Dear Captain Awkward:
I have a really great job; creatively fulfilling, changing and full of new challenges and people. I’ve been in this job for a lot of my 20’s, and devoted a lot of time and emotional energy to it.
A lot of the greatness of the job is down to my boss. So far, I’d say our relationship has been warm, informal and rather protective, but professional. However the other week (after an work event we were attending together) it became so warm and informal we drunkenly made-out.
He kissed me, not that I’m looking to assign blame, but I was definitely into it. And it was a mess, and kind of innocent, and he’s my boss, and married.
Backstory; while I don’t really identify as asexual all signs so far point to me being somewhere down that end of the ballroom. I’ve had crushes on one or two men (maybe even been in love) but have had very little romantic or sexual experience. I’m basically okay with this, as I experience attraction so rarely (and it’s my body and I’ll do what I like with it, even if that’s nothing) .
However since that night I’ve been left feeling lonely, and touch deprived. I wouldn’t truly say I have a crush, but I want his attention and affection. I feel very safe with him and if he was any of my other friends I’d be asking if he wanted to do it again and working out whether it could be a thing. As it is, we very quickly went back to normal, which is right but has left me so at odds with myself.
How the hell do I behave, now I’ve finally noticed I’ve been having this weirdly intimate working relationship? I feel like such a loser for being so affected by a drunk kiss but really my problem is that I feel like I don’t know myself at all. How can I try to be happy romantically in the future, when my sexuality is such a small, hidden thing?
Thank you, I’d really love to have the chance to think about this anonymously. As it’s pretty professionally compromising I feel I can’t talk about it to my usual Team Me!
Dear #610 (for lack of a better sobriequet):
I wish your boss would apologize to you and THEN go back to normal, like, hey, that was out of line and gross of me, I’m sorry, let’s please go back to normal. Married older dude, young employee, him initiating the kiss = he is the one who is out of line and the one with responsibility for resetting or redirecting things. He is the one who should feel weird right now and be worried about what you’ll do and say.
In the meantime, normal and professional is good. I don’t think you got profound information about this dude and how he is special. There’s something I see sometimes from folks who experience attraction rarely, where if they do, they think that it must be somehow extra meaningful. “I felt The Thing, so this must be A Thing! It is a sign!” That does not necessarily follow, so be smart and let Time and Normal do its work to disengage you from this crush.
I think you got some information about what makes you feel attracted, that does not have to be acted upon and you got some information from yourself: “Hey, #601, it’s me, your Body! We’ve got pleasure centers we’re not using. So, I dunno, maybe think about how to go about meeting someone to make out with who isn’t your boss? Someone from the Legion, Dude Division, perhaps? Or maybe we can visit the non-skeevy neighborhood sex shop and spend a little quality time together, alone? Boss is nice and he smells good, but you might want to talk to Brain about whether we get drunk around him from now on. I mean, I’m down for whatever, but I’m not the only driver of this bus. Okay, we’ll talk soon!” Listen to Body! Look into lots of ways to touch and be touched and love your body. Hug friends who are down for it. Get a massage.
You’ve got this! It’s going to be fine. Unless he keeps kissing you, in which case 1) ask him to stop and if he doesn’t 2) report his skeevy ass to HR.
Dear Captain Awkward:
So, extremely awkward situation here: my boss came on to me. AWESOME.
He’s a married guy in his forties (I’m female and 28), and I work very part-time for/with him, mostly independently; we meet once a week in a tiny office, just the two of us. Which usually ends up being half just hanging out–I’ve considered him a friend as well as a boss, and I know that he has considered himself my friend *more* than my boss. It had vaguely occurred to me that he was probably a little attracted to me, but I didn’t think of him like that AT ALL (older men=no, boss=NO) and assumed that if so, he would keep it under wraps.
Well, today, he confessed to spending a certain amount of constant energy refraining from kissing me. I was all, “…well, thank you for trying?” at which point I now see that I should have LEFT, but I didn’t, and then a few minutes later he actually went for it(!!). I turned away, said no, and he backed off, and I was all, “Let’s keep this platonic,” and he agreed, and then I left.
So…now what do I do? I don’t want to quit, although I could without major financial crisis. I still like him as a person. But I’m not 100% convinced he won’t ever try again (though I am sure he’ll take no for an answer again), and I DON’T WANT THAT. I can’t control his feelings or actions, so as best I can see, my options are, 1) quit, 2) never bring it up again and keep the office door open when we have meetings (maybe wear shapeless clothing? today I was in a short skirt) and…hope it doesn’t happen again, 3) bring it up again to reiterate that my feelings on this matter are NO. Except I don’t know what I would say exactly, when I would say it, and how often it should be repeated.
Relatedly: this is not the first OR the second time an older, male, MARRIED friend has expressed a long-term attraction to me. I hate this–I don’t think I’m doing anything to express that feelings like that are welcome! I’m not at all flirty with them, I don’t think(??). I don’t date much (quoth older, married, attracted friend: “I just don’t understand why not!”) but being perpetually single is not a “male friends welcome to try it out!” sign, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY ARE MARRIED. If you’re attracted to me, that is YOUR and YOUR MARRIAGE’S problem, not mine! There’s probably nothing I can really do to keep this from happening again, but if you have any suggestions, I welcome them.
Dear Not Interested (#611):
What some people in your shoes do is to pull way back on the casual/hanging out/friendly vibe and stick only to work topics. Boss: “You look very fetching today, I almost can’t keep from kissing you“/”Wow, that makes me very uncomfortable. So about the project…” Yes to keeping the office door open. Yes to avoiding personal topics of conversation.
You might also want to address it head-on. “Boss, I like working here, and I want to keep doing so, but I am feeling very uncomfortable after the last time we talked. I do not want to discuss or deal with any romantic advances at work. Can you promise me there won’t be a repeat of the other day? If so, I promise to put it behind us and focus on work. If not, I need to start looking for a new position and wrapping up my duties here.” Of course, he should be the one doing the work to set you at ease, but if you have to do that work, be clear and specific.
You should only have to say this once, ever. If he keeps pressing and gives you puppy dog eyes, RUN. If he acts like you are making a big deal out of nothing, RUN. Also, if you do start looking for jobs, have a trusted friend call to “check your references” and verify what he’ll say before you give his info out to future employers. Not everyone can afford to just GTFO, so if you can, enjoy that freedom.
I need your help; I’m trying hard to keep to the word limit, so I hope I don’t lose too many salient points.
I’m massively attracted to my boss, possibly in love with him. I think he feels the same way. We work brilliantly together, but our relationship is distinctly non-bossly. We flirt constantly in the office, when we go to bars people assume we’re a married couple. Half the office thinks we’re engaged in a secret romance (we’re both single, and age appropriate) and the other half thinks we’re just hilarious jokers.
There was an escalation last weekend. After work drinks led to dinner which led to a massive fight about nothing (well, my jerkbrain probably arguing because WHY DON’T YOU JUST KISS ME NOW) which led to apologies and hugs, more drinking, more physical flirting, me propositioning him, him asking me to dance, and eventually him basically running into the night sans me saying he had to be “appropriate”.
The next two days in work were awkward in the extreme, but the subsequent three featured massive flirting escalations as if last week didn’t happen.
I HAD been wondering how to tell him soberly that I fancy him and want to know if his strange behaviour is because he doesn’t feel the same way or because he DOES feel the same way but he’s my boss . . . but now unfortunately I think I need to tell him I’m resigning.
I have a job offer pending. I could have a relationship with this guy while working for him (not strictly prohibited, and there was a similar situation years ago with others that had a happy ending), but I don’t think I can continue to work for him if we have The Talk and he says he’s not interested in me.
But I also REALLY don’t want to frame this as “if you don’t date me, I’m resigning”.
So, when my offer is firm so I can make an escape if I have to, how do I tell him I’m attracted to him, I would like us to give a relationship a go, I would be willing to change jobs to facilitate it . . . but if he says no I want to leave anyway? How does it even make sense – I love you so much I’m willing to damage your business and go work for one of your rivals? Is there any way for this scenario NOT to be ugly?
I don’t want to pressure him into a feeling of – date me or you lose your right-hand-woman. Feels rapey and disrespectful. Equally though . . . I don’t think I can stay as his right-hand-woman and not act on my pants feelings.
So – help?
Not Dating My Boss Yet
Dear Not Dating (#612):
All the bosses from the other letters just read this and did a fist-pump. THERE IS HOPE, they said. NO, I say.
Would the new job pay you more? Give you a better title, an increase in visibility and autonomy? If you didn’t have feelings for your boss, would you want to take the job or is this something you are considering only out of FEELINGS?
Your boss knows you’re attracted to him. You propositioned him. He ran into the night. There was, I believe, Dirty Dancing. It’s not a secret.
If the other job is something you want, one good possible move is to take it without fanfare, give your notice WITHOUT having any talks about feelings, wind up your work in a competent and classy manner, and keep in touch professionally and personally afterward. This is the position that gives you the most financial and personal power and autonomy. If the feelings are there, and you leave on a good note, you’ll both figure it out eventually and your coworkers will be relieved when the Boss-And-#612-Sitting-In-A-Tree Comedy Hour and Variety Show goes on hiatus. Or, clear the air with a frank personal talk, pull back on flirtatious behavior at work and give him a lot of space, and keep the other job offer quiet/stall while you figure out the interpersonal shit. If you want to have a discussion, ask him to hang out away from the office and lay it out there:
“I want to apologize for my inappropriate behavior the other night. It’s not a secret that I’m into you, and I’d like us to possibly date. But I don’t want to just accident into it, and I definitely don’t want to drunkenly flail into it or make you feel uncomfortable. What do you think about that?”
He’s going to say whatever he’s going to say. If he says “No, I’m not interested” you say “Well, thank you for hearing me out, I had to ask and try to clear the air” and then get out of there as soon as you can. Go home, think about things, maybe take the new job, maybe stay at the old job, pat yourself on the back for being up front and brave, but do NOT initiate flirting with that dude again in this lifetime. If he says “I really am into you too, and I’d love that, but Work Stuff” then you have an opening to say “Well, if I left the company, would that make you feel better about going on a date with me?” or “Do you think there is any way we could work out a professional arrangement that makes us both happy, like, maybe moving me to another team?” If he says yes, or maybe, or seems otherwise positive, then I think you should go home and think about the other job offer and what it is you really want to do, because his saying “sure, if you left I’d consider it” does not constitute any kind of bargain. If you show up the following Monday and blindside him with “I QUIT, WOO, WE CAN DATE NOW” you might get a whole lot of “Yeah, so, about that….”
This is why boss-employee dating can get really gross, really fast. To be in the best negotiating position for yourself professionally, you should raise the other offer with him at work, in a work context, and discuss it like work people. “Boss, I’ve had another offer from company x. It means $y more, and a better title. If you could match that and also agree to (other thing you want) (like, working from home a certain amount or increased travel or a better computer)(NOT “YOUR SWEET LIPS ON MINE”), I’d consider staying. I have to let them know by x day.” To be in the best negotiating position for yourself personally, you need to be able to find out “do you like me that way and want to do something about it y/n” without the threat of “Or else your team will be left in tatters! MUAHAHAHAHA” pressuring the decision. What you don’t want to do is stay in a situation you are ready to leave because of vague promises, or have a romantic partner sacrificing your interests for those of the company.
139 thoughts on “#610, #611, and #612: Variations on Kissing The Boss”
#612, I must say, If I were your co-worker I would find the whole situation extremely uncomfortable. You have a relationship with your boss where there are awkward periods followed by ‘massive flirting escalations’, and nobody is quite sure if it’s a joke or you’re actually seeing each other.
I get that you think it’s all great fun, but is it fun for everyone else to have to deal with the drama? If you get assigned to a great project or you get promoted, will they think it’s because you’re great at your job, or because of the flirting/relationship? Do you think your boss’ behaviour might affect the way other co-workers see him? Flirting, awkwardness and open-but-secret romances are not what I would call professional behaviour. Done discreetly, it’s a different matter – but this doesn’t sound like that at all.
If I were you, I would seriously consider taking the other job, and giving everyone a break from your antics. You may well end up with your boss, if so, great! If not, well, you’ve removed yourself from an awkward situation that may end up damaging reputations (sadly, it’s often the woman who is judged harshly in these situations, even though the two of you are tangoing) and relationships with co-workers.
Mmmmm. This. #612, I have to tell you that if I worked in your workplace, I wouldn’t consider you “just hilarious jokers”; I’d be gritting my teeth in frustration. Yes, workplaces are, on some level, social spaces where friendships and romantic relationships can form on the side – but they’re mostly workplaces. I just don’t want to have to be party to constant flirting while I’m doing the photocopying.
The thing with work – and the thing at the heart of your question, really – is that people generally don’t get to just leave (or, not easily and without planning). That applies to you and your boss, but it applies equally to everyone else there, too. They’re obliged to be witnesses to everything that’s been going on, whether or not they’re comfortable with it. I certainly would not be.
I’m interested that you say “how do I tell him I’m attracted to him, I would like us to give a relationship a go, I would be willing to change jobs to facilitate it . . . but if he says no I want to leave anyway?” because I can’t decide whether you mean that you want to take the new job whatever happens (in which case, great, you have a plan!) or whether you’re saying you’re so tangled up in thinking about your boss that career decisions have gone out of the window. In which case… not great. But if the new job is a good fit for you that will pay you adequately and not have any major downsides, I think taking it would be a good idea. You don’t actually sound happy, where you are; and it sounds as though that pantsfeelings entanglement will be very difficult to get past (in whichever direction) if you, too, are in a place you can’t leave.
Um… while I wouldn’t do it myself I think it’s nobody’s business what two other adult people are doing, even if they are my colleagues. I have that very situation right here. As long as the two people are doing their work in a professional manner I think colleagues can either address it openly or shut up about it. It’s none of their business. And having happy flirting people around makes a workplace fun, not awkward (if the flirting isn’t addressed at someone who doesn’t want it). Just my twopence. But I know a lot of people here are seeing it differently. Which I find sad.
I told this story upthread, but sometimes constant flirting is annoying and distracting and NOT fun. I had two crew members fall in love when we were shooting a film. My film. If I walked up to talk to them, about, hey, the work, it always felt like I was interrupting them. I would talk to one, and feel the other just out of view in my blind spot making googly eyes at the other while we talked. They communicated in pet names. They were completely distracted. They wrote notes to each other on the slate. 16 hours a day, we were all just extras in their perfect love story. Sometimes it is an issue, and the newly in love people can be completely oblivious to how they are coming across or to anything but each other.
Yep. I work in a male-dominated field and a situation like the last writer would make me SUPER uncomfortable. I would be wondering if that would lead other male coworkers to expect ME to flirt/ be open to advances, I would be worried about how my boss would handle promotions, and I would worry about men in the office taking all the women less seriously as a result. If you want to date your boss #1) keep it out of the office and #2) find a role where he isn’t your boss.
I have a co-worker who is dating anothe co-worker who used to be her boss. Here is how it went down – no one had a freaking clue, she move out of his department ASAP, and now we know but they never, ever flirt at work even though he is no longer her boss/they work in very different areas. And it isn’t easy- she recently had to change roles again so that he could accept a promotion without ending up in a position where he was her boss/higher-up.
“I would be wondering if that would lead other male coworkers to expect ME to flirt/ be open to advances, I would be worried about how my boss would handle promotions, and I would worry about men in the office taking all the women less seriously as a result”
omgosh, yes. At one workplace, there was an admin who flirted with all the men and blatantly favored them over the women. The men ate. it. up. Some flirted back. I was a senior employee, so I wouldn’t be competing with her for promotions, but the part where a woman flirting opens the door to expectations of other women flirting applied. I believe she thought she was being the Cool Admin: “Yeah, I’m down with flirting, I can give as good as I get, and I’m everyone’s favorite!” I guess when you don’t have a lot of power you have to ingratiate yourself however you can, but I used to sit there longing for a crossbow to take her out (why a crossbow? I don’t know.). Once it’s established that flirting in the workplace is OK, it just makes it harder for those women who don’t flirt.
As is usually the case with women who try to be the Cool _________, the men didn’t actually take her seriously and talked shit about her appearance when she couldn’t hear. Don’t be the Cool __________. It doesn’t work.
Yeah, disagree. If two people are having a relationship while being totally professional at work and leaving that stuff at home? Sure, fine (though when it’s a boss and subordinate that gets really, really tricky, and is likely to make other subordinates uncomfortable and/or resentful).
But constant flirting followed by days of awkwardness followed by massive escalation of flirting again? So much flirting that co-workers think you’re engaging in a secret relationship? That doesn’t sound like two people doing their work in a professional manner. That sounds like two people playing out some drama in the middle of the workplace. Having “happy flirting people” around isn’t always fun for colleagues who are being distracted by the flirting, or who wonder if that’s what you have to do to become the boss’ “right hand woman.”
I agree that it’s none of other people’s business – that’s why I don’t want to have to watch! But it’s really hard for other colleagues to address uncomfortable office flirting openly when one of the people doing the flirting is the LW’s (and, by extension, probably also their own) boss. That leaves the ‘shut up about it’ option; but given that a) people are often rubbish at outright telling people their behaviour is causing a problem for them, and b) the possible boss-employee dynamics involved, I’m not confident that the fact that presumably no-one has said anything about it automatically means they’re all OK with it.
I can only speak for myself, really. Maybe for you, watching people flirt is fun; for me, it isn’t – or, at any rate, not once it drifts past certain boundaries. Some people’s flirting is a gentle, low-level thing which isn’t too bad, but the ‘massive flirting escalations’ of the ‘hilarious jokers’ don’t sound like that, really. I don’t mind that in a social setting – my tolerance will be higher there to begin with, and if the flirters are grating on my nerves I can go talk to someone else, or go get a hot chocolate, or read a book, or just plain leave (politely), if I’m really not enjoying myself. People doing fun social stuff get to do the fun social stuff they want to do, and if that’s flirting like mad, then fair enough. But there are lots of things that are or could be fun in a social setting that I’d rather people not do next to my desk (Karaoke! Morris dancing! Bobbing for apples!); besides which, my issue in this case is not that they’re happy people having fun (although it doesn’t really sound as though that’s entirely the case) that they happen to be having in a work setting, but that their fun has the potential to make other people actively uncomfortable. And while we can’t go though life *never* doing anything that could possibly make other people uncomfortable, I do think it’s worth avoiding where possible. This is a ‘where possible’, for me.
Why do you find it sad? Your experience has obviously been different, but people aren’t choosing to find it uncomfortable/annoying to be killjoys. I have been in situations where it’s been fine, and in situations where it’s really not fine. Casual workplaces with joking around can be a lot of fun, but when it’s two people doing it enough to be distracting, it stops being fun. Of course everyone’s line of where ‘fun’ becomes ‘awkward and annoying’ will be different, but that’s part of the problem, *especially* when one of the participants is the boss. When one is in a position of authority it makes it really hard to address it if it *is* crossing the line, I think.
Cosigned. I pictured Pam and Jim, except that Jim had Michael’s job. I would be Stanley, rolling my eyes. Or maybe Angela, keeping score in Pam Pong. Just… boss/subordinate relationships are frowned upon for good reasons.
My experience has been that workplace romance causes a lot of damage to a firm. I used to work for an agency where the executive director was sleeping with the CFO. Not cool, especially because ED was married. Everyone knew they couldn’t cross the CFO in any way, so she threw her weight around. Everyone knew that ED was being cruel to his wife when he invited CFO to the company Christmas party that was held at ED’s HOUSE, where his wife threw a scene in the kitchen in front of everyone. I had little respect for ED after that.
Also, these kind of shenanigans can point to a larger attitude about how women are going to be treated in that particular workplace. When a female employee filed a complaint against her supervisor for sexual harassment, a complaint that was backed up by multiple witnesses, ED was slow to act, then gave supervisor the choice to resign, along with a glowing review that allowed him to get a management position at another agency, where I saw him working several years after the event. Employee was frozen out until she found another job and left.
“Also, these kind of shenanigans can point to a larger attitude about how women are going to be treated in that particular workplace. ”
yepyepyep. I told my story above, and yes. Once it’s ok to flirt with co-workers, especially junior coworkers, it just opens doors to inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.
Can you say ‘inappropriate power differentials?’I knew you could.
And the third boss is trying to not be That Guy, which I applaud.
#611: Older men are still men.
#610: Married men are unavailable.
#612: Men who run into the night when you proposition them are not the men for you.
I admit, I find this comment confusing, at least the 611 one. It sounds like a ‘boys will be boys’ kind of brush-off comment, like you mean to say that the boss in question is only acting ‘naturally’ towards LW’s iresistable femaleness, which is bullshit and not particularly helpful. Did you mean it differently? I would like to understand what you mean, if you don’t mind making it clear 🙂
Yeah, no, I didn’t mean to say that the boss can’t control himself. But the fact that a man in his forties is interested in a 28-year-old is not particularly surprising, contra to the LW’s apparent belief that there’s something odd about older men hitting on her.
If I may share a quote from The Flamethrowers:
“Hmm. Let’s see. Why is an older man seeking out a younger woman? Who isn’t established the way he is? Gosh. What a mystery. Oh, for fuck’s sake once again. He’s a man. Practically middle-aged, and you’re young.”
“You’re saying he’s the type who is into younger women?”
“Sweetheart, that’s all men. All men are that type.”
Not literally true, perhaps, but a good working assumption for young women who work with older men.
Attraction is one thing. Actions, like hitting on your subordinate, are controllable and young women should NOT have to brush this off as routine.
So younger women just have to accept the fact that they’ll have to brush off advances from older men in their workplaces? Treat it like a fact of life, like commuting? Because, no. I don’t care how attracted you are to a subordinate, you need to lock that shit up and keep it professional when you’re at work.
I’ve been attracted to men (of all age ranges) I’ve worked with–and who I supervised. Oddly enough, I managed to work with them without going there. I assume that most people are at work to work. Weird, I know.
Thank you for explaining your comment. I don’t entirely agree with what you’re saying although I think I understand now what you were trying to say. I think Jennifer’s response is a good one.
Really? It’s not normal to be outraged that someone with financial power and multiple forms of privilege over a woman, who she thought was her friend, tried to engage in sexual contact with her despite his explicit promises to another human being not to do so? How about being angry that said woman has a voice in her head telling her it’s her fault because our culture, our society, is broken, is that also odd?!?
I refuse to accept “Oh men, they just do that.” To hell with that noise, grown-ass men can damn well act like it, no excuses.
> explicit promises to another human being not to do so
While I agree that it is best to proceed under this assumption until information to the contrary comes to light, this is not *necessarily* the case.
Also, you can be interested in another person and NOT be inappropriate. Which is why this situation merits a minimum of eight kinds of side eye.
(The nesting has gotten to the point where I can’t reply directly, therufs)
I totally want to say something clever about not including the poly possibility because when That Guy knows about poly he brings it up sooner rather than later even if his marriage isn’t actually poly, but in truth I think there was some wishful thinking that he wouldn’t be poly because holy hell stay away from my community 5ever :/.
I entirely agree on interest vs. inappropriate action – your tingly bits can can do whatever in your own pants, but being a functional adult means being able to keep them there rather than forcing them on someone who is subordinate to you (and I use “force” deliberately – it’s like one person being at the top of a gravity well and the other person being at the bottom of it, the situation itself means force is added to all of the first person’s actions toward the second person even if the first person doesn’t directly use force themselves).
Wow. My last couple of boyfriends who were 10-12 years younger than my mid-forties self must be freaks of nature, then.
Yikes. Yes, older hetero man seeking out a physically attractive less-powerful woman (who, given American beauty standards and career paths, would typically be younger) is incredibly common. It is also creepy and disappointing. (Why hello again, patriarchy!) Why are you doubling down on this as acceptable behavior that a young woman should accept without comment?
This is not to say that just because two people have a large age differential, a relationship cannot work. It can. However, in this case, a married much-older man in a position of professional power hit on a much younger subordinate, a gross scenario that is so common that it required *federal laws* to be passed to protect subordinates. Surely you’ve watched Mad Men as a fictional example of what the office workplace was like prior to these laws.
Perhaps the comment is to point out that age has nothing to do with inappropriate behavior? I did find the LW’s emphasis on how it’s always Older Men to be a little odd. Like, would it be more appropriate if the boss were her age?
But young women get creeped on by older, mareied men in positions of power all the time. It’s not “a little odd” it’s the g.d. status quo.
OK that makes sense. I was looking at it from the perspective that any boss of any age hitting on an employee is creepy and inappropriate, but I can see your point.
My point is that there’s nothing inherently wrong or shocking about a man in his forties being interested in a 28-year-old. There are plenty of successful relationships with that kind of age difference. The problem here is that the older man is married & the boss.
A lot of older men are really deliberate about age in a way that plays up a lot of uneven power differentials–it’s about finding a female partner who’s less experienced, less self-confident, and more attractive and sexually available, often at the expense of a wife they abandon when she loses those qualities and becomes less focused just on pleasing her husband. So a lot of the time it deliberately is, “I want to find a partner whose needs and desires matter less than mine, who is better at meeting my needs than the person I previously promised to be with forever.”
**STANDING OVATION FOR BOOK OF JUBILATION*** that is all. Exactly right, and I for one am sick of bullshit evo-psych arguments that attempt to make that kind of treacherous and slimy behavior ok. “But…but men and evolution and fertility and blahblahcheatercakes”.
Yes, So much this.
My first jobs were in sales.
Middle-aged men who had worked their way into higher-level positions treated picking a young mistress and/or second wife from the women in entry-level positions as a perk of the job.
They were not subtle about using their status and position to come on to overworked, insecure young women who didn’t know their value outside of the pressure cooker because they had little life experience and no time to date.
I didn’t realize my boss was using ‘mentoring sessions’ with me as a dates until an female supervisor realized I was serious about wanting professional development and clued me in on how things went with his other mentorees (less talk about problems at home, more talk about how to land bigger clients).
I went home, sobbed for hours because I had better numbers than most of the men he was mentoring, and started keeping things strictly professional with my boss. He replaced me as his only female protegee within weeks.
Yes to this!!!!
My first reply got eaten. TLDR:
I was hurt professionally in a job I was great at by not realizing that my boss’s ‘mentoring’ of me should have included less talk of his marital problems and more talk of how to land larger clients.
It’s not just about the older men being being sleazy. it’s about women’s salaries and career advancement being derailed.
I agree with this totally. I don’t think that the LW pointing out it’s older men is weird at all; after all, it’s her experience and clearly it *has* been a specific age range who is doing it, not married men of all ages. I don’t think it says a thing about anyone’s opinion about consensual-by-all-parties relationships where there’s an age difference.
I agree, I don’t know what you are staying about #611 I read this as saying that an age range boundary is inappropriate for #611 writer to have, which is kinda gross, particularly given the amount of power we give older men in this society.
It’s okay for the 611 LW to not be interested in older men, but she should be aware they may be interested in her. The problem here, like Baytree said, is that the person is the boss and married, not his age.
>>she should be aware they may be interested in her
Man, I live for the day when young women do not have to “be aware” that older men are likely to be sexually interested in them and factor that into their day-to-day and professional decision-making. Imagine not having spent your teen years mentally figuring out what to do with films like American Beauty (the untold story of a middle-aged man who fancies his daughter’s friend!) or respectable middle-aged male journalists in family publications writing about how attractive teenage girls are or yet another Booker prize-winner charting the passage of time through the metaphor of a middle-aged man finding a younger woman attractive.
Let’s just think about how much time young men spend thinking about whether or not their older female co-workers are attracted to them and what they should do about. *______* and we’re done.
I don’t know if you’re motivated by concern about age discrimination or what, but like, five comments making sure that we’re all TOTALLY AWARE that OLDER MEN FANCY YOUNGER WOMEN AND THIS IS PERFECTLY NORMAL is really not coming across as centring the concerns of the less powerful person in this situation.
I read these comments alot, though I’ve never posted. This post hit the ‘Right!’ nail so hard on the head that I’m seeing stars. I feel like I should comment more, but all else I can say is ‘This should be taught in schools, forever!’
I’m not really sure why you’re so insistent that the boss’ age is irrelevant. But if it helps you out: I’m sure the LW is VERY AWARE of the fact that older men may be interested in her. In fact, she explicitly said that in her letter. And even if she hadn’t: women, generally, are pretty damn aware that men are capable of being attracted to women who are much, much younger than them, because society and popular culture pretty much celebrates that fact on a daily basis.
In this case, the dude’s age is every bit as relevant as the fact that he is married and her boss, because *those are all reasons that the LW is not interested.* They are also all things that contribute to this being an uncomfortable situation for the LW. Age differences can create power differentials. A boss hitting on a part-time employee can take on a whole other tone when the boss is 15-20 years older than the subordinate vs. when the boss is the same age as the employee.
I have worked with people who were supervising me but who were my age; we also hung out as friends and it wouldn’t have creeped me out if one of them expressed interest in me (though if I was interested back and we decided to date, I probably would have wanted to avoid being supervised by them). I have also worked with people who were supervising me who were 20 years older than me, and I would have been HELLA creeped out if one of them hit on me.
The problem/confusion isn’t that men past a certain age are capable of being attracted to younger women. The problem the LW has is those men acting on that attraction, with her, when she doesn’t want them to.
I’m not clear on why the LW’s reasons for being uninterested would relevant. The important part is that *the LW is uninterested,” right?
Well, if that’s so, then why are so many people picking them apart? He’s older and married and her boss, so, NOT INTERESTED.
#612 – it sounds like this potential other position is something coming up soon, so I would advise waiting on the emotional talk until after you know for certain. Then you can approach the discussion of how you feel from a position of security, instead of ‘what if I took another job…’ ‘What if he thinks I’m leaving because of him…’ It’s much better to avoid that altogether, I think, because however well you handle it, new job and new boyfriend aren’t exactly topics that work on harmony.
Plus, #612, if you did get this other job, it will give you a lead in to social occasion (as friends or more) with your boss where you can start to re-establish boundaries. ‘Come have a drink with me to celebrate, friend/sexpot’, yknow, depending on how you feel like you want to proceed with that side of things. But yeah, basically, keep the two things seperate if you can until you know about the job for certain.
#610, I have two possible techniques for handing the touch-depraved part of things. The first is to go out and get a massage. I personally like the day spa kind, where the masseuse uses the nice-smelling body buddy and spends an hour basically stroking my back and shoulders. But I also have a pretty tense back, so the most pokey-prody type is also good. It’s hands on and there’s a lot of sensation, and I find it addresses a lot of those “I want to feel touched and feel good!” without being intimate or sexual. Also there are some clear boundaries, which I appreciate.
The second one I have been doing a lot lately – get a hot water battle and a firm pillow. Tuck the water bottle inside the pillow case with the firm pillow. Lay down on your side, cuddling the warm firm pillow, and chill out for a while (nap or sleep or watch a movie) and get some snuggle time. I like the pillow a lot better than the last person I shared a bed with, it’s less of a jerk and doesn’t snore :p
Another good approach to deal with touch-deprivation is pedicures, or mani-pedis. Especially if you’re not comfortable with the whole “being disrobed around a stranger” thing. They’re also usually more affordable than massages.
I hear Thai massage is normally done clothed, for those of you for whom the disrobing part makes you turn away. I bet there are other styles or at least businesses where this is an option.
My massage therapist friends (long-distance, both of them, woe is me) say basically to disrobe to your comfort level when you’re getting a massage. So if you want to wear a bathing suit/your undies, that is totally acceptable. I think it usually means the massage therapist won’t touch the clothed area, so if you wear a onesie you may want to discuss with your therapist what you are looking for.
All that said, yes, it is a great way to sate the need for touch. I’m living with people I’m uncomfortable with and my partner is a few thousand miles away for a few months yet, and massages help a lot when I can manage them.
Yes, in my experience, most massage therapists don’t say anything about how much clothing you’re wearing. I normally keep my underpants on, but not my bra, because I have a lot of tension in my back and shoulders and a massage that didn’t deal with that wouldn’t be worth it to me, but also don’t think anyone who is not a relevant medical professional or person I am engaging in sexyfuntimes with needs to be around my uncovered bits (barring brief, at-a-distance in the locker room, I am *so* over going into contortions so no one ever sees me naked). Another thing to remember is that, at least at every place I have been to, the massage therapist leaves you alone to disrobe and get under the blankets on the table, knocks and verbally asks if you are ready, and keeps everything that they are not currently working on covered. You can generally also specifically request a male or female therapist if you would be more comfortable with one gender over the other.
That depends a lot where you go. Most places I’ve tried getting mani-pedis I end up being handled roughly and jabbed at with pointy things in the cuticles without even the courtesy to warn me first 😦 I hear from people who have better experiences, so I know good places are out there, but maybe ask some friends for a recommendation?
I’ve had this experience as well, I have very delicate feet and the stylist usually ends up cutting me trying to do their normal routine. But, mani-pedi places in my area offer foot/hand massage as part of the mani-pedi or separately– go for the massage instead of the Horrifying Cuticle Torture instead.
Another option if you’re uncomfortable being unclothed for a full massage is reflexology, which focuses on just the feet or sometimes hands + feet and/or feet + lower legs. You don’t have to get undressed and a foot massage is soooooo good (at least for me, I love foot massages).
Touch-deprived: Another option is social dancing. Dancing has both touching and being touched. Dance communities vary, dance styles vary, so your mileage will vary, but social dancing is often just that: social – you don’t need a partner to go, and people are not there to find a romantic partner.
What randomwaltz said about social dancing. I find salsa and bachata to be good ones to be going on with. Or Jive if you want something a bit more athletic. Especially if the teacher is mindful, contact is at waist or shoulder, and is limited to guiding/completing the moves. I do tell people that when you do a good bachata, it’s life lived in a song, from the initial meet, to flirting and then departure. It’s grand. Good luck touch-deprived!
I’d say pick the dance depending on what music you like more. There are so many different couple dances. I left the salsa/bachata scene for all kinds of swing dancing because I prefer swing jazz/blues and also that community just suits me better with less alcohol involved(that is probably different in different places though). Lindy hop has the same contact points as salsa, balboa is closer, where your chest touches the other persons. Blues is also just a dance and not something people do to find a romantic partner and for it to work there is a lot of boundary respecting going on because that dance gets pretty intimate and it is absolutely awesome most of the time. And if you don’t like swing music or salsa music but more pop ballads you can always go for west coast swing.
I agree with what canomia said (with the caveat that there seems to always be at least one boundary pushing creep at blues dances). I’d also like to add Argentine tango to the list of dances to social dance. Same connection points as balboa.
If partner dancing sounds like fun, try a few different dances and see what you like and what music you just can’t resist moving to. At least where I’m located dance studios usually have a day before classes start, when you can try the dances they offer for free.
There’s also contra dancing, which is somewhat similar to the English dancing you’ll see in Jane Austen-period BBC films. It’s an option for folks who want some “good touch”, but not lots of body contact. It’s also *very* easy to learn the steps: I have a really difficult time stringing together steps in my head, and I’m able to contra just fine.
Another suggestion: martial arts! Done while clothed, generally no danger of the kind of inappropriate you get with partnered dancing. Possibly also useful in the future (though martial arts and self-defence are not automatic synonyms).
It’s not for everyone, given constraints of health and temperament, but it’s a possible solution.
I like that second one – I may have to try that out. I’ve tried massages (and dance class, as others suggested), but I really dislike strangers touching me, so both of those make me MORE tense.
I also like visiting friends who have pets that I can cuddle. I mean, I like visiting my friends, too, of course.
#610, if you are interested in activities that are flirty* and touchy but low-commitment, you might look into contra dancing! (Or other folk dancing if you’re not in the US; I hear ceilidh is also good for this, as are squares.)
* people will probably assume you’ll want to dance the role that pairs you mostly with members of the opposite sex, but if your preference is otherwise you can just learn the other role (slight insistence may be in order but folks will probably be polite)
LW #611, why do you think he might try it again? Because if you know he’s That Kind of Dude, I think that quitting is far and away your best option. You shouldn’t be in the position of having to worry ‘is Boss going to try and kiss me’ after you made it clear you weren’t interested, and if he does try again – you having said no – he will be absolutely cementing his place in the halls of creepitude.
But then you’d have to stick around and find out. Bleah.
I have a generality for all 3 LWs: In your situation (younger women, older boss, especially married), the one who gets screwed in the end is ALWAYS the younger woman. Short of a really egregious situation where you may after 15 years in court manage to sue the bastards (and it doesn’t really sound like that except perhaps for #611), what will happen is that you’ll lose your job, and likely in really awkward circumstances that’ll mess up your professional reputation for some time. It may not happen right away, but it’ll happen eventually. So please, please don’t do it!
My little sister lost her really wonderful job that way, and oddly it was because the boss was at heart a decent type, and he confessed to his wife, there was an interlude where he moved in with my sister, but in the end the condition of his reconciliation with the wife was that my sister had to leave work. She’s never been really happy at work since. And while that’s an example close to my heart, it’s been the case every single time this boss type of situation has arisen, that I’ve ever heard of.
Lest you think I’m just a prude, I’ve spent something like a quarter century with various coworkers myself :-), and known many more incestuous work couples (because if you spend all your time at work you’ll first break up with whoever you’re with, and then take up with someone there..). But the key point is -coworkers-, not bosses. There is plenty of awkwardness possible with a mere coworker (I’ve been lucky enough that mine have been from other divisions, and one of us at least about to quit, but consider the statistical odds of any relationship working out..), but there is too much power differential with a boss for it to be able to come to anything healthy.
For #160, I’d encourage you to explore touch and maybe even relationships. It sounds like your formerly asexual body is trying to speak to you :-), and the CA’s advice is as usual spot-on. For #161, I’m afraid you may be veering more into a harassment situation, and you need to be very firm about stopping it entirely. Wear ostentatiously baggy jeans on meeting days, leave the door wide open at all times, cut out personal chat, and can you invite someone else to the meeting on any pretext? #162 seems like the one who may have the best shot at an actual relationship, but I agree with RedCat that things are not well on the work front. If I were you, if the other job was at least comparable, I’d skidaddle over there immediately, and leave any negotiations about personal stuff with the boss for -after- you’re safely out of this.
“Wear ostentatiously baggy jeans on meeting days …”
Leaving aside the question of whether LW #611 should plan her wardrobe around encounters with her boss, does that strategy even work? This isn’t a rhetorical question — does dressing less sexy cool the person’s interest or signal she’s not interested to somebody like that?
This doesn’t work. “What a fetching sack you’ve enveloped yourself in. Is it new?”
Yeah, there’s too much victim-blamed rhetoric behind women changing their wardrobes to be less ‘sexually inviting’ – don’t let him have that power
THIS. I’ve dealt with married guys hitting on me when I was not wearing anything particularly sexy. Also, in my work situation, I have to wear skirts or suits or slacks. Baggy stuff won’t go over well. Instead of pulling on a gunnysack, how about these dudes just keep things professional?
If someone is interested in you, they will be interested in you regardless of what you’re wearing. Planning your wardrobe around someone who is being creepy at you will not work. Creeps will be creeps, after all.
While I totally, 100% agree that dressing in baggy clothes will not protect you from all creepy men and is not something that any woman should have to do to protect herself from creepy men — in my experience, yes, this can help. Not with all guys by any means, but with some.
I’ve been in workplace situations (mostly when I was younger) when a much older dude would make creepy comments about how good I looked, etc. With some of those dudes, I learned that if I wore baggy pants instead of tight ones, or a longer skirt instead of a short one, they wouldn’t make comments.
Again, that DEFINITELY won’t work for all creepy workplace dudes, and DEFINITELY isn’t something anyone should feel like they have to do. But for me, being in situations where I didn’t really want to/couldn’t quit my job to get away from a creepy dude and didn’t feel comfortable calling him out directly, altering how I dressed was a defense mechanism that gave me a bit of relief.
I’ve been offered money for sex while in jeans and a hoody. Admittedly, it was more harassment/an attempt at intimidation (group of boys thought they were being funny) than actual flirting, but hey. Overall experience for me – it lessens it day-to-day, but if you dress like a ‘normal’ (blarrrgh) woman once in a while, on that day you get hyper-attention from everyone (men and women – and not even creeps – just people shocked you can look attractive. Which is, in itself, weird.).
Ugh to literally all of those people.
My favourite story of this would be the time I was dressed in a short skirt, fishnets, and a thoroughly ripped t-shirt, with heavy makeup and gelled hair. I was approached by a very nice young man who complimented my boots and asked me which was my favourite album by the band playing. We had a good conversation but we got separated in the mosh pit.
The next day, while wearing a long-sleeved, collared shirt, dress pants, and ballet flats (minimal makeup, hair in a neat bun), I was sexually harassed on the bus by a guy who kept telling me he thought the “librarian look” was hot. So apparently the key to avoiding unwanted attention is *my glasses*.
Working retail my first year out of college, I was broke, so I bought what work-appropriate clothes I could even if not entirely my style. I bought a gingham dress that went to my ankles, had ties at the waist that made a bow in the back, and had a peter pan collar. I looked like a Sunday School teacher. I got hit on every damn time I wore that dress. By men of all ages. Every single time. I finally got rid of it, not because I didn’t like it (I didn’t, but I didn’t have a big wardrobe and wasn’t picky) but because I got tired of getting hit on by men who apparently had a thing for Sunday school teachers.
I also sometimes wore a short black satin skirt with black thigh-highs. The skirt had a small slit on the side, and so when I walked you could see the lace top of my stockings. Yeah, I should not have worn that to work. But I never once got hit on wearing it. Once a guy around my age, after he finished buying whatever he was buying, nervously told me he liked my skirt and then practically bolted out of the store. That was the closest to hitting on me that I got in that outfit.
That’s how, at 22, I learned for myself what I already knew in theory–that there really is no way you can dress to prevent unwanted attention.
Yeah I’m really really REALLY uncomfortable with all this “wear less sexy clothes” stuff.
It’s not going to matter. Wear whatever the hell you want.
One of the worst ogles I ever got was when I was wearing a full length trench coat from neck to feet.
Oh god, it just occurred to me that’s probably WHY. Ugh.
I’d go farther than that.
It does matter, a lot – because how we dress is definitely a reflection on us. If you wear old baggy jeans or other clothing chosen with the intention of hiding your body and dissuading men from hitting on you, what you also may be doing is making yourself look less professional, which can actively harm you.
Just a short aside because that already botheres me in the question: #161 Your short skirt is *not* responsible for your boss/friend assaulting you. Your boss/friend is responsible for that. If you feel wearing wider clothes will put you at ease, go for it, but you know, there is a thing called “self-restraint” and another thing called “respect” and plenty of people manage to show those two things vis-à-vis people they find attractive every single day. Even despite nice clothes!! Your boss/friend crossed the line because he felt he could, that’s about it.
Agreed x 1000! The times when I have been hit on by older, married co-workers have NOT been when I was wearing a short skirt, or being “too” friendly. They have been when I was alone, in a vulnerable position, or sadly, once they knew such advances made me uncomfortable. Harassers often know they are harassers.
oh my god! I am totally a grown-up and yet this is revelatory to me. “once they knew such advances made me uncomfortable” BING BING BING. Why did this not occur to me? It’s such a simple and clear explanation for being hit on continuing when you have given ALLLLL the hunched shoulders nervous laughs edgings aways.
Just re-reading this: I’m not being sarcastic. I know people can flirt persistently based on fond hope (#612 feels like this, for example). But that flirting could just be to make you uncomfortable, more like street harassment and less like affection — oh wow, explains a lot.
Yep, in one case the creepy flirting escalated after I reported him and my boss laughed in my face. Presumably someone told him because they thought it was funny, so he then felt he had permission to escalate with no consequences. He certainly can’t have still been deceiving himself that I was interested, unless “reporting sexual harassment” is some version of playing-hard-to-get of which I am unaware.
Embertine that is so, so gross. I’m so sorry you went through that. It’s so awful. 😦
Yeah some people are actually trying to make you uncomfortable. I work with a dudebro who purposely asks people questions he knows will embarrass them on a regular basis. He also calls attention on purpose to people’s differences, like if you’re black he’ll mention it regularly. If you’re gay he’ll mention it regularly, etc. He pretends like it’s just fun jokes and socializing.
THANK YOU! I was coming here to comment on this very thing. Well-said! Puts me in mind of one of my favorite skits from The Vagina Monologues (now in I Am an Emotional Creature, I believe): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdpCE3RIz9c
Your little sister’s boss does not sound decent at all.
He sounds like an asshole who ruined your sister’s career by using her as emotional blackmail to coerce his wife into ‘winning him back’.
“Alright honey, you agree to my demands, I agree to screw over this other woman who has nothing to do with the problems in our relationship.”
Yeah, if someone had to leave the job, why not make it him? I know why, but still.
Yeah, why didn’t he go look for a different job instead of getting rid of her?
Hell, there doesn’t even need to be any wrongdoing on anyone’s part–just being a pretty employee can be considered problematic and grounds for firing. And this was upheld by the courts:
It takes blame the woman into whole new territory. Ain’t no defending against that shit. and that’s even without any actual workplace harassment, which is enough of a problem by itself.
This may be a bit of a derail but I have to say that the whole case in that article is hella creepy. The article may be leaving out salient details but it makes it sound like everyone in the courtroom totally dismissed the agency of the fired assistant. The judgment treats her like an object to be possessed not an independent party to an awkward situation.
Boss assumes an affair would be easy to come by, but, just because he wants to sleep with his assistant, doesn’t mean she will fall blissfully into his arms if he hits on her.
Did she indicate she wanted to have an affair with him and try to coerce him into it? If so, that means she was harassing him so he has an harassment case against her and that’s what it should have been about.
What he, his wife, and the court are assuming is that his desire to sleep with her automatically means she will sleep with him. They assume that his desire for her trumps her choices and thoughts on the matter and his attraction to her will result in them having sex. So, to me, it sounds like he is afraid he isn’t in control of himself and that he will rape his assistant.
Well, then he needs to go find help before he starts committing heinous crimes.
It is the same attitude expressed by boss #611 who was “trying really hard not to kiss” the letter writer – as though her desire or non desire to kiss him did not matter. His needs trumped all.
And clearly this is considered acceptable in this society because no one in the article or the comments said “hey, so why did he think the assistant would sleep with him just because he wanted to sleep with her?”
Honestly, given the power dynamics of boss/younger woman, I don’t see how your sisters boss was a good guy…he had so many other options. Don’t cheat. If you do cheat, don’t do it with someone who you can (and ultimately do) fire. He could have worked to find a way to transition your sister so he wasn’t workig with her…he could have broken up with his wife first. So many things. What he actually did was have absolutely zero regard for your sisters career and future.
I think I recognise #612 – will be interesting to see if she gets the same advice over here (DNL Squad represent!). I definitely think that changing jobs is a good idea anyway, for professional reasons but also to clear the way for personal things too. If I was your co-worker I would be cringing at having to deal with that dynamic in the workplace.
There was a guy i worked with who got rather chatty with me after finding me in the office, mostly alone (there were one or two others in the building) during the Christmas holidays. He was three pay grades above me and not a direct superior but he would come and chat to me most days. I didn’t think anything of it but another colleague (also male) told me that he was concerned because the man paying me attention was A) married, and B) had a reputation with coming on to younger girls. He hadn’t said anything remotely inappropriate to me at the time so i wasn’t overly worried. Then one day i got a message on facebook. Mr Married-With-A-Reputation messaged me asking if i had ever read 50 Shades of Grey. When i said i had, (i read a lot and write stories so stupid me didn’t get the warning bells) he asked me what i did whilst i was reading all the sexy bits. I replied saying that i didn’t think that was an appropriate topic of conversation. He responded with “Oh come on! You have Christian Grey to fantasise about. Who do i have?” He didn’t like my reply of “Um….your wife?”
He won’t even look me in the eye now let alone speak to me. Win!
Best comeback *high five*
ALL the win.
Personally, I’ve never had a relationship with (or even a crush on) a colleague or boss, but I get it that you get to know people at work and if you fall in love, that shouldn’t be a no-go. Had it ever happened to me, I would have taken my leave and made that a prerequisite for starting a serious relationship.
Being married is also not necessarily a no-go. The married person has to decide what his or her marriage is worth to them and if they want to continue it and the other person only needs to decide if they want to risk it / trust the other part / want to take it on their conscience / whatever. If True Love hits, people can get divorced and start anew. Happens all the time.
And older/younger? Gosh, as long as both are adults, who cares.
Admittedly, boss plus married plus possibly much older guy is the perfect no-go cliche if you’ve ever seen one. From where I stand today I’d stop that guy short and tell him to sort out his marriage, suggest a viable working situation (either of us transferring to another department or company) and get back to me then, thxkby. But that’s me at 45, and I’ve been with a married older man (ex and as much cliche as you can think of) and I’m self-emplyoed so there isn’t much I haven’t seen yet and wouldn’t have the standing to face. In my twenties I would have been totally overwhelmed with all that for sure.
I mostly don’t care when colleagues date, but I do care (for example) when my cinematographer and my scriptie recently fell in love and they were stealing every spare second on my set to make goo goo eyes at each other and they communicated only in private jokes and “I love you more!” and they were both completely distracted while we were trying to work. I cared that if I walked up to them to have a conversation on the set of my own movie, I always felt like I was interrupting. What they do in their free/private time – more power to them! But when work becomes a venue for constant expressions of their perfect love, it’s annoying.
Age doesn’t matter as long as people are adults, to a point, but when married older men cruise younger women specifically because they are looking for someone pliable, younger than their wives, etc. it IS gross and I don’t fault the Letter Writers for having an “Ew, no” reaction.
So… even if there isn’t a power differential, work-place romances still have an element of coercion to them. Or maybe not coercion, but danger… For one, what you’re mentioning here: if things *do* work out, your colleagues get to watch that happen (ew). If things *don’t* work out, your colleagues ALSO get to watch what’s happening. And what if your work suffers? Are you willing to be forced to change jobs because a 2 month relationship crashed and burned?
I know people who have met their SOs at work, but the successful ones have never been contemporaneous co-workers in the same department. Either they started dating after one left or they were working in different departments and never actually worked together or whatever.
It’s like the danger of dating within a friend group (weird for your other friends, what happens if you break up) but throw in the added joy of “Risk to your ability to pay your rent.” It was a hard line for me.
There are always exceptions. I met my partner at work; in fact we sat in the same room (with a bunch of other people) and worked together. We moved in together but didn’t tell anyone until he broke his arm on the way to the office and I had to take him to hospital. All in-office communication was via email and we were professionals. That’s how adults behave.
If I had to deal with that situation, I think part of the talking-to I’d give them would include, “If you respect each others as professionals, please demonstrate that respect by each concentrating on your own job while here.”
Am I the only one who is massively skeeved out by phrases like “I’m trying really hard not to kiss you right now?” It just sounds so….threatening. I’d much prefer to hear “I would like to kiss you, is that ok?” or something, where, you know, the other person acknowledges that I’m also a person who might have opinions and thoughts about someone else putting their face on my face.
No, you are not.
That was not a come-on, it was a warning. If she continues to work with him, there is a very good chance he’ll take it as consent regardless of how she changes her behavior or what she says.
Yeah–I don’t see it as threatening so much as a way to try and avoid responsibility, like kissing is something you just can’t help but do sometimes, instead of an action you choose to make. You know, the ol’ “It’s not my fault, my pantsfeelings made me do it!!” excuse (which definitely CAN be threatening in a lot of situations, so, you’re right).
You are not alone. That is some next level Edward Cullen horror right there.
This was the thing that bothered me the most. For a couple of reasons:
1. What I didn’t say, for length and anonymity reasons, and what the “short skirt” thing was standing in for, was that when it happened I was showing him my new (and awesome) tattoo, which is on my lower thigh in a totally decent spot. Basically, his side of the narrative played out like that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, which made me feel like I did something wrong, even though I know I didn’t. (Did I? Okay, I know I didn’t. –But I was going, “Hey, look at my thigh!” –But that wasn’t an invitation to touch me. –But, etc. etc. etc.) Before last week, I would’ve sworn that I would never buy into that bullshit “she was asking for it” type of story, but I totally, totally did, and I was really mad at him for invoking that “I am helpless in the face of your sexiness” excuse, and ALSO for attaching this stupid situation to my personal story about my (awesome!) tattoo.
2. This is a major part of why I’m worried it might happen again. If he was constantly trying not to and then he did anyway, what makes now any different?
Anyway, if anyone is curious for an update, everything *seems* to have gone back to normal, and the actual consequences appear to be mostly in my brain. I know that, on the scale of “my boss came on to me,” this situation is pretty mild, but it really messed with my head. (He was my professor before he was my boss, incidentally–years ago now–and that only added another layer of squick to it all.) Thanks very much to CA and everyone who has been supportive in the comments!
Here’s hoping that he took the turn down at face value and will leave you alone. And there is no actual scale of “my boss came on to me.” Inappropriate is inappropriate. Even if he never mentions it again and there are no lasting consequences, it was still wrong!
LW #611, I know you know this, but you didn’t do *anything* wrong. You get to wear skirts and have legs and have awesome tattoos. You get to not know quite how to react in the moment when someone’s being massively inappropriate. All of that is OK and not a problem. He’s the problem, and the one whose actions were wrong – and I suspect he now knows that.
The thing with your #2 worry is that his narrative, up to the point where this happened, was that on some level he was telling himself the story that you were going to reciprocate. And yes, ickily, that does mean he may have been thinking about it for a while. What’s different now is that he acted, you didn’t reciprocate, and you told him you wanted to keep things platonic. His fairytale can’t play out in the same way now in his head, because where in the past it ended with you reciprocating, now it comes to a juddering halt with the recollection that you actually don’t. I think this may well help in him not doing it again. Also, if he did ever do it again, you’ll most likely be able to respond more quickly and more emphatically. That DOES NOT mean you were wrong not to be able to do that the first time – you were surprised, as you would be. But if it happened again – which I don’t think it will – you’d be forewarned so more able to react. (Maybe the Joan in Mad Men technique – just get up and open the door, and then sit back down and get on with the meeting? Says it all, really.)
I really hope #611’s boss doesn’t do anything again. I’m commenting for the first time because your letter made me really nervous for you and really just angry for you too, even though I’m so relieved to hear that so far since the last incident, he’s leaving you alone. The idea that you should have to think about quitting because of that guy’s completely inappropriate actions (and “inappropriate” sounds so inadequate here) is SO infuriating. Does your workplace have an HR department? Would they be helpful? Or could they actually be harmful? To protect yourself in case of any future repercussions, I really think you should document the dates, times, and actions of what occurred, and maybe think about consulting with a lawyer, especially if this guy might be vindictive. I am so sorry this happened, and I really wish you the best. Please make sure you protect yourself. This guy is a predator, and you did nothing to invite his predations (as Groovy Biscuit Intervention said above).
To expand on the advice “To protect yourself in case of any future repercussions, I really think you should document the dates, times, and actions of what occurred”, I would recommend dusting off your workplace’s HR / harassment policies and seeing what is required to make a formal complaint. Don’t wait until things get too bad, because it’s often quite a long process so you’ll want to have a backlog of events ready, just in case things do escalate. I was burned on this a while ago, I waited until I reached breaking point to report it, only to find I had to jump through months of hoops first.
Your workplace’s policy, and the law, are completely on your side on this one. (I AM NOT A LAWYER but it’s pretty obvious to anyone that’s had the mandatory 30 minute HR training that’s so common these days)
You are definitely not alone. It’s like, okay, good to know you have to work so hard to NOT assault someone! Gross. 😦
#610, as a person who also very rarely (almost never, but when I do, it’s all HELLO, SAILOR) experiences attraction, I just want to say I feel you. But the Captain is right that it can be very, very easy for people like us to read too much into attraction when it does happen–this is something I still have to remind myself pretty much every time. It sucks, especially when you’ve been fed a cultural diet of “love at first sight” and “finding the ONE” narratives that reinforce the idea. I don’t really have any advice to add to the Captain’s, just wanted to give you a fist-bump of solidarity.
+1. Speaking as someone who has pantsfeelings in general but rarely for a particular person, sometimes the shock of discovering that I’m attracted to someone gives me a sense of urgency, like, must act now! No idea when there will be another opportunity! It’s just my pants talking and I have to remind myself to calm the eff down, especially if I can’t/shouldn’t go after that person.
Yes, exactly! I have plenty of pantsfeelings, but they’re very selective. I’ve made my peace with it for the most part, but it can be wearying, both when I’m warm for the form of someone who’s not right for me AND when I meet someone otherwise perfect who does nothing for me physically.
I was the third person spouse had pants-feelings for. From puberty till when we met. Also the only one he ever…fully explored those pants feelings with.
If you are this kind of a- or demi-sexual. Please do not sell yourself short. You are not the weird one who should be grateful to be accommodated to.
You are the embodiment of what a lot of people want from their marriage partner.
There aren’t words enough to describe being touched by someone who is completely focused on you and enjoying the touch for it’s own sake. Not as an ego booster, not as a power play, not because they need to get laid and you are around, but because their body loves the feel of your body. Because your smell and the sound of your voice makes them feel good, and they tell you that with the way they touch your hair or a little kiss from behind on the base of your neck that nuzzles it’s way up to your ear.
When a couple has jobs and stress, chores and kids, mortgages and student loans, it’s not always easy to fit sex into the day. A partner who knows how to show that kind of love and appreciation with casual touch. Who gets and gives joy from simple caresses when you bump into each other walking down the hall. It makes all the difference.
Aw, this lovely, thank you! But don’t worry, I don’t feel weird–it just gets frustrating sometimes.
I just teared up reading this. Thank you so much for saying it.
Some days I feel like there’s something wrong with me- all my friends seem to be paired off (or in some kind of multiple) and I just- don’t. I love touch, and I love touching my friends, but pantsfeelings and exploring them leave me flailing. Plus, I’m way past puberty and people tend to assume that you’ve done something more than kiss by now.
“There aren’t words enough to describe being touched by someone who is completely focused on you and enjoying the touch for it’s own sake. Not as an ego booster, not as a power play, not because they need to get laid and you are around, but because their body loves the feel of your body. Because your smell and the sound of your voice makes them feel good, and they tell you that with the way they touch your hair or a little kiss from behind on the base of your neck that nuzzles it’s way up to your ear.”
Yes. That’s how it feels. The sheer enjoyment of touch because it’s someone you love, who loves you. I really needed to see this today.
Plus, I’m way past puberty and people tend to assume that you’ve done something more than kiss by now.
As someone who hasn’t even kissed anyone before I find that to be a relief tbh. When I was 17, 18 people would ask me if I’d had a boyfriend yet and even back then I could tell that some already found it weird when I answered no. Now I’m in my mid-twenties and everyone just assumes I’ve had relationships before and doesn’t feel compelled to ask because how could I not have been in a relationship before, right? Good for me, though.
I dated other people for the first year of our relationship. That really helped us. It allowed physical expression between us room to develop slowly in a way that was enjoyable to us both. Also because I was having sex with other partners, I wasn’t focused on missing that part of things.
After a while being with other partners was upsetting for all the ways in which they were not Spouse. Making out with him was better than sex with anyone else.
Because emotional intimacy takes time, Spouse’s best moves didn’t come into play until we had built that up, but once they did, they only continued to get better. Once or twice a month we have sex as an extension of our nightly cuddle. He doesn’t always want to climax, but enjoys the closeness and connection, and is extremely good at making it intense and pleasurable for me.
I like to compare Spouse to a Yule log, hard to light and slow to burn, but once it’s going it puts out heat for a long time.
Look for people who invest in their own lives, who make choices that don’t have immediate payoffs. Those people are more likely to see your value and treasure you.
Yeah not all men are raging horn dogs and the generalisation that we are is frustrating, to say the least.
I’m in my 30s and been in one serious, monogamous relationship. I’m cool with this. It’s not very often I meet someone who I find physically AND mentally attractive.
But I also REALLY don’t want to frame this as “if you don’t date me, I’m resigning”.
How does it even make sense – I love you so much I’m willing to damage your business and go work for one of your rivals? Is there any way for this scenario NOT to be ugly?
I don’t want to pressure him into a feeling of – date me or you lose your right-hand-woman. Feels rapey and disrespectful. Equally though . . . I don’t think I can stay as his right-hand-woman and not act on my pants feelings.
#611, I mean this in the nicest possible way, but .. I think you are overestimating your importance to your boss and your power in this situation. I can’t promise you that your boss won’t take it in this super-personal way if you choose to resign and go and work elsewhere, but if he does do that – and 9/10 bosses wouldn’t – he is being an asshole.
Employees leave. Sometimes really good employees leave, and that’s a shame and sometimes a negative thing for your business. But if you or your business literally cannot cope without that person, then you’ve managed your business really badly: you should not have got so dependent on that one person, or, if they really have a unique set of skills or knowledge, you should have been paying them much, much more or doing something else to make sure they were extremely motivated to stay with you. But 99 times out of a hundred, it is a hassle to lose a good team member and then someone else comes along with a slightly different skill set and a few months later it’s like they’ve always been there and life carries on as normal. This is even true for really fantastic, amazing, exceptional employees. After all, everyone can get sick, or have some other life emergency that means they can’t work for you any more.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with your boss romantically, but I really recommend that you detach what you want to do career/jobwise from your feelings about your boss, and make your decisions about the job in your own long-term interests, not what you perceive his to be. If you have a good job offer from a rival that fits in with your career plans and aspirations, don’t Not Take It because you are worried about how it’ll be perceived by your boss. That kind of loyalty is almost never rewarded. And there is nothing blackmaily or pressurey about you choosing to leave a job because it’s awkward working for a boss you have feelings for. It’s almost impossible for an employee to apply upwards-pressure in that way, in any decently-run organisation. Bosses can pressure employees that way because employees need to work and eat and pay the bills, but employees just don’t have that kind of power. But you can really mess things up for yourself careerwise by staying too long in a job that doesn’t have much going for it except that you feel you’d be breaking some unwritten rule or oath if you left.
Take the job if it’s good for you, and don’t take it if it’s not. Ideally, make that decision in the context of knowing that you have feelings for your boss, rather than knowing whether or not he’s going to reciprocate your feelings and you’re going to get together or not, although if it’s too late, make it anyway. But make it based on what’s good for YOU, not not on the assumption that you’re indispensable.
Aargh, sorry – #612, not #611! Apologies to both.
THIS!!!! So much agreed. The company will find other people to replace you, bosses live through employee shortages, etc. There is no reason not to do what is best for you. Company loyalty is never rewarded.
I second everything in this comment, both the “individual employees don’t make or break a good business” and especially the bit about martyrdom not being rewarded. LW has two decisions to make here, and to make the right choices she has to make them as separately as possible, and in both cases, with her own interests first. If she wants the other job for itself, then her course of action is pretty easy. She takes it, expresses her regret on leaving, and then (not necessarily in that moment, preferably some other time) sees if a relationship with soon-to-be-ex boss is an option. If it is, great! If it isn’t, then everyone can move on unembarrassed. And LW has a better job – a win for her, a commonplace minor inconvenience for her boss.
A friend of mine did end up marrying the boss of the company she had her first job with, and their early relationship was complicated further by his being the owner, because it was a small start-up – him being the person who moved could never be an option. So it can work, but you need to be able to have sensible conversations about it with one another. Massive flirting and sexy arguments are not enough to be able to base life-changing decisions on.
LW610 here again. Is it possible my previous comment is trapped in the spam filter? If so I’d appreciate being fished out!
#612, I just want to pile on with the “quit now, sexyfeelingstalk later, separated in both time and context” advice, from a slightly different perspective.
What’s the best case scenario here? That you have the sexyfeelingstalk, and your boss says, “Yes! I have had time to think about it, and I think we can be a great team in the bedroom as well as the office, and let’s try to make it work.” And you do. And there’s a “happy ending.”
LW, I have lived that particular happy ending for several years now, and it SUCKS. It sucks to never be able to take a vacation together with my partner. It sucks to never say “I love you” at the end of a phone conversation when I’m at work and he’s not, or vice versa. It sucks to navigate the constant uncertainty and gossip. It sucks to have a policy or practice disagreement at work, or to give or receive legit criticism, and have to super-carefully police both tone and body language so the personal doesn’t leak into the professional. It sucks to have a fight at home and try not to bring it to work. It sucks, sometimes, to be in each other’s back pockets ALL. THE. TIME. I love my partner like crazy and am grateful every day he’s in my life, but I am also actively looking for a DIFFERENT JOB that’s NOT SUPERVISED BY HIM, because I would just like to have a partner that I can come home to and cook dinner with and cuddle with and vent about my day to and maybe sometimes actually do some traveling with that doesn’t involve one or both of us on call and a 36-hour-limit on being more than an hour’s drive from the office.
No. The best case scenario here is that you have a fresh start in a non-awkward work environment, AND a friend/colleague/networking contact who is also a potential dating partner, and the navigating of one set of changes is not not tangled up in the navigating of the other. That is an awesome and lovely gift.
This has been me, at times, so I wanted to second it: ” There’s something I see sometimes from folks who experience attraction rarely, where if they do, they think that it must be somehow extra meaningful. “I felt The Thing, so this must be A Thing! It is a sign!” That does not necessarily follow, so be smart and let Time and Normal do its work to disengage you from this crush.”
Okay, I’m clearly messing up this commenting thing. Will try once more then give up. Sorry Mods!
LW610 here! First of all, thanks for such a kind response Captain. I really do feel better being told I’ve got this by you (and fist bump of solidarity to you to Gine!)
I didn’t mention it for length, but he absolutely DID apologise the next morning, in a way that made me more comfortable at the time and re-established professional boundaries. I was ferociously hung over and surprised at myself and him, so if I had my time again I would have asked a few more question (like ‘Why do you think that happened, apart from cheap white wine and low impulse control?’) but I can live with it.
I don’t want to downplay discussion of LW611’s situation, or the situations that other commentators have had to deal with, but I do want to say that this wasn’t a coercive thing at all. While he kissed me, on sober reflection I was giving off a lot of ‘touch me now’ signals. Like I said, surprised at myself. And this isn’t part of a pattern of flirtation, or inappropriate behaviour on his part (surprised at him!)
I appreciate the warning about reading too much into attraction and will think on your other advice (I’ve got the whole loving my body by myself thing down by the way, it’s whether I want to involve other people I’m struggling with)
I have to say, I’m pretty frustrated by ‘the Body’ at the moment. I know a few kind, weird, single men with whom I’d be delighted to discover myself attracted to in this way (and at least one who I know would be interested in me) but instead nothing….
The spam filter just eats things. I liberate those things when I can, but I had other commitments this morning and couldn’t be on top of it. All set now.
612 – It sounds like you’re planning to take the job offer no matter what, for non-boss reasons. (Which is good, because you definitely shouldn’t do it only for boss-related-reasons – making a career move for someone who hasn’t made any commitment to you wouldn’t be a great plan.)
if that’s the case, I’d suggest resigning the way you would resign if romantic type stuff hadn’t happened. Tell him you’ve loved working there, but have accepted a job offer from somewhere else, and you’re giving notice. If he brings up the romance stuff, you can be honest – “I was planning to take this job no matter what, so it had nothing to do with that, but since you bring it up, I do actually like you a lot. Once I’m not working for you anymore, would you like to go out on a date?”
If he doesn’t bring it up, you can let it be. Give it a few weeks after you’ve moved to the new job to adjust and make sure you still feel intensely when you’re not seeing him every minute of every day, and if you’re still really feeling it, maybe give him a call at that point – “Former boss, hi! I’ve realized I miss seeing you, and not really in a friends-and-coworkers way. Would you like to go out for dinner?” That way, there’s no conflation of work stuff and resignation stuff with relationship stuff anymore, so he’s free to say yes with no weirdness if he is indeed feeling it, and if he says no, well… that is a bummer, but it’s the same as any other not-feeling-it you might have, and at least you won’t have to deal with him in the office every day.
(Obviously this is all if you’re going to leave. If for you end up staying, you may need to have an honest conversation and grit out the aftermath of it. He may be into you, but really not willing to cave on the whole boss/employee thing, which is totally reasonable. In which case, the safest thing to do is probably to draw some boundaries – you don’t flirt with him, you ask him not to flirt with you, you ask him not to touch/tease/etc/whatever anymore, until you’re both feeling comfortable with a working relationship again.)
612 here (correctly identified from DNL, heh)! Guys, thank you for all the comments. I do enjoy the tough love/smack upside the head atmosphere here 😀
I just wanted to make a couple of comments/updates. First of all, it’s obvious to me (currently, anyway!) that a combination of hormones, desire, overthinking some things and underthinking others means my decision making is not solid right now. That means – make no decisions, don’t do anything likely to have repercussions. In other words, be cool.
The other thing is, in terms of bothering other employees . . . this particular office is, well, strange. A LOT of work gets done, but downtime involves playing volleyball in the middle of people’s desks, badly singing opera at people, generally being theatrical and joking around. (Even sans flirting.) It’s a very high stress job, one result of which is people cut loose a lot. I genuinely don’t think people find the flirting annoying – bizarre or confusing yes, but compared to the general chaos, certainly not annoying. It is hard to describe without writing an essay, but although the office is very productive at times it looks completely unprofessional and chaotic. The two of us playing like a couple of kids isn’t even in the top five most disruptive things you’d see in a day.
Regarding the obvious boss/employee problem . . . there’s actually a precedent in the company, almost identical situation a number of years ago, which had a completely happy ending for all involved. It’s in corporate lore as this awesome story of true love blah blah blah.
Some pitfalls/problems people suggested don’t apply, but it would take an unfair amount of screen space to explain why; certainly though useful to highlight them so I can think about them.
What ARE very valid concerns are am I happy, and am I making career decisions based on this one non-relationship. The first point – yes, I am happy in this job. There are things that frustrate me but they aren’t related to the personal things. The second one is trickier. Right now I think it’s impossible to make personal and career decisions completely separate.
Also relevant – my family/home life is chaotic at best. Work (and this guy) are, absurd as it sounds, two of the most clear and stress-free things in my life. “Ordinary” and “sensible” are, for better or for worse, not things I have experience or interest in. Things also took a funny “huh, no-one could have predicted that” turn and (currently, anyway) my feeling is to calm the hell down, don’t do anything I could regret, but move forward on a friendship basis at least and see what happens. I sound cryptic and probably absurd, if and when I write my memoirs unedited I think it would make sense though 😛
Auuugh, I’m glad these letters were published. I’m dealing with a weird situation at my work right now. My (temporary, thank goodness) supervisor hasn’t actually hit on me, but he has told me all about how his wife doesn’t like him, made jokes about me bruising his ego by passing up a conversational opening to hit on him, and let me know that if he did sexually harass me and I reported it the result would be that we would both get laid off. He also told me a story about his divorced neighbor dating and shared his opinions about how it’s totally not ok to get divorced and fuck someone else — probably to hear my opinions on the subject which, oops, I disagreed with him, just because I don’t think people should have to stay married forever if they don’t want to.
My strategy in dealing with it has been to ignore/deflect/change the subject, basically not rise to the bait in any way. Except on that last one where I screwed up. Fortunately it seems to be working; the frequency with which he says stuff that oogs me out has lessened a lot.
It’s so frustrating because it’s not like he comes out and hits on me — he just leaves me wondering alternately (1) when he will hit on me and (2) if I’m just being paranoid because maybe he just has no filter? maybe I am just being an UNFAIR ASSUMER who imagined the whole thing….
The other frustrating thing is he’s kind of cute and we get along and if he weren’t married and my supervisor I’d totally date him! Which makes me feel a little guilty even though I haven’t done a damn thing inappropriate, and WOULDN’T because it could honestly end my career, at least in the area where I live. And also, ew, creepy power differential can we say FUCK NO.
Fucking creeper married men, I swear, why do they have to do that? GAH.
>>) if I’m just being paranoid because maybe he just has no filter? maybe I am just being an UNFAIR ASSUMER who imagined the whole thing….
Ew, no, telling you about his marriage and complaining that you didn’t hit on him is 100% creepy and weird.
“let me know that if he did sexually harass me and I reported it the result would be that we would both get laid off”
That’s basically a threat–even if he was laughing when he said it, even if he’s “just joking”, whatever. That is a “I can do what I like and if you have a problem with it and try to do anything, you’ll lose your job” statement.
This man deserves no slack or goodwill. You’re not paranoid at all–your inner sirens are going off for a very good reason. He’s pushing at your boundaries so that when he does do something that’s clearly over the line, it’ll feel like it’s just an incrementally bigger thing than things you’ve “been fine with before…”. So then you’ll feel like maybe you’re overreacting, and you won’t respond the way you would have if he’d just leapt straight over the line.
(Also, “I have no filter!” is not an acceptable excuse. He’s an grown-ass man in a professional environment. He can develop a filter.)
“[He] let me know that if he did sexually harass me and I reported it the result would be that we would both get laid off.”
As Vaughns said, this is definitely the kind of thing that should set off red flags, because that totally sounds like a threat. Can you look into sexual harassment policies at your workplace and verify if there is any truth to this comment? Is there someone from HR or upper-management whom you trust that you could ask about this? It may not state outright in the rules that both people in a harassment case will get fired, but rather an unspoken one, which would suck. Would it be possible to inquire about what’s happened with past cases of sexual harassment? Because a workplace where you can get fired for being a victim of sexual harassment does not sound like a comfortable/safe environment for most people. (But your mileage may vary on that.)
also, for #611, i think it’s worth saying that this guy shouldn’t have any influence over how you present yourself at work. he didn’t come on to you because you were wearing a skirt, and he probably would’ve come on to you just the same if you were wearing shapeless clothing…just wanted to say cause this guy is fully in control of his actions all the time, your skirt didn’t make him a skeeze, and you shouldn’t have to worry about what dudes will think of what you’re wearing, cause it’s none of their beeswax! sorry if this has already been said.
Do what you need to do to feel safe/comfortable, but please don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s your fault for “leading him on” or “dressing like you want it” or something along those lines.
It’s 100% not your fault. HE is the one who crossed inappropriate boundaries.
I blame the Patriarchy. Suggest you do the same, and not blame yourself
*jedi hugs and soft feathers if you like birds*
Woops meant #611 there. But it applies generally, really.
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