Last summer, I worked at a really amazing job and met a lot of people who I really like spending time with. I am fortunate to have developed a solid friend group and gained a long term job at a related company for the first time (my field is competitive, and difficult to find employment in), but there’s one guy, Derek, who’s making me uncomfortable.
Derek and I worked on the same team, and became very close – we have common interests/hobbies and had compatible work/social styles. He’s aware that I’m in a monogamous relationship, and was completely respectful towards me both at work and otherwise. After we left our summer jobs, we continued hanging out and texting a lot, and I considered him a good friend.
Recently, though, he’s made some really creepy and borderline sexual comments over text and in real life. I’m trying to slow fade our friendship, but things are complicated by my inability to completely avoid him – I don’t text him or make plans anymore, but he’s my new manager’s roommate now, and comes to our social gatherings. My new coworkers are starting to notice something is up, but I’m a shy person and I get really uncomfortable talking about this sort of thing, so a few of them have commented that we have “something going on”.
What’s a good script for heading this topic off when confronted by gossipy coworkers? I have a solid Team Me, and my boyfriend’s aware of the issue, but I don’t know how to explain that this dude is being unwelcome and WEIRD to people I’m not that close to. 😦
Not your personal Lana del Rey, Derek.
Dear Not Lana Del Rey,
A suggested script…for Derek…is to text him and say: “Hey, your sexual comments lately are weirding me out. Please stop.” Remove his Plausible Deniability Shield and address the poor behavior directly. It will feel nerve-wracking and then amazing. See also: “Wow. Inappropriate.” “I don’t like talking about that.” “Hey, you are probably joking but I don’t like that.” “Creepy! Stop now.”
If he says “Those were jokes” then you can say, “Well, I didn’t find them funny and I want it to stop, so there should be no problem!” Save & document the texts he sent you and the comments he makes, btw, because if you still work at the same company this is or can soon become a human resources issue. The first question anyone in HR is going to have is the first question your mutual friends are going to have, i.e., Did you tell him to knock it off?
I know women are socialized not to be so direct, but I promise, you can do it! It can be hard to speak up when it’s not a habit for you, but it’s also between hard and impossible to get an entire social group to help you fade out on a dude for you if you haven’t articulated what’s going on. If Derek were a one-off friend with no connections to your day-to-day life, you fading out on him would be enough to get him out of your life, but since he’s always around, being direct with Derek is the quickest path to the change you want to happen. You can’t count on hints and indirect pressure to send Derek a message. Hints don’t work. Hints just let clueless people keep swimming in the Sea of Not Getting It and creepy people splash about in the Lake of Plausible Deniability.
If Derek apologizes and immediately cools it with the comments, you won’t have to worry about him so much at parties. It will feel weird for a while but then he’ll either be too embarrassed to be around you or he’ll behave himself and it will go back to normal. If he doesn’t behave himself, when the feeling that “something going on” is in the air with your coworkers, you can say, “We were good friends, but he made some sexual comments to me and I’m keeping my distance for now.” That has the advantage of being the truth. If he escalates his creepy behaviors at work functions, talk to human resources and show your documentation. If you end up having a heart-to-heart with your manager/his roommate, keep in mind that people who are inexperienced at being bosses often want to help but don’t know how. Suggesting something specific that they can *do* is a way to help get what you want. “I’d like a heads-up if Derek is attending events, so I can decide if I want to be there, and if he publicly makes creepy comments to me or others, I’d like you to say something to him about it and not to have it always be on me to deal with it.”
Finally, it’s cool and fun to hang out with people from work and make great friendships there! I enjoy doing that a lot! But take it from a middle-aged lady: Cultivate friendships outside of work and outside of that one friend group. You need some social streams that don’t cross with your livelihood and where Dereks do not presume to tread.
You’ve got this and it’s gonna be ok.