I’m being mentored against my will by a dude who’s my peer

A reader writes:

I’ve been in my chosen career for about 10 years now. About three years into my career, I struck up a collegial friendship with someone who worked for a competitor. He’s maybe five years older than I am, but we were at a similar point in our careers.

Fast forward to the present: he holds a senior level position with a start-up and I am self-employed. Our career levels therefore aren’t really comparable, but we’ve both achieved similar milestones in our field. I think of him as an equal.

That is, until recently, when he started sending me emails full of unsolicited advice and generic, go-get-em-tiger style encouragement on some projects I’m working on. They feel rather condescending. It’s always very generic, very obvious advice that I, for one, would only give to someone starting out in our field: “The next step for you is clearly XYZ.” Lots of approval granting: “Project X is looking great!” Offers to introduce me to people I’ve known for years — and would have to have known for years in my position. Just generally talking to me as though I am at a career level significantly junior to him. These emails are also never part of an ongoing conversation; they’re sent out of the blue.

These emails dismayed me for a number of reasons, but mostly because it was quite clear that he does not think of me as an equal and perhaps never has. I also can’t help but think this has a lot to do with the fact that he’s a man and I’m a woman.

(I’ve also had this feeling in-person, but never as strongly as I get it from the emails. And because we live in different parts of the country now and only see each other occasionally, email is our primary means of communicating and has been for the last few years.)

I have so far tried not to engage with this tone—I respond to his emails cheerfully, but I change the topic. I keep hoping he’ll pick up on the fact that I am not responding to his attempts at mentorship and cut it out, but every time he sends one of these emails, I feel belittled. I believe he is sending them in good faith and perhaps doesn’t realize how he is coming off. Should I say something? If so, what? I’d like to maintain this professional relationship if at all possible.

A brief poll of my career-minded female friends show that the unwelcome male would-be mentor is not an uncommon phenomenon. How to navigate?

Yeah, that’s really annoying. He’s being condescending and apparently not picking up on your cues that it’s unwelcome — and to make it extra annoying, he’s probably feeling great about himself for doing it — so you’ll have to make those cues louder and more explicit.

Specifically, you could do two things, and maybe three:

1. When he sends you emails with obvious advice or offers to introduce you to people who of course you already know, make it clear you’re already on it. For example:

* “Of course — already part of the plan.”
* “I’ve known Jane for years. She’s great.”
* “You realize I’d be terrible at my job if I didn’t know that, right?” (This one depends on the relationship you have, but if you can say it, do.)
* “Yeah, of course!”

It’s possible that a few dryly delivered responses that essentially boil down to “no shit” will get the message across. But if not…

2. Ignore anything you don’t feel like engaging with. You’re not obligated to respond to someone who’s being condescending to you. You can ignore emails that annoy you. That doesn’t mean that you have to cut off the entire relationship if you don’t want to — send your own emails with the things you do want to talk about, and ignore the ones with unsolicited mentoring.

If he ever comments on it, that’s a good opening to explain that what he’s doing is strange and off-putting.

3. And even if he doesn’t ever bring it up himself, it might be worth saying something anyway. If you want to, you could say something like this (maybe the next time you see him in-person): “Hey, I wanted to mention something to you. It’s nice that you’re so positive about my work, but you sometimes email me the sort of advice I’d send to someone just starting out in our field. We’re peers, and it’s surprising when you send me basic guidance for work I’ve been doing for a long time.”

Whether or not to do that depends on the relationship. If you’re fairly comfortable with each other, I’d say it. If you’re not, then it might be enough to just stick to 1 and 2 above.

{ 362 comments… read them below }

  1. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

    “You’re doing great for a girl! Good for you!” Please feel free to ignore.

    1. Engineer Woman*

      A few weeks or months later (so as to be not so obvious?) “You’re doing a great job, Fergus! Way to go! But have you considered doing this? It’d make you even more awesome! But really: good work!”

  2. Cait*

    I’m curious to know how he knows so much about what the OP is working on.

    OP – if you’re sharing these details, stop. Or maybe figure out how he has so much knowledge about what you’re doing (assuming his start up and your work don’t intersect often if at all).

    I would stop responding – no more cheerful replies, that seems to encourage him.

      1. Luna*

        So he’s looking your work up online and then taking it upon himself to send advice based on what he read? Wow yeah, that’s obnoxious.

          1. formerGR*

            Is there any chance he’s trying to drum up business for his start-up somehow?? I’m struggling with even that making sense, but this is just so obnoxious on his part that I almost can’t believe he could be so oblivious (I say almost because I’ve dealt with enough crap in my own career to sadly realize it’s entirely possible).

            1. Anonymoose*

              This is exactly my thoughts. As a previous operational leader in a sales-driven field, ‘mentor’ wannabe screams ‘I got advice that I am supposed to send out X number of ‘touches’ to network/drum up business and was told that discussing others’ work is the fastest way to build up my porfolio’. Super uninspired, inauthentic bullshit, frankly.

              OP, hit ignore constantly. You’re just stuck in someone’s sales funnels, sadly.

              1. Anonymoose*

                Also: it’s increasingly easy to get a senior level position in start-ups, so anybody assuming that you’re somehow below him career-wise is….well, you know what happens when we assume. At the very least, naive.

        1. eplawyer*

          He is really overstepping his bounds then.

          As noted, no more cheerful replies. He is taking your cheerful replies as you appreciating his “advice.” Stop it in its tracks. Either flat out tell him you don’t need his “encouragement” or just ignore them. Unless you need the guy for your freelance work, do not engage.

          1. CanCan*

            I agree. I wouldn’t even respond with “Of course!” as Allison suggests. This could be interpreted as “That’s obvious, so buzz off” (as Allison meant it), or as “Thanks, that’s great advice, keep sending it!” (as the guy would likely read it). You could say, “Umm, obviously!” – but better just ignore most of it. (The message being that your time is too valuable to respond to bull.)

            1. Ali*

              Exactly. Guys like this will interpret everything in the most charitable (to them) manner they can. “Of course!” is exactly the kind of non-confrontational response women are trained to provide to cushion the feelings of men. I would just be direct and ask “Why are you emailing me this information?” and see what he says. Men manage to maintain good working relationships while having direct conversations with each other, I see no reason to pussy-foot around someone who’s acting out of line.

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          Especially given this context, I’d just go with the direct approach. “Fergus, please don’t speak to me as if I’m some entry-level teapot designer. I’ve been a teapot design consultant for 15 years, you know this, and it’s really condescending when you speak down to me like that.”

          He’ll either get it (if he’s a genuine friend/colleague, he’ll be open to hearing you), in which case yay, problem solved; or he won’t, in which case you know he’s not worth your time anymore. If he means well but is oblivious, providing him clarity about how he’s coming across is going to be a HUGE favor to him. He probably does this to others (especially women) too, and he might like to know about it so he can do some self-assessment and stop. Being vague won’t help someone who is already struggling with obliviousness. Directly explaining that his behavior is problematic, and why it is, will.

          And if he gets offended by it, that’s his problem; it means he wasn’t ever interested in engaging with you as a human being, just the princess he has to save in order to earn virtue points. If he wants to impress others by making himself look noble, he can do it on his own time, not yours.

        3. Triple Anon*

          Yeah. I would distance myself from someone who’s doing that. Even if you can put up with it, he’s probably being weird to other people too and so it would be best not to be associated with him. Professionally associated. Being friends and cutting back on the work talk would be ok.

          I think it would be ideal if you could say something about it. Ignoring it is a good option too. I used to get really annoyed by unsolicited advice. Then I reflected on times when I’ve done the same thing to other people and realized that, at least for me, it comes from admiring someone’s work and wanting to support it. Being a fan. That doesn’t make it excusable. But he could be enthusiastic about what you’re doing and just isn’t expressing it in the nicest way.

          Could you filter his emails? Send them to a separate folder and then read them when it’s a good time?

      2. AKchic*

        Maybe send him the link to this article and a quick note of “wow… I didn’t think I was the only one dealing with this kind of BS. Do you ever get your peers sending you unsolicited, condescending advice too? Since I never ask for any of the advice you send – maybe I should actually ask you for some now. Do *you* have any advice for this kind of situation?”

        See what happens? Maybe he’ll actually stop?

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Yes, so much this. By continuing the conversation you are indicating that you approve, appreciate his text, his tone, and his content. Unless you tell him that you are very busy right now, you know, DOING the work and you don’t have time to talk to him about he thinks you should do it, then he’s going to keep “helping.”
      And definitely stop sharing your project status with him. Just because someone asks you a question, doesn’t mean you have to answer.

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Along those lines, don’t add exclamation points where they aren’t warranted. Emails can feel cold and I know I used to add them to emails to warm it up, especially when I was thanking someone. Don’t feel like you need to do this with his emails, because that likely strokes his ego and makes him think “OP really appreciates what I have to say” rather than “OP is being friendly”.

      I would personally go with a few dry email responses sent a few days after his “coaching” emails, and eventually no response.

    3. palomar*

      Since she said they work in the same field, I think it’s not that weird that he knows things about her business, especially since she’s self-employed and he’s senior at a start-up. There’s a certain amount of networking and hustle built into those roles, regardless of industry, and people tend to stay on top of what other people are working on in their field so that they can stay competitive.

  3. CrystalMama*

    I am fully with Allison here OP. You can reject condescension and should!!
    As a personal aside I have had many experiences with people who have advice I learned long ago the hard way. I have a lot of experience in my field (NOT crystals lol!!), some from years of formal education, some from the school of Life. In my field for example we have to manage many spreadsheets which are populated from databases…people like to suggest I learn VBA. BTDT! I take the good intentions but ignore what I already know.

    1. LouiseM*

      I had to google BTDT, but now that I have, I too have BTDT! I actually agree with you that the intentions are often good, but they may not be in this case.

      Not sure what kind of people you meant, but for me I sometimes have well-meaning social acquaintances tell me something extremely basic about my own profession (which requires an advanced degree to practice!). In those cases I just take it as evidence that this person has found something exciting and novel in my work and has been looking for the opportunity to share their new knowledge. And I roll my eyes internally. When that person is a colleague, though? Totally different story.

      1. Anonymoose*

        I did this with my doctor recently, oops. There was a novel therapy that I had tried and was pretty sure he was unaware of that would help similar patients. I gave him the background about it, and I was pretty much given the brush off and told to discuss it with another of my practitioners. Whatever, just trying to share knowledge. Psh. But yes, I would never tell someone how to do their job, ick.

    2. formerGR*

      I recently had a bunch of people in my world forward me an article from a prominent trade publication that highlighted one example of A Bad Thing I’ve been working on counteracting. They all were like, “Hi, thought you might find it helpful to know that XX company is doing Bad Thing too!”.

      Which maaaaybe would have been helpful to know, I guess, except for the fact that I was quoted in the article talking about XX company also doing the Bad Thing, and that interview and article were part of my strategy to counteract Bad Thing. Grrrrr.

      (it certainly was an object lesson in how far down people will read in an article before sending it along–as it turns out, only 2 paragraphs).

      1. LouiseM*

        WOW. Another example of a well-meaning person totally missing the mark.
        And then like I was saying earlier, it goes from “missing the mark” to “extremely insulting” really fast when the person is a professional connection and not a friend. Example: an old colleague of mine was presenting a paper at a departmental workshop. One of the attendees (male in a skewed-female academic department) tended to act pretty disrespectfully toward women colleagues and took their ideas less seriously than men’s. Anyway, he clearly didn’t pay attention to her paper and was scrambling for something to say during the workshop. So he recommended she read…the book she had actually written her conference paper about. You can’t make these things up. It is funny now but at the time, very insulting to all of us who felt that this man had wasted our time once again.

        1. Mephyle*

          A very similar scenario to the seminal mainsplaining incident, when Rebecca Solnit was urged to read a “very important book” on the subject under discussion, which the ’splainer didn’t realize was her book. Until another participant in the conversation said “That’s her book,” some three or four times.

      2. CBE*

        I’ve had similar experiences, where people have sent me links to *articles I wrote* that are published on *my web site* to show me where I could learn more and be as smart as them. Always MEN.
        I’ve taken to replying “Great article, thanks! Who wrote it?”
        Oddly enough, they never reply to answer my question. :)

  4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Hi, it looks like you are looking for opportunities to mentor people in our field. If you’d like, I can give you the contact information of some younger, less experienced people who could really use your advice.
    Then give him the names of some men. And see if he’s all gung ho to man-splain your career to the next generation, because hey, who’s going to pat him on the back for doing that?

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Or if you want to go the smart-aleck route, start giving him advice and coaching back. But make it really basic like the stuff he’s giving you. Actually, the one Karma suggests above is perfect, I think!

        1. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

          Yes! This was going to be my exact suggestion!

          You could even just copy and paste the exact suggestion in his e-mail and send it back to him.

          ‘Hey – I thought this was important for you to know!’

          This will only work if you have a good relationship with him, he’s not a total jackass, and you’re a bit of a smart ass.

          I’ve successfully employed this technique which seems to work better than just flat out calling the person out on their shenanigans, but I am totally a smart ass so I’ve got good delivery on my side.

      1. A Teacher*

        Offer contact info for vocational teachers in the field–high school voc ed teachers like real world experience to come in and guest speak. Plus if he gets too full of himself, a good high school teacher can respond to that effectively as well–we’re used to different attitudes (good and bad that pop up)


        A Vocational Education Teacher

      2. topscallop*

        Another idea I had (besides the great ones so far that will likely shut him down and which I loved reading) is to ask him a difficult question about your field. If there’s something the OP actually is struggling with or interested in exploring further, you could veer the conversation in that direction. You could respond to his last email with something like, “I appreciate that you want to exchange tips, but frankly the advice you’ve been sending me lately is quite basic and might be helpful to someone just starting out. However, what I could really use is a brainstorming session on XYZ.” That could help him see you as a peer. But if you don’t want to maintain the relationship, I really wouldn’t bother.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Ooh, this would be a nice idea, if OP did know people who were junior in the field who might benefit – might not get the point across, if he’s determined to mentor, but what can you do.

    2. Margaret*

      Please don’t give out someone’s contact info without permission. I would phrase it thus: “I can give your contact information to some younger, less experienced people who could really use your advice.”

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        That’s a good point. Don’t want to be the kind of jerk you’re calling out!

      2. Emmie*

        Do not take on work that you have no desire to do. There is no need to offer to pass along this information, or refer him elsewhere if you do not want to. “Hey, some high school vocational teachers may have students who could use this advice. [Optional: Check out your local high school.]”

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I love this and the “send him random ‘mentoring’ emails” suggested below.

    4. ArtK*

      I’d recommend against that. Do you really want him to spread the condescension and mansplaining to another generation? We need to choke off the toxicity and let it die, not give it more fertile ground to grow in.

      1. KHB*

        The point is that he’s probably not actually interested in doing the condescending-mentor thing with male mentees. And from what I know from direct and indirect experience about how men like this operate, that’s a gamble I’d be willing to take.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This. Is. Amazing!

      I was just going to suggest a blunt “can you please not do this?”, but this is pure genius.

    6. Mazzy*

      I agree. Except that this is so out of the ordinary that I don’t think gender needs to be the focal point here at all. It would be weird if the OP and faux mentor were the same gender or not.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        I don’t think tiptoeing around what is likely a core issue – that there is some serious sexism here, albeit *perhaps*unconscious – is necessary, or even desirable. Sure, I bet you could get it to stop without even hinting that there is any sexism. But I don’t think it’s actually helpful to pretend it isn’t there.

        1. Jess*

          I don’t know- framing it as sexism (at least directly & right off the bat) to him could cause him to dismiss the message altogether (“But I’m not sexist! I’m offering advice & encouragement to help women succeed!”). To be clear, I absolutely think it is sexist, and only listing male names as suggested mentees is a great idea. But I think he first has to recognize that his conduct is condescending before he’ll be able (if ever) to grapple w/ the cause. After all, his advice is only sexist because it’s condescending & directed at a peer. If the advice was actually being given to someone brand new to the field, it might not be condescending or sexist. So step one is for him to recognize how demeaning his actions are.

          1. Anna*

            Oh, hard disagree. It’s absolutely not on the OP to invest labor in enlightening this guy. She can make a very clear point and send him on his way.

    7. Guacamole Bob*

      I read this in the same mental voice I have for Clippy from older versions of Microsoft Office, and it’s pure gold.

      1. Helpful Curmudgeon*

        +1 Came here to say the same thing. “Looks like you’re giving advice. Would you like assistance in not making an ass of yourself?”

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I would like assistance in wiping diet pepsi off my screen. Not even a little bit joking. This is awesome.

      2. Mookie*

        Precisely the image that popped into my head. I’d do Hey Karma one better (or worse) and insert the recommended language into the appropriate image macro for this guy.

      3. Naptime Enthusiast*

        I couldn’t figure out what voice I was reading this in and that’s exactly it! Thank you!

    8. Tuxedo Cat*

      I’m going against the grain and saying pleas don’t. It’s just going to perpetuate the idea that this behavior is acceptable and good.

      1. LilyP*

        Well the behavior itself (mentoring) isn’t bad or unacceptable, it’s just that it’s being mistakenly directed at a peer (which gives it the strong undertones of sexism, since apparently he’s assuming she’s less competent than him because she’s a woman). If he was sending this advise to someone of any gender who was actually starting their career it could probably be really helpful! I think re-directing his energies like this is a tactful way to point out his mistake here.

  5. Lil Fidget*

    When I sold my first novel, I had many men who were still dreaming of finishing one who wanted to give me advice about writing. Women never did this. It’s something about the amount of confidence one has. Even though these men had nothing to hang their hat on professionally, they *truly believed* that they were great, amazing writers that anyone would be lucky to learn from. It’s an odd phenomenon.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      This is fascinating! I have met people I felt like I could teach, but never thought of mentoring someone unwillingly. I mentor and coach when people ask me. Someone once decided they would be my self-appointed mentor, who was of course someone I would never pick as they had nothing I wanted professionally. He also hapoened to be a man. So interesting…

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I have a friend (female) who does stand up comedy and improv, she says she gets the same thing. It’s actually her full time job but guys who do open mikes – or just always thought they would do a good open mike someday – want to give her advice and suggestions.

          1. OklahomaSpeaks*

            Is your friend Maria Bamford? She has an episode on Netflix that addresses this, it’s hilarious

      1. CMart*

        As are guys in bars.

        Not specifically related to novel writing, but I have never been so aggressively unwillingly mentored than when I was bartending the lunch shift at an upscale restaurant. Business Dudes looooooved telling me how smart and capable I obviously was (especially when I made the mistake of telling them about my educational background), but suspiciously never actually wanted to pass my resume along to their finance departments.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Absolutely the same, especially in law. The amount of patronizing “good will” is tremendous across all professions.

      My favorite is when someone tried to explain a paper I had written to me, telling me I really needed to read [Name of Article]. I asked gently if he knew the name of the author, and when he couldn’t remember, I said, “I’m the author,” and he proceeded to try to (incorrectly) explain the paper to me, again. Bizarrely, it’s not the first or even fifth time that that has happened to me. It felt very Rebecca Solnit, “Men Explain Things To Me.”

      1. Annie Moose*

        My favorite story along these lines is from Gail Simone, a widely-known comics writer. While in line to see the Deadpool movie, a guy started trying to explain who Deadpool was to her.

        …Gail Simone has not only written some extremely well-received Deadpool storylines, she is referenced by name in the movie.

      2. Friday*

        Damn. To have that kind of confidence without any self-awareness to counter it. It’s like a superpower, if nobody ever checks the dude on his nonsense to the point where he actually feels shame. Do these types of guys ever feel shame? What’s that LIKE.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I know; I wonder about this all the time. There are memes about it, and I kind of wonder at the audacity and self-assurance someone has to have to be so self-unaware and shameless.

        2. Plague of frogs*

          Based on the guys who’ve done it to me, it’s actually quite a lot like a severe lack of confidence, masked by being a know-it-all dickhead, mostly to women, in the hopes that somehow it will make women respect them. It’s a form of negging, done by guys who feel they have nothing else to offer.

          One of my close friends did it to me once–looked over my shoulder at my little transistor diagrams and calculations, and said, “Oh, OK, I get it.” Which of course made no sense, unless he meant that he had heard of those numbers before…

          But he is profoundly insecure, and he just couldn’t handle me knowing about this whole thing that he will never have a clue about.

      3. oranges & lemons*

        Man, this is obviously incredibly annoying, but a part of me would like to know what it feels like to go through the world with this much confidence. I feel like if I were on the mansplaining end of this conversation by accident, I would just pray for the earth to swallow me whole.

        1. Tardigrade*

          I also want to know what that much confidence feels like. I wonder if they make a pill for it.

          1. LizB*

            I like the mantra I see floating around the internet sometimes: “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.”

            (The idea being not that there’s something wrong with mediocre white men, but that they tend to be extremely confident no matter what their skill level is, and it would be nice to be that self-assured instead of feeling inadequate all the time despite intellectually knowing you’re doing just fine.)

            1. Lucky*

              Allison, can we have some official Ask a Manager merch, and can this quote be on the first t-shirt? And can that t-shirt be a women’s fit rather than a man’s t-shirt? TIA.

              1. Not Australian*

                Actually, can we have it in a men’s fit, too? I’m ‘comfortably built’ and women’s fit tee shirts won’t go anywhere near my shape.

                1. Jennifer Thneed*

                  Yeah, especially when the “women’s cut” tees invariably have cutie little cap sleeves.

                  T-shirt makers of the world, take note! I have a curve or two and STILL hate those cap sleeves.

      4. Specialk9*

        They try to explain your own article to you, after they know you wrote it? That’s just so *dumb* and arrogant, and impervious to thought. Like a giant clothes wearing… Well… Penis.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh no, it was even better. They didn’t realize I had written it. When I told them I had, they insisted that another author with my exact same very uncommon name must have written it.

          1. Pebbles*

            Did they also try to assign a male sex to this fictional name doppelganger of yours? I’m just trying to think of how this could get any ickier and that’s about it. Ugh.

          2. Jess*

            This is awesome. I would get so much satisfaction from being able to say, “yeah, I wrote that.” That they argued that it was someone else with the same name after you told them you were the author is hilarious & mind-boggling—as if he would know better than you whether you had in fact written it!?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It’s absolutely hilarious in retrospect. I think he just wanted to be the “expert,” so he couldn’t stand the embarrassment of being caught out, so he tried to steamroller me by trying to convince me my identical name-twin wrote the paper :P

              The crazy thing is that it’s happened more than once with different men in multiple contexts. My favorite is when people ask if I’ve read a white paper I’ve (co-)authored, or if I’m familiar with litigation where I was lead counsel (my name’s on the opinion, gents).

              Another example: I authored a resolution when I was a rep to our grad student government. A year later, I got into a patronizing disagreement with the incoming (male) president over what a specific word in that resolution meant. He kept trying to tell me that “clearly the author meant [something completely opposite of what was written].”

              I told him I knew what the author meant because I’d written it, and he didn’t believe me—even though my name is very prominently listed as the author on the resolution and in the minutes. I had to get other members of the committee (all men) to vouch that yes, I was indeed the author before he would concede that maybe I was the author, but I clearly didn’t mean what I said I meant. Because apparently women don’t know words?

              1. zora*

                I think they just go into Denial Mode in their brains because they just don’t know how to switch gears and NOT be the know-it-all in the conversation.

                It is still just mind-boggling to me, though.

              2. Former Employee*

                Since certain men assume that when women say “no”, they really, deep down, mean “yes”, it’s not all that surprising that those same men would believe that a woman really meant “such and such” when she wrote “so and so”.

          3. Chameleon*

            OH MY GOD.
            “Aw, little lady. Did you forget not writing that article? How sweet.”
            *punch to the nuts*

          4. Someone else*

            I had this happen, not the doubling down about another author with the same name, but someone recommending an article I wrote, to me, as an awesome resource to keep handy on thing I am an expert on. I think I responded with something like Glad you found it helpful. That’s why I wrote it. or something to that effect.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m not very active on Twitter. But honestly, this phenomena is so common (at least among the women that I know) that I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up, everywhere.

    3. Kelly L.*

      I’ve been having this issue on Reddit with my weight loss. I specifically have a flair next to my username that indicates that I’ve been quite successful with what I’m doing, yet I seem to be like flypaper for men who want to tell me that I need to go keto (or do some other diet, but tbh, it’s almost always keto) if I want to lose weight. You mean other than the weight I already lost doing my own thing? Grrr.

      1. NaoNao*

        Why is the keto diet so attractive to men? My BF is convinced that a keto diet will literally fix ALL my issues (including things that have nothing to do with diet, such as a lowered libido from birth control!). I finally had to go into Godzilla mode to get him to stop!

        1. Kelly L.*

          IDK! I wonder if it has to do with red meat being socialized as “manly food,” never mind that lots of women like it too and lots of men don’t.

        2. embertine*

          Exactly that. It’s that or paleo – they like to fantasise either that they are carnivores (so manly!) or cavemen, with attendant grunting and knocking women over the head with clubs. The fact that ketosis is a very serious side-effect of several diseases caused by being unable to properly process carbs appears to have passed them by.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yep. I feel like keto is paleo for the guys who decided fruit wasn’t macho enough.

            I won’t knock it for sane, polite people who just find that it works for them, but good lord, the evangelism.

        3. Sarah*

          Omg my friend is doing the keto thing and all he wants to talk to me about is how great it is and how scientific and he wants to talk about ketogenesis and you just know that if I were to explain literally any other diet in exactly the same terms he’d write it off as nonsense.

          1. Sarah*

            Clearly meant “ketosis”. Hello, hangover, my old friend. Wish you’d let me think clearly.

      2. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

        I lost 50lbs and joined a gym. When I joined they gave me a free tour with one of the personal trainers, who was told upon introduction that I had recently lost a significant amount of weight and I was looking to tone up. The personal trainer then proceeded to tell me that he would give a diet to follow if I wanted to lose weight. I declined and told him I’d been pretty successful so far, so I didn’t really feel like I needed his help.

        The female personal trainer that I actually worked with? Never offered me diet advice once.

        1. Bostonian*

          Oh, it’s so obnoxious when they don’t actually listen to what your needs/goals are. Luckily, the trainers I’ve worked with (both male and female) haven’t brought up diet until I specifically asked.

      3. Cucumberzucchini*

        I love the Keto diet and I’m a woman for what it’s worth and I do recommend it when people bring up struggling with weight loss. It’s worked well for me and others I know who’ve given it a go. However, I don’t push the issue or aggressively proselytize.

        1. Kelly L.*

          But you wouldn’t bring it up if someone wasn’t struggling, right? I’m like “Woohoo, I succeeded” and these dudes are like “But don’t you want to succeed even more succeedily?”

        2. Earthwalker*

          Me too. Nothing else ever worked as well. But I’m with everyone else in hating men or women who offer diet advice unasked. Reminds me of junior high school: “No offense but you’re ugly. Just thought you ought to know.”

          1. AKchic*

            I hated that. I usually replied: “why, did nobody tell you right away and you just want to make sure nobody else has to live with not knowing like you did?” with fake concern like I was really feeling some sympathy for them and their “plight”.
            Generally shut them down.

    4. Salamander*

      This is also my experience in publishing. Whenever I go to a book festival, a dude comes by my table to offer me unsolicited career advice. This and the guy invariably wants to argue with me what genre I’m writing – because I’m a woman, my books *must* be romance or YA. They’re not.

      This happens every time. Different dude each time, but it always happens.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I haaaaate the all-books-by-women-are-romance thing (not to even mention their assumption that romance is inherently awful!). And if any woman writes a book on any topic and there’s so much as one kiss in it, it gets all these negative reviews about how it’s really a romance novel and not science fiction or fantasy or mystery or whatever genre it’s been shelved in, but men can have whatever they want in their novels and not get that.

    5. Michaela Westen*

      I think it may not be just professional.
      When I was young and clueless, there was never any shortage of men trying to give me advice, tell me how to live, take charge of my life.
      A little confusing because I was usually smarter than they were and thinking, “hmm, what he’s suggesting wouldn’t actually work…”
      This was in the 80’s – 90’s… don’t know if it’s still like that…

      1. Kewlm0m*

        OMG thank you so much for saying “…smarter than they were…” and not “smarter then them.” I’ve read the latter here and other places so often that it’s starting to stick in my head!

    6. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      Oh hahahahaha… The college student with an internship in my industry, trying to man-splain to me a specific subsection of the industry. That I worked in. For one of the most-well know and well-regarded companies of that subsection.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Yeah. Or the guys who still live with roommates in rentals, and think it’s important to let me know that I should be sure to verify that my tenants have put the utilities in their names, and that some cities want to inspect rentals. Oh and also, was I aware that there is this thing called Fair Housing Law? And if I want to go into my business full time, I should sit down and take account of how much money I need to live and whether I have that much coming in, did you know? High level stuff right here!

        I run 18 rentals on top of my accounting job and the city loves me because I voluntarily comply with all codes. But you know. Thanks dudes. Vital business advice from the guy who is just about managing to hold down a part time job at the cinema.

        End rant.

      2. 2formerg*

        My friend and I were at a bar where a guy started chatting us up–turned out he was in our city for the weekend looking for housing for an upcoming fellowship he’d just been accepted to where he’d do a rotation in a government office. We asked which government department, and he said he was still trying to decide between XX or YY departments (both of which have jurisdiction over the field my friend and I both work in, and we have frequently interacted with both said agencies as part of our 10-year-long careers).

        We both noted our extensive experience working with these departments and recommended XX, and instead of either just thanking us or saying he’d take that under advisement, he actually mansplained back to us why we were wrong, and actually made recommendations to us on how we should do our jobs! It was sort of fascinating–he never lived here, worked in that field, or ever interacted with or worked for a government office, but he definitely knew better than us!

      1. Tardigrade*

        That was beautiful. I think it’s a bit outside this specific discussion, but thanks for linking it anyway.

    7. What's with today, today?*

      When I started doing really well in my career the original owner of our radio station started telling everyone he’d mentored me in my early career and “taught me everything I knew”. I worked with him for all of three months, and during this time he was no longer the station owner(hadn’t been in about 2-3 decades) and only helped out at the station. It drove me crazy because I did have an excellent mentor who had quite the storied career. My method was to just say, in a completely shocked tone, “Really? How odd. Tony and I only worked together for a few weeks, and our paths barely crossed. Huh.” Later, he moved several hours away, but would listen online and still call to give me “pointers.” I’d been doing my job for more than 10 years, and I’ve won awards. I don’t need beginner level feedback. I finally just quit taking his calls.

    8. Blue Anne*

      I actually cancelled a date recently because the guy said he was going to bring a few chapters of the novel he was writing so I could read them. He was sure this would be brilliant and impressive.

      Earlier in our conversation, I had suggested that he read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. He said “Oh, I haven’t heard of that – I usually read physics and hard sci-fi. Right now I’m reading a Warhammer 40k novel.” (Which… is a huge nerd snob fail moment.)

      So sick of mediocre men who think they’re literary hot stuff.

        1. starsaphire*

          Yeah, that’s… wow.

          Wonder who he thinks *is* a hard sci-fi author, then? Probably John Norman…

      1. fomerGR*

        Ooh, I used to love Neal Stephenson back in the (Cryptonomicon) day, and didn’t know about Seveneves–I have a vacation coming up and I just sent a sample of it to my Kindle to check out. Thank you!!

        And omg on that date, you have to be kidding me–leaving aside how obnoxious he was about your book suggestion, I just cannot with the fact he was going to bring chapters of a novel he was writing to a *date* for you to read. Um, thanks dude?

        1. Oranges*

          Yes. Hello person that I want to make a good impression upon, here let me guilt you into reading my stuff via social conventions!

          Now that I’m thinking about it….I should make all my dates QA my websites.

          1. Blue Anne*

            It wasn’t actually the first time, although it’s the first time a guy was planning to actually bring it to a first date. (You can see the image: Mediocre White Man leaning back in his Artsy Cafe chair, sipping a cold pressed coffee and Thinking Deeply while his sweet bookish date quietly reads his work and falls in love and awe… piss off mate…)

            I’ve had another guy actually send me his stuff after our first date and ask what I thought about it, because he was finishing his master’s in creative writing and working on his first novel and a collection of short stories. It was utter tripe. I stopped seeing him pretty quickly, and like a year later he took me out for a pint to tell me what a tortured time it was for him and he was so sorry if he had hurt me by not calling me back and he was so understanding if I hated him and stuff. I don’t remember his name.

            1. Merci Dee*

              Oh, I would have =loved= to read his chapters …. if I had my red editing pen in my pocket. So. much. editing.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I LOVE Seveneves. Right now it’s one of my go-tos for explaining “can I have more of THIS kind of apocalyptic fiction, please?”

          IE the kind where you solve problems using your brains, not MORE DAKKA

          1. Blue Anne*

            Yes! I really want more like it. Quantum Thief scratched some of the same itches for me, if you haven’t read it yet.

      2. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

        I had suggested that he read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. He said “Oh, I haven’t heard of that – I usually read physics and hard sci-fi.

        Oh. My. God. I literally laughed out loud when I read this!

    9. MsChanandlerBong*

      This must happen a lot. A friend of mine has written multiple books that have hit the NYT bestseller list, and she makes a LOT of money from them. She still has men trying to tell her what to write, how to write, etc.

    10. Shinobi*

      I work in math, and today, my subordinate explained how percentages work to me. I just sat there looking at him until he realized he was doing that.

      (This is a thing he has done for a long time and I have aggressively and bitchily called him on for 5 years running. I clearly have been too nice lately.)

    11. chi type*

      I have men come up and try to explain Library of Congress classification to me. While I’m working the reference desk. Bonus points for the ones that think it’s Dewy Decimal.

    12. Glowcat*

      I am a woman physicist, I receive my fair share of (unsolicited, unwanted, incorrect) maths and physics lectures. Interestingly enough, though, it’s always from men who do not work in the field. The fact is, there are much more women in hard science than commonly thought (at least in Europe, where I am), so male physicists are actually used to interact with female colleagues (*another stereotype crumbles*); I have never ever been mentored by a colleague who was not my professor/supervisor/senior colleague I had called for advice. And then, when I call out the mansplainers, they split between the group that keeps mansplaining and the ones who cry: “whaaat? But physics is a men thing!!!”.
      But (OT) the thing I find most annoying is when men start making jokes about me being a “physicist” with a “beautiful body shape” (it’s the same word in italian); because, ya know, if you want to compliment a woman it can’t be about anything but her appearance, amirite?

  6. Q without U*

    There’s a part of me that would be tempted to respond in kind – send him out of the blue emails of the exact kind he sends you. If you’re peers, you might as well do some mentoring too! I can’t imagine how he would response, if at all, but maybe it would be eye-opening.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I love this idea, although people who don’t get hints (such as changing the subject) never do seem to pick up the knack, even when it’s plain as the nose on their face. But perhaps OP could try asserting themselves in this manner, by offering advice or recommendations, just so that she could feel more equal in the conversation.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I’d pour it on thick.

      “Good job on sending that email! Your thoughts were so coherent!”

      Offer to introduce him to his boss or coworker. Act like there’s no way they’d ever know each other.

      Send him links to networking workshops.

      1. Gen*

        Treat it like he’s sent it to you as a draft for a helpful service- “Wow this email would be so helpful to someone just starting out who asked you advice! I’ve proofread it for you and included some pointers for where you could improve it but if anyone just out of college ever asks you for advice I think might have some really handy basic types for them. You probably want to make sure they don’t actually know the people you’re offering to introduce them to though, I know you just included X as an example here but since we’ve known each other for years that would be super embarrassing for it you did it in real life! Great effort though! Well done!” (Maybe don’t do that haha)

    3. Liane*

      How about taking these those to below entry level?
      “Internships in Field are very limited. You should apply early in your sophomore year for summer break between Jr/Sr year. And start saving because these are unpaid.”
      “Everyone who intends to make a career of Field, needs to take X, Y, & Z courses by semester 1 of their junior year so they can take Hard Thing 4001 at least 2 semesters before graduating.”

    4. Connie-Lynne*

      This can backfire — he may take it as positive interaction and keep sending you stuff. Moreso, he might even take it as evidence you need basic tutoring.

    5. Edina Monsoon*

      I’d like to reply to him with just “did you mean to send this to me?” and just act as if it obviously was meant for someone else because why would he be sending you advice when you’re peers?

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You’ve got a couple of options here, but I hope you pick the last one and let us know how it goes.

    1) Ignore emails like this. He probably won’t get the hint, but it may temper his motivation to do continue.

    2) You can respond with a question mark and nothing else. Leave it to to him to explain himself, if he does at all.

    3) Force him to explain himself when you see him in person. (This is what I do when someone makes an offensive statement.) Why does he think you need guidance? Why does he think you don’t know this person? Why does he think you need feedback? His answers won’t surprise you, but it’d be interesting to see what they are.

      1. anon..*


        “Why are you sending me this? Of course I know Jane Smith.”

        Or: “I’m not sure why you’re sending me this. Of course I know the next step is [blank].”

        Or even just: “Is there a reason you’re sending me this?” He may come back with something generic like “Just trying to help,” but at least it should make him think twice about it. Plus, if does respond like that, you can always reply with confusion: “I’m a bit confused – of course I know Jane Smith. I’m not sure how either of us would have gotten to the positions we’re in without knowing her!”

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I vote for #3. A former manager peer in my HR department – not my function of staffing – did something like this to several of us managers. I finally asked him: ‘I know you mean well, but is there a reason why you think I need this kind of input from someone besides my boss? It feels odd to get atta-girls from someone who won’t even use the tool in question.’ I waited expectantly and got a stammered response, can’t remember it now. He stopped, at least, which was all I could hope for.

      OP, you’ve been patient and gracious but don’t need to help him feel good about his ‘coaching.’ Please keep us posted.

      1. Zona the Great*

        That is beautiful. I am trying to be this articulate but I find that often my shock makes it hard to respond so well. Great response.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Thank you, Zona, and I was taken aback, too – I think people count on that when they ‘advise’ you. I thought carefully about my response so I was prepared the next time he patted my back, literally and figuratively.

    2. oranges & lemons*

      If this hadn’t been going on so long, I’d be tempted to respond with, “Sorry, I think you sent this to the wrong person! This sounds like it was meant for an entry-level employee.”

    3. Catalin*

      4) Reply “Your emails crack me up! I’ve known Jaime for years/it’s amazing how fascinating you find my work/am I your hobby?”

      This may burn the bridge, but it might be a bridge worth burning.

    4. pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      The question mark one would be great if he already had a clue, except that he doesn’t and won’t get it and you’ll just get a whole load of more “mentoring” crap and he goes to great length to explain why you need to meet this person (that you already know) and how the next step (that you’ve already done) is soooooooo important. blah blah blah.

      I would skip to number 3 or Hill to Die on suggestion and confront him directly about why he’s sending you these unsolicited emails.

  8. Liz2*

    I would stop replying altogether to anything that isn’t a specific project coordination question. If he ever brings it up “Yeah I thought it was weird you kept sending me basic level stuff.” That’s it. Leave it on the floor and let HIM account for it.

      1. Anontoo*

        Absolutely agree. Alison’s approach 3 is too soft I think. “Oh how nice you’re so positive about my work” is the only part that the Mansplainer will hear, see every single example on this site and the internet at large as example. This is to the point, not rude, and over quickly.

        1. boo bot*

          Although, “It’s so nice to know my work provides inspiration for you!” might be a bit satisfying. He does follow her work *really closely*…

    1. LouiseM*

      This is IMO the best way to respond. A lot of the clever zingers I’m seeing ont this post, though fun to think about, would likely lead to a lot of work for the OP or could be easily misinterpreted by OP’s coworker. Keep it direct and to the point!

  9. AnotherJill*

    Could he be trying to change the dynamic of your relationship (in a ham handed way) from friendship to something else?

    1. Luna*

      I was wondering that too, especially since LW says this has started recently- maybe he is using this “advice” as an excuse to contact her?

      1. Anona-nona*

        This was the impression I got too — that this is this guy’s utterly inept attempt at flirting. Doesn’t excuse a thing, of course (and maybe actually kinda makes it worse). There’s this certain breed of guy who has to feel superior to the woman he wants/is with, and him doing this could be him trying to create that feeling for himself.

    2. LouiseM*

      I think it’s extremely common for men to condescend to women they know at work and socially. There’s no evidence that there is a romantic component here.

      1. Anona-nona*

        Oh, I agree on that, actually — there’s no evidence. But I do think it’s still a real possibility, and one the OP should maybe keep in mind down the road to try to suss out and deal with his motivations here.

      2. Tuxedo Cat*

        I agree. In one workplace, there was a guy who did this to all the women even though I was senior to him. I think my favorite was the time he tried to explain my dissertation research to me (I had graduated several years earlier) because he kind of knew some people and appeared to have read one paper in the area. I had worked with top experts in my field. I just stared at him and blinked.

        He also didn’t like when people pointed out issues with his research. The frustrating thing is that his cockiness earned him a seat at some pretty important tables, despite not having done very much.

  10. London Bookworm*

    FWIW OP, I think you’re handling this really gracefully. I bristle a lot when I get the sense that people think I know less than I do, so I’m impressed at how patient you’re being.

    It might be worthwhile to examine what you’re hoping to get out of the relationship. How you proceed might depend on how useful this person is to you, or how close you’d like to be. You say you’re hoping to maintain a relationship, so I think erring toward honesty is best. In my experience, waiting too long on these things can make them even more awkward to bring up if they continue, and runs the risk that resentment might start simmering and seep out in other ways.

    It can be awkward to feel so brusque, but if you find one or two professionally relevant reasons to check in with him in the next few weeks (sharing an article or something) that might smooth things over.

    Alternatively, you could experiment with engaging with him a bit the way he’s engaging with you – send him over congratulations, for example. That might drive home the point that you’re peers!

    1. Involuntary Mentee*

      Thanks. I think it’s mostly because my reaction has been more disappointment than anger. I really thought we had an equal relationship, and the fact that he doesn’t bums me out.

      1. seejay*

        As others have pointed out, it’s notsomuch that he thinks less of *you* as a person but more that he’s channeling his socialized inner sexism that comes in the professional field so maybe if you frame it like that, it’ll be less personal maybe? Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks horribly when you figure out that someone you thought was a peer is actually mansplaining your career to you but framing it as a common phenomena that we women have to deal with regularly instead of him thinking less of you makes it less personal at least. :/

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yup, this. There’s a strong possibility it has nothing to do with how he sees you, OP, and much more to do with all the ridiculous sexist behavior people pick up (often unconsciously).

        2. Safetykats*

          Nah, I think it’s totally that he thinks less of OP (not necessarily as a person, but clearly as a professional). I work with mostly men, in a highly technical field, and men who actually respect your level of expertise don’t act this way. If anything, they email or call to ask your opinion. I can absolutely tell the moment when a coworker decides my level of expertise is greater than or equal to theirs – because that’s the day they start asking for my opinion. Someone who only gives you their opinion and never asks for yours, whether male or female, just doesn’t think you have any opinions or expertise that would be helpful to them.

          Although it’s also just weird (and kind of troubling) that he’s taking the time to creep you online to the extent that he knows your projects and project status. Do you think he does this to others in your field? Or is this just an obsession with you? Because if the latter, I think you have to take that personally.

      2. Purple Jello*

        Maybe you don’t have an equal relationship, but HE doesn’t know it: maybe HE’s finding this basic stuff useful, so he wants to share. (I doubt it, but once I started to consider this, I’d snicker every time I read one of his condescending messages.)

      3. Gorgo*

        Not that this is any better, but it’s probably not that he thinks less of you–he just thinks really, really, really highly of himself.

        1. Specialk9*

          Isn’t that the same thing? He thinks his poop comes out gold plated and hers doesn’t.

          (That analogy got weird, I’ll admit.)

          1. Rana*

            Having seen some of these guys in action, not so much, surprisingly. She’s a convenient audience – she’s in his field, and therefore can appreciate in theory his brilliance – so this, I suspect, is about him showing off his own expertise and “helpfulness.”

            It’s insulting in a different way – with someone like this, it’s that he doesn’t care enough about his audience to pay attention to what she actually knows – but it comes from a different place than thinking that she’s inept or inexperienced. Someone like this isn’t really trying to help; he’s performing helpfulness and wants someone to notice.

  11. Lil Fidget*

    I wonder if this person feels that, because OP is self-employed (and I think you’re underselling yourself with that language, OP! “I am a valued consultant” or “I run my own successful business” sounds much better and is equally true right?) while he “holds a senior level position” (…with a start-up) — that he feels that she has been unsuccessful and needs his help? Maybe you can address this directly – “I sometimes get the sense that you’re worried about my career, Chadwick, but I want to assure you I’ve (won some prestigious award) / (cleared some dollar value that works for you) or just “I’m feeling great about the capacity I’m at right now” or something. This may just be an overly generous interpretation but take it for what it’s worth.

    1. Chai*

      Yeah, I also read this as Unwanted Mentor assuming that OP wanted the kind of job he has and that OP would thus welcome his advice.

    2. Self-employed*

      FWIW, I am self-employed and I’ve noticed that many people in my life assume that I’m actually unemployed. It sounds like this case is mostly annoying sexism, but assuming that self-employment is an illusion to preserve dignity is A THING.

      1. Competent Commenter*

        I feel you. When I was self-employed I usually described it as running my own business. That helped a bit. I also mentioned that I had staff, and after a while I could say how many years I’d been in business. I made it to 17 years before I had to shut down due to industry changes. [sob]

      2. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah to be fair I think a fair number of people who are laid off start looking for contracting / consultant work and call themselves “self employed” while they try to figure out what to do next. Not that this is a bad thing, but it’s a different category from someone who has been making a good living with their own business for a long time, and isn’t planning to switch to a FT job the first chance they get.

        1. Cookie Monster*

          I also have seen way too many people who actually are unemployed, get sucked into MLM or pyramid schemes and suddenly they are all over the internet (even linked in! Cringe) describing themselves as business owners and entrepreneurs (that one especially kills me). They might actually be ruining it for the legit self employed crowd.

      3. Rana*

        Truth. I generally describe myself as a freelancer or self-employed – because they are true descriptions and I have no need to justify myself to anyone – but I do sometimes describe myself as a “small business owner” or say that “I run an indexing business” when the occasion seems to warrant a higher level of impressiveness.

    3. Marthooh*

      This sounds kind of defensive to me, as if OP secretly agreed with the guy, and feels hurt. I would just stick with “Why did you send me this?” or outright ignoring him. You don’t have to reply to this at all, OP.

    4. Glowcat*

      I was thinking that too! Of course, he is still being mansplaining, annoying and inappropriate, but this would need a different approach. And, maybe, starting the conversation as if it was a matter of role and not of sexism could lead to better results.

  12. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    How much is this professional connection worth to you? Networking is great, and he sounds like someone who at least fancies himself the type to keep his finger on the pulse of your industry (no idea if he actually pays attention to anyone or anything beyond you, but clearly his narrative of himself says he does).

    If there is actual value to you, I’d send his emails to spam or mostly delete them; let him continue entertaining himself with this image of himself as a paternal mentor, and consider it the trade-off for ways you’ll leverage him in the future.

    If you’re okay with cooling the professional connection, I’d push back and specifically point out that he’s treating you like a newcomer in the field when you’re an established professional. Let his butt be hurt — from the way you describe it, he sounds like a pompous windbag, and I’m all for deflating those.

    1. Mickey Q*

      I would nip it in the bud before he starts trying to take credit for your accomplishments because he told you what to do.

      1. Shandon*

        This is what I keep thinking, if something good happened as a result of the basic info he believes he’s gifting you with, it would really burn me up if he seemed to think your success was due to his good advice.

        1. What's with today, today?*

          I posted this further up, but yeah, I had a “mentor” emerge when my career really took off…

          When I started doing really well in my career the original owner of our radio station started telling everyone he’d mentored me in my early career and “taught me everything I knew”. I worked with him for all of three months, and during this time he was no longer the station owner(hadn’t been in about 2-3 decades) and only helped out at the station. It drove me crazy because I did have an excellent mentor who had quite the storied career. My method was to just say, in a completely shocked tone, “Really? How odd. Tony and I only worked together for a few weeks, and our paths barely crossed. Huh.” Later, he moved several hours away, but would listen online and still call to give me “pointers.” I’d been doing my job for more than 10 years, and I’ve won awards. I don’t need beginner-level feedback. I finally just quit taking his calls.

      2. Phouka*

        I was looking for a “like” button on this reply, Mickey Q.

        It seems a small step from “unwanted and condescending advice” to “and my mentee is doing SO well because of my help and guidance…”

        I think I’d reach the point of “Did I look like I was asking for advice?” rudeness pretty quickly. Especially since the dynamic seems so very sexist.

      3. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I used to work with a chronic credit stealer. He only targeted women.

        I started out by not sharing any info, but then we had to work together so I had to up my game.

        Whenever we’d work together, I’d give him 5% of the information at my fingertips. He’d run into a staff meeting, using passive voice, and take credit and try to build on it. “Someone suggested X” or “I found Y!” I’d wait and then fill in everyone on the rest of the information. “Thanks for reminding me, Bob! He’s referring to me.” The best time was when I referenced a person I’d known for years. Credit stealer wanted to “introduce” his “contact” with the office and get a one on one with the boss. I interrupted him to say “Yeah that’s Jane. She has been here before. I met her two jobs ago. Boss, we met her last week.”

        And you know what? No matter how many times I made him look dumb, he never stopped. Ever. It became a running joke at staff meetings, and he had no clue.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I’d like to say ‘wow, that’s unbelievable’…but it’s not. Points for tenacity, if not intellect though!

          1. Lissa*

            Sadly what makes it super believable is the fact that he never changed his ways and kept doing it. The stories I doubt are the ones that read like tumblr memes where the villain at the end is ashamed and never does it again.

      4. Tuxedo Cat*

        Indeed. I could see this happening very quickly. The people I’ve known like this have no problem tooting their own horn so to speak.

        1. not so sweet*

          But I did wonder, from the examples the OP gave, whether the dude had several involuntary mentees. Especially the sending-links thing.

  13. IL JimP*

    Is it clear he is sending these directly to you or is he sending it to a distribution list. Neither is good but it may explain the weird behavior

      1. IL JimP*

        so strange, hopefully some of the suggestions work for you.

        You could also mark his emails as spam :)

    1. Lil Fidget*

      That was actually what I thought at first when reading this letter; I do have several old codgers in my field who retired and became consultants and now send out a kind of tedious rah rah newsletter that seems like it’s sent to you personally but is actually a mass mail to all their contacts. However, I think OP is indicating the advice is specific to her projects and personalized, and I assume she would know the difference.

  14. LBK*

    Is there any chance this is somehow related to his job? I dunno, hearing that he works for a startup makes me wonder if they’re encouraging him to do this as some sort of weird strategy to engage with industry contacts, especially since it sounds like he didn’t start doing this until he worked there. Of course, garden variety sexism is a perfectly reasonable explanation, but it’s just such strange behavior that I find myself looking at least for what inspired him to start manifesting his sexism in this particular way.

    1. Involuntary Mentee*

      Interesting. I know a bunch of his direct reports are junior level women, maybe he just flipped a mentor switch and talks to all women like that now?

      1. Irene Adler*

        Or maybe all of his direct reports have rejected his “mentoring” and he’s looking for validation everywhere he can- including you.

      2. LBK*

        Oh, that’s interesting. Maybe he is doing some kind of faulty connection between his reports and you that’s making him think the advice he’s giving them would also be helpful to you.

    2. Imposter Syndrome Graphic Designer*

      For what it’s worth, I recently briefly dated a startup exec who did exactly this to me, constantly, about topics that I was the expert in (his field is nowhere near mine). Perhaps startup culture is especially good at breeding this hyperbolic overconfidence masking deep insecurity and resulting in passive-aggressive advice?

      1. LBK*

        I think it’s a chicken/egg scenario – I don’t know whether it breeds that kind of personality or attracts it, but I’d agree there does seem to be some kind of link.

    3. Maya Elena*

      I think Alison’s advice is great. If he isn’t a very insecure man with something to prove, the following might also be worth considering:
      1) I don’t think there’s an active dominance play or “looking down” on his part, though it may feel that way to you… Which is why positive assertive pushback should do thr trick.
      2) Subtle email hints only work on highly sensitive people who probably already police their own emails. In other words, subtle hints practically never ever work on guys, and especially guys in tech.

      1. Specialk9*

        I’m going to push back on that sweeping generalization because it’s pretty sexist against guys, and not helpful. I know plenty of males who have exquisitely tuned social receptors and would instantly pick up on subtlety. (You know that entire ambassadorial corps used to be male, and somehow managed to limp along.) And I know plenty of women who stomp around without a clue.

        1. Plague of frogs*

          Yes, agreed. I know hundreds of men who don’t behave this way and only a few (really, really insecure) ones who do. I don’t know many women who behave this way, but I did recall a socially clueless relative who takes on people as “projects” and tries to fix their lives. For example, she tried to force a friend of ours to lose weight.

        2. Lissa*

          I also think lots of guys use the “oh I’m a man, I don’t get stuff like that!” as a way to keep on truckin’ with obnoxious behaviors, so there’s that.

  15. Clorinda*

    Clearly he is a man in need of some good advice. Go ahead and mentor him, but do it with good cheer and enthusiasm because it’s in writing, and anything you put in writing might be seen by anyone.
    So: Thanks so much for offering to introduce me to Helen! I’ve actually worked with her in the past and she’s a good colleague. Have you met Cassandra, though? You should really look her up; you might find her very helpful.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Agreed. And especially the approval granting! If you can figure out a way to “atta-boy” him, do that.

      (Random thought: I wonder if some men man-splain because they really wish someone would man-splain stuff to them.)

  16. The Original Flavored K*

    God this would rustle my jimmies like nothing very little else. I wonder if there’s an age disparity here as well — nobody can hold forth like a so-called “gentleman” talking to a woman who’s younger than he is. Whatever the issue, it sounds gendered, and also like it isn’t your problem to deal with, beyond engaging however much or little you want with his behavior.

    I’d go with either gradually ceasing to engage his out-of-the-blue mentor crap, forwarding him a list of (men) who might actually be able to do something productive with his crap, or sending him a polite email that says, essentially, “I didn’t want to embarrass you by putting too much emphasis on this, but these keep mistakenly ending up in my inbox. Do you maybe want to double check your address book for people you’ve recently added with a similar first name?”

      1. Blue Anne*

        That’s plenty of difference for this kind of dude, especially if it crosses a major milestone, like she’s 29 and he’s 34.

  17. Imaginary Number*

    As a female in a male-dominated field, I can say that the unwelcome male mentor-that’s-actually-a-peer is a very real and all-too-familiar phenomenon. In my experience it’s usually a very deliberate action on the part of someone to make themselves come across as more senior than they are. Basically, they’re looking to show off their leadership skills by mentoring someone even though there’s no one for them to mentor, so they pick the female as the “easy” target.

    1. Alternative Person*

      Yeah, there’s a guy who is on the same level as me at my workplace who tries to do the same. It burns because I don’t have the standing to tell him to knock it off. I do try and mitigate where I can because some of his advice is well, bad.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Similar to the way men cat-call women but would never ever cat-call another man. Because they can. Sigh.

    3. Autumnheart*

      I have a coworker who is doing exactly this—she’s a senior teapot designer on my team and I’m a junior teapot designer, but a) the distinction between the two is almost entirely about project responsibility, not skill set and b) it’s an open secret within the team that her teapot design skills are adequate at best. There is absolutely a mentality present on her part to assign a higher status and level of skill to the senior teapot design role (e.g. she’s stated in so many words that she won’t do production work because it’s beneath the skills of a senior designer, even though we are supposed to split both types of projects evenly so that we can cover each other for vacations and busy periods). The most infuriating thing is that she discusses work with me as if I’m brand new to teapot design as a field and need additional skills training in order to be trusted with some of the projects she normally does, when in fact I’ve been in this field for 20 years and at this company for a DECADE longer than her. And worse, she talks *about* me to our coworkers this way, “Gee, that seems like it’d be too complex for Autumnheart to take on, I don’t know if she’s done that kind of work before,” for stuff that is dead easy and that I have in fact done before many times.

      I finally brought it up to my manager and, thankfully, Skills Inflation Faux Mentor is on vacation this week and I have a routine 1:1 today where maybe I can discuss it further. She went on at length last week about how much she wants to “mentor me” and prepare me for senior level work and I just wanted to tell her to go play in traffic.

      1. Autumnheart*

        (We’re both women, but long story short she is totally trying to make herself seem more skilled and leadership material than she actually is.)

      2. Specialk9*

        I’m curious why you think you can’t call her out on very polite ways. “That’s really odd that she said that, given the fact that I have done that many times in my 20 years in this field. I wonder if she has me confused with someone else.”

        And to her face “X, that’s very strange that you just said that. Why do you think I would have gotten through 20 years in this industry without knowing that? I’m really confused by the way you talk to me.”

        You get to put someone in their place when they are actively undermining you. Which is what she is doing.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Believe me, I know. I’ve tried soft corrections–mentioning that I’ve been doing this for blahblah years, saying in the moment that no, I *do* know how to do that and have experience in it, etc. She does NOT pick up on soft corrections, or on social cues in general, and not just with me. And I’m happy to perform a hard correction–a little too happy, actually, so I need to find a balance between “epic slapdown that gets me face time with HR” and “language too soft to be effective”.

          1. Robin Sparkles*

            I think you can with a hard correction – just politely. So say what you are thinking but remove the swear words, insults, etc :) She sounds like a pleasant person to work with!

          2. Imaginary Number*

            I’ve become a huge fan of the “that’s an odd thing to say” line that Alison often suggests. It’s perfect in so many different situations where people are being inappropriate. Direct but not actually accusatory.

    1. Irene Adler*

      Assuming he recognizes himself in the link, he’d probably accuse her of being ungrateful for his ‘wisdom’ and willingness to help.

        1. Dee-Nice*

          *dies* *dies* *dies* *revives*
          Thank you for this useful and wonderful phrase.

  18. Cait*

    I’d be tempted to send him a link to this question… he may be too dense to figure out it’s about him but it would be fun to see how he receives “mentoring” in return.

  19. hbc*

    Are there any that are generic or simple enough that you can reasonably “misread” or read into and respond to in that way? If the advice is very generic, for example, you might write, “Fergus, I think you’ve mistakenly included me on your mailing list for teapot interns.” Or for the introduction thing, “No need, I’ve known her for years. Is there a project you’re having trouble on that you’d like her and I to discuss?”

    He might come back with an explanation, which is when you can go, “Oh, I was confused because I don’t know how anyone could be in the industry for a year without meeting Jane, let alone a decade like you and me.”

    1. AKchic*

      Maybe even follow up or build upon this with “you seem to keep including me in your mentoring newsletters as if I am a newbie to the industry. Is there a specific reason for this? I hadn’t wanted to mention it earlier in hopes that it was a mistake, but now that it is apparent that it isn’t, I’d like some kind of explanation as to why you think I am in need of unsolicited ‘help’. If you are attempting to build your brand, allow me to offer you some unsolicited advice, giving unsolicited advice to women of your peer group as if they were your juniors is sexist and will hurt your standing within the industry.”

  20. KR*

    This sounds super annoying. I remember when I had someone I loosly worked with on a project sit down in my office and give me a half hours worth of unsolicited career advice. It was a lot of the generic “Woman in tech field – tell her to keep going in it and network in her field and learn everything she can!”. I had to be nice to him and I couldn’t easily tell him to leave since I worked in a public building. My boss who would have been more blunt and it was ok for him was not in. It was so uncomfortable because a lot of what he was recommending I was already doing and had been doing for a long time. My anxiety kept making time go slower too the longer he talked to me. Men please stop mansplaining to women about their own careers.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I have a lot of old guys who want to “mentor” me about how important it is for me to save for my retirement. I really hate it because they’re of the generation that’s going to get pensions / social security and I’m not, so it’s extra grit in my teeth to hear how I need to be putting aside 10% like a good little girl – which won’t even tide me over, most likely. Also, I already got that speech … from my own actual father … when I was 18.

      1. Indie*

        ‘I already got that speech … from my own actual father … when I was 18’ You said this right?!

      2. AKchic*

        “Do I look like an orphan to you? Are you a financial advisor? Is this some kind of company perk that I was somehow unaware of?”

      3. soon 2be former fed*

        I actually got some good investment advice from men I worked with who were old ebought to be my father. Take what you can use and leave the rest alone.
        The time value of money is incredible and yest 10 percent won’t be enough for today’s young people. Retirement planning is very complex so I wouldn’t be too quick to brush off advice.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          So – as I read that comment, the commenter already knew the advice, it was not news to her, she’d been advised and taught about it years before by her dad. I think the point of the comment, as I read it, is that the advice was condescendingly given, and that the relationship of the advice-givers to her did not warrant the intrusion into her finances.

        2. What's with today, today?*

          Retirement planning is very complex so I wouldn’t be too quick to take random advice.

      4. nnn*

        I kept getting lectured on why I need to put aside 10% when I was in a place in life where I was fortunate enough to be able to put aside 20%. I had enormous fun looking baffled and asking them how reducing my savings so much would increase my retirement security.

      5. Onyx*

        Ugh. A while ago, I was briefly talking to a woman in another department who said she’d recently realized due to something about her child’s finances that “your generation” (mine and her child’s) would “never be able to retire” due to lack of pensions/retirement savings/Social Security/etc. I didn’t feel like getting into a debate about it, but I was tempted to tell her “I don’t know about your kid, but my financial adviser says I should be in great shape for retirement.” I think she just assumed anyone my age must be drowning in student debt and not saving anything for retirement. Now I’ll be the first to say that I have been very fortunate to be in a position and career path where I could avoid wracking up a lot of student loans and to have parents who could help guide me in getting into investing. But the high-handed assumptions about the finances of my entire generation really chafed.

      6. Oxford Coma*

        I had a Boomer at an old job lecture me about how people my age were paying too much for housing, and how he got a perfectly nice Cape Cod for less than forty grand. My dude. You bought the effing house more than a decade BEFORE I WAS BORN. Was I supposed to pop out of the womb with the MLS in hand? STFU.

  21. animaniactoo*

    I would hand it back to him as a question.

    “I’ve been somewhat confused by some of your recent e-mails, and I haven’t been sure how to respond. Mostly, it’s because either the advice is obvious for someone who is at our level, or the offered connections are people that I already know and in some cases would have to know by this point in our careers for us to be successful in our roles. Is there a reason that you think I’m missing these outlooks or connections?”

    Emphasis on “our” “our” “our” (because we are peers, buddy….), with the followup to diplomatically say “So uh… is there some reason you think I somehow missed all of this in the entire time you’ve known me?”

    It might be that he’ll come back and say something you hadn’t thought of, but most likely he’ll say something rather politely cluelessly condescending… which gives you the opening to clear it up: “I appreciate the lookout, but I’m doing fine. If I feel like I’ve hit a roadblock or you might know someone I’d like to be introduced to, I’ll let you know. And I’m happy to return the favor to you if you need to bounce stuff off someone, or would like to meet someone in my network of contacts that you haven’t yet.” (HINT HINT: I SEE US AS PEERS BUDDY AND EVEN IF YOU THINK I’M CLUELESS AFTER YOU GET THIS, STOP ACTING LIKE I’M SOME LIL HELPLESS THING.)


    Evil Me™ would like you to offer to introduce him to somebody he’s sure to know in your industry, as somebody who might be a useful contact for him in his role as X. Mad bonus points if you have a longer standing relationship with that person than he does.

    1. Inspector Spacetime*

      I like this a lot. I was thinking along the same lines, but you worded it much better than I ever could.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, same. That’s usually the way I just automatically react to situations like that – I like giving a “I’ve been confused about your behaviour for some time now” vibe – but I somehow couldn’t get it to work in a non-awkward way in English. animaniac worded it perfectly!

    2. Drew*

      Evil Me™ wants to suggest offering to introduce him to someone who works under him with the “I bet this person knows a lot you could learn from!” language, if I didn’t think that would be too subtle.

    3. Imposter Syndrome Graphic Designer*

      I like this. I actually think Alison’s advice in this instance isn’t really direct enough; someone who’s offering advice that’s so obviously intrusive, unwarranted, and condescending has a lot at stake and is unlikely to take hints–or rather, he’ll hear the positive and ignore the negative. I would probably go with a more straightforward “I’m noticing this behavior, and here’s how it’s coming across. Is there a reason you’re doing it? Okay, please stop.”

      Also, OP, I’m really sorry that someone who it sounds like you think of as a work friend is turning out to be a doofus in this way. I’m not hopeful that he’ll be able to get his head out of his ass and go back to treating you like a peer, but I really wish that he would. It sucks to lose people you value over internalized sexism and insecurity.

    4. Aveline*

      I’m a female attorney who looks about 5-10 years younger than I am. I get this constantly.

      One young dude recently offered to introduce me to “Judge X” because he’s a great mentor. I replied, “Oh, I know, he’s been giving me advice for 4 years now. We met before I moved to the area and he’s been instrumental in getting me settled. Does make it awkward sometimes, as DH and I are also friends with him and his wife. Thankfully, he never lets that get in the way of treating me like any other attorney when we are in court. If anything, I think he may be overly critical sometimes because he knows what I’m capable of….”

      Dude went ashen. I’m 20 years older than this dude and actually quite good friends with all the local judges (who are about 10 years older than I am, on average).

      1. College Career Counselor*

        These stories make me cringe. Why is the opening question never, “Hey, do you know Judge X?” Because if the answer is “yes, quite well,” you get to respond, “Glad to hear it!” and not look like a total mansplaining jackass.

  22. Indie*

    I’d be so tempted to mentor back:

    ‘Hey college friend, I know we didn’t touch much on this particular aspect of professional norms at school, but I really hope you’re not sending these tips to others.

    To female peers it’s going to come across as sexism; it’s still going to read as patronising even to male peers. Even with up and coming professionals it’s weird to do this before they ask. I’m aware that I too am offering unsolicited advice! But I’m hoping that as old friends we can forgive each other.’

    Or to be more direct:
    ‘Hey, can you not with the obvious advice? I’m actually hurt that a friend thinks so little of my capabilities.’

    Or to play dodgeball:
    ‘I actually don’t like talking about my projects or my clients outside of work. Can we just talk about (favourite topic) instead?’

  23. CatCat*

    Oooh, there was a bloviating opposing counsel I had cases with that would send me rambly emails that would be related to the cases, but also include rando unsolicited advice. I usually ignored it, but once was so irritated, I finally, I replied to one of his emails and just said as the entire content of the email, “What *is* this?”

    He toned it down after that. I no longer do litigation, but I found that it was almost always male opposing counsel that liked to tell me, a younger female attorney, what I was about.

    (Oh, I just flashed back to another guy a dealt with frequently who smuggly came up to me and my client (also female) during a break after his client testified in a hearing. The witness, who was certainly an expert in many things, gave testimony that was actually of no help to his own case. The blowhard attorney said, “I’m sure you want to discuss settlement now.” We both just stared at him. Then I said flatly, “Why would we want to do that?” This was followed by some stammering and then total puffing up of the testimony, as if neither of us had just heard it! It was great though when my client then just said. “No. Not interested.”)

  24. Doe-Eyed*

    Respond back asking to be taken off of the listserv. When he’s confused, apologize and say you assumed that such basic, obvious, generic knowledge must be part of some listserv he sends out to people to build his brand.

    1. Michaela*

      That’s so funny, I actually assumed on first read that must be exactly what he *is* doing.

  25. Serin*

    Nearly every networking book/blog says something like, “If you know someone and you’d like to keep them in your network but you don’t work together, occasionally send them an article or other information you think they might enjoy.”

    I wonder if this is what he thinks he’s doing, but his unconscious sexism is turning “send information she might enjoy” into “give unwanted and condescending advice.”

    Not that it really matters why. If you don’t want to keep the relationship, you can start ignoring the emails, but if you do want to keep it, I think it would be worthwhile to set him straight (I like animaniactoo’s wording) — if you let him go on like this, he’s going to go on like this, and eventually the relationship will be worthless because you’ll hate the very sight of his email address.

  26. CynicallySweet7*

    I’ve run into this a lot! I’ve had success with the phrasing “I’m confused, is there any particular reason you don’t think I would know this?”. Be prepared though, usually the answer is something benign, but occasionally I’ve gotten responses that are solidly insulting. Though on at least one occasion I got a decent idea of how I was presenting myself/my workload which wasn’t what I was going for at all. So maybe you’ll find out something useful there too.

  27. Granny K*

    Next time he sends something, reply with this:

    gerund or present participle: mansplaining
    (of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.
    “I’m listening to a guy mansplain economics to his wife”

    If he doesn’t get that, send him a picture of Captain Obvious.

  28. JamieS*

    I might be in the minority here but if someone cheerfully responded to my email and then changed the topic I’d think the previous topic had run its course. It wouldn’t cause me to think the other person had an issue. OP just tell him directly and stop dropping hints. Hints rarely, if ever, work.

    1. Aveline*

      Often, being direct gets you labeled as emotional or “difficult.”

      It’s a lose-lose situation for a lot of women.

      1. Inspector Spacetime*

        One time when I turned down a guy in a bar, he told me, “You’re very…direct, aren’t you?” His tone was like he was dropping a dead rat onto the ground. I wasn’t even that direct! I had softened the language up with some nonsense about being tired and having to go home for work the next day. My dude, you don’t want to see me being direct.

        1. CMart*

          Had the same experience. I very nicely thanked a dude for inviting me to join his buddies for a drink, demurred that I was trying to decompress after work and was too tired to socialize but I appreciated that he thought of me and to have a nice evening.

          He shouted to his friends “girls in this town are b*tches! God!” and stomped away.

          Oh my dude. If only you knew how rude I could be.

          1. Lissa*

            would love to ask this guy under a truth spell exactly how he believes a woman should say no without being a “bitch”….i suspect the answer would be “they should never say no”

      2. JamieS*

        Not to sound overly cavelier but so what if one guy calls OP emotional? What’s the worst that will happen? He gets upset with her? Is the cost of being continually patronized worth it to avoid upsetting someone?

        I know some women avoid being direct for fear of it limiting their careers or just fear of not being liked but I’d argue not saying anything is often just as limiting if not moreso. Also based on the description of where OP’s at in her career it’s very unlikely telling this guy she doesn’t need his advice is going to torpedo her career.

  29. AKchic*

    I think you may want to decide whether or not its worth losing this guy as a professional contact. Because whatever option you choose may risk your professional contact with him if he chooses to get petty and give you the silent treatment (at best case bad reaction) or try to bad mouth you (another bad reaction) or worse.
    We always do have to consider the worst case scenarios in our every day life, including our careers.

    I would love nothing more than for you to challenge him and call him out on his bad behavior. I really would. Why? Because if he is doing this to you, there are probably other women he is sending these emails to. Or will send them to.
    Everyone has given you great options. Good luck and update us when you can!

  30. Wendy Darling*

    I’m having flashbacks to the time a (male, of course) friend begged to read my masters thesis after I submitted it. A few months later he emailed me with a mix of extremely condescending praise, “constructive criticism” about some of the arguments I’d made, and also a list of typos.

    My thesis had already been signed, submitted, sent to the printer, and added to the relevant digital archives at that point, which he knew, so there was literally nothing I could do about any of his “helpful” feedback. Also he has literally zero background in the academic field in question so his criticisms were… unhelpful.

    I could not, at the time, put my finger on why this TOTALLY ENRAGED me. It was part of a pattern of behavior, though, and we are no longer friends.

    1. KHB*

      Now that you mention it, I’m also having flashbacks to grad school, when a male friend (also with no background in my field) would read portions of the papers I was writing before I submitted them for publication. He found a few typos (helpful, since this was in the dark ages before automatic spell-checking), but other than that, he’d just condescendingly mock me for writing a scientific paper the way a scientific paper is supposed to be written. Like, when all I had written so far was the Experimental section, he thought it was hilarious that I’d “forgotten” to mention anything about what my results were. Even when I told him that the results would go in the Results section, which I hadn’t written yet, it just kind of went in one ear and out the other.

      We also are no longer friends, although it took me an embarrassingly long time to get to that point.

    2. Autumnheart*

      He equated his know-nothing to your master-level expertise!

      It’s infuriating how often this happens. Definitely happened to me as well.

    3. CMart*

      This must be A Thing. My sister killed several trees and gave me a copy of her dissertation with the instructions “DO NOT tell me if you find any errors, for the love of God. I can’t fix it now.”

  31. Lunch Meat*

    Don’t do this, but if you wanted to burn the bridge you could reply to one of Dude’s emails with “Oh wow, you know Bob? Yes, please send my contact information to him!” And then let Bob reply to Dude saying, “Why are you trying to introduce me to OP? I’ve worked with her for years.” Just to enjoy him being shamed by someone he sees as higher status.

    1. AKchic*

      I’d loop Bob in so Bob would know and be in on the shaming. Maybe even allow Bob to do the smack down, because I think the shaming might actually hurt more and be more meaningful from a man than LW (which sucks so much).
      “Fergus, I don’t know why you think I don’t already know Jane. I’ve seen these email attempts at mentoring of yours. They are pretty insulting to anyone in the industry as long as Jane and you have been. I do not need a gatekeeper. If I need to communicate with industry regulars, or even fresh faces, I will make contact myself. Thank you.”

  32. Glenn Block*

    I am sorry to hear this. I mentor a lot of women. I would definitely want know if I am being offensive etc. As a mentor my goal is to make the mentee I am working with feel successful. If the result is that they feel belittled, I’ve failed. And please, if there is any woman that I mentor who I am make feel this way, let me know!

    1. Chameleon*

      Did they ask you to mentor them? If so, I think you are okay. If they did not ask you, STOOOOOOOOP

      1. animaniactoo*

        Or if they didn’t ask you, did you ask them if they would appreciate some occasional advice on professional stuff and have them reply with something along the lines of “Yes, I would really appreciate that!”?

        I benefit-of-the-doubt assume that none of them is near your experience or professional level, wherein you might exchange tips but not think of it is as mentoring.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Should be fine then! It’s the whole “lateral mentoring/mentoring up” that’s the sticky part.

          1. Glenn Block*

            I see now that I misread this post, this was unsolicited advice. You don’t owe any explanation. “Thanks for being concerned, but I don’t find this advice helpful, so please stop sending it”

      2. Contrarian*

        I have never formally “asked” any of my mentors to mentor me. The relationship has gradually fallen into place.

        As I am Contrarian, I will say this. OP was 5 years junior to her “mentor.” She may think of herself as an equal, but in many fields (finance, law, etc.), five years’ seniority is considerable. As an attorney, I would be very offended if some newly-minted JD implied that he was as experienced as a 5 year PQE.

        All this thread is going to accomplish is to deter men from mentoring women. I do not see that as a victory for women’s advancement in the workplace.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          No. Just no. As an attorney, if a 15-year attorney starting sending me unsolicited advice when I’d been practicing for 10 years, I’d have been irritated, if not insulted. She has been in her career for 10 years. She is not new to the field. He is spamming her with unsolicited advice that he has no reason to believe she needs or wants. If this thread stops men from providing the kind of “mentoring” that this guy is giving her, women will be all the better for it.

        2. animaniactoo*

          He is 5 years her senior *in age* on a career that she’s 10 years into, they met at a similar point in their careers and it is only now, *7* years into their relationship that he is sending her “mentoring” type e-mails. With basic advice/offers suitable for someone who is “newly minted”.

          If men you speak of would be put off by the backlash to that and can’t see the distinction between genuine mentoring and that kind of “help”, they should not be attempting to mentor anyone regardless of gender.

        3. Fiennes*

          It’s only going to deter obnoxious, touchy men from “mentoring” women, which is a victory for every woman everywhere. Reasonable men–i.e., the ones worth learning from–know of this phenomenon and work to steer clear of it.

        4. seejay*

          A lot of us women are standing here cheering that many men may be deterred.

          If you’ve read the comments, you’d know that we’d appreciate less of this type of “mentoring”.

          1. Glenn Block*

            Seejay, I can totally appreciate what you are saying. For myself I can only say, that I started mentoring years ago in order to help, as mentors have helped me. I started putting more effort in to help women, as I came to terms with the industry realities. I try not to impose in any way and I only help if I explicitly hear that the help is wanted.

            Most of the people I have mentored (men and women) are outside my company, so we have met through online communities or events. Sometimes I have offered, like “If I can help in any way, or you’d like to chat” let me know. At that point, the ball is in that person’s court, and if they want to reach out to follow up then that happens.

        5. Sara*

          I think this is reasonable. Everyone here seems to be taking this is a gendered issue. There is no evidence of that. Has the OP asked the annoying person to stop? Is the annoying person socially awkward in other areas? Does it he do it to only and all women? We know very little about the situation. The suggestions about being direct make the most sense.

  33. Glenn Block*

    I agree with other sentiments that this should be done with care if you value the relationship. It is entirely possible that he is not aware, or doing it any malicious manner. One recommendation is to use the “I” messages approach, focus on how those statements make you feel.

  34. Student*

    This advice strikes me as way too soft to get your point across to this guy.

    First off, stop telling him about your projects unless they are also his projects. Completely. His advice on them is proven to be useless, so don’t encourage him to be involved.

    Second, tell it to him straight, preferably over the phone or in person, not via email. For excessive, generic compliments: “Hey Buddy, these encouragements are over-the-top. {Copy-paste a specific example from a recent email.} Not sure what prompted this, but it’s not necessary and it’s not effective with me. If there are specific things you like on this project, go ahead and call them out, that’s great feedback! These generic complements are just a lot of fluff, though, and make it sound like you’re about to try to sell me something.”

    Follow-up should be copy-paste of vague compliment and “You gotta tone this down. I’m a professional, I don’t need or want gold stars for everything.”

    For the career advice, again, get straight to the point. “Buddy. Quit talking down to me. We’ve got about the same level of career experience. I taught you X. Stop talking to me like I just got out of school.”

  35. Amy S*

    Honestly, I would just delete the emails and not engage. Takes less than a second and seems easier than getting into an awkward conversation with him about why it’s not appropriate. But then again, this is not the hill I’d want to die on.

  36. Michaela*

    This may be way off base, but I get stuff like this sometimes from acquaintances in the start-up/tech/marketing worlds all the time, that are actually mass-emails designed to look personal. They’re trying to build their ‘personal brands’ and become ‘influencers’ or whatever — I wonder if this might be going on here as well. The whole faux-inspirational go-get’em attitude is a huge point in that direction, at least in my experience.

    1. David*

      Bingo…I was thinking the same thing. I feel like there’s someone out there giving this very advice as a way for people to, as you put it, “build their personal brand”. I particularly see this a lot on LinkedIn, and it always strikes me as off. FWIW, the majority of it is coming from women I know who are actively trying to position themselves as “thought leaders”, but the tone is just the same. Maybe there’s a how-to guide that just hasn’t crossed our paths yet!

      1. Fiennes*

        I get some of these from a female business acquaintance. It’s definitely a mass email, so I don’t take offense, but I do get amused on the rare occasion one of those emails tells me how to “break into” the thing I’ve been doing for more than a decade.

        Were this all the LW’s contact was doing, it might be irritating—but it wouldn’t be personal. Whereas this is clearly supposed to be tailored for her, which is what makes it insulting.

  37. Oranges*

    OP clarified in comments that the emails have enough detail that they’re not mass emails. However, I think you do have a point that the tech industry start-up might have a part to play in the emails.

    There can be certain… vectors of tech where it’s all about being the next big thing/building up yourself by trying to build up others. Coupled with the recent social crap that is being brought to light (yay feminism!) this could be a reason these started (he still needs to hella stop). Only reason I bring this up: I, personally, find it easier to know which is the correct path to the desired outcome when I understand the motivations behind the actions.

    Rambling story time? Yes. If a person is pouring water on me and I in no way shape or form want this to happen, in a perfect world I’d just be able to say “stop it with the water” and the water would stop. However I live in one where others think they know better than me what I need (because penis = magical esp?). So if the reason they’re dumping water on me is because they think I’m on fire I can reassure them that no, I am not and therefore no water pouring on my head is needed. Again. Annoying as anything but sometimes the end point is just getting the behavior to stop.

  38. Screenwriter*

    This is mansemailing! The guy is pulling a power trip on you, and is deliberately belittling you, to make himself more important, if not to actually push himself ahead of you. He is NOT “mentoring” you. He is deliberately trying to take a power position OVER you, in order to make you WEAKER and LESSER than himself. This is NOT at all well meant, but designed to keep you down. You need to be on guard with him and stop this. I would ignore all these emails, completely. But if you can’t, I would dismiss them with brisk answers, such as the first few Alison suggests “Thanks, on it” “Yep, she’s an old friend,” or simply “on it.” I wouldn’t engage even to the point of saying “Gee, I’d be terrible at my job if I didn’t know that” etc etc– gives him way too much power over you, as well as containing the words of a self-put down. I certainly wouldn’t engage in conversation about it with him. Stay above the fray and let him play his little games. Be professional and polite, and simply disengage from all of this. And stop thinking of him as a “mentor.” It’s a put-down, a wily way of “negging” you, to make himself feel more powerful. Don’t enable it.

    1. Marthooh*

      Eh, mebbe, mebbe not. Doesn’t matter. Ignore him if you can, be direct if you have to.

  39. Nox*

    interestingly I’ve never been mansplained before. It’s usually cringy ass women trying to mentor me for some reason because I’m young but most senior in my department. I’m not your kid, eff off.

    Not much you offer here, just kind of triggered my irritation with going through this with the same gender.

  40. Casuan*

    With situations like this I tend to be straight-forward so I don’t expend more energy than it’s worth from stressing about it.
    We treat people how to treat us & OP’s silence is tacit acceptance of Dude’s emails. Most people aren’t going to bother to thread no replies into existing email threads unless they’ve directly asked for information. Probably Dude doesn’t realise he’s mentoring you with infos that you already know.

    OP, I don’t mean this as an admonishment or otherwise. There are many times when I’ve done the same thing until some day I realised there was a pattern… past & future!

    In the OP’s scenario, all that’s required is an email. You might need to pick your fight, in the sense of asking him to only cut out the career advice yet you’d be okay if he asks if you know Jane or congratulates you.
    With the former, it really isn’t a bad thing that he offers to introduce you to Jane? It’s networking & even in niche industries it can be difficult to know who knows who. I like Alison’s script of having known Jane for years.
    As for congratulations, it’s a nice thought & is it really that grating or is it just grating because of the mentor aspect?

    something like— & I confess this isn’t worded too well although it should give you the gist:
    “Fergus, I’ve realised that you often email this or that. I appreciate the thought, although most of what you tell me is Chosen Career 101 & to be honest it’s a bit frustrating to read them. Would you please stop sending them? If I ever do need infos I know I can reach out to you & I hope you know that you can do the same with me. I do appreciate networking contacts & even though I often know them I like to know that you do, as well, considering how our paths diverged.”

    For you, the caution here would be in tone: you don’t want to sound like the damsel in distress & refusing help… I just realised that my script does just that; I knew it was off. :-/

    Part of me wonders if Dude could be hoping that you’ll offer contacts to him or even to give him some encouragement as well. Probably not, although I thought this was worth mentioning.

  41. Manager Mary*

    File it with mansplaining/hepeating and just ignore. In my experience, this is sometimes a “nice guy syndrome” kind of person, so trying to reason with him could cause him to freak out on you. You may get some drama/retaliation as a result. I wouldn’t even bother! Just ignore and/or delete.

  42. Noah*

    I’m willing to bet he thinks he’s networking, unfortunately. I’d ignore him if he’s not an important contact.

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