Playing with Fire
June 3, 2013 7:01 AM   Subscribe

My older, senior colleague has been making some inappropriate advances towards me that have recently started to escalate. The catch is while he is entirely inappropriate for me on a number of levels, I can't deny there is a pretty strong chemistry between us that I've been aware of since the day I met him. How do I reestablish boundaries before this all turns really ugly?

My 15 years older, senior (but not boss) male colleague has gone from mildly flirting with me to, over many drinks, really overtly hitting on me (he told me I was adorable, sexy, interesting, described his "type" as looking exactly like me, asked me if I wanted to have kids (he does and soon), interrogated me about the guy I'm casually dating) all while pretty actively encouraging me to get drunk. He also asked me a whole slew of really inappropriate personal questions (such as whether I've ever dated older guys. I told him I never had and had no interest and in fact often dated younger guys, but that only resulted in him trying to convince me my reasons for not dating older guys were ridiculous). There were also a lot more comments about my appearance and general attractiveness. This happened last week and I've been out of the office on leave since. I realize that agreeing to get a drink with him alone was poor judgment. And that then getting very drunk was monumentally stupid on my part, but nothing I can do to change it now.

So I sort of feel that I should be outraged over this. I mean it's kind of super inappropriate for him to say those things to his much more junior female colleague, and yet, I'm not... I'm ashamed to say that while I regret going out and getting drunk with him, I had a great time. I was uncomfortable and yet enjoyed his attention and hanging out with him is just fun in general.

I also have no interest in dating him. Simply put, he can really be an asshole and has an ugly temper. While sometimes he's great, other times he's callous, immature and just generally dickish (I've seen him scream at a bus boy for taking his drink away too soon and then tip a bartender $20 for making him a special drink). I've also had to feel the wrath of his fury at work, which was deeply unpleasant. I think deep down he's a good person, but is just very impulsive and emotional. I'm not sure I could get past the working together thing or the age difference, but even if I could this is a huge deal breaker for me.

That being said, there is an undeniable connection and attraction between us. Which makes it difficult to toe the line and I find myself allowing him to walk all over it. He's always the aggressor there is no question, but I let him wear me down. He's constantly testing my boundaries. I'll be mildly shocked and a little uncomfortable, and yet I'm sort of flattered and curious. It's a truly bizarre feeling that I've never really had before.

I'm not sure how to deescalate the situation. So far I've lied and said that I've been dating the guy I'm casually seeing right now for much longer than I have been so that I seem less available. I knew that if I lied too much and said I was engaged or something he would see right through it. I'm actually surprised I was able to sell that much of a white lie to him, he's scarily good at reading me, which is another big issue. I really don't want this to escalate to where he either tries to kiss me or does something else where I have to straight out reject him. I really have no idea how he would take that and while he isn't my boss, he could make my work life a living hell and even if he handled it gracefully, it would be very uncomfortable. Also, just on a personal level I don't want to embarrass or hurt him.

How do I maintain boundaries? I've already decided that "grabbing a drink after work" is over. I can't avoid being alone with him, but I'm pretty sure he would never try anything at work. I've thought about telling him that we can't go to happy hour anymore because I can't be "drinking buddies" with the senior attorney for career reasons. Although he will probably see right through that. That leaves just making excuses every time he asks, which has generally been what I've been doing. Other than pretending to have a boyfriend and being super devoted to hitting my yoga class right after work is there anything else I can do to stop this thing from boiling over?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (71 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Put the brakes on immediately. Tell him you need him to act professionally towards you beginning yesterday. If he doesn't comply, you escalate to HR.
posted by xingcat at 7:10 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

That being said, there is an undeniable connection and attraction between us. Which makes it difficult to toe the line and I find myself allowing him to walk all over it. He's always the aggressor there is no question, but I let him wear me down. He's constantly testing my boundaries. I'll be mildly shocked and a little uncomfortable, and yet I'm sort of flattered and curious. It's a truly bizarre feeling that I've never really had before.

None of what you've said above sound like a "connection" or an "attraction". It sounds like he's trying to prime you for what he wants, with little regard for what you want.

I would encourage you to reframe this "attraction" you're feeling. You've already acknowledged that this guy is a jerk. It's not your problem if he "sees right through" your VERY CORRECT assertion that you cannot be drinking buddies with a senior attorney at work. It is the truth, it is YOUR truth, and you have every right to say it and stick by it. Whether or not you still have your boyfriend is none of his business. Nor is it his business to know why you decline his invitations. You don't have to tell him everything, just be polite and firm. It's the safe route, particularly if HR needs to get involved.
posted by absquatulate at 7:11 AM on June 3, 2013 [20 favorites]

You have got to speak up for yourself and set some boundaries. Start by saying, whenever he asks you to go somewhere with him or asks an inappropriate question, "Lets keep our relationship strictly professional." Then change the subject to something work-related. If he tries to stray off topic, tell him he's making you feel uncomfortable and repeat yourself again. I do think you need to smile and be polite, at least at first, because he sounds like the type who could turn ugly when spurned (I don't agree from your description that "deep down he's a good person").

So give him a chance to get his act together but in the meantime, document everything with dates and times and be prepared in case it escalates.
posted by hazyjane at 7:11 AM on June 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

"They way you've been acting and speaking to me is making me really uncomfortable. Please stop."
posted by rtha at 7:12 AM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Get a new job or transfered to another department. This is a very dangerous situation. Don't play with fire, especially fire that you really want to play with, unless you want to get burned. Run.
posted by windykites at 7:16 AM on June 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

This guy sounds like an obnoxious lush/alcoholic, you should limit your contact with him. Your personal life is none of his business, tell him so if he asks, and decline all invitations. And next time he asks something inappropriate tell your boss or your HR person that this guy is making you uncomfortable. Do not feel any kind of guilt for having been briefly swayed by his charms. He's been doing this for a long time, he's an expert at manipulation, it's a useful skill for a lawyer.
posted by mareli at 7:17 AM on June 3, 2013

Did you agree to get a drink with him expecting him to behave inappropriately or to make you uncomfortable? This isn't your fault at all. Colleagues get drinks all the time, they may even flirt or get drunk, but neither of those things is an invitation to cross boundaries. Stop looking for ways to blame yourself, this is all on him.

Please document everything that has happened so far. Write down dates and times. Write a description you could imagine giving to a lawyer. Save any correspondence he has sent you.

Be aware of your legal options. This document is helpful. I'm sorry to say that many times things like this do end with retaliation when the offender realizes you aren't playing their game anymore. Again, this isn't your fault, but for your own protection you should proceed defensively.

Good luck.
posted by annekate at 7:18 AM on June 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

You are bouncing from one contradictory statement to another. I have no doubt that while his actions are inappropriate, he's getting seriously mixed signals from you.

You have not described a situation of harrassment, in my opinion. You've described a come-here/go-away scenario. Just make it all only "go away". That might be all it takes. Give the guy a chance to get a clear signal!
posted by thinkpiece at 7:20 AM on June 3, 2013 [42 favorites]

Oh btw, you don't have to make excuses for yourself regarding who you like to date when you are talking to your collegue. "Because I don't want to" is a good enough reason, even if you're curious. Ditto for why you're not wanting to go out for drinks anymore. Engaging in any way just gives him more ammo because he's looking for weak spots, not actually trying to understand you. Seriously. Don't do it, don't justify yourself to a man to stay on his good side when you don't want (or want to want) him, he'll just use it against you.
posted by windykites at 7:25 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's understandable that the attention feels good and as thinkplace said, he may be getting mixed signals, but that is no way is your fault. The fact that you mentioned (although a white lie) that you have a boyfriend, and he did not honor that, means he just wants what he wants from you. Be firm, be polite, and set the boundaries straight. Good on you for no more happy hour drinking after work. Keep it to lunch times with other coworkers with a set time limit. Alcohol can make things stand in a very gray area, so avoid it with him at all costs. When I have been in this situation, I would mention my boyfriend often and that seemed to get the idea across. The person disappeared or backed off.
posted by happysocks at 7:26 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

So far I've lied and said that I've been dating the guy I'm casually seeing right now for much longer than I have been so that I seem less available. I knew that if I lied too much and said I was engaged or something he would see right through it.

I would continue down this track, but rather than creating an elaborate lie I'd just react to his boundary pushing with references to your boyfriend and your relationship. When he invites you out, decline and say "I already have plans with my boyfriend." Every time. He says your shirt really brings out your eyes, you say cheerfully "Thanks, my boyfriend said the same thing this morning!" and then change the subject to something work related. Every invitation and every inappropriate behaviour earns a reference to your boyfriend. Bonus points if you can somehow have him see/meet your "boyfriend" to prove he exists. (A good male friend could work as a stand in if you don't want to ask whoever you're dating to do this.) Hopefully he'll eventually give you up as a bad job.

If he continues I'd say something more direct "I'm in a relationship, a happy one to boot, and when you say/do stuff like that it makes me uncomfortable. I know you probably had no idea, which is why I didn't want to bring it up. I didn't want to make a big thing out of something you weren't intentionally doing. I just want to keep things professional between us, okay?"

I also would document some stuff and maybe start looking to get transferred if you can. He sounds like someone you don't want on your bad side. You're wise to tread carefully.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:26 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

He's constantly testing my boundaries.
No, he is grooming you.

I've also had to feel the wrath of his fury at work, which was deeply unpleasant.
Run about a billion miles an hour in the opposite direction.

Agreeing with the idea to note dates/times of interactions in case things turn nasty. Tell him very directly that you do not want any relationship with him beyond a professional one, and keep your conversations as cool and distant as you can, preferably always in front of other people. If he gets assholey, take it to management. But he will probably just move on to someone else tbh. Don't let the disappointment of this get to you, so that you end up trying to get him to like you again.

I'm wondering about your casual relationship - you might be missing a bit of spark or excitement. Decide if you want to create that in your current relationship or move on, but you do not need the "excitement" that will come with getting mixed up with this man.
posted by billiebee at 7:27 AM on June 3, 2013 [8 favorites]

No, I think he's priming you. Pushing you until he gets what he wants, but being "nice" enough so that you're confused. Honestly, he sounds like an abusive person. You can't "maintain boundaries" with a person like this, except in terms of stating outright, "I need to keep our relationship professional" or something similar. I would try to leave this job.

He's constantly testing my boundaries.

This is not the behavior of someone who is worried about embarrassing or hurting you.
posted by tooloudinhere at 7:27 AM on June 3, 2013 [17 favorites]

You say you'd been having trouble feeling as outraged as you think you're supposed to be - that's a big problem! Telling him to stop will never work if you don't mean it, and the more times you half-heartedly object, the less he's going to listen when you really do decide to draw the line. But now you're making the decision that this is going to stop, so make sure it really stops, and you really mean it.
When someone compliments you in very pushy ways, it's like he's saying "I know that I shouldn't be flirting with you" (and he's got plenty of reasons - you're a coworker, he's got work seniority, you're dating somebody, you've implied it's unwelcome) but at the same time, trying to pretend that he just can't help it - because you're sooooo awesome. He's testing your boundaries, and so far, you've let him know that you've got weaknesses there. When someone compliments you like that, it's really not about you (not to say yout you aren't adorable/sexy/interesting), it's about him, and whatever the crap is going on in his head as he's trying to rationalize acting like such a smarmy jerk.
posted by aimedwander at 7:28 AM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

"Hey, friend. I had a good time with you the other night, but for a number of reasons, I think it is best if we keep our relationship at a professional level. I don't think it would be a good idea for us to see each other socially anymore, as I'd hate to ruin the productive professional relationship we have. I trust that you understand and respect my feelings on this."
posted by Rock Steady at 7:29 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Talking about your fake boyfriend should be enough for most guys. But for some, there's the idea that "if the boyfriend isn't there, then she'll be interested". Which isn't your fault, but something you need to be aware of.

Agreeing with the advice to cut out ALL personal talk, keep things in a strictly professional footing, and if necessary bring it to HR.

You're both having problems handing the personal relationship part, so it's time to take that away.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:29 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

"We work together. This is inappropriate."

Repeat as necessary, to yourself as well as to him.
posted by ook at 7:32 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't use your boyfriend as an excuse. Tell him it went over the line and needs to stay professional from now on. Say it sober, in his office with the door closed. Calm and friendly way. End with a smile and a handshake. Take back control here.
posted by amaire at 7:33 AM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

You haven't seen him since? Having gotten drunk is a perfect reason to keep things even more professional.

Get professional, stay professional, don't go drinking with him again, quit discussing your personal life. There's no reason to bring up your boyfriend, your yoga class, whether you want kids, or if you date older guys.

Quit hanging out with him outside of work. I don't think this merits an HR complaint unless going drinking with him is somehow part of your work responsibilities. Go ahead and document in case there are any future issues, including how you choose to go out drinking with him, and documenting how you turned down all future advances.

Don't "reestablish" boundaries, immediately start treating him with the boundaries you want to have. You don't have to "explain" -- don't flirt back, if he asks you out say "that won't be possible" with no further explanation. You don't need to talk about your boyfriend at all, just say you are dedicated to your job.

Just stay as professional as possible with your attitude, and he will probably focus his attention elsewhere. Don't crack. And don't react when you see him leaving with someone else for drinks.
posted by yohko at 7:34 AM on June 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

The fact that you sometimes feel attracted to him isn't that surprising and doesn't make what he's doing to you okay. People in power often seem unusually attractive to the people below them (think of exploitative teacher/student relationships, for example) - taking advantage of that is, in my opinion, part of why such imbalanced relationships are wrong.

Since he is such an intimidating presence in person, you might start by writing him an email while you're still on leave. Don't be threatening or accusatory; aim for a kind of legalish detachment: "I'm sorry to be so blunt but the interactions we had on [whatever day] made me uncomfortable. I just want to reiterate to you that I'm not interested in any kind of relationship and I would prefer not to spend time together outside of work." The slightly incongruous, awkward formality of such an email, particularly after some time has passed, is part of the point. It will -if he has any brains in his head at all- put him on notice that this is the first step in documentation, and that if HR isn't involved now, they will be soon. Frankly, unless he is cruising for a total career-flameout, this should stop him in his tracks. But if he doesn't - if he tries to argue with you or do anything other than immediately apologize and back off- forward that email , along with a line or two describing his response- immediately to either your direct supervisor or HR.

Good luck!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:34 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I disagree this isn't "your fault." Not that I think anything blame worthy has happened yet, but you blaming him, and this thread blaming him, is not helping you right now

The truth is that no one was forcing you into a bar with this fellow, and no one forced you to sit through his interrogation and "sales pitch." YOU DID THAT.

I think the sooner you take responsibility for your own actions and choices, the easier it will be for you to deflect this guy without blowing up your career.

I also disagree that you should flat out say anything to him, at least at this point.

Go to your yoga class. Develop a life away from this guy and outside of the office. Let this thing die down naturally. If you're not avaible after hours, he'll eventually focus on someone else.

From your description you ARE giving mixed signals and you've left the door open for him to walk through. You're being emotionally dishonest by blaming this all on him.

Close that door and invest in life outside of the office. If he starts to harass you at work, then you speak up.

It just seems like you are fully participating with him at this point, and I don't at all get your indignation.

Put your focus elsewhere and stop engaging on a personal level, that's really all you need to do at this point.

I wouldn't even get a plan together at this point about what to do if he doesn't back off, because honestly, that's just keeping the drama going, and you seem really really into drama here.

At this point it seems like he'll take the hint if you stop playing. Stop playing with him, give this a chance to blow over.
posted by jbenben at 7:41 AM on June 3, 2013 [39 favorites]

It's reasonably likely that this guy has developed his MO after years of practicing it on younger vulnerable members of staff. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that next on his plan is date rape and that you would not be the first victim. The fact that you're slightly into it is exactly what makes you the target of the moment, and not somebody else with less plausible deniability.

In your situation I would be SUPER careful to avoid being alone with the guy, or being in any situation where you could somehow end up alone with him. I would avoid discussing anything personal with him, and definitely avoid giving excuses or reasons for not wanting to socialise with him. I would also look for another job pronto.

If you start shutting him down, watch out for him taking this as the beginning of a great debate and telling you how much you really want him, how "no" isn't an option for a variety of semi plausible reasons, and finally possibly how you are frigid and a bitch and your career is about to go suddenly south.

I may well be wrong, but I suggest keeping your eye out for warning signs just in case I am not.
posted by emilyw at 7:49 AM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also, when someone asks you a personal question, especially one that pushes boundaries, it is 100% OK to completely ignore the question and either walk away or change the subject.

That's how most people successfully handle this type of thing. You're not embarrassing the other person when you do that. Anyway, people who push boundaries are used to that response.

People like your aggressive boss are just fishing when they say inappropriate stuff like he says to you. They're fishing for someone to play their game with them. I promise you they are used to having their overtures ignored!

Next time don't take the bait, OK?

(And while you're at it, re-frame that sort of boundary pushing as extremely unnattractive so that next time you won't feel a thrill when someone tries this on you. Instead, you'll just see the person as a first class jerk - because that's what they are.)
posted by jbenben at 7:52 AM on June 3, 2013 [9 favorites]

Deep down he's a good person.

No, deep down he's a manipulative creep who's grooming you. Ask around about him at work. I'll bet there's a long history of younger colleagues getting tangled up with him in unpleasant ways. Don't fall for the trap of thinking that because he's not repulsive, he can't be a creep. The successful ones get away with it because they know exactly what buttons to push and how to string you along.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:55 AM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

On second reading, I have to agree with jbenben.
posted by happysocks at 7:56 AM on June 3, 2013

I agree 100% with thinkpiece about there being mixed signals.

But about this bit:

Also, just on a personal level I don't want to embarrass or hurt him.

My sister was telling me about some advice she received from a wise older man, when she was telling him about her fear of hurting a certain guy's feelings by rejecting his advances: "Women have ignored and been 'rude' to men who pursue them since the beginning of time ... he will survive." I think that's good to keep in mind.

Anyway, he's swaggered into your life acting like he's entitled to you. By giving into that, you would be confirming his high self-regard and validating his sense of entitlement.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:03 AM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

People like your aggressive boss are just fishing when they say inappropriate stuff like he says to you. They're fishing for someone to play their game with them.

Absolutely! And there are probably a good number of willing "catches" in his past and in his future. And that's cool too, some women actively like this type pursuit -- it's not all grooming and priming, the women are in the game too. You sound like you weren't really sure whether or not you wanted to be caught -- undeniable chemistry, your words -- and you may have been telegraphing that. So far, he's fishing. Avoid the bait.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:15 AM on June 3, 2013

I am super sorry this is happening to you, because matter what you do to defuse this situation, your prospects at this job are now basically over.

If he has no problem expressing unprofessional levels of anger in a professional situation (as you have said), as a senior partner, even if not your direct reporting, he will have no problem sabotaging your career when he finally understands that No means No. He will spread all kinds of toxic shit about you to all echelons, and who will they believe?

Again, I'm sorry. This situation sucks and it is wrong and there is nothing you can do to salvage it unless he somehow magically turns into a reasonable person when you reject him. But you know he won't.

You can, however, salvage your dignity while at the same time looking for work elsewhere: politely refuse any attempt at after-hours or off-premises contact and if he presses it's time to pull out the Judith Martin: "I'm sorry, that won't be possible. I have to get back to work now."
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:16 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your question reads like you're trying to find a way out of this without actually having to say something to him.

That is not possible.

Take the above advice and lay down the law. You really need to set some very clear, very stringent boundaries.
posted by Specklet at 8:34 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I disagree the OP's career at this office is automatically over. It's a possibility, which is why office romances and flirtatious are unwise, but nothing so very bad has happened thus far, so there is no reason to panic.

OP, don't gossip about this brief flirtation. Don't make a big deal about being unavailable to this senior partner. Just go about your business and give matters a chance to cool down.

You'll know in about a month or so if you need to find another job or whatever, but in the meantime, resist catastrophizing and drama.
posted by jbenben at 8:39 AM on June 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

First go to this guy and in no uncertain terms tell him, "I am not interested in having a relationship with you that extends beyond employer/employee. We are colleagues, and that is all. Please do not ever approach me or flirt with me again."

He may protest that he never did such thing, whatever. Tell him.

Now, go to HR and document what happened as professionally as possible. Just the facts.

"Mr. Creepster and I went out for drinks after work. I thought it was a colleague to colleague thing. It took a more personal turn and he discussed a potential relationship with me. I am not interested in a relationship with Mr. Creepster and I have advised him of such. I don't want to file a complaint, but I do want it on record just in case."

That way if it turns nasty or escallates, you've made a pro-active move.

Write a follow up email to HR, and print it, save it and document it. Laminate it if you have to.

In the future, don't flirt with guys you work with. It seems harmless, until it isn't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:40 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Keep records. He could become vindictive. If he does, or if he does harass you, the more documentation you have the better.
posted by amtho at 8:53 AM on June 3, 2013

I'm sorry, Jbenben, but the reason that such stringent rules about inter-office dating exist is because when a person with seniority makes advances on someone below them, power dynamics come into play that make it much, much more difficult to just "walk away."

Here are a few reasons why this guy is way out of line:

-In the legal profession, and in lots of other ones, important work and networking gets done at the bar, after hours, sometimes even after a few drinks. By putting the OP on the spot and making it impossible for her to enter those spaces without being aggressively hit on, the senior employee essentially bars her from participating. She's safe from having her boundaries crossed, as long as she never encounters him outside of work? That is not right.

-when someone asks you a personal question, especially one that pushes boundaries, it is 100% OK to completely ignore the question and either walk away or change the subject. Sure maybe, in theory, yes, if the question is wildly inappropriate. But has your superior at work ever asked you something, and instead of answering, you just ignored them and walked away? This isn't a random dude at a bar; this is a person that OP spends a good deal of time treating respectfully, obeying and trying to please - because that's her responsibility as a junior employee. Suddenly up-ending that dynamic and saying, "Back off, buddy, you're grossing me out" is, psychologically, really fucking hard. This is not some individual weakness on OP's part; this is a known fact of life and it is why practically every company in the country has rules about relationships between people who aren't on the same level.

-Is she giving "mixed signals"? Okay, that's a term I hate, but fine, I'll use it. "Mixed" means that OP has done a few things that suggest she might be interested in this guy (although from what she's written, the only thing I'm sure she's done is not get up and walk away from the conversation, which hardly seems like a declaration of passion on her end.) But if her signals are mixed, then you have to accept that mixed in with this passive "OK," she has also given a lot of very clear indications that she is not interested and, moreover, she isn't just a little bit bored, she is actively uncomfortable. That is all that her superior should need! Why would he think it was okay to keep pushing forward if there was even the suggestion that his much younger junior colleague was uncomfortable? I don't think interoffice relationships are necessarily always wrong, but they come with so many complications that they're only worth it if both participants are active yes's. For a superior to pester, nag, and push a reluctant younger employee into a sexual no. no. no. no.

OP, your job at this company is not over but this dude is definitely in the wrong. You are not "causing drama" by being confused and upset about what's going on; he is acting wildly irresponsibly. Maybe with a little bit of action on your part, he'll stop acting like such a clueless fuckwad and go away; alternatively, things might escalate, but you are 100% justified in feeling uncomfortable and to bring in your direct supervisor or HR should that become necessary.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:02 AM on June 3, 2013 [24 favorites]

Also, for Chrissakes - reading some of these comments is making my blood boil. If you are even remotely considering leaving your job because of this (which I don't get from your post, but which some people are suggesting might happen) please promise me that you will not do so before you go to HR and complain to everyone up and down the chain of command. People should not leave jobs because their supervisors hit on them so much that it makes them unbearably uncomfortable, unless they are leaving with a settlement check from a sexual harassment lawsuit in hand.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:13 AM on June 3, 2013 [14 favorites]

thinkpiece: You have not described a situation of harrassment, in my opinion. You've described a come-here/go-away scenario. Just make it all only "go away". That might be all it takes. Give the guy a chance to get a clear signal!
The hell? Victim blaming much? OP isn't making out with him and then sending him away, she is going out for drinks (which is something colleagues do, nonsexually), and getting hit on, repeatedly, despite rejecting the come-on repeatedly. And then he's taking the rejection out on her at work.

He's WAY over the line for behavior with a professional colleague, and I'm fairly certain from the mandatory sexual-harassment training I've taken at various jobs that HR would think so, too.

If not, then certainly there's a lawyer out there that would... and a judge.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:14 AM on June 3, 2013 [10 favorites]

There's a very, very, very good chance given the way you've described your co-worker's behavior that this will not be a surprise to other people in your workplace that he's acting this way. You shouldn't have to fear that he can make your working life hell, or that this will end your career.

Part of your strategy can be to take this discreetly to someone else at your workplace: if you're in a law firm environment, do you have a mentor? This is totally the type of thing that a mentor can help you out with. Actually setting boundaries is the first priority for your strategy, but if this doesn't die on the vine after you stop spending non-work social time together, then you can go to your mentor. Again--people that have worked with him for a while will probably not be surprised that he's doing this, and you will very likely find that you have support in putting this to a stop.

I think the suggestions that you must find a way out of this working environment immediately or that this will end your career are overreactions.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:15 AM on June 3, 2013

He's not harassing her yet, since at the point when he was hitting on her she wasn't sure if she was interested or not.

She now knows she doesn't want to take this further, so passively resisting should legitimately work.

Should. I agree that it's a distinct possibility that this guy will keep pushing and if he does, then he'll be harassing her, but he hasn't done it yet.

I also agree that it's inadvisable for the OP to go to the bar alone with her boss, but if there are others there too, that doesn't exclude the OP from the Real Deals That Are Agreed Over Drinks. I also agree that it's inadvisable for the OP to get drunk in the presence of her boss, or any of her cow-orkers. But she can still go into a bar in a group and not have more than two drinks at a time, and expect to be safe.

Like I said, I agree that this guy seems like the type who could harass her. But he hasn't done so yet. I absolutely see why the OP feels intimidated and I would too. In fact, I would be looking for another job, but this guy's hitting on me would be a smaller part of it than his drinking a lot, yelling at a busboy for bringing his drink late, overtipping in exchange for a special drink; combined with his volatile temper and assholishness. That, all by itself, based on my own past experience is reason to have one foot out the door.

The combination of that, and his hitting on her, and doing so in a boundary-pushing kinda way, makes me agree that harassment is probably just around the corner, but I also agree that fading on this and giving it a month is worth a try.

During that month, I'd polish my resume and start discreetly sending out a few applications just in case. It might turn out that I didn't need them.
posted by tel3path at 9:27 AM on June 3, 2013

I agree that the "doom and gloom" brigade are overreacting, but your job is definitely riskier than it would be if he hadn't targeted you.

As for what to do:

1. Document
2. Avoid being alone with him in any setting unless necessary
3. If it is necessary (at work), and he makes an inappropriate comment, tell him it's inappropriate.
4. If he persists, escalate

The reason I'm using words that describe his behavior as creepy and predatory is because he is resisting your attempts at shutting it down. It doesn't matter whether you're attracted him; once you told him you were not interested in dating him, he should have respectfully withdrawn.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:29 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I disagree with the people who say he's a horrible creep or whatever. You said you felt chemistry with him, enjoy spending time with him and he might be picking up on that. If you had no interest him it would be different. (It would help to know your ages though, there is a big difference between 43 and 58 and 25 and 34)

Anyway, it's always easy to see what the right course of action is when you're not in the situation. I think the most straightforward and simple way to deal with this would be to be direct and tell him that the reason you don't want to date him is because of his assholish behavior. It's not that he's old or that you have a boyfriend or whatever.

If you make excuses in his mind he'll believe what you say and think that if he can change your mind about older guys or dump your boyfriend or whatever he'll have a shot. You'll also need to commit to not letting your 'chemistry' show. Make sure you don't respond to any flirtatious comments in a positive way after that. And also I think you'll have to avoid hanging out with him and having fun with him until it's clear he's over you (maybe when he gets a girlfriend of his own)

Obviously I have no idea what's going on this guy's head, or know how he'll react. But the faster you make it crystal clear to him you don't want to date and aren't interested him the quicker things will resolve themselves.
posted by delmoi at 9:35 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your superior has abused the power of his position in a way that is totally inappropriate.

To be perfectly honest, OP, I think you would be well-served to meet with an attorney specializing in employment law before you go back to work or talk to HR. This man's behavior sounds whoooooaaa unacceptable, he sounds unstable, and he is in a greater position of power at your firm than you are. In short--this sounds like a potentially volatile situation for you. HR's job is to protect the company. Your attorney's job is to protect YOU. Whether you want to treat this as a matter of harassment or not, whether you decide you are so uncomfortable that you need to leave your job or not, a legal professional may be able to advise you as to your options.
posted by anonnymoose at 9:35 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Asking him to respect your stated wishes regarding his advances and compliments would be the right thing to say. Then he can't refer to the issues of chemistry that do exist. Tell him you want to be in a workplace that is free of these types of advances and that you are sure he is the type of mature leader who can do just that.

In other words, box him in.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:47 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also agree that it's inadvisable for the OP to go to the bar alone with her boss,
He's not her boss. He's just some guy who happens to be 'more senior', it's not clear if he actually any authority over her - which makes a big difference.

Anyway, I feel like he's it may be that he's the kind of guy who likes to push people around and sees you as someone who he can push around, so I think being direct and forceful will have an added effect given your personalities.

I think what most people end up doing is simply trying indefinitely ignoring the situation - not responding when he flirts/hits on you and hope he gets bored. That might work eventually.

What you definitely should not do is tell him that you felt 'chemistry' but that it just wasn't right. You could say you enjoyed hanging out but that his temper was an issue and also tell him that you're just not physically attracted to him.
posted by delmoi at 10:04 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had several friends who seem to find themselves in these situations on a regular basis. A predatory man is circling around them and they waffle between being flirtatious back at them, and turning to others for advice on how to back out. Particularly the fact that you state that he's a "good person deep down", that's a very common thread in these scenarios.

Another unfortunately common thread is that those friends never took any advice on backing out, the guy would either lose interest or there'd be Big Drama and pain.

I don't think that they, or you, are trying to whip up drama. Those friends tended to come from bad family situations, alcoholism and abuse, and the drama didn't seem as off to them as they had grown up with it. The men they were dating ranged from dickish to straight out jerks, so telling them the predatory man was NOT a good person underneath it all made no sense to them, since all the men in their life were similar. I can understand JenBen's frustration, there was a lot of "how can you tell me how much you don't want this, and then five minutes later turn around and walk straight towards him, uuuuuaargh".

Hopefully you are able to stick to backing out, and don't get caught up in enjoying the attention, because from what you've written here this guy sounds like someone who would have no qualms getting what he wants out of this with no thought on how it will affect you, personally or professionally. You should spend some time on yourself investigating why part of you enjoys this and has a great time when an older man is being slimy and ignoring boundaries. You don't state how old you are, but a lot of younger women change their mind about that only after being very badly hurt. You really want to avoid that if you can.
posted by Dynex at 10:10 AM on June 3, 2013 [7 favorites]

I was TOTALLY in this same position 10 years ago and it ended with me agreeing to drinks and then having sex with him..but it was the WORST sex ever. Like, rape-y sex. The next day I told him that we could never do that again he said that he was so drunk he didn't remember anything (a lie I'm sure). I quit my job because I felt sick around him. I was too embarrassed to tell our superiors/get him in trouble, but I should have. I guess because I was attracted to him and thought there was that chemistry*, I blamed myself for letting him get in my pants.
Anyway, don't feel bad about being enticed, it DOES feel good to be told you are sexy and all that..*but don't mistake that for chemistry. He's toxic, remember that. Tell him you had fun the other night but that you can't go out with him again and you'd like him to stop hitting on you. If he can't respect that, go to HR or your boss.
posted by hellameangirl at 10:30 AM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd like to say that people who are "good people underneath" are always ALSO good people on the surface.

In other words, if he were a good person, he wouldn't also be a dick.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:51 AM on June 3, 2013 [23 favorites]

OP, me-mail me if you want more details about my personal situation, I don't want to write much more of it on here, but there is SO much I wish I knew then what I know now. You say you don't want things to get ugly but the worst thing is for this to end in a date rape. So please reach out, I want to help you prevent that.
posted by hellameangirl at 10:58 AM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

really don't want this to escalate to where he either tries to kiss me or does something else where I have to straight out reject him.

That's what he's been working off of the entire time. You're going to have to straight out reject him.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:04 AM on June 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

over many drinks,
I told him I never had and had no interest and in fact often dated younger guys,
I had a great time. I was uncomfortable and yet enjoyed his attention and hanging out with him is just fun in general.
difficult to toe the line and I find myself allowing him to walk all over it.
I let him wear me down.
How do I maintain boundaries? I've already decided that "grabbing a drink after work" is over. I can't be "drinking buddies" with the senior attorney for career reasons.
making excuses every time he asks, which has generally been what I've been doing.

Don't ever go out with him alone. Ever. If there's a group going out, go some of the time, but have 1 drink and leave before everyone else. Drinking reduces your ability to make appropriate choices, so if you're at a work event that involves drinking, drink ginger ale, or, at the very least, alternate ginger ale with wine. That's a generally good idea for work events - people make some very bad moves and say unwise things after several drinks. Don't make excuses. Name, you are such a flirt, but I'd rather stick to a professional relationship. Name, thanks for the offer, but I think we shouldn't even look as if we're dating; you know how people gossip. Be consistent, keep that boundary clear on your part.

If you can spend work time with him, and maintain good boundaries, you could consider asking him to help you by being a mentor. That would clarify the fact that you value his wisdom and capability, but don't want to date him. Keep your behavior very professional, paying attention to your words and gestures. No touching on the arm or hand to make a point, etc.

Also, note in your calendar or somewhere the times he comes on to you, what he said, where it happened, etc. You may need documentation some day. Senior attorney can make your work life a misery if he's really a jerk.
posted by theora55 at 11:34 AM on June 3, 2013

I'm not sure how to deescalate the situation. So far I've lied and said that I've been dating the guy I'm casually seeing right now for much longer than I have been so that I seem less available. I knew that if I lied too much and said I was engaged or something he would see right through it. I'm actually surprised I was able to sell that much of a white lie to him, he's scarily good at reading me, which is another big issue.

This particularly sounds like a big part of your chemistry might be his dominance or seeming "knowledge" of you. You try to keep your distance and deny him, but he knows you really want him, etc... it's a pretty basic sexy-romance trope, and I think the best way to avoid it is to stop telling him white lies, so he doesn't have the "but I know how you REALLY feel" allure.

My advice would be to completely drop any non-work related interaction with him. Don't bring up your last interaction until and unless he asks you for drinks again, at which point you can say "I felt that our last interaction veered into personal territory and I'd prefer to keep our relationship strictly professional". Don't admit to any "wrongdoing" by going for drinks with him, and don't justify, argue, defend, or explain why you did or why you don't want to anymore.

Own the phrase "that's really none of your business" or "that's not relevant to our working relationship" if he questions you about your boyfriend or your plans after work.

If you are in extra CYA mode, I would write up and email yourself your recollection of events now so you have a dated copy you can take to HR if necessary.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:15 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Practice saying no without any "because" in your sentence. Do this in every area of your life. Many people, especially women, need practice at it because when someone with more power asks us to do something, we often feel we should try to do it or say why not.

So, "I'm not interested in your invitation because I am with my boyfriend" or "because you're my boss" or "Because you're older" becomes, "I'm not interested."

You're not saying no because of yoga. You're saying no. No explanations.

You could be single and yoga-free and you still get to say no.
posted by Riverine at 1:00 PM on June 3, 2013 [12 favorites]

I would try a last ditch effort of chalking it up to "that was just the alcohol talking" to try to let him save face. I would make it clear this is inappropriate, I am not interested, we cannot have drinks together again. (Do not use your boyfriend as an excuse or he will be all over you the minute that relationship ends.) I would also contact HR, let them know of this ambiguous situation and that you are concerned he might not back off. Try to give him a graceful exit but be prepared for the possibility he will not take it. Then, from your end, cool it and make sure you stop giving mixed signals, leaving openings, etc.

What he has done is super inappropriate for the office but extremely normal for traditional heterosexual courting. If he only knew you socially, I would primarily put this on you as "So, stop sending mixed signals." But given the work setting, it is way more complicated than that. I think the friction between traditional heteronormative behavior and egalitarian work situations is a huge "hill to die on" for modern women. But I don't think it is all on men to fix that.

He probably makes enough money that if you married him, you could quit working or get a part time job and be a traditional wife. Nothing wrong with that, if that's what you wany. Men don't generally have the opportunity to choose between the two things like that and seem to be largely oblivious to the big choice they are de facto asking a woman to make in that regard. If you do not want to be just the little wifey, if you want more out of life than that, it is mostly on you to choose your career over whatever excites you about a man you describe as an asshole. And then do whatever it takes to get your needs met elsewhere so you stop leaving him an invitation.

He is older, he probably very much expects to be the pursuer. If you leave openings, he will keep taking them. That doesn't make it right, but you need to be aware of that and account for it, if only so that if it turns ugly, no one can accuse you of being at fault.
posted by Michele in California at 1:18 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

He's WAY over the line for behavior with a professional colleague, and I'm fairly certain from the mandatory sexual-harassment training I've taken at various jobs that HR would think so, too.

I'm in HR, train the trainers, and I respectfully disagree.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:27 PM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Alcoholics can be such a combination of seductive and obnoxious. That's why there are so many books written about codependency. In your shoes, I would institute a "no drinking with colleagues" policy. For one thing, people like that will try to turn you into an alcoholic too. If you don't have any tendencies that way, it sounds comical but I have been in more than one job or academic department where a senior person was always looking for more drinking buddies and would create them if they couldn't find any ready-made. If there was sex involved too, jackpot! Stay away from this. Otherwise, you may find yourself drawn into a relationship with an alcoholic and maybe a budding drinking problem of your own.

I also think Michele in California's idea of framing it as a problem with that kind of drinking episode is not bad. The guy may become vengeful if you appear to criticize his drinking, though.
posted by BibiRose at 1:36 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re Bibirose's observation:
I witnessed a relationship between a tall man who drank heavily and a tiny woman where they were apparently never sober together, drank together breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon poolside and made artwork from the mountain of wine bottle corks this generated as a means to commemorate the relationship. Men metabolize alcohol differently from women and mass matters when it comes to alcohol. It wasn't long before she had the irrational behavior, bad temper and other problems typical of brain damage from a head injury (and fits with the OP's description of this man's temper and erratic behavior).

A woman trying to keep up with a man's heavy drinking is a really bad idea. Please view that aspect of this relationship as a very serious problem. He was, in some ways, a nice guy and a catch. I understood why she married him. But I remain mortified by the brain damage she suffered as a result of their courtship.

I will also add that using the boyfriend as an excuse only encourages predatory behavior. It sends the signal that you are completely okay with being a man's property and you don't have real agency of your own. Plenty of men are perfectly okay with pursuing a woman who is in a relationship. Not his problem if the boyfriend isn't man enough to keep you, etc.

So you need to own the "I am not willing to get with you" part of this. Obviously, it is best to avoid offending him if you can, so avoid appending that with "...because you are an asshole with a terrible temper!" But do own it. Don't make polite excuses or chalk it up to the work situation, the boyfriend or anything else. Situations change. If you are sure his temper is a dealbreaker, then you need to send an unequivocal message of "no, not ever."
posted by Michele in California at 2:17 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

OP here. I set up a sock puppet to clarify a few things. Thanks for everyone's responses this is a very confusing situation for me and I agree there is blame to go around and I don't think that this has to end in ruin for me, him or anyone, but that I am treading on thin ice.

A little more context on how things got to here might explain the dynamic better. We work in a very small department. He's a known hot head, but not a known womanizer (and trust me we have those). Our working relationship for probably the first four 4 months was very rocky. He was impossible to please. Difficult to get a hold of. All very classic difficult senior attorney to work with (also while I don't have a mentor, he is my mentor for all practical purposes and likes to call himself that). We had a massive blown out early on where he totally exploded over a minor misunderstanding. I'm talking screaming and swearing at me (he has a history of doing this to people). He apologized the next day. I was very professional in response, but he knew I was very upset and that he had really hurt our working relationship. At that point he basically set out to make amends and eventually I let what happened go, appreciating the effort he had made to make it right.

So that was good. After a few months we developed the kind of great, friendly working relationship I have had previously with my senior colleagues at other jobs (mostly male btw, but some female). Those working relationships have always been great and have contributed greatly to my professional development. They NEVER crossed any type of line, but as I think it pretty common with colleagues even when there is a power differential we discussed personal things like their kids, upcoming vacations, things like that. We joked around and their was a level of familiarity that was much greater than with other coworkers. I was aware of their significant others, but since I don't have a long standing established relationship I didn't talk about my romantic life and they never asked. At my old job we would regularly go out for drinks, but rarely more than one or two and there were always more than 2 people because it was a big office. In my current job there just isn't really anyone else to invite out with us which makes socializing after work odd. So that's where I am coming from being used to and what I hoped I would have with A.

Things eventually got into the sort of working relationship with A that I describe above. However, instead of sort of reaching an equilibrium after a certain point, it just sort of kept progressing. Part of my problem is that this job was kind of hell before we established a friendship. He's just sort of a grumpy difficult person and we have very stressful jobs. I can say without a doubt that we are both much better at our jobs because of the close nature of our working relationship.

This was actually only the second time I had ever accepted his invitation to go to happy hour (there was one other time we went out for drinks, but it was with some other attorneys from another department and was basically an informal networking event). So yeah things spun out of control fast.

I think jbenben and pretentious illiterate were the most dead on, even though that might seem at odds. I think I could have easily stopped this earlier and I didn't and that's on me. However, I know this wouldn't be an issue if I were a man. I could have this kind of friendship with him, go out drinking, and it would be great. I would never have to worry about constantly toeing the line and that's not fair to me. There shouldn't be different rules for me than for a man in my position, but there are. And those rules may not be fair, but ignoring those rules just because I don't think they are fair or right, doesn't mean there won't be consequences for breaking those rules.

Also Michele in California you raise a really good point. I see now that part of the reason I'm not outraged is because if this was just in a social context, I would agree he'd done nothing wrong. I've been subject to sexual harassment at other jobs and it's been the sort of behavior that would be really offensive even if it wasn't in a job context. So you put it in a job context and it's just horrifying. If A was just some guy I knew I wouldn't think he'd done anything all that out of line and would just let him down easy. The problem is some guys can take that type of rejection in stride and others turn into total assholes. And I can't really risk finding that out given that we work together.

I also agree that it's concerning that part of me is enjoying the attention. I think I'm clearly a little bored and frustrated with my personal life. I have trouble finding people I connect to and clearly this is fulfilling some need I have, but I need to knock it the hell off.

I think jbenben you're right in how to handle it. A actually called me earlier and was very uncharacteristically anxious. Neither of us even mentioned the other night and immediately started talking about some work related issues. I think I can likely just let this blow over.

Also, to answer some other questions. I'm in my early 30s. A does have a girlfriend (close to his own age), but it is very off and on. He only has nice things to say about her, but doesn't think their life goals are ultimately compatible. He has only mentioned her once (on the grand drunken night in question where all was divulged). I knew of her existence prior to this just through normal office gossip, but had purposefully never broached the subject.

Also, to make it clear he never actually said he wanted to date/sleep with me. He said everything but didn't quite go there, which is good. Plausible deniability is just barely intact.

In sum, dear god life is messy.
posted by Duchess Sock McPuppeterson at 3:06 PM on June 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

Since plausible deniability is still intact, "covering" for him, blaming the alcohol and COOLing things off might still fix this. I managed to sidestep trouble at work by covering for one man and being considerate of his senior position (he did nothing wrong but clearly liked me). I know a woman who told a married colleague "That's just the alcohol talking!" when he made a grab for her while they were traveling together for work. He was her staunchest ally at the office forever more after that. A decent guy will appreciate it if you cut them slack and protect them and will respect your boundaries.

So this might still work. But do prepare yourself in case it does not.
posted by Michele in California at 3:21 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also agree that it's concerning that part of me is enjoying the attention. I think I'm clearly a little bored and frustrated with my personal life. I have trouble finding people I connect to and clearly this is fulfilling some need I have, but I need to knock it the hell off.

Sometimes it takes years to realize this, especially when it's someone you have an instant connection or chemistry with. You sound intelligent and self-aware, and while you do need to deal with this situation, don't beat yourself up too much.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:26 PM on June 3, 2013

Hmm, has a girlfriend? Yikes. Is the issue with them that he wants kids and she doesn't? Maybe this whole thing is his biological clock ticking loudly and he's feeling desperate for finding a wifey/mother-of-his-children. When he asked you if you want kids, what did you answer? If you said you do, then maybe thats whats driving his flirting, and makes this even more tricky. If you don't want kids, maybe thats a good excuse for when he hits on you. You can say "A, I'm flattered, but I know that having a family is your ultimate goal and its not mine so we are simply un-compatible".
posted by hellameangirl at 3:40 PM on June 3, 2013

posted by hellameangirl at 3:53 PM on June 3, 2013

hellameangirl - I wasn't going to get into that, but yes kids appears to be the big issue between A and his girlfriend. And yes he seems very aware that he's fast approaching an age where even if he could still technically father children he wouldn't want to be that old of a dad.

I probably should have lied in response, but I told the truth that I did, but not anytime soon.

He's never overtly asked me out or anything, just danced around the topic. I definitely get a very strong vibe that he's putting me on a pedestal and idealizing me a bit as the perfect woman for him that would be the answer to all his problems.

I mean I like to think I'm awesome, but I'm pretty sure I'm not quite as awesome as he makes me out to be.
posted by Duchess Sock McPuppeterson at 4:58 PM on June 3, 2013

Try that, then. Develop some bad habits, at least for show. Since he's crushing, figure out what will wreck the crush and do that. For me, it would be seeing a cigarette. Not suggesting you take up smoking, but that sort of thing.

Using his crush against him like that would make the situation salvageable, as you didn't reject him... He "got over" you.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:25 PM on June 3, 2013

Youtube does not play nicely with Android, so I can't post a link, but the last suggestion makes me think of the date scene in "White Chicks" where the black guy gushes about every single thing the undercover cop does to try to be repulsive.

I have also had experiences where trying to hint to a guy that "No, really, your lady isn't that awful. I am so much worse! Be grateful for what you've got." just backfired. Most of the time, just putting it out there that I am seriously medically handicapped, older than you guessed, etc, is sufficient to cool some guy's jets. But once in a while, it is like that scene in "Over the Hedge" where the Persian cat is enamored with the skunk lady and doesn't care about her smell because he cannot smell anything. He just thinks she's amazingly beautiful and there is no deterring him.

So be careful with that. (If you can pull it off, more power to you. If it works, it's brilliant. Having had my guesses about what drives men go very wrong on more than one occasion, I just try to be honest. And in this situation, the most important detail to be honest about is "No, thank you.")
posted by Michele in California at 7:02 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I definitely get a very strong vibe that he's putting me on a pedestal and idealizing me a bit as the perfect woman for him that would be the answer to all his problems.

It sounds like he's enthusiastic about you because you represent an escape from his current conundrum. I would bet that if you were to carefully consider the tone of your guys' dialogue these past few months, you've probably been [unintentionally] dropping comments that have been feeding his fantasy of how Duchess Sock McPuppeterson would meet his needs far better than Current Girlfriend. Your passive attempts to avoid hurting his feelings further fuel the fantasy that with you, everything would be wonderful. By protecting him from the "real you" (you know, the "you" with needs of your own that realistically conflict with his), you're not giving him any data to the contrary. You're inadvertently teaching him to pine for an allusion instead of deal with reality.

If that's the case, consider how conducting yourself this way (protecting his feelings) is NOT being a good friend to him. He needs to know clearly that in spite of the underlying chemistry, you are NOT interested in a romantic relationship with him (basically, just because you have a lady-boner for him doesn't mean you have to use it). If he IS offended, trust me, he's an adult, he can handle honesty, and he will get over it. Just as using the excuse of a boyfriend implies you're okay with being someone's property, protecting him from his own feelings implies you do not view him as having personal agency either when it comes to problem-solving his own emotional challenges.

re: unusual, undeniable chemistry with older men. I'm early 30s and experience this occassionally as well. While I'm very keenly interested in meeting a man my own age, it occurred to me that perhaps some of the qualities I'm genuinely attracted to in these older fellows are what I need to more proactively seek in similar-aged men --that perhaps this older fellow represents a matured form of the kind of man that does it for me. This has helped me to debug the attraction on my end, use it to better understand myself, and not feel so guilty about it. We don't have to act on our instincts, obviously, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from them, even when they appear to be misfiring in cases such as these. Just my 2+ cents, OP --good luck with it!
posted by human ecologist at 8:16 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find the idea that this man is 'grooming' the OP to be faintly ridiculous. She is not a child or a teenager, and he is not even her boss. At some point, people have to take responsibility for their own actions. I don't see how the OP is a victim here.

OP, you need to be clearer with this man than you have so far. There are plenty of good suggestions in that regard. You need to stop drinking with him one-on-one, and keep everything purely professional. That's all.
posted by Salamander at 11:23 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, it is unfair and short-sighted to assign the role of victim to the OP, who is in the process of learning a valuable life lesson, about herself, most importantly. This is what happens! You run into assholes every day who have no interest in you except to meet their own stupid needs. That does not mean you are being victimized. Most of the time, you just have to figure out your shit, and modulate! It's a process called maturing. Which she is doing. Maybe she is actually in the process of finding her own power, and will master this situation!

I say, Fight the power and take the power, instead of immediately complaining about not having it.

She's here to examine it, and think on it, which is exactly right. To accuse some in this thread of victim-shaming because we've asked that she review her own behavior, try some other strategies before FREAKING THE HELL OUT ... well, I find that insta-abrogation of the OP's agency to be sad, really.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:25 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Salamander and thinkpiece, I can't speak for everyone but when I read the original post I assumed the OP was right out of college/early twenties. Yes thats not a teenager but its still a ripe age to be taken advantage of. I couldn't help but feel the eerie similarities to a situation that I was in in my early twenties with a work superior who was in his mid-thirties (the overt flirting, the dickishness, the plying of alcohol, the 'wearing her down') which ended with me being completely degraded and humiliated. I just wanted to protect the OP from that happening to her, because better safe than sorry.
But in her follow-up there is a much different tone, and she gave her age as early thirties, so now I understand she has a much better handle on things.
posted by hellameangirl at 9:31 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Part of the tone difference is probably my fault. I was initially pretty shocked and felt pretty powerless in the situation. I realize part of that is because it was so difficult to establish a good working relationship with him I've probably been overly cautious about doing anything to upset him and where with other people I would have told them to back off a little a long time a go I let a lot of stuff slide to keep the peace. This has led me to probably being excessively deferential even when I didn't need to be. I realized this today during a meeting when I was seriously worried that he would be mad at me because I wasn't sure I had sufficiently voiced my support of him in a disagreement our department is having with another department. I realized afterwards how paranoid that was and how much I'm on eggshells around him. Honestly, while he does have a hell of temper and can be pretty grumpy, he's not crazy and erratic. I don't think I actually need to be as careful as I am around him and probably need to start asserting myself a lot more especially when he makes little personal comments about me, which is very fond of doing. Usually, endless random observations about my personal idiosyncrasies.

Also, I work in such a small department and am so new I don't know many people or have many allies. I'm in a pretty cut throat office and without someone senior protecting you and helping you, your career is going to be pretty damn short. While I am in my early 30s I'm still new to my profession and a good 10-20 years junior of everyone I work with so I'm still very much the young one in the office.

He regularly downplays how much power he has over me and tells me how he isn't my boss, which is technically true. I think he does this because he's aware of the power differential and doesn't like it. He regularly refers to us as if we are peers when we really aren't. So everything is very muddy in that respect.

I don't think I'm a victim or he's a predator. I think the situation is closer to a really inappropriate crush than him preying on a weaker underling. However, given the power differential between us he should know that things have to be strictly professional and he's regularly pushing that boundary. And then the other night he ran right over it.

All that being said I need to not be so scared to draw some lines. I've said no to getting drinks with him many times before and it was fine. The next time he asks me to go to happy hour and I really feel like grabbing a drink I need to call up a friend or grab a bottle of wine on the way home from work, not go out with him.
posted by Duchess Sock McPuppeterson at 6:35 PM on June 4, 2013

In the army, if an officer has an affair with the spouse of enlisted personnel in the same unit, it is treated similar to statutory rape. The spouse can swear it was consenting and the officer will still be charged with rape and go to jail. The reason: The officer has so much power over the enlistee, and thus the spouse as well, that the spouse is in no real position to give genuine consent.

My point: The power differential is a real and valid concern. You are not merely being neurotic.

Having said that, I am a big believer in the idea of not framing yourself as "the victim" unnecessarily and not framing men in predatory terms unnecessarily. He is just a guy who, whoops!, has feelings for you. And you have feelings for him. It is complicated, it is messy, it is awkward and inconvenient. But no one has to be a victim here.

Good on you for looking for feedback, support, and ideas. Good on you for taking responsibility for your half of the equation. Those are great first steps for trying to insure that no one gets hurt and no one has to decide who was the victim.

When I had a corporate job, I essentially politely dictated (by body language -- there was no opportunity to discuss it) to a VIP that he was not to be too chummy with me in front of a jillion people. I did not want there to be Talk. The fact that nothing was going on would not have stopped the rumor mill from dragging our names through the mud. He was initially weirded out but got over it. Even while upset and weirded out, he respected my wishes that he not talk to me like his Best Friend in front of the entire freaking department.

It is possible to let a man in power know that you would really like for him to not stupidly shoot himself in the foot and he has more to lose than you do. Appearances matter. It can be done with zero accusations. I never felt the VIP was misbehaving or would have ever done anything inappropriate. I was just concerned that the degree to which we were comfortable with each other would look bad and be misinterpreted.

Perhaps that is a good tactic to take here.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 7:34 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Honestly, this sounds like a "you need to look for another job" situation. The place sounds kinda toxic, HE sounds kind of toxic, and above all else you really feel like you need to stay on his good side or else things get ugly.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:38 AM on June 5, 2013

In light of your last update, this thread about "sick systems" might help you.
posted by gladly at 6:12 AM on June 6, 2013

He just wants you for sex. Find a way to reject him and move on.
posted by lotusmish at 11:25 AM on June 17, 2013

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