesture was intended to be inclusive BUT only because he’d assumed that since I have “all of the necessary apparatus,” motherhood was something of an inevitability.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Someone did this to me on Facebook and it fucking hurt. It was utterly thoughtless and pointless. They did not do it for me; they did it for themselves. It was like those ridiculous blessing bags people give to the homeless just to make themselves feel better. No.

          4. ket*

            Busted out laughing on this one… because I gave birth on Mother’s Day, and that was weird. I am sometimes an excessively literal person but going into labor does take the cake.

          5. SarahTheEntwife*

            But why would you include someone who the event *isn’t even about*? If I’m not a mother by choice (which happens to be the case), then the holiday isn’t about me except as a time to call my own mother, and if I wanted to have children but couldn’t, it would probably be extra-painful to have someone point it out.

        2. Eye of Sauron*

          Not in a work setting, but I once was handed a flower on Mother’s Day along with the phrase “For Mothers and Others”.

          Ughh…. This was first of many missteps that the individual made with me.

      2. Project Manager*

        Maybe it’s because I am a mother and do have fairly close friendships with many of my male colleagues such that I wouldn’t bat an eye at their acknowledging Mother’s Day to me, but I’m not getting why this different cultural practice is “gross” and “so horrible”. Inappropriate per American social norms, yes, absolutely – I was envisioning someone asking how my day went, not giving me flowers when they are neither my child nor my husband. But inherently “gross”?

        1. Palmanic*

          I think it’s the idea that all the men you work with are acknowledging that they have spent any time at all thinking about your uterus and associated activities. I mean, the thoughts happen, but the polite thing to do is pretend they don’t. It’s also a little fraught – you never know who is experiencing infertility, or miscarriage, or the inability to find someone to find someone to have a baby with. Plus. It implies that all women aspire to be mothers, which is not the case.

          1. Ani are you okay*

            Do you really find that every time you think about someone’s being a parent (or not) you start thinking about their uterus/ovaries/testes? I 100% agree that giving coworkers Mother’s Day gifts is inappropriate (because they might be infertile, they might not want kids, they almost certainly they are not your actual mother, etc). But not because it involves thinking about their uteruses any more than buying someone lunch involves thinking about their intestines.

        2. Catherine*

          It goes along with the cultural assumption that all women are or want to be mothers, which is, yeah, pretty gross.

          1. Say what, now?*

            This hits it on the head for me. It assumes that you want to be a mother. Maybe you do (I believe that most people who are mothers are happy to be so) but maybe you wish you hadn’t gone that route. It’s better to let the people close to the person celebrate with them or abstain from celebrating because they know better than the officemate you put on a face for.

        3. Just Sayin'*

          I implies that the women in the office are seen as the men’s mothers! We don’t clean up their messes, kiss their booboos, do their laundry, or nuture them in any way, so they don’t need to show their thanks and appreciation on Mother’s Day.

          1. Say what, now?*

            This, too! I’m younger than all of the men in the office but I’ve seen my boss refer to one of the older women as his “work mom.” Talk about a screwed up dynamic and I don’t think she loves it.

        4. TheNotoriousMCG*

          Last year was my first mother’s day working for an extremely large company with a ton of team members and Mother’s Day was a huge day for guests to be on-site. Every team member and guest was wishing every woman (regardless of if they knew them or knew they were a mother or not) happy Mother’s Day and while in the moment I didn’t make a big deal of it, personally it felt blech. I’m not a mom, I don’t want to be a mom, I think it’s weird that they would say it to every woman even the ones they don’t know, and one male team member who said it to me and I thoughtlessly said back ‘you too’ he stopped and WAS offended and said ‘I’m not a mother!’ I was at the end of my rope by that point so I said ‘Well that makes two of us!’

          1. teclatrans*

            I am a mom and I would feel the exact same way. It’s still singling women out and celebrating their assigned gender roles. Bleach.

            (And lol, I love “you too.”)

        5. Femme d'Afrique*

          Project Manager, what are your thoughts on a man giving Mother’s Day cards or flowers to women he KNOWS don’t have children? That was my situation and while there was definitely no malice, I did find it… weirdly inappropriate. It wasn’t made any better because his “gifts” were tinged with a kind of pitying “don’t worry, you’ll be a mother one day” kind of vibe. As Palmanic says, “implies that all women aspire to be mothers.” Also, I knew the man in a strictly professional capacity and whether or not I had children wasn’t a factor in our business relationship.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I think it’s really weird to give Mother’s Day gifts for any woman who does not mother you or anyone in your immediate family (so, mother of your child or spouse). Why would you celebrate their motherhood unless they are raising/raised someone very dear to you?

            And more importantly, IMO it’s kind of creepy to treat people at work differently based on class (protected or not) rather than their ability or who they are as an individual.

            1. Penny Lane*

              I agree. I think it’s bizarre to acknowledge Mother’s Day outside of your own mother/grandmother (or perhaps someone who acted in a maternal capacity in their absence, such as an aunt), perhaps your own daughter if she’s a mother, and perhaps your wife who is mother of your children. It’s not an outside-the-family type of holiday, IMO.

              1. Decima Dewey*

                I’m sort of resigned to being wished a happy Mother’s Day by strangers, even though I’ve never given birth. Many women my age have. If I’m feeling evil, I give a sincere sounding “Same to you” to a man who says it.

                1. Relly*

                  There’s a restaurant that gives out flowers to women on mother’s day. I just cheerfully hand them back.

                  “Don’t need it! IUD’s still working.” *Thumbs-up’d”

              2. RUKiddingMe*

                Exactly. It doesn’t belong in the workplace, full stop. Acknowledge your own mother/grandmother[s]/aunt[s]/daughter[s]/nieces[s]/maybe good friend[s] who you know to be mothers, but beyond that, just no.

                My only child died (in 2010). I am still a mother, just not like I was before he died. My family and a few friends always wish me a happy mother’s day, but they all asked if it was ok to do so beause I might be just a little sensitive. I know they want me to feel included and it comes from a place of love.

                At work? Yeah you don’t know me well enough to know my life. Just no.

          2. A.*

            Someone gave me a Mother’s Day card because I have dogs one year. While I love my dogs, I do not consider myself a dog mom because I have dogs. While I appreciated the gesture I was annoyed/embarrassed because I actually would love to have a child of my own. Plus I recently lost my mother and I don’t need people wishing me Happy Mother’s Day and reminding me of the fact that I no longer have a mother. People should just stick to wishing Happy Mother’s Day to the people in their own lives.

        6. Akcipitrokulo*

          You are giving mothers’ day presents to someone who may have lost a child, either through miscarriage or after they were born, or who may be desperate for a child and unable to conceive, or who has just lost custody of their child, or who has been estranged from their child… or who has just lost their own mother and doesn’t want to think of it.

          it can be a very cruel thing to do.

          1. LJL*

            Thank you. I was just going to say that. Just because a woman is not a mother doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to , and perhaps may not be able . Best to leave that alone.

        7. Akcipitrokulo*

          And apart from possible upset from someone who has lost a child or is childless involuntarily…

          You could be giving it to someone who has zero interest in being a mother, which is presumptious and insulting.

          1. Natalie*

            And really, it doesn’t have to be specifically painful or offensive to be inappropriate. In a work setting, singling women out for a “personal” holiday is inappropriate because it’s setting the women apart in a way that’s not remotely work related. The men aren’t being viewed through a lens of fatherhood, the women shouldn’t either.

            1. Akcipitrokulo*

              This is also a very good point! I was thinking of it in terms of acute harm to a specific person, but the general harm to women in general is also important.

            2. JessaB*

              Yes every company I ever worked at that did something for Mother’s Day did NOT do a corresponding thing for Father’s day. Ever. I never saw that happen anywhere and none of my friends ever reported that their companies had done such.

        8. Fiennes*

          As a woman who had a fertility treatment fail just before Mother’s Day one year and still got dopey well-wishes that made me want to sob—yes, it’s “gross” to take even the smallest chance of hurting someone that day. Those lucky enough to be moms are probably going to get their due from their due from their family. They don’t need your cards. So you are literally accomplishing nothing with this but running the risk of hurting someone.

          1. Hrovitnir*

            Ah, I’m sorry. As someone who deeply resents the assumption I want to be a parent (and any and all gendering) my reactions are mostly affiliated with that side, but it would be so much worse in your case.

        9. Legal Beagle*

          Why are my male coworkers celebrating me AS A MOTHER? That does strike me as hugely inappropriate, and yes, a little gross. My identity to my colleagues is not “mom.” If a company wanted to send generic Mother’s and Father’s Day cards to all relevant employees, that would be a harmless gesture. But women being personally gifted flowers by male coworkers is a huge boundary violation. Do the women employees give the men flowers on Father’s Day? I highly doubt it, and I’d want to sink into the floor and die if a workplace asked me to do that.

        10. RUKiddingMe*

          It’s gross because it is men in the workplace seeing you as 1) female, 2) you have a uterus, and 3) “of course you want to be a mother someday. It’s only natural after all.”

          Bet they don’t give flowers/gifts to childless (by choice or otherwise) male colleagues because 2) they are male, 2) they have penises, and 3) “of course they want to be a father some day. It’s “natural” after all.”

      3. Nita*

        See this is why some countries have a “Women’s Day” – not Mother’s Day, not Lover’s Day, it’s for any girl. I like that much better. (And yes, there’s also a “Men’s Day” but it doesn’t get as much attention…)

        1. Emi.*

          We have Women’s Day in the US, but the primary way we observe is it that women spend the entire day assuring men that there is also a Men’s Day.

          1. Star*

            The comedian Richard K Herring (@Herring1967) spends International Women’s Day replying to whiny dudes on Twitter to tell them when International Men’s Day is. It’s always pretty great.

          2. Nita*

            There is? It seems to be rather obscure though. I meant a Women’s Day that’s actually celebrated. It’s pretty much on the level of Valentine’s Day, the difference being that it doesn’t have the romantic implications. For example, you could give flowers to your kid’s teacher, congratulate your mom and grandma, wish a happy holiday to any woman you see at work that day, and none of it would seem weird. I think some countries that celebrate it have also adopted Valentine’s Day, but they’re totally separate holidays.

        2. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

          Do people ever complain that they feel othered by it? I’ve never lived in one of these countries, but the idea makes me uncomfortable in the same way that the idea of a male colleague sending flowers only to women does: that I’m being defined by my femaleness rather than some more relevant property. But maybe it’s the kind of thing where if you grew up with it, it’s totally normal and inoffensive?

        3. teclatrans*


          International Women’s Day as a day for celebrating and reinforcing gender roles and enforcing the patriarchy makes me want to go crawl into my blanket fort and weep.

      4. Lili*

        Heck, my church still does this every year for Mother’s Day. The rationale there is that they don’t only want to give flowers to mothers because women struggling with infertility may be slighted. They also like to say that many women are maternal and friendly even without children and they want to recognize that. It still strikes me as somewhat tone-deaf…but I usually just smile and complain once I get to the car. They may do something similar for Father’s Day, but we tend to skip church then so I’m not sure.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          I’m neither maternal nor friendly, so this is kind of a stereotype that is pretty tone deaf, in my opinion. Then again, in my parents only celebrated Mothers’/Fathers’ Day for their parents, not each other, so to me the whole idea of doing anything for someone who isn’t a parent is weird.

          1. nonymous*

            A lot of the labor performed in mainline churches within the congregation surrounds supporting childcare. It does make sense, because addressing poverty many times involves getting a grasp on reproductive rights and in the meantime, kiddos are innocents and should have access to as many opportunities as their better-off neighbors. So then everyone (men and women) get cast into the role of villagers raising the kid.

            I get what your church is trying to say, but the updated inclusive rationale I see is to make everyone honor the people whom have achieved motherhood, those who are grieving for motherhood, those who have the strength to know motherhood isn’t for them, and those muddling around in the middle. It’s not really “inclusive” to pretend everyone falls into the same category. I mean, the only “mother” category that everyone belongs to is that we all have moms, and that’s a whole different ball of wax.

            1. Jadelyn*

              …we all have birth-givers. We don’t all have moms. Child of a trans guy and his husband? Child adopted by a gay male couple? There are scenarios where a child doesn’t have a mother at all. So I don’t even think it would be accurate to say that we all have moms.

              1. Former Employee*

                Technically, we all have biological mothers. Even if “mom” is a trans guy, he was born a she and kept enough of the she-ness to gestate and give birth. Certainly, someone who was adopted by a gay male couple had a biological mother.

                Yes, we all have mothers, whether they are in our lives or not.

          2. ket*

            I’m a mom and I’m not maternal or friendly… I mean, I try for my own kid, but no one else. In fact the more teaching I’ve done the more I’ve tried to strip maternal and friendly out of my manner.

        2. Jadelyn*

          …that’s some wild stereotyping right there. I’ve known plenty of women who have not a single maternal bone in their bodies, and gods know women can be jerks just as much as men can.

          This strikes me as part of the cultural tendency to push emotional labor off onto women in general – “You’re not a mother, but I expect you to perform similar levels of emotional labor for all and sundry, so I’m going to recognize you for doing so in order to make you feel obligated to do so!”

        3. RUKiddingMe*

          I m not friendly. I am not maternal. I loved my son but even with him I wouldn’t have categorized myself as overly ‘maternal.’ Also, I do.not.like.children [ok, waiting for commenters to pile on and tell me I’m a horrible person for not liking kids] and don’t want to have any association with other peoples’ offspring.

        4. Ruth ok*

          My parents church (and church I grew up in did this). Pretty awkward to start getting flowers around 16 years old for Mother’s day!

    2. TL -*

      Yup. I would say, “By American social norms, that is going to come across as extremely sexist and offensive. Please don’t.”
      Or, “Saying something isn’t sexist doesn’t absolve the action of its sexism. Sending flowers on a romantic holiday to only women is, by definition, discriminating by gender. So I’m not sure what you’re intending here, but the conclusion most people will be drawing is that, in your workplace, you treat women differently than men by offering the women romantic gestures. That’s not an appropriate message to send in our office.”

      But I would get real annoyed by that, so YMMV.

      1. Safetykats*

        If the flowers do show up, consider seeing if you can suggest anyone who doesn’t care to keep them (which I would think would likely be everyone) to band together and donate them to a local assisted living facility or senior citizens center. They would really appreciate having them. (Plus, you can then send a joint thank you note telling him that while you felt it was not appropriate to keep the flowers you donated them, so they are being enjoyed.) I’ve found that is a relatively polite way to ensure these kinds of unwelcome gifts aren’t repeated.

        1. Mookie*

          YES. Or to a local community garden, school garden, or a non-profit botanical garden, where at least they can be made into compost.

          And if you feel like giving this one more try, LW, I’d suggest you suggest he opt for a bespoke arrangement for the office itself (preferably making him pay up the proverbial for something wallet-busting, like South African bulbs, and skip the unfortunate clichés of long-stem roses and gypsophila).

          Also, he wants only to send flowers to the American female colleagues he actually met while visiting? That makes it weirder and more inappropriate, like meeting him makes them lucky (or fodder for performative, mostly non-functional but otherwise ego-stroking gestures). If a dude did this to me I’d consider him a creep whom I never want to work with or meet again. If you insist on forcing your romantic holiday onto comparative strangers, what you should be sending is plonk, not condescension.

          I wonder what his own office would make of this.

          1. Say what, now?*

            I do too. I also wonder if this isn’t a cultural thing so much as a generational thing. My dad (70 and retired) used to insist on bringing in a big box of chocolates for the ladies to share on Valentines Day and Mother’s Day. He wanted to be thoughtful and I think that the women in his office were happy to be recognized because they didn’t get the same acknowledgement overseas as they would have back home (he worked for the State Dept. and we were stationed in Europe where Mother’s Day is on a different day so this felt “American” if that makes sense). But in later years I think it was seen less as “oh, it’s just like being home!” and more like “oh, what a sweet, out-of-touch, old man.” The heart was in the right place but the norms had shifted over time as they do.

            1. Say what, now?*

              All of this to say, he may be more out-of-touch in his regular office than he realizes because norms don’t stay stagnant even over the course of one career.

              1. Decima Dewey*

                He’s pulling “In London it’s perfectly fine to do this” out of his butt, knowing that his U. S. coworkers don’t know London norms.

                1. Megan*

                  The thing about Americans is that you all seem to think that everyone else should know your exact customs, but when it comes to everyone else it’s “foreign”. How do you know he was “pulling “In London it’s perfectly fine to do this” out of his butt”?

                  Isn’t it just as possible he *doesn’t* know US norms, and that’s why he was asking?

                  The rest of the world doesn’t do things the same as the US. It would be nice if you all recognised that occasionally instead of lecturing us about how problematic our own customs are. Invest some time and learn about why we have a different approach. We constantly have to do it for you.

            2. BeezLouise*

              I would love if there was a sweet out-of-touch old man in my office who brought me chocolate (as long as it wasn’t creepily directed just to me for some reason).

              1. Say what, now?*

                Yeah, it was never for one particular woman and not individual boxes so people didn’t feel like they owed him anything. At least he was sensitive to that. He also would stop at bakeries on the way to work and bring in rolls for everyone in his office (of 5-8 people) randomly throughout the year. He’s not great at vocalizing his appreciation for people, he’s more of show than say kinda guy so I think that’s why it was important to him.

                But oilpress is right. We can’t ignore the people who would be upset by it. It’s so icky to feel targeted/indebted/whatever else this might inspire you to feel.

              2. Jane Snow*

                I have an older male colleague nearing retirement who brings me chocolate when he has a particularly onerous task to ask of me (reviewing a huge document with short turnaround, having to create a sacrificial first deliverable for a notoriously cranky client who will shoot down the first version brought to them on principle, etc.). I find it endearing. He also has made it known throughout the organization that anyone who’s asking him for something above-and-beyond better bring HIM chocolate.

            3. Lindsay J*

              Yeah, when I worked at a speech pathology office that was owned by a husband and wife, (who were both older), the husband brought me and the other office worker each a dozen roses on Valentines Day.

              The flowers were lovely, though odd because I’ve always viewed Valentine’s Day as being for between romantic partners, and especially when being celebrated with gestures like a dozen red roses. But that was pretty much our reaction, that it was a well-intentioned gesture by a sweet, out-of-touch old man.

              (That’s not to say that’s what everyone’s reaction should be in that situation. Just what ours was. If it made someone else feel upset or icky or otherwise harmed in some way that is perfectly valid as well.)

              1. Penny Lane*

                Well, there’s the opportunity to approach situations with grace and goodwill — that things like your father’s candy or this man’s flowers are tone-deaf but likely well-intentioned gestures by people who mean no harm but are simply out of touch with current professional norms and in the bigger picture they fall under no harm, no foul — and there’s the opportunity to compete in the Point-Out-Instances-of-Oppression category in the See-How-Woke-I-Am Olympics. Go for the gold!

                1. sin nombre*

                  This is not even remotely helpful or constructive. “He means well” is not the be-all and end-all. The impact on women matters. It matters that we are continually reminded that our male coworkers view us as different and often as lesser. It doesn’t have to be Harvey Weinstein to be not okay, and in fact (as has been more articulately pointed out elsewhere) the culture of ignoring the little, “harmless” shit builds the culture that ignores Harvey Weinstein.

                2. Hrovitnir*

                  I know it’s a shocking concept, but often when people find something upsetting it’s because they genuinely really don’t want to have to be on the receiving end of it. I don’t appreciate having to eat the many, many, many instances of gendered crap every day just because some people are super offended at being asked not to treat me in a way I don’t like.

                  Trust me, everyone who objects to this lets a lot more things slide than they put the energy into pushing back against.

                  And really, you can say “please don’t do this because X” and that is not you being aggressive. The person saying “I’m not interested in your wishes despite the fact you are the recipient of my actions” is the one being a jerk. If no one tells them, how will out of touch people ever learn?

                3. ket*

                  Do you say that about old-fashioned well-intentioned gestures like giving a man a raise when he has a kid and giving a woman a cut in hours when she has a kid? Or mommy-tracking? These people really mean well!

                4. myswtghst*

                  But we aren’t talking about a man who is tone-deaf but well-intentioned. We’re talking about a man who outright asked a coworker if it would be okay to send flowers to only the women in the office and was told not to because it could be perceived as sexist.

                5. scorpysuit coryphefuss arterius*

                  “Go for the gold!”

                  Yes, indeed, we should all go for the gold in striving to be aware of power dynamics, oppression, and privilege.

              2. Turquoisecow*

                Yeah, that’s my problem with this whole setup also. In kindergarten, we sent valentines to the entire class, as a “friendship” gesture, but by the time you reach high school, you reserve them for people in whom you have romantic interest. To send them to a bunch of women in your office implied that you have romantic interest in all of them, which is hopefully not true.

                My husband is the romantic type on Valentine’s Day. He’s brought me gifts and flowers. He’s not (yet) bought me a dozen red roses. If I got them from a colleague on Valentine’s Day, I’d assume romantic interest, and that would make the workplace awkward. (Heck, if I got a dozen roses any day of the year, I’d assume romantic interest.)

                Maybe if I had recently gotten engaged, announced a pregnancy, lost a relative, or had a birthday, I could understand a few flowers, perhaps sent by a group of colleagues or one I had more of a friendship with. But a dozen red roses? Romance. Flowers on Valentine’s? Romantic.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          I would not send a thank you note. A note about how they aren’t appropriate and how I’d gotten rid of them sure, but ‘thank you?’ Nope. Moreover I wouldn’t tell him they are being enjoyed. He should not do this to begin with. It is a huge overstep. It is gendered and sexist. Why does he deserve anything positive from this thing he was told not to do in the first place?

      2. MK*

        Frankly, this sounds off to me aside from the sexism. Even if he gave flowers to the men too, it’s weird to bring Valentine’s day into the office in this manner. And these aren’t even people he knows well, so I don’t get what he is thinking.

        1. TL -*

          That the saddest state for a woman to exist in is to be unloved on Valentine’s day, so he’s the big shiny romantic hero by making them all feel romantically desired on this, the day of Cupid’s arrow.

          It’s gross, demeaning, and sexist, but I have known several men who went out of their way to make their [single] woman friends feel special on V-day. And at least one of them did it as Plausibility Deniability to serenade the woman he secretly liked, against her protests. He also gave her a marriage ultimatum during one of her chemo sessions – she was literally receiving chemo through a tube – because he “needed to know their relationship was going somewhere.”
          So I’ll let you be the judge of his overall character and attitude towards women.

          1. Mookie*

            That the saddest state for a woman to exist in is to be unloved on St Valentine’s day, so he’s the big shiny romantic hero by making them all feel romantically desired on this, the day of Cupid’s arrow.

            Bingo. This is about him, otherwise he’d be taking the LW’s advice, and the narrow world-view that regards women without partners as deficient, failures, and in need of special handling. Also, doing a thing that is generally perceived as romantic and personal to colleagues means you’re treating them like dating material, irrespective of your intention. Knock that shit off. This is not much different than “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry,” where you’re reminding them that, as women, being desired (and desirable!) is important for their career, but is also the reason why they pose such a danger to their male colleagues (who belong there, whereas women are sometimes regarded as interlopers and trouble-makers).

          2. Oranges*

            This. All of the this.

            “Those poor spinsters! I must save their feels!” Then he goes out and does something “nice” and gets the loverly warm glow of being a “good person”. While the recepiants of his “generosity” are mostly uncomfortable, some angry one or two very anxious and maybe add some happy for color.

            Generosity is giving the person what they need, not what you want to give them.

      3. myswtghst*

        Agreed. Positive discrimination is still discrimination. I will never understand why so many people don’t seem to get this.

        1. So anonymous I wasn't even here*

          Lol – agreed. If I was in same office I’d give him the flowers and tell him to give them to his partner.

      1. K*

        Also came here to say this. Not cool in England either, mate. (He might THINK it is, but…)

        The only work culture I’ve experienced where it was ok was that in Italy, people give women (including colleagues, but also just strangers on the street) flowers on International Women’s Day. Which is less bothersome to me, since it’s explicitly a day to celebrate women… But, as I said, that’s in Italy – I’ve never seen that in the UK.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          In Catalonia you give everyone single roses and/or books on St George’s day… which isn’t romanti and not genderex as far as I know :)

          1. Cambridge Comma*

            It used to be gendered (roses for the women and books for the men) but it really is possible sometimes to painlessly update traditions for the modern age. (If anyone has the chance to be in Catalonia on the 23rd April, ever, take it!).

              1. One of the Sarahs*

                I don’t know if they still have them, but I loved the book vending machines on Barcelona Metro stations.

          2. Birch*

            I love this! Here in Finland February 14 is even called “Friends’ Day” and everyone who wants to participate gets chocolates and flowers or small gifts. None of the manic commercialism and sexism of the US.

            1. LizB*

              I’m in the US, and what you’re describing is how my family celebrates Valentine’s Day — not gendered, not restricted to romantic partners, just a chance to give treats to all the people you care about and eat lots of chocolate. We’re definitely outside the norm for the US, though.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                My mum always did this when we were kids; we got cards and candy. But then we grew up, and the holiday has a different meaning to most adults. I have been unsuccessful in attempts to convince her to stop sending me valentines. I. Don’t. Want. Valentines. From. My. Mother.

                She is, however, welcome to mail me cookies at any time just because.

          3. Cassandra*

            My Catalan professor back in the day gave each of us in the class a book, regardless of gender. I still have mine. He was (RIP, sadly) such a gentleman.

            (I do not do well with Catalan. The pronoun system just floored me.)

        2. attie*

          They do this in France too, but the kicker is, the men get a bottle of wine on men’s day!
          (Also, coming from Germany where it’s called “Women’s battle day”, flowers always strike me the wrong way. It feels like deliberately taking the fight out of it and turning it into something cutesy where women are there to be appreciated again.)

          1. Mookie*

            It feels like deliberately taking the fight out of it and turning it into something cutesy where women are there to be appreciated again.

            Very much this. “All of that glass-shattering / leaning in must be such hard work, little lady, so have this thing that looks like a vulva, it’ll make you less cranky.”

            1. teclatrans*

              Yes, IWD was absolutely a radical holiday, around women’s *liberation*. Seeing it turned inside out like this is so frustrating.

        3. AnnaBanana*

          Me too! In my London office, which isn’t particularly strong on identifying and dealing with creepy behaviour, this would be interpreted as creepy and sexist!

        4. EvilQueenRegina*

          I’m also from England, and I am aware of one incident where this one manager sent a Valentine greeting chain email to all the women on his team and one person put in an official complaint. While I don’t think I would have taken it that far I would still have found it a bit strange.

        5. Heaven*

          Huh, I work in London and this morning one of the guys on my team came in and gave every woman a single red rose. Apparently he does this every year and it was very well-received and seen as a sweet gesture. I know I personally found it a lovely, thoughtful gesture. I can see we’re in the minority, though.

          1. Teapotty*

            One of the managers on my company wrote a Valentine message on the whiteboard – where he writes a weekly motivating message (which often gets edited). That’s just fun but if it was directed just at the women… ugh on several counts (not least because he’s married and and we’re old enough to be his mother). Years ago, an company sent posh chocs for all the females in a firm in a long ago Ex Job but somehow one person (accidently on purpose) was missed out which caused inevitable bad feelings.

          2. bookartist*

            I would be interested to know more about your office culture. I imagine here in the US, a small office with folks who are similar in class and background is where this gesture would go over easiest.

          3. Jules the 3rd*

            Red roses = “Romantic love” or “deep feelings of love to a special person”. I would be ok with a single pink rose, or red / white striped, but red from ‘not my romantic partner’ and yellow or white from anyone would creep me out. Though I might give a little pass to yellow / white – their symbolism isn’t as commonly known as red.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Not everyone feels like following the Victorian flower language code. I suspect most of the red roses given out to coworkers have the symbolism of “this is what they were selling at the flower stand by the bus stop this week”.

            2. AF*

              I just Googled flower color symbolism, and apparently I was sending some pretty weird messages at my wedding! Good thing few people understand that stuff.

        6. neverjaunty*

          I doubt he thinks it’s OK in London. He’s just hoping that the OP doesn’t know that and he can use “cultural differences” as the excuse for his weird ego-feeding.

      2. Naomi*

        Exactly. I work in London, it’s not ok here either. If he thinks it is that’s another sign he’s generally clueless about this stuff. You’d probably also be doing his UK colleagues a favour if you got him to see how icky this is.

      3. Jess*

        Exactly, definitely not ok in a London – my firm would have a fit if someone did this.

        The kindest interpretation I can think of is that he’s a bit too in love with the ‘English gent’ image he may have felt like he had in the US. Personally, his ‘it’s ok in London’ comments just make me think he’s a sexist jerk.

      4. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I came here to say that. I’m in the UK and this would definitely come over as sexist, inappropriate and more than a little creepy.

      5. embertine*

        Exactly that! I work in London, it would be considered reeeeaaaalllly odd to bring flowers to your female colleagues.

        1. Mimi the strange*

          Me too. Another Londoner chiming in. This isnt a cultural thing at all!

          He is just a clueless man who doesn’t understand that singling out women only for anything is super creepy.

      6. doubleblankie*

        Came here to say the exact same thing but so many people beat me to it! It’s annoying that he is even using ‘it would be ok in London’ as an excuse – giving Americans a completely incorrect idea of British norms. It would be weird and creepy in London or anywhere else in the UK that I’ve worked.

        1. Agent Diane*

          Joining the many others to say “this is not OK in the UK”.

          OP1, if you go back to him, you could factor that in? So something like:
          “Hiya. I’ve been thinking more about your question about sending flowers on Valentines to the women you met whilst you were over here. You said it’d be normal in the UK but the women I know who work in offices over there have told me it’s not. Either way, it’s not a cultural norm over here and might actually damage your working relationships with your female colleagues over here.”

          Obviously, now the day is here you might need to modify that to “we’ve donated the flowers to [local care home] as it really isn’t a thing we do over here. My UK based contacts say it’s not really a thing there either, do you may want to rethink it? Otherwise you could be harming working relationships with people.”

          Also, so want an update on this. Did he send the flowers?

      7. Oxford Common Sense*

        Hahahahahahaha came here to say almost the same thing, without your inimitable style. I’ve been living overseas for a long time, but my memory is that in the UK Valentine’s Day is something between romantic partners and no one else.

      8. AerynSun*

        Yep, to me as a Brit (living and working in London) the practice of sending any Valentine gift or card to someone who isn’t your current romantic partner or someone you hope will become a romantic partner* is both odd and stereotypically American. I guess if I worked with someone from the US and they did this I would excuse it as a cultural difference but from a fellow Brit it would be weeeeeird.

        *This second one I would view as a bit teenage but not as weird as sending flowers to all the women in your office.

      9. AdAgencyChick*

        I did not know what a bellend was until just now. Thank you for the education. British slang is the best!

      10. Thlayli*

        I’ve worked in London and I 100% agree. It’s possible the British people he works with are too polite to tell him he’s a weirdo, but they are definitely thinking it!

      11. Kathleen*


        See, I knew that whole “cultural differences” thing had to be bogus! While there certainly are cultural differences, and plenty of them, between the US and the UK, I was confident that none of those differences involved sending flowers to one’s colleagues on *Valentine’s Day*.

        I am sure he means well – at least, I’m pretty sure – but he’s acting like an idiot here, and if the OP can help him understand even a fraction of how idiotic this is, this guy will be in her debt.

      12. Marie*

        If he thinks its OK in London it makes me wonder what other things he is doing that he thinks are OK which really aren’t.

    3. fort hiss*

      Ah, good ol’ girichoko! It took me years to adjust to not giving other teachers something for Valentine’s Day, which is what I would do in states (not out of obligation, but for fun). It just seems too weird here… I stick to gifts at Christmas instead.

      Have you seen the Godiva vs. Black Thunder Twitter war this year? Godiva released an ad saying it’s time to end the practice… not like anyone gives Godiva girichoko. Meanwhile, Black Thunder hops in saying, hey, if you feel obligated anyway, nobody will mistake Black Thunder for romantic overtures. ;) It’s been pretty funny.

    4. Akcipitrokulo*

      UK here and have worked in London… no, it’s weird here too. And comes across as creepy. Don’t.

    5. Not Australian*

      “in London nobody would think it strange.”

      That’s actually incorrect unless he’s over seventy and founded the company, when he can do what he likes – and even then it still looks odd but slightly less skeevy. What he’s thinking of as a grand romantic gesture is really just designed to get him noticed anyway, which it will – but not in a good way.

      1. hermit crab*

        Ha – we had someone who meets that exact description, except instead of Valentine roses he gave roses to people on their 10th anniversaries with the company.

        1. Serin*

          So even he had a better understanding of “work-appropriate gift-giving” than the letter writer’s colleague!

        2. Natalie*

          See, that seems basically fine to me if he gave them to everyone regardless of gender. Flowers is a bit odd as a work anniversary gift, but not so out of line as to be inappropriate IMO.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          If he gave them to everyone, male and female, it’s less of an issue. Better than alcohol and sausages, too.

    6. Birch*

      I’m not convinced this is a cultural (based on country) thing at all–I think it’s more likely just that no one has yet told this guy that it’s inappropriate. It’s also possible that there’s a different culture around this particular office or the field in general. But many parts of Europe tend to be more socially progressive than Americans, and when I last lived in London 6 years ago (in my field) this would have been the joke of the year that this guy was so off base!

      1. sacados*

        I agree, but I think arguing it that way is the easiest way to get him to give up the idea.
        It allows you to avoid getting sucked into the trap of explaining how it is probably weird/inappropriate in his London office (since he’s unlikely to be convinced of that).
        Instead you can just skip that whole discussion and say “You know that, and I know that, but those crazy Americans amirite?”

      2. Sam.*

        I think it’s equally likely that this guy *should* know that it’s inappropriate – by what people have said, how they’ve reacted, etc. – but that he’s one of those self-absorbed men who simply refuse to accept other people’s experiences because it doesn’t match their own perspective. If he thinks his intentions are good, I doubt it will matter how many people react poorly – he’ll think the problem is with them, not him.

        1. Susana*

          And, he wants to prove to himself what he believes be true – that all those “feminists” who claim to want equal pay and opportunity at work are really a bunch of simpering, giggly little girls who want to be courted (by co-workers!) with flowers and compliments. And those who don’t reinforce his patronizing, sexist approach are bunch of humorless witches. This is ALL about Martin wanting to establish the roles of men, women, and himself in the office. He’s an ass.

        2. Lindsay J*

          Especially as someone is telling him now that it isn’t a good idea, and he’s still insisting that it is.

    7. Nico M*

      As a Brit I assure you that his claim it would be normal in London is UTTER NONSENSE.

      I’ll arrange for Liz to send some Beefeaters round to kick his arse if you like.

    8. Kate*

      Yeah I definitely think it’s a cultural different between US and Europe/UK. But if you explain, that should probably solve it.

    9. Relativist*

      This is not about sexism so much as cultural differences, and it should be explained to the colleague as such.
      If it is portrayed as sexism, the non-US employees are likely to dismiss it as “there go those Americans off on one of their politically correct screeds again.” For good or ill, there are a lot of cultural norms abroad surrounding workplace discrimination that would never fly in the US.

      I do a lot of business in Eastern Europe. It would be inappropriate NOT to give flowers to female employees on International Women’s Day in early march. (I do have to say, I have not personally heard of giving female employees flowers on Valentine’s Day in the UK.)

      1. Justme, The OG*

        International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate women. Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love. There is a fundamental difference in those two holidays.

      2. lawyer*

        Is International Women’s Day a romantic holiday, though? Because Valentine’s Day is, and that’s really why this is inappropriate, IMO.

        I wouldn’t see this as sexist, but I would see it as inappropriate, because people should be treating their co-workers as colleagues, not making romantic gestures to them (which is what sending flowers is). Sending flowers imposes a romantic framing on a relationship that should be anything but.

      3. MassMatt*

        How is this a cultural difference? Martin the flower-giver is from London, not Eastern Europe, and many British commenters have said “nope, this would be considered odd here”. And Martin wants to do this for Valentines Day, not Women’s Day. It seems you are really going out of your way to deny the sexism of this situation for some reason.

      4. sin nombre*

        If it is portrayed as sexism, the non-US employees are likely to dismiss it as “there go those Americans off on one of their politically correct screeds again.”

        Wow, I really hope that’s not true. How depressing. Then again, these comments are themselves pretty depressing.

    10. Peter*

      I have worked in London 11 years and it certainly would be considered very strange here to buy lots of colleagues flowers. Insofar as people take it seriously at all, it’s a day to go out for a meal with your spouse/girlfriend etc. Buying co-workers flowers would both look absurdly over the top and like you don’t know the day is supposed to be romantic.

      I suspect this guy is very into one of the women and wants to disguise that by getting flowers for them all.

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Apparently he’s watched the Colin scenes where he goes to America and instantly picks up hit women by virtue of his sexy British accent in Love, Actually one too many times.

              1. sin nombre*

                I’ve never seen Love Actually, but I’m pretty sure a version with hit women would be a way better movie.

      1. Suz*

        Agree. I don’t believe for a second that he genuinely believes that “this would be OK in London” (it really wouldn’t!) but is trying to use the plausible deniability of “cultural difference” as a smokescreen for this clumsy cluster-bomb attempt at flirting with whichever of the American ladies caught his fancy while he was there.

    11. AJHall*

      #LW1 I’m in Manchester and I used to work in London and if a male colleague sent me flowers on Valentine’s Day I’d think it was bloody bonkers and creepy to boot. Don’t let Martin flannel you with claims of cultural differences,

    12. TrixM*

      Er, I worked in London for over 5 years, back around the millennium, and I’d say that “flowers for the laydees for Valentines” would have been looked on as odd in any firm I ever worked in. I don’t expect things have gone that far backwards in the UK since then.

      Maybe it’d be acceptable in a very small, conservative (paternalistic) office like a old-fashioned law firm or insurance brokers.

      For anyone else not working in an “old school tie” firm run by a bunch of elderly blokes, not so much.

    13. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

      I know it’s a thing among kids and teens (and a good filler episode for every shôjo manga and anime), but I thought it wouldn’t be something in a office setting.
      On the flip side, they have White Day,

    14. Dust Bunny*

      I had to Google “giri-choco” and am now laughing way too hard at the term “obligation chocolate”, for reasons that aren’t even clear to me.

      1. Nita*

        Yes, me too! Oh, and apparently there is also honmei-choco, which is “true feeling chocolate” and much fancier. You learn something new every day…

    15. Pathfinder Ryder*

      When I saw the headline I was hoping it would be a cultural difference along the lines of giri-choco.

      I was deeply disappointed.

      1. Durham Rose*

        Chiming in to say, once again, NOT a thing in London. Children don’t even give out valentines at school because it’s considered strictly a romantic holiday. Some American ex-pat mums here insist on doing the valentines thing for the whole class and there were looks of the askance nature from teachers and other parents….

    16. Mad Baggins*

      Oh man, your office did giri-choco? That practice always felt weird to me, especially since the men never seem to respond as heartily on White Day. My Tokyo office was silent and unobserved and it was excellent!

      1. sacados*

        I mean, it’s not a big office-wide event or expected in any way like it would be at the kind of traditional Japanese company that has OLs mass new-grad hiring (my office is very much not that).
        But there are still some women who choose to hand out chocolate on Valentine’s, and some men who reciprocate on White Day. I never bothered with it, though.

  3. Sandy*

    Number three totally skeeves me out, because a similar case was in the Canadian news recently in the context of #MeToo.

    I won’t post the link here but it’s easily searchable on Google (the original story is in HuffPost Canada), but the short version is that a woman was contacted by someone from a Cabinet Minister’s office about a job opportunity, except the guy supposedly hiring treated these networking meetings as dates, and the job never materialized. Turns out he never had the authority to hire anyways.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ugh, in college I went to several coffees and lunches that turned out to be secret dates. At least three times I realized partway through an awkward or uncomfortable conversation that I was at an event where the other person had decided we were on a date. I sometimes still get asked on secret dates, but I’m now better at (1) figuring out if it’s a shifty ask, and (2) asking frankly if it’s a secret date or not. The whole experience is an awful bait and switch tactic, and skeevy as hell.

      I’m so sorry, OP#3. Know that you’re not alone, that it’s not a date if you didn’t believe it to be a date, and that your former neighbor is an ass. This is all on him, not you.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I emphasize that we’re meeting for business purposes, and if I get a weird vibe, I follow up with something like, “Hey, I’m looking forward to talking about [business/industry-related issue]. I’m not sure if the invitation was meant this way, but I wanted to clarify that we’re only meeting to discuss [business issue].”

          I think Alison also has some good scripts for how to respond when you think there may be underlying romantic interest from the other party.

      1. Zip Silver*

        Back in college, pretty much every girl I asked to coffee was meant in a date sort of context to see if I wanted to pursue further. The exceptions being if they were project partners, or there was a group of us going.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Okay, but did you ever ask someone to discuss a project over coffee, while considering yourself to be on a secret date?

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            This was exactly how I ended up on so many secret dates. It was to “discuss a class project” or student group programming, etc., etc. And then I’d show up ready to work and take notes, and it was a date.

            I guess I wonder why women (particularly in college or recent grads) should have to assume that every invitation to coffee is a date?

            1. Nita*

              I think it’s some unspoken convention… when I was in college, if you wanted to meet up to work on a project, no one would ever mention coffee or grabbing a bite to eat. People would still show up with coffee, but it wasn’t in the invitation. Coffee or lunch were only mentioned if it was a social thing –
              not necessarily a date, maybe just some friends getting together, but definitely not academics first. Maybe if you mentioned coffee, there was the implication that you’d want to sit around and chat longer than is strictly necessary.

              Now if someone said “let’s discuss a class project” and then tried to make a pass… ick.

      2. Queen of the File*

        I accidentally took someone on a secret date once. I made the mistake of asking a guy out while we were at work without explicitly stating “this is for romantic purposes” (I was new to both working and dating). We worked for different departments of a very large company, and I had attended a short lunch and learn he’d helped to present. We got together for the agreed-on coffee and he opened up a laptop and started into a full tailored sales pitch. The look on my face at that point must have been something like the look on his when I told him I was really not in a financial position to buy anything (“what is happening?…….. oh……. oh no”). On the up-side, it was months of hilarity for my co-workers when I had to tell them how it went.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Aw, I would have been so embarrassed on either end of that meet-up. :) But at least you weren’t doing what the guy in the letter was doing, and what several people in the comments have described–wanting a date but essentially tricking someone into meeting you by pretending it was for business purposes. Yours was just a misunderstanding! At least you got a good story out of it.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I had it happen a few times when I was younger too.
      There’s a certain class of men that are manipulative. They will call something networking when it is a date. That’s because they know you would turn down a date. It’s stupid, because who wants a relationship with a liar?
      But you’re not alone, and it isn’t you.

      1. Say what, now?*

        It also doesn’t change the answer. If it was a “no” to an actual date it’s probably still going to be a “no” when you ask after a fake date. It makes no sense.

        1. neverjaunty*

          It makes sense if you think of relationships as a game of tricking women into giving you what you want.

          1. Spillz*

            This–I feel like this type of man has this idea that the girl just “needs to give him a chance” and she will fall madly in love with him, if only she would just go on a date with him. If he thinks she won’t say yes to an outright date, maybe he can trick her with a fake “meeting” and then once there, dazzle her with his wit and charm and she’ll fall madly in love.


            1. The Original Flavored K*

              See also: “pick up artist,” “red pill,” and “MRA,” except that with those three, it’s not “madly in love” they’re hoping for. Maybe the Nice Guys (TM) are that naive, but the kind of guy who thinks it’s cool to trick a woman into going on a date with him is almost always the kind of guy who thinks that he just has to put enough Kindness And Effort Coins into the coin slot in order to get The Sex He Is Entitled To.

              1. teclatrans*

                I have been hit on by one of these guys exactly once. I was young, interning in an interesting city, and rather ready for a random hookup. I met this guy, he was cute, I thought “yeah, I could totally sleep with him. Let’s do this!” Whereupon, he spent our entire date negging me and doing the weird thing where they touch you a lot to “program” you, and I just noped on out of there. Dude would have gotten laid if he hadn’t swallowed the red pill/been a misogynist jackass.

      2. Lucky*

        There is also a certain class of men that interpret regular networky conversation as flirting. I am a grown ass woman (GAW) and still find this happening. No, Kevin, I don’t want to get in your pants, I just genuinely want to know your opinion on the impact of GDPR on American businesses, because we’re at a conference about GDPR and how it can impact American businesses.

        1. Kelsi*

          I didn’t realize how often it happened until I went to a conference recently and all the men I spoke with were ACTUALLY networking. I think it was the second or third night when I finally realized why the vibe at this conference was so refreshing, and it was because I didn’t feel like I was having to do conversational Matrix dodges the whole time.

    3. LadyL*

      A guy at past job was doing this, used his position to “network” with younger women who were truly only interested in a job and nothing else. I know that our employers were certainly very interested in this when it finally came out, and engaged in fairly severe disciplinary action against him. The guy at my company was similarly subtle about how he rode the line between business and personal, and had been under-the-radar creepy in other ways. We were honestly thankful when a young woman came forward, because until that point I don’t think the bosses had quite enough info/evidence to do anything about his behavior.

      I don’t know if OP or other posters feel that this is worth reporting to his company (I don’t think I know enough about work decorum to say if it is), but it’s just a thought.

    4. K.*

      I had one of these too. I met the guy at a networking event. I am usually pretty savvy, but I didn’t pick up on it (probably because the guy was married, we’d talked about his wife and children) until the vibe changed midway through. We met up at an alumni club in the middle of the day (there were people there working), and after a bit of professional talk the guy very subtly started turning up the heat.

      1. Fact & Fiction*

        Ugh I thought I’d never had this sort of experience but thus just reminded me. I was living in Boston in my mid 20s and played softball with a guy about 10-12 years older than me. When I got together with a college friend and decided to move back home to the Midwest, the softball dude—who is been casual friends with had never shown the slightest romantic interest in me—invited me to a farewell dinner. Naive, insecure me was flabbergasted when he made an extremely unwanted sexual pass at me and when I pushed away and reminded him I had a boyfriend, he pulled the whole “He’ll never know” schtick. No, gross guy, but _I_ will!”

        I am lucky I got out of that situation without being further assaulted because we were alone. Forever tarnished my view of that guy because I’d always considered him a good guy.

        1. sap*

          I’m always kindof flabbergasted when people who make passes at me respond to “I have a [boyfriend/girlfriend/husband depending on when it happened] with “they won’t know.”

          I mean, maybe that’s true, but if I wanted to sleep with this person despite my partner, I wouldn’t be telling them I couldn’t sleep with them because I have a partner?

    5. Murphy*

      When my husband first asked me to dinner (which, to me, heobviously meant as a date) I said yes, and then he said “Like as a date?” I make fun of him for this, but whenever one of these stories comes out he says, “You make fun of me, but I made it clear! No confusion!”

      1. JennyAnn*

        To give him props, my father did not specify “as a date” to my mother and she apparently didn’t realize for at least a couple of dates. I get my lack of awareness for romantic cues honestly. :D

        1. Steve*

          I had the opposite situation – I asked a girl to a dance just as friends. She thought it was a date. I guess, after 15 years of marriage, that I might have to concede she was right.

          1. kitryan*

            Someone I knew from a club said after a club meeting that he was short on cash and did anyone want to buy him dinner – I said sure, and we went to dinner. We got something to eat after meetings a couple times after that and I didn’t know that as far as he was concerned that these were casual dates.
            Fortunately, I did like him and after a couple months we got things straightened out and ended up actually dating for a few years. We just each considered the relationship to have ‘started’ at different times.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      It was an AAM letter, too. Guy contacted her on Linked In about a job perfectly suited to her Linked In profile, spent the two hour interview talking about himself while she made admiring noises, and tried to schedule future interviews at social places away from the office while avoiding her suggestions about meeting the other people she’d be working with.

      Given the trend of 1-3, I was SO relieved letter 4 was about file attachments.

      1. Koko*

        I vaguely remember this letter or another like it, too. Didn’t it turn out he’d done it to multiple women?

        1. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

          Wasn’t there a Seinfeld episode about this? He even brought his parents to meet Elaine! Lol

    7. Mad Baggins*

      Like many other commenters I also had an experience like this. I was desperate for a new job in a new industry, he contacted me out of the blue on Linked In (red flag #1), we got a drink after work (red flag #2), I asked why he contacted me and he said, “because you are drop-dead gorgeous” (red flag #3) and deflected all my questions about the industry with questions about my life (red flag #4) and it became clear he had very carefully read my profile and googled me (red flag #5). But I was desperate and thought that someone who had worked in respected major companies and the federal government couldn’t be skeevy! Then he emailed me a “Roses are red, please be my girlfriend” style poem. I’m sharing these red flags so that any desperate naive women reading this might not avoid my mistakes, and that any thirsty men can avoid his!

    8. CopyCathy*

      I actually had the opposite happen. I matched with a guy on Tinder and in the course of our conversation he asked what I did for a living (copywriting and SEO). He then asked me out to dinner (at Panera, no less) and spent the entire hour asking how he could optimize and market the website for his business! I gave vague answers and told him he could pay me to freelance, but I’m not going to work for him for free. Never heard back from him again…

  4. Ron McDon*


    I am in the U.K., and receiving flowers from a male coworker on Valentines Day would be considered extremely weird and inappropriate!

    Seconding Alison’s take that this guy has decided this is what he’s going to do and doesn’t want to hear any opposition to it, but eeeewwwww!

    1. Flowerless Londoner*

      #1 – I live in London and have worked in various offices in London over the last 15 years. I never witnessed female employees being sent flowers on Valentine’s Day, and I would find it really weird if that happened. I never heard any of my friends or acquaintances getting work Valentine’s gifts at all actually.

      1. Peter*

        Yeah, it would be just like getting a colleague flowers for their wedding anniversary. That their other half’s job!

      2. Lumen*

        Yeah, does he think feminists don’t exist in London? Or… oh wait I’m pretty sure he just doesn’t care if he’s offensive to anyone.

    2. Hrovitnir*

      Yeah, I’m not English but in NZ, and from what I’d think, England, it’s almost more weird than the US. I’ve always thought of buying a bunch of platonic (or “platonic”) gifts for Valentine’s Day as a US thing; Valentine’s day seems to be bigger in general in the US from what I can gather. Eg: kids giving their whole class cards sounded off-the-charts bizarre to me when I first heard of it.

      Anyway, maybe he actually believes what he’s saying, but it sounds like he’s bullshitting you to me.

      1. soz*

        Exactly – I’m from the uk and platonic Valentine’s Day gifts have never been a thing. Whereas they seem to be a thing (at least in schools) in the US.

        No. Just no. It’s not normal in the UK. But then you think what feedback he would get – I would proabalt say thanks if someone at work got me flowers then leave it at that. Giving him validation.

      2. Peter*

        Does that even happen in the US in real life on Valentine’s Day, can anyone confirm? Or just on TV? Ie watch US sitcoms and people take Halloween very seriously in the workplace, which I struggle to believe real Americans do. I am sure plenty dress up in the evenings and go to parties but does showing up to work in Halloween costume really happen?

        1. doctor schmoctor*

          Same here. Halloween is becoming a thing here in South Africa, but only because people are sheep and copy everything they see in the movies. I find it bizarre.
          And in the week or two before Valentines day I see some advertising for chocolates, but that’s it.

        2. Thinking out loud*

          As an American, I can confirm that both do happen – people dress up at the office for Halloween, and children give valentines to everyone in their class. I think costumes vary a lot across companies – many people dressed up at my current company this past year, while very few dressed up at my previous company. (Current company is a tech startup with a much lower average age than my previous Huge Company You’ve Probably Heard Of.) However, I think children giving valentines is pretty ubiquitous.

        3. Natalie*

          You mean the valentines cards in class? I don’t know about current practice but when I was in elementary (primary) school in the 90s we exchanged valentines cards.

          1. Peter*

            He said above something about kids giving everyone in their class cards in the US. Sure, I can believe little John might give little Jane a card in the UK – but giving everyone a card would be unheard of.

              1. Stryke*

                Bringing back memories of how kids in my classes would give me the card meant for the teacher (there was usually one in every pack that actually said “Teacher” on it). They were required to give me a card but this was how they expressed their dislike. My classmates were petty before it was cool.

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                The requirement was added because it turned into a popularity contest and opportunity for bullying. When my kids were little (aughts) it was presented along the lines of “This is a thing the kids expect, so here’s how our class will be acknowledging the various traditions around exchanging little pieces of paper with cartoon characters and eating heart-shaped candy.”

                6th grade and up for them seemed to abandon all acknowledgement of the day (except between actual dating couples), which is a welcome change from the spirit fund-raisers delivering flowers, cookies, etc to the select that I recall.

              3. Susana*

                Absolutely! We had to give everyone a card (those flat ones, that didn’t open up). And we out them in a brown box, and then everyone got their valentines. Everyone was included. Everyone felt he/she had friends. It was lovely.

            1. Natalie*

              The school card exchanges aren’t really romantic – like a lot of things here, it mushroomed into a way to slap TV characters on something and then sell it. So you buy a packet of little cards with The Simpsons or Scooby Doo characters on them and give them out to your friends. I don’t specifically recall any kind of rule about giving them to everyone but I went to a small school where we were all friends and didn’t quite have the “exclude one kid” problem, so it didn’t really come up.

            2. Ultra Anon*

              When I was a kid in the 90s, we gave cards to everyone in our class. They sell bulk packs of little Valentine’s Day cards specifically for this purpose. (They’re usually pop-culture based and very platonic.)

            3. Jesca*

              Yes, this is still done. I have two children in elementary school, and last night I spent my evening filling out the cards.

              See in the US, especially in the younger grades, if you are going to bring in something or even have a birthday party, you are to bring/invite the entire class. Apparently it causes a lot of drama if you do not.

              Kids bringing in valentines is kind of a tradition thing people do on a certain day. Actually in the US, valentines day, while heavily marketed, it actually really geared more for children than adults. Most adults I know do not really celebrate Valentine’s Day. If adults to celebrate it, it is normally with flowers and a card and it is always between either close friends or significant others.

              It is sort of like Halloween, but on a smaller scale. TV shows make it a bigger deal for adults than what it actually is. (Americans do a lot of commercialization of holidays, arbitrary or not, – so it is generally always bigger than other places).

              But even here in the US it would be extremely weird for someone to celebrate Valentine’s Day at work.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Side note, I agree with almost all of your comment, except for this: you are genearlly required to invite all of the kids in your kid’s class to a birthday party, at least not at any school I’ve ever heard of. It’s more like if you invite most/a lot of the kids, you have to invite them all so that it’s not just 3 or 4 kids who get left out. If you invite just a small number–your child’s actual friends–then it’s not a problem.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  In the schools in my town, if you give out invitations in class, you must invite everyone in the class (or all the girls or all the boys). This is a policy in the handbook.

                2. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Rusty, that makes sense to me because it is still designed not to make kids feel singled out, and you can invite the kids you want without handing out physical invitations in class where other kids could see. It can be kind of a pain for parents, but I get why schools have those rules.

                3. Willow*

                  My school’s rule was that if you invited at least half of the kids in class, you had to invite them all. Or if you invited at least half of the kids of one gender, you had to invite them all.

                  It was a big deal when one girl invited all 12 girls to her party, but her parents only let her invite 10 girls to sleep over. So two girls (including me) went home after the first part of the party without any idea everyone else was staying for a sleepover.

          2. Guacamole Bob*

            My daughter spent a couple of hours last night writing all her friends’ names on construction paper hearts that I cut out for her and then decorating them with stickers. But she’s 4 (I had to tell her how to spell the names and not all of them are entirely legible), and it was voluntary at her preschool. She got the idea from somewhere (a book? other kids in her class?) and was very excited, though.

            I think it evolved from a point where kids would give cards to just a few friends, and given how elementary and middle school kids can be it was often drama-filled and caused hurt feelings about who got what from who. A lot of elementary schools started making rules that you had to give valentine’s cards to everyone in your class if you gave them to anyone just to cut down the drama, and the market stepped in and now you can buy these cheap little character-branded cards that are like 12 for $3 and it’s what most kids do.

          3. Lady Phoenix*

            Still a thig. Saw a mom taking her daughter out to shop V day cards for her class.

            I also recieved a cute card from a cosplayer in the same fandom I was in. That made me smile.

            1. Polaris*

              I have a fandom friend who does friends Valentines too! For them it’s also a nice way to celebrate friends without the complexity of keeping track of who does or doesn’t celebrate something in December.

        4. hermit crab*

          Can confirm the Valentines-in-school part! It was a huge deal when I was in grade school in the early 90s. I spent hours and hours making handmade cards for everyone in my class.

          Not so much in the office, though (at least my office). Someone might bring in heart-shaped cookies or chocolate for the break room, maybe. Similarly, in our office, the day AFTER Halloween is the big deal, because people bring in their leftover candy for everyone to eat. :)

            1. Future Homesteader*

              He’s still managing to completely miss the point, though, because in schools you generally must do it for *everyone* and gender doesn’t come into play! He’s either clueless or being willfully gross.

            2. Shiara*

              But if he was, he’d be getting them for all the men and all the women in the office! Not just the women. Because when you gave valentines in school, you gave them to -everyone-.

            3. Susana*

              No, I think Martin thinks women want to be damsels listed of colleagues. And in elementary school, we have valentines to everyone – not just girls. (also, my parents did not fill them out – I did! That was the idea! Teaching kids to give cards/write thank-yous).

          1. circlecitybelle*

            I work in higher education/student affairs and we actually celebrate Valentine’s Day like we’re a bunch of grade school kids. We decorate paper bags and tack them to our doors the week before (I am not a visual artist so I usually use a canvas bag with a note that says “Love Your Mother. Use a recycled Valentine’s container”) Some of the staff buy the little cards that are marketed to kids and fill them out. Others just buy candy, pencils, or K-cups of hot chocolate and then we go around on the 14th and fill one another’s bags. Not everyone participates but those of us who do really get into it because it’s inclusive and a just straight-forward way of saying, “I enjoy having you as a colleague.”

            1. AF*

              Yes, this!

              I work in community-based organizations and we usually have some kid-like Valentine’s Day. There’s usually treats, red shirts, silly hats, tacky dollar store decorations on the staff side, and then for programs, we usually host V-Day themed events. Crafts for the youth programs, dating safety for the teen programs, heart health for the fitness programs, and usually some support group or potluck aimed at people who might find the holiday hard (lost a loved one, etc.)

              I usually bring in a group treat (cookies, heart-shaped candy) for my staff and let them know I value them. Typically I have a lot of young people just starting out, etc., so I try to do Acts of Kindness type things because I’m aware that it’s a day when a lot of people feel crummy and need a pick-me-up.

        5. Slartibartfast*

          I sent my youngest with valentines for the whole class today, but he’s still in elementary school. My oldest is in middle school, no valentines there. When I was little, we used to hand make valentines for the class as arts and crafts time, we made mailboxes too. Not sure when it switched to store bought, often with a piece of candy or stickers, but I suppose it’s a concession to not having time in class for these things anymore.
          Adults dressing up on Halloween does happen but is pretty variable. My work did dress up once, but it being a veterinarian’s office, some of the patients got a little freaked out by it (their humans enjoyed it though). After that first year, we limited it to small decorations-cat ears, jewelry etc, no masks or face painting.

          1. teclatrans*

            Just wanted to comment that there were store-bought cards when I was a kid in the late 1970s. Like so many things, there is just a bigger industry now.

          2. Ruth ok*

            How many kids are in a class? My primary school classes had >30 kids and hand making cards for all of them would have taken ages. And the comments up thread about inviting the whole class to a birthday party would be pretty impossible! For birthdays we used to have a pretend cake with candles on to blow out, so regardless of whether you brought in food or not it would be celebrated and any snacks you brought in would be handed out at home time.

        6. MCMonkeyBean*

          I do! Costumes are my favorite thing. I will take any opportunity to wear a costume. I actually asked in my interview at my current company whether people dressed up at Halloween. He was pretty taken aback by the question lol. It’s not super common at my company, but it is allowed and though my team is boring I always see some other people dressed up in the cafeteria. They always send out an email that it is considered a “jeans day” where casual clothes are allowed, which I choose to assume is their way of explicitly allowing costumes even though they don’t go so far as to *encourage* them. Sometimes I have fun making a second just-for-work costume if my actual costume isn’t quite office appropriate.

          1. Librarygeek*

            My thankfully ex-director is super image focused and haaated costumes, but I made the argument that, as a children’s/teen librarian, dressing up is part of my job.

        7. neverjaunty*

          The Halloween costume thing depends very much on where you are and what company and industry you’re in.

          1. Penny Lane*

            In my industry/professional world, people don’t wear costumes, but they may wear something that acknowledges the holiday — pumpkin earrings, a scarf with little skulls on it, an orange sweater, etc. Same as for other holidays (like wearing something green on St Patrick’s Day, or wearing something with a heart on it for Valentine’s Day). Sort of theme-ing, but not gaggy or childish.

        8. Sarah M*

          We did the Valentine card exchange when I was lower elementary school, and my kids’ schools did it until 3rd grade. They’re supposed to give one to every person in the class, so that no one is left out. There are packages of cute kid-friendly cards just for this purpose (though some kids make their own). As for the Halloween costume at work thing, I’ve never worked any place that does that myself, but individual work cultures vary.

        9. Chatterby*

          I loved American elementary school valentines.
          They’re always very silly. They try to be unique by having things like googly eyes or stickers, and all of them have really lame puns (like having a picture of a rabbit and it says “Hoppy Valentines!”). My favorites were these ones that were basically a card with a blank face, and they came with a sticker sheet of facial features, like eyes and noses, you can put on the cards, like a 2D Mr. potato head. The cheapest, and most stereotypical, cards come in boxes of 16 for $1, and they’re these little tagboard sheets with maybe 4 designs total that you have to tear apart along the perforated edges and you always end up ripping at least a third of them.
          If you were really cool, you’d get the type that comes with candy, which are maybe a few dollars more. Usually, these are the same type of tear out cards, but with two holes punched out for you to thread a lollipop stick through. Or there were candy puns (like “You’re such a smartie!” with Smarties attached).
          Everyone had to give everyone in class a valentine, and you’d usually have an art class to make your ‘mail box’–basically a shoe box covered in red or pink construction paper hearts. There would be mild competition to pass out the funniest cards, or the best candy. If you actually had a crush, you’d make them a handmade card, separate from these classroom cards. To show favoritism, you might also give your closest friends these little, $1 boxes of chocolates before or after class. They’re usually heart shaped, but with cartoon characters on them and 2-3 pieces of chocolates.
          In middle school and high school, the in-class card parties go by the wayside and usually get replaced with some sort of candy-gram/delivery type thing. Like, for $1, you can send someone in school a carnation and it will be delivered in study hall. It’s usually done as a fundraiser by some club or another, and there are similar things done at other holidays (like sending candy canes at Christmas). It is definitely a popularity contest, and most girls send their friends whatever was being offered so they don’t feel left out, and in the hopes that the friends will do the same for her. High school usually sees a slight twist to the tradition, with a split between romantic and a platonic options. Like, now there’s the option of choosing between a yellow rose, pink rose, red rose, or a white rose to send, and each is assigned a ‘meaning’, as in, you send the yellow ones to friends, pink ones to best friends, red ones for people you like-like, and white is “true love”. A girl who could get a boyfriend to send her a small bouquet’s worth of white roses instead of the red was much envied.
          As grownups, there’s some nostalgia towards the little-kid type cards, and some people (the same people who usually go a bit insane for all things Holiday) might get everyone in their office a funny, platonic, children’s card of this nature, or maybe a box of chocolates to share among people. Or they might just get them for their friends only. Larger gestures, such as full bouquets, jewelry, chocolates, teddy bears, etc. are reserved for significant others.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            I made mouse heart valentines for my few coworkers in my office I was friendly with once (and for my boyfriend). The kinds where you fold a piece of construction paper, cut them into the shape of half a heart, unfold, write your happy Valentine’s Day message on the inside, then refold, put on a googly eye, draw a mouse ear, tape a lollipop into the fold so the lollipop stick is the mouse tail and staple it shut. Folded it’s a cute mouse. Unfolded it’s a heart with a lollipop inside! I did those a few times in elementary school.

            In high school the a capella group did singing valentines as a fundraiser which was very successful and hilarious. (Teachers were allowed to declare a class off-limits for receipt of singing valentines during them but a lot didn’t.)

            1. Ruth ok*

              We did the delivery in class of gifts by dressed up members of the student council in my British school and when I got a rose I was so embarrassed. The whole thing was embarrassing, getting a gift not getting one, it was all a bit cringy!

        10. teclatrans*

          I was up all hours helping my kiddo get her Valentine’s finished. When I was a kid, it was a total popularity contest, with some kids getting a lot and others (like me) getting none, so I am happy it’s a whole-class thing. But platonic Valentine’s day stuff is a kids’ thing. (I think close adult female friends might sometimes do gifting.)

        11. Legal Beagle*

          Just chiming in to say that Halloween costumes in the office vary widely by workplace, but plenty of places do take it seriously! I worked for a federal government agency and my (male) boss dressed in full drag for Halloween. Sparkly dress, heels, wig – the works. It was pretty funny and he was a charming guy, but at the time I was a little shocked! I’d never worked in a dress-up office before and I just wasn’t expecting it.

    3. Espeon*

      Also in the UK and I don’t want creepy Martin’s flowers either. I LOVE flowers, but not from colleagues.

    4. Weaselologist*

      Yes this. I’ve worked in London offices for 20 years and sending flowers to all your female colleagues on Valentine’s day isn’t the norm and wouldn’t be ok. His argument that it’s fine in London isn’t true. This is not appropriate.

  5. LadyL*

    Ugh, Martin. Just no.

    It’s absolutely sexist, and weird, and patronizing, and not everyone wants slowly decaying plant matter rotting away on their desks, reminding them of their mortality. Also if any of those women are dating jealous partners, receiving flowers from a strange man may cause drama for them. Flowers on Valentine’s Day are just too loaded I think.

    And hey Martin? If I got a birthday gift from some dude I briefly met who worked in our overseas office, I would absolutely find it creepy and bizarre. Too much, too intimate. And the fact that Martin can’t seem to articulate why just the women who need a special present as opposed to the office as a whole makes me that much more confident his motives are whack.

    Buy the whole office an edible arrangement if you’re really feeling that moved, or like send a nice card or something. Please Martin, I’m begging you, don’t be *that* guy.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I don’t think people with jealous partners are going to take the flowers home. Not that that makes any of that situation ok!

    2. TL -*

      Well, it’s not Martin’s job to manage someone else’s relationship and the problem isn’t sending flowers but the distribution of the flowers. If he sent flowers as a thank-you to one or two people or to everybody in the office, it would be fine in the former and fine but a little odd in the latter.

    3. Emac*

      I’m wondering if Martin has something in common with the guy in #3 – he’s “secretly” sending Valentine’s flowers to someone he developed a crush on while he was visiting, but playing it off that he’s just doing it as a nice gesture to all the women in the office. Ew to both of them.

      1. Swingingaxewolfie*

        Those were my thoughts too – maybe hoping she’ll get in touch to say “thank you” o.o

    4. Murphy*

      If he sent them to all the women in the office, I wouldn’t find it creepy, but I would definitely find it bizarre and sexist.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Falling’s Cat: Everyone wants slowly decaying plant matter rotting away on their desks. And then you battle the pushier flowers, and for the bonus round spill the whole thing on the laptop and take out the video card.

      Falling’s Cat will be partying DOWN this Valentine’s Day. Falling has learned to put the flowers on the dishwasher.

    6. Emi.*

      slowly decaying plant matter rotting away on their desks, reminding them of their mortality

      Hey, at least it’s appropriate for Ash Wednesday!

    7. A.*

      Yes! One of my coworkers sent me an edible arrangement to my office one day. The secretary had to sign for it and it raised so many questions with my other coworkers. I barely even knew the person and I had to explain that no I am not dating him and that I barely knew him. I do not think it is appropriate.

    8. my two cents*

      +1 vote to recommending a giant edible arrangement for the WHOLE office, instead.

      Else, Martin could send a larger flower arrangement for the whole office to enjoy.

      But really…edible arrangements >> flower arrangements, all day all week.

    9. Susana*

      Also, can we all stop, please, with excusing gender-related bad behavior as a “cultural difference,” when we would not say the same if it involve race/religion/disability/whatever? It’s the same with the use of “he said, she said.” It’s a back-door way of suggesting that behaving in an inappropriate or insulting or creepy way is maybe OK because girls are fancy on the inside boys are fancy on the outside, warofthesexes so what can you do?

      1. Oranges*

        Technically there is a war of the sexes. It’s biological (as in it’s in our genes) and fought over embryos implanting, It has to do with what is best for the male’s reproductive chances and what’s best for the female’s reproductive chances. It can go from a slight scuffle in some species to all out warfare in others.

        Basically, the male isn’t burning up any of his “own” resources during pregnancy therefore his cost/benefit analysis of the pregnancy is weighted on low* cost/high benefit. The female is weighted as high* cost/high benefit. There are a bunch of interesting genes which “battle it out” using the uterus as the battle field.

        Nature, it is never pretty once you look close.

        *Both the male and female’s “cost” can fluctuate depending upon instincts/culture/what-have-you but the bottom line is that the female’s baseline cost is always higher.

          1. Oranges*

            Nope it doesn’t belong in the office unless you’re researching that bio[logy]sphere (I… couldn’t help myself). I’m just a biology nerd with ADD.

              1. Oranges*

                Not the psychology part. The “alpha” BS is BS. The women aren’t as interested in sex = BS (the study was majorly flawed). All that stuff, BS.

                The actual biology of embryo implantation/pregnancy. Example: It’s why I get periods because my body wants a buffer so it can terminate the pregnancy if the embryo doesn’t have a good chance of making it. The embryo wants to survive regardless so it has it’s own mechanisms. It’s utterly fascinating and quite… savage really. There’re so many genes/mechanisms fighting for if I bring a pregnancy to fruition that it can boggle my mind sometimes.

                This one thing, that my body is the one that gets pregnant, demarcates the only difference between males and females. Everything else physically follows from that is amazing. But the differences between males and females is like the difference in air pressure between my head and my feet. It exists but is tiny compared to the difference in air pressure between my head and the top of mount Everest (aka our closest gene relations).

                TL;DR: I’m just geeking out over the weirdness that is human biology, the stupid evo-psych is stupid.

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, you have the right of this. I couldn’t help but feel exasperated with Martin’s insistence that his “harmless” intentions somehow absolve him of sexually discriminatory behavior.

    Why does he need to send anyone a Valentine’s gift? Is this a normal thing in workplaces? I’m being a little facetious, but the places I’ve worked where gifting is expected on Valentine’s Day is basically zero. Can he not just send folks an email thanking them for making his time in the U.S. office so pleasant?

    Or he can do what a friend of mine did and give roses to everyone, regardless of gender identity.

    1. Snark*

      Garbage dudes always think their intentions are harmless. Nobody actively admits that their intentions are harmful. It’s the kind of thing only everyone else can properly assess. And from where I sit, his intentions are icky, at best outmoded, at worst actively skeevy, and not harmless.

      1. Jesca*

        I am not sure it is “garbage dudes” all the time. I think people have a hard time sometimes putting appropriate context to their behaviors in general. Also, the idea of “sexism” being real has been around for a very long, its context and scope have definitely changed as to what is considered acceptable. Some people struggle with change in general, while others struggle with seeing the significance of something they have no personal experience with. Without other context, I would jump to a person purposely being sexist but rather just very ill informed. And I wouldn’t even be upset/angry about their sexist overture but more about them digging their heels in on it. Just because it is not obvious to you doesn’t mean it is suddenly not creepy and offensive. Like dudes still think its sweet to stand outside your window and play music after a break up and that is definitely dependent on context and those involved!

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Nope. No. Nobody gets a pass on closing their eyes to what’s acceptable, when information that could help them is all around them. There is pleeenty of information out there for dudes who don’t want to be creepy. Sure, some stuff might not be obvious, but a lot of it is if you’re paying the slightest bit of attention. And in this case, Martin has been told it’s inappropriate, and he’s ignoring that because he has decided that he knows best what’s appropriate and what’s not. Plus, there are plenty of men just in this comment thread who would never do that and who think it’s weird and inappropriate. Martin’s refusal to see it or accept it when pointed out to him makes Snark’s comment very much applicable.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m with JB on this. Martin is behaving like a real ass, and I don’t think it has to do with changing norms around sexism. There’s enough information here to put him in the “behaving like a garbage person” bucket. Maybe he’s not garbage all the time, but he’s certainly behaving like a jerk in this specific context.

            He knows what he’s doing is not ok, but he wants to be patted on the back for his bad behavior. He’s not interested in actually listening to OP’s advice or considering a different perspective, and the reason he’s not interested is because it doesn’t give him what he wants.

            1. Jesca*

              I caution people to take and adopt this mindset. No, people are not always aware of what they are doing. Yes, he was told but he doesn’t see it – lets not forget sexism is a word people shut down on as an “over reaction”. But like anything, there is a continuum. Like Alison stated, he is off the mark. He is not rubbing his hand maniacally waiting for the next ass to slap. Hell he isn’t even looking at it like that. It is that blind mild sexism built into our broader cultures. And if anyone here thinks your common person understands all the nuance of it, you are wrong.

              And I give a big hell yes to being angry about this undercurrent of sexism. God knows I am. I struggle every day with it TBH. Sometimes … just … yeah … But at the same time I recognize it is not helpful and it is not going to change anything. Not all sexism is recognized as sexist because well the perceived “intent” is not bad (holding doors for only women, only buying women flowers, etc). People are quite a long way from understanding that not being sexist=stop making determinations/exceptions/actions for about people based on their sex.

              If you keep screaming at people, eventually they just stop listening. Alison’s view and script is perfect. No need to hang the dude.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                This is a guy who was ignoring someone telling him that what he’s doing is inappropriate for no reason other than he wants to do it. Martin is not the “common persons don’t understand all the nuance of it” hill to die on. People may be “a long from understanding that not being sexist=stop making determinations/exceptions/actions for about people based on their sex,” but at this point in time, if people don’t understand that treating people in the office differently based on gender isn’t something that should make them stop and think, that’s *entirely* on them and the bubble the choose to live in. And Martin especially can’t claim any benign “I really didn’t know/don’t understand the nuance” because he was told this wasn’t ok and he argued with the OP about it. I see what you’re getting at, but that kind of argument needs to be saved for someone else. I understand your point about not wanting to make people shut down by saying what they’re doing is sexist, but we’ve tried the nice approaches and we still have rampant boundary-crossing and “plausible deniability” offenders. It’s time to stop holding people’s hands and gently guiding them toward being less sexist.

        2. neverjaunty*

          In this case, it’s a garbage dude.

          There really was no era in Martin’s lifetime where it was appropriate business practice to send flowers to all the women in the office on Valentine’s Day.

          1. Jesca*

            Meh, it is just rarely ever helpful to jump to “garbage” about any person in my opinion … we can all agree to disagree. BUT I can say I have made a pretty good living successful promoting change (yes even on the level of sexual harassment in work places) and can say without a doubt not everyone is just “garbage”.

        3. Snark*

          The thing is, though, while there are non-detritus gentlemen who do have a hard time putting appropriate context to their behaviors, that’s a line far behind Martin. It’s generally accepted business ettiquette these days that one treats their female and male coworkers the same, without gender differentiation, and that’s been a norm for getting on 20 years now. And he was told that what he was doing was inappropriate, and instead of going “oh….oh! yeah, geez, I see what you mean,” he dug in and decided to go for it anyway.

        4. Kelsi*

          The thing about sexism (and racism, and other kinds of bigotry): it doesn’t matter if it’s on purpose. We don’t need to spend time sussing out whether it was deliberate, because it’s literally irrelevant.

          I’m stealing the example from better minds, but: if you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot (and apologize).
          Doesn’t matter if it was an accident. Get off my foot.
          Doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean to do it. Get off my foot.
          And if you keep stepping on my foot because you refuse to watch where you’re going–or, in this case, are specifically told by someone that you’re about to step on my foot and choose to do it anyway because you don’t believe them–you’re a garbage person. I don’t have to care that you didn’t sit up for an hour beforehand planning to step on my foot.
          We all have an ethical obligation to mitigate the damage we do. The damage isn’t undone just because it wasn’t planned.

          1. Fact & Fiction*

            Exactly! Very few people who perform sexist acts are twirling their mustaches and cackling maniacally. That doesn’t mean the sexism isn’t there or shouldn’t be called out. Nicely if the circumstances warrant it and less nicely if not.

    2. Triplestep*

      I’m also exasperated with Martin. Why did he ask if he was just going to do what he wanted anyway?

      My guess is that Martin is smitten with one woman in the office, wants to give her flowers, but knows he can’t single her out. So he figures he’ll send flowers to all of them and the object of his affection will no doubt be even MORE taken by this than had she alone received a gift.

      1. Someone else*

        He asked because he assumed the answer he got would congratulate him for being so nice, or some other bullshit, since it’s apparently beyond him that he might be wrong here.

    3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      Only time my entire office got a Valentine’s Day gift was when a nursing home residents that we had done some fall prevention training with made “us” (the Office of Prevention of Injury) cards. It was super sweet, but outside of that context I’d be surprised to see anything happen in my office on Valentine’s Day

  7. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 I work in London and would totally find this strange. Maybe it depends on your field but it would go down like a lead balloon among most people I know.

    I doubt Martin would actually believe me though, as people who say things like “I didn’t mean any harm” often aren’t interested in hearing that their plans aren’t welcome.

    You’ve told him it’s a bad idea, in writing by the sounds of it, so I don’t think you are on the hook if he goes ahead and does it!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      #2 I’m really shocked that she told you and didn’t expect you to fire her. I don’t see how you can possibly continue to employ someone who displays such a lack of judgment – she’s not being much of a friend to you by putting you in this position.

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, wow. I cannot imagine what it’s like to be in your position, particularly in a small town. Speaking selfishly, I would be inclined to adopt a policy forbidding relationships with clients (or their immediate family), as Alison suggests. It sounds like you’re certain that this is an affair, also, and the client isn’t aware/ok with their spouse dating your employee.

    If that’s the case, I suspect I would fire your employee (but again, I have no idea what it’s like to be in your shoes where it’s a small company, small town, and a preexisting friendship). To be honest, I’d probably be frustrated/upset that my friend put me in this position, as well.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Yah. I grew up in a teeny tiny village. This sort of stuff would be gossip fodder for weeks.
      I’d think you would have to fire the person to keep your business reputation.
      The employee is causing harm to your business relationship.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I don’t think you need to establish an official policy before you fire this employee, though.
      You can fire someone for any reason. (If you’re nervous about it, talk to a lawyer in your state, but one who focuses on the employer side of things; also get from them info on how to officially make the firing.)

      There’s also relatively little risk of legal problems for you from the client. There are huge business risks, and social ones. But I think few legal ones.

      If you want to decrease the chances that she will try to sue you, or file a complaint with the labor department, tell her you’re laying her off. And tell her you won’t contest an unemployment claim, and that you’ll give a reference about her work skills.

      Just fire her, period. She has to know that having an affair is dangerous, and this is what she gets. Even if she stopped now, she has done it; once the client finds out, she’s going to be really pissed at your employee even IF the affair is completely over; if the employee is still on your staff, your client will probably stop doing business with your company. The client may badmouth your business, or you (especially since you’re a friend of this employee).

      And I personally would dial WAY back on that friendship. Like, to -2.

      1. Mabel*

        I don’t think you can call it a layoff if it actually isn’t (meaning if the position wasn’t eliminated), but you can fire an employee and still decide not to contest an unemployment claim.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          Yes. This is not a business decision. This is firing a woman because you don’t like her sexual choices. Lying and saying it is a layoff is extra ewww.

          1. FD*

            Well, no, it’s not firing a woman because you don’t like her sexual choices. It’s firing a person because they are putting your business at risk through their choices.

            It’s the same as not allowing HR to date employees (whether it’s an affair or not).

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            No, it’s not. Firing her because of her sexual choices would be if that guy wasn’t a client but you fired her for sleeping with him anyway.

          3. eplawyer*

            It most definitely is a business decision. The employee has shown extremely poor judgment by having an affair with the spouse of a client. This affair could potentially harm the business. It is not a judgment on the affair itself. It’s a decision in the best interest of the business.

          4. RVA Cat*

            While the small town busybodies may judge the employee more harshly because she’s a woman, in business terms nothing changes if the genders were reversed. You’d still fire a man who was sleeping with a client’s wife.

          5. Triangle Pose*

            It is absolutely a business decision. She has shown poor judgement and put the business at risk by engaging in an affair with the spouse of a client.

          6. Observer*

            That’s not true. It’s totally a business decision. And it’s not about her “sexual choices”. It’s about behavior that could create serious damage to the business.

        2. The Bimmer Guy*

          If you’re going to go that route, I’d offer a severance package instead of inviting them to file an unemployment claim.

          Of course, I wouldn’t even do that, because this is such a flagrant example of misconduct. And there’s the fact that she’s bold enough to make it apparent to the letter-writer, friend or not. LW probably has every right to fire this employee, at least in any U.S. jurisdiction.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          Having a different punishment for men and women would be a pretty obvious one. As I said elsewhere it probably hasn’t come up before enough to be provable.

          1. Natalie*

            Having a different punishment for men and women would be a pretty obvious one.

            This is an assumption you’ve made, there’s nothing in the letter to suggest its remotely the case.

          2. Tuxedo Cat*

            There’s no proof of that.

            The OP can’t punish the man in this situation- he’s not her employee.

      2. Observer*

        Don’t call it a layoff. It’s not, and calling it one is going to cause problems.

        Fire her and then make a policy.

        Don’t contest her unemployment, and agree to give a neutral reference as to skills only.

    3. MK*

      I think the OP might have to write this client off anyway. If she fires the employee, odds are their lover will take his business away, if she doesn’t there will be a mess later on.

      1. Antilles*

        OP might have to write off the client and it’ll be a mess no matter what…but a much smaller mess if OP handles the situation.
        To use Alison’s analogy, if I found out that the housekeeping company employed someone who had been sleeping with my wife but had immediately fired the guy, I wouldn’t really blame the company. I might still decide to swap companies just to clear the plate as much as possible, but I wouldn’t go around saying not to use XYZ Housekeeping. But it’s a whole different ballgame if I found out that the owner of XYZ knew about the affair and intentionally ignored it, because then it’s like the owner was condoning the affair.

      2. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

        I took it that the writer was more concerned about the repercussions in the overall business community, not just this asshat, I mean, client.

    4. Ainomiaka*

      Ewww ewww ewww. A woman’s sexual decisions (consensual as far as I can tell from the letter? I would admittedly have a different answer I’d not) are NOT part of your business. Why why WHY are we still pretending in 2018 that they are? LW if you take this advice, I hope she sues you for the sex descrimination it is, though I know it’d be impossible to prove.

      1. Natalie*

        Yeah, no. The sexual part is a red herring here – the employee is overly involved in a clients life and that’s a perfectly legitimate reason (both legally and ethically) to fire someone. If the employee had, say, gotten the clients spouse involved in a sleazy MLM, would you be wringing your hands about getting involved in a woman’s economic decisions?

        And this isn’t remotely sex discrimination.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          How often are men fired for this? Even here in the comments there’s a pattern of who gets “don’t get involved ” and who gets “fire her.” It probably hasn’t happened at the company enough to prove, hence my comment about it being unproveable. But let’s not pretend that gender didn’t play a role here.

          1. Natalie*

            I have no idea how often men get fired for it, but it doesn’t matter. The solution to double standards isn’t reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator.

          2. RVA Cat*

            My read on it does not change if the genders were reversed, except that if the employee and client were men there’s more change this mess might end in violence.

          3. Tuxedo Cat*

            In society? I don’t know. I don’t have experience with this on any end.

            We have no idea whether gender played a role in this. It could, it could not. Gender doesn’t always play a role. Sometimes, people do crappy things and get punished for them. They just happen to be one gender. If this were a pattern of behaviors, the OP should look at why this is happening.

          4. Observer*

            The pattern of “don’t get involved” vs “fire” is totally NOT gender related. Making stuff up from whole cloth is never helpful.

      2. RG*

        That’s not sex discrimination – that doesn’t even make sense.

        Look, OP has already said she told her from a friend’s perspective that she disapproves. The employee brought it up, so she gets to hear her friend’s opinion, regardless of whether we agree with it or not. But from a business perspective, OP is entitled to take reasonable action if she feels that the employee is in fact damaging her ability to do business. Sleeping with your clients’ spouses tends to do that, regardless of whether you approve or even care.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          And telling her as a friend that she disapprover is a perfectly reasonable response. However I can’t help but notice that guys generally get a “don’t get involved” while women get “fire her” here.

            1. Ainomiaka*

              Just recently – the “don’t tell your friend you think her boyfriend that works at your company is cheating” letter. In the more distant past- every administration that found out about as affair. For example, the praise the administration got for not saying anything the time the wife found out and outed the husband at work. The lady who told HR after finding this blog open and realizing that a coworker knew about her affair and being worried that people would be unprofessional to her. Everyone here wants to say that affairs are bad. I agree. Affairs are awful and cause huge pain. Don’t have one. Don’t help someone have one. And we want to see people punished for causing that kind of harm and the law won’t do that. I get it, that is terrible. But this idea that women’s and only women’s sexual choices affect their employability is super gross. I don’t expect anyone to change, but that’s one of the strands of eww in the community here that I feel it is important to push back on.

              1. MuseumChick*

                This is really a stretch. None of these example present the risk of losing a client, or any risk actually to the business. And the lady who told HR after find this blog, if you go back and read that letter you will see that the company had a very loose fraternization policy and the HR lady had a very stern interaction with the MAN in that situation basically telling him (in a professional way) the he was a gross, awful person and that she didn’t want any interaction with him without a third party present. None of which she said to the WOMAN in that situation.

              2. Lance*

                This and that are two very, very different things, though. That’s between friends; this is between an employee and a client’s spouse, which has very different end implications.

                Nobody’s saying affairs aren’t terrible — they are — but this particular affair has business implications.

                1. Natalie*

                  The first example also wasn’t definitively about cheating, unless there was a comment update I missed? The coworkers were assuming cheating based on fairly flimsy evidence.

              3. Observer*

                That was such a different situation that the kindest thing I can say about the comparison is that it’s silly.

                None of the other cases were at all similar. In fact, in the case of the people who were having an affair and the LW was trying to figure out what to do, people were being FAR more harsh on the guy that the woman.

              4. Delphine*

                You’re focusing on the affair, as if that’s the problem, and not that it’s an affair with a *client’s spouse* that could directly damage OP’s business. The only thing the examples you’ve provided have in common is an affair, and you can’t use that as evidence that firing this particular woman in this particular circumstance amounts to discrimination.

          1. Lance*

            Any such examples probably didn’t involve a relationship between an employee and a client’s spouse, in all frankness.

          2. Shiara*

            Err, I’m pretty sure if the employee were male, the “fire him” advice would be identical. It’s one thing to say “don’t get involved” when it’s two coworkers on equal standing, it’s another thing entirely when your employee is having an affair with a client’s spouse, which has the potential to dramatically disrupt your small business.

          3. Jesca*

            I think I know what you are trying to say. In the broader culture, men tend to ignore other men’s infadelity. And while that may be true, it doesn’t mean we all just adopt the “man way” of doing anything and call it equality.

            But that is completely beside the point. The point here is that it is not about the affair. It is about an employee making a choice to potentially damage a business relationship. I HIGHLY doubt even the biggest bro of all would ignore that from his friend.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yeah, and certainly not the commenters here, as Ainomiaka seems to suggest. The issue here is not a matter of slut shaming or punishing her friend for having sex. It’s that she’s intentionally doing something that could completely torpedo the OP’s business.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            What are you referring to? It’s certainly not relevant to OP’s letter (where there’s no comparable dude, but if it were a dude, I would still say “fire him”).

            I don’t think you can bootstrap other situations where there’s a clearly gendered firing to a letter in which it’s not even possible for OP to make a gendered firing decision.

      3. Snark*

        It’d be impossible to prove because calling this sex discrimination is absurdity. It’s not sex discrimination to fire an employee with the bad judgment to become involved with a client’s spouse. It’s protecting your business, your reputation, and ending a relationship with an employee who doesn’t grok boundaries. It’s 100% OP’s business to get involved here, because it’s HER client and HER business.

      4. Slartibartfast*

        Employee has placed herself in potential conflict of interest territory. This is bad, it speaks of poor judgement. Having an affair in and of itself is poor judgement in my opinion, but what makes it fireable is when one of the other parties involved are a client or fellow employee. Because there’s three people involved here, and only two have given consent.

      5. Murphy*

        If the employee was having an affair with some rando, then I would agree that it’s 100% not OP’s business, but since it’s with a client’s spouse, I think it is. And I can’t speak for others, but I would say that no matter what gender the employee was.

        1. Meandre*

          Yep. Having an affair with her neighbor is different than having one with a coworker, client, supplier, etc.

          However, if it’s a small enough town and she’s being very indiscreet about it, any affair is likely to damage her professionally. The company may get blowback. It’s not about what is fair or just, but what is likely.

          I grew up in a small town. I can guarantee you that if Joe the plumber’s wife was having affairs with Joe’s clients’ husbands, it would hurt his business. Joe would be a double victim in it. Not fair, but inevitable.

          We like to think there is a bright line between work and out private lives. That’s only true to the extent our lives are private. Unfortunately, We are now in a world where less and less is private.

          I think saying that things that occur out of the office have no bearing on the office is, most unfortunately , no longer true.

          I think were in a period of changing norms on this because of the internet, the ubiquity of cameras and video recording public spaces, etc.

          Having an affair with someone not related to your work shouldn’t be your company’s business, but in 2018, it may become their business whether they want it to or not.

      6. Lynca*

        Sex discrimination doesn’t mean what you’re trying to twist it to mean in this case.

        It doesn’t protect you from what the employer considers improper fraternization (conflict of interest) with clients or client family members. Which is what this is. Many employers will fire you for having a conflict of interest that is detrimental to their business and that’s not discrimination just because the fraternization happens to be a sexual relationship.

      7. MuseumChick*

        Yeah…no. As a very vocal feminist this is in no way sex discrimination. This is an employee putting the business at risk for losing a client. The specific actions of the employee matter little, its the risk to the business that matter.

        Let’s try an example.

        The employee is out on the town, gets a little drunk (all legal and perfectly acceptable) and starts complaining about work and the jackass client Jane Smith who is just the WORST. Jane Smith happens to be in the same establishment and overhears the employee and terminates the business relationship the next day.

        The employer has ever right to fire the employee in this case. It’s the same with the affair, while generally not the employer’s business if their employee is having and affair (or, in the example getting drunk and complaining about work) once the behavior effects the business THEN the employer has every right to fire the employee.

      8. MCMonkeyBean*

        This take is ridiculous. It’s not some random affair. It is an affair *with a client’s spouse.* That has a direct impact on the business because if the client finds out they will for 100% sure lose the client, and potentially more business when the client goes around town telling everyone what happened.

      9. CaribouInIgloo*

        Her employee is clearly showing terrible judgement and not acting on the best interests of the employer. That’s more than enough ground to fire someone.
        Even if you want to pursue this sex discrimination angle it still wouldn’t fly. Let’s say LW wants to accommodate this employee and her relationship with the client’s spouse, it’ll still cause undue hardship for the business due to the potential damage to its reputation, and the employee’s professional relationship with other clients when the proverbial excrement inevitably hits the fan. It’s unreasonable from a business standpoint and a legal standpoint to force LW to accommodate this kind of behaviour.
        LW should immediately get rid of this employee and establish a no-fraternization policy.

      10. Observer*

        It would be impossible to prove, because there is no discrimination going on here. You have no shred of a reason to believe that it would be different with any other configuration of gender, on the one hand. On the other hand the danger to the business is is real and present.

      11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Maybe we don’t know each other well from the comments, but I think my stand on policing women’s sexual decisions is pretty well-established (I am against it). But this isn’t about policing sexual decisions. It’s about an employee’s personal decision that will serve as a ticking time bomb for OP’s business when it becomes public. Alison’s analogy is apt; in most small towns—and frankly, in large ones—a client will not want to hire a company with an employee that is having an affair with that client’s spouse. That’s doubly true if it comes out that the company knew about the relationship.

        From jump, it’s not wise from a business perspective to engage in extramarital affairs with the spouses of clients. It almost never ends well for the business and often results in a loss of goodwill, business reputation, and accounts—the client will almost certainly leave, and they may encourage others to leave, too.

      12. Lady Phoenix*

        This is not slut shaming. This is like telling a teacher not to sleep with their students, or a doctor to not sleep with their patients (especially if the doctor deals with mental health), or really telling any working person not to sleep with thei clients.*

        *Sex industry not included, but even then I believe GOOD jobs related have rules so as to not blur the lines between job and personal.

        Please please pleeeeeaaaaase drop this argument.

      13. sap*

        Not every time an employer reacts to consensual sexual behavior is sex discrimination, just because the employee is a woman.

        If this employee were bringing someone to the office after hours and having sex with him on the boss’s table, it wouldn’t be sex discrimination to fire her just because she’s being fired for sexual misconduct.

      14. Anion*

        Yes, I agree that women should not be held to any professional standards whatsoever, and it should be fine for them to have adulterous affairs with every spouse of every client a company has and then some, because girl power.

  9. copy run start*

    #1: Oof, yes hopefully he changes his mind on that one. I personally would be extremely creeped out that a colleague I had met in person once, and who lived/worked overseas, thought to send me flowers on Valentine’s Day. Maybe he believes it’s similar to sending a non-religious card and/or treats at year’s end, but this makes me squirm. I suppose the UK could be different, but my experience in the US is that Valentine’s Day is really all about romantic love.

    Side note: I don’t feel like flowers or other Valentine’s gifts should be delivered to workplaces or schools. Expressions of love and devotion from SOs aren’t work or school related. (When I was in high school, you could purchase a very expensive rose and have it delivered to someone on 2/14. I will allow that I may still be hurt that 0/2500 students ever wanted to send me a rose….)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s real! As are singing V-day wishes. I have no idea how widespread it is, but the whole rose/packet-of-candy thing was very popular at my middle and high schools.

        1. Jesca*

          I onced worked with a woman who’s husband hired an Elvis Impersonator to come to work and sing to her on Valentines Day after she complained to him how tacky she thought the holiday was. It was meant to be funny, and it effing was haha omg, but it was still inappropriate.

        2. Jotpe*

          We had tulips at my middle school, sold by the student council. In 8th grade, one of my friends was president and told me there were “a bunch” for me. It seemed wildly unlikely there was even one for me, so I was massively intrigued. In the end, there were zero for me. I never confronted the friend but I suspect she just wanted to make me feel better or something. Ah, middle school.

        3. teclatrans*

          This was huge in my high school during the late 80s. Someone upthread gives w very thorough description of it. (But, I appreciate you not believing everything you see portrayed in movies!)

        4. Totally Minnie*

          I was in choir in high school. Singing telegrams on Valentine’s Day was one of our most successful fundraisers.

      2. TL -*

        It’s real! You could do it at my high school for homecoming and V-day. It was actually a lot of fun – my friends and I always sent stuff with ridiculous messages to each other.

        1. Ainomiaka*

          Not that it is the job of the LW to manage this dude, but maybe playing up the “it’ll look like high school” could be mentioned as another reason not to do this.

      3. Alienor*

        It is–we had it at my high school in the 80s, and at my daughter’s high school just recently, they did Valentine singing telegrams where the recipient was serenaded in class and given chocolate.

      4. Cambridge Comma*

        We had it at my secondary school in the home counties in the 90s, but it was always run by that year’s Young Enterprise group. Possibly they had seen it on films.

      5. Guacamole Bob*

        It was carnations at my school, but yes, student groups would do it as a fundraiser. One year my best friend and I used them to mutually apologize for a months-long fight during which we hadn’t been speaking to each other.

        I don’t miss being 15.

      6. Falling Diphthong*

        It marked my childhood. Though seemingly not that of my children (currently high school, college age).

      7. Parenthetically*

        Yep, our school’s FBLA did it as a fundraiser and business project. You could purchase flowers, flowers + chocolate, flowers + chocolate + singing Valentine, etc., to be delivered to the person of your choice. I was in a vocal jazz group and we wandered the halls on Valentine’s day singing snippets of torch songs to the victims, er, I mean recipients. People did it seriously for boyfriends/girlfriends/crushes, but equally as a joke or an affectionate gesture for friends.

      8. lawyer*

        Real, and Sad Young Me always volunteered to sell the roses during recess so no one would notice that nobody sent one to me, SOB.

      9. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think we had something like that in school one year, it’s usually a charity drive. I think ours was chocolates not roses though and all our friends bought them for each other.

      10. Anonygoose*

        My school was worse than that! Instead of roses, our weird valentines fundraiser was MATCHMAKING. You paid $5 or $10 and filled out a quiz, and you would get back a list of names of your perfect matches. Amazingly, almost everyone in school participated. Only looking back now can I see how weird that was…

        1. accidental manager*

          At my kids’ high school, they had a matchmaking thing too, using a computer program written by students. Each student who participated got 5 female matches and 5 male matches and everyone was okay with this. (this was about 15 years ago, so I’m guessing that nowadays if they ran it they’d just run it genderblind).

          At my high school, they did the roses-delivery thing one year. You could choose one of several quotations to be attached to the rose. I sent one to my younger brother and chose the Heinlein quotation, and he guessed immediately that it was from me.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      We had the rose thing in high school.
      I only saw roses at work once. One of the guys got married and came back from the honeymoon. That day a bouquet of roses arrived from his new spouse. The card read “The honeymoon isn’t over yet!”
      I swear, I’ve never seen engineers more envious!
      The couple is coming up in their 35th anniversary.

    2. Mookie*

      Wow, I had forgotten all about that rose thing in high school. Way to exploit kids’s meagre pocket money or their parents’s money. And where did the money end up? Where the suppliers waiving the bill or donating the proceeds to the school for a useful project or to fund a student event? Plus, it was always a student delivering them, even when doing so meant they had to miss part or all of a class’s instruction for the day.

        1. curly sue*

          Ours was fundraising for student council; they did candy-grams at Christmas and Valentine’s, and the money would get used to fund the prom.

      1. Thursday Next*

        In my high school, the sale of roses was a benefit for school extracurriculars. A lot of students bought flowers for friends–I think different colors of roses were used to indicate romance and friendship.

        I’d still vote for keeping Valentine’s Day out of high schools, though at the elementary school level, it can be sweet. My daughter made these little fish Valentine’s Day cards for everyone in her class, with the message “I’m glad we’re in the same school.”

      2. Miss Betty*

        The money goes to different student events, such as prom or homecoming. When we dud it in high school, it was actually chrysanthemums and it was close to homecoming. I believe the funds raised supplemented whatever find were already set aside for the big homecoming celebtation. Studens did deliver the flowers but since ut happened during homeroom, no one missed out on anything.

        1. Miss Betty*

          What is up with my stupid phone auto correcting to words that don’t even make sense in context!? It does this far too frequently and is so annoying.

      3. copy run start*

        I think ours was a fundraiser for the student council. What they did with it, I don’t know. But I hated high school and had 0 school spirit, so I didn’t pay attention to dances or sport games.

        As I remember the roses were really expensive, like $10 a pop or something. Otherwise I probably would’ve organized a buy in with friends so we could feel special.

      4. Pathfinder Ryder*

        My high school (in New Zealand!)’s rose delivery money went to the student council’s charity of choice for the year.

    3. Oilpress*

      But if they don’t deliver the flowers to the office then how will the recipient’s coworkers know how great her significant other is?

      It’s a show off move…for both the sender and the recipient.

      1. Parenthetically*

        As the recipient of such flowers from my then-10,000-miles-distant boyfriend, now husband, I assure you it isn’t always a show-off move. It was a way for him to brighten my day the morning I went back to work having just traveled those 10,000 miles away from him, jet-lagged, exhausted, and sad.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Also, sometimes it’s just easier to get flowers delivered during business hours – at least in my town, I don’t think any florists deliver in the evenings. I know it can feel show-offy, but please don’t assume that’s the intent.

      2. Penny Lane*

        Because it would be dumb to deliver flowers at 9:30 am when the person isn’t home, so that the front stoop could enjoy them all day long? Because the person is at the office for the whole day and can enjoy the flowers for the entire day? Really, someone else isn’t sending their spouse flowers AT you.

  10. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 That sounds annoying. I suppose they might have meant they wanted you to bring a physical portfolio to an interview (I know some creatives do still have those) but I would go with what Alison suggests and make an online one so you can include a link. I’ve seen some people use Cargo Collective or Behance for this. If you do use Dropbox, I would make a custom URL (eg using bit.ly) using your name that goes straight to the folder page as not everyone realises you can view Dropbox links online without downloading the application.

    1. Mabel*

      Sort of similar: I applied for a job last week. There were three ways to apply, and none of them gave an opportunity to include a cover letter. So I opened up my resume, added a page at the beginning, wrote my cover letter there, and saved the whole thing as a PDF. I don’t think this will work with a portfolio, but Alison’s suggestion of posting it online with a link in your resume should do the trick. Why do companies make it not easy to do what they want you to do?

      1. misspiggy*

        On some online application setups you can’t attach a resume or a cover letter, but there should at least be a text box to say why you want the job. Dropbox link or similar can go in there.

      2. TheNotoriousMCG*

        The OP mentioned trying this specifically, but since it is graphic design samples the file size was too big and the system came back with an error

    2. Penny*

      We hire graphic designers & require a portfolio (online or pdf) for applicants. I get a lot of links to behance & from the recruiter pov it’s easy to navigate & looks nice. I don’t recall getting any through dropbox but i know there are some other online portfolio sites out there (sorry can’t recall the names).

    3. Ambpersand*

      I was always told to use online portfolios for easy sharing. If not in the cover letter, OP could also add a portfolio section in at the end of their resume that contains the link.

    4. OP4*

      Hey, I’m OP4! I have a website (and it’s a cargo collective site, actually!), and I believe they may have viewed this (it’s part of my contact info section on my resume), because they did say I was a strong candidate. However, the PDF portfolio I generally send out includes pieces that are strong examples of my skills that I do NOT include on my website for reasons including: it was a project or direction the client didn’t move forward with; or it was internal work that I don’t want the public to have access to but feel comfortable sharing directly with prospective clients. So what’s on my website isn’t representative of all I do – I basically have it so if someone’s like “Hey, do you have a website?” I can go “Yeah, it’s [here]” – and I tailor my PDF portfolio specifically for the job I’m applying to.

      What I think I’ll do, going forward, is to include a link on my resume to a privately hosted PDF. Thanks for the advice, guys!

      1. KayEss*

        My experience as a graphic/web designer is I have never seen an application that had a space to upload a portfolio PDF, nor have I ever kept one around… honestly if an opening asked for me to provide a portfolio in a format other than my website URL, I’d be annoyed enough that I might reconsider applying. I’ve provided additional samples of particular types of work upon request after an interview, but otherwise my website is just tailored to show the kind of work I’m best at and most want to continue doing. I figure that if that’s not sufficient, it’s probably not a job I’d be particularly happy in, anyway.

        The private PDF is a good idea, though, and I hope it works for you!

  11. LouiseM*

    OP #3, I am seeing red. I can’t tell you how many times things like this have happened to me and my female colleagues. And I’m sure you’ve seen stories about how some men have started using LinkedIn as a dating site, which is just appalling.
    Last time this happened to me, at a pretty high-profile company, I sent HR a note (anonymously, of course, so it wouldn’t harm my reputation) letting them know that their employee Fergus was using the company’s hiring process as a way to meet dates. I can’t say for sure if it had any effect, but I will say that Fergus is no longer listed in the staff directory, and when I sent an email to his old company email (about an actual professional matter, NOT a pretext for a date) the email was returned to sender. There doesn’t seem to be anything about him online, so I don’t know where he ended up, but I hope he got what he deserved!

      1. Like Feathers*

        Honestly, yes. My first thought was that he should be removed from anything remotely connected to hiring, but then I wondered if that would make much of a difference- he could still say he worked there.

        I’d be a little uneasy_if_ an anonymous note got someone fired, but I find it hard to believe a valuable employee would be let go over that.

        1. I Heart JavaScript*

          Networking meetings with people unconnected to hiring is huge in my industry. You find a company you’re interested in, then you see if you know anyone who works there, then you see if they’re ok talking to you about it, then they refer you if they think you’d be a good fit and you’re still interested. Men who troll for dates on the pretense of networking are abusing this convention at the expense of women’s careers. So, yeah, he deserves to be fired, even if he’s not doing the actual hiring.

      2. I*

        Yes? That kind of behavior is both disgusting and a big part of why women are held back professionally. We’re seen as sex objects first and professionals never by men like these, which creates discriminatory outcomes both in hiring and retention of female employees. So yes, men like that deserve to be fired.

        1. Nanani*

          And these creepers waste our time and energy on these fake meetings that we could be using for real networking leading to a real job.

          It’s selfish, entitled, and sexist.

        2. Lumen*

          standing ovation dot gif. :)

          I recently learned that a man I used to work with (who always had some low-key ‘benevolent’ sexism going on) has escalated in the year or two since I left. As in ‘having an affair with a direct report and fighting with her in the office’ escalated. As in ‘clients have noticed and are uncomfortable’ escalated. As in ‘directly harassing other women too’ escalated. It’s so gross.

          And I felt terrible, because I used to feel very positively about him and waved off a lot of his behavior as just old-school or “he’s making mistakes but he’s trying”. And then I started to think back to the times he took me to lunch, or things he said, or how he’d handle certain problems in the office, and I began to re-contextualized what I saw and knew of him back in the day and realized that what I was reading as harmless never really was.

          Annnnd then my skin crawled completely off and ran away.

      3. Aardvark*

        He was abusing professional connections and his company’s name to ask women out on false pretenses! That’s pretty terrible. Why, you ask?
        1) It’s sexist
        2) It’s demeaning and deceitful
        3) It potentially harms the company, because it scares away applicants for other positions
        4) It can be unsafe — I doubt I’m the only woman who shares a lot of information before a first interview that I would not share before a first date. Like home phone numbers and my address and my email and my full name and where I currently work…

      4. Mookie*

        For using company time to pull? For potentially alienating new and future hires and for disrupting the screening process? Sure.

      5. Serendipity*

        Yes. I’m typically lenient, but this kind of behaviour demonstrates to me that he is willing to abuse a position of power to take advantage of another person for his own personal gain.

        It smacks of self-entitlement, ego, lack of empathy, lack of respect for others, and a lack of integrity. I’d rather not have someone like that on my team.

      6. Bow Ties Are Cool*

        The mere fact that it’s even a question (whether he deserved to get fired for this or not) shows how far we have to go to achieve workplace equality.

      7. paul*

        100% yes?

        I mean for gods sakes they exploited their companies reputation adn resources to get a date. That isn’t even a question.

      8. Lady Phoenix*

        Hell yes. People should not use business connections to trick people, scam people, or sexual harass/assault people. If a person do, the business needs to fire their ass.

      9. Triangle Pose*

        Yes, speaking from the employer side – absolutely. He was misrepresenting his authority to represent the company. And on top of that, creating a bad and false impression of the company’s hiring practices by behaving in a predatory way.

      10. LBK*

        Boy, doesn’t seem like the responses on this one went the way you were expecting…but count me in as another one who agrees this is a clearly fireable offense. In what way is a person who lures women into dates under false pretenses – trading on your company’s name and reputation, nonetheless – someone you want to continue to employee?

      11. sfigato*

        Yes, and I’m willing to bet it wasn’t Fergus’s only issue. Someone who is misrepresenting his role at a company to try to get with potential hires is probably doing other shady things.

      12. sap*

        Are you implying that she shouldn’t have reported his behavior if it may have gotten him fired?

        Do you think that all misconduct that isn’t a fireable offense should therefore not get reported, in case the employer fires the employee?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I’ve run across that argument for clearly fireable offenses, too–it’s not the fault of the person who did the thing, but of the harassed people who refused to cover it up.

          1. sap*

            Yeah, I’ve seen it too. I think some people don’t realize how absurd the argument is until they try applying it to something non-harassment related (“Fergus keeps leaving something important off a report,”) and imagine whether they would advise that nobody tell the boss in case the boss overreacts and fires Fergus.

            (Obviously lots of harassment IS a fireable offense the first time anyway, but a lot of it isn’t and IMO shouldn’t be, on the first incident).

    1. 2 Cents*

      Getting hit on through LinkedIn is the reason I know you can block users! It’s incredible that anyone would think it’s appropriate to do that.

      1. NonprofitWhiz*

        Is it any difference than giving your business card to someone you meet at a bar or at yoga class? You can block them or say no, for sure, but the overture itself isn’t using company resources in any meaningful way.

        1. Us, Too*

          I think it’s different because:
          1. People go to bars and yoga classes for non-professional reasons so having a non-professional interaction is totally normal at these places.
          2. LinkedIn is very specifically a PROFESSIONAL social networking site. I don’t go to a professional networking site for non-professional reasons.

          1. NonprofitWhiz*

            Sure, but many people do in fact meet their partners at work or hit it off with people at networking events. Not everyone has a social network outside of work, in fact. As long as there aren’t any ramifications for turning the person down, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with expressing interest once, politely.

            1. Natalie*

              Do people actually give their business cards to personal connections? I would find that odd and would assume that I had misread the situation and they were trying to recruit me for a job or sell me services or whatever.

              1. LBK*

                Yeah, handing out a card seems like a relic from the Rolodex days – why wouldn’t you just exchange numbers directly, given that most people have their cell phones on them 24/7 nowadays?

                1. NonprofitWhiz*

                  Really? I think it’s far less invasive than the phone hand off. If I give someone my card (or my number written on a piece of paper), then they can throw it away after I leave or put it in their phones or text me immediately. The situation where someone says “give me your phone so I can give you my number” is waaay more aggressive than “here is my number, use it if you want to”.
                  I feel like given the general tenor around here, no one would be happy if people showed up at your yoga class or networking event asking to grab your phone and put their contact in it.

                2. LBK*

                  I mean, you can also just delete their number back out of your phone after they leave. It’s not like contacts are permanent.

                  But either way, the approach isn’t the issue – the issue is treating events that people are attending for a completely different purpose as dating opportunities. If I’m going to yoga, it’s because I want to do yoga. Don’t come there if you’re not there to do yoga. Go to a singles meetup or something.

              2. JustaTech*

                I had someone do that to me (son of my mom’s high school friend, at a wedding, super super skeevy, to the point that at least 4 people warned me about him at the reception). Oh, and he didn’t just hand me his card, he did that weird hand-card-two-handed-handshake thing.

            2. LBK*

              I think there’s a clear difference between meeting someone in a professional capacity and hitting it off in a way that ends up leading to a personal relationship vs messaging a random person on LinkedIn because you think they look hot in their profile picture. I also think it’s one thing if you unintentionally end up in a relationship with someone you met via work – it’s another to go to a networking event purposefully trolling for dates, which is pretty gross IMO.

            3. Tea Fish*

              But that’s the problem– seems like half the guys under the sun feel entitled to “express their interests” to women in every single venue of life, even ones that are explicitly non social and non romantic. Just because a man (and let’s be real here, 99% of the time it’s a guy) can’t or doesn’t cultivate his own social network doesn’t mean that he’s entitled to go trawling through other unrelated social media looking to pick up a date. What’s the harm? How about women feeling like they’re being evaluated for their looks and romantic availability at every turn, even in strictly professional environments? There’s apparently never a moment when we can feel appraised or judged for our professional ability or what we do, just whether we’re good for a date for some lonely dude. That’s absolutely harmful.

              As for there not being any ramifications for turning someone down, there’s never any way to tell. I’ve met a lot of guys who start out friendly and warm, and it only takes one polite rejection to turn that “You’re so lovely” to “you cold bitch.” If Bigwig CFO of Fortune 500 company that I’d love to work at reaches out to me politely expressing interest on LinkedIn, will turning him down blacklist me from the company? If Well Known Attorney from Prestigious Firm that works with my own company propositions me, and they pull away from the relationship after I say No Thanks, is that the reason why? Maybe. Maybe not. How would I ever know?

              There are absolutely ramifications to this sort of behavior– chasing women out of professional networks, retaliation in ways women will never be able to see or find out about. But so many men can’t see anything beyond, “Hey, but I want a connection and a date real bad, and isn’t that the only thing that matters?”

            4. Indie*

              It would be only once from your perspective . It might not be the only advance for her and she may make no actual professional connections while fending them off. Unfortunately a lot of men think networking clout = all the maidens must submit to the king. It’s not because they don’t have a social life; It’s because they believe women will trade sex for connections. It’s insulting and pervasive. If you don’t want your reputation mixed up with theirs; use a dating site. If you are very interested in a colleague try to develop a semi social relationship or at least some trust beforehand. But I wouldn’t use a cold call approach in business spaces.

        2. Lady Phoenix*

          What you are describing is an orange to this apple.

          The apple being that douchebag is actively and intentional using his business connections to lie and trick women into dates. In other words, douchebag is being a predator.

          Meeting someone at a bar and yoga and giving them a business card or asking then out is just coincidences. That person would just be an cordial stranger.