Stay away from my desk!
April 1, 2012 4:35 PM   Subscribe

An acquaintance keeps showing up at my office. What's a reasonable boundary for me to draw here, and how do I do that?

I'm a graduate student. I met "Jen" on a dating website a couple of months ago, where she mentioned that she's a student in a department that shares a building with mine. (I'm also a woman, if that matters.) We exchanged a couple of emails, but neither of us suggested meeting in real life. Then, about a month ago, I met her in the elevator at work. She followed me to my department's office, where we sat in the common area and made awkward conversation. She mentioned that she's actually an undergrad. So the next time I saw her, a day or two later, I told her that I don't want to date an undergrad in a department I might TA for, and that was that. Right?

The thing is, she now seems to think we're good friends, and we're not, and I want her to stop making social calls to my office. She's a nice person, but I just don't like her all that much, and anyway it's unusual for non-work friends to visit people there. She has shown up there at least twice, and asked my colleagues for me. The last time, I arrived at the office and she was sitting in the common area. I went to put my stuff down and she followed me to my desk. (The office has a common area in the middle and a warren of cubicles around the edges of the room. My desk is not visible from the common area.) So, now she knows where it is.

Then today, April 1, she emailed me:

Her: You should consider coming to the office today. Let's just say April Fools is my favorite holiday.
Me: Please tell me you didn't do something to my desk. That would not be funny.
Her: That's a shame. It was really cool.
Me: Yeah, I'm really not comfortable with people who are not my coworkers going to my desk - much less modifying it - when I'm not there.

Arrrggh. Am I over-reacting, or is she really being inappropriate here? Do I need to say anything more to make her stop? I can't ask her not to come to the office at all, because she might take classes that have their office hours there. What is a reasonable boundary for me to draw, and how can I enforce it?
posted by zeptoweasel to Human Relations (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You are right. If she doesn't work there, she doesn't belong anywhere near your desk.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:40 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

She could just be really lonely and really naive, or she could actually be all of those things plus a stalker. I'd be uncomfortable too. The fact that she actually went so far as to do something to your desk? That's really awkward and misguided of her. Yeesh.

I'd be direct, and very short about it. "Jen, I need you to know something. I need you to stop visiting me at my office. It makes me uncomfortable and it frustrates my colleagues. If I've given you the impression that we have a deeper relationship than we actually do, I apologize. I am not interested in being friends. Thank you for understanding. Please leave."

Then instruct your colleagues and who-ever mans the front desk to turn her away the next time she tries to visit. If she makes a scene, LET HER. It's a reflection on her, not on you, and it may give the rest of the people in your office incentive to bar her from visiting.

Worse comes to worst, levy a complaint against her with campus police and document her. I know that sounds really extreme, but you never know.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:41 PM on April 1, 2012 [14 favorites]

Best answer: I think the e-mail you sent was appropriate. You struck the perfect tone. If I were you I'd tell her you don't use the space for social purposes and your difference in status makes it impossible for you to pursue a friendship. I wouldn't elaborate, you don't have to explain yourself.

I'd use e-mail because I hate confrontation.
posted by vincele at 4:41 PM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

If she's not there on business, then she doesn't need to be there.

I find that you have to be a lot firmer and a lot more explicit with people like this, because they don't pick up on social cues the same as the rest of us. The upside is that generally, they aren't offended as quickly or as much as one of the rest of us would be by a clear and direct statement. If she does take offence, well, that's the problem solved too.
posted by Solomon at 4:43 PM on April 1, 2012

Tell her that non-work visitors are not welcomed in your work area: tell her that your superiors have noticed her visits, and have "reminded you of this long-standing policy" --- and if possible, ask your coworkers and superiors to back you up and tell her she is not permitted in that area.

The thing is, you're going to have to explicitly tell her to stay out of your office area; hints and suggestions and such will not work. No you are not over-reacting, yes she is being inappropriate, and it is not mean or cruel of you to not want anything to do with someone you really don't like.
posted by easily confused at 5:01 PM on April 1, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yeah sounds like she is just a nice person and doesn't get that you are a bit closed off. You need to be straight forward about that.
posted by tarvuz at 5:14 PM on April 1, 2012

I don't think you are overreacting at all. It would creep me out if a person I barely know continued to show up at my job, and then decided to do something to my desk.

I think you are going to tell her that you do not want her to visit you at your office anymore and that you don't want a friendship with her. If you bump into her in the elevator you say hello and part ways. She is being completely inappropriate here.
posted by Sal and Richard at 5:31 PM on April 1, 2012

You aren't overreacting, but she sounds young. You should set firm boundaries while giving her the benefit of the doubt that her actions are due to her being socially maladroit, rather than creepy or weird about boundaries. Of course, if she does not respond to firm boundary setting then you may need to revise your opinion and find a way to be more flatly confrontational about it.
posted by OmieWise at 5:35 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

She doesn't sound like a nice person, nice poeple don't fuck with your shit when you're not around and think it's funny. I think you're being very diplomatic about, I certainly wouldn't be in your position.
posted by glip at 5:36 PM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

If you don't want to be totally blunt, send her an email saying something like:


I just wanted to let you know that I'm not comfortable with people stopping by my office unannounced. While I appreciate your interest, I have a lot going on and I'm a rather private person, and I'm really not interested in pursuing a friendship. Thanks for understanding.


And I think that says pretty much everything that needs to be said.
posted by jayder at 5:52 PM on April 1, 2012 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Yes. It's kind of impossible to tell since we weren't there in person, but to me she sounds more young/socially awkward/lonely/immature than psycho stalker. While I think you should definitely be straightforward with her it doesn't sound like a situation that needs harsh bluntness, and I think jayder really nailed the best wording to use.
posted by cairdeas at 8:02 PM on April 1, 2012

If she's an undergrad, she probably only knows what offices are like from TV shows, and assumes it's all chatty and buddies-dropping-by and April Fools' hijinks. You need to disabuse her of that notion, either kindly or harshly depending on how her behavior is reading to you.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:55 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

She probably thinks of you as a student, like herself. You need to make it clear that being a grad student is more of a form of *job*. You can't go messing about where people work. I would hope she'd understand that.
posted by maryr at 9:23 AM on April 2, 2012

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