#657: Asshole-to-English Translator: “You just like leading guys on” = “I am a creepy asshole who doesn’t think you are allowed to say ‘no.'”

Hello Captain!

Something has been bothering me for a long time – I have been accused of “leading guys on.” When this happened in college and grad school, I shrugged it off because the guys who would accuse me of this were always ones that took any female attention as romantic interest in them or they had a crush on me, but I had told them, usually several times, that I was not interested in them romantically, only as friends.

I am a friendly, smiley person who is easy to talk to/confide in (which is good since I am a healthcare provider now), so I am guessing that helps lend to their idea that I am romantically interested in them. But if they paid attention, they would see that I am like that with everyone! However, I do make a point of not flirting at all, not touching them in any way, and only meeting with them in groups to avoid any accidental messages going through to guys that I suspect have interest in me. 

But I feel like it keeps happening! And it is really starting to make me angry because I am trying to make professional connections (and hopefully friends!) and I am so tired of guys coming onto me out of nowhere or when it is clearly inappropriate.

For example, I went to a business lunch with two professionals. The second person never showed up, so we had some drinks and chatted. We talked about our relationships a bit (me = my boyfriend is awesome, him = having a child completely changed his life and marriage). We went back to his office to talk more (business, I thought), when he said, “if I was younger, I would have thought that you coming back to my office meant you wanted to sleep with me.” I was shocked. I wrapped up the conversation and ran.

Something similar happened with another healthcare provider. We were exchanging treatments, and because he was so easy to talk to, I ended up confiding much more in him than I usually would with someone. He ended up confiding his marriage problems to me and a few sessions later, he stated that he “could not be alone with me” because he was “afraid something he would regret would happen.” I assured him that I would never cheat on my boyfriend, so he had nothing to worry about from me, but I respected his wish to stop our exchanges. I was upset about this for a few weeks because I thought I had finally found a new friend to talk about our practices and daydreamed about double dates with him and his wife.

There is a third guy with the same basic thing of us hanging out, him coming onto me when I thought we were just friends, me having to leave ASAP, and then never talking to him again AND actively avoiding seeing him (which means I have to skip professional events I would like to attend but not enough to risk seeing him).

Both times, these guys were married AND we had talked about my wonderful boyfriend. I know they are unhappy with their marriages, but I am clearly happy with my relationship, and even if I wasn’t, I would never cheat and I really resent the implied accusation that I would do so. With the unmarried third guy, the same still stands because he knew about my boyfriend.

My boyfriend only knows about what happened with the third guy because I was so distraught over it (it was actually the first event). He said that I am too nice and naive. I know I can be pretty oblivious when reading signals that are related to me (it’s so much easier to observe what’s happening with other people!), but I am actively doing everything I can think of to avoid sending misleading signals and avoiding “compromising” situations.

What am I doing wrong? I can’t possibly be leading every guy on, can I?

Thank you for reading (and thank you for all of your previous posts!),
Not Leading Them On (On Purpose Anyway)

Dear Not Leading Them:

“You just like to lead guys on” is something pushy assholes say when their boners of wishful thinking meet the fact that you are an actual person who is separate from them, a person with choices and boundaries. They want to transfer their embarrassment and disappointment at being rejected to you and make you think that everything is your fault somehow.

That’s it. That’s what it means. If someone says that to you (or anyone reading this), I want you to stop and think, “What is this person trying to get from me? Why is this person trying to manipulate me?” and tread very carefully, like, check where you are for exits, get out of the same room as them as quickly as possible, and start psyching yourself up to possibly have to make a scene. Get in touch with your anger, let the Dark Side of the Force fill you. I am not saying anything bad will happen, necessarily, or that you should be afraid of all men. But this phrase and the concept of women leading men on (by ignoring and/or rejecting them? How? What?) is SUCH a Shibboleth for me for identifying a sexist and manipulative person that you don’t want in your life.

You have a “series of pushy assholes” problem and not a “anything you are doing wrong” problem. You are friendly, and young, and probably very likely nice to look at, and above all female, and they are choosing to take that to mean something that it does not.

Your “wonderful, awesome” boyfriend is being a douche about this also, by making it a “you are too nice and naive” problem rather than a “gross dudes be creepin'” problem. It is not your fault, and by implying that it is, he is tacitly endorsing how these men see and treat you.

It sucks, I am so sorry. Next time someone says “If I was younger, I would have thought that you coming back to my office meant you wanted to sleep with me,” you are cleared to say “Ew. Why would you think that, and why would you say that out loud?” And next time your boyfriend says the thing about being naive, say “Wow, that is insulting, and not helpful at all.”

See also: “That’s inappropriate.” “Your wishful thinking does not make it so.” “I have no interest in that.” “That makes me very uncomfortable.”

You are not responsible for these dudes or their feelings. You did not cause these interactions and you are handling them just fine by shutting it down getting out of there.

Unfortunately, solving the “Too Nice” problem just replaces it with the old “Women Who Don’t Love Being Objects Are Mean Bitches” double-bind, because assertiveness from women is punished – you become “abrasive,” “touchy,” “no sense of humor,” etc. Sexist men will put friction and social costs around you not playing the role they wanted you to play to try to get you to stay in that role. Sometimes they put violent costs around it (harrowing stuff at that link, so dive in only if you are in the right headspace).


When I was 22 I worked at a very crunchy non-profit organization for a while. We brought on a new 45+ year old finance manager who had a dorky, Ned Flanders-y aspect. I noticed that whenever I made copies in the copy room he would stare at me from his office or make a reason to come chitchat with me. I mentioned to my coworkers that he was sorta creepy. He hadn’t done anything I could put my finger on, but something was off about our interactions. They laughed and told me I was imagining it, that the dude was nice and just trying to fit in and be friendly. He would often buy everyone lunch, or bring in baked goods from home – he definitely went out of his way to be liked by everyone.

When he started to offer me rides home after work, and I said “No thanks, I like to walk” and he said “I know, I’ve seen you. You’re right on my way, though, are you sure I can’t give you a ride?” I told my other coworkers about it, like wasn’t it kind of weird that he knew where I lived? They made fun of me for being so suspicious of a nice guy and for having a big ego to think that he would be into me. “He processes your paychecks, right? They have your address on it. Stop reading into everything.

When I started seeing his car following me as I walked home, I told them about it, and they laughed and told me I was imagining it. Plus, didn’t he have a wife? They were pretty sure he had a wife. When I started to have dreams where he was literally Satan, that was also a funny joke, like, hahaha, the nicest person in the world, and Jennifer thinks he’s the Devil!

When he started pulling up alongside me on rainy days, asking me to get into the car, I walked faster. I took weird routes through alleys and yards so he could not follow. One day I screamed at him to leave me the fuck alone and took off running. When I got home his car was parked across the way, watching, waiting, wanting me to know that he knew where I lived. When I looked out the window to see if he was still there, he smiled and gave me a jaunty wave. My coworkers found this all very hard to believe. Surely he was just trying to be nice? It was raining! He wanted to make sure I got home okay!

I avoided him at work and started changing the times I arrived and left to make them not match up with his patterns.

Then my direct deposits started failing, due to some “bank error,” so, surprise!, I would have to come pick up my checks from him, personally, which always meant a bout of leering or him asking me what he’d done to make me not like him, but with authority behind it, like, “Jennifer, don’t you think it’s unprofessional to treat me so rudely, sit down, let’s talk through this like reasonable people.” He’d force me, in the office, into the position of looking cold and rude when he would try to make a bunch of small talk and  I would say “Can I have my check please? Can I have it now, thanks? My check, give it to me.” Poor dude, he’s so professional and nice, and that crazy bitch we hired is so rude to him! I guess they never taught her professional behavior at Georgetown, what do you want, hiring kids right out of college, etc. etc.

Some coworkers made fun of me for my “crush” on this dude. After all, wasn’t I always in his office chatting? He was always so smooth and unruffled, and yet whenever I had to interact with him I was hostile and “crazy.” In a romantic comedy isn’t “violent hate” always a sign of “secret lust”? Hilarious, right? He would join right in on this, “Aw, everyone knows Jennifer has a little crush on me, but let’s not embarrass her, she’s so young.”

Then I got another job and left, THANKFULLY. After I left, he embezzled a ton of money from the organization and disappeared. That was a problem that they could wrap their minds around. But months of leering and following me? All in my head, I was leading him on, I was the one with the crush, etc. He was so good at keeping everything he did at work on just this side of the line of plausible deniability, and the following, and weird stuff he did was carefully orchestrated to make me sound unreasonable and crazy. I don’t know if he would have assaulted me, but I do know that he got off on making me uncomfortable and getting away with it and making it seem like it was all in my head.

I’m friends with one person from that job to this day, the one person who, after things escalated to the point where he was following me in his car, believed me. Fuck the rest of them, and fuck that entire place forever.

Letter Writer, find some other women where you work, and hang out with them, and find a place (a journal, trusted friends, etc.) where you can get really angry about the way these dudes are treating you. Look out for opportunities to professionally network with women in your field, and if you can, find a fellow woman to go to those professional events with – it’s not fair that you should have to give those up just because your rejected suitor is sulking. It’s great to be a kind, friendly person, but you do not have to be nice to people who disrespect you at work and then try to make it your fault for being female. If a networking bridge gets burned by someone expressing attraction to you and you saying “No thank you!,” it’s not you who burned it.

If I could offer you one slightly more concrete piece of advice, it seems that some of these recent stories have one element in common, in that the dudes start discussing their marriage with you as a prelude to hitting on you. If you started treating “older dude at work starts telling me his marital stuff,” as a red flag, and change the subject back to work stuff as soon as possible, it *might* unfairly cut you off from deepening a good friendship, but also you *might* be able to derail some of the hitting on stuff a bit sooner. To be clear, you didn’t cause anything that happened by not doing this in the past, you weren’t leading them on by not shutting this down, and it’s not a guarantee of anything. But when I hear an older man open up about his marital problems to a younger woman that he knows from work, my suspicious & humorless bitch-senses start tingling because in my experience he is spinning a justification for himself and for you about why it won’t be wrong when he propositions you later. You think you’re getting to know each other as friends, he thinks he’s laying the groundwork. See what happens if you NOPE-out of these conversations, like, interrupt him with “Well, that’s sad to hear, so, about WORK TOPIC OF WORK-WORK-WORK-Y-NESS” and DON’T share anything about your own relationship in return. The man who goes with the work-y subject change with the least amount of resistance is the person who in the long run is most likely to be good friend and colleague material, because he understands boundaries.

TL;dr Sexism: It sucks.

Comments closed on Feb. 8.

479 thoughts on “#657: Asshole-to-English Translator: “You just like leading guys on” = “I am a creepy asshole who doesn’t think you are allowed to say ‘no.'”

  1. I agree with the Captain about creating distance. I have a former work colleague who is a man in his 40s (I’m a woman in my late 20s). We have similar taste in books and movies, and bonded over the terrible place we worked. Now we both have new jobs that are on the same block so we sometimes meet for lunch. All of this was awesome and not creepy. Then he confided in me that he and his wife decided to have an open relationship. with details such as what she liked vs what he liked and their general “sexual compatibility”.

    He claimed he couldn’t tell his “real” friends because it was too weird and they would make fun of him if he didn’t hook up with anyone, plus if it didn’t work out he’d have to tell them all again, whereas as an outside-the-friend-group person I was a better sounding board. This might all be true, but combined with comments like “If I was younger I’d fight [my boyfriend] for you!” it just squidged me out so I delayed the next lunch and was a lot less buddy buddy. Just reinforced a lot of boundaries.

    He may have been completely legit and honest with me with no ulterior motives, but it made me uncomfortable and I prioritized my comfort over his.

    It’s unfortunate that as women figuring out how to recognize and reinforce boundaries is such a big part of our lives, while apparently older men never stop to think “Will this make her uncomfortable?” (or that is their goal in the first place) but unfortunately I don’t have a better solution right now.

    Good luck!

    1. “If I was younger I’d fight [my boyfriend] for you!”

      I think that’s where he already crossed that boundary. And, you know, the sexual stuff (no thanks, tmi). You are reacting to boundary crossing that already happened because even if he’s putting an “if” in that sentence, the implication that he’s attracted to you is a fact.

  2. ” Your “wonderful, awesome” boyfriend is being a douche about this also, by making it a “you are too nice and naive” problem rather than a “gross dudes be creepin’” problem. ”

    …The one problem I always have with this logic, is that it assumes an ideal world. Yes, gross dudes be creepin’. Absolutely. And it sucks. But this is not an nice ideal world where you can just tell the gross dudes they’re creepin’ and they will knock it off and become reasonable people or at least just leave you alone…and where their actions are in a total vacuum.

    Criminals sometimes pick targets strategically. So do creepers. The former looks for things like “nervous appearances,” “weak-looking body structure,” “clothes making it hard to flee,” and so on. The latter surely are looking for things as well. While sometimes you get creeped on regardless of what you do, and that is terrible, there *are* steps one can take to decrease the odds of ending up on the bad end of the stick. Maybe the odds will never be low, let alone 0, but it’s not as if people have zero control. They just have *little* control over when others decide to do these things. But some is better than none, and I don’t think it’s problematic to suggest ways to make the situation a little more discouraging for the creeper’s end of this.

    Societal expectations exist, and I think this is a big deal. After a series of similar encounters with people who are doing basically the same thing in the same situation (person in a professional setting who suddenly changes from ‘reasonable seeming person’ to ‘person who is convinced you’re hitting on them’), I start wondering if the one other thread in common with all these unfortunate situations is, aside from a coincidental rash of skeevy people…the LW themselves and their unconscious behavior. These are the reasons:

    — “I know I can be pretty oblivious when reading signals that are related to me”
    — “We talked about our relationships a bit (me = my boyfriend is awesome, him = having a child completely changed his life and marriage).”
    — “We were exchanging treatments, and because he was so easy to talk to, I ended up confiding much more in him than I usually would with someone.”
    — “I know they are unhappy with their marriages” (And yet you kept talking about this with them in a professional setting?)

    Yeah, this looks to me like they’re being way too close and intimate with people for a professional relationship. There is legitimate scientific proof that confiding in others early can accelerate crushes and other things abnormally quickly, and can seem like someone is trying to forge a deep non-professional bond here. I’m the kind of person who basically can get attracted to almost any of my friends ever, so I can easily see how this would slide from professional into “oh wow maybe she’s into me yay!” So in this light, what other social signals is the LW sending? Are they being accidentally flirty in ways someone else can see but they can’t? If the boyfriend is saying “you’re being naive,” it might be that this person’s behavior is sending mixed signals regardless of how hard they’re trying to self-observe. There are definitely social cues for “so, after our nice professional meeting, let’s go somewhere private or go have drinks in a clearly flirty manner” or whatever. It’s not just overt touching, like she says she’s trying to avoid; it’s all kinds of things — tone of voice, word choice, body language. 75% of conversation is nonverbal.

    Also, a nitpick for this day and age: in an era where polyamory is becoming more acceptable, why is it *bad* that people are ignoring the “I have a cool boyfriend” dialogue? Shouldn’t we be open to people having more than one lover and searching while they’re already in a relationship?

    There is an entire other side of this, the more popular “creeping is wrong” truth that I could of course state and that I do believe in absolutely, but everyone and their mother here is going to write about this *for* me, so I’m not going to. Also ten million people are going to jump down my throat about “victim blaming,” but I personally consider this a statement that the LW has some leverage over how people treat her. Some. Not all by any means. But some. And that’s empowering, in my eyes — the knowledge that yes, you can do something about your own situation, not just sit by and sigh while grumbling sadly about how The World Is Not A Nice Place.

    1. What LW is describing is not polyamory, just creeping. I give a large side-eye to anyone who engages in the manipulative behaviors described and then backpedals by saying, “Well, you could have been poly, how was I to know? And maybe I am too (except for that little matter of my partner thinking we’re monogamous) so what I’m doing isn’t problematic, not at all.” I think it’s still socially understood that in the absence of a frank conversation on the subject, “I have a cool boyfriend” = “probably not looking for someone else right now, kthx.”

        1. As a poly person, I agree. Also, “I am assuming that everyone I might be interested in is available to me” is creepy behavior not matter how you structure your relationship(s). Even if everyone here were poly, that’s STILL wouldn’t make them automatically available to you.

          1. A hearty heck yes to this. I’m also poly, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand that the social script of intentionally mentioning a partner is a way people often signal their disinterest in someone, or in new partners in general. If I’m interested in someone who has said they’re in a relationship, I’ll toss out a casual detail about being poly in a context that isn’t suggestive/flirty so that the info is on the table for them to mull over as they see fit, and there’s a context for them to say they’re poly too if that’s the case. You don’t get to just assume that kind of thing.

          2. I commented elsewhere recently, to a person who said he and his wife “had decided to open their marriage”: “maybe you think women you know have been flirting with you and now they’ll totally do you! They won’t. Get over it now, and don’t be an asshole when people reject you.”

          3. Oh, thank you for putting your finger on it! I’m not poly, but I have some friends who are a bit… indiscriminate… about hitting on couples and queer friends. (Disclaimer: of course I know not every poly person is like that!)

          4. ” “I am assuming that everyone I might be interested in is available to me” is creepy behavior not matter how you structure your relationship(s). ” YESYESYESYESYES

            In my experience when a guy has brought up being poly or in an open relationship with me, he was 100% creepin. When dudes bring that up in an inappropriate context, they’re doing it to test your boundaries.

      1. You just said much more succinctly and clearer what I also tried to express in a not-yet-out-of-moderation comment. I’m all for not being judgmental in regards to polyamoury and not automatically assuming everyone is monogamous but clearly that is not what I should be focusing on when I’m trying to creep on someone and they’re trying to state a boundary in the relatively safe way of bringing up their SO.

        (As an aside, Linden, I always find myself imensely enjoying your comments and heartily agreeing with them. You always phrase your opinion in such a precise and down-to-earth way, it’s a pleasure to read!)

      2. Yeah, I think there is nothing lost by assuming (especially in a WORK CONTEXT) that a mention of an S.O. means “not interested in you.”

        If we really want to get radical, we could assume that as healthy polyamory is strongly associated with open and honest communication, someone who is poly and wants to be poly WITH YOU will just . . . say so. Unambiguously. No guessing required!

        1. “If we really want to get radical, we could assume that as healthy polyamory is strongly associated with open and honest communication, someone who is poly and wants to be poly WITH YOU will just . . . say so. Unambiguously. No guessing required!”

          This. Slight side note but when the fact that I am in a poly relationship comes up with people I know (and it does some times unavoidably) that does not mean that I want to include them in that. I was going to put something here defending why it comes up and the complete lack of flirting on my part in all of the awkward encounters but why am I conditioned to justify myself so much?

        2. “If we really want to get radical, we could assume that as healthy polyamory is strongly associated with open and honest communication, someone who is poly and wants to be poly WITH YOU will just . . . say so. Unambiguously. No guessing required!”

          So much this.

      3. I am so fucking sick unto death of the whole “but maybe they are poly!” gambit being used to excuse all manner of manipulative, shitty, creeping behaviors.

        1. Agree so hard. What does it fucking matter if they are poly? Being poly doesn’t give you magical permission to push other people’s boundaries. Ugh.

      4. Yeah, IME if a poly person has a primary relationship and is looking for someone else, they are *very clear about this fact*.

    2. But when someone says “I have a boyfriend” what they often mean is “I’m unavailable to you”. I don’t think we should be encouraging people to ignore this.

      1. Oh dear lord no. In my experience “I have a boyfriend” is sometimes literally the ONLY thing that will make a creeper go away, even after several rounds of “no”, “no thank you”, “I actually just came here to read”, “no, I’d prefer not to”… presumably because they have more respect for the boundaries of a hypothetical absent man than they do for a flesh-and-blood woman standing in front of them. I need “I have a boyfriend” to continue to be code for “I’m not going to fuck you.” This is a thing I need in my life.

        1. Anatomy of a conversation I have had more than once:

          Dude: [pickup line]
          Me: Sorry, not interested.
          Dude: [but… pickup line]
          Me: No.
          Dude: [seriously are you checking out these awesome pickup lines?]
          Me: Seriously, I am not interested in dating you
          Dude: [pickup line + will you buy me a drink?]
          Me: sigh…. I have a boyfriend.
          Dude: [wanders away]

          1. Although as evidenced by the LW and many other commenters here, “I have a boyfriend” doesn’t work in every situation. Creepers still gonna creep 😦

          2. Yeah, it’s definitely not foolproof, but it is SUPER EFFECTIVE compared to trying to convince a creeper that you are an autonomous human with boundaries that should be respected.

            I try not to use it (even though I actually do have a boyfriend) on the principle that unclaimed women should be allowed exist in public spaces without doling out attention to random dudes who have decided they’re more important than your phone/book/laptop/quiet time alone with own thoughts. But sometimes I just don’t have the freaking energy to do the “No. Please leave me alone. Because I say so” dance, so SUPER EFFECTIVE BOYFRIEND it is.

          3. I usually escalate the “rudeness”. I mean, after nom I usually said “I already said no and I’m not going to change my mind. Why are you ignoring my rejection?”. Usually that works for me, because it points out what they are doing, wich is ignoring an answer they don’t like. If that doesn’t work, then you hace to increase your “bitchiness” by estating clearly that insisting after a clear no it’s disrespectull and that if they keep ignoring your “No”, then they are “pushing you” to being rude and it’s in fact harashment. Asking once it’s ok, refusing to accept a no, it’s never ok.

            Not sure if it work for other people, though. And yes, at some places, saying that you hace a boyfriend it’s better/easier.

          4. If you need to lie to make someone go away, sometimes “I have a girlfriend” works better… except it can backfire and open you up to some “can I watch” type comments. Sigh.

          5. That works a lot of the time. Until the creeper outright asks “So, are you the cheating type?”

            No lie, this happened to me in a Walmart checkout line. Creepers gonna creep, creep, creep.

          6. D, I’ve tried “I have a girlfriend” repeatedly. It has never gone anywhere that wasn’t gross. Creepy dudes gonna creep harder on dykes ime.

          7. Yep, I sometimes make it all the way to “I’m gay” or “I have a girlfriend” (true for me) and usually they just get mad. Like I’m the one wasting their time. Because I’m non-binary and feel a lot more masculine than I present (especially to sexist dudes), sometimes I think we’re having a friendly conversation between people and it turns out the purpose was to hit on me. I can understand the LW’s point of view well.

          8. “You like girls? So do I! See we have so much in common!” — a (cis) guy the “i have a girlfriend” line didn’t work on.

            I also use “I have a boyfriend” when I have to, even when i was single, and even now that i’m dating a woman because they won’t accept anything else as no. LA, that happened to me on a bus once. “Your boyfriend wouldn’t have to know!” he said. My answer was still nope-nope-nope-nope.

        2. As a (cis het etc.) guy, I find it quite worrying to actually see this in myself. I mean, to be clear, when a woman says “no” or “not interested in you” or “not looking for a relationship right now” I *WILL* back off, no questions asked, no exceptions. But there is a little voice in my head urging me to keep pushing, and it shuts up immediately if the answer is “no, I have a boyfriend”. I guess it’s a useful example of how deep the patriarchy runs, and how wrong the ‘but we don’t need feminism cos women ARE equal now! I’m not a sexist!’ lot are…

          So yeah – I’d rather be told the truth, whether it’s “not interested in you” or “I have a boyfriend”. But I wouldn’t blame or judge any woman for pulling out the “I have a boyfriend” card immediately and preemptively even if it’s not true.

          1. Yeah, dudes who won’t take no for an answer have ruined honest communication between the sexes for everyone. As I said, I really wish I could rely on my “no” being respected without the boyfriend caveat, but sadly this is not the world we live in. Talking to your cishet guy friends about this stuff or intervening if you see them badgering a not-interested woman is a small but effective way you can help change the culture.

        3. I totally agree. It really sucks that sometimes the only way to get someone to respect a no is if you already “belong” to another man. What, do they think that anyone who is single would never really say no, and it’s only their fear/hesitation/etc with having to tangle with an unknown man (who could be bigger, stronger, etc) who would take issue with somebody messing with “their” woman.

          It’s gross, possessive garbage, and I hate that it can sometimes be the only way to have a no be respected.

          1. I don’t know that it’s so much a possessive, might-have-to-fight-a-bigger-man thing, as it is more clearly understood denial. To play devil’s advocate for just one tiny second, I think a some guys take the softer, “No… not interested,” response as playing hard to get. It’s part of that b.s. rom-com fantasy we’ve all grown up with, where a girl is supposed to play coy and not interested, and guys will win them over with persistence or increasingly dumb stunts. So they are always unsure if “No” means, “No,” or if it means, “Mmm… keep asking while I finish this beer/ coffee/ whatever.”

            “I have a boyfriend,” however, is unambiguous. It states that you are not playing around, you’re not playing games, you’ve already found a dance partner for this tango. No guy imagines in his mind after that sort of rejection a woman turning to her friends and saying, “Well, if he wasn’t willing to try and talk me into adultery, he couldn’t have been THAT interested in me!” (Of course, then there’s the real creeps who DO try and do such a thing, but they’re a lost cause big-time…)

            I’m not defending those who won’t take no for an answer or anything, but I do think the problems are a bit more complicated than simply men respecting other men’s property more than women’s autonomy.

          2. I think a lot of men are under the impression that women are always playing mind games and nothing they say can be taken at face value. Either that, or they’re so irrational that nothing can be taken at face value. Every time I read The Onion, there’s the same fucking ad in the corner of a woman’s face with the caption, “Things Girls Say to Test Men.” Weird infantilization aside, I think when men are trying to find the courage/excuses to make advances, they look for reasons to believe in playing hard to get. My ex/rapist used to whine for literally HOURS about how women have all these crazy signals that they expect you to pick up on like a mind reader, and they say know when they mean yes, which is why it’s so hard for a nice guy like him to get laid and obviously nice guys can never pass up an opportunity because it might be their last.

          3. @ David –

            Please don’t play the devil’s advocate. The devil doesn’t need an advocate – he does just fine on his own.

            When a woman says, “No, I am not interested in you,” that’s pretty unambiguous. If you see it as something else, that’s a problem, and it’s a problem that I think you should face head-on, not make excuses for. I have literally never known any real woman who responded to a guy who said, “Oh, okay” to “No, I’m not interested” by going to her friends and saying, “Wow, he must not have been that interested!” That’s literally just not a thing that happens.

      1. If you’re a criminal looking to cause a problem for someone, are you going to go for the small person or the 200 pound 6’1″ person?

        1. So, “be taller and you’ll be less of a victim?” What a simple solution for women to try!

          1. Seriously. Like, if I worked out more, I could be stronger, faster, whatever. But I’m almost 27. I’ve been my same height since I was 18-ish. And even though there are taller people in my family, I am never going to be a 6’1 Amazon woman.

          2. In that short skeleton, she was asking for it.

            I think it’s also important to note that women are indeed targeted – but it’s not because women are physically vulnerable. It’s because they’re socially vulnerable. Predatory men attack women because women don’t have the right to fight back. I didn’t get groped on the subway because the guy figured he outweighed me.

          3. Sadly, the only way I can think to reduce being a tarject is be part of a group. Not that it’s always posible or fix things, but it’s what I did when I was in a similar situation than that. You advice to make women (and men) friends that come with her to profesional events it’s really good because they usually try to avoid witness.

            Also, sometimes technology helps. If you record the creepy being creepy, when they told you “he’s being nice”, you can show a video. Even if it can be used as evidence in a trial, in an office, could be enough to make other rethink about the creep.

          4. As a six foot tall derby girl who actually looks like she should be hitting people (resting bitchface, visible muscles, tattoos and piercings) this is not only completely unhelpful (change your appearance so you won’t be a victim! Including things you cannot change!) but it’s also completely untrue. There’s a subset of creeper who will also approach/hit on/physically assault the Amazon precisely because I am an Amazon-looking freak and some men seem to see me as an affront to their manhood. I was once out on skates doing a publicity event with some teammates, and this drunken douchebro came up behind me and put his hands on my back and pushed me, then announced that he “got the big one” when I nearly fell. Aside from don’t-fucking-touch-strangers-dickface, that sort of move is illegal in games because of how easy it is to knock down someone from behind and how dangerous a face-plant can be. And this guy really did seem to think he scored some sort of victory for douchebro-kind – because my being both attractive and clearly able to kick his ass was a threat or something.

            There will always be a creeper for every woman in public. It not only shouldn’t be the woman’s job to stop the creeper, there is literally nothing anyone can do to keep away every single creeper.

          5. Captain, it’s not only advice that isn’t possible to take, it’s also completely false that looking more intimidating will stop the creepers. It won’t. I am six feet tall, I play roller derby, and even not on my skates I look like I should probably be knocking people down (resting bitchface, visible muscles, tattoos, piercings). There are times when it’s clear men target me *because* of my height. I was out once with my team doing a publicity event on skates, and some douchebro came up behind me and literally put his hands on my back and pushed me (which, btw, is illegal in derby because it is *so* fucking dangerous) and announced to the crowd that he “got the tall one!” The triumph on his face was clear; somehow he thought he’d scored a victory for douchebro-kind everywhere by physically assaulting a woman who looked like she could kick his ass. The screaming fit I threw – that his lady friend joined me on – was hopefully a lesson not to fuck with people because you never know who gives no shits about looking nuts if they get to humiliate you.

            Point is, if you are a lady in public, there is a creeper who is willing to creep on you.

          6. God, I know, right?

            Look, I’m a big lady with a serious case of RBF, and I suspect that that does help me in the avoiding-creepers arena…but that doesn’t make it GOOD ADVICE. Sheez.

        2. Aurora, your “advice” to the LW isn’t really very helpful. It basically boils down to: “OK, so what if after all this honest self-observation and checking yourself you have undertaken in order to deal with this problem, you are still sending out subconscious flirty signals that are impossible for you perceive!? HUH!? WHAT THEN!?”

          Like, what’s LW supposed to do with that? Spend all her time modulating her tone of voice, obsessing over her word choices and analysing her body language to ensure not a single suggestion of flirtatiousness escapes during any interaction with men who are not her boyfriend? Just “be less naive “? (Note “Just be less/more _________” is pretty much the most useless piece of direction you can give to an actor, and it’s similarly unhelpful here.)

          The Captain, on the other hand, did give concrete actionable advice on what LW can do to mitigate these situations (Shut down conversations about sad marriages! Enlist female buddies! Clear yourself to say “Ew, why would you think that?” next time it happens without worrying about politeness!). She did not at any point recommend sadly grumbling about the cruel unfair world.

          So yeah, since your comment contains no useful actionable advice for the LW, but still manages to spend six paragraphs dancing around the idea that it’s probably all her own fault somehow, then yes: I call victim blaming. GOLD STAR FOR YOU!

          1. (Note “Just be less/more _________” is pretty much the most useless piece of direction you can give to an actor, and it’s similarly unhelpful here.)

            I never thought of it this way, but as someone with an acting background that is actually a really helpful way to think about framing advice. You’ve got to give people something to do, because people can’t actively just “be.”

          2. It reminds me of the Parks and Recreation episode where Tom tries to get Mark and Ann to model and thinks “make your face better” is a good direction.

          3. Yup. There’s a point at which you just can’t keep second-guessing yourself. Constantly worrying about whether you’re saying the wrong thing or coming off badly will ruin your professional networking attempts just as much as creepy guys will, I know this from personal experience.
            Given that LW mentions thinking a lot about whether they’re sending unintentional signals, and, y’know, they’ve spent enough time worrying about this issue that they *wrote to Captain Awkward* about it, they’re probably already being as careful as anyone reasonably can be. Yes, the LW has some control over how people perceive them. Give the LW the benefit of the doubt that they are already using that control as well as they can.

        3. We’re not talking about muggers choosing whether they want to stick up the small person or the 200 pound 6’1 person. We’re talking about the real and pervasive way sexist, entitled men undermine women by ignoring boundaries. These are really, really, REALLY not analogous situations.

    3. I am a person who can fall into lust SUPER easily. Talking about personal things does, in fact, can set up the feeling of an intimate connection (for me personally, and as you have pointed out, Aurora, is backed up in some cases by science). I have still managed to not creep on / hit on any of my coworkers in professional environments. My attraction to someone else is not their fault for being easy to talk to, sharing personal information and it is on me to moderate my own behavior.

      Regarding”in an era where polyamory is becoming more acceptable”: There’s a huge difference between actually finding out if someone is non-single AND open to a new relationship WITH YOU and “ignoring dialogue about a boyfriend”. One of my biggest pet peeves is the idea that because some people are open to multiple relationships that they are automatically down for exploring that idea with everyone who crosses their path / finds them attractive.

      1. Yep, totally with you there. Basically every time I make a new friend, I get a crush on them. I also frequently get crushes on people I work with. Luckily, at 23 years old, I have noticed this pattern, and have figured out the following checklist:

        1. Have I known this person at least three months and has the crush persisted? If not, chances are strong that it’s a passing friend-crush. Ignore.
        2. If this is a persistent crush, is this person a realistic dating/hookup prospect for me? Monogamous and taken, solely a work relationship, not actually someone I am that close with are all excluders here.
        3. Has this person actually expressed interest in getting to know me better, or in becoming close friends? Or have I just made it up in the happy land of light that is my daydreaming brain?

        Thus far, I don’t think I’ve slipped up and asked someone out/propositioned them when it was inappropriate. If that does happen, it will be my responsibility to apologise for not keeping my own checklist in mind, NOT their responsibility to apologise for not having made it absolutely 110% totally completely unambiguously clear that they are not interested in someone they have actually expressed zero interest in.

        40 years, then, should be more than long enough to figure this shit out.

        1. Oh my god, I love you. I think I am very much like you, except more needy and less wise (hey, at least I’m self-aware?). I do the crush thing too, and very predictably. I only wish, WISH, I had figured this out in my twenties like you! So much cringing and embarrassment would have been spared to all involved.

          I do the limerance thing. All. The. Time. Only now, in my 30s, am I figuring out how to manage, channel, and control it.

        2. This so much! My crush-phaser is set to cast a wide beam. Many are caught by it after even only a passing acquaintance with me. Just because I crush on tons of people though, doesn’t mean I want to date them, or that they want to date me, or that I’m not actually content being monogamous or monogamish with my other half. Whether or not anyone feels attraction to anyone else and whether or not they are poly is, in fact, completely irrelevant to the issue LW asked for help with.

    4. Eh, I think that while this may be true, it’s basically totally unhelpful, and adds nothing to the good Captain’s advice above to pull back some from these dudes.

      This is still an obnoxiously gendered issue, and I think you are overstating how much control the LW has. I am also a friendly (occasionally too friendly!) young woman in the professional world. Fun fact: I never get propositioned, probably because I am fat and not conventionally attractive. My thinner, prettier friends mostly have been, not because they are friendlier or stupider than me, but because assholes also pick targets by what would inflate their stupid, gross egos.

      1. Yes yes yes. I have been lucky to largely avoid this problem of excessive dude interest, and I think the reason is exactly the same as you say – I’m fat. I also had more weird dude interest when I was 19 than now at 37. And there is a woman at my work who is 24 and attractive in a way that fits well with societal beauty standards and is slender and fashionable. She isn’t weirdly or unusually friendly, though she has good social skills. And dudes hit on her in wildly inappropriate ways. She just moved in with her boyfriend and one of her bosses literally skeeved onto her at a work party only a few weeks later. Taxi drivers ask her out for coffee. Dudes who are hostile and mean to almost everyone are weirdly nice to her.

        What on earth should she do about this? There’s nothing she can do that would allow her to keep freely living her life. Why should she give up her interest in fashion, or deliberately make herself unattractive just to dodge skeevy dudes? She shouldn’t. She’s a target not because she’s “too friendly”. She’s a target because of her nice appearance. That she was born with.

        1. I should clarify – I’m not saying fat ladies are never targeted by skeevy dudes. Clearly we sometimes are! Just that some girls get this happening a lot, and while it’s true that the common factor is them, it’s not their sodding behaviour – it’s that they’re generally more attractive than average.

          1. Oh yeah, definitely! I also attribute a large portion of not being skeeved in work situations to luck (and things like “working for my dad, in a small office in a small town.” The one time a known creep came wandering in the office while I was there alone, a family friend saw him walking up, RUSHED into the building before him, and distracted him with conversation while I called my dad.)

            I kind of agree that we often send signals we’re not aware of, so some people may seem more open than others. But also in my experience, those signals are pretty much out of our control, and berating yourself for doing something that is almost imperceptible and possibly imaginary is pointless and tiring.

          2. I got targeted by El Skeevo and didn’t get out till it was too late, long story, yes he was a con artist, but he had started out saying he was attracted to larger women and by the end of it actually said it wasn’t that he had a thing for larger women per se, he just went with the idea that many times larger women have lower self esteem so for him they’re easier to get to. Yes, he admitted it to me. Ten years later I still want to smack him in the face with a power sander.

          3. It’s also just that creepers are going to creep. I was stalked around town once by this weirdo guy, and I reported it to the police and I felt very embarrassed- they had to come to my office to take the police report. After a couple of weeks they got back to me and it turned out that he’d been following multiple women (in my college town) around. It wasn’t just me! And it wasn’t anything I was doing, besides riding the bus. Stalkers going to stalk.

          4. We are definitely targeted! But I think I cut down my skeevy experiences by about 75% when I put on more weight? Honestly, I’ve never felt happier and safer.

        2. In a similar vein, I’ve noticed the amount of random-creeping has dropped inversely to the number of gray hairs I have. 🙂

      2. This. It may in fact be true that a small person is more likely to be mugged than a large person, but that means absolutely nothing in terms of practical advice.

        It may be true that a young, friendly woman is more likely to be creeped on than someone who sends out a constant stream of ‘fuck off’ signals, but that doesn’t mean that the LW should rewrite her entire personality in order to fend off creeps…and there’s a social cost for those ‘fuck off’ signals, too.

      3. Before I got fat, back when I was a “built” teenager, creepers creeped on me on the way home from school. When I still had a “young” face and was fat, I got oinked at by pricks in passing cars for daring to exist in public. Now I’m middle-aged, fat, and invisible. What a relief!

    5. Her behavior is not the problem, so why should we spend time and energy on it instead of the actual problem? Focusing on her behavior and all the things she could do differently is the usual definition of victim blaming.

    6. in an era where polyamory is becoming more acceptable, why is it *bad* that people are ignoring the “I have a cool boyfriend” dialogue? Shouldn’t we be open to people having more than one lover and searching while they’re already in a relationship?

      I don’t know if I’m understanding you correctly but if I do, the answer to your first question is probably that very generally spoken, people bring up their significant other in such a way precisely so that any romantic/sexual pursuit by their conversational partner is stopped, not because they want to invite them into a polyamorous relationship. It’s very different if someone says “I have a cool boyfriend and we’ve talked about how we both find you really interesting – would you like to get to know us better?” or “I have a cool boyfriend – I’m in a happy relationship, so please stop not-so-subtly hitting on me.”

      1. Yeah, that, and also, ignoring references to a boyfriend/husband/date is not a new thing, so it really probably isn’t a sign of social progress.

    7. I’m not small, or weak, or shy, and I didn’t make personal conversation, so why do you think my work-predator targeted me the way he did?
      What was I doing wrong?


      Please do tell me.

      1. Yeah, I gotta agree, this is right up with the “here is how you avoid getting assaulted,” rather than teaching people “hey, assaulting people, don’t do it.”

        I’d say the onus is on the creeper not to creep, rather than the Letter Writer making herself less of a target. Because WHAT THE FUCK, like.

      2. I think it might help people falling into the abovementioned line of thinking to hear of a little story that seems quite different to the “men believe I’m flirting with them” scenario but which I think can illustrate how it’s really all about assumptions, preconceptions, sexism, and what men want to believe:

        I work part-time at a gym and the regular patrons often try to strike up conversations with me. Last year, one of my top two do-not-want guys said out of the blue something along the lines of “Now, what have you been doing over the holidays? Probably chatting on the phone with your girlfriends all day long.”

        I was completely baffled by that comment for the rest of the day. There is literally nothing about me or any interaction I have with other people that this guy could have witnessed that would explain him coming to this kind of conclusion about my holiday activities. In fact, all evidence points to the contrary: I don’t talk a lot in general (actually, I can be a big talker, but I’ve reduced that dramatically in the gym about four years ago when I started to be fed up with everyone there); I’ve certainly never talked on my personal phone while working there; when I’m on the work phone, it’s because clients are calling and I’m having a professional conversation with them; I have only three friends in total, none of which I have ever so much as talked about at the gym, so for all he knows, I’m completely friendless; I generally don’t have anything to say to a lot of the talk at the gym, which can make it seem like I don’t have much interests to talk about in general.

        All of these are facts. If he had drawn a conclusion as to my holiday activities based on the actual me that he gets to meet at the gym, it should have been something like “Probably sitting alone in your room all day.” (which would have been accurate, btw). Yet he was completely bewildered when I sent a very confused “Huh? Why would you think that?” back at him. He couldn’t believe I didn’t spend much of my free time talking endlessly on the phone. And that was not at all rooted in how I behave or talk or look like, but in what he thought “young shallow women this day” do.

        Now obviously, this story is different from what the LW or the Captain describe, but I think the line of thinking of these men is basically the same. It’s because they have sexist assumptions about women and certain preconceptions about them as a whole. My behaviour didn’t matter. There is nothing I did or said that “encouraged” him thinking this about me. He just wanted to believe his little made-up story about me.

        1. I went to get my oil changed a few months ago. When the guy there was putting my name into the computer, he says, “_______. That’s a Jewish name, isn’t it?”

          Me: “Yes.” (Where is this going?)
          Him: “God’s Chosen people.”
          Me: “Um, some say.” (WTF?)
          Him: “Jewish people make the best scientists.”
          Me: “Well, maybe.”
          Him: “And the best comedians.”
          Me; “That I can get behind.” (Will you just change my oil dammit?)

          1. Saying “That’s a Jewish name, isn’t it?” outside of the context of a conversation specifically about the etymology of your name is just always creepy. *shudder*

          2. “That’s a Jewish name, isn’t it?” is definitely one of those questions that raises my hackles in a huge way. Nothing good has ever come of that question.

          3. Oh, I’ve been there. I always brace myself, because the odds of this going well are really, really not good. I have had a couple of nice ones, but there’s always the person who wants to debate Israel with me. (Which, no. Not with someone I’ve just met five minutes ago when this is a conversation I don’t have with people I’ve known five years.)

        2. Ha! This is great! I’ve had a few similar experiences with men deciding they know bizarrely specific things about me based on literally nothing except my gender. One of the best (worst?) was when I was getting a taxi to the train station. I was working doing sound for a play, and because we touring to a small rural theatre that weekend, I decided to err on the side of bringing more equipment rather than less. The driver took my suitcase and was surprised at the weight of it, because it was quite small but densely packed. Then he said something to the effect of, “That’s a heavy suitcase! Full of make-up and shoes I suppose!”

          I just sort of looked at him blankly for a second and then replied, “Actually, it’s mainly my sound gear. I’m a sound designer. I’m working on a show this weekend.”

          He looked at me like I had three heads. So badly had I disrupted the neat little categories of his world that he maintained blissful silence for the entire journey.

          Another time, I was in Italy for a seminar with a few other people from my Masters programme. Some of us were closer than others, but we’d all known each other at least a year at that point. We were walking down a busy street and the only man in our group made a comment about a particular brand of car and how it was so common over here. My friend Bess replied pretty offhandedly with “Oh, I don’t know anything about cars! I honestly can’t tell one from the other, I’ve never had any interest in them.”

          And then he said, “Oh right, I suppose you girls would prefer to talk about hair or something!”
          And Bess, who is a brilliant ferocious literary-buff political-activist bilingual feminist powerhouse, just stared at him until he literally bowed his head in shame.

          But it’s like they’re not even thinking about the stuff that’s falling out of their mouths, right? It’s just like “Oh look, a woman! ACTIVATE DEFAULT WOMAN COMMUNICATION SCRIPT.”

          1. I lost it at that last line. I have so many friends who’ve had men try to use a “default woman communication script” on them, with terrible results. Gonna have to remember that phrase when I’m trying to articulate what happened to others.

          2. “That’s a heavy suitcase! Full of make-up and shoes I suppose!”

            “Nope. Bees!”

          3. This “makeup and shoe” thing doesn’t even make sense. Like, fuck clothes, I’m going naked in boots, but at least I brought my makeup A game??

        3. “And that was not at all rooted in how I behave or talk or look like, but in what he thought “young shallow women this day” do.”
          Wait, shallow? Where does shallow come into it? Are you supposed to be shallow just by being a young (and possibly pretty) woman?

          1. that or woman + young + in a gym (never mind that its where she works, never mind that you might go to the gym for health or building strength or entertainment).

          2. Are you supposed to be shallow just by being a young (and possibly pretty) woman?

            Yes, exactly this (although I’m not conventionally pretty at all). From the way this guy specifically talks to/about not only me but every young woman it becomes pretty clear that he considers all things he associates with feminity – such as makeup, hairstyles, nailpolish, throwing out money for expensive things (?) etc. – to be shallow and to be the things women like (to talk about). Never mind that I’m only moderately interested in these things and nothing suggests otherwise, that’s how his scripts for women go. (He also doesn’t understand that even if you are interested in all of these things that doesn’t mean you’re stupid or vain or something. People have different interests that have nothing to do with their intelligence, goddammit!)

          3. “even if you are interested in all of these things that doesn’t mean you’re stupid or vain or something. People have different interests that have nothing to do with their intelligence, goddammit!)”

            Oh god, so I’m rewatching Friends and this totally reminds me of how Ross just can’t understand that Rachel’s career in fashion is actually, you know, a career that matters to her and a field that matters to a lot of people and just because he doesn’t get it doesn’t mean it’s less-than.

            Also Ross is the worst.

          4. ugghhh one of the smartest, most driven women I know is a fashionista. Like, finished her PhD then then decided “why the hell not get an MD too?” driven. Off the clock, we talk relationships and shoes. Stereotypical feminine interests != stupid or shallow.

          1. Oh I don’t eat salad while getting a mani-pedi. I only ever eat salads when I’m alone, so I can laugh at them.

      3. Did you move the issue up the line to your supervisor in a professional manner?*

        Did you call the police when he camped outside your home?*

        Did you ask your supervisor or a colleague to accompany you when you collected your checks or ask your supervisor to be the one to give you your checks?*

        Did you ask your supervisor to see that the direct deposit problem be fixed?*

        Did you, in fact, do anything at all that was practical and professional to end the game?*

        Look back at how you’ve written this account of the incidents all these years later. It reads like you’re still playing that guy’s game to this day because it gives you something you need. Discuss.
        *According to your own account, no, you didn’t.

        1. 1. Yes, they laughed it off. We had no HR or policy on the books for this.
          2. Yes, he was gone by the time they came. They laughed it off.
          3. Yes
          4. Yes
          5. Yes

          *Fuck. Your. Self.

          1. Also, about this “calling the police” and otherwise trying to get authorities to fucking HELP thing?

            I’ve probably told this story a couple of times around here, but when we first moved for my job, Spouse and FirstKid (who was a toddler) and I had THE WORST NEIGHBOR EVER, henceforth known as the Basement Troll.

            Over the course of five months, we ended up with a seventeen-page single spaced Word document logging incidents that occurred between Basement Troll and us (usually but not only Spouse). Most of these incidents involved Basement Troll bashing on his ceiling/our floor with a baseball bat or some similar implement and screaming various obscenities and slurs at Spouse and FirstKid.

            We did call the police on Basement Troll, when he 1) made an explicit verbal threat to Spouse and 2) followed that up by SHUTTING OFF OUR CIRCUIT BREAKER at the breaker box that was in front of the door into his apartment. Police came, eventually, and let us know that they couldn’t actually do anything about it because Basement Troll screamed the threat at spouse from his place in such a way that we did not see him face to face and he did not use Spouse’s name while screaming the threat.

            It eventually got so bad that Spouse snapped and ended up in emergency inpatient psych, because something about being threatened repeatedly in one’s own dwelling will sometimes do that to a person, especially a person who has pre-existing childhood abuse related PTSD. When a “family and treatment team meeting” was supposed to happen, I brought the log and got the response of “I don’t need to see your diary!” and further told that if we were decent parents, FirstKid wouldn’t be loud enough to annoy Basement Troll and NONE OF THIS would have happened.

            The more there are stories like that, the less getting help from authorities seems like it’s even an option.

        2. Holy shit, what are you even saying? That a victim of stalking talking about their (terrible, horrible, no-one-believing-them) experience is playing the stalker’s “game”?

          1. I would handle things much more in writing and much more formally (even at an unstructured org like that one was) at 41 than I did at 22, in my first job out of college.*
            I did not tell every detail of the story or everything I did every day over months (like having colleagues/boss go get checks with/for me after it was clear what the dude’s game was).*
            My stalker was senior to both me and to my supervisor.*
            If anyone is still playing a stalker’s game, it’s TGuerrant, trying to intimate that something about this is my fault.*

            *TGuerrant is a fucking asshole trying to play a game of MRA-GOTCHA and is now banned from my site.

          2. It never never never never NEVER fucking fails that if a woman posts etails about a situations like this, at least one fucking internet detective slimes his way out of the woodwork to DESTROY THE ENTIRE FOUNDATION OF HER STORY look at that she didn’t follow Step A Section B Sub-section 9 Sector iii Paragraph F sub-paragraph (bb) of the How You Must Behave Around Men Manual, CLEARLY SHE IS AT FAULT HERE. Discuss.

            (In this case, by ‘discuss’, I clearly mean ‘find yourself a toilet, cause reading those sorts of comments often quickly leads to the need to projectile vomit.)

            Dear banned fuckhead troll: allow me to contribute to your “GFY” fund:

            Go fuck yourself forever.

        3. Wow. I’m not using profanities because I respect this space and how JenniferP moderates it. But WOW.

          1. Profanities are allowed here.

            While I tend to prefer diplomatic responses to stupid assertions, initially assuming positive intent, etc., I really hate it when fuckheads accuse people of being in bad situations because it gives them “something they need.” In this case, something like gainful employment? Fuck.

          2. I know. But we did have pile-ons that derailed a whole thread. I kinda wanted to avoid that.

        4. You have a serious problem, citizen. I would contact a professional, who presumably has the tools to assist you in removing your head from your fundament. If that professional should find it too securely wedged to budge, perhaps they will have a cannon available to facilitate your journey into the heart of the sun.

        5. She was 22 years old at the time. She was being consistently undermined by someone who was in a position of power and given much more credit than she was, and who was manipulating the company’s finances and who was in a position of trust. In short, you are the problem as much as he was back then.

          Troll somewhere else.

        6. I reported my harasser twice to my (male) manager. He laughed in my face and told me I was over-reacting. But do, please, keep telling us how women deserve this kind of treatment because we’re not handling it according to the ever shifting goalposts of Arseholes on the Internet Policing Women’s Behaviour.

          1. But see, if CA *had* done something more, then Shitstain there and his spiritual fellow-travelers would be whining that she overreacted and made a huge big deal out of nothing and my God, why couldn’t she have done any one of a number of Approved Girl Things to fend him off gently instead of ruining!!!!his!!!!life!!! As always happens with all sexual harassment complaints forever.

        7. Seriously?

          I was all set to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you were actually trying to be helpful to the LW and just weren’t aware of how your ‘advice’ was coming across, but lol nope. Your comment reads like you’re trying to prove that a survivor of stalking must have done something wrong because it gives you something you need. Discuss. Or, rather, don’t.

          Maybe go look up ‘Just World Fallacy’ instead. Sometimes people do everything right and shitty things still happen to them. The world sucks that way.

      4. Quite, Captain – you did nothing wrong and you were standing up for yourself, but that guy was still intent on targeting you. I’ve been on the wrong end of people like that myself – both males and females. It seems from what you said that the guy was on a dominance trip.

        What I find disturbing is the attitude of the “bystanders” in your workplace. There you were spelling out in words of one syllable or less what this guy was doing, and they were all nodding and smiling and jollying you along (but I’m guessing with just a *bit* of an edge) to make sure you fit into your place at the bottom of that social hierarchy. Nice! Good on you for getting out of there.

        I think the whole “bystander problem” is way under-recognised in cases of bullying, creeping and other bullying/creepy/rapey behaviour. It seems to me that a bit of that problem can be seen in what the LW’s boyfriend said to her – he seemed more eager to change *her* than to address the stinky power differential from that guy who was hitting on her.

        1. The bystander issue is actually getting a bit of notice these days. I’ve seen various articles about teaching kids to not bully, and one of the big parts of anti-bullying teaching is teaching the bystanders how to react. It looks like bystanders have a lot of power to help with bullying, and I think that applies whether it’s children or adults. But we haven’t been teaching the bystanders. Mainly, my point is – society is slowly probably getting better at this. We are starting to do this. And people don’t just react well as bystanders, and we need to accept that is true, but that they do tend to react much better if we teach people how to do so. So, teaching should be a big part of fixing these problems, and in some places, it actually is starting to be. Anyway, I think this thread can use a drop of optimism and hope for the future. But I really do believe that the older generations that had to put up with this crap can be a good push for changes in how we raise children so that fewer people have to put up with this crap. And that we are getting better at figuring out how to raise kids to not put up with this crap happening to those around them. The bystanders + the victims do usually outnumber the bullies.

          1. When I was in high school, I was in a roleplay-for-change type group that would put on a scene for students (at other schools) and then stay in character to do a Q&A so the students could interrogate what was going on, what could have been done differently, etc. The scenes were almost always victim/bully/bystander, and the students would usually start out mad at the bully and, by the end, have the most anger towards the bystander. (All of which was framed as a “so what will *you* do if *you* see this happening as a bystander?” situation, to get people actively thinking about that part of the dynamic.)

    8. The Captain already addressed this when she said:

      Unfortunately, solving the “Too Nice” problem just replaces it with the old “Women Who Don’t Love Being Objects Are Mean Bitches” double-bind, because assertiveness from women is punished – you become “abrasive,” “touchy,” “no sense of humor,” etc. Sexist men will put friction and social costs around you not playing the role they wanted you to play to try to get you to stay in that role. Sometimes they put violent costs around it (harrowing stuff at that link, so dive in only if you are in the right headspace).

      1. ALL THE THIS.
        When I first got old enough to go to shows in bars, this would happen:

        “Can I buy you a drink?”
        “Um, okay.”
        *awkward, uncomfortable chitchat, during which it becomes apparent that this dude and I have no chemistry at all*
        “Well, uh, nice to meet you, dude. I’m going to head back to the dance floor…”
        “So can I have your number?”
        “No/I have a boyfriend/etc.”

        Some of you are no doubt thinking, “Why didn’t you just give them a fake number?” I tried that twice. The result was that the dude then just didn’t leave me alone for the rest of the night, completely ruining it. And called me a bitch when I wouldn’t go home with him.

        After I made a personal policy of not accepting a drink from someone who hadn’t yet told me their name, I changed tactics. This is what it got me:

        “Buy you a drink?”
        “No thank you.”
        “WHY ARE YOU SO UPTIGHT, I WAS JUST TRYING TO BE NICE, I’M NOT HITTING ON YOU, JEEZ, WHAT A BITCH.” (Usually followed by further attempts to pressure me into accepting, which leads us back to the endgame of Conversation #1 if I do.)

        1. Whenever I give a guy a fake number, he tries to call it immediately “to make sure I have his number too.” Then when my phone doesn’t ring, he gets mad and calls me an ugly lying bitch and why do girls have to be so meeeaaan when guys are just trying to be friendly?

          1. Ugh, this. Cell phones are awesome in many respects, but not this one. Except I most often see it in the context of ‘Here, take my number’/*fine just leave me alone*/’Okay, now call me so I have yours.’ I dream of an app where you can set up a *temporary* number to give these creeps, and as soon as they’re satisfied they’ve got their hooks in you and walked away, you can delete it.

          2. Google Voice. Anyone I met via dating sites gets that instead of my actual number. Ability to label numbers as spam. So awesome. And I can text on my tablet.

          3. Run out of nesting, but in reply to Emma9 – you could get a Google Voice number or something that forwards to your phone, but only ever give it to people you would want to give a fake number to. That way, when they call you in the moment, your phone rings, but you can always turn call forwarding off when you get home.

            (Downsides – it’s still not a variable number, you have to remember to turn call forwarding off and on, and in the even that they check your phone after it rings to “make sure”, it will show the GV number and not theirs.)

          4. There’s also a smartphone app called Burner that creates a new number temporarily. The developers recommend it for stuff like selling stuff on Craiglist without giving buyers your real phone number, but it would also be handy in bars.

          5. So I wrote a longer comment and WordPress ate it, so since I’m out of fucks I’ll make this real short. There’s a cool feminist who has solved this dilemma: the bell hooks hotline. Memorize this phone number, give it to creeps and gtfo of there: 669-221-6251. Creeps who call or text get a random, excellent bell hooks quote instead of access to you!

        2. Some of you are no doubt thinking, “Why didn’t you just give them a fake number?” I tried that twice. The result was that the dude then just didn’t leave me alone for the rest of the night, completely ruining it. And called me a bitch when I wouldn’t go home with him.

          Also, lots of them will dial your number from their phone right then “to make sure you have it” / to make sure it’s real.

          1. Yup. I’ve seen this discussion happen so many times online and the guys are actually *smug* about doing it, like they’ve ‘won’ the game or something, as opposed to giving a seriously good demonstration as to WHY they get fake numbers – clingy, obsessive behavior 30 seconds after you’ve met? HOW SEXY PLEASE TAKE ME RIGHT HERE AND NOW. And in these discussions they of course get *offended* at the suggestion that that is REALLY going to wig a girl out. Because as per usual, it’s totally the woman’s fault for handing out a fake number (but if she got stalked/assaulted/threatened by someone she gave her number out to of course it’d be WELL THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T GIVE YOUR NUMBER OUT TO GUYS YOU SHOULD BE MORE CAREFUL.”)

            I’d make a bingo card out of this shit but I’m already a misanthropist, it’d probably be a terrible idea to feed that beast any more than it already gets.

          2. Also, when you give a fake number, it is often someone’s real one. I once had the extremely creepy experience of being texted at 2 a.m. for three days in a row by someone who would say “I see you’re still awake” and similar chill-inducing things. When i asked who he was, he said “we met last night at x-bar. You gave me your number.” Umm, no I didn’t. He didn’t believe me and kept texting. I ignored the next one and then told him when I got the third one that I would call the police if he didn’t back the fuck off. That got me called many names, but he didn’t text again. My point is that by handing out a fake number you might be saving trouble, but also making it for someone else.

          3. Someone gave my number as a wrong number once. After getting in a car accident. This irate as fuck guy kept on calling me and wouldn’t believe me that I wasn’t the guy’s gf or something that was just lying to try to cheat him. I took the first two calls and then blocked his number after he started yelling.

          4. Also, the fake number might be someone else’s real number.

            If possible, don’t give numbers.

            My goto on this isn’t helpful for everyone. I yell No No No at the top of my lungs, and I no longer give a damn that people think I’m nuts. I allow myself to fall into a state of rage in which I would rather die than give my number.

            As I said, the attitude really may not help everyone. (And I find rage to be unsatisfying)

        3. I’ve never been in the position of having to pester away a guy in a bar, but a friend of mine with lot of experience in that area provided me with this link: http://rejectionline.com/. I love the geniality of it!

        4. Good bartenders will step in when this happens, if they can. I’ve always appreciated my bartender asking me if it’s okay if the gentleman/woman down the bar buys me a drink, instead of just putting it in front of me. Then I’m just saying no to the bartender (and tipping him/her extra). It also alerts the bartender to a potential situation if later in the night the refused drink becomes an issue– “hey, wo/man, he/she said NO.”

          1. Good bartenders will sometimes suggest you don’t take the drink. (“The guy at the end of the bar wants to buy you a drink. He’s a lousy tipper, so I’m not inclined to help him out”)

            I’ve told bar tenders that I’m not interested and to steer people away. They’ve done it.

            Bar tenders – worth their weight in gold or booze

        5. And sometimes, when you give a guy a fake number, that number belongs to someone.

          When I was a kid in the 80s (before we got either an answering machine or caller id), we started getting calls from a guy named Bubba who had met a gal named Nancy. Nancy apparently gave him our number when giving out a fake number. My mom tried to tell him that it was a wrong number, and that no one named Nancy lived at our house (or had ever lived at that address.) He wouldn’t believe it and kept calling about once a week or so. My mom played along for a while and made excuses for Nancy–in the shower, running errands, out of town. Eventually, my mom decided she’d had enough and told him that Nancy had died.

    9. See to me, when a man says to a woman “you’re being naive” regarding something about men hitting on women, it’s quite often the start of “men are hardwired to be gross creepers and sexually assault people!” Sure, it’s possible that her friendliness is being interpreted by them that way and probably is because they’re gross creepers whose wishful thinking is turned way up, but not nearly enough to justify “coming back to my office, my PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT = want to sleep with me”.

    10. When someone you love tells you that they’ve just had an unpleasant experience and are feeling creeped out and harassed and distraught, even if you are totally convinced that their own behavior somehow contributed to what happened, that is not a good time to say “Well, you’re being naive and this is your fault.” That is a good time to say, “Wow. That guy was out of line. I’m sorry that happened.” If you really absolutely feel that you must give them some advice about how to recognize and avoid similar situations, 1) it can wait until they’re calm, and probably even longer than that, like until after you’ve said “Would you like some advice?” and they’ve said “Yes, that would be great,” and 2) it should be something actually constructive and specific, like the Captain’s advice about taking the let-me-tell-you-about-my-marital-woes digression as a red flag and shutting it down, not something vague and kind of insulting like “You’re naive.” That’s what makes the boyfriend’s response douchey.

        1. (I mean, strictly speaking this is also true if someone you don’t love tells you they’ve just etc. etc. But the failure of sympathy seems especially egregious coming from someone who’s supposed to be a partner.)

      1. Yeah, I mean, even if someone is naive, how does just pointing that out help them? It’s like if your teacher walked in on the first day of physics class, said “You folks don’t know much about physics,” and then walked out.

      2. Yes. “I had a shitty experience.” “Let me tell you why the other party was within their rights to treat you like that.” is a major, major, MAJOR red flag. Been there. Escaped.

    11. Agreed. Girls have done this exact stuff to my boyfriend time and time again (he’s nice to them, he listens to their problems, they reveal they have a crush on him, he says no, they get angry at him and say he’s an asshole for leading them on). Obviously these people are just creeps and you are not responsible for the behavior of creeps. However, I did notice a pattern with my boyfriend that was causing him trouble. These girls would confide in them and he’d start giving them and more and more of time. Then they’d start coming to him constantly with their problems to elicit more sympathy and attention (one of them outright told him later on that she did it for attention), and he’d give it every time out of guilt or wanting to be a good friend.

      People who are having trouble in their relationships are vulnerable. They start seeing every other person as “greener grass” and so they become obsessed with the idea of this person who Understands Them. The crux of it lies, it seems to me, in being willing to run to help with their problems or lend an ear at the drop of the hat. Obviously those are good intentions– you’re trying to be a good friend. But unfortunately when someone is having relationship problems, sometimes they think being sympathetic means you’re saying, “I agree, your s/o is a tool and I’m a lot nicer and cooler and I would never do what they do”. And again. Obviously you’re not saying that. And in a perfect world, like aurora said, you wouldn’t have to change just because other people can be tools. But it’s less a matter of changing than it is of recognizing the signs and cutting them off as hard as possible. It’s a matter of being sympathetic but not to the point where the things you talk about the most are the other person’s problems. In fact, I’ve read that it’s a big red flag of dependency and emotional manipulation when someone only talks to you about their problems and not much else.

      I’ve had this problem except it’s never gotten as bad as this because I’m good at being reasonably nice while squashing down all things that seem overly-friendly. If I feel people are getting too much into their relationship problems with me, I start giving short answers that make it clear that, while I sympathize, it’s not my problem to sort out. You’re unhappy in your relationship? That’s rough buddy, sorry to hear that…hey, did you see that thing on TV last night?

      I understand that not everyone responds to that sort of thing. Sometimes creepers gonna creep and you do have to just cut them out of your life and run. But when it’s happening a lot, I think it can be helpful to examine social cues that desperate people can perceive as flirting. Again, it ain’t your fault, but there ways you can try to alleviate it and squash it before it grows worse.

      1. I think, what’s different here mostly is 1) It’s a professional setting, i.e. you would expect people ( = these men) to have professional boundaries 2) They are mostly older than LW and thereby (and because of 1) less of peers to LW, which makes it more likely that they’re being manipulative jerks when they are starting to talk about their marital problems, setting LW up for some gross stuff, just as the Captain said.

      2. Speaking for myself, nothing can put me off a person faster than them badmouthing their SO to me when we are nothing more than acquaintances/work friends. I understand people may need to confide to soneone, but that’s what friends are for, or alternatively complete strangers, like therapists or shrinks. But to seriously complain about about your partner to a relative stranger feels like a betrayal.

        One thing I have found shuts this kind of person up is to express sympathy for the SO: ” You think your life changed since you had a baby? Think how your poor wife must feel!”

        1. Yeah, agreed, badmouthing one’s SO is such a turn off, and there’s really no place for it in newer friendships

          I think sympathizing with the SO is a good strategy to get them to back off. If not sympathizing then at least saying something like “Maybe you should try to think of it from their perspective. Maybe there are things making them unhappy too and that’s why they’re acting distant.”

        2. I had a DudeFriend who “opened up” to me about his “sexual incompatibility” with his girlfriend. As he had previously hit on me and been turned down, it was not difficult to see this tactic for what it was.

          I chose to feign bright ignorance and chirp “oh, but the tradeoff for long-term companionship can be so worthwhile!”

          Dude and I no longer interact by choice.

          1. Delurking to say that this is the best response ever to the “my girlfriend doesn’t satisfy meeeeeeeeeee” whine. Just… genius.

    12. If ten million people jump on you for victim blaming, Occam’s Razor would suggest that it is because you are victim blaming.

      I have visible muscles. My posture is great. I have taught women’s self-defence classes. For a number of years I had a job in which I wore a uniform, carried a gun, and arrested sometimes-violent criminals. I tend to wear practical clothing that I can run in if I have to. Between my years in law enforcement, having grown up in the inner city, and riding a motorcycle, my head is on a swivel and I am visibly aware of my surroundings. In short, nothing about me says that I lack confidence or would not put up a fight. Yet, by some mystery of the universe (by which I mean “being a woman in a sexist world”), I get creeped on and harassed. Sometimes I used to get creeped on and harassed while in uniform with a gun strapped to my waist. Please explain how I am doing it wrong.

      Also, since we’re talking about existing in the world as it is, the boyfriend-mention or girlfriend-mention is a commonly-used soft no to signal unavailability. Polyamorous people tend to mention being poly if and when it is relevant to the conversation. It was not relevant to the LW’s conversations; as such, those guys’ disappointed boners of willful cluelessness are at fault here.

      1. “the boyfriend-mention or girlfriend-mention is a commonly-used soft no to signal unavailability.”
        Seriously. And this holds whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous.
        Personally I hate having to bring up a partner (regardless of their actual existence) because I should be allowed to say No on my own merits, not because I already “belong” to someone. But I will fall back on it as a last resort if someone refuses to take a straight forward “I am not interested in you” as the answer it is. (Yes, I do have to sometimes follow up a direct no with a soft no to get the reponse I want. It’s…. annoying)

        1. Yeah, it’s infuriating. There is nothing women can do to win: If we’re direct in turning a guy down, either we’re too bitchy and who do we think we are, or we’re ignored because hey, it’s not as though we’re people. If we give the soft no by way of boyfriend-mention, either we’re not direct enough or we’re no longer fair game because we’re already SomeDude’s property, and if we give the soft no girlfriend-mention, either we’re not direct enough or we get an onslaught of homophobia of either threats of violence or lecherous male gaze “can I watch” grossness.

    13. Look, even if this is true and the LW is involuntarily doing something that sends a signal, what is the LW supposed to do about it? Question all of her tiniest gestures and inflections? Because I feel like she’s probably already doing that. As many of us do most of the time.

      I have a beautiful friend who has a tendency to look intensely at whomever she is listening to. It’s not, like, extreme or off-putting intensity; just slightly more focused than is typical for casual conversation. And until she got married, it was very common for the dudes in my social circle to ask her out or all-out fling themselves at her shortly after meeting her for the first time. Two dudes I know asked me for my two cents on the matter before they made a move, and I explained to them that she wasn’t especially interested in them individually, that’s just her general interest face. The dudes argued with me. I didn’t see how she was looking at them, they said. (I did, though.) I couldn’t know for sure, could I, unless I asked her myself? (Who among us can know?)

      Now if I had brought this up to her–hey, friend, these guys are all falling for your flattering gaze–what could she have done about it? Can you consciously dial down your intense gaze, if you didn’t know you were doing it in the first place? And is it worth that self-consciousness, questioning the tiniest of personal tics, just because some dudes propped up their wishful thinking with a rather inconclusive and ambiguous nonverbal behavior? Now, suppose I smugly conveyed to her that her eyes somehow have the power to hypnotize grown men into behaving foolishly; is that going to be helpful information if one of those men oversteps his bounds into behaving egregiously?

      I kind of see what you mean with the whole “we live in the real world not the ideal world” thing, but seriously, I don’t think it’s a road worth going down.

      1. Yes. And it is pretty clear to me that the LW included all these details about how she is maybe too nice and too personal with people because she is already questioning her tiniest gestures because she thinks it must be her fault, when it is not.

        I mean, there is NO EXCUSE ON EARTH to ever say something like “if I were younger, I’d think you coming to my office meant you wanted to sleep with me”. Unless maybe the woman had said “I am coming to your office, because I would like to sleep with you!” FLAMES, ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE.

        1. “And if you were less of a lecherous cockmonkey, you’d think it was because I wanted to discuss work. Since we are AT WORK.”

          1. I’m now wondering about “*chuckle*, Oh man, yeah! I was terrible at reading social cues when I was younger. I’m glad we’ve both learnt that lesson!”

      2. As an intense gazer–yes. This. All of this.

        The whole “you’re so naive” thing always sounds to me like “how is it that you don’t see yourself as a sex object?” I actually have had to explain this to dudes before: that women do not actually think of ourselves as sexual possessions that can be gained, kept, lost or stolen. I always love/hate the measure of sheer disbelief that accompanies that conversation, like every woman in every cross-gender interaction is thinking: “How can I make him not want to bone me when I am clearly so very bone-able? You know what? Breasts. Mine are so cool, and I just bet this guy knows it…”*

        I ain’t got time for that. When I’m interacting with people I find cool–of any gender–I’m like a Doberman puppy, wagging my stubby tail; (“New friend! HI new friend! Want to debate the merits of social democracies? ME TOO.”) I am not at all thinking about how you’re thinking about me with my clothes off, because why would I be thinking that?

        *My best friend and I like to critique Internet erotica, and we can always tell when a female character is written by her guy, because she is always thinking (in great detail) about her own breasts. So weird.

      3. Yes. Fellow default-interested-intense gazer here. See also: I work in a forward-facing position and have to smile at people a lot. I am not smiling particularly at YOU; I’m paid to do that thing you think has somehow created this unspoken of FATE STAR DESTINY 4EVA between us. I’m pretty sure, if the Wishful Boner Letters of Craigslist Missed Connections are any indication, that no woman should ever smile at a man ever–for any reason–because it essentially constitutes a binding contract.

        Re: the whole “you’re so naive” thing always sounds to me like “how can you just not think of yourself primarily as a sex object!?” The disbelief there that the male-gaze centered version of reality is not one you consider at all times is so astoundingly pervasive, it’s depressing. Do they think we are always thinking, “I have to carefully control my feminine lady hotness at all times because this dude I’m interacting with will definitely want to sex me. Like right now. And that dude, too. You know what? Breasts. I have those, and they are cool. And I just bet this guy knows it…”*

        I’ve been called naive before for having the audacity to think that dudes would actually want to have a lively, interesting conversation with me. I think it says an awful lot more about the people saying it (and their thoughts on the value of women’s intellectual contributions) than about me (or LW).

        *my best friend and I like to critique Internet erotica. We can always tell if a guy has written a female character by the fact that she spends a lot of time thinking about her own breasts in vivid detail. So weird.

    14. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, especially where you brought up the LW becoming very chummy a bit too quickly than would be expected of a professional relationship, but I have to disagree with this part:

      “Also, a nitpick for this day and age: in an era where polyamory is becoming more acceptable, why is it *bad* that people are ignoring the “I have a cool boyfriend” dialogue? Shouldn’t we be open to people having more than one lover and searching while they’re already in a relationship?”

      Opennes to people having more than one lover is very different to assuming that someone is in an open or poly relationship. While it’s fantastic that polyamory is becoming more accepted as a legitimate form of romantic relationship, monogamy is still standard for the majority of the population, and no damage is done by assuming someone’s relationship is monogamous unless they tell you otherwise. If LW was poly and interested in these men romantically, it’s likely she would have mentioned this fact when she brought up her boyfriend.

    15. I have been in many situations where I have deliberately acted cold and professional to someone, have carefully policed my actions for any trace of flirtatiousness that could be misinterpreted. Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter. Some people are going to project their boners onto you no matter what, and try to make you responsible for them. And sometimes this shit has happened at work, and sometimes I had to deal with undermining career sabotage bullshit as a result of shutting someone down – when I was only ever acting professional to them to begin with. That’s the frustrating thing. It doesn’t matter what you do. I’ve had friends locked in cars by their bosses and assaulted at off-site meetings after they turned down propositions because “you were always so enthusiastic and friendly to me at work, what do you mean you don’t want to fuck me?” When to my friend, “enthusiastic” and “friendly” meant “I love my job and want to do well at this company.” I’ve had friends who were pushed into sprinklers at business conferences by drunk superiors who were “just joking” and wanted to see what color underwear she was wearing under those cream-colored pants. I think a lot of people feel like they should be safe from this shit at work, because they’re not going into work to meet sexual partners, they’re not approaching their careers looking for dates. The creepers are the ones making it weird, and inappropriate, and uncomfortable, and illegal. Not the LW.

      1. “I have been in many situations where I have deliberately acted cold and professional to someone, have carefully policed my actions for any trace of flirtatiousness that could be misinterpreted. Sometimes, it just doesn’t matter.”

        Indeed. Some people even get off on that. Granted, I get hit on more when I’m warm and friendly, but yeah sometimes cold and professional just does it for some guys. No idea why.

        1. My theory is that they’re just waiting for us to pull out the hairpins on our tightly wound chignons, and whip our hair around the shoulders of our business suits. (barfing)

          1. Ha! In my most memorable case, I was actually in military camoflauge (BDU is the acronym) and seven months pregnant. Even I can admit I was a bit of a raging hormonal witch looking back – people who significantly outranked me avoided me!

            But this one guy – he just kept pushing my buttons. I hated him! Then one day at work he sends me a private instant message asking me out to dinner. I was floored! What the hell?!

            I said no, that I had plans (legitimately I did), and to his credit he dropped it and never brought it up again.

            Weird, right?

          2. Seriously! You could be firing a nail gun at them and they’d still be like, “ooooOOOOOooh, I got under her skin!”

      2. Yep, when I was being harassed at a previous workplace I would literally walk away in silence whenever Egregious Dude started talking to me. That just meant that the texts I received from him out of hours became more lecherous and abusive. Even telling him in writing to leave me alone just meant he started calling me out of hours instead of texting. When the structure and culture of a business is set up to protect harassers more than it is victims, it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do to encourage them. They have licence to act as they wish and they know it. That’s actually what most of them get off on.

        1. That’s exactly it. In all of the sexual harassment instances I recounted in my initial post, the women went to HR – these were large corporations with all sorts of formalized processes in place (in theory) and were told, sure, you could pursue this, but at the risk of destroying your professional reputation, so is it worth that to you? There were literally zero professional repercussions for the guys who did this shit.

        2. White cis male here. I’m on a committee at my workplace that is in part focused on improving the type of things you’re talking about–structure and culture as they relate to the experience of women (and people who are gay, trans, disabled, members of racial/ethnic minorities, from other countries, non-native speakers, etc.). I would characterize my workplace as better than most (my perception) in this regard but with plenty of room for improvement. We’ve talked a lot about culture, but what about structure? I mean, we have an HR department and I assume (but don’t know–the committee just started up) that it would take seriously any complaint about sexual harassment. But that’s the standard structure and I think its track record is pretty inadequate. And what about a structure for interactions that are unacceptable but for which a complaint to HR might reasonably not be considered the best solution. What are the alternative avenues?

          Sorry to thread hijack but I’m finding serving on this committee very challenging. So so hard for me to see outside myself and face a reality that it would take no effort whatsoever not to see.

          1. I think a lot of this has to do with company policy. My friend reported the pushed-into-the-sprinkler incident to HR, and they told her that their policy dictated that, in order to file a complaint, she had to do a one-on-one sit-down with that supervisor and the HR rep and confront him about what happened, and she suspected he was the type to retaliate unless she “played nice.” They were unwilling to take her complaint at face value – even though she had witnesses – unless she confronted the guy directly and asked him to apologize. And then they said things to her like, “are you sure you want to do this? Because no one’s going to want you in their department after this.”

            So I guess I would say, some of the most important things are:
            1) Believe people when they have complaints, assume that they’re not making things up;
            2) Create an environment where people reporting harassment feel like there is going to be some measure of confidentiality;
            3) Establish a reputation for acting on complaints, so people feel like there will be some benefit to taking the risk of coming forward;
            4) Follow up. Check in with the complainant after the fact to see if that person was experiencing any retaliation…and make sure that harassers face consequences for harassing, and for retaliation.
            5) Support the complainant about notifying the authorities in the cases where harassment or stalking escalates beyond the workplace / work hours.

            As for the structure for interactions, it’s really hard to implement something like that without taking culture into consideration. For instance, I’ve worked in companies where the owner kept porn magazines in the coed bathrooms, and I felt perfectly comfortable razzing him about it, because I knew he’d a) move them and b) it wasn’t going to weird, or negatively affect our camaraderie. I also worked at a company where the owner blasted a sexist/sexually offensive radio show every afternoon, but I heard him mocking the other female employees behind their backs when they complained and he seemed like a grudge-holder, so I felt uncomfortable bringing it up directly to him.

            Not sure if that’s helpful…:)

          2. I think you’re right about all this, especially two things: culture and micro-policies. By that I mean that nothing is more important/valuable in this context than culture. It’s kind of like height in the NBA. And by micro-policies I mean that it’s not enough to have a robust, abstract policy in place, you have to spell out the details that actually pay attention to the realities of power and social structures such that it becomes easier to speak up and still be protected.

            Re culture, I think of it in two levels. One level is having a culture that responds to and addresses complaints vigorously and appropriately, obviously a good thing. But at another level maybe you could have a culture where things to complain about don’t happen (probably impossible at this stage) or happen much less. Then it’s all about hiring and day-to-day and messaging/consistency from the top.

          3. Seconding Guava. Also, multiple reputable organizations I’ve worked for or studied at have an external compliance/conflict report line. If you have a colleague who had something uncomfortable happen and that person’s nervous about bringing it to the attention of their supervisor/HR rep, this way they can talk to someone 100% outside the situation who doesn’t know anyone involved.

          4. Here’s a test: if we used a particular process, would it actually solve the problem for the harassed employee? Or would it just shut the employee up so we don’t have to make difficult choices?

          5. Also, policies should give lots of information: penalties for retaliation, and what you will do about it if it happens

            in my organization it makes a real difference that there is a time period after a complaint is filed where certain negative actions are presumed to be retaliatory and instead of making the complainant prove that they are, we make the other person prove they’re not. It makes people feel much more safe filing a complaint)

            Confidentiality, you should be as explicit as you can about what you will and wont keep confidential, and also how you will force people being investigated to keep things confidential.

            Timelines. People really get frustrated and turned off by a complaint process if they don’t know clearly what to expect from you as far as how long it will take for you to investigate, when the person they complained about will find out, and when they will hear back from you. Managing expectations so people know up front what will happen when really gives your process a lot more credibility, because people know what to expect when and aren’t blindsided or left out. Timelines also help them know when somethings wrong: complaining people tend to (rightly!) be nervous and distrustful. You can earn their trust by keeping to what you say you’ll do in the complaint process and keeping them informed. Having benchmarks lets them know when they need to check back in (which saves you a lot of random unhappy check-ins), and it lets them relax a bit in the in-between, because they know how long it will be, so they can trust you until you don’t keep to the timelines (at which point unless you’re communicating well in advance of why you’re not keeping to it and steps you’re taking to resolve the delay, you likely will lose their trust, deservedly). Timelines also force the investigator to take prompt action and keep in touch.

    16. “Also, a nitpick for this day and age: in an era where polyamory is becoming more acceptable, why is it *bad* that people are ignoring the “I have a cool boyfriend” dialogue? Shouldn’t we be open to people having more than one lover and searching while they’re already in a relationship?” What? Why? If I tell someone I’m dating someone, no, I shan’t be open to them thinking my monogamous ass should be open to another relationship. It’s not just dandy for them to assume facts not in evidence. This is far from the default, and when in doubt, if that is actually your intent, ASK. But let’s get real, these guys were the much more traditional cheater type.

    17. Being poly doesn’t mean someone fucks everyone they meet. They could be poly and in a closed relationship. Anyway, polyamory isn’t becoming more acceptable. Polyamory has become acceptable in liberal, feminist, sex-positive spaces. The rest of the world still thinks monogamy is the True Path and the default assumption.

    18. I am poly. I’m also not looking.

      If someone *at work* or in a work/professional context asks me “are you married?” the answer is either “yes” or “why do you ask?” Even if I was looking for another partner, I wouldn’t look at work.

    19. I agree that we do not live in an ideal world.

      Merely living in a non-deal world does not mean there is a problem with the logic of “LW has non-ideal people behaving towards her in a non-ideal way and her boyfriend SAYS IT’S HER FAULT. This means her boyfriend is being a victim-blaming jerk.”

        1. If we lived in an ideal world, I wouldn’t be typing this right now because Cillian Murphy would be calling me back to bed.

    20. There are definitely social cues for “so, after our nice professional meeting, let’s go somewhere private or go have drinks in a clearly flirty manner” or whatever. It’s not just overt touching, like she says she’s trying to avoid; it’s all kinds of things — tone of voice, word choice, body language. 75% of conversation is nonverbal.

      I think this great oversimplifies the actual variety of human behavior and social cues. A couple of examples from my person life: a common bit of “is she into me?” wisdom is that women touch their hair when they’re attracted to someone. (I don’t know where this little tidbit came from, probably the Land of Make Believe.) I touch my hair constantly. It’s actually something I’ve had to train myself out of at work because it can be viewed as unprofessional. But when I’m on a first date, I’m probably twirling one of my curls basically all the time. I’d be doing it right now if I didn’t need both hands to type. And in fact, while I haven’t run a study on this I probably do it *more* when I’m not into a guy and biding my time until I can gracefully exit. Similarly, I have a hard time making eye contact for some reason, particularly if I’m attracted to someone. And again, “eye contact” is often listed in the “definite signs that girl likes you” Fantasy Dating Roster.

      My philosophical stance against victim-blaming aside, this kind of advice bugs me because it’s based largely on imaginary rules and thus not actually *actionable*.

      1. Exactly! Flirtation is not “acting sympathetic” towards someone!

        I am extremely sympathetic/empathetic towards others, but I don’t flirt. In fact, it’s something I have had difficulty teaching myself to do, when I want to express interest towards someone. I’ve tried. I’m just not a flirty sort of person. I have put it down to being an INTP on the Myers Briggs, although it could be something else entirely- maybe it’s just something I never learned to do. In any case, I have struggled with how to express attraction towards someone and “acting sympathetic” is not and should not be interpreted as interest towards someone; if it were, wouldn’t men think every grandmother everywhere was interested in everyone?

        Instead, they’re using this as a highly convenient excuse.

        1. Yup — I discovered that I can fake-flirt just by acting really interested in what a guy is saying. It’s nice when I want to give that impression without figuring out how to do it properly, but it often gives me pause for thought that literally the most minimally friendly behavior ever passes for “interest.”

      2. Damn, do HTML tags not work here? That first paragraph is a quote from the comment I was replying to.

          1. Those are chevron brackets! They’re super common in some coding languages and in French 🙂 And don’t worry, I used to use them every day in my coding classes but I still had to check Google to be sure I had the name right 😀

      3. Oh my god, this is it, right here. I HATE the whole “touching her hair means she’s flirting” thing, and the dumb thing is, this weird trope exists inside the minds of men only.

        I have a really, really hard time believing that actual women think that touching our hair means we’re flirting, so why do men persist in thinking this? I see this “sign” mentioned in dating articles all the friggin’ time, as if it were a fact.

        For real though, real live women actually know that we touch our hair for all sorts of reasons. Why isn’t this myth debunked yet, since half of the world’s population KNOWS it to be untrue?? (Don’t answer that, rhetorical question).

      4. I was very similar with my hair as a pre-teen. It was taken as flirtation by one of my middle-school teachers. Also meeting his eyes (mostly in a desperate attempt to get his gaze off my chest), and well, basically everything I did that wasn’t running away screaming.

        When I actually did run away screaming (surprise under-clothes groping, yay!), he backed off, a little. Basically he went back to inappropriate interest and creeping, and interpreting my normal, habitual behavior as flirtatious response. Any story would do, as long as he could tell himself about how he wasn’t a predator of little girls because they were interested right back.

    21. Back when I was poly, if I got creeped on by someone who didn’t know that about me I dragged my husband into it right quick. Monogamy is still the dominant paradigm and will be for some time to come, so making a point of talking about an existing partner still signals unavailability.

    22. I missed the part where LW said they had said or done anything in any way that could possibly have been taken to indicate they’re in anything but a monogamous relationship.

      Because even if they are poly, poly people are capable of making that disclosure when and to whom it needs to be made. Otherwise, even “in this day and age,” talking about their partner means an intimate relationship is not going to happen.

    23. Societal expectations exist, and I think this is a big deal.

      Perhaps I’m the one who’s innocent and naive, but I don’t know that all of society believes that every attractive woman who is friendly with a man wants to sleep with that man. We’re talking about the expectations of a particular subset of society.

      It’s fine to have defenses and an early warning system around that subset’s expectations, IF that’s possible, which it isn’t always. On the other hand, said expectations also lean toward monogamy. Yes, polyamory is becoming more acceptable, which is great, but most people consider monogamy as the default. Those married dudes aren’t hoping LW is poly. They’re hoping she’ll cheat on her boyfriend or leave him.

    24. “if I was younger, I would have thought that you coming back to my office meant you wanted to sleep with me.” is completely inappropriate to say to somebody with a boyfriend. It is also completely inappropriate to say to a single person. It is inappropriate whether or not somebody is poly. It’s just plain creepy and inappropriate. These people sound creepy. And I don’t think it’d be any less creepy if the letter writer were actually single, so the poly angle doesn’t sound relevant. There are creepy ways to express interest and non-creepy ways. That quote – definitely creepy. Somebody who creeps the letter writer out enough that she is avoiding crossing his path at significant cost, definitely creepy. And since none of it would be any more okay if she were single, it wouldn’t matter if she were poly.

    25. You sound slightly like my mother. She has told me repeatedly that any kind of unwanted attention that I would get from the male side of humanity would be driven by my stupid attitude/believe that -oh the horror – women and men can be “just friends”. Should I constantly follow her wise lessons, I would suspect any man crossing glares with me, either at work or at leisure, and assume that he only wants to trick me into his pants, and I wouldn’t have been harassed or accused of leading men on. You know, that’s my mistake: that I don’t have the experience to realize that men will never consider women their equals because that simple idea cannot get into their little brains. So, why are you, candid soul, doing: keeping those male friendships from university, even if they are now married? Are you trying to make their wives jealous?!?! Men and women: friends? You little stupid stubborn girl!!! (/sarcasm).

    26. Like… I am polyamorous and creepy poly dudes (and dudes who want to convince me that they’re more available than they are) still manage to use similar scripts to creep on me.

      I’ve had poly dudes moan about partners with new children, and how she totally wants him to go out and have fun while she’s clearly exhausted.

      I’ve had poly dudes try to convince me that my long term relationship isn’t good for me. “Oh, I’m going to admit something really private. Is it bad that I was jealous when I saw you and your boyfriend together?” YES IT IS DUDE WHO IS DOUBLE MY AGE WHO I HAVE NEVER ACTUALLY EXPRESSED ANY INTEREST IN. YES IT IS.

      Like, I assume people in relationships are unavailable. And trust me, non-monogamous people have soft ways of signalling their availability. “Oh this weekend I’m going to the movies with my boyfriend and my girlfriend”
      And even when people are non-monogamous, I don’t assume that their relationship has the exact rules and parameters as my relationship.
      Also, I can crush on someone and not have any intention of ever acting on that crush due to it being inappropriate.

    27. No. “there are things you can do to reduce the odds” *is* Victim Blaming bullshit, and even IF it worked all it would do is make the creeper creep on somebody else. The problem is 100% the creep’s fault and never the targets.

      The fact that you ended your comment with a statement that people will jump down your throat is clear evidence that you KNOW this line of thinking is full of poop. Good luck processing that poop. You seem to need.

    28. If the framing here was a bit more ‘it sucks this isn’t a perfect world and if you don’t mind changing who you are and how you behave to suit this crap world then you can do things about this’ I would be on board. As someone that used to have this problem, till I gave up trying to form deep friendships with guys, I lost a lot making that choice. I’ve narrowed the field of friends by 50% before I’ve even started. But by steering clear of deep emotional conversations or enthused geekdom or in fact anything much outside of small talk with men this happens far less and correspondingly less potential friends. So maybe wonderful boyfriend is right to point at naivety but isn’t it the kind of naivety we wish we could all have and it be our right? Wouldn’t it be better that people didn’t get a pass for ignoring obvious social queues and left the scene to deal with their own sadness for what won’t be without trying to pass this off on the other person. And if we’re going to suggest the hit upon can do something about it be honest that they lose by doing it. I might have talked myself out of my habit of avoiding these interactions maybe dealing with creepers might be better than losing half my chances at close friends?

    29. Y’know, I actually hear you that “there’s still a little bit you can do about it” is empowering, and “there’s nothing you can do” is not. But giving any advice at all assumes that there is something you can do–and the Captain did give advice, so I’m not seeing a disempowering message here. There’s also a good deal of good advice further down from experienced people.

      The thing is, I think, that this is like defensive driving. That’s why the Captain laid so much emphasis on “it’s not you.” LW came in with the idea that “maybe it’s me.” But it’s not her–I really don’t think that she is giving off *sex* signals to these guys (subconsciously or something?) which is what “leading men on” technically means. These guys who are like “my bad marriage, let me tell you it!” and then all “hey, what’s your deal, I thought you totally wanted to sleep with me!”… well, the *most* innocent interpretation (which may be true in some cases) is that they’re guys who “thought” they saw sex signals because that’s what they were obsessively looking for. Because they walked into the room and went “Look, a sexy lady! Sex? Sex? Is she into me? Does she look like she’s into me? Sex?” So “being nice to me” is “She’s into me! Sex!” and “listening to me” is “She’s into me! Sex!”… etc… etc…

      So, it’s like defensive driving: instead of going “Am I doing this wrong?” you’re looking out there and going “Who are the jerks out there that are doing this wrong and can I avoid them?” (“Going on to a female acquaintance about your marriage problems is suspicious behavior” is a great start on that.) Sometimes you can avoid them. Sometimes they smash into you anyway. None of it’s your fault. But yes, it’s worth learning to do what you can.

      But see, I think the emphasis is important. If it’s on her and her body language, she has to be checking herself and second-guessing herself and that way lies madness… or something very mentally unpleasant anyway. If it’s on them, it’s about spotting who the creepers are. (And also the “totally not creeping I swear” guys with their heads up their butts. Maybe that qualifies as Nice Guys. Something like that.) I’m pretty sure that once she knows who not to trust, she knows what to do.

      1. This is such a clear articulation of a really important distinction, and why the Captain’s advice is actually much more helpful than the victim-blaming. (As well as being not totally unfair!)

      2. I love the defensive driving analogy. It’s a good idea just on general principle, but it doesn’t make things your fault.

    30. So basically, LW should never trust men she meets on the job, confide in them, be alone with them or try to strike up friendships with them? Gross.

      Also, I am poly and have had occasion to hit on and ask out people who I knew were already in relationships (or when I already was), where I wasn’t sure if the person I was into was mono or not, but I had a reasonable hope that they might not be and was trying to feel it out. And the way that I do this is: I tread super carefully. I make it very clear that I am not a “cheater” and don’t think they are either, and I am not suggesting some kind of gross illicit affair. If the answer is “no thanks,” I back off crazy fast and make it as not-awkward for them as possible. If the answer is “I’m actually seeing someone” and they do not elaborate on what that means about them and me, that is another form of “no thanks” and I take it as such. I never blame the person I’m into for “leading me on,” and if I had my hopes up and I feel disappointed, I recognize that that’s on me to deal with and I don’t let them see one scrap of it.

      Can you spot the differences between a respectful invitation and what these dudes are doing with their “if I were younger and my divorce were final, you bitch how dare you lead me on” bullshit? (Hint: the key word is “respect.”)

    31. I know what you mean, although it may or may not be happening, and is probably hard for OP to hear. I agree with Cap’ns stance, which is basically “no means no”. But I also understand where you are coming from.

      So, Op, if that comment resonates with you, maybe ask a trusted friend to observe your body language? I noticed that my husband was quite flirty in posture with female friends in the pub, in return they were quite flirty with him. Things like mirroring behaviour, nervous giggles, standing close, holding eye contact, hair flicks… When I pointed this out, i think he realised; it certainly reduced in interactions and he got fewer flirty stances from our colleagues in the after work pub.

      OP i am not at all trying to blame you – youve made clear youre not interested and that should be respected! But if youre still at a loss, maybe ask a trusted friend to watch your body language and give you tips? And watch others. How close is ‘into personal space’ territory? How close is ‘respectful distance’? And so on.

    32. “Also, a nitpick for this day and age: in an era where polyamory is becoming more acceptable, why is it *bad* that people are ignoring the “I have a cool boyfriend” dialogue? Shouldn’t we be open to people having more than one lover and searching while they’re already in a relationship?”

      No. For a few reasons.

      1) I don’t think that it’s automatically terrible to get involved with someone from your work. Adults spend a lot of time at work, and we meet a lot of people at work, and sometimes sparks are going to fly. There’s nothing wrong with that, IMO. However, because the workplace is a setting where women in particular are frequently subjected to unwanted advances and are (quite reasonably) afraid of career ramifications for refusing someone’s advances, it’s important to step lightly.

      That means that if you’re going to ask someone out, make sure it’s not someone you are in a position of power over. And, make sure that it’s somebody you really genuinely like. Do not ask out someone out because you had a good conversation over the copier that once and she’s pretty. If you’re asking out more than one or two people a year, it’s too much and you need to cool it. It also means that you need to ask the person straight out, once, in a low-pressure way, and back way off if they don’t say, “Yes I would love that!”

      2) Polyamory and open relationships have become more common, but people in them are still very much in the minority. I don’t want to cramp anyone’s style, but it’s important to recognize that and approach people accordingly. I think it’s probably safe to say that the majority of people are not in polyamorous or open relationships and would be uncomfortable getting involved with someone who was. If you’re in that position, do not ask out someone you hardly know if you don’t have tangible reason to believe that they would be okay with it.

      3) People – women in particular, but men too – often fall back to “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend” as a way to signal that they are not available and not interested in you. That’s super, super common. It’s a common response to someone asking you out, but it’s also a common preemptive response so that people know that you’re not looking for romance. Is that the only time someone mentions a significant other? Of course not. But it’s a cue to step carefully.

  3. So seconding CA on the last point. I didn’t get this when I was younger, but experience has taught me that when men (especially older men) you don’t know very well start to bring their unhappy marriages into otherwise innocuous conversations, that’s the same as them saying, “I’m setting up to hit on you at some future date.” If you then seem surprised that there was an agenda behind these interactions, they get to throw it back on you, “But we had such a connection! I’ve never felt this way before — thought you felt the same! It’s your fault!” and etc. Always, always, always — no exceptions.

    In the same category: the sudden reappearance on FB or email of an old flame. The reason behind that isn’t that you’re such a special person they realized after not showing any interest in you for 20 years that they couldn’t live without you, it’s that they’re unhappy at home and looking for a pre-built escape.

    This has been an episode of “Hard Lessons from People Who Have Lived Long Enough to Know Better.”

    1. Totally seconding this. When a guy talks about his unhappy relationship, he’s hitting on you. Also true, in my experience, when he talks about his open/poly relationship. Triply true if he brings up these things in a professional context, and/or when you aren’t already good friends.

    2. I can relate to the ‘sudden reappearance of an old flame’ bit. Last year, I got an out-of-the-blue message from the guy I dated in high school (after not speaking to me for over a decade). He asked if I remembered him, I played it a bit coy (since his name was slightly common), then he came back at me with ‘You might remember me as soandso, we used to date’. For whatever reason, I got such a massive creep vibe from that response that I never bothered with a reply. Thankfully, he hasn’t contacted me again, but it was weird.

    1. THIS. If rape culture forces a woman to make her world smaller in order to stay safe, she’s going to miss out on opportunities.

  4. You’re not imagining things – this has happened to me too. I have developed something of a spidey sense for inappropriate older men, and I’m very wary of older men in general at this point. One of the things I realized is that most of the men who ended up doing or saying inappropriate things to me often tested the waters first (sometimes by doing some of the things you mentioned above) – getting me alone to talk, talking about their relationship/sexual frustrations, insulting other women but saying I was exceptional, talking about how much potential I had without any basis in reality, etc. These things already made me uncomfortable but I’d so internalized the expectation of making everyone else comfortable at my own expense that I had forced myself to ignore these things. I wish you luck and skill in navigating this treacherous terrain. Men who are respectful generally know how creepy other men can be and try to operate within your comfort zone, whatever that looks like.

    1. One of the things I realized is that most of the men who ended up doing or saying inappropriate things to me often tested the waters first (sometimes by doing some of the things you mentioned above) – getting me alone to talk, talking about their relationship/sexual frustrations, insulting other women but saying I was exceptional, talking about how much potential I had without any basis in reality, etc.

      Yes this. I was trying to put this same thought into words. When people you barely know & have a professional relationship start opening up to you about their ‘terrible marriages’ it is definitely a warning sign. Maybe it makes DOES make you a bit ‘to nice & naive’ to not know this but I seriously doubt that it would change much.
      My first office job I worked with a guy, about 15 years my senior, also had just started at the company, who would constantly invite me out to lunch alone, tell me about his terrible ex-wife and a couple times offered to pay for my meal. I was weirded out, declined, & stopped talking to him unless it was work related. He quit about a year later & I found out he did very similar things to TWO other female colleagues. Including showing up social events they casually mentioned they were attending, and pestering them to ‘let him drive them home’. One of them (who is both ‘nicer’ and ‘more naive’ than me) had some real problems with him & had to talk to our supervisor.
      I work in a technical field & am surrounded by men who share personal details but do NOT make me uncomfortable everyday. Learning to identify the ‘bad feelings’ will probably make your professional life much easier, but it will not actually stop the creepers from creeping. The onus is on them.

    2. These things already made me uncomfortable but I’d so internalized the expectation of making everyone else comfortable at my own expense that I had forced myself to ignore these things.

      A HUGE step in helping me break myself out of this habit was retraining myself to stop laughing when I was uncomfortable. Do you know that impulse? When someone says something inappropriate, so you pretend they were joking as a way of giving them a conversational “out?” It’s the smallest thing, but it was so ingrained in me, and it read as approval to the other person like 99% of the time. It was the first tangible way that I gave myself permission to let other people feel awkward about something, and it was surprisingly powerful. Now I do it all the time – no laugh, no smile, just raise my eyebrows like they’re doing something weird and change the subject. It works well, at least for low-level boundary-testing.

      Just throwing that out there for anyone reading who’s looking for a way to put the idea into practice.

      1. Yes! I consider myself a friendly person and just automatically put on a smile when talking to someone in a polite environment (at work, at uni, someone I just met…) unless I have reason not to do so. I also did the automatic smiling thing and only stopped a year or so ago. It’s really powerful and generally works really well. (Unless I’m dealing with – funnily enough – the guy I was mentioning above who thought I like to be on the phone. He says so many stupid things all the time and I would just laugh along but then I stopped doing this. And he was visibly confused and I thought “Yay! It worked!” and then the next time we met, it would be the same thing again. It’s still like that. It’s like he’s forgotten how I react to him from one shift to the next. But well, it shuts him up for that specific shift, so I guess that’s enough. The lather, rinse, repeat just becomes annoying over time but I can deal with it.)

        1. In the story “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” by Susanna Clarke, there is a character named Jane Tobias, who is a magician. The narrator mentions that everyone in the village is a bit afraid of her because she only smiles when there is a reason to smile. Reading it was one of those “huh!” moments for me.

          1. Thanks for sharing that. I did a bit of a “huh?” at that too. Since that’s always been my default mode. This is probably part of why I was so often outcast and targeted as a child. I always wondered why people so quickly, with so little info, would take a dislike to me. But I don’t like smiling, and I don’t do it that much, certainly not without cause.

            It stopped being a problem in adulthood though, and I also became a lot more okay with most people not viewing me positively and just focusing on the people I get along with.

            There’s definitely a social cost to smiling very rarely, but there’s probably a lot of power in controlling more when you do and don’t smile. And a good balance to find. Worth thinking about and paying attention to.

      2. Do you have any particular tips on how to do that? I have known for years that laughing/smiling out of discomfort makes it really hard for me to assert boundaries, but haven’t managed to overcome the impulse. It happens automatically and usually by the time my brain gets around “hey, that was a bad thing they just did!” I have already laughed it off.

        1. I managed to stop doing this with a few different techniques. First, I learned and practiced a particular skill: releasing muscle tension on command. It was actually in studying music (voice) that I learned this, but anyone can learn. You can’t sing well with a tense body, so I had to learn to identify and release tension in my legs, shoulders, arms, hands, etc. Turns out it works on the face, too. You’ll be amazed how much tension you store in your face once you look for it. It’s also completely amazing the first time you have an emotional reaction inside but your face doesn’t even twitch. It did take practice, but it’s second nature now.

          Second, I started “checking in” with my face. “Hmm, I feel uncomfortable, Hey, face, watchchu smiling for? Drop it.” It was probably strange for the other people in those situations to see my smile suddenly disappear, but they were making me uncomfortable, so that’s their problem.

          Third, I started channeling my inner Temperance Brennan. In my case, this was more about learning not to play dumb, but the principle obtains. In my case, it was learning to look people in the eye and say, “No, that isn’t correct,” but it could work just as well to learn to look people in the eye and say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or “This is making me uncomfortable, so I’m going to leave now.”

          While you’re practicing these things, you might also try narrating your discomfort: “Ha ha, I’m laughing, but I’m really uncomfortable! I’m not sure why I’m laughing, because that was really uncalled for!” or “I’m smiling in amazement about how wildly inappropriate you’re being right now!” or “Aha ha! What on earth! Wow, no! I gotta get outta here!” I’ve done that one too, and it has worked for me pretty well. I think the laughing* can take the edge off your reaction and put the awkwardness back where it belongs. Also, if you can transform the awkward-polite laugh into an astonished laugh, you might not have to say anything at all.

          *Laughing is not always safe. Believe me. I’ve twice been physically assaulted by a man who responded to being laughed at** with violence. This was obviously not my fault. I did not in any way provoke them to assault me. They were completely wrong, out of control, horrible, garbage-in-a-dude-suit, contemptible, backward, bullshit fuckwads. Unfortunately, they are legion. Only they are responsible for their actions. But. Be careful.

          **And before you*** ask, “Were you really laughing AT them?”: damn skippy I was laughing at them. See contemptible bullshit garbagebags, above. I laughed right in their faces. They assaulted me. One of these things is not like the other.

          ***I know most people reading and commenting here wouldn’t think to ask this, because it doesn’t matter.

          1. First, I learned and practiced a particular skill: releasing muscle tension on command. It was actually in studying music (voice) that I learned this, but anyone can learn.

            Probably not relevant here, but — I find this much harder than most people do, probably because of different brain wiring. (I had years of speech therapy as a kid, so it’s not from lack of training.)

        2. Sometimes it’s hard to train yourself out of a deeply ingrained response. What I do is just ADD a speaking-up component when I can. For example, if someone says something really inappropriate to me, I’ll reflexively smile or laugh, but also add “Wow. I can’t believe you said that,” or “That was really inappropriate.” Sometimes even just “Wow” is enough. You could also add a raised eyebrow, a head-shake, etc.

        3. This sounds a bit silly, but practicing your responses and conversational segues helps. For example, if I’m reflecting back on an uncomfortable situation, instead of going “Ugh, I shouldn’t have done that,” I’ll visualize the situation over again and practice (mentally or even out loud) the specific things I could have done instead. And then I’ll say to myself, “OK, next time that happens, this is my exact plan.” Don’t leave it vague or you won’t follow up. Or if I imagine or hear about an uncomfortable situation, same thing – I visualize my exact response, both the immediate non-smile and the walking away or changing the subject part. A big part of this is that in the absence of another immediate plan, you’re going to do what you’ve practiced most. So you want to arm yourself with another plan to grab onto, and also practice it so it’ll come more naturally. Does that make sense?

          It’s also OK to stop yourself after you’ve already laughed or whatever, and just say, “Actually, wait a minute, what did you say?” And then if they repeat it, you get another chance to react – for example with say a flat “Oh. Yeah, never mind.”

          I also learned body/face control from acting and singing, which helps.

        4. I am also afflicted with the impulse to laugh when it’s super inappropriate. Like the others above have mentioned, it can be super helpful to followup/narrate the laughing with the reason you’re uncomfortable, especially if the laughing impulse something you can’t work out a way to suppress. (Despite 4 years of vocal training I never quite mastered full muscle-release). Also, I say embrace the dead-eye facial disconnect. YMMV but in my experience, when I laugh or smile out of discomfort it’s primarily a mouth muscle tension reaction, and my eyes remain unhappy. There’s few things more disconcerting then someone glaring at you while laughing, so perhaps trying to channel you inner Violet Crawley or Professor McGonagall when you feel the urge to laugh coming can transform it into something more austere.

          Bonus demo: The Dowager Countess finds your attempts to creep on her amusing. http://www.edgeofforever.dreamhosters.com/wiki/images/a/a4/Ladygrantham.jpg

        5. Practice. I wish there was a work around, but rehearsing these things is the only way I can do that. I do mental rehearsals, but if that is not working, find a media source where people are saying terrible things (lots of “comedies” will have these moments) and practice a quick statement OVER the laugh track. “I think only pretty people should talk to me” *laugh track* You say: “Actually, that is a really shallow and terrible thing to say.” OR “Why would you say that?” OR “I try not to judge people based on physical appearance.” OR “I guess I should leave then.” It helps.

        6. (I hope this nests at the bottom of the comment thread so things make sense.)
          Thanks for the suggestions, everyone! I have googled things like “how to stop compulsive smiling” but this is the first time I’ve had any real advice on the subject. It’s always “Assert boundaries and don’t laugh it off when people make you uncomfortable!”, and I’m left there like, alright thank you, but how???
          So I guess it comes down to developing new habitual responses in a safe context and practicing awarness and control over what the face is doing. And that all sounds feasible! Which is really exciting because I had basically resigned myself to being forever cursed with the Friendly Face of Silent Social Suffering. Or something.

          1. I do this too. The nervous smile (appeasement grin) and the nervous laugh, which I’ve heard described as “tittering like a pack of subordinate hyenas” – an appeasement laugh? Neither of them look or sound happy; both of them mean “please don’t hurt me”.

            I do one or the other when I’m uncomfortable or so taken by surprise that I don’t have any other reaction. I also want to change those reactions.

  5. “If I was younger, I would have thought that you coming back to my office meant you wanted to sleep with me.”

    I think it’s just barely possible, if not particularly likely, that this guy had enough self-awareness that he was speaking of how stupid he was when younger. Not to say that it wasn’t an inappropriate conversational segue, because it’s still creepy as hell even in that light.

  6. Wow. Just wow. First, I surmise that this comment thread will soon be filled with similar stories. Mine: somewhat similar to the Captain’s in that old job hires new dude in our department. New dude just so happens to be fond of touching me on the shoulder (“He does that to everyone! He’s just friendly like that”) when I’m in the lunch room, when he’s approaching me in my cube (my back sat to the rest of the office), always sat uncomfortably close when he WAS in my cube like he didn’t understand personal space, and always seemed to know the exact times I was going to be in the lunch room (quite a walk from my section of the office, which I sometimes did/did not have to walk by his desk to do). Finally ended up breaking down in tears at work to a woman in another dept who thankfully took my gut feelings seriously. An internal investigation was had, and thankfully there was only a month or two of weird dept-wide interactions before I got another job and left. I’ve been back to see old coworkers a time or two, and they had absolutely no recollection that he and I had ever worked together. “Oh, Nicole, meet Dan, our new such-and-such.” UH YEAH NO.

    LW, definitely this sucks. I LOVE the Captain’s advice of “why would you say that? out loud?” responses and I think I’ll add them to my arsenal as well. it’s sad that you have to think of living your life in a way that might be less friendly or less welcoming/accommodating than you’d otherwise naturally like to be because of these dillweeds, but unfortunately it’s the state of the world we live in. You don’t, however, have to take it lying down or as a reflection of some character flaw on your part.

    I’d encourage you, also, to try to flip the script on your BF in helping him to understand how ew yucky gross these dudes are being. Try getting him to imagine it happening to him with female colleagues, work associates, etc and I wonder if he would continue to think it was *his* being too nice or naive that’s bringing that on. I really do think sometimes the well-meaning men in our lives DON’T GET IT because they don’t live in the same world — it doesn’t happen that way to them, so it can’t possibly happen that way to us.

    This letter has definitely encouraged me to be more outspoken instead of silent rageasaurus the next time this happens to me. Hopefully the same is true for you, LW.

    1. Well meaning guys generally don’t get it. Because we’re not hit on ALL THE TIME, it’s kind of nice to imagine being found attractive, etc. It also plays into false equality tropes (men have the hard work of initiating dating, so wouldn’t it be nice if women did that too?, etc.).

      I hope they’re raising guys a lot less clueless these days, but I doubt getting him to view these isolated events from his own POV will do much.

    2. “I’d encourage you, also, to try to flip the script on your BF in helping him to understand how ew yucky gross these dudes are being. Try getting him to imagine it happening to him with female colleagues, work associates, etc and I wonder if he would continue to think it was *his* being too nice or naive that’s bringing that on. I really do think sometimes the well-meaning men in our lives DON’T GET IT because they don’t live in the same world — it doesn’t happen that way to them, so it can’t possibly happen that way to us.”

      I find that it works better to suggest they imagine it happening with a gay male coworker than a female coworker – one who is larger than them and a bit intimidating. I think that’s a better comparison since men are generally larger, and most women are socialized to be at least a bit wary of men (even if they haven’t experienced any violence at their hands).

      I often suggest this as a thought exercise for guys who seem pushy in their approach to women, actually. “Think about whether you’d be okay with this if a big burly gay guy acted the same way toward you. Would you want him to lean in, touch your shoulder, make suggestive comments? Would you feel comfortable if he was your coworker, your landlord, your professor?”

      1. The big, big caveat I’d put on this advice — much as I agree that helping someone empathize through a “what if it was happening to you scenario — is the whole whack of homophobia that this can reinforce (heterosexual man + Scary Gay Guy = gay panic).

        1. This is the analogy I go with: What if the scary, humongous alien from Predator didn’t want to kill you, but just wanted to have sex with you? Would you be OK with that? Flattered? No? Why not?

          1. Oh, I like that. Because I’ve searched desperately for an example that’s neither queerphobic (what if it was a trans woman/a gay guy) nor ageist (imagine you had a female boss who was twenty years older than you and hit on you all the time).

      2. Bostoncandylady, I was just thinking of that, too. I have heard this kind of thought exercise summarized as “Homophobia: the fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women”, which I think is an amusing and apt way of phrasing it. However, speaking as a queer person myself, I also feel slightly wary of this approach, for fear that some people might interpret it as encouraging or condoning homophobia. I still like that kind of thought exercise, I just want to remind folks that if you use it, try to do so in a way that also does not support homophobia.

        And I think this story is an example of how that thought exercise can be used well: http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2012/03/28/the-terror-of-catcalling-ctd-1/

        …I was just discussing this very thing a few weeks ago with a group of high-school freshmen in my English class. We were discussing homosexuality because of an allusion to it in the book we were reading, and several boys made comments such as, “That’s disgusting.” We got into the debate and eventually a boy admitted that he was terrified/disgusted when he was once sharing a taxi and the other male passenger made a pass at him.

        The lightbulb went off. “Oh,” I said. “I get it. See, you are afraid, because for the first time in your life you have found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force against you.” The boy nodded and shuddered visibly.

        “But,” I continued. “As a woman, you learn to live with that from the time you are fourteen, and it never stops. We live with that fear every day of our lives. Every man walking through the parking garage the same time you are is either just a harmless stranger or a potential rapist. Every time.”

        The girls in the room nodded, agreeing. The boys seemed genuinely shocked.

        “So think about that the next time you hit on a girl. Maybe, like you in the taxi, she doesn’t actually want you to.”

        1. Thank you Luminous. I really appreciate what you said here. I am also a queer person, but before you and Tehanu made your comments I had not considered the gay-panic-promoting aspect of this strategy. I will think this through and hopefully be more mindful about how I use it in the future.

          1. I think you can still use it, but yeah, instead of gay guy, try, “a senior colleague you are not interested in that way.” Their mind can fill in the blank.

      3. I wonder whether it would work to ask them to imagine being hit on by a large, ugly woman who they knew could get them fired if they complained.

        In a specific case, knowing the guy, you might make that more specific: not just generically unattractive, but with specific traits you know that person finds unattractive.

        1. no. that argument is how you get the mra logic of “she wouldn’t care about his sexual harassment if he was handsome!”

  7. Oh my gods, Captain, that story is terrifying. I want to give Past-You all the Jedi hugs and tell her she’s not crazy, and then help her spike her coworkers’ coffee with something harmless but disgusting.

    LW, all of these encounters are potentially no-win situations for you, like the Captain says. You decide what the best method of dealing with them should be, on a case-by-case basis, but the times I’ve been in similar situations I’ve found Deadpan Incomprehension to be a useful tactic. Here’s a transcript of a real conversation I had with a Clingy NiceGuy(tm) Former Friend (near the time I cut him off because I could not DEAL with his constant barrage of “[woman he’s dating this week] acts interested but she won’t sleep with me and I spent all this money on her and why won’t she see that I treat her better than literally every other man in existence WAAAAAAAAAAAH”):

    CNGFF: If I tell you something, will you not take it the wrong way?
    me: (not looking up from my studying) I don’t know. What would be the wrong way?
    CNGFF: …………. Never mind.

    Your mileage may vary on this, obviously. In the past the Captain has recommended this kind of obtuseness for dealing with offensive people–you make them repeat themselves until they’re embarrassed because they know they’re being offensive and inappropriate, or at least get frustrated and stop because they’re not getting a rise out of you. I think that can be easily adapted to situations like you describe.

    1. The thing about walking the fine line between “being too nice and naive” and “being a bitch” is that there is no safe ground between them, they fucking overlap. By the time people aren’t dinging you for being too nice, you are deeeeep into bitch territory. Sometimes it’s even the same person telling you both things at once.

      Screw that, I’m not playing that game.

      1. Whoops, that was supposed to be a top-level comment, not a reply. fcjaugusta, I’m filing your retort for future reference, it is awesome!

        1. Thanks! At first I kind of felt bad. Did I shut him down too harshly? What if I hurt his feelings? And then I remembered that he was just going to say something like, “You’re so much smarter/better than other women! You’re the only woman who really gets me. If you weren’t in a relationship I would love to ask you out,” and decided it was entirely worth it.

      2. You’re always gonna be “too something” to an entitled dude who wants to get into your pants.

        1. Not only to entitled dudes, but also to anyone who wants to believe that we live in a just world and there must be some reason why that awful thing happened to you (and therefore it won’t happen to them). I get that the world is a scary place, but trying to convince yourself that you’re safe by looking for all the ways a victim must have made themselves vulnerable… not cool. And not helpful. And very hurtful.

        2. A gazillion times this.

          And then you’re too fucking ugly anyway when they finally realise it’s never going to happen.

  8. I used to work at a public library, and occasionally patrons would think that because I was friendly and helpful that meant I was interested in them. Two men especially stick out in my mind. One time, a man asked if I would like to meet up with him after work, and I said no, and then told my coworker about it, and it turned out he had asked her a few weeks earlier! Another man would come in about a half hour before the library closed and make inappropriate conversation,and I was the only one at the desk, and there were no other patrons needing help, so I didn’t have a good excuse to leave. However, all the other library staff knew this guy was a creep. He never actually DID anything inappropriate, but his choices of topics made everyone uncomfortable. He also thought that my fiance was imaginary. In both cases, these men were definitely repeat offenders, and probably some of the men you are dealing with are too.

    Anyway, at the time, I didn’t really know how to deal with it, but since then I’ve learned, (thanks to Captain Awkward and others) is that while it is important to be friendly to coworkers and patrons, you can keep the conversation at a professional level. I can use scripts like “Is there anything else you need help with, because if not, I need to start shutting down the library,” or “I don’t talk about my personal life at work!” I noticed all of these men are in your professional field, and the way they are behaving is very unprofessional! It seems like the only thing you can really do is be kind, yet professional and that will make it obvious how unprofessional they are behaving.

    1. I have heard so, so many similar stories from public librarians. I’m currently in the middle of an mls program and I must admit that it give me some pause about the profession. Although as this letter illustrates, creepers are everywhere.

      1. Mostly I find librarianship a very rewarding career. If you work in a public service position though, you have to deal with whoever comes in the door.

        I work at a college library now, and I’ve had zero creepy guys hit on me since I started the new job. Also, most of my coworkers are female, and we have a very supportive and positive work environment!

      2. Honestly, I think the fact that you have to work with the public (and therefore deal with creepydudes) is outweighed by the fact that your workplace will likely be overwhelmingly female. Creepydude colleagues are much less of a problem. (Library clerk here)

      3. While creepers are everywhere, and occasionally have library cards, you’re less likely to run into this behavior in academic libraries, children’s departments (with some unfortunate potential caveats), or small town libraries.

        If you do work in a public library in a large city, your coworkers will likely:

        1. warn you about potentially problematic patrons
        2. not leave you alone on the desk to deal with them (or any patron)
        3. not leave you to close up alone
        4. have an emergency number for you to call if issues arise.

        I worked in a city library, and while I have some Stories, I was rarely in a position where I felt unsafe or unsupported. Fellow librarians will believe you if you complain about someone, and take it seriously. Hopefully that makes you feel a little better about the profession? You can always scout out a library before you interview to make sure it’s an environment you will feel comfortable in.

      4. Yeah. The upside, at least for me, is that librarianship is heavily dominated by women, so (a) you’re somewhat less likely to get creeped on by your coworkers and (b) they tend to believe you about Creepy Guy. YMMV, obviously, but that’s what’s made it a lot easier for me.

        We have a system at my library where someone will call the desk from a different part of the building if they notice certain patrons lingering around. It’s an easy conversational out.

      5. As someone who’s been an academic, public and special librarian, the creepers have been a minor force in my life. Interestingly enough, I worked for a long time in a library that was all men except for me and it was a great experience. There were a couple of single guys (one of whom asked me for advice on his ties and dating- I think I was better at the tie question) and I never felt unsafe or harassed. If a male patron stepped out of line, my boss had my back and security was a buzzer away.

        I’m about to take a job in a public library for the first time in a while and I think I may need to brush up on UtO’s scripts for patrons, but I know some of my future coworkers, which helps.

  9. In a romantic comedy isn’t “violent hate” always a sign of “secret lust”?

    I would like to propose that this cultural meme walk itself out to the compost heap to rot, once and for all.

    Sideline that is work related, and also related to that portion of the captain’s response, but maybe not helpful to the LW?

    There was this guy I worked with once upon a decade past who, once I made the mistake of actually calling him on his abusive shit in front of witnesses rather than accept the company policy of letting whatever he did (including but not limited to screaming slurs and swears at people and throwing large objects at them, as well as leering at underage customers) go unchallenged, decided to launch a multi-years long campaign to get me to either break or quit. I tried to complain. Management basically was like “he’s the owner’s pet we know he is terrible but he gets to do what he wants and also are you sure you aren’t overreacting maybe you could try being more of a doormat,” ownership was basically “stop provoking him by existing anyway didn’t you embarrass him that one time” and co-workers actually literally used the phrase “[me] and [asshole] sitting in a tree…” and started taking bets on how long it would be until we were married. The last one was the worst, because if nothing else I at least expected that the other people to whom he was also abusive– and had been for years– would validate that I was not crazy, oversensitive, and controlling for wanting him to leave me the fuck alone and stop getting his staff to (seriously) sabotage my department by erasing work orders from my white board, “forgetting” to do the prep work that was across both departments, “losing” special order tickets, and taking my supplies, sometimes while I was using them. Like, I measure out the chocolate I need to make a dessert, the kitchen guys decide it’s their break time, and while they are walking past my station, they each grab a handful of chocolate from the scale. Some of them while smirking.

    Erm, I don’t know what my point is here. Commiserating with LW and Captain that uncomfortable work places are uncomfortable? Let’s go with that.

  10. There is never, never an innocent reason for a man to launch into the “my wife doesn’t understand me” routine. Tying ourselves into knots to dream up a hypothetical scenario where this might just, if we wish on enough unicorns, be the one-in-a-million time where this is NOT a prelude to a creepy come-on from a married guy is pointless and is giving these people WAY too much benefit of the doubt.

    1. Yep. This is a conversation that needs to happen between him and his buddies, out at the fishing cabin. Or on the comfy chair in his therapist’s office. Not with his younger, female, attractive coworker/acquaintance.

    2. You know what’s a funny thing that happened to me? The guys stopped creepin’ when I empathized with their wives. “My wife is always nagging at me to do the dishes…” “Ugh yeah, having a messy kitchen sucks! I hope you guys figure out a way to divide your chores.” “I can’t talk with my wife anymore, she just criticizes my parenting.” “God, it sounds awful to be so eaten up with anxiety over your kids that you can’t talk with your husband anymore.”

      Because the good guys who want good things for their wives? Agree with me. And the creepers strike me off the list of “good women who aren’t as much of a bitch as my wife.”

      1. Oh yes, this is wonderful advice. And sometimes you can up the ante by actually siding with the wife. “Gee, Bob, maybe your wife is so tired because you go out to drink beer and watch football after work most nights instead of going home to pitch in with the baby?” It is not subtle by any means, but it leaves ZERO room for confusion as to your opinion of Bob the Sad Panda.

    3. heeeyyyyy does anyone wanna guess how my father started out his hitting-on the coworker only a couple years older than I am that my mom eventually kicked him out for sleeping with?

      go on, guess, you’ll NEVER guess oh whoops you guessed it, he TOTALLY gave her a sob story about his marriage!

    4. “My wife doesn’t understant me” = “she understands me really well, which is why I’m trying to hit on someone who doesn’t really know me”

    5. Yeah, it’s really such a chestnut, right? The one time it happened to me, I said, “Wow, that sucks! Have you tried couples’ counseling?” The look on his face was priceless. 🙂

      1. Oh, wait! It’s actually happened to me at least one other time. In this case, I actually knew the wife. The husband started in with the “She’s always blah blah this and blah blah that” and the “blah blah”s were rendered in a high-pitched, wheedling tone. I looked at him quizzically and said, “That’s not what [wife] sounds like.” Subject dropped.

    6. I have male friends who talk to me about their relationship problems. But they have been my friends for years, we are the same age, and they are not in a position of authority relative to me. Also, it’s often phrased as “Blackcat, can you give me some perspective here? I’m trying to figure out how to fix things, and you give good advice.” These couple of guys have said they vent about relationship problems to their male friends, but sometimes talk to female friends when looking for solutions. Which hints at some other gendered dynamic that may not be great, but it’s there. (In part because I’m more likely to offer a perspective from outside the view of white male privilege, they *do* find my advice useful)

      Anyways, these conversations *can* be innocent conversations between friends. They key is between friends. You don’t pick up a new friend by talking to them about marital problems. But you do go to an old one for advice.

      Signed, A woman who majored in a hugely male dominated field and whose college, grad school, and work friends are 90% male.

  11. Ugh, this makes me so mad, mostly because it’s SO EASY to assume certain boundaries. Like: you seriously cannot go wrong by assuming that work is not the place to get a sex buddy. You also can’t go wrong assuming that anyone who has not explicitly said “I want to get in your pants. SEXUALLY” does not want to have sex with you! It makes me super pissy that for some people the minute chance that they MIGHT get to have a sexual interaction outweighs the near-certain guarantee of not creeping anyone out or making them feel sad or threatened.

    Example: I assume people don’t want to be touched unless I receive explicit, verbal consent that touching is okay. This is an easy boundary to assume, especially in a workplace! Why do people pretend like it’s hard? (Rhetorical question, I know why. But I still feel that this is SUCH AN EASY AND LOW-ENERGY PATH TO TAKE. Why do people have to expend so much energy being assholes. Why.)

    ARGH THIS IS SO GENDERED. I KNOW that creepy women are out there, but my anecdata suggests that it is FAR more usual for women to assume that men have boundaries and respect those assumed rules of conduct than vice versa.

    (I admit it can get a bit more complicated when the other party is someone you’re attracted to either mentally or emotionally or physically and they start sharing things that are a bit more intimate and you would kind of like to know that person a bit better and you end up stepping over the line yourself, and I do suspect that maybe this happened a bit with the LW, but, like, there is a HUGE FUCKING JUMP between sharing “yes, indeed, I have a life outside work” and “WE OUGHTA HAVE SEXYTIMES.” If the LW was a 45-year-old man, would anyone think their saying “I have a long-term partner with whom I have a nice relationship!” to a younger employee was an invitation for that person to talk about how they had always wanted to fuck an older dude? NO. NO NO NO NO. Yuck. LW I AM ANGRY ON YOUR BEHALF AND I WOULD LIKE TO SEND JEDI TOE STUBS TO ALL THESE CRAPPY DUDES.)

    1. And to be clear, by “complicated” I was referring more to having complicated feelings about the situation, than the morality being complicated. OLDER MARRIED DUDES, DO NOT HIT ON YOUNGER WOMEN COWORKERS. Ick.

    2. “for some people the minute chance that they MIGHT get to have a sexual interaction outweighs the near-certain guarantee of not creeping anyone out or making them feel sad or threatened.”

      Oh god too relevant. It’s not just new acquaintances or strangers either unfortunately. I had my best friend of six years do this to me out of the blue this past week and I’m still reeling. Even when people care about you and absolutely know this will be a hurtful action, the minute chance of something sexy allows them to feel ok about putting their momentary desires over someone’s hurt, discomfort, or violation.

      LW, you are in good hands. Sorry you have to be more wary in life of assholes, but their behavior is totes not on you.

      1. and I mean, I have been that person who bombed a friendship by asking the other person out, and I have been creepy toward a guy by not leaving him alone and ALWAYS BEING THERE, but, I LEARNED. WE CAN ALL LEARN. Part of my sense of “work is maybe not the place” is because OMG I HAVE DONE THAT AND IT WAS AWFUL, and I made the other person feel really bad and that was without me having any structural advantage over him like “being older,” being a dude,” or “having workplace seniority.”

        But like, all similarities aside, gender MATTERS with stuff like this. Women do not get the same pass for deliberately misinterpreting everything a guy they want does that men do.

        1. Well, and there’s a big difference between “Friend, I’ve been thinking, and I’d really like to date you. Would you like to try it?” and “Friend, I’ve got a boner, you should take care of that.” I’m just waiting for someone to show up in this thread with “so men just shouldn’t talk to women at all, is that what you’re saying?” Noooo, everyone should speak respectfully to each other, that is what we are saying.

          1. One guy in my old D&D group actually said that to me. Almost literally. And then he sulked when I told him “You’re creeping me out.” He ended up torpedoing both any chances of remaining friends and his good standing in the party.

      2. I’m so sorry this happened to you! I like a good friends-to-lovers story as much as anyone, but in real life, it feels so creepy, awkward, and violating for a friend to turn the tables on you like that – especially if it is sudden, unprefaced, and unreciprocated. There are ways to handle it gracefully, like FlyBy pointed out, but… handled the wrong way, it is the WORST.

    3. It’s kind of alarming how many people actually do use work as a place to find an affair partner. I’ve worked for large companies before, and the number of married people who were banging a coworker, customer or supplier – or were single themselves, but banging a married person in one of those categories – was extremely depressing. So I’m guessing that a lot of the creepers who try this stuff are doing so because it’s worked for them in the past, and they think their chance of success is at least 50-50 and not 99-1 against. It’s still super gross and unprofessional and not the LW’s fault though!

      1. Reading the stories of other commenters here where they found out their creeper also creeped on their collegues: Yes, I do think these guys have a pattern and sometimes, rarely, often?? it works.

        1. It doesn’t have to work often for it to still be on the table for pathetic, disrespectful people. Maybe they just heard about it working once; they’re likely still gonna fly that kite because they’re a pathetic and disrespectful person.

          1. Or because it doesn’t have to be “successful” to make them happy, aka creepers who get off on making you uncomfortable.

    4. The absolute best solution to this, I think, would be to formally teach empathy in the classroom. I think most girls get a sort of informal education in these things because of Societal Expectations, and probably most often in a bad, shame-based way. Boys, if they learn this stuff at all, get it through osmosis or, way less often, through self-directed learning much later in life (like those of us dudes who read Captain Awkward with any regularity).

  12. LW, I think the Captain’s advice, as always, is completely excellent, but I wanted to expand a little on the social cues aspect of all of this.

    I have learned the hard way that dudes (and, well, people, really) who are going to try to push your boundaries in major ways (like trying to get into your pants and then blaming you for it when you Nope them out of the room), test you out by pushing boundaries in small ways first. Example: Dude with the new baby. It’s not inappropriate, in a professional acquaintanceship or relationship, to talk about major life events in a general way (“I just had a baby! Man it’s hard, but I love the baby so much!” = appropriate professional conversation). It’s not normal to take that conversation to a “man, it’s so hard, the baby is ruining my marriage” place. Taking it to that place = testing a boundary. Shutting the dude down on that conversation may shut down the “let’s have an affair” line of thought before you get to the even-more-awkward “hey let’s sleep together” “nope” “way to lead me on” conversation. (Please note I say MAY shut it down – creepers be creepin’ and there’s often not much – or sometimes, anything at all – you can do, even if you’ve got the most ironclad boundaries that ever boundaried, so if you find yourself dealing with another creeper in the future, don’t feel like you did anything “wrong” to end up in that situation.) In general, if you’re having conversation at a certain level of intimacy (like, exchanging basic facts about relationship status), and the other person jumps to a way more serious level of intimacy when it doesn’t seem like the right time or place (like, going from basic “I have a partner” “Me too” to “my wife hasn’t slept with me in 8 months” in a sentence or two at a professional networking event), that person’s testing a boundary. Use the techniques the Captain suggested to shut it down.

    Also, know that you can have a professional relationship with a potential mentor/professional contact/etc. without sharing intimate life details. Example: I have an AMAZING mentor at work – we trade jokes, she helps me figure out career stuff, she’s an awesome professional resource, and we get along really well. I do not know her husband’s name, and I don’t think she knows my husband’s name either. We just don’t get that deep into personal stuff, even though I consider her a “close” professional contact. Any “professional contact” who says or implies that you can’t be professional resources for each other without sharing intimate life details may be a creeper.

    1. I just want to add – I am in no way trying to say/suggest that LW has to do anything at all – the wrongness here is clearly 100% with the loser creepers. LW is NOT responsible for anything that’s happened with past creepy dudes, or with future creepy dudes. I’m only intending what I wrote here as “hey, there’s creepers in the world, and here are some strategies that I have found to at least marginally improve the odds that they’ll stop creeping at me”-type advice.

      LW, these dudes suck, sexism sucks, and you’re awesome and shouldn’t feel like you’re in any way responsible for anything those dudes did.

    2. I totally agree that you can have a professional relationship without sharing intimate life details.

      In fact, I sometimes find that my professional relationships are MUCH better when I don’t know certain details, and this includes political and religious views, as well as intimate relationship details. I have had to make a very deliberate choice to change the topic back to work-related things, because I have to work closely with someone who honestly believes that Obama is a Muslim whose health care policies are going force everyone to get vaccinated and infect everyone with autism (There is so much wrong with that theory that I don’t even know where to start, and I wish I could say that I exaggerated that for comic purposes, but I didn’t). I decided early on that if I am going to be able to respect this person as a professional, I needed to deflect my way out of any conversation that sounded like it was going to go down that path full of bees. Deflecting those topics can be pretty challenging sometimes, because that coworker really likes talking about them and feels very strongly about them. But I can’t listen to those topics and maintain my professional respect for coworker, so I just deflect, change the topic, smile, start talking about my cats, and if necessary, suddenly find something VERY URGENT that needs to be done somewhere else.

      When I’m starting a new job and/or meeting new professional contacts, I try to very strongly err on the side of caution, because I can always open up more to colleagues later on, and that is much easier than pulling back from a formerly-close, but now super weird work relationship. I don’t mean to imply that LW did anything wrong by becoming close to her coworkers, because it’s totally not her fault that LW’s coworkers chose to act creepy and misinterpret a close professional relationship. I just want to reinforce the idea that you can be nice, sometimes even friendly, without becoming friends, and this can be a very good thing in professional relationships. (I also have had the good fortune to mostly work in female-dominated fields, so while this hasn’t made me completely immune to creepers in the workplace, it has greatly reduced their number.)

      1. I think you can be friendly with work colleagues, if not friends. The big issue is that the creepers use a different dictionary from the rest of us. We say friendly, they read “intimate”.

        And that’s where the boundary testing comes in. You can have all kinds of work conversations that are both personal and friendly – just observe what happens when a mixed group starts talking about their babies and toddlers – but the creepers move right on past friendly, suitable-for-discussion-in-a-group matters into intimate conversation.

        And that’s the boundary right there. The Captain’s advice is right though. You can steer a conversation so that you never go anywhere near that boundary, you don’t have to be bumping up against it all the time.

    3. I have been thinking about this, and I want to add that even if you think the person who is pushing that boundary has good and not-sketchy intentions, if it feels weird, even a LITTLE weird, don’t be afraid to push back and make sure they realize what they’re doing. If they’re sketchy, they will realize you are On To Them, and it might make you a slightly less appealing target. If they’re not sketchy, it will make them realize that This Is Not How We Do. Either way it may save you some distress later.

      Being friendly does not mean that all subjects are open for conversation at all times, and even if the topic isn’t weird NOW, it’s totally cool to cut it off because it MIGHT lead somewhere weird. It’s also okay to call someone out on sending you an ambiguous signal — as others have brilliantly articulated in this thread, if someone if sharing something that seems overly intimate with you, or something that seems out of place, even if it isn’t per se inappropriate, you are allowed to call that out and shut it down.

      The example that comes to mind is something that happened to me with a guy who was sort of my co-worker. The thing is, this guy is socially fluent, kindly-intentioned, and all-around not sketchy — BUT he was still occasionally guilty of this “boundary pushing for unclear reasons thing.”

      He said several times to me, “You really remind me of my ex(-wife.)”

      I NEVER figured out what he meant by that, and I thought that since it was an innocuous and not openly inappropriate statement, I didn’t get to say anything about it. But if I could go back and re-do that situation, I would have said two things: one, “Why are you telling me this information?” and two (MORE IMPORTANT), “That makes me very uncomfortable. Please don’t say it again.”

      Something doesn’t have to be obviously egregious to say STOP THAT.

      Something doesn’t have to be obviously disgusting to tingle your spidey-senses with “kinda sorta really not right.”

      And — key for me — just because the other person is creating an ambiguous situation doesn’t mean you are obligated to leave it ambiguous. We can clear this shit up, and though it won’t always protect us, it can at least make us feel better and more powerful.

  13. Yep, also known as ”You give me feels” and instead of handling them like an adult I’m choosing to blame you. Damn you, evil Jezebel!”

    I once got ”Why are you flirting with me? when all I’d said was Hi. Literally 2 minutes in to knowing the creepy man.When confronted he pointed out that I’d smiled and worn a skirt. A skirt, your honor!

    Captain and everyone else sharing: your stories give me the chills. I’m so glad you got away. Jedi hugs to anyone that wants them

    1. (Unrelated comment, but …. I’m reading the source material and now I get your suddenly-awesome username. Nicely done.)

    2. The courtroom image there is great, but perhaps I play too much Phoenix Wright. “Your honor! The witness saw the defendant wearing a SKIRT!” “OBJECTION!”

    3. Aaaaarrgh. What magical process goes on in the minds of certain guys that leads them to the conclusion that “This morning, a woman who didn’t know I existed and had no idea she was going to meet me today, picked out her clothes SPECIFICALLY FOR MY BONER”?

      I mean, even if you accept the ridiculously egocentric claim that a woman dressed in sexy clothes (read: any clothes, it doesn’t matter what she’s wearing, as long as I have decided to interpret her as a sexy minxy sex minx) dressed that way in the hope of making a sexy impression on a dude, how do you come to the conclusion that YOU are the dude she was hoping to meet?

      Some folks might put this down to blind egotism (She existed! I exist! Therefore she was existing AT ME!), but I think there’s another answer. I think the only way a dude can end up believing that all women wearing skirts are wearing them at him is if he believes that there are literally no differences between dudes. That there is only one type of dude, and anyone who is attracted to dudes is attracted to that type, because it is impossible for there to be another type, and he is a dude and therefore of that type and therefore people who are attracted to dudes are attracted to him.
      So in other words, these guys believe that all dudes are assholes, and that’s why a woman wearing a skirt must be wearing it AT this asshole.

      1. I’ve thought this too! Especially since guys who do this are also really often the type of guy who will call a woman a “slut” for sleeping with guys who aren’t him. Even if I did decide “I would like some sex tonight, I am going to dress in such a way to make this likely” then even if this made the initial approach fine (if it’s at work it probably isn’t!), it still would not make the anger-at-rejection any more sensible (I don’t know why I am trying to make logic out of these guys’ bullshit, it’s just something my brain does..) I mean, presumably even if I had absolutely no requirements for what I wanted in a dude, I couldn’t sleep with *every* dude, there’s not enough time…so going by the “all dudes are the same” logic, this would mean that I sleep with,what, the first one to approach me?

        Though, none of this actually matters because my logic supposes that these guys actually care what the woman wants…sigh.

        1. I considered double-checking that minx is spelled with an I and not a Y, but figured that misspelling would only reinforce the impression I was going for.

    4. Oh, I had a date with this guy once. He assumed that I would be going home with him because I was wearing a dress.

      Of course, the date began with him saying he’d picked the bar for its excellent CCTV, so I’d been staying for comedy purposes only. But as I gaped at this assumption based on my clothes, he told a story about a woman who once propositioned him while wearing a dress. I recovered quickly and laughed in his face. Blocked him as soon as I got home and that was luckily that.

  14. This whole bit about “leading people on” is such a mindfuck, Captain, thank you for giving it the takedown it deserves! Frankly, this was the most terrifying part of my dating years…trying to walk that razor’s edge between giving a guy a chance / without leading him on. Especially when said guy got pushy on the first date, or completely ignored me when I said things like, “I am not interested in a relationship WITH YOU” or “I am not interested in having sex WITH YOU” and instead decided not to take no for an answer because this silly little lady just doesn’t know what she wants! I wish this whole notion of leading men on would die a fiery death. Not to mention how completely sexist, inappropriate and gross it is to introduce it into a work context. UGH.

    1. It’s so internalized, too. I had a ladyfriend be like “sorry if I led you on” when she formally turned me down after a couple months of not-exactly-dating-but-not-not-dating. I never even accused her of it!

      I certainly don’t blame her for trying to mitigate any negative reaction on my part – you never know how a person will react to that, even if you’ve known them for a while – but it just goes to show how pernicious that idea is. She was interested, and then wasn’t, and that’s how it goes.

      As with a lot of the topics CA covers: just because somebody gets hurt as a result of your words or actions doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

      1. Yeah, totally. It really is internalized, I think that’s what’s so frustrating. And it’s hard, because sometimes it just takes time to figure out how you feel. I think that’s what dating is supposed to be – spending time with someone and figuring out how you feel. But the whole “leading someone on” idea is designed to make people feel guilty for taking the time they might need to decide.

        I had this funny exchange with a guy years ago, where we went on a couple of dates, I was kind of ‘meh’ but kept initiating dates because I felt like I had led him on and now I ‘owed’ him…and then there was a power outage and neither of us called each other after that, and then I ran into him a month later and he was obviously as relieved as I was that we had just kind of lost touch. It was like playing passive-aggressive chicken.

      2. Yeah, this is such a complicated thing…

        I have definitely been on both ends of this “leading people on” concept.

        There were certainly times (mostly in my teens and early 20’s) when I had no intention of actually dating a guy, but was waaaayyy too conditioned to “be nice” and “be polite” and “not make a scene” to really give him a clear “I’m not interested”. I just had no words for that. Younger me was much too nice of a nice girl.
        And heck, I felt very, very bad for leading them on, and I am sincerely trying to never act that way again.

        But then I had several instances when guys I really liked sort of “toyed” with me and gave off ambiguous signals, and that massively hurt. I totally felt “led on” in those cases- like, they acted all flirty and I was expecting fun times, and then nothing happened. And I get that not everyone has to like me or date me, but it still felt like a betrayal of sorts. Or just a disappointment.

        Anyway, I appreciate that you as a dude (I’m assuming dude status from your name) can see through this internalization BS. Even I can’t always spot internalization in my own behavior. And these days I’m actively training myself out of the patriarchal ideas about who owns sex to whom and for what reason (short answer: no one, for any reason, but hey, it has been a long road to feminism for me).

  15. LW, I totally feel you. I am also a younger woman in a field primarily dominated by men, and the number of times “funny work-related jokes” has MYSTERIOUSLY become “obviously I want to bone you” is way too high. It’s shitty and it sucks and I have some horrifying stories but you can probably just go ahead and use your imagination on that, ’cause it’ll be pretty accurate.

    The Captain has given excellent advice re: making work connections with other women. It is SO important, because they can not only help protect you professionally, but they can warn you about other dudes, and help you spread the word (“so-and-so is a total fucking creeper so stay the hell away from him”). It is the number one thing I recommend to young women entering STEM fields: find other women to be your allies, because you will need them.

    It totally sucks that this has to be the case. Maybe someday it won’t be. But for now, I am so sorry to hear that creeper dudes creeped up on you. It is not your fault, and don’t let anyone pretend it is because it makes life easier for them.

    Good luck out there!

    ps destroy the patriarchy

    1. There is one problem with a system relying on a whisper network, where women tell each other not to get into an elevator with ‘that guy’: the guy knows that any woman who *does* get into an elevator with him does not have social backup and is a relatively safe victim for him. So while it’s great to connect with other women, more needs to be done. (I have no good advice on how to achieve that, but the above was pointed out to me and made me go ‘ouch’.)

  16. In my experience, it’s a red flag when I guy I barely know wants to tell me all about the problems with their wife/gf, and I try to change the subject or get away or something. (Obvs this is not LW fault, but CA is right to suggest changing the subject when the conversation turns this way.) This is also a red flag when you’re dating someone, and they want to talk about the problems with their ex all. the. time. Like you should be the therapist for their former relationship.

  17. Ahhh, yes.

    I have been there, dearest. And I can tell you that there is nothing you can do to prevent jerk men from being jerks. The kind of jerk who says this kind of thing to you is also the kind of man who would take literally anything as proof of your sexual interest. You could shave your head and glare all the time and only answer questions by screaming in Klingon and they would STILL think “This is a lady who wants to touch my boner!”

    Now, there’s ways you can mitigate this behavior and sometimes minimize it, but I have to ask, do you want to? Is this so distressing to you that you’re willing to stop doing things that you have every right to do as a human, to put yourself in a smaller box then them, to be less so they can be more? If you want to, it’s okay. But you don’t have to.

    If you don’t want to, it’s important to remember that you didn’t do anything wrong. They’re the ones who hit on you in creepy ways in an environment where you expect people to be professional. They’re the ones trying to punish you for not being sexually available. They’re the ones trying to outsource their lack of discipline, self control and professionalism to you.

    You’re the one who’s missing out on conferences and things that you, as a professional, have a right and need to do, and you feel like you’re the one to blame??? Not the creepy creeps who make everything about My Boner, You Should Touch It? Fuck them! If anyone is to blame, I swear it isn’t you!

    1. “only answer questions by screaming in Klingon”

      See, though, in that situation I would suggest revisiting your pronunciation and inflection. Although Klingon certainly sounds like a rough, loud, aggressive language, in actuality there are quite a few phrases that turn on some very subtle pronunciation differences such that they are indistinguishable from “I want to bone you” to the non-native speaker …

      Kidding! I’m just making stuff up. But I saw this phrase and I just couldn’t help myself.

  18. I am considerably larger than the statistically average american male in both height and weight. I’m “Morbidly obese.” I’m loud, often complimented on my authoritative tone and stature. (Where authoritative ~= Bitchy.)

    Things that still happen to me:
    1. Dudes follow me in cars and yell shit at me.
    2. Dudes I was just being friendly with call me after work related drinks and ask to come up to my room. WHAT?
    3. Dudes ask if I am really sure I am married while I call the cops on their street fight. (I’m actually not, but, I am if you’re that guy.)

    I have also seen a good friend of mine who is very pretty get hit on a bar, the exchange went like this.

    Pretty friend holding a beer”…”
    Rando “Can I buy you a drink?”
    PFHB “No I have a drink”
    Rando: “Well do you want to come to a party later? My friends are having this afterparty.”
    PFHB: “No, I’m here with my fiance” *gestures to her right at said fiance with her ring hand.*
    Rando: “Well can we go somewhere and talk?”
    PFHB: “No.”

    Now I didn’t hear this guy mutter bitch after this conversation, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    Some men are unfortunately ruled too highly by their sex drive. And unfortunately for all of us who have to interact with them, they have been told over and over again that their sex drive is something actually of interest to women, or that they have some kind of right to stand there and be like “BUT WHAT ABOUT MY ERECTION.”

    It’s not your fault. It is a brutal combination of privilege, and horniness. They think they are starring in their own beer commercial, and there isn’t enough brain in their big head to remind them that that isn’t the case. Fortunately, there are a lot of men, even older men, who are excellent co workers and mentors. And even if they do have romantic or sexual feelings regarding a colleague, they know better than to make it that colleague’s problem. I hope you can find more of these guys and less of shitheads.

    Yes, there are probably a ton of little things you could teach yourself to do to try to prevent men from thinking you are charming and wanting to sleep with you, and then for some reason making it your problem. But none of them will be fool proof. You’ll still find yourself having to say “It’s unfortunate you got the wrong impression, but I was never interested in being anything but friendly colleagues with you.”


    1. “They think they are starring in their own beer commercial”
      Damn. This is an excellent description of my last ex. It even encapsulates his not-overtly-disfunctional-but-still-kinda-wierd relationship with alcohol.

  19. Hi LW. I just wanted to point out that you mentioned you’re in healthcare. So’s my mom – she’s a nurse. And it’s tempting for her to not “nurse’ everyone around her in her personal life that needs one. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to shut off our professional self. Perhaps that’s a bit of what’s happening with you? These guys start confiding their marital problems to you and you, without realize it, slip into your healthcare role (listening, offering empathy, etc.) thinking you’re being friendly and helpful as you, perhaps, were professionally trained to do, but which they take to mean you’re sexually/romantically interested.

    Maybe it might help to recognize when you feel yourself slipping into your professional role at times like these when you shouldn’t be. It would be OK, then, to hold up a hand and say, “You know it sounds like you might be looking for some professional help but *I* am not your therapist and I’m not comfortable going this deep with your problems. I know of Dr. X or Therapist Y and I’d be happy to refer you, but for now let’s get back to our discussion of Z” Then steer the conversation back to acceptable, professional parameters so they’re clear that you don’t want to go down any other path.

    Just my two cents…

    1. I find myself doing this too, and I’m not in healthcare. It’s something women, in general, are socialised to do. I dunno, I find this comment a little blamey. I don’t think the LW is doing anything wrong in trying to listen to these men. You can’t win to be honest, try and deliberately divert a guy who’s really determined he’s going to flirt with you and changing the subject will not work. But try and ignore signals that the guy is flirting to make the conversation more normal? You’re leading him on. Can’t win. What would you suggest if the LW tried this and the flirtiness/talk of the guy’s marriage didn’t go away?

  20. Ah, this is giving me a serious case of the familiar heebie jeebies. I was stalked by a guy in his forties when I was nineteen. He would always show up where I was studying, keep calling me even though I never picked up, and keep asking me out even though I always said that I was too busy to go out with him but if my schedule opened up I would totally call him so no need to ask me again! Even though it ended in the creepiest way possible that eventually had all my friends agree that he was a creepy creeper who was creeping (he left me a message on my phone after over fifty missed calls to me that said “maybe you have better things to do than talk to me, maybe you’ve died since I last saw you, maybe you’re just a little cunty cunt and I completely misjudged you and you don’t deserve my attention…”)

    For a long time after this happened I was stuck on this narrative that I had led him on (because I tried to let him down gently rather than be confrontational with an older guy taking my class that I had to see every day and that kept showing again and again that a no from me was really just a starting point for a negotiation on his end. I’d uncomfortably try to wiggle my way out of the situation, but I didn’t want to be rude so I didn’t say “NO”, I just said “I can’t right now” a hundred times. Afterwards, I kept thinking that I was the problem, that if I’d just spelled it out there wouldn’t have been a problem. Not that the guy who was more than twice my age should have been able to see my very obvious discomfort and backed off. And this happened a lot more than once, including with the guy that my best friend ended up marrying (who hated me for YEARS afterwards.)

    What I eventually realized, and I hope you’ll realize too, is that there is no winning at this particular game. No matter what you do, there is always an option that leads to you being a “cunty cunt” with these types of guys. It isn’t really gender specific, though. My (abusive) sister is like this as well. If she feels a whiff of any kind of rejection the other person has to be EVIL, because she’s a good person and if someone rejects a good person there’s something wrong–and since she’s a good person there has to be something seriously wrong with YOU.

    I partly had this revelation after I’d been venting to my friend about this subject as though it was one of my biggest flaws and she said something along the lines of, “you know what, that’s always been my favorite thing about you. You’re so nice to everyone, I can always bring you anywhere and you’ll fit right in and be nice to people. Or I’ll bring people who are worried about meeting new people to a party and you make them feel right at home. People you met when you visited me as a foreign exchange student still talk about how nice you were!” And I realized that my reversed “bitchy resting face” and friendliness isn’t inherently bad, it’s just the way I am.

    Being nice and friendly =/= being phony. Saying “no thank you” with a smile on your face isn’t an invitation. And saying “no thank you”, or just “NO” for that matter, without a smile on your face isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be taken seriously.

  21. Personally, I read ‘you can be too nice and naive’ more generously, as ‘sometimes you try to think the best of people or make excuses for them when really that person is just being a jerk.’ So personally, the way I read that, it didn’t sound like putting the blame on her but as pointing out that it’s OK to be less polite or more suspicious. Maybe awkwardly or badly worded, but the sentiment may have been more positive.

    Of course I guess it COULD also be read as ‘it’s your own fault for being too friendly or for not being careful enough’. Hard to tell without knowing the person or having further conversation.

    1. Even if it was the first case, though, there are much better ways of expressing that sentiment, because it does come off sounding at worst, blaming, and at best, patronizing.

  22. OMG some dudes are really creepy! I have a question for you people, so I can avoid/deal with OLD creeps:

    Last week I started to work in place where I have to deal with people everyday in a friendly and polite way, for about 15-40 min each. In this short amount of time I have had 3 older man (50+) be “extra” funny/nice whatever with me, making comments like “I am single, but that might change, who knows”; (to my partner:) “Can you ask her for her aunt’s phone number?” (which we read as: I’d like an older version of her, please), stuff that feels like it’s kind of inappropriate.

    I HAVE TO be polite, but how can I deal with this in the future, as I suspect creepier dudes will come along? Should I just keep quiet until we’re finished? Do I have to be a little mean?

    1. Learn the polite and smiling death stare. The kind of stare that a really good teacher would deliver when the class threatens to get a little too lively. Raised eyebrows, bright half-smile, icy coldness radiating out of your soul. Think Dame Maggie Smith.

      1. The best death-stare smile, imo, is to pretend that you read a description of smiling once (“a rictus of the lower face so as to bare the teeth”) and are an alien attempting to reproduce it. So like, a lower-face-only thing with eyes that say “I want to shoot you out of a cannon into the sun.”

        1. LOL! This is pretty close to my technique of reminding myself that when you’re smiling, you are also baring your teeth at someone.

          1. hahaha you guys are funny. I can try that, I guess. 😛 (TODAY one guy asked for my phone number ! -at least he was young)

    2. I like a raised eyebrow and a slightly incredulous “Really?” Or “You DO realize you said that out loud, right?” for these types of situations. The type of creeper it sounds like you’re encountering (gentleman “of a certain age” who has been happily cruising along thinking this misogynist bs is oh-so-funny and not at all offensive because, hey, he used to smack his secretary on the ass back in the 60s and it’s not like he does that anymore so seriously, what do these dour feminists even WANT here) will usually back off with an “oh I was just joking” and I’ll kind of half-laugh and give him a “Riiiight. Me too. Anyway, you’ll have to excuse me,” if I can exit the conversation, or “Anyway, getting back to ::thing we’re actually supposed to be discussing::” if there’s some reason we need to continue interacting.

      I try to visualize myself as Kate Middleton (minus the British accent, since I’m American and it’d be weird if I started talking with a British accent mid-conversation) when delivering lines like this. She’s always so graceful, I’m pretty sure she could deliver a verbal icepick to the heart of a creeper while sounding like she just paid him a compliment, so that’s the kind of tone I strive for.

    3. When they start with their “funny” “jokes,” I’ve found the best thing to do is to feign polite confusion. Pretend you don’t understand the “joke.” Emphasis on polite – you’re still being all customer service-y, you’re just not playing along.

      If you’re comfortable with awkward silence, you can say something like, “What do you mean?” in a confused, polite voice. And then don’t say anything else – wait. Most of the time, when I’ve had weird old men start making jokes like this, if I don’t play along, they get uncomfortable (because they realize they’re standing in the middle of Inappropriate Joke Land all by themselves) and backtrack or change the subject.

      If you’re not comfortable doing that, you can respond as if you’re both full time-residents of Grown Up Almost-Strangers Who Don’t Say Weird Things To Each Other Land, where subtext doesn’t exist and therefore none of their comments could possibly be taken at anything other than face value. If they say, “I’m single, but that might change,” say, “Oh, good for you! Where did you two meet?” If they say, “Can I get her aunt’s phone number?” sadly tell them that your only aunt passed away last year.

      Inappropriate Joke Land just has such strange customs! What could this old man possibly mean?

      1. Yeah, obtuse is my go to method. Because these comments do fluster me which just makes my attempts at snark even funnier to creeps.

      2. Might be better for racist jokes, but I’ve gotten good mileage out of a flat, “Yeah, I understood your joke.”

    4. I work in a customer service field where I am virtually guaranteed to run into at least one creeper per shift. My favorite deflection for the “subtle” hints is to take their statements perfectly literally with a pleasant “Star Trek android smile.”

      “I’m single but that may change soon.” = “That’s great; she must feel like a very special lady!” “Can you get me her aunt’s phone phone number?” = “I’m sorry, my aunt is still married!”

      For the very direct propositions (about once a week) I paste on the STAS and chirp “I don’t date customers.” No apologies allowed, just a flat statement of policy repeated add infinitum.
      “Couldn’t you make an exception?”
      “I don’t date customers.”
      “What if I start going to (Competitor)?”
      “I don’t date customers.”
      “But whyyyyyyyyy?”
      “I don’t date customers.”

      Fortunately my manager, and our company policies in general are very supportive of the safety of its employees. But I think this would work even if the company itself wasn’t as supportive as mine is.

    5. I have some success getting ~genteel older gentlemen~ to back of with a “Haha that’s so charming” said in a slightly but plausibly-deniable sarcastic tone. Or, “Oh you’re so funny, just like my Grandad!” Keep deflecting it back to an unsexual relationship or slight hostility, and hope he gets the message or gives up.

  23. “Nice and naive” are bullshit “reasons” for your bad experiences, LW. There is nothing wrong with you treating other people like regular humans, and if that’s what people are using as an excuse to say that you “lead them on,” then just know they’re full of shit.

    I remember telling the guy I was in a relationship with at the time about a conversation I’d had with a male friend, where this male friend had told me all about his love life woes and I nodded in sympathy. This guy, who I was in a relationship with, got MAD at me for flirting with my male friend.

    What? Flirting? I was listening because it sounded like he needed someone to talk to.

    No, this guy I was in a relationship with said. He was trying to get pity sex from me by telling me all about his relationship sads. The guy I was in a relationship with knew this, because that’s how HE tried to pick up women and therefore the fact that I sat there and listened meant that I was flirting with my male friend.

    In short, people who misconstrue normal human interaction as flirting or leading people on are assholes, full stop.

    1. argh I hope someone pushes that crappy guy into a big puddle of mud.

      You are right and trying to be kind to people is a brave thing to do. Grrrr.

      1. And the thing is, even if that guy was correct and my male friend WAS trying to flirt with me, it doesn’t mean that I was flirting back just by talking to him.

    2. . . .so that guy straight up admitted that he hit on other women by complaining about his relationship with you, as part of accusing YOU of cheating? Great plan, buddy, great plan.

    3. If the guy I’m in a relationship with said something like that to me, he’d be a guy I was no longer in a relationship with.

    4. A young person I know recently had her bf get mad at her bc she just gave this guy her number while she was stuck in the bus with him and he wouldn’t hear her no to get him to shut up and not hurt her or anything. She obv had no intention of answering his texts or calls. Instead of getting comfort from her bf when she told him her scary story, she got a diatribe about wtf you can’t just give other guys your number, that’s cheating on me. The fuck.

      1. Of course it’s not ‘cheating’ to give them your phone number to get them off your back, but I don’t know how safe I’d feel giving a boundary-pushing stranger personal information like that. Situations like this are what the fake phone number was invented for :).

    5. /I remember telling the guy I was in a relationship with at the time about a conversation I’d had with a male friend, where this male friend had told me all about his love life woes and I nodded in sympathy. This guy, who I was in a relationship with, got MAD at me for flirting with my male friend./

      This sounds a lot like the definition of “the friendzone” that I see parroted by Internet Commenters on certain sites– “the friendzone” is a woman cruelly using a man like a boyfriend without “paying” him by making him her boyfriend and giving him sexual access to her. How does she cruelly use him? By “making” him perform tasks like listening to her share stories, vent, complain, etc. or to come shopping with her.

      You know, by “making” him ACT LIKE A FRIEND.

      Clearly this is only a cruel action to a very special kind of asshole.

  24. Yeah, I like that example. Guys sometimes seem to forget or not realize, in these conversations, how the usual difference in size/strength can completely change the potential feeling of threat in a situation.

    A person bigger than you who ignores small boundaries you set can be terrifying with very little deliberate effort on their part.

    1. That, and society supports skeevy dudes in ways that it doesn’t support skeevy women. IMHO that’s a much bigger problem than individual people being skeevy.

      1. Yes! I mean, people get lonely, people say inappropriate and awkward stuff, people want weird things they aren’t good at articulating, and people take time to learn boundaries. I am also people. I would love have the energy and sense of security to give everyone the benefit of the doubt! But the reality is that there’s a very high potential cost to me for doing so, thanks to the larger gender dynamics in play.

        1. Indeed. In a non-sexist world, inappropriate come-ons would be a thing that happens sometimes, and that people grow out of (usually!), and not a big deal. Not a pervasive, sometimes violent thing that literally every woman I know can tell horror stories about.

  25. Oy. >< As someone who has worked in a male-dominated field (electrical engineering research), it's so hard to find compatriots sometimes, especially fellow ladies. I admit I tend to not make many friends at work. Sadly, while this stuff isn't your fault, if people are seizing the idea of "ooh, look, younger woman with a kind demeanor in a field where she solves people's problems," you might just have to start looking for your close friends outside your work circles if you don't seem to be having luck here. I agree with the Captain, you might need to be shutting down the non-work conversations and seeing who is and isn't okay with moving back to professional topics. :-/

    "And I can tell you that there is nothing you can do to prevent jerk men from being jerks. The kind of jerk who says this kind of thing to you is also the kind of man who would take literally anything as proof of your sexual interest. You could shave your head and glare all the time and only answer questions by screaming in Klingon and they would STILL think “This is a lady who wants to touch my boner!” "

    Great response up in the comments there. Sadly, you're not going to change these folks…the best *you* can do is try to make yourself as unavailable to them as you can while going about your life. Although, especially if any of these people are in your company or whatnot, you can probably tell your HR folks about it…I don't know how this works elsewhere. It might be that whistleblowing to other companies' HR or some such will murder your career, and I can't in good faith suggest that one if I don't know exactly how the process tends to work.

  26. Oy, this is giving me lots of feels from my old job. It was a very not typically professional setting (youth-run nonprofit) which meant the usual professional boundary rules didn’t always apply and that made things kind of a shitshow sometimes, especially because I was young and less aware of my rights to tell dudes to go the hell away. I figured that if I was ever making out with coworkers and other people I met in work settings (something that was pretty common and not discouraged, there was a lot of blurring of social and professional lines), I couldn’t consider it inappropriate when dudes I was NOT interested in did things like: when I was the logistics person for a conference and everyone had my cell phone number, using that number to call and ask me out repeatedly; constantly tell me how pretty I was; or send me endless Facebook messages hitting on me and ignoring my efforts to keep things professional. I kind of miss that casual atmosphere now that I’m in a more professional setting but I do not miss that shit.

  27. Ugh. This kind of thing is why I really hate older men. Or at least, most of the ones that like me turn out to be red flag creepers ahoy and scare the shit out of me.

    Anyhoo…. it won’t help with the super crazy ones, because some guys assume that any woman who talks to them at all clearly wants to fuck them. But I am very careful about who I get into a “friendly conversation” with, especially if the dude is over 40. They seem to always take it the wrong way no matter what I do, and I’m about as flirtatious as a rock.

  28. LW, I work at a co-ed homeless shelter. When I first started, I ID’d as a woman and I made the decision early on to do the merciful, considerate thing, and dress like a nun, so as not to distract or tempt any of our male clients. I had a wardrobe of floor length skirts, long sleeve tops, and a compliment of coordinating headscarves. People would ask if it was a religious thing. It wasn’t, I just thought if I covered every inch of skin besides my face and my hands, I wouldn’t have to deal with as much harassment.

    Note: “As much” harassment. It didn’t eliminate the harassment problem that apparently comes with existing in the world as a woman-ish person. It cut down on it, somewhat. I was invisible to a certain segment of the population (mostly dudes my own age or younger who are attracted to exposed skin and bright colors) but I was a magnet for old creepers. I must have pinged some gross Little House on the Prairie/Florence Nightengale fetish. If I could unhear the phrase, “You look so wholesome, but I bet you’d really _____ if I could just _____” I could die happy.

    I’ve just recently come out as trans and non binary, and I’m overhauling my wardrobe to a more androgynous presentation. I’m terrified of showing my pants-clad legs and and uncovered hair at work, because for so long, I’ve had a sort of talisman, a security blanket, to say to myself, “Imagine how much worse it would be if I wasn’t wearing 10 yards of cloth!” But I’ve been practicing my cold stares and my humorless raised eyebrows. People are going to see my pants-clad legs at work and they are still going to have to act with a minimum of decency and respect.

    I guess I don’t have any advice for you, but I do have fist bumps of solidarity and Jedi hugs.

  29. I’d like to put my perspective about this kind of predatory behavior.

    I’m a transgender man, and was considered before transition, to be a pretty woman. My entire life, starting with my early teens to a mid life transition, has been filled with men like your predatory “friends”. It didn’t matter that I was unavailable. It didn’t matter when I tried brutal honesty like statements of “I am not interested in you at all that way.” Nothing I did seemed to stop this kind of behavior. I often tried to modify my own behavior to avoid leading these guys on. When I was very young, I assumed I had sent out mixed signals because why would these guys keep doing this?

    Part of the issue is I’m very gregarious. I chat with everyone. I like talking to people. I’m very open about my sexuality. This led to people deciding they could push me into being sexual with them.

    I learned, there is literally nothing a woman does to invite this kind of behavior from these guys.

    You want to know how I got it to stop? At about 1 year on testosterone, when I no longer looked like a woman, was when it stopped. These kinds of predatory men don’t see women as people. They see them as a possible sexual encounter, and everything they do is geared towards getting that. When their prey recoils, they immediately employ the whole “you led me on” line.

    It was shocking to me, because my behavior hasn’t changed at all, but the perception of my gender has. The exact same behavior that supposedly led these guys on when I was perceived as a woman, is seen as just friendly behavior as a man.

    I guess I just can’t emphasize enough that there is nothing you did wrong. You were acting like a friend, and they were acting like predatory jerks.

    1. Yep, interestingly enough when I went from presenting as a woman to presenting as a man, the amount of harassment I received from acquaintances and strangers alike dropped off drastically. No one’s yelled anything out of a car or launched a targeted sexual harassment campaign at me for years! As a fairly femme-presenting dude I get shit from folks on occasion, but it is NOTHING like what I experienced up until I was 21/22 years old.

    2. “These kinds of predatory men don’t see women as people. They see them as a possible sexual encounter…”


      I am a cis woman. Up until a couple of years ago, I wore my hair between chin-length and middle-of-my back length. Then I got a pixie cut. The near-daily harassment I experienced starting at age 11 stopped abruptly. I get harassed maybe once or twice a year now. The cut doesn’t even make me look androgynous, and I don’t dress to achieve an androgynous look. But the short haircut apparently took me outside of the Boner Target Pool for my local area, apparently.

      1. Yeah, I am a cis woman and was really into androgynous fashion for a while (super short hair, no makeup, a lot of menswear) and experienced the same. It was really relaxing to be left alone by these types of creepy men. Now that I wear more feminine clothes and haircut, THEY’RE BACK.

  30. I have a dude friend I work with who complains about his wife to me, and it has never been an attempt to groom me for anything. He just has this overwhelming need to be validated about how right he is all the time, so he wants someone (me in this scenario) to tell him he’s so right and she’s so wrong whenever they’ve had a fight.* HOWEVER, we became friends before he ever started bringing up stuff in his marriage–actual friends, not just work friends. And he is cool with me explaining to him why he’s actually totally wrong.

    Whenever a male coworker has started complaining to me about how his wife just doesn’t understand him when we aren’t for real friends first, it’s always been in a kind of creepy way, that “we are not close enough for you to talk to me about this so why are you doing this” kind of way.

    *That’s a problem, too, but a different one, and one that’s for him to deal with.

  31. Ah, romantic comedies. I heartily recommend the vintage Onion article “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested”. If only it was true.

    I had a similar experience when I was the receptionist at a property management company, with one of our tenants (what a goddamned minefield that was). He was particularly annoying because he wouldn’t just plain ask me out so I could turn him down and end the weird dance – he would come up with actual business, and then segue into asking if I enjoyed a certain activity or an off the wall personal question. Ex: one day after answering some actual work-related questions, out of absolutely nowhere he asked me if I played tennis. He hung around looking disappointed and hangdog when I gave him a very confused face and said no. This went on for months until he somehow caught on that I had a boyfriend.

    (My favorite one of these was when he asked what the dot on my face was? Maybe he thought it was a bindi or something, I don’t know. Anyway, one of my bosses was standing right there so I just said, extremely cheerfully, “no, it’s a pimple!” From his response my boss agreed that he was trying to hit on me in some way, but unfortunately she was useless as far as advice or backup.)

  32. I worked as a cook on the North Slope oilfields (which was a population of about 10 guys to every woman) and I can confirm that some guys will take literally anything as leading them on. One guy (married) apparently genuinely thought that I wanted to sleep with him which is kind of funny because my coworkers had literally just called me out on the fact that I rarely spoke to any of the crew guys and knew nothing about any of them beyond what they liked to eat for breakfast. The guy who thought I was “leading him on” mentioned the fact that I wore yoga pants every day to work as evidence. It was obviously couldn’t have been because they’re comfortable to work in.

    So, in conclusion, you can be unfriendly and standoffish and still be accused of leading people on, LW. I don’t think it is because you’re friendly. Don’t let people ruin your friendly and open demeanor.

    1. Oh, man, Slopers. They take “How dare you not be the imaginary woman I made up in my head who will do me” to dizzy heights. A local singer, LeMoyne (no Web presence that I can find), wrote a song about one of them, a chopper pilot. One day, he leaned out of the chopper and told her bitterly, “LeMoyne, you have ruined my life” before taking off and leaving her at a tundra camp–and not coming back. The camp crew had to radio for alternate transportation. Her entire history with this guy was him flying her places and their longest conversation ever had been about whether all of the luggage was tied down! IIRC she’d never even made eye contact with him, seeing as how he never took off his aviator shades.

    1. Where was this post when I was in college and getting hit on by a former professor who wanted me to come over and watch a movie? It was supposed to enlighten me about modern thought or something, I dunno. (You will all be stunned to find out the the professor was, indeed, a poet. Self-published.) Mom found out, made me call back and cancel. She didn’t put her foot down often, but when she did, you said, “Yes, ma’am!” and followed orders or she’d know the reason why. I have since learned that he made a habit of doing this with young and naive female former students. Mom got flowers when I made this discovery.

  33. If any of the tips suggested here for making yourself seem less approachable feel like they’d work for you, feel free to apply them.

    However. You could be the flirtiest flirt who ever flirted – I don’t care if you look deeply into one of these dudes’ eyes, put your hand on their knee, and sigh that your boyfriend is out of town this week and you’re soooo lonely – you’re still allowed to say no if they come on to you. And if they make things difficult for you at work after that, they’re still the assholes.

    Now, for what it’s worth, I don’t see mentions in your letter of these guys taking rejection badly. It sucks for you that you lost the platonic friendship you were looking for, but I’d try and remove the yoke of ‘And now I have to avoid him because I’m a heartless rejecting bitch and AWKWARD’ from your shoulders.

    When you shoot someone down (and as you can tell from the stories here, there’s pretty much nothing you can do or be that will prevent you from *having* to shoot people down), as long as you’re in a safe situation, try the default assumption that they’re going to be an adult about it.

    Again, safety first – the usual ‘avoid being alone with them if physical harm is a possibility’ and ‘document the shit out of everything’ caveats still apply. But if you always assume they’re going to make your life difficult to punish you, you’re already punishing yourself.

    (…but then again, I’ve *also* been called too nice for my own good, so what do I know?)

    1. I’d like to underline the thing about flirty behavior STILL not being an invitation. I have male friends who are flirts, who laugh and tease and sparkle toward any woman they feel vaguely pleasant toward, and I DO NOT ASSUME THEY WANT TO SEX EVERY SINGLE WOMAN THEY SMILE AT. Because I’m not a twit.

      1. This! I know a guy who flirts like mad, with everyone, because that is his personality. He’s got the social skills to set people at ease rather than creeping them out – it’s amazing to watch. The fallout for him has been…. well, there was a hilarious rumor that he was engaged seven times. As far as I’m aware, no-one’s ever accused him of leading people on, or called him a slut, or acted entitled to his pants, or any of the other nasty crap that women get when they do (or don’t!) act like that. People rarely even hit on him. It’s nice to be a guy.

        1. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen was a pair of my college professors who were both tremendous social flirts – both by cultural upbringing and inclination, having a conversation with each other. As it happened, they disliked each other quite intensely, but they were both capable of being adult about it – and to them that included flirting. So there they were, having this amazing conversation, both flirting away like mad. It started a hell of a lot of rumors about a relationship between them – but both of them knew that the conversation didn’t mean a damned thing.

  34. Agreed and agreed on the matter of men who complain about their wives or bad marriages. Last time I responded by telling him that he sounded like a terrible husband and I feel sorry for his wife, which shut him down right away, but of course that wouldn’t work for everyone. But yes, in 100% of cases when a man starts by telling me his wife doesn’t understand him he’ll go on to try to get in my pants.

    On the other hand there is such a thing as genuinely confusing behavior…but a) it doesn’t sound like this is what you are doing b) even if this was what you were doing, all this gives the crusher license to do the crushee is say “you are awesome and I’d love to be dating you, what do you think?” *once*. That’s it.

    On the third hand…even if he said it in the most offensive way possible (which I’m not minimizing), I do think someone has a right to not be your friend if his feelings towards you make him uncomfortable…or for any reason at all. He still has to be a responsible colleague to you, but he absolutely has a right to pull back from the long personal one-on-one conversations. It has happened to me at work that I have developed a friendship with someone whom I later didn’t want to be friends with for some reason or other…it’s awkward, but it’s still possible to be professional.

    And finally…how *do* you want your close friends to act when they have crushes on you? Tell you once then drop it? Take time away from you until they have their feelings under control and then come back and be friends? Not back off but talk only about work-related things until the crush subsides? It sounds like you’ve been through this and thought about this enough that you might have a clear idea of what you want, and that this happens often enough that it might be worth communicating it to a man as you’re becoming close friends with him. Something like, when he’s telling you about his personal life woes and it’s your turn to gripe, you could tell him about X guy friend who had a crush on you and handled it a certain way and it really didn’t work, and another guy friend who had a crush on you and did a totally different thing that you thought was totally the responsible and right thing to do and you’re still friends, and here’s another thing you thought someone could do in that circumstance that would also work well, as long as they don’t do this other thing. That way you’re not putting him on the spot but you are giving him information about how he can be a good friend to you even if he develops a crush. He might use that information to try to be a good friend to you if he finds himself in that situation, or he might ignore that information and in the process show you that he has no interest in being a good friend to you, but if it’s the latter at least you know where you stand.

    Okay, one last thing, this: But if they paid attention, they would see that I am like that with everyone! I have a friend like that, and damn it’s the hardest thing to remember. He has this knack of making everyone he speaks to for five minutes feel like the most special person on the planet and like he’s completely fascinated and enraptured by them. For the longest time I was convinced he had a crush on me and I think it took me a year to figure out that he didn’t. So people might not be able to fully pay attention enough to that you are like this with everyone, and if you want them to notice this it might be a kindness if you could find some way to bring it clearly to their attention. This you could fairly straightforwardly do in a work-related conversation, by describing how your particular mannerisms help you connect to clients easily, and how this is a gift that you have.

    1. I was agreeing with you until this: “Something like, when he’s telling you about his personal life woes and it’s your turn to gripe, you could tell him about X guy friend who had a crush on you…”

      I think that’s just as passive-aggressive as a guy complaining about his wife as a prelude to hitting on you. These work colleagues should not be propositioning her at all.

  35. I think one of the issues here is that a reasonable amount of men do actually think that telling a woman all their tragic emotional problems is romantic behaviour, and if a woman listens it can only be because of romantic interest. That’s why it’s a danger signal.

    My best friend shared her experiences of depression with the depressed guy who she’d hired to fix something for her, and after maybe about half an hours worth of face to face interaction he tried to kiss her. He did apologise a lot when she shut him down, so it was better than the alternative situation where the guy gets pissy, but still. Even “I too have experienced the gloomy fog of despair” can be translated to “We are talking about emotions so I love you.” I read somewhere that men find it harder to move on after divorce/break ups because they only feel comfortable talking about emotional problems with their partners, whereas women generally have friends to talk to.

    This whole deal is completely their problem, but I’m bringing it up because I think knowing that can help with a useful approach in some situations, which is to casually ask: “Who do you normally talk about these kinds of issues with?” when emotional issues/personal stuff comes up.

    If they say “My wife/girlfriend/partner,” you can ask “Why are you treating me like I’m your wife then? We literally just work together.” Even if you say it jokingly you’re still making a joke that says “Hah, you’re treating me like there’s something romantic going on here, that’s ridiculous.” I personally do it with a flat tone indicating “That’s intensely weird and bothers me,” but I’m lucky enough to be reasonably confident in confronting people.

    If they say “Friends,” then that’s probably less of a danger sign. But you aren’t at work to be their emotional dumpster pal, so you can say “So you agree it’s not really appropriate conversation for work then? What a relief; we’ll pretend this never happened.”

    And if they say “No one,” ask “So why are you talking about such subjects to me, a random work acquaintance, on this, the day of our second conversation?”

    Really, just ask the first question and then make it clear you do not consider yourself included in the category of whatever they say.

    Obviously this is situational, requires a certain amount of attitude, and won’t do anything to deter a determined creeper. But it can be an effective way of making clear you don’t think emotional problems are a suitable subject for work buddies and you’re not there to be a councilor, which can be an effective way of making it clear to men that you aren’t interested in them because you aren’t interested in their problems and apparently that’s what love is.

    (Incidentally, I think this attitude some men have explains what you see in so much “nice guy” rhetoric. “But I listened to her talk about her feelings! That is the literal definition of romantic interest! I could not have been any clearer about wanting to have sex with her!”)

  36. Duuuuude. Longtime lurker here and I feel the need to chime in finally. Terribly sorry that your kindness is being taken the wrong way. It sucks to be an attractive, nice lady, doesn’t it? I feel your pain, totally. Good thing the Capitan’s advice here is totally solid. I’d take it if I were you… I know I will for future reference! 0__0

    My turn to tell a story! It’s not as exciting as the Cap’s but… here it is: I had a grocery store job when I was 20, that didn’t even last a year because basically every single guy coworker I had decided it’d be cool to hit on me. One by one they bounced their attenshunz off of me, with varying levels of subtlety (or NOT.) It was a constant barrage of horny annoying guys. It was kinda funny at first, but really ended up wearing me down to the point where stressful events at work had me bursting into tears. Talking about it made me sound super self absorbed so I kinda just didn’t. It was a trial FOR SURE. Being objectified feels AWFUL and will erode a person over time. I was alas, pretty immature at that age, and not even used to that much attention in the first place, so it was just… troubling, to say the least. I don’t know what the deal was in that store because I wasn’t the only girl they did it to. I almost wonder if they were taking bets or competing with each other. It was pretty out of control. It was a sexist, misogynist culture of fear. One of the more bizarre experiences of my life. Anyway, I pride myself that I always, always stayed profesh and shut the weirdness as far down as possible; I managed the coffee stand and didn’t want my reputation as several people’s boss to suffer. Guess what, it did anyway. I never slept with a single one of them. They didn’t even deserve it because they had no behavior but I was always extremely sweet and gentle in my refusals. (MISTAKE!) Fat lot of good it did, I was gossiped out and branded as “The Bitch” despite the fact, which was unsettling because I had actually never been called one before in any other circle. I got no support from upper management and soon found out that the store manager himself was also watching me and all the female members of my team on his camera live feed almost constantly. Why, I will never understand. Our uniforms weren’t even cute or anything. It got steadily more ridiculous, til I eventually had to quit. F*ck that noise. That’s all I can say.

    Be strong, and a thousand times YES to recognizing those red flags… when you see it and know to run, it makes all the difference.

    Good luck, and be safe… it’s rough out there 😛

  37. From ‘Into The Woods’:
    “Mother said be good, Father said be nice,
    That was always their advice.
    So be nice, Cinderella, Good, Cinderella,
    Nice good good nice-

    What’s the good of being good If everyone is blind
    And you’re always left behind?
    Never mind, Cinderella, Kind Cinderella-
    Nice good nice kind good nice- ”

    This is STILL what women are often raised with. We should be nice and kind and polite. We shouldn’t be loud or outspoken. We should listen sympathetically to people, even if it makes us uncomfortable. We are taught to put the needs and desires of others – especially men – before our own. A man can say “no”, a woman should say “well, I’d rather not, I’m really sorry…” as though she’s open to persuasion. So we put lots of pretty bows and reassuring statements round a rejection because it’s not polite otherwise. We’re not being ‘nice girls’. Then we get told we’re leading men on and being cock-teases because we didn’t just say no. Of course, if we DO just say no, we’re being aggressive bitches. Win-win.

    LW, you’re an open, warm person but that’s not a personality flaw. Maybe a little naive? I don’t know, really. It would be wonderful if you could take these guys at face value without having to assume an ulterior motive. I’d have done the same when I was younger – I both wanted to think the best of people and to believe that I was the sort of person who could make friends easily. Sadly, though, I’d advise that you get in touch with your inner Cynical Bitch. Maybe it’s not very nice, but it might save you some hassle.

  38. Him: “if I was younger, I would have thought that you coming back to my office meant you wanted to sleep with me.”

    You: “I’m so glad you are TOO OLD to believe rubbish like that any more.”

    OK, yeah, it took an hour for that ‘snappy answer’ to come to me but I thought I’d but it out there for anyone who would like to road test it in similar situations.

  39. I can attest that in my specific case, shutting down stories about sad marriages/relationships works, in a “quality over quantity” kind of way.

    I started doing it for completely different reasons. I’m a quiet, empathetic, non-judgey person (or at least I come across that way) so people do feel safe telling me their woes. Every friendly relationship I’ve had in my life eventually devolved into free therapy sessions. Friends would call me to hang out and I’d shudder at the prospect of 4+ hours of them unloading on me. So I stopped being available for that sort of thing right out of the gate. I put up a barrier: first we have fun with our mutual interests and hobbies, then when that foundation is laid, we can also talk about our troubles and woes. BOTH of us, not just one.

    And looking back now, there was an incredibly sharp decline in the sort of thing you describe. A lot of dudes kind of slunk away after I made it clear that I wasn’t going to be a dumpster for everyone’s feels anymore. It drastically reduced the amount of people who wanted to spend time with me, and that stung, but the people who did stick around were a lot less taxing to be with. I’m still totally available for sad talks and support and hugs and a listening ear and a cup of tea, but these days I gots ta get paid, friendship or hard cash, Paypal is fine too.

    This is just one observation from one person, but Cap’s advice about not following people down the sad-marriage-path made me realize just how relevant it has been for me. A lot of people who I was hoping were potential friends slunk away, and that hurt, but then the ones that did stick around were worth having around. And of course I can’t know what the ones who didn’t were thinking, but I know from experience that if all people want to talk about is their sadness and woes straight out of the gate, there aren’t many good place that relationship can end up. Nobody is obligated to be happy and healthy and fun and charming and always be in a good place. Obviously not. (Lord knows I wasn’t either.) But nobody has an obligation to be a relationship councilor under the guise of “friendship” either. It made me feel cold and snooty and mean and bitchy, but on the other hand there was a noticeable upswing in healthy friendships and a real downswing in creepers.

  40. I appreciate that it is not necessarily a solution, because it depends on workplaces giving a damn, but I do think that LW should be encouraged to look up if her workplace has policies on harassment, and raise what’s been happening with her manager. Workplace harassment is illegal in some places, and though that’s not a panacea, it isn’t something that LW should just assume that she has to take care of on her own because she feels awkward. If she wants to keep it low key, she can always do it in the “asking for advice” kind of way and feel out what her manager says: “I’ve had a couple of people lately hit on me at work in a way that was really inappropriate. I got the feeling they felt they could because I was [younger and more junior than them], and it made me really uncomfortable. How do you advise me to handle this in future? What’s our workplace policy? Should I report it?” Some workplaces aren’t supportive, but LW’s may be and it would be annoying to learn later that if she’d told her managed they’d have been appalled and taken action to support her.

  41. OMG Jennifer your creepy older & senior colleague sounds horrifying. It sounds like you handled it extremely well particularly if it was your first job out of college and particularly given that your colleagues sound like shitheads.

    My creepy boss story is not as creepy as that but still. I worked in a senior-ish management role in a non profit and my boss was the head of the whole department, He was useless as well as creepy (he was lazy and didn’t do anything.) One day I came in to work and he called me into his office.

    Creepy Boss: I know what you did this weekend.

    Me: Er, what?

    Creepy Boss: Yes, on Sunday you went to [he then gave my itinerary for Sunday, addresses, rough times that I was there, etc. I had driven around looking at apartments to rent and also went to a supermarket. He clearly must have followed me]

    Me: …

    Creepy Boss: Want to know how I know?

    Me: I suppose you followed me.

    Creepy Boss: You can’t prove it. But just know that I know what you did. I just know.

    I left a couple of months later but it was extremely awkward after that. And like Jennifer I told colleagues and they laughed it off. “He was kidding you!” “He was just trying to spook you for a laugh!” “You know what he’s like!” “He probably just saw you on the street!” (Well no he didn’t “just” see me because I traveled around quite a large area of the city and he knew my itinerary. He MUST have followed me somehow, in his CAR.)

    So yeah, creepy bosses.

    1. OMG Ginny, this is so horrifying! Lord, I’m actually getting goosebumps, I’m so sorry you had such a shitty boss!
      (I’m also wondering what everyone involved here was thinking. The boss, because why would he tell that to you? Did he think you would find him charming? Did he want to threaten you somehow? And your colleagues because which piece of this story doesn’t jump out at least as odd to someone? It’s not acceptable to bring in “laughs” when clearly you are scared and/or annoyed! Neither is it logical to think someone “just saw you on the street” when you clearly said just before that he knew your entire course of the day. Ughughugh, glad you’re out there!)

    2. Ugh, I can’t even imagine! It would be one thing if he saw you at the supermarket or something, but knowing your whole day’s itinerary (and telling you about how he followed you around) gives me the shivers. I’m glad you got out of that job and away from this boss.

    3. My face during your story got stuck on D: D: D: D: D: because holy crap that is seriously terrifying. He made it crystal clear that he’d followed you for an extended period of time. So glad you are out of there.

      1. Yeah, it was horrifying and very creepy, and it came at a time when he was under a lot of pressure from his boss because he literally did not do any work at all, and he was always trying to blame me for things. I think he did this as a bullying tactic to try to make me feel uneasy (well it worked). He ended up being fired (a couple of years after I left) and he tried to take the organization to a tribunal but failed to make a case at all against them.

        My colleagues were male, older than me and had known the guy for years so were reluctant to believe that he would do that (because he never did that to them!)

        I think the main takeaway from this and from Jennifer’s (far far worse) story is that if a female coworker confides in you about some creepy behavior from a boss BELIEVE HER. It’s incredibly sexist that women (particularly younger women I guess) are not believed over older, white (in my case…) men, because those older men are “the voice of authority” and women are not.

  42. I am always super excited when Cap pulls out a story because STORY TIME!!! But that story is seriously terrible and disturbing, like he sat in his vehicle outside your house??? NOPE.

    Anyone ever does that to me, I am taking pictures and taking them to work. That shit is unacceptable and terrifying.

    It kind of reminded me of when I was thirteen (THIRTEEN) and at an academic sleep-away camp for nerdy teenagers, and the kid who sat behind me moved seats to be closer and started stroking my hair and slipping poems under the door to my room (where I slept!). Everyone else thought it was cute and romantic (even my mom???) but I was freaked and started keeping a large amount of physical distance between us and when at the weekly dance it looked like he might be about to ask me to dance I said “no” really quickly and he started leaving me alone and I felt guilty about hurting his feelings for literal years.

    I still wonder how much of what a negative experience I had in that class was about how distracted and uncomfortable I was by him touching me (so lightly there was mountains of plausible deniability, and it took me a while to decide I wasn’t imagining it!). it was, to date, the only time a teacher of any sort expressed that my attentiveness and eagerness to learn was suboptimal.

    1. It was in 1996, so before cell phone cameras/digital cameras, sadly. Otherwise, yeah, his picture, always.

      1. Oh, god, I definitely am not blaming you for not having done that. Even in a world where cell phones exist and have decent cameras and are probably in your pockets right now, as an attack plan it still relies on a lot of things. It doesn’t even remotely compare to the world in which he shouldn’t have SAT outside your HOUSE in his CAR and WAVED AT YOU, like, gah, I need a hot shower. In a locked bathroom.

    2. Oh gosh! Your “I was 13 at camp” story reminds me of a “I was 13 on my way to camp” story. For some reason, they put us all on a greyhound bus without adult supervision. I was sitting behind a friend of mine. There was boy who kept staring at my friend. Later, when he thought everyone was sleeping (it was an overnight trip), he stood in the aisle next to her and kissed her as she slept. As he was pulling away from her, I slapped him in the ass. He didn’t like that very much. I didn’t have the words to explain why I was angry with what he did beyond “you kissed her while she was sleeping so I smacked your ass. If what you did was ok, then what I did should be okay too”. When I warned her about him later, a lot of our friends thought what he did “was sweet”.

      1. And I also have a “13 at camp” story. I went to a nerdy summer camp when I was 13, where middle schoolers could take college courses, and it was awesome. The not-awesome part was the much-taller and bigger boy who FOLLOWED ME EVERYWHERE including to the bathroom and to my room, where he’d sit outside the door and wait for me to come out. He was always talking about his plans to take over the world while standing too close to me. Once I let him into my room and he wouldn’t leave for a long time; he just kept touching my stuff and moving it around.

        At one of the weekend dances, after following me all week, he asked me to dance. I said no, because sitting outside my room all the time is kind of scary, and I didn’t want him to touch me. To his credit, he didn’t push. But when I told my camp counselor, she told me that I ALWAYS have to say yes when asked to dance. And the next day she put up posters in the bathrooms and on our hall telling the girls to never say no to a guy who wants to dance.

        That summer was only the first time that a guy followed me around and started pushing my personal boundaries. But it was also the moment when I realized that my “no” was not as important as his desire, in the eyes of those around me.

    3. Academic camp – was it CTY? If so, ::mumbles about “In Your Eyes” and “Say Anything” and the Onion article about “Real-Life Man Arrested for Romantic-Comedy Behavior” ::

  43. I could have written this letter five years ago. I’ve even shut guys down, hard, ignored them for weeks, and then next time I had to talk to them or was remotely polite, they would go back to grabby hands and sweet talking. If I had a boyfriend, that wasn’t an impediment (I was too good for him! I deserved someone better… like Mr. Grabby Hands), nor were their own wives or girlfriends.

    Have you ever read any of the Jeeves books? Here’s a short bit from “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves”

    “…And do you know what Emerald Stoker did? Not only did she coo over me like a mother comforting a favorite child, but she bathed and bandaged my lacerated leg… It was shortly after she had done the swabbing and bandaging that I kissed her.”

    “Well, you shouldn’t have kissed her.”

    Again he showed surprise. He had thought it, he said, a pretty sound idea.

    “But you’re engaged to Madeline.”

    Reading this was eye opening for me. Because this is the story that these guys are living. Their wives and/or girlfriends are cruel! They push healthy eating, or have lives and problems of their own! But here *you* are, with some ordinary sympathy, and maybe a band aid. CLEARLY IT IS LOVE. It’s a fallacy, obviously, but it’s some kind of cultural expectation rattling around their heads that sympathetic behaviors – i.e. being a good listener + attractiveness = green light GO GO GO.

    Weirdly, these are the same generally sympathetic behaviors that women are socialized to have to begin with… I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

    Everyone’s given you good advice so far! I’m actually reading it with interest, because it’s advice I can use! But I just want you to know that it absolutely isn’t anything you’re doing wrong. Plus, cheating (emotional AND sexual) is rampant in the healthcare industry, especially among men.

    1. Ahahaha, when I was 19 a member of my friend group at work split up with his wife (they were late twenties) and didn’t have anywhere to stay. I persuaded my parents to let him stay with us one night to stop him having to sleep on a bench and in the morning I ironed his shirt for him. He fell in love with me because of it. Oh man, I had forgotten that. Iron a man’s shirt and he will love you for life! Even if you don’t want him to! Until you age a few years and start having needs of your own and then you will become a bitch just like his ex!

      Thankfully I had just about enough gumption at 19 to shit that shit down quickly so it never came to that, but maaaaaaaan.

      1. Iron a man’s shirt and he will love you for life!

        I read that as “Iron man’s shirt will love you for life” first and wondered where I’d missed the change in topics.

  44. Omg, I’m betting the Captain is a much better person than me and did not go to her former work place to point and laugh histerically at each former douche coworker who called her crazy, before driving off yelling “KARMA’S A BITCH, SUCKEEEEERS!”

  45. I am a woman in my 40s, and life experience has taught me that there are certain “new” friendship situations that 99% of the time are either about, or quickly turn into, the guy trying to “get” the girl:

    1. Older guy wants to hang out alone with younger woman.
    2. Married guy wants to hang out alone with single woman.
    3. Even: married guy wants to hang out alone with married woman.

    I think the key to this is that if it’s one of the situations above, and it’s a “new friendship”, 99% of the time the guy wants something. I know people will argue with this, but I’ve seen SO many of these situations, from both the guy’s and the woman’s sides, that I no longer even feel comfortable being friendly-ish with a married guy unless I’m even better friends with his wife (and even then the guy can be suspect). Now that I’m older, the older guy situation is not such a big deal for me personally, but it definitely is for younger women (and it was for me when I was younger, too).

    The older guy targets younger women not just because of looks (there are many attractive older women) but also because of the power dynamic. Even if the guy isn’t higher up in his career, he has much more life experience and often uses his skills and knowledge to try to manipulate the younger woman. Just like you’d be skeptical of a 40 yr old guy whose friend group is all 20 yr olds, be skeptical of an older guy who wants to be friends with or date 20 yr olds. Speaking from personal experience, it’s hard as a younger woman to know how to handle these situations (and the older guys know it), because they’re new situations and younger women have a lot at stake if they handle them badly (job, reputation, mutual contacts, etc).

    As far as the married cases, they are also dangerous, even if the 2 people have no intentions of becoming anything more than friends. (And a lot of times, the guy does have intentions of more.) Even in the innocent scenarios, personal connection can be more powerful than anticipated. As the “new friendship” deepens, one or both parties may find themselves suddenly, unexpectedly crushing on the “new friend.” Then, even a good, existing marriage will pale in comparison to the exciting, new relationship, and suddenly things are a lot deeper and more out of control than expected. Even if things don’t get to that point, once a crush develops the “friendship” has to be dialed back anyway, which is never fun or easy. I know some people will say “don’t avoid a good friendship because of what ifs,” and I used to feel that way too, but again too many friends, etc., have gotten burnt for me to still feel that way.

    Also, most married people (men and women) do not feel comfortable if their spouse becomes “new friends” with a new person of the opposite sex. Heck, I try not to even talk much with married guys. Is it fair? No, but it’s just a hell of a lot better for everyone that way. Just like there are too many fish to date a married guy, there are too many fish to become friends with a married guy. Footnote: And the whole “my marriage sucks” thing or “I’m now in a poly relationship” thing is bullshit most of the time anyway. The only thing you can be guaranteed of — if you’re a woman and a married guy you’re not already friends with tells you either of these things — is that either HE sucks, or he has bad boundaries, or both.

    Yes, I do believe that men and women can be friends. Especially if it’s a long-standing friendship, or both people are young, or both people are single. But I’ve witnessed SO many issues with the alternatives, even when the guys aren’t creepers by the traditional meaning of the word (personally, I think any married guy who hits on a woman is a creeper. If your marriage is “really” that bad, dude, get a divorce already) that I am incredibly skeptical of the 3 scenarios at the top of my comment. That’s not to say that LW has done anything wrong here, as obviously it’s the creepers who are WAY out of line and she should be able to live her life without them harassing her. This comment is more of a sharing of info that I have learned (or my friends have learned) the hard way in an unequal society, so that hopefully in the future LW can try to head some things off early and won’t find herself having to deal with these assholes as much (though obviously it’s not always possible, cause these guys are assholes).

    1. I agree with a lot of this — I have had these experiences too (in some cases they were combined i.e. an older married man hit on me when I was younger). I have been hit on by married men who have insisted that their marriages are good but then started to indicate that their interest in me was not purely as a friend (and in one case the guy gave me a long speech about how he and his wife had “companionship” but it was not “intense”).

      But does this really mean that married men (or those in relationships) cannot be friends with women at all? I don’t think that is the case, but even so given my personal experiences I have to admit that I am suspicious now of married men who seem to show interest beyond the professional or beyond the friendship. There are boundaries that can be set (and if the guy tries to break those, he’s not a friend.)

    2. I don’t really agree with this. I think people should be respectful of their spouses, but I think ‘don’t ever make friends with someone of the opposite gender because crushes will inevitably happen’ strikes me as both unnecessarily restrictive and not really getting to the root of the problem.

      I would also dispute the idea that most married people don’t want their spouses to have friends of the opposite gender. It’s never really been an issue for me or anyone else in my social circle.

      1. I think one’s approach to the problem probably varies a lot based on the culture of your particular area and what expectations you know or suspect others to have. One thing I was quite surprised by (when I thought about it) is that in my home area (a small town near a very conservative small city in the Midwestern U.S.) it is not at all normal to have independent friendships with someone of a different gender. That is, it’s okay/”normal” to be friends with a dude *as part of a couple* if you are a woman — i.e. one or both of you is in a couple, and the other person is equally friends with both partners — but for you to have a friendship that operates independently of coupledom is seen as weird and suspicious.

        In some ways I found that easier to deal with, because it leaves dude with a lot less space to backpedal when they start acting in an ambiguous way — “I just asked you out to lunch! I didn’t mean it like that!” “Dude, EVERYONE knows what that means.” (Now, that being said, it’s kind of a cold, miserable way to live to assume that any guy who expresses more than bland courtesy with regards to your existence is probably trying to get in your pants and/or is in love with you, and definitely cuts off the possibility of a lot of meaningful friendships. So I am not touting the benefits of such a system so much as pointing out how it can cause confusion when one is transitioning out of it.)

        I do think it provides a useful framework though — in the sense that after you spot-check someone’s behavior to see if it makes YOU feel uncomfortable, you should probably also run a spot-check in your head to compare that person’s behavior to the cultural standards in your company/area/subculture. If a guy in my current office asked me to dinner, I would feel reasonably sure that that person was hitting on me. If a guy in my old lab asked me to dinner, the climate of that workplace/city would have made the invitation far more ambiguous. (Where it gets hairy is when you’re in a climate where the culture is very much not yours, dealing with someone who is not from there but also not from your home culture, and you have no idea which interpretation of actions you’re supposed to use when deciding if shit is weird or not.)

        Obviously people are individuals and the best thing to do is get direct confirmation of what someone intends or signifies, BUT in a situation where people are being potentially shifty and full of sexist shit, I think it’s worthwhile to consider their behavior through various filters.

        1. I think there’s also a middle-ground culture, that seems to be how it works where I am. You usually become friends in small groups. My cis-male housemate puts thought into invitations offered to women he wants to be better friends with to try to make sure they don’t come across as creepy or potentially dangerous. So, if he’d like to invite a woman over to play games, he’s likely to invite her and a mutual friend they both have. If she has a partner, then he’ll invite her and her partner. That way it’s not, come to my house by yourself and trust me. Or he’ll do things that don’t involve being in private spaces. But once somebody has gotten to know him/our household better it can be fine to invite a female friend over to play games (which usually will also involve more of our household, but that’s not something the person who doesn’t know us well can trust starting out). I think this is partly just due to the general increased risk women face from men, and that as part of trying to be a good one, he’s trying to think of how to be able to make friends and not be scary or creepy. But I do think that getting to know people in small groups and once sufficient trust is established, then doing things one-on-one can be okay is probably a fairly common model where I live.

      2. Yep, my husband is a-okay with my having friends of any gender, and he would give a massive side-eye (just as massive as mine!) to the idea that my having male friends is in some way 1) a threat to him and 2) a thing he has one single fucking thing to say about.

    3. Just to “compare notes”, my experience with this has been quite different. I (a woman) used to work in a place where a lot of friendships outside work developed between co-workers (university setting) and I became friends with several married guys during my time there, with zero creeping going on. Professional and personal communication with these guys continued after I left and has been beneficial for me. Maybe the difference to what LW is describing is that there wasn’t a lot of intimate sharing about one’s relationship, and I certainly never heard anything negative about these guys’ wives, only positive stuff. I will also say that none of the friendships went into ‘best friends’ territory, rather they were and continue to be casual friendships. I really appreciated the environment that allowed for male-female friendships to develop without any awkwardness. It can and does happen! What saddened me to hear was that apparently a female friend of mine who still works there DID encounter a creepy colleague. He was possibly able to fly under the radar precisely because it’s a work environment where a lot of interaction between people of all genders happens all the time, so what he was doing didn’t seem so unusual (with the massive difference that my female friend did not want anything to do with him, of course!). I guess what I’m saying is you never know what you’ll encounter and a lot of it is down to chance. Maybe LW was a little unlucky in her recent interactions with men. Maybe I was especially lucky to meet many great, non-creepy male colleagues and friends. In any case I think that it’s an overgeneralization to believe that anytime a hetero guy wants to spend time with a woman, it’s always because he wants something more than friendship.

    4. This is incredibly heteronormative (among other flaws).

      If I followed the implications here—do not become friends with anyone of a gender you might be attracted to—I could literally never have any friends again. If I dial it back to “anyone who might be attracted to your gender,” that still eliminates far too many cool people, including all my fellow bisexuals.

      That’s not going to happen. It’s tricky enough finding people I might click with without ruling out so many people, and especially not ruling them out because of something we have in common.

      1. Sorry, Vicki, you’re absolutely right, and I realized that when I wrote it. I should have addressed it, and My apologies to you and anyone else who took offense. The weird thing, though, is that I have lots of non-hetero friends and for some reason this just doesn’t seem to apply to any of them. But my experiences only.

        Aebhel, I totally understand what you’re getting at, and maybe you’re right for some circumstances. This has just been my experience, and my friends’ experiences. All married guys who have ever showed an interest in being friends were after something else.

        1. I think Jane makes a good point about differing cultural expectations–within certain cultural groups, male-female friendships outside the context of married couples being friends with other married couples are definitely not the norm, and a man attempting to get close to a woman outside of that context would be suspicious.

          But that’s incredibly contingent on social group (and probably age, IDK). It just doesn’t hold true across the board.

          1. Well, and unfortunately I think certain behaviors are more normalized in various pockets of office/country/city culture. In my friend’s office, for example, it’s normal for ALL of her (male) coworkers to complain constantly about their wives. IMO, that would make it a bit difficult to suss out *particularly* creepy behaviors in the context of that office. In my current office, there’s only one person who complains a lot of about his wife, so he very much stands out and gives me the creeps. (I forget whether he referred to her as “the bitch” or “the asshole” but ugh.) In my past lab, it was very normal to share things about your relationship — but not negative things, only neutral or positive stuff like “we went on a hike this weekend” or “my partner really likes that new Indian restaurant.”

            I think this is one of the many things that makes life tricky in a more conservative/male-dominated atmosphere — the weird behaviors don’t always stand out as sharply on the background of other people trying to act like decent human beings.

      2. Yeah, if I followed these rules, I could literally never become friends with anyone married (of any gender) because I’m queer. The entire spectrum. So… I guess no more friends then?

        That comment, sunshine, you need to really rethink. People can be friends with folks who are married and keep boundaries. And if you can’t, you may want to rethink how you’re doing things.

    5. I don’t mean to pile on, but whoah. I do not at all agree that “most married people” think that way. Also it sounds really sad and lonely. If you’re over a certain age, do you just give up on finding new friends?

      I wonder what you’d do if you found out your new galpal was bi? Friendship abandonded? Or worse, get suspicious that they didn’t mention their sexuality because they’re somehow plotting to get into your pants? Maybe that only applies to men in your mind. Do you ask someone if they’re married before getting to know them better? Do you see how restrictive and insulting this kind of thinking is?

      Also, also, way to throw all poly relationships under the bus “most of the time”.

      1. I haven’t given up on making new friends.

        But the married men who start talking about emotions on our 1st or 2nd friend date? They are hitting on me.

        Or will shortly. 😦

        I think many (maybe most?) people brought up as girls have been socialized to talk about emotions quickly with our girl and women friends.

        But a lot of boys were socialized to dump the burden of thinking about emotions on first, their mothers, and then their significant others.

        This is not quite as true, in my experience, of men from the social circles in which I grew up. So I was surprised to find out that lots of boys and men expected me to do their emotional housekeeping.

        Not doing it.

        1. That’s sad and interesting about different circles.

          I want to take the chance to apologize; I have an ear infection and I makes me grumpy. I didn’t need to be that snarky and my sincere apologies to anyone I hurt. There are better ways to express myself.

          1. Hey Kellis, Thanks for this comment. You may not have seen my note that I was only talking about heteros. Also, I definitely don’t mean to throw polys under the bus. Really was just trying to say that a guy who says that his relationship has suddenly become poly may not have cleared that with his wife. It happens. Anyway I really appreciate all of the folks who have brought such interesting points to this discussion.

          2. You didn’t come across as insulting or nasty. But I read your comments as angry (at the constraints some of us feel) and sad.

            I responded to your comment (and I hope my seriousness and interest came through) because I heard sadness in it.

            And because I hoped that I could show why I at least am often leery.

            So tl;dr no apology necessary and I admire the way you think and write.

      2. I wonder what you’d do if you found out your new galpal was bi? Friendship abandonded? Or worse, get suspicious that they didn’t mention their sexuality because they’re somehow plotting to get into your pants?

        That’s a damned-if-you-do situation; if you don’t mention it you’re being secretive and if you do you’re “pushing your sexuality in [their] face”. I stopped dating women several years ago (I have very destructive taste in women; it’s easier to just never never go there) but I’m not straight and I don’t like it when people think I am, so I get the “why do you even have to bring it up” thing a lot.

  46. I love this. And by “I love this,” I mean, “This sexism shit totally makes me want to stab a creeper in the face and throw up at the same time.” LW gets creeped on and she’s too naive. Captain gets creeped on and she’s making things up. There is literally no right way to handle this other than treating creeping like it is your fault and you have brought it on by being either too naive or too paranoid. What the fuck. If the situations were reversed, that CA got stealth-creeped and surprised by Creepy Flanders, some asshole would call her naive because, DUH, of course a man trying to spend time with her solo wants to bone her. If LW had thought something was up with these colleagues, she would have been paranoid because holy shit, can’t a man try to have a meeting with a professional acquaintance without her thinking they’re trying to sleep with her? Fuck these people. All of them.

  47. I SO relate to LW. Same thing happened often to me in my twenties. I gradually grew a tough skin, though, and learned to avoid situations where come-ons were likely to occur. I learned that men who were “so easy to talk to” were ALWAYS married! LW I’m assuming it is not your chosen vocation to feed or sooth unhappy mens’ egos. I’m sorry to say but THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING by talking to them. “Pretty young girl is talking to me. I must not be so bad.” And there is a direct line of communication between a man’s ego and the penis. Take Captain’s advice — hang with women.

    Captain thank you for relating your story. It’s disgusting that happened to you. We need to continue sharing our stories with younger women in hopes the same will not happen to them.

  48. Captain gives very sound words here; also want to re-echo the bit at the end. NOT because it’s LW’s fault, but it’s nice to have tools in our belt to ID red flags; I too used to discuss relationship stuff with whoever and then be perplexed when they asked me on a date. (this was in relatively non-skeevy situations as I was single and outside of work, but I still wasn’t looking and wished I could just avoid it entirely) Finally I realized that /romantic relationship talk is almost always a prelude to “romantic relationship with me” talk/ 😛 So I just avoided it entirely in someone I had zero interest in.
    I also work in the medical profession and I am a smiley female with many male colleagues I am on friendly terms with; we talk about a lot of things but pretty much leave relationship talk to “what does your SO do / what does it mean for where/how you can practice / childcare planning”. It’s not a purposeful avoidance of topics or anything, but outside of close friends for many years I do not normally go into much detail on my relationships and honestly I think most people operate the same way.

  49. I won’t be saying anything new here, but just yes to all of this. What I hate the most about this, is the time in the interactions that I call “plausible deniability.” It is very very similar to the first few questions that missionaries will ask you, that don’t immediately name a religion but they are leading and I know, after several interactions, exactly where they’re going. (For some reason, while less a target for creepy guys than many women, I am a huge target for missionaries! I get spoken to at least once a week if not more and can spot the pitch a mile away by now.)

    With these guys, there’s a time where it could be innocent. It could be. The jokes aren’t overly sexual, the constant online chat messages might be just them being lonely and hey, maybe they’d be saying the same things to a dude! Nothing even remotely skeevy has happened, but previous interactions just tell me where this is going. So I can shut it down then, and be possibly called an unfriendly bitch, and even *in my own mind* doubt myself (maybe he was just being friendly!) or I can play along, giving him the benefit of the doubt, and when it inevitably goes to a “hitting on me” place wish I’d shut it down earlier. But there’s always a part of me that’s like “if I assume that they’re hitting on me, I have a big ego, that’s pretty self-absorbed of me..”

    I’ve gotten much better/less tolerant and now tend to just shut it down right away..or at least I had, because over the last few years of having a serious sig. other random hitting on has almost never happened to me. So now there’s this situation where a guy I haven’t seen in literally years (knows some people I know) has started sending me messages a lot, typically about nothing, but it’s so out of the blue it’s kind of making me wonder what the intent here is. And again is that voice in my head…”don’t assume he’s hitting on you, that’s pretty bigheaded, he hasn’t said anything creepy”…but the other voice says “why? what is the ulterior motive here?” And, I feel like I am *always* looking for an ulterior motive, depending on circumstances, assuming that the person is either hitting on me, wants to sell something, or wants to convert me. But it’s hard to be less skeptical when I’m almost always right.

      1. Yeah…the first time he did it, it was about something I’d posted online, so it didn’t ping any radar…also I’ve been with the same guy for almost five years, surely he must be aware of this? And no grapevine about this guy being creepy ever, so…benefit of the doubt given. But then there were messages every single day after that, which even if he’s not hitting on me just isn’t something I want to deal with. I’m not a big online chatter anymore especially with people I’m not already close to! So I’ve been mostly ignoring/ducking, but feeling mean by doing it…sigh.

  50. Aw, man. I feel for you so very much, LW. I really do. It sounds like we have similar open, sweet personalities. Especially when I was younger! I, too, have yelled into the void after awkward scenarios with boundary-less men, “but I wasn’t flirting AT ALL and brushed his hand away at least three times AND THEN mentioned my amazing [then] boyfriend whilst backing two steps away so HOW DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING???”

    The Captain is right. Your boyfriend, like mine, is being overprotective and trying to find the reason why these situations happen to you…however, this means that he accidentally put the onus squarely on you while doing an unfortunate Victim Blame Shimmy. It’s not your fault for being lovely and nice and wonderfully kind. Your bf is attempting to give you direction so you can control the outcomes with these men. That’s great, in theory, but we all know that isn’t helpful and that we control little when it comes to pushy dudes. Calmly read your bf the riot act and remind him that your personality is amazing and non-negotiable. Now for the men you’ve encountered…

    I’ve had multiple [read: older, married or might-as-well-be married] men do the same thing to me. I won’t go into the gory details. My battle stories are the same as all the other commenters here. Let me, instead, echo some of the Captain’s advice as a sisterly nice lady:

    -The patterns! You’ve recognized them. GOOD FOR YOU. Time to use that valuable info and shut down any talk that strays into the danger zone. Overkill it at first like I had to do.

    Man I Just Met: I have an improv crush on you haha and –
    Me: I am not interested in any kind of crush-talk whatsoever. We may work together in improv if you keep any and all romantic feelings to yourself and do not infringe on my space in this community. If you do, we will have a problem. Got it?
    Man I Just Met: …oh. Ok.

    It will feel weird and awful to not be your normally receptive and empathetic self by derailing your current pattern of all Whoa, Is Me, Problems With Wife talk with work topics. My first time doing this (see above scenario) was through email and when I pushed send? My hands were shaking. It got much easier after that and helped me separate the potential new friends from the dudes I mentally hiss at.

    -Think of the dudes striking up a convo as auditioning for a position as your acquaintance not your close personal friend. You can always upgrade later if the dude has friendship chemistry and proves to you that he is respectful and trustworthy.

    -Your niceness and ultimately you are a gift. You get to choose how you bestow yourself. Instead of viewing yourself as being Nice or Not Nice, go ahead and release that anxiety. You are a very nice person who chooses who receives all 100% niceness of you. If you are 0% nice to a man who is pushy and gross? That doesn’t negate your niceness at all. You can still be you and have your limits too.

    -Listen to your gut. If you are like me, you are ignoring that little protective gremlin in you yelling THIS IS ODD BEHAVIOR AND MAKES US UNCOMFORTABLE AND MAKES ME WANT TO CLAW HIM I WISH FOR US TO LEAVE AT ONCE HISSSSSSS. Even if it isn’t problem in his marriage talk, but instead some nebulous something tipping off your gut gremlin? Listen to the gut gremlin. That tiny gut gremlin is your ally. The gremlin is there to be mean and suspicious and hiss at creepy people so you can walk away and be your nice ol’ self most of the time without worry.

    Good luck, my friend!

  51. So I have, in the past, been a creep. I’ve been skeevy, sleezy, and desperate in all the wrong ways. And reading the LW’s stories, well, lets just say that we can smell our own kind, even if we’re trying to be reformed. Caution: Wall o’ Text

    LW – did you lead these men on? No. Are you guilty of being “naive”? No. These men were (intentionally or otherwise) deploying a strategy designed to exploit social norms, and to gradually assault your boundaries in a way that ensured plausible deniability and was intended to evade detection. The ‘pick-up artist’ community has refined these strategies and use them deliberately and maliciously, but some guys take these approaches because it’s the only cobbled-together system of dealing with women that they have. (i.e. manipulation and subversion)

    I’m going to talk a little about these strategies because LW, if you learn to recognize the pattern, you can head it off early. Scummy guys will get frustrated and pissed off, while “clueless creepers” will just back off. (albeit in a sad, pathetic display to try and win pity) With that in mind, let’s talk about some of the common elements of these “led-on men”.

    1.) Meeting in atypical environments. For co-workers, this might be meeting for lunch offsite. For students, it might be getting together outside of class to study. For social acquaintances, it’s either a 1-on-1 ‘hang-out’, or a ‘planned get-together’ where the other people can’t make it, or cancel, or just don’t show up. I’m not saying “don’t ever go out to lunch with co-workers”, but I am saying that invitations to off-site locations that are just one-on-one (or turn into one-on-one) are yellow flags. Caution, but not full stop.

    2a.) Inappropriate subjects for conversation. Talking to co-workers about romantic histories, talking to other students about drinking or recreational drug use. Discussing relationship problems with anyone who is not already well established as a friend to be trusted. Mentioning a ‘taboo’ subject is a form of boundary testing, and your reaction will guide their subsequent choices. If these subjects come up in conversations where they shouldn’t be, LW, do not respond except to re-direct the conversation back to appropriate topics. If the other person objects or balks, use Captain Awkward-tested scripts like “that’s not a conversation I’m interested in having” or “that’s not what I came here to talk about” or “that’s not something I talk about with [co workers] [students] [other non-friend social group that the speaker belongs to]”. Possible reactions will include a show of embarrassment (which you should not engage with) or rejection with some degree of anger (in which case you need to reference your deflections: “I didn’t bring this up, I didn’t want to talk about it, and I’d rather we get back to [work-related subject]”)

    2b.) Volunteering personal information about inappropriate subjects. This is often done as a way to introduce the subject (“Hey did I ever tell you about the weekend I spent at Burning Man getting totally fried?”) and it preys on a social norm called reciprocity. If we’re having a conversation, and I offer a remark that makes me vulnerable (talking about private or personal things, sharing embarrassing stories or admitting to some taboo), we’re trained socially that you should offer an admission of equal perceived value. If I say “Did I ever tell you about the time I had to explain to the cop why there were handcuffs in my glove box when I didn’t work security?” if you don’t respond with either interest in the story, (engaging in the topic) or an offering something similar about yourself,(“Oh yeah, I had to tell my mom I was dating a guy who worked at a stable to explain the riding crop she found!”) then according to social expectations, you’re being “rude” or “abrupt” or “distant”. When someone introduces inappropriate subjects and does so via personal admissions, that’s two yellow flags. Your first reaction might be “oh, he really needs someone to talk with about this”, but that someone does not need to be you. It’s preying on socialization that says women should be compassionate listeners. At this point, you need to re-establish your boundaries about what you will and won’t discuss. People will interpret that you are “pulling back”, which you are, and if asked why, again, use the CA scripts: “I’m just not comfortable with this conversation” and a full stop.

    3.) Physical contact. This is the next stage of escalation. Just as the conversation doesn’t jump from “how about those TPS reports?” to “let’s swap sex stories”, this is a progressive boundary test. The first touch will be incidental: a brush as they walk past, or a accidentally reaching for something the same time you do. This will be repeated unless your first reaction is to jump and immediately tell them you do not like to be touched. Otherwise, this will be repeated until your reaction is one of indifference. The next touch is deliberate, but plausibly deniable: adjusting your jacket as you put it on, or “taking something out of your hair”, or taking your arm as they open a door for you. Again, if you do not immediately and forcefully defend this boundary of personal space, they will repeat the effort until your reaction is indifferent. There’s sometimes a third tier, which is deliberate and “friendly” (affectionate) such as patting you on the shoulder, squeezing your hand to show support, and a ‘friendly hug’. (side-hugs at first, escalating based on reaction) Again, the best response is to re-establish boundaries, and at this stage, be ready to do so publicly, and rudely if need be. First offense: break contact, and state clearly “please don’t touch me, not even casually.” Second offense: break contact dramatically, moving a step back if possible, and state forcefully “Don’t touch me, not to check my hair or pat my back or anything else.” If there are other people around, say it loud enough that they can hear. Third offense gets even more forceful: “Stop trying to touch me. Stop patting and nudging and brushing past me like a cat trying to mark its territory. It’s rude, and I’m pretty sure you’re able to walk past all the guys without grinding up against them!”

    4.) The Close. Maybe you’re at this stage with people already, not realizing what’s been happening. You’ve shared things with these people. feel like you have a rapport with them, feel comfortable around them. You’ve “hung out” with them, maybe had cocktails or lunches, laughed over silly stories (that he started by sharing first) and feel like they trust you with their secrets, and you trust them with (some) of yours. You might greet them with a hug, or maybe they squeeze your hand during those personal conversations, and you don’t think anything of it. But he does. And so he’ll say something that will range from suggestive (“I’m not single… yet”) to outright explicit. (“If I were younger, I’d think you were coming back here to have sex with me”) This is the last stage of boundary testing. If you react by defending your boundaries, they’ll beg off and claim they were innocent, or confused, or ‘led on’, or that you’re reading too much into what they said. If your reaction is anything other than pushing away to protect a boundary, they’ll repeat these remarks in the same escalation pattern as conversation and touching, moving from suggestive to implicit, from hints to suggestions to outright propositions. At this point, you need to take off and nuke the site from orbit. Cut all optional contact, use scripts to keep any required contact to only professional terms only. Do not be alone with this person; make sure all interactions occur before a third party who is either neutral or on your side. You need to re-establish your boundaries, and this person will resist and resent. A working relationship could be salvaged from this state, but not a personal one.

    Best of luck to you LW, and to the rest of the women who have to deal with creeps. Some creepers will say they don’t mean to be creepy, that they’re not doing it on purpose, but it doesn’t matter, because they’ll keep doing it. And the ones that know what they’re doing? Well, the best thing for them is to be shut down, hard, fast, and often, so they’ll be open to trying something different.

    1. Unlike much of the “just change everything about yourself in order to maybe sometimes deflect other people’s bad behavior” advice that’s popped up in the comment thread, this is pretty helpful information to have actually. Thanks, RodeoBob.

    2. This is fascinating, thanks. And if you feel like sharing, I’m also interested in learning how you moved out of the creeper zone. Did you have an epiphany on your own, or did somebody point out the problems with your approach?

    3. This is fascinating and useful, particularly the bit about introducing taboo subjects as a form of boundary testing… I’d never thought about it in those terms before! Lays out the warning flags in a clear pattern and gives actionable advice for shutting things down at each stage. A+ comment, would read again.

    4. “Stop patting and nudging and brushing past me like a cat trying to mark its territory. It’s rude, and I’m pretty sure you’re able to walk past all the guys without grinding up against them!”

      In a thread of depressingly familiar stories, thank you for this line — it made me laugh, while being a 100% accurate description of the behavior in question.

  52. It makes me sad that we sometimes have to, as Dizzy put it “stop doing things that you have every right to do as a human, to put yourself in a smaller box, to be less so they can be more,” I don’t like it, and I try not to do it, but sometimes thats what it takes to get through the day. It makes me sad and angry, and at least I can claim being sad and angry about it, and not pretend its my fault for not being able to find and tightrope walk the magic and ever changing line between doormat and bitch. At least I can call the Catch-22 what it is.

  53. General note to clueless entitled cockwombles:

    99.9999% of the time, women are just trying to get on with their lives. We’re going to work, doing the grocery shopping, picking the kids up from school, whatever. We are NOT walking around, flaunting our vaginas in the hope that you fall into them.

    Thank you.

  54. “Leading guys on” is a complete and utter bullshit excuse.

    I’ve been hit on by random strange men:

    -when I was all of 11 years old wearing a school uniform and ugly jacket
    -when I was walking back to my room, tear-stained face, in sweatshirt and sweatpants
    -while buying lean pockets at night
    -while doing weights at the gym
    -while wearing lipstick & not
    -while being unfriendly, unimpressed, and antisocial
    -when I was just trying to be a nice person
    -with my hair filthy
    -when I was dressed nicely

    the ONLY thing these all have in common is that I was *there*. That I existed and these dudes thought it was okay to hit on someone they assumed was a woman. (I’m not, BTW. They/them please!)

  55. I agree with so many commenters … and have had far too many experiences like LW’s.

    I’m nearly 70 now, and just the other day had a conversation with a man 10 years younger than me about the awkwardness of the whole ‘dating’ thing. I mentioned “that awful moment when you realize that what you thought was a professional meeting was really a date”

    What brings it up now is the reaction of my 60-year-old male friend. After a LONG pause, he said that he’d always been told that the best way to start a new relationship was to make ‘an excuse’ for a meeting over coffee, or drinks, or dinner or something, so that each of you can feel out the possibility of interest on the other person’s part … and if it seems like there might be interest, then you ask for a date, but if it seems like there wouldn’t be interest, nobody’s feelings get hurt.

    My turn for a long pause, and finally I asked what made my colleague imagine I might be interested. And my friend said, well, you knew he was single, and he knew you were divorced, so why wouldn’t you be?


    … but I’m left with wondering why men teach each other this nonsense? Because, truly, my friend was serious – he thought it was The Polite Thing to Do to invent a business reason for a meeting rather than ask a colleague out directly. Reminds me of the other serious piece of ‘training at cross purposes depending on gender’ — that thing Dads do of telling their sons that no woman means No just because she says it. While, naturally, telling their daughters it’s always up to them to say No. (Do they still do that? or is it finally a relic of the mid-20th Century?)

    1. Whywhywhy? If you want to get coffee, just ask, “Would you like to get coffee sometime?” If you invent a business reason, I am going to assume (because you TOLD ME SO) that it is a business meeting.

      1. That’s pretty much exactly what I said. I suspect we’ll talk more about it, because we’re both deeply curious about how human beings work, and how relationships get messed up. Also, perhaps, because we are v e r y c a r e f u l l y trying to find out whether we’re friends or cuddlebuddies or what.

        1. Just like Courtney and you, this boggles my mind. I don’t know about other people but when I meet with others because of professional reasons I’m in a completely different “mode” than when I’m doing so for fun. I would very much resist any interest shown by someone whom I’ve met with because of a business meeting of some kind because in my mind, I couldn’t get over “Work! This is work! Where is your work talk? Will the work talk be there soon?!”.

      2. I suppose the idea is that she won’t reject you right away, since it’s ostensibly a business meeting, and once you’re at Starbucks you can just sort of ease into the date thing,

        Because fucking ick.

    2. “that thing Dads do of telling their sons that no woman means No just because she says it. While, naturally, telling their daughters it’s always up to them to say No. (Do they still do that? or is it finally a relic of the mid-20th Century?)”

      I suspect it’s not a relic, at least not as much as we would like. Certainly my spouse doesn’t do that with our kids, or there’d be an Epic Throwdown — but I know enough people who believe it who have small kids that I’m sure it’s still taught.

    3. But it’s only women who say things they don’t mean and scheme and lie for a man’s attention, amirite? Geez.

      I used to date a man who told me that his dad’s advice on women was that he should never date anyone who was too good at putting on and taking off her pantyhose. That was probably the sum total of what his dad taught him about women, too. I think about that not only every time I put on pantyhose, but every time people talk about how boys need male role models or they’ll grow up wrong. Getting no advice on women at all would be better than that advice.

      1. I really, really hope that doesn’t mean “women who can take off their underthings easily are slutty ho-bags because ladyfolk only remove their lingerie to have sex”, but I can’t think of any other interpretation.

      2. I am also sort of baffled at the idea that you would know how someone removes their pantyhose *before* dating them.

    4. Several years ago when I had been living in a new country for about a year, I got a message on OKC (which I was using primarily to meet new friends) from someone who was coming to my uni for a seminar. He said “my girlfriend suggested that I write to people on here and ask about the sights I should see while I’m there etc” and I, because I tend to believe what people say, was like “Oh! Let me write you a long message about all the best stuff in this city!” So I did. And I said “You will likely be busy with your seminar folks but if you want to have coffee while you’re here let me know”, not actually expecting that to be the case. But instead when he got there he suggested we have sushi. I still didn’t think anything of it, we went and had sushi and beers, and sort of midway through, I was like, something about this seems very off, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

      It was when we were leaving and I stopped and said “This is where I turn, but if you keep walking on this street and then turn here and here, you will reach your lodging very easily” and he said “Or I could come home with you” that I realized–dun dun DUN–This Had Been A Date.

  56. Dear LW

    You are not leading them on. You are guilty of existing while female.

    I’d like to tell you that it stops, but it doesn’t really. What stops (at least in my and my friends experience) is a young woman’s willingness to make friends with older male co workers

  57. Dear Community – and LW, too —

    Suddenly I’m having a bunch of reaction to this whole conversation. Because as I read the repeated stories, the different ways different guys have phrased the same skeevy comments, the clarity with which Everybody Knows that when a married man starts telling a coworker about his bad marriage, it means he’s hitting on her …

    it all comes back to me. Now I see why I was so uncomfortable reading the first few replies. Why I posted my first comment before I’d read halfway down the thread.

    Because, well, at almost 30 I was too naive to realize it was a come-on. So when it became a relationship that was pushing past boundaries, I thought it was because we were in True Love. I married him.

    Several times during our consensually open marriage I wondered if the young woman he was with was fully aware of our situation. Sometimes it became clear that she wasn’t — that she’d somehow assumed (oh, shit, just the way I assumed all those years ago) that the existence of their flirtation meant he was on the brink of divorce and remarriage. Once he got disciplined for inappropriate behavior with a subordinate on a business trip, apparently because she actually spoke to HR (the only one of several to take that approach).

    Eventually I left him.

    Imagine my surprise when, less than a year later, two of my friends reported that he’d propositioned them. Apparently, in later years, quite directly — not “gee, I think you’re fabulous, shall we go out to dinner?” but “I’ve always thought you were cute and I see you don’t have a partner just now, so how-about-it?”

    … except I WAS surprised. So now I’m embarrassed. Still naive, after all these years.

    1. Don’t beat up on yourself. :hug:

      You know what? I think you are a genuine and honest and kind person, so it would never occur to you to treat people like your ex-husband did. You may be naive but that’s much better than being a phony creep.

    2. A big subset of “everybody” only knows that because we’ve been taken in by it at least once. There’s no shame in having an open heart.

    3. ” (oh, shit, just the way I assumed all those years ago) that the existence of their flirtation meant he was on the brink of divorce and remarriage”

      Oh yeah. Been there, done that, and I so won’t do it again.

      I have developed or tried to develop much stronger boundaries around married or otherwise relationshipped dudes who try to hit on me. A lot of the advice in this post and comments thread, about switching the topic to work stuff when someone talks about their relationship etc, is really really great.

    4. I was thinking about this comment and I think I came to a realization with the married guy thing. Female-seen people grow up with the assumption that when you’re dating/married you are taken. You are off the market. You are not available. You belong to your man while you’re dating. And it’s easy to assume a married guy thinks the same way. He’s got a wife, he’s just being friendly, he can’t be flirting.

      Except society doesn’t see having a wife as being taken. Society often sees it as having won a trophy. And there’s really nothing that wrong about trying to win another trophy, especially if it’s a ‘better’ one.

      I too fell into the trap multiple times of thinking I could let my guard down around men who were dating/married, only to end up being accused of ‘forcing’ him to fall for me. (One actually used the excuse that because I’d made an off color joke, in a group of friends who were all telling off color jokes, that it forced him to start thinking of me sexually instead of platonically)

  58. LW was honest— “I am not interested in further partners.” That ought to be the only boundary she needs to draw. She led these men on the way my so-seductive on-the-Do-Not-Call-list phone number leads telemarketers on. I feel bad for telemarketers, too— everyone needs to earn a living! But I will not feel guilty about politely telling them not to call me again.

  59. Recently I moved to a new city and contacted an old supervisor to look for new job leads. He responded enthusiastically, recommending we meet for coffee. I swear to god, I was shocked down to my bones when we spent the whole time talking about work, a new position the business had, the venture a woman he knew was starting that I might want to apply for, and how we might work together in the future. I was so jaded and braced for it to be skeezy, I couldn’t entirely believe that he was being sincere.

    1. After all the horrible things people talk about having encountered in this thread, posts like this warm my heart. You see? It’s not like professionalism is impossible!

  60. When I was 21 I had a part time job in a bar. There was a regular creeper who hit on every female customer that walked in on the grounds it was “a numbers game” and for every 50 rejections “one was bound to say yes”. (His exact words when I called him out on it).
    He made lots of lewd comments to me on my first few shifts which I ignored, but by my fifth shift I cut him down very publically and as he slunk away I said to his bar cronies “I enjoyed that”. After that I didn’t get any more trouble from him.

    We then got a new barmaid. She was 18 tiny and very friendly and bubbly. She used to chat with all the customers in a very friendly way. She was always laughing and joking with them. I saw how creeper was looking at her after one of their conversations and pulled her to one side, warned her he was a creep. She shut me down saying she was just being friendly and he knew that. I tried to explain that I knew her behaviour was just friendly, but that he wouldn’t be interpreting it like that and told her all about the numbers game thing and the comments he had made to me. She didn’t agree.

    Trigger warning. ****** One night when she was locking up alone (bar owner was upstairs) creeper followed her into the ladies toilet as she went in to do final checks and assaulted her. Fortunately the bar owner came downstairs at this point and was able to intervene. She left her job that night and didn’t come back.

    I don’t know what I would do differently in that situation if I had it again. I didn’t mention my concerns to the manager at the time, but I don’t know if he would have done anything (Creeper was banned from the bar for a month after the incident, but then let back in). 18 year old barmaid was innocent and just had no concept of creepy old men interpreting her friendliness as anything else. Although not much older I had experienced sexual assault on more than one occasion so my awareness of creepers was unfortunately more finely tuned.

  61. man. This thread is kind of a wake-up call to me, like – I have a friend that gets hit with the ‘zomg leading on’ accusations a lot. I remember seeing a chatlog and thinking “okay i can see where her response looked ambiguous but…” but honestly…it’s fucking bullshit. The dudes all acted weird afterwards and that’s their fault, she was in a relationship ffs. ‘she led me oooon’ seems to be the new ‘friendzone’ whine. Like dudes, stop being weird and having to bail on friendships because “i got too attached she led me on lol” you led your fucking self on.

  62. Epic. You are awesome, Captain, and I’m so sorry you come by this knowlege through first hand experience.

    LW, you are also awesome and sounds like a lovely human being and it is not your fault these guys are gross and shoving you notes from their boners.

  63. Years ago I started noticing I hit on the most when I’m sick, upset or really exhausted. Because that’s when I’m the most super sexy awesome amirite?

    1. UGH. This reminds me of how a few weeks ago, I did something to my wrist and had to wear a brace for a couple of days, and how SO MANY guys wanted to have a conversation about it.

      This one’s injured! Quick, separate it from the herd!


      1. Yes! That’s how it feels! Why do I get so much more interest and attention when I’m feeling (and looking) awful? I try for the charitable assumption that maybe it’s just that I don’t have the energy at those times for the full “bugger off and don’t mess with me” attitude that I project otherwise. But I don’t know. It’s only that demographic that changes its response to me.

    2. I had surgery on both legs in high school. I wore pretty noticeable braces on both legs while recovering; I could walk, but I couldn’t run.

      I learned that some people like vulnerability.

  64. LW, I am so, SO very sorry you have to put up with this. I am in my mid-50’s, and have been extremely lucky in my own interactions, but have a dear friend who was crucified in pretty much the same way your letter describes. My heart breaks to read it. You so very did not deserve any of that bad behavior from those men.

    Our gracious hostess’ story adds to my heartbreak, but drives home …. er … clarifies the point: these people make decisions having NOTHING to do with you, and try to pretend you were the cause.

    It’s hugely self-confrontational, sometimes, to face the behavior patterns of a creeper, and seeing that you might have to resolve to enforce your boundaries, needing to do things contrary to your social training and desires to “just be nice to people”. It’s also completely unfair that you have to be the one who has to do the heavy lifting of the boundary defense: there are, however, compensations. People speak of being in touch with one’s inner bitch – that abstract will nicely solidify into saying those things you’d probably wanted to say, but have repressed when trying to be nice as a way of getting through difficult times.

    Yes, you’ll get called a bitch. No, that label not true, and it’s also not up to that creeper to label you in the first place. It’s not any fault of yours that you are existing while female; the reactions are entirely up to those men and how they handle them.

    I’ve found it helpful to consider the part of the creeper’s pattern that will try to lay the blame for his/her behavior on your good self. For instance, the statements beginning with “You are…” However that sentence ends, it’s just jumped a HUGE gap: between who you know yourself to be, and what that other person believes they get to declare as true about you. I’ve found helpful retorts along the lines of, “Did you just say that you *thought* I was….?” and then point out that while they can think all they like, they are not the boss of who you actually *are*. (This can work whether or not they answer “yes” – in which case you can also call them out on having changed their answer from the previous moment.)

    Additionally, it’s helped me to find examples of this “making YOU the problem” that are not at their core about sexual connection, by way of practicing my own boundary defense. For instance, someone who responds to concerns about police brutality with “You’re just being addicted to outrage,” the core communications tactic remains the same: devaluing your input in favor of their chosen label. (An aside: “addict” seems to be a currently-popular devalue-word. No one who’s an “addict” is really in control, hence your input – feelings and intellect alike – can be “safely” ignored.) Your defenses may be safely deployed against one such, with as few regrets as you can manage.

    Sometimes, the only thing that’s gotten me through those kinds of encounters (I still get them; just not the extremity of my wonderful high-school friend) is practicing in the mirror with short, pithy replies. Working with your feelings – what does “the creeper” (in any guise and representation present in your life) say, why does it bother you, and what can you say to shut it down? Because a person trying to manipulate you into accepting boundary invasions HAS ABSOLUTELY FORFEITED ANY RIGHT to your niceness. That, like nothing else, has helped me loosen the internal censor governing my replies.

    You, ALSO, have a right to your own good self, including your needs for self-determination of your image, your space and safety. If you find yourself getting approaches that create in you a sense of suffocation, feel that and give it a name: maybe you had wanted to look quietly at some art, or talk to the friend you haven’t seen for years sitting right next to you when the creeper sailed in… and then practice saying to the potential creeper: “Look, right now I’m doing [looking at art], [talking to friend]” etc, and “That’s what I’m here for. So, I’m going to do that thing now.”

    I got started with that, and the amazing thing was how the person trying to insert himself into my attention suddenly found a reason to flee…

    You belong to yourself alone, you have a perfect right to your own agenda and desires, above those of anyone trying to hijack your attention and/or your agency. Those non-involved will see you reacting with grace under pressure.

    Sometimes, though, the temptation to use a script like this is almost overwhelming:

    “Why are you being such a bitch to me?”
    “For you, dear, ‘bitch’ is the default setting.” *evil grin*

    I’ve edited out a few others that *did* get used: too much self-congratulation, I’m afraid. But oh, when the creeping gets to me, they are lovely warm embers to keep my courage warm…

  65. When I’m in a “friendly commiseration” relationship with a co-worker, I include sexism and harassment in the list of things I commiserate about. After a couple of times hearing “Oh man, another customer/client/patient hit on me today, can’t they understand it’s just my job to be nice to them,” men often figure out that their attentions are probably an irritating distraction.

    Also, those are always the best stories.

  66. This used to happen to me frequently, and I also thought I was doing something wrong. If I were friendly, somebody would think I was leading them on, and be pissy when I had to tell them I wasn’t interested. If I was more distance, then I was “stuck up.” I did eventually learn that it REALLY wasn’t me, it was them.

    The number 1 best thing about getting older is that dudes don’t do this to me anymore. YMMV, obvs.

  67. I know this is a late comment, I just wanted to share my one and only experience (as a young feminist woman) of the only time I ever thought a friend of mine was “leading people on”. Only it wasn’t a romantic thing, it was a general social thing. She’s a really lovely, pretty, charming girl, the type that lights up a room when she’s in it, and makes you feel like the only person in the world when she’s talking to you. However, she has a very strong desire to be liked/loved by everyone. So she does this thing in social situations where she ramps up her level of interest in people – only slightly, she’s not lying, and she’s probably not even conscious of doing it, and I didn’t even notice it until I lived with her and saw her in a lot of social situations. Like, when someone at a party told her about going to see the Expressionist exhibit or whatever, instead of going “that’s pretty interesting” she’d go, “THAT’S SO INTERESTING!” And the other person would naturally think, wow she’s really into this stuff, I’ll invite her along the next time something similar is on. And they would, and she’d never go. Basically, because of the (inflated) level of interest she showed in people, every girl thought they were best friends and every guy thought she was his girlfriend, and after enough rejections they all got disappointed, and she was completely oblivious to this situation.

    Disclaimer: I’m not saying this is the situation with LW, it’s just an example of where “you’re leading others on” can be a genuine criticism. But of course I agree with this whole thread in general – creepy guys who won’t back off are awful awful awful.

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