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.


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?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 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.

          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*


                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.

            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*

              ‘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.


        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 matchmaking, and in my experience they’ll do it regardless of whether you’re bubbly and outgoing or just work friendly.

    5. Connie*

      I’ve never seen a woman actually called a tease, but I’ve seen people say a flirty woman is leading a guy on, etc.

      I haven’t seen a woman whose warm and friendly but not flirty have this problem, at least not from other women. I doubt I’d hear the men say it even if they thought it.

      (I want to make clear i don’t think asking a person out is the same thing. That’s not derogatory. It happens to flirty and just friendly women, and I don’t see anything wrong with it if the guy back off if the woman says no.)

  10. Sarah*

    I don’t know you, OP, so it’s possible your professional demeanor IS off somehow. But based only on my experience of dealing with dudes in the office for 20 years… there’s a 95% chance that the weirdness is them, not you.
    One example: I gave a presentation to a room of 100 executives and was hit on afterward by the highest-up dude in the room because of “the obvious connection we had.” We had literally not had any interaction other than my occasionally making eye contact as I talked through my slides. Which were one thousand percent about business.
    Dudes can be exhausting. I’m sorry. I hope you don’t stop being yourself because some guys are dumb.

    1. JSPA*

      That feels more predatory than the standard level of self-delusion, somehow, but I guess it could be both.

      1. Blue*

        Strongly suspect it’s both, unfortunately. Just the thought of this makes me physically uncomfortable, ugh.

    2. No Mas Pantalones*

      Paraphrasing Margaret Atwood:
      Men are afraid women will laugh at them.
      Women are afraid men will kill them.

    3. Michaela Westen*

      Poor guy is so lonely and isolated a little eye contact makes him think there’s a connection.
      In hindsight I think there’s a lot of men like this (my boss). They fake confidence, but they’re so needy and lonely and emotionally messed up, any little thing gets to them.
      It doesn’t change the way to handle it, but maybe recognizing when they seem to be this way can help manage it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think many men have come to believe that the only validation that really matters is from women. And so they value it inordinately.

      2. VictorianCowgirl*

        “Poor guy” nothing. I think it’s really dangerous to excuse that kind of behavior by appealing to empathy, the single highest ruse used against women.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          No, I’m not saying to give benefit of doubt. For someone to be that needy, especially someone who is otherwise successful, is a huge red flag. I’m saying understanding it can inform how to manage it.
          For example, if you need to turn him down without antagonizing him, use a little sympathy…

          My boss is like that. If you don’t know him well he seems to be successful and on top of things. Underneath is a mess of emotional immaturity, neediness, and denial/phoniness/conformity. The thought of a close personal relationship with him is terrifying.

          1. Kettles*

            The majority of guys who do this do it because it works. “Oh, he just has poor social skills!” No. In my experience guys like that pretend to be clueless in order to get your sympathy in the hope that you’ll throw them a pity bone. And they get really ANGRY when you spot what they’re up to.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              That’s a different thing than what I’m talking about. These men have good social skills and appear to be competent in life. They’ve never addressed their emotional health, instead they cover and pretend to be ok, competent, mature… when they’re not. They’re covering immaturity and neediness that has never been resolved, and a little bit of routine attention from a woman can send them into a tailspin.

              The point I was originally trying to make is I think men like these are much more common than I ever realized when I was young. It would explain a lot.

    4. Free Meerkats*

      To quote RetiredBoss to his daughter as she was approaching puberty, “All men are pigs. Some of hide it better than others, but we’re all pigs.” #notallmen, my fuzzy butt; we’re all pigs at the core.

      1. some dude*

        Counterpoint: I read an article by a transman who had did the gender confirmation process as an adult, and he wrote about the experience of testosterone therapy and how his libido was out of control and all he could think about was sex. There is a lot of misogyny and sexism in how men in our culture treat women, and men can and should control how their sexuality is expressed and who they try to share it with, but testosterone is a helluva drug. Anecdotally, from talking to my female friends and comparing the sex lives of my gay and lesbian friends, I don’t think females experience anything like what a 14-16 year old male goes through in puberty. more than “men are pigs” I think males are just generally wired to think about sex more than females, to have somewhat more ravenous sexual appetites than females in general, and to look to express it differently than women. Some of which is socialized, but i think some of it is inherent. none of which absolves men from behaving like decent human beings and exercising good judgement, but I personally think that as a man, understanding that you are probably wired to be randy is important to figuring out how to navigate relationships, how to reign in inappropriate impulses and desires, and how to find safe and healthy outlets for them.

        1. JSPA*

          1. It’s really bad reasoning to think that 14 year old girls don’t get so horny we can’t see straight, just because we don’t (by and large) act out as badly.

          2. frankly, we’re not talking about 14 to 16 year olds. They get cut considerable slack, by the law and by society.

          If adult males in positions of power were literally that drugged by their own testosterone, they’d not be fit to operate a lawnmower unsupervised, let alone lead multinational companies. Can’t have it both ways.

          1. TootsNYC*

            they’d not be fit to operate a lawnmower unsupervised, let alone lead multinational companies. Can’t have it both ways.

            Maybe they aren’t! ;)

          2. some dude*

            To be clear, I’m not saying “We just can’t help it!” Or that the fact that we may or may not be randier than females means we just can’t stop exposing ourselves and hitting on colleagues and raping and pillaging, or that it is all women’s fault for exciting us. And maybe men and women are equally randy, but from what I have read and seen, it is in general felt and expressed differently. But even if male and female sexuality is totally the same, i think it is still important for young men to realize that yes, you are randy, but your randiness is your issue and not something you subject on other people unless they are consenting adults, and there is a time and a place to express and explore your randiness and it is not with the cute lady who just started working with you and laughed at one of your jokes or the bartender whose job it is to be nice to you or whomever.

            1. So she darkled in the corner.*

              Of course it’s expressed differently.
              I’ve yet to find the man with a larger sexual attitude than mine. But at 14? When you get the kind of sex drive society tells you is abnormal for your gender, you tell no one. You live in fear that you’ll end up being slut shamed. You never outgrow that control, or that fear.

            2. anon today and tomorrow*

              Women are definitely just as horny as men. When I was a teenager my female friends and I couldn’t stop talking about sex.

              The difference is that women are told by society that if they even think about sex as much as men do, they’re sluts.

              I think men and women are probably fairly even when it comes to horniness, but women are told to hide that and never talk about it while for men it’s normalized. There’s a reason why so many women into adulthood still feel shame talking about sex or articulating their needs in the bedroom. It’s because we’ve spent years being told it’s not proper to talk about and that it’s bad for us to have sexual desires.

              1. JM60*

                I’m sure that slut shaming is a factor, but every objective measure I’ve seen indicates a large difference on average. My own experience in the gay community is that many gay/bi men are deeply closeted, but very promiscuous. If social acceptance were the main factor, closeted gay men would probably be less promiscuous than straight men. Yet, gay men, on average, tend to be more promiscuous than straight men. Granted, there may be more factors (in fact, many have suggested that lack of social acceptance indirectly causes more promiscuity among gay men).

            3. Bagpuss*

              I think the ‘it’s expressed diferently’ is the key.

              Womnen who like sex are labelled sluts, and it is portrayed aa a negative thing
              Men who like sex are labelledas studs, and it is portrayed as positive

              Men learn it’s OK to feel horny, and that having lots of sex is normal and acceptable.
              Women are taught that nice girls don’t do that.

              And that’s before you even get on to the fact that sex is far more risky for women. Those hornny 14 year old boys don’t have to worry about getting pregnant, for a start.

              Ithink a lot of it comes down to the fact that it is seen are far more socially acceptable for men to want sex, so natuarally they are much more comfortable being open about that.

              There is also a massive double-standard about how boys and girls (and men and women) behave. Girls and women are expected to control themselves, and motly, they do, becuase they learn that they are responsibkle for doing so.

              The same expectations are not imposed on boys and men, indeed to a huge extent girls and women are expetected to manage their male ocunterparts behaviour – look at how many schools penelise girls for wearing ‘revealing’ or ‘distracting’ clothes, rather than expecing boys to learn to manage their feelings and behaviour.

          3. VictorianCowgirl*

            For real, I am a woman who at 14 could think of nothing but sex. I was too afraid to do it though.

            1. many bells down*

              I knew (somehow) that thinking about sex was “bad”, so instead I used to daydream that I was horseback riding. A lot.

        2. TootsNYC*

          as a man, understanding that you are probably wired to be randy is important to figuring out how to navigate relationships, how to reign in inappropriate impulses and desires, and how to find safe and healthy outlets for them.

          This is interesting.

          I remember saying to my “not enough sleep” elementary-school daughter:
          “You didn’t get a good night’s sleep. You are exhausted. So today at school, when you get upset about something, remember that the intensity of your reaction is going to be made MUCH worse by your tiredness.
          “Sure, maybe the reason you’re upset is valid, but you are going to be SO likely to overreact because of your exhaustion.”

        3. Kettles*

          Women are just as sexually charged as men. We just don’t talk about it as much. And certain types of evo psych dudes will use this as an excuse to assume all women see sex as a chore and a transaction and as something men have to wrangle out of women. It explains a lot of rape culture.

  11. Alexander Graham Yell*

    OP, I hate this for you, and I have completely been there. In my case, it is literally 10 years later and the dude who thought I was into him is still trying to talk to me on FB/IG/LinkedIn and when I don’t respond right away I get, “What, I’m divorced now, it’s not like I’m cheating!” (Yes, he’s now blocked.) I literally only ever talked to him when I needed help for one of my customers because he was their dedicated person in his department.

    What I did was make a point to pull back the friendliness *only from people who misinterpreted it*. If I started to get the sense that maybe somebody was starting to get ideas about me that I didn’t share, I’d pull way back. I’d still be cheerful, but less engaging. Conversations would shift to be completely work-focused, and instead of talking to them in person I might just shoot them an IM. People who could treat me with respect still got (and still get!) 100% of my perky, bubbly, happy, funny self.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Yep. Pretty sure we could hazard a guess at what broke up his marriage, huh?

        Also, OP, if people *do* get to the point where they’re setting you up, I’ve had a lot of luck with, “Oh, that’s really sweet, but I actually like to keep my work life and my romantic life pretty separate! Thanks, though!” (Note, it is NOT sweet, is IS irritating, but out of all the things I tried, this was the only response that got me left alone without making waves. Unfortunately, while you’re building a reputation at work even the most common sense, nicely-phrased honesty can piss people off and so I played the game for a few years until I had enough social and professional capital to use, “Wow, you’re making this kind of weird,” and have people come down more on my side than on the dude’s.)

      2. Jessen*

        Sometimes you want to reply “the fact that you were married was only the 10th reason on my list why I didn’t want to date you.”

    1. Artemesia*

      I don’t understand. If he is available then aren’t you 100% required to offer yourself up to him? What is wrong with you?

    2. Less Bread More Taxes*

      This is my tactic as well. There’s one creeper who sits behind me. He tries to rope me into conversation constantly and he’s met with a “Can’t chat, I’ve got loads on my plate!” while the others in the office get some back and forth from me.

  12. irene adler*

    Wear a wedding ring.

    Really, this should not be something you should have to deal with. Except you are having to deal with it-which sucks.

    Find a way to get the message across- “I don’t date coworkers” -to those intent upon ‘fixing you up’ with some of the men in the office. . Maybe there are some women co-workers there who can deliver this message on your behalf?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I shivered a bit at “wear a ring” because I know in the service industry, you do that as well to keep customers from hitting on you so much. However it also can damage your tips because some people who feel you’re unavailable suddenly aren’t as generous, voooooomit vomit vomit all over myself going down that rabbit hole.

      I’m not saying don’t do it because by all means it is known to work!

      1. Lepidoptera*

        I stopped wearing my ring set when serving because I was the fastest at washing glassware and thus always got assigned the bar…cue finger rot. Can’t believe how many guys called me out on it. Dude, I’m not “pulling one over” on you by not wearing my jewelry, I’m trying to not get skin infections.

        1. Workerbee*

          “No infection from the ring, and no infection from YOU, bud,” is something I would be terribly tempted to say and would most likely not.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s bad for your hands and it’s bad for your jewelry to be submerged in dish water. Jeez men are clueless AF, they clearly never checked out how much a wedding set costs, shocking/not-at-all-shocking.

        3. Spelled With a C*

          My dad has never worn a ring in the 30+ years my parents have been married simply because he is Not a Jewelry Person. As far as I know, he has never been accused of “tricking” anybody. My mom is content in the fact that he knows he is married and acts accordingly.

    2. Kitty*

      “I don’t date coworkers” is a really good message if you can get it across to enough people. Hopefully then you won’t have to adjust your personality and/or come out at work when you don’t want to.

    3. Lemonwhirl*

      Absolutely for casually moving through the wider world – a wedding ring is a pretty good shield. I’ve done that exact thing when I was traveling alone abroad when I was 21. I can also see doing something like that if I had been a waitress or barista and had a lot of low-level chatting with customers who might misconstrue any kind of friendliness.

      But I can’t see doing wearing a wedding ring while unmarried in an office setting – it seems like it has the potential to open a whole can of worms and more questions based on faulty assumptions.

      1. Married Lesbian*

        I wear a wedding ring (because I’m married…) and still get hit on by men just as much as when I didn’t.

        1. Hermione Weasley*

          Me too… unfortunately. The same men who are interpreting every warm and kind interaction as romantic interest are the ones who don’t care much about boundaries like, say, marriage.

        2. DivineMissL*

          I was once asked out (not by a co-worker, but a vendor I dealt with), and even though I was annoyed that he had misconstrued my friendly business tone with interest, I politely said, “Oh, that’s sweet, but I’m married.” Then he got irritated with ME because my sapphire-and-diamond wedding band didn’t look enough like a traditional wedding band TO HIM.

          1. many bells down*

            For my first marriage I had a sterling silver band with hieroglyphics on it and I was repeatedly told that it wasn’t a “real” wedding ring so therefore it (the ring? my marriage?) didn’t “count.”

            I got diamonds for my second marriage.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Yeah, I can see a version of this where nosy coworkers try to ask you all about your spouse, and oh gee, why don’t you invite them to the Christmas party, and then you have to spin a wild web of lies about a non-existent marriage. I’ve worn fake wedding and engagement rings out to clubs and stuff, but I don’t think I’d recommend it for work.

        1. ket*

          It actually could be a good conversation starter. “Oh, I see your ring — what’s your spouse do?” “Actually it’s a fake ring that I wear to ward off obnoxious attention!” This is a win-win.

          1. Princesa Zelda*

            I had a coworker who did that! I didn’t know her well, and when she transferred into my department I asked her about her spouse, and that was almost word-for-word what she said. I think we just stood there laughing for a solid 5 minutes, because it’s such a good idea! Within a week three other women in our department had rings to slip on when on the sales floor.

    4. irene adler*

      I wrote that wedding ring comment with a heavy bit of sarcasm.

      Short of using a cattle prod to get the point across, there’s times when you just cannot dissuade some folks that you are merely being friendly, and you had no intent to be flirty.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Isn’t it sad that this is an actual strategy folks have had to use? (I had a ring on my left ring-finger throughout my 20s that was not a wedding ring, but it did a great job in minimizing/dissuading harassment from dudes.)

        1. irene adler*

          If cell phones weren’t so prevalent, I’d suggest asking a male friend/relative call her at work every so often. Have him say he’s OP’s hubby or boyfriend. That can also get folks to back off, as they realize she’s “taken”.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        In a world where being literally gay isn’t enough.

        One of my best friends works in landscape gardening and is overtly, unmistakably a lesbian. She’s also friendly and young-ish, so she STILL gets dudes trying to hit on her even after she’s told them she’s gay. It’s like they have selective hearing or something.

        1. M-C*

          I regret to say that even fat old lesbians still get hit on, even when they know very well you’re gay not just from your sensible shoes but from seeing you holding hands with your girlfriend. Some creeps just like a challenge..

    5. wittyrepartee*

      I had this thought too. Or send yourself flowers at work and be like “oh, it’s from my special someone!” and answer no more questions. I’ve done this kind of thing in one-off situations, referred to my boyfriend/partner as my husband when being chatted up at a bar, but… if you do this at work do you inevitably get sucked into a strange situation where you’re making up details about your “partner in Canada”?

    6. CommanderBanana*

      I actually do wear a wedding set and I’m not married – I really think it helps! The only downside is it’s weird when someone asks me about my husband and I’m….I’m not actually married. It was less weird when I was in a long-term partnership with someone but I’m single again.

    7. Environmental Compliance*

      That really doesn’t work as much as people think it does.

      I was actually engaged. Not a ring worn to ‘look’ not single, but really truly 2 months out from my wedding. I talked to my coworker I shared a desk space with about wedding planning on a somewhat regular basis – she was from the area and we’d talk caterers, etc. My boss at the time came over to tell me congratulations when the question was asked, and closer to would occasionally ask about dates to confirm when I’d be off work (he also gave me a couple extra days paid, so that was nice of him).

      Guy on the other side of me, after spending the entire summer half-assedly hitting on me, and being politely rejected every time, finally figured out that I was getting married about a month before the wedding….because he got pushy enough with it that I finally looped in his manager to ask them to step in and remind him of workplace appropriate behavior, because obviously me flatly telling him I wasn’t interested and did not want to talk about the topic again wasn’t enough. His response was that “but it’s just a ring, who knows if it’s even real or means anything!!”

      Some people’s pictures are next to the word “oblivious” in the dictionary. Some are next to “uncaring”.

      1. many bells down*

        At a previous teaching job, one of my 6th grade students had an older brother of about 19-20 who would sometimes pick her up from school. And hit on me. Repeatedly. I was 33, I wore a ring, I frequently mentioned my engagement and wedding planning, and I rejected his invitations over and over and over.

        Finally, he showed up on a day when I was out sick. According to my substitute teacher, he was dressed in a suit, reeking of cologne, and carrying flowers. He flipped out and started yelling at her when she told him I wasn’t there. I don’t know what she said or did, but he never came to the school again after that.

  13. AnonEMoose*

    I am 99% sure, OP, that this is not about you. I’ve read (and tend to believe) that men tend to overestimate women’s interest in them, and women tend to underestimate men’s interest. And my experience tends to bear this out.

    Please do not undermine yourself by putting your own behavior under some kind of microscope. If these are things you do, maybe do avoid touching your coworkers, and make sure you’re maintaining personal space. Other than that, I wouldn’t worry about it, and would simply continue firmly and politely turning down any requests for dates and so on.

    Also beware of the “stealth date” gambit. Invitations to lunch or coffee…ask things like “Oh, is everyone going?” Or suggest “we should invite Fergus, so we can talk about Project X.”

    This sucks, OP, and I’m sorry you have to deal with it. Unfortunately, it is a thing a lot of young women (in particular) have to deal with. It’s gross, but…there it is.

      1. Anon Anon Anon*

        Stealth dates. So incredibly irritating. And what’s worse is that their very existence taints anything else that could possibly resemble a stealth date, like platonically hanging out with someone of the gender(s) you might be interested in. End stealth dates! Save friendship!

        I conclude that it’s our own responsibility to be straight-forward about our feelings and intentions. It’s not a date unless you knew it was a date and signed up for that. If you find out later, that’s just a person being shady, not your problem. Walk away and block their phone number!

        1. PhyllisB*

          I ended up being part of a stealth date. I knew it was a blind date; my partner did not. ( We have now been married almost 43 years. I didn’t realize all this until we were engaged. If I had known he was being blind-sided I would never have agreed to it. So, I guess it’s good I didn’t know!! Of course, this was not a work set-up, just had to comment on stealth dates. :-)

          1. Anon Anon Anon*

            That sounds pretty harmless. For me, the problem kind of stealth date is when there’s intentional manipulation for some kind of personal gain. When someone makes it seem like they want to hang out platonically but then you end up at a restaurant where they know people and they’re showing you off and acting as if you’re a couple. Or you find out later that they were bragging to their friends about dating you.

            I can see, for example, asking an attractive guy to fix a leaky faucet because I think he’s hot and I want to talk to him. I don’t think that would be a stealth date. More like a date pre-cursor – spending time with a person you think you like. I don’t know if your story was similar to that. Just giving another kind of example.

    1. JSPA*

      Yep, be the inclusivity-driver. Because you want to spread it around, so you’re not always adding the same third. Learning experience for the intern, one day. Wonder out loud if the financial people ever talk to the design team directly, and rope them both in. You don’t always have to go as a three-or-more-some. Just often enough that someone who’s trying to read into the situation will feel stymied, and either back off, or explicitly make a “just the two of us” statement, so you can say, “why?” and let him either back off, or make his intentions clear (so you can puncture them, if they’re romantic).

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I wish I had known all these things when I was younger. The number of “steal dates” I’ve ended up on is frustrating (if you ask me to a coffee to discuss a project, I’m going to want to discuss the project!). But I agree that there’s a 99.9% chance that OP has done nothing inappropriate or flirtatious.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        I didn’t even know that was a “gambit,” I just thought I was too stupid and naive to figure out it was a date.
        Multiple times.

    1. another Hero*

      I’m asexual and I’ve asked friends how to tell the difference between banter and flirting and uh……..they don’t know either lol. I’m so confident that OP is being super normal and everyone else in this situation is reading into it because she’s nice.

    2. iglwif*

      That makes me feel a lot better, honestly, because I am *terrible* at detecting flirting until it gets really, really, really gross. (I have been married for 20+ years and am also on the ace spectrum, and I could not possibly be less interested in other sexual or romantic relationships. I cannot tell you how many times I have discovered myself to be in a gross situation because I thought someone was being friendly and he was in fact trying to pick me up. Weirdly this does not seem to happen to me with women though… hmmmm)

  14. Peggy Olsen*

    I’m a young woman and I get this ALL the time. For example, I volunteer as a mentor for high school students and I’ve had to firmly reject one because he thought I was flirting with him. My behavior is not at all flirty, just friendly, but some combination of wishful thinking and arrogance makes some guys think that friendly automatically equals romantic interest. Some people have a hard time telling the difference. I don’t really have any advice for you since I’m still dealing with the same issue, but just wanted to commiserate and tell you that it’s likely not anything you’re doing.

  15. Michaela T*

    OP – I sympathize. I am heard of hearing and tend really focus on peoples’ faces and lips when they talk, which many people take as flirtation. This was especially a problem when I was your age (and before I got cochlear implants and my disability became “visible”). As Alison said, you may be doing something like I do that’s feeding in to this or you may not.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      So, some fairly typical looking (read: not obviously mentally ill or under the influence) dude on a subway car started telling me off this morning because I was “staring at him”. I… I honestly was just looking around. I had my headphones in so it took me until half way through his speech for me to realize that he was talking/talking to me. Not flirtation, but he clearly thought I was paying a lot of attention to him instead of commuting to work and thinking about the dishes. Anyway, then everyone in the car was staring at him, then me. I crossed my legs and kept listening to my podcast and wondered if I’d done anything in particular make him feel stared at, because I was just living my life.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I was on two trains this morning and both had people yelling. One was a man telling someone off – I was at the other end of the car so I couldn’t see more. The other was a woman not in her right mind, who seemed to think she was singing along at a concert.
        It was that kind of morning.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          Hah! Guess it was. He wasn’t quite yelling, but you didn’t happen to be on the G did you?

  16. SDSmith82*

    I used to have this happen far too often when I was younger. So much so that it tainted me into killing my “bubbles” and making me “harder” work place wise. Even as I get older some clients tend to take kindness/client courtesy the wrong way.

    I’ve been treated inappropriately enough that I learned to stand up for myself when it happens, and to know when I needed to get upper management involved (when it was clients vs employees).

    Is it fair that we have to deal with this nonsense by going against our own personalities? No. Not at all. But know you aren’t alone.

  17. Aiani*

    This is one of those things that happens so much and it sucks. You have my sympathies OP. I remember a co-worker I used to have who very deliberately chose a haircut and overall presentation that a lot of people would read as lesbian because she is indeed a lesbian. She once said to me, “Aiani, why do these men come onto me? Do they think this haircut is an accident?”

    People often just see what they want to see. I agree with everyone saying this is probably not a you problem and the most you can probably do is keep turning people down if they ask you out or try to set you up.

      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        A lot of people tend to think that lesbians all look like Cameron Esposito or Hannah Gadsby. The idea of a lipstick lesbian is beyond their understanding (or, to men, proof that they’re not lesbians – why else would they be all feminine?).

        1. Important Moi*

          I had to look up the 2 ladies you listed.

          There are a few comments here suggesting that extreme short hair on a woman is indicative of being a lesbian. It is not. Nor is it a problem to be a lesbian.

          As you can see this touched a nerve. I just don’t know how to articulate it.

          1. Polaris*

            I am part of a large queer community where I live, and there are definitely haircuts (especially undercuts) and clothing styles that will get you identified as a fellow queer, but by and large I’ve found that mostly comes from within the community itself. If I see a woman with an undercut and flannel and a backpack with lots of buttons/patches on, I will at least assume a certain friendliness towards LGBTQ folk. In my experience straight folks rarely pick up on these cues, unless they also have a large group of queer acquaintances.

          2. LabTechNoMore*

            Being read as lesbian (gay, trans, queer, etc) is definitely A Thing. It’s not a semaphore exclusive to the LGBT community, as straights/cis-gendered people can pick up on the less subtle ques, which is why some straight women (mentioned above) are adopting it as a survival strategy to ward off harassment.

            Gay Muslim Who Missed the “How To Be Read As Gay” Memo

            1. LabTechNoMore*

              (Oh correction: missed that actually Aiani’s coworker mentioned above was lesbian, not just affecting a style. Anyways, other’s have made my same point, so back to lurking!)

      2. Dino*

        As a lesbian, there for sure is a variety of personal presentation styles that read as “I am a lesbian and want to be interpreted that way.” I have adopted elements of them in the past. That doesn’t mean that it’s okay to assume that “feminine” looking people must be straight or than more “masculine”/butch looking people must be lesbians, but many of us consciously want to be read as being a lesbian. It makes finding each other somewhat easier and can turn off a lot of would-be creepers.

      3. Aiani*

        I’m sorry, I think I worded my comment very badly. My former co-worker and I had a conversation in which she said things that lined up with what Polaris and Dino are saying in their comments and they explained it much better than I would have.

      4. JSPA*

        Hair or clothing worn to immediately identify oneself to others “in the know” as gay or lesbian changes, of course, as whatever is gets subsumed by general culture. Same as any other identifying trend. (I love reading old Dykes to Watch Out For comics and remembering the eras.)

  18. Kitty*

    OP: this isn’t a you problem. It’s a them problem.
    Men: this is why some women can seem cold and unfriendly, situations like the above (or worse) have happened repeatedly, and it’s just easier not to be friendly than have to keep fending off unwanted advances.

  19. Celeste*

    I think a lot of it has to do with being young and presumably unattached. If a lot of your coworkers fit the same description, it’s pretty natural for people to think of pairing possibilities for themselves and others.

  20. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Also on a personal note about this, I wasn’t warm/bubbly/ and hated conversation to the point I started dating hella late and found my soulmate in my 30s.

    So due to this “behavior” on my side, along with loving sports, I was marked off as a lesbian by classmates and colleagues. Men literally just didn’t even try. They weren’t 100% wrong, I’m open to whoever I was destined to fall in love with but I certainly wasn’t not engaging in what they deemed as “flirting” on purpose either. It was just literally who I am, I’m reserved and only start talking when I have something in common with someone else [which I rarely find people who I have said things in common with].

    1. So she darkled in the corner.*

      So if you’re not bubbly you’re gay?!
      You can’t make this stuff up…

  21. BRR*

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. If you know you do the things Alison briefly mentioned like physical contact or giving lots of personal compliments I would try and switch to purely professional ones (although I would place money that some men would still view that as flirting). My only idea is to firmly establish that you keep a huge boundary between your work life and your dating life to the point where you couldn’t be romantically interested in a coworker if you tried.

  22. Samsally*

    I responded by putting up a bunch of pictures of me and my fiance and taking about him a lot more (it’s so dumb that sometimes works, but it did for me.)

    Sounds like your situation is pretty different though, and I totally get not wanting to come out at work. I think I’ll second the person who suggested situational bubbles. If someone gets weird about it, put them on bubble probation.

  23. A.N. O'Nyme*

    1) People are actually quite bad at telling who is flirting with whom. I believe there was a study done on this, although I don’t remember that well. Maybe someone else can set you up with that.
    2) As Allison said, some people are simply primed to pair other people of and assume that any interaction at all with the opposite gender MUST mean romantic interest (which I thought was an attitude left behind in elementary school, but I guess I’m wrong). There is very little you can do about that aside from saying “not interested” (although if you’re particularly unlucky you may be accused of “leading people on” or “being a cockteaser”).
    3) As a sidenote, keep in mind that those legends of female spirits luring men to their deaths often have the women in question do nothing but be pretty, female, and standing around. Apparently, that alone is enough for some men to be seduced. Again, very little you can do about it.

    Alternatively, if you’re not afraid of confrontation you could try to make your would-be matchmaker coworkers keep justifying themselves until they realise they’re being stupid, but that may be charring a bridge.

    1. Kettles*

      I’ve also seen a fantastic study where it was demonstrated that men understand soft noes etc perfectly from other dudes or women they’re not interested in. They choose to pretend they don’t understand when it comes to attractive women.

  24. Robin Ellacott*

    I really wish I had learned this earlier in life… some men will do this regardless of your manner or behaviour. (Maybe some women too?) Please don’t blame yourself. It’s really common.

    I am in my early 40’s and recently had a man in his late 40’s harangue me for not being warm enough when I “was supposedly interested in him.” This is someone I had known casually for years and just given my business card to THAT DAY while explicitly saying I was not romantically interested in him and it was purely friendly. He discounted my literal and blunt statement because it wasn’t want he wanted to believe, I guess.

    Sure, make sure you’re not being touchy feely or overly flattering, but other than that this is on them. Or society.

    1. Anon Anon Anon*

      Right! Some people will interpret any interaction as romantic/sexual interest. That’s their problem, not yours. I don’t think it’s possible to completely avoid it, but you can always work on your professionalism and general people skills (not you specifically, but all of us) so that you have a solid rep and those people’s opinions won’t hold as much water. You want to be seen as someone who’s responsible and respectable. But no matter what you do, there will be people who misunderstand, people who take issue with you . . . people.

    2. Kettles*

      I had a similar thing. I don’t understand how inviting someone and his wife and children to an event was interpreted as a sexual overture.

  25. Me*

    It’s not you. I’ve heard that some women feel “invisible” in middle age, and frankly as I approach I hope so because I’m freaking tired of this exact kind of poop. I’ve reported sexual harassment been told “well you’re a pretty girl, guys are going to respond to that” – by an hr person and a manager in separate convos. People are going to see/interpret/think what they want to – remember that’s THEIR problem, not yours.

    I’d spend your energy not on changing your perfectly normal sounding behavior, but on perfecting the stock phrases you wish to use. Perhaps “I don’t know how you got the impression that the way I treat everyone signifies romantic interest, but I can assure you I am not interested.” and “Please stop trying to set me up with coworkers.” and “I don’t mix my work and private life.”. Make no mistake that these people are being rude full stop. As such, your response is only required to be cordial as it’s a work environment. You owe them nothing else so don’t worry about sparing their feelings.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I am here to tell you, I hit my 40s and it totally changed. I hadn’t even fully processed how often there would be a weirdly flirty vibe from dudes in the most routine interactions (like talking to an employee at a hardware store or whatever) until it ceased to be the norm.

      1. Me*

        I.cannot.wait. Thank you for adding to the voices of hope!

        And also it’s sad that it is this way.

      2. NW Mossy*

        Happened a bit earlier for me, but that’s because I’ve got the post-two-kids bod and a pronounced gray streak I don’t cover up.

        It’s also sort of hilarious to sense how weird it feels when it does happen after you “cross the line.” I was taking a travel tour with my family a couple of years ago and the 15-years-younger guide was doing this weird “try to get a better tip by assuming Mossy is a cougar and making outrageously flirty statements” thing. And because I no longer have time for that s***, I laughed one of those gigantic “HA!” laughs that makes everyone within 50 yards turn and stare at you, and he backed right off.

        1. many bells down*

          I’m honestly weirded out at this point when I’m addressed as “Miss.” I’m going gray, I’m clearly in no way a “miss.”

      3. Confession time*

        Age 38, here, and I swear I have never really gotten this vibe. Either I am clueless as can be, or I became invisible earlier than most. (It’s possible. I wear my hair short, which I’m told dudes don’t like, but meh.)

        1. Me*

          I’m the same age. It may be that you’re not invisible at all yet and you’ll notice the change when it happens.

          Sometimes standard behavior (I refuse to call it normal) isn’t noticed until there’s a distinct lack of it.

        2. Spelled With a C*

          I’ve only been hit on by men age 50+. Something about my sturdy body tells them I can wield a plough and survive a Depression.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            Oh my god this happens to my Hungarian friend! She too looks like the solid farm-wench type.

            As for me, it only tends to happen in my bar job when dudes are exceptionally tipsy. I think usually it’s too hard to tell whether I’m 15 or 15,000, and they don’t want to risk it’s the latter and piss off the Great Old One with whom I co-habit this shell (when you look 15 but drop references to things that happened in the early 90s because you were literally there and remember it well, it wigs people out and they think you’re immortal.) Unfortunately this doesn’t work on friends, as they know my real age. I get stressed wondering which one will confess their stupid feelings next…

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I tried to talk to my older sister about this, and she was like, “I have no idea what you are talking about; I did not experience that.” Which surprised me greatly! But she definitely projects a more serious vibe, so I think that might have insulated her.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            I’m mid-40s and I’ve been very intensely work-focused at my jobs since I had my first job. I would say I’m reasonably warm and easy to interact with, but no one would ever describe me as bubbly or even particularly friendly. There’s something about the Professional Persona with the serious vibe that acts as a deflector shield most of the time, in that I can count on one hand the number of men who’ve asked me out or had obvious romantic intentions in a work context. If there were more, they fortunately kept it to themselves. Frankly, there weren’t that many more in non-work contexts, but oh well.

          2. Confession time*

            Fascinating. I do have a more serious demeanor, so there may be something to that. Literally, the only time I’ve been hit on is when I’m out of state, on vacation. I just chalked that up to regional differences, but maybe my whole vibe is different than it is at home.

        4. JamieS*

          Yeah same here and I haven’t even hit 30 yet. Although not really sure if it’s because I legitimately haven’t experienced it or if I have but just interpret it differently than other women.

      4. Jessen*

        This is why I want to smack everyone who tells me how lucky I am to look so young (30 years old and I’ve been mistaken for high school).

      5. WellRed*

        Walked in a towel by my roommate’s 24 yo boyfriend (just got out of shower) He didnt even look up.

        1. All monkeys are French*

          I’ve been invisible for years now and it’s pretty great. It does make it more jarring, though, when harassment happens. I got a very rude comment on the street recently and was totally unprepared and utterly outraged. At my age I have few f**ks left to give, and would gladly speak up, but I get so few comments that I don’t have a practiced response. (Not that there is ever a “right” way to respond, but some ways might be more satisfying than others.)

      6. Ev*

        I am 36 and counting the days till this happens.

        Any news on whether a certain brand of dude stops calling you “young lady” around the same time? Because I also can’t wait to get too old for that one.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I used to work in an office where the facilities manager called every single woman in the office “young lady.” Even if they had 20 years on him. I’m sure he thought it was cute or whatever but it only ever read as condescending. It drove me absolutely bananas but I didn’t speak up at the time because I was young and unsure of how to saying anything.

      7. SarahTheEntwife*

        Given my almost total lack of male attention so far, when I hit 40 I am going to get recruited by some sort of intelligence agency ;-)

        (This is not to discount other people’s experiences! I am a weird outlier! But I am genuinely kind of curious what if any social change will happen when I start looking more middle-aged.)

    2. Luna*

      The only thing I would disagree with is saying ‘I don’t mix my work and private life’ because there is always the risk of getting the one person that will quit the job and work somewhere else, so that your ‘excuse’ no longer works.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Except that’s a level of unreasonable that disqualifies him as a partner no matter what other factors are in play. Like . . . I would look into getting a restraining order, level of unreasonable.

        1. Me*

          Great minds – we must have been commenting about the same time.

          Yes yes yes. That level of instability is not going to respond to any form of rejection well.

      2. Me*

        That’s next level stalker shizz and it they do that kind of stuff, they’re not generally going to take no for an answer no matter how it’s phrased.

      3. Artemesia*

        Then you move to ‘I am not interested in dating you’ because now you know he is a scary dude. But ‘I never date co-workers’ does just fine until then. And frankly it also doesn’t stop you from dating a particular co-worker if one day it turns out that you are each other’s future. Whatever it takes to lower the drama level.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Ah the life of being a homely woman who has only recently gotten her RBF under control *fist pump* I never had to wait until middle age, people have left me alone since I hit my growth spurt.

      1. clever obscure tv show character name*

        Right? There is a whiff of humblebrag from all these women who apparently get hit on all the time … until their 40th birthday and it all stops.

        1. Me*

          It’s not humble bragging and your internalized misogyny is showing.

          No one said a darn thing about being hit on all the time. Most of the people I work with are consummate professionals. The guy who started massaging my shoulders at the copier is the exception. I’m no great beauty. I’m frankly pretty average. Sexual harassment and assault doesn’t happen to only a certain level of attractiveness and attractiveness is subjective in any case.

          Maybe set aside your gross attitude and think for a minute that if all these woman have had this experience that maybe just maybe they are not the problem here.

        2. Le Sigh*

          It’s not a humblebrag, it’s gross. And labeling it a humblebrag feeds into the perverse notion that this sort of thing is, at its core, flattering or a compliment. It’s not and clearly many of the posters here don’t feel it it’s a good thing–so it’s not humblebragging, it’s raising this issues up so people feel more comfortable talking about it and addressing it. Worse, comments like this are dismissive and shut people down from discussing it more openly and dealing with the issue.

        3. M-C*

          What’s your problem, not-so-clever? Harassment is not a joke. And you don’t have to be the least bit objectively attractive. In fact, it helps if you are not, the creeps hit on women they think are vulnerable, which almost always includes young. They know most 40 year olds have figured out their shit and are ready to take them down.

    4. J*

      Ugh, I can’t believe an *HR* person told you that! Good grief. Anyway, just wanted to chime in and agree that yep, I’m only in my early 30s and the invisibility has already happened and it’s wonderful.

      1. Me*

        I’m not sure if it’s because she was of a generation that was more accepting of that type of stuff as normal or just a jerk. But it was gross and the guy had nothing happen and kept working here until just recently when he found a new job.

  26. Shibbolet*

    My grandfather was 80 when he moved into an old folks’ home. His in-law, my grandmother (87 at the time) from the other side of the family already lived there. When he moved in she showed him around, introduced him to people, and called him a couple of times a week – even invited him to dinner once – so the transition would not be too rough (it was, but I digress). They had been inlaws for over 40 years. But he told me in private that he knew she was doing all this to “get with him”. Some men just see female niceness through that lens. Even when it’s completely ridiculous to assume that. Good luck!

    1. JSPA*

      It’s…definitely a broadly acknowledged real thing, though, powered by how the ratio of men to women skews intensely at that age. Not that it needs to have applied in this particular case! But it’s not an intrinsically strange assumption. (The fact that their kids were married to each other is…probably not all that relevant, except in the eyes of those two kids, and any grandkids.)

      1. M-C*

        Oh please! Have you talked to any 87 year olds? Most of them have already been widowed once. Do you think they’re dreaming of caretaking for yet another cranky old guy? The ones I know are more like “free at last!”..

    2. GreenDoor*

      Ugh yes. My 79 year old grandfather was convinced my brother’s girlfriend wanted to drop Brother to be with him. I point blank said, “grampa, you wear the same clothes every day, you shower only once a week, you don’t brush your teeth, and you sit in your smelly recliner all day staring at the TV. Yea….I’m sure that 18 year old girl is really wishing she was with you.”

      He got mad of course. But he was 100% of sound mind so it wasn’t him suffering dementia and thinking he was 60 years younger than he was….it was just ego.

    3. LaDeeDa*

      OMG hahahaha

      When I was 22 I was babysitting for a friend of the family, her 80+ yr old dad lived in the in-law suite. He came outside and joined me and the kids for lunch. I was chatting with him, asking him about his life before retirement and at one point he stopped and said “you sure are lovely, but you are barking up the wrong tree– I had prostate cancer and it doesn’t work anymore.” WTF?

      Seriously… my dream for all people is that they have the confidence of old white men.

      1. FabJobTag*

        When I was in my 20s I attended a singles event where I didn’t know anyone. Being nervous, I looked around for someone “safe” to speak with and walked over to an elderly white haired man knowing there was no way he was a potential date. I said hello and he immediately said “you’re too young for me”. Yup, the deluded confidence is real.

        1. TechWorker*

          To be fair, idk what this particular event was like but it’s not massively unreasonable in that context to assume a) someone approaching you is interested and b) most people there want to focus their time on people they might be interested in…

  27. your favorite person*

    My best friend had to deal with this constantly. Her only sin was being, what I call, a laugher. She has a quick laugh. She is very smart and cute so those things plus laughing a lot at people’s jokes (that wouldn’t get much more than a chuckle from me) means that everyone, ESPECIALLY MEN, thought she liked them.
    In college, at least three separate times that I know of, she was given gifts and asked out by guy friends who thought she was into them when she was literally treating them like she did everyone else. It was awkward for all involved. The only thing that stopped this was 1. having a child 2. getting married.
    No advice, just deep sympathy.

    1. MommyMD*

      Reminds me of when Phoebe was fake flirting with Chandler, laughing at his lame jokes. That scene is how not to act at work lol.

    2. Batgirl*

      I have what has been called “a good laugh” (apparently you can discern it in a crowd) and oh goodness yes, you’ll pay for it. Random dudes will track you down and try to make you laugh even if they aren’t funny. A female laugh is like dude-bro crack.

    3. Ariel*

      Fastest way to shut that down if you don’t mind being rude: actively train yourself into not laughing at jokes you don’t find funny. Whenever some guy I know makes a bad pun, my first reaction is to blankly stare at him, as if to say, “Go on?” Then, if they demand you laugh (which happens frequently!) you can either do a classic, “Ha. Ha. Ha,” or the creepiest, hollow-sounding-but-somewhat-realistic laugh you can manage. You WILL be the jerk in that situation, but it also means that you retain control, because that punctures people’s egos faster than anything.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        Or being an opera singer. I have a laugh that bursts eardrums. The dudebros do not like that kind of laugh.

  28. smoke tree*

    My unhelpful advice as a bitter, jaded person is to be less physically attractive to men, in which case they’ll stop realizing you exist altogether. My slightly more helpful advice is to liberally and cheerfully apply the “doesn’t date coworkers” line. Although some may see it as an opening for negotiation, I think it will help cut down on weirdness and hurt feelings somewhat. And it’s unlikely to backfire if you don’t plan on coming out at work.

    1. Close Bracket*

      > to be less physically attractive to men

      I’ve implemented this advice, or rather, men implemented it for me. I found that men still interpreted an interaction with them as romantically motivated. They didn’t ask me out. Instead, I had to deal with them preemptively making sure I knew I was too unattractive for them to be interested in. It was a response, but it was still a response to them mistakenly thinking I might be into them that I had to navigate.

      1. smoke tree*

        Hm, that’s interesting. I haven’t experienced this (as someone who is cheerfully unattractive to men) but I also project a pretty unfriendly vibe, so I think the majority of straight guys just happily occupy a different plane of existence.

        1. Close Bracket*

          The difference might be that I used to try to be friendly with dudes. I am in a male dominated field, and I want to be friends with the people around me! I no longer bother.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Ugh, lots of randos insulting you by telling you you’re ugly is even worse than lots of randos hitting on you. I’m sorry. :-(

        1. Close Bracket*

          It wasn’t direct insults. It’s more body language and indirect phrasings that people use when they want to discourage you. You know, all those social cues that women complain that men don’t get–men use them, too. Things like dropping a spouse/SO into conversation unnecessarily to make sure you know they are taken; giving short, curt answers to discourage conversation; not smiling; etc.

    2. Eleanor*

      This is not bad advice. I purposefully cut my hair very short, bought androgynous clothes, & gained just enough weight to ward off weird innapropriate infuriating male interest. (I’m not a lesbian.) No more lunch meetings where a male colleague tells me how attractive I am & he can’t believe I’m not in a relationship (instead of discussing work projects like I thought we would); no more male coworkers telling me that when he’s around me, all he can think about is his penis; no more male coworkers lounging around at my desk when I just want to get my work done & not taking hints to leave. I may not like how I look, I may feel invisible like others have described, but in the end it’s worth it to not have to deal with the exhaustion of it all.

      1. Kettles*

        See I tried all that. I wore baggy clothes, no makeup, cut my hair short, gained weight. The main result was that I was perceived as young, unprofessional and worst of all, vulnerable. Plus women were less likely to be friendly with me. It doesn’t work. Creeps gonna creep.

    3. Gina Linetti*

      I’ve been overweight my entire life, which seems to have functioned as a sort of barrier against this kind of treatment. With the exception of that one guy (back when I was in my twenties) who kept telling me how much he loved “plush” women…


      1. Kettles*

        See I’ve found it got worse, because men expect you to be ‘grateful’ for their attention.

  29. MommyMD*

    I feel badly for OP because in her mind she’s just being friendly. But if others have interpreted this behavior as flirtatious over and over, I think she may be giving off a vibe she’s not aware of. I’d pull it back a bit. Don’t touch anyone for sure. Don’t go overboard to be ingratiating. We females often fall on the side of being “too nice” when it comes to interacting at work.

    Observe female work colleagues that you admire over the next few weeks who don’t have this problem and see how they interact.

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame it all on male ego if females are noticing it too and it has been an issue before. Sometimes there’s too much friendliness or over doing it with the ingratiating.

    Good luck OP. I’d tone it down a bit. And if anyone talks of dating or setting you up, I’d answer I don’t date coworkers and did not intend to send that message.

    1. C'est moi*

      >I don’t think it’s fair to blame it all on male ego if females are noticing it too and it has been an issue before.

      Women have just as many internalized gender stereotypes as men do. There’s no reason to believe that OP is actually giving off a flirtatious vibe just because some women have interpreted her actions that way.

    2. wittyrepartee*

      Yes, the ones that don’t have this problem are either naturally quiet at work, artificially reserved at work, or over 40.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        And 40 isn’t a hard cutoff, it just makes it slightly less likely. You can get labeled “a tease” all through your life!

        1. Robin Ellacott*

          Yes I am about to hit 43 and it hasn’t stopped for me yet. But last time someone ignored my “not interested” and stepped ridiculously over the line about it, three female friends suggested I “give him a chance.” Yes, acquaintance who angrily messaged me all night because I never texted him back to say good night is reeeeaaaal high on my date-ables list. Women do sadly buy into this stuff too.

        2. GrayHairWoman*

          Voice of experience – I’m in my 70’s, and was seriously propositioned last night, at a concert at the local university, by the 30’s-ish usher who was impressed “by the depth of your attunement with the composer’s vision. I’d love to take you out for some wine and conversation, so we can explore our mutual, deeply intuitive, connection. !!!! My husband had his arm around me at the time. The fun never stops!!

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Wow, I think you met the infamous “sensual wrist” guy!

            (One of my favorite AAM letters ever, about an incredibly bizarre and inappropriate cover letter someone had received.)

        3. AnonEMoose*

          I’m closer to 50 than to 40…and within the last couple of years, have been hit on by guys young enough to be my kids. It was vaguely a bit flattering, and a whole lot of “EW – NO!”

          1. long time lurker*

            I’m a professor in my late 30s (though I am slim and look young for my age) and I was recently hit on by a prospective student who was in my office to learn more about my undergrad program. It was… just absolutely no. I don’t know what he thought he was trying to accomplish. But it was also deeply uncomfortable because if he had applied to the program and been accepted, I would have had to teach him, and if I’d balked at it because of the harassment, I would have been in the position of being ‘a problem’, not him…

        4. Michaela Westen*

          I’m 57 and still get a lot of “one thing” guys and a few younger men trying to date me. Luckily I work in a place where there hasn’t been much of that, and I have an awesome group of friends who are respectful. I just stay with my friends and don’t try to interact with other men.

        5. wittyrepartee*

          Yeah, it’s more a commentary on how bad this issue can be for people in their late teens and early twenties than how easy breezy it is for people older than 40.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      OP, don’t listen to this victim shaming nonsense.

      Women are gross and sexist too, end scene.

    4. Kettles*

      I think you want it to be OP’s fault because you’ve fallen for the just world fallacy.

    5. M-C*

      Female colleagues at work aren’t likely to be complaining, since we all know and expect bad male behavior to be unrelated to what we’re actually like, and it’s routine enough not to merit any comments. If you get to know these colleagues and really talk to them, I’m pretty sure they’d all have the same kind of stories we’re seeing here, there are precious few exceptions. Please stop blaming the victim..

  30. Laura*

    “I simply do not discuss ANYTHING pertaining to my personal life at work. Ever. It’s just a rule I have for myself.”

  31. Professor Ma'am*

    Why not act like you’ve never heard of this kind of gender BS and when your colleagues ask you out or try to set you up with someone you put on your best shocked face and say “Wow! That’s a strange thing to suggest. I’m just trying to get my work done”.

    1. JSPA*

      Let the “ick” show. “Ick, dating coworkers? Just the idea makes me queasy. I would never.”

      1. Free Meerkats*

        With retching like a long-hair cat with an oversize hairball that won’t come out.

  32. Stuart*

    I’m not going to respond to comments, and I really want to stress that I’m not saying OP is doing anything. She asked if there was anything she’s doing. Nor is it counter to what others are saying. These are things I’ve seen younger people (both men and women do).

    Being more friendly, more interested in people’s personal life. Older women tend to be more standoffish (because of unasked for attention from men), so the difference is even more noticible.

    Any touching.

    Younger people tend to dress more modern, sometimes less professional, which can be seen by some as trying to be impressive to land a date.

    Being earnestly more interested, more inquisitive, and more impressed by people who are successfully “adulting”.

    Laughing when you don’t mean it.

    Most of these are just being younger, some are personality traits you can dial back at work.

    1. OP*

      Honestly a list like this is really helpful, this is what I was hoping for when writing the question! Thank you for your input.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        I dress like a goth school marm. Then again, I also work with an office that’s 80% women.

      2. ket*

        If that really was useful to you, I’ll add a few things from the perspective of a woman in a STEM field. These don’t translate to all fields, so take this with salt or whatever seasoning you need:

        Be direct when criticizing or asking questions about business topics and damp down the feeling that you need to be ‘polite’. Somehow when you ask, “What are the assumptions here? are they justified?” rather than, “Oh, tell me more!” it gets guys in particular to focus on the topic rather than on your ‘relationship’. It may feel unfriendly but it’s ok, really.

        Be aware of how you’re using space. The research on power poses is controversial, but there is definitely a geometry to social interaction and there are ways to indicate with your body that you’re playing for a leadership role and ways to indicate instead that you’re “part of the pack”. Think about how you position yourself in the pack/among all the other primates you’re hanging out with.

        Practice redirecting some of the personal conversation to the business or the data or the analysis.

        There’s a bit of building a persona, and going from “OP, she’s so nice, we should set her up!” to “You better prep for this meeting with OP — she’s going to ask good questions” or something like that. It’s about amping up the almost-scary part of your competence. Just from my experience (and again, take with salt) men don’t respect women unless they’re a little scared.

        1. Mookie*

          This is good.

          For a variety of reasons, I’m conditioned in public to be a sympathetic, slightly obsequious, good listener sort of woman, rolls with the punches, selfless, helpful, more effeminate than I am on the inside, and I’ve learned lately to regard work environments as separate from my public, impersonal face. I go along to get along when I’m grocery shopping; at work, where most of my colleagues are men, I try to be direct, analytical, skeptical when necessary, bull-nosed for the greater good, a highly-functioning asset to my team, emotionally very mellow and even-keeled and maybe a touch dry but pathologically uninterested in the personal lives of men who try to get me to be their sob sister and who undermine my reputation in the process. It’s great, a welcome relief from my more chaotic personal life, and I get so much more shit done now. The work feels easier and fulfilling again because when I’m on the clock the only thing I worry about is basically under my control, I feel ownership over my workspace, and I’m re-invested in improving /optimizing my own output. The place feels more collegial because I’ve asserted myself and my role on my team. I get to be like dudes, where their time and energy levels are respected and it’s considered rude and unprofessional to burden them with additional expectations.

      3. Another Emma*

        I agree! I have to disagree with a number of the commenters. While of course working while female is an element, there are steps I’ve taken to reduce unwanted attention.

        It stinks, but I find the friendlier and warmer I am (the more frequently I laugh or ask personal questions rather than only work questions), the more unsolicited attention I get. Now my default is cordial but cool until I’ve established a professional relationship. After establishing that relationship, I can be my normal bubbly self and don’t seem to have a problem. But on the first few meetings I act much more reserved. And if someone seems to have the wrong idea I dial it way back.

      4. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

        Great! I was also coming here to say that I went through this on a daily basis when I was in my 20’s and 30’s and it is exhausting and horrible! Now I am in my early 60’s and I am very sorry to hear that things haven’t changed much at all. That having been said, there is a young woman in my office who tends to end every statement with a self-deprecating giggle and it really does appear flirtatious, although I don’t think that is her intent. Could you be doing that, or something like that? Do you speak to men differently than you do to women (given your romantic preference, I’d be surprised if you do, but still)? What about body language? Touching? I know that you are not flirting. I also know from my own, and many other women’s, experience that to many men being young, female and friendly equals flirting. Good luck to you.

  33. Anon Anon Anon*

    I can relate to this. The same thing happens to me. I’m also guilty of making the opposite mistake – reading friendliness from others as flirtation when it isn’t meant that way.

    It can be hard to tell the difference. One person’s flirtation is another person’s normal. Personality and culture play a big role in this.

    So I would start there. I would tell people that I’m warm and outgoing by nature, that I’m like that with everyone, and that I only mean it as friendliness. You can spin it as, “I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. I know we’re all different. I respect your space and if I’m talking too much, just let me know,” or something along those lines. Because it WOULD be creepy and inappropriate to be flirtatious at work and friendliness CAN genuinely be misconstrued that way due to cultural differences; it isn’t always a gender thing or related to any kind of stereotypes. So I think that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to say something about it. Not a huge announcement. Just drop it into casual conversations at the right time.

    You could also handle people trying to set you up with coworkers as a separate issue, and you could – if you want to – make a vague and broad statement about your personal life and work boundaries. “I’m satisfied in that area. Thank you.” “That part of my life doesn’t come to work with me. We’re just friends.” “I appreciate the thought, but I’m not looking right now. And I don’t bring that part of my life to work. I prefer to keep things separate. I’m sure you can understand!”

  34. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

    OP, I so feel for you. Many years ago, I feel I was you. Young, a lesbian, and trying to be kind and friendly to everyone. A smile was seen by some men as “she wants me!” and no, I wasn’t anything besides average in looks. I don’t know why some men assume any woman looking their way means “Sh wants me!” but they think that.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      I am not a lesbian, but I suspect that telling them you’re a lesbian doesn’t actually help them tame their egos.

      1. JSPA*

        “Consent culture” / active consent / verbalizing interest (by both parties) has really made non-sexual friendliness between students much easier, in many high schools and colleges.

        Not into each other? Fine! Said! Understood! Now (if you both enjoy that) lounge on the same couch in close proximity as friends, and banter–no problem. Especially if you’re used to “one of the guys” type banter, you may feel very free and easy and unguarded around coworkers. It really is a positive good to be able to talk, as people, without one gender consistently needing to adopt a protective stance. We’re moving in that direction. (Legally, we’re on solid ground, making that presumption, which is a great help.)

        But your even slightly older coworkers may actually have more spatial and conversational boundaries (from the time when those took the place of, y’know, people actually using their words). Or rather, a lot of the women may have them, and the men may expect them (or even expect to push on them). In some places, this shift has been going on for a couple decades. In others, maybe just a few years.

        Just hold your ground, and understand that in some sense, you’re part (not the tip, but still the cutting edge) of a sweeping cultural change. You’re feeling occasional strain because you’re doing something right, not because you’re doing something wrong.

      2. anon today and tomorrow*

        No. They just insist that they can be the man who’ll “change your mind” about men. Because apparently their genitals are so magical they can change someone’s sexuality.

        I’ve found quite a few men get way more aggressive when they encounter lesbians/bi women because they take it as a slight against themselves.

        1. Mookie*

          Yes. It escalates physically, too, I’ve found, where they almost feel threatened by you and need to put you in your place (while feeling you up).

          1. anon today and tomorrow*

            There are certain types of men who enjoy lesbian/bi women for their erotic pleasure, but when women won’t perform for them in those roles, they get weirdly insecure and take same-sex attraction as an insult to their masculinity. Which is ridiculous. On so many levels.

            1. Mookie*

              Very true, very gross. And then there are the guys so unraveled by my Big Clit Energy that they think they have to out-butch me, like I’m competition for them.

              1. restingbutchface*

                Hi, I love you, I love this post, the internet can close down now because this is the peak.

              2. M-C*

                Yeah, and then if they find out you have more girlfriends than them they get positively enraged..

      3. Mookie*

        No, it doesn’t, and I don’t recommend it if lesbophobia-disguised-as-compliments are your kryptonite.

    2. LaDeeDa*

      But if you stopped smiling I bet you got “You should SMILE more!” *exaggerated eye roll*

      1. Luna*

        Urgh, I hate that line! Anyone that demands that should be greeted with the Overly Attached Girlfriend face.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          I usually point to some unsuspecting guy in the vicinity and tell the person “Why don’t you tell HIM to smile.” And then put f-off wall goes ALL THE WAY UP.

          1. Lady Phoenix*

            In a denonic voice: “I’ll smile when you die and your misroble soul burns in the deepest pits of h3ll while the worms feed on your flesh.”

  35. alsoLesbian*

    As another lesbian I doubt it’s something that you’re doing, but I would recommend, if you can, finding a straight woman you work with and asking her what she thinks about how you talk to these coworkers. It’s possible there’s something that normal people think is fine but straight people assume Must Be Flirting because straight ceremonies of dating/gender performance are…. strange, to say the least.
    I’ve met a number of men who assumed that any sort of genuine interest past the most superficial (“haha I also like Media”) meant that you were “into” them, because of straight dating stuff? Stuff as simple as “I actually have this opinion on Media” or “Oh your specific opinion of Media is interesting but I think…” or “I’m sorry that Bad Thing happened to you, that sounds rough” has gotten me yelled at for “leading guys on”.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      Honestly, a lot of straight women have just gotten very very guarded around men when it comes to this kind of thing. If I don’t know a (probably) straight dude well, I spend some amount of time trying to figure out how much of myself I can be without convincing them I’m flirting with them. Trusted male friend, or someone vetted by trusted friends? Then they’re treated exactly like a female friends.

    2. Katie*

      “… normal people think is fine, but straight people….”
      There should be more sentences like this <3

    3. TootsNYC*

      this reminds me of the Anne Perry mystery “A Breach of Promise” in which a man’s friendship with a young woman is misconstrued.

      This man was actually a woman who dressed as a man in order to pursue a career in architecture. And so because the woman she was hadn’t been through the “training” of realizing how friendly signals might come across as romantic interest, she was more intimate in conversation and more friendly than a man would have been.

      So I wonder if a combination of: today’s college-campus atmosphere of “conscious consent” and a stronger ability for some of today’s college guys (especially the ones our OP might have spent more of her time around) to be able to be friendly without being romantically involved; and perhaps an automatic assumption that there’s no NEED to worry about “sending signals,” might lead our OP to just be more relaxed and less circumspect than a straight woman might be (esp. if OP’s friend circle at college included straight guys who knew she was lesbian and so never considered her someone to date).

  36. Lady Phoenix*


    “How odd it is that when a woman is professionally warm and friendly, you all think that means she is flirting.”

    Drop that on them like a cat presents a dead bird and let them squirm uncomfortably. Maybe then they’ll learn to read women better…

    1. Me*

      I do love the squirm tactic. It’s the one I use for inappropriate joke as well as, casual prejudice/bigotry/racism/etc.

      “What do you mean?” “I don’t understand” and the like that forces people to elaborate/explain things they really know deep down are inappropriate. Being forced to verbalize that you’re rude, horrible person, or inappropriate, has a way of zipping lips.

  37. LaDeeDa*

    UUGGHHHHHHHHHH “Being friendly” DOES NOT EQUAL “she wants to bone him.”

    Men (#notallmen) please repeat this over and over and over, and repeat it to any man at work who says “I think she wants to bone me/you/him.”

  38. MissGirl*

    I agree with everyone’s comments about how being in your twenties and single gives some people the need to be matchmaking. It can be infuriating but it’s probably nothing you’re doing.

    However, I do want to offer one possibility to consider. I’m somewhat awkward when it comes to dating so I’m more gregarious with someone I have no interest in versus someone I do. (Crazy why I’m still single.) Where you’re not out as gay at work, it’s possible you’re subconsciously more friendly with men than women. You feel “safer” being friendly because there’s zero chance of a dating relationship and being outed. Again, I could be completely off base.

  39. Kristine*

    I hate that this type of advice even has to be given, but I do have some practical tips for OP if she wants them.

    I had this issue when I first started out in my career, especially since I work with clients and many of my clients tend to be men. I made a few changes to my appearance and it cut down on these types of problems pretty significantly:

    1) I stopped wearing contacts and started wearing oversized glasses
    2) I cut my mid-back length hair into a pixie cut
    3) I stopped wearing makeup
    4) I stopped wearing more feminine work clothes like sheath dresses, fitted sweaters, or sandals and started wearing more masculine looking work clothes like loose fitting trousers, button downs, and loafers

    I’m still the same amount of warm and friendly that I always was and my coworkers and clients still respond positively to me, but I’ve never been accused of flirting with men in the workplace since I made these changes.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      I am sorry you felt had to do that to be taken seriously/not be hit on. I refused… I get why you did it, and I don’t blame you for doing it.

      I wish instead of giving advice to the OP we could give it to those men…
      1. Conventionally attractive women are not less competent
      2. Women who dress in a conventionally feminine way- that shows they have a female body, isn’t an invitation for you to hit on them.
      3. Being kind, engaging, and an active listener doesn’t mean a woman is flirting with you.
      4. Being young and single is not an automatic cry to be “set up”

    2. wittyrepartee*

      Thank god for an extremely female office. No one cares, even the men, even the straight men. Everyone’s just so used to seeing women wearing whatever and saying whatever without reading much into it.

    3. ket*

      And in my STEM field, when I wear sheath dresses (and glasses and no makeup) the guys stay away because I’m suddenly scarily female. Haha.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        Amusingly, I’m in STEM. It’s just that I’m in epidemiology and that’s where the ladies are.

  40. Michaela Westen*

    One of my friends is a young, beautiful, glamorous, vivacious lesbian. You’re not the only one!
    She is very open about being lesbian in her social life, but I don’t know what it’s like for her at work.
    There’s a lot of social pressure on people under 40 to date (the opposite sex) and get married. Many people internalize this pressure and assume anyone of your age is looking to get married and have children. So they assume you’re looking for men to date and have relationships with, leading to getting married and so on.
    When I was young I felt so threatened by this pressure I became almost anti-social, especially at work. I hope you can do better.
    Some things that might help: Never touch a male coworker for any reason. Try not to laugh (giggle) while talking to them. As Alison mentioned, don’t say personal things about them or their clothes. One of the things I didn’t understand in those days was, a little bit of attention (what a pretty tie!) could turn a man’s head. I was only complimenting his tie, he thought I was flirting. I think it’s best not to get personal at all, in any way, with a man you don’t have a personal relationship with.
    Try pulling back on the friendliness – not enough to seem unfriendly, but enough to be businesslike. I hope this helps.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      Also, don’t talk about your personal life at work – not with men and not generally, maybe only with people you’re sure you can trust. If someone asks you out, say you already have plans. If they push for details, keep it vague – “I’m going to a concert/play/event with friends – I forget the name of the band/play…”

  41. Luna*

    What you are encountering is a very stupid, social problem: people that assume ‘friendly = flirting’.

    Best thing to do.
    A) If any coworker asks you out, decline. Tell them, “No, thank you.” If they insist on a reason, though you shouldn’t have to give them one, simply state that you are not interested in dating them.
    B) If they still think you are ‘doing’ anything and they are bugging you about it, inform your supervisor or HR about it because this can be seen as harassment towards you. It’s not okay to keep bothering a coworker that you turned down.
    C) Don’t come out at work, unless you really *want* to. Your sexual or romantic orientation is nobody’s business at work. And I hope you don’t feel like you ‘have’ to use it as a reason to turn anyone down because it isn’t, nor should it be.

  42. Two Tin Cans and a String*

    I’ve had this problem. The best way around it that I’ve found is to assume that if nobody tells me that something like that is brewing, I know nothing. I am Jon Snow. I am from Barcelona. I am an innocent naive who has never even contemplated the possibility of a romantic entanglement. What even is attraction?

    It takes some mental gymnastics to get into that mindspace, especially around coworkers, but it does help a tremendous amount. Nobody has expressed interest, to my face, with clear words, no hinting or probing? Then the interest doesn’t exist. It’s that way of thinking that really changes things. Didn’t use your words directly to me? Then it doesn’t exist. Continue as normal. Someone does express with words to my face that there’s an attraction? Generic excuse. (I don’t date coworkers, I’m not dating at all right now, whatever.) Then continue as normal. Colleagues hinting that you two would be great together? Don’t acknowledge it beyond a shrug, and if they won’t let it go, tell them it’s super weird that they’re so invested in your romantic life.

    Seriously. Not your circus, not your monkeys. A girl can waste a lot of time shepherding the feelings of amorous men. Don’t do it. It’s thankless work. Keep your mental bandwidth for other things and don’t devote a single thought to it until the attraction is actually dumped on your lap. Then politely brush it away.

  43. Luna*

    What you are encountering is a very stupid, social problem: people that assume ‘friendly = flirting’.

    Best thing to do.
    A) If any coworker asks you out, decline. Tell them, “No, thank you.” If they insist on a reason, though you shouldn’t have to give them one, simply state that you are not interested in dating them.
    B) If they still think you are ‘doing’ anything and they are bugging you about it, inform your supervisor or HR about it because this can be seen as harassment towards you. It’s not okay to keep bothering a coworker that you turned down.
    C) Don’t come out at work, unless you really *want* to. Your sexual or romantic orientation is nobody’s business at work. And I hope you don’t feel like you ‘have’ to use it as a reason to turn anyone down because it isn’t, nor should it be.

    There is no need to change your behavior, unless you really do feel like there is something you have been doing that might be misunderstood. As Alison said, maybe your bubbliness includes frequent touching of arms or similar. That I could see trying to rein in, but otherwise, your personality is your personality, and it’s not your fault people assume you are flirting.

    1. CooKoo*

      In B I think you meant “It’s not okay to keep bothering a coworker that turned you down.”

  44. anon4this*

    You could try wearing a ring on your left ring finger. That may ward off people that think you’re single, without you needing to verbalize anything. You could even think of it as part of your work wardrobe.
    Good luck!

    1. Luna*

      I really don’t like this idea. Needing to show proof that you are ‘taken’ to ward others off. It should never be what needs to be done, and on any person that it works on, that just tells you that they see you as ‘property’.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I also disagree with the idea. And… it won’t work anyway. That sort of thing could potentially work for randos on the street, but these are co-workers. If they saw that ring, they’d be all “Wait! Are you married all of a sudden? What’s that ring?”

        1. anon4this*

          OP can rehearse any answer she wants, i.e. “I just like rings, what’s it to you?” but I do think it’s a more of a passive way of saying you’re unavailable (to men). Especially if you don’t want to talk about it or mention anything that may prelude to your sexuality.
          OP shouldn’t have to do this, but this is an imperfect world.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Yeah, but it works. It sucks that it works, but it also sucks that people keep interpreting normal friendliness as flirting, so you go with the one that’s not quite as bad.

      3. Beth*

        It shouldn’t be what needs to be done, but realistically sometimes it’s a useful measure anyways. There are men in the world who do think of women, consciously as not, as property, and won’t back off until and unless they see evidence that you’ve already been claimed. The problem with this strategy isn’t that women sometimes use it; it’s that some jerks leave us with no other options but to use it.

  45. alphabet soup*

    This advice depends on your personality and the culture of your office… but what I’ve found that works is to just casually make feminist statements in normal conversation (when it makes sense to), and casually cite statistics and studies on sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the workplace. I try to frame it as a cheerful, “wow, isn’t this so interesting!” kind of thing. It’s been pretty effective, because a lot of men don’t really understand what is/isn’t sexual harassment, so they’re terrified of an accusation being made against them.

    Of course, I’m sure I have a reputation as “that weird feminist,” but I’d rather have that be my reputation than to have to put up with unwanted attention.

    1. Batgirl*

      Yeah it can backfire in some places, but sometimes the scary feminist stereotype is just the ticket.

    2. M-C*

      Good advice there. Just the fact that you’re reading about it and thinking about it should scare off many but the most foolhardy.

  46. CupcakeCounter*

    When with the female coworkers who seem intent on fixing you up simply ask “Why would you think that?” then when they go on and on about your obvious connection to do laughing, warm persona, etc… respond with “You mean how I am acting with you right now?” That should at least give them a little pause.
    For the guys who approach you with the connection/chemistry line, I would be a little more clear. “I don’t feel that way at all, you are a great coworker but its nothing more than that”. If it is someone you need to maintain a very close working relationship with, you can add a “I’m really sorry you got that vibe, it was never my intent to send any signals.” You aren’t offering to change anything or take any blame but it still helps a bruised ego. (If the guy is older and pushy I’d probably also add something about a “generational thing” indicating that they are old and out of date but I have a bitchy streak well honed from 8 years as a lifeguard.)

  47. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Oh, OP, please don’t beat yourself up. I’m a now-invisible upper 50’s woman and am grateful for it. However, in my 20s I heard and dealt with the same things:

    A male co-worker was talking to me about work, and he suddenly kissed me on the lips. After I sputtered, ‘Why the hell did you do that?!’, he said, ‘I thought you wanted me to.’

    Another male co-worker told me he gave my number to his best friend: ‘I told him how great you are at work, and I bet you’re a lot of fun outside of work, too. If you know what I mean.’ Whut?

    After doing a work favor for a male peer, he looked me up and down and said, ‘I feel like I need to take you to dinner now. Why is that?’

    It is NOT you, OP. All men do not act like this, but the ones that do need no encouragement.

    1. JSPA*

      These days, they’d need–and get–a legal swatting down. (Yeah, I’m hitting that age too, I know it would not have worked, then.)

  48. Ashley*

    Oh my goodness, I relate so, so much to this. And I unfortunately found that the only thing that really helps is getting older. I used to think it was me, that I should stop being so nice because maybe I was unintentionally giving people the wrong impression. But the alternative was to stop being such a nice person, and my friendliness is one of the qualities I like best about myself. Why should I have to give up a perfectly lovely quality because other people are inappropriate? So, that became my approach: I am a nice, warm person. I will continue to be a nice, warm person. Right up until the point you take advantage of my niceness, and then I will matter-of-factly inform you that you are making me uncomfortable and you need to stop. If you find that rude, that is a *you* problem. It doesn’t change the fact that I am still a nice person. Alison’s right, there are no great options. But it helped a lot for me to recognize that I didn’t need to change myself; I just needed to be direct. And yes, yes, yes to those who’ve said it gets better as you get older. It really does, whether because creeps aren’t as interested in middle-aged women or because middle-aged women are more comfortable projecting a “don’t mess with me” vibe, I’m not sure.

    1. Workerbee*

      I’m inclined to think it’s the latter. Creeps have their targets, and sure, some may seem to have (or actually have) particular demographics, but I think that goes back to vulnerability/not being aware enough, which one hopefully learns along the way. I have no scientific anything to back this up.

    2. M-C*

      Unfortunately there’s a curve there – the same creeps that hit on young women because they’re vulnerable also hit on truly older women (read: over 60, white hair) because they think you’ll be grateful for any attention. So don’t get your hopes up too high. But at least there are statistically fewer of them around now :-)

  49. MuseumChick*

    There are so many good scripts above. Let me add:

    (To people who express trying to set you up. What you choose depends on how nice you want to be)

    “Please don’t. What you are interpreting as interest is just my friendly personality.”

    “I’m going to ask you to not get involved in my personal life. It makes me uncomfortable that I can’t be friendly to my co-workers without it being perceived as romantic interest.”

    “I’m going to stop you right there. There is not romantic interest on my part. I am naturally friendly and outgoing, that doesn’t mean I’m “into” someone.”

  50. nnn*

    My brain wrote a story where this is the outcome of the other LW from earlier today attempting to modulate her facial expressions.

    1. Marthooh*

      Dear AAM:

      I took your advice to heart, but it completely backfired! My coworkers are throwing an engagement party for me and Lola next Monday. What do I do now?

      Former Frowner

  51. anon for this*

    Not entirely facetiously:

    eat more beans and garlic, talk about your new high fiber diet, and pass gas memorably outside the meeting room, or on the way to that potentially problematic lunch. Seems to be a pretty reliable romantic turn-off for casually-attracted guys, and may discourage people from setting you up.

    Might rebound in other ways, but at least your colon will be healthier for having done it (and you can always cut back again).

  52. PMP*

    I’d be willing to bet OP is “conventionally” pretty, and that + friendly = ugh people suck

    1. Anonymeece*

      Ooh, good point. I have a generous bust and even though I dress fairly conservatively (according to one friend who could get away with it, “matronly”), I still got more of this from men because they think my body type correlates with my flirtiness level.

      It’s kind of like people sometimes assuming blonde = dumb.

      OP, if you are conventionally pretty, it’s even more likely that the problem is Not You.

      1. Choux*

        I’m overweight, which removes some of this behavior from men, but I’m also blond with blue eyes and large breasts. Something about that combo makes people think I’m super open to their gross comments.

        1. NoHope*

          Overweight, and the only difference is guys get even more pissed off because they’ve deigned to try to get into my grossly fat pants. There’s a whole group of dudes out there that think they’re being “generous” or something because they’re willing to forgive me for being fat (but only long enough for them to try to have sex with me).

    2. Samwise*

      Doesn’t have to be. Women of all ages (but more often young women), all body types, conventionally good looking or not, friendly or not, dressing sharp or schlumpy, deal with this sort of bs all the time.

      1. Mookie*

        Yep. Not every cat-call, for example, is lobbed at you with the intent to pull; it’s often just to amuse themselves, impress their mates, or assert their chauvinism. They know it makes women uncomfortable. That’s often the point. That’s the fun of Office Flirtation: at the very least, you put her in her proper place, as an object of solely sexual interest.

  53. Ginger Sheep*

    My best friend had this issue when she was in her twenties, whereas I never encountered it (we were both kind of similarly attractive, and in similar jobs). We discussed it a bit, and we think it mostly hinged on three things :
    – touching people
    – laughing/giggling a lot at things that weren’t objectively hilarious
    – sexier clothing than mine
    She voluntarily changed the first two – stopped altogether touching colleagues & friends, ever, and toned down the laughing -, kept the clothing, and it seemed to help quite a lot with the unwelcome attention. At the same time, she was also getting older, gaining more confidence in the job, etc, so a number of things could have influenced the result. I still believe that cutting out the touching did really help in her case.

  54. Anonymeece*

    Ugh, OP, I sympathize. The “I don’t date coworkers” works well, but also just, “I’m just not really interested in dating right now. I kind of want to focus on my career and myself for a while” is also useful just to curtail any dating talk in general, particularly if you’re not ready to disclose your sexuality yet.

    It might help to get an outside perspective, but in my experience – and in the experiences of many of the women in the comments – this is more likely to be a them problem, not a you problem.

  55. a single woman in possession of a job is not in search of a single man*

    Another lesbian here! If you don’t want to come out, how do you feel about leaning on the closet a bit? Make up a boyfriend? Even just a light “oh, we went to the greatest movie this weekend, he thought it was better than the previous one” might get you in the “taken” column and not in the “single woman in search of man” netherfield plot your coworkers want to see.

  56. I Used to Be Fake Married to Avoid Men*

    If you wear a ring that looks plausibly wedding-y, men interpreting your behavior as flirting drops by like 80%. When I got married, men suddenly became capable of treating me as a professional colleague and stopped misinterpreting me laughing at a joke as being a sign of romantic interest.

    You can go to a local costume jewelry place and pick one up cheap (or get a nicer one that you really like). If someone asks, “Is that a wedding ring?” you can say, “Oh, I just like it.” You don’t even have to lie, it still works. When I was younger and unmarried, I always wore a wedding-looking ring when traveling alone (which I did a lot) and it was LIKE MAGIC.

    1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      I wore a ring when I first got engaged, and a man on the metro leaned in, pointed to it, and asked, “Is that just a deterrent?”

      I was only 22 I think at the time and did not have a snappy comeback, I think I mumbled something and kept my head down. Oh, for a do-over on that and other similar moments!

    2. caryatis*

      As a married woman…I really don’t think this works. I didn’t notice any difference in the amount of attention i got after I started wearing rings.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        Agreed. I’ve been married four years, and as recently as two months ago I had a guy hit on me on a night out despite me practically waving the ring in his face. It took the words ‘I’m married’ to come out of my mouth before he actually got the hint. (I mean, I know there’ll be people that try it on regardless, but it really peed me off that he didn’t just leave well enough alone. I suspect if I hadn’t been out on my own/with a group of female friends it probably wouldn’t have happened though.)

  57. Cowgirlinhiding*

    Be nice but firm use the “I am flattered, but I am dating someone already and I don’t date people I work with.”
    Don’t touch people, not on the arm, not on the shoulder etc, this seems to an opening to people.
    Talk to everyone, go to lunch with everyone, try not be left alone with anyone; people think when you pair off, you are interested.

  58. Beth*

    Oh man OP, as a fellow lesbian, I’ve been there. Do your share of introspection on your behavior, but if you’re pretty sure you’re just being friendly, then other people’s assumptions are their own problem. Keep on doing you. If someone asks you out, show your surprise and be honest about your own feelings (“I really see us working best as [friends/coworkers/etc.]” is a useful phrase for this). If someone tries to matchmake, you can decline; “I appreciate the thought but I’m not actually interested!” is all it should take.

    If people start insisting that you were flirting/leading them on/etc., get a little sharper. They’re being rude and unprofessional; you’re allowed to rebuff that. But most people will accept the above; even if they didn’t quite break out of their ‘boy + girl = love’ mindset on their own, an explicit lack of interest on your part is plenty to get the message across to a reasonable person.

  59. nnn*

    I find the single most effective way to make myself unappealing to men is to fail to notice their attempts at humour. Let their alleged jokes hang awkwardly in the air unacknowledged, while continuing to be perfectly sociable in every other way.

  60. CoveredInBees*

    OP, I am so sorry. While I don’t know you, I’d put good money on this being their issue and not yours. This has happened to me multiple times. I’m married, wear a wedding ring, and even sometimes kept a picture of my husband and I together on my desk. I am not particularly friendly or bubbly to the point that previous colleagues have referred to me as “aloof” and “no nonsense.” This is why I tend to believe you aren’t putting out unconscious “signals”, especially for people you truly have no interest in but that your coworkers need to mature.

    The only good thing I can say is this has stopped as I’ve gotten older (mid 30s).

  61. Another Sarah*

    Similar thing happened to me in my first job out of college.

    I was one coworker who I actually clicked really well with and decided to promote him from Coworker to Coworker That I Am Friends With (there was little chance of either of us ever supervising the other). I don’t think anyone at work noticed, as I was generally friendly to everyone and we worked in different buildings most of the time. The friendship consisted of a ~weekly lunch, occasional friendly jokes in email (but nothing that would be a problem if the company read it), sometimes visiting outside in the parking lot when we were both clearly off the clock, and occasional texts about something ridiculous that happened at work or a funny thing we saw.

    It was my own husband who told me my behavior constituted flirting, which made me super self-conscious around my friend, which then actually did make it weird (and he eventually made a pass at me, but was actually really receptive to “I’m not interested in that”.), even though I didn’t think I was treating him any differently than my college friends. My husband didn’t believe I should consider the personal and professional consequences of suddenly becoming stand-offish – I was supposed to care about him more than my job.

    Long story short, it shattered my confidence and now I only take jobs where I wouldn’t hesitate to burn bridges if my husband accused me of cheating with a coworker again (because there is no way to prove you are innocent short of 24/7 monitoring). I remind myself of my coworkers’ bad qualities so I’m never tempted to be genuinely friendly – just polite friendly. I make sure I only tell my husband stories that involve them being stupid so he has no reason to think I enjoy anything about them. This makes for very low job satisfaction, but it keeps the anxiety attacks at bay.

    But yeah, the only real solution is to develop a separate personality for work and then DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS! But I promise you are not actually doing anything wrong!

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      … … … for the record, YOU didn’t do anything wrong either. But I have lots of commentary about your husband’s behavior.

    2. The Lyrical Jesse James*

      Um. You do realize that’s not normal behavior by your husband, right? Especially if you have to monitor what you tell him about your coworkers so that he doesn’t get mad at you? I was married to a guy like this and it was exhausting. Thankfully we’re divorced now.

    3. Grey*

      I’d be getting a different spouse if mine were that jealous. That’s borderline abuse right there.

    4. wittyrepartee*

      Yeah, I’m going to second this. Feeling that way isn’t a sign of a good health relationship with your husband or with yourself. Be well.

    5. Beth*

      Um…I don’t want to read too much into a short anecdote on the internet, but I share other commenter’s concerns about your husband’s behavior here. I’m really concerned that his response to you telling him “No, this isn’t flirting, we’re friends and nothing else” was “But you have to stop anyways because I don’t like it” and not “Okay, I trust you.” And I’m extra super concerned that he took it to a level where it impacted your career, shattered your confidence, still causes significant anxiety and left you feeling like you’re not allowed to make more friends.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with crossing the streams! People are allowed to make friends at work. People are allowed to have close friends of the opposite gender. Neither of those is a red flag for cheating; they’re normal things that people of all genders do all the time. What your husband is demanding of you is unreasonable and sounds incredibly isolating and kind of miserable. It makes me really nervous for you–it sounds like he’s prioritizing his paranoia about being cheated on over your genuine well-being, and that’s really a bad look for him.

    6. JSPA*

      Yeah, “wanted to mention that you may come across as flirty to him because it would read flirty to me” is one thing. “You’re flirting / you’re cheating / planning on cheating” is quite another. And in that gulf lies the dividing line between supportive and controlling.

      The fact that the dude did make an offer isn’t some sort of corroborating evidence that husband was right–it only says that guys will sometimes hit on a female friend (which sure isn’t breaking news). Please read your own post, and know that this actually isn’t how most guys react to their girlfriends having male work friends, or laughing and joking with guys in general, or having to shut down a pass from some other guy.

      1. Batgirl*

        I really agree with this first paragraph: saying “Hmm, I wouldn’t treat work friends exactly like college friends” is one thing. Saying you ARE cheating and not accepting your word or final judgement about the situation is a fast escalation and completely alarming. Your co-worker is an ass too. He knew you were married and you did nothing wrong here.

    7. Close Bracket*

      > I only take jobs where I wouldn’t hesitate to burn bridges if my husband accused me of cheating with a coworker again

      I only take husbands where I wouldn’t hesitate to burn bridges if I wanted to be friends with my coworkers in a perfectly normal fashion and they told me I was flirting and expected me to stop.

    8. Audrey Puffins*

      It’s not on you to prove that you’re innocent, it’s on your husband to have faith in you, the way you presumably have faith in him.

    9. learnedthehardway*

      I can understand your husband pointing out that what he was seeing was possibly going to be misinterpreted by the male coworker and/or being concerned about the male coworker’s intentions. I was there once, as the person in the equation warning the other person that someone had intentions (and not being believed until that other person made a pass at them).

      On the other hand, for your husband to make this such an issue that you’re turning away good career opportunities – well, that’s a lack of respect on his part towards YOU. I’ve been very not shy about pointing this out to my spouse, when it has come up (past relationships and family issues colour their thinking, and pointing out that this is a love-killing kind of insult and total disrespect to me was effective in reframing the issue).

  62. Alice*

    I’m so envy of the young girls I work with who are married – for some reason male colleagues take that seriously but don’t take the fact that I have a boyfriend as a roadblock to trying to get with me. I had a coworker ask me out, and when I told him I had a boyfriend, he responded with, “yeah, I heard you talking about that.” WTF! He’s since asked me out 3 or 4 more times since then and I’ve had to be a bitch to him in order to get my point across, which is so not me.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      A quote from a ‘gentleman’ who was visiting my (female) roommate in college, after I quite literally told him to f– off, I have a boyfriend, after repeated attempts to be incredibly disgusting at me: “Just ‘cuz there’s a goalie doesn’t mean you can’t score!” Lovely.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Tell HR about this creep. It’s sexual harassment to repetitively approach someone in that manner when you’ve told them to leave you alone. For real.

      I think this boils down to how much I loath “single or married” being the only thing in some aspects for relationship status. I’m not single, I’m not able to file my taxes as married but I sure the ef am not single by the definition of I’m not in a partnered relationship and am not available for you to approach in a romantic way. G.T.F.O

    3. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

      Alice, this is absolutely sexual harassment. He is allowed to ask you out once. You said no. Now you need to report this to HR, if only to protect yourself in case he makes up something about you. You can even say that you think you have it handled, but you wanted it to be in the record, just in case.

  63. TipTopShop*

    I worked with a guy in his mid 40’s and he confided in me several times about how a 20 year-old coworker (who was not single) wanted to have sex with him and that all of our coworkers assumed they were having sex. Why did he think this? Because she sat with him during their assigned lunch time, waited with him at the bus stop at the end of their shift (she was waiting for her boyfriend to pick her up), and would chat with him when she ran out of work and got bored (we worked in a home improvement type store). I never met her, but all the interactions and conversations that he was convinced meant she wanted to sleep with him just seemed like normal friendly interactions to me. Was really disturbing.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This mentality is literally what leads to women being attacked, so I’m so upset reading it that I’m clinching :|

      “She wanted it, she wore a shirt and it was blue, blue is my favorite color, she wanted me!!!”

  64. Argh!*

    “You’re existing while being young and female.”

    I solved this problem by gaining 30 lbs due to a health issue. All the unwanted attention just evaporated like magic!

    1. Janie*

      lol, yeah, nah, that’s not a guarantee. Shockingly fat people get this too. I get weird flirting more than I’d like and I barely go outside.

  65. Peaches*

    As Alison and others have pointed out, some men have an inability to see women as people instead of simply romantic partners.

    I’m a married woman and was recently at a bar/restaurant with some female friends from college. We struck up a casual conversation with a couple of guys near us at the bar who were wearing apparel of the same school we graduated from. I mentioned that my girlfriends and I had graduated from said school. One guy point blank responded to me, “wow, that’s awesome. So when can I take my fellow alum out on a date?” I told him I was married, and he was absolutely APPALLED that I (his words) “[had] the balls to flirt with him like that as a married woman.”

    1. Peaches*

      Also should add I was wearing my wedding ring, and am at an age where most people would think to check. LOL.

  66. Anonymoose*

    Going out on a limb, but it probably is her given she admits to having a history of this. Seriously, wtf is so hard to admit some people are just flirty by nature. It can be stopped, but damn, it’s not a sin to admit it.

    If it was a guy, 99% of you would read in that he was a habitual sexual predator.

    1. Porcupine*

      Read some of the comments here. Are all these women accidental flirts, or is it more likely that some men will take almost anything as an invitation?

      1. Bree*

        Plus, if she is just an accidental flirt, why aren’t any of her female co-workers asking her out? Presumably her natural flirtiness is even more powerful to them! /sarcasm

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nearly every woman commenting here has a history of men responding that way. Do you think we’re all “just flirty by nature”? Or do you think maybe our lived experience re: men hitting on young women without provocation might be the explanation?

    3. SaffyTaffy*

      Here’s a thing. I ~am~ flirtatious by nature, and I don’t get half the harrassment my more-attractive-and-less-exuberant friends get. The way a woman acts is just an excuse for men to go after whoever they wanted to go after in the first place.

  67. Bree*

    Ugh, I’m sorry this is happening to you. When I was a younger, friendly, queer woman, this happened to me a bit too. Two things seemed to change it: I cut my hair really short, and then I got married and started wearing a ring and mentioning my wife. This is not advice, of course – these aren’t things anyone should have to do unless they want to! And of course, men still occasionally hit on me, though it’s strangers now.

    I’m actually surprised co-workers are so keen to pursue you, since that’s generally considered pretty unprofessional. Hopefully, if you drop the “not interested in dating co-workers” line a few times, word will get around and they’ll back off. If not, that’s on them – not you.

  68. Schnapps*

    I guess “Sorry, you’re not my type! I prefer vaginas!” is not an appropriate response? Anyone?

    In any case they should be treating you as a coworker, not as a potential date in the first place. A response along the lines of, “I’m here to work, not to get into a relationship” and changing the subject to a work topic might suffice.

    1. Beth*

      I’ve definitely had conversations that went, “Sorry, you’re not really my type!” “What is your type?” “…Women?”

      Usually that shuts them down pretty thoroughly.

    2. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

      “Why I was written up for HR: I looked Wakeen up and down and muttered ‘Needs more breasts.’”

    3. Mookie*

      That’s landed me with a fist pump and an invitation to go pick up chicks together on our dinner break.

  69. Porcupine*

    Did I write this letter ten years ago, and it only just got here now? Because this sounds like a letter I could have written ten years ago, right down to the lesbian part.

    I’ve been thinking about this stuff recently actually, because a guy in a new volunteer/social group I just joined started very awkwardly doing the requisite checks to see if there was a male I belonged to before he started his run, and I really gave him no encouragement beyond being as friendly with him as I was with everyone else in the group. It is aggravating and I’ve really had it up to my eyeballs that all you have to do is be female, moderately friendly and exist in a space, and men think they have a claim on your time and mental energy, even when you’ve given them no indication to suggest so.

    Anyway though. As you seem to be my past self, I’ll give you the information I’ve figured out in the intervening ten years. It’s still not perfect, but it’s helped me.

    Firstly, I’m friendly and I’m not ashamed of that and I’m not going to let anyone slow that down; my sunny nature is one of my strengths, and besides, I like it. However, I have learned that with some people I DO expend extra friendly energy towards them. I’m not interested in them romantically of course, but if I find them interesting in other ways I will sometimes, without really meaning to, exert the full force of my friendliness on them. And I won’t lie, it does look a little like flirting. Not REALLY, really it just looks like enthusiasm, but I have learned to rein it in a little. Not entirely– you’re allowed to like people and want to get to know them! — but I just slow my roll a bit and let my friendliness powers work a little slower.

    Obviously, it doesn’t always work. I’m dealing with an uncomfortable situation right now after all (and in my very mature and ten-years-in-the-future way… I’m just completely ignoring it and trying to pretend it’s not happening), so I definitely can’t claim I’ve got it all sorted out, because I really don’t. Learning to modulate my friendliness has helped, but as much as anything else it’s helped me because I find it much easier to deal with this stuff emotionally when I can look at the situation and tell myself that they’re the ones acting inappropriately, because I know that I’ve been treating everybody equally. And who knows, maybe you already do this like a pro. Lord knows that people are sometimes going to make assumptions about your friendliness, no matter what you do.

    1. Batgirl*

      I love this line “checks to see if there was a male I belonged to” and am considering deploying it.

      “You seem to be checking to see if there is a male whom I belong to. Please don’t and treat me as you would treat a male coworker”.

      1. Porcupine*

        It really was so overt this time too! I’d been to a theme park in another state about a month prior, which I’d mentioned, and out of the blue he started a conversation on messenger by asking if I’d gone with my boyfriend. Like. Dude?! At least try to make it less obvious?! At least don’t make that literally your opening sentence?! And I think he thought he was being SUBTLE.

        Still mad. UGH.

  70. Thomas Merton*

    I used the “I don’t date any one I work with” line with a former co-worker who kept asking me out and I got tired of making up excuses for what I was doing that weekend. Then she got fired (for other reasons) and cheerfully assumed that now of course I’d go out with her.

      1. Thomas Merton*

        Oh yes. And by relating my anecdote I didn’t want to discount the far greater annoyance and career impact this has on the OP and women in general. Just that it was so awkward and I couldn’t find a way to just say No.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, there are stories about people quitting jobs for this kind of nonsense too. “Oh well then I’ll just go on over here to another company, now you’re free from company and/or your personal policy of not dating coworkers!”

      That person is so far out to lunch, they’re near stalker level at times.

      Also if someone at work will not take “no I don’t want to date you” the first time and continue to hound you, that’s sexual harassment. You should report it.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I had that happen to me too! I caved in and dated him–nice friend, boring kisser–and then uh, it didn’t work out.

  71. Snark*

    This thread is reminding me of a cringeworthy moment from a few months ago, where I was on the other side. I was at a conference, and truly, honestly thought I’d met this woman before. So I was like, hey, do I know you? And we were like 10 minutes into a nice conversation, where we realized we had actually never met before, and I realized….oh God, she thinks that was me picking her up, and worse, she’s interested and flirting with ME and augh what the fuck do I DO and yeah. Not a great moment. And then I told my wife the story and she laughed, literally weeping, for like five minutes straight.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      Sounds like my wife after I told her the story of seeing a “woman I know” in an airport, coming up behind her, wrapping my arms around her waist, and kissing the back of her head (totally appropriate for us.)

      I think the only thing that saved me was the look of horror on my face when she turned around and It. Wasn’t. Her. I nearly passed out from embarrassment.

      After she finished laughing, my wife called the woman I know and told her the story, which got her laughing again. And I could hear woman I know laughing on the other end.

    2. Bulbasaur*

      This happened to me once with one of my students when I was a TA. I only realized because we were working in a common area, and after she left the other grad students took it upon themselves to fill me in on what had been going on.

      Actually, think I was convinced that they were wrong and argued with them about it, which they found highly entertaining. I persisted in that opinion for about a day, until she contacted me trying to book a private session with me on a Friday night, which even I had to admit settled the matter.

  72. Polaris*

    Can I just say, solidarity as another lesbian that always gets assumed to be straight unless I specifically state otherwise. I do tend to just straight up say I’m not interested in men, but there have been a couple past jobs where I didn’t feel safe doing that, and it’s miserable. I understand not wanting to fend off one type of harassment by opening yourself up to another one, or further open the door to people commenting on your personal and romantic life when you just want to do your work.

  73. Ginger*

    “sensed a connection”

    Excuse me while I go vomit. So he thought hitting on you, his coworker, was the next logical step?

    And the co-workers playing matchmaker with other coworkers and without their utter and complete permission? NOT OK. NOT NORMAL.

    OP – it’s not you, it’s them. There are lots of good lines in the comments to use. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. It sounds like you work in middle school

  74. AKchic*

    I *loathed* being under 30 in the workplace. Being short, young-looking and a woman in male-dominated areas was always a recipe for disaster. But, y’go where the work is. I got out of retail/service sector jobs because of an ex-husband stalker issue (and really, when you’re customer service and being stalked, it’s harder to avoid your stalker). So, office jobs brought me more money, but more hassle. Same harassments though, just on a different level.

    If you’re cool, you’re prudish/cold and playing “hard to get” (what the what?). If you’re even the slightest bit personable or warm then you’re wanting them for all they’ve got and then some. Fate forbid you actually know anyone outside of work. Even the delivery drivers are suspect if someone has their eye on you (oh yes, one company I worked for I was accused of sleeping with a delivery driver because I knew his name and was friendly with him… he delivered to another job I’d worked at previously, plus his brother and I went to school together).

    All you can do is continue to be yourself and when the issues pop up, get frosty. “Excuse me? I don’t recall expressing any interest in that area at all. I’ll do you the favor of pretending this subject didn’t come up” but only the first time. If the person brings it up again, you’ll need to shut them down harder and let them know that you are personable with everyone and that they are mistaking kindness for flirting and if they can’t separate the two, then you will stop being so kindly professional and keep it a more frosty professional so they can truly understand their workplace boundaries.

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      “I’ll do you the favor of pretending this subject didn’t come up.” I LOVE this. Short and cutting, but very professional.

  75. Messed 'n' Stressed*


    I like how these people know for you that you like someone, without asking whether or not your behaviour actually implies a liking in the very first place.

  76. Susana*

    Ugh – Working While Young and Female. You could be cold and then get tagged as … the cold bee-yotch. I absolutely do NOT agree with making up a bf/gf, bit you could say “sorry – I’m not available!” Because you’re not..

  77. RUKiddingMe*

    OP you are doing nothing wrong. Ugh! Entitled, presumptuous males make me so mad. Do not stop being yourself. Tell them to stop directing these comments at you. If they continue, escalate it. Sexual harassment takes many forms.

  78. CastIrony*

    My condolences, OP. It makes me sad that women can’t compliment and generally be nice to make the world a nicer place or you know, because they’re genuinely THAT nice!

    On another hand, I did read somewhere on Pinterest that men view women as only romantic potential because they can’t really express their emotions growing up otherwise (in general). That’s not an excuse to do this to women, though.

  79. Miss Petty and Vindictive*

    “Oh, sorry, I have a really strong rule not to date guys I work with. It just doesn’t work out.”

    Because then if you meet a super funny lady at your work who you do want to date, you never actually lied to the boys.

  80. RB*

    These suggestions about wearing a ring and making up a partner are really rubbing me the wrong way.

    1. Beth*

      They’re useful safety options for women dealing with men who refuse to take no for an answer.

      The fact that there are men who refuse to take no for an answer is constantly terrible, though.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            There are probably men like that here, but if they try this sh*t in public they get slapped down. If they harass me on the street I call 911. They get scared and leave.
            My understanding is some neighborhoods are more ignorant than others – I’ve always made an effort to avoid ignorant people and that helped.
            New York City is also good IME – big cities have a more diverse population, which leads to more respect. Chauvinists and racists know to keep quiet. Law enforcement is better at preventing trouble because of their wide variety of experience.

            1. Beth*

              Oh man your experience of NYC and mine are complete opposites. I live here right now, and I’ve never experienced anywhere near this level of street harassment and men being entitled jerks anywhere else I’ve lived.

  81. Missy*

    Not every workplace is like that. I think the best thing you can do is just acknowledge they’re d***s. The less you internalize blame, the more you’ll find positive environments.

  82. caryatis*

    Ask a woman (preferably a coworker) who knows you well to assess your behavior. All young women will get hit on, but some young women are in fact more flirty than others, and can learn to tone it down.

    1. Lena Clare*

      Well, the OP said she wasn’t being flirty and why should she have to tone down her warmth and friendliness because other people are dumb as soup?

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I hope caryatis meant that as “unconsciously coming across as flirty” and that there are some ways one can learn to modulate one’s voice/laugh or mannerisms for business to present oneself as more serious and assertive. Which isn’t a bad thing to learn when you’re a young professional woman for many other reasons besides stopping getting hit on.

      1. Audrey Puffins*

        Flirting isn’t exclusively about encouraging potential romantic behaviour, it’s often just a fun playful way to engage with another person, and some particularly flirty people really will flirt with anyone regardless of gender or sexuality.

  83. DataGirl*

    Up to my late 30’s I had this problem at every job. There was always at least one man (sometimes more) who thought me being friendly meant I was flirting and they went from asking for a date (before I got married- early 20’s) to full on harassment- physical touching, trying to convince me to have an affair, making me a CD of him singing love songs (yes, that really happened). Because of the history I have definitely tailored my behavior and presentation. I stopped wearing button up blouses when a man told me he could see my bra through the gap between buttons. Stopped wearing anything that showed cleavage, or leg. Stopped being bubbly- I’m still cordial but not enthusiastically friendly. I don’t know if any of those things are something that you could do OP. And yes, it sucks that we as women have to change our behavior instead of men changing theirs, but for me at least I felt it was worth it to feel more comfortable in my work environment.

  84. Paris-Berlin-Seoul Express*

    You’re not responsible. I had to deal with this crap until I moved to Europe. I just couldn’t be nice to any of my male colleagues without them thinking that I was interested in them in a sexual way. Ugh. It made it impossible to have male friends which I think is a pretty sad state of affairs. Things changed when I moved to Germany. While I still got hit on at work, at least a No was taken in stride and I was able to have non-romantic relationships with men. I’m now in my 50s and thankfully no longer have to deal with that. Now it’s just the mansplaining and selective listening (when a man says the same thing a woman just stated and when the woman said it everyone ignored it but when the man states it everyone thinks it’s the greatest idea since sliced bread). Our society still has a long way to go.

  85. SherBert*

    I am an old woman now and have had this issue all my life. I’m just trying to be pleasant, people!! Which then makes me not want to be pleasant… and that’s not good either.

  86. Paperdill*

    Ok, I am genuinely looking for education here. I only had sisters and female cousins and I am a nurse who works almost exclusively with women. Basically I had very little to do with men my whole life until my husband and sons came along (and husband is unique and sons are young). In short, I had little knowledge of “the ways of men” growing up, but was often accused of flirting (and still am…and tbh, maybe I am).
    So my question is: how are all these men supposed to discern between “warm and friendly” and “genuinely flirting and interested”?
    Because it seems to me that the only way they can tell the difference is to ask. But that seems fraught with danger because if it is just “warm and friendly” they get in trouble for daring to even ask as it assumes the behavior was intentionally flirtatious.
    So, can someone explain to me what the “correct”, socially responsible thing to do is?

    1. JSPA*

      The simplest rule is “only ever ask someone out / tell them you’re interested, once.”

      The more complex rules are,

      1. “don’t ask at all, if you’re in a position of power”
      2. “if you’re the customer, assume they’re being nice, not flirting”
      3. “don’t ask, if you can’t risk the relationship” (whether a friendship, or a work relationship)
      4. Don’t talk about their “signals” or their presumed interest–have the guts to state yours
      5. Don’t reference their body, or what being around them does to your body
      6. Don’t intrude when they’re doing something else–talking, reading, running, watching the stage, napping on the grass, taking pictures
      7. Don’t ask if you fear you might act upset at them–in any way–for saying “no.”
      8. Don’t sidle in by way of “flirting practice” or “kissing practice” or “assume it’s time to kiss because a friend who’s shorter [taller] than you turned their face up [down] while talking to you.” Or whatever YA novels from the 80’s and 90’s imply is a good way to turn a friend or acquaintance into a romance. A lot of that stuff is pretty manipulative, or even coercive, when you get down to it. A one word ask & confirm isn’t a mood breaker.

      with friends:
      “I’m so happy around you–would you like to try dating?”
      “When I’m hanging out with you, I feel like I could do it forever. [wait for enthusiastic agreement; failing that, stop here.]. Do you want to be forever friends, or should we also try going on a date-date sometime? Like, sometime soon?”

      Accept that “let me think about it” or “not now” doesn’t mean, “check back later.”

      At a bar or party–given dating apps, there’s really no remaining excuse for the “babe, you’re hot, give me your number.” (Give your number, if you must.) If you’ve been doing the hand gesture communication thing (pointing–you, me, soda, you? Thumbs up, yes! Grab the soda and consider yourself invited over to talk and maybe flirt.) There’s also the party-appropriate, “Are you flirting with me? No? Would you like to?” (If yes, then yes; if no, then don’t be a jerk–“OK, that’s cool.”)

      Paradoxically, it’s way less creepy to flirt overtly, yourself, than to make stealth flanking moves from the friend zone, based on trying to read subtle messages.

      This is safe protocol regardless of the genders involved, BTW.

      1. JSPA*

        My fave: “you may not be flirting…but I’d like to, if you’d like to.”

        It’s enthusiastic, without being pushy. It puts nothing at all on the other person. Allows a full range of “actually, I kind of was” to “no way.” It declares a wish to flirt–which is way lower stakes than a wish to date, copulate, or even kiss.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        And ask quickly if you have feelings for them. Romantic feelings are like cheese, they intensify and become peculiar with age and containment. Talk about it when you feel it, if the feelings aren’t returned take some time to feel your feelings and hang out with other people until you feel better.

    2. DKMA*

      Ask someone out, or always assume the answer is no. Those are the two acceptable paths.

      If you choose to ask someone out, do it only once and fully accept whatever answer you are given graciously.

      Be aware that just by asking you are risking making the other person uncomfortable in a way that is unfair and not professional, so be very selective about choosing this path.

    3. Batgirl*

      Asking is fine; grown up men are able to own this as their idea without blaming you for seducing them into it.

    4. Beth*

      You’re right that there isn’t a firm line between flirting and friendly behavior. Mostly they overlap–when you like someone, regardless of whether the way you like them is platonic or romantic, you’re going to do things like strike up conversations with them and smile at them and hang around when they’re around and have lunch together.

      Personally, I think men generally should assume that a woman acting this way towards them just means she likes being around them, without assuming it’s romantic. That doesn’t mean a man in this situation can’t ask her out; he can, if he’s interested! It just means that he can’t assume the answer will be yes. It means he can’t take it out on her (guilt trips, pity parties he expects her to comfort him through, anger, etc.) if she turns him down. And it means that he shouldn’t be looking at the women in his life specifically to scan for signs of romantic interest in him; he needs to treat friendships and professional relationships with women as important and valid in their own right, not drop a woman who thought she was friends with him once it’s clear she won’t date him.

      If all men did those things, I think this would be a total non-issue.

    5. Star Nursery*

      I’d add… I agree I don’t think it’s the OP, it’s a super common problem for friendly outgoing bubbly people!

      Some cues that might be mistaken as flirty (rightly or wrongly):

      Extra long eye contact
      Laughing/giggly a lot at what the other person says
      Smiling (more than usual)
      Making a point to look nicer when you see that person
      Acting very interested in personal questions/topics about that person and listening a lot to what they say/paying attention to them (vs ignoring them)
      Touching that person
      Overt comments such as compliments
      Giving gifts, candy, flowers
      Telling them you like them
      Teasing and joking with them
      Asking out on a date

      The problem is that a lot of the items are similar to just being a very friendly/bubbly person! Until you get to the direct asking out a lot of these could be misconstrued either way.

      I can be bubbly and outgoing and I’m younger looking than my age. What works for me is keeping a more serious expression, stop laughing, etc. I have gone too chilly and then now I’m trying to be more in the middle. Still my bubbly self unless someone creeps me out and gets in appropriate. I’m a fan of talking about my spouse and keeping pics of us up at work. That part wouldn’t help the OP.

      Maybe directly responding to the matchmakers, “No thanks! I’m definitely not interested. Ewww. I don’t want to date co-workers! I’m seeing someone but it’s new so I want to see where it goes. I’m just a friendly person with everyone.”

      I had a friend in college that got hit on a lot! By both men and women but she was straight. I mentioned to her that when I first met her I thought she was interested in me because she did a lot more eye contact than what is normal and it made me uncomfortable until I realised she was that way with everyone. She didn’t realize the eye contact was more than what’s normal… But I found out she was trying to look in people’s eyes so that she would not zone out while they were talking. In her case she had a super non flirty reason and sense she presented healthy no one could visibly see any health issues a lot of people misread her as romantic interest in them.

  87. MissDisplaced*

    I feel you OP. I’m willing to bet that you’re also likely considered to be very attractive/ good shape in addition to being young, right?
    Many moons ago (prehistoric times LOL) I was also subject to this from the men I worked with. I worked in a very male dominated industry and just “being nice,” or “friendly” quickly was taken as I wanted to f**# them, and I had to lock the doors to my work area (I often was alone in there on night shift) or be subject to propositions, sexual innuendo, and even groping. When I reported this, I was told it was my fault for “dressing sexy” and talking to people (!) The company did nothing to the men who couldn’t control themselves. I’m sure other women from my era have similar tales.
    I say all this because IT IS NOT YOU!
    Never let them convince you it’s you or something you’re doing wrong or take the blame for being flirty or looking too pretty. You shouldn’t have to put up with this at work.
    And I don’t blame you for not wanting to come out at work. While you may think it would put them off, it may actually add more intrigue when you don’t want the attention at all.

  88. Rachael*

    Hi, OP. I am also accused of being flirty with men. It’s just my personality. I joke around and laugh alot when I am talking to them. However, the last time someone brought up how I was “flirting” I finally said something back. I asked them to not just look at how I act around men and to look at how I act around both men AND women. I told him that he will not see a different between the two. I laugh and joke with everyone! Therefore, I am NOT flirting.

    You may want to point this out to people who are saying that you are flirty with men so that they can see that you are friendly to everyone and to shut down any rumors that you are a flirt. You should be allowed to have a friendly and bubbly personality!

  89. Lumen*

    I once got a mocking “stop flirting with the candidates!” by a director at a very toxic, misogynistic workplace. You know what I was doing? I sat at the front desk, smiled, made eye contact, offered him water, and engaged in a bit of small talk while he waited for his interview.

    You know… I did my job. But I was doing my job at the same time that I was existing while Young and Female. My behavior, how I dressed, how I spoke, who I spoke with, how I stood — it was all scrutinized through the lens of my gender presentation and perceived sexual availability before any other factors were considered.

    The worst part of this particular incident was that we hired that person, and he worked closely with the man who made that awful comment. I don’t know what he did or didn’t say about me to my new coworker (though I know they were in the habit of talking about female coworkers in less than savory ways), but it made me guarded around him for along time, lest I be accused again of ‘flirting’.

    The problem is likely not you, unless you’re doing a lot of touching and complimenting and laughing uproariously at dumb jokes. The problem is sexism.

  90. Jerm*

    OP, I used to get this from men and lesbians. I think it is an ego thing. Don’t change who you are. Folks will figure you’re not interested, soon enough.

  91. Batgirl*

    Oh OP, I don’t miss this. Some things that worked for me:

    To female matchmakers- spelling it out that you’re not being coy and freezing it out just as you would with males. Start soft: “I find this really upsetting, embarrassing and distressing and I need you to drop it. Seriously.”
    (Add for a harder message) “I know that I don’t find Draco attractive so your comments about my behaviour just simply can’t be true. Do you know how damaging it is to paint me as a flirt? I don’t want to escalate this as a complaint”

    To men- not much works with the type who can see flirtation in cloud formations, so the less you say the less argument fodder there is.
    I tend to cycle between “No thanks” and quick heel turn, or cutting them off halfway through sentences with “No. Anyway…. ” or doing the blank face of horror with raised school ma’am eyebrows. (Obviously this is only for temptress accusations not straightforward date requests)

  92. SS Express*

    Oh honey <3 So much sympathy, I've been there too and it's so frustrating! I wish I had a great solution but I don't. I've noticed that it's improved a little over time – I'm not as young, I'm not as junior, people have gotten more used to me, and the more other stuff I'm known for (picks up errors nobody else noticed, nailed the last product launch, etc) the less weight the bubbliness carries in forming an overall impression.

    I wouldn't change your behaviour unless you really do want to. Being bubbly and outgoing allows you to form warm relationships with colleagues, which of course has plenty of benefits that (for me) outweigh the downsides. Plus when random dudes at work are into you or think you're into them, it can work to your advantage. I really really hate that this is the case, but it is. I've been able to call in tonnes of last minute favours that meant I could deliver a result that others couldn't, found out about big things before anyone else, been front of mind when a promotion opportunity opened up, joined important people for drinks/coffee, and just been able to have friendly office chit-chat with executives who most people at my level found unapproachable. I deserved all these opportunities anyway because I'm smart, capable and hard working, but I know that's not the reason I got them. I'm not saying that this is a good thing or something you should strive for, just that it's the silver lining to the disgusting cloud that is being a young woman in this stupid society.

    Also, in my case, I'm not just bubbly at work, I'm also actually an outrageous flirt in my spare time. I've noticed that leaning into that has actually made it better – like, now everyone knows I'm a "flirt" so they realise it's just my personality and I'm not actually hot for them.

    I don't know if any of this will help at all. I wish I had a better solution, or that we lived in a world where people didn't have this problem in the first place.

  93. ShwaMan*

    Putting aside the cuckoo bananas prevalence of dumb guys with no perception skills (since the commentariat have it well covered here), it never fails to amaze me how many people don’t even think twice before trying to date within the workplace. What. Are. You. Thinking.

  94. Weeping Willow*

    When I was 19 and at my first office job, I worked with a guy who was clearly interested in me. He flirted with me and always tried to sit next to me in meetings. I was not. interested. at. all. I had a great relationship with my manager and asked him to talk to the flirty guy. My manager told me that he would if I really wanted him to. But he also told me I was a young, beautiful, woman and I would encounter unwanted attention for the rest of my life. He suggested that I learn how to tell men I wasn’t interested because I would run into this many more times in the future.

    My manager was right, of course. And I don’t remember exactly what I sad to the flirty guy. But I remember that I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t interested in him romantically and the flirting needed to stop. That was some of the best advice a manager has ever given me. I’ve learned to be straightforward when dealing with unwanted romantic attention. I simply tell men that X behavior is unacceptable and it needs to stop. It works every time.

    Side note: Many years later, I saw flirty guy on the news when he was arrested for molesting children. Very weird.

  95. Ethel*

    I hate to admit this, but I just have to kind of be mean. I know, men don’t want to hear that sometimes women are mean to keep men from hitting on them, and women don’t really *want* to be mean. But some men do not get the idea unless you are just cold and unemotional.

    There is a guy at my work who is friendly and nice. But I knew from the day I met him he was into me. Thing is, A) I work with him B) He’s 15 years younger than me. Also the fact that he is so young also made his interest in me more obvious (to me, not my coworkers), because he is less experienced, thus did an adorable job of trying to strike up conversation. Anyway, I was not mean per se, but I kind of put up a barrier and don’t act *as* friendly with him as I do with other men in the office (I am in a female majority career). I ALWAYS hate doing this to men who are into me, because their only crime is being attracted to me. But I will not do office romance, nor do I date people that young.

  96. Liv Jong*

    I bartended in a rural town during an oil and gas boom and the ratio was 40:1 men to women and I have a resting smiley face. I became one of those annoying people that’s always talking about her husband to establish that despite my smile I was not interested. Many awkward encounters ensued anyway.

    Alcohol would lower imbitions and men were frequently vulgar, but at least I was able to tell them “Fuck off” in response to their demand for a smile.

  97. Princesa Zelda*

    I am also a young friendly queer woman and i don’t really have any advice, just commiseration. I wear my hair in a pompadour with an undercut, my work wardrobe is flannels and men’s slacks, and I wear a ring on the sales floor — and all that has cut propositions from customers about 25-ish%.

    Good luck, and I hope men cut it the f out within our lifetimes!

  98. qvaken*

    I actually think it’s good that OP is considering the possibility that she could be contributing to this. Note that I’m not saying it’s her fault, and I think it probably isn’t.

    I knew a woman, one of my partner’s old friends, who, the first time I met her, told me a series of stories about different men getting the impression she was interested in them. She was angry at all of these individuals and found it ridiculous that they would think she was interested. She was also angry at my partner’s ex-wife and blamed her for the fact that they hadn’t hung out for a long time. My partner told me that the real reason was because he decided his wife might think the friendship was inappropriate. This wasn’t an issue when it came to his other female friends.

    I flagged the pattern in my mind but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. We had her and a male friend over – we weren’t trying to set them up, they were just the two friends who could make it that night. She asked after the male friend after he left, but no big deal because he was single. Then she made a couple of inappropriate comments about my partner and me, eg. “Don’t worry, I won’t sneak into your bedroom and perve on you.” After that, we figured the pattern was confirmed and my partner and I agreed that he would gently back out of the friendship.

    That said, I find it unlikely that OP is being inappropriate like my partner’s old friend was. Besides, even if these guys genuinely got the mistaken impression that she was interested, they make a choice about how they go about that. Ignore it because they’re not interested, or casually ask her out for a drink then leave her alone if she says no, or try to suss out if she really is interested before they make a work-appropriate move.

    But coworkers telling her that they “can tell she’s into” a member of the team, or a male coworker saying that he “could sense they have a connection”? Eww. They’re at work.

    OP, I think you could try to change your behaviour and see if that works, or you could not – I’m not convinced about whether or not it’ll make a difference. But if your coworkers continue with this kind of gross behaviour, I think you could totally chat to your manager about it. Even if you don’t bring it to the level of a formal sexual harassment complaint, maybe these people could at least get some coaching on appropriate workplace behaviour.

  99. Budgie Lover*

    Since OP is looking for pointers I would recommend keeping the friendliness level about equal among all coworkers. Don’t single the same one out for deep conversations, personal compliments, and one-on-one lunches all the time. Genuinely confused people will be able to look around and go “Hmm this seems to be her base level of friendliness.”

    Also the advice about avoiding touch is a good point.

  100. 'Tis me*

    When I was in my teens I had a male friend ask if I’d been flirting. When I insisted that he explain what had given him that impression (because I was seriously alarmed and confused by this) he told me not to worry about it then finally revealed that I’d been smiling a lot. I’d met up with some friends and had a nice time…

    The one time a colleague asked me out I had done a good enough job conveying via gentle mocking that I was purely interested in friendship for him to preface it with “I’m pretty certain I know the answer but I have to ask”. And I have worked in a female-dominated industry since I was 21 and been in the same relationship since I was 20 (not long after this guy asked me out).

    Not working in a public-facing position, working in a female-dominated environment, living in a small village, valuing comfort over fashion, and having two young children, being sleep deprived and with a developing white streak all help.

      1. 'Tis me*

        I hope so too; we lost touch years ago (when we stopped using MSN Chat) but yeah, he was an actually nice guy (rather than a Nice Guy) and accepted the answer, didn’t get weird, etc. But I think he had self esteem issues/possibly a touch of depression and wasn’t the happiest of people…

  101. Dennis Feinstein*

    True that, after 40, a lot of this tedious nonsense dies down. But even as recently as a couple of years back when I would have been 46 or 47, I had a perfectly professional, polite, friendly chat with an IT guy at work (who could have been anywhere from 10-20 years younger than me) about my computer. After which, several coworkers (youngish women, no less) did the whole “Ooh, seems like you like him” thing. And, of course, when I attempted to shut that sh*t down I got the “lady doth protest too much” treatment. Ridiculous.
    To the LW I’d say continue to be warm and friendly and stick firmly to “I am not available” to those who try to fix you up/pick you up at work.

  102. Nelly*

    When I was younger I tried to tell an inappropriate co-worker “I don’t shit where I eat” but I got confused and said “I don’t eat shit” when he asked me out.

    We stared at each other for a moment, then I walked away. In one sense, that was exactly the right thing to say anyway. He didn’t ask again.

    1. Marion Ravenwood*

      This is very ‘I would like to extend to you an invitation to the pants party’, but it did make me giggle!

  103. Caitlin*

    I’d be tempted to adjust the line from “I don’t date coworkers” to “I don’t date people I meet through work” – it expands it to include coworkers, professions contacts, clients, customers, random friends of your coworkers, etc.

  104. German Girl*

    Yeah, I’m a young-ish woman in a male dominated field.

    It’s very probably not your fault. I dress neatly but not overly pretty and I never wear makeup. I don’t touch and don’t give personal compliments. I think I’m reasonably friendly but not over the top bubbly.

    And I get guys thinking I’m into them even now that I’m in my 30s and have been married for 7 years and wearing a ring for 11 years.

    I think it’s a function of men/women ratio. I had a brief respite when I worked in a department with about equal numbers of men and women (very rare in my industry!). I’ve never even heard a sexist comment there, it was truly wonderful.

    But at University and any other workplace I’ve been at, including my current one unfortunately, it’s more like 10% women, 90% men. And in that constellation, just being a women seems to make you stand out, be interesting because different, and give some men ideas …

  105. londonedit*

    I’ve never experienced this at work, because I work in publishing which is massively female-orientated (it’s 70:30 female/male where I work).

    But oh my goodness the number of times I’ve had that sudden ‘Oh crap, he thinks I’m interested in him’ realisation in social situations. I like football (soccer) and I know a fair bit about it, and I’ve had SO many occasions where I’ve been in the pub with a group of friends, talking to a friend-of-a-friend, just having a normal conversation about last night’s match or taking the piss out of them for their choice of football team, or whatever. The sort of conversation millions of heterosexual men have in pubs all over the country every day of the week without anyone thinking anyone is flirting. And then I’ll either get a sudden realisation that the guy has this starry-eyed ‘Oh my GOD it’s a woman and she ACTUALLY KNOWS about football and she’s TALKING TO ME’ look on his face, or I’ll think everything’s normal and then get the inevitable ‘Hey…so it was great talking to you the other night…am I crazy to think there was a connection there???’ message. It’s so frustrating. What’s the solution, stop talking to men altogether? Pretend I know nothing about football and sit there sipping my glass of wine like a proper little lady should? Who knows.

  106. Business Librarian*

    I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, so I just want to speak up for the librarians. You’re at the reference desk and a man comes in with a question/problem. You launch into ‘the reference interview’ because many, MANY times what the patron needs is not what they actually ask for because information retrieval isn’t their business. You look at the man, you are pleasant, you ask lots of follow-up questions, as you were taught. You’re encouraging because you don’t want them to think YOU think they’re dumb because they need help. You pretend interest in 18th century taxidermy to encourage them to tell you more because so far what they’ve given you is totally inadequate to getting them what they need. Or they first have to tell you how they came to their love of 18th century taxidermy. Finally you get to the nugget of info and you’re off and you’re smiling because soon they’ll have what they need and they’ll go away loving libraries and they’ll support the raise in the library tax. Or whatever. And you turn to them, smiling, with the answer! It’s Havelock Ellis and we have his bio! Go forth and read!

    And he asks you out. You: deer in the headlights. Him: I’ve found my soulmate and we can stuff foxes together!
    Had I not been married when I first sat behind the ref desk, maybe I would have found someone to date there. But I sincerely doubt it, and certainly not after one encounter where all we’re talking about is his interests. Seriously guys, I’m there to talk to you. It’s my job.

  107. Tachy IT Lady*

    I’ve encountered the same issues you have, especially working in a male dominated environment. I’ve countered that by acting somewhat cold and strictly professional with most people around me. I’d rather be labelled as “Ice Queen” than to take my friendliness as an open invitation. If you don’t want to take it to that extreme, I would just refrain from commenting on appearances or having discussions that are too personal. It’s unfortunate that we need to alter our behavior for others around us!

  108. stitchinthyme*

    I guess I’m in an extreme minority, but I’m a woman in a male-dominated field and have never had this happen. My best guess is it’s either because I’m not conventionally attractive, or because I’ve been with my husband since I was 24 (I’m in my late 40s now), and anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I’m married. Either way, I’m grateful I’ve never had to deal with any of that crap.

    1. mcr-red*

      I’ve never had to deal with this, either, stitchinthyme, at any point in my life, and guy friends have told me it’s because I give off a “f-off and die” vibe. My mom was the same way. We’re both extremely reserved and quiet people. We don’t like talking to strangers, no matter what sex you are. The times that I have been hit on are so memorable because it happens so rarely.

      I don’t know if conventionally attractive matters, to be honest, I think it’s more how friendly you are with strange men for them to perceive, “oh you’re talking on me, you must want me!” I’m thinking of two of my friends who have been relentlessly hit on. One is gorgeous, the other is sweet but not conventionally attractive. I’d say they are hit on at about the same rate, and they both are super friendly.

  109. Lucidity*

    I didn’t have time to read all the comments so I apologize if this has been said already. I would avoid using any phrasing like “I don’t date co-workers.” This could leave the dim-witted, overly persistent types thinking that you really are interested in them, but just can’t date them because of this rule. They may keep pushing or contact you again later when you’re no longer working together. If you ever did date a co-worker, rejected co-workers who feel entitled could get upset. The “I don’t date co-workers” excuse is too much like the “I have a boyfriend” excuse outside of the workplace. No is a complete sentence. You don’t need to justify your disinterest.

    1. Lucidity*

      You don’t need to modify your behaviour. This is their problem, not yours. If they ask you out, simply say no, forget it, and continue on with your life. Any embarrassment and awkward that ensues is strictly on their end.

  110. Not Rebee*

    Ugh this is weird but something I’ve noticed as well (as a femme presenting lesbian). It’s less prevalent in the workplace but I honestly think my behavior gets mistaken for flirtation because I’m able to actually have an honest conversation with the opposite sex. I don’t play hard to get because I’m not into them at all. And I think the openness actually seems to indicate to them that I’m interested in them when really I’m just treating them like a decent human being I have no interest in dating or anything elseing. But the only reason I can is because there’s zero interest to begin with. (Was told by coworkers once after a colleage left that he had been really into me because I was nice to him and he was gutted when I mentioned I was a lesbian – but I only spoke to him in passing, never went out of my way to hang out with him or include him, and otherwise treated him casually just like anyone else I saw around the office and occasionally chatted with over the coffee machine).

  111. somebody blonde*

    So, shutting this down with the guys themselves is pretty much impossible, but you can at least shut down the matchmakers. You should ask them for help with the problem that people keep thinking that you’re into coworkers when you’ve never been interested. Ask them if there’s anything you do that gives that impression. Probably, there’s nothing, but you can at least put them on notice that you’re not interested in being matched up.

  112. boop the first*

    I’m seeing a lot of “maybe you’re flirting without intent” or “see what other people think about your actions” sentiment, but as I was saying earlier, I don’t think flirting should be a terrible thing! There is such a spectrum of flirting, that I don’t think giggling or casual bumping should be in the same realm of say, suggestive sexual commentary. Is there anything inherently harmful about people thinking maybe so-and-so is sweet on them? It boosts confidence, after all.

    It only becomes a problem if someone has to declare a boundary, and people then ignore that boundary. I’ve had coworkers do really odd things, and I was never bothered by them AS LONG AS they seemed respectful enough that I didn’t have to worry about being alone with them at night. A coworker may call me “my love so sweet”, or side hug me, or whatever, but if they habitually trap me alone in a corner and repeatedly suggest we go somewhere after work when I’ve already declined, THAT’S a problem.

  113. Boomerang Girl*

    This is probably going to be unpopular, but… when I read LW’s description of her behavior “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 saw this as an opportunity to examine herself and see if she can behave in a more professional manner.

    I completely agree that women are unfairly forced to strike a balance between too cold and too friendly and that men, in particular, misinterpret friendship for romantic interest in the workplace. However, “bubbly” is typically not a behavior that earns respect in an office setting. And what I believe that she wants is to be respected enough that people see her as a professional, not as someone who is working just to find a husband.

    She might consider how she demonstrates her friendliness to people whom she is just meeting. I would recommend politeness and being welcoming, but staying work focused in conversations. As the acquaintance grows, she can adjust accordingly. I think she will find that showing more gravitas will also help her career progression.

    This is a lesson I learned as I developed in the workplace and now I feel great about the friendships I am able to develop without creating misunderstandings. I look at the behavior of my younger self and, while I was definitely not flirtatious, I was more bubbly and school girlish than I should have been at times. Changing my behavior really helped me, without making me less authentic.

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