#685: “Quit touching!”: A review

A big guy touches a little guy who shrinks away and says "No Touchy!"

Captain Awkward,

I just found your blog an hour ago, and haven’t really found anything fitting my situation.

I have a creepy friend I already turned down in no uncertain terms when asked on a date. I don’t see him often, only every few weeks at work. But he touches me – every time, the whole time. Too-long hugs, rubbing my back, touching my arm, sitting next to me instead of across from me in the cafeteria, and the most uncomfortable of all – saying I love you every time I say something slightly witty or funny. When I used to go after work for food with him and others, he would always pay for my meal. First time I literally did not have enough money for a meal. Every time after he would sneak talk to waiters, or steal the bill from my hand. When I told him I did not like him paying for my food, movie ticket etc, that it made me feel very uncomfortable, he waved it off, saying he was raised this way (What?).

Yesterday he crossed some line in my head. I said goodbye, I need to clock in, and you should go home since you’re off. He followed me outside to the clock in area and just kept hanging out there even though I was technically working. I realized then, he isn’t going to get a clue, and I do not want him to follow me around, touch me, or pay for my food. Ever.

Unlike similar situations I saw you answer, I’m not making excuses for him, I don’t care to keep his friendship if he doesn’t stop acting like this, and while I do think he is just terrible at reading clues I also know he does not touch other girls – or guys – as often or … creepily … as he does to me. He seems very nice, we’ve worked for the same company over two years, but I wouldn’t say I know him well enough to keep making excuses. I Do Not like his touch, and WILL tell him to stop.

I need advise on HOW to tell him to stop. He didn’t catch the subtle clues of shifting away from him, never initiating any contact, and tensing up whenever touched. I don’t care one way or another about losing this “friendship” but I do care about how this future conversation will get around to the rest of my co-workers, and how THAT will interfere with doing my job and the social situation there.

I am sick of worrying that he will be working the same shift as me, and need help on how to say something without being my normal blunt-edging-into-mean-self.

Desperate for advice,

Stop Touching Me

Dear Stop Touching:

I am having trouble finding her exact post, but the lovely Kelly Williams Brown at the Adulting blog has a fantastic solution, especially for when someone comes up behind you and touches your back or shoulders unexpectedly (or, totally expectedly in the case of Creeper McGee at your work): Visibly startle and audibly yelp. Cringe away and say “Yikes!” (Eep, Nope, Eek, Nah!, etc.) Make it unmistakable what you are doing, make it big enough to alert the attention of anyone nearby, make it awkward as fuck.

Do it every time.

If you see the touch coming, reach out, intercept his hands with yours, and say “Whoa, were you just going to touch me? I don’t like that.”  Move physically away from him. Do this every time.

If he starts to sit next to you, boxing you into a booth, get up and switch seats.

If he steps into an elevator another confined space with you, step out of it.

If it helps you, practice these things with a friend so that you stand a better chance of not freezing in the moment.

This dude has been coasting on the social contract, the expectation that women are “nice” and accommodating, plausible deniability and your desire to let him save face (at the expense of your own comfort) for too long. He will, in my estimation, act hurt and surprised and put out by this change in reactions from you, and he will try to put it on you somehow, like you are the rude one, you changed the rules, you are being confusing, you led him on, etc. He may try to characterize you as a “bitch” or employ the old “how dare you think I was hitting on you (when all I did was constantly hit on you)” gambit.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to refuse utterly to get drawn into a conversation about what was and was not acceptable in the past. What matters is that you don’t want to be touched now, or in the future. He doesn’t have to understand why or feel any kind of way about it, he just has to not do it anymore. Resist the urge to defend yourself against any typecasting he does or argue the merits of anything he says, and become a Teflon-Robot: “Cool. Please don’t touch me, tho.” “I don’t want you to touch me.” “Thanks. Don’t touch me again.” If you’re lucky, he’ll avoid you for the next little while. If he does, don’t fight it. Treat him neutrally, and if he’s a good person and he gets it, most of the awkwardness will fade with time. If he won’t stop or escalates his behavior, involve management.

You may in fact get weird feedback from coworkers who witness any of this or who hear about it from him. “He’s-so-awkward-he-probably-doesn’t-mean-anything-by-it-whoa-that-was-harsh.” Don’t get drawn into a lengthy discussion here. Sometimes the conversations we have here about feminism and how creeps and predators work by constantly testing boundaries and then escalating them don’t translate to general audiences.Your coworkers don’t have to agree with you on principle, they just have to get the message, so don’t argue with them, just say, “Yeah, it probably seems harsh, but 6 months of being subtle wasn’t working. As long as he stops touching me, we’re cool.

Then do your work and be cool, and remember, good people don’t want to freak you out or make your skin crawl.

351 thoughts on “#685: “Quit touching!”: A review

  1. Dear LW

    OH boy ! The Captain has this one down.

    If you can sound panicked when you yelp each time he touches you it might go faster.

    “Help! Eek! Oh it’s you Buster. Stop touching me, you know I hate that. ”

    (Sometimes saying “you know ” puts aggressive jerks in the position of acknowledging their wrong doing before they even realize you’ve called them out)

    Good luck. That guy sucks.

    1. Love this. That way, McCreeper has to either acknowledge he is violating your personal space of his own will and when he knew it would be such, or he has to try to weasel his way out of that by saying “Huh, I didn’t know that,” in which case you get to say “Yes, you did, I’ve told you so many times,” at which point everyone around him knows he’s full of shit. He loses either way.

    2. Worth a try, but some guys would just start teasing you for being so jumpy and act like ‘Ha, silly you, didn’t you realize it was just me? You’re so tense and jumpy, you need to learn to relax!’ and grab your shoulders to try to give you a massage.

      There are many different kinds of jerks, and sometimes the same tactics don’t work with every subspecies…

      1. That’s where the slap/punch/knee to the groin comes in. Once you’ve told him off (which LW has repeatedly), this is assault. At least in my state. You’re defending yourself, and if it takes a slap to the face (I would scale progressively the first few times) then that’s okay.

        1. I wouldn’t respond by assaulting him. By all means block him, make it awkward, tell people: but don’t slap or punch him, or engage in any violent behaviour towards him. It puts you just as firmly in the wrong as he is, in my view, and muddies the waters with regard to his behaviour.

          1. Honestly? It’s called self-defense. There are reasons to not do it in this case (they are coworkers; women are disproportionately punished for engaging in self-defense, especially if they are black women). But every person has the right to self-defense.

          2. Definitely do not do this. It’s self-defense and unlikely to be criminal. But it is something you can get fired for (and people have been in exactly that situation)

          3. ‘Ha, silly you, didn’t you realize it was just me? You’re so tense and jumpy, you need to learn to relax!’ –> Exactly, I realize it was you and that’s why I yelp. I don’t need to learn to relax when you touch me, you need to learn to not touch others. By the way, I notice that you don’t touch (name of male coworker), so stop.

            And if he dares to ask why he makes you unconfortable, answer honestly: “Because you are a creep”. He would hate you, but it’s difficult that he gets to say that you don’t mind after that.

          4. Physical retaliation is assault and also wrong, but I have to secretly admit it’s worked for me. I have strong hands. I started giving a vicious pinch to a guy who was all “funny” about touching me. Expressing my will had failed, and social shame had failed, and I was MAD. He yelped at being pinched and objected. In a deadly serious voice I told him I’d do it every time he touched me. He called me a name and I said “No I’m not. This is just what I’ll do. You know I’ll do it. So if you don’t like it, quit it.” He forgot himself one more time after that and I pinched him so hard he screamed. Then he stopped. And, honestly, we’ve been cool. I couldn’t get his respect, so now he’s afraid of me. Good. If I can’t have respect, I’ll accept fear. I’m totally ok that he’s too afraid to touch me.

            While this might not be an acceptable tactic in a workplace, sometimes jerky people only respond to power and consequence. Whatever power you have, (HR warnings, social shame, lawsuits) use it. Make it ridiculously expensive trouble for him to touch you. Even jerks can calculate what isn’t worth it.

          5. Seconding this. I screamed and bit a coworker once when he surprise-lift-hugged me once while the whole crew was at a bar after hours, immediately after seeing me punch a stranger in the jaw for doing the exact same thing. He thought it’d be hilarious to repeat an incident I had obviously found terrifying. Guess which of us got an official warning and a drug test? (Hint: The one who responded to a “joke” with obvious violence.)

            (This story makes me sound like a violent person. I’m not. I’m just really, really jumpy and exponentially more so when intoxicated and surrounded by sea-men three times my size.)

            It’s unfair and shitty, but while self-defense is your legal right, your employer probably isn’t an agent of the law and can’t be trusted to give due weight to who provoked what.

          6. (Out of nesting, replying to Married to My Boat.) Exactly. I have a very strong fight-or-flight reflex, and a classmate once triggered it by sneaking up behind me and yelling, “BOO!” Without any conscious decision on my part, I jammed my elbow backward into her solar plexus. I got detention for assaulting her, even though witnesses agreed it looked like an automatic startle reaction; she didn’t even get a talking-to. (In fairness, I think she may have learned the unwisdom of sneaking up on people anyway.)

        2. Whoa. And what if he hits the LW back? It’s all well and good to be an Internet Tough Guy but as advice this is lousy. (Also, the knee to the groin thing isn’t effective. It doesn’t disable an attacker. You need to break bones for that.) This is so not appropriate for work. If he does not stop or if he escalates, the LW needs to get HR in on this and document the hell out of it. She does not need to turn into Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill.

        3. The LW’s biggest concern is how her attempts to get Creep Co-Worker to stop touching her “will interfere with doing my job and the social situation there.” Regardless of whether an escalation to violence is justified in this situation (and I believe that it’s not), such an escalation WILL negatively affect her professional reputation. And that’s exactly what LW wrote in for advice about: how to get Creep to stop creeping while AVOIDING the injury that Creep can do to her professional reputation/social status amongst her co-workers/future job prospects.

      2. You are right.

        I believe at some point though it is useful to call out the behavior as something you hate because then you get to say yes I’m tense and jumpy and STILL don’t touch me.

        Don’t touch me. Oh god those people – the ones who tease as well yech.

      3. Yep! I had a work creeper who enjoyed sneaking up on me and startling me. He even went so far as to start doing the whole tickle-jab to the side, which was when I finally got annoyed enough to tell him off. He was not popular with anyone at work, though, so I didn’t really have to worry about how it might look to others.

      4. I think for those kind of creepers you can modify it from panic to exaggerated distaste–like, lean very far away, “please don’t do that, you know I hate it.” Works for a hand on the arm, works for the involuntary shoulder massage. Distaste is harder to tease about than shock, because it forced him to acknowledge that he’s acting like a creep.

    3. ‘(Sometimes saying “you know ” puts aggressive jerks in the position of acknowledging their wrong doing before they even realize you’ve called them out)’

      AH! This is very good!

  2. Gah. LW, I’m sorry you’re having to put up with that. Having to constantly guard your personal space is super-stressful.

    If you’re not already doing this, you might want to start documenting his inappropriate behavior, in case it becomes an issue at work. If he’s going to spread it around to your coworkers, you may want to be prepared in case your boss tries to tell you to be nice to him or frame it as some kind of interpersonal conflict. I’m not telling you to go straight to HR, because that’s a decision you need to make for yourself. But if your supervisor or HR somehow ends up involved, having documented examples of his behavior will put you in a much stronger position to make the case that this situation is not your problem and it is not your job to get him to quit bringing it to work.

    Also, instead of (or alongside) calling you names, blaming you for leading him on, accusing you of reading into it etc, he may get suuuuuper preoccupied with Making Amends. This can manifest as repeated and sometimes escalating attempts to get you to accept an apology. Just something to be prepared for–it may help to have stock answers handy, like

    “I’m not interested in discussing the past. I’m interested in you leaving me alone.”
    “okay, I understand you want to apologize, but what I want is for you to leave me alone.”
    “If you’re truly sorry, then you’ll leave me alone.”

    I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this creep. I wish you the best in getting him to leave you the hell alone.

    1. “you might want to start documenting his inappropriate behavior,”

      Absolutely, and *especially* after you tell him to stop. Write down date, time, incident, what you said, and any witnesses.

      1. Yes. Absolutely. And keep your documentation AT HOME, not at work, where the creep or annoying managers might find it. Keep it very neutral and factual. “4/1/15, while I was clocking out at 5:00 p.m., Bob said ‘hello’ and started stroking my arm. I pulled away and told him I did not like that and to stop touching me. Bob said I was being oversensitive and left. Themyscira was also in the clock-out area when this happened.”

        The reason you do this, LW, is 1) to reassure yourself that yes it is he who is the annoying jerk, and 2) in case you have to involve management. You will have a contemporaneous record of your efforts to stop the behavior and how often it happened. Any decent HR department will thank you for this. If you don’t have a decent HR department, then your employment lawyer will REALLY thank you.

        1. This is sound advice. You don’t have to make this an employment dispute – fingers crossed you won’t need to – but it’s important to have written records to support your case in the event things escalate. I would suggest that the LW document any boundary-setting or otherwise noteworthy conversations with this person from now on. Sadly, a lot of people don’t do this because they think it’s not necessary, and then things change quickly or unpredictably and they’re caught out because they have nothing to back themselves up with.

          Good luck, LW. I’m really sorry that you have to deal with this jerkface.

        2. Can’t agree enough. Document, document, document in any situation like this. Even better, find some way of explicitly asking him to stop touching you *in writing* and then keep a copy. Document what he does, what you said, what he said, and who was a witness in each instance. In any work-related conflict, the one with the better documentation comes across as more credible.

          1. Re: in writing – IMO the blind-copy is your friend here. If you have a coworker friend who knows about this dude’s behavior and supports you, they might be a good choice. Otherwise, maybe a partner/roommate/sibling/other person who you can trust to follow your lead. It doesn’t hurt to have a backup copy.

      2. The Federal ‘sexual harassment’ workplace laws in the USA included “ANY unwanted touching”

    2. And document your own behavior, too, so he can’t claim you never told him to stop touching you, and that he was just being friendly, and how was he supposed to knoooooooooooow.

      If you talk to your coworkers about this, you might find they feel similarly if he’s being touchy with them. I had a coworker who was constantly handling me (patting my leg in report, pinching my arm, poking my belly and saying ‘boop!’ and sneaking up on me to slap my butt while I was measuring narcotics), and I was under the impression everyone else liked her. One day I snapped after a particularly horrible episode, and it turned out everyone else felt similarly. Which, uh, awful for her, but maybe respect people’s personal space?

      1. and sneaking up on me to slap my butt while I was measuring narcotics

        Oh my god, if someone did that to me I would probably shout and jump a few feet into the air out of surprise. That behavior is so inappropriate on so many levels.

        1. I was too shocked and angry to even begin to address it. Every time it happened. And when I tried to confront her about it later, she claimed wounded innocence..and then she’d do it again, like a month later.

          I am SO GLAD she doesn’t work on my unit anymore.

        2. Seriously. I’m clumsy enough that, had that been me, he probably would have gotten an accidental needlestick.

        3. I scream loudly when people slap my bum. It’s not something I have control over. If I’m expecting it it’s kind of a loud yipping sound, but if I’m not I seriously sound like I’m being murdered.

          Oddly enough, it has never taken very long in any setting I’ve ever been in with habitual bum-slappers (work, friend groups) for them to just leave me alone, because having someone scream every time you slap their bum apparently gets annoying. (Ha. Ha. Hahaha. This is my sad face.)

      2. I had a guy at a workplace who was like that, not just with me but with several others. That was who he was: Jocular Assault Dude. The last straw for me was when he slapped me on the ass and said “hiya, miss_chevious!” like he’d won a prize or something and I turned on him and said “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Did you just SEXUALLY ASSAULT a co-worker in front of WITNESSES?” with an absolutely serious look on my face. He mumbled something about “joking blah blah” and it didn’t curb his behavior with everyone, but he stopped touching me and he really toned it down when I was around. As TwistPeach said: “If I can’t have respect, I’ll accept fear.”

        1. Exactly what Annalee described: repeated attempts by the creeper to regain control of the situation /get the victim’s continued attention by playing the role of “penitent” and repeatedly apologising or trying to “make it up” to the OP against her wishes.

    3. Another later step to consider, once you’ve told him directly to stop touching/paying/creeping and he persists, and after you’ve done the returning awkward to sender by visible/loud startle reaction but he keeps on with it, is ostentatiously documenting the unwanted contact–pull out your phone/notepad/whatever, check the time, and start writing/typing in front of him and witnesses–ignore him or repeat the verbal don’t touch me. You’re literally putting him on notice that this shit is not acceptable. However, this can be considered an escalation tactic, so you need to think about whether that’s a direction you want to go.

  3. Ugh, stuff like this makes me so angry. That guy is a giant asshole, and the Captain’s 100% right that if you try and call him out on it, he’ll backpedal faster than a Tour de France newsclip on rewind, invoke plausible deniability, and call you horrible things. I hate dudes like this with the fury of 10,000 burning suns.


    I think making a scene every time he tries to touch you is definitely the way to go, and I like mrsmorelystea’s suggestion of saying, out loud, “You KNOW I hate that,” as a way to put the responsibility back on him. I hope at least one or two of your other coworkers have your back, and I hope that your manager is also not shitty regarding this sort of thing. Good luck, LW.

  4. but I do care about how this future conversation will get around to the rest of my co-workers, and how THAT will interfere with doing my job and the social situation there.

    None of this is going to come as any surprise to your coworkers. You never can tell about the awful people, but then again you can’t do anything about them no matter how you handle this. You could just give in any marry the guy, have kids, grow old, wait till he dies of natural causes and they’d say something shitty then about how they could tell thirty years ago that you didn’t love him back the way he deserved. Screw them.

    The rest will likely be a lot happier to not have McSlimey hanging around and in the way when he’s off shift.

  5. This is sexual harassment and you need to do exactly as the Captain says. In addition, one trick my therapist showed me is to turn and face the harasser square on, very straight. Make yourself big, put your hands on your hips, no shrinking down. If he is invading your space by stepping toward you, take a step toward him. Nine times out of 10, he’ll step back. Don’t shrink away. I’ve tried this, it works.

    1. I did this to a guy at work who was trying to intimidate me during a disagreement by looming (using his substantial height advantage to tower over me, literally physically placing him above me and me beneath him, while raising his voice at me). I was terrified, but the pissed off part of my brain overrode the fear, and when he stepped in on me one more time, I stepped up to him. Like uncomfortably close, hands on hips, looking him right in the face. He totally was caught off guard, took a really big step back, dropped his voice to a more respectful tone, and we were able to conclude our disagreement with me holding my ground rather than being cowed. It felt amazing.

      It’s also only something I would recommend if the person is reasonably safe in doing so. Some guys see even a modicum of confrontation as a challenge to their masculinity and will escalate. Unfortunately.

      1. Oh, man. I had an experience with the looming once. I just came out and said, “Don’t loom.” As it happened, we were the same height, so I said, “Don’t loom, because I’ll just loom and then we’ll be the same height again and so there’s no real point.” I was also doing what I call the Cop Hand–palm out “Stop” gesture. My theory is we all had that image drilled into us from preschool on, and so it tends to work before people even realize.

        That said, this wasn’t in the context of someone I knew or worked with, but one of the weirdest interactions I had in New York City with a random dude being terrifying to smaller people than him. It’s one of my feral peeves, people who go after someone smaller, older or female. (Or all three.) I used to use my height in those cases if I felt safe enough, so I said, “Stop bothering those people.” He came over to me, looming commenced, and then I said one of the weirdest things ever to come out of my mouth. But it really does kind of put a damper on the attempt to loom if you label it. Or did in this case. He did de-loom.

        1. Interesting how that worked. Brought back a scary encounter on an empty subway platform. A creep followed me downstairs to the platform. I stood a distance away, but he kept on coming, and I realized I was at the end with no other exit but past him. I decided I had to try for help, so I squared off at him and began to do the menacing gunfighter walk thing towards him. If he wouldn’t let me by, I meant to swing my briefcase and try to whack him to one side. He stopped coming at me, flashed a look behind himself, then he ran for it! He turned and ran! I ended up sitting on the floor until my pulse came down below 2000 bpm. That body language thing works.

          1. Yes! That is beautiful! I developed an arsenal of gestures and phrases, especially after taking Model Mugging (the self-defense class with the very padded guy with the huuuge helmet because you were trained to knee and kick him in the head). I deliberately chose movements and phrases that coded more masculine than feminine. “Knock it off!” or “Cut it out!” rather than “Stop!” I once got a creeper to stop preying on a young developmentally disabled woman in the subway with a “HEY!” and a jerk of the thumb to indicate “scram” and he did (not incidentally this was the first time I ever butted in like this, because I seriously couldn’t not–but I learned I could do it so it started my “career” of creeper intervention).

            Like you said, the body language thing works, and it’s not a bad idea to choose and practice some male-coded body language.

          2. I had a similar experience on the street! I saw a guy coming towards me and I just *knew* he was going to do something weird. I don’t even know how, but I just knew. I am normally a really easy to startle person, but having those few seconds of warning let me square up to it, so when he jumped in front of me and yell/growled I held my ground, stared at him, then took a step to the side and kept walking; he didn’t follow. (like others have said I know this wouldn’t work all the time, but it did here.)

          3. @twomoogles: (nesting fail) I seriously do believe in the power of intuition (as Gavin deBecker makes much discussion of in The Gift of Fear). You knew the guy wouldn’t harm you if you stood your ground because your mind made a ton of calculations that were too fast for your conscious mind to follow, but you got the result loud and clear.

            I did a fair bit of standing my ground and creeper-confronting when I lived in NYC, but there were times I saw a situation and just thought “NOPE. Not safe.” It apparently works, because despite a few scary dudes I never got stabbed, at least!

          4. I also have had great results with the square-off stance. Once I my exit from a park was being blocked by a scary homeless guy who kept moving in front of me, and just recently a man was following me down the street in Paris. This latter time, I literally crossed the street to get away from him and he kept coming. I finally turned, squared off, gave him the hand and said, ‘Stop following me’ in a stern voice. He got it. I think this strategy works best when the person is approaching rather than already in your space, but I haven’t tried it with someone already attempting to touch me. One great thing about it is once you turn your body into fighting stance, you suddenly feel tough too.

          5. “That body language thing works.”

            This actually reminds me of a story about my grandmother’s cat. She had this big orange tabby that pretty much owned the block it lived on. One day, there was a new dog on the block–a big dog, like a German Shepherd. It saw the cat rolling around in a pile of leaves and started to run towards it from the end of the block. The cat got up, shook itself off, and took off. TOWARD the dog. Full speed. After about half a block, something clicked in the dog’s brain–this cat that is 1/10 my size is coming AT me–something’s not right. It started trying to slow down and change directions, but it was too late. The cat took a flying leap and landed on the dog’s back and dug in, and the two of them went yowling together around the block. A few minutes later, the cat loped back home and flopped down in the pile of leaves again.

          6. There’s a beautiful moment in season 2 of “The Fall” where Gillian Anderson’s badass detective character is surrounded by a group of thugs as she goes to her car. As the head thug looms over her, she makes the tiiiiniest lunge toward him … and the entire group reels back in shock. She calmly gets in her car and drives off. I rewound it half a dozen times, whooping in delight.

            Sometimes not giving a predator the expected response makes them reconsider you as prey.

      2. Ugh. I haven’t had many people at work try to loom while I’m standing (though, I’m short, so it really wouldn’t take much to loom over me.) What happens to me is that people loom over me while I’m sitting at my desk. This also has the deeply unpleasant side effect of penning me inside my l-shaped work station. I don’t plan it, but my instinctive responses are either to turn my chair to face them while leaning back a bit (to make distance), which exaggerates how much they are looming. Most people back off after I do that. If they don’t, I usually pop up out of my chair (in a startled fashion), and say, “I need you to take a step back.”

        1. I tend to “accidentally” roll my chair over their foot. Typically they will get the message to not invade my cube and vocally attempt to get my attention.

        2. Yes! So much this.

          I once worked in a legislator’s office. Lobbyists and other oily types would walk in and try to get on Legislator’s calendar. I had direct instructions about who was allowed appointments. Not them. So. They would stand too close. They would stand over me. They would creep near enough to see his calendar in Outlook! They would LOOM. And it was a tiny office. And they would PIN ME IN.

          One night I called my best friend in tears and she’d heard enough. She said the instant I saw these people darken my threshold, to stand up and look them in the eye. Almost as if I’m greeting them. Be as ‘friendly’ with my voice as I was required to be in my job. Be ‘networky’ and ‘social’ and all the things required of a front office legislative aide. But stand, remain standing, square off, and look them in the eye the entire time. Don’t step back. Stand at the corner of my desk. I thought, that won’t work. Why should that work. These dudes still won’t take me seriously. It’s their JOB not to take me seriously.

          It worked. Oily Lobbyist No. 15 and No. 6 and No. 20 and all their buddies stopped looming, stopped pinning me in, and no one was getting near my screen or me. I called her back laughing, I was so elated. I had no idea I could be ‘office nice’ with my voice and ‘get the eff out of my face’ firm with my stance at the same time. And the dudes had no room for complaint or for politiking behind my back about how “Legislator X’s assistant is a beyotch.” Which of course is death in those kinds of jobs.

          It was like a jedi mind trick. Their lizard brains recognized my stance. Their social human brains were confused by my voice. It was a beautiful thing.

          Body language for the win.

    2. It’s also helpful if you are the one to touch him during these interactions. I am not saying that you initiate, but grabbing his arm when he tries to touch you or putting your hand on his shoulder when he goes in for a hug and stopping him (instead of stepping away or dodging) can (if the situation feels safe) be a way for you to maintain power in the situation. Even putting your hands up to block him without touching him keeps you in the position of power. This has the added benefit of being much more obvious to bystanders that you are not ‘playing’ a game or enjoying being chased.

  6. Thing is, LW, since he doesn’t do this to other people then he most certainly does pick up on subtle clues. He’s choosing to ignore your clues in favor of doing what he wants to you whether you want him to do it or not. It isn’t that you are not being clear, it’s that you are telling him things he does not want to hear, so he is ignoring that part of the social contract where we’re expected to read body language, take other people’s comfort into consideration, and respect a soft no. He’s ignoring you in favor of the script in his head that says your boundaries don’t matter. He doesn’t do this to other people. He respects their boundaries just fine, which means he is perfectly capable of respecting yours. Not clueless. Entitled.

    I’m gonna second Annalee’s advice to start documenting his behavior, if you haven’t already. If there is someone you trust at work who you can tell about Creepy (not) Friend’s behavior, even better.

  7. Some of Captain Awkward’s best advice is “Let It Be Awkward.” Just remember, this unwanted touching has always been awkward for you. Now it’s time to let everyone carry their share of the Awkward Burden. Touchy Dude is giving you Awkward. Return to Sender. Subtle doesn’t work, either by innocence or design, but your basic response is going to be the same either way. Let it be very obviously, excruciatingly awkward.

    There’s no actual grace period for boundary setting. I know it really feels like there is. I know that it feels like, “Well, it’s be going on so long that I really can’t do anything about it now,” but give yourself permission to set that boundary regardless. You’re not setting the boundary in spite of your history with Touchy Dude, you’re setting this boundary because of your history with Touchy Dude. One summer I was working a stage crew with mostly guys, and one of them would always use pet names like “Princess” and “Sweetheart” to refer to the women on the crew. I didn’t say anything about it at first, but the assholeishness he displayed the rest of the time was enough for me to stop cutting him any slack.

    When I did finally call him out on it, he tried to act very surprised and hurt that this bothered anyone. He even said, “Hey, I told you girls that you should say something if this bothered you,” somehow not seeming to understand that was exactly what I was doing. I was having none of it and told him that if he continued to call me “Princess” I was going to start calling him “Cupcake,” and fortunately that put a stop to it. The other women told me later that they were glad I said something.

    1. YES THIS. Dudes who realize you’re setting an explicit boundary will use this as a tactic to try to make you not set it — “Well, you didn’t say no explicitly enough before, so that means I get to argue with you about it.” The second part is the kicker. Anything they can do to make this an “issue” or a “discussion” or a “debate” favors them.

      LW, I would suggest adding to the Captain’s teflon-robot list the following time-honored tactic used by teachers and parents enforcing rules on a kid who wants to stall having to follow them: “This isn’t a debate.” …immediately followed by “I want you to stop touching me” or “I want you to stop following me” or whatever it is. Make it clear to him and to anyone nearby that you’re setting a boundary and the only correct response is for him to respect it. There’s nothing messy or unclear or “blurred” about this; you don’t have to pretend it is.

      Good luck, LW.

      1. SO much this. One friend of mine recommends prefacing your statements with “Nevertheless…..”, which is a polite way of saying that even if every word of his stupid bullshit were 100% true, and you’re not going to get sucked into a debate about it, you’re setting a boundary.

        You just keep repeating this no matter what he says.

        “But you never said anything before!”
        “Nevertheless, don’t touch me.”

        “Why are you so uptight, I’m just being friendly?!”
        “Nevertheless, don’t touch me.”

        Etcetera. There’s nowhere for them go to when you refuse to engage.

        1. This is something I do with kids:
          “Can I go outside?”
          “I need you to clean up the markers before you go outside”

          “But I didn’t even mess up most of the markers!”
          “I need you to clean up the markers before you go outside.”

          “But everyone else is already out there playing!”
          “I need you to clean up the markers before you go outside.”

          *finally just clean up the markers.*

          My friend who trains real estate agents and I had a big laugh when we realized most of the behavioral management stuff I use on kids were super effective with her agents.

          1. Yes. You will be non-surprised to hear that my friend developed this technique while dealing with her preteen daughter.

        2. At the end of African Queen, Katherine Hepburn gives a great tutorial in saying “Never the lessss” . . . impeccable and formidable

      2. Yes, this.

        But you never TOLLDDDDDD me that it bothered you!!!
        I’m telling you right now. Stop touching me.

        You could have TOLD me that you didn’t like it!
        I’m telling you that right now. Stop touching me.

        If you didn’t like it then you should have TOLLDDDD me!
        I’m telling you right now. Stop touching me.

        etc ad nauseum.

        1. If it’s a little less escalated (or someone who’s more reasonable or who you like a little better) you can also try agreeing with the person employing this tactic and then immediately going back to your point.

          Partner/Friend: but you’ve never said anything about being uncomfortable around CreepBroFriend before!

          You: yes, that’s right, Partner/Friend. but i’m telling you now. i am uncomfortable around CreepBroFriend, so I’m not going to be hanging out with you when he’s around.

          Or whatever the needed boundary is. But probably in your situation, LW, it’s not necessary to agree with the criticism and will likely just give Creepster more ammo to derail you.

      3. I was relieved to get fired from a small but awful company because the company’s head/founder really liked touching female employees (hugs, shoulder squeezes, cheek kisses) and did not take well to my jerking away from being touched, refusing hugs, etc. For being the odd one out to refuse the founder’s touchiness, he kept telling me “there’s a lot of different people here; you have to be able to work with all of us”. Part of my dismissal was because my refusing touch made him uncomfortable with me; he claimed that I was being “mean” for preferring other people that were not him (and would stop touching me if I asked).

    2. Oop, I think maybe my previous comment here got eaten? Anyway, I agree with this very much! And I would add that a good shortcut for this kind of stalling / derailing tactic can be the time honored phrase, “This isn’t a debate.” + immediately follow with the boundary (“I want you to stop touching me”).

      I find this very helpful when people try to derail my boundary setting; it points out that they’re trying to move your boundary and/or push against it, and that in fact they don’t get to set the boundary. You do. All they get to do is decide whether to do the right thing and respect it.

      1. One of the most empowering moments I’ve ever experienced, personally, was when an ex who still had my number but had forgotten my whole name called me out of the blue (after two years!) and tried to wheedle, cajole, manipulate, and threaten my name out of me. “This is n-n-not a n-n-negotiation,” I stammered out, finally. “I don’t want you to call me anymore. I don’t care if you’re lonely. We have nothing to discuss.” I started out really scared but by the end, just the fact of telling him it wasn’t up for debate had made me feel incredibly powerful.

        And that’s all because of the Captain. Before I started reading this site, I don’t think I had the vocabulary to resist encroaching behaviours as effectively as I now do.

  8. Ugh the damage of ‘nice’. Needing to be seen as nice, saying you don’t need the friendship at the very same time as assuring us ‘he seems very nice’… He doesn’t seem nice. He seems creepy and unwilling to read the social cues you’re repeatedly sending. People who can’t respect our boundaries and notice our discomfort are not ‘nice’. People who steal your comfort and enjoyment at work are not nice either.

    Where I live, we’re pretty hands off as a culture generally. About 10 years ago, when I was learning my craft, I had an older boss who would not respect my space. I tried moving or shifting uncomfortably when he’d lean over me at the desk. If he took a step forward, I’d take one back. It took literally yelling at him on the street on the way back from lunch, when he went to put a hand on the small of my back, again, to get him to understand that, a. It was upsetting me and b. there would be no more touching.

    It was awkward as all out, but it meant I didn’t waste my time or energy after that silently policing my feelings of being intruded on. He was embarrassed and very apologetic. Work was extremely awkward for the rest of the day but only for that day. I never put up with feeling so uncomfortable at work again with someone. It’s not worth it, and the rush of self respect you get from standing up for yourself which stays with you outlives the awkward moment which does not. You can laugh about the awkward later. I have not yet ever laughed about feeling intruded on.

    The other good thing was other people at work telling me they found him creepy too.

    Say something. Stick up for yourself. Be nice to you and stop worrying about him.

    1. I read that part as LW being concerned that other people think he seems very nice. That’s the way he comes across to those he’s not sexually harassing. Therefore, if LW publicly comes across as too blunt or “bitchy” in her responses to this ‘person who is perfectly nice’, she’s the one who will suffer the professional repercussions (for HIS actions).

    2. YES to how the rush of self-respect for standing your ground stays with you, while the momentary awkward feeling disappears entirely. It’s great. Like a paycheck that keeps paying. Sooooo good.

      It’s one of the reasons to do it. Like an easter egg that you get to keep enjoying for the rest of your life.

      I had a boss who, while not physically touchy, had bizarre (racist) beliefs about races and groups. For whatever reason, she thought it was okay to stand in a public hallway and talk about how a woman in her networking group was “such a Jew” and then kept talking about how “Jewish” she was. I stood there in shock for a second. But then I said, “That’s not okay.” It interrupted her babble of thought and she said, “What? Oh. But she is, she’s such a Jew…[blah blah blah].” I said “No, it’s not okay to say that about Jewish people.”

      She babbled on for a few moments and then left, choosing not to engage. But she never said snot about any race or group to me again. And to this day, every time I think about it, I get a pure rush of GLEE. Unmitigated, FIERCE glee. Best feeling EVER.

      And lest anyone think this was back in the day of Mad Men or something – this was two years ago. Horrid bosses. Everywhere in all times. Speaking for what’s right. Eternally priceless.

  9. All the “NO TOUCHING” is covered in spades. Some additional reactions for his other creepiness manifestations:

    Paying for all the things:
    “Here is an envelope with the money for [past thing, current thing, or all the things totaled]. Thank you for spotting me, now we’re square.” If he goes again about how he was raised: “I was raised to never be indebted to anyone, so I’m giving this to you to clear my debt.” Oh, but it was my treat! “Thank you. I’m going to leave this envelope here now. You can take it, or leave it there for someone else to take, but it’s no longer mine.” WALK AWAY. If necessary, repeat “It’s not mine anymore” until he takes it or leaves it in the breakroom or whatever. (and log this in your fancy new log of things you’re keeping track of)

    Hovering while you’re trying to work:
    “Do you need anything?” No. “I need to concentrate on my work. Please go away.” Oh, come on! You want to chat about- ‘I need to concentrate on my work. Please go away.” Don’t be like that! I just want to- “I need to concentrate on my work. Please go away.” Haha! You sound like a robot! Did you see that movie about the robots where- “I need to concentrate on my work. Please go away.” Oooo, am I wrecking your concentration? Am I getting you all hot and bother- “I need to concentrate on my work. Please go away.” What are you doing that needs so much concent- “I need to concentrate on my work. Please go away.” How about if I just sit here reading my phone? “No. I need to concentrate on my work. Please go away.” Where am I supposed to go!?! “Away. I need to concentrate on my work.” REPEAT FOREVER. Level in tone. Imagine you’re talking to a toddler.

    “I love you!”:
    “That is a really weird thing to say.”
    “That is really weird.”
    Why is it weird!?!?

    1. My only caution here is that for someone that wants your attention, paying for things and resisting getting paid back is likely to be a game to them. It puts them in a position where you are trying to interact with them (by trying to pay them back). This guy wants attention, and trying to pay him back rewards him with it.

      Rather than trying to pay them back, it may be better to deal with the situation in the moment. If Creep snatches the bill from your hand, flag down the waiter and say “hi, I’m so sorry to bother you, can you give me another copy of the bill?” and if the guy says “I’m covering you,” you say “I’ve told you to stop trying to pay for me. I’m covering my own meal. How much you tip the waiter for your meal is your business.”

      If Creep tries to buy you a movie ticket, refuse to take it, walk to the counter, buy your own.

      Basically, make his decision to give money to businesses not-your-problem.

      Make it clear to your friends that you don’t want Creep covering you, and you expect them to let you pay for yourself.

      And if he does successfully pay for something for you in a way you can’t gracefully refuse, then don’t thank him or treat it as a gift. Treat it as the controlling boundary-violation that it is.

      I used to get creeped on by a guy who’d excuse his behavior as “this is how the character in my favorite book behaves.” I eventually just told him “Well then, that character is an asshole, and so are you.” Might be a useful response to “this is how I was raised” as well. “Well then, you were raised to be an asshole.”

      1. Yeah, I agree with this. Also, let him know that if he can’t respect simple things like you wanting to pay for your own dinner, you’re just never going to eat out with him again. Say it loudly and clearly and publicly. If you’re eating with a group of people, let others know that he’s been really weird and touching you inappropriately and that you want a buffer from him – prearrange a buddy to sit next to. If it ends up just being you and this guy out eating, you might just have to bail on the situation.

        1. Yes and yes. Plus “you were raised to be an asshole” –dying of laughter. This is indeed the correct level of response to him.

      2. Yeah, I was thinking of a response to “This is how I was raised.” as well Something along the lines of, “You were raised by people who taught you it was OK to disregard and trample other people’s boundaries? Wow!”

      3. Was his favorite book “Fifty Shades of Grey”? If this occurred before the “Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon, was his favorite book “Jane Eyre” because Mr. Rochester was a Gothic hero not a real-life hero.

        1. It was some detective I think? Whoever it was insisted on calling the female lead “babe,” even though she kept telling him to knock it off. I’m sure in the book, she eventually fell in love with him. In real life, telling him to stop, yelling at him to stop, leaving the room, screaming at him in front of church elders, and cussing him out had no effect on his shitty behavior. Nothing I did could ever convince him that I was not playing the ice queen with a heart of gold in the story of his life.

          His boundary violations continued to escalate, so I eventually cut him out of my life completely. He describes this as “the love of his life utterly rejecting him.” I describe it as a morality tale in why depictions of women in fiction matter.

      4. Also, speaking to the server before the bill comes can diffuse the situation in advance. You don’t have to make it a drawn out explanation for the server–just, “I’ll need a separate check for my portion” should do the trick.

      5. Yes. Gavin de Becker calls this “Loan Sharking.”

        As in, look at the sweet | gentlemanly | kind | thoughtful | old-fashioned | whatever thing I did for you. Aren’t I great? Aren’t I the best?

        Now – subtext – I’ve BOUGHT the right to be in your space, to touch you, to make you be nice to me.

        This is squalid, manipulative, dangerous behavior.

        It reveals the subconscious beliefs of the person doing it – that a woman’s space, time, and physical rights can be OWED to him.

        When I learned the term “Loan Sharking” I was like YESSS, the Power of Having the Name of a Thing is Sorcery!

    2. “I love you!”:
      “That is a really weird thing to say.”
      “That is really weird.”
      Why is it weird!?!?
      “It is weird.

      I would suggest instead ” ‘I love you’ is not an appropriate workplace comment. It is sexual harassment and will be treated as such from this point forward.”

  10. Depending on your line management, it might also be useful to have a quiet word asking for advice. Something like, ‘[Line manager], I could use your perspective on something. I haven’t been feeling comfortable around [Creepster] lately, and they haven’t been picking up on [subtle cues a, b, and c] – if you were me how would you approach this to try and create a more comfortable and professional working environment?’

    You are the best judge of how your manager would take a question like this, but in the past I’ve found that it’s a handy halfway step between handling everything yourself and formally going to HR.

    1. Yeah, I agree with talking to a line manager. Of course, I had a similar situation (I was working on register and a coworker kept coming up behind me and grabbing my sides) and I was told to tell him to go away and just deal with it myself. It was only when someone younger and more vulnerable than me made a complaint that he was told to stop harassing staff. So, the advice may not be helpful, and if it’s not helpful I suggest that you press for a way to log your complaint, or press for him to be pulled aside by management etc. and also for you to work your way up the chain of command. “I’ve talked to my line manager and department manager about how to get this coworker to stop touching me. Can you finally help me on this one?”

  11. Blergh. LW creepers suck. I understand the fear of being seen as undeservedly mean or a “bitch” by your coworkers. But sadly that may be the price of getting rid of this guy, because there is a shitty expectation in our society that women have to completely burry their own needs to look after the needs of random dudes. So own it. I don’t mean be actually unnecessarily mean and rude, just shut this guy down and accept that some people will see you as “tough and scary” in a way that is apparently terrible for women to seem.

    Because that’s the better option than doing nothing. The Captain’s advice is great – be loud, be assertive and when needed show anger.

    Re the paying for your food stuff…ugh. You might need to avoid outings he’s attending as much as possible. You could also try pre-warning the wait staff that he’ll try to pay for you and you absolutely don’t consent to him doing so. You could try giving him the money if he still manages to do it. In front of everyone, with “I have told you not to pay for me, it’s not funny and it needs to stop. NOW.”

    Anyway. Good luck LW – this is an icky situation.

    1. Odds are good that one’s co-workers have had issues with the guy, as well, and are scared of rocking the boat, or the like.

      1. Yes indeed – along with the occasional butthead who wants you to play nice to creeps (who you should ignore) there are often other victims of the same person who will be grateful someone finally said something, and also other nice people who’ve noticed it and have your back but just didn’t know what to say or weren’t clear that you weren’t consenting to it. Bringing it out into the open can really clarify who’s who among your friends and coworkers.

    2. Pre-warning the wait staff sounds like a good idea. Including being explicit about why. “That guy may try to pay for me; I don’t want him to because it makes me uncomfortable/creeps me out/feels like he wants me to owe him something/MAKES ME FEEL UNSAFE.”

      I suggest being explicit so that the wait staff don’t take it as just a cute game between friends, because sometimes groups of friends actually *do* have a who-can-pay-first competition that is actually consensual by all involved. If you do decide to have a word with wait staff, you want to make it clear that this is not that kind of situation.

      1. Yes, definitely tell waitstaff ahead of time. They’ll be more helpful to you, and it’s not an uncommon game between friends (my family and I play it constantly and it’s good fun for us all)

        1. But it’s not a fun game for the wait staff to watch people play “Who is going to pay.” It’s tedious.

          1. there’s ways to play that don’t take up the wait staff’s time any more than normal payment. Heck it usually goes faster, since the trick of playing well is all about slipping them payment before anyone can notice or claim the bill.

      2. Or, bring cash and leave the correct amount with the bill/on the table. Waitstaff are going to be pretty reluctant to take this guy on for you, since as far as we know, you’re both customers and we can’t really “take sides”.

        I’m trying to imagine what I would do if a customer came up to me and pulled me aside, saying her dining partner made her feel unsafe. That’s pretty far above our pay grade.

        I think avoiding one-on-one social situations with this dude is a good start, and then maybe asking for separate checks at the start of your meal.

        1. Asking for separate checks when you order is a GREAT idea. It heads the rest of that off right up front. He’ll probably argue, but you can refuse to get drawn into arguing about it with him, and no matter what he says, just make eye contact with the server and say “I would like to be on my own separate check please.” That repeat-as-if-toddler thing might work well here.

          (I think LW was talking about him paying for her in group outings, not (or not only) one-on-one situations.)

          1. (Er, by repeat-as-if-toddler, I didn’t mean that the server was the toddler in this situation. I meant the creep guy was the toddler, and LW would refuse to reply to any of his arguments, just repeating her statement to the server.)

      3. Late to the party, but definitely this. My dad is South American and who pays the bill is a Big Fucking Deal and all the tactics this guy is using are 100% normal (and he might be spanish himself? getting those vibes – good god is my family touchy towards everyone). It’s a social capital thing – whoever has the most money usually wins. My dad is REALLY good at winning by just staring you down and repeating “I am paying” but even he defers to his dad after a polite number of protests. I have a friend who has seen literal fistfights erupt over the bill in cases where the monetary situation isn’t as clear cut.

        So, this is something the wait staff might be, uh, familiar with depending upon the clientele. Definitely head them off and let them know it’s not a normal thing between you.

        1. I’m sorry, are you saying that “south american” people are creepy boundary violators? This guys insistence on paying the bill is not a separate thing, it is totally in a very particular “I’m purposely violating as many of your boundaries as I can” context, and it feels a little weird for you to tie that into someone’s country of origin–especially Southern Hemisphere countries of origin.

        2. 1. This isn’t a Family dynamic. There’s no “Parent is the provider, period” stuff going on here. Dude is her co-worker. Her creepy, boundary-trampling co-worker.

          2. *If* (big freakin’ IF) it was down to a cultural misconception, why on earth would he be respectful of everyone but the OP?

          3. I work with a really diverse population, including people from cultures that have very different societal rules regarding personal space, social conventions, etc. Not a single fucking one of them has ever pulled bullshit like this with a co-worker. **Because they aren’t creepy, boundary-trampling types.**

          They recognize that even though they may be comfortable having a conversation 2 inches away from someone’s face, and even though they would be comfortable slinging their arms around a casual friend, or even a stranger’s waist, IT ISN’T THE DONE THING. It’s not like these folks have been here for years, either. Many of them are less than 6 months into the country.

          If your dad is playing power games, that’s on him, not on his South American-ness.

          4. Finally, even if your excuse washed (again, big freakin’ IF), his actions would still be inappropriate by virtue of the fact that they make the OP horribly uncomfortable and harrassed. It is not the OP’s job to educate him on the finer points of cultural expectations. It is the OP’s job to enforce her personal safety and the integrity of her physical and emotional boundaries. Period. Intent doesn’t matter. Actions matter. Regardless of what Dude thinks is okay, he needs to revise his behavior, like, yesterday.

  12. Ugh, LW, I feel your pain. Captain and others gave good advice. Be prepared for things to escalate, though, once you start setting boundaries. maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I had a creeper at work (who’d try to “talk” to me when my boss wasn’t around and I was alone in the office). I made it very clear that I was happily engaged, but even meeting my fiance made the dude double down on his Nice Guy schtick. I finally told him in no uncertain terms to leave me the hell alone and mentioned it to my boss. (That reaction is a matter for another letter.) Dude spent the next several years going out of his way to get in my face and say hello. It only ended when he moved out of the area (and became a middle school teacher.)

    But, yeah. Creeps are out there. They suck. Document everything. Don’t feel like you have to be nice to someone who isn’t nice (that is, respectful of boundaries) to you.

      1. Yeah, I made it known to the profs supervising the dude, and there wasn’t anything they could (legally) do because there wasn’t a police report. Police wouldn’t do crap unless I were threatened (I did check when it first started.)

  13. If co-workers/managers/anyone try to minimize/excuse his behavior here’s a script I use:

    “It’s my body, I get to decide who touches it.”

    Repeat as many times as necessary. This has worked excellently for me in both personal and profession settings in the past. I’ve never had to repeat it more than twice before they looked awkward and agreed with me.

    1. Logged for future use, thank you. Currently I tend to shout “Ow!” but for people who “forget”, “cant help it”, or are “just a huggy kind of person” that script will be great.

  14. One thing about the original post (and I may have missed it) … at any time has the OP flat out said “Don’t touch me”? Because of the nature of the question, it sounds like the answer would be no. I think before you employ the “visibly yelp and cringe” mechanism, you need to say, calmly, to him, flat out “It makes me very uncomfortable when you touch me and tell me you love me. We are coworkers and I find this completely inappropriate. I’ve tried to be subtle about it, but it’s obvious that subtle isn’t working. So please stop.”

    If that conversation “gets around” to your coworkers, I can’t imagine you’d get flack for it.

    If he disregards a direct instruction to knock it off like that, then you move toward the more nuclear options of flinching, yelping and cringing, and ultimately taking it to your supervisor or HR.

    1. Exactly. If she hasn’t done this, the original advice is off the mark. She mentions he is not taking here cues.. she might not realize it but she might not be as obvious as she thinks with her cues to him to stop. She needs to use her words!

    2. I would say ‘polite’ instead of ‘subtle’. It makes it more clear to onlookers that he’s the ass here.

      1. Good call. I agree. “I’ve tried to be polite about it, but obviously that’s not working. So now I’m going to be direct and blunt. Stop now.”

    3. yes, totally. Clear, verbal non-consent. Incredibly important, and THE first step in ANY compromising situation.

    4. I don’t see why that needs to happen before cringing and yelping. I can’t fathom any possible reason anyone would need to explicitly tell somebody not to touch them before reacting to a bad touch. I do think that the letter writer should make sure to explicitly say, “Please don’t touch me again; I don’t like you touching me.” before adding “you know” in future, just to destroy any shred of plausible deniability. But I also think that message can come along beautifully right after a yelp and cringe. Then document the incident. Then any future incidents can get the yelp and cringe combined with the, “Stop touching me, you know I don’t like that.”

      But why on Earth would anyone need to say stop before yelping and cringing when given a bad touch? This part of your comment makes me very uncomfortable, because I can think of no good justification. Yelping and cringing is just letting how you feel show explicitly. And that’s what you’re supposed to do for the clueless. If this was good-natured cluelessness, it’d be a kindness to him to yelp and cringe. And if it’s malicious (which it almost certainly is), then it’s a good defense. And I don’t think it makes somebody look bad to yelp and cringe when touched inappropriately.

      1. BECAUSE…..NOT giving explicit consent or refusal of consent causes enormous problems, and it is the fair way to do it, as this guy really truly may not be reading all these subtle “signals” the way the LW thinks they are coming across. It is very difficult to misinterpret “No. Don’t touch me again.” but it’s immensely difficult to interpret body language as it all has to go thru the translation of our own filters, and while WE might understand what LW intends (especially when it’s described), clearly TouchyDude has yet to hear “no”. Think of salespeople…they often have a clause in their contract that means they must continue to push a sale until the potential buyer specifically says NO. Not “not right now” not “I’m not interested” but specifically NO.

        1. What is unfair about cringing and yelping? Again, this makes zero sense to me. How can that possibly be unfair? You don’t need to know it’s not okay to do something for somebody to quite fairly react by showing discomfort when you make them uncomfortable.Why would anyone be owed having somebody else pretend to be okay with something until they have verbally stated they aren’t?

          If you step on my foot, do I owe it to you not to shout in pain the first time? Do I need to hold back my display of discomfort until I tell you, “Actually, I don’t like having my foot stepped on. Please don’t step on my foot again.” And then I only get to fairly scream in pain the second time you step on my foot?

          I just can’t fathom the reasoning behind your comment, because it seems based on the idea that somehow displaying the discomfort you feel when somebody makes you uncomfortable is something you should try to keep from doing. Whereas, I’d say, it’d have been better if the letter writer had cringed and yelped the very first time this guy touched her in a way she didn’t want to. Because why should you inhibit that reaction in the first place? But it’s okay to start giving a healthy response at any time.

        2. Are you serious. Having a visible, audible startle response to being touched inappropriately and unexpectedly is not in any wise “unfair” to the person violating your boundaries. And someone who’s been the victim of repeated boundary violations by the same creeper is not obligated to be “fair” to them in the first place.

        3. If someone came up to you and waved a bouquet of decaying fish heads 2 inches from your face, would you scream and react in a disgusted manner? Probably. Also, it most likely never occurred to you to say “Hey, I don’t like it when you wave stinky fish heads in my face.” But I bet that reaction would be enough for them to realize you didn’t like it. And anyone witnessing the action would think he/she a total doofus to repeat the behavior.

          Societal norm defaults: 1. NOT waving fish heads in others faces. 2. NOT touching without permission.

          Speaking up before giving a reaction = trying to spare someone(who doesn’t deserve it)’s feelings. It’s not the LWs job to try and help Mr. Creep manage his feelings around her reaction to him unwelcomely touching her.

        4. Why are you so worried about this guy? He’s not going to get fired or get PTSD if the LW makes a startled noise and flinches. Getting a non-verbal rejection just isn’t that traumatic. Getting touched over and over against your wishes and feeling like you can’t make it stop IS that traumatic.

        5. Are you serious. Having a visible, audible startle response to being inappropriately touched is not in any wise “unfair” to the person violating that boundary. And in response to someone saying “this dude keeps touching me without my consent” it’s REMARKABLE that you’re reaching for “be fair to the poor guy.”

        6. The point of Yelp-and-Cringe is to display on the outside how the touch is making you feel on the inside. Even if the LW hasn’t explicitly said “Don’t touch me” before, she is allowed to have feelings about being touched and allowed to express those feelings any way she wants. Saying she can’t have feelings (or can’t express those feelings) without giving him a heads up first is playing into the way Dr. Creepy McCreeperton (Ph.D in Creeping) is abusing the social contract. In the extremely unlikely event that he thinks she wants to be touched like this, a startle/fear reaction will make it pretty obvious that she doesn’t.

          Keep in mind that she’s never given him consent, so she doesn’t have to withdraw it. Some stranger comes up to you on the street and grabs your ass, you get to go “Ahhh! What the fuck?” without warning him first “I don’t consent to being touched like that” and waiting for him to do it again before yelping. Insofar as she has never given consent to being touched, he is in the exact same moral position as the street-going ass-grabbing stranger.

          He’s touching someone without their consent. Yes, and only yes, means yes. It is not necessary to withdraw consent if none has ever been given. Yelp-and-Cringe is completely kosher. In fact, it’s kosher even if you have given consent in the past, if that’s how someone’s touch is making you feel.

        7. If we were talking about something, really anything, other than a dude touching a female co-worker he was interested in, I doubt there would be all this fussing about maybe possibly he doesn’t understaaaand.

          If I asked to borrow five bucks and you told me no, would it then be understandable if I opened your desk drawer to look for change? Tried to grab your wallet out of your back pocket? Constantly asked you if you’d buy me something from the vending machine? Of course not, you’d be pissed as hell that I was just trying to weasel money out of you to get around your clear no.

          1. I have to say I disagree a tiny bit with your first paragraph, but I actually only thought of that because I recognise your username from AaM and that reminded me of how Alison’s first advice over there often is “Have you actually told your coworker that her chewing gum all day is distracting to you/that the way he organizes the files is wrong and everyone else has to sort it out/that he can’t actually come to work clad in what’s very obviously his beach shorts?”.

            HOWEVER, I’d say social clues–like what this LW deals with–are generally much easier/more instinctively understood than those that have to do with the workplace. If no one told Jane outright that her gum chewing is annoying, there’s (IMO) a legitimate possibility that she really never thought of it/has no idea everyone around her wants to throttle her because of the noise. However, if no one ever told McCreeperson that his touching is unwelcome, I’d say it’s still generally pretty easy to figure out if someone is genuinely okay with it or not; especially if we’re talking about someone flinching or freezing upon being touched. Her coworkers rolling their eyes when Jane takes her gum out of her pocket can easily be attributed to something else, the flinching and freezing–not so much.

            (I also have a feeling that the advice of “Have you clearly said X?” is often just so you can say you did so when being asked. Victim-blamey people or just those who have to follow a certain protocol before they can do something (like a supervisor at work) will probably ask that question first when confronted with that situation. That being said, I think it’s frankly stupid to demand a certain order when dealing with creeps in the spirit of “fairness” or something; and secondly, it’s all moot in this case anyway since the LW seems to have been very clear and forthright already.)

        8. I’m pretty sure dude does not have a contract to touch up women until they say no. He’s not the contracted bad touch salesguy.

          Women should not have to explicitly say “do not touch me” to every guy on the planet or put up with being touched by randoms. Women are NOT in a state of eternal physical consent that they have to remove explicitly for every single guy individually or be called unfair.

          From what the LW says, this guy is sufficiently aware of social norms not to touch others in unwanted ways. I’m pretty sure he is not walking up to his CEO and saying “I love you” while stroking their arm. He is not massaging, touching or stroking customers. He knows better.

          Seriously, women are not men’s automatic play toys until we say “no” clearly and repeatedly. It is fair to assume that you don’t touch people if they move away. It is not unfair for women to expect not to be randomly groped at by a coworker. It is not unfair for the coworker to be expected to keep his hands to himself.

          1. Seriously, women are not men’s automatic play toys until we say “no” clearly and repeatedly.

            +50 gazillion. This point of view is so offensive and dehumanizing.

        9. Um, no.

          1) Life isn’t fair. You don’t have to be, either.

          Seriously. You don’t. You don’t have to give people the benefit of the doubt when they’re making you uncomfortable, and you shouldn’t prioritize their comfort over yours. That’s what he’s doing – even by the most charitable interpretation of his actions, he’s repeatedly and deliberately ignored the OP when she says “This makes me uncomfortable.” Why on earth are you making it her responsibility to prioritize his comfort over her own by walking on eggshells?

          2) Body language is not actually that hard to interpret. We’re pretty good at interpreting body language as a species, and people – men and women – frequently use soft “no”s throughout many facets of their lives, and generally, we can read between the lines. A date who says, “Oh, I just remembered I have to get to work early tomorrow” or keeps looking at their watch probably isn’t enjoying themselves. A boss who is noncommittal and keeps “forgetting” to talk to higher ups about a raise for you probably isn’t going to get you one. Etc, etc, etc. We can usually put the pieces together – it’s not nearly as hard as people pretend it is once it’s a woman being made to feel uncomfortable by a man.

          3) How salespeople act is literally completely irrelevant to this conversation.

          Most people, including salespeople, do not act like salespeople do in their daily lives. It’s off-putting and pretty much everyone can recognize it as off-putting. Even people whose professions are not as off-putting do not do this. Teachers do not tend to put together activities and assign grades outside a classroom. Editors do not edit everything they see. This is not a thing people actually do.

          I don’t know if what you’re saying is true – but even if a “no” will magically make salespeople go away, that’s just useful information to have to make them go away faster. It doesn’t make a person who snaps at the tenth pushy tactic wrong for snapping. When people cross our boundaries and make us feel uncomfortable, we do not have to play by their rules, even if they have clear and consistent rules. (Big if.)

          1. I completely agree with you, and this is an utter derail but at one time I worked with a lot of editors and still know a few and…uh…they kind of do edit everything they see. The nice ones do it inside their heads. The others send you grammar corrections on your IT outage emails. *headdesk*

            /end irrelevant aside

          2. Salespeople often deliberately and knowingly manipulate people by breaking established rules of human social interaction while relying on the people they’re selling to be reluctant to break them. That’s why it’s not exactly a compliment to compare someone to a used-car salesman, but rather an accusation of manipulativeness or insincerity.

            So no, definitely don’t take salespeople as a role model for normal human interaction.

        10. ” Think of salespeople…they often have a clause in their contract that means they must continue to push a sale until the potential buyer specifically says NO. Not “not right now” not “I’m not interested” but specifically NO.”

          Which is, specifically, a tool for manipulating people and coercing them into buying things, by taking advantage of how well people are conditioned to use soft “no”s, because it’s seen as rude to say “NO, I do not want to buy anything, leave me alone, I am hanging up/shutting the door in your face now”.

          Do you think the salespeople don’t *understand* that “I’m not interested” means that the potential buyer is, er, not interested?

          They understand perfectly well; they’ve just got a clause that says “continue badgering this person nonetheless, because if they feel they can’t escape the interaction politely they might cave and buy something”. It’s a deliberate manipulation of other people’s social conditioning (and one reason why there are often legal provisions giving people a window of time afterwards in which they can cancel a contract they’ve been pressured into signing).

          I am all for the LW saying “No, don’t touch me again”, because it destroys any plausible deniability and gives her something very clear to document.

          But I don’t see any particular reason to think that this guy is so disabled in his reading of social cues that he isn’t registering the LW physically moving away from him, tensing up, etc..

          And he’s already choosing to ignore her saying clearly that she doesn’t want him paying for her and that it makes her very uncomfortable.

          It looks a lot more like he’s acting like a salesperson, taking advantage of the social conditioning against “being rude” by telling him to knock it off.

        11. …and? You’re taking the example of awful boundary-pushing behavior (sales-people) to explain why LW has to be more clear in the case of a supposedly harmless clueless guy. Maybe because you can see that the harmless clueless part is in question? I agree, being startled doesn’t have to be prefaced by anything. That’s absurd.

        12. I don’t understand why you believe that she must either put up with his awfulness once more, or make herself more uncomfortable on the very remote chance that a mammal (this creep) doesn’t indtinctively understand his species’ fear response.

          Cringing and yelping will make him uncomfortable. So what? Things are already unpleasant for LW. I see no point in adding to her discomfort.

        13. You appear to be starting from the misapprehension that we all have blanket consent to touch each other all the time until explicitly told no.

          We don’t. Double for co workers.

          TouchyDude has already heard “no”, because “no” is the default. He’s just chosing not to.

        14. Holy fucking shit. The LW told him NO she did not want to date him. She told him NO do not pay for her meals. He dismissed it and CONTINUES TO TRY AND DO IT.

          He’s heard no and he’s ignored it.

        15. This absolutely reeks of “but you didn’t say no forcefully enough.” A soft no is still a no, this guy is essentially taking advantage of how the LW has been socialised not to rock the boat. She has said he doesn’t want him to pay for her and he’s ignored that too, or has she just not preformed the necessary “no, dance” that will somehow satisfy the people here who need to defend the creep’s feelings?

        16. Given this guy’s lack of proper reaction to the verbal boundary-setting the LW has clearly employed from the letter (his continuing to pay for her food/activities despite being told not to), I see no reason to assume that a clear verbal boundary here would be taken any differently. The flinching is absolute appropriate and fair, and probably necessary in order to stop the behavior, even if you want to assume Creeper has good intentions (which is a rather generous assumption).

        17. Here’s the thing: if you are someone who is incapable of picking up on repeated body language signals that someone does not want to be touched, you should simply NEVER TOUCH ANYONE who has not given you explicit permission. Erring on the side of unwanted touch is not the way to go, and dude needs to learn that.

      2. I think LW would be wise to be calmly explicit first, not because Creeper deserves fair warning, but because workplaces tend to be biased against women and anything coded as female behavior, and the yelping thing is at risk of being labelled “hysteria.” Plus, managers often don’t want to deal with awkward problems, so they won’t take action unless the employee has already set an explicit boundary. I don’t think its fair – the default workplace rule should be no touching, but unfortunately a lot of workplaces suck about this stuff.

        FWIW, Ask a Manager always suggests being explicit with the coworker about a problem, then if it continues going to the manager with the request, “I’ve told John X, but he keeps doing Y – I could use your help/advice.” It helps you come of as a capable person who tries to solve problems on your own , rather than a ineffectual tattle-tale. I think this applies even when “tattling” would be totally appropriate, because as said above, often managers can totally suck at this stuff. And if they don’t suck, and take sexual harassment seriously, having given at least one calm, clear warning won’t hurt anyway.

        An explicit warning at the get go will also help your case if you wind up suing or involving the police at some point.

        Again, not fair but perhaps practical.

        1. 100% exactly my point. It’s not about “fair to the creeper”. It’s about making sure that LW has all her bases covered because if she does have to file a complaint, the question will be asked – did you specifically tell him these actions were unwelcome. That sucks. It shouldn’t be that way. No one should have to implicitly tell someone else “don’t touch me”. But … factually that’s the way it is. So she needs to make sure she’s crossed all t’s and dotted all i’s so there can be no question that this guy knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that what he’s doing is unwelcome, unwanted, and needs to stop.

        2. This. It’s not that LW has a responsibility to the creep not to hurt his feelings; it’s that the first thing management is going to ask if she has to escalate it is ‘did you tell him explicitly that it makes you uncomfortable?’

          Also because jumping and yelping might show onlookers how unwelcome his behavior is…or it might make them think that LW is prone to overreacting. Which is absolutely not fair, but if the goal here is to get him to leave her the hell alone without negatively affecting her coworkers’ opinion of her, it’s something to consider.

          I guess I don’t see it as an either/or thing; my natural response to being freaked out isn’t to jump and yelp, so doing so would be a performance put on to make a point. Telling him calmly to stop would also be a performance put on to make a point. At that point, the question becomes which performance is going to be more effective. Telling her to suppress a natural startle response would be unfair, but I didn’t see anyone doing that.

          1. All the people making the points about HR, management, likely escalation, documenting, etc.: You’re not wrong.

            But also, not everyone HAS HR, a sympathetic boss, a process that works for them (see: Machete Guy), or any structure that will reward reasonableness on their part.

            If you embarrass the shit out of the dude where other people are watching with a visible reaction that alerts them that something is WRONG, it might not need to ever go to theoretical HR, because he will slink away and avoid you.

      3. I think LW would be wise to be calmly explicit first, not because Creeper deserves fair warning, but because workplaces tend to be biased against women and anything coded as female behavior, and the yelping thing is at risk of being labelled “hysteria.” Plus, managers often don’t want to deal with awkward problems, so they won’t take action unless the employee has already set an explicit boundary. I don’t think its fair – the default workplace rule should be no touching, but unfortunately a lot of workplaces suck about this stuff.

        FWIW, Ask a Manager always suggests being explicit with the coworker about a problem, then if it continues going to the manager with the request, “I’ve told John X, but he keeps doing Y – I could use your help/advice.” It helps you come of as a capable person who tries to solve problems on your own , rather than a ineffectual tattle-tale. I think this applies even when “tattling” would be totally appropriate, because as said above, often managers can totally suck at this stuff. And if they don’t suck, and take sexual harassment seriously, having given at least one calm, clear warning won’t hurt anyway.

        An explicit warning at the get go will also help your case if you wind up suing or involving the police at some point.

      4. It’s useful in this particular circumstance (in a workplace context), because if the LW has to take it further, then the first question she will be asked is “Did you tell him explicitly that you didn’t want him to touch you in this way?” It will be helpful to LW to be able to give a plain “yes” in answer to that. Of course it shouldn’t be necessary – in all probability this guy is aware that LW doesn’t like being touched, isn’t inviting touch, and that his touch is unprofessional, given that he does it to no-one else – but if this escalates with HR then by making an explicit statement, LW removes the guy’s ability to whine, “But she never told me”.

  15. Or, you could be direct and say “stop. I don’t like it. Im not interested. ” from your letter, it appears you haven’t done that. Maybe that is why he continues. Don’t play games with noises and whatnot. be direct, you have nothing to lose.

    1. She has told him she’s not interested in dating, and she moves away whenever he tries to touch her. What about that says “keep right on doing that, dude, this is fine?” to a coworker?

      1. Being “not interested in dating” is not (necessarily) the same as saying “your touching and paying for me is inappropriate”. 99% of the time I think your advice is on target, but in this case, if she hasn’t flat out said “don’t touch me” then there’s a step missing.

        1. I don’t think your step is a bad one, but it’s not a negotiation, and the default with coworkers is “don’t touch them.” He is waaaaaay over the line already.

          1. And my response is not in any way a negotiation. It’s a flat out, verbal stating of her position. “Your touching me and telling me you love me and continually paying for me against my wishes is inappropriate and makes me uncomfortable. Please stop doing it.” Until she’s (as someone stated above) “used her words” assuming that someone is picking up on non-verbal cues is going to cause more grief in the long run.

          2. It’s not a negotiation, but neither has she concisely refused his advances. He’s way over the line because until this point, he has not been specifically, verbally, told clearly to stop. It is a problem in the way many people are taught to communicate in awkward situations that they default to “subtle” instead of being ice-cold clear, and VERBAL – Just Say No. IF that doesn’t work, you’ll have to escalate, but the first place to start is simply saying NO.

          3. D: “He’s way over the line because until this point, he has not been specifically, verbally, told clearly to stop.”

            No, he’s way over the line because he doesn’t give a flying frak about what she wants, only what he can get away with. If he cared he would never have started touching her to begin with, because touching someone requires consent. Consent isn’t assumed until told to stop.

          4. @ Kara and D – From the OP’s letter:

            I have a creepy friend I already turned down in no uncertain terms when asked on a date.

            Every time after he would sneak talk to waiters, or steal the bill from my hand. When I told him I did not like him paying for my food, movie ticket etc, that it made me feel very uncomfortable, he waved it off, saying he was raised this way

            while I do think he is just terrible at reading clues I also know he does not touch other girls – or guys – as often or … creepily … as he does to me.

            He didn’t catch the subtle clues of shifting away from him, never initiating any contact, and tensing up whenever touched.

            She turned him down for a date, and he continues to pay for her food – and only her food – when they go out to eat with other coworkers, despite being told that it makes her very uncomfortable. He is doing this by sneaking off to talk to the waiters or literally taking the bill out of her hand – again, despite being told that it makes her uncomfortable, and despite her attempts to pay for herself. He touches her, specifically, much more frequently and intimately than he does any of their other coworkers. The cues she’s describing are pretty clear to most people, unless you want to accuse her of lying because you’d rather believe the best of a dude who at the very best is callous and disrespectful.

            I’m really not clear on why she needs to be giving this guy the benefit of the doubt by saying no before “escalating” – and to be honest, I’m not sure how things like flinching, yelping, and cringing are “nuclear options” or unreasonable “escalation.” No one is suggesting she go to the cops or try to get him fired.

          5. I’m parking this here since we can’t nest anymore.

            As someone with NLD, who is not great with social cues, I find the excuses Kara and D are giving this asshole to be downright terrifying, not to mention belittling and erasing of women who are non-NT or have issues with social cues AND who are harassed in this way.

            Do you have ANY idea what it’s like to be targeted by someone who ignores your no’s (she told him NO to a date and NO to paying for her meals, which he dismissed and continues to violate that boundary)? Do you have ANY idea what it’s like when you’re not so good at social cues and people tell you that you weren’t explicit enough, or you were too harsh, or whatever?

            He is at WORK. This is the one goddamn place where the default is “don’t touch people.”

            Is she supposed to negotiate every single goddamn thing with this guy? Because holy fucking shit I can see someone game this. “Well, you told me not to touch you but I thought I’d leave presents at your desk.” “Well, you told me not to touch you and I honored that but I can text you all the time, right???”

            The default at WORK is that you don’t fucking touch people. I don’t go touching my goddamn coworkers. Not the ones I like. Not the ones I dislike. Not coworkers I might think are attractive or especially nice. It’s a pretty goddamn hard and fast rule at most workplaces that this is not okay. He knows to not do it to other people. He’s singling her out. She’s already told him no several times, and he knows goddamn well what is up. Let me reiterate in all caps in case you have missed it the other hundred times people have pointed this out to you: SHE TOLD HIM TO NOT PAY FOR HER MEALS AND HE DISMISSED IT AND CONTINUES TO TRY AND DO IT BY MAKING AN END RUN TO THE WAIT STAFF. He knows goddamn well she doesn’t like it.

            Cut it out.

          6. Kara and D, there is a massive, massive difference between “say no very clearly, because sometimes people suck and it means you’ve covered your bases before going to authority” and “say no very clearly, because maybe he just hasn’t understood your mysterious girly ways of not liking being grabbed in he workplace!”

            It’s one thing to advise the LW to make a clear and explicit statement before going to authority. But it is TOTALLY DIFFERENT to think that the absence of a clear and explicit statement is any kind of excuse for this dude, or that he doesn’t understand what he’s doing is unwelcome if there hasn’t been a clear and explicit statement. Pick which argument you’re going for.

            And if it’s the latter, you are one of the people who sucks.

      2. To someone who doesn’t understand societal norms, yes, she very well might have to be very clear with this person, saying what you or I or any other reasonable person might understand as implied. He may very well understand that she will not date him, but doesn’t get that the touching is not welcome.

        1. I’m certain this dude understands that touching is not welcome. If he didn’t understand that social boundary, he’d be touching his male coworkers, members of the management team, probably also customers, and THAT blanket physicality does get directly addressed. Often by instructional videos that you have to watch by yourself in the break room.

          There is nothing in her letter to suggest that he doesn’t understand societal norms. In fact, there is a lot to suggest that he does understand societal norms, particularly around how to court someone and how to act in the early stages of a relationship, and he’s projecting them ardently at her. That’s not clueless, that’s manipulative as fuck.

          1. I think he knows perfectly well what he’s doing, but he may feel like he has some kind of plausible deniability if he can CLAIM he didn’t realize she didn’t like it. Hence the advice to use words – clear, simple, short words. If he starts to argue or ‘explain’, then my recommended script would be something like ‘well anyway, stop touching me’.

        2. It doesn’t matter whether he does or doesn’t understand societal norms. It matters that he is touching someone who doesn’t want to be touched. She doesn’t owe him a fifteen-week course in “How To Be Socially Normal.” The script is, “I don’t like it when you touch me. Stop touching me.” [silence]

          1. That’s what I’m saying. Has she said “Stop touching me, please?” No. She has specifically stated that she has not told him to stop, wants to tell him to stop, needs help knowing what to say to make it stop.

            The answer there is “Stop touching me, please.” If he jokes around about it, you become more firm and tell him you mean it. If he does not stop after being told, in no uncertain terms, “That’s Not OK”, then it’s time to involve the HR department since this is happening in the workplace,

            But jumping away and yelping is how I train my puppy not to nip me, and isn’t how you tell another human being you don’t want to be touched.

          2. Funny how Matt here apparently managed to miss the part where LW DID explicitly tell Creepy Guy to stop paying for her meals because it made her uncomfortable and he still insists on doing it. Conclusion: even when she is verbally explicit about things she doesn’t like but this guy wants to continue doing anyway, HE DOESN’T CARE.

            This dude doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

          3. Reply to Matt (nesting limit attained): You’re going WAY out of your way to defend a guy who’s clearly being inappropriate. This isn’t a social relationship (despite his efforts) — it’s a workplace. The DEFAULT should be “No touching unless consent has been given.”

          4. @ Matt – why do you seem to feel so strongly that this dude should be treated with kid gloves when he’s clearly not affording the OP the same courtesy?

        3. Before we go there — because we’re clearly going there — I have a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Speaking as someone with Asperger’s syndrome:

          a) Let’s not armchair-diagnose this guy as autistic for being a creep (I would note that he’s ignoring very clear verbal statements like her saying she’s very uncomfortable with him paying for her, which suggests that social cluelessness is not the primary problem here), and:

          b) in the event that he does have an autistic spectrum condition or something similar and is genuinely unaware that stroking (visibly uncomfortable) co-workers is inappropriate, or imagines they have some sort of friendship that makes it cool, the LW is doing him a favour by giving him the message as bluntly as needed to get him to stop.

          Whether that’s by saying “No, stop touching me, I do not want you to touch me”, or by jumping and yelping, or whatever she thinks her best option is.

          It is not going to be good for him going through life believing that it’s totally cool to randomly rub people’s backs unless they specifically state “No, I do not want you to rub my back”.

          She’s not his social coach or his parent or his friend. It’s not her job to make this super-nice or break it down into baby steps for him.

          She’s also not obliged to presume that all creepy people are autistic until proven otherwise.

          Also, sometimes people are autistic *and* creepy, wilful pushers of boundaries. We’re not magical innocents, and anyone who’s high-functioning enough to hold down a job is also capable of absorbing toxic myths about how it’s cute to “woo” women by ignoring rejection, or how women say no but don’t really mean it.

          1. Yeah, at this point it’s irrelevant what’s going on in his head. Whether he’s ignorant of her boundary or willfully ignoring it or some combination of these, the thing that needs to happen is that he needs to stop. Period. End of story. If his feelings have to be hurt for him to get that message (spoiler alert: they almost certainly do, because the feelings of men who touch you without permission are uniquely fragile), that’s his problem and not the LW’s.

          2. I agree with you here, and I am also autistic. But using terms like “high functioning” is offensive at best and downright harmful at worst.

          3. Replying to finn, as nesting limit has been attained:

            Good point — thank you for raising it. I’d got used to that language, and not properly thought about the implications (explanation, not excuse).

            Would something like “verbal and socially adept enough” do as a substitute in this context?

        4. He didn’t get what he wanted when he used his words, so now he is trying a different tactic.
          Whether he understands societal norms or not is irrelevant.

        5. As someone with NLD and who’s not great with social cues herself, I’m really tired of this erasing bullshit. It’s been very stressful when I’ve been targeted this way. I was too harsh in my no because he was awkward. I wasn’t firm enough with my no so he didn’t get it. He was awkward (he wasn’t, actually–he knew enough to not do this shit to anyone else) and it was okay. I was awkward in my refusals and it was unforgiveable.

        6. He seems to understand social norms just fine when it comes to everyone who is not LW. Please stop making excuses for his behavior and trying to find a way to blame LW for someone else consistently ignoring her boundaries.

        7. He’s an adult. He holds down a job. He doesn’t grope or bully anyone else.

          Can please stop with the “he might very well not understaaaaaand”?

          I recall reading an article along the lines of “my small autistic child has learned the Rule of Do Not Touch People Without Consent, why the FUCK are you pretending this is so difficult to grasp? Why are you clinging to the idea that it’s plausible that a functioning adult could ONLY be forgetting it it with ONE person they already decided they wanted to touch, and saying that because you’re so ignorant you think my child would have trouble with it, it’s okay for him to do? No. Stop. Gross.”

          It should not need to be so continually relevant.

      3. It’s clear enough, but words are IMO far easier to document. I would recommend being very bland and ‘polite’, but super blunt and immediate – e.g., ‘Stop touching me, please’, ‘I’ve asked you not to touch me’, etc. Keep it short, repeat as needed, and remember the words you used and write them down.

        1. Right. Because while there are so many different ways in which creepy people can violate your boundaries, there’s only one reasonable way (which also needs to be fair, JUST IN CASE THEY DIDN’T MEAN IT because god forbid we risk making someone innocent feel even just a little uncomfortable, even though they probably aren’t innocent) to make them stop.

          1. No, I agree with you there. She should do whatever works for her, and she shouldn’t have to follow any magic formula to get basic respect of her body (she shouldn’t have to do anything, it should be a given). I just happen to find blunt verbal statements very useful, and she did request practical ideas on things to do that would avoid conflict with co-workers or their boss.

      4. The question isn’t ‘is he wrong to keep touching her’, though. Clearly he is wrong, clearly he shouldn’t be doing this, and he almost definitely knows exactly what he’s doing. But that wasn’t the question; the question was how to stop him. And IMO, it’s generally harder to brush off or joke off a negative message when it involves direct verbal statement (‘stop doing that now, please’). And if she does decide to go to her boss she can now quote the exact words she used.

        1. I’m not saying “don’t say ‘don’t touch me’ in words” you guys, I’m just saying: make it visible, awkward, loud, observable, physically undeniable also.

          1. YES.

            And for the love of all that is not skeevy, DO NOT WASTE A SINGLE SPOON ON BEING NICE OR EVEN POLITE. Skeevy skeever is skeevy and must be shoved off with the ten-foot pole of this is how we de-skeeve our immediate airspace. Short, sharp, and LOUD.

            And preferably witnessed.

            Because it is perfectly okay to rock the boat if the boat has a skeeve-co-dile crawling along the gunwale.

        2. She’s already bluntly told the dude to stop paying for her meals (her meals ALONE) at group outings, that it makes her uncomfortable, and he brushed it off, dismissed it, and continued to do it by flagging the waitstaff ahead of time. So I’m not confident that he will get it.

          1. He’s ignored all of the other explicit “don’ts” she’s given him up until this point, so why would things be magically different with regards to “don’t touch me”? Make it loudly, obviously, and publicly not ok with a yell and follow up whatever his reaction is with a “don’t touch me.” If she hasn’t already been, document everything. Like several of us have said, saying “no” to other aspects of his creepiness has done nothing to moderate his behavior, so simply a verbal “no touching” probably isn’t going to work. Raising the stakes with an obvious yelp and making him face the repercussions from his actions publicly rather than LW shouldering everything privately for him might have more success.

      5. I don’t think she needs to say “do not touch me” to protect his feelings or be *fair* to him or whatever, but it could help a lot if she has to go to HR.

        1. To be clear once more: I am not saying “don’t use words.” I am suggesting cringing away or physically grabbing his hands on the way in AND using words.

          1. Having been in this situation, I can attest to the fact that yelling/yelping & jumping can be much more effective than words.

            I once had a friend of a friend do this sort of thing. I told him it made me uncomfortable and he did not stop. One time, he touched me and I jumped back and yelled “NO!” in the same tone of voice I tended to use while training horses and dogs (not angry, but very firm).

            Other friend (male) looked at him and said “Dude, what’s your problem? Don’t touch her.” I didn’t have a problem again. It’s like creepy dude had to be told off by another dude.

            As someone said above, take his Awkward and return to sender. Preferably with witnesses.

          2. I’m sorry I misunderstood you. You’re absolutely right that both are important — the physical gesture of shock/repulsion can startle him into backing off in the moment, and the clear “no” statement can help if it ever becomes an HR or legal issue. I tend to harp on the issue of clear language because I used to work in domestic violence court, and in stalking/harassment cases the judge almost always asked “Did you tell him not to do that?”

    2. Yeah, unless he’s doing this with literally everyone he knows, man, woman and child, regardless of levels of power, this is not a case of the dude being oblivious and awkward. Does he give lingering hugs to male supervisors? I think something like that would be noticeable enough that it would have been mentioned in the letter.

        1. I never said use kid gloves. I said be direct. Be blunt. Say directly, do not touch me, thats not ok. but somehow that’s turned into me defending the dude.

          I also said that sometimes people don’t take hints, so stop giving hints and cues and just SAY IT.

          not sure where you made the reading comprehension error.

          1. She. Was. Blunt. She told him NO to a date. She told him to STOP paying for her meals, that it made her uncomfortable. He dismissed it and continues to do it by going to the waitstaff. She should not have to negotiate every single thing with this dude when he is not giving her coworkers the kind of treatment he’s giving her.

            Before you lecture US on reading comprehension. work on your own, sparky.

          2. Do you have any idea how difficult it can be to form rational sentences when you are in the middle of being inappropriately touched? The Captain gave some great advice about ways the LW can clearly express her disapproval in a range of ways, including non-verbally, but you seem really invested in the idea that the victim of a situation like this needs to somehow hit a specific formula before they can be deemed to have done enough to prove that it’s not their fault. This sort of thinking is part of the problem.

          3. Yeah, I didn’t make a reading comprehension error. You’re making a normal comprehension error.

            When you are recommending a course of action to the OP for any reason other than to get her the best possible result, you are defending the dude. When you are looking at the issue through any lens other than the OP’s (and you are, because you keep talking about how the dude feels and how maybe he just doesn’t understand) you are defending the dude. When you talk about the LW in a condescending way for not following what you think the “proper protocol” is for having her space violated, you are defending the dude.

    3. Actually, women frequently have plenty to lose when they refuse a man directly, including their lives. This is why so many women use a soft no with a man who makes them feel unsafe. Because if they are direct with him, he might assault or kill them.

      Check out some of these stories and educate yourself on what women deal with every day instead of blaming the victim.


  16. He’s a Mike Yanagita! He’s the minor “Fargo” character hugs too long and sits too close and persists desperately in the face of clear rejection. I love Marge Gunderson’s firm but polite boundary-drawing in this scene (“You sit over there, I’d prefer that.”), although honestly her approach might be too nice for this situation. https://youtu.be/r_Ge4F4E9JE

    1. Marge Gunderson is just generally a good role model for almost everything, I think :).

    2. Though I agree, sadly it might not be enough in this scenario. But worth trying, even if only to be able to demonstrate to co-workers or HR or whoever that you’ve tried it.

  17. I don’t agree with cringing visibly and yelping – to me, it’s setting the encounter up as one where the person who touched you has already ‘won’, by scoring a hit, as it were. That said, one of my pet peeves in life is random people (nearly always older white church ladies who touch, or pat or rub my arm), and I hate being obliged to put up with it – occasionally if I’m out in public, and some random stranger lady comes up and rubs my arm, I do the startle thing (it bothers me that I do that, but I absolutely hate being touched, and find it mindbogglingly fucking weird that strangers think just touching a stranger is okay), but then, when they give me a quizzical look, I say ‘I just find it REALLY weird that some people think it’s okay to touch a stranger’.

    I HATE being touched. Ew. No. Part of it is that I’m read as female – I was never touched when being read as male. Something about being a young-looking, small, presumed-female person makes people go all touchy.

    1. Agreed. If getting a reaction is the goal, any reaction will do. Touching after specifically hearing verbal non-consent is an entirely different situation than touching and getting a reaction (even if it’s flinching and yelping – it is NOT saying no)

      1. Really? I think flinching and yelping is a pretty clear “No.” I certainly would interpret someone flinching and yelping at something I did to be a pretty unambiguous sign that they didn’t like it.

    2. Are you saying a manipulator would turn that into a game to “win,” or that it might be seen as weakness to others? Anecdata: I’ve always had a really strong startle response. When I was in HS/in theatre, randomly tickling people from behind was “cool,” and I would involuntarily scream and fall down the few times people tried it with me. Even when my composure was shaky as I… got up off the ground… I felt like the awkward stares were always pointed at the tickler, not at me.

      1. I’m saying it might be seen as a weakness to others. I’ve been brought up in the ‘never let them know how bothered you are’ school. I used to have an extremely strong startle reflex, I’ve forced myself to not react now, but holy gods, I hate being touched so much. It feels like a personal violation – somebody thinks it’s okay to enter into my space without asking.

        1. I think if a particular person is uncomfortable using the yelp and look startled response, then they should use other methods. But I don’t think that makes it a bad technique. It does tend to work. It tends to work very well, in my experience, because it is reasonably memorable and pretty clearly not okay to the bystanders. Personally, I don’t mind looking like I have a weakness when it actually gives me power and control over my own boundaries. It’s kind of like a very clever martial arts move where you use the weight and power of your opponent against them. They are harming you, but are counting on you to mask that harm so that it looks like the harm is okay. Instead you lean into the harm reaction, and they fall into the pit of social unacceptability. So, I think it’s a good tactic for most people. For people who can pull it off without feeling like they have somehow lost.

          1. It’s fine. AFTER you verbally deny consent to be touched by saying “Don’t touch me”. There’s no need to get into drama lessons, or take on some unusual tactic…Just Say NO. That’s the first step. That HAS to be said. Out loud. Specifically. All the rest of the jumping around or playing other games of subtle with a guy who has already shown he doesn’t “get” subtle is foolish and is a big problem. Consent means giving a clear verbal “yes” or “no” to actions, not mincing around with trying to make the message non-verbal and indirect.

          2. Actually, LACK OF CONSENT is the default, and affirmative consent TO TOUCH is the standard. Especially with coworkers. You don’t get to feign confusion and keep touching people.

          3. Yeah, as the original author of the “WHOA, were you just going to touch me? I don’t like that” script (many years ago!) Here’s why I default to startling and / or yelling at unwanted touches. It works! In fact, I just had this situation come up with a slightly touch-y acquaintance who decided to step things up and pinch my arm in a crowded bar. You better believe I jumped away, yelled “HEY!!!” and got stared at. It was awkward and I am sure it enhanced my reputation as “that person who really hates being touched, like jeez, what is her problem”.

            Here’s the thing, I am fine with having that reputation. People tell each other not to touch me! It’s great!

            A last tip, if someone seems to be bothering you in order to get a reaction, call them out. “Whoa, are you really trying to touch me just to get me to yell at you? Are we in first grade? Cut it out.” Always show that you’re aware of what’s going on and it’s not a game to you.

          4. No, D, you don’t HAVE to say no. The person who wants to do the touching HAS TO GET CONSENT. If they are terrible at reading cues then it is incumbent upon them to use their words. Do you pick up merchandise and just walk off with it from any store that doesn’t have a ‘No Shoplifting’ sign? Do you have picnics in your neighbours’ back yards if the gate isn’t locked? To paraphrase Amanda Marcotte, the standard for permission to make use of another person’s body has to be at least as high as the standard to make use of their possessions.

            It’s not “unfair” to display an awkward startle response when you are touched in an unwanted way. It’s just allowing the natural consequences of the toucher’s bad choices to play out for them instead of taking it all on yourself.

          5. It doesn’t work for me when I’m taken by surprise, because I was conditioned through years of bullying not to react, so the instinct now is to be still and stiffen up. I have had some success with very calmly and very seriously turning around, staring them straight in the eye, and saying “Please don’t touch me.” However, this has been with well-intentioned socially-awkward guys, not intentional boundary-pushing proto-rapists.

            I know exactly what you are saying about using weakness as a weapon. I really like the martial arts metaphor.

          6. D, you give your colleagues too-long hugs and back ruins unless they say no? Seriously?!

        2. I’d say you were raised among bullies, and whether or not you need to continue not to react depends on whether or not you’re still among bullies.

          My experience has been that well-meaning non-bullying adults don’t always know how to help, but if they were glaring or laughing at someone after an unwanted tickle prompted a shriek, they would not be glaring or laughing at the victim.

      2. My sibling has a very strong tickle reflex that manifests as their elbow swinging back HARD into the midsection of the tickler. They don’t usually need to repeat that lesson more than once or twice.

        1. I developed that one when I was a kid and my brother used to do that to me a lot. (Unfortunately, it led to me elbowing someone entirely else in the teeth, but on the plus side, she never tickled me again.)

          1. Yes yes yes. This works for any type of touching. If you “instinctual” reaction (even if it’s only to the creeper messing with you) is to respond by slapping (or punching) the toucher, it’s then their fault for continuing to tread in a danger zone. Like poking a tiger.

    3. “I don’t agree with cringing visibly and yelping – to me, it’s setting the encounter up as one where the person who touched you has already ‘won’, by scoring a hit, as it were.”

      True, unfortunately some of us who were bullied as a child may have developed a strong ‘freeze and be silent and pretend nothing happened’ response, by being taught repeatedly that ANY reaction or sign that you’re upset/bothered/don’t like it/etc will be immensely rewarding to your harasser, and will lead to immediate escalation of the harassment, partly because the harasser needs to make sure they ‘win’ the interaction and so may get meaner or crueler to ‘smack you down’, and partly because almost any response is entertaining to the harasser. This can include repressing the need to flinch or jump, but it can also include repressing the urge to verbally ask the person to stop (I know for many years I would have found that just impossible — to get my vocal chords to even work in a situation like that??? Let alone in such a confrontational way?). Freezing and shutting down are two of the most common instinctive fear responses anyway (the other two being the better known fight or flight — not sure why those two always seem to get disproportionate billing).

      So I think some people will find it easier to let themselves show their discomfort in obvious physical ways, others will find it easier verbally, others will find it more doable to bring things up after the fact or involve others. And some will find it possible to do more than one.

  18. “He didn’t catch the subtle clues of shifting away from him, never initiating any contact, and tensing up whenever touched. ” Soo……in all of this, I see no place where LW specifically turned to TouchyDude and said, clearly, with eye contact “Stop. Please do not touch me.”. Subtle is the biggest mistake we’re taught around consent. All the things you did are indeed subtle, but NONE of them specifically says clearly “No.” So, before you get too tangled up in options and advice, just turn and tell him to stop. I see now that someone else did finally mention that it hasn’t yet been said, and Jenn went into how the default is “don’t touch your coworkers” which is all fine and stuff, but actively refusing consent is a very important and oft overlooked part of things, and “being subtle” is not a functional way to communicate (especially if it is clearly not working in the way you hope it will. Hope is also not a clear way to communicate. Just Say No. I don’t even care how far over the line this guy is already, he has never been told specifically and precisely NOT TO DO IT. THAT is the starting point, and everything else can come afterwards.

    1. This and all the similar comments above seem to be missing the point of the LW’s initial letter: “I realized then, he isn’t going to get a clue…. I Do Not like his touch, and WILL tell him to stop. I need advise on HOW to tell him to stop.”

      The LW is planning to deliver the No. That’s not in question. All these comments saying “But you were just too SUBTLE” really smack of rape culture to me.

      1. Rape culture to me is where we’ve somehow made it debatable whether or not the guy should be shown subtly, or even more subtly, instead of being faced and told NO. How to tell him to stop? NO, STOP TOUCHING ME. So. Simple. Why is it even a debate anymore?

        1. It is only a debate because you and other commenters deliberately misread the OP, which said “make a scene AND tell him to stop/reach out and intercept his hands AND tell him to stop.”

          1. I disagree, but I’m also sick of this. I’m so lost in the comment non-threading now I can’t even anyhow. If the solution included telling him to stop, then I have no further debate. All the other soft no stuff is so hopelessly pointless at the point the LW is at that it doesn’t even bear thinking that someone out there really thinks the situation will get better with a soft no of any sort. Rape culture or not, that way leads to ongoing abuse and potentially nightmarish outcome. Saying no is probably not enough. But this isn’t the time to discuss what SHOULD happen, because other things ARE happening.

          2. D, nobody here is suggesting a soft no. LW has been soft-noing this dude all along. People ARE expressing their discomfort that she seems to be getting crap for not being clear enough when this guy is ignoring her polite attempts to be rid of him.

    2. In other words, she just has to say no the right way, which you are the arbiter of. Gotcha.

    3. Telling someone No isn’t the starting point. The other person asking for permission to touch is the starting point, and this guy has blown way past it.

      1. This.

        And, I mean, yeah, some people are more touchy than others. I’ve met people who are a little more touchy than I am in ways that made me feel uncomfortable who genuinely did not mean to do so. But, people who are genuinely making an innocent mistake will not hold a yelp and a flinch against you. They will not develop some kind of severe complex over it or spend months wringing their hands with guilt. They will feel appropriately bad for making you feel uncomfortable, make a note of your boundaries, and move on.

    4. No, dude. That’s not how it works at all. You don’t just keep pushing until someone tells you no, especially in a culture where so many women have been trained since childhood to coddle the men around them by disguising “no” as something gentler. This guy doesn’t have some kind of god-given right to touch LW until and unless they specifically revoke that right; on the contrary, LW has the god-given right not to be touched by *anyone* until and unless they, the LW, give the go-ahead.

      “I don’t even care how far over the line this guy is already” Hmm. This… concerns me.

    5. Just to be 100% clear, no, the LW owes this guy absolutely nothing. In fact, if I meet someone the first time later today and he starts giving me an unwanted shoulder rub, I am damn well allowed to yell HEY! WHOA! STOP IT!!! at him and be just as forceful as I want. Here’s an “very important and overlooked part of things” – actually asking for consent in the first place.

      Also, I can’t help but notice that you and others are on this thread arguing the following:

      – it’s unfair for LW to be more forceful about saying no, because…
      – it’s unfair for LW to be so subtle about saying no.

      Sorry, but a “no” is not subject to a Goldilocks Rule. There is no “this no is too subtle so I can’t hear it… this no is too forceful so OMG my poor feelings are too hurt for me to respect it… but this no is juuuust right.” No one has to spend a bunch of time and effort getting touched up until they can find the right type of “no” to say. Every no counts.

      1. Ahaha, the Goldilocks zone of consent. That is perfect, thanks for that analogy – stealing it!

      2. The Goldilocks Rule. Excellent. Add me to the list of people who might use this term again.

    6. I’m not really sure why some people in this comment thread are starting with the assumption that consent has been given. Lack of consent is the starting point, with *anyone*, not just your coworkers. Actively *asking for* consent is actually the really important part. Framing it as the opposite is, uh, problematic to say the least.

    7. I believe this is applicable here:


      (By the way: “said, clearly, with eye contact”? What, it’s too subtle if you don’t make eye contact?)

      “Subtle is the biggest mistake we’re taught around consent.”

      No, one of the biggest mistakes we’re taught around consent is that it’s totally okay (for men) to behave as if they’ve been given consent (by women) despite “soft nos” and other social cues which they’re perfectly capable of reading in any other context.

      I am all for the LW saying “No, don’t touch me again”, because it destroys any plausible deniability and gives her something very clear to document.

      But that’s not “the starting point”, only after which is this guy doing anything wrong; he’s already way, way over the line.

      1. I have recommended Deborah Cameron’s book The Myth of Mars and Venus here before. She also cites the Kitzinger and Frith research.

        This is an excellent extract from her book on how women’s soft nos are understood but deliberately disregarded by men who don’t want to hear them, especially in the case of consent to sex:

        All the strategies the women reported using in this situation [refusing sex] are also used, by both sexes, in every other situation where it is necessary to verbalise a refusal. Research on conversational patterns shows that in everyday contexts, refusing is never done by “just saying no”. Most refusals do not even contain the word “No”. Yet, in non-sexual situations, no one seems to have trouble understanding them.
        The act of inviting someone implies that you hope they will say yes: if they say no, there is a risk that you will be offended, upset, or just disappointed. To show that they are aware of this, and do not want you to feel bad, people generally design refusals to convey reluctance and regret.

        Because this pattern is so consistent, and because it contrasts with the pattern for the alternative response, acceptance, refusals are immediately recognisable as such. In fact, the evidence suggests that people can tell a refusal is coming as soon as they register the initial hesitation. And when I say “people”, I mean people of both sexes. No one has found any difference between men’s and women’s use of the system I have just described.

        (Emphasis mine.)

        In the LW’s position, I think I would say “Don’t touch me” ONCE just to say that I have said it, in case it ever gets to HR and I could then say “I told him not to do that in words of one syllable – there is no way he didn’t understand”, even though it is totally clear TouchyDude is way over the line. But I have no doubt that TouchyDude knows exactly what he’s doing and is using the way women are socialised not to make a fuss and to prioritise everyone else’s social comfort over their own to get what he wants.

    8. D, if you touched somebody and they moved away from you and tensed up, would YOU fail to understand that you shouldn’t touch them again?

    9. No, that’s bullshit. I don’t expect people to touch me, and once they have touched me, I’m already off balance. I feel sick, scared, uncomfortable and I just shut down.

      Understand? You have to get consent to touch a person FIRST because if you put the onus on them to say no, you’ve already caused damage. If you make it to adulthood without learning not to be grabby then that’s your damn problem and quite frankly, you deserve what you get.

      I once broke a guy’s nose. He didn’t touch me, but he had me cornered and he was way in my personal space giving me a kind of fake lap dance as a “joke”. That was over 15 years ago and I still break into a sweat when I think of it and remember how scared I was. I’m not proud of injuring him… but I’m not exactly regretful either, all things considered.

    10. Oh, fuck you.

      I’m someone who’s not great with social cues. Oddly enough, I don’t feel entitled to touch people or override their requests that I not do something (from the LW: “When I told him I did not like him paying for my food, movie ticket etc, that it made me feel very uncomfortable, he waved it off, saying he was raised this way” OH LOOK SHE TOLD HIM NO AND HE IGNORED HER IMAGINE THAT).

      This fucking asshole doesn’t do this with other people, he does it with the LW. He’s targeted the LW. And I don’t care why.

      As someone who’s not great with social cues, it’s actually really fucking stressful to be targeted this way. You have to say no. But then you say no and it was too harsh and he’s just awkward you bitch. And then he just liiiikes you.

      You’re at work, and touching people is NEVER THE GODDAMN STARTING POINT at work. He knows this and does not do it to other people. People like you enable this shit by putting the onus on the LW–who has said she wants to tell him NO but also knows how this can blow back on her (see: “he’s just awkward” “he just likes you” “you’re paranoid” “why are you so meeeaaaannn?”).

      I mean really, taking your logic, can I punch random dudes at work in the face? I mean, after all, they haven’t told me not to do that yet. So I guess it’s totally okay, right?

      1. Right, “awkward” is a description, not a defense. So much of this blog is about awkward people trying to channel their awkwardness appropriately in social situations, so this community probably has as much sympathy for the awkward as it deserves. “As much as it deserves” ending well before the point that it consistently and knowingly violates someone else’s boundaries.

  19. Urgh, the ‘but I’m so nice!’ creepers. Can’t stand those types.

    Your best defense, in my opinion, is to MAKE PEOPLE NOTICE. Remove any plausible deniability he has. Make it an awkward situation, people remember those. Tell him, loudly enough to be overheard but not loudly enough to be yelling, that you have told him before that you do not like being touched and do not appreciate him ignoring you telling him that and pawing at you anyway. Tell him it is unprofessional and you want him to leave you alone.

    Document EVERYTHING.

    If he continues, people will KNOW you’ve told him to leave you alone before. You have witnesses and documented evidence. Yelping, shrieking, swatting his hands away (not hard, you don’t want assault charges, but batting them away like you would a moth or some meddlesome insect that startled you, since that’s basically what he is at this point) and making a scene are your weapons. Tell your boss. If your boss is a useless shmuck like so many of them are, contact HR, present your evidence. Document the discussion with your boss and tell them how unhelpful they were. Make a paper trail, one that cannot be ignored.

    He has no right to take away your comfort like that. He is trying to make how you feel YOUR problem. You turn that back around and make sure it’s HIS problem.

  20. I don’t agree with engaging the waitstaff by telling them your personal details. They have a job to do, & putting them into the middle of a situation between customers is unfair to them & ineffective in the situation. Just say “separate checks, please” & make sure to get yours, & do any asserting of individuality to the transgressor rather than the waitstaff.

    Don’t mince words. Speak up, speak over his interruptions, and boom out in your best vocal projection ever. Think Maude or Julia Sugarbaker or any self-confident, boundary-setting heroine who inspires you, dear OP. There is a host of us standing behind you, cheering you on.

    1. I don’t think you need to give the waitstaff all the details, but since creepy dude has a habit of going sneakily to the waitstaff to secretly pay LW’s bill, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying to your server right away “Please don’t let anyone else pay my bill; I’ll be paying for myself.”

    2. Yeah, I didn’t mean trying to make the waitstaff a part of the situation. I just meant, when you tell them you are paying for yourself, making it clear that this isn’t part of a “fun” situation the way some people do (consensually) engage in.

    3. I’ve worked in restaurants and bars. Waitstaff are used to occasionally having to chuck someone out or asking a manager or someone else who is comfortable doing it to chuck someone out for safety or creeper reasons. Waitstaff are also used to dealing with situations like too many eager people buying someone shots on their birthday when they don’t want to drink until they puke. You are the guests and they are there to help with shit like this. It’s part of why they get tips. It’s totally ok to go mention to your server that this dude is a work creeper and he’ll try to pay for you, so you’d like a separate bill or you’d like to settle up now in advance to get it out of the way. If the server is uncomfortable or doesn’t know what to do about it, they can consult with their floor manager.

  21. TW: rape

    This guy…reminds me of an acquaintance’s rapist, a coworker who WOULD NOT STOP TOUCHING and went the inappropriate-obligation route until he forced her (via public pressure at a work dinner!) to let him walk her home, and, well.

    Maybe this guy isn’t dangerous, but PLEASE, please, find some coworkers to get on Team Never Leave Me Alone With This Guy, if you can. He does not sound safe to me.

  22. LW, you have my sympathy. At a previous job, I dealt with both Mr. Tickle-You-From-Behind and Mr. Free-Back-Rubs-And-Too-Long-Hugs, as well as a manager who refused to do anything about either dude. I wouldn’t always recommend this approach, depending on how safe you feel in your work environment, but I dealt with it by using thinly veiled sarcasm.

    After trying to drop social cues that no, I do not think this is funny and/or no I do not appreciate the back rub, I just yelled “BAD TOUCH!!” any time one of them came up to tickle/back rub me. The first time I did it, Mr. Tickle said, “You make it sound so creepy!” And I just responded that it WAS creepy. He did not do it again.

    When I did it to Mr. Back Rub, he played it off like he had been joking around, and acted like I was the humorless feminist robot. I shrugged and said, “Yep. Don’t touch me though.” I found out later he called me names to the rest of my coworkers, but he did not give me any more back rubs.

    Again, ymmv but sometimes it helps to just shrug and play along with whatever ridiculous role in which they want to cast you, as long as it gets them to stop the behavior.

  23. One thing no one else has stressed too much is that this is happening at WORK. LW, if you are this creeped out by a co-worker, especially if it’s to the point where your ability to get your work done and move about your work area comfortably, this is the time to involve your manager. And don’t you go feeling like it’s tattling to do so. This pig isn’t just ignoring social cues, he’s violating the standards of professionalism. You don’t touch coworkers and you don’t pursue relationships with coworkers who are clearly uninterested. Involve your manager, here!

    1. So far though, she’s not clear about her interest, and he’s (to give him the benefit of the doubt since she hasn’t been clear) not clear about her consent. So, SAY NO, and then involve a manager.

      1. She has been clear about her interest – he asked her out, she turned him down flat.

      2. I don’t think he deserves the benefit of the doubt even IF she never turned him down.

        Physically trying to avoid him and being obviously uncomfortable is a “no” in and of itself. There really isn’t an excuse.

      3. I’m sorry, but this is horseshit. It’s not normal to rub up on a woman who’s already told you she doesn’t like you that way, nor is it normal to constantly swear your love. This guy knows perfectly well that she isn’t interested in him – he’s hoping to creep her into a yes. This is bullying, and it’s intentional and overtly romantic in form. And no, it’s not normal for a manager to respond to this level of overt, inappropriate behavior with, “Well, have you ASKED him to stop grabbing you, sitting too close, hanging around your work area, buying your meals despite repeated demands that he knock it off, and telling you he loves you? AFTER you told him you definitely were not interested in him? Because otherwise, I really don’t see what I can do!” “I don’t want to date you,” is a blanket NO to acting like he’s her fucking boyfriend.

        1. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s not normal to rub up on a woman who hasn’t explicitly said that she likes you that way.

      4. I find it very curious that you seem so invested in the idea that LW hasn’t been clear, with the implication that if she’d only been clear, he wouldn’t be doing this. She told him she didn’t want to date and doesn’t want him to pay for her (if he’s gone to the lengths of sneakily talking to waiters so he can pay her bill before she sees it, she’s told him to stop). I’m not sure why you want so badly for it to be her fault, but I do find it really strange that you feel okay saying so repeatedly in a group of people who in general aren’t all that keen on victim-blaming.

        1. Thank you for saying what I’ve been wanting to say the whole time I’ve been reading this thread.

        2. That first sentence is perfectly said. There is no magic way to say no. There are many many.

      5. Giving him the benefit of the doubt for what? “I have a creepy friend I already turned down in no uncertain terms when asked on a date.” How in the miserable hells is that unclear? In what universe is it OK to give somebody too-long hugs and back rubs and unrequested touches after you have asked them out and they turn you down flat AND THIS IS AT WORK?

      6. This is like saying that you shouldn’t involve a manager for someone stealing from the office until you’ve explicitly told the person “No, don’t steal other people’s stuff”. Um, nope – part of being a functioning adult is to understand that there is an implicit rule that you don’t steal other people’s stuff. In the same way, there’s an implicit rule that you don’t a) violate your co-workers’ personal space and b) continue touching people who are tensing up/moving away when you touch them. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb when I guess that this guy is perfectly capable of recognising those lines when it comes to his superiors, or his male co-workers, or pretty much anyone he’s not romantically interested in.

      7. If your point were that she should document with date and witnesses an explicit statement of Don’t Touch, because HR likes that, I might agree.

        But you’re not doing that! You’re demanding that she accept touches and harassment until she you uses your favorite form of No.

        That’s very odd. Why do you privilege his possible feelings over normal human behavior ?

      8. She has told him she does not want to go out with him. She has told him she does NOT want him to pay for her meals. He has ignored her. And I’m not giving some dumbass the benefit of the doubt who’s all touchy feely with ONE person at work–you’re at work, you keep your fucking hands to yourself. You know to not put your hands on everyone else, so you know to not do it to your friends or romantic partners or crushes.

      9. FFS, D. How can you possibly say the onus is on her? I hesitate to resort to “text yelling” but HE SHOULDN’T BE TOUCHING HER. Full. Fuckin’. Stop. Not touching people is the default.

        To be perfectly frank, who gives a flying fuck if she’s explicitly said “no” before? Although she has…perhaps a more in-depth reading in in order on your part?

        She doesn’t owe him “niceness” or “the benefit of the doubt” or any of that. Her only obligation is to herself and the integrity of her personal space/boundaries.

      10. The default for consent is no, not yes. You must consent to being touched, not withdraw your automatic consent. As per the letter, he’s not doing this to other people, so clearly he has some base level of understanding that touching someone isn’t appropriate whenever you feel like it. And while she perhaps hasn’t said explicitly “no, don’t touch me”, she has said “no” explicitly toward some of his other behaviors and he continues to do all of those things. So, clearly, he isn’t one to respect an explicitly stated boundary.

        I think workplace (in particular) consent is pretty clear: it’s automatically no until an obvious yes. She’s given no obvious yes, so her level of consent should be a clear no (and, again, it seems this guy has no problem figuring that out for his other coworkers, so I don’t think he deserves the benefit of the doubt, or any claims that he’s socially unaware).

  24. I’m really honing in on the paying for you/”that’s how I was raised” behavior. Having experienced similar behavior in the past, I want to give you a heads up that CreepyFriend may actually have constructed an alternate universe in his head, in which you two are dating. In this storyline, your “turning him down in no uncertain terms” was put through the Sexist Babelfish and came out as “yes, but let’s take it slow.” Naturally, this is not on you, you bear no responsibility for his imagination, but he may have convinced himself quite sincerely that you are his girlfriend.
    If this is the case and he reacts with bewilderment, resentment, etc. – I would take Captain’s advice about not getting drawn into an argument over what is “fair”, one step further. Feel free to opt out of any argument about whether or not you were “really dating”. This will just keep your attention engaged with him, like he wants it to be, and will wind up translated through the Sexist Babelfish as “we had our first fight, and now we can make up.”
    If you need to employ a script that includes the words “I’m breaking up with you now,” that’s okay. There is no benefit from fighting this case in Reality Court. The goal is to make him stop acting inappropriately toward you. Whatever gets the job done.

    1. Hmm, yeah, some guys are sufficiently divorced from reality to behave that way. I speak as someone who was at one point (I was 19 and I got better). Speaking of which, I wonder how old this guy is? If he’s early 20s, it could be he thinks This Is How You Woo Women.

    2. Yeah. I was wondering if he heard “I don’t want to date you”‘ and thinks, ” but maybe she pretends not to like me touching her because she’s said that she doesn’t want to date me. Silly women, and their need to be modest. Actually, I don’t mind that she said she won’t date me as much as she thinks, and anyway, I’ll take what I can get.” Or something like that. Which changes nothing. Whatever reality he inhabits, he is still out of line.

    3. Yup, this is a Thing that happens. I had my own version of Deluded Dude with a Sexist Bablefish. I literally had to scream “I don’t like you! I will never like you!” before he would leave me alone–and he still told people we’d “broken up.” Dude, you have to be dating someone to break up.
      Luckily my DD never got anywhere near as creepy as the LW’s.

    4. THIS IS A THING. Yes. It’s so creepy. It happened to me! I told NewDudeBuddy that I was happy to be his friend, but not to date him. He then proceeded to act like we were dating every time we hung out and always insisted on paying, trying to rub my back (I always pulled away and said no, that’s not what friends do) etc. When he ignored all of my soft nos for the next month, I told him he was making me uncomfortable, that I wasn’t interested, and I went No Contact. I later found out that he told everyone we dated for the month we hung out as “friends.” I think he genuinely believes we dated.

      1. …Huh…

        There was a dude like this in college. We talked after English class a few times, and on the phone once or twice over a couple of weeks, always about the lit class we had together. Then he kissed me and said, “I love you.” He called repeatedly after I said, “Nope, I don’t feel that way about you and I’m creeped out by how fast you got from A to Z,” and I had to say, “Don’t call me anymore.” I might have said please, even. He eventually stopped, after a parent who’d been helping me to screen thought he was someone else and I flipped out a little when I heard his voice.

        I’d always felt “stalker” was slightly too serious a descriptor–he never followed me around, as far as I know, or showed up at my house. I never felt like I was in danger…just annoyed. But now I wonder if he thought we were dating, even though there’d never been an actual date, just a couple of conversations.


    5. …I thought my sister was the only person who ever ended up in Delusional Boy World, but I see from this and the comments below that the Delusional Boy may be unfortunately common.

      I found it pretty scary and upsetting, and it wasn’t even happening TO ME.

  25. The only reason LW needs to say it straight out is so she can document the date and time when she did that. The kinds of touches she describes are inappropriate at work and the Creeper knows that, because he isn’t spreading his touchness around the rest of the office. She doesn’t draw the line in the sand out loud because poor poor pitiful him might not understand how to treat women at work and she owes it to him to educate him; she does it so that on her list of documented incidenrs is “Made clear statement that I never want to be touched by Creeper, Date, Time, Witnesses.”

    What he is doing is never okay at work, and if you think it is, then you are wrong. Do some managers prefer to let it hapoen? Sure. But in the absence of this guy doing it to other people, which he is not, we are not dealing with someone who doesn’t know the rules. We are dealing with someone who doesn’t choose to follow them.

  26. Oh, yeah, I know this type of guy. Mine is a housemate of my best friend. Best possible tactic, tell all of your friends who also know him that his behavior bothers you, you’ve told him to stop, and now you will not deal with him. At all. Ever. Tell him this as well, in as many words. Be blunt, be “rude” (that’s what he’ll call it). Real friends will have your back and help you not deal with him, ever.

    You are not being mean, you are not being rude. He is being a creeper asshole. He is not doing it by accident. He is with knowledge and forethought doing things he knows bother you with the plan to go “I was just being/nice/helpful/polite and she’s being mean to me!” ~sobby face~ if you call him on it. So make it clear you know the bullshit he’s trying to pull, and don’t give a fuck.

    Lots of times everyone is aware that guys like this are being creepy little worms, but no one is willing to call them on it for fear of being “rude” (the broken step, staircase, or something). Truth is not rude. It’s truth. And if someone can’t take hearing the truth, it’s usually because they’re a bold-faced liar.

  27. I feel like in some workplaces, this has the potential to degenerate into a he-said-she-said situation. Regardless of the fact that what she said will have been “GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME AND KEEP THEM OFF ME” in some degree of emphasis or other. Unfortunately.

    Sometimes, not necessarily always but sometimes, those situations can be primed a little, to throw context onto however he tries to spin it after the fact. First impressions matter, so if you can get the first word in before he’s aware there’s a problem and the problem is him, he’s going to have to do twice the work to convince the workplace that the problem is you.

    Scenario 1:

    StopTouching: “Stop touching me!”
    CreepyToucher: “Wow, you’re being really mean and my feelings are hurt!”

    CreepyToucher: “She was really mean and hurt my feelings!”
    CluelessBystander: “Wow, I wonder what’s wrong with her, [vague expression of support]”

    Scenario 2:

    StopTouching: “CreepyToucher has been touching me a lot lately and it makes me uncomfortable. When he gets in today I’m going to tell him to stop.”
    Bystander: “[vague expression of concern]”

    StopTouching: “Stop touching me!”
    CreepyToucher: “Wow, you’re being really mean and my feelings are hurt!”

    CreepyToucher: “She was really mean and hurt my feelings!”
    Bystander: “What happened?”
    CreepyToucher: “She said to stop touching her! [some excuse for why he’s entitled to touch people]”
    Bystander: “Yeah you should stop touching her.”

    Obviously it wouldn’t always work out that way but the more people who are aware that you’re not cool with him touching you, the fewer sympathetic ears he’s going to find.

    1. Yes yes yes to this. This answers the LW’s question of how to do it without making things weirder at work for HER. Well said!

  28. To everyone currently banging the “what if he doesn’t understaaaaaaaand” drum:

    Oh, he understands alright.

    1. He understands that LW doesn’t want to date him. She Used Her Words nice and clear there, just like y’all wanted.

    2. He understands that suggestive touching, declarations of love, and forced gift-giving are not appropriate actions in the workplace. He is an adult man considered mature and responsible enough to be employed by a company. He KNOWS how you are supposed to act with co-workers.

    3. He ALSO understands at least basic negative body language, because he hasn’t been this touch-feely with anyone else. He is apparently able to read THEIR soft no’s just fine.

    4. Most tellingly, he understands that LW has set a boundary on him paying for her meals/movie tickets/etc and he has deliberately CHOSEN to ignore that boundary in the past. That is a big big Red Flag.

    Saying (and documenting) a clear verbal “No” is a good idea purely for the LW’s defense. Whether she chooses to accompany that “No” with a visible flinch/loud yelp/shouting of profanity is purely a matter of style.

    But in no way is Creeper McCreeperston some clueless delicate flower. He is acting inappropriately, and he KNOWS he’s acting inappropriately. He’s just counting on staying Not Quite Inapproprite Enough to keep from being called on it.

    Why it should be LW’s job to wear kid gloves when dragging the Inappropriate out into the open I do not understand.

    1. I swear, we need to start playing Creeper Bingo, because every time these kind of letters come in there is a bevy of dudes piling in to tell us once again how important it is that they be allowed to wilfully misunderstand women’s behaviour.

      So far in this thread we have had You Didn’t Say No Clearly Enough, Maybe He’s Just Socially Awkward, and quite a number of general Let Me Tell You What You Should Have Dones. In fairness, we have at least not had any Why Won’t You Give Him A Chaaaance,

      Let me be clear: men who are defending this behaviour, YOU SOUND LIKE A RAPIST. WELL DONE, ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

      1. I”m a woman. Fuck off with your assumptions. I am very much opposed to rape culture. He may be entirely so very twisted he doesnt get it. A few men have pointed out the kind of thinking that goes into it. They’re right. IT may very well just be with her – does that mean he’s normal? No. Does that mean he will understand HER soft no’s? No. The point is to be able to make the behaviour STOP. No kid gloves. No polite. No subtle. He’s not delicate and clueless, in any way that matters…..but LW cannot carry on being subtle, because he’s clueless in ways that DO matter in this specific case: he doesn’t get it. He’s not acting like a functioning adult. He won’t. Something other than expecting respect MUST happen in this specific case or it will escalate. He doesn’t need a chance. He will never get subtle, and I’m doubting that flinching alone will do anything either.

        1. He is acting like a functioning adult who thinks that he can get away with boundary-violating behaviour. The idea that this guy must be fundamentally broken in order to be behaving this way is inaccurate, damaging to people who do have behavioural difficulties, and places far too high a burden on his victims to fix it.

          He understands perfectly, which is why he doesn’t do it to everyone. I don’t know why you are struggling to grasp this.

          1. During my masters work, one of the classes in my department ended up being cross-listed with another department, and an MA student from that department joined us. He took a shine to one of my friends, and immediately began creeptastic behaviour, including standing too close, touching her, and sort of gazing at her cowlike and breathing on her, which was just WEIRD. She moved away, smacked his hand off, said “Please don’t touch me”. He escalated by following her, attempting to corner her in our office during the one brief stretch of her listed office hours when her officemates were teaching or in class (she began holding office hours in a public area of campus with her back to a wall), and calling the phone number he thought was hers repeatedly including late at night.

            His responses, 100% of the time, to “don’t touch me” were “I can’t help it, I have [diagnosis].” The one time he said it around me, I said, LOUDLY, “I haven’t noticed you touching anyone else in the class, so clearly you CAN help it, and you SHOULD.”

            I have never encountered a person engaging in boundary violations of this precise sort who *couldn’t* stop, only those who didn’t want to.

          2. Out of nesting so replying to noveldevice.

            I hate this, using an ” I have X so can’t help it” by Mr Creeper. The X of MrCreeper is his problem, not yours, so he has to learn to deal with the consequences. It makes me rage so badly excuses are made for this sort of behaviour. MrCreeper is not a toddler, he has impulse control!

            I lived with a guy who had Aspergers and really struggled with social cues. But he was genuine and didn’t want to make any of us uncomfortable so he a) told us he had Aspergers and this made it difficult for him to pick up some cues, so b) can we please be explicit if he made us uncomfortable and c) is there anything right now that we would prefer him not to do? This was all in the first 10 minutes we met him. Not hard. Hugging for example, I’m not particularly huggy so I said to him that I don’t want him to hug me. He didn’t. When he found me crying in the kitchen once, he asked me if he could touch my arm as he knew I didn’t like hugs but he wanted to help me feel better. I said no thankyou, and that was FINE.

            MrCreeper here knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s not a toddler who hasn’t yet learned impulse control, or that other people have thoughts and feelings too. He has decided that his wants override the LWs bodily autonomy.

            Also in reply to body language stuff above, it’s quite effective – even if its in a “oh I didn’t expect a woman to square up to me sort of way”. I have no verbal response to stuff that makes me jump (years of riding waaay spooky horses) so I tend to flinch then death glare, which seems fairly effective. Puzzlement works too – like “why did you think that was okay you strange person”. Also, from dealing with horses again, I find if you make yourself look big and strong – even a little thing like hands on hips – it can make you feel more assertive which is helpful.

            LW if you’re feeling overwhelmed with suggestions, just do what works for you 🙂 (I do find it pretty empowering to be infamous for my Anti-Creep Glare tm though)

        2. What on earth were you reading? The question is “how do I tell him to stop … I care about what my co-workers will think and how it will affect my ability to work here.” The answer “flinching and make it really obvious you don’t like it”, “keep moving out of his reach”, “say don’t touch me, I don’t like it”, “say don’t touch me again”, “don’t get into a discussion, just keep repeating don’t touch me.” I think Jennifer used the words “don’t touch me” about five times. Did you not read past the first paragraph or something?

          How much you care about rape culture is pretty irrelevant when you’re substituting what’s actually being said for some beef of your own.


        Like really???? In what world if someone turns you down for a date that you would think they would want you to touch them? Consent is not an arcade prize where if you don’t have enough tickets for one thing, you get another. That kind of entitlement needs to die in a fire.

        LW – You’ve gotten good advice from Cap and many others on this thread, so I won’t re-iterate. But please know that we are holding gigantic placards forming a gigantic NO behind you in support!

    2. As someone who’s not great with social cues herself, and who’s incredibly socially awkward, I find the excuses these assholes make to be very belittling and erasing. Like, I’ve been targeted the way the LW has been targeted. It’s extremely stressful for me. I didn’t say no, or I didn’t say no harshly enough, or I was too nice about saying no, or he was awkward so he can’t be blamed (but I’m awkward and it’s the most unforgivable thing ever because women are not allowed to be non-NT).

      Fuck every single person who engages in this erasing, misogynist bullshit. The people who cry crocodile tears over this have made my life–someone with NLD–that much harder.

  29. I agree – just be as blunt as possible and let it be awkward as hell. There is no point in sparing this creep’s feelings.
    First rule of Kindergarten is “Keep you hands to yourself”. Not being able willing to behave better than a 5-year-old is the hallmark of a Creep.

    I once had a school counselor I really didn’t like, and one time she put her hand on my knee (I guess she meant it to be a comforting gesture or something) but I just stared at her hand and said as flatly as possible, “Please take your hand off me”. She took her hand off me and that was that, because that was a professional boundary she shouldn’t have been crossing even in a totally non-sexual, non-threatening way. Don’t touch people at work.

    See also: “I don’t like to be touched”. “I said stop touching me.” “Please take your hand off my shoulder, I don’t like to be touched”.
    I think blunt verbal statements might be more effective than physical cues with this “oblivious” dude – although do recoil as overtly as possible, too. It’s hard to ignore a direct command, and it will draw attention to his unreasonable behaviour if you have to keep repeating yourself.

    I agree that it would be a very good idea to alert HR or a supervisor about Mr Touchy’s behaviour around you. Phrase it as “He keeps touching me, I don’t like it because it makes me uncomfortable, and I find it distracting from work. He keeps disregarding me when I ask him to stop.” Focus on his behaviour, and not your feelings about him, because the take-away message is that he’s doing something inappropriate at work. Any talk of feelings or him as a person is (unfortunately) likely to have you pegged as a malcontent, because, as the Captain mentioned above, and some lamentable comments have demonstrated – general audiences may be inclined to take the creep’s side and frame you as the unreasonable, inconsistent, rude person who hurt poor Creep’s feelings.
    Obviously, you are being totally reasonable and Mr Touchy is the one in the wrong, but you will have to take this bias into account by being as clear about his behaviour as possible, and never second-guessing yourself or making excuses for your past behaviour around him.

    You should also stop eating with Mr Touchy, and pull back your face-to-face time, since you actually seem to dislike his presence. Life is too short to hang out with people you hate. This might not be easy if you work together a lot, but keeping everything as clipped and business-like as possible and maintaining some physical distance between you wherever you can (keep a desk between you, try not to let him loom over you or back you into a corner) might help him get used to the idea of you not being a person he can touch.

    Be as consistent and emotionless as possible, and don’t let him try to wheedle his way into being “allowed” to touch you again, or guilt-trip you about how you hurt his poor feelings – because his argument is automatically invalid. No Touchy!

    Be the Ice Queen! Good luck!

  30. So many excellent suggestions. My bias is to NOT insert the word “please” anywhere into your demand that he stop. It will be interpreted by him as weakness on your part, as someone too invested in staying in the “women have to be nice” zone.

    1. It really depends on context. If LW anticipates a protracted boundary dispute and the scene has witnesses, she may prefer to stick as close to that arbitrary “nice” “polite” line as possible, to preserve the image of herself as the calm, rational one.

      That said, I have found success with the shrieking harpy maneuver– when a young philosophy major dude (ugh) in college attempted to lay his hand on my arm when I had become, I suppose, too heated for his comfort in our disagreement on queer rights (this was in a social setting and it was our first meeting), I threw off his hand and screamed “DON’T TOUCH ME.” He looked at me as though he had seen the face of hysteria and lo! it was mine, but he didn’t try to touch me again, and he allowed me to disengage in the conversation shortly afterward.

    2. I agree. I think “please” softens the message a bit, and makes it more into a favor he’d be doing her rather than a requirement. At least he can mentally spin it that way. I’d still think of it as a hard no in this context, but I can picture someone who’s determined to creep pushing a please into the category of soft no, which can be more or less disregarded.

      1. This was the comment I was about to make!

        When I was a kid, both my parents would often say “please” to me and my sibs, but only if they were asking us to do something optional and it was OK if we said “No, I’m too busy” or “Don’t wanna” or whatever. “Stop hitting your brother” or “That isn’t yours, give it back now”” never involved please, because they were not requests.

        Obviously “please don’t touch me” isn’t something a reasonable person would ever treat it as a request – it still clearly communicates a boundary, so I endorse whatever level of polite feels most comfortable for the boundary-setter. But I myself stick to “Don’t touch me” – probably because I myself am conditioned enough to hear “please” as a request that it would be an opening for Creepy MacJerkface to make me second-guess whether I had reeeeeally communicated well enough. Whereas “Don’t touch me” carries, in my own head, the addendum of “I don’t care whether you please or not, just do it or There Will Be Consequences.”

        For the first declaration of Not Tolerating This Shit with someone on the coworker level of Do I Give a Damn About Being Polite With This Person, I have a couple of times said, “Excuse me, I’m not actually comfortable being touched like that.” The “excuse me” is a nice, feminine, polite-sounding phrase that doesn’t carry the same kind of baggage that “please” does for me, while the rest of the statement can’t be debated without being obviously gaslighty or insulting. (So far in my life, coworker dudes have been good dudes who apologized too profusely, but then accepted “we’re cool, just don’t do it again now that you know” and not done it again.) But if someday a Creepy MacJerkface decides he doesn’t care about my comfort, it segways nicely into “Hey! Don’t touch me! What the heck, we talked about this and it’s not cool.”

      2. I also often fall into the trap of thinking that a sentence containing the word “please” sounds more like a request that can be denied than a statement that can’t be ignored, but then I remember the glorious Carolyn Knapp-Shappey of Cabin Pressure. Although she’s the CEO of the company, she also frequently works as the steward of the company’s airplane, which is very much a customer service kind of deal. And yet she still manages to make absolutely, 100% clear that Extinguishing That Cigarette Is Not A Suggestion, while using the word please. Also, Cabin Pressure is a radio program, so the actor (Stephanie Cole) manages to convey that sentiment of “NOPE” without even the benfit of a facial expression to go with it. So, just saying, it’s very doable.

        (I’m not saying that a creep couldn’t still try to spin it, but I do think that saying please and thank you are more for the sake of the person enforcing the boundary – if it helps them do it, then they should use it. If not, dump it. Either way, if the creep persist the way forward is the same – keep saying no, log it, and notify someone higher up.)

        1. A ++ on Carolyn Knapp-Shappey’s unambiguous no. There are worse role models for enforcing your boundaries against a variety of people attempting to encroach on them.

        2. Diana Trent and Carolyn Knapp-Shappey are my role models for “How to Badass Over 50”. (I would add Helen Mirren’s Victoria Winters, but I’ve left it a bit late to become a sharpshooter.)

  31. Uggghh, boundary-pushers.

    Years ago I went on a few platonic dates with a guy I ultimately decided I wasn’t interested in. Despite my telling him about my lack of interest explicitly, he remained physically flirtatious. Moving away from him and not responding positively when he was physically flirtatious didn’t stop him from trying it again later. I suppose it’s possible that he didn’t understand the extent to which this made me uncomfortable, but I think he simply wasn’t taking it into consideration. In his mind, if I finally responded to his advances, he’d get what he wanted, and if I didn’t, he hadn’t lost anything.

    After the last time he tried it, I didn’t call him for a week. When he called me, I told him he was making me uncomfortable. I don’t remember what he said to that, but it didn’t seem to make any impression. Then I told him that if it happened again, I wasn’t sure if I could keep being his friend.

    He never did it again.

    I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I do. In the case of Stop Touching Me, I just don’t see a whole lot of doubt.

  32. LW, there’s already good advice on tactics you can use to get this creep to stop. I second that this situation is *not* your fault and that you have been *plenty* clear. He’s chosing to ignore your boundaries. Fault’s on him.
    Unfortunately, as you can see by the bullshit in some of these comments, people often have trouble grasping this. Some of that people may be your coworkers.
    So, I think it can help to do as azurelunatic says and prep the scene before you finally give him the verbal/non-verbal/both burn he deserves. That can go a long way.
    Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Be prepared to be designed official bitch of the kingdom. Personally, I find it’s worth it, but not everyone does.
    Fair people, nice people, good people, will hear you out before forming an opinion. We’re not always fair, nice and good people, especially so when we’re trying to keep the peace. We’d rather be confortable than be fair.
    So take that into account and, if you can, spin it in your favor by “recruiting” your coworkers. For example, you could complain (let your distress show, it makes people feel protective of you) to them about how this behaviour creeps you out and you need to put a stop on it, you just don’t know how (even if this is a lie). Even if your coworkers blame you for “not being clear enough before”, they’ll be closer to you because you asked for their help.

    (Warning: I’m aware this is liable to rub many commenters the wrong way because it plays into sexist, harmful gender roles, so apologies in advance. I’m sharing it because it works for me)
    If you can work the “defenseless victim” narrative to your advantage, and are confortable doing so, use it. Looking down on the ground, shuffling your feet, saying in a small voice how you feel and oh, how you wish it would all stop… It’s all part of a toxic gender role BUT people are trained to react to it… by defending you.

    I mean, don’t wait for them to defend you if you can solve the situation on your terms and with your words, but you can take advantage of the “women need to be protected” culture if you’re afraid of the opinions your co-workers can form about you.
    The thing is, you’re going to be type-cast one way or the other. The main choices usually are “humorless bitch” or “defenseless victim”. “Defenseless victim” tends to go down better with the group because it follows the sexist social norm. “Humorless bitch” is harder on you because it goes against the socially accepted narrative for women, so, social pressure your way.

    I’m only recommending this because I read you were worried about your co-worker’s opinion. Both roles I mentioned are harmful because they typecast you as something other than your own person. That said, consider which is preferable for you to wear in your office. Both roles can be empowering (yes, “defenseless victim” can be empowering too, in a subtle, I’m-manipulating-social-norms-to-my-advantage way), so choose the best fit for you.

    Also: you don’t owe it to sexist society being sincere on your “denfeselessliness”. You’re not defenseless. But if it works in your favour for them to think that you are… Don’t feel bad for that. Using this narrative can feel manipulative to some, but if it works for you, by all means, use it. This guy already broke the deal.

    1. FWIW, faced with this choice in the past I’ve generally gone with Humourless Bitch. It might mean your coworkers feel less fuzzy towards you, but they are more likely to treat you professionally and with respect. At work you want a reputation as competent, and Defenseless Victim doesn’t get you there, but Humourless Bitch really does.

      And I guarantee there will be at least one other person who sees your firm boundary setting as highly admirable, even if they’re too shy to say so.

      1. Those are good points.
        If LW doesn’t work in a place where women stepping out of the fixed gender roles are severely punished by the group, I agree that Humorless Bitch usually gets more respect. Not all workplaces are like that, though :^/

  33. The guy that the OP is describing is pretty creepy.

    But I’m getting just as creeped out by some of the comments in this thread that seem to be defending him — specifically, arguing that she doesn’t have a right to make a scene when he does this because she hasn’t followed their idea of The Correct Protocol For Officially Saying No(tm).

    I’m a 61 year old man, so I’ve never actually been targeted by this sort of behavior, and yet I would feel pretty uncomfortable (=unsafe) if I heard my co-workers making these kinds of arguments, because I would worry that they think that boundary violations are okay. That doing creepy stuff to a woman isn’t doing creepy stuff unless and until she says “no” in just the right way. That it’s okay unless and until some “Dude Court” rules that he’s got to stop.

    To me, this is a form of rape culture. And, whether they want to see it or not, these commenters are participating in it.

    (BTW, this not to say that it woudn’t be a good idea, for HR reporting purposes, to explicitly say “don’t ever touch me” for the record and then document that you said it. But his behavior is indefensible even if she has never said it.)

      1. Mine too. This idea that there’s only one right “no” and that consent has to be withdrawn from an automatic yes, rather than something that must be explicitly given is insidious.

  34. Who invited the Victim Blamers League? Kee-rist.

    LW, what you need to learn to accept is that no, actually, this guy knows exactly what he’s doing. You’ve told him flat out you don’t want to date him, and he decided to go ahead and date you anyway. His plan, his conscious plan, is to gas-light you out of your rejection until you give in and go out with him.

    I know this guy. I know several variations of this guy. The worst one was actually autistic; I trusted him because of that, because he was One Of Us, but it became clearer and clearer that he wasn’t “Socially awkward,” or “Not understanding body-language,” he was deliberately manipulating and gas-lighting me.

    After numerous attempts to get him to understand how uncomfortable he was making me, I gave up and pulled a quick-fade (stopped all contact); just when I thought it was over, he showed up at my house and my Dad let him in because he didn’t know any better. I explained, in painful detail, why I had broken off contact, how the way he was treating me was frightening me and making me feel sick, why I didn’t want to see him anymore. I ended up spending way too much time explaining my lack of a clear verbal no – even though I had clearly, verbally said no, many times, and been railroaded each time. He made it all about him and how guilty he felt for hurting me. He said he would understand if he never wanted to see me again; when I tried to take him up on it, he straight-up admitted he was only saying that because he didn’t think I’d say yes. He bullied me into continuing the “friendship,” on the condition that we would take it slow and stick to email for a while; two weeks later we were at the movies and he was calling me mean for refusing to hold hands with him.

    The second quick-fade stuck. If he had shown up at my house again I would have threatened to call the police.

    Your situation is slightly different because a) you mostly or only see him around other people, and you have what they think to worry about and b) he is in a co-worker, which is always trouble, and means you are going to have to keep seeing him. Still, the basics are the same: sit him down, be completely honest about how he is making you feel and why his behaviour is unacceptable, leaving no wiggle room for him to pretend he doesn’t know. If he’s a good guy (spoiler: he isn’t), he’ll stop. When he doesn’t, give yourself permission to be mean. Bite his head off when he touches you. Flat-out ignore him when he talks to you. Be open with your mutual friends/co-workers about what’s happening, before and after. Make sure the sympathy is on your side. If you don’t, he will; his story will be the dominant one. Don’t let that happen. I know, this feels divisive. Like you’re attacking him, making him out to be the bad guy. You’re not. He’s doing it to himself. As the Captain says: it’s already awkward if it’s awkward for you.

    Explaining to your boss is far more difficult, and I would avoid it if I were in your position. Hopefully you can settle into frosty professional dislike when you have a shift together. Make sure that’s what it is on your end; no chit-chat, but polite and getting the job done. If you can say that, or preferably prove that, then if he makes life difficult for you at work then you can go to your boss and say that he isn’t being professional and he is making your workplace threatening and you can’t work the same shifts.

    1. Oh, I don’t know – LW seemed super clear that she’s already accepted that this dude is a creepy creeper. She was just asking for advice on the best method to make the creeping stop, since the way in which she goes about it may wind up having an effect on her workplace (stupid rape culture).

      1. Yeah, fair. I did focus a little too much on establishing that in her own mind, when it’s more that she needs to make her co-workers understand it.

  35. I really don’t get some of the responses here. She’s already told him directly, several times, to stop paying for her meals and he hasn’t stopped. It seems clear a least part of the reason the LW came with a question to the Captain is that she wants advice on how to make her response of “Stop touching me!” actually work with this creep, as why would she expect saying it clearly would work? He’s probably just say he was raised that way or some other nonsense. Anyway, I think blocking any touch you see coming or a yelp or “Hey!” to any you didn’t is 100% appropriate and might actually work as it will draw attention to the situation which may get the creeper to stop once his plausible deniability is 100% gone and yes absolutely I would follow up with “Don’t touch me.” or “Stop touching me/Stop trying to touch me.” or whatever exact wording works for the LW. And I’d try to avoid being alone with him, but I know depending on your work that may not always be possible, but if you can do it. I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this situation, you shouldn’t have to, what a creep! If he still won’t stop after you’ve made it clear, take your documentation (please document anything further) to HR/your boss/etc. as appropriate at your workplace. If you know that won’t help or might hurt you, can you get one or a few of your coworkers on your side? Good luck and hopefully it will just take one strong reaction to get him to realize he has no more plausible deniability.

  36. This guy is SO goddamn creepy. The Captain’s advice here is great.
    My personal story involving this: one of my relatives was extremely touchy-feely. I am also very touchy-feely, but in a more ‘only with very specific people at very specific times plus actual consent’. This relative, who let’s call Asshole Cousin, was in denial about how someone tensing up, moving away, and smacking your hands means ‘no’ (which, yes, it does, regardless of how related or whatever you are). One day, he came up behind me to hug me tightly. I SCREAMED, as loudly as I could, that kind of ultra-high-pitched terrifying horror-movie scream, and our parents came running along with everyone else.
    Asshole Cousin’s older brother stared at him and said “What the hell is wrong with you?” and everyone essentially shamed him for being such a gross creepy asshole. And from then on, Asshole Cousin stopped touching people without consent.


    I am autistic. I am also read as a woman pretty much all the time. I have NEVER been socially allowed to touch people without their consent, NOBODY has made excuses for me along the lines of ‘well maybe because you can’t read body language you are allowed to be weird and creepy and gross’. I got explicitly taught by my female relatives that you never assume it’s okay to touch someone, you ASK, because what-if-I-can’t-read-the-body-language. I also got taught that assuming ‘no’ before you were explicitly told otherwise was the safest possible thing to do for both parties.

    I can assure you, the excuse of ‘well I’m awkward/bad at social cues therefore I’m not a creepy sexist asshole’ is a guy thing, not an actual ‘bad at social cues’ thing. I’m bad at body language in real time, and I don’t do this shit to people. It’s not an issue of ‘well maybe he doesn’t read subtle cues’, it’s an issue of ‘he’s a sexist, creepy asshole who feels entitled to touch and act inappropriately towards female coworkers’.

    1. THANK YOU.

      I’m not autistic. I have NLD. But this erasing bullshit has made my life that much fucking harder. And yeah, I was never given a pass the way dudes are, but when I’ve been targeted, I was supposed to say no in the right way. Problem is, everyone has an opinion on the right way to say no (you’re too blunt! you’re mean! you’re not clear enough!) and people love to erase that there are women–and female presenting people–who also have these issues who don’t get a pass AND who are targeted and harassed.

      1. Thank you both. It is so unfair when people erase you like this.

        Thanks also for stripping away the cover given to creepers, by telling your stories.

        1. Almost every autistic woman and other autistic person who’s often read as female has, in my experience, had some sort of creeper who passed off his sexual harassment and/or assault as him ‘not knowing any better’.

          Seriously. It’s one of the big reasons I don’t want to go anywhere where it’s mostly or even half male, even autistic spaces, because it’s such a huge thing.

          1. Right. Men who are on the autism spectrum are not incapable of learning social mores or the word “no”. Just like neurotypical guys, they can be good people, or they can be assholes.

            Guys who are NOT jerks are horrified to think that they might have groped a woman. They tend very hard to err on the side of NOT touching, lest they screw up and touch inappropriately.

        2. There are so many people out there who like to pretend that they are bad at picking up social cues because they find that it helps excuse their bad behavior in the eyes of others. They can then push way past someone’s boundaries, and have acquaintances make excuses when their victim goes to other people for support: “He’s just bad at picking up social cues!”. Funny how the fact that the bad behavior is usually only directed toward one (or a small subset) person they know never seems to make people realize their claim about lacking social graces is total b.s.

          People who actually do struggle with reading social cues behave much, much differently. It’s despicable that some people use this to cover up their own bad behavior. And how many people fall for it.

  37. On the subject of “maybe he just doesn’t understand how social things work,” after one reprimand, he should very well have learned. People who are awkward and want to learn but are just at the moment ignorant of something will take those lessons to heart. “Stop touching me” is not something one has to repeat with them.

    People who are masquerading as awkward folks so that others cover for them never learn.

  38. What I’m getting from some of the creeper apologists here:

    The default is always consent. This means I can take money out of people’s wallets, kick random people in the shins, lick their faces, and do sun salutations on their desks because they haven’t explicity said I couldn’t.

    Well, alrighty! This is going to be a FUN day at work!

    1. I will join you! Now all we need is someone with 1337 haxxor skillz to find the workplaces of all those creeper apologists. Dibs on their lunches!

  39. I am a generally touchy-feelie person. I sometimes hug co-workers, if that’s the kind of relationship we have. I tussle with lovers. I kiss friends’ cheeks. I do not like being touched by certain people. I don’t like being labelled as someone who is a) mean or b) someone who doesn’t like to be touched when I make these highly undemocratic decisions based purely on my own personal comfort. I make and break my own rules for my own reasons. All those folks who I touch? I do it because we have consent, we feel comfortable with that relationship, and because I feel like it.


    I like touch in my life. I like special relationships with certain people. I DO NOT like the implication that I have to be “someone who doesn’t like to be touched” to get someone to ask first or accept that I don’t want that kind of relationship with them. I know it makes it socially easier to say “I don’t like to be touched” but I want people to respect that “no, I just don’t want YOU to touch me. Because you don’t ask or we don’t have that kind of relationship.” Even if it’s a little harder to swallow.

    1. I was at an animal behavior seminar recently, and one of the presentations used a picture of that incident to illustrate non-verbal communication. I couldn’t stop giggling.

  40. A coworker had a boss (who wasn’t my direct superior, but close enough) who liked to pinch the cheeks of his female subordinates. One day, post-pinch, my coworker was wondering how to get him to stop, since she didn’t feel like she could tell a Senior VP to fuck off. Some weeks later in our office, he moved in to pinch me. Reflexes took over, and I backhanded his pinching arm away from my face and said “DON’T EVER DO THAT!” He literally leapt away from me in shock, apologizing profusely. There were several other people in the room, so his embarrassment was at least approaching that of all the women whose faces he’d pinched.

    I remember getting a bunch of nervous “I can’t believe you did that! He’s an SVP!” afterwards, but here’s the point: No cheek was pinched after that. I take all the credit for that, whether or not any was given. 🙂

    1. FACE TOUCHING? Oh hell no. There is a standing ovation in my head for Past You for doing that! BRAVO.

    2. We need more people willing to call you a social hero for stuff like that. *vigorous applause* You give yourself a big crown for that and strut a little. You are an office savior.

    3. Your office must love you now!
      Seriously though, that was an awesome thing to do.

    4. That’s fantastic. Not everyone can react so well in the moment, so it’s really wonderful that you did and helped so many people.

      1. Hee! It was reflexes honed growing up in a household of annoying brothers. Thor knows I didn’t think first. But thanks for all the applause; rocking the SVP boat isn’t done nearly often enough, you know?

  41. Something that particularly strikes me about the “but did she say no in the exact right, goldilocks way” argument, is that it is always based on the idea that women are the gatekeepers of consent and must make consent or non-consent explicit.

    None of the people asking if LW said “no” just right are arguing that Mr Creeper has a duty to make consent explicit. Why do they never demand that creepers explicitly ask for consent? If it is so important for consent or non-consent to be explicit, why don’t they put the onus of clear communication on the man who wants to touch?

    1. I know, the answer is sexism, rape culture, assumptions about women and consent and patriarchy. It was just bugging me that they never see this glaring gap in their argument.

  42. There was a guy in our community for a while who was really, really awkward and touched women despite all the similar (both non-verbal and verbal) cues of disinterest or distress. We were all out and The Toucher was there, naturally, because it was a whole group occasion. He came up behind my friend and grabbed her shoulders and she did exactly as The Captain advised. Here was the result:

    Scene 1:

    The Toucher: [sneak attack massages my friend’s shoulders from behind]
    Friend: ACK! [throws his hands off her, faces him] do NOT touch me.
    The Toucher: but I just…
    The Toucher: but…but…various whines
    Friend: goodbye [walks off]

    Scene 2 – a few minutes after Scene 1:

    The Toucher: [approaches me..a bit too closely] I went and touched so-and-so and she said don’t touch her and she got sooooooooo mean and angry and she YELLED AT ME [pouts and makes injured expression]
    Me: well, you better not touch her then. Excuse me. [exit]


    And you can bet the farm that The Toucher never, ever laid hands on my friend again. I admire her, to this very day, and think fondly of her bad ass boundary keeping.

    The Toucher tried to wheedle and look sad about it occasionally, but eventually gave up because we were basically like, “why are you obsessed with touching so-and-so? She doesn’t want to get touched. Leave her alone, man. Stop touching people.” The plausible deniability was ripped to shreds. There were witnesses. There was a loud no. There was awkward. It was awesome. LW, you might worry about seeming like a big meanie, but your colleagues will quickly get it.

    1. Exactly. Due to his “plausible deniability”, work creep has had to feel exactly 0% of the repercussions from his bad behavior. LW has had to privately take on 100% of the results of his behavior. It’s time for that to change. Time for him to start feeling those consequences instead. Publicly. Since telling him personally and point-blank about other bad behavior has resulted in 0 changes, time to release the awkward. Without witnesses, he retains his plausible deniability, and can complain about the jumping and yelping to a third party in whatever terms he wants to gain sympathy. When other people are around to see it, when he goes to complain, instead they say “Dude, what’s wrong with you? Why are you being such a creep? Obviously she doesn’t want you to touch her.”

      It’s actually his problem, not yours, and it’s time that it became truly his problem, and not a problem he’s pushed off onto you to deal with privately.

    2. Last sentence is not guaranteed, unfortunately. It is awesome that you backed up you friend and that your social group did, but (as this thread shows!), sometimes Creepers make sad faces and go, “she totally over-reacted!” and get, “wow, she really did! LW, that was really harsh! Poor Creeper!”

      The LW’s concerns about how her co-workers will react aren’t totally unrealistic. Sometimes people can be really shit.

  43. Since the LW doesn’t care about whether or not she remains ‘friends’ with McCreepy, I vote she simply deep-six any and all interactions with McCreepy (including going out in a group unless said group has been warned and has her back) AND warn management that she is feeling harassed by this individual. If excuses are made by management LW can point out that McCreepy doesn’t creep anyone else, he creeps her exclusively. LW should also tell management that from this point forward she will be documenting McCreepy’s behavior to her at work. Then ask management if there is any other step they think she should take to make the harassment cease.

  44. LW please don’t feel like it’s your job to handle this creep all by yourself. ESPECIALLY since it’s happening around your job. If you find it hard to confront him (I think this is VERY HARD), please don’t hesitate to seek help.

    I worked with a man about 25 years my senior who behaved creepily toward me at work. He would stand at my desk (which was essentially creating a barrier and blocking me into a corner) for about an hour every day. Sometimes he would attempt to make small talk, sometimes he would just stand and stare at my chest in shuffling silence. Picture a man the likes of Dustin Hoffman’s Rainman. He would stand there for approximately an hour each day while I appeared to be fascinated by my work and pretend he wasn’t there. Sometimes I would get up and leave my work area hoping he’d be gone when I got back. He never was. He would always have some comment to make on my clothes or appearance. The last straw was the day he came over, stared at my breasts, gestured under his chest, palms up, moving his hands up and down (a gesture you would use to describe a large bust) and stuttered at me “I like your b-b…b-b…b-” until I finished it “blue sweater?” I’m certain he was thinking of another word that started with “b.”

    I immediately went to my boss and told him this person made me uncomfortable and creeped out and that I felt very unsafe around him. I did not feel confronting this person face to face would be effective. He was a bumbling buffoon. Even my friends assured me he was “harmless” and that he didn’t intend to be predatory. He didn’t undstand social cues. He was just “awwwkwarrrd.” In my eyes, he had complete plausible deniability and would just stutter and act victimized and shocked that I would think he would do such a thing upon confrontation. Even if he was oblivious to my discomfort, IT DIDN’T MATTER. He was still causing me extreme anxiety at a place I was required to be every day.

    This man never physically touched me. I am not a young girl, nor am I small or fragile in appearance. I’m just pointing this out because it would have been very easy for my boss to brush this off. He did not. My creepster got reported to HR and warned to stop inappropriate conversation, loitering and eye contact. My name was left out of the conversation. I was told that he acted completely shocked and appalled someone would think that about him, but he stopped. I’m so glad I asked for help to stop his creepiness.

    Setting boundaries with someone who proves by action that they won’t respect them is HARD. Speaking up to someone who is making you uncomfortable is HARD. These kinds of folk rely on the fact that these things are HARD, especially for nice, traditionally-socialized women. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

  45. looking someone in the eye and telling them “I don’t like it when you do that, stop doing it” is, if not socially unacceptable, at least socially unexpected and outside the norms of social behaviour. We all know, in our hearts, that it hurts when someone points out, using words, that you have been hurting them.

    Which is why, all of us, even creeps, understand and use “soft no”s in day to day life. In order to avoid the shame of having to tell someone with words that they’ve been doing something you don’t like and that they should behave differently and in order to avoid the shame of being told off like a four year old. When dealing with kind, non-creepy people it is hardly ever necessary to say “I don’t like it when you do that, stop doing it” because they notice your lack of enthusiasm like ten chapters before arm-stroking.

    In demanding a hard, verbal, eye-contacty “NO”, creepy dude and creep-sympathisers are demanding that the LW be the one to violate social norms (knowing that that’s a difficult thing to do and most people don’t do it for minor boundary violations (because it’s unnecessary). This lets creeps continue to do what they like with plausible deniability right up until the point they get to feel aggrieved and misunderstood. It’s bullshit.

    (Use ALL the “no”s LW. Hope you can get this shit to stop ASAP because it sounds gross)

  46. How do you handle unwanted touching with family? My mother has always been a huggy, kissy, lick-her-finger-to-wipe-your-face kind of mom, and the rest of my family too. I am NOT like this and I actually recoil if she comes at me, which offends her. But it’s a reflex! If I tell her I do not want to be touched, she throws herself a pity party and guilt trips me about how she’s my mother, she’s not going to hurt me, she loves me, how dare I refuse her touch. For the record I am a 34 year old adult and it has always been this way. Now, I see my mother and other female relatives forcing their SMALL children to accept unwanted touch from creepy uncles (“Sit on his lap! He won’t hurt you!”) I think this is why I have intimacy issues in my adult life because my mother instilled the BAD lesson that “some people don’t count” when the topic of unwanted touch comes up.

    1. I know someone who had great success (for a certain definition of success) by shouting “Whose body is this anyway, damn it?!” when the Kissy Kissy Brigade started in on her again. She got the “Ohhh, but we just…” sad eye, to which she snapped, “If you have to cuddle something that didn’t ask for it, GET A PILLOW.” She got a reputation as the family’s Difficult Person, but she didn’t get tacklekissed anymore.

      Me, I’m the baby of my family. My 5 siblings used to think it great fun to all pile on me and tickle me until I was in pain from the involuntary laughter, well after I had run out of breath begging them to stop.

      They tried it in a restaurant exactly once. After I screamed at the top of my lungs and turned the entire place into a dead silent zone of staring eyeballs, they didn’t tickle me anymore. Never apologized, mind you, or showed any awareness that small children are not chew toys, but at least they never tickled me again.

    2. I have a pretty strong startle reflex generally, and a REALLY extreme flinch reflex if you come at my face. My late husband was super, super, super offended that I flinched when he reached toward my face without asking, because somehow I should just magically get over an involuntary reflex. The sad faces were many and dolorous every time he reached for my face without asking and I recoiled backward. But what are you going to do? If I’m REALLY relaxed it doesn’t happen. Otherwise it does. I’m weirded out by people who act like my idiosyncrasies are a referendum on them as people.

    3. My personal inclination would be to respond to her statement that she’s not going to hurt you with, “But you are hurting me when you touch me.” Because she is. The fact that somebody touching her that way wouldn’t hurt her doesn’t change the fact that somebody touching you that way does hurt you. She is hurting you. And you can state that flat-out. She will almost certainly insist that it doesn’t really hurt, and you can say, “Actually, for me, it does hurt.” You can soften that with a bit of, “I know you love me, and I know you would never want to hurt me, so I need you to understand that this does hurt me.” Because she probably really believes she isn’t hurting you. She is factually wrong. But if you remind her that she is hurting you every time she does it, she should stop if her intentions are actually good (and it sounds like they probably mostly are, although I obviously don’t know your mother).

      As to the kids, there isn’t much you can do about how other people raise their kids, although what you describe makes me very sad. All you can really do is be the relative who sets a good example in their life. You can be the one who always asks permission first, “Would you like a hug?” and then waits for an answer and if they seem reluctant or hesitant say, “It’s totally fine if you don’t want one.” Give them some power and control over how you touch them, because it’s the right thing to do, and maybe having somebody treat them that way will show them it’s possible to interact with people who do treat them that way. It’s not much, but often there isn’t much you can do. And it’s more than nothing.

      1. My mother is a quite complicated and definitely toxic relationship for many reasons, this being just one. I don’t think I learned one single healthy lesson about boundaries from her. It all had to come from elsewhere.

        1. I’m sorry you have to deal with that. That makes it much tougher. Many techniques work well on people who want you to be happy. But someone who is generally toxic may, in some sense, want you to be happy, but generally either doesn’t want it more than they want to do as they prefer or is unwilling to accept your reality, such as that this is hurting you. The response should still help, because it makes it more awkward for a boundary violator to continue, but you’ll probably get a lot of pushback and it’ll likely take a lot longer for the behavior to stop. I recommend a bit of the broken record technique. Don’t engage in fights or discussions about it, just keep repeating, “I don’t like it. It does hurt me.” and similar variants.

          I’m your mother and I love you; you know I wouldn’t hurt you.
          But you touching me like that does hurt.
          Oh, c’mon, that doesn’t really hurt you.
          Yes, it does hurt me. Please stop doing it.
          You’re just making a scene.
          It hurts me; just stop doing it.

          Hopefully that will eventually work… It’s really tough with toxic family when you don’t want to just cut them out of your life. I know that ceasing all contact isn’t right for everyone (but it totally is an option). One of the few things I find that helps make it easier is to just constantly remind yourself that you are doing the right thing. That it sucks that you even have to enforce such a boundary, because loved ones should care about your preferences enough to not push you into uncomfortable touching, but since you do have to, you are doing the right thing. And you’re even doing it in a reasonably kind manner. The problem is that the other person is acting like a toddler who hasn’t yet learned that they aren’t allowed to touch people whenever and however they want to. The attempts to guilt you and make you feel bad are hard to endure, so it can really help to just keep mentally reminding yourself that you aren’t the problem here.

      2. I once watched my adult cousin go in for a hug, notice that the kid was shying away, and straighten up and say, “High five instead?”

        My cousin is awesome.

      3. This conversation about family made me think of my stepfather’s “tickling games” which marked the beginnings of molestation. He would pinchpinchpinch my tiny nipples as if it were a fun thing, and then turn around and do the same thing to my mother. I squealed (and maybe laughed, since this was clearly supposed to be fun) and said “Nooooooo!” At some point, he stopped doing it to my mother, but wouldn’t stop doing it to me. When I asked him why he kept at it even though I said no, he said it was because my mother had said “please.” So, Maude help us all, I had to ask my stepfather to *please* stop pinching my nipples. Of course, that did nothing to stop the tragic years to follow. 😦

  47. Hi LW~
    I am so sorry this person is creeping on you, it sounds absolutely infuriating and just reading about this guy’s gross, patronizing behavior (takes money out of your hand?!? Oh HEEEELLLS no!) makes me feel stabby. The Captain is wise and gives all the good advice, and one thing I would add to it is this: practice good self-care while you are dealing with this douche. Get good sleep, eat well, take bubble baths, exercise, punch a punching bag, whatever you need to relax and re-center yourself. This background radiation of creepy behavior and boundary pushing takes its toll, and stress is terrible for your mental and physical well being. You are strong and powerful, you will NOT tolerate his shit, and you deserve to feel safe and un-creeped upon everywhere, especially at work. You mention at the end of your letter that you tend to be blunt, bordering on mean, and you don’t want to unleash that on this guy, but why not? Clearly, he is ignoring your blatant body language, so he has lost the privilege of the polite brush off. Be blunt. Be a little rude. Chances are, your co-workers probably won’t think you are an awful person for asserting your bodily autonomy, and if they do? Well, that sucks, but you can’t help their reaction to your boundary setting. All you can do is protect yourself.

    When you do decide to take this guy to the metaphorical woodshed, may I suggest practicing your posture in the mirror beforehand? Push your shoulders back, keeping your spine straight, your chin up, and give your best Ice Queen stare. Radiate “fuck off.” Don’t be afraid to look disgusted, grossed out, even, when he attempts to touch you.

    *Creepy Creeper tries to touch you*

    You: *best death glare as you jump back and/or shove his hand off* “Don’t touch me! Why would you think that is okay?”

    *Blubbering excuses for why he thinks it’s okay to touch you without consent*

    You, glaring at him with the heat of a thousand suns: “You do NOT have permission to touch me. Ever. That is totally inappropriate. I need to get back to work, and you need to back off. Now.”

    When he says “I Love You” after something you say, look at him and say flatly, “Stop saying that. It is totally inappropriate.” Look him straight in the eye when you call him out, so he knows you are NOT KIDDING. Next time you wind up in a restaurant with this guy and he starts trying to take your money or pay for you, glare at him and repeat, “I already told you NO. You don’t pay for me. Why is this so hard for you to understand?” Then get up and give the server your cash. Be firm, be blunt, and don’t be afraid to be a little mean. It’s okay. He will survive, and more importantly, you will thrive.

    As the Captain covered, no doubt he will play the martyred creeper card, and act like you are being MEEAAAN and why can’t he just continue creeping? But you are a broken record, and whenever he tries to argue with you, just repeat your previous statement. “I need to get back to work, and you need to back off. NOW.” Document your boundary setting, document his reaction (date, time, witnesses), and if he doesn’t stop, or escalates? Go to your management with your documentation, and ask your supervisor to deal with him. Ignore anyone who asks you why can’t you just be niiiice to him since he is awkward and just doesn’t understaaaand. Those people are not safe. They will prioritize the status quo over your comfort and safety, and they are not going to be on your side, no matter how hard you try to avoid hurting Creeper’s feelings. You got this, LW. Be strong, be proud, and be safe.

  48. I’ve had a lot of luck with the Strategic Blowup. You may not be able or willing to do it but good lord will it stop the assholes IMMEDIATELY.

    Here’s how it works: to start, tell him to stop touching you. Do it when you’re surrounded by coworkers so they know you said it. Now he has no plausible deniability. You told him, and other people know you told him, and he can’t fall back on “But how could I have knooooown???”

    Then, start correcting him. Other commentors and the Captain have given you good scripts for this. “I told you to stop doing that.” “You know I don’t like being touched.” “Seriously, stop.” Do this a few time, where other coworkers can see you. The more people see this happening, the better.

    Finally, the Blowup. If he hasn’t gotten the message (he won’t), wait until you’re surrounded by people. When he touches you, swing to look at him, get all up in his personal space. Have you ever seen a Drill Sergeant or other military instructor establish dominance over a new group? You want to act like that. (I suggest watching “Making the Cut”–the one about military special operations training, not about hair cutting) Then start screaming. “FOR THE LAST FUCKING TIME, I TOLD YOU TO STOP TOUCHING ME! WHAT IS SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THAT?!” Don’t back off, don’t step back, and look as furious as it’s possible for a human to look. You MUST make him back down, but trust me, he will and quickly. At which point he will slink away in shame.

    The reason this works is men, especially creepy men who expect capitulation from women, are completely unprepared for someone to go from 0 to 11 in a half second. Hell, I have a hard time countering it and I was in the actual Army where actual Drill Sergeants actually screamed at me. I almost guarantee that he won’t even say anything to you; having someone be so vicious to him will empty his brain of any of the whining, wheedling justifications he normally uses to smooth over the situation.

    Also, don’t feel bad about using this tactic. He’s manipulating the social contract to sexually harass you. Feel free to manipulate the social contract to make him stop.

    But be advised: this is a high-risk, high-reward tactic. If he’s the kind of person who is inclined to use violence, he might right then. It may have professional consequences. You may not want to do it because it’s scary and because it feels incredibly weird to be that aggressive. These are all extremely good reasons not to do this! A big part of the reason I can do this is I’m not afraid of anything–I survived two deployments, I’ll survive some asshole who won’t take a hint.

    1. I did this to a woman in my social circle. I yelled at her in a crowded party when she went in to touch me with a “fun” electric shock thing that I had already stated made me very uncomfortable and didn’t want touching me. There was awkward silence for a moment and everyone was embarrassed except me. I considered it perfectly normal to yell to avoid getting shocked, and I knew if she’d managed to get to me, I would have been miserable and frightened the rest of the night. So, all inconveniences taken together, that seemed the most conservative distribution: she gets yelled at, I get to stay at the party.

      AFTERWARD, however, I found out she whined to all of our mutual friends about how unreasonable I had been and how I had embarrassed her and how disappointed she was that I didn’t KNOW somehow that she wouldn’t REALLY shock me, she was just teasing and how betrayed she felt by me.

      I completely lost control of this narrative. I felt no need to justify my actions. And frankly, I didn’t consider it much of an imposition on myself to make a scene. I didn’t need anybody’s comfort or sympathy afterward. But being told “no” loudly apparently traumatized HER pretty thoroughly.

      I now hear through the grapevine occasionally that several people are TERRIFIED to speak to me or be around me. On the one hand, GOOD. Fear me. Be on your best f*ing consent-based behavior around me. See if I care. On the other hand, jeeze. All I’m asking is to not touch me (or SHOCK me) when I said no. When did that make me some horrid boogeyman?

  49. This kind of thing is something I think about all the time. I – a woman – work in an industry that is largely male-dominated and involves quite a bit of power posturing. You must be seen as powerful and authoritative to succeed in my work, and doing so violates American social norms for women; but at the same time, most men in my field view any woman acting assertively as a “frigid bitch” not worth doing business with. It’s a total Catch-22.

    What’s worked for me is to conform to social norms – sweet, friendly, etc. – until someone crosses a boundary, improperly treats me as an underling, flirts, dismisses me, whatever. I go from zero to assertive in two seconds flat. I immediately confront the behavior, sternly tell them to stop, and as soon as they act surprised or make excuses, I’m right back to friendliness and telling them it’s no big deal since now I know they won’t do it again, and actually, this is a great example of how we work together well to solve problems quickly. Awesome. Let’s talk about that ImportantWorkThing, blah blah. (I ignore whatever it is that they actually said, unless it was “I’m totally going to keep doing that”), and I act like it never happened from then on. If they bring it up again, I say, “Whoa dude, it wasn’t weird until you kept talking about it. Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal since it won’t happen again. Anyway, about the ImportantWorkThing, blah blah.” It shifts the weirdness burden onto them and makes them feel like they agreed to stop, even if they didn’t. The whole thing takes less than 30 seconds, usually. And it’s always worked. And I’ve never had to do it twice.

    The catch is 1) it’s super fake; 2) it’s really hard to do, since I wish I could just act like myself all the time and/ or give soft nos; 3) No, seriously, it’s super hard to do. I had to practice at home.

    Anyway, the point of all this is to say that I really really empathize with the dilemma of how to deal with unpleasant behavior at work without alienating your colleagues. If either of us were a man, this likely would not be an issue. Best of luck to you! Hope you find the best way around this, since this is NOT YOUR FAULT.

  50. Thank you, LW, for asking this question; thank you CA team and commenters for answering it. I had a similar issue with a creep/stalker guy a few years ago at uni. I wish I’d known about this blog then.

  51. I’m a bit concerned that this guy is using the guise of “friendship” to continue his creepy touching/unwanted gift-giving. It’s really manipulative because it makes the LW seem ungrateful if she turns him down. There’s a term for that kind of I-gave-you-this-without-asking-now-say-thank-you-or-you’re-the-bad-one thing (Someone chime in if you remember it!). The point is, I think ending the “friendship” entirely is the best course of action in addition to the Captain’s advice. African Violet him the heck away from you. “We are Not Friends”. “I do not want to eat lunch with you because we are Not Friends.” “I do not want you to touch me because we are Not Friends”. You mentioned that you’re okay with un-friending him, right? I say do so with a quickness.

    Disclaimer: I am in no way advocating that she isn’t giving a direct-enough no: only that if this is friendship, it’s a shitty one that repeatedly ignores her boundaries.

    1. Is it “loan sharking”? This dude is definitely an emotional loan shark. See also the Dude Social Fallacy 1.3: “It is acceptable for me to put a down payment on your vagina without telling you that’s what I’m doing. It’s unacceptable for you to accept my gifts but not pay the price, which I didn’t tell you about.” Jennifer linked to this a few days ago:


      Meanwhile, I just read “African violet” as “African violent,” and yeah, this guy could use a flowerpot to the head.

    2. I think that in The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker refers to this as “favor sharking”, giving unsolicited gifts or doing favors to make someone feel indebted to you.

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