Is this prof hitting on a lesbian student?
August 27, 2012 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I am getting an "icky feeling" from a professor from a nearby university. He hasn't said anything suggestive, but he keeps trying to get me (and just me) to hang out with him. I can't tell if he is a lonely old dude without friends or what. Also, I am a lesbian. How do I make sure I send a clear message that we are only friends and absolutely nothing more?

I met this professor during a local academic conference in which I presented. Afterwards a group of about 12 all went to dinner. Then we wanted to hang out some more, and he offered to host. On the way there, people were telling me about how much he liked having people over. He was very nice to everyone. I caught he looking at me several times, but didn't think much of it because there was no doubt that he's gay.

Then the next day, after the conference, I had to take a bus to another city. He was going there, and offered to give me a ride. I agreed. On the way his hand very lightly touched my thigh a couple of times. One time seemed unintentional. The other was definitely intentional, though it was sort of in a context where a pat on the back would have been appropriate, so I don't know if he just thought my leg was closer. Then he began to propose lots of activities together with just the two of us, and talked about his past girlfriends and dating experiences.

I can't tell if he is just a lonely old guy who desperately want friendship, or if he is going somewhere else with this (my instinct is that it's a bit "icky"). Either way, I can't deal with a smothering friendship, and I am a lesbian anyway.

How would you read this situation? And how do I nip this in the bud? I would like to not cause as bad feelings, because I am concerned about my professional networking/image.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
On the way his hand very lightly touched my thigh a couple of times.

You're not getting an "icky feeling." You've got some pretty definitive evidence that this dude is trying to make a move on you. And you also don't talk about pair activities and bring up dating and ex-girlfriends and whatever because you want to make new friends.

I'm not in academia, so I can't give you exact advice on how to handle this smoothly, but I can assure you that this is, unfortunately, exactly what you think it is.
posted by griphus at 7:28 AM on August 27, 2012 [17 favorites]

Trust your instincts.

Can you just drift away? If he invites you to do something, you're busy. If he offers to drive you somewhere, you've got other plans, thanks. That way you don't have to say anything directly, but also don't have to be near him.
posted by wiskunde at 7:31 AM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

You say to him, with whatever words of preface you might choose to include: "we are only friends and absolutely nothing more."
posted by three blind mice at 7:33 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

He hasn't done anything terribly untowards yet, but I agree that it is all a bit icky. I think you have a few options.

1. The direct route: Do what three blind mice says and say, one way or another, that you are friends ONLY and there is zero potential beyond that. If he does anything that is even slight non-friendy then immediately call him on it and say it makes you uncomfortable. This may result in awkwardness, and it may result in a cessation of the friendship, but maybe that is okay?
2. The less direct route: Clue him in to the fact that you're a lesbian. When he brings up a ex-girlfriend you bring up one of YOUR ex-girlfriends. Or maybe just full on bring up the fact that you're gay. (make sure he gets that you're gay and not bisexual for obvious reasons.) That should, in theory, give him a pretty clear clue you're unavailable and uninterested.
3. The indirect route: just stop associating with him socially, especially in any capacity where it is just the two of you (ie. drives home). Be very busy if he invites you to things. At group events where he is present make a point to speak to others more than him.

For me I'd probably go with #2 first, and then #1. I think #3 isn't super nice, he won't understand that you were being made to feel uncomfortable, and he sure won't think twice when someone else catches his eye. Giving him a clue that he was raising your ick alarm could potentially be doing him a favour. Maybe you think he doesn't deserve that, but where he hasn't done anything totally untowards I think a little clarity is fair game.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:44 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would (1) avoid him and (2) remove myself from situations that could lead to unwanted closeness (like, don't accept rides from him, don't go to his house, but going to class is obviously fine.) Don't try to be his friend. Don't even say, "We are only friends," because he is not acting like someone that you would want to be friends with.

Additionally, what did you do when he put his hand on your thigh? Pretend it didn't happen or ask him not to do that?

There's no need to divulge your sexuality to him (and, in fact, it might be evidence against you should his actions lead to a report, i.e., "She's the one who brought up sex first!"). The fact that you are not interested should be sufficient. If avoiding him is unsuccessful, go straight to reporting his actions to the appropriate campus authorities.
posted by Flamingo at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I caught he looking at me several times, but didn't think much of it because there was no doubt that he's gay.

Hold up. If there's no doubt that he's gay, this whole situation is super weird.

I'd go the direct route. "Hey, when you touch me, it makes me really uncomfortable. Please stop."
"Hanging out would be fun. Would it be okay if I brought my girlfriend?" "No thanks, I'm not interested in men."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:46 AM on August 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would like to not cause as bad feelings, because I am concerned about my professional networking/image.

Is he close to your speciality, your advisors, etc.? If no: you are overthinking this. If yes: you are generally too busy to accept any invitations, because of your FASCINATING ACADEMIC WORK, to which you are COMPLETELY DEVOTED, but you would of course make an exception to meet in a coffee shop to discuss your work and/or his.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:47 AM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Avoid him entirely. Turn down all offers of rides, meetings, activities, or whatever: he's clearly trying to get together with you with a non-platonic goal in mind. No need to mention why or offer any excuse.

If he persists or becomes more upfront about his intentions, tell him you're not interested, but don't explain why - it's none of his business who you choose to get involved with, regardless of their gender. If his behaviour escalates into harassment, report him.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:51 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I caught he looking at me several times, but didn't think much of it because there was no doubt that he's gay.

Or bisexual.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:53 AM on August 27, 2012

Trust your instincts.

He does not have a right to your time, and even if your instincts were wrong and he has absolutely no icky intentions at all, continuing to hang out with him does not sound like a good time or a productive use of your energy. Women in particular are generally socialized to not trust their instincts, to devalue them, and to consider them irrational. This only serves one purpose, to make women more vulnerable, manipulate-able, and unhappy.

Fuck that.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:07 AM on August 27, 2012 [21 favorites]

If you don't like the guy, don't hang with him. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do.

You don't need to announce your sexual preferences, you don't have to make excuses, you don't have to accept rides from him.

"No thank you" should suffice if you are asked on a date, to ride along with him, to come over to 'hang out' or any other thing he may offer.

Women have had to put up with sketchy behavior through the ages, and finally, the younger generation can reap the benefits of all of our hard work. Say "no".

Don't worry about networking or reputations or that bullshit. If he's Mr. Grabby hands, people know. No one will think twice about you not wanting to be in the same room alone with him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:09 AM on August 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

Sexual orientation is completely irrelevant - yours and his. It should be left out of any discussion.
posted by moammargaret at 8:26 AM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's "no doubt" he's gay, but he's bringing up ex-girlfriends in conversation with you? Something doesn't add up.

Nthing that you should listen to your instincts. Decline invitations from him.
posted by rtha at 8:36 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The leg touches sound like boundary testing to me. In which case, he is not going to care about your sexual orientation or any other preferences, he's just going to try to override them.

Decline all invitations, tell him to stop touching you, don't be alone with him.
posted by ziggly at 9:04 AM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think he's just trying to signal that he's attracted to you. I'd just let it be known you don't swing that way --- mention that you have and or are looking for a girlfriend. That ought to get through to him.

But then, based on your description, I'd classify this more on the awkward side of the line than full blown creeper, so I'd be inclined to think clueing him in would be enough. If you're getting full on creepshow vibes then by all means sit him down in public somewhere and have the "I don't like you like that, don't touch me" talk.
posted by Diablevert at 9:08 AM on August 27, 2012

Even if he is just some lonley guy, why does that make it your problem? You don't enjoy his company, and that is it.

There are millons of people other than you. Don't make yourself uncomfortable for the sake of being a "good girl."
posted by Blisterlips at 9:12 AM on August 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

"don't accept rides from him, don't go to his house, but going to class is obviously fine"

Unless I misunderstand the question, he's not her professor. He doesn't even work at her university. I think that's a hugely important detail; I would see this question completely differently if he were her professor. I think they're basically just folks in the same field who met at a conference and he's older than she is.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:12 AM on August 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Linda_Holmes, ah yes. You are correct. Even more to the point then, she should avoid him as there is no reason not to.
posted by Flamingo at 10:00 AM on August 27, 2012

I have been in similar circumstances and it sucks because if this person persists, there is a need to draw a hard boundary which is still interpreted as being bitchy. It sucks that you are in this position and I don't doubt that your instincts are correct. I dont have a problem setting hard and fast lines which has gotten easier as I have gotten older but since as you mention there is a need to maintain a level of nicety the avoidance route might be your best bet.
posted by heatherly at 11:40 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Others have it.

If for some reason you feel like you *need* to have professional contact with him, make it in clear professional-only settings. Daytime in a department lounge, campus coffeeshop or cafeteria. Bring a professional topic to discuss, steer the conversation back to classes, recent papers, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:43 AM on August 27, 2012

I wouldn't bring up the fact that you're a lesbian because, a) it's none of his business, b) it gets you into very personal topics with a person you want to have ONLY a professional relationship with, and c) a lot of guys then get MORE interested in you if they find out you're gay. There are a lot of men who think identifying as a lesbian just means you're a swinger or sexually adventurous or something. Or they see it as a challenge.

No need to go there. Just keep it professional, cool, and at a distance.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:41 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's "no doubt" he's gay, but he's bringing up ex-girlfriends in conversation with you? Something doesn't add up.

It would seem that if he is known as "no doubt" gay, he is signaling that he is in fact bisexual and attracted to at least some women. "Hey! I'm not as gay as all that, see...."

because I am concerned about my professional networking/image.

He, of course, is the one who should be concerned. You shouldn't be concerned because you are setting a boundary; that's your prerogative.

I don't like avoidance as it is one of those things where it is probably happening more often than just to you. If you're uncomfortable being direct in terms of "I'm gay, and there's no chance, and you're creepy", you should at least be comfortable in terms of "No, I'm not available for $PAIR_ACTIVITY, like, ever."
posted by dhartung at 1:12 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he's powerful enough to pull stuff like this and get away with it, it's only because everyone lets him. People like this often have two reputations, and you find out about the second one when you come out of the 'I Was Creeped Upon By Professor McCreepy' closet.

Here's a hint: regardless of hierarchy, you are almost never going to go wrong by quietly closing a door in Prof McCreepy's face. You don't *have* to interact with him at all, so don't. The law of numbers says that if everybody he's creeped upon were to do this, he would lose more opportunities and have more damage to his reputation than the creepees would. Power isn't something he just has, it's something that's given to him by the people he interacts with, one of whom is you. You can certainly deny him the power to grope you and intrude upon your personal life.

And yeah, talking about girlfriends kinda contradicts the premise that he's gay. If he's socially awkward, rewarding his attempts to feel you up and ask you out on dates won't improve his social skills. And my guess is that his loneliness is well-earned. Honestly, as an Aspie, I'm tired of pervy weirdos making excuses for why they just can't learn and apply social norms like No Putting Your Hand On Coworker's Knee, No Discussing Your Girlfriends With Coworkers Especially Not Those Upon Whose Knee You Just Put Your Hand. Somehow, these guys always seem to be socially adept enough to know what they can get away with.
posted by tel3path at 4:24 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

He's not gay if he wants to fuck you. I think he wants to fuck you. This is not innocent. Even gay dudes don't start fondling the thigh of a girl they don't want to boink and barely know. He wants you to KNOW he's not gay by bringing up the ex-girlfriends.

I'd avoid him as much as you possibly can.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:13 PM on August 27, 2012

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