I was hit on at a conference … was I too friendly?

A reader writes:

My spouse and I are in the same field and usually attend conferences together. Generally we don’t spend that much time together at conferences, touching base a couple of times throughout the day (often mostly via text) and then having dinner and going to the room together, but people know we’re married.

I recently attended a conference without him there. I was speaking at the conference and otherwise would probably not have attended, because while it’s within the same industry, it’s a different sector and I didn’t expect there to be much that I would be interested in, nor did I expect to know very many people there. I was happily wrong on the first part, but right on the second — I only knew about a dozen people there (and consequently, few of the attendees knew my spouse). Which, fine, I’m an extrovert, I’ll get to know new people and it’ll be fine. In an industry full of introverts, being the extrovert at a conference is generally a good thing and I get complimented all the time for my skill in meeting people and then connecting them to other people they should meet. I’ve helped several people find new jobs with a well-placed introduction.

So, I’m walking around at break and I saw a man sitting alone, looking around and looking like he was feeling left out. So I paused to talk to him and ended up chatting a bit. He asked about a part of my work I’m pretty excited about, so I sat down to really talk about it. We talked some more, he complimented an article of clothing, and I said, “Oh, my spouse bought that for me.” Then his friends came and they went for lunch and I moved on to try to find a friend.

A little later, I saw him and now I was the one standing around looking left out, so he invited me to sit with him in the session. So we sit and talk a little about the session, etc. He then says, “Hey, you really chatted me up, wanna go out for drinks and see what happens?” I had mentioned my spouse multiple times at this point so I was really surprised and basically just said, “That’s not what I’m here for, and I’m really focusing on speaking later this week, so I’m just going to be in my room in the evenings” and we left it like that. He later apologized for making it awkward, which I appreciate, but I didn’t know how to respond.

I think he was out of line. My female friends think he was out of line. My male friends (including my spouse) think it was perfectly okay because he took the no with grace and didn’t push back and apologized afterward. But I find myself second-guessing my actions — was I too friendly? Was I too outgoing? Should I stop networking with men? Only network with men if they’re in a group? And how should I have responded to his apology? Should I have educated him about seeing women as colleagues instead of potential sexual partners?

Aggggh, I’m sorry. You not only got hit on in a context where you shouldn’t have, but now you’re stuck in that awful cycle of questioning whether you somehow caused it by being a friendly person.

I can guarantee you that this man is not second-guessing himself and agonizing over whether he misread you or offended you or whether he should stop networking with women. Which is a shame, because frankly he should stop networking with everyone (men and women) until he’s able to stop assessing colleagues as potential sexual partners. But that’s not going to happen.

The thing that especially sucks is that the cycle you’re in right now — the second-guessing and the worry you’re to blame — harms women professionally. You should be able to be warm and friendly and meet new people at conferences without worrying that your perfectly normal demeanor (which could be identical to that of any man there) will invite unwanted advances. You shouldn’t have to curtail the networking you do because of that worry — and giving in to that could limit you professionally. You didn’t do anything wrong, and yet you’re the one questioning whether to take potentially career-harming actions in response.

To be clear: This was all on him, not you. It doesn’t sound like you gave off any signs you were interested in something sexual. You engaged in the completely normal and expected action of networking at a conference; that’s it. You mentioned even your spouse multiple times! This man wasn’t responding to signs from you; to the contrary, he was responding to his own interests, with total disregard for yours.

As a general rule, people shouldn’t hit on colleagues (at work or at professional events) unless they are receiving Very Clear Signs of interest — not just “she is talking to me” (because that is a normal and expected behavior; in fact it is the exact behavior the conference is designed to facilitate) — and if in doubt, should err on the side of not making colleagues feel they’ve been sized up sexually, because that is not what most people are there for, and because women need to be able to exist in professional spaces without worrying that warmth or friendliness will be taken as sexual interest … and, importantly, without needing to worry that rejecting a dude’s overtures could have professional consequences for them. I suspect that your male friends who saw nothing wrong here don’t get this because it’s not something they’ve had to worry about personally.

Moreover, if someone is confident they’ve seen signs of mutual interest and is going to attempt to move the relationship toward the social realm, in a professional context it’s essential to do it respectfully. That means “I’d love to grab dinner if you’re free” or “we have so many interests in common, I’d love to hang out socially after today’s last event if you’d like to” … not “wanna go out for drinks and see what happens” (WTF).

To answer your last question, you’re not responsible for educating this man about appropriate behavior. You can if you want to! If you feel moved to set him straight, you’d be doing the world a favor. But you have zero obligation to take that on if you’d rather not. And as for the right way to respond to his apology, anything you were comfortable with was fine. If you felt like ignoring it, that’s fine. If you wanted to just go with “thanks, I appreciate it,” that’s fine. And if you wanted to say, “Yeah, you were really out of line — women are here to network, not be hit on” or any other variation of that, that would be fine too.

{ 497 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP did nothing at all that’s worthy of second-guessing.

    Creeps are going to creep.

    1. Umiel12*

      The thing about creeps that make them so creepy is that they are able to do bad things without feeling bad. They transfer the bad feelings to the person they did bad things too.

      1. Flash Packet*

        Another thing that makes them so creepy is every single man in OP’s circle thinking that the creep didn’t do anything wrong. Women don’t just have to push back against creeps being creepy, they have to push back on the entire societal support system telling them it’s totes OK to hit on women.

        1. I don't remember the title, but...*

          That gendered divide immediately brought my brain back to a story from a while ago, where the point of the story was a well-intentioned man who tried to do right at a conference or something while a female colleague of some lower position in the workplace was being harassed by basically a stalker at the event, and recounted that story to his wife. His wife immediately noticed a detail that slipped right past him, but the moment she pointed it out he was horrified that he hadn’t acted upon it.

          I don’t quite remember what that was called, but I wish I did so I could point at it and suggest that maybe some of the men who didn’t think this was creepy could go read it. I don’t know if that’s exactly when the dividing line would be, but I know a younger version of me well before I’d read that story would’ve been unfazed by this, while today I immediately thought that the “drinks and see what happens” was a blaring red alert.

          I’m sure there are some prerequisites to that story having the desired effect, but maybe some of those men who didn’t read that as creepy would have a useful response to reading that story.

            1. Despachito*

              Thanks for the story. I read it, and was of course curious what THE QUESTION was… and I was pretty disappointed. I did not have the “wow” effect (like “THIS was what crossed the line, he definitely was about to hurt her)

              The guy has crossed the line WAY BEFORE – he was being inappropriate to both the girl and the professor all the time, and it had to be pretty annoying.

              But the buddy-buddy thing between the girl and Dr. Glass seemed weird to me as well. Not in any way excusing the creepy guy’s behaviour, but still struck me as weird – the description exalting her appearance at the beginning, the mentioning how closely they worked together and how she clung to him, the fact Dr Glass singled her out for one-on-one activity… I think he was not behaving fully professionally in this either.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                He was acting like a supportive dad, and she was trusting in that. It’s a common role for professors to take with students when they interact outside of the classroom. I know my dad did it (35 years uni prof) when he and mom let Chris stay with them for a school year, and when they sat with Danielle though domestic violence hearings.

            2. Despachito*

              Thanks for the story. I read it, and was of course curious what THE QUESTION was… and I was pretty disappointed. I did not have the “wow” effect (like “THIS was what crossed the line, he definitely was about to hurt her)

              The guy has crossed the line WAY BEFORE – he was being inappropriate to both the girl and the professor all the time, and it had to be pretty annoying.

              But the buddy-buddy thing between the girl and Dr. Glass seemed weird to me as well. Not in any way excusing the creepy guy’s behaviour, but still struck me as weird – the description exalting her appearance at the beginning, the mentioning how closely they worked together and how she clung to him, the fact Dr Glass singled her out for one-on-one activity… I think he was not behaving fully professionally in this either.

    2. MK*

      The only thing I would do differently is tell him coldly “No, I wasn’t chatting you up, I was just being a normal human”.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Also, who says “you were chatting me up”?! that sounds so cringe and arrogant.

        The whole thing is cringe, really. The only thing he actually did OK was gracefully backing off after OP said no thanks. Which is basically basement level bar clearing.

        As an exercise, I tried to think of how it could happen that would feel OK to me. If he had just asked her to get a drink with his colleagues, without all the rest of the nonsense, it would probably feel more OK. That is what I would probably do if I wanted to try to move a professional acquaintance into a more social relationship (not even necessarily dating, just social in general). But as it went down? Ew.

        1. BattleCat*

          Just personally, thinking about how I’d feel in that situation, I’d probably end up rather upset. Unlike the OP (but similar to others in her industry?) I’m an introvert, and if I’d had a good chat to this guy beforehand I’d have been all patting myself on the back for having Networked successfully, only to discover that – nope, totally misread the whole interaction, he just wanted to crack onto me, Networking fail for me!

          1. DJ Abbott*

            It’s not a networking fail for you. It’s a networking fail for him. He was at a professional conference and acted like he was in a pickup bar. He showed that he has no idea where he is or how to behave. He failed to connect with someone on a professional level. It’s his failure, not yours.

            1. Despachito*

              For me, he’d have completely burned any bridge. I would never make him part of my network after that.

            2. Phryne*

              Not Battle Cat, but I think the problem is that the social energy invested, which is generally not small for an introvert in a situation like this, is wasted. And next time, the barrier of ‘will I today spend this energy on this person with the risk that it will be for nothing, like last time’ will once again be higher.
              The moral failure may be his, but the consequences are still there.

        2. Ellie*

          Yeah, but he wasn’t asking that, he was asking her to sleep with him. I’d kind of prefer the creep to be honest about that while still at the bright, public conference, instead of pretending they just want to be friends, and then before you know it you’re being hit on in a bar in an unknown city, three drinks in with no friends around and no other way to get home.

          OP, don’t give this loser another thought. You were extremely gracious with him.

          1. JSPA*

            Yep. Awkward early, sober, in public, is better than more awkward later, after drinks, in private.


            The problem lay in his presumption of her interest, and his focus on his sexual interests over their mutual professional interests. Not the fact that (being self-deluded on the topic) he dutifully checked in, before wasting more of her time, or making things more awkward and creepy, later.

    3. sacados*

      Yeah, and I think the thing is, you’re going to get a lot of people (and I’m sure this is where OP’s spouse and male friends are coming from) who say “But he wasn’t being creepy! He didn’t do it in a creepy way, he asked respectfully and backed off/apologized immediately!! What’s wrong with that?”

      When of course the problem is, as Alison said, that “how” he asked isn’t really the point, the point is that YOU GENERALLY SHOULDN’T BE ASKING OUT COLLEAGUES AT A CONFERENCE, full stop.

      OP, the next time you are at a conference please please do not do one single thing differently! Act exactly how you always would because you were completely and totally professional and normal!

      1. MigraineMonth*

        There are even less creepy ways to express interest in someone than “Hey, you really chatted me up, wanna go out for drinks and see what happens?” (Which, as Alison noted, WTF.)

        Right off the bat, that’s asserting that OP was sending strong signals when she definitely wasn’t, ignoring the fact that OP repeatedly referenced their spouse, and bypassing all testing the waters to immediately propose sex.

        And you know if a woman had asked a married colleague if he was DTF within a couple of hours of meeting him, she’d be oversexed, aggressive and a homewrecker. *rolls eyes*

        1. SanguineOtter*

          He’s not going to go about it in a more subtle way because he’s looking for a piece of ass. He needs to know right away if he’s going to get it from OP because if not then he’s going to move on to someone else. I’ve known too many people that use these types of events as a ‘free pass’ to cheat on their wives.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            I’m excusing exactly nothing else about this jerk, but … we don’t know whether he was single. He may have expected LW to be open to cheating, but he may not have been.

            The rest of it is garbage, though.

          2. Sandi*

            This exactly, except that I’ve known women to cheat on husbands too.

            I have been to plenty of conferences and off-site work meetings where I got a casual “Want to come to my hotel room after supper?” I learned that it didn’t change their opinion me the next day, and the people who worked with them knew (and often forewarned me, or else when I mentioned it the next day they would say “Oh yeah, sorry he did that to you, he’s known for that”). This shouldn’t happen, but it does, and the reality is that it isn’t about OP in particular but just a numbers game.

            My experience is to not change anything because he probably would have hit on you anyway, even if you hadn’t had the conversation.

            1. Despachito*

              “I learned that it didn’t change their opinion me the next day”

              I absolutely understand where you are coming from, but isn’t it absurd that YOU should worry whether THEIR opinion of you changed (after having made an inappropriate pass on you)? Shouldn’t it rather have been the other way round, and THEY should worry whether YOUR opinion of them changed?

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            ah yes, there was always some guy trying it on at our annual meeting. The fact that I’m with a guy doesn’t ever deter them. After all they’re not interested in a relationship, just getting laid. So they just see this as an opportunity.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Note that the very first words of that gross and inappropriate preposition were “Hey, YOU really chatted me up.” He blamed her within two words.

          1. ThisTooShallPass*

            Agreed, goddess…he blamed her with that statement. It also shows how some people can perceive friendly behavior as flirting (like this guy did with the LW).
            I’ve had people project that onto me too, and it feels yucky.

            To the LW, you handled it very well, with class and dignity. You set a firm boundary without being over the top.
            And hopefully that guy will reconsider his interactions with women (especially in a professional setting) in the future.

            Also, LW…I know somebody who (like the man in your case) seems to have trouble with how he relates to women in a professional capacity.
            I’ll call him “John”. He’s been known to have inappropriate talks with female coworkers (those he finds attractive) and he sees women in his field (again, those he finds attractive) as potential girlfriends/sex partners, although he is married. Some people simply don’t have a concept of boundaries and they have their sights on others in a creepy “meat-markety” way.
            Their aim is to hook up, not to network in a professional way. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.
            Once more, you handled it very well.

      2. sookie st james*

        This situation (and comment section) is a fascinating example of how privilege gives you blind spots. It’s not necessarily a random man’s fault if he doesn’t immediately understand how the situation was wrong, but it is on them to acknowledge their blind spots (e.g. that they’ve never been inappropriately sexualised or objectified by someone with more social power than them) and try to have empathy for their friend who went through it.

        Strangely, I’m more bothered by these friends/partner than the conference guy, because we all know we’re going to have to face men like this, even though it’s unfair and wrong, but our friends and partners are supposed to have our back – supposed to be ‘different’ to the people who dehumanise us in the outside world.

        It’s so disheartening when their default reaction is to make excuses for the imagined man they don’t know instead of supporting the woman in front of them.

        1. bamcheeks*

          YES, omg, the spouse and “friends” who are more interested in upholding the “rules” that say men are allowed to do stuff like this with no pushback than in listening to WOMEN THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO LOVE AND SUPPORT talk about how shit it makes them feel are always the most depressing part of this conversation. And they’re the ones you’ve got to live with.

          Sideeyeing your spouse SO HARD here, LW.

        2. Merrie*

          TBF, a lot of dudes just haven’t given this sort of thing much thought. I wonder if OP showed this post to her husband, if he might find it enlightening and shift his view on the matter.

          1. Nesprin*

            OP’s husband + friends- if you’re reading this, this is one form of privilege.

            To never have to wonder if someone talking to you in a professional setting whether the person you’re talking to is doing so to try to sleep with you vs. to try to develop your career.

            1. Darwi*

              Seeing your comment makes me realise that this is the reason why I do not talk to people.
              Since way to often men interract with sleeping as a goal, and I’m not interested, it’s easier to not engage.

              And then in associations and meeting the men always wonder “but why all the women are around the same table ?”

        3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          really well put, and that was my immediate reaction too! I brushed off creepy guy as a creepy guy (who needs a wake up call, but that is not OP’s responsibility). But her husband and male friends were way too flippant about it! These are people who are close to OP and probably contributed to her second guessing herself. All while standing up for a guy whose specific language made it clear he wanted sex!

          1. OhNoYouDidn't*

            Were they flippant or just not surprised? Guy was looking to get laid. That’s a tale as old as time and one that men persistently seem to understand more than women. (I’m a woman, BTW.) He was very blunt, stated what he wanted, got turned down, and moved on. It’s nothing OP did. It’s just a creepy guy trying to score. So I don’t see the men in OP’s life as suspect. I see them as seeing things how they are and not being surprised. While I wouldn’t say it was “perfectly OK,” the man’s bluntness was at least honest in that he didn’t invite her out to drinks under any false pretenses.

            1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

              Yeah, but all the effort she put into networking with him is now wasted, which is a disappointment. That’s not the only reason why what this guy did was wrong but it’s a work-specific, conference-specific reason.

        4. GrooveBat*

          “It’s not necessarily a random man’s fault if he doesn’t immediately understand how the situation was wrong…”

          I’m going to respectfully disagree with you right here.

          It’s 2022. This random man was blatantly propositioning a woman in a professional setting. If he doesn’t immediately understand that that situation is wrong – no, strike that, if he does not ALREADY understand that that situation would be wrong – he has no business being there or interacting with anyone.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        “I suspect that your male friends who saw nothing wrong here don’t get this because it’s not something they’ve had to worry about personally.”

        And frankly, I’d start wondering if the reason they saw nothing wrong is because this is something they do.

        1. bamcheeks*

          The “guys who don’t do this but still feel solidarity with and jump to the defence of guys who do” are just as bad IMO.

        2. Phryne*

          I wonder if it is because some men see being hit on as a good and flattering thing, no matter the circumstances, even if they do not want to act on it. ‘See it as a compliment’. A position they can have from the point of privilege of not having to fight to be taken seriously as a professional.

          1. Despachito*

            I am wondering this too.

            And I hear it sometimes from some women too – that they see it as a compliment if men flirt with them, and that they are sad when they reach the “age of invisibility”. It is as if they were confirming someone (still) finds them attractive.

            It is definitely not my thing, but it does exist.

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              As an aside, reaching the “age of invisibility” was the best day/time of my life.

      4. janeway*


        One of my best friends met his spouse at a conference. She initiated the relationship at the conference.
        I would like to know where the hive mind thinks it’s appropriate to actually meet potential partners, especially in this day and age, when long hours are expected in so many white-collar workplaces.
        In this particular case the guy was wrong to not take the hint from OP’s repeated references to her spouse. But the idea that it’s always wrong to ask a colleague you’ve met at a conference out strikes me as simply out of touch with the way that humans interact.

        1. Peter*

          Thanks for injecting a little realism and humanity into a discussion which clearly just takes it for granted that any time a woman is asked out and says no the man must be a creep. Someone says above be suspicious of men who see nothing wrong with asking people out and then taking no for an answer. I say the exact opposite – the kind of men who condemn other men simply for asking women on dates are not to be trusted.

          By the way, why does going to the same conference as someone else make them a colleague?!

          1. bamcheeks*

            What specifically is it about a majority-female group talking about sexual harassment makes you think it lacks “realism”?

          2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            He asked her for drinks and to see what happened, and after she mentioned her spouse multiple times. That is not asking for a date. That is asking for sex. No, you do not need to ask professional colleagues whom you only just met at professional events to come get drunk and have sex with you.

          3. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

            Thanks for injecting a little realism and humanity into a discussion which clearly just takes it for granted that any time a woman is asked out and says no the man must be a creep.

            *checks off bingo card*

            By the way, why does going to the same conference as someone else make them a colleague?!

            Oh of course it doesn’t. Women who attend professional conferences are absolutely not the colleagues and equals of the men who attend. The women are just there for decoration.

          4. GrooveBat*

            You know, I’m a woman and I’m also single. And I have absolutely *zero* problem with a blanket personal rule against asking someone out on a date in any sort of work setting.

            I go to work to work. I go to professional events because that is also work. The last thing in the world I want to do is have to worry about fending off would-be suitors in the middle of a work setting.

            There are plenty of ways to socialize with someone you’re interested in without blatantly hitting on them. Invite the person to join you and your colleagues for dinner. Connect on LinkedIn and get to know them as an individual. You don’t have to jump straight to the date; you can simply become friends with someone.

            Exercising a little extra self restraint and discretion in the workplace is not that difficult.

            1. ThisTooShallPass*

              I’m with you, Groove Bat! I’m married, but even if I were single, work (to me) is for work.
              It’s not a bar or a dating site. Maybe I’m old school, but professionalism is key at all times.
              Some people might feel differently, of course. But I’ve always thought it’s a bad idea to mix “personal” with “professional”.

              Also, to add to your point about restraint/discretion…in today’s world, it might be unwise to mix personal with professional because of the potential for lawsuits, accusations of harassment, etc.
              Not to mention the discomfort of bringing anything sexual or romantic into a workplace at all. It’s simply not the time or place for that.

              I don’t think the guy in LW’s case is a coworker of hers, but he was still way out of line, for sure!

          5. Ness*

            If OP had been single and he’d invited her to coffee, I doubt the reactions would be the same (actually, I doubt OP would have felt the need to write a letter about it at all).

            I’m not sure how you get from “men shouldn’t proposition married women for sex at work conferences” to “it’s impossible for men to ask out women nowadays.”

            1. Despachito*

              Why does “single” or “married” come into question at all, if he invited her to coffee? (I am assuming it would be to discuss purely work issues)?

          6. tamarack and fireweed*

            Nah, not gonna agree with this – and I’m saying this as someone who thinks of meeting one’s future love-of-one’s life at work or at a conference as completely normal and common, and nothing to discourage .

            1. This is a proof-in-the-pudding situation. Asking someone out at a work function (or any function) is ok if and only if the other person is ok to be asked out. If you have any doubt your move might be unwelcome you better abstain from making it – because the downside is so much worse than what you gain on the upside (*) . If it worked out for janeway’s friend maybe this is a situation where the two people in question are very secure in what they are attracted to, and very secure in the signal they send, and know they can reliable read them. In which case, by all means, up to your hotel room you go. But that’s super rare (*).

            2. The point where it became clear that this is a creep wasn’t necessarily when he asked her out – even though, with all the talk about her husband, that was really really not a situation where baldly asking the OP out would have any realistic chance of going over well; if you want to ask someone out who blithely talks about their spouse, and it’s not in a context of established polyamory, then you’re already being an ass. But the point where he was absolutely, no doubt, a creep was when he immediately blamed her. Fuck him.

            (*) If you run into someone you’re attracted, smitten by, love-on-first-sight overpowered or whatever, at work or a function where person in question can be presumed to be present with no intention to have their feelers out for a mate, just slow down. By all means make sure you have contact details, but take that topic offline, until you can engineer a situation where you can put out more feelers in plausible deniability, get to know the other person, get signals back, multiple times, think of the scenario of rejection and how it would impact the other person’s standing, and only then, if at all, take it a step further, while ensuring easy and safe ways to back out. If you respect that person why on earth would you not afford them this care and attention?

            1. bamcheeks*

              100% agree with this.

              The gap that I always see in this discussion is:

              – people who think that respecting other people means caring about whether or not you make them feel shit and who consider making someone feel shit to be a Bad Consequence that you want to take care to avoid

              – people who think “making someone feel shit” is a completely ignorable consequence because it doesn’t affect THEM so why would they care? When you set zero consequences and literally no downside against the teeny, tiny possibility that someone might shag you, obviously it’s a no-brainer!

              1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

                All of your comments here have been incisive and truthful, and this one is particularly brilliant. It amazes me how much some people want to sleep with others while not caring at all how their overtures make those other people feel.

                1. bamcheeks*

                  Thank you- unfortunately I t’s because I’ve spent twenty goddamn years talking and writing about this stuff and it still hasn’t gone away! UGH.

            2. Peter*

              “Asking someone out at a work function (or any function) is ok if and only if the other person is ok to be asked out.”

              How do you know until you ask? Seriously. It’s like you genuinely want a situation where people meet the love of their life in everyday situations and not just on apps – but also a situation where no one ever asks anyone on a date even a bit unsure of whether the other person feels the same way.

              “In which case, by all means, up to your hotel room you go.”

              What about saying to someone at a conference or someone they work with “Would you like to go on a date some time?”? Is that inherently wrong if you don’t know what the answer will be? Was Jim in The Office a massive creep?

              1. bamcheeks*

                1. If you’re someone who understands how to read non-verbal and indirect verbal cues, talking to someone who is very clearly signalling that they would like you to take the conversation to another level, it’s OK to test going to another level (note: that does not mean propositioning someone for sex. Sometimes it literally just means casually mentioning an ex-partner or a celebrity you find attractive just to let them know the gender you’re interested in! If they don’t pick up that cue, that’s probably a no!

                2. If you’re someone who doesn’t understand how to read non-verbal and indirect verbal cues, you think you literally go from “no idea if this person is open to an approach, the only way to find out is to ask and if they get offended, well, that’s tough” YOU, SPECIFICALLY YOU, should stick to apps and not try playing in the higher level leagues. It’s OK if you haven’t got the people skills to do this! That’s why it’s great that other options exist.

                (I love how this conversation is always about straight men going, BUT WOMEN ARE SO MYSTERIOUS, HOW CAN YOU TELL, and they’ve literally never noticed that gay men and women have evolved entire non-verbal codes for saying, “I’m queer – I’m interested – I would like you to make the first move / I will make the first move if you let me know you’re interested”. Literally we do this stuff all the time! But obviously it’s too hard for you.)

          7. Ellis Bell*

            Yeah I’m sure he just wanted to chat about her husband and her blouse. However, creep is probably not a helpful term. Better ones are… oblivious and privileged. If he’s asking women out at conferences, then he’s oblivious to how difficult being hit on makes attending conferences as a woman. You’re there to do the job of meeting people, so you can’t snark at every man who approaches you, like in a bar when you’re just trying to talk to your friends. You have to express trust in their professionalism; luckily most men are there to be professional! It’s obviously up to each individual guy if they consider the women in their field to be worth supporting in this way, by treating women like they’re at work (because they are) even if they don’t consider them to be immediate colleagues. Also, it’s totally ABSOLUTELY possible for a man to ask someone out that he works with, or met at a conference without coming off as ignorant and as arrogant as this guy: 1) Don’t ask out the woman who literally just mentioned her husband, 2) Don’t ask out the complete stranger who literally has just been doing her job 3) If you do have a genuine rapport with someone who indicates interest in a hobby or in knowing you socially, ask them to do that. Don’t try to skip straight to a date in the middle of a damn work event. 4) Don’t blame her for “chatting you up” because you know you’re breaking some rules and want her to feel responsible. No one thinks that men are uncontrollable sex demons and most men do pretty fine avoiding those mistakes which make women feel like they’re going to be hunted unless they stay home and knit.

        2. IT Guy*

          People at a conference are not my colleagues. They are peers and sometimes people find a romantic partner for a brief moment or for life. The guy was a little forward, but I found my wife because she chatted me up when I least expected it.

          The OP should not feel bad or second guess herself, but when we talk to people their sensibilities do not always match ours.

          1. Honk*

            Did your wife proposition you for sex despite mentioning your spouse multiple times before?

            The guy was completely out of line here and probably wasn’t actually listening to her at all.

          2. whingedrinking*

            And a lot of people meet their partners at university. That doesn’t make it okay to say to a classmate, “Wow, that was a great discussion on Charles Sanders Peirce we just had. You must be super into me! Let’s go to the bar and then have sex.” (And yes, I’m the kind of person who might very well be attracted to someone because of their insight into semiotics.)
            A lot of people are not interested in making a romantic (or “romantic”) connection at a professional event, period. Even people who might be open to it are still there primarily for professional reasons. Flirting with, much less propositioning, someone who’s exhibited only professional interest in you is inappropriate.

          1. janeway*

            So the only acceptable way to meet a partner is online?

            That may be how highly introverted people think the world works. It is not, in fact, how it works.

              1. bamcheeks*

                Peter, this would come across better if you just gave the tiniest suggestion that you cared even the least little bit about all the women here talking about how uncomfortable and tiresome this is. Even if you thought there was a bit of tension here between the people who hate being hit on in professional spaces and those who welcome it.

                1. GrooveBat*

                  It’s also disturbing because it’s so “me me me.”

                  Like, it’s so unfair to the poor man to get judged for hitting on people at work.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  “Romantic” —mate, he was looking for a shag.

                  I can tell you I’ve been having this conversation on and off-line for twenty odd years, sometimes in groups of women and sometimes in mixed groups. And I can tell you it pretty much always looks like this.

                  But I guess the question is— if you’re not sure this group is “representative”, what does that mean? That you’re going to ask the women you know how they feel about it and put more weight on their words? Or is that a reason to dismiss it and never think about it again?

                3. Peter*

                  But I am not arguing against the letter writer at all. Obviously she did nothing wrong and obviously the guy shouldn’t pursue married women. I am arguing against those who say asking someone out at a conference is a creepy, unacceptable thing to do in any situation.

              2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                That is bs. I have been hit on before and said no and did not consider the person a creep. I keep joking that I get hit on mainly in the grocery store, so my most attractive quality must be my ability to pick the perfect avocado (I mean, it is really attractive)! But telling someone you are at a professional event with, whom you have just met, and who has mentioned their spouse a couple times that you want to get drinks and “see where it leads” is not someone asking for an innocent date.

              3. Nesprin*

                Wow I’m going to push back here:
                it’s not the asking out that was the problem, it was the asking out someone in a professional setting which left OP worried that she can’t have conversations at conferences with people of the opposite gender.
                Given that already face an uphill battle to be taken seriously at conferences, I’d like you to consider whether your right to ask people out is more important that the right of people you’d ask out to be treated as professional peers.

            1. bamcheeks*

              I’m not at all introverted. I just think that if it’s a choice between “everywhere I go some guy will think that’s an appropriate place to hit on me because actually SOME people might have got together in that space” and “only approach people who have clearly signalled they’re available and interested in you”, then yeah, I’m ok with the latter.

              To be honest all the people who give a shit about other people’s comfort and know how to read signs like eye contact, physical closeness and so on can continue to get together at conferences for all I care! But if you’re trying to rules-lawyer away other people’s comfort because, “well, my parents met at work and they’ve been together forty years so ACTUALLY anyone who doesn’t want to be hit on at work should get real!!!!”— yeah, you specifically should stick to apps.

              1. Flash Packet*

                Yep. This.

                All of my work and social friends became my friends because I found them funny, smart, and interesting.

                All of my romantic partners were also people who I found to be funny, smart, and interesting.

                So I can be at a work conference and be having a blast talking to someone, ask if they want to grab coffee later, or say, “Hope to see you at the next break!” and be genuinely excited about talking to someone whose company I enjoy.

                And AT NO POINT would I ever hit on them.

                If we both really, really, really enjoy being around each other, we can do the slow get-to-know-you thing because these are work / professional relationships which exist in a different space than, “Hey, you chatted me up; let’s get drunk and see what happens.”

                We’re talking about not just paychecks but professional reputations. And power differentials and sexism and misogyny in the workplace. So I find it really galling to see people defending propositioning colleagues/peers for sex in a work setting.

                So, my dudes, if you find someone you enjoy talking to? Ask to continue the conversation because you’re enjoying the conversation and would enjoy it whether or not the object of your adoration would ever date you.

            2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              You also have friends, who know people and can introduce you to people. Hobbies you can do with other people, non-work contexts where you can meet people. And then there is the fact that this is not a case of meeting a future spouse … he was just asking to get laid! If you do meet someone in a professional capacity that you find really interesting, pursue it slowly. Ask to get together to talk again over common interests, propose coffee instead of “drinks” and seeing where it might lead. And do it with an eye to getting to know someone new and interesting, with an openness to seeing if it develops into more, sure, but not an expectation.

            3. Ellis Bell*

              No, but it’s a safer avenue for the type of person who is genuinely puzzled about how the man in this letter was inappropriate. If you’re great at reading signals and good at being appropriate, there’s lots of contexts you can ask for dates in. What’s more, you’d know what they are (like not interfering in people doing their jobs or not reading “my husband bought me this” as a chat up situation).

        3. Oh Please*

          I met my spouse in an online forum expressly designed for meeting people. We were both there by choice and knew what we were getting into. As well, on the forum you could specify exactly what kind of relationship you were looking for (from purely platonic friendship all the way to no strings DTF).

          The idea that any gender should expect to be sexualized at work because you’re incapable of meeting people online or in-person is what’s out of touch with the way humans interact. Quit acting as an apologist for creeps.

        4. Nesprin*

          (1) Some people would like to never be hit on in a professional setting
          (2) Some people would like to hit on other people in a professional setting

          I’d highly suggest that (2) is a less worthy goal than (1), especially when the people who get hit on are the same people who are often discriminated against, or at least made to feel unwelcome

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            But for as long as there are people who are dtf at conferences, there will be people hitting on others in the hopes of hooking up. So what do we do? We ban all overtures? or maybe conference organisers need to add an aubergine next to your name on your badge so people know you’re dtf? Or hook-up /dating apps should all introduce special “conference hookup” features?

            1. Ellis Bell*

              We allow natural consequences; the person using conferences to cruise for dates gets known as someone who is not serious or a professional and is the in-person version of the Linkedin dater dude. Not a professional reputation most people want, and I think men as a group are actually running out of excusability credit (mileage may vary). He will either not care or be stunned at this reputation, but at least the rest of us know what we’re dealing with. The problem is that women, who’ve always held the responsibility been punished for being “forward”, or “how do you think she got her job” are too paranoid about their responsibility for encouraging/policing the cruisers. We should return the responsibility to those making the rest of us feel like prey.

        5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          He started by saying she was “chatting him up” and then wanted to go get a couple drinks and see what happens … he wasn’t trying to get to know her! He was trying to get her to sleep with him. Period!

          And no, at a professional conference is not the right place. If you are really interested (in someone who is single), you ask to connect again to discuss common interests. If you like someone as a person, not just as a sexual object, you plan to get to know them over time. You can build up to interest in going to coffee at some point. A relationship can develop, but you don’t just barrel in and make a thinly veiled request for sex from a professional colleague on the same day you meet!

          1. TinySoprano*

            Plus she literally mentioned her spouse several (!) times. So not only was he asking her for sex, he was asking her to cheat on her spouse. (Or he’d just completely ignored her talking about him because boner-brain, *eye roll*).

            If two single people hit it off at a conference, that’s fine. But he propositioned someone who’d made it clear she was married and was just being friendly. Not ok.

        6. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Your colleague *met* future spouse at conference. That’s not the same as *asked out* or *propositioned*.

          It’s not inappropriate to find a romantic partner through work. It’s how you go about it that matters. And this man went about it wrong, by adding two and two together and getting fifty-eight.

        7. Nance*

          The post is clear that you can ask someone out in a work situation IF IF IF you look for signs of mutual interest first and do it respectfully. Is that such a high bar?

        8. DameB*

          “I would like to know where the hive mind thinks it’s appropriate to actually meet potential partners.”

          I mean, I’m old and married for years but even I know about Tinder, Grindr, and, uh… other dating apps.

    4. 3DogNight*

      This really, really made me feel better about when I’ve had it happen to me: “You not only got hit on in a context where you shouldn’t have, but now you’re stuck in that awful cycle of questioning whether you somehow caused it by being a friendly person.

      I can guarantee you that this man is not second-guessing himself and agonizing over whether he misread you or offended you or whether he should stop networking with women. ”
      People–STOP doing this!

    5. Artemesia*

      Okay. I am old. When I was a young professional coming up in the 70s, I was often one of the few young women at professional conferences. I was a fairly attractive young woman but not beautiful and did not dress in any provocative way nor wear make up beyond lipstick. I do not believe there was anything flirtatious about my style although I was intensively interested in the work we were doing, the research and many men see interest of any sort as interest in them.

      I was ALWAYS hit on at conferences. ALWAYS. Sometimes by very senior people — and it was always a bit deflating because someone important would show interest in my work and I would be flattered and then our intense discussion would somehow end with a proposition — sometime graceful like ‘getting a drink’ but sometimes quite blatantly sexual. All but one of these men were gracious about refusal, but it nevertheless was so dispiriting to feel that you were impressing people with your work and then find that they had other things in mind.

      It was a constant until I was in my 40s. I had hoped things might have changed for this generation of young professionals.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Here’s hoping Pete and Janeway read your comment. You make a great point.

      2. BubbleTea*

        I was once propositioned in a hotel elevator, by a complete stranger. I was wearing pyjama trousers because I had collapsed and soiled myself on the plane. I was utterly exhausted. It’s hard to express how unsexy I was feeling. There was absolutely nothing about my appearance, attitude or overall demeanour that would have indicated any interest in casual sex with a stranger. The only thing that could have prompted him to suggest it was that I was a young woman on my own.

        Thankfully my chosen approach of flat out ignoring him and going straight to my room where I locked the door immediately was sufficient, but looking back I shudder to think what could have happened if it hadn’t been.

      3. Caroline+Bowman*

        My mom had the same thing, she was really very pretty and good at her job and a lot of fun / social.

        Strangely enough, her take on the inevitable Creep / being hit on thing was, AT THE FIRST SIGN OF IT, to say ”just so we’re clear, I am absolutely in no way going to become romantically involved with you” and this immediately – always – led to spluttered denials, but an instant cessation of anything they may have been considering. 2 of the men (over several years) went on to become life long really good, really loyal friends. Obviously mores have changed, but a clear and straight out ”not a single chance” type statement is usually what’s warranted, followed by ignoring the entire subject.

        Treat it as they do, not something to waste time or energy on.

  2. EPLawyer*


    And the men who are all “well he tried, and just moved on, NBD.” No he should not just try. Women do not exist so men can “shoot their shot.” Taking a no with good grace is not a good sign. It means he feels free to try again with someone else. NOT EVEN PULLING THAT CRAP is a good sign.

    1. bogotabandit*

      as a man, I was offended by that (that other men thought it was OK). FFS how hard is it to just act normally and not assume every woman who talks to you wants to sleep with you? What arrogance, and to do so while knowing she’s married? Appalling, especially in a professional environment (obvs not Ok outside of that either!)

      Ugh so many men are assholes.

      (Also I am very similar to OP in being extrovert, talking to anyone and everyone and generally being friendly. Nobody has ever assumed that I then want to sleep with them as a result- because women are genrally normal)

      1. Sleepy*

        This right here – assuming that a woman he was chatting with at a professional conference would want to sleep with him at said conference. That assumption and impulse needs to be stomped out of existence.

        1. JustaTech*

          Exactly! The point of a conference is to talk to new people and make new connections, so even the most introverted people are making the effort to chat and be friendly and sociable. The point is not to hook up!

          Like, I’ve heard stories of people who hook up at conferences, but I’ve also heard stories of scientific conferences so debauched that they were asked to not come back (Herpetologists, San Francisco, the 80’s?). These are clearly not the norm, otherwise people wouldn’t tell stories about them! (I heard about the herpetology conferences from a professor as a cautionary tale because apparently there is some guy in the field who’s a good researcher but will forever be known as “The Guy Who Bit Someone At A Conference”.)

          Sadly I’ve also heard plenty of stories about scientific conferences where very senior and powerful researchers took advantage of grad students and post docs desperate to make their way in the field, from verbal harassment all the way to assault.

          Professional conferences need a code of conduct like the sci-fi/fantasy and comic book conventions have.

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                “You try to demonstrate how a rattlesnake snags a mouse and SUDDENLY EVERYBODY’S JUDGING.”

              2. TinySoprano*

                Haha he clearly wasn’t demonstrating diamond python courtship – male diamond pythons are extremely respectful! (I say, slightly biased as the owner of a male diamond python…)

              3. JustaTech*

                Sadly all I know is that he got really, really drunk and chomped someone (on the shoulder maybe?).

                Given that most herpetologists have scary “I got bitten stories” that involve their research subjects (part of why I didn’t go into that field, their scars are scary), I guess this was a bit of a “man bites dog” story.

          1. AFac*

            Professional conferences need a code of conduct like the sci-fi/fantasy and comic book conventions have.

            They are starting to, at least in my field. Whether people read them ahead of time to change their behavior is the question, but at least it gives grounds to file a complaint and kick people out if necessary.

            There are funding agencies who are also asking for safety and conduct plans if you’re planning on doing any off-campus work, since that’s another situation with high potential for misconduct.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          That statement is true even without a conference being part of it.

          Just, hey there, straight cis men, the fact that a woman initiated a conversation with you does not mean she is interested in having sex with you. Full stop.

          1. Flash Packet*

            And can we all just take a moment to observe how pathetically sad it is for someone to view half the world’s population through the lens of, “Will this person do sex acts with me?”

          2. Ugh all the way home*

            Unfortunately, a not insignificant number of straight cis men believe that any woman who’s nice to them (barista, retail worker, grocery cashier, office admin) must be into them. Why? Because there’s no way that type of man would deign to be civil to any woman he doesn’t think is “hot”. He assumes women must be the same. “That hot teenage clerk smiled at me and said ‘have a nice day’ so she must think I’m hot.”

      2. Vio*

        Exactly. If someone talks to you at a work event, or frankly anything that isn’t a singles event, it’s best to assume they’re being friendly rather than flirtatious. Especially if they’re married. There are open marriages but it’s probably best to assume that somebody who is married is in a committed relationship and is not going to respond well to being hit on. But even single people, even someone who actually is open to possibly meeting someone, probably isn’t going to be thrilled by somebody just assuming that a friendly conversation means wanting to jump straight into bed. That’s not really ever a sensible thing to assume

      3. Storm in a teapot*

        This right here is exactly it. It’s nothing to do with whether she’s extrovert but that he was inappropriate and it was clearly a hook up request cos he’s an asshole.
        So he took a no with grace – he doesn’t get praise or a medal for not being a complete skeezball

    2. High Score!*

      The good news is that we have come far enough to realize this is a problem. I’m female and I didn’t even realize this was an issue. Early in my career, I’d protect myself physically. Then when all I had to do was say no a few times, I thought how awesome that was. Now people are pointing out that it is wrong to treat your coworkers like sexual conquests. It would be cool to live long enough to see the day when this doesn’t happen at all.

    3. Seashell*

      I wonder how all the “NBD” guys would feel if it was a gay guy hitting on them after they mentioned their wife or girlfriend multiple times.

      1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

        Not that I think you meant it this way, but I don’t think homophobia should be invoked as a shortcut to empathy.

        1. Despachito*

          I thought of it rather as of an example to realize what it might feel like when you are hit on by someone who you would never consider as a sexual partner. I agree it is not completely fair to “use” gay people in this but I do not think it is necessarily homophobic if you declare that you are not attracted by the same sex. (And women would not work because those types often assume that if a women hit on them it would always be pleasant).

          And it is interesting that it would suddenly be a big deal if the molested ones would be them,

          1. sookie st james*

            I understand that it can help to draw their attention to the ways in which they were not reading the room/signals correctly, but I do agree with Kermit that it’s trying to use homophobia as a shortcut to empathy, which is not only problematic, but ultimately unhelpful. It only works if they are somewhat homophobic (in order for it to be unpleasant, as you said). Even then, it’s still an insufficient analogy because, as Smithy said below, there wouldn’t be the same power imbalance because straight men aren’t marginalised by gay men.

            Either way, it’s sad we’re always trying to find the best analogies to earn empathy from men. I get why we do it, but there’ll never be an analogy big enough or powerful enough, and we shouldn’t have to beg for what they give away so freely to other men, even ones they don’t know.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Fun fact: the whole vibe of a man hitting on another man is different because the hitter-on knows if he called it wrong, *he’s* more like to experience consequences than the hittee.

              Straight guys feel pretty casual about it because their fail mode is that someone ELSE feels shit for half a day, and that’s not their problem!

            2. hi hello*

              Your second paragraph is SO good. “And we shouldn’t have to beg for what they give away so freely to other men” EXACTLY! They know how to network appropriately. They know how to interact with others in a professional/friendly way. Why must women beg for that level of respect? Why must we play these games of insane hypotheticals (“what if there was a gay man?” “what if the woman hit on the man?”) just to get the baseline treatment straight men afford to other straight men?

        2. Formerly Ella Vader*

          One can substitute fatphobia for homophobia and make the thought experiment about a fat lady hitting on them.

          But of course in both cases the analogy is imperfect because the institutional-power imbalance and the physical-threat imbalance cannot be recreated.

          I do not know how to teach this kind of empathy to adults, although I’m hoping that children who are raised with consistent messages about consent and about bystander intervention will grow into respectful adults in the next generation.

            1. sookie st james*

              It’s not that he physically threatened her, it’s that (if we’re being reductive about it) the average man has physical strength/size/stature over the average woman, which is a power imbalance, as Formerly Ella Vader said, not threat.

            2. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

              I don’t believe he was explicitly threatening her. What Ella’s referring to is the implicit level of physical threat that’s present for women when men show sexual interest in them. Not all men intend physical harm to a woman they have interest in or a woman who turns them down, but all women have experience with being verbally or physically assaulted by a man in a situation where they have turned him down. Because women cannot reliably identify which men will or won’t respond aggressively to rejection, they assume a level of physical threat to be present any time a man hits on them.

            3. Ellis Bell*

              Women are just always aware of the potential of a physical threat. It’s why women reject very softly even in a situation where you’d rather give a piece of your mind; too many women get murdered annually for rejecting a guy at all that it’s not worth the small risk. I didn’t get any particularly “threat” vibes from this guy but every time I’ve ever gone on a date I’ve let my trusted people know who with, when and where, and called in with them when I’m home. That’s the safety protocol even when I’m excited about the date and feel moderately safe.

      2. Smithy*

        When you take homophobia out of this, the comparison still doesn’t entirely work because there just aren’t the same systems of power at play. There may be some niche industries where gay men are disproportionately in positions of power, and therefore at conferences getting hit on as a cis het man might be common and needing to deflect graciously could be common.

        However, that’s would just be reflected in that part of their lives. For women because it’s prevalent in so many spaces – public transportation, work, family, friends, dating, etc. – there are so few avenues of escape.

        Now, for anyone in an industry with a lot of sexual harassment – that’s going to wear on you overtime. But for the NBD guys, a lot of them are genuinely flattered when gay men do hit on them like that because it’s novel and is them receiving a kind of attention they don’t normally get. And being hit on is not usually accompanied by a fear of being gossiped about, blackballed at work, stalked, or assaulted.

      3. Some Dude*

        I was thinking the same thing – not to use homophobia as a entry to empathy, but to illustrate how they might feel if someone they did not have any interest in having sex with boldly asserted that their friendly networking was an invitation to sex.

    4. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      I’m especially disappointed that her spouse of all people is telling her it was NBD.

      OP, you did NOTHING wrong! I’m so sorry.

      1. Audiophile*

        Ugh, I think I’d be livid if this was my spouse reacting this way.

        I’m not saying he needs to react aggressively, but it should absolutely warrant more than “it’s no big deal…,” I can’t even fathom that.

    5. Catharine*

      Yuck, sorry OP had to deal with this. I understand that there is a sub group of people who go to conferences with a side goal of hooking up. In that case, better that they are direct and inviting someone to drinks and something more (wink, wink ) than potentially inviting a colleague to dinner, where she is expecting friendly chatter with other colleagues and then putting on the full court press or acting inappropriate in a space where she would be more vulnerable.

    6. toolittletoolate*

      I love your phrase “women do not exist so men can shoot their shot.” That is exactly right!

    7. Clobberin' Time*

      This. And OP has, sadly, learned that her male friends are not really the friends she believed them to be. They don’t or won’t understand that there are some circumstances where it’s really not cool to “shoot their shot”.

    8. goddessoftransitory*

      That her HUSBAND was okay with it made my eyebrows shoot off the top of my head. Really, dude? Is there something she should know about how you behave when she’s not at one of these things???

    9. janeway*

      No he should not just try. Women do not exist so men can “shoot their shot.”

      Just where *is* it appropriate to ask someone out, then?

      1. LarsTheRealGirl*

        Tinder. Bumble. Christian Mingle. A singles bar. A speed dating event. When you’re introduced by friends as a potential romantic partners. A singles cruise.

        Not at work. Not at a professional function.

      2. KK*

        Right off the bat, without knowing them at all? Dating apps, bars, clubs. Those are places where I wouldn’t be surprised to be asked out by a random person.

      3. bamcheeks*

        WHAT IF— your priority was not establishing the places it’s “allowed” to ask someone out, but “not making someone uncomfortable”? How would that change the question?

      4. Merrie*

        Well, it’s certainly not appropriate to ask them out when they’ve made it clear they’re married, for starters.

        1. Despachito*

          I somehow feel that the “marriage shield” should not be necessary at all.

          It is certainly not OK to hit on someone who is married (and repeatedly says so), but why the mere fact she is single/unmarried should make it potentially more likely she is willing to have a one-night stand with a stranger at a work conference?

      5. Westsidestory*

        Janeway, you seem to be missing the main point. A business event is not the appropriate venue to troll for sex.

  3. Lacey*

    This is the worst catch-22, because women get told they need to be friendlier and then when they are they shouldn’t have been unless they were planning on having sex with everyone they’ve been friendly to.

    OP, you’re totally fine, he’s clueless. Please keep being friendly and help all us poor introverts connect at the work conference. We are in awe of your small-talk skills and we need you.

    1. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

      He’s not clueless. He knew *exactly* what he was doing and asked, knowing that women are conditioned by society from a young age to think that any time a man hits on them and they don’t want it, it’s the woman’s fault for having done something.*

      *By ‘something’ I mean ‘existing as a woman in a society in which men think women exist to please and serve them.’

  4. Beebis*

    I really hate that your husband is ok with someone asking you out so long as he doesn’t get angry when rejected. If he got mad, your feelings about this being inappropriate wouldn’t be any more or less valid because he was inappropriate from the start. Sorry it’s only the women in your life seeing this for what it was – extremely bad behavior

    1. Llama Llover*

      Yeah, I was pretty disappointed in husband’s response. It’s really hard for any man paying even a little bit of attention to not get that this happens. To dismiss her concerns so easily, ugh. I don’t like it.

    2. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I’m seriously side-eyeing your husband’s response. So he’s actually okay with men hitting on his wife, making her feel uncomfortable? Not because a woman is a man’s property, but because she felt preyed upon and is now questioning everything about her behavior? But it’s okay because he apologized? Not cool.

    3. Michelle*

      Yeah, husband needs to do better. I hope OP reads him this response and some part of it gets thru, because “men deserve to be able to seek sex from women in a professional setting” is… really something. Really, really something to tell your wife after a guy took a perfectly professional encounter and made it sexual.

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Honestly, I’m sort of torn. It’s not really my husband’s place to be okay or not okay with someone asking me out. I mean, would it be preferable if he stalked off to lecture the dude about the inappropriateness of hitting on his woman? (Maybe I’m being overly literal on your statement. I’d be annoyed that husband was like “Nah, he didn’t do anything wrong,” but him being performatively affronted or upset or “not okay” about someone asking me out is totally useless.)

      1. Clobberin' Time*

        You’re being overly literal. No, it would not be cool if husband got territorial about a man hitting on His Woman, because that would be making it a dispute between the two men. But it is very concerning that LW’s husband refuses to sympathize with LW and to understand why she’s upset.

      2. Beebis*

        All he needed to do was say “sucks that he was inappropriate with you and I’m glad he didn’t persist after you shut him down” and that would be enough for me if I was LW.

        Not sure where you’re getting me thinking he should perform outrage or talk to the guy or whatever instead of simply acknowledging the crappy behavior on Dudeguy’s part and validating LW s feelings about it

      3. sookie st james*

        It’s not about the husband being okay with her being asked out in *any* context – an innocent encounter under vastly different circumstances (not in a professional setting, not where friendliness is essentially a prerequisite of the event, not after she’d mentioned a spouse several times) is not insulting or something to be upset about. We’re not looking for him to be territorial or feel upset on his own behalf, quite the opposite in fact! He should be able to empathise with his partner’s experience and understand why she was made to feel uncomfortable, separate from his own feelings. I’d be upset if I explained an awkward/upsetting situation I had gone through and my partner dismissed my reaction to it and essentially voiced his support for the guy who made me feel harassed.

        1. Flash Packet*

          He should be bothered by any woman being sexually propositioned in a professional setting, not just his wife.

          The part that is egregious to me isn’t that he isn’t defending or empathizing with his wife; it’s that HE IS OK WITH MEN HITTING ON COLLEAGUES / PEERS IN A PROFESSIONAL SETTING.

          “He took his shot, it didn’t work out, and he was a perfect gentleman about being rejected. Good on him for taking the shot!”

          ^^If that was said at a bar or a party then, sure, I guess? But it’s concerning that OP’s husband and male friends think that asking for sex from peers at work events is a fine thing for a man to do.

  5. CharlieBrown*

    I am a male and this guy was way out of line.

    This isn’t about taking “no” with grace. There should have been no need for a no.

  6. Becky S.*

    I’m also an extravert and I’ve been misread many times. Some years ago a platonic male friend of mine said “if you look in a man’s eyes and laugh at his jokes, he’ll think you want to have sex with him”

    OP, Allison is right, this isn’t on you!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This reminds me of something I heard Ben Shapiro say. “If I get robbed because I walk down the street waving my wallet around, I am the victim, but I have “some” responsibility. If a woman goes to a party…with men, well, men are pigs, so if something happens, she is the victim, but she “some” has responsibility.”
      Good life lesson, if you don’t treat your peers like potential rapists, then the fault lies with you.
      According to your friend, If you do treat people like fellow human beings, then the fault is with you.

        1. Nance*

          Guys, the last 2 sentences are obviously sarcasm!! They’re not saying to treat peers like fellow rapists, they’re saying that stance is bad.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Thank you. I noted that my comment went into moderation. I figured because of the graphic images. I hope not because anyone in this group thinks I support that horror of a human being.
            It blew my mind, the absolute obscenity of it.
            I just can’t believe he has an audience. And yet, reading OP’s letter, I see the slippery slope.
            “He took his shot. He was a good sport.”
            That. Is. Not. What. Happened. Here.

      1. LilPinkSock*

        I would love to never see Ben Shapiro quoted–even as an example “egregious bullshirt to never, ever say–again. Gross.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          It was a tough call. I felt that quoting him was validating his right to speak, and I don’t really think he has the right to his hate speech. It is divisive, ignorant, violent and obscene in the sense of offering no value.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        That is…a ridiculous comparison. On Ben Shapiro’s part, not yours. The equivalent to a woman going to a party where men happen to be is a person walking down the street where people who are inclined to steal might be and getting mugged. And I don’t think anybody would say the latter has any responsibility.

        And honestly, no, I don’t think I would have any responsibility if I took my purse out and got mugged. Heck, I regularly walk from the ATM with €100 or so in my hand, because I want to get out of the next person’s way, before I put it away. Simply holding a wallet is a reasonable thing to do. Still not comparative to just existing as a woman. A better comparison would be “if I get robbed because I happen to have money.”

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This. Exactly.
          No, it is not your fault when someone assaults or robs you because you were there.

    2. londonedit*

      Yeah, luckily I’ve never had this at work, but I am all too familiar with the sinking realisation that the guy you were chatting to at your friend’s birthday drinks now thinks you’re interested in him. Because of course a woman can’t possibly have a friendly chat with a man unless they desperately want to sleep with him. It’s like how some men convince themselves that the barista at their local coffee shop desperately wants to sleep with them because ‘she’s always so friendly and she smiles at me’. Literally her job. It’s so frustrating that some people still think ‘existing while female’ apparently means ‘will sleep with any man who shows an interest’.

    3. 1-800-BrownCow*

      As a married, female introvert in a very male-dominant field, this is very disheartening. I’m currently working hard on making and maintaining good eye contact with people during conversations. It feels very awkward to me to look people in the eyes, but have recently recognized that I don’t and I believe I may come across as awkward, rude or impersonable. So I now consciously think about and remind myself to look people in the eyes. While I haven’t experienced what the OP mentions, I have been to conferences where a male I’m talking with starts to ask some personal questions, wanting to know my plans later, do I like to drink, etc. and then when I’ve mentioned my spouse, seem to drop the subject. So I’ve wondered in those moments their intentions. Now I feel like I’ll struggle with the whole maintaining eye contact wondering if the male will think I want to have sex with him. *sigh*

    4. Texan In Exile*

      I tried (unsuccessfully) to explain to a college friend on facebook that a former student of his (he is a high school history teacher) is going to be on the Hooters calendar is not exactly something to brag about. I don’t blame this young woman for pursuing all options available to her, but I am not happy with a system where those are her options. And, as I explained to my friend, he had nothing to do with this part of her life.

      And as I (and other women) also explained to my friend, Hooters and the men who go there are gross because the men think the waitresses want them because the waitresses are nice to them.

      No. The waitresses are paid to be nice to the men. Because that is the job of a Hooters waitress: to get men to spend their money. The waitresses do not want to have sex with the customers.

      1. Timothy (TRiG)*

        You may be wrong to assume that sex-work (and sex-adjacent work) is always exploitative and always a last resort. That said, having a former student have a job in such a field is a weird thing to be either proud of or ashamed of. It’s nothing to do with you, dude!

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the job (don’t think we have Hooter’s in Ireland, so I’m not going to judge on that based on what I’ve read online that may or may not be accurate); it’s that I don’t see that it’s anything for her HISTORY teacher to brag about. Now, if she were doing a PhD in history or was an archaeologist or something like that, I can see how he could say he inspired her, but this…seems to be nothing to do with him. Heck, I taught two lads who are now champion rowers, but I don’t boast about it (just joke about how I told one of them he would need to do well in his exams too, not just sport!) because it’s not exactly due to my work as their English teacher (if they were famous writers, MAYBE).

          Plus, it’s just downright creepy for a teacher, especially a male teacher, to brag about a student making that particular career choice. It makes him seem way too invested in it.

          1. Grace*

            Was it the O’Donovans that you taught? I think you’d be fine to claim just the *tiniest* of bragging rights in that case ;-)

      2. Clobberin' Time*

        Whatever one thinks of Hooters as a job, it’s super creepy that a high school teacher is bragging about his former students being in a Hooters calendar.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, the only reason I can think of to brag about a former student’s career is if you encouraged them to pursue that career or helped them make the connections they needed.

          Which has horrible implications in this case. Just no, dude.

      1. mairona*

        Yeah yeah, we all know #notallmen ::eyeroll:: but it’s *enough* men to be a universal problem experienced by just about all women. A point I’m really sick of having to explain over and over and over….

        It would be nice to have just ONE effing conversation on this subject without someone crying about NOT ALL MEN.

    5. Flash Packet*

      Back in my late 20’s, I worked in software sales and frequently partnered with the techie guys (they were all men back then) when wooing new customers. One of the techs was incredibly smart and funny, and I wasn’t even remotely attracted to him. I also was in a long-term committed relationship that everyone at work knew about. Hell, most of them had met my boyfriend at our frequent happy hours.

      Anywho, this one tech and I were brainstorming for ways to fix a prospective client’s business process problem and, after literal hours of trying a bunch of things and kicking stuff around, he suddenly connected a bunch of random bits of info into a rock-solid solution. It was amazing to watch and I was genuinely in awe. Like, sit back on my heels and say, “Holy hell, that’s *brilliant*!”

      So I said, “Damn, Tech Guy, I have a massive crush on your brain! It’s totally cool watching you think through things!”

      And the next day when I came into work, one of my fellow sales guys pulled me aside to ask me if I really wanted to sleep with Tech Guy.

      WHAAAT??? No! Holy sh*t! I was complimenting his INTELLIGENCE and he somehow thought that meant I wanted to have sex with him???

      The lesson I learned* was to never tell a man, in any situation anywhere, that I found any aspect of his personality or being noteworthy, unless I actually did want to sleep with him.

      All future work compliments have been along the lines of, “What a brilliant solution! I know the customer will love it.”

      * (Not just based on this one experience, but literally dozens of them where I had thought I was having a conversation with a work or social peer but he saw the conversation as one between A Man and A Sex Object).

      1. BubbleTea*

        I don’t think your comment should have been taken to mean you wanted to have sex with him, but the wording strikes me as odd. Specifically “crush” which I’ve never encountered in anything other than a romantic context. I’d probably have said something like “I’m so jealous of your brain” or “I wish my brain worked like that”. Crush does seem to imply romantic interest.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          No guy who has ever said I was hitting on him was correct in that assessment. Not a single one.

          1. Christy7h*

            Seriously. Agreed on this one. I am also very extroverted and used to be in a more introverted field. I was single at the time (not that this makes this any better) and had this happen at conferences. Hated it. Creepers.

    1. Aphra*

      At first I wondered if he’d said ‘ you really cheered me up’ but the rest of the conversation soon showed me that, nope, just a clumsy attempt at a hook-up.

    2. Anne Elliot*

      “You really chatted me up” — this is what ticked me off: The subtle blaming of the woman for the man’s bad behavior, as if SHE is responsible for HIS greasy come-on. And I just can’t get over the arrogance of it: A woman chatted me up! She must want to have sex with me! Yes, that’s it dude, she was overcome by desire by the cut of your khakis and polo shirt, that’s why she mentioned her spouse multiple times. :/

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I’m just imagining him saying that to a male colleague. “Hey, Fergus, you really chatted me up back there.” I dunno, seems iffy that he’d say that. I’m also insanely curious, not that it matters in the advice given, how old the players are in this story. I don’t know why it reminds me of when I was starting grad school and a freshman in the library asked me if I was also a freshman. When I told him I was a grad student he asked if it was my first year at the school and when I said yes he responded with “Then you’re a freshman!” I was like, uh, no, been there, done that, there’s a WORLD of difference between the two, my dude. For some reason, it seems to me like Conference Guy is also a clueless freshman in this field (hence he doesn’t know anyone and was sitting by himself). Obviously OP is older since she is established enough to be giving a speech at the conference. Doesn’t at all excuse what he said or did, but I am still insanely curious to know.

        Oh, and while we’re on this subject, did this all happen before or after the speech? If after, can we also discuss the audacity (or dare I say gumption) of this guy hitting on someone who was a speaker at a conference even after she’d mentioned several times that she is married??? Who does that?? Wow. Just wow.

        1. mreasy*

          Unfortunately man men who are leaders in my field, and have been to hundreds of conferences, still make this “mistake” – it’s not just for rookies…

          1. icky icky icky*

            +1 (thinks back to the time a college dean persisted in texting me to come out for drinks “in my jammies” after I told him I was saying goodnight to my family and then going to sleep)

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Icky indeed!!! So gross!!!! Last year I read a book that was sort of recommended to me (because it was recommended with a giant caveat that it was a good book but also really creepy) called “My Dark Vanessa” and your comment totally reminds me of that. Creeeeeepy………

              In any case, yes, I know older men do this too (because obviously power imbalance). I’m just intensely curious as to the ages involved. I feel like if Conference Guy were an older dude maybe the males OP tells this story to would feel differently. Like, maybe they’re saying to themselves, “Give the guy a break, he’s obviously new to the work world and how it works!” Which of course is totally wrong because it doesn’t matter if it’s the work world or school, if someone tells you they’re unavailable you don’t hit on them later (and one could argue that this is even MORE true in the work world and should have been obvious to CG).

              Anyway, this whole line of thought is depressing, isn’t it? Sigh.

              1. icky icky icky*

                Yeah, in my experience, men in their 40s and 50s (despite my dean friend who seemed embarrassingly desperate) play the long game of building up the facade of friendship over the course of weeks or months (or multiple conferences) before insinuating I’ve been flirting with them the entire time and the end result should obviously be hooking up.

                …I recently switched jobs and am avoiding going to conferences. Depressing is right.

                1. Slow Gin Lizz*

                  The long game, aka grooming. I’m so sorry you have to avoid conferences because of guys like this.

                2. N'Moose*

                  Yep. Literally just dealt with this. 50s dude who had cultivated a “friendship” over a shared interest in an industry niche bombed a “hey have you considered this aspect of said niche” conversation by following it up with a comment that somehow we would be in a hotel room together researching said aspect. Uh WTF??!!

                  This letter is timely as I spent a few days being so shocked by the comment I didn’t know how to respond. I was deciding between ghosting & the riot act when my husband suggested “new super demanding work project – gonna be swamped for a while” and ignore. I’ve been trying to figure out ways to avoid running into him again in the future but man – you seemed like a decent person guy – why did you have to go and be a creep – why me??!!?? Ugh.

                3. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

                  And this is one of the reasons why this practice is so ragemaking. It is so utterly unfair that other people have poisoned the atmosphere enough that you have to miss out on conferences to protect yourself. Unfair beyond words to express. ARGH.

              2. icky icky icky*

                But I do think you have a point that other men would find an older, more experienced guy doing this more pathetic or intentionally threatening versus naive.

      2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        I was struggling to figure out/articulate why I recoiled at that “you chatted me up” part, and this is exactly why: “The subtle blaming of the woman for the man’s bad behavior, as if SHE is responsible for HIS greasy come-on.”

        1. Robin Ellacott*

          And the fact that he can’t conceive of any reason a woman would be friendly with a man except that. I assume he wouldn’t be friendly to a woman he wasn’t trying to seduce, then?

          1. Hlao-roo*

            I assume he wouldn’t be friendly to a woman he wasn’t trying to seduce, then?

            For men with this mindset, he probably is only friendly to women he is trying to seduce.

        2. I&I*

          Blaming, and also insulting. He was implying she was a casual adulterer, and not even an adulterer with high standards! Saying she’s the kind of person who’d cheat on her husband with a stranger at the drop of a hat is really, really rude. To use an old phrase, what kind of a woman does he think she is?!

      3. mreasy*

        What would happen if a man hit on him using the same reasoning? I bet he’d feel uncomfortable and as though the person hitting on him was misinterpreting a friendly conversation, don’t you think?

    3. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      The fact that in 2022 that there are men that still equate “Female was nice to me = she was hitting on me” is very disappointing.

      1. The Rafters*

        Add to your comment that some women still actually believe they have done something wrong by being polite.

    4. Myrin*

      Yeah, like… it sounds like they basically talked about no more than three things: general chit-chat (including a compliment on her clothes), the part of OP’s work she’s very excited about, and the later session. It doesn’t sound like these conversations even lasted particularly long or went incredibly deep! :/

      1. MigraineMonth*

        The number of guys who have thought I was flirting with them because I get excited when I talk about my cats is too damn high.

  7. Unkempt Flatware*

    Conferences are a creep’s favorite venue. If there is a bit of creep within a person, it will come out at an industry conference. I’ve been shouted at, treated as a maid or servant, hit on with extreme aggression, and propositioned for paid sex. These are high-up men in what we thought were professional organizations. Creeps like power and a crowd gives them that power at these things. Likewise, I have a female friend who loves conferences because sleeping with married men is a pastime of hers.

    1. Smithy*

      The other part of conferences, is that so often those moments are so short that it’s easy for people who don’t want to confront this behavior with saying that something was an accident, a miscommunication, misinterpretation, crossed signals, blah blah blah. Conference organizers are loath to police it or assign any kind of policing to their most junior, poorly paid (if paid at all) staff.

      I will also flag that while the OP mentions that she was attending with her spouse and mentioned the spouse in the interaction – this is where that whole dynamic of how women can never be modest enough, partnered enough, professional enough to not be creeped on comes into play. Even had the OP been single, what he did was wrong. Because as AAM mentioned, women do deal with this so much that there are just far more respectful and cautious ways to make that overture while still being direct.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        THIS. Thank you. It’s not the fact that she was married that made this guy in the wrong. A woman doesn’t have to be a man’s “property” to deserve to be able to make conversation with a guy without it being interpreted as signaling sexual interest.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Fully agree, but I think the reason LW mentioning her spouse is important here is that it means that even if Creeper was misinterpreting her friendliness and engagement, he still had at least one very clear data point telling him that there were other goals for this conversation, and that he should, at a minimum, slow his roll instead of shooting his shot. He just chose to ignore that data point.

          Obviously the existence of a significant other should not be what makes people who are not interested off limits; their lack of interest is enough. Women should not have to be the “property” of another man to make a suitor back off. But in this case, the mention of LW’s spouse served another purpose.

          1. Smithy*

            To Unkempt Flatware’s point of have a friend who goes to conferences to sleep with married men – there are couples who are swingers or looking for a third, women who cheat, etc etc. Providing being married as a data point of disinterest also allows the provision of providing an interpretation of friendliness/flirting as a counter point that I continue to flag as equally problematic. It forever opens up the debate of “trust me, she was coming onto me”.

            Friendly, networking single or unmarried women at conferences should not be more vulnerable to this type of behavior due to the nature of not saying my partner (real or imagined) a half dozen times. This isn’t to criticize or shame the OP for providing all of this detail, but rather to point out how much women are constantly justifying how much they did to be perfectly professional to not warrant such advances.

            Had the OP been single, that comment would have still be out of line. Instead of lines that provide an opening for taking a professionally social conversation into a more purely social direction (i.e. meeting up after the conference, or getting a drink later to talk about “anything but work” topics) – he identified her behavior as flirting with him. So she’s put in a position of having to be defensive about that claim (i.e. either contradict that she was in fact not flirting with him, or confirm that she was flirting with him but just as a tease???) and isn’t given the dignity to just say “no thank you”. While she’s at work.

            That’s why this isn’t just about a suitor behaving badly. This is about men not allowing women space and grace in professional environments to operate as professionals.

      2. Important Moi*

        Thank you for this.

        That LW got hit on doesn’t become “more bad” because she is/was married. It’s bad period.

    2. JustaTech*

      Professional conferences need a code of conduct like the sci-fi/fantasy/comic conventions have. Seriously.
      I have heard so many horror stories about academic conferences and very senior professors basically hunting grad students and post-docs. Industry conferences seem a little better, just because the power dynamics aren’t quite so skewed, but I’m still on alert during the evening events when the booze starts flowing.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Professional conferences already have this kind of COC. Men regularly ignore it.

        It did cause a dude to get banned from a hotel at a conference that I was at once, though. Because he wouldn’t keep his hands off me EVEN AFTER I PHYSICALLY REMOVED HIS ARM and said “I am not interested in being touched by strangers tonight.”

        But I had to interrupt my evening socializing and networking to make the formal complaint.

        1. JustaTech*

          The last conference I attended (virtually, because COVID) last week didn’t have a COC that I could find anywhere. (Their COVID policy was “the city and state require nothing of us, so I guess if you want to wear a mask, fine”.)
          I found their sustainability policy no problem, so I would have thought that the COC would have been right next to it.

          (Industry conference, not academic or medical, in a technical field.)

          Also, I am so sorry, that sounds awful.

    3. metadata minion*

      Reading all these replies, I’ve never been so glad to be in a female-dominated profession. :-/ (Not that we don’t have problems at conferences — in particular, librarianship is about 70% Nice White Lady(TM) — but I’ve never been even slightly hit on.)

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Same. Prospect research is similarly woman-heavy (and similarly white-heavy, unfortunately), and even the guys I’ve been really friendly with at conferences have NEVER hit on me. And I’ve been hit on by a lot of guys in a lot of places, at least before I turned into a 40-something mom.

  8. CatCat*

    He was out of line. You were not.

    It’s so aggravating because even if you intellectually know that, it’s hard to not be “on guard” in the future.

    1. N'Moose*

      This! I just had this happen!

      I feel really bad about being a bit short/not being as nice as I would to someone because just the week before I had some jerk suggest a hotel room out of left field.

      I know I did nothing wrong in the first instance, nor in the second, but I still feel like I’m questioning my behavior just to ensure I don’t get propositioned if this guy does happen to be another creep. Its really hard to not burn the mental energy even though I should be and I didn’t do anything wrong. So frustrating.

  9. lost academic*

    Part of me is like “I guess it’s progress that he just took the no and moved on” but it’s not enough progress. Guys – good start, but not enough. You need to do a MUCH better job of learning the right signals and NOT asking unless you’re sure. And when you’re wrong, learning from it.

    1. NeedRain47*

      How about not requiring people to learn secret signals, which are open to tons of misinterpretation, and just go with “don’t hit on people at the professional conference”.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      How pathetic is it that “didn’t get aggressive at a no” is considered *improvement*?

      Sure, he made a professional situation sexual, implied that his behavior was her fault (“you really chatted me up”) and ignored many soft no’s (how I would have interpreted mentions of a spouse), but at least she wasn’t afraid he would attack her. Progress!

  10. I should really pick a name*

    Minor nitpicky detail: Introverts can be great networkers too, we just find it more tiring than extroverts do.

    1. NeedRain47*

      YES. I wonder if LW is in the same field as me, where people are CONSTANTLY making incorrect assumptions about what introverts can and can’t do and saying them out loud. It drives me insane. Being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m terrible at customer service, it just means it makes me exhausted, not energized.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, so many people seem to think everybody is an extrovert and introverts are just shy or socially awkward extroverts. Being in introvert is not about being BAD at socialising or customer service or being nervous about doing it (heck, I am an ultra introvert and I am more comfortable with public speaking than…virtually anybody I know; at school, everybody would be “I don’t want to read out my work; I hope she doesn’t call on me” while I’d be “oh, I hope she calls on me. I want to read out this out”).

          And there are plenty of extroverts with poor social skills. The ones who don’t seem to notice when somebody doesn’t want to go to a party or who plan surprise parties for somebody who hates them because they can’t read people well enough to know whether the person just doesn’t want to ask or really doesn’t want it. The people who push into other’s social space, interrupt, can’t tell when they aren’t wanted. They are generally extroverted and socially confident, but…very poor networkers.

          And I have a friend who I definitely think is an extrovert – she’s the kind of person who is like “I need to go to the shop for milk. I’ll ask my mum/husband/brother if they want to come along for the ride because I don’t want to be alone for the 10 minute drive.” But she is extremely shy and self-conscious.

          The OP does seem confident and socially adept as well as being an extrovert, but…those are three different things and being an extrovert does not mean a person is necessarily socially confident or socially skilled and similarly being an introvert does not mean a person is shy or lacks confidence or lacks social skills.

  11. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    This whole scenario reminds me of that movie “Up in the Air,” which includes a character who regularly uses work conferences as an opportunity to cheat on their spouse (critical difference of course being that this character makes a point of omitting the fact they HAVE a spouse when they do it.) I feel like I’ve seen this plot element pop up in other popular media about corporate environments too, and it makes me wonder if there are a bunch of people out there with a Hollywood misconception about the social aspects of work conferences, or whether there are simply two very different people at work conferences: those who think trawling for work sex is normal and natural and those who do not. (For the record, I do not).

    1. Van Wilder*

      Very interesting hypothesis. I hope the “work sex” crowd is dying out. I don’t even like typing those words together.

      1. soontoberetired*

        My own company the hard partiers are slowly disappearing. We have some people who aren’t getting the message though, still think every celebration has to be a happy hour, and don’t understand why people aren’t showing up.

        but I did work with someone who used every conference as a way to find her next husband. Seriously. Has been married 6 times. Don’t miss her at all.

    2. MisterForkbeard*

      I know a couple of people who use conferences as a way to cheat on their spouses – honestly, I can see why – if you’re going to cheat, it’s a great opportunity! Lots of other adults, you’re away from the spouse for a few days in a hotel room, etc. Slimy as all hell, though.

      And sometimes adults do stupid things – at my last conference, a very devoted married female friend of mine hit on me after she’d gotten drunk. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere either way, but the conference was her break time from kids/marriage and she overdid it a little.

      I also know a few poly folk who have open marriages and are fine with their spouse having a fling. But I guess at its core, the conference is a big social event (by design) and some people just react poorly.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I just read this week a report about the misogynistic culture in one of the UK’s major nursing unions, and one of the most unpleasant aspects of it was the way that many of the men in the board and management were mostly using their conference for hookup purposes. There was apparently extensive use of the term “conference husband” and “conference wife”, which just sounds creepy. I’ll post a link to the report in reply.

    3. Generic Name*

      I mean, conferences are kind of known for hookups, but I would say it’s a small minority of attendees who participate in that scene. If all parties are single and enthusiastically consenting, I see nothing wrong with conference hookups. But as Allison says, there should be CLEAR signs of mutual interest, which unfortunately men habitually overestimate. Men, get some social skills and learn how to not make women feel uncomfortable.

      1. Anon for this one*

        I’d amend this slightly to “single or in open relationships”. Basically so long as there’s no cheating involved.

    4. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I’ve heard wild stories about things that went on in the old days. My grandmother was a buyer for a well-known company in the 1970’s. She told me that when she would visit a supplier’s plant accompanied by a few engineers, the supplier’s salespeople would buy hookers for the men. The engineers who traveled to suppliers with her were married, but would happily cheat on their wives on a business trip if a sleazy salesman offered them a hooker.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Oh yeah. Plenty of guys had (and still have) the idea that paid sex isn’t “cheating.”

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Oh yeah. Heck, just ten or so years ago, I was discussing vendor perks / socializing with a colleague and he mentioned “I guess now that you’re on the team we won’t be going to strip bars any more.”

        Because I enjoy making sexists uncomfortable, I proceeded to ignore the fact that that’s an incredibly unprofessional place for a vendor to take prospects, and grill him as to why that was the case, seeing as how I occasionally go to strip bars on my own time. It came out that *he* was uncomfortable being in a strip bar with a woman.

        So then I pointed out that him banning me from such vendor junkets was probably illegal, since it was treating me differently — and hurting my networking prospects — due to my gender. My boss, who was listening to the whole thing (and loving it) backed me up, and said “yeah, I’d much rather you bring Connie-Lynne with you the next time [vendor] takes you to a strip bar. I hate them.”

        Needless to say the strip bar trips from that vendor stopped.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          She was horrified by the whole thing because she knew her male teammates were married and cheating. For context, this would happen at wire and cable plants in small towns in the rural South, and my grandmother and her coworkers were visiting from a Northeastern metro area.

    5. RagingADHD*

      Look, if you have a large group of adults together all day and all night (particularly but not necessarily in a hotel), people are hooking up. Work conferences? Hooking up. Hobby conferences? Hooking up. Outdoor festivals? Hooking up. Religious conferences? Hooking up. It’s what happens when human beings get together in groups.

      The guy wasn’t wrong that *someone* there was looking to hook up. But he was not reading the room correctly, approached the wrong person, and overstepped. And it very understandably made the LW feel gross.

      If grown people want to take the opportunity to hook up, that’s their own business. But, as Alison described, you have to first get permission to change the conversation from work to social, and he didn’t do that.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Ding ding ding. Hooking up at a conference isn’t the problem. Meeting a romantic prospect in a work context isn’t the problem. Propositioning a willing person isn’t the problem.

        The problem is knowing when any of the above is appropriate, and this guy barreled past signs that it wasn’t.

        The bar is very high to turn a professional contact into a personal one, and even higher to turn it into a romantic one, and yet he acted like hitting on an uninterested married person at a conference is just what you do. No, it isn’t.

  12. Hills to Die on*

    I hate when I am warm and friendly and the man is being weird and standoffish, then I come to find out later that he thinks I was hitting on HIM. As if people can’t be nice and friendly without having an agenda! Ugh WHY is it like this??

    1. Ugh all the way home*

      As I mentioned in another comment, unfortunately, a not insignificant number of straight cis men believe that any woman who’s friendly to them must be into them. Why? Because there’s no way that type of man would deign to be civil to any woman he doesn’t think is “hot”. He assumes women must think the same way. “That hot teenage clerk smiled at me and said ‘have a nice day’ so she must think I’m hot.” Or “Uh, oh, a woman over the age of 25 is being nice to me. I’d better show her [by being weird and standoffish] that I’m not into her.”

  13. Ann Ominous*

    I’m on team “Thanks for the apology— women are here to network, not be hit on” and also firmly on team “I wouldn’t have thought of something snappy to say in response until 3am the next day/the following week while taking a shower/later when Alison responded to my letter”

    I hate it that the LW is questioning herself so much. I hope she takes this letter as complete absolution and validation, since she isn’t getting validation from one group of people important to her.

    1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      Honestly, I think the snappiest response would have been to treat the guy like a total weirdo: “I’m sorry, what?! NO. Why would you think that? What on earth gave you THAT impression?” Return the discomfort back over the net. De-normalize the idea that any woman who’s being friendly is open to sexual overtures.

      1. londonedit*

        The trouble is, half the time that sort of response just leads to an angry ‘Oh yeah? As if I’d be interested in an ugly b**** like you anyway! Get over yourself, you’re not THAT attractive’ diatribe. It’s amazing how quickly ‘Hey gorgeous’ can turn into ‘F*** you, stuck-up b****’ and worse, just because a woman dares to say no. It’s one of the ways in which we can’t win – do we smile and nod at creepy advances, thereby inviting accusations of ‘leading him on’ etc, or do we stand up for ourselves and risk angering the creep?

        1. MisterForkbeard*

          As a dude, it astounds me that other guys do this. Not “surprises” because I’ve seen it happen, but it’s such a fundamentally shitty thing to do that I would honestly feel awful about it for days and it would never occur to me to do so.

          I’m embarrassed on behalf of my gender. I don’t think there’s a way for you to win here other than people like me calling out the other men, but men who do this aren’t particularly receptive to criticism either.

          1. never mind who I am*

            Same here. I’m married, I have no interest in anyone else in That Way, and if I chat with a woman at a conference it’s because we’re having an interesting conversation. I did have dinner with a woman at a conference–her father and my father taught at the same place about 60 years ago and now she and I are in the same field. We’d probably met before, but neither of our memories goes back that far.

        2. ferrina*

          And this is where the fear response comes in. Almost every woman has experienced a man act aggressively after he gets rejected. He retaliates in some way, whether it’s overtly or covertly (like spreading rumors or withholding information you need).

          For a woman, it can easily feel like if we just did the right actions, we wouldn’t make a man think he could hit on us, then we wouldn’t run any risk of retaliation and aggression. It’s a societal abuse cycle- if we were just “better”, he wouldn’t be rejected then he wouldn’t retaliate. And I know men will read this and think, “But I never did that!” But that’s just it- I don’t know what you did and didn’t do, and I don’t know if you’re one of the good guys or one of the bad guys. And the penalty for me guessing wrong is really, really high.

          1. Kay*

            Yup – and for most of us – we have experienced more than one really hostile response, or had more than one person we thought was fine use our trust against us.

            The sad thing is that the ratio of good/bad experiences means I can’t trust many men, in my experience.

          2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

            This is so true and so frustrating. In another recent discussion a commenter said why can’t women also speak up …why is it on the man to be a mind reader?” and I immediately thought of a dozen incidents I know of and three I’ve endured.

    2. Khatul Madame*

      I really dislike responding to an apology with thanks. It almost feels like excusing the original bad act.
      One can be polite but suitably cold with a curt “apology accepted”.

      1. I should be working*

        To me, thanking someone for an apology just means “Thanks for acknowledging that your behavior warranted an apology”. Accepting an apology implies forgiveness, which isn’t always the message one wants to send.

    3. Quinalla*

      100% with you on this, especially that the LW is questioning herself which I would also totally be doing in this situation even though I would know in my head that I was fine, I’d still be feeling guilty, mulling it over, etc. Ugh!

      The last conference I went to was a conference for Women in Construction and it was amazing – great content was half of it but the other half was not having to deal with any of this BS. And you notice how women relax their behavior/dress/make-up/etc. when the group is all/nearly all women. We were eating what they wanted and not worrying (as much anyway) about being judged. We were not all wearing bras, especially when the official conference stuff was complete and going to dinner, etc. We still wanted to look professional and nice, but not in the same weird performative way and worrying about if we are dressed too sexy, etc. etc. It is such a weight off to not have to worry about that BS for a few days.

    4. snarkfox*

      I think women (including myself) are often socialized to just quickly defuse the situation and not embarrass anyone or make anyone feel bad–even if they should be embarrassed and feel bad!

  14. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    Ew. Just Ew. (Him, not you OP, just to be clear.)

    It shouldn’t matter how he took your rejection, because he shouldn’t have asked (and shouldn’t have placed you into the position of needing to reject him) in the first place.

    He can go to a bar on his own time if he wants to meet people in a situation where “being friendly” == “interested in hooking up”. Not at a professional conference, or even the bar at the conference hotel.

  15. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I’m honestly more disappointed in the husband and male friends’ reactions. One guy is a creepy outlier. All of the guys is a pathetic social commentary. Besides the mere point that women deserve to not be objectified, the whole “he took it with good grace” thing is problematic, because we don’t know whether a guy is going to take it with good grace. We deserve to not have to experience fear while trying to work just so that a guy can maybe get laid.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      He’s the missing stair! Captain Awkward wrote an amazing piece on this: “My Friend Group Has a Case of the Creepy Dude”

  16. Sparkles McFadden*

    You did absolutely nothing wrong, LW. I guarantee that guy is not agonizing over his behavior, thinking “Was I gross and creepy to that woman at the conference?”

    It’s awful that many people set the bar for acceptable human behavior to “He stopped being directly creepy when you said you weren’t interested so it’s all OK!”

    …and as someone who is not usually too outgoing I can tell you that the creepy guys approach not-openly-friendly women as well. First they say crap like “Smile! It can’t be that bad!” and move on to creepy. If women actually had the magic power we supposedly have of controlling how men approach us, the world would be a far better place.

  17. Aphra*

    I’m thankfully well past the stage of being propositioned anywhere and happily single. I can be friendly with men of all ages without them assuming I’m giving them a come-on and it’s such a relief. There are benefits to becoming invisible by ageing out of the dating pool.

    1. Eat My Squirrel*

      You didn’t age out, you’re just in a lull. Wait ‘til you get old enough to start seeing the same old dudes at doctor’s appointments, or god forbid you get put in a nursing home. 90 year old creepers be hitting on you every night at bingo.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        My grandmother had to fight them off with a whip and chair when she went into assisted living. To the guys around her “she has a pulse” equaled “She’s desperate and will marry me and take care of everything my spouse used to handle. Also, I deserve sex.”

      2. allathian*

        Ugh. That said, plenty of older women do want to be seen as potential dates, and after a certain point, when there’s 10 women for every man, the men certainly have the advantage. My MIL met her current husband at the senior singles club of her church, and she told me once that when they started dating, women she thought were her friends suddenly turned the cold shoulder. They were in their early and mid-60s, and already at that age the single women outnumbered the men by at least 5:1. Her husband said once that he’s never been so popular with women as he was at that club. At the time, he enjoyed ballroom dancing, and never lacked for partners.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        I largely have, at age 50. In my case, I think, it has more to do with being societally-unattractive and physically imposing.

        I both turn off and scare this type of man, and I am every kind of totally okay with that. I wish I could bottle it and give it out for free.

        1. Hydrangea*

          Yeah, being ugly has relieved me of most unwanted advances at pretty much all ages. Oddly, though, the assumption that “talking to me = chatting me up” seems to apply regardless of looks. I get the flip side of unwanted come ons, which is men sending me every conceivable signal of disinterest when I’m like, “Dude! Just trying to network, here!”

          1. Despachito*

            I find it particularly disgusting if men are interested in TALKING only to women they would potentially want to get laid.

            It is as if they would not want to spare their precious time on someone they were not interested in sexually. It is such a shame.

            1. Anonosaurus*

              In my experience, not only do (many) men not want to spare time on someone they aren’t interested in sexually, they just don’t even see you – when you’re looking for service at the bar/in the store, or whatever, you don’t exist especially if a woman they do find attractive is there. I have had men I thought were decent guys do this.

              I’m not interested in these men sexually and I do not want them to come on to me, but I would like my existence to be acknowledged. And to get my damn margarita.

          2. allathian*

            Yes, I’ve certainly had that reaction more often than the reverse. But then, I’m in a very female-dominated profession, and at professional conferences the women outnumber the men by at least 20:1, so if a guy is a jerk and doesn’t want to talk to me, regardless of he reason, I have plenty of women in my profession to network with.

            That said, I’ve noticed that a wedding ring helps. I’ve largely quit wearing it because I don’t like to wear jewelry in general and find it uncomfortable. But I do wear it to conferences, because most guys when they see it seem to understand that just because I want to talk to them doesn’t mean I’m trying to flirt with them, even if I’m friendly.

        2. Caramel & Cheddar*

          Agreed, as someone else who doesn’t experience this despite being a woman, I’d say you can’t age out of a group you were never part of in the first place.

        3. the cat's ass*

          I’m in my late 60’s and am SO happy to have aged out of what a same-age friend calls “the f7ck zone.” I don’t miss that unwanted attention at all!

  18. MisterForkbeard*

    This is definitely one of those “I have some learning to do” moments. As a white dude in his late 30s, my initial response to this was “this guy was out of line but not severely so, but OP clearly didn’t do anything to encourage him and shouldn’t second-guess herself at all”.

    In particular, I have a few female friends who are open/poly (and I know there’s a huge difference between the two but I’m combining here to be concise) and married, and who don’t think there’s anything wrong with just asking if someone is interested, even if they’re married. That’s sort of the viewpoint I was coming from, even if I don’t agree with it.

    But that ignores that this is a professional event, and that women have the right to not be pursued outside of very clear interest in what is fundamentally a professional setting, and I needed to get that through my head.

    1. Beth*

      The moment of Fail came when the guy described her ordinary professional conversation as “you really chatted me up”. This sexualized the entire exchange, and also delivered the message that his interest was her “fault” — he’s projecting his sexual interest onto her, claiming that everything she said was an overture, and implying that it’s now on her to follow through.

      That’s where he was out of line, and why it was severe. There are any number of ways a pass can be made, gently, that aren’t grounded in proactively blaming the woman.

    2. Robin*

      Yeah, the mention of spouse is being treated as a signal of being unavailable. This is a perfectly reasonable interpretation and is what OP intended it to be!

      And… I do wonder how wider acceptance / acknowledgement of poly relationships might change how these kinds of interactions go. Work is not generally where you try for romantic/sexual entanglements. Definitely do not make it the other person’s fault (“you really chatted me up”…blegh). But maybe, something like “I thought we hit it off and you’re cute. In the off chance your relationship allows for it, want to get drinks?” might be okay? Some people meet at work after all. Honestly not sure.

      1. LarsTheRealGirl*

        Ooo no. No no no.

        We didn’t hit it off, we’re at a professional event. “Cute” also comes across as wildly patronizing when we’ve been having a professional conversation. Now I’m also having to reframe the entire interaction as, oh, he didn’t hear a thing I said, he was just treating me like eye candy.

        And I think you should assume the general confines of a relationship in a professional setting. Even if someone does have a non-traditional partnership, the chances of them wanting to bring it into a work context are small.

        Professional contacts are not potential romantic partners.

      2. Clobberin' Time*

        So, within overlapping geek/poly circles, there’s a social convention that maybe some married people are poly so it’s OK to ask.

        Outside of those little hothouses, someone mentioning their spouse is signaling “I am not available”, and pretending that the world at large is like your local overlapping fandom polycules is going to be a mess.

      3. Qwerty*

        I’m feeling all sorts of nope at your last paragraph. Conflicting reasons why I hate this phrasing:

        1) “you’re cute” – nope. Not a fan of that outside of high school. Compliment my brain not my body
        2) If “your relationship allows for it” – I’m gonna interpret that as someone thinking I need my husband’s permission to hang out with a guy, not as a guy asking me to break my marriage vows. This obviously conflicts with #1 as the “cute” comment would be a flag

        Commitment rings (wedding, promise, claddagh-sometimes) have a long history of meaning “I’m taken”. Single women sometimes put them on in order to ward of dudes. Let’s not invite people to ignore those due to vague interpretations of a conversation, especially when guys aren’t great at interpreting signals in the first place. I’m sure married people looking for love are capable of outright stating their availability if they find someone they are interested in.

      4. LizB*

        Mm, no, this still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The existence of poly relationships still doesn’t mean anyone should hit on anyone at a work event. And if two people meet at work, become friends/move their relationship outside a strictly professional realm, and one of them is partnered but poly, I think it’s on that person to initiate/ask if they then legitimately sense that things are moving in a romantic direction. The default is still to assume a romantic partnership is closed until told otherwise, and I think I’m pretty okay with that, honestly. (And if you know a person is poly and has multiple relationships, that doesn’t mean they want to add another one.)

      5. GrooveBat*

        Regardless of the type of relationship someone is or is not in, it’s still a professional setting.

        Just. Don’t.

        I mean, really, is it *that* difficult to go without sex for one night?

      6. Eyes Kiwami*

        Do poly people go around bringing up their spouses/partners and then adding caveats that they’re still down for romance? Because in the rest of society, mentioning a spouse/wearing a ring to signal marriage is universally understood to mean “not available for romance.”

      7. Vintage Lydia*

        As a polyam person. No, absolutely not. Not at a work event. I wouldn’t proposition anyone I knew was in a relationship at all anywhere unless they already mentioned their relationship was open or they were poly. and even then I endeavor to never do anything in a work context. I was interested in a (poly) guy who works in a adjacent industry, and knowing that we could potentially be colleagues a decade down the line turned me off.

        But personally I only date or engage in extracurriculars with folks who are also ENM, partnered or not, unless it’s explicitly a ONS and work conferences are just not the place for that for me.

    3. ferrina*

      Yay on you for reflecting!

      Echoing Beth and Robin- The problems are that 1) he’s sexualizing a really innocuous conversation (grosss!) 2) he ignored signals that she’s not interested (i.e., “I’m married” without any mention of an open-relationship is almost always a sign of “don’t hit on me”) and 3) he didn’t bother to look for signs that she was interested. Then he 4) blamed her for his behavior! Which also says that he knew it wasn’t the time/place/person, but wanted to hit on her anyways, so he blamed her for his actions.

      This is a depressingly common pattern of behavior, and one that society often condones (as you see with the LW’s husband saying it was just fine)

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      First of all, thanks for participating in this discussion. Part of the overall issue in the workplace and in society in general is that normal, decent men wouldn’t do the creepy things creepy men do, so when they hear a woman say something like “Ugh, that guy blocked my way when I was trying to leave the conference room” the normal guys say “Why is that a big deal? Why didn’t you just ask him to move?” Most women only mention creep-encounters to other women because we don’t want to hear “He was just being friendly. You’re making a big deal out of nothing.”

      My advice is to reframe things in terms you might understand. So, if you were having a normal business conversation and the guy you just met ten minutes ago (at a work event!) asks to borrow your car for the day, what what you think? Then, if you said “Of course you can’t borrow my car. I just met you” and the guy said “Hey, you approached me and were being so friendly I figured you wouldn’t mind” what would you think then? How about if the guy responded to you like this: “So what are you doing here all dressed up, chatting strangers up if you didn’t expect someone to want to borrow you’re car? If you didn’t want to lend your car out, you should have just stayed home.”

      I know I’m working pretty hard for this analogy but no one ever asks someone who got robbed “What do you do to make that guy rob you? You must have done something to encourage that.” (Again, extreme analogy but I am exhausted from dealing with the concept that I’m more responsible for some creepy guy’s behavior than he is.)

      1. Pescadero*

        “but no one ever asks someone who got robbed “What do you do to make that guy rob you? You must have done something to encourage that.”

        I wish that were true – but victim blaming in robberies (why were you in that neighborhood? You got robbed by that hooker you hired? Etc., etc.) isn’t particularly unheard of.

    5. Heather*

      Meh, I agree with your initial take. As long as the guy was polite about it (not sleazy or overly persistent) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

      1. Peter*

        Yeah, agreed. It is sleazy to accuse someone of chatting you up and to ignore their marriage, but most of the people above are just determined to believe that there are no circumstances where it’s appropriate for a man to ask someone out at a conference of all things.

        1. I would prefer not to*

          “I know this was completely indefensible but I bet you would also disagree with completely reasonable behaviours too for some reason, and therefore I’m going to criticise you for condemning the indefensible.” Mate.

      2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

        Isn’t turning 10 minutes of discussion of business into “Hey, YOU really chatted me up” kind of sleazy behavior? To say the least?

          1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

            Apparently (and entertainingly) you and Heather disagree on that point even if you agree on the general existence of women as vending machines for men.

    6. dawbs*

      there’s something i used to teach young ppl who worked for me, called the “go to Hell” rule.
      It goes like this: if someone might not be able to tell you to go to Hell, you can’t ask them out. (This was most often a lesson young men needed. and the young women needed a way to explain why it wasn’t ok to ask them out).

      Assuming the person being asked out wants to say “no”, the ability to say no with many obscenities tells you if it was OK to ask.

      Which means, you can’t ask out waitstaff, they can’t tell you to go to hell (their boss might not care… but then again they might. and so might corporate). You can’t ask out someone standing alone in a dark alley, because they might not feel safe telling you to go to hell. You can’t ask out someone in front of a large group, because there’s pressure but to say “go to hell”. Uou can’t ask out your teacher, she probably can’t tell you to go to hell. You can’t ask out retail workers on the clock, they can’t tell you to go to hell.

      At a work conference, i wouldn’t want to tell someone to go to hell; to much possible blowback. so it was inappropriate

      1. ferrina*

        I really love this! It’s a great rule of thumb.

        And for folks wondering- but what if that waitress really did want to go out with me? Well, she’ll ask you out herself (since you’ll be able to tell her GTH due to power dynamic)

        1. dawbs*

          She can ask–you can get right up but all but telling her to ask if you’re both really heavily flirting.
          (I did also tell them, since I was the boss, that flirting that ms. dawbs could see from across the room was to much. They needed plausible deniability to flirting in front of me)

          That’s also why leaving your number for the waitress–with zero pressure and she can choose not to call– is way less problematic.

          If the creep in this story had said “hey, I enjoyed our conversation. I’m headed out now, but here is my personal cell number, if you ever wanted to reach out personally rather than professionally” it would *more or less* been that. “almost”asking her out but without response pressure.

      2. kiki*

        This is a great rule! And it properly illustrates the concept for, like, 95% of people. Unfortunately, I think I’ve worked with a lot of very privileged/oblivious men who “don’t conform to social norms” and would say they always feel comfortable telling people to go to hell. But that’s just working in tech, I’m afraid.

  19. Dark Macadamia*

    This reminds me of that anecdote where a man was angry that a woman’s LinkedIn picture was too “sexy” (he used a more derogatory word) and unprofessional, and the person recounting the story couldn’t figure out why. It was just a simple headshot of a nice looking lady in a regular shirt. They were both so frustrated because the creep thought the narrator was pretending to be PC and the narrator genuinely couldn’t understand how the picture was suggestive. Eventually they figured out it was because the woman was… smiling. In a photo.

    LW, you did nothing wrong. Someone who wants to hit on you/read interest into your actions will find a way no matter what you say or do, because it’s not even about you, only them. Your husband and male friends are gross.

  20. learnedthehardway*

    Don’t go questioning yourself!!! YOU didn’t do anything wrong!

    HE DID – what normal person thinks, “OMG, this woman talked to me about industry stuff!! She must want to sleep with me!! Not sure why she mentioned a husband, because TALKING = SEX!!!”

  21. Petty Betty*

    Ugh. I loathe these types. I don’t let them off easy, either.
    “What, exactly, do you hope will ‘happen’? Is there a desired outcome that standard networking isn’t achieving?” I make it very obvious that he’s the one misreading the situation, not me, and I’m not going to take any blame for his own pantsfeels and hope of intimate touch getting in the way of a professional work environment.

    But I also know I’m at an age and stage in my life and career where I can be that blunt. When I was younger (and broke), I didn’t have that kind of freedom.

    1. Peter*

      You are misreading the situation. You are responding with loathing to normal human affection of the sort that starts any relationship. Any normal man has had his share of rejection and doesn’t go around desperately thinking “I need to become such a situation-reader/mind-reader that I never get rejected again”. He is just pleasant and normal with the woman afterwards. If she is so small as to be filled with hatred just because he asked her out, so much the worse for her.

      1. Onomatopoetic*

        Have you read this thread at all? It’s not about “hating a guy that asks you out”, it’s a question about how women can’t interact with some men in a professional setting without being seen as sexual prey, instead of being a network contact, or even just a human being to talk to for a while.

        In this case the man even said straight out that he thought she had chatted him up, which means that he deliberately ignored every other interpretation of her behaviour, like being social and networking. (Plus the mention of a spouse, not that it should matter, but as it has been mentioned, people usually don’t talk about their spouses when they want to hook up.)

      2. aebhel*

        If he asked her out at a work conference after she’s repeatedly mentioned a husband, he’s being a presumptuous creep. Even if it wasn’t at a work conference ‘hey, I know you mentioned a spouse repeatedly but would you be DTF anyway??’ is creepy; the work context just makes it more so.

        Pointedly reasserting that this is a work environment and not a singles bar is not hateful behavior, and many men would in fact benefit from making at least a minimal effort at reading the room before they proposition women. Or at least, the women who have the misfortune to deal with them would.

      3. Kay*

        No. Propositioning someone after having a work conversation with -lets go to the bar & see what happens- is gross, inappropriate and out of line. There is no other reading of this situation than this creep decided to be a creep.

        Normal people who behave normally don’t go around crudely propositioning other people.

      4. GrooveBat*

        It is monumentally unfair to women to have to even deal with something like this when they are in a professional setting trying to do their job. That’s not *normal human affection.* It’s creepy and sleazy. And when it happens a lot (because people shrug it off or pity the poor guy for living a life of rejection), it severely diminishes a woman’s enthusiasm for these events, her willingness to network or engage with male colleagues, and, ultimately, her ability to advance her career.

      5. Eyes Kiwami*

        Maybe men should go around desperately thinking “I need to be better at reading situations so I don’t get rejected.” Not only would they be more successful, they would make fewer people uncomfortable.

          1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

            I suppose you can keep trying to convince us that we only exist for the enjoyment of men and that we shouldn’t be concerned with our careers, accomplishments, safety, or lives, but I doubt you’ll get very far.

  22. mreasy*

    This type of incredibly common scenario means that those industries that are built on networking are much less accessible to women. This dude was evaluating OP as a sex partner, not a professional. Any actual work they could do together will never happen, because he was being a creep. Telling his employer isn’t the answer, but I wish they knew how he was spending his “networking” opportunity. Also it feels gross ALL THE TIME to be a woman networking with men, because you never know what they’re going to take wrong. Everyone I know has dealt with enough guys interpreting work talk as advances…20 years in it still sucks man.

    1. KRM*

      And when you’ve had it happen enough times, you automatically start to worry “oh no, I hope this guy doesn’t think I like him, just because I’m super enthusiastic talking about X research we share!!”. It’s exhausting and I hate it.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      Yes. Because most women aren’t in the same industry as their spouse (if they have a spouse) and attend a conferences alone or with colleauges.

      It may be an attempt to explain why this could be the first time the LW experienced this despite attending many in the past. But the justification isn’t necessary. The guy was in the wrong.

    2. Be Gneiss*

      I mean, it could be that LW prefers to travel with her spouse? If she enjoys the “we go to different sessions all day, then reconnect for dinner and go back to the room,” then it’s possible she wasn’t as excited about going alone. But, like…people can genuinely prefer to do something a certain way without us needing to read that much into it.

      1. Stray Fatcat*

        Except that in this letter the whole reason to explain about her spouse was to say that in this case people didn’t know her husband. She wasn’t just telling us how she likes to travel. She’s setting up a situation in which *not* being with her husband made her question her own actions in a way being with her husband doesn’t. It should not have to be that way.

  23. Lana Kane*

    “My male friends (including my spouse) think it was perfectly okay because he took the no with grace and didn’t push back and apologized afterward.”

    Thiiiis right here is why we aren’t making much progress yet. Because for men, it’s still considered ok to swing and miss in situations when you shouldn’t be swinging (hah) in the first place. What matters is not being a sore loser.

    Life isn’t little league.

    1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      Okay, but how delightfully savage would it be to hand out participation trophies to every man who came on to a woman at the spectacularly wrong time?

      “Hey, you really chatted me up, wanna go out for drinks and see what happens?”

      “Aww, good job buddy, you tried your best. Here, hold this up high and smile at the photographer.”

      1. Lana Kane*

        And really highlight the word “participation”, because we know how much they hate those trophies!

        She doesn’t post anymore, but this is reminds me of Awards for Good Boys on Instagram.

    2. ferrina*

      Yeah, it’s not a win to say “He’s a good guy because he wasn’t violent”

      That bar is so frickin low it should go without saying! That should not be the standard that we hold ourselves to! I manage to go to work each day without committing genocide, but my boss doesn’t think that’s a good enough reason to give me high marks on my performance review.

  24. Frances*

    Maybe it is because I know of a few couples in open relationships, I wasn’t super creeped out by this guy’s behavior.
    To be clear – OP didn’t do anything wrong. Totally normal behaviour on her part. But I’m also not necessarily on the “this guy is a creep” bandwagon.
    He may have thought the OP had the option of seeing others or he really may be a creep. I don’t know enough from what I read in the letter. Thing is he realized that the OP wasn’t into him and he apologized and OP shouldn’t give it another thought.

    1. mreasy*

      He’s not a creep because OP is married. He’s a creep because he interpreted friendly professional conversation as an advance. Also, generally when someone mentions their spouse multiple times they are trying to send you a message…not invite speculation about their potentially open marriage.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      The bigger issue here is treating the LW as a potential sex object as opposed to a professional contact.

    3. Phoenix*

      OP’s relationship status is not the (only) factor that makes this behavior creepy or inappropriate. It is inherently inappropriate to evaluate people in a networking context on a sexual level – that’s not what the situation is for, and that’s specifically harmful to women in the context of historical and current barriers for women in a professional context.

      In a professional context, this sentence takes it all the way to creepy: “Hey, you really chatted me up, wanna go out for drinks and see what happens?”

      It’s creepy without referencing OP’s husband at all.

      1. Mid*

        Yes. It’s taking professional conversation and saying that it was flirty that makes it not okay. It’s not really about the husband, because it would be inappropriate if LW was single. It would be inappropriate if LW was poly or in an open marriage or running a s*x club in the office copier room.

        People should be allowed to have conversations at professional events without being constantly worried someone is going to take their normal, friendly behavior as flirting/chatting up.

        It’s showing that this man, while having a seemingly professional conversation about their field, wasn’t thinking of the LW as a peer, but as a potential hookup. It means he likely wasn’t really listening to her work or ideas, he wasn’t considering her as a professional contact, he wasn’t treating her like he was likely treating the men he had conversations with at the same conference.

        When I have what I think are professional conversations, and someone hits on me after/during them, it feels very invalidating, because it makes me question the entire conversation. Did that person actually like my ideas or were they trying to butter me up? Did they actually know of a cool job opening or did they just want my contact info? Did they care at all about my work or were they just trying to sleep with me? Did any of my time and effort actually build up a professional connection, or was it just to flirt with me? Does anyone think I have meaningful contributions, or am I just here because someone finds me attractive? (Obviously, I know better than to believe the last one, but it *feels* like that, it makes you question everything and every conversation and your place in the room.)

    4. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      Truthfully, I don’t hitting on someone at a work conference is inherently wrong a) if both persons are of more or less equal footing, b) if there have been clear signs of interest on both sides, and c) if its done as respectfully as possible. What this guy did wrong was to misinterpret a woman’s professional networking at a professional networking event as strong sexual interest, and to disregard her strong signals of boundaries (while polyamorous couples certainly exist and are becoming more common, we still live in a majority monogamous cishet society, and MOST people who repeatedly mention their spouse in a conversation with the opposite sex are doing it to signal they are unavailable).

      If this guy had said something like, “You seem really nice, and I’d love to get to know you better over drinks this evening — or am I misreading the situation?” I think we’d all have a lot more compassion, but frankly he should have looked elsewhere the moment she mentioned her husband. The fact that he presumed her sexual availability despite so many reasons not to is what makes him creepy in my estimation.

      1. Robin*

        Agreed – expressing the possibility that, as a fallible human being, one might have misinterpreted the situation, does so much to alleviate creep factors. One must also then be genuine in backing off if necessary.

      2. Some lady*

        He wasn’t thinking about her at all, at least above the neck. What she said or thought or felt didn’t matter. A large proportion of men barely listen, or don’t listen, to anything women say, in any situation.

      3. Lyra Belacqua*

        I agree–in all the fields I’m familiar with, conferences are also social events, and people notoriously enjoy hooking up at them! It’s totally fine to not want to participate in that, but it would look a little pearl-clutchy to be horrified at the thought absent a big power differential (professor/grad student, etc.) That said, this guy definitely overstepped! I am a queer poly woman, and if I’m interested in someone, I go out of my way to make that clear in conversation, in part because the cishet monogamous norm *is* so strong–so it seems way overgenerous to give him a pass on that basis.

    5. bratschegirl*

      Your observations would be relevant had OP met him in a pickup bar, but that’s not what happened. He’s a creep because he treated a professional conference as a pickup bar, and treated OP as a potential conquest rather than as a professional colleague. I hope I, and the women I know, never run into you in a work situation…

    6. MeepMeep123*

      The creepiness is that he ignored a clear and societally-accepted “no” signal – the fact that she mentioned she was married. At that point, the default position should be “no, this is not flirtation” until there is a clear message otherwise, and a normally functioning individual should back off without any further advances.

      1. Big Bank*

        I’ve read this a couple times upthread and it’s making me uncomfortable. I mention my partner at work on various occasions, where his existence is relevant to the conversation. The idea that I’d be bringing him up “to signal I’m unavailable” sounds so gross to me. In a bar? YES. At work? No, because that’s not the headspace either person should be in.

        If I’m bringing him up, and some colleague is thinking “hold on, I wasn’t even flirting!”, I’d be mortified that’s the thought process.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I would not expect anyone to interpret “Big Bank mentioned their partner” as “because Big Bank thought I was flirting with them” unless someone was actually flirting with you.

          Take the conversation that goes:

          “I like your bag.”
          “Thanks, my husband gave it to me!”

          If the person complimenting the bag means it as a straight-forward compliment, then they will take the reply as a straight-forward thank you plus a little more information.

          If the conversations is happening on two levels, so:

          “I like your bag.” also means (Let’s leave work aside and move to personal compliments/test the waters for flirting.)
          “Thanks, my husband gave it to me!” also means (I’m not interested in flirting/I will not sleep with you.)

          Personally, I have never taken a colleague mentioning a spouse or partner as a signal that they’re unavailable because I’ve never thought about making a pass at a colleague, so for me the conversation would only ever happen on that first level.

      2. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

        This is kind of funny, because my wife got hit on (sight unseen) a couple of weeks ago after a work call. The guy texted to thank her and said something like “Please apologize to your husband for taking up so much of your time,” which was weird at the time but in retrospect was clearly him fishing for “Oh, I’m not married.” The next text after that was “Let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to make it up to you.”

        I’m pretty sure she just ignored it and the guy never wrote back.

    7. Koli*

      He’s a creep for hitting on a woman at a professional networking event, period. The purpose of the event is not to find sexual partners. It’s creepy for the same reason it’s creepy for a guy to hit on a waitress, or barista, or hairdresser, even if she is single.

      When you are interacting with someone in their professional capacity, it is out of bounds to hit on them, PER-I-OD. Meet someone online, at a bar, at church, at a party – NOT AT WORK (yours or theirs).

    8. Connie-Lynne*

      Uuugh, I was poly when my husband was alive, and I would still have considered the guy a creep.

      Mentioning one’s spouse is enough of a signal that _even though I was poly_ I would mention my spouse repeatedly in conversation if I thought I was being hit on inappropriately. If I were open to being hit on, I’d have been sure to work the poly-ness into the conversation at some point.

      Don’t hit on people at work events unless they’re giving out clear signals that they want to be hit on, which is highly unlikely because most people are _not_ at conferences looking for hookups. It’s gross and creepy.

    9. Petty Betty*

      I AM openly poly/ethically non-monogamous. He’s creepy. She didn’t say or do anything to indicate she was open or pursuing anything outside of her marriage. All she did was have a professional level casual conversation with someone at a professional networking event. He’s the one who tried to turn it into a “meet my trouser snake” event even after she mentioned her husband on more than one occasion (and really, one could say that her mentioning her husband after he complimented her clothing was a soft redirect and attempt to signal she wasn’t interested in him in anything other than professionally). He purposely ignored the mentions of her husband. One could almost surmise that he didn’t hear anything she said because he was more focused on getting what he wanted (physical intimacy).

      1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

        I was really hoping someone would post this comment and your version is especially clear and excellent.

  25. old curmudgeon*

    This is somewhat tangential to the OP but I think it is relevant to the bigger issue about creeps at conferences.

    Around a decade or so ago, there was much sturm und drang in the science fiction/fantasy world over how to handle creeps at SF/F conventions. Some conventions tried to address creep behavior by barring the creep from participation, but in response the creep would claim that there wasn’t anything that said they couldn’t behave that way, so the convention had no right to ban them.

    So a whole lot of conventions started posting a formal Code of Conduct in their websites and marketing materials, most of which included not only rules of what is acceptable conduct but also the infrastructure that the convention had in place to handle complaints. Many SF/F conventions have entire committees devoted to safety, security and responding to reports of harassment, and as a result, while creeps are still present, there is a way for a convention member to report them with at least some hope of effective action. In fact, there was a genre-wide movement of writers and publishers who went on record to state that they would refuse to attend any convention that did not have and enforce a Code of Conduct, which was a great incentive in getting more conventions to participate.

    While I am not in a profession that requires me to attend conferences, I have to wonder if possibly the organizers of such conferences might do well to emulate the SF/F world’s approach. Writing and publishing a clear and unambiguous Code of Conduct is a challenge, enforcing it is even more challenging, but absent both of those elements, any conference or convention is a wide-open invitation to creeps to creep on anyone they choose. Having and enforcing a Code of Conduct wouldn’t solve everything (or at least it hasn’t in the SF/F convention world), but it is an excellent start.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Many (but not all) tech conferences have started implementing a Code of Conduct. I suspect this is where that originated (being as there’s a lot of overlap between “people in tech” and “people who attend SF/F cons”).

      Of course, how well these Codes of Conduct are written, and how well they are enforced are two separate matters…

    2. Mid*

      I do think that a Code of Conduct is important, but I think more importantly, there needs to be some accountability process, some way to report behavior, ideally to an outside party so people aren’t afraid of retaliation. If the conference is hosted by, let’s say Microsoft, and I want to work for Microsoft, I’m not sure how comfortable I would be going to the conference organizers and reporting harassment/misconduct, knowing they’re part of my network and part of this conference. Which is sad, and shouldn’t be a concern, but it is.

  26. mreasy*

    I would like to posit that people should simply not hit on each other at a work event, whether a staff happy hour or an industry conference. If there’s something there, exchange emails and deal with it off-site. There are just too many opportunities for power imbalance and for making people feel uncomfortable and like they aren’t being treated as professionals. NOTE: I say this as someone married to a former coworker! We dealt with it offsite.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      I, too, married a coworker (15 years ago yesterday!) and we managed just fine. It was retail, not an office setting, and we were equals in rank (neither managed the other or anything.)

      The trick was, we did not date AT WORK. We worked at work. Our relationship took place outside that context. Not that we pretended not to know each other or anything, but we did not “relationship” while on the clock.

  27. Beth*


    The guy lives in the alternate universe of Dudity, where ordinary conversation equals “you really chatted me up”. Delivering that line to someone who has already made a point of mentioning their spouse is what makes him a jerk.

    I’m not sure if I’d call him a creep, but creeping is not the only kind of bad behaviour that a jerk from the Dudity universe can do that ruins things for everyone else.

  28. Qwerty*

    OP, you did nothing wrong! You were friendly and engaging to someone who looked like they on the outside looking in – plenty of people would have appreciated it at face value. I tend to have an inclusive personality so I’ve had this happen to me a lot, especially in my 20s. I hope this doesn’t deter you from networking with men – the more they get used to women being warm and friendly the more normal the behavior will be.

    Personally, I like that the guy was upfront about his feelings and apologized for making it awkward (taking points off for the awful phrasing though). My guess is that he was surprised by the first interaction and then his friends talked him up at that lunch he went to and egged him on. My experience tends to be dudes making excuses or using the cover of friendship to spend more time with me then attempting to retroactively turn drinks or dinner into a date. So it rolls of my back when someone tells me their intentions up front and accepts the rejection, allowing us to decide whether to continue talking or send the guy on his merry way. (usually they hide for a little bit to avoid the awkwardness and then come back and act normal).

    This may be industry specific, but I can’t imagine referring to strangers attending the same conference with me as “colleagues”. All of the conferences I’ve been to were more casual and social where its normal for people to make friends. Your answer did a fine job of placing your emphasis on the professional side.

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      Personally, I like that the guy was upfront about his feelings and apologized for making it awkward

      There’s nothing admirable about turning a professional interaction with a married colleague into a pickup attempt. The place for him to be “upfront about his feelings” is with his therapist.

    2. GrooveBat*

      I don’t like that you’re making excuses for him (“his friends made him do it”) and whether or not you consider someone a colleague, it’s still a professional setting and it’s just flat-out inappropriate.

  29. evelyn*

    I would have a lot more sympathy for this guy making a move if you hadn’t mentioned your spouse multiple times! “That’s a great [article of clothing/piece of jewelry]!”
    “Thanks, my spouse got it for me!” should be a pretty clear sign that this person is not here for potential romantic/sexual entanglements. (yeah, not all marriages are monogamous and not all people who are in monogamous relationships are faithful but when someone brings up their spouse multiple times in a conversation maybe take that as a sign they’re not looking for a conference hookup)

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Or maybe not assume that every woman by default is looking to hook up with you, regardless of whether or not they have a spouse, are wearing a wedding ring, etc.

      Being married is not the only reason people are not looking for random sexual encounters.

    2. Employee of the Bearimy*

      Yes, exactly! The subtext here was very clear: “That’s a very nice [something OP is wearing].” = “I’m checking to see if I can steer the conversation into more personal territory.” “Thanks! My spouse bought it for me!” = “I’m not interested in making this conversation more personal or the opening to a date/hookup.” This dude had all the info he needed and chose to ignore it.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, this! Not that the dude should have been hitting on her anyway, but indicating that you’re already taken is a well-known soft no tactic. That makes it worse; not because if a woman belongs to some guy they’re already owned and not available (although that’s what some people think), but because this is specifically what this phrase is used to mean. He deliberately blew right past it MULTIPLE times.

  30. CharlieBrown*

    Parents of teenage boys, please note that this is a teachable moment. Please make use of it.

    This is how we change the culture.

  31. Slowpoke*

    I’ve noticed that many men’s takeaway from this wider conversation about consent seems to have been, “if a woman says no, respect that,” which leads to a lot of people saying “it was fine that he asked her out, as long as he dropped it gracefully when she rejected him!” But the part that they’re missing is that there are many contexts where you really SHOULDN’T ask people out, at least not as a first step. I’ve had men ask me out on public transportation and it always makes me feel uncomfortable and a little scared (“what happens when I get off the bus??”) only for people to say “it sounds like he was just being friendly/at least he took no for an answer,” ignoring that I do not want to be hit on by strangers in public just because they like how I look! Sorry this happened, OP.

    1. Some lady*

      So much this. I once had a crossing guard ask me out while I was waiting to cross the street. (I wasn’t a school child, just happened to be crossing with some.) When I said no he said “Oh well, at least I tried, that’s the important thing!”

      Nah, the important thing was I had to replan my route so I crossed elsewhere in future.

      1. Mid*


        I’ve had someone ask me out on the bus. They got on before I did, we rode the same route every day, and I got off before they did, so they knew where I lived and where I worked, within a few block radius at least, and my schedule. That’s a LOT of information for someone to have, and it feels very scary. Because while most of the time, people handle rejection okay (like this person did), it’s never a guarantee. And it was very scary for me to deal with this, even though the person seemed nice enough, because of those factors.

        Same with professional settings–they know your workplace, they know people you know, they can spread rumors that can damage your reputation, they can cause issues that impact your entire career.

        I really wish people would stick to flirting in situations that are designed for it.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*


          If you go out to a hookup bar, you can expect to be chatted up and propositioned.

          If you go to a conference, you should not have to expect to be propositioned.
          If you go to a job, you should not have to deal with being propositioned.
          If you go to a sports game, you should not have to deal with being propositioned.
          If you go to a grocery store, you should not have to deal with being propositioned.
          If you go to a restaurant, you should not have to deal with being propositioned.
          If you ride public transit, you should not have to deal with being propositioned.

        2. londonedit*

          Yep. I once had a bloke follow me round the supermarket before asking for my phone number, which made me feel totally awkward and unsafe going to that supermarket again. There was also a bloke who worked at the train station (which I couldn’t avoid going to every day!) who really skirted the line of ‘just making friendly conversation/slightly weird and creepy’ (men: if a woman thinks your ‘friendly conversation’ is weird and creepy, take her word for it). Once he told me he’d seen me out running the previous evening. Weird. Then he did the whole ‘so…are you married? Engaged? I’ve never seen you wearing a ring…’ thing. Creepy. That was SO uncomfortable and it made every journey to and from work a nightmare as I was trying to avoid seeing him and trying to get through the station as quickly as possible. Now, in my forties, I’d find a supervisor and tell them their employee was being a weirdo to female passengers, but back in my twenties I totally believed the whole ‘just be nice, he’s probably just trying to be friendly, just smile and don’t make a fuss’ thing, so I just went out of my way to try to avoid any interaction with him. Millions of women have done the same in their everyday lives and let me tell you it SUCKS.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Thanks for saying this.

      The grace after hearing “No” is only one layer of this whole stinking onion.

    3. velomont*

      I, as a guy, can go wherever I want, whenever I want (within reason) and that includes if I want to sit at a bar by myself and read a book. Sadly, women do not have that right and I truly cannot imagine how much of a pain it is to have every man and his dog hitting on you because you happen to be alone in public.

      It must be just bloody brutal.

    4. Dark Macadamia*

      Yes!! like what are they really saying here, if the only thing that matters is the man’s intent and not the woman’s discomfort/safety/reaction?

      “It’s okay to sexualize women (at work) as long as you’re nice about it.”

      “It’s okay to proposition someone (at work) as long as you don’t insult, harass, or assault them later.”

      “It’s okay to hit on MY WIFE while she’s AT WORK, regardless of how SHE feels, as long as you apologize for making it awkward.”

    5. Anonosaurus*

      Yeah, and we should not be expected to feel relieved or grateful that he ‘took no for an answer’!

    6. bamcheeks*

      I once explained it to a friend as, “ok, what if you were in the market for a new phone. Your old one is knackered, you need a new one in the next few weeks. Would you be cool with people coming up to you in the street trying to sell you a phone? What if it was also at work, at the gym, when you’re talking to a friend, trying to find somewhere to park, shopping, hanging out with your kid at a playground — like, everywhere you were out in public, some random would come up to you trying to sell you a phone? Would that be ok as long as they were polite about it and, say, no more than one in ten got really arsey and furious with you when you told them you weren’t interested, or would it actually get really fucking annoying and do you think you’d be pretty pissed off *even* with the ones being polite and taking no for an answer?”

  32. Anomie*

    I’d never approach a guy I didn’t know alone because sadly I already assume he’s going to think I’m coming on to him. It’s not right but it’s the way it is much of the time. Just being regular nice and not chatty has created trouble.

    1. Koli*

      +1. Going up to a group is safer IMO. If I saw someone sitting alone quietly, I would assume they weren’t looking to network and would probably try to join a group that was already in conversation.

    2. Ugh all the way home*

      This is a different context but it illustrates what you’re saying. When I was in my 20s I attended a social event similar to a Meetup. I didn’t know anyone there, so looked around the room for someone “safe” to talk to who might be able to introduce me around. I approached a silver haired man who appeared around my father’s age and said a friendly “hello”. He looked at me and snapped “You’re too young for me!” He made it clear he thought I was hitting on him. I was shocked.

  33. beandip*

    It’s worse because it has a chilling effect on other women in similar contexts.

    I am a woman in a very male-dominated field, and when I’m at a conference next month, you can bet I’m going to have this letter in the back of my head when I’m trying to network. ugh.

  34. Some lady*

    “You’re really chatting me up” or words to that effect = has bought every self-published Secrets of Pickup Artists book he has seen advertised online.

  35. The Person from the Resume*

    Ugh! LW, you did nothing wrong. You were actually kind to someone who looked left out. As an introvert, I would very much appreciate that consideration.

    I also wanted to say something similar/opposite happened to me. On a very long business trip/site visit, a guy was particularly friendly to me (a single woman). I assumed he was just being friendly because he talked about his wife. And I was being friendly back; I didn’t feel much of any kind of connection but it was a business trip and you hang out with who’s available. And then he hit on me. Fortunately it didn’t make me second guess myself too much. Although it makes me think a lot less of him. It does make me believe he had no interest in my friendship and just targeted a woman who didn’t have anyone else hanging around. But he also talked about his wife in rather loving terms for somebody planning to cheat on her so that was gross.

    It’s him. It’s not you. You do not need to change your behavior in the future.

    1. HugeTractsofLand*

      Blegh, I’m so sorry that happened to you. I just commented that mentioning your spouse is a universal No Thanks, I’m Taken sign. It’s awful to hear that this guy used it instead as an I’m Taken, Relax sign…as a smokescreen to get closer to you to make his creep move.

      1. Luna*

        I must say I detest the idea that saying “I’m taken” is somehow a get out of jail free card, like *that* is your reason for saying no to them. Not the fact that, you know, you don’t want to, which is the only reason that should really matter.

        And I know some people, especially woman, say it because some men only back off when it’s clear they are encroaching on ‘another dude’s territory’, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I think if society made it clearer that women saying no is enough reason, more men will end up, eventually, backing off and realizing there doesn’t have to be another person or any ‘reason’ beyond, “I don’t want to/I said no”.

        PS: Obviously, genders can be reversed or altered in any way liked in my second paragraph, as the situation calls for.

  36. Tiny Scot*

    Flames… flames on the sides of my face…
    Just one more saying you did nothing wrong. I hate this guy. This guy sucks.

  37. velomont*

    Even if we understand the complete inappropriateness of that sort of behaviour, there is a critical element that I suspect most guys (and I’m a guy) don’t truly understand, and that is the physical threat element. A lot of guys will respond to complaints with a jocular “well I wouldn’t mind being hit-on (at a conference or anywhere else for that matter). But what they don’t get, and I do, is that if I’m hit on and I’m not interested, there’s a very good chance that 110 lb, 5′ 5″ woman is not a threat to 210 lb, 6′ 3” me; I can basically control and turn-off the situation whenever I’m annoyed – the woman can only do so if the guy lets her.

    Women should have an equal place at the table and it’s incumbent upon us men to behave ourselves and not be threatening idiots.

    1. Hydrangea*

      When straight men say that, they are picturing Isabella Rossellini hitting on them. Believe me, these guys get seriously affronted when a woman they are not into hits on them or is perceived to be hitting on them.

      1. Clobberin' Time*

        They also aren’t picturing any personal or professional consequences to getting hit on.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      And the physical threat thing is real. When you’re at an out of town conference, you’re likely staying in that hotel, and even if you know people there, they could be floors away, so any creeper behavior is that much more nerve-wracking because now someone can follow you up on the elevator.

      1. Video killed the radio star*

        I (female) was recently subjected to a 10 minute long unwanted conversation by the male receptionist at the hotel I was staying at – he didn’t do or say anything overtly sexual, but he did ignore all my polite ‘I would like to go now’ signals (including letting the elevator doors open and close again when I was standing right at them and had just pressed the button) and it definitely made me wonder how safe I was in my room – I was thankfully able to shake off the feeling pretty quickly, but it really sucked not being able to feel like I could remove myself from the conversation when I wanted to and then afterwards wondering if he was going to come knocking… or worse, use a universal key.

        1. Video killed the radio star*

          Just want to clarify that I sort of knew, realistically, that he was probably just kinda socially awkward and I was probably not in any danger, but despite all that I really did have a moment of worry, because those are the sorts of stories you hear all the time…

  38. Lady Knittington*

    It’s really easy to tell that it’s all on him and not the OP with his line: “You really chatted me up there”. Straight away he was trying to make her responsible for *his* sleaziness.

  39. HugeTractsofLand*

    To me it’s the fact that he went for it after multiple mentions of the spouse. Like, c’mon dude, what are the odds that this woman is talking to you at a conference for non-professional reasons AND just so happens to be in an open marriage? That’s blatant wishful thinking at the cost of OP’s comfort. People of all genders mention their partners when they want to politely put up a No Thanks, Platonic Only sign. As a woman, I would be much more tolerant of his attempt if he wasn’t ignoring such an obvious sign.

    1. FourHornedBrother*

      Yeah, in the abstract I have no problem with people making an advance at a conference, but if you’re the one making it, it is 100% ON YOU to pay close attention to (and heed) the signs the other person is giving. The exchange LW mentioned was a big fat flashing “NO GO” sign that the dude willfully ignored.

    2. Onomatopoetic*

      Yes, I’m a very social, extrovert (female) person, and I quickly learned to notice if a guy starts to become a little too interested. I will start to drop a lot more “partner” in the conversation. It usually works (exept for the one guy who actually had his girlfriend sleeping in the next room, and thought it was fine, because then we both cheated, blargh). And if I misread some signal, it doesn’t matter, because it’s just natural conversation. Notice that I said that I learned to read clues. It’s not that hard, guys, you can learn too. And if you can’t, better assume that you are not getting chatted up. It’s not the end of the world if you miss an opportunity to get a leg over. Better than being this guy.

      1. GrooveBat*

        It’s just really, really sad when a woman has to mention (or invent) a “partner” to keep from being propositioned in a professional setting.

  40. I should be working*

    These types of things will continue to occur because conferences are hook up opportunities for plenty of both men and women.

    I just don’t see this changing.

    1. Keymaster*

      Err, no. The conference is the point – not trying to have it off with someone.

      This is like hitting on the shop staff because they smiled.

      1. I should be working*

        The conference may be the point for you or me, but clearly it’s not the *only* point for *everyone*. That’s why this is still commonplace. I was surprised the first time I read about all the bed-hopping that occurs with the athletes at the Olympic games. I don’t know of too many groups more focused on their profession.

        The contention that no women ever use these opportunities to enjoy a little out of town sexy time isn’t realistic. It’s okay to acknowledge that women are sexual beings too. It’s chastity belts for everyone, or we all become better at navigating these situations.

        1. tessa*

          But using a conference to scout for casual sex, or acknowledging that women are sexual beings, *isn’t* the point of the letter.

          Not sure why you insist on making those two things the point.

          1. I should be working*

            I was addressing the comments, not the specifics of the letter.

            And you know, this isn’t the place for a long form discussion of the shifting sexual behavioral norms in the U.S. so I’m going to bow out now.

        2. bamcheeks*

          It’s genuinely ok if the women who want to find people to hook up with have to get on an app rather than turning the conference dinner into their cruising ground! That’s not a terrible burden that we have to worry about!

  41. Irish Teacher*

    What is kinda depressing is that I was sure as soon as I saw the headline that this would be from a woman, who was hit on by a man. Not that it would be OK for this to happen to a man either (or for a woman to do it to another woman) but…the fact that most of us could probably guess the genders just indicates how common one particular experience is.

  42. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Sadly, I know exactly what you mean.

    I work in a very male dominated industry and every single conference I’ve been to has resulted in some kind of creepy dude mistaking my attendance/dress/manner/friendliness/being on my own as being an invitation to assume I’m up for shenanigans in the hotel.

    And if I’m cold, unapproachable and outright nasty it’s a huge setback to networking. The regretful bargain we have struck is to assume that every guy is going to ‘try their luck’ and be on our guard at all times – but not *visibly* on guard.

    This goes double for IT stuff, in my experience, where we also get the ‘but he’s socially awkward and can’t read womens emotions’ response.

    It’s tiring, it’s sometimes outright terrifying how often this happens but let me reassure you:

    It is never our fault. Whether we smiled, laughed, even made eye contact it doesn’t do to second guess ourselves because this stuff happens all the time.

    You did nothing wrong. He was out of line.

    Supportive virtual hugs if acceptable – in 45+ years of life I’ve seen it far too much.

  43. OnetoFindtheGiraffe*

    Coming in late to the discussion, here, but I’d be curious about whether there’s a role for organizers of professional conferences/networking events here; I’ve been to conventions in my personal life where there is a very clear code of conduct that participants adhere to, and if a participant violates that agreement they are not invited back. I can easily imagine this getting really complicated (I’ve only ever seen it from the participant side, not the organizer side) and I imagine it’s probably easier to implement this in if the community in question already has strong communal norms. (So, e.g., perhaps easier for fan conventions and harder for professional contexts.) Has anyone had any experiences with this kind of thing?

    1. Some Dude*

      I belong to a professional org that has a code of conduct for its IRL and virtual events, but it is women-led and social justice-adjacent. I suspect the events that need these the most are the least likely to have them.

  44. Luna*

    I already feel miffed at the title question. “Was *I* the reason for being harassed?” is not something one should ever ask themself.

    Yes, he was out of line for thinking, “This person of the opposite sex/gender came and talked to me. That means sexual/romantic interest!” That’s pretty much it. He didn’t proceed any further once you said no, so I will commend him for that.

    So, no. Your actions are not the cause of this. It was his mindset.

  45. Despachito*

    I have always wondered – if I (cishet female) meet a female colleague at a conference and we find out we have a strong common professional interest, it would be perfectly OK if either of us invited the other one to go grab a drink in the evening to talk more about it. But I would be wary of doing the same if the colleague was male due to the potential misinterpretation that I might be hitting on him (or accepting that he is hitting on me).

    How do you view this? I would hate it if I am right because it would be pretty limiting the communication if the other party was male.

    The guy from OP’s example was sleazy and creepy and his intentions were pretty clear, but what if he said something along the lines “what you are saying about the white chocolate teapots is very interesting, would you mind grabbing a drink after dinner and talk some more about that”. Should I be wary and interpret it as a first move towards something sleazy and not accept it? I would hate both the idea that I accept and he will interpret it as my consent with him hitting on me, and the idea that I refuse something which could be a very interesting conversation / networking opportunity.

    1. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

      This is why being a woman sucks. The burden is on us at all times to be sufficiently direct about our desire not to be hit on but not so much that we alienate or insult male counterparts; to be wary of situations where we may accidentally give the impression of consensual interest in sex without missing out on opportunities for personal or professional development that may come along with them; in short, to constantly protect ourselves without sacrificing our availability to valuable experiences.

      In short, I don’t have an answer for this problem. It just sucks.

    2. bamcheeks*

      In a conference in my field, I wouldn’t be too worried by this. It’s a female-dominated field and the vibe is very much relaxed casual conversation. I would be *very* surprised by anyone turning it into a hookup event and I would feel completely confident about laughing in their face if they did.

      I used to go to a conference in a related field which had a slightly more blokey vibe. At that one, I might suggest we’d be better picking the conversation up at morning coffee break instead.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I’m also in a female-dominated field, and at a typical conference, women outnumber men by at least 20:1. The vibe is very much casual conversation. I’m not conventionally attractive, and a few times I’ve felt ignored by men who apparently want to talk to more attractive women rather than me. When that happens, I shrug and engage one of the other women in conversation. I can say with confidence that I’ve never been hit on at any of these events, and if some of my male colleagues have taken my friendly conversation as an attempt to flirt, that’s on them. It does help that I’m fairly senior in my profession, and not dependent on recommendations etc. from any of those people.

        But there at least my wedding ring seems to send a clear message that I’m looking to network and nothing else, even if I don’t necessarily mention my husband in casual conversation.

    3. SoloKid*

      Why does a “good networking opportunity” need to be at night over drinks? I’ve had this happen a few times. I often did want to follow up professionally and said things like “Tonight isn’t good, how about the breakfast tomorrow before the keynote?” Most guys said yes (and remained decent contacts) – others said things about needing to meet with their team or whatever, and I didn’t stress too much about if they “really” wanted something else.

      If a guy really wants to network over your awesome idea, they can do it in the daytime.

    4. She of Many Hats*

      Even in the more professional invitation, I’d make sure we went somewhere where fellow colleagues were also present or was not in the least bit possible to interpret as romantic like a greasy spoon diner. And probably invite a third person to further dilute any risk.

  46. Some Dude*

    OP, I hope this doesn’t drive you to not network with men alone because you’ll miss out on valuable opportunities. This guy was a total complete Dbag. You weren’t at a hookup bar in the 1980s. You were at a professional event. Being a friendly woman doesn’t mean you are looking to hook up. This guy was way out of line. He sucks. It sucks that he took you being friendly with an invitation to hook up. It sucks that he asked in such a weird and direct way, when he could have put it less directly. It sucks that you are second guessing any of this.

  47. Overit*

    OP! You did nothing! Stop second guessimg yourself. Creeps gonna creep.
    Truth is, sadly, that a woman “alone” will get propositioned. When I traveled for business, I ended up having room service or drive thru for all solo meals because I was sooooo tired of getting hit on in restaurants. Did not matter how I was dressed, if I was engrossed in a book or my phone, that I have been told countless times that I have RBF and need to smile more. Also did not matter if I pointed to my wedding ring because as more than one guy said in response, “Who cares? I am married too.”
    I was once propositioned inside a McDs at 6am by a guy who suggested I pull up my business skirt and hop in the bed of his pick up truck for a morning quickie…while I was juat standing there waitimg for my McMuffin.

    1. Onomatopoetic*

      “I was once propositioned inside a McDs at 6am”.
      This is so ridiculous that it’s almost funny. Almost.

    2. icky icky icky*

      Ah yes, the irreverence toward your marriage, one of my favorites. They just *know* you want to cheat; I mean, you’re a woman who has dared left her husband’s side. /s/

  48. Diane Kaston*

    Oh ugh, happens all the time to me. I am at a work conference and I am in sales. I am selling my product, not myself. Why do so many men seem to confuse the two? So many unasked for advances.

  49. She of Many Hats*

    LW – No, you were not doing anything wrong. And you need to have a serious heart to heart with your DH about whether he thinks any female industry professional who is pleasant to him is hitting on him. And if so, does he assume you’re doing the same? Why or Why Not? It might open his eyes to his own biases/prejudices or misogyny.

    Petty me: “Why would you think anyone was chatting you up?” in that chillingly polite Dowager Countess/Gilded Age tone. Just barely more emphasis on “you” if you are feeling particularly annoyed.

    Slightly More Charitable me: “You do realize how sexist and misogynistic it is assuming any female that is civilized to you is hitting on you. Especially in any situation that it isn’t intentionally designed to encourage mating rituals.”

  50. bamcheeks*

    Women: this is tiresome, awkward, demoralising, has a real impact on my professional performance, exhausting, rage-inducing, saps my confidence, a distraction from what I want to be thinking about, makes me second-guess myself

    A Man: whatever, we need a clear Rules which means I know exactly when and how I’m allowed to hit on women without anyone ever considering me A Bad Dude and so I never have to think about another person’s comfort. I am A Good Dude.

  51. BlondeSpiders*

    Apologies if this has already been said multiple times, but it’s extreeeeeeeeeemely telling that the OP’s friend/family’s responses to this are divided by gender: the women think it’s inappropriate, and the men think it’s perfectly acceptable to shoot your shot in a work environment.

    THIS is why we still have so far to go. And by we, I mean society.

  52. Rd*

    You need to have a chat with your husband for 2 reasons:
    1. He thinks it’s ok to come on to colleagues as long as he accepts refusal gracefully.
    2. Now you know that he interprets friendly female colleagues as an invitation to being propositioned.

    That’s a couple of BIG red flags. He will deny that and you will say “oh, he would never…..”, but ones that “would never” don’t think like that.

  53. Spearmint*

    OP you did nothing wrong, but similarly the guy did nothing wrong either. No one was hurt here. Fundamentally this isn’t a big deal and, OP, you can feel ok about this.

    Everyone in these comments is making a mountain out of a molehill. Getting “hit on” (frankly, respectfully asking someone out is barely “hitting on” someone anyway) by a guy who you don’t work with and has no power over you is not a big deal in and of itself unless you or the person hitting on you makes a big deal out of it. But the guy didn’t, and you don’t have to either.

    I think this is an instance where it’s good to remember that AAM, while useful, isn’t always representative of what most people think.

    1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      1) This man turned a work-related, business-related discussion into a sexual interaction.

      2) How does LW know he won’t make this an issue somewhere down the line? There are not a few men who take some kind of revenge for being turned down, not all immediately.

      I think this is an instance where it’s good to remember that AAM, while useful, isn’t always representative of what most people think.

      Heh, I’m often at odds with the commentariat here, but I do appreciate that a higher proportion of the commenters here think women are actual human beings, not just wish-fullfilment devices for men, than in the population of the broader society. Please stop trying to tip that balance back.

      1. Spearmint*

        So, I see nothing wrong with people trying to make friends with people they meet at work conferences, do you? In fact it’s often a nice benefit of conferences. Similarly, I think respectfully seeking a date from a work conference occasionally is fine too. I see no difference.

        At worst the guy was rude in ignoring OP mentioning her husband, but he backed off.

        1. bamcheeks*

          If you’re respecting all the women who repeatedly say they don’t want to be asked out in work situations, how can it be “respectful”?

          This always comes down to, “I demand that what I define as respectful trumps what you define as respectful” which is … not respectful.

        2. bamcheeks*

          If 50% of women say they don’t like het men treating professional settings as dating zones then there is by definition no “respectful” way to treat them as dating zones because doing so means ignoring what 50% of women want.

          (In my experience it’s a lot more than 50%.)

          1. Spearmint*

            Part of socializing with other human beings, platonically, professionally, romantically, is that sometimes people make each other uncomfortable. As long as one apologizes and doesn’t continue, it’s fine. Otherwise no one would ever talk to anyone else ever!

            1. bamcheeks*

              I teach my kids that apologising means “I didn’t want to upset you and I will try not to do it again”, not “get out of jail free card, you can’t hold it against me even though there were better-than-even-odds that me doing this would upset you!”

        3. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

          Ah, the conflation of being “friendly” and being DTF, and thus not being sexually available with being “unfriendly”, which is considered to be a cardinal sin for a woman. I’ve been watching people use that one for literal decades.

          Let me ask you a question: if you’re looking to hit on someone at a conference, are you listening to what she’s saying about her professional work? Would you have talked to her about that professional work at all if you didn’t find her attractive? Have you evaluated her ideas about your shared field or only the fit of her sweater? Will you recommend her as an expert to your coworkers when you return to your workplace, even if she turns you down? Theoretically someone could possibly answer these with “yes” but we don’t live in theory and I’ve observed a considerable number of people who could only truthfully say ‘no’.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I have had this conversation in dozens of spaces on and offline over the last twenty years and this is pretty much how it looks every time.

    3. N'Moose*

      I think the comments are pretty clear that most people think this guys behavior was out of line. I certainly hope I don’t ever have to encounter you in a work setting and I also hope you have no influence over the forming of young minds (or work in HR, or hold any position of power – okay I’ll stop now).

      Asking someone out is the very definition of hitting on someone, and I think a pretty standard practice is don’t hit on people in a work setting.

      1. Spearmint*

        Did you know over 10% if married couples met at work? Meeting people to date at work is normal. You’re being absurd.

        1. bamcheeks*

          People getting married doesn’t actually prove they have a mutually respectful and healthy relationship, FWIW. Some of those relationship that start at work will actually be bad!

          And others will be people who genuinely respect the people they meet through work, and who prioritise not making them feel crap, and aren’t just looking for a set of rules they can follow which means nobody is allowed to think ill of them.

          1. Spearmint*

            I never asked for a set of rules. Part of socializing is people sometimes make one another uncomfortable. That’s fine, that’s just being human, doesn’t mean we need to burn them at the stake for being an Evil Oppressor.

            1. bamcheeks*

              “ Part of socializing is people sometimes make one another uncomfortable”

              I would LOVE to know whether you apply this to people who are above you in a work hierarchy. Do you feel chill about making your boss and other people who have the power to decide whether you get promotions or payrises “uncomfortable”? Or do you care about the discomfort of people who gave the power to maje *you* uncomfortable?

              1. Spearmint*

                I try not to, just as I try not to ale anyone uncomfortable, but yeah it’s possible yes. Just like everyone else I have my socially awkward moments.

                1. Spearmint*

                  Part of overcoming social anxiety for me was realizing it’s not a big deal if you’re awkward or make people uncomfortable because we’re all flawed and do so occasionally. I think most people get that intuitively and don’t even have to learn it, except apparently commenters here.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  I think you overcame it the wrong way, then. Because what you’re saying here is that you’re fine with women bearing the consequences of you “overcoming” social anxiety, despite the absolute overwhelming evidence here that we fucking hate it.

                  At the very least, go and test your hypothesis that the women posting here “aren’t representative”. Ask some if the women in your life whether they like getting hit on in professional spaces, or whether “professional” to them means “place where I can focus on being a professional and not on figuring out whether this dude is trying to get it on and what he’s going to do if I turn him down”. And maybe think about whether overcoming your own discomfort at the cost of pushing it on other people is really the way you want to go.

                3. bamcheeks*

                  You’re not trying though. People are giving you a really easy clear way not to make women feel uncomfortable, and your response is, “lalala don’t wanna can’t hear you”.

                  I mean, even if you try believe the overwhelming majority of women here are not representative of all women, you could go and test that (oh-so-convenient!) hypothesis by asking women you know in real life.

                  But if your version of “overcoming social anxiety” is just being cool with making other people feel crap, I think you did it wrong.

            2. GrooveBat*

              “Making someone uncomfortable without meaning to” vs. “Knowing you’re about to do something that will probably make someone uncomfortable and doing it anyway.”

              There’s a difference. Just like there’s a difference between taking a shot asking someone out in a bar versus hitting on someone at work.

              1. bamcheeks*

                “I try not to make people uncomfortable, but obvious that absolutely can’t interfere with my right to objectify women who are trying to do their jobs.”

    4. bratschegirl*

      So you’re claiming that his “hey, wanna grab a drink and see what happens” constituted “respectfully asking her out”? I’d hate to imagine what you’d consider disrespectful. And on this planet, propositioning someone for sex who has made it clear that they’re married and has given you zero reason to assume that they’re up for cheating is pretty much the definition of “hitting on.”

    5. allathian*

      Nope, you’re out of line here. The vast majority of women and female-presenting people regardless of gender don’t go to professional conferences to be hit on. Most of us also don’t want to keep second-guessing our interactions with men.

      Quite frankly, if this is what overcoming social anxiety looks like for you, I wish you’d take the anxiety back and second-guess all of your interactions with female colleagues from now on. It’s not okay to make other people feel uncomfortable, or even threatened by you, when they’ve done nothing to deserve it.

      Don’t treat professional conferences as anything other than a chance to network with people of all genders *professionally*. Don’t say anything to a woman you wouldn’t consider saying to a man, for a start.

  54. Erik*

    I did a quick search for this point; sorry if it’s already made.

    A lot of people are saying that the man “should have realized this was not flirting”. But this is actually much harder than people realize. In a study where participants were secretly told to flirt or not to flirt, post conversation guesses of whether or not one was being flirted with were UNDER 50%. Yes, worse than random chance.

    People (both genders) are really bad at this, and we all need to give each other grace. Sometimes, it’s just someone messing up, and a simple “No” is all it takes.

      1. Westsidestory*

        Sorry I disagree entirely. And it has nothing to do with this discussion. We are talking about how it is inappropriate for people to proposition total strangers in a work environment. How is this so difficult to grasp?

    1. bamcheeks*

      You are not asking for “people” to give “each other” grace. You are telling women that all the frustration, exhaustion, fear, disgust, anger, and more that they feel when a man hits on them in a professional setting doesn’t matter because it’s more important that nobody thinks ill of the man and that he doesn’t have to refrain from hitting on women in professional spaces.

      What if men gave women some grace (and basic respect!) by actually bothering to listen?

      Good lord you people are SO TIRESOME.

    2. Nance*

      Gosh, then maybe in a work situation err on the side of caution and don’t contribute to women feeling they can’t exist in professional spaces without being hit on?

      She said she was married. The bar to assume she was flirting should have been a lot higher than it apparently was for him.

    3. GrooveBat*

      Women do not exist in a work setting for men to flirt with. If you follow that simple rule, you don’t have to worry about “messing up.”

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      This may be true, but this information is applicable at a party or nightclub. This was a professional situation, where erring on the side of keeping sex out of it was the far better plan.

      His first assumption should have been “we’re working,” not “I wonder whether she’s expressing interest?” His very first assumption was about sex, not work. Even if she WAS flirting, he’d have gotten more information in time. Instead, he leaped straight to propositioning her.

    5. Eyes Kiwami*

      At what level of “flirting failure” are people allowed to be offended? If the asker is straight-up disrespectful, do they still deserve grace?

      What if, for example, the asker ignored multiple signals that the victim was married and therefore not interested, and also jumped straight to sexual proposition, and also suggested that it was the victim’s fault for being asked? How bad do you get to be until the victim is allowed to feel disrespected?

    6. allathian*

      That’s totally irrelevant. The whole problem would pretty much go away if men would simply treat women as professionals, rather than sex objects/potential dates, in a work setting. Why is this so hard to grasp?

    7. allathian*

      And in an ideal world, if men would actually take a simple “no” for an answer without any consequences to the woman, this might well be true. But that simply isn’t the case, and women who are hit on never know who’s going to turn nasty when they say no.

    8. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      Until the man flies into a rage when he’s told “no”. Until the man keeps following the woman around and asking over and over and over. Until he enacts professional consequences for the woman who told him “no”. And so on, all the “unlikely” possibilities a woman has to consider when a man hits on her in a work context.

      Or we could keep from entangling work with sex, and avoid a whole set of complications.

  55. Kat*

    I wish someone had given me this advice decades ago. The one place I could always guarantee getting hit on was conferences. To the point that I began hating to go to them. I even stopped going to any evening events completely. And I studiously avoided pretty much all but the most basic conversation with men. I always blamed myself for being too friendly or sending the wrong signals.

  56. Fikly*

    Generally speaking, if women are saying one thing, and men are saying something else, the women are right, listen to them.

  57. bamcheeks*

    Do any of the men posting here to defend their right to proportion women at conferences think there might be a tiiiiiiny contradiction between continually insisting that you only do so “respectfully” and also implying that all the women posting here are unreasonable, unrealistic, oversensitive, and unrepresentative?

  58. Despachito*

    I am thinking that perhaps the NBD reaction of men here may come out of their privilege of never having suffered the consequences.

    They may view it not from a perspective “women are objectified” but rather “men and women are equals, one may propose a thing to the other, the other can refuse and they are good, no harm done”, without being aware of the repercussions it has on women.

  59. A Reluctant Conference Male*

    And this is why a lot of us hate going to Conferences. We have to put up with colleagues who think they are back at Uni and it’s like the USA Spring Break time or others who view it as a pick up session.
    It’s bad enough when they have the name badges which people for obvious reasons wear on their chests and you have to look at it anyway – what’s wrong with a lanyard?
    Personally I think part of the reason is that Conferences for some are seen as a “jolly”. Time to chat with your mates and go out for a piss up rather than a serious networking event. You assumed the man was going to be a professional rather than the complete creepy dickhead he was, and as for your colleagues…
    I used to go to the Business Conference hosted by Sage UK – the Business Software people. It used to be a 3 day event where all us “Business Partners” would be in a big exhibition hall and people would come to us and we would network. Over the years it degenerated, people stealing Sales leads from other people, mass piss-ups at night and at the awards dinners someone assaulted one of the Sage Directors and one Partner had their crystal 1st place awards nicked off their dinner table.
    Needless to say it’s a one day event now with no staying overnight (unless you pay yourself) and no alcohol is served.
    So I only go to conferences if I’m forced to!

  60. C.*

    I’m a partnered woman in my 30’s, and I find the entire conversation in this comments section disingenuous and exhausting. No, the OP didn’t do anything regrettable, and yes, this guy completely misread the situation (likely because he was paying little or no attention to the actual words coming out of her mouth). It sounds like an awkward interaction. But to me, it also would have been awkward at, say, a birthday party hosted by mutual friends. The idea that, just because they were in a semi-professional context, the man’s behavior became disrespectful, dehumanizing, and potentially threatening — even though there was no extant power relationship and they don’t even work for the same company — strikes me as… odd.

    Women, including ones who are smart and capable at their careers, are whole adult people who exist outside of work, and they are sometimes in the market for new friends or lovers. Saying that interactions can only be professional or personal, with no gray area in between, is imo out of touch with the reality of that. This is why many companies have policies around dating that are more nuanced than “you can never, ever date a colleague.”

    1. bamcheeks*

      likely because he was paying little or no attention to the actual words coming out of her mouth

      FTR this is exactly what I think is disrespectful and dehumanising.

    2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      One of the more exhausting aspects of these conversations is that there’s always a woman who has to say, “Hey guys, don’t listen to those hysterical harpies, listen to me. I’m a Cool Girl so not only can I tell you they’re all wrong, since women can only think one thing, but I give you carte blanche to do whatever you want.”

      1. Heiress of Whitestar*

        I’m not Cool Girling but what’s struck me reading the comments is how much the patriarchy is informing the OP and others’ reactions. I don’t think this (creepy) guy assessed OP’s behavior and determined she was good to go. I think he had a living female willing to talk to him and thought he might as well try as not. The OP agonizing over what he thought about her is what I don’t get because 1) who cares? and 2) he probably wasn’t thinking anything about her. Just, eh- I’ll give it a go.

        My guess is the men in her life see it that way and are NBDing her because, to them, there’s no way this is a reflection of “what kind of girl” this dude took her for. He’s thirsty and would probably try the same with anyone in any context.

        To C’s point, some women are looking for lovers, some aren’t. There aren’t “good women” (who mention being married and are dignified and appropriate) that men don’t hit on and “bad girls” they do, so “good” ones are horrified to be mistaken as their opposite. Some men will ask pretty much every woman if they’re dtf until they get a yes. It’s not that complicated. The (sort of) good news is that we can all relax. Friendly or unfriendly, dressed up or wearing soiled PJ bottoms, at work or at a funeral, some intrepid dude will be sure to hit on you.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Oh no, this is not at all what’s going on.

          We’re not offended because someone (*gasp*) thought we might be the slutty girl. Some of us are ALSO the slutty girl and there’s nothing wrong with that!

          We’re offended because men ~not giving a shit~ what we’re saying, where we are, whether we’ve demonstrated any signs of sexual interest and just unilaterally assigning us the position “sex object” is dehumanising, objectifying and disrespectful.

          You can be someone who’s totally happy to do casual sex with some people in some places, and still be offended as fuck by someone who *doesn’t care* whether this is the right place and right person for you and thinks only their desire counts. That’s objectifying and non-consensual, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a virgin or monogamous, a big fan of casual sex or worldwide porn star. You’re still entitled to respect, consent and to be treat as a person and not a barely-animate place for someone to stick his penis.

        2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

          riendly or unfriendly, dressed up or wearing soiled PJ bottoms, at work or at a funeral, some intrepid dude will be sure to hit on you.

          Ahahahaha this is a hilarious phrasing of a profound truth. But the thing is, the hitting-on is half of what has bothered me when I and other women I care about been in LW’s situation.

          The other half is the work aspect. It’s the wasted effort of trying to network with someone who’s not interested in what’s in our brains, the dispiriting realization that no matter what we accomplish many men (and not a few women) will judge us only by standards of feminine appearance. Sometimes it feels like society won’t credit a woman with any accomplishment that’s not appearance-based. If Watson and Crick justified stealing Rosalind Franklin’s research by snarking about how she wasn’t pretty, what can the rest of us do? If she had been pretty they would have tried to sleep with her and stolen her research anyway.

          And that, maybe more than anything else, is the part that it’s annoying to see men justify but a little painful to see women justify, at least for me.

  61. Darwi*

    I’m surprise that you did not comment on the fact that all women asked though he was out of line and all men asked though it was ok.
    It seems to me that all these men think this is totally ok attitude.
    This “it’s ok he happologised” is not ok. And until most men realise /understand that this kind of situation will continue.

  62. jahjahjah*

    Being friendly doesn’t mean “let’s see where this goes.” Creepers need to quit acting like a friendly conversation is somehow an invitation. Its not. Its disgusting.

  63. Bess*

    I’m a day late to this but ugh, I just went to a conference myself and was presenting and I was questioning myself on these same things with two different male attendees. Nothing as close as an explicit hit-on but some weird vibes and I was going down this same rabbit hole of “was I too friendly?”

    Frustrating as I was wearing a ring (not that that should matter but it makes it extra icky if people think professional friendliness is something more, because the implication is that they think you’re a cheater when you’re not) and spoke only about work content.

    It’s gross all around and honestly it’s a little arrogant of men in professional contexts to think any woman talking with them is interested on that level.

  64. DameB*

    Op, looks like everyone’s got your back. However, I would love Allison’s opinion on a thing. OP is an extrovert in a world of introverts, known for exceptional networking and ability to make connections.

    This dude’s just shown his ass in public — would OP be in the clear to warn other women and steer professional connections away from him? What would be the best way to do that? I am old enough that I remember the whisper network at conventions and I know they are terrible (b/c that shouldn’t be how women are kept safe) but is it appropriate for her to use her Extrovert Superpower for Good here?

  65. EtTuBananas*

    I would be VERY TEMPTED to explain to my husband and male acquaintances why this man’s actions were so inappropriate. If you seemed single (no wedding ring, etc) you could argue for a grey area. But when you explicitly mentioned a spouse several times and this man STILL asked you out, that signals a kind of arrogant cluelessness that often indicates deeper issues with not respecting boundaries.

  66. Forgot my name again*

    OP – this is not on you. He is at fault and it was not okay for him to do that. Is there a reporting procedure for behavior like this to the conference team? I would consider doing that if you can bear it. Even if there isn’t a procedure, there ought to be one in case something like this happens.

    Secondly, is there a code of conduct for delegates? If so, it should be enforced. If not, I would flag it up and say there needs to be one. Women (and minority groups of all kinds) should be able to feel safe at all times in a conference. I’ve been lucky to work in an area which was an early adopter of rigorously-enforced codes of conduct (is it the mostly-female workforce/mostly-male-directorship perhaps?), and I will always contact conferences in advance if I don’t see this readily available on their websites etc beforehand. If they say they don’t have one, I would let them know that that’s the reason I’m not attending – I reckon it’s usually worth missing out to make a point I feel quite strongly about.

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