How to get someone to stop flirting with you
June 25, 2014 4:26 AM   Subscribe

Uncomfortable situation with an overly flirty fellow volunteer. How do I deflect his attention without being mean about it? And how do I be polite but not send him mixed messages?

So a guy at the place I volunteer at is flirty with most of the younger women at the centre, but particularly with me and his attention is making me feel uncomfortable. I'm sure his heart is in the right place, I am just not comfortable with that kind of attention. He comes up behind me when I'm working and gives me surprise shoulder-massages, compliments my outfits and tells me I smell good, hits me with stuff to get my attention, and pinches my cheeks. Seriously! My cheeks!! I am not particularly shy or retiring, but I need my personal space to be respected and I've gone from liking him fine to feeling my heart sink when he enters the room.

I used to be friendly with him but he started pushing my boundaries so now I am barely polite. Frankly if anyone behaved as coldly with me as I do with him now, I would be really offended and stop talking with them, but he doesn't seem to notice, and it has not really stopped the attention. I feel bad about hurting his feelings. But I also worry about being nice with him if it's going to make him think I am receptive to his dumbass advances. What's the best thing to do?

I am anything but a femme fatale, I never get that much male attention and I'm used to it like that. I am however an 'extroverted introvert', friendly and sociable, but I don't like it when people try to get too close too fast. I've been in similar situations before - where people have mistaken my baseline-level friendliness for something more - and I feel guilty about sending mixed messages when I just meant to be nice. Is there any way I can stop this from happening again?
posted by Ziggy500 to Human Relations (48 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I feel bad about hurting his feelings.

That's your problem, right there. You're screwing up your own feelings to save his. That's obviously not fair to you. In this kind of situation a little short term hurt (telling him nicely to cut it out and that you don't like it) is actually nicer/better than the long term anguish you're feeling with the constant dread.

Seriously, the worst thing that can happen is he won't talk to you if you're polite but firm. From where you seem to be that is hardly an issue. Tell him to back off. Setting your boundaries is not mean.

How do I deflect his attention without being mean about it?

Easy. Just don't let it slowly get more and more annoying until you snap and shout "BACK OFF ARSEHOLE YOU REPULSE ME". :) Find a place that is discreet and explain that you don't feel comfortable with his behaviour and to please stop it. If he starts the "But I was just" then respond, politely but firmly "Whether your intentions are good/bad/morally wonderful in your own eyes (whatever he says) or not, I am not comfortable with it, please stop".
posted by Brockles at 4:35 AM on June 25, 2014 [29 favorites]

You just have to tell him, firmly, that he is being way too flirty with you, that you're not interested and that you would like it to stop. Any other approach will not result in any change.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:37 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

There is a lot of self-blame in your post, despite the fact that he is not just making comments you're uncomfortable with, he's touching you without your consent. You have not sent mixed messages, this behaviour is not your fault. I would say "Colleague, I'm uncomfortable with how you've been acting with me. I'd prefer it if you don't say or do anything to me that you wouldn't do to a male colleague." This might give him some pause for thought - would he pinch his male colleagues' cheeks?? (Good Lord.) If he's a decent guy he might be embarrassed but back off, and he'll get over it. If he's an asshole and acts like you are in the wrong, don't worry about hurting his feelings, he's not worried about yours. If it continues don't be afraid to take it to HR. If you don't want to name names it might not hurt to ask HR if they could run some kind of sexual harassment training for all staff and volunteers so he's in no doubt that what he's doing is unacceptable.
posted by billiebee at 4:49 AM on June 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

I'd try it with a bit of humour. Wasn't there a famous metafilter "ding" strategy for every time someone something annoying. I forget exactly what it was. But the person, said "ding" at every example of unacceptable behaviour the pain in the arse person was displaying. Every. Single. Time.

I'd try, " Hey bud, these days I'm just not feeling the hilarity as much as I used to and now I'm going to ding you when you're annoying me because I may actually yell at you or kill you if you don't stop. You'll know when I'm annoyed because I'm actually going to loudly say "ding" . I still like you, of course, but I really need to change the way you interact with me because it's not so charming any more and you actually are a nice person. So...beware the ding, it's going to save your life. So...about Michelle Obama, did she invite you over for tea and an arm wrestle also?"

(That's the kind of personality I have, and a conversation I would feel comfortable both saying and hearing. Maybe something light but direct like this? )
posted by taff at 4:52 AM on June 25, 2014

Speaking as guy, I strongly urge you to say "Cut that shit out". Otherwise, he's just going to roll over your boundaries.

To avoid this in the future, set boundaries early, often and repeatedly. Every time he does something that makes you uncomfortable, tell him to stop. Period. No explanation needed. If he continues, tell him to fucking knock it off.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:53 AM on June 25, 2014 [24 favorites]

flirty with most of the younger women

comes up behind me

surprise shoulder massages

pinches my cheeks

he doesn't seem to notice

His heart is not in the right place. He is sexually harassing you and ignoring your clear signals that you are not interested. He is doing this because he knows he can get away with it, not because he is clueless. "Don't touch me" is what you need to say, repeat as needed. Add a "please" if you want, but he has done nothing to merit any politeness from you.
posted by chaiminda at 4:53 AM on June 25, 2014 [102 favorites]

Next time he touches you: "Stop touching me, [name]. Seriously." Do not smile when you say it. Do not let him laugh it off. Mention to superiors (in writing/email as well as in person) and peers (casually) that he's a weirdo who keeps touching you even though you've been pretty clear that you don't like it.

If he does it again, "I told you to stop fucking touching me. What the fuck is wrong with you?" Then go back to superiors and ask them to speak with "that asshole who won't keep his hands off me".
posted by daveliepmann at 4:53 AM on June 25, 2014 [18 favorites]

He is totally doing the wrong thing by pulling all of this without checking with you to see if it's okay, but you can't keep relying on unspoken signals with someone who has already failed to get unspoken signals. It is not your fault if that person is upset by getting told frankly what they could not understand when hinted-at. And it's not like you can't be nice about it, at least to start, if you really want to soften it up. "Hey, you've been sweet and all, but I'm really not interested and I'd rather you didn't." But this is not somehow something you brought on yourself, this is someone else being an ass, and you're allowed to call him out on it. You are not sending mixed messages because nobody should be putting their hands on you when they're not really completely sure you're okay with it. If you don't feel comfortable talking to him directly, enlist someone else.

This doesn't make him the worst human being on earth or anything, either, necessarily, but you're not telling him he's the worst human being, you're just telling him you're not interested. If he reacts badly to being told this, he is not a good person and you are not obligated to protect him. If he doesn't react badly, then he didn't need protecting. Either way, you'll cool to call him on it in whatever way you are comfortable with.
posted by Sequence at 4:55 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Next time he pinches your cheek, punch him in the balls.

Actually, no, that may not be the best approach. Look him in the eye and say "you make me really uncomfortable when you invade my personal space. I like you as a colleague, but pinching my cheeks and giving me unwanted shoulder massages make me really uncomfortable, because y'know, grownups consider that to be sexual harrassment. Please don't touch me again."

Best delivered with an audience, AKA witnesses.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:00 AM on June 25, 2014 [12 favorites]

Nthing everybody who says tell him firmly to stop. And then go to whoever is in charge and highlight his inappropriate behaviour to you. Follow up with them in writing. This guy is not nice and you don't have to worry about hurting his feelings - it's not like he's worried about hurting yours.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:01 AM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Agreed, he's not being flirty (which involves a back-and-forth kind of thing), he's just manhandling girls for jollies. Say anything you want, no fear of hurting his feelings - he doesn't sound like the sensitive type. He might act hurt, but he's only acting flirty; if he really meant it he'd be responding to your body language telling him to stop it. Start with short messages: "Please don't do that," and "Seriously, I'm trying to work, here," and "go manhandle somebody else," and "I don't appreciate the massage" and "I don't appreciate being condescended to." Then move on to the full treatment. "Listen, Chuck, I really need you to stop touching me. I know we're not employees as such, but it's not workplace appropriate; and besides that, I don't like it. I've tried to tell you I don't appreciate it, and you've ignored that, which I totally can't respect." If he tries to pull the "oh, go on, you're no fun, can't a guy even be nice to you," then that's proof positive that he's not a nice guy gone too far, but a certified creep.
posted by aimedwander at 5:11 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have a volunteer coordinator you'd be comfortable talking to? You're getting good advice here and should follow it, but if there's someone in charge of the volunteers who is not already aware of this behavior, I recommend making them aware.

I guarantee you're not the only one being made uncomfortable by his inappropriate behavior. Were I the volunteer coordinator, I would want to know, so I could address it with him more generally.
posted by Stacey at 5:12 AM on June 25, 2014 [18 favorites]

Why do you care about hurting his feelings? He doesn't care about your feelings.

Tell him to stop. Just say that. "Stop it!" If he gets all sad-face about it, then say, "that's how I feel when you touch me".
posted by gaspode at 5:23 AM on June 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

One of the most skillful things in the 'telling someone firmly to stop' camp is a friend who used escalatory phrasing that went something like:

-"No more X"
- "Seriously, knock it off"
-"Explain to me why you are ignoring what I am asking of you"

The equivalent for you would be when they come up and start massaging your shoulders, to turn your head to look them in the eye and levelly say, "No more shoulder massages". Or if they pinch your cheeks to say "No more cheek pinching". If it continued, or the second, different time it happened. It was both phrases: "No more X. Seriously, knock it off". What was notable about it was that it totally made irrelevant any behavior that came before, as if it was a brand new day, and on this day, and going forward, X was off the table. By the time my friend got to 'No more X. Seriously knock it off. Explain to me why you are ignoring what I am asking of you' it was incredibly awkward for the person to continue to the behavior. They got defensive and it was something like:

Friend: No more X
-hey, lighten up!
Seriously, knock it off.
-What's with you today?
Explain to me why you're ignoring what I'm telling you.
-I'm just being friendly. Sheesh, what's with you today?
No more X
-exasperated mouth noise
Knock it off.

....but my friend did not waiver. She just repeated the phrasing.

What was also notable was that it didn't focus on 'don't do this because I'm uncomfortable' - the feeling angle. It was directional, repetitive and clearly detailed the boundary and preferred behavior. It was oddly emotionally distancing, but unambiguous. It was as if the person who was doing the inappropriate behavior needed a few minutes to realize that something had changed. It was also awkward, but did alter the other person's behavior, which was the goal. There was no way my friend could have helped that person save face - what they were doing was inappropriate. So she didn't try. She focused on being clear, and let the other person figure out how to manage the awkwardness. And they did. People are more resilient than we think. This person will probably get over any awkwardness they feel from being called out from their behavior. There isn't any way you can help them with that - just operate as if you're confident they can do it and behave professionally.
posted by anitanita at 5:28 AM on June 25, 2014 [70 favorites]

People can't read your mind, and some people are too thick to catch a clue with subtle behavioral changes on your part.

Just pull Dude aside and say, "Kevin, your touching me and throwing things at me make me extremely uncomfortable. Don't do these things to me anymore."

That's his first warning, and he only gets one. It's not debatable. He may try and play it off, "Oh, come on now, it's just a bit of fun."

If so, simply restate your assertion, "It makes me uncomfortable, stop it."

He may grumble, or fuss, but that's not your problem. He may also be mortified about it, "OH MY! I had no idea, I'm so sorry, why didn't you say anything?"

"I'm saying it now. I need my space."

And that's it. If he gives you lip service, but the behaviors don't stop, then take it up with the volunteer coordinator.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:34 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Where the hell is the staff in all this?!? You are a volunteer, surely you are overseen by a staff member who is charged with your supervision. Go talk to that staff person, tell him or her exactly what you've said here. The organization you volunteer for could be in for a world of hurt if this guy steps over bounds with someone who is litigious (not you, apparently). If you care at all about the place you've volunteering for, you have to speak up.

I supervise volunteers on a weekly basis, and I'd want to know right away and would not make you feel bad for telling. This guy is a liability to an organization that relies on the kindness of others. Mission first.
posted by juniperesque at 5:36 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Work on developing an instant, reflexive response so you can stop this guy the moment he touches you. Something like a sharp "Hey!" will suffice. It'll startle him and get his attention, and once he backs off, you can elaborate: "Please don't touch me" or "Don't throw things at me." The quicker you are to react, the less time you give doubt and fear and awkwardness to settle in. People who touch others without permission rely on that awkward, confused, stunned response; it allows them to continue or escape without consequences. Don't give that to him.

When you tell him not to do these things, give no excuses, apologies, or explanations. No loopholes, no signs of wavering. Be as succinct as possible, repetitive if you must. "Don't touch me." "I don't like it." "It's rude." "I said don't touch me."

Bring his behavior up to whoever's in charge. It sounds like he's doing the same thing with everyone he can, and it's very likely affecting other volunteers' performance and turnover rate.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:40 AM on June 25, 2014

Just tell him to quit it. Believe me, someone with that habit has enough resilience built up to be able to take it.
But you shouldn't expect him to like you after telling him off. Is that what worries you?
posted by Namlit at 5:51 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I relate to people who are uncomfortable with asking someone to stop bantering or talking to them flirtatiously. That's a difficult line to draw sometimes because comfort levels with familiarity and formality differ when you're just talking about language and how people address one another. I understand why and how flirtatious conversational styles can be and often are harmless and how it can be awkward, or even unkind, to ask someone to stop addressing you that way. Nonetheless, you have every right to ask someone to please stop telling you that you smell good.

Most importantly, I believe there is no excuse for a person touching another in a familiar way (shoulder massages, cheek pinching) without permission outside of a touching-contextual-relationship. I am friendly with my co-workers, but I don't touch their faces in conversation. I am friendly with the waitstaff at my neighborhood diner, but when I run into them in the supermarket, I don't touch them to say hello, I say hello.

So, start with that. Say "Buddy, do not ever touch me without my permission again." You can add a "please" but I don't and I wouldn't. Don't qualify it with something obvious or jokey like "Unless you're pulling me out from under a falling anvil". Just say "Buddy, don't touch me without my permission again." Then inform your volunteer supervisor that Buddy is touching you inappropriately, such as pinching your cheeks and that you have asked him directly to stop.

The banter that makes you uncomfortable and the boundary pushing will stop when you start unequivocally enforcing the "do not touch me and do not invade my physical integrity" boundary.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:52 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are the only person who can set and keep boundaries for yourself; he is making it clear that he's testing where they are. Don't worry about his feelings. You can be polite and direct (women especially are often taught that being direct is the same as being rude; it isn't) - tell him that you don't like the way he treats you and he needs to stop. It isn't open for discussion or negotiation. He just needs to stop.

This will probably embarrass him - this is not something *you* caused: he caused by it behaving inappropriately, and he sure as shit wasn't worried about making you feel bad. He may not like you afterwards. Good. It is okay to not be liked by people who behave badly.
posted by rtha at 5:54 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Who cares about this jerk's feelings?!? After all, he obviously doesn't care about your feelings or how many times you've told him ever-so-nicely to knock it off. Seriously, skip trying to be polite: go right to rude. No more "please don't do that", instead its "How many times to I have to tell you: get your damn hands off of me!" in a loud, carrying voice. Don't worry about embarrassing him: guys like this count on you not wanting to make a scene, they count on their victims' ladylike behavior.

Even better, next time he touches your cheeks, I'd recommend flat-out slapping him across his face. Sneaking up from behind for one of his unwelcome 'massages' would earn him a fast sharp elbow in the ribs.
posted by easily confused at 5:54 AM on June 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm sure his heart is in the right place...

Well, maybe, but volunteering is also an ideal place to act out your socially-inappropriate behaviors, after all, what are they going to do, fire you? Have HR write you up for sexual harassment?

I was sexually harassed by a volunteer in one of my first summer college gigs, he was sending me explicit and unwanted notes. I just handed them to my boss, and she got rid of the dude. You should do the same, tell your co-ordinator/center director whatever that he is sexually harassing you. They are getting paid to deal with this shit, and they need to do so for everyone who is in harm's way. If you try and deal with it yourself, sure, okay, but then you are only protecting yourself, not every other woman who is a target.

If, for whatever reason, you get no traction with the co-ordinator/director, then go up the ladder until you do.
posted by nanook at 6:01 AM on June 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

Pinching your cheeks is a pure power play. In his mind, he is yelling out to the room "Hey, I can grab this woman's face and she can't do anything about it!" Please follow the good advice in this thread and do something about it. And in the unlikely event he continues after being confronted and that the staff doesn't support you/fire him, call the police and report an assault the next time he grabs your face.

His "heart is in the right place" only in the literal sense that it is pumping blood through his body. In the metaphorical sense he is a heartless jerk that doesn't care about you. Please shut him down and "don't feel bad for hurting his feelings." The only thing you might hurt is his false sense of superiority.
posted by mikepop at 6:28 AM on June 25, 2014 [14 favorites]

I'm sure his heart is in the right place....

His heart ain't the body part that is driving his actions.

Tell him, politely but firmly, to stop. If he makes a stink, the things everyone else has suggested make for fine scripts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would not say anything to him about this but continue to interact with him as minimally as possible but also as professionally as possible. Men like this guy are clueless and he likely has no idea of how big of an asshole he is. If you are behaving overtly cold with him, you will be seen in his eyes as cold, crazy, prude, etc. and the blame will be put on you. I've seen this happen so many times my head spins. What you need to do ASAP is talk to your supervisor exactly as you have done here except don't comment on your supposed role in this (you don't actually have a role in his behavior at all). Tell them what he has been doing, it makes you extremely uncomfortable and it needs to stop today. If, or likely when, he approaches you about this and gives you his schmarmy defense, explains how terribly hurt he is and the overall guilt trip, tell him that you don't know what he is talking about and you need to go now because you have work to do.
posted by waving at 6:42 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he pulls the "I'm just being friendly" crap, the response is "No. Touching others without their consent is being a creepy asshole".
posted by brujita at 7:39 AM on June 25, 2014 [10 favorites]

Guy here. Hurt his feelings, its okay. His feelings are going to be hurt, he's attracted to you and you are not attracted to him. Its his job to let him down gently.

Tell him you don't like your personal space being violated, also.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:56 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not wanting to hurt people's feelings when they are sexually assaulting you is sexist socialization, and continuing to toe that line hurts all women and endangers your life.

Step out of his grasp and say, "Do not touch me anymore."
If he tries to argue (argue his right to fondle you), say "This is not negotiable."
If he continues to argue, walk away.
If he tries to touch you again, defend yourself and then go get someone in charge.

And yeah, if he does the "I'm just being friendly" or "It used to be okay" thing, you say, "Well, I hated it. That's not friendly or okay." And walk away.

This isn't flirting, by the way. He's getting off on making you do these things. (As in, he may later be literally getting off on it.) There's your incentive to stop it, if you're having a hard time getting past the good-girl socialization.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:59 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Regarding talking to the volunteer coordinator: Is this guy doing any actual work, or is he just enjoying the company of the young women there? At the animal shelter I briefly worked at there was a volunteer there (often!) who didn't seem to do much other than chat with the young women in the office, who were trying to get their work done. If interference is all this guy has to offer, perhaps his 'services' would be better used elsewhere, and the VC should be made aware of this possibility. Getting others on board can't hurt, either, as I doubt you're the only one made uncomfortable with this 'friendliness.'
posted by JulesER at 8:17 AM on June 25, 2014

Agree with everyone above, firmly tell him "No," "Stop that," etc. Nothing about how/why you don't like it, how/why it's inappropriate, because he simply does not care and it only gives him an opening to continue the conversation in the form of a debate. Do tell the volunteer supervisor/employee liaison how he's been behaving and that you've told him to knock if off, and that you're informing them in case he pushes back/chooses to make you uneasy in new, exciting ways/there are any unpleasant repercussions, because you know they'd want to be looped in. And listen, if you don't feel you can push back one-on-one with him, bypass that and kick it upstairs straightaway (yes, in an email or note, or a phone call, if those means work best for you, before your next shift). He is the one making this awkward, not you.

When I was a polite, easily embarrassed young woman this sort of thing happened on the regular, and in addition to being super-uncomfortable I always worried about what would happen if I spoke up (would the behavior escalate, would I be criticized or told it was all my fault, would the working environment become completely unbearable, would the creep pour poison in anyone's ear about me, etc.). Now that I'm a hardened battle-axe (complete with frosty, Quelling Eyebrow of Doom when my physical boundaries are pushed against), I can give you some lines for an aftermath scenario:

Creep: Oh, but Ziggy500 doesn't like it when I'm friendly! She's so sensitive!
You (furrowed brow): I don't understand. [AND/OR] Is this about me telling you to keep your hands to yourself? [AND/OR] You know, most of us learned to keep our hands to ourselves in kindergarten. [ESPECIALLY] Why would you bring up something that puts you in such a bad light?

Some moves that also worked, in the years I couldn't stand to be any stripe of confrontational and just wanted to feel safe: Creep massages my shoulders, and I'm so shocked I don't say anything (and of course the first instance is brief, because it's exploratory). Second incident: Flinching away, wincing, "Actually, I have a bad shoulder." When I was a medical receptionist, one of the regular patients owned several strip clubs and would, unfailingly, eye me up and down and tell me I should come work for him, holding my hand while he was doing it; my male bosses claimed he was just being complimentary and that I should feel flattered. Me, eventually: "I don't think Father O'Hara would like that." Once I was religious, he decided I was no longer in need of his flattery. Someone coming up behind me unexpectedly and touching me: shrieking, flinging out an arm or throwing an elbow. Yes, it's mortifying, but you want to get across that you are not only not following his script (wherein he violates your boundaries in stages, to the point where you worry about being alone in a room with him) but that you'll draw a lot of attention to his behavior while you're at it.

I'm waiting for a conference call to begin, I didn't expect this to be a novel. I am just so sorry this is happening, especially at a place where you volunteer.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is not flirting, this is sexual harassment. Mastering the ability to say, "Stop touching me," when something is uncomfortable is a skill so important we have to instill it in our children from very young ages, but it goes against a lot of other things we teach people: be nice, get along, assume the best.

You are worth standing up for and what he's doing is wrong. The next time he does it, physically remove yourself from his grasp and say, "Stop touching me."

This is hard for many people. At the beginning of some yoga classes, instructors emphasize the importance of knowing when to say, "Do not touch me," if needed, when they approach you to make physical adjustments. I know one instructor who asks that you say it loudly enough for the person next to you to hear, so that you can be confident you are heard and someone will back you up if you need to make a complaint. He's light-hearted about that last part, since obviously he wouldn't intentionally ignore someone's request, but his point stands.

He always points out that it's important to practice that specific skill in a safe space, because it is hard to call up the instinct to do it the moment you need it, because you are freaking out internally, but still probably trying to maintain some kind of social contracts about propriety.

Realize that this dude is the one who broke the contract. We don't touch each other at work. Call him on it. Stand up right now, imagine his hands on your shoulders, take a big step away from him, turn around, look him in the eye, and say firmly, "Stop touching me. Don't touch me again." Then do it at work.
posted by juliplease at 8:30 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

He pinches your cheeks?! That shit isn't flirting, that's sexual harassment at the very least! Does he do this to other people, or is it just you?

I hate confrontation and avoid it like the plague, so my reaction would be to talk to whoever is in charge of the volunteers at the organization. (Actually, my first reaction if someone tried to pinch my cheeks at work would be to recoil and ask them what the hell they're doing. I'm pissed on your behalf, because honestly, who in their right mind thinks that's acceptable behavior?!)
posted by sarcasticah at 8:36 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is NOT flirting. This IS sexual harassment. Tell him in no uncertain terms to stop.
posted by harrietthespy at 8:54 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

gives me surprise shoulder-massages, [. . .] hits me with stuff to get my attention, and pinches my cheeks.

I have spent a significant portion of my career working in "flirty" places - bars, clubs, concerts - and I'd like to nth everyone else pointing out that this is WAAAAYYY past "flirting." Even after having spent many nights drinking 'til dawn and then staggering down the street to crash on a co-worker's couch because you're too drunk to drive, "surprise shoulder-massages" were not something we did. Touching without express permission/request of the touchee is NOT something co-workers do, even in a supposedly lackadaisical work environment like a bar. And it doesn't matter that you're technically a volunteer - you are still this person's co-worker.

Dude is deliberately pushing your boundaries. You should absolutely not feel at all guilty about directly telling him to knock it off in no uncertain terms.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:01 AM on June 25, 2014

WTF? NOBODY should be touching you at work. That's assault.

I once worked at a job where this guy used to come up behind me, put his arms around my waist and lift me off my feet. I somehow didn't realize it wasn't cool, but another person there who saw it reported him to HR. He always thought it was me - but you know, it should have been!

Tell this dickwad to stop touching you at work. If he continues, document his behavior and go to HR.
posted by cartoonella at 9:06 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

You're getting lots of good advice here, but I'm going to propose a slightly different approach.

I've been in your shoes and am uncomfortable handling it in a way that guarantees awkwardness. Because 1) I'm socialised to value harmony, and 2) I want to avoid payback or weirdness going forward, for me. (I don't want the guy trash-talking me or being a self-conscious freak around me, or otherwise making my life more difficult than it needs to be.)

So the first thing I do in this type of situation is to make it clear I want the behaviour to stop, but in a way that allows the person to preserve his dignity. I usually say something like "God, [name], you are so touchy-feely, it's crazy. That's not where I come from. I'm just not a touchy-huggy-massage-y kind of person. You're making me super uncomfortable and I really need you to stop." I try to put it in the context of cultural differences because that enables face-saving and maybe also learning -- that maybe some people like this, but some people don't. But I say what needs to be said: that he has to stop.

That separates the sheep from the wolves. A clueless guy, a socially-awkward guy, an infatuated guy: they will respect your boundaries and stop. A creepy guy can pretend to have been clueless and stop, because he knows saying that is a first step before escalation. The only guys this doesn't work on are unsalvageable, and if he's that then yeah, you will end up reporting him next time, and fair enough.

This has worked for me. Lots of people stop after that talk.

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 9:57 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

taff : I'd try it with a bit of humour.

In case the wall of responses above mine don't make it clear: taff is wrong, Wrong, WRONG, and you should NOT use humour to attempt to deflect unwanted sexual advances from a colleague.

His behavior is not cute, excusable, nor your fault IN ANY WAY. His feelings don't matter, since he doesn't respect yours enough to ask first.

This is textbook sexual harassment, and anything short of complaining about it to him, your supervisors, or HR can enable it. Don't enable it. Demand that it stops.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:09 PM on June 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Very much agreeing with Brandon Blatcher and anitanita. You need to tell him firmly (and loudly, if need be) "Cut that shit out", "Don't touch me", "Seriously, knock it off" or the equivalent every time he does this. You don't need to be nice about it or terribly concerned about his feelings. You don't need to explain what's wrong with what he's doing.

The guy you're dealing with is an asshole. He doesn't care about your feelings. He's violating very basic rules of social etiquette and decency. He knows what the rules are; he just just thinks he can get away with it (possibly because he thinks you're 'just a volunteer' or 'just a woman' or a combination of the two, and he expects other people in the organization to accept that).
posted by nangar at 4:09 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just want to reinforce that - irrespective of whether the guy knows what he's doing or is genuinely clueless - indirect signals are, sadly, not going to work, no matter how obvious and unsubtle you think you're being. I know this because I spent two and a half years trying to use gentle, polite, indirect ways to deflect a colleague's attentions; you'd probably find the half-dozen draft AskMe's on my desktop (which I never summoned the nerve to actually post) painfully familiar. Alll it did was make the flat rejection that much harder on both of us when I eventually broke under the strain. And he wasn't pushing the boundaries half as much as your guy is. Everyone here is right: what he's doing is not OK, but you're still going to have to do something really direct and overt if you want him to stop. Polite deflection isn't going to work.

I entirely understand that you don't want to hurt his feelings, but bear in mind that he's showing no regard for yours. He knows he's showing you a lot of attention, and he knows you're not reciprocating... and he's choosing to ignore that.

I also want to reinforce that you have not been sending mixed messages - indirect is not the same thing as mixed - and you haven't done anything wrong.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:10 PM on June 25, 2014

Not everybody is as forthright and as comfortable in calling out this kind of behaviour as everyone else. I assume if the poster was, they wouldn't have come here. Never in a million years could I imagine speaking the way some people here are suggesting the opening poster does. If someone has the confidence and support to do so, that's great. I'd encourage them to so it. In the real world, some women don't feel that strong and they just want bad behaviour to stop without experiencing retaliation. And in lots of cultures, you just can't or don't call stuff out so strongly. Of course we all absolutely should, but it's not always possible and not all women are in respectful and safe cultures or work environments and not all women want to stand out too much for fear of all sorts of consequences.

My advice is for a woman coming from a different place and recognising the internal and external obstacles to just saying "Just fucking stop it you harrassing arsehole!"
posted by taff at 4:41 PM on June 25, 2014

You really need to ask him specifically and using words not to do whatever he's doing that bothers you. If he means as well as you say, he'll obey your clear request. If he's not, you'll remove his plausible deniability.

Also, if you aren't already, you should document every single event. This can be as simple as a notebook in which you write,

2:30 p.m. 25 June 2014: Alex pinched my cheek. I said, "Please don't pinch my cheeks." Bob and Charles were in the room.

2:30 p.m. 26 June 2014: Alex rubbed my shoulders. I said, "Please don't touch me." David and Evan were in the room.

etc. You needn't be discreet about it. If the management has any clue at all, they'll put an end to this real quick. (Note, of course, that they may choose to get rid of you instead of him, but that's not as much of a downside as it would be usually since you say you're a volunteer anyway.)
posted by d. z. wang at 5:28 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're not comfortable telling him to stop directly, speak to your volunteer coordinator about it. Dealing with situations like this is part of their job.
posted by betsybetsy at 5:29 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are a professional, doing her job, who deserves to be treated with professional courtesy.

He is not doing so. It's not cute, it's not fun, it's intimidating you and showing you he has power over you. He is a leering asshole hiding behind a "it's just jokes and sillliness!" mask, and that shit is old and tired and has been used by a million assholes before him, on a million other women who didn't deserve it either.

However you fight back (in person or going to HR or both), you are going to have to fight. If you don't, he might escalate to worse things. That's what predators do. And even if he's "just" a grabber and not a rapist, he's still preying on you and using you for his ugly gratification. It's gross and wrong. And you can be sure you're not the only victim. If you can't speak up for yourself (and I used to be a little like that) can you speak up for the next scared woman he creeps up to and paws at? Think of her, and how you speaking up is going to help her not feel the way you feel.

It's funny, I have a weird hair-trigger response to this stuff myself such that I always inadvertently make a scene; I would automatically shriek if someone grabbed my shoulders at work, and have, and that seems to scare them off. I don't know if you can cultivate that response, but go with what works for you.

Best of luck and let us know what happens.
posted by emjaybee at 8:45 PM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey everyone, thanks for the responses. You're all best answers. I can't pinpoint any one in particular.

You have helped me re-calibrate this situation in my head. You read about 'sexual harassment' happening all the time but for some reason I never linked that concept with what was happening here - because the dude is popular with the other volunteers (bearing in mind that although he is exuberantly friendly with the others he saves the weird touching stuff for me) and isn't some cliched creep.

As taff notes, and as is fairly obvious from my back catalogue of AskMeFi questions, I do shy away from confrontation. I'm from a country where it's so ingrained in women, especially young(ish) women, to be polite to other people even when they are obnoxious that the actual idea of confronting him is scary but you're absolutely right - even though it is difficult I will say something when he next crosses the line. I don't care whether he dislikes me or not afterwards; I just find the act of confrontation difficult because I am so not used to it.

But anyway, thank you for the validation - if that's the right word - that this is an actual problem and I'm not being over-sensitive or over-reacting, and thank you for the great scripts.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:53 AM on June 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry to say that in most places it's "ingrained in women .... to be polite", to avoid confrontation and be the peacekeepers. I'll bet it's true for almost all of the women urging you to confront this guy that we're all older than you, that we were just as nonconfrontational at your age, and that we've learned the hard way over the years how to handle these situations. This kind of jerk is nothing new; please accept the hard-earned advice we're offering, and tell this bastard to back the hell off.
posted by easily confused at 7:00 PM on June 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with easily confused, but it's not just age, it's also culture. I'm old, but also not North American and in a North America it appears to be a wonderfully much more common thing to do, to call people out loudly and proudly. North American women are famous for calling out bad behaviour in an inspiring and somewhat intimidating way to the slightly more reserved. Not that Australian women are exactly reserved...but we haven't evolved as much as our North American sisters, yet. I hope we do. Yet another time North Amercians can feel proud of themselves, we don't always give them credit where it's due. But this kind of evolution of their society is admirable.

Whatever the take home message's that what he is doing is unacceptable and you can and should use whatever means you feel comfortable with, to stop it dead. And yes, the women here acknowledge how hard it is to do that, and how conditioned we are to not be "difficult".
posted by taff at 7:17 PM on June 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just checking back in. I've taken all the scripts you've provided very much to heart and done a lot of sharp "Please don't do that"'s in the past weeks. It seems to be helping a little - dude knows something is up and seems to be giving me more space. But the biggest difference it's had has been to teach me that I am capable of being sharp with people when I need to. Which feels very empowering. So, thanks for that. :)
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:39 AM on July 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yay you!!! Well done, it's terrifying but good on you.

I'm wondering if he is going to ask you in the future what is up... and that might be your opportunity to have a frank discussion about boundaries. Yours and every other person's.

I expect he would start to frame it as you suddenly having a problem with behaviour you have encouraged and enjoyed in the past, so don't fall for that re-write of history. I've seen that bullshit happen in the past.

Have a response ready for him. He may also passively aggressively joke about it in front of others... "Oh Ziggy doesn't like me massaging her any more, I guess she's uptight/got a boyfriend now. What a killjoy". And your response could be, "Actually, I never liked it but was too polite to say anything hoping you'd notice how uncomfortable I was. I'm really pleased you finally understood the social cues I was sending you without there having to be an argument. Thank you".

Once again, that's great feedback and I hope it all continues to improve. But I still think it sucks you had to go through it at all.
posted by taff at 4:12 PM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

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