update: my coworker made a creepy pass at me

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

There will be more posts than usual this week, so keep checking back throughout the day.

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker made a creepy pass at her (#2 at the link)? Here’s the update.

I have an update regarding my coworker, “Mac,” who told me my sexy librarian vibe was a problem for him. Reading your response and all the comments was very illuminating! I had been feeling as if I’d somehow brought it upon myself, but you and the commentariat really opened my eyes to the reality of this being entirely on Mac.

I’m a little ashamed to admit I was too chicken to bring it up to Mac directly, but I made a point of avoiding his usual paths and successfully dodged him for two weeks straight. Last Friday he came to my work station and asked if everything was alright, and said, “I feel like you’ve been avoiding me!” Well. I took a deep breath, summoned all the Resting Bitch Face I could muster, and said, “Mac, you implied that your inability to manage your pants feels in the workplace was somehow my fault for looking like a ‘sexy librarian.’ How exactly would you suggest I handle such gross comments in the future if not with avoidance?” His neck and ears turned bright red and he said something along the lines of, “Uh… I’m sorry… I didn’t… sorry…” then literally turned heel and fast-walked away. I think I was in a state of nervous shock afterwards — my ears were ringing and I felt strangely tingly — but also incredibly proud of myself.

First thing Monday morning, Mac came to my work station again and gave me what seemed to be a sincere apology. He said there was no excuse for his comment, it was out of line and he was being an idiot not thinking of the implications, that it would never happen again, and asked if there was any way he could make it up to me. I thanked him for apologizing and said I don’t think this is something that you really “make up” to someone, but to please truly ensure he never says anything like that again. He reiterated it would absolutely never happen again and asked if I thought I could ever forgive him. I told him that while I accept his apology, it’ll take time to move forward and that I don’t really know what that will look like and to please give me space and time, summing it up with “it’ll be what it’ll be, please don’t try to force it.” He said, “Of course. Again, I’m so sorry,” and left my workstation.

I think I need some time to process Mac’s apology and how I feel about him moving forward. I’m still struggling to reconcile the friend I thought I knew with the lecher that made that comment and now with the seemingly penitent dope I saw today. People are complicated. But I at least feel like I can go back to taking whatever route I want to get from point A to point B and I won’t be walking on eggshells worried about potentially running into him. I think we can exchange trivialities and move about without issue now.

Thank you so much for your response, and to the commentariat as well. Especially user Falling Diphthong for the absolute gem of a phrase “pants feels” which I will love forever, and users higheredadmin, SarahKay, and Awkwardness for their suggestion that I practice responses for when I inevitably had to confront Mac. I don’t think I could have managed the response I did without having taken that advice. You guys are amazing!

{ 306 comments… read them below }

      1. hr*

        Yes, yes, yes!! You literally explained the results of his comments and made him understand that. You are a hero!

    1. Sleve*

      Standing up to join the applause.

      You shouldn’t have had to experience or to say any of that. But unfortunately the occasion arose and you rose to the occasion.

    2. allathian*

      *joins standing ovation* I’m sorry you had to go through all that, but well done!

      I also hope that Mac learns his lesson and stops treating attractive, friendly coworkers as potential dates.

  1. Oogie*

    I’m so glad you were able see beyond societal conditioning and your response is incredible! I’m in awe..

    1. Random Dice*

      I especially love that she didn’t get sucked into the toxic forgiveness trap. He demanded forgiveness – still centering his emotions over hers – but she knew it wasn’t her job. She *accepted* his apology, which is all of the politeness an apologizer can expect. Victims are not responsible for helping an aggressor feel better about having hurt them!

        1. Bring back the Thylacine*

          Thanks for these…I am totally new to the concept of Toxic Forgiveness, although it’s something I wish I had known about my entire career life.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yes, 100%. His feelings are not the OP’s responsibility to manage. And good for her for recognizing that there isn’t really a way for Mac to make up for this right away. The key to potentially re-earning her trust is to ensure he behaves appropriately in the workplace on an ongoing basis.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. Not only am I proud of OP’s initial response when he came over but that she didn’t go overboard accepting his apology. You can both accept someone’s apology and decide it doesn’t change the circumstances. Time will tell if Mac really learned this lesson.

      3. Mom2ASD*

        Agreeing – I felt like the guy’s repeated requests for forgiveness and for things getting back to normal was a way for him to just open that door and push boundaries again.

          1. allathian*

            He asked her if she’d been avoiding him, and after her amazing response, he stammered out a “sorry,” but without asking for forgiveness. The following Monday, he made an at least seemingly sincere apology, but asked if there was anything he could do to make up for what he did and if she though she’d ever be able to forgive him, and said sorry again as he left her desk when she explained that she didn’t know what the future would look like.

            I’m not seeing any demands here, just one question wondering if she might ever possibly forgive him. He seemed to accept her statements about why she’d been avoiding him, and that it’d take time to move forward and that she didn’t know what that would look like, without centering his own feelings. So I’m at least somewhat optimistic that Mac may have learned something from all this.

      4. Dee*

        The OP said that the guy *asked* if OP could ever forgive him, if the possibility existed, not even directly asking for her forgiveness. Where did he *demand* forgiveness? Was this post edited?

  2. Rainy*

    Amazing work, LW. The practice is something I do and it really helps. I hope Mac remembers how unpleasant this was for him every time he’s tempted to letch on anyone in future.

    1. Jesshereforthecomments*

      Wow, LW, great job saying that. I can empathize with how hard it is. When I have had to do that my face gets hot, and I get shaky and sweaty, and I feel like I’m a bright red vibrating beacon that everyone can see. But you’re so strong to be able to do that. I hope there won’t be a next time with someone else, but if something similar happens again, standing up for yourself will get easier over time.

      Also, I think your update is so important for people to see that while you stated your truth to him and he sincerely apologized, that’s not the end of the story and it isn’t tied up in a nice bow. You’re still processing and upset and this is one of the impacts of this type of behavior. Often people don’t understand what a betrayal this can feel like when you thought someone was your friend and you didn’t realize they were looking at you in a certain way. It can leave you unsettled and unsure of everything. I wish you all the best, LW.

      1. Jesshereforthecomments*

        Oops, I meant to put this as a standalone comment LOL. Oh well, my sentiments still stand.

      2. Ray B Purchase*

        *Chef’s kiss* to your second paragraph and kudos to LW’s ability to state frankly and openly that she accepts an apology but still needs time and space to figure out what’s next. I hope that Mac is willing and able to accept whatever LW decides their relationship is once she’s finished processing.

      3. Cohort 1*

        I agree that the update is really important. Once again we have a woman whose first thought was that she was somehow responsible for male coworker’s creepiness, that maybe she needed to “fix” herself so he wouldn’t be, what?, “tempted”? The commentariat came out loud and clear pointing out that she is not responsible and doesn’t need to do any “fixing.” LW was able listen, believe it, and act on it in a way that made us all cheer. I am so proud that this community exists to help women over this recurring hump in our upbringing, that somehow woman cause men to be sexually inappropriate and therefore women must bear the responsibility to not tempt or some such crap. YEAH, LW!! YOUR BRA IS OFFICIALLY BURNED!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I think it’s a Captain Awkward phrase…she definitely uses it a lot, but I can’t confirm that she came up with it. I love it so much.

      1. Beth*

        I’ve seen both Captain Awkward and Doctor Nerdlove use it. I’d guess the latter as having started it, but it could be either.

      2. MM*

        I think of it as a pretty standard-issue phrase in the 00s internet slang that many relatively online Millennials have retained even as broader online culture has moved on. 2004-2012 vintage. Like “glomp” and that particular way of using “thing” (do a thing, all the things, tell me a thing – basically forgoing words like everything, something, etc). The deliberately ungrammatical construction of phrases like “pants feels” or “Much [adjective], very [noun]” went along with the way we made cats “talk” in memes. It wouldn’t really occur to me to attribute it to any one person, it was just the way we in that demographic talked (or typed).

    2. Pinacolada*

      Removed. We are not going to nitpick the language of someone who overcame her nerves to straightforwardly and effectively confront her harasser. People use language that works for themselves and the relationship/dynamic with the other person; it was clearly effective in this context. Move on, please. – Alison

    3. Sherm*

      I thought at first it was some autocorrect goof, but the fact that it was intended and she actually said it makes it 1000 times more wonderful. Well done!

      1. Random Dice*

        I generally hear “pantsfeelings” and thought “pantsfeels” was the shortened version. It’s an EXCELLENT word. It is funny, and subtly conveys that sexual arousal is just an input, and we have brains that choose the actions we actually take. Pantsfeelings happen, like farting, but don’t have to drive.

        1. Emily Byrd Starr*

          Absolutely. I’m a happily married middle aged women, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to feel like a giddy teenager every time the hot guy on the train says hi to me and asks how my weekend was. It just means that I’m not going to act on my feelings for him.

  3. My Brain is Exploding*

    Don’t be ashamed, not even a little, of bringing it up to Mac directly. That gave you time to process and give him a PERFECT response to his question. I think you are awesome!

    1. Momma Bear*

      I also think it underscores how it made her feel. She was clearly very bothered by his comment and there were consequences.

  4. ZSD*

    This is good news! And while I completely respect the OP’s need to take more time to process this, I’m relieved to hear that Mac took the criticism to heart and offered a sincere apology. We can all imagine a different outcome in which Mac would have doubled down and protested that a little flirtation in the office wasn’t a problem.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yes Mac did a good job, and it was GREAT of OP to give him the chance to learn and grow from this – I honestly have to try and reframe directness as a GIFT I am giving people, because my being direct about how they need to treat me, it shows that a) I believe they are capable of change and am giving them the chance and b) assuming they are not terrible people, they will actually want to know that they have done something that hurt me! It doesn’t always work out for me, but when it doesn’t, I remind myself that my directness was not the cause – it was the other person’s failing.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I think coming back with the real apology was good, rather than hoping for a meteor strike to remove the awkwardness. Trying to get a “so everything is fine now,” especially immediately after, was not great. (Though I would certainly allow it could be awkwardness, that will also fade with the turning of the Earth.)

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          I didn’t read it as trying to get a “so everything is fine now,” although I can see why you interpret it that way. To me it sounded more like he was genuinely trying to find out if there was anything he could do to fix the mistake and/or if there was anything she needed to make working with him less uncomfortable going forward. For example she might have said she’d prefer if he left the office door open when talking to her from now on, or asked him to speak up to leadership about the need for anti-harassment training, etc.

          Similarly “do you think you can ever forgive me” could be an attempt to get her to say it’s fine, but it could just as easily be taking the temperature of the relationship. Should he continue trying to be friends in the hopes that he can eventually mend things, or did he thoroughly and completely burn this bridge? Only LW can say.

      2. Jay (no, the other one)*

        Feedback is an investment in the relationship. That helps me see feedback as a gift when I do choose it and also gives me permission to let things go if I don’t want to invest in that particular relationship. That’s often a lightbulb moment for me about the relationship itself.

      3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I’d add c) you’re giving them super useful information that could help the person’s relationships with a bunch of people. If we assume – for the purpose of this comment – that Mac is a bit oblivious and careless, knowing how his comment landed with the LW and why is useful information for interacting with any woman he encounters in a professional setting.

    2. Silver Robin*

      Yeah, it is good to see an example where the outcome was Mac reflecting and committing to doing better. It is heartening to know that pushback can also create positive change and not just act as defenses to keep the jerks out.

    3. Mo*

      There are a lot of guys who truly believe this sort of thing is a compliment and always appreciated. Amazing they are still out there. Good to have the bubble of at least one burst.

      1. Typing All The Time*

        Good for you OP. It also is a teaching moment for him. He also crosses the line into sexual harassment and could have faced this charge as well.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        For sure. And some who use those men as cover for being gross. Saying something is a great way to end the plausible deniability for everyone.

        This is why I also will sometimes send a message to a ghoster saying I didn’t appreciate them disappearing like that and it’s an unkind thing to do. No yelling, swearing, or personal attacks. Just a statement that it’s crappy behaviour. Because I don’t want them to be able to convince themselves that it was no big deal and I really didn’t mind. Because I did mind.

        1. Poppy*

          A late reply – but your response to ghosters is wonderful. It’s a really cowardly thing to do, to leave someone hanging without apology or explanation. You calling them out on it is an example that I hope I can follow – instead of stewing in my own juice about it, as I tend to do.

    4. Ink*

      I’m hopeful this means it was something more along the lines of being thoughtless about how the proper behavior with a friendly coworker is different from with your actual friends. His reaction seems like it was some version of realizing all at once that he messed up in a way that didn’t stick out to him until LW pointed it out, so at the very least this update means it’s less likely that it was a deliberately pushing boundaries situation. Aside from it never having happened in the first place, Mac having a mortifying realization, reevaluating his behaviors, and never doing it again really is the best outcome, and where it looks to be heading! LW handled it perfectly!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        The only thing wrong with what you say is that Mac’s comment would have been creepy outside of work too.

        I can imagine a few couples who would say things like this to each other But this married man said it to his married friend, and that leapfrogged past the creep-line.

        1. allathian*

          Oh yes, absolutely. It’s also the reason why after several bad experiences in college of friendships ending because of unrequited crushes (on my side or the male friend’s), or an inability to return to a platonic friendship when an FWB ended, that I’ve personally decided that I’ll never be more than friendly acquaintances at most with a heterosexual male again. You avoid a lot of potential unpleasantness that way.

          I’m not saying that platonic friendship with a person of the gender you’re attracted to (and who’s attracted to your gender) is impossible in general, or pan- and bisexuals wouldn’t be able to have any friends, it’s just that I’ve realized that it doesn’t work for me. There’s also some confirmation bias in that those who have great friendships across gender lines generally don’t write to advice columnists about their friendships, so I’m only seeing the problematic ones.

        2. amoeba*

          Eh, strongly depends on the relationship (and tone of voice, etc., of course.). I definitely do have male friends with whom I’m comfortable enough to find something like this harmless and funny. But yeah, not all of them, for sure, it *can* very definitely also be creepy with actual friends!

  5. ferrina*

    Great update! I’m so sorry you went through this, and it sounds like you handled it beautifully. That response to Mac was *exquisite*. You are totally a hero here. I’m glad you are able to walk in peace now, and hopefully Mac is a better human being in the future.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Seriously. I love that the LW got to say basically the perfect thing. Like many of us, I’ll realize the perfect response to something days or weeks too late.

      1. Sparkle Motion*

        Yes, I also think it was good that she dodged him for awhile. That bought her time and space to process and also workshop her response.

  6. Beth*

    This is such a great update to read. You were impressively direct and self-assured, and it sounds like your approach was a major success! I hope things start to feel more comfortable for you at work soon. People are complicated, but you’re absolutely right to leave Mac’s complicatedness in his hands for him to handle–it’s not something you brought on yourself or something you need to fix or accommodate for.

  7. Bexy Bexerson*

    Well done! Your response to Mac was ABSOLUTE FUCKING PERFECTION!!!

    I hope he truly learned a lesson and will be a better person.

  8. Not Friday Yet*

    This is a great response! OP should be very proud of herself and how she handled this situation.

    One question: what is it about when people in a situation live this ask for forgiveness? Is it: “It wasn’tso bad after all.” or “Okay, now we pretend it never happened.” or “You have acknowledged that I am truly sorry for saying this and won’t do it again.” I hope it’s the last one, but is forgiveness really required?

    1. High Score!*

      Forgiveness is really for the person who was injured, hurt, or offended. Forgive if it brings you peace. But don’t forget. Be more cautious with that person in the future.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Yeah. Mac is still not quite getting and is still making the OP responsible for his emotional control. “How do I make it up to you?” Still pushing onto the OP what HE wants to do. When just saying sorry and then not putting the OP on the spot AGAIN would have ended it.
      When she said you can’t it became please forgive me anyway so I don’t feel bad about myself. Like JUST STOP TALKING DUDE.

      1. Silver Robin*

        I disagree here. “I wronged you, I recognize that, I am sorry for that, is there action I can take that would be restorative” is not a bad way to apologize. Sometimes there *are* ways to make it up, sometimes there are not. I do not really feel it makes sense to hold it against Mac for offering.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          In this case, the “what can I do to make it up to you” adds to the creepiness he already displayed. He is asking if he can perform an act. With that juxtaposed to his offensive comment for which he is apologizing is what makes it particularly off-putting in this instance. Apologizing for breaking an object would be great to add in a, “what can I do to fix this”, but not in this instance.

          1. Silver Robin*

            Again, I disagree. Mac is feeling shame and guilt and anxiety now. Taking OP’s word that this was a genuine apology, he feels bad that he hurt his friend! I definitely sympathize with wondering if there is something I could do, a concrete action, to help demonstrate my remorsefulness and win back trust. And there often are!

            OP could have asked him to educate himself, or told *him* to avoid her for the next while until she decides how she wants to move forward, or maybe she wants the apology in writing, or something else I did not think of.

            People are getting hung up on the particular phrasing, which I get, but also, he did not kick up a fuss when OP said no. He accepted her answer, assured her again it would not be a repeat occurrence, and left the conversation. That looks like a genuine offer to me, and not a way to reinject the creepy factor.

            1. Win Stupid Prizes*

              She may have acknowledged the apology as genuine, but did you miss her reference to the “penitent dope” she felt gave it? Still not admirably “getting it”, nor a candidate for a previous level of mutual regard (which is what he seemed to be going for).

              1. Silver Robin*

                I dunno, I can feel like a penitent dope when I mess up badly. If he really said something without thinking it through and is now mortified, I really do not see that as inconsistent. Should he note be penitent? Should he not feel like a dope for not seeing how this is obviously not okay?

                Again, the OP herself has taken it all as good faith, so I am interpreting it in good faith. OP thinks he “gets it” and since OP actually was there and actually knows the guy, I am taking her word on it.

                And I said *nothing* about how OP should move forward. OP absolutely does NOT have to still be friends with him. That is more than fine and totally understandable. All I am trying to point out is that dissecting this apology to look for ways that he is actually still a jerk seems out of step with what the OP herself told us. Which is that she felt the apology was genuine.

          2. WellRed*

            What can I do to fix this is pretty standard apology language. It’s absolutely up to the letter writer to decide where to go from here but there’s no reason from what she’s written to think he’s insincere or offering to “perform a (creepy) act.”

        2. Random Dice*

          I disagree with you, Silver.

          He’s not asking about restitution – though I also read his apology as sincere, if still problematic.

          He’s demanding forgiveness, in that toxic forgiveness way, because he wants it for his own benefit.

          He wants to be relieved of the hard uncomfortable feelings he’s now having as a result of his actions, but trying to push it onto the OP instead of dealing with it himself.

          There’s more than a little of that thing where men expect women to do emotional labor for them, like unpaid therapists, just because they… want it, and are male.

          It shows that, while remorseful, he’s *still* centering his own feelings about having committed sexual harassment, over the feelings and comfort of the woman he sexually harassed.

          And NONE of this is OP’s job to manage for him. *She deserves to be safe at work.* He needs to sort himself out on his own time (or not) and not expect her to have any role but distant coworker going forward.

          1. Silver Robin*

            He asked two common questions: is there anything he could do, is he forgiven. He got the answer no to both questions, and he left without fuss. No begging, no pleading, no guilting. Yes, there is a dynamic with men and women and emotional labor. AND. Men are not the only ones who ask “am I forgiven” immediately upon apology. Nor are they the only ones who ask “is there a way I can make it up to you”.

            Is this the best apology ever in the world and all should follow in his precise footsteps? Maybe not, but good Lord, his behavior around the confrontation do not actually sound like a guy unwilling to reflect on his actions and do better. And yet here is the comment section picking apart a summarized account of a conversation to find the clues that Mac is still a jerk.

          2. Totally Minnie*

            I didn’t read this as a demand for forgiveness. He’s asking if it’s a possibility. And OP herself doesn’t know the answer to that question yet, so I think it’s a fair question to ask, as long as you only ask once and let the person you wronged take the lead from there.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Oh interesting, I read it much differently. It sounds like Mac said he was sorry and asked if he could make it up to LW, LW said that question didn’t really apply, he asked once if she could ever forgive him, and then when she said she didn’t know, he accepted that and left.

        I guess people have different opinions on the appropriateness of “how can I make it up to you,” but personally I would rather be asked than have the person just take it on themselves to guess at what amends I wanted.

        1. But what to call me?*

          That’s how it reads to me, too. If he’d gotten mad at her or pouted or something when he wasn’t given an instant course of action that OP promised would make it all go away then it would make sense to interpret “how can I make it up to you” negatively, but absent something like that it’s a pretty normal thing to say when you realize you’ve hurt someone and aren’t sure where to go from there beyond apologizing.

          We really don’t have a lot of good scripts for handling apologies for serious mistakes. It’s understandable if that’s the best Mac could come up, especially because most people don’t do a lot of analysis of the implications of various word choices. What he said could be interpreted either way, especially since we don’t have much information about his tone or body language. His actions afterwards will be the best indicator of what he meant by it.

          (Which isn’t to say that OP needs to forgive him or resume their previous friendship. The natural consequence of doing things that hurt people is that sometimes they no longer think of you the same way, trust you, or want to be close to you.)

          1. GreyjoyGardens*

            “We really don’t have a lot of good scripts for handling apologies for serious mistakes”

            This is very true, and (as a society, not the LW) probably there should be some work done on this front. How *do* you handle an apology from someone who *really* messed up, but is sincerely apologizing now and wants to make amends? Do you say “apology not accepted?” Do you lay out conditions for getting back into good graces? Or what? When does a mistake become “that’s it, you just lit that bridge on fire for good?”

            (By “serious mistakes” I obviously don’t mean assaulting someone or killing their dog or a parent wanting to “apologize” to the child they abused. I mean more like what Mac did, an injudicious remark, or a major work-related mistake.)

      3. Snow Globe*

        Yes, and I’m very happy the LW responded that she wasn’t able to forgive “right now” and didn’t say “yet” implying that forgiveness will be forthcoming. Well done!

      4. Beth*

        I think this is reading a lot into a fairly standard apology. “I’m sorry, I messed up. I won’t do it again. Is there any way I can make up for my mistake?” can usually be taken at face value–the apologizer wants to rebuild the relationship if they can, and is asking if there’s any actions they can take that would contribute towards that beyond the standard ones of apologizing and not doing it again. They presumably know that the answer might be no and should be ready to accept that–and Mac did that, he didn’t push when OP didn’t offer any action items.

        1. September*

          I agree – I don’t see a reason to pick apart the apology like that. It seemed sincere to the LW, and he gave the LW space when she asked for it.

    3. Silver Robin*

      I think it is not “pretend it never happened” but more “is our relationship restored to previous standing/is that a possibility” and the corollary of “do I still need to feel guilty about messing this up?”

    4. ecnaseener*

      I think in this case it was just “I miss being friends, can we be friends if I promise never to do it again?” And to Mac’s credit, it sounds like he accepts that the answer might be “no.”

      To the bigger question about what exactly forgiveness means, I feel like that varies – but generally no it doesn’t mean “pretend it never happened,” that’s called “forgive and forget.”

      “Is forgiveness really required?” By who, Mac? No, as we can see from the letter. By, like, God? Depends who you ask.

      1. Random Dice*

        It SHOULDN’T mean pretend it never happens… but in reality it often does.

        Especially in evangelical communities, forgiveness is a weapon that keeps the already vulnerable in their place.

        /This is one of my personal hot button topics

    5. 4 day week is the future*

      Yeah, it’s not OP’s job to offer the guy absolution. He wants OP’s forgiveness so he doesn’t have to keep wrestling with this and feeling guilty about it, but she doesn’t owe him that. It’s not her responsibility to make him feel better, and it’s inappropriate for him to ask her to.

      1. morethantired*

        I also wonder if he asked that in a way to get assurance she won’t file any sort of formal complaint about him in the future over it. I wouldn’t say I forgave him either because if he did something creepy again or if I decided it still bothered me enough even after the apology, I would want to be able to file a complaint and not have him be able to say “that thing she complained about I apologized for and she said she forgave me.”

    6. Beth*

      I think that asking about forgiveness is often about trying to sustain and/or rebuild the relationship. Mac knows he messed up, and he knows it’s a big-deal mistake. He’s already acknowledged that, apologized, and promised not to do it again; by asking about forgiveness, I think he’s trying to feel out if that’s enough for OP to want to start rebuilding their friendship (either now or someday), or if this is truly a friendship-ending moment. OP’s answer spoke perfectly to that question, and it sounds like he accepted it without pushback.

      1. boof*

        yes if mac is able to respect her request for space and not do anything pushy in the future, he’s at least done everything he should /after messing up/.
        Op’s response is perfect, and giving it time to think if Mac really will not be weird and pushy again and if OP really misses the friendship makes sense.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Totally agree with you, Beth and boof. Based on the information we have, my read was that Mac’s questions about forgiveness were about whether their relationship could get back to what it was, or at least close to it. And whether the LW would keep avoiding him.

          How he behaves while the LW is figuring out what kind of relationship / association she wants is going to be absolutely key.

    7. Random Dice*

      I posted two links about toxic forgiveness, and how it causes deep harm to the victim by centering the feeling of the aggressor, in a prior comment. (Oogie’s on societal conditioning)

      I teach my son that the must be can expect is “thank you for your apology”, NOT to be able to demand forgiveness.

      In the second link, it talks about how toxic forgiveness is actually correlated with increased domestic violence. There is so much work for aggressors that toxic forgiveness just hand-waves away.

      I’d add that toxic forgiveness especially crops up as a weapon used against women and folks of color.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this.

        That said, Mac responded better than many people would have. Simply asking the person you wronged if there’s anything you can do to make amends isn’t toxic in and of itself, as long as you truly accept that the answer might very well be no. As Mac seems to have done at least so far.

        If Mac can truly accept that his actions have changed how the LW sees him, there’s some hope of rebuilding a collegial working relationship. If he can do that, he should be able to move on without having to wear metaphorical sackcloth and ashes for as long as they work for the same employer, which means that the risk of him demanding not only forgiveness but a new chance at friendship becomes a lot lower. If Mac can internalize that he ruined the friendship with his actions and *forgive himself* for doing so, he should be able to accept whatever relationship level the LW is willing to have with him without demanding toxic forgiveness from her.

        The Christian ideal to forgive and forget/turn the other cheek has a lot to answer for.

    8. Arts Akimbo*

      IMO it’s more a “Please make me feel better about myself!” A cry for absolution. Will they continue with self-reflection afterward? One hopes. But honestly I think it’s their own short-term feelings they’re still focused on.

  9. Delta Delta*

    This is a great update! Bravo to you, OP, for saying exactly what you meant. And honestly, bravo to Mac for the sincere apology, and for what looks like him looking inward and examining his behavior.

  10. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    WAY TO GO!!

    I’d recommend reading “The Myth of the Male Bumbler” (link in a follow up comment). It has some suggestions for reconciling what you saw.

    Maybe he just got busted, or maybe he just made a mistake, but either way you don’t owe him trust.

      1. Maleficent*

        Wow, this article is fascinating. And infuriating. Makes me so angry that men dodge responsibility by playing dumb.

        1. Cat Lady*

          And then turn around and depict women as being conniving and manipulative when they themselves are embodying those very traits. AAAAAGH. Excellent article.

      2. Elbe*

        That is a great article!

        And even in cases where there wasn’t explicit manipulation and malice, there really should be more of a distinction between “I’m not in the habit of giving any thought to how my behavior affects women” and “I didn’t know.”

        Being very careless with other people is the root cause of the problem, not a get-out-of-consequences free card.

        1. Andie Begins*

          “Being very careless with other people is the root cause of the problem, not a get-out-of-consequences free card.”

          I’m hooting and cheering to see this articulated in a way I haven’t been able to put to words.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          “Being very careless with other people is the root cause of the problem, not a get-out-of-consequences free card.”

          Thank you for putting this in a way I wanted to articulate. The way LW handled Mac was perfect. Assuming Mac is one of those “careless” types – not malicious, but thoughtless, which is what I will assume for now – he’s on notice that he can’t just be careless with LW or any of his other friends.

          This is, I think, a *kindness* to Mac and any other person who is like this. It makes them aware that they can’t take refuge in carelessness, that they do have to consider consequences, and he’s lucky that OP reacted the way she did rather than take it straight to HR. Next time he might not be so lucky.

      3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Thanks for sharing! It was a really interesting read. I hope that we can use this to push back. Like “oh, if [bumbling dude] doesn’t recognize that making creepy sexual comments / touching someone / blocking them from exiting a space is a problem, then I have serious concerns about his judgment more generally.” If men want to use incompetence as a defence, I vote that the defence should be used against them.

        1. Elbe*

          Yes! Things will get better the day that society accepts that these things are not difficult to understand and to treat with consideration.

          If this person is “bumbling” something so straightforward, what else is he going to mess up?

      4. ferrina*

        Yikes. My ex was definitely a bumbler, though about less nefarious stuff. He weaponized his incompetence around housework, magically not understanding how any housework happened. Similarly couldn’t understand why I was upset when he was emotionally manipulative.

        He learned his bumbling from his dad. His dad was a high-powered lawyer in the 80s and 90s and claims that his firms totally never had any sexual harassment or discrimination. His secretary went on to be a paralegal- you see how progressive he was? *eye roll*

        They both argued that since their intention was good, they shouldn’t be held accountable for their action. Basically, “you can’t hold me responsible despite the evidence, because this nebulous intention that no one else can see exonerates me”. Eventually I wised up to the realization that if their intentions were truly good, their actions would improve because they would care that their actions didn’t line up with their intent and change their actions. A mistake happens once, a coincidence happens twice, but three times is status quo.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      10000% And kudos to OP for saying bluntly that this isn’t the kind of thing you can “make up” to someone or a thing that just gets forgiven or brushed under the rug. He now knows it was bad and he should feel bad, AND he realizes that going forward, words have consequences and (busted or bumbler), he needs to work harder on being a decent human being because people will call him out.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Well it entirely sucks to read this article this week if you’re British. Weaponised incompetence is bad enough when it’s individual, but to read that it’s socialised for a whole gender …

      1. Mango Freak*

        As not-a-Brit I don’t know what current event you mean, but I’m surprised you know the phrase “weaponized incompetence” but didn’t know it was gendered! I thought that was how most people learned the term in the first place.

        1. allathian*

          Oh, I don’t know. Women are perfectly capable of weaponized incompetence, too. Even I use it occasionally to get out of doing tasks that I know people of any gender are capable of doing if they want to. But I use it to get out of things like changing lightbulbs, cooking on the grill, hanging up a painting, or putting together a piece of flatpack furniture, all of which I’m sure I’d be perfectly capable of doing, or at least of learning to do them if I had to.

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I think there’s a difference between a consensus of “most people who weaponise incompetence are men” and “most men weaponise incompetence” – they’re not mutually exclusive, nor do they deny that some women absolutely do this, but it’s the volume and inevitability that’s got me down in the dumps.

  11. Retail Dalliance*

    10/10 no notes. This is how I dream of responding if I am ever faced with the same situation. I have been faced with the situation in the past and not responded like this (instead, I acted like a meek little mouse, and went the way of total avoidance rather than saying what needed to be said.)

    You are the example to which I aspire. Well done.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      And I like that it worked out that MAC felt the shift in LW’s attitude that HE caused and apparently spent some time wondering what was up and sitting uncomfortably in those feelings *before* he approached LW:

      “wait, what? Why is this happening? I thought we had a good work relationship, why is LW suddenly avoiding me like we aren’t work buddies, what happened to cause this sudden shift? Did I misunderstand what our relationship was like?” and hopefully, but maybe this is a bridge too far “Was there something I did that caused LW to suddenly behave differently towards me, to act like we’re no longer a good professional team of work buddies? Was it somehow my fault?”

      Because if you replace “avoiding” with “sexualizing” all those questions are *exactly* the kinds of things that race through the mind of someone like LW, hit out of the blue by a co-worker’s gross, objectifying comments. Good that for once one of the people who kicked off a chain of events like like with their unprofessional, sexualizing behavior got to experience some stomach-dropping work-environment shifting discomfort and uncertainty as a result of their actions.

      And likewise, I’m glad that LW was honest with him about how this wasn’t easily patched up with a simple apology and that she’s not certain they will ever get back to how they were. Sometimes when someone thoughtlessly breaks something precious it can never be fixed up like new.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        “Sometimes when someone thoughtlessly breaks something precious it can never be fixed up like new.”

        George Michael (RIP!) wrote Careless Whisper with these lyrics: “Time can never mend/ The careless whispers of a good friend/To the heart and mind” – and he hit something very true: sometimes there *is* no coming back, there is no fresh start, you were careless with it, you broke it, and now…you have to live with it. Mac is going to have to live with it.

    2. Random Dice*

      It’s worth reading up on how reactions to aggression aren’t just fight or flight.

      They’re fight, flight, FREEZE, and fawn.
      Freeze is when our brains, and even bodies, stop working and we simply don’t have the ability to react like how we imagine when safe.

      Fawn is when we try to get an unsafe person to be less scary by pleasing and appeasing them.

      Women especially get socialized into freeze and fawn, rather than fight.

  12. gmg22*

    Professional (and personal) boundaries for the epic win! Thank you so much for sharing this update with us. My hope for Mac is that what you told him sunk in, and that he simply treats you with cordiality and professionalism going forward. You make such an important point here that “forgiveness” — distinct from you accepting his apology and moving on with cordiality and professionalism likewise — is not in the offending person’s control to expect, but rather is your choice alone to decide on over time.

  13. Jiminy cricket*

    Good for you for laying it out so clearly. Good for Mac for owning his bad behavior. Good for you for recognizing that his apology doesn’t mean you have to pretend everything is all fine and dandy now.

  14. Guest*

    Mac is “sorry” because he got called out and realizes what a derriere he made of himself. I bet he expected LW to stew in silence. Go, LW!

    1. Silver Robin*

      No, I think he expected LW to laugh it off and not take it particularly seriously because I doubt he thought through what he was actually saying. Good that he got called on it, hopefully he will avoid sexualizing his coworkers in the future.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I guess we can’t know for sure what was going on in his mind, but a good indication will be Mac’s behavior going forward. This is one strike, and I wouldn’t go to three, but I do think there’s a decent chance he’ll be a more thoughtful friend to OP going forward, not making it weird for her or continuing to press. Time will tell.

        1. Someone*

          Most likely will be workplace avoidance from him as well. Now that he knows his job and livelyhood is in danger, will do anything to avoid losing that, including risking anything more than strictly work related interactions.

    2. High Score!*

      OP handled the situation expertly. It does seem as though Mac was kidding around and went too far. Some people are socially awkward. He still needed to be called out. By his reaction, there’s a good chance that he learned from mistake.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        No, this is not social awkwardness. Do not do that. He is perfectly capable of not being a creep. He chose to be a creep to his coworker.

        Actually socially awkward people are not creepers.

        1. High Score!*

          Lots of people screw up. This guy’s reaction indicates that he understands where he went wrong and wants to do better. I’m all for punishing the creeps, but the point of calling it out is to end the bad behavior.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this.

            Mac screwed up and deserved to be called out on it because it’s the impact of his actions that counts regardless of what his intentions were.

            Until and unless we get evidence to the contrary, I’m willing to in this one instance give Mac the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s more probable that it was an attempt at a joke that misfired badly rather than intentional malice.

        2. metadata minion*

          It’s possible for someone to be both socially awkward and creepy, or for someone to honestly misjudge a relationship and say something inappropriate. In the best-case scenario, Mac thought he was jokingly flirting with a friend who would welcome that kind of teasing, and the LW has firmly and appropriately informed him otherwise.

    3. Danish*

      Being charitable, most people are sorry when they get called on being an ass, unless they are an ass of truly epic proportions. I know we see a lot of the latter here but I think we can accept the apology is genuine.

      1. Observer*

        I think this sums it up.

        He was being a jerk. This reaction to being called out says that maybe he’s not an irredeemable jerk, just someone who needs to start doing a bit more self monitoring. And maybe this will be a wake-up call over all. One can hope.

      2. AngryOctopus*

        This exactly. He probably didn’t think at all when he said it, and now realizes that his mindset has no bearing on how OP reacted to what he said, and it’ll have lasting consequences. The apology/reaction seem genuine, so in the future I hope OP can expect professional behavior from Mac, and more thoughtfulness about what comes out of his mouth.

    4. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I think this is veering too close to some of the “purity culture” we’re seeing today, especially online, where any error made is unforgivable and unredeemable.

      Specifically, I think it’s 100% valid for OP to never forgive Mac and to treat him in a colder, professional matter ongoing, if that’s what she wants to do.

      However, if we’re going to assume that Mac was only sorry because he got called out, does that mean it’s impossible for people to grow and be better as people? Obviously he shouldn’t have made the comment to begin with, but some people are dumbasses. Don’t we want them to learn and stop being dumbasses, which may have happened here?

      1. Observer*

        Don’t we want them to learn and stop being dumbasses, which may have happened here?

        I think that this is a very important point. It does not require that the OP respond in any way that is not comfortable to her. But it does mean that we shouldn’t criticize someone for actually apologizing and apparently changing his behavior for the better because he MIGHT not be doing it from pure motives.

        I frankly don’t care why he changes his behavior. I just want him to never do that again to someone else. The best way to insure that this sticks is to not criticize him for it.

        Before anyone jumps down my throat, I am most definitely *not* suggesting that we applaud him and act as though he’s a hero for acting like a reasonable adult. Just that we accept his behaving as a reasonable adult as his new normal, assuming that it actually *is* his new normal, going forward.

        1. Random Dice*

          Exactly. It sounds like a powerful lesson for him to change, but that whole character arc he may have is ENTIRELY beyond the OP’s scope. She doesn’t owe him anything, and can move on in whatever way feels safe and good for her. He can deal with himself in the margins, away from her.

          1. BB*

            Yes, but a lot of people here are attacking what seems to be a sincere apology because “he’s just trying to get out of it”. Which is all so unfalsifiable that it boggles the mind.

      2. But what to call me?*

        Very important point.

        The thing to remember is that a lot of the jerkish things people do are because they never bothered to think about how their actions would affect other people. Should they have thought of it without having it pointed out to them? Yep. But they didn’t, so now it’s a matter of what we want from them going forward. They can either dig in and insist they were right all along or take what was pointed out to them seriously and change their behavior. Same bad starting place, very different impact in terms of their future effect on those around them. And while people are justified in continuing to be cautious because they could just be faking the second option, or might be sincere about this one incident without rethinking the underlying beliefs that caused it, starting with the assumption that of course they must be faking it doesn’t help anyone.

      3. GreyjoyGardens*

        I agree. I do not think it’s on the OP to have to “forgive” Mac, but I do think it’s fanficcing – and assuming the worst – that Mac was malicious and the apology was all crocodile tears. Can we just assume that he *did* screw up out of carelessness, and his apology *was* genuine?

        Again, I don’t want to come off like I’m trying to excuse suggestive remarks or that the OP should forgive Mac. I just want to say that if people’s mistakes are always treated as irredeemable and unforgivable, that’s not going to make them want to behave better in the future. People do make mistakes, learn, and grow, and some people, due to upbringing or privilege or lack of executive function or (whatever) are careless, and need to learn not to be careless.

    5. Rondeaux*

      There’s no reason to think the apology isn’t genuine. OP doesn’t say that so neither should we.

      Remember they had a good relationship prior to this so it’s certainly possible Mac has taken it to heart

    6. nodramalama*

      I don’t see any reason to think that Mac’s apology wasn’t sincere. There are still a lot of people out there who think that jokes about sexy coworkers are just that, jokes.

      I recently rewatched a West Wing episode where Sam makes a comment about how a woman could make a good dog break his chain and the woman who calls him out on it is told she is ‘unfun’ and too quick to take offence. Yes, that was in the late 90s and work cultures have moved on from then, but a lot of people still haven’t caught up with that, and make sexual comments unthinkingly, or that they think its a mark of a ‘fun’ workplace.

      LW did an amazing job calling Mac out and hopefully he’ll stop doing it.

  15. Nicosloanica*

    This is great stuff. I (female, middle age, single) have somehow ended up with a lot of male friends at this stage in my life, many of whom are married with kids, and they still seem to think sexual humor is the funniest. They’re genuinely not hitting on me but they like to talk about pantsfeels more than I do. I often have to remind them that I don’t like it and would prefer they not direct it at me. Then I sometimes have to deal with their hurt feelings about how I should know they don’t mean it “like that” and they thought we were friends, like I’m the one who is making it weird now. Nonetheless, if we are truly friends, they will get their acts together and respect my boundaries – or if not, then we were never really friends. I don’t know how we’ve socialized (some? so many?) men to thinking these types of jokes are appropriate for all audiences at all times, but I know I’d rather opt out.

    1. Distracted Procrastinator*

      Because men and women have been socialized to prioritize men’s wants and whims over women’s need to feel safe.

      Men have been taught that their sexual overtures, whether sincere or not, will always be welcome and “flattering.” They don’t have to consider relationship, circumstances, etc. because they don’t have to. It’s sad so many men take advantage of this.

      1. Nicosloanica*

        It might be something like this. I don’t know a lot of guys who can resist a “that’s what she said” joke – and again, we are all in our 40s and 50s now! If you think about TWSS, it’s literally interrupting what I said to turn something completely non-sexual into a sexual joke. I don’t even think it’s funny 99% of the time, but it’s some kind of knee-jerk reaction for some people.

        1. Beebis*

          It’s nice to see this comment because TWSS jokes have never been funny to me. Not for any particular reason other than I find it really obnoxious

          1. i like hound dogs*

            I agree — I can’t put my finger on it, but I find them so juvenile and obnoxious, and I am a person who generally enjoys joking around.

            I think part of it is that it turns a nonsexual comment/conversation/whatever into a sexual one, and puts the onus on the other conversation participant to either participate or seem like a wet blanket for not enjoying it.

            The other day I was telling my husband and a male friend about how when I was on the high school weightlifting team, the way the judges handled a tied score was to give the win to the girl with the lower bodyweight (so, if you were in the 119 and under weight class and you weighed 113 and your opponent weighed 118, you got the win because you were lifting a higher percentage of your bodyweight). My husband joked, “What if they just gave it to the girl they wanted to f*** more?” The male friend laughed and I just went away feeling like … WTF? I was sharing a story about a thing that was really important to me and you just made it about pants feels of men regarding high school girls?

            To his credit, if I point this out to him I know he’ll apologize and say he was in the wrong but I just get tired of pointing crap like this out.

            1. Jiminy Cricket*

              Wow. It’s like all your expertise, experience, and skill as an athlete goes *POOF* with one ugly comment. (About statutory rape, no less.) I’m so sorry.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      It’s funny because I have a close friend where the “that’s what she said” jokes come from both of us and it’s funny. I have another more tangential friend who thinks (maybe) that we’re better friends than we are–half our communication is him making vaguely sexual jokes and the other half telling me that he can make those jokes because we’re “good friends”. He’s 100% the weird/awkward type, and yet recently I’ve been “over it” and ignoring his texts (yes it’s passive aggressive, but we’re not good friends so I can’t be bothered). So it’s very friend context dependent as well. I’m much closer to the first friend AND he’s capable of carrying on a full conversation without making any sexual adjacent jokes at all–which is a big thing, I think.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I work in a boy’s school, and even with no girls or women involved in the friendships there’s a pressure to just blanket accept whatever humour flies out of someones mouth without filter and to “man up” and accept that it’s “just banter”. I think we do a good job of challenging that, and especially of challenging sexual humour about women and girls. Every year though, there’s a fresh batch with identically and chronically wrong instructions on How to Have Humour in a Friendship.

  16. in-house lawyer*

    This is absolutely a textbook perfect response! I’m so impressed that you handled this so well – it is so hard to deal with this kind of ridiculousness and you are a role model for all of us. Great job!

  17. Dulcinea47*

    LW you did great! Mac sounds reasonably chastized and like he will think before he speaks in the future.

  18. Diocletian Blobb*

    Removed, please don’t nitpick the language of someone who overcame her nerves to confront her harasser. More on this above. – Alison

    1. Seconds*

      I agree that it’s not appropriate in all situations.

      But there’s a touch of just the right sort of humor in the phrase that works in the favor of dealing with the perpetrator in this case. It names the problem (arousal) in a way that makes it seem smaller and a bit ridiculous. It was the right level of response, I think, for sometime who had not thought about who owns the problem.

      It would not be appropriate in a formal document, or when dealing with something more serious (like action of any kind).

      1. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        One time when my two male coworkers were talking about hot versus ugly crying, I exasperatedly snapped, “No one cares about your boners!” Was it professional? No. Did it get through to them better than me going through how gross their conversation was, point by point? I think so.

        1. S*

          I am also a fan of reframing that sort of sexualization as “talking about your boners” rather than tiptoeing around it in a way that makes it seem normal and work-appropriate. It highlights the weird social expectations about women being expected to cater to men’s sexual preferences in their presentation and attire (when crying, jfc!) and names it for what it is.

          Sometimes crudity can cut through toxic normalizing and get people to really think about what they’re saying.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      It’s a cracker of a phrase from Captain Awkward, but that’s by the by. Did you think that OP was going into therapy work with other sexual harassment victims? Did you miss the part where they were talking about their own experience and get to describe it in any way they want? Are we seriously telling her to be more dainty? More scientific? To use the sexual harassment style book?

    3. Random Dice*

      I’m pretty sure Alison is again going to remove this kind of comment critiquing the exact language used by a sexual harassment victim.

    4. Rondeaux*

      I think it’s different in this case where OP was friends with Mac, so they presumably already had a less formal relationship. I can see it making things easier here.

    5. Arts Akimbo*

      I find this comment incredibly inappropriate.

      Please do not nitpick the language the OP used to stand up for herself in an incredibly difficult situation. Serious issues often benefit by shining a light on them using colloquial language, calling the problem out for exactly what it is.

    6. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      “Undermine your case?” What on earth are you imagining, a court of law? If I tell you to stop being a steamy frosted carrot-munching crackerjack by saying sexual things to me at work, I have not “undermined” myself.

      You are implying that if the woman doesn’t use the exact right words the man can dismiss her request. Really think about that.

    7. But what to call me?*

      A phrase like “pants feels” can be really useful in some conversations. It’s not making light of sexual harassment, it’s saying “your big important sexual feelings that are such a big deal you just have to put them on other people are not nearly the big important thing you think they are”.

      Some people would feel more comfortable using that term and others would want a different term, but it’s not going to undermine your case in anything but the most formal contexts.

    8. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      Aside from “don’t relitigate the way someone pushes back on harassment they’ve experienced”… I just really disagree. I think “pants feels” was a wonderful touch of down-to-earth bluntness, pitch-perfect, neither pompous nor tiptoeing delicately around the subject. I’m cheering for the letter writer!

  19. AvaMonroe*

    What a fantastic update. I have a feeling it will help a lot of readers here – both the ones that are on the receiving end of sexual harassment and those that may think this kind of comments are harmless.

  20. Observer*

    I’m going to agree with all the people who are saying that you deserve a standing ovation!

    I can imagine it was hard to do, but what you said was *PERFECT*.

    I’m glad that Mac seems to have gotten it – at least to the point that you no longer have to dodge him. But absolutely take the time you need to process this. And be comfortable with not ever getting to the point of forgiving him, or forgiving him but never looking at his the same way, or whatever it is that you conclude.

    I’m not only impressed by what you said to him when he asked why you were avoiding him, but how you responded to his apology. It could not have been easy for you, but I am soooo glad that you didn’t just say that it’s ok or that you forgive him. Mostly for your sake. But also, it’s good for him to experience that he can’t just undo the consequences of his misbehavior with an apology.

  21. canary*

    This is the exact response I would have given… in my shower, hours after the fact. I’m so impressed that you were able to deliver it in person! I think that has a lot to do with how Mac responded as he did, there was no room for him to explain it away or shift the blame or pretend like he didn’t understand what you meant. And you didn’t back down and immediately forgive him, either! You’re an inspiration.

  22. Nuke*

    Perfect response, OP! Considering how he apologized, this seems like a case of “dude who has made comments like this around people his whole life that were nervously laughed off, and no one has ever told him to Knock It Off”, rather than extreme malice. It still doesn’t make it remotely okay, and way too many people (mostly men) feel too comfortable making these kinds of comments (usually since they’ve never been told to Not before). And of course, it goes without saying, you’re allowed to deal with it however you need to, taking as much time as you need.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I agree with this comment. OP handled it like a rockstar, and now Mac, hopefully, knows he can’t be this careless and get away with it.

  23. CommentKoi*

    10/10 response, and his burning-ears embarrassment was well deserved (and satisfying to read). Well done! Hopefully it really was just a one-off stupid comment that he regrets, and you can go back to working in peace.

  24. Analytical Tree Hugger*

    (Stunned slow clap building to racous cheering applause)

    (Or, if you’d prefer, a soft golf clap at a beautiful response)

    That was amazing, OP!

  25. A Simple Narwhal*

    Wow OP what a perfect response! It’s something I would only imagine saying long after the fact, it’s amazing you actually said it in the moment!

    1. Observer*

      That’s incredibly disrespectful. Maybe you should look at the OP as a person struggling with a problem rather than “a trope”.

      What she is struggling with is a person who acted in ways that should have been inconsistent with reasonable boundaries, good sense, maturity and some decency. That is totally in line with understanding that people are complex. Also, you do not know what Mac learned or did not learn. Sure, he apologized – good! But his apology is just the start. Especially that his apology could be an indicator that he did not entirely get it. It’s hard to tell, and it’s going to take time to see how he behaves going forward. And it’s perfectly reasonable for the OP to be trying to square all of that.

    2. Feral Humanist*

      You mean the way he did when he told her that her “sexy librarian” vibe was a problem for him?

      Wow. I knew that if I read long enough I’d find someone apologizing for Max, but seriously: WOW.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      Excuse me?

      Making a mistake is calling OP by a wrong name or getting her coffee order wrong.

      Actively deciding to and then following through on making a gross, sexually charged comment at work is not a mistake. Its a willful action by a grown adult who knows very well that you do not say things like that at work.

      It’s 2023 my friend, making gross sexual comments at work is harassment and unless you just teleported in from another planet or have successfully just emerged from the cave where you have been a hermit for your entire life – you know that too.

      No need to stick up for people who sexually harass their coworkers.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Ok, let’s take this further. Should Mac be shunned from society for his actions? Should he be fired and never work again? Or, at this time, do we accept his apology as legitimate, let OP make her personal decision as to the level of ongoing interaction she wants to have with him (to which there is no wrong answer), and assume that he’ll change his behavior going forward.

        1. Feral Humanist*

          No one here is saying he need be “shunned forever,” and that isn’t what the LW is saying, either. But there is NO NEED to stick up for “poor misunderstood Max.” Max made a mistake, got called on it, and is now dealing with natural consequences proportional to the mistake.

        2. Fluffy Fish*

          Why would we take it further? You are making hypothetical leaps no one is remotely suggesting.

          My answer was very clearly in response to Lucia Pacciola practically shaming OP about how shes struggling to reconcile what she knows about this person and chalking it up to a “mistake”.

          The only one who gets to decide OP’s apology is legitimate is OP. The only one who has to decide how they feel about Mac moving forward is OP. “We” don’t have a say. And “we” sure as heck shouldnt be minimizing what was done and suggesting OP get over it.

          It wasn’t a mistake that OP should have just get over. It wasn’t a mistake at all. That was the entire point of my post. I have no interest in entertaining leaps to things I didnt say nor suggest.

          1. allathian*

            It’s semantics and depends on how you define the word mistake. He certainly made a mistake in the sense that he misjudged how the LW would react to what he said.

            But until he made the gross statement, the LW and Mac were work buddies. I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that Mac said what he did with malicious intent. I bet it was a jokey statement that landed wrong. Kudos to the LW for calling him out on it, though. I seriously doubt it was the first time he said something like that to a female (passing) coworker, but others have probably laughed it off, as he no doubt expected the LW to do.

            But even jokes that land wrong and other mistakes have consequences, and now Mac’s going to have to live with the fact that what he said made the LW reconsider their whole relationship, and that only she can decide if she ever wants to be anything more than a distant coworker with him again.

            Until we get evidence to the contrary, I’m willing to accept Mac’s apology as genuine rather than an attempt to get out of the doghouse.

        3. Mango Freak*

          Let’s take this further? You mean let’s change the subject to a fake scenario where you think you can make a point, since you can’t make one here, in reality?

      2. Totally Minnie*

        Exactly this. I wish we as a society would stop using the word “mistake” to describe a decision that ended badly. You’re absolutely right that what Mac did wasn’t a mistake, it was a decision. It was the wrong one and he regrets it now, but that’s not the same thing as a mistake, and the process of reconciliation for a decision is different from the process for a mistake.

        1. Feral Humanist*

          I don’t know, I think decisions can be mistakes, and mistakes can have serious consequences. “Mistake” is not synonymous with “no-fault accident.” I don’t see it as minimizing to say that he made a mistake.

          1. Fluffy Fish*

            Contextually people do tend to describe things as mistakes to imply a level of “oopsie”, that someone isn’t fully responsible for what happened, that they didnt known better or that it’s not a big deal. Which is certainly what it seems Lucia Pacciola is suggesting.

            That’s certainly what I and I think Totally Minnie are talking about. In this instance chalking it up to a mistake is minimizing it.

            1. Feral Humanist*

              Mistakes also come with consequences. You can say that it was a mistake AND believe that he deserves the consequences of it. But this is mostly semantics; I think we actually agree.

    4. GirlBob*

      She IS seeing him as a full human. She’s got an extra piece of information from his actions, and it’s that he’s a creep who doesn’t care about her feelings. That’s part of the “complete human being” you want her to look at, and I mean good for you if you think that’s a minor part of the whole, I guess? But I think it’s a pretty major aspect of someone, and definitely something I’d want to take heavily under consideration.

    5. NotAManager*

      That is way harsh and uncalled for – LW explicitly said that people are complicated. Mac could very well have been a good work buddy, a creep, and a genuinely remorseful doofus all in the same month. We have no idea if he’s learned anything – maybe he has! But the onus is not on LW to forgive and forget, it’s on Mac to demonstrate better behavior going forward and not *just* because he wants his relationship with LW to reset to factory settings. Ideally, he genuinely realizes he messed up badly and doesn’t want to make anyone feel the way he made LW feel ever again, even if he never recovers their former office buddy friendship.

    6. Arts Akimbo*


      And yes, that’s a Carolyn Hax “Wow.” Your comment is incredibly disrespectful to the OP, and I wish I knew how to report it.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I wish I knew how to report it

        Check out the commenting rules! (There’s a link to them above the box that you type a comment in.) From the rules:

        How do I flag a comment for you to review?

        If you include a link in your comment, it’ll go to moderation so I’ll see it. So for example:

        Can you take a look at this comment? [url to any website]

        (Yes, this is a weird workaround. The higher-tech solutions don’t work well.)

  26. Zzzzzz*

    Well done LW!

    BUT, smells like he’s trying to protect his ace now that he can’t remark on hers. This dude’s insistence on forgiveness smells much like, when he recounted this last exchange to a someone in his life to try and make himself feel better about being SO EMBARRASSED…. this someone must noted to him that there could be legal action waiting for him; maybe he should apologize profusely (yes, do it anyway) and if she went on the record as forgiving him for his remarks, she won’t go to HR (which would be incorrect; she could forgive him now and still go to HR with legit, legal concerns).

    “But HR! She FORGAVE ME!”

    1. K8T*

      I don’t know, this seems like a really uncharitable take and actually is pure speculation. I think he handled being called out on it well especially that he reiterated an apology where he could articulate his wrong behavior better.
      Not everyone who says something bad/inappropriate is a monster and based off LW, seems like he took it to heart and I think we need to listen to her.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      To be fair, many people in a situation like this would pivot right to “forgiveness?” as their right, given that we like to socialize almost everyone that forgiveness is the goal that means that ‘everything is back to normal yay!!’. LW has done the exact best thing in saying that forgiveness isn’t owed and may show up over time. Gives Mac something to think about at the very least.

    3. Rondeaux*

      That seems like a ton of speculation and imaginary conversations. There’s nothing that would indicate the apology is insincere or that he’s only doing it because of a potential HR visit.

    4. Fluffy Fish*

      It sounds more like he never before had a thought in his head that women are humans and do not like inappropriate comments, and now that he has been called out on it is absolutely (and appropriately) mortified. I would think differently if he’s apology was more in the vein of “i didn’t mean it, was just joking, it was a compliment youre just sensitive, etc etc”

      THAT said, OP if you haven’t, please document the entire interaction. From the date of the comment, the comment itself, to your actions after (avoidance), to the confrontation and apology. No need to take it to HR unless you want to, but you should keep it on hand if for no other reason than if he makes another problematic comment.

      1. Random Dice*


        Holy crap, it literally never occurred to me that women are actual full humans, with all of the thoughts and feelings that men have, and that the sexist jokes men make to each other about women might feel bad to receive.

        (Brain exploding emoji)

        Sexism is so pervasive that it’s nearly impossible to see from the top.

  27. 4 day work week is the future*

    So glad at this outcome! Also just want to point out that while it’s nice that Mac was apologetic, it sounded like he was really pressing OP to give him some kind of forgiveness to make him feel better. If this guy feels guilty about being a creep, that’s for him to deal with, and it’s not OP’s responsibility to make him feel better about it. It’s inappropriate of him to ask that of her, and it diminishes his apology. Good on OP for sticking to her principles!

    1. Shiara*

      It could be that, but it could also be him trying to get clearer guidance on how she’d like him to interact with her going forward.

      Sure, it would have been better for him to just go and then let her take the lead on it, but following up on the apology briefly to find out if there’s anything concrete she needs from him, and to clarify where the relationship is at and if she sees a trajectory back to work friends isn’t necessarily “really pressing”. Especially in the absence of the OP indicating she felt harassed by it

  28. cookingwithclaire*

    Reading this update was an amazing way to start my day. I feel so inspired and pumped!! Way to go!!!!

  29. CommanderBanana*

    While I would appreciate the apology, LW, I’m with you – I don’t know that I’d ever be able to look at / interact with someone the same way who had crossed a line so badly. There’s stuff like sending a snippy email or accidentally taking someone’s coffee mug and there’s stuff like this, that really reveals something about a person’s character.

    1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      Yep, I’m still not entirely convinced that Mac’s original comment wasn’t testing the waters to see if she might be down for more of a flirty relationship. Which is why I thought this part of her response was brilliant:

      “How exactly would you suggest I handle such gross comments in the future”

      Letting him know his behavior was literally disgusting to her should hopefully nip any future comments like this, hopefully not just for OP but for any other co-workers this guy has now and in the future.

      I personally would never be able to be friendly again with a co-worker who made a comment like that to me. I think I could be civil and not ice them out, but that trust at a friend level would be very difficult if not impossible to get back for me.

  30. Formerly Ella Vader*

    You rock, OP! Thanks for the update!

    I’m glad Max was apparently receptive, both to your first response and to the way you told him there was no “making up for” that kind of thing and he should give you space. That’s potentially a good sign – a lot of people make attempts to apologize but then push for the person to say it’s over with, in an entitled sort of way that make me think they don’t really get that they might not be able to fix it.

    I hope you never need these responses again! But I’m glad you shared them for the rest of us.

  31. Cabbagepants*

    Great update. The way that Mac changed from friend to creep to penitent dope is the story of his gross misogynistic assumptions. He was socialized with an unspoken belief that women like you happily existed as sexual objects for his enjoyment and it shattered that worldview when you spoke up that you were not ok with that treatment.

  32. Double A*

    Excellent update! I think there is a good chance that Mac learned from this, but OP it’s okay if you’re never okay with him again. Because if he truly learns from it, he will act better in the future towards both you and other, but he will also accept that he may have irreparably damaged your relationship and that you don’t ever “owe” him your friendship again. That acceptance is the true sign of change.

    In terms of what he can do, he can be better and then he can wait until or if you choose to re-engage. Which might be never. I hope he truly learns from this!

  33. Manage thy Pants Feels™*

    Just woke up my dog from audible clapping! Way to go OP. I wish I had, had the courage to confront my inappropriate male coworkers who have made comments, passes, or made me physically unsafe in the past. It might be too late to approach them, but your response to Mac has given me the courage to craft a similar response to a colleague I’ve been dreading seeing in a few weeks. Thank you <3

  34. GirlBob*

    Point the first: Very well done, OP! That was amazing and very, very cool.

    But unfortunately also point the second: Hopefully this will be the end of it and Mac will let the situation slowly come to whatever the new normal is, and all will be well. But just keep in mind that some men get quite… frustrated… when their effusive apologies don’t immediately return everything to the status quo. I had a friend make a very inappropriate pass at me, apologise in a way that seemed very genuine when I made it clear I was very displeased, and then… get really, REALLY angry when I didn’t give him a hug and act very friendly like I used to be the next time I saw him. (As an additional note, the next time I saw him was in the direct aftermath of a severely traumatizing experience for me, which everybody knew about, and I only made it to that event by being sandwiched very nearly literally between my two closest friends for the entire thing. So?? Like, dude, I wasn’t hugging anyone??? But that’s just my own additional bit of rage; I think he’d worked himself up so much about my refusal to not immediately treat him as I used to that my MASSIVE TRAUMATIZING EVENT was just not even relevant to him any more.)

    1. Random Dice*

      I’m so sorry you went through the massively traumatizing event, and had to deal with your guy friend’s scary feelings about his own mistreatment of you.

      You’re right that it’s all too common for men to punish women for calling out their misbehavior.

    2. Arts Akimbo*

      Yikes, I’m so sorry that happened to you! That guy is maybe too self-centered to be anyone’s friend. I hope things have improved.

    3. allathian*

      I’m sorry those things happened to you. I hope the creepy friend is an ex-friend now.

      I’m lucky enough never to have experienced any truly traumatizing events in my life, but I’ve had enough guy friends get creepy at some point in our friendship that I decided in my early 30s that I wasn’t going to be friends with any heterosexual guys anymore. (Coincidentally or not, I met my husband at around the same time.) I’m honestly surprised that more women haven’t drawn the same conclusions as I have and decided that friendships with heterosexual men just aren’t worth it because of the potential creep factor.

  35. Csethiro Ceredin*

    Nicely done, OP! And you did Mac a favour, too, little as he may deserve it – it does sound like he understands he can’t say stuff like that and hopefully won’t do so to anyone again.

  36. Alan*

    The fact that he’s pressuring OP to put it behind them (“Can you ever forgive me?”) kind of suggests that he hasn’t fully gotten the point. He realizes that he made a tactical mistake, but is putting the emotional labor of dealing with it on her…

    1. Observer*

      And the OP refused to take on the burden. Which was *perfect*.

      He also seems to have gotten it.

      OP, *PLEASE* come back and let us know what happens down the road. You’ve handled this so well, and I’d love to know how it works out. Even if the update is “boring”.

  37. WorkplaceSurvivor*

    I’m so proud of you OP. As a (recovering) people-pleaser I’m taking inspiration from you! Kudos!

  38. Bookworm*

    I was definitely holding my breath, LW, but am so glad it seems he may understand it was wrong (although not fully…). Please do take that time and space and don’t let anyone pressure you into feeling/doing anything that doesn’t feel right to you. I wish you the best!!

  39. Three Flowers*

    “Mac, you implied that your inability to manage your pants feels in the workplace was somehow my fault for looking like a ‘sexy librarian.’ How exactly would you suggest I handle such gross comments in the future if not with avoidance?”

    A whole stadium of standing ovations would not be enough for this brilliant, brilliant takedown. We should name it for you and add it to the Code of Points.

  40. BellyButton*

    I am so proud of OP!!! I remember the original letter very well and the discussions we had about how men’s comments, their behavior, and their feelings are not our responsibility. I wish I had someone telling me that when I was younger. It took me a long long time to understand it, and even at 50 and knowing it, I still slip and make excuses for men.

    Mac did have the best response possible. He was embarrassed, he reflected on how he made OP feel, and that is a good sign that maybe he has learned and grown from the experience. Nothing will change for women if men don’t take responsibility and hold themselves and others accountable.

    PS “pants feels” is glorious!

  41. Ellis Bell*

    Path One: OP turning off the “happy” that apparently reads as “flirty.”
    Mac: “You don’t seem your usual happy self! What’s wrong?
    OP: “Look, I don’t know if I came off as flirty before but ever since that librarian comment…”
    Mac (laughs so easily it’s like he anticipated this) “No, don’t be silly; you didn’t do anything wrong! I was totally just kidding! Wow, you’d think women get a lot of sexual comments they have to take seriously for their survival or something!
    OP: “I’m so glad things are back to normal!”

    Path 2: OP totally sends gross and very unnecessarily sexual awkwardness back to sender.
    Mark: “What happened to our fun banter? It’s chilly in here!”
    OP: “How should I behave towards you when I get descriptions of your pants feels whenever I wear my specs?”
    Mark: (Realisation dawns on him that not only did he do that very exact thing, but no helpful woman is going to dash in front of the bullet of blame for him, and no one seems to be telling him that this was totally understandable level of ignorance for a grown up). Thinks: Shit! Sorry! Shit! But I’m …. Did I just say something out loud about being sorry? Anyway… Run!

  42. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Not sure how many of us here are Captain Awkward followers, but this is the perfect example of “returning the awkward” and I am so here for it! Amazing, LW, you are simply amazing!!

    1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*


      Returning the awkward right back to the sender was so great. Bravo to you, OP!

  43. Holly the spa pro*

    You’re response to Mac absolutely gave me chills. It takes a lot of bravery to assert boundaries and communicate awkward, uncomfortable things. You are a brilliant legend.

  44. nopetopus*

    Kudos, OP! You handled that like a boss!

    I just wanted to offer some solidarity. I just went through a similar situation with a coworker turned close friend, and it definitely changed my entire outlook on who he is and his character. The transgression was bad enough after I’d already made it clear that I only saw him platonically, but it was really his behavior after I expressed that I didn’t want to be friends anymore that really put the nail in the coffin of my regard for him. He shut down any attempts at communication about my feelings and hid from me at work, then dropped a feelings-bomb letter on my desk (that I didn’t touch) and tried to email me like nothing happened. I had to have a separate another conversation with him telling him to leave me alone completely and stop acting weird at work. I hope Mac doesn’t make you have to do that, but if so please know that it’s a reflection of his terrible character and not due to anything you did or didn’t do.

    Again, nicely done. Thanks for sharing your update!

  45. SarahKay*

    My smile just got wider and wider and wider as I read this update. Congratulations OP, you are amazing in how you handled this!
    (Also, I’m so glad my ‘practice what you want to say’ advice was useful.)

  46. RagingADHD*

    “I’m still struggling to reconcile the friend I thought I knew with the lecher that made that comment and now with the seemingly penitent dope I saw today. People are complicated.”

    Well…yes. They are. And you’re best positioned to know from the total context whether Mac is a pretty okay friend who made one terrible joke and is sincerely regretful, or a guy whose obliviousness / casual sexism makes him not worth the trouble, or a guy who is quite creepy and was just cultivating an opportunity.

    There’s “when people show you who they are, believe them,” and then there’s “god forbid we should all be judged by one mistake.” There’s always a tension in recovering from interpersonal problems.

  47. Maleficent2026*

    Also, it’s almost 2024. Why can’t we all just be in agreement that pants feelings are NEVER appropriate in the workplace?

  48. Less Sexy, More Librarian*

    I just love this community so much. Thank you all for your kind words. I wish we could all go out for coffee and a laugh. I hope to have another positive update on this whole thing in the future. Thank you, thank you all again! I’ve been wrapped in a virtual hug from you all. – OP

    1. Czhorat*

      I LOVE the screen name.

      And let this serve as a reminder to all of us: it is never OK to use “sexy” as an adjective to describe a coworker.

      In fact, I think that’s a word we can keep out of the workplace altogether.

    2. MEH Squared*

      I just wanted to be the nth person to say how impressed I am by your response. Not only the ‘how am I supposed to deal with those comments other than avoidance’ line, but also, having the presence of mind to not be pressured into forgiving him on the spot or saying it’ll happen at some point. Being pushed to forgive someone is one of my peeves, and I think you handled it beautifully by stating your boundary and letting Mac know it’ll happen if it happens. Then asking for space.

      Just an all-around ‘well done!’ to you.

    3. Switz42*

      I want to add my congratulations for your brilliance, both what you planned to say and your responses in the moment!

      Wherever you go from here, make that about you, not him. You might decide on anything from “forgive him completely and be friends again” to “never speak to him again unless it’s necessary” or any point in between, and any one of those is valid. But choose that path based on how you feel, what makes you happy, who you want to be; don’t let his actions/feelings/moods dictate any part of that.

  49. Was the Grink There*

    It’s the fact that you’re (perfect!) response was phrased as a “…and how would YOU suggest I deal with that?” question that made it impossible for Mac to squirm out of. Had it been a “Hey, you said this and that wasn’t OK” statement, it’s easy for the perp to come back with “no, it’s not a big deal, you’re overreacting…” etc.

    Putting them on the spot with a bald-faced description of their actions and demanding that they tell YOU what you’re supposed to do in response really nails people like this to it. Applause!

  50. sagewhiz*

    Brava! An great example of how words can actas a well placed knee to the groin. And probably more effective.

    Bonus points added for putting on the Resting Bitch Face ;-)

  51. Sparkles McFadden*

    I am posting this comment before reading the others, so I am sure I am echoing many others here by saying this: That was magnificent LW! Please know this update brought great joy to many.

    I am sorry that Mac’s comments made you question yourself, and that he wasn’t the person you thought he was. Situations like this are always upsetting even when you handle everything as well as you did.

  52. MarieInSC*

    Everything about this is fantastic. As others have stated better than I could, kudos to you for not letting “Mac’s” abhorrent behavior go unchallenged.

    I didn’t read the comments to OP’s first letter, but at the risk of being repetitious, have you jotted down the exact dates when both interactions happened and, to the best of your recollection (adrenaline can make this hard in the moment) what transpired? If “Mac” decides to make things difficult for you to assuage any hurt feelings or to try to gain power over you, having this information could come in handy.

    I sincerely hope you won’t need it.

  53. Czhorat*

    My favorite thing about this is the response to Mac asking if OP accepted his apology. Nobody is owed forgiveness, and there’s no magic word to return a relationship to the status quo ante. The fact is that he did long term harm to his relationship with her, her opinion of him, and possibly her feeling of comfort in the workplace. They all can and should move on, but that doesn’t mean that it will ever be forgotten.

  54. stk*

    Oh good for you OP! well done. That must have been difficult but it also sounds like you managed exactly what Mac needed to hear.

  55. Library Lady*

    I don’t remember if I commented on the original post, but I literally give educational presentations to library employees on how to address sexual harassment from patrons, and I could not have scripted a better response than what you gave!!! Straightforward, calm, and it addressed the behavior and apology without centering his feelings! And “pants feels” was just *chef’s kiss*

    Also I second, third, and fourth the advice to practice your responses ahead of time. We shouldn’t have to put in this extra effort when the other person can toss out comments like those without a second thought, but it does help.

    Way to go, OP!! This was a response for the history books!

  56. Policy Wonk*

    Well done, OP!! This is a shining example of what we should all do in such situations. I am also very proud of you. Congratulations!!

  57. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

    Congratulations, LW! It is so hard to do what you did. But you did it and now you know how to do it if it ever comes up again. And it won’t be so hard to speak up for yourself in the future, even in different contexts.

  58. Wendy Darling*

    Why is it that the only thing that makes me angrier than men acting like this in the workplace the way that, when called out, some of them dramatically prostrate themselves begging for forgiveness/ways to atone?

    All I really want when someone has been shitty to me is for them to 1. never do it again and 2. leave me alone. Maybe we’ll be friends again someday, maybe we won’t, but the sad-puppy showing-belly act really makes me grind my teeth. I think it’s that it’s just asking me to take care of their feelings in a DIFFERENT way.

    1. allathian*


      That said, it doesn’t look like Mac begged for forgiveness, he just asked if it might be possible in the future, and if there was anything he could do to make amends for his actions. He seemed to take the LW’s answers at face value, at least for now.

      I’d love an update in a few months/next update season. I’m hoping for one where Mac’s accepted whatever relationship level the LW’s willing to have with him without demanding a return to the friendship they had before he showed his creepy side.

  59. MicroManagered*

    struggling to reconcile the friend I thought I knew with the lecher that made that comment and now with the seemingly penitent dope

    I completely understand this struggle. This is just an internet hot take based on the original letter and your update… but this feels like he just messed up and made a really, really bad joke. I have had jobs / work environments where professional norms were definitely different or looser than an office setting (thinking like food service, retail, call center jobs) where someone might make the comment that your glasses make you look like a sexy librarian and the intention is NOT “he was definitely doing Big Sexual Harassment for Creep Reasons.”

    FWIW I had this sense when I read your original letter, but didn’t comment because it felt like I’d get piled on for defending him. The sincerity of his reaction and apology felt like it cemented that in place for me. (Also FWIW I’m female and have experienced sexual harassment at work.) You experienced the situation, so you know best and your comfort is the most important… but that’s just my sense of the situation from what I’ve read.

  60. Less Sexy, More Librarian*

    OP here! I’m seeing a fair amount of speculation about Mac sort of groveling and going overboard with the “can I make it up to you/can you forgive me” lines. I just want to say it didn’t come across that way. From my perspective it was more along the lines of saying “God bless you” after a sneeze. Do I actually think sneezes require blessing? No. Do I say it because it’s the deeply ingrained in Sneeze Culture? Yes (also I made that up, but I didn’t know what else to call it, so Sneeze Culture it is). This didn’t come across like groveling and trying to put the emotional baggage back on me. It came across more like Mac recognizes his mistakes and is genuinely asking — once — if there’s a way he can rectify them by using widely accepted Apology Culture language. I believe he’s genuinely sorry. I’m still not sure how things are going to look when the dust has fully settled, but right now it’s looking more like a case of Mac making a one time major mistake as opposed to Mac being a closet perv.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I’m glad he seems sorry and like a doofus rather than a lech!

      I also love Sneeze Culture and will treasure it forever.

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      First off, I think you did great, and the way you handled it was pitch perfect. To forgive him or not is absolutely up to you, and of course you are going to need time to process things.

      As for Mac, I think that calling him out like this has done him a HUGE favor, believe it or not. He now knows that this was a major screw-up he might not be able to repair, AND that he can’t be so careless going forward. Again, I’m reminded of the George Michael “Careless Whisper” song where a friendship can never recover from a major mistake on the part of the narrator. Sometimes this is what happens. But Mac now knows, and it’s better he find out this way than being perp-walked out the door.

    3. Ms. Murchison*

      Congratulations on handling this very well, LW. I’m very impressed both by what you chose to say when he confronted you and how you held firm to your need for space and not committing to what the fallout for your work relationship would be.

    4. Doc McCracken*

      OP- Great job being direct. Time will tell if his apology is legitimate or not. Reconciliation comes from BOTH apologizing and changing behaviors. And your sneeze culture comment made me snort out loud!

  61. Mal Voyage*

    Okay, genuine question for all the “Asking if he can make it up, and if could ever be forgiven is unacceptable” people. What would be the proper way to check in on how OP felt about if/how to move forward?

    I could see if he had asked “Am I forgiven” or “Do you forgive me” or insisted OP tell him what to do to get that forgiveness, but both of these questions were even asked in a form that allows “nothing” and “never” as answers, and the forgiveness one even allows for an indefinitely deferred answer.

    I’m really struggling what the proper alternative would be, other than for Mac to just make a bunch of assumptions about where things stand, and wait for OP to correct him if those assumptions are wrong and cause more harm.

    Is this another one of those ask/guess culture things?

    1. Czhorat*

      My opinion is that it’s an egregious enough offence that Mac should keep a professional distance for the forseeable future; he noticed OP giving him the cold shoulder. I’d think it would be best to wait until she starts acting differently. It’s possible that given time and space she’ll slowly return to something close to what was there before. Or not.

      Either way, he can await her signals.

      1. Mal Voyage*

        Are you saying he should have done this instead of apologizing, or stopped after the core of the apology and then kept his distance?

        1. Czhorat*

          The latter.

          Make a serious apology (as he did). Perhaps – PERHAPS – say he hopes to win back her trust someday. Then stop talking, give her some space and let wait for her to take the initiative.

          He saw when she was being chilly; he’ll see if she thaws.

    2. edda ed*

      I think a lot of the more strident commenters here are more than ready to just toss Mac out, and not look back. But while that’s definitely a valid and often effective strategy, it doesn’t really acknowledge the fact that the LW is not ready to just toss Mac out. It brushes aside the LW’s feelings, which, before all this, seemed to truly value Mac as a friend, or at minimum a friendly coworker.

      That Mac behaved very badly does not invalidate the fact that the LW previously held good will towards him. Offenses hurt differently (and oftentimes, worse) when they come from people we like and trust. LW is now mourning (that seems too strong a word, but I can’t think of a less intense one atm) the previously-excellent relationship she had with Mac. Sometimes you lose someone because they got hit by a bus, but sometimes you lose them because they betrayed you. It’s normal to miss the good thing you used to have.

    3. NotAManager*

      So, the way I see it is, “What can I do to make it up to you?” is about as useless as saying, “Let me know what I can do to help!” when someone is going through a difficult time. It just places pressure back on the person who’s the aggrieved party to offer solutions.

      There are exceptions! If Mac borrowed a dry-clean only jacket from LW and ruined it in his washing machine, saying, “How can I make it up to you? Can I buy you a new jacket?” would be trying to make amends in that case.

      But since Mac didn’t accidentally wreck a jacket, he (potentially) wrecked a friendship, there’s nothing he can really *do* to make amends here. The best possible apology would be to say, “I’m so sorry I said that. It was a stupid, immature thing to say and I am genuinely sorry I made you feel unsafe and uncomfortable at work.” No bugging LW about whether she forgives him or if they’re friends again. Since he was savvy enough to notice her cooling off toward him socially, he’s savvy enough to perceive if she ever feels comfortable with him again.

    4. Kiki*

      For me it’s the context. “Please let me make it up to you” is a great thing to say in some circumstances, but kinda a sketchy response after sexually harassing someone. It comes across to me like maybe Mac is still fishing for her attraction/attention…

      I think in this instance the proper thing is like, “Hey, I’m so sorry I was inappropriate, I was way out-of-line. Thank you for telling me. I promise to keep it professional from now on.”

    5. Wendy Darling*

      It sounds like according to the letter-writer this isn’t what happened, so this is 100% me unpacking why I had a prickly response to the described apology.

      I’ve had some occasions where men responded to being matter-of-factly called out on bad behavior by absolutely GROVELING in a way that made the situation all about their feelings about having wronged me, rather than about me having been wronged.

      In those cases, the “how can I make it up to you” thing is just making me responsible for managing their feelings again because they’re asking me how they can be absolved and therefore feel better. This is especially galling when the original offense was in regards to them making me responsible for their feelings (e.g. their pants-feelings, in the case of the original letter).

      All I really want when someone has wronged me is for them to say, sincerely, “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,” and then never do it again. Perhaps they could say they are sorry in such a way that it’s clear they understand what they did and why it was wrong, but other than that? No elaboration required, and tbh the never doing it again is by far the most important part.

    6. allathian*

      The LW’s posted as Less Sexy, More Librarian (great nick!). Seems like Mac didn’t grovel or attempt to push the emotional baggage back on her. He just made a statement that is very common in Apology Culture.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong in asking if there’s anything you can do to make amends for hurting someone, as long as you’re willing to take no for an answer and accept that whatever you did may have damaged the relationship badly enough that there’s no going back to what it was before, no matter what you do.

      I do think that the best thing Mac can do to move on is to keep a professional distance and leave it up to the LW to determine if and when she’s ready to resume a friendlier relationship. And to without question accept that this may never happen.

  62. Dark Macadamia*

    I’M SO PROUD OF YOU. What a great response and I’m glad so far he’s reacted appropriately!

  63. Stork in a teacup*

    No idea what everyone else has written (tipsy on way home from our work so) but I AM SO PROUD OF YOU FOR STANDING UP FOR YOURSELF!
    It has taken me 20 years and being perimenopausal to give 0 Fs of what people think and saying what I think.
    It still makes me nervous. I do it but still…
    I love this story. 100% feels

  64. MCMonkeyBean*

    This is absolutely one of my favorite updates ever! The first letter made me so sad and angry that OP was made to feel like she did something wrong. I’m so relieved that she realized she had not, and extremely impressed with how she handled that interaction!

  65. frostysnowman*

    This is my first-ever comment on AAM. I could not resist saying “Bravo!!” to the OP. That was perfection.

  66. Heather*

    On behalf of every woman everywhere who’s had a creey comment made to her, I salute you, give you a virtual fist pump, and thank you!

    Also, PANTS FEELS.

  67. Michelle Smith*

    I’m emotional today and this update letter made me tear up a bit, but in a good way. I know exactly what it’s like to nervously laugh off an inappropriate and upsetting comment and then spend the next [days, weeks, years, whatever] rehearsing in my head what I would say to the person if I had the chance to confront them and then just…not doing it. I hope you know how big of a deal it was for you to address this head on, without pulling punches, without making it about placating his hurt feelings. Just wow!!! I am so, so impressed by how you handled this situation and I wish you continued peace at work as you continue navigating the work relationship with this person going forward.

  68. Throwaway Account*

    I wish there was an AAM feature that let me bookmark or save specific threads to read over and over. This update and the comments would be one I re-read often for the perfection of OP’s response and to inspire me. Amazing job OP!

    And can anyone medical/sciency explain what that feeling of tingly fingers and ringing ears is, why it happens. Is it just adrenaline?

  69. Bring back the Thylacine*

    My manager at my new job has been creepy to me since I started. I have only been in the role for two weeks.

    #MeToo has taught people absolutely NOTHING.

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