my coworkers think I’m flirting with them

A reader writes:

I’m a young woman in the first few years of my career. I have a fairly bubbly personality, and pretty much all throughout my life, regular interactions with men seem to get misconstrued as being flirtatious. I’ve recently found out that two of my coworkers were planning to set me up with a colleague because they “could tell I was into him.” I’ve also had one male coworker ask me out after he “sensed we had a connection.”

In fact, I am a lesbian and nothing could be further from the truth! I’m incredibly embarrassed that my behavior has given my colleagues that impression. So my question is, how do I come across as being warm towards my colleagues without giving the impression of being flirtatious or romantically interested? I’d prefer not to disclose my sexuality to my workplace, but outside of that I’m having trouble figuring out how to alter my behavior in a way that doesn’t give anyone the wrong impression but also doesn’t come off as cold or inauthentic.

Ugh.

This may not be about anything you’re doing at all.

Some men are primed to assume that any friendly young woman is showing romantic interest in them, because they have their own incentives to see it in that light (sometimes it’s ego, sometimes it’s wishful thinking, sometimes it’s an inability to see woman as people rather than potential romantic/sexual partners). And some bystanders are primed to see romantic interest when you’re just being friendly, because they’ve mentally categorized you as “to be paired off.”

So it’s possible that it’s something you’re doing, but it’s really, really possible that this is just you being warm and friendly.

There are some behaviors that will feed into this, like physical contact (like a touch on the arm while you’re talking, hugging, etc.) or giving lots of personal compliments (“you’re so funny,” “your hair looks great,” etc.).

But usually when people have this problem, they’re not doing anything that’s causing it. You’re existing while being young and female.

One option, of course, is to pull back and be less warm and friendly at work. I don’t think you should have to do that. Warmth and friendliness are great qualities.

But that leaves you with having to get used to the “no thank you, I’m not interested in you like that” conversations that you’ll end up having a lot of, which also sucks — especially at work, where you then having to worry about whether the person is going to be weird around you after that (or worse). Because of that, some people will use “I don’t date coworkers,” which can work (but sometimes leaves you open to pushback, which is ridiculous).

There aren’t great options here, and I hate that. What do others think?

{ 749 comments… read them below }

    1. Busy*

      Awww yes.

      I feel so badly for OP, like I feel badly for all women under 30ish. It. Sucks. I was sexually harassed so badly when I was younger due to this type of crap. Literally was told that maybe I smile too much and give them the wrong idea. The truth is, many men are conditioned as toxically as women can be in a patriarchal society. IT IS dying, I can see it, but ooooh no. There is no win except to get older.

      For years, I just became a brutish bitch. I had many nicknames – just because I stopped smiling. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

      Like those conversations from that letter earlier today about controlling your face – from all of this, I had to learn to control my face. Now my face is neutral, and my last two MALE boss’s called me out for not being able to read what I was thinking. It is funny that my last two female managers (duel reporting structure – so much fun!) never once asked what my face neutral face meant.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Literally was told that maybe I smile too much and give them the wrong idea. … I had many nicknames – just because I stopped smiling. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

        It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Either a young woman is flirtatious and “playing games with men” or she’s told “Smile more! Why don’t you smile?!”

        Just stop. Let them do their work in peace. If their facial expressions and demeanor affect the workplace, sure, a manager might say something. Otherwise, look at my work product and not my facial expression.

        1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

          This, so much this.

          This is like how basically any woman who’s worked in retail/customer service long enough has to deal with the customer who tries to flirt/ask her out. This happened a lot when I worked in sales… No, @ssole, shes not flirting, it’s her job to be nice to you.

          It’s tragic, really, that men have been trained to perceive friendship as flirtation. I feel like this feeds into the ‘friendzone’ nonsense as well – ‘but we talk all the time! you tell me your problems and feelings! that’s what dating is, right?’ Nope, that’s what friendship is. But a lot of guys aren’t used to emotional connections outside of a romantic relationship. Which is just… insanely sad, and bad for women & men alike.
          /rant

          1. Busy*

            Yeah, whatever you want to call it or however you want to label it, societies based on lopsided power in general are pretty bad. Add in that those perceived as in power are conditioned to be emotionally shut off from everyone, and you have terrible outcomes.

          2. Watry*

            The only one who directly said anything rather than just hinting? Was the one who was older than my father. And who tried to get me to come to his house. No thank you, I would not like to be axe murdered. *shudder*

            1. Rainy*

              I have actually said to guys “No, I will not get into your windowless white van and go to your murder dungeon”. One blurted “But it’s a Subaru!”

              1. knitcrazybooknut*

                I buckled over laughing at this. A subaru could have a really small dungeon inside it maybe???

          3. jeanjeanthemachine*

            Getting older definitely has helped in some settings, but I’m still waiting tables part-time and the expectations some men have in that area are…alarming. If you don’t play along and flirt, some men will take it out on you via tipping.

            It is so sad, I agree, that many men are conditioned to view any warmth with a woman as a possible romantic connection. It’s mostly straight guys, but I have had two gay men caution me that they weren’t into women when I was just being friendly with no romantic interest whatsoever.

            Mostly though? It’s tiresome and aggravating and sometimes downright dangerous for women and most of my empathy is reserved for us on this front.

            /also end rant

            1. Tiny Soprano*

              Dr Nerdlove has a very enlightening podcast episode (aimed mostly at straight men) on the subject of how women aren’t usually flirting with them when they think they are. It appears to be a combo of how men are conditioned not to be as friendly with other men so they overestimate interest when women are friendly, and wishful thinking.

              You keep doing you OP. If you feel safe to do so, dropping your queerness into the office rumour pool might help diffuse some of the… hopeful feelings. Doesn’t always work, but sometimes it helps.

            2. Candace*

              Oh boy, do I ever know this. It happened to me personally quite a bit (and I honestly never thought I was even particularly attractive), and to my staff. I worked as a waitress, and in libraries – and libraries were worse. Now I manage libraries, and the staff are heavily female, and we have very firm policies – but still I have had staff pestered and even stalked! It didn’t stop for me till I was 45 – and I wear a wedding ring, have a photo of my husband on my desk, etc. None of it mattered with the real jerks. I’d suggest saying you are “with someone”, OP, but in my experience, even that doesn’t help.

          4. Parenthetically*

            Just a giant yes to this entire comment, particularly the “friendzone” crap.

          5. TootsNYC*

            But a lot of guys aren’t used to emotional connections outside of a romantic relationship.

            I read something recently in which a guy said, “Men are often told (by the patriarchy) that they are to get their validation from women” and that this feeds into the pressure that men put on women.

            it really made sense!

            1. Not Rebee*

              What I’ve heard is that they are taught to not be open emotionally except to people they’re dating/interested in romantically. I’m not sure if it’s because women tend to demand that they open up or if it’s because they otherwise don’t feel safe. The issue is that women share freely with friends of any gender, so if they’re friends with a guy they are likely to share emotional stuff with them. And the guy may misconstrue this as romantic and share back, because they don’t realize that we share at the friend level while they only share at the romantic partner level.

          6. Kathlynn*

            Or wanting to be friends with a male coworker. Suddenly your dating. Even if you have absolutely no interest in dating/sex. Coworkers bought another coworker condoms because we were hanging out. (the guy did have a crush on me)

          7. D'Arcy*

            I disagree with the idea that men have been “trained” to percieve friendly behavior as flirting. Men who do this are *consciously choosing* to do so because they are creeps.

        2. The Pocket Wench*

          I’ve started to respond to clients who ask that I smile more by asking that they perform a jig. It’s been effective so far.

      2. Collarbone High*

        It’s amazing how much of this behavior evaporated once I hit 40. I read a book in a coffee shop last week and not one man approached to tell me I looked like I needed company!

        1. datamuse*

          People kept telling me I’d miss it, too, once it stopped happening.

          I’m almost 45 and don’t miss it at all.

            1. jeanjeanthemachine*

              I’m in my early 40’s and look young. It has lessened in many settings though, plus I’ve really perfected my 50 yard stare and I think that really helps.

              1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                I learned to look through people while studying in Italy because basically my experience was if you had blond hair and were visually female, you were free game for ongoing catcalls and bad pickup lines. That was almost 20 years ago, still serves me well. Now I have a kid though; the combination of ‘tired older mom with toddler’ and ‘thousand yard stare’ seem to chill off everyone.

                feels so good.

            2. ranunculously*

              I have the same problem, I’m 40 but people think I am much younger. Have totally had this issue with male coworkers I thought would be very cool work friends–both assumed I was hitting on them and it’s mostly been awkward since. Thankfully I rarely see either of them without an effort.

          1. Busy*

            I told my old boss that I was so happy I was a chubby thrity-something as opposed to a young twenty-something because AT LEAST I don’t have to deal with that. He was so confused!!!!

            1. ursula*

              Literally me. Crossing a certain fatness + age combo has set me FREE. Especially as someone who loves to do things in public by herself (imagine!).

              1. Aitch Arr*

                This.

                I’ve always been big, but when I finally ‘grew into’ my size in my early 30s, the harassment decreased significantly.

              2. Dusty Bunny*

                + this! I expect to soon cross over into the invisible years, but in the meantime, I am enjoying being free from unexpected/unwelcome/unnecessary attention & comments.

          2. Olivia Mansfield (formerly Mallory Janis Ian)*

            I’m 49 and it’s so pleasant to not be the center of such constant and intense male focus. I can still dress nice and receive compliments, but the constant undertow just isn’t there anymore. I did overhear one older guy saying to his friend about me, “Mmmm! I love me a woman that looks like she can cook!” which I think is a way of saying that you’re plump and matronly? But I’ll take that occasionally versus the constant barrage that young women have to navigate every single day.

            1. Anonforthis*

              Oh lord. I turned 50 last year and I have to tell you that it’s been really nice to be pretty much free from that. Now people look at me and think “that’s somebody’s mother” which isn’t so bad.

          3. Rachael*

            I’m reaching 40 and I’m pretty excited about it too. I can finally ride the bus and stand in public places in peace, lol.

        2. Artemesia*

          LOL. I used to be relentless hit on at professional conferences and then right around age 40 or so — suddenly not so much. Still some, but not so much. Of course by then there were many more young women in my profession too.

          1. Batgirl*

            Smart men (who I do flirt with) are still into me but the gaslighting idiots? Vanished at 40. Best bday gift ever.

        3. Librarianne*

          “You look like you need company!”
          “Look again.”

          Of course, that response got me cussed out, but it was still satisfying!

        4. Heina*

          I’m 31 next week, so not near 40, but ever since I stopped dieting and started presenting masculine, the street and regular harassment all stopped. I LOVE IT.

          1. many bells down*

            I know a trans guy who said once that he didn’t realize how much of his life had been “background noise of people being shitty” until one day after he reliably presented as male and realized he’d been out running errands all day and not one single person had bothered him for anything.

        5. Story Nurse*

          For those who don’t want to wait until their 40s, I note that buzzing my hair off in my early 30s was amazing in this respect. Catcalling on the street, which had been a pretty frequent thing, instantly ceased.

          But I feel really bad for younger people who want to look conventionally feminine without their existence in the world being taken as an invitation.

        6. MsCarter*

          Annoyingly, I get the opposite response when certain people have figured out I’m the other side of forty than they thought. Suddenly I’m perceived to be back in their “range” for comments and more old school behaviours.

          I squish those interactions super-quickly, and word is getting around that I’m not interested in being someone else’s mid life crisis support.

      3. Girl Alex PR*

        Yep. As a younger female (30) in who works in a military environment, I cannot tell you how many times this has occurred. Never mind that I have been married for 10 years, and make a point to be completely professional at all times.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          I REALLY hated it when I’d tell somebody hitting on me that I’m married and they’d reply, “So? Me too.” >:-(

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Was asked out by some guy waiting for someone to get into his car after rwork shift ends.
            Me: I’m married.
            Him: I don’t care.
            Me: I do!
            Laughter behind me.
            Idjits.

            1. many bells down*

              Sometimes they tell me:
              1) He doesn’t know how to take care of a woman like you! (Sure, random stranger who knows literally zero about me, you totally can do a better job than they guy who held my hand through two cancer surgeries AND open-heart surgery)
              2) If he’s not doing whatever thing I’m doing with me right that second we’re clearly not compatible and should never have gotten married so I’m fair game. (I’ve even been told I should never start a new hobby if my husband doesn’t want to participate.)

        2. Adminx2*

          To be fair, a marriage shouldn’t be a shield against uninvited attention. Those of us unmarrieds are just as deserving to be left alone, plus plenty of people do have open style marriages.
          The issue is the deeper issue of changing view of all women as “wanting it” and that’s it’s ok to go “get it” no matter the disrespect involved.

          1. Candace*

            All true, but sometimes you just want to say anything to get the jerk to go away. I’ve used my husband’s biker-style looks to get rid of unwanted jerks …

      4. an infinite number of monkeys*

        Honestly. If I had a nickel for every time I was ever accused of sending a dude “mixed signals,” I could’ve retired while I was still young enough for people to say those things.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      You don’t even have to be all that young, really. So long as you’re young enough that some guy somewhere gets a kick out of thinking “She’s flirting with me!” that guy will take the most ordinary of friendly overtures as flirting.

      It just makes me tired.

      1. Ann Venton*

        Except it can happen in your 40s and beyond; the ageist solution is insulting and unhelpful.

      2. Kathleen_A*

        I know it can happen into your 40s and beyond, Ann Venton. That was kind of my point. Guys do get off on “younger” women flirting with them (or what they like to consider “flirting”), but “younger” is a relative term. For a man in his 70s, people in their 50s are “younger,” after all.

        And anyway, there are guys who will perceive almost any woman’s friendliness – whether she’s younger or not – as flirting. So long as there’s something about her that makes the thought of her flirting with them some sort of ego boost, that’s what they’ll think.

        But I don’t think it’s ageist to point out that this problem is more common for young women than older ones. After all, for a lot of men, the thrill comes from a younger woman flirting with them, but as a woman gets older, simple demographics dictate that there are fewer men who are older than her. It’s just ordinary arithmetic.

      3. many bells down*

        Now that I’m on the downward side of 40, there’s an uptick of dudes in their mid-20’s who like “mature women” and have probably watched too much porn and think we’re all bored horny housewives *eyerolls so hard she sprains a muscle*

    3. restingbutchface*

      This is the only answer. OP, you can’t manoeuvre your way out of this any other way. If they are creeps (definition of creep – you said no thanks once and that wasn’t enough), they need shutting down.

      – Smiling less won’t work. Hey honey, why so blue, why don’t I take you out to cheer you up?
      – Outing yourself won’t work. Sure you are honey, but you’ve never been out with me so…
      – Sarcastic comments won’t work. Oh, she’s funny and gorgeous!

      I’m sorry but this isn’t a problem you can solve alone and you certainly shouldn’t have to change who you are or out yourself against your will – a special type of hell. Good luck OP, stay strong, chin up, keep being awesome.

      (sidenote, I’m waiting for the person who thought flirting was illegal and we had to meet dates at tiddlywinks clubs to show up. A personal favourite)

    4. Pippa*

      I’ve never commented here before, but I am commenting because I DO have advice, as a young, friendly woman in a male-dominated field. What I have found is, being married is magic. It’s the only thing that really works. Boyfriends don’t work no matter how long you date them (which is another reason I have no patience for men that say marriage is to unimportant to be considered after they’ve been with their partners for years).

      Anyways, wear a wedding band. You don’t have to lie if you don’t want to. If anyone asks you about it, you can say it’s a commitment ring to your partner (As a fellow LGBTQ type, “partner” is a magical word that allows you to not have to be weirdly private but also not out yourself to low-key homophobes).

      1. Lauren*

        First comment ever too, and I have to disagree, Pippa. I work in a male-dominated field myself, and I could almost swear that I get hit on more as a married woman – because it would be “no strings attached” for the married fellow. UGHHHH.

  1. No Mercy Percy*

    This sucks, and I’m sorry you’re dealing with this.

    My advice to these fellow men: stop assuming that women being friendly are doing it because they’re interested in you romantically.

    I wish I could offer something to OP, but that’s all I’ve got.

    1. Curt*

      The problem is that’s exactly the way both sexes behave when they are interested. So it’s impossible to really know what the intent is without asking.

      1. EtherIther*

        If you can’t tell the difference between someone being friendly and someone flirting with you, and correspondingly ASK A COWORKER OUT, that is on you. If anything, much more caution should be used with coworkers, to avoid situations like this!

      2. Aveline*

        For anyone who thinks this is equally an issue for both genders or that men have it just as bad:

        Now would be a good time to listen to the women on here and believe our lived experiences.

        Don’t “not all men” or “women do this as well”

        Don’t try to switch the topic to what men experience or to shift the focus on how women can make it easier for men. Because trying to shift it to the universal human silences the experiences of women.

        It’s nit that hard. Me? as I’ve only ever been in LTRs with men, I can’t really know what it’s like for a bubbly young lesbian. I’m not going to try and swoop in here and talk over the other women here who have been in long term relationships with women about how some specific aspect is the same for women who are in LTRs with men.

        So I can speak to and address the whole men reading signals that aren’t there, but I can’t talk to the issue of whether or not LW should out herself or whether or not that would make it worse. I have no clue.

        Not all posts speak to everyone equally.

        It’s ok to sit a discussion out and leave it to those who have been there.

        1. SOAS (NA)*

          I apologize, I wasn’t trying to say or imply “women have it just as bad”… I was sharing my own experience that I was embarrassed about. I personally try to listen to others’ experiences. I personally cannot stand how people say “well it didn’t happen to me so it’s not very common/it doesn’t happen.” I mean….I’ve never been murdered but I know people get murdered.

      3. Snark*

        It has never struck this particular dude as impossible to discern the difference between friendliness and flirting, my guy! I probably err slightly on the “she’s probably just being friendly” side of things, admittedly – but it’s not actually an impossible task.

      4. Less Bread More Taxes*

        If you’re ever confused, pretend she’s a guy. If a guy was smiling while talking to you, would you instantly think he was flirting with you? If he asked about your weekend? If he said good morning? Chances are, probably not (and if so…. I can’t help you).

        1. General Ginger*

          Ehhh… I wish this were fool-proof. I’m a trans man, and all my cis male friends are constantly telling me I smile too much, and “this dude is gonna think you’re coming on to him”. I smile what I feel is a regular amount, but I bet you can already guess that “you should smile more” was the thing I heard the most when I was female-presenting.

          1. King Friday XIII*

            It’s amazing how I no longer get told my RBF is an issue post-transition, though. ;P

      5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        1) Ah yeah, I remember how I would corner a male coworker to tell him that he has smiled and been nice to me on multiple occasions recently, which means he is into me, but no worries because I am into him too… NOT! This really isn’t something that ever happened on a regular occasion to enough people.

        2) If you are coworkers, what do you even care what the intent may be? You are coworkers. Get to work. If it makes you feel any better, the odds are 99 out of 100 that there is no intent.

      6. Kettles*

        Yes it is Curt. It really is easy to tell and there are huge differences. I suggest you have a good read of Dr Nerdlove and Captain Awkward, and reconsider your attitude here.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          It’s hard to tell for plenty of people. I fluctuate between not knowing a flirt if it bit me on the nose and reading too much into every friendly conversation. But especially in the workplace, and especially if you are a man (and therefore probably dealing with at least subconscious societal messaging saying women are here for your enjoyment), it’s sensible to err on the side of “probably not flirting”.

          1. Kettles*

            Being friendly and flirting are different though. I agree some people find it hard to tell. I find it hard to read emotions period. That doesn’t mean there aren’t objective differences between being friendly and flirting.

          2. HollyGen*

            I will admit that I find it very difficult to recognise if someone is flirting with me. I have had previous partners who have confirmed their attempted advances that I completely missed until they’ve all but hit me over the back of the head with the clue-by-four. I err on the side of caution; if I’m not sure, assume it’s not flirting. Builds a much healthier working relationship in the long run.

            I have had work colleagues trying to play matchmaker, and set me up with a workmate because they were convinced we were both flirting with the other, and both missing the signals. In different circumstance this could have lead to some serious conflict, embarrassment and/or uncomfortableness. I am thankful for a team leader who was able to nip this in the bud. I can see so many others not being so lucky

          3. Kettles*

            Plus I recently had a situation with a guy where he was introduced to my partner, I explicitly said I was looking for connections not anything else, and explained I was being that blunt because I’d recently dealt with some creepy guys. He proceeded to hit on me, so I currently have zero sympathy for the ‘mixed signals / how could I have known / she was being so nice’ rubbish and excuses that men like that come out with.

          4. Anonny*

            I’m also terrible at telling when someone is flirting with me but gotta be honest, I got more false negatives (someone was flirting with me and I didn’t realise) than false positives. Which is probably true for anyone who isn’t like, some kinda famous super-hot celebrity.

            Although the false negatives may also be because every single person who turned out to be flirting with me has absolutely no pre-relationship flirting skills whatsover.

      7. Leslie Knope’s Long-Lost Twin*

        I mean, yeah it’s how people act when they’re interested. But it’s also how a lot of women have been socialized to act in general. And it’s how a lot of people act without being romantically interested. And at work, you should be focused on work and developing positive work relationships with your coworkers. So especially at work, assume that they are friendly, not that they are interested romantically.

      8. Vemasi*

        Curt, I know everyone is jumping on you, and on one hand I do agree with them that it is not how both sexes behave when they are flirting, and at work you should mostly just assume no one is flirting with you just from being friendly.

        However, depending on how you meant it, I do appreciate that you acknowledge there is no way to KNOW if someone is flirting without asking them (although once again, remember this is at work and you shouldn’t ask). This is especially true if you are not the person being “flirted” with, and rather a third party like the letter writer’s coworkers. There have been studies showing that humans are completely unable to tell if people are, or are not, flirting with other people. You should never assume someone’s romantic interest, and you should believe them when they tell you they are not flirting. The person, obviously, would know best whether they are interested in someone.

        I don’t know what the OP can do to stop people from making the assumption in the first place, but when people (especially third parties) refuse to believe her, I find the best response is to go stone-faced (not angry, but like it’s totally not funny or fun, just 100% boring, dry facts) and say no, I’m not, and then stone face it until no one is amused anymore. Any embarrassment or amusement is just something for people to latch onto and tease you, while acting grossed out is rude to the person (and immature). Showing them how BORING their claims are works well for me.

      9. boop the first*

        Usually, at least for me, the problem isn’t about asking a coworker for a date. Like others say, you can just say you don’t date coworkers. Or in OP’s case, don’t date the opposite sex in particular.

        The problem, is that no one ever takes ‘no’ to be the truth. It’s always got to be some kind of game. “Oh but he/she smiles at me in greeting, they must be playing hard to get…” Or just as bad: “they just haven’t had a chance to see me that way, I’ll give it a few months, pretend to be their friend, and then go in for the kill! and when they say no five different times, I’ll start being rude to them because anyone who doesn’t date me is a jerk.” And this goes on for years until everyone graduates high school, or quits their job, or the company shuts down.

        I’m so glad I’m not twenty-something anymore. Even being married didn’t help.

    2. ginger ale for all*

      I once dated a guy who felt that all the female waitresses he had were totally into him. I let him know that they were just doing their job by making ALL customers feel welcome and valued. He didn’t believe me.

      1. Busy*

        They have built entire industries off the types of dudes. Why are people so dumb? Why would they think women being nice means wanting to climb into bed with you? Like how do they think women act when they aren’t into someone? So many questions … do they think women are humans?

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          They think all women are genetically disposed to be paired off. A single woman = a woman looking for a partner. A single man at work is a man at work speaking to a coworker. A single woman at work is networking to find a spouse. Duh.

          1. ginger ale for all*

            Also – It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

            1. TootsNYC*

              the other truth of those novels is that any woman not currently attached is desperately in NEED of a husband.

              1. Former Employee*

                Unfortunately, at that time it was generally the case. An unmarried woman was often considered to be a burden on her family unless the family was well off.

                1. Vemasi*

                  And even if she was well off, the only way to have her own home where she wasn’t beholden to another woman was to marry, or have all the older women in the house die or marry out.

                  Obviously, she would then be beholden to a man, but at least there was a pretense that they were partners in running the house.

        2. Snark*

          At least three major restaurant chains basically have “guys are dolts and think any friendly woman who is attractive is into him” as the first sentence of their business plan.

        3. Karen from Finance*

          I’m late to the party but I have a theory, as a woman in my late 20’s who has had the privilege of having had passed through varying degrees of attractiveness in a short time period (long story short: cancer then remission).

          I think they believe a woman who is more or less nice to them is flirting, because that’s how they act around women. If a woman isn’t attractive, she’s invisible. If she demands attention, she’s often treated like crap. Only reason they have to be nice to a young woman is if they want to bang her.* So, they think that’s how women act, too.

          *I’m talking about this very specific type of dude.

          1. Less Bread More Taxes*

            Yikes. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. I remember reading a story from a Muslim woman who said she loved the hijab because it made her invisible at work as opposed to her other female coworkers who got a lot of unwanted attention. It’s sad when your options are invisible or sex object.

      2. Bunny Girl*

        These people exist. I worked at a sports bar for a super short amount of time and I swear every shift I had someone leaving their phone number on their ticket. It always really surprised me because I’ve always been described as “a nice person but not a friendly person” so I don’t think I was in way “flirty.” Some people are just really, really dense.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Dense, yes. Also presumptuous, assuming that everything is about them.

          I knew a fellow who insisted that when HE flirted with waitresses and service people, they appreciated it because they were so friendly back! I was never able to convince him that they were doing whatever it took to get through their shift and not lose their source of income, even if it meant being friendly to the 8th guy to hit on you that week. No, no, he said. They knew he wasn’t being creepy, because he’s not like other guys.

          Major eye roll.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Customer service workers are literally given money in exchange for being nice to people. I am nice to customers because it is my job to be nice to customers and I’ve become accustomed to eating food and living indoors. I can’t risk losing my paycheck just because some dude thinks he’s the most charming person in the world.

            1. Librarianne*

              Yes, this. Now that I’ve moved into academic libraries I have way fewer uncomfortable interactions with patrons, but when I was a college student working in a public library… yikes. I’m making small talk about the book you’re renewing because I’m literally getting paid to be friendly, not because I want you to ask me out!

          2. Bunny Girl*

            Every place I’ve worked where we’ve had flirty (read: obnoxious) customers, we go in the back and laugh about them. So yes, we appreciate the good laugh.

          3. Harvey 6-3.5*

            Yeah, as a guy, even when I was young and not totally unattractive, I never thought that a coworker or service person was flirting just because they were talking to me. It’s some sort of willful ignorance by a certain fraction of men that don’t recognize a woman may be pleasant, even sweet, but have absolutely no interest in you at all.

            The default position, without something more direct than flirting like “what are you doing for dinner”, should be she’s not into you.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              “Willful ignorance”
              Yes, that’s a good way to describe it! They’re so insecure they have to pretend everyone’s interested in them. It’s sad.

          4. wittyrepartee*

            When I was a waitress at age 16, some guy dragged his son (who was my age) in, and then spent all his time trying to coach his son on how to hit on me. This included spilling a drink on the table so that I’d have to come over and clean it. Son was not having it. Poor guy.

            1. Róisín*

              Oh god, never dump a drink just to hit on the waitress. We do not want to have to deal with that and instantly like you less.

        2. Allison*

          What bothers me is that men expect is to be nice, friendly, warm, open, and willing to selflessly serve others – and they complain when it seems like women aren’t living up to that expectation. But when you are any of those things, they assume you’re “wife material” and totally into them.

          A couple of years ago, I started to wonder if men really just want us to pretend like we might wanna date/bang/marry them if they were to develop an interest and make a move.

          1. jb*

            They don’t want you to pretend. They want you to be available if they are interested. You’re an NPC, they’re a PC. When they are interested in a quest, they want you to give them one.

          2. Salymander*

            I worked as a nanny for awhile. The guys doing home renovations on the house I worked in were all convinced that I was some kind of ideal super feminine wife material just waiting to be swept away in their manly arms.
            I was paid a decent amount of money to take care of kids. I was paid extra for doing chores. I was friendly and polite because that is how you teach manners to children. You know, by example.
            I was not friendly and polite as I changed diapers as some diabolical plan to ensnare the attention of these sad, sad men. Yet each one of them thought I was flirting my heart out in an effort to attract him alone. I lost count of the number of uncomfortable conversations I had to have with these idiots.

            No, I am not flirting. I changed that diaper because it was gross. I was not smiling at you, I was smiling at the baby. No, I don’t want your baby. Go away, gross man. Yes, I am a bitch. Well spotted. Goodbye.

            It is really nice to be almost 50, as the worst of the idiots just ignore me. Life is sweet.

        3. Batman*

          I think sometimes the men don’t necessarily think the waitress is interested, but they’re interested in the waitress so they leave their phone number because, well, who knows. Maybe they feel entitled, maybe they think “hey, why not?”

            1. Bunny Girl*

              Yeah like it’s not appropriate. Having someone ask me out or hit on my while I’m at work doesn’t make me feel special. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Because now I feel trapped since I can’t be rude or reject this guy because I’m depending on tips. And not to mention if this person is a really creeper and I reject them (even politely) this person obviously knows where I work. If you’re interested in someone, please for the love of all that is holy, please leave them alone at work.

            2. Batman*

              I’m …. not a man and I also don’t do that and I also agree that it’s completely inappropriate. My point is that they think they are entitled to ask out everyone they’re interested in solely because they are interested in them. I don’t think *her* (our) feelings ever cross their mind. Because they don’t see us as people. They don’t think “hey, I think she’s into me, I’m gonna ask her out,” they think “hey, I’m into to her I’m gonna ask her out.” The idea that she might not be into them doesn’t really cross their mind. I hope that clears that up.

          1. Batgirl*

            There are those guys (not pests god love em, but it’s one of the worst contexts to try), and then there are those who are totally deluded (and don’t give up) and then there are normal people.

          2. Salymander*

            Maybe they should leave her alone to do her job. Maybe their interest is not the most important thing in this situation. She is required to be polite, or she could lose her job. It isn’t like she has a choice. She can’t leave and can’t refuse to be friendly. Taking advantage of that seems like a pretty selfish, crappy thing to do.

        4. Alli525*

          Yep, worked at a sports bar for a couple of years, and my friends, knowing how annoyed I was with being chased by customers, would occasionally come in and joke around by going way over the top in fake flirting, leaving their numbers on sugar packets, etc. If it weren’t for them breaking up the tension every now and again I would have totally lost it. And I’m not even all that conventionally attractive!!

        5. Vemasi*

          I think men are also conditioned to think of women who serve them in a family way. If you are a waitress, you are either flirting material, or they treat you like their mom. So if you’re young but not that friendly, it could go either way.

      3. Annon for this*

        I have family members who swear that almost every opposite sex person “wants” them. From the 60 year old counter person to their boss and everyone in between. I keep trying to tell them to stop thinking that friendly people are wanting romantic relationships with them. It gets interjected into at least one conversation a week and I just ignore it. It secretly drives me up a wall.

        1. MassMatt*

          I think we have probably all known or worked with someone like this at some point, I am remembering a few. And quelle surprise, they were all average at best—not good looking, not fit, not magnetic or charismatic personalities at ALL. Or hell, even rich. One was really fugly. I have no idea where this odd disconnect comes from, whether it is nature or nurture.

          I am thinking of an old Far Side cartoon, “Oh look, it’s God’s gift to warthogs!”

            1. Michaela Westen*

              I suspect it’s a form of denial. They can’t handle thinking of themselves as an average person, so they build up this delusion that they’re irresistible.

        2. Jaybeetee*

          I’m embarrassed to say my last ex was like this. To hear him describe it, nearly every woman he ever spoke to (including servers and cashiers) was desperate to be with him, slipping him phone numbers, checking him out, asking him on dates, etc. I feel incredibly catty even saying it (since I did date him, after all), but the dude was… not particularly handsome. One time as we left a Costco together, he started talking about how the (like, 20 year old) cashier had been checking him (late 30s) out and glaring at me, and I realized he was delusional.

          1. Batgirl*

            I had that conversation with an ex because the cashier “side-glanced” him.
            Honey. No. She had a lazy eye.
            Apparently I was jealous.

        3. Alli525*

          My mother is like this – she loves taking ballroom dance classes but once told me that she wasn’t going to take a samba class ever again because she was horrified by how many men were attracted to her during the dance. That’s… not how any of this works, mom.

      4. SOAS (NA)*

        Eesh. I’m embarrassed to admit that as a late teen/early 20s, I (a woman) took all and any male friendliness as interest. I think it was a combination of wishful thinking, and something else? idK? Thankfully I grew out of this when I started working and the only time I took friendliness as something else is when he literally said let’s make out. But yeah. *

        1. Jaybeetee*

          I’ve had a bit of this, and it’s kind of the “other side of the socialization coin”. Just as a lot of dudes assume that every vaguely friendly (and attractive) woman is romantically interested in them, some young women are taught that young men “only want one thing” and can’t possibly be friendly just for the sake of it! I’ve had people around me assume male relatives were hitting on me, because why else would they be talking to me/acting so friendly?

          For me, I found the cure for never having anyone mistake my friendliness for flirting was to not be conventionally attractive, as that seems like an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to misconstruing intentions ;).

          1. SOAS (NA)*

            OH MY GOD YES. Shoot that clicks. Indeed I was taught that men only want one thing. The lesson was that some have good intentions (to be in a relationship), some have bad intentions (to hook up); any girl that is too friendly or laughs too hard is inviting attention. …… thank GOD I do not ascribe to this mentality.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              We were taught that too. I grew up with a close guy friend who had zero interest in me as a woman and we were still good friends – I think having that experience early in life helped me a lot. But not a lot of people have that opportunity – our mothers were best friends and we were hanging out together before either of us could walk.

          2. CC*

            Haha, I am very not attractive by current day/Western standards, and I get men constantly referring to me as a friend. Like I send them a text to meet up to literally discuss work, and they say something like “Sure thing, pal!” It’s better than being creepily hit on, but it still sucks knowing that just because I’m female I’m put into a different category than my other coworkers.

          3. Jasnah*

            It’s so hard as a woman to negotiate that! “How friendly can I be to preserve a cordial relationship while not giving him the wrong idea, and if he responds in kind does that mean he is being friendly or if he has misunderstood?”

            I’m on a language-learning app and after a few sentences exchanged, the dude offered to show me around his city when I visit there. I mentioned I was going with my husband and he said “I don’t care if you come with your husband, it was a genuine offer, no tricks”. Now I have to figure out, was that a defensive response? Did I misunderstand the language used? Should I just not meet up for my own safety? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Like with many commenters, this post and comments brought back all the memories. It was a curse in my 20s and 30s. Not only could I not have opposite-sex friends without expecting a sneak attack from them at any moment, but work was also a minefield. College dorm was of course the worst. My roommates and I shared the suite with an older international student from a Middle-Eastern country (we were assigned a room in the suite where he already lived in the other room, so it was not by choice). Since he got visitors from his country’s student community, I knew all of them by name. But I could never say hello or smile at any of these men. It was honestly killing me, because I hated being rude and freezing them out. But they had a tendency to interpret a smile and a “hello” as “take me right here!” and freezing them out was the only way to avoid that.

      Last time it happened to me, I was in my mid-forties. A new coworker gave off what I like to call an “awfully friendly” vibe. So I started avoiding him. My male teammates thought I was overreacting. Then he gave notice and quit, his last day was Friday, and on Monday I came into work to this email from his personal account: “Hi, this is so-and-so. I think you noticed that we have a good connection and would make a great couple” – no I didn’t, only thing I noticed was that he was creeping me out, and apparently for a reason! Thankfully he closed with “if you are interested in dating me, please reply, otherwise please ignore” and I cheerfully ignored as I was told. I am in my 50s now, it is finally no longer an issue, and I do not miss it. I really and truly do not. There is no correlation between getting gobs of unwanted male attention at the worst moments, and having people that you *would* have a good connection with, be interested in and open to being your life partner. Maybe it’s because men who actually are good life partner material, don’t creep on women at work on the flimsiest of excuses? Who can tell!

  2. Anonymous Educator*

    Do you have any female colleagues whose opinions/observations you trust? Can you ask them if you are indeed giving off any kind of unintentional flirty vibe or not?

      1. jb*

        Said trusted female colleague may also have insights on how to address these assumptions in other ways besides changing her behavior.

        1. Doc in a Box*

          If she were flirting, would she be writing in to AAM asking how to get her coworkers to stop flirting back?

        2. Parenthetically*

          Lol, she wrote a whole letter saying she isn’t flirting, are her intentions literally not even relevant?

          1. EinJungerLudendorff*

            Apparently not, if certain coworkers are to be believed! *eyeroll*
            And getting a second opionion does sound like a good idea.

        3. Kettles*

          You’re absolutely right, this young, gay woman who has no sexual interest in men and specifically says she’s not flirting is *definitely* flirting with her male coworkers you guise.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a good suggestion. There can be cues that vary between cultures, like how close you stand to people to convey different levels of warmth.

    2. OP*

      Unfortunately the two female colleagues I have the most contact with are also the ones who were trying to set me up, haha. But I have a few friends in other departments that I’m close with, I might ask for their input. Thanks for the suggestion!

      1. NW Mossy*

        The setup piece, at least, should be more straightforward to shut down:

        Level 1:

        “No thanks, I’m not interested.”
        “No thanks, I’m not looking to be set up with anyone at work.”
        “No thanks, I’m happy with my romantic life the way it is.”
        “No thanks, that’s not what I’m here for.”

        Level 2:

        “You mentioned this before, but my stance hasn’t changed: I’m not interested in being set up.”

        Level 3:

        “We’ve talked about this before and I’ve told you more than once that I’m not interested. Can you please take me at my word on this and not ask anymore? It’s becoming awkward to discuss my romantic life so much at work.”

          1. Allya*

            Level Infinity: get fed up and shout HECKITY THESPIAN, I’M A LESBIAN and then jump on a motorcycle and wheelie out of there. (Well, it’s something I used to fantasise about in similar situations anyway lol. Now I work with my wife so I can actually do a low key version of it and it’s every bit as satisfying as I used to imagine).

            1. M-C*

              Alas, even that is not always enough. This kind of creep is often a heavy porn consumer as well, and tends to conclude that a declaration of lesbianism is just an invitation to join in with you and your girlfriend for some rousing 3-way action.

              Fortunately, I grew up in France, and practiced since early childhood the art of repelling unwanted advances. What invariably works is a loud public discussion of their manly attributes and how no woman in their right mind could possibly be attracted to them. Really, men are insecure too, especially creeps, all you need to do is mention their baldness and you’re done :-). They really hate it when you treat them the way they treat women. But if you are at work and can’t be quite so openly forceful, it’s enough to simply stare at something with a subtle curl to your lip – their big ears, their dirty teeth, their paunch.. or simply their shoes if you’re uninspired.

      2. Becky*

        Would it be possible to enlist them (the ones trying to set you up) as allies?
        Something along the lines of “I’m not interested in dating co-workers, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to set me up with anybody.”

        Or “I’m sure you’ve seen that thing happen where you’re just nice to a guy like you are to everyone and he takes it as romantic interest. I’m a really friendly person, so I didn’t want you to get the impression that I wanted you to set me up.”

        Or even “Please ask me before trying to set me up with someone–I’d like a say!”

        Hopefully they are receptive to that.

        1. Lance*

          I’m not sure about that last one; I feel like some particularly… trying to think of the word. Willful? People will take that as permission to insist, or to argue the point. More than a say, OP should be the only say in such scenarios, and I think it’d be perfectly fine to make that clear. If they don’t like it, well, that’s on them (and might encourage them to stop, so win-win?).

        2. ket*

          Or, “Can you tell me what makes you think I’m flirting with a guy? I’d really like to stop that — it’s setting up some awkward situations and I want to come across as really professional.”

        3. M-C*

          I like Becky’s suggestion, except for the last one. Don’t even slightly suggest that they might have a say in anything like this..

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Please shut them down. Tell them that their interest in pairing you off is undermining your success at work. It’s changing people’s focus and it would be great if they could help change this perception of you as “single and looking” into “single and working” and from there to “working.”

      4. WellRed*

        It’s also totally inappropriate of these coworkers to do this in the first place. Yuck!

      5. That Californian*

        When talking to would-be setter-uppers, I usually go with a combo of cheerful, surprised, and very firm: “[with raised eyebrows and a smile] Oh gosh, it didn’t occur to me someone might set me up with someone from work! Having work life and romantic life come together is NOT MY JAM! People are so different, I guess! [subject change to work topic]” The surprise and cheerfulness usually work pretty well to prevent offense, and it fits with my overall vibe while making the boundary explicit and clear.
        It may be a little late for the surprise (sorry about that), but the rest of it might work well for you.

      6. TheSnarkyB*

        Oh wow! I think you could take this in 2 directions:

        Option 1: Asking them (in a serious tone of voice) “Oh, that’s surprising. What did I do that made it seem that way? I’ve heard this before, and I’m really concerned about how that kind of perception may be affecting me professionally.”

        Option 2: If you don’t want their feedback, saying: “I’m sure your intentions are good, but I really am not interested and would not date someone I work with regardless, particularly since it could affect my reputation. Can you help me shut down that kind of talk if you ever hear it when I’m not around?”

        I think you should respond to their actions directly though, and the fact that they’re women makes that conversation perhaps easier (since they *might* understand the reputation aspect of it).

    3. Beth*

      I’m not sure this would work even if OP does have female coworkers around. Women aren’t immune to the idea that a man and woman being friendly must be the start of an epic romance. Compulsory heterosexuality is awful that way.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        That’s why I said

        Do you have any female colleagues whose opinions/observations you trust?

        and not

        Do you have any female colleagues?

        1. Beth*

          It’s not just about trust, though, is what I’m saying. These are really pervasive cultural patterns. Even people with generally good judgement, who genuinely mean well and are doing their best by you, can fall into them! We’re all surrounded by these myths, the “he was a boy, she was a girl, can I make it any more obvious” kind of thing, and we all fall into that trap sometimes.

          I think OP will be better off trusting her own judgement on her behavior than trying to outsource it to someone else. No one’s going to be an objective third party here, so she should trust herself.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            So why write into an advice column, if she can just trust herself? I think the whole point of the letter is, “Can I just double-check this?”

            1. caryatis*

              Yeah…she should get a female friend to check her behavior. Some women naturally have a more flirty style than others, and she can learn to downplay that.

                1. Elsajeni*

                  Because she wants people to stop perceiving her as flirtatious and it is faster to make slight changes to one’s own style (Alison even suggested a couple of these as possibilities — avoiding the friendly touch on the arm, minimizing personal compliments) than to single-handedly change everyone else’s perceptions of what flirting looks like. Absolutely, this could be pure sexism from her coworkers. But it’s also genuinely possible to send messages you don’t intend with your body language or conversational style — see the earlier letter from the “open book” writer — and changing the stuff you do that sends those signals is a legitimate solution.

  3. ZSD*

    It’s not necessarily just women who get this. I had a guy friend who was perceived as flirting with everyone. His version of friendliness — expressing interest in what people were talking about, noticing when they got new clothes or changed haircuts, etc. — tended to be seen as flirtatious.
    But I agree that young women face this even more. Maybe remaining friendly but being careful not to comment on people’s appearance (like Alison’s “Your hair looks great” example) would be a good compromise.

    1. kittymommy*

      We’re you just in my breakroom!! LOL, seriously I had this same conversation with a co-worker about a guy we sort of work that my friend thinks is flirty with him. I see the man act this way with everyone and it’s just the way he interacts with me – nothing intended.

    2. Hey Nonnie*

      Appearance-based commentary just doesn’t belong at work to begin with. Both compliments and criticisms can be fraught, and are way too personal to be professionally appropriate. Aside from managers discussing dress code issues with subordinates, leave it alone. Even if you intend to be complimentary, you probably don’t know your coworker well enough to be sure it won’t be taken as harassment or a backhanded insult.

      1. caryatis*

        I don’t agree! There are lots of appearance-based compliments that are perfectly professional. I wouldn’t want to work in a place that was so stiff and uptight that I couldn’t tell someone I liked their tie or their haircut.

        1. Socks*

          I think a really good rule of thumb here is to only compliment things that the person has direct and immediate control over- so, clothes or hair are fine, body parts are not. You can still be creepy complimenting someone’s clothes/hair/makeup/accessories, of course, but it’s a good starting point, at least.

          1. Turtlewings*

            I’ve seen that distinction pointed out elsewhere, and I think it’s a really good one. One boils down to “I agree with your judgment,” which is appropriate and nice to hear, while the other boils down to “I am warm for your form,” which is… not.

            1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

              Agreed, great distinction.

              Also, I’m borrowing “I am warm for your form” as a flirting opener (outside of work/professional settings) XD

      2. Story Nurse*

        I think there’s room for nuance here. A coworker and I have bonded over both being fans of eShakti dresses, and whenever one of us gets a new one, we wear it to the office to show off to the other. In my fedora-wearing days, my rather hipsterish boss once went up several notches in my estimation by saying “Ah, summer hat season?” the first day I wore a cotton hat to the office instead of a wool one. I agree that criticisms can be fraught (though there’s a lot to be said for the quiet embarrassment-saving “Psst… your dress is riding up, you might want to tug it down”) but many compliments can be perfectly appropriate and fine.

    3. JamieS*

      Agreed women get it more but I wonder if this is more because women are socialized to be bubbly/friendly moreso than men rather than people having different reactions to men and women displaying the same behavior. Basically, is it plausible that a man behaving in the same way OP is would be interpreted as being flirty?

      1. MommyMD*

        Very astute. I also noted down below females are socialized to be almost over the top to “please” society and this behavior can be misconstrued. Let’s teach our girls that they are not responsible for everyone else’s happiness and they don’t have to be cheerful and bubbly all the time. If men were socialized to project bubbly happy friendliness all the time, women would think they were being flirty.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I got *a lot* of crap when I was young because I wasn’t bubbly and friendly. It really seemed to confuse people who assumed all women are like this. They weren’t able to cope with me at all.

        2. Kettles*

          But what if she’s naturally bubbly and friendly? I used to be a much nicer, more cheerful person and it had the same effect in that everyone thought I was into them. Nowadays I police my behaviour. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t even work. One guy I met through networking – I was vaguely friendly and kind, introduced him to my partner, invited him and his wife to events and specifically said it’s so great to meet others in the industry. He still proceeded to try to hit on me! Instead of telling young women to police their personality and behaviour, can we not just teach young men that the world doesn’t revolve around them and their boners of wishful thinking?

          1. many bells down*

            I honestly think my sister could have written this letter – a young, bubbly, very attractive gay woman. She’s been out with her fiancee and had a dude hit on her and then turn and hit on her fiancee when she says she’s not interested. She once told a male co-worker that it was not appropriate to comment on her breasts at work and got about 45 texts from him explaining why he didn’t do anything wrong.

            1. Kettles*

              See this is so bizarre to me. I’m pretty socially awkward, so I make social mistakes. If someone said that my behaviour was inappropriate the only text I would send would be an apology. I cannot fathom how someone would comment on someone else’s body parts then insist they were in the right.

      2. Busy*

        Yeah, there is a whole lot of socialization and gender-given-roles at play here. Women get it more, I think, because more men have been conditioned and socialized to believe all women are there for them – so if they smile, then that woman is theirs t reject or not. It is such an odd thing to think about – but there have been lots of really great studies and papers written on this! Objectification is so deeply buried in many people’s upbringing, it is kind of scary.

        If men are overly helpful or seem to be actually be listening (which in the above type of society isn’t typical socialized male behavior), then women may think he is flirting – especially, again, in environments where people are so drastically socialized into male and female. Dominate and submissive. That kind of thing. Obviously it is more complex than this, but its an example.

      3. Some dude*

        Men are also more traditionally seen as the pursuers of romantic relationships rather than the pursued, so this may also be a factor. We are looking for signals that a woman might be into us because we think we are supposed to initiate relationships rather than the woman. And the difference between just being friendly and being potentially romantically interested are not always that huge. When I was dating I had trouble differentiating between women who wanted a friendship and nothing more and women who were romantically interested in me. I went on several dates that were not actually dates, and a few hangs that I didn’t realize were dates. Which doesn’t justify hitting on a waitress or colleague, but there is ambiguity. or at least there was twenty years ago.

        1. Anon Anon Anon*

          Yes, there is so much ambiguity! And people, themselves, don’t always know right away. Sometimes you just think someone is cool and you want to spend time with them. Then, later on, it becomes clear whether it’s more of a romantic or friendship sort of thing. Obviously that applies to social stuff in general, but work stuff is different.

          Speaking for myself, there are plenty of people who I like as friends and find attractive, but I don’t actually want to date them. And friends who I’m not attracted to but may get flirtatious or a little physical with because we both enjoy it and we have that kind of bond. There’s a big gray area. Outside of work, obviously.

        2. Jasnah*

          I agree. Personally I think the solution is for women to take the lead more often, so that men aren’t trying to divine the true meaning of each interaction, and we can say “unless she asks you out or obviously flirts with you, she’s not interested!!”

    4. MommyMD*

      Yeah avoid the commenting on appearance at work anyway I think. And no casual touching, such as on the shoulder or arm. Too much giggling can be misconstrued. Better just to tone it down at work, while still being professional friendly.

      1. Hotstreak*

        So, essentially, stop flirting with coworkers.

        Even if the flirting is not intentional.

        Intent is only part of it, the way that people perceive you can be even more important. Not just related to flirting, but other things like jokes, or innocent comments that someone perceives as racist or sexist etc. Part of being a professional adult is recognizing how people generally perceive you and working within that framework.

        You cannot change the world overnight, buy you can change your own behavior in ways that will reduce the flirting issue.

        1. Kettles*

          This sounds awfully victim blaming to me. And actually, in my experience you *can’t* change your behaviour to stop other people thinking you are flirting, because some dudes perceive ‘hello’ as flirting. And expecting young women to police their behaviour so that they don’t – gasp! – give a man the wrong idea is misogynistic and ridiculous. It’s an idea I used to buy into. It’s disgusting, it’s wrong and it doesn’t even work. I’m honestly at the point where I don’t want to talk to men at all. I cover all my skin, I’m sarcastic and unfriendly, I’m overweight, average attractiveness, I talk about my partner regularly and often, and some dudes still think I’m looking for a hookup. But no, do tell me how I’m obviously inviting their harassment with my oversize sweaters and suspicious glares.

          1. PlainJane*

            Yes to victim blaming. Also, it takes a lot of attention/emotional energy to police your every move–energy that then is not available for work-related tasks.

            1. Kettles*

              Exactly! Why the hell should I have to waste energy worrying about whether I’m smiling too long at someone when the solution is for Fergus to stop thinking everyone wants him!

      2. Kettles*

        It’s pretty sad that your first assumption is that OP is asking for and causing this response. She doesn’t say anywhere that she is stroking her coworkers; you’re making that assumption, perhaps because you want it to be her fault that some men are just awful.

    5. Another Manic Monday*

      I seem to have gotten the reputation of being a “player/charmer/flirter/etc” in the office. Apparently the way I dress and act in the office make it seems like I am “on the prowl” for a date. In reality, I haven’t intentionally flirted with anyone in several years due to social anxiety and overwhelming self-doubt.

  4. Busy Bee*

    “Oh, sorry, I certainly didn’t mean to give off that impression!” and similar sentences are ones I use a lot here. You’re being overly generous and implying that they reached a reasonable conclusion, which gives the recipient a safer “out”. It’s pretty rare to get open disagreement, and you can deflect any further feelers by continuing to be friendly but not especially personable. Combining friendly words and facial expressions with slightly more distance can help send the message.

    1. Busy Bee*

      Er, to clarify, by “distance” I mean standing slightly farther away from them. Still friendly! Just not as personal.

    2. BethDH*

      I used to use something like that in similar situations but then I found out that at least one person interpreted it as “I didn’t mean for you to figure it out!” or “Oops, I didn’t realize I was being so obvious!”
      So then they thought that I was interested and too shy to act on them, which was so much worse.

      1. Busy*

        “So then they thought that I was interested and too shy to act on them, which was so much worse.”

        OMG noooo. I can only imagine.

    3. Me*

      I don’t think she needs to apologize for doing something she is not doing. In fact I really dislike apologizing or taking ownership for someone else’s behavior.

      I think there’s ways to be work polite and not do that.

  5. Jess*

    “Wow, it’s distressing to me that warmth and friendliness from women is so often misconstrued as as romantic interest.”

    1. Hey Nonnie*

      Throw in a “PROFESSIONAL friendliness and warmth” and make them feel extra bad. They deserve it.

    2. Chaordic One*

      In years past I’ve seen situations where outgoing young gay men were also accused of “flirting” by certain straight men who seemed to think “he wants me!” I really think that these young gay men were just trying to be friendly and make small talk.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        In the 80’s-90’s I knew straight men who were uncomfortable with gay men and took any gesture as a threat. The idea the gay man might be interested in them was threatening.

        1. MassMatt*

          Yes, this is definitely a thing, especially in more informal environments. Straight male discomfort with out gay people is complicated. It is improving, though. I still often see that People (especially guys) are nervous and don’t know what to say, etc but that awkwardness tends to diminish over time.

          And yes, one of those people I mentioned above that seemed to consider himself god’s gift figured he must be irresistible to gay men also, but NO.

          1. Airy*

            Best explanation I’ve heard is that the straight guys are worried the gay guys will treat them the way they treat women.

      2. Cascadian*

        That can be scary, since some straight dudes react with violence when they think a gay man is hitting on them.

      3. anon today and tomorrow*

        I’ve had this with women, too. Honestly, my first reaction to OP’s post was that if she came out, some of those women who think she’s flirty with men might then start thinking she’s being flirty with them.

        Because I’ve definitely been around straight women who assume that because I’m not straight, I must be flirting with them. They get really weird about it. I think their reaction is pretty similar to straight men around gay/bi men, except I’m less afraid that a woman will try and attack me over it.

    3. Lena Clare*

      I like this! I particularly like the *professional* warmth and friendliness that Hey Nonnie added.

      I might phrase it in a friendly and carefully construed puzzled tone of voice, like this: “huh, it’s weird that professional warmth and friendliness from women is misconstrued as romantic interest” and tilt my head expectantly while waiting for them to flounder and fluster to come up with an answer. I would very much enjoy their discomfort!

      If they shamefully are unembarrassed by this, then I would say “wow!” and walk away.

  6. Juli G.*

    I read the headline. Then I read the first line of the letter. And then I threw myself off a cliff.

        1. Lepidoptera*

          *picturing Juli G. tumbling end over end, frantically texting before the ground looms up*

      1. Juli G.*

        It was my soul that threw itself off the cliff. The shell of my being made the comment. :)

  7. Not Interested*

    Ugh, I feel you. I have very little interest in romantic relationships in general and I CANNOT be friends with members of the opposite sex without a certain coworker making inappropriate comments about it. If this coworker sees me have any type of interaction, meeting, workplace conversation, friendly wave, ANYTHING, she makes a comment and literally winks and nudges me. She will ask me about my relationships with these people and make inappropriate comments. It’s gotten to the point where I try to not interact with anybody if she’s even in the vicinity. I don’t want these friends/colleagues to get the wrong idea and either A. become awkward around me or B. try to date me.

    I’ve asked her to stop multiple times and she wont and for some reason the head of our team loves her and she can do no wrong in her eyes. It’s mortifying and ridiculous. And short of disclosing that I am not interested in romantic relationships at all (which is the business of nobody!) I don’t know how to get her to stop. I’ve flat out told her how uncomfortable it makes me but some people just think everyone is always wanting to be set up or paired up. Or has the same “traditional” sexuality that they do and it’s their job to police everyone else’s relationship. I hope you don’t stop being a warm and friendly person just because other people have decided things about you that aren’t true.

    1. Not Interested*

      Also I hope my use of “traditional” was clear that this particular coworker seems to have no sense that anyone would be interested in anything other than a 1 male & 1 female relationship as those are the only pairs she every comments about or tries to set up. Or that someone may not interested in a relationship at all!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Could you try framing it as, “You know, this is the kind of thing that could put you on the wrong side of a harassment complaint, and I know you’d be mortified if that happened”?

      1. Busy*

        Is it terrible that I state this really loud in a cube farm to a whole bunch of people who like to make jokes about how much I spend working with a male colleague? Because I got work to do, and I don’t have time to address them all individually.

        And I also threw in a “It must be nice to have so much time on your hands to worry about wtf I’m doing all day.”

        Now keep in mind I work in an environment where this will actually fly. I have really rude coworkers who cross boundaries regularly with others – they get shut down like this a lot – and management thinks this is how you resolve it. Suuuuuch a healthy work environment, though!

        But seriously, can I just announce to this group – while they are laughing and elbowing each other? Or would that make me look bad?

        1. Close Bracket*

          I would not add the follow up about the amount of time on their hands, but I would definitely say something in a voice that could carry beyond the immediate listener. That is, don’t make a general announcement, but don’t bother to modulate your volume when you say it to one person.

        2. JJ Bittenbinder*

          I’m obviously not Alison, but I am a former Employee Relations manager and I would 100% support you saying it just like that. It’s clear and direct.

          I’m not certain from your comment if you did say this or were considering saying it, but if you know that the tone and the language would not be an issue in your work environment, I’d say the method of delivery would not be, either.

      2. Not Interested*

        That’s a good way to frame it! I’ve said similar things but maybe not forcefully enough. And she actually would not be mortified, she would laugh it off. I don’t know that anyone would take it seriously unless I went to central HR vs. our unit HR. She does this to other people as well and everyone just says “Oh, that’s Jane for you!” which is unacceptable to me. Like I said, the head of our unit loves her so it’s weird. I try to avoid her if possible but I can’t always get away with that. I’ll never understand why people think it’s appropriate to do this. I’m also in academia which, as many of you know, already has this super weird culture where people can get away with things and behave oddly and staff are treated…not great sometimes. Just another reason I need a new job!

        1. Samwise*

          Academia? Trot yourself over to the office that’s charged with addressing title IX and harassment complaints. You can always start with an “I just need some info” meeting with them.

        2. ket*

          Another tactic is to try to use slightly deprecating humor. “You know Jane — she’s aiming to be Yente the matchmaker but hasn’t figured out we’re at work instead of in the village!” “Oh Jane, it’s kind of endearing that you’re trying to play Noah with the ark, but we’re dealing with overpopulation these days… and this is work!” “Oh Jane, I get that enough from my grandpa — he’s got it covered, thanks!”

        3. Trek*

          Try turning it around on her. When she suggests you are interested its because she’s interested. She makes a comment about you and Bob wink at her and say ‘Don’t worry I know you have dibs on him so I would never do anything with Bob.’ If she complains state ‘We seem to be misunderstanding each other on this topic. Let’s agree not to suggest or ask about romantic topics at work.’ In other words you will stop when she stops.

    3. chocolatechipcookie*

      That’s frustrating. Maybe focus less on how uncomfortable it is for you (your feelings, unfortunately, do not seem to matter to her) and point out that it’s weird for her to keep reading things into normal coworker interactions like meetings etc, then walk away or change the subject to something work related.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Just to echo this from CCC, because it really and truly is extremely weird that she has this fixation, coupled with the inability to accurately read a situation. Really, truly weird.

    4. LCH*

      “why are you so obsessed with me?” like.. why are you always imagining me having sex with other people? make it weird.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Yes, make it as weird as possible. If your boss is not the same person as her boss, be sure he/she knows this is going on and you’re very uncomfortable with it.
        Is there a way you could completely get away from her and not have to work with her at all? Maybe your boss would help?
        I would probably have gone nuclear by now. So gross!

      2. TootsNYC*

        “There you go again!”

        Make the conversation be about her obsession, and how amusing/ridiculous she is. Some gentle ridicule, and an insistence on making everyone notice how often she does it.

    5. Close Bracket*

      Go in the other direction. “Fergus and I actually eloped last weekend.” Be as over the top as possible without making it weird for Fergus or whoever. Make it a game.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        Find a Fergus who is as fed up with it as you are and coordinate with him. Spend some time getting the story together. Then have fun with it!

      2. Perse's Mom*

        Speaking of weird and over the top… idea from an old letter – bring in a framed photo of an anime character and gush over the new boyfriend and how perfect he is!

      3. Anna*

        I was going to suggest that. Lean into it, so to speak, and lean into it so hard that she falls over. There is not even a need to coordinate stories, just make yours so over the top that it’s obviously untrue.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I would assume they just assume you’re nice and available, so therefore they’re projecting their match-making spidey senses on you, nothing you’re doing is causing this.

    “Oh pretty young unattached girl, let’s get her with Michael in accounting, he’s the same age and she’s never punched him in the face at the coffee maker so they’re a match made in heaven!!”

    Just continue to say “No, I’m not interested in dating a colleague” or whatever other line you feel comfortable with if they say things to you. You do not ever need to disclose your sexual orientation while doing this unless you want to.

    1. JSPA*

      I’d bump that up to, “I’d never date a colleague” and throw in, “I don’t even like to joke about dating in the workplace” and “if you think I’m feeling flirty every time I’m nice, you’ll force me to be a crabby jerk all day.”

      1. OP*

        LOL! OP here, I like the idea of just slipping “I’d never date a colleague” into conversation. I’ll definitely do that, especially around the two who were trying to set me up. :) I might keep the crabby jerk thing to myself unless they do it again, but that’s definitely how I feel! Thanks a bunch.

        1. JSPA*

          So much better to say it soon, instead of starting to do it, sooner or later. Makes life very drab.

        2. Perse's Mom*

          You know, I bet the commenters here have a thousand different stories about how dating in the workplace went bad. “I don’t date coworkers as a rule. I’ve heard too many horror stories from my friends and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take, for my career OR my health.”

    2. Artemesia*

      ‘oh, I would never data anyone at work’. and ‘I never mix my professional and dating life’. Push back hard on anyone trying to set you up so that this message filters out in the gossip. Sometimes, ‘Oh I am seeing someone, but I never mix professional and dating life anyway’ helps — but then you start getting pressure from some people to talk about your ‘boyfriend’ etc etc. Better to draw the line clearly at any hint of matchmaking or any overture from a guy you work with. I used to get this at conferences all the time. I was married and I am not a cute or flirtatious person (although I was attractive as a young woman — but never bubbly or cute); it was just being an intelligent engaged and fairly energetic professional in a mostly male environment. I often mistook personal interest for professional interest and it got me into awkward situations a few times when I missed the signs that it was not going in the direction of exploring data.

    3. Connie*

      Yeah, I don’t necessarily think they think she is flirting. It’s just that warm friendly people are the kind of people you want to ask on a date.

      It’s very likely she’s not flirting or giving off flirting vibes, they just like her in general and want to get to know her better romantically.

  9. MM55*

    From a heterosexual male’s perspective, I can tell you that ANY attention by an attractive woman will often be misconstrued as attraction. It took me 50 years to verbalize this. The attention feeds our egos and men find women in their 20’s as the ideal mate, regardless of other attributes. I feel for you, if you change your behavior, you’ll be labeled as cold and if you continue to be bubbly, you’ll be labeled as a tease. By men and women. One piece of advice – say ‘No’ firmly and without apologizing when asked out. Men’s reaction to their advances being rejected are theirs to deal with, not yours at all. I hope this helped.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I want to push back on the “you’ll be labeled a tease” piece of this. In a reasonably healthy office, where someone is warm and friendly to both men and women, I don’t think she needs to worry about getting labeled a tease (other than perhaps by someone with real issues).

      (But I agree she’ll need to deal with some men misinterpreting it, as has been happening. That’s on them though.)

      1. jb*

        This is the problem with use of the passive voice.

        “You’ll be labeled a tease.” By who? Everyone? Influential people? Certain asshats? People she doesn’t need to worry about offending? Depends on the field and context. Certainly some people will, and she should be prepared for that, but the question of how much is elided by excluding who will be doing it.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Literally someone runs up to you with a labelmaker and sticks it on your forehead.

          1. The Phleb*

            Thank you for clarifying that, Commander! Been wondering what was up with all the sticky crap on my forehead! ;)

          2. Lena Clare*

            hahahahahaha thank you for breaking the tension with this v good joke, I was ready to explode at the comment but the grrr-ness is now dissipated. Ta.

          1. Cup of Ambition*

            Agree. I think MM55 is pointing out a commonly acknowledged element of the sexism in our society.

          2. Busy*

            That is how I took it as well. Which is basically just summing up what is written above. Like you can try x,y, and z, but its probably out of your hands.

            And with OP, it probably is if she is getting this so much at the place she works. I have worked in some hellmouths myself, and that is where I have seen this happen frequently. Other places that were healthier is male/female interactions, this never happened. No one was confused by the behavior of young bubbly interns.

            (keep in mind I live in a very “traditional” community where the 1970s still exist)

      2. Hotstreak*

        “That’s on them though”. Disagree. This has been happening her entire life. She has failed to recognize the results of her actions, and continues to act flirtatiously even though she “doesn’t mean to”.

        If a small group of people misinterpreted her, that is on them. If many misinterpret her, she bears some responsibility in that. She is ALSO in the best position to rectify the situation, by bringing her flirty behavior more in line with normal professional standards.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          What you wrote here is disgusting.

          It’s widely understood that women, especially young women, are routinely hit on by men despite doing nothing to signal interest. That’s not on her, that’s on them.

          Rethink what you’re saying here.

          1. Hotstreak*

            Men pursue women, this is normal human behavior. If you mean to suggest that men should cease their normal behaviors and stop flirting with/pursuing women, I think that is misguided (and to the detriment of both men and women).

            If this one woman is experiencing an outsized negative impact from this normal behavior, it is fair to ask “what are the causes” and to then ask “among those causes, which are within her control to change”.

            I think you will find that most of how you are treated is dictated by how you act around others. We are all responsible for our personal behaviors and liable for the consequences of those behaviors, especially once we are aware of those consequences, as OP now is. She did not write about boorish coworkers who perceive interest from everyone in the office. She wrote about how they specifically show interest in her, and how she has experienced this her whole life.

            At a point you must realize that “it’s not all you, part of this is maybe on me. What can I do to make it better for myself”.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Have you read the other comments here? What’s she’s experiencing is incredibly common, not outsized.

              Please stop — blaming women for people hitting on them at work is not okay, period.

            2. Perse's Mom*

              This is a very short step away from asking a rape victim what she was wearing or if she’d been drinking.

              Rethink your life choices.

            3. Emma*

              So when men “pursue” women who have already been explicitly clear that they are not interested, it’s “natural human behavior”, and it’s “misguided” and “detrimental to both men and women” to suggest that men should alter their behaviour.

              But when women are being friendly and trying to build positive professional relationships with our coworkers – and this is the most generous possible interpretation of your comment, because I could easily substitute “when women exist at work while being young and/or conventionally attractive and choose not to be jerks to everyone around us” – then suddenly “We are all responsible for our personal behaviors and liable for the consequences of those behaviors”.

              Your sexist double standards are showing. Let’s try this instead: women are allowed to engage in the natural human behaviour of socialising, and preventing that is detrimental to the work environment. Men are responsible for their own actions towards women, including maintaining appropriate professional boundaries at work, and if their failure to do so causes friction and conflict then they are liable for the consequences of their actions.

            4. restingbutchface*

              Fixed your comment for you. I hope OP’s co-workers think like you too!

              Men pursue women, at least this is what we are socialised to think is normal human behavior. If you mean to suggest that women should cease normal behaviors like trying to get some damn work done and stop being flirted with/being pursued by men, I think that is misguided (and to the detriment of men and women’s careers).

              If this one man is experiencing an outsized negative impact from not being able to get with the hot girl from Accounts, it is fair to ask “what are the causes” and to then ask “among those causes, which are within his control to change”.

              I think you will find that most of how you are treated is dictated by how you act around others. We are all responsible for our personal behaviors and liable for the consequences of those behaviors, especially once we are aware of those consequences, as OP’s fans should be made aware of by HR.

              She did not write about boorish coworkers who perceive interest from everyone in the office. She wrote about how they specifically show interest in her, over and over, which is actually harder to deal with and how she has experienced this her WHOLE DAMN life.

              At a point they must realize that “it’s not all about the hot girl from Accounts playing coy, part of this is maybe on me. What can I do to better myself”.

            5. Bagpuss*

              Hotstreak,
              ‘Normality’ is about learned behaviours. Human beings are adaptable, we can learn new behaviours. What’s normal in one socety or era is not necessarily going to be seen as normal in others.

              Indded, if you go back far enough, it was ‘known’ and ‘normal’ that women were ntuarally sexuallay voracious and couldn’t really control themselves, and men were the ones who could, and should, ensure that things dodn’t go to far.

              And if you mean ‘natural’ rather than ‘normal’, well, living in a cave and dying young of preventable diseases is natural, too. So what?

            6. iglwif*

              … yeah, no.

              Sometimes there is *literally nothing* a woman can do to make dudes stop hitting on her. She can wear grubby runners and sweats, she can “dress butch”, she can go days without showering, she can wear a wedding ring and have photos of her spouse on her desk, she can be ELEVEN YEARS OLD and walking home from middle school, and there are some dudes who will still think she’s into them just because she’s there in their field of view, existing.

              The problem here is not women behaving flirtatiously, it’s men behaving like they’re entitled to women’s attention and women’s bodies.

            7. many bells down*

              I must be suuuuper flirtatious when I play Words With Friends, then as I am hit on there all the time. I had no idea spelling “qi” was such flirtatious behavior.

            8. RVA Cat*

              Funny how the dudebro making an ass of himself isn’t taking his own advice when literally everyone herecalls him out.

        1. A.N. O'Nyme*

          Yep. Sometimes refusing to date someone ends up making you into a whore.
          Still don’t understand the logic behind that one.

          1. Artemesia*

            I remember a UN official who was deeply offended that some woman wouldn’t go out with him because she had dated another guy at the UN and why am ‘I not good enough.’ She was a whore because she dated some people and thus he was entitled to ‘have her’. Lots of guys really look at women as commodities and if they aren’t nuns or married then why don’t they get their fair share of her.

            1. Doc in a Box*

              My mom tells a work story about a visiting diplomat (not at the UN, but another international agency physically located in the US) who mistook a couple of women standing outside the office on an evening smoke break as sex workers. I forget where he was from, but wherever it was, women + cigarettes = prostitutes. Even if they were wearing a suit. It must have been super awkward for whoever his handler was….

              1. Rocky*

                When Melbourne first banned smoking in offices, I remember hearing of a visiting European businessman who came away with the same impression. In his defence, it was the mid-90’s, when Ally McBeal had made micro-minis suddenly fashionable.

            2. Batgirl*

              I particularly like the “I am a more successful man than x” dude.
              He is so droll. He honestly believes that because he had a good quarter you must come quietly now.

            3. Pomona Sprout*

              “Lots of guys really look at women as commodities and if they aren’t nuns or married then why don’t they get their fair share of her.”

              Yep, lots of guys are sick f*cks. *weary sigh*

              I’m too old to have to worry about this crap, but my daughter isn’t, and I hate knowing there are so many men like that in the world.

          2. TinLizi*

            I can’t remember the exact quote, but something like: “tease is insulting us for saying no. Whore is insulting us for saying yes. B***h is insulting us for standing up for ourselves.”

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

              I especially love the ones that think that women that say yes are whores, but then complain that women aren’t falling all over themselves to sleep with men.

              SMDH

        2. AnonEMoose*

          It’s amazing and scary how quickly some men can go from “You’re so beautiful” to “[SLUR/INSULT] – I’d never touch you anyway!”

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Don’tcha know that failing to immediately fall at their feet is a grave insult to their manhood?

            (And then they get mad about #MasculinitySoFragile)

          2. CommanderBanana*

            Rebecca Solnit wrote a great essay about this – I don’t know if I can link here but if you Google Rebecca Solnit The Longest War she talks about it. These lines about men attacking woman for not being sexually available to them are really good:

            “Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed. The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.”

            1. JJ Bittenbinder*

              This is sobering, coming on the heels of the story of Emmanuel Arranda, who threw a 5-year-old child over the balcony at the Mall of America, because—as he told the police—he was tired of being repeatedly rejected by women.

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  I’ve seen reports saying that he said that’s why he did it. And yes, it is disgusting.

            2. Pomona Sprout*

              It’s included in her book, “Men Explain Things to Me” (along with a bunch of other interestingessays).

          3. Doc in a Box*

            I stopped online dating after a guy on OK Cupid did this to me. He sent a couple normal-seeming messages, but when I declined a date at his designated place/time and offered an alternative, his next message was a string of cursewords and a racial slur. I really dodged a bullet in that we hadn’t met and he didn’t have my real name or number, but I refuse to use online dating services because it freaked me out to a much greater degree than the daily random catcalls ever did.

        3. Jessen*

          I’ve been called worse by men at the bus stop I’ve refused to date. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “existing in public while read as female.”

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Hey, I’m glad after 50 years you were able to recognize this dynamic! Now that you have recognized it, I’m sure you’re doing your part to help other men not make these kind of presumptions, right? And also to not be bitter and angry when a woman firmly tells them “No” as you advise?

    3. PersephoneUnderground*

      Thank you so much for actually posting something supportive here, acknowledging the problem! We need more allies like you- ideally, men who will correct other men when they see this kind of thing so it’s not all “on” women to somehow fix or deal with.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        And I’m not going to nitpick about what else should have been posted, just being a supportive and listening voice is great, or at least a great start. You made the post about the OP, not about you! That’s a good thing! (And yes, I know this shouldn’t be extra ordinary but it’s worth encouraging. It’s hard to acknowledge being/having been part of the problem sometimes- doing that can start great, productive conversations.)

    4. pcake*

      When I was younger – and well into my 40s, btw – making eye contact was enough to make guys at work or not think you must be trying to strike up a flirtation. It used to drive me crazy. I’m an outgoing person, but at one point I kept my eyes down when I didn’t want to have to reject another guy’s annoying flirtation or asking me out. Because I’m talking about accidentally catching some guy’s eyes for a quarter of a second while shopping at the store.

      As far as women trying to set the OP up? Happens all the time, regardless of anything. A lot of people just seem to like m