How can I get my friend to stop flirting with me?
January 15, 2010 5:58 AM   Subscribe

How can I get my friend to stop flirting with me?

I'm friends with a coworker who I see roughly once a month for drinks after work. We've been friends for several years but we used to be closer and hang out more frequently. Lately, he's always the one suggesting that we go out; I try to avoid it because he's been making me feel a little uncomfortable. He's married and old enough to be my father and yet he makes flirtatious comments here and there. I don't think there's any chance whatsoever that he's seriously hitting on me, and I know his wife and am friends with her too (though I see her much less frequently since she doesn't work with us). I don't think he has any idea that the flirting makes me uncomfortable and I'm pretty sure he thinks it's completely harmless and normal. (To someone else, it might be, of course.) I don't remember if he's always flirted with me or not. There was one comment in particular a few months ago that bothered me a lot, so it's possible he's always flirted with me and I've just been sensitive to it since then.

What can I say or do to make him stop these sorts of comments? I'm pretty sure he's going to think I'm overreacting, no matter what I say, and I don't want to make things awkward between us.

posted by whitelily to Human Relations (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oof, kind of been there. For me the only thing that's worked is, when he makes a comment that makes you uncomfortable, saying in a completely serious tone, "Hey, you know, be careful. Someone could really take that the wrong way and I don't want anyone thinking we're being inappropriate." On the surface it looks like you're being concerned for him, but it'll make him think. If it doesn't make a permanent change, there's not much you can do but stop hanging out with him.

Also, I had one of these harmless, happily married "friends" whose wife and kids I was friends with and suddenly he was making REALLY inappropriate advances. It can escalate quickly. Just be careful.
posted by olinerd at 6:04 AM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Does he only make these kinds of comments when you're out together? Remember, you have no obligation to this guy, so don't ever feel bad if you stop going out with him, which I suggest.

There is probably nothing you can say to him to stop these comments, so I would just avoid hanging out with him, especially alone together. Also, he's the one making things awkward between you two, not you.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:15 AM on January 15, 2010

Things are already awkward. He's just too dense to realize it. But if you need him to back off, you have to tell him.

"X, I know you mean nothing by it when you make flirty comments, but it really makes me uncomfortable because you're married. I really enjoy being friends with you and your wife and it just makes me feel odd when you say these things."

If he tries to fight it too hard, no more drinks with him after work any more, at least solo. (Do you think he tells his wife he goes for drinks with you when he does? I'm betting he doesn't.) In fact, it might be a good idea to nip it all in the bud and not go out with him at all so you can make sure he's on his best behavior.
posted by inturnaround at 6:15 AM on January 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think you have to be ok with him denying that he's flirting. It would be embarrassing to say that he's flirting, and then for him to deny it -- it makes you feel like you think too much of yourself. But, when you become ok with it, and decide that it won't embarrass you, then it's easy enough to just say, "I like your friendship, but you must stop making flirtatious remarks." Then, if/when he says, "What? I would never flirt with you!" you can just shrug it off -- the message was delivered, the flirting stops.
posted by Houstonian at 6:15 AM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Just tell him what you told us. If he thinks you're overreacting, that's his problem. You're not throwing a drink in his face in a crowded bar or filing a sexual harassment complaint with HR. Just sit him down and say, "I'm uncomfortable with the flirting, and I'd like it to stop." And if he doesn't get it, then the next time he asks you to go for drinks after work, you say, "I'd like to, but I'm still uncomfortable with the flirting, so I'm going to have to pass."

I guarantee you that he doesn't have any idea it's making you uncomfortable, and I'm 99 percent sure that he'll stop.
posted by Etrigan at 6:15 AM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Argh, it just makes me sad when women are afraid others will think they're overreacting. You're not. You have your personal boundaries and you are perfectly entitled to them. You're also perfectly entitled to enforce them in a tactful manner. I'd say what olinerd suggested, and if he doesn't stop, ratchet it up a notch to "gee, I really feel uncomfortable when you say/do X and that's why I don't hang out with you as much anymore." This way he knows that if he wants to hang out with you, he has to stop that behavior. If he gets upset he gets upset. Who cares. Your feelings are more important than his right to say icky* stuff.

*sorry, I'm pre-coffee and couldn't think of a better word.
posted by desjardins at 6:20 AM on January 15, 2010 [12 favorites]

He's married and old enough to be my father and yet he makes flirtatious comments here and there. I don't think there's any chance whatsoever that he's seriously hitting on me

You could totally have the right read on this guy (he's your friend, not ours) but I'm here to tell you through several sad experiences that the first half of your first sentence does not at all validate that second sentence.

Don't feel embarrassed to draw the boundary.
posted by availablelight at 6:20 AM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think the key would to be to make things a little awkward. He's currently making you uncomfortable (intentionally, unintentionally, who knows). Try saying something short "That's inappropriate", "You know that kind of things makes me uncomfortable right?". Hopefully this makes him a bit uncomfortable, and triggers some kind of Pavlovian response from him "Hey when I say X, I end up feeling Y". At the very least, it's a starting point to seeing if he's just a naive guy friend or aspiring creep-ball.
posted by syntheticfaith at 6:20 AM on January 15, 2010

See that's when you should whip out the embarassement card of "wow, really? Let's see if that same line gets your wife hot and bothered" and start dialing the phone.

Ugh. Sorry you're going through this. Tell him he's not charming.
posted by stormpooper at 6:30 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a friend kind of like that (well, not older and married, but not single and making slightly inappropriate comments). I just said, "hey, maybe we could chill out on those kinds of comments. They make me a little uncomfortable." He was slightly discomfited for a few minutes after that, but he stopped making the comments. We still hang out a few times a year, and it's not a big deal. Being friends with someone doesn't mean you have to be super-free about everything.

Although, if it doesn't stop, drop him.
posted by bluefly at 6:45 AM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a married female friend, who I dated very briefly, who once told me, in front of her husband, that I was "really very good looking." This was the first time I had met her husband (they had recently been married).

Suffice it to say he looked kind of annoyed.

Anyway, I ran into her a couple of weeks later and said to her "I hope you don't take this the wrong way but you shouldn't be saying things like that to me, especially in front of your husband."

Perhaps it was condescending, or perhaps not; in any event, she doesn't say things like that to me any more.
posted by dfriedman at 6:45 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think he has any idea that the flirting makes me uncomfortable

You're absolutely entitled to set boundaries and expect your friend to respect them, but you can't expect your friend to hear/read "This behavior is unacceptable to me" when you're not actually saying or demonstrating that the behavior is unacceptable.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:58 AM on January 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions - keep em' coming.

Whenever I decide what to say, would it be better to say it in person (which I'm usually a fan of) or in an e-mail (so it's less awkward)?

Thanks again.
posted by whitelily at 6:58 AM on January 15, 2010

How old is your friend?

It seems that sometimes after a certain point, some men who have not previously made those kinds of comments get a little skeevy. A few of my father's friends - who were never the kind of men to talk about the hotness of TV stars - and a male friend of mine who is now in his late 70s seem to have lost a layer of inhibition as they age.

I've wondered if it might be a mild (very mild) form of dementia or perhaps just an attitude to live it up while you can. (And for these men, making G-rated salacious comments about Linda Cardellini is living it up.)

"Being friends with someone doesn't mean you have to be super-free about everything." Words to live by.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 6:58 AM on January 15, 2010

Oh, totally in person if you'd like to keep the friendship. It will be awkward for a few seconds but then he'll move on and you'll keep on talking, and then both of you will see it can still be ok. If you do it by email, you'll have days or more of dread on both your parts about "how will it go now, will it be awkward", and that could make both of you really uncomfortable!
posted by wyzewoman at 7:03 AM on January 15, 2010 [7 favorites]

I totally like bluefly's approach, by the way: "hey, maybe we could chill out on those kinds of comments. They make me a little uncomfortable." It's just the right tone. It will make him stop and take notice, but hopefully not make him too defensive.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:05 AM on January 15, 2010

Whatever you say, say it in person. Saying that sort of thing via e-mail would actually be more awkward, I think; if you say it in person it's over quickly and not built up too much, but if you write it in an e-mail it'll suddenly seem like a big deal.
posted by Nattie at 7:13 AM on January 15, 2010

I got the impression that you feel guilty for being uncomfortable. You shouldn't as you haven't done anything wrong. Whatever action you decide to take just remember that you are allowed to feel whatever you feel even if it is in response to the actions of an old friend, a relative, a significant other, et cetera. Overreaction is a real phenomenon, but in this case your comfort and desire to preserve it do not fall into that category.
posted by Gainesvillain at 7:31 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whenever I decide what to say, would it be better to say it in person (which I'm usually a fan of) or in an e-mail (so it's less awkward)?

Definitely in person, but not like right as soon as you see him next. Say your piece the next time he says something that makes you uncomfortable. It's important to associate your assertion of boundaries with him crossing them, otherwise he won't understand what you're talking about.
posted by carsonb at 7:55 AM on January 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

What desjardins said. You are having a totally reasonable reaction to this, and even if you weren't, so what?! He's supposed to be your friend and understand or at least respect your feelings. He has no more right to make inappropriate flirty comments than you do feeling comfortable.

Probably reading too much into this, but it sounds like he doesn't have much respect for you and possibly women in general. Maybe he thinks you should be flattered to receive sexual attention from any man, or that is the only way to have a male-female relationship. After all what else are women good for but sex? Stupid sexual harassment training, all that ass-slapping was just in good fun, bitches should just lighten up. ras'em fras'em...

Yes, say something next time this happens, just don't be too surprised if he wants to have nothing to do with you or mocks you. He may not really respect you as a friend or a person.
posted by fontophilic at 7:56 AM on January 15, 2010

Flirting builds until it gets results, positive or negative. Give him a distinctly negative response as a response to distinct flirtation.

"Hey, you have to cut that fake flirting shit out. I know you're just horsing around, but you keep reminding me of guys [at school? at your last job? make something up if you have to and rehearse your lines in case you need to elaborate on the story] who definitely did mean it and wouldn't back off. Eventually I had to avoid them because they just weren't my friends anymore. "

That should stop him dead in his tracks. He'll know that he's not exactly being subtle, but that you notice his flirting and you're calling him on it and you definitely don't like it. It might kill the conversation and the evening, and you might end up not going anywhere with him again, but at the same time it lets him wriggle off the hook by giving him the chance to pretend he didn't really mean it as flirting and he's sorry you interpreted it that way and blah blah blah.

I'm suggesting you give him an escape route because you like him, you like his wife, and you have to work with him the next day. By lowering the pressure on him, you also lower the pressure on yourself. If he was a stranger at a bar, you could be more blunt and not worry about the results.

If he says something about you supposedly overreacting, you could tell him something like, "That may be. Only you know what you really mean. But that's pretty much what [one of those other real or fictitious guys at school or a previous job] said, that he was just playing around and I was overreacting. But I know I wasn't overreacting because he kept on flirting, and it got worse over time. He couldn't take a hint and he couldn't take explicit instructions to stop."
posted by pracowity at 8:01 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also think bluefly's "hey, maybe we could chill out on those kinds of comments. They make me a little uncomfortable." comment hits the right tone. Then you don't have to debate whether it's flirting or not. The point is it makes you uncomfortable and you'd like it to stop but you'd still like to be friends with the guy. If you do this in person and then follow it up with something clearly friendly-not-flirty it sends the message that you have this small problem but not a big larger problem.

Over email this might seem like a lecture [unless he's flirty over email in which case I'd say it's appropriate] and wouldn't give you the opportunity for smoothing things over in case they're bumpy. Which, honestly, isn't your responsibility, but it's a gracious way to deal with someone who might not know they're making you feel bad.
posted by jessamyn at 8:10 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, if it bothers you, you have every right to say it, but like carsonb says, choose your moment. Your boundaries are yours only, and for no one else to judge. Please don’t use email that is not effective in this situation.
One additional advice: if he is flirting, or if you decide to confront him, make sure your face is saying the same thing as your mouth: if he is flirting, try not to laugh nervously. If you tell him to respect your boundaries, keep a strict face. A lot of people forget the power of non verbal communication! A smile can mean an have an encouraging effect on him. Let him know and let him see you mean it!
posted by eau79 at 8:12 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's a thought, if direct confrontation makes you feel uncomfortable: how about, in a non-joking moment, mentioning that you really miss having [his wife's first name] come out with you two, because you love his wife and kids and always love hearing about them. Also start preemptively asking how [his wife's first name] and [each kid's first name] are doing. This should give him enough feedback to know that you think of him as a member of his family, not as an individual.

If this doesn't lead to self-censoring on his part (which presumably would happen whether his intentions were innocent or skeevy) then make a date to hang out with his wife without him and make sure he knows that date has happened. Again, if he's innocent, this won't have impact beyond (hopefully) self-censoring on the flirting, but if he's skeevy, your independent relationship with his wife will scare him out of any false assumption that you're an affair-waiting-to-happen.

I make these suggestions for a simple reason: I have a few casual friendships with much younger women, and the only reason I'm willing to have them is because they have an independent relationship with my wife and interact with me in the context of my family rather than independently -- I wouldn't want to have that kind of friendship otherwise, because of the potential for it to hurt my wife and my friend through any sort of misunderstanding.
posted by davejay at 8:15 AM on January 15, 2010

If you do go with the email route, keep in mind that work email accounts might not be as private as you may think.
posted by itheearl at 8:32 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Email is a terrible medium to communicate emotionally-charged messages. It's almost a certainty that confronting him about this in an email will make him defensive - and may possibly damage the friendship.
posted by aught at 9:07 AM on January 15, 2010

I'm going to chime in and say, don't feel bad for being skeeved out by this guy's comments. Let him know that you're not comfortable with the comments, "hey, maybe we could chill out on those kinds of comments. They make me a little uncomfortable." reads very well to me.

If he responds poorly, then he's no friend. Also, if he responds poorly, don't think, not even for a moment, that it's because you approached the subject at the wrong time, you were too nervous, or you read the situation wrong and insulted his well intentioned gestures of friendship.

This situation is not your fault, and you have a right to be comfortable when out with friends. If he doesn't respect that, he can take a hike.

As an aside, I'm proud of you for realizing that A: he is not a mindreader, and deserves to be made aware of your discomfort so that he can have an opportunity to correct things, and B: you can do something about this aggravation that is not immediately cutting off all contact with the (potentially oblivious) socially awkward flirter. If your reasonable request falls on deaf ears, I would say it's reasonable to stop the after work drinks.
posted by bilabial at 9:08 AM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just want to N-th that he will have to be able to see that you don't like the behavior. You can say "hey, cut it out!" while laughing as many times as you like and it won't get the message across.

I do like the idea of (calmly, serious face) saying, "Hey, you shouldn't say things like that - it really isn't appropriate and someone might get the wrong impression." This also marks it as being inappropriate and the [i]wrong[/i] impression, which is key...

Pushy and/or extra socially incapable people might take that to mean just 'don't do it in public' but you can correct that with a "what the hell? That makes me uncomfortable, don't do that."
posted by Lady Li at 9:20 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's any chance whatsoever that he's seriously hitting on me.

Wrong. Tell him you're dating someone.
posted by xammerboy at 9:24 AM on January 15, 2010

it sounds like he doesn't have much respect for you and possibly women in general.

That seems a bit extreme, honestly. Flirting with someone is fun; within certain relationships, that flirting is understood to be without intent to follow-through, and is done largely because it makes both people feel good. Assuming that a married guy who flirts with someone doesn't respect women and thinks that women are only good for sex doesn't quite follow.

I'm backing the majority here and thinking that a casual, "chill on the flirting!" comment will do. He may be unaware that he's making you uncomfortable, and expressing such should resolve it.
posted by ellF at 9:44 AM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Wrong. Tell him you're dating someone.

Why would that stop him? He's MARRIED to someone.

I'm nth-ing the "just say flat-out that flirty comments make you uncomfortable" party.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:49 AM on January 15, 2010

I recommend using the word "please" somewhere in your request for him to knock it off.
posted by marble at 9:50 AM on January 15, 2010

Wrong. Tell him you're dating someone.

Is lying to him to alter his behavior supposed to demonstrate proper friend practices?
posted by Gainesvillain at 10:31 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's any chance whatsoever that he's seriously hitting on me

whitelily, good advice has been given above. I'm just chiming in to say: you are very, very, very naive. There is no chance whatsoever that there is no chance he's seriously hitting on you.

He is, at the very least, looking for a nibble on the hook he's thrown in your water. At the very least, for an ego stroke.

But there's an even greater chance that he means to catch something with that hook.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:50 AM on January 15, 2010

Does he make the comments only when you're out socially, or does he make them in the workplace as well?

I'd start by telling him in person. "You know, comments like that make me very uncomfortable. I'd appreciate it if you'd stop."

If he doesn't cut it out immediately, I'd up the ante: send him an e-mail. When you write the e-mail, mention the first, verbal request for him to cease the flirty remarks, and reiterate it.

Sending an e-mail creates documentation of the incident. This situation might never get out of hand, but if it does, you have documentation that you asked him to stop. Hopefully, he's smart enough to understand the implications of an e-mail of this nature.
posted by cleverevans at 10:51 AM on January 15, 2010

If you're worried about the awkwardness, then in-person is definitely the way to go here. That way there's just a moment of weirdness and then the conversation keeps rolling and by the end of the night it's probably forgotten. If you do it by email, he has to think about it all day and respond and then by the time you two hang out again it's escalated into a Thing.

So, if your conversation goes like this:

YOU: "...and I had another problem with the plumber the other day."
HIM: "What? You're so sexy I bet guys are lining up to fix your sink."
YOU: "Ew, cut that out. I don't like that".

Then you continue with your story. If it happens again, give him a drawn-out Unhappy Stare and say "I told you before, I don't like flirty comments like that. Quit it."

If he does it a third time, he's not listening to you anyways and you can feel free to ignore his social invitations.
posted by amicamentis at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Folks here can be so idealistic. The man fancies you, you know it, and yet you think you can excise the flirting from your dealings with him and leave something else to go on with? Think of it from his angle: that's why he wants to see you and spend time with you. The flirting isn't just some little schmutz to be removed. It's the point.
posted by zadcat at 1:29 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Can we ease up on the misanthropic commentary? "He has a cock...[implications of impending rape]." I'm sorry that there are guys out there who are jerks; there are women out there who are jerks, too. In either case, jumping to hysterical assumptions of violent crime based on flirting, especially when the OP hasn't yet said, "please stop", is at best paranoid histrionics.
posted by ellF at 1:31 PM on January 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think people are overreacting. Many, many people enjoy a harmless flirt with friends. Not that you need to feel OK with it, but don't follow the advice telling you to freak out and DTMFA if you haven't even let him know you're uncomfortable yet.

I would tell him in person and not in e-mail. It's hard to judge the tone of e-mail.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:52 PM on January 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses.

I can understand why peoples' personal experiences might lead them to believe that this is a harassment situation, but this guy is someone I've been friends with for a few years, and I really don't think this will need to escalate to police or lawyers.

I do think he's using very poor judgment and is unaware that he's making me uncomfortable, though. If I can make him understand which types of comments make me uncomfortable, and get him to stop making those comments, problem solved. If not, I just won't hang out with him anymore. Friend or not, it's not worth putting up with.

Thanks again.
posted by whitelily at 11:45 PM on January 15, 2010

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