A co-worker saw a photo of a male celebrity on my computer
February 7, 2015 12:33 AM   Subscribe

First off, I'm a female. I'm sooo embarrassed. I like to write short stories (all G-rated, nothing explicit or X-rated) and I sometimes use photos of male celebrities to help me imagine how some of my male characters look. Of course I have silly crushes on my male characters. I've been doing this since I was a teenager. I'm in my 30s now, and I still like to write these stories and still use celeb photos (like basic magazine shots, nothing explicit) as a visual reference point for imagining how my characters look. Well I'm on a work trip, and a co-worker accidentally saw two of these photos when I was showing him something on my laptop.

I normally keep my personal stuff on a separate computer, away from my work computer. But while I'm on my trip, I took several of the celeb photos and stories with me so I could work on them at night, in my off time. Unfortunately the Preview application on the Mac (which I use to view the photos) saves previously-opened files.

My co-workers and I were having a really fun time at dinner, casually looking at work related stuff on our machines. I opened a file in Preview to show one of my male colleagues a file, and I DIDN'T realize that two of the celeb photos (they were of the actor Callan McAullife by the way) were already open in the program. I didn't realize it until my co-worker suddenly lost interest in looking at what I was showing him. I looked back at my computer and that's when I realized the photos were up and I'm sure he (and maybe another co-worker) saw them. Oops. I have no words to describe how mortified I am. The photos are NOT sexual, they are just the type of photos you'd see in a magazine or a general article of Callan McAuilife (think teen magazine pin-up kind of stuff).

After that, my co-worker closed his computer, and slowly worked his way over to sit somewhere else. He didn't say anything or act weird, but the fact that he left and all of our convo ended so soon after that makes me feel horrible. When I put myself in his shoes -- I realize how he must feel. I'm not sure how I'd feel if I saw photos of a female celeb on my male co-worker's computer.

This is really unfortunate because we had been having a really good time, and I had to ruin it because of my carelessness. I've learned my lesson and will never mix work and personal stuff any more. I'm too embarrassed to face my co-worker again. We haven't talked since this (it only happened about 45 minutes ago). I should have said something immediately, like, "oh, those photos were from a project I'd been working on" or something, but I was so embarrassed that I couldn't speak.

So my question is, what should I do? What would you do if this happened to you? Should I let it go? Cut my losses? Send him an apology or let him know that these photos were just a minor thing? What if he reports it to HR? I don't see how I can get fired over harmless, G-rated photos, but you never know. I hate that I might have made him feel uncomfortable. He'll probably never speak to me again or take me seriously again or even feel comfortable around me again. I've ruined my credibility with him. I know this, because I might feel similar if I saw photos of a female celebrity on his computer. :( My embarrassment is palpable, and I'm frustrated because there's no one around for me to talk to about it, and it's all my fault!
posted by starpoint to Human Relations (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One idea I had was to send him a quick instant message to apologize if he saw the photos, say something like, "oh, if you saw the photos of callan mcaullife when i was showing you those files, they were left over from when I was working on a personal project. I didn't realize they were still open (damn Preview automatically opening files), but if it made you uncomfortable, I apologize. If not, then ignore this message." Do you think that's a good idea? Our company communicates through instant messages so that mode of contacting him would be normal for us.
posted by starpoint at 12:38 AM on February 7, 2015

You are freaking out for absolutely no reason. Dial your anxiety back by about a billion by whatever means you prefer. This is no more sexually harassing or uncomfortable-making than if your coworker had seen a copy of Us Mgazine (or whatever) in your bag. You are with 99.9% certainty projecting all of your observations ohis uncomfortableness (sidling away, not speaking to you, etc). Stop, breath, go for a walk, hit up CuteOverload. I genuinely don't want to be dismissive of your feelings, but your reaction is disproportionate, perhaps do a little self assessment of what you might actually be reacting over?
posted by Iteki at 12:46 AM on February 7, 2015 [99 favorites]

I think you are overreacting. People are idiots in general, and you might get some funny looks in the coming days, but if it's a normal, non-NSFW photo of a celebrity I can't see the reason why you have to be embarrassed.

To me, a colleague having photos of a celebrity on their laptop is a trivial issue, maybe slightly unprofessional, about one notch above having an annoying pop song as a ringtone on your work phone: making a big deal about it with overly dramatic apologies would bother me more.

My advice is to let it go - for such a minor issue, if someone complains about it you give an honest apology , otherwise it's a no harm no foul situation to me.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:47 AM on February 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Uh... this just seems like a non-issue to me. Unless your company has a strict no-personal-files-on-work-computers rule? That would be something to stress over.

Here's what your question makes me think:
- She's young.
- She's worried about looking unprofessional.
- She may be attracted to this co-worker.
- She's worried about looking immature in front of the co-worker.
- She's totally over-reacting.
- THAT is what will end up making her look bad, if anything does.

If the pictures are as mild as you say, they're not the problem. Your self-consciousness is.
posted by stormyteal at 12:49 AM on February 7, 2015 [22 favorites]

Forgot to add, no, don't address this with him, don't bring it up with any other colleagues either. It's a non-issue, nothing happened and there is nothing to address.
posted by Iteki at 12:49 AM on February 7, 2015 [28 favorites]

Nobody cares if you have a shirtless Ryan Gosling on your computer.

They'd probably give a shit if his dong was all staring them in the face, but you have indicated that it isn't the problem.

Just relax.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:51 AM on February 7, 2015 [10 favorites]

Ah, just looked up the actor. If part of your freak-out is due to the fact that he's so young (19), then it *might* be ok to somehow mention that you write fiction and use celeb photos for character visualization. if it can be done in a casual, but not an apologetic, way.

But hey, he's legal. Nothing wrong with eye candy.
posted by stormyteal at 12:55 AM on February 7, 2015

then it *might* be ok to somehow mention that you write fiction and use celeb photos for character visualization. if it can be done in a casual, but not an apologetic, way.

Or maybe your "niece" sent you an email with pics of her favourite star. But I doubt it'll come up.
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:20 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

My "freak-out" is due more to the fact that he left so soon after seeing the photos, so I'm worried I made him uncomfortable. I don't want to make people uncomfortable, since I go out of my way to be someone people want to talk to. I was doing so well tonight until that happened. The actor did look young in the photos. I didn't realize it until now, so maybe now my co-worker thinks I'm a closet pedophile. It's even more crazy since I'm black, and Callan McAulliffe is white. My co-worker is white. And no, I don't have a crush on my co-worker. Weirdness all around.
posted by starpoint at 1:22 AM on February 7, 2015

@cotton dress -- ooh that is a good cover story. Only I don't have a niece. i could make up another relation. Sigh. WHY didn't I think of that at the moment? I think if I were to say something, it had to be in that moment. Bringing it up now would be awkward, I guess. You all say I'm freaking out over nothing, and I want to believe it, but emotionally I'm still so embarrassed. :(
posted by starpoint at 1:25 AM on February 7, 2015

You all say that I'm overreacting, but I'm worried because my co-worker slowly left the table and sat somewhere else afterward. He's on the quiet side; so he's not the type to say anything out loud about it. Plus he's relatively new to the company while I've been here for a few years. That's the main reason I'm "freaking out" about this, and why I want to apologize.
posted by starpoint at 1:35 AM on February 7, 2015

No one can say with certainty, but from what you describe, it sounds like he was reacting to your own discomfort and awkwardness.

Literally no one gets through life without occasional embarrassment. I find that the best way to handle these things is simply acknowledge them in the moment. Had you said "Oh don't mind these pictures. Just my current obsession. Ha, ha, I'm such a perv" and laughed about it, your co-worker probably would have laughed right along with you. These little foibles are endearing and humanizing!

Any cover story you try to come up now will sound contrived and make it seem like you have something to hide or be embarrassed about. Which you don't. At all. Please let this go.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 1:47 AM on February 7, 2015 [45 favorites]

If you need to tell him something (i.e. if you can't just live with this small awkward interaction), then consider sending him the story when it's finished. The true explanation sounds contrived, and attaching the finished story would add weight (and humour) to your explanation. You can resolve now to send him the story when it's finished. And probably by the time you've finished it you'll feel differently about everything.
posted by distorte at 1:48 AM on February 7, 2015

Dude you are catastrophising something fierce. Take a deep breathe. Think about this, there could be a million reasons why you would have photos like that in your computer and he didn't give a shit, and if he does that is 100% his problem not yours.

Think about this, why are you worrying that he saw a tame picture on your computer, why isn't he worrying that he might have freaked you out by moving away for no reason? I submit this is partly due to your clearly anxious personality, and partly because women are conditioned and expected to worry about men's reactions however justified in our sexist society .

The fact it relates to something that is largely perceived as a gendered hobby makes this stand out to me.

Also they're a million reasons why he might have looked away. Anything you say or do will be more unprofessional than the existence of those pictures on your hard drive
posted by smoke at 1:49 AM on February 7, 2015 [23 favorites]

Embarrassment can be an extremely strong emotion and it can be totally gripping in the most horrible way. I do think your embarrassment is real. I also think that you're completely overreacting and the best thing for you to do outwardly is nothing. Next week, engage this coworker in some easy work-related conversation. That will give him reassurance that you're professional on the extremely slim chance that he's feeling weird about you. But really, truly, the issue does not lie between you and him. Anything like making up a fake relative, over-explaining your free time hobbies, assuming motives for his actions that he didn't actually indicate, all these will just make you act unprofessional and add more stress to your life, which you clearly do not need.

Why are you feeling so embarrassed? Why do you think you have anything to apologize for? I don't think you have anything to apologize for - your race and gender and seniority in the company doesn't mean you aren't allowed to enjoy the business of celebrity like everybody else in this country is pushed to every moment they're awake. I think that a lot of your emotional reaction is from how women, and black women, and black women in their 30s, are socially conditioned to feel shame for daring to exist in the same sphere as other humans (white, male, young). This sucks and is not your fault.

Since you say this guy is on the quiet side, the nicest thing you could do for him is allow him to be quiet. The nicest thing you could do for yourself is to figure out how to release these feelings of embarrassment, because they're not doing anybody any good.
posted by Mizu at 1:58 AM on February 7, 2015 [43 favorites]

Any cover story you try to come up now will sound contrived and make it seem like you have something to hide or be embarrassed about. Which you don't. At all. Please let this go.

Seconding this. A tame picture of an actor on your computer is nothing to be embarrassed about. If anything, your coworker probably sensed your anxiety and embarrassment and thought that maybe HE (not the picture) was making you uncomfortable.

There's no need to explain or tell him who the actor is or why you had the picture on your computer. Nothing you say now can undo the past tension (whatever the cause really was), and bringing it back up will only result in more awkwardness. Just act normal the next time you see him. Nothing happened, so continue as nothing happened.

You can resolve now to send him the story when it's finished.

Absolutely not this. If a coworker sent me fan fiction about their celeb crush, unsolicited, this would make me super extra uncomfortable. Like to the point of involving HR.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:19 AM on February 7, 2015 [49 favorites]

Mizu speaks wisely and kindly, have another read of hers. Do not, not, not send him your fiction. I love fanfic, it rocks my world. Many of my highly professional friends, doctors and what have you, write fanfic. If a colleague shared theirs, I would be "could you please not?".

When I get overly embarrassed and anxious about social interactions and start catastrophising and mind-reading, I like to do a "negative automatic thoughts worksheet". There's plenty on google, it's a CBT tool and it usually helps me just sort of land, center, and put the occurrence in a perspective so I can put it up on a shelf.
posted by Iteki at 2:27 AM on February 7, 2015 [8 favorites]

Maybe your coworker slowly distanced himself because he realized you have inappropriate boundaries between work and non-work, and while he didn't want to create drama, he didn't want to get swept up in yours. That's what I would have done in his situation and I'm a married woman.
posted by SakuraK at 2:34 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

You know how a professional gets over stuff like that? She makes a point of acting bold, cheerful and normal. She makes a point of addressing her coworkers in exactly the same way as before her embarassed moment. She initiates lots of positive and work related interactions and conversations, and buries the incident under them. She meets the people who she feels anxious about head on.
Because what friendly coworkers want most of all is for you to stop acting weird. You panicked, your panic became palpable, it discomfitted your coworker, he gave you some space and now hopes you got over it ( or rather, he's probably forgotten it).
The last thing your coworkers want is to have to deal with your fraught emotions. The picture may be mildly amusing to them. Your hangingabout anxiously, apologising, explaining, seeking reassurance would be seen as drama. Going into hiding would hurt your work relationships. This would be way, way worse than any of your pics or stories getting out into the open.
If it ever happens again, and if your coworkers are people you share a laugh with now and again, I would laugh it off. Like, "whoops, now you know my biggest secret!" And then either change the subject, or let them tease you a bit.
Either way: pretend this never happened.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:35 AM on February 7, 2015 [34 favorites]

You panicked, your panic became palpable, it discomfitted your coworker, he gave you some space and now hopes you got over it ( or rather, he's probably forgotten it).

Just to clarify, I didn't visibly panic, most of the "freaking out" was in my mind. I guess palpable wasn't the write word to use when i was describing it. Unless he is good at reading subtle facial expressions, etc, I'm not sure if he could tell I was embarrassed. My only outward expression when I realized he saw those photos was burning cheeks (but have dark skin so maybe he couldn't tell), and staring at my computer screen unable to look anywhere else.
posted by starpoint at 2:48 AM on February 7, 2015

and staring at my computer screen unable to look anywhere else.

Well, yes, that would have killed the friendly buzz, no? There was an awkward silence. you stopped chatting / joshing about. If I'm in an awkward silence situation with a coworker about something best ignored, I try to break it up, sometimes by moving on physically.

The pics themselves are something you could have covered with a brief comment and a subject change. Your coworker would at first not have made up his mind what to think of your pics. He was looking at you for cues. Your cue was "awkward", so that's what he went with.

I was just trying to find another AskMe posted by a lady who got drunk at an office party and table danced topless. It was the morning after and she was of course mortified. She got kind replies. She was going to be all right.

Her post was a nightmare! Yours is a blip. Five years from now you're gonna be all, "oh yeah, that thing happened. That was before I wowed everyone with my kick ass presentation and them got hired by their competitor.". It'll be fine.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:00 AM on February 7, 2015 [10 favorites]

Starpoint, that comment was deleted for good reason. I didn't catch it but it's probably not in this thread anymore because it was so flat-out wrong and so many people flagged it. Please do your best to detach from your feelings of shame. It wasn't porn, softcore or otherwise. It was a picture of a celebrity, the sort that is in dentist office magazines and on the sides of buses. You're having cyclical negative thoughts. Please go for a walk, listen to some distracting music, do some exercise, sing a song, watch an engrossing movie, do something to get your mind out of this spiral you're in right now. Anything that isn't self-harm, because that is what you are currently doing. Please stop hurting yourself about this.
posted by Mizu at 3:01 AM on February 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

softcore porn fix

No of course pictures of a clothed person are not "porn" - in fact pictures of a person with clothes on, not doing anything sexual are 100% the opposite of "porn" - and the comment you are quoting seems to have (very rightfully) been deleted.

As everyone else is saying, embarrassing situations happen, but it's really really not anything to worry about in the grand scheme of things.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:02 AM on February 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Maybe he moved away because he was interested in you and took the photos as a sign you're not interested. I'm a guy over 30 and have not the slightest clue who that actor is. He might have thought it's your boyfriend and you "accidentally" let him see the pictures to make a point.

Either way, you stress over nothing. Lots of people have random photos on their computers. Mentioning fan fiction would be a major red flag to me, but if someone said "oh, that's for practise, I draw and currently try to improve facial details", that wouldn't be weird to me. Maybe use that if it ever comes up (and you can draw a bit).
posted by MinusCelsius at 3:14 AM on February 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your coworker would at first not have made up his mind what to think of your pics. He was looking at you for cues. Your cue was "awkward", so that's what he went with.
The thing is, I didn't realize the pictures were even there because I was so caught up in what I was showing him. The pictures were on the other edge of the screen. It was only after he suddenly became uninterested in what I was showing him that I realized the pictures were there. Oops.
posted by starpoint at 3:17 AM on February 7, 2015

And no, my co-worker isn't interested in me like that, he's married with a baby.
posted by starpoint at 3:18 AM on February 7, 2015

[Sorry for any confusion folks; yes a comment was deleted. Referring to this as "soft core porn" when OP has specifically clarified that it wasn't is weird and hectoring. Also, starpoint, I understand that you're feeling a bit upset and wish to give the full picture, but Ask Metafilter isn't for back and forth conversation, so you can just relax and take in the answers, only commenting if someone is asking a direct question. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:37 AM on February 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

It was only after he suddenly became uninterested in what I was showing him that I realized the pictures were there.

I know you were just clarifying, but the details don't change anything and will feed your anxiety even more. Anxiety likes to pretend that you will feel more control if you go over the details one more time. Anxiety lies.
It's out of your hands now. You cannot control how it happened and you cannot control what your coworkers think of you now. You can only control how you act in the future, which is hard working, professional, friendly. Be the person they liked and respected in the first place, and this will soon be forgotten.

(If they happen to be gossippy/assholes/weird about it anyway, the above advice is still the one that will serve you best.)
posted by Omnomnom at 3:50 AM on February 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

Married with a baby doesn't mean he can't like you. It sounds a lot like a guy who might have liked safely quasi-flirting a little with you in a 'friends' way, but now he sees that you apparently like Very Handsome Famous Men and he doesn't make that cut. And is possibly sulking about it.

But any story you try to tell him to mitigate this will only make things more awkward, because you're feeling so absolutely awkward about this yourself. You've already learned the most important thing about personal stuff on work machines.

If you can let this go, you might get your credibility back with time.
posted by tomboko at 3:51 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It may very well be that he doesn't even know that actor (he could be your nephew, you know), and/or that he didn't pay any attention to those pictures at the side of the screen (we all learn to ignore small ads and popups, don't we) and that his distraction was a complete coincidence. Some people have concentration issues, or other stuff going on in their minds, whatever.

I really very strongly recommend you to try to just forget about this whole event, especially since there is nothing you did wrong.
posted by Namlit at 4:36 AM on February 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I googled the actor because I'd never heard of him and wanted to imagine what I'd think if I saw photos of him at the edge of someone's laptop. I think if they were casual-looking pics, it would look like some everyday kid - maybe a relative of yours or a friend of yours, like someone had emailed you pics and you left them open. If they're obviously professional, styled photos, I might think they were pop-up ads for something random or that you were reading a celeb gossip site. (The equivalent of a dentist's office magazine, as someone said already.) It might be a little embarrassing to be "caught" reading DListed or whatever on a work computer, or to have your colleague think you like a boy band, but it's something he'll forget in a day. I think you're (understandably) attributing his behavior to the pictures but it was probably something else.

Don't apologize, don't make excuses, don't tell him the truth, don't make up a lie, DO NOT under any circumstances send him the story!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:10 AM on February 7, 2015 [11 favorites]

So let's say that he did see the pictures and somehow is judging you about them. His judgment would be ... what, exactly? That you're an adult woman who likes attractive adult men, I guess? If it's this, that should be a total non-issue, and if it's anything more extreme, that could only be a function of his own issues, which are nothing to do with you.

Maybe it would help to picture the worst-case scenario here. What if he somehow DID go to HR? What's he going to say - you had a picture of a clothed celebrity in your files? If they took any action beyond saying 'no personal files on a work machine,' then there is something seriously wrong with your company. And if your worst-case is that this guy is now uncomfortable about you - well good lord, someone who could be made uncomfortable on a long-term basis because they saw a picture of a clothed person on your machine is kind of the emotional equivalent of a banana in a rock tumbler - someone like that is eventually going to get their sense of propriety 'bruised' anyway, and that is TRULY not on you.

Honestly, you're fine here. I think right now you just need to get a little distance from this. Right now you haven't seen this dude since it happened, so your brain is left to run wild about his reaction, but I bet the next time you see him he'll be totally fine if you are. Don't bring it up, do what you need to to let it go, and I hope that in a day or so you can come back to this thread and see how right everyone was in saying that this is a non-issue.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:11 AM on February 7, 2015 [12 favorites]

He didn't say anything or act weird

There you go.

I am a quiet person and am somewhat sensitive to noise and crowds, and I am often anxious about whether I am over-extending my stay in conversations. So sometimes I move across the room without explanation.

I also go into tailspins over whether my perfectly innocent behavior is somehow offensive and worthy of complaint. Just sit it out - go for a walk, call a good friend, something. Get some good sleep tonight, and by the time you wake up in the morning this incident will be diminished in your mind.
posted by bunderful at 5:19 AM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Please - trust us. This is nothing. There is lots of good advice posted above, I'm just here to reiterate in case more people saying the same thing is convincing to you. Everybody does embarrassing things. A relatively high proportion of one's time is generally spent with coworkers, thus, you are very likely to embarrass oneself in front of your coworkers. Multiple times. But hey - they will also embarrass themselves in front of you too! It's being human. It's not worth panicking over. In a month, you'll be laughing at this.


1 - I figured out what 'NSFW' meant the hard way. I was browsing Regretsy (RIP) during lunch, and clicked on the 'NSFW' post. A painting of a bear and Little Red graphically engaging in oral sex. I didn't get it off my screen before an engineer passed behind me, and said "Whoa!! What is THAT?" I said 'oh man, I have -no- idea! I clicked on a link a friend emailed me, what the heck were they thinking??" I was mortified. But - nothing else happened. This was years ago, I doubt the other person even remembers this.

2 -- When I was an intern, I had the biggest crush on one of my coworkers. He was married, and his wife was pregnant, and one night at a happy-hour gathering, we made out. In front of about 10-15 of our colleagues. Including my mom. Whoops. I felt horrible, awful, it was the only time I've ever done anything like that ever.

10 years later, I'm working at the same place, with the same colleagues (minus the dude I made out with, he left the company for a new job not too long after that happened). No one (with the exception of my mother, of course - and even that is good-natured) has ever mentioned it to me. I am very well-liked and well-respected at work.

Relax, forgive yourself. Have a friend take you out for a drink tonight or something, don't worry about someone seeing an innocent personal picture on your work computer. If you don't bring this up (which, you shouldn't), I will guarantee that nobody else is going to either. Everything is going to be fine.
posted by Fig at 6:19 AM on February 7, 2015 [13 favorites]

When I was an intern, I had the biggest crush on one of my coworkers. He was married, and his wife was pregnant, and one night at a happy-hour gathering, we made out. In front of about 10-15 of our colleagues. Including my mom. Whoops. I felt horrible, awful, it was the only time I've ever done anything like that ever.

Haha! That reminds me of the one time I drunkenly got all mooney and made out with one of my coworkers, in front of two of our colleagues. I was SO MORTIFIED the next day. When I told my roommate (who also worked at the same place) about it, she said that heh, actually she'd done the same thing with this person's brother (who ALSO also worked at the same place at the time - it was a big employer in the area) in front of a whole group of coworkers. Note that I lived AND worked with this person, and had never heard about it before then. Other than a few awkward interactions, none of us ever had any negative repercussions and I still work at that place ten years later - actually, I left it for totally unrelated reasons and they reached out to me to work for them again as a contractor.

So yeah, if it helps to hear a few other embarrassing workplace happenings that ended without incident, I think just about anybody could give you that - we've all been there, I promise. What you describe wouldn't even make for good gossip - even if your coworker did try to gossip about it (which he won't because it's not an incident), anybody with an ounce of sense is going to judge HIM for making a big deal about it, not you.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:38 AM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

Nothing happened. Not a goddam thing. You can feel embarrassed, but do NOT bring this up to him, or anyone else. Do not apologize (for what?) Do not explain. Do not come up with some bullshit reason for having the pics on your computer.

Nothing, zip, nada.

Everyone has silly things on their work computers that aren't work related. One of my former managers kept Fox news up. All. The. Time. Others have pictures of their kids. Cheesecake photos of pretty women. Kitties and puppies. No one gives a fuck. Not even a little bit.

If you feel embarrassed, realize it's all you.

Who knows why he changed his demeanor. Perhaps you changed yours first? Maybe that second beer kicked in. Maybe he thought it was time to talk to Bill in Marketing.

Believe it or not, YOU aren't the center of the universe. What you do and how you feel are not really as present in other people's minds as it is in yours.

Go to sleep. Wake up, eat some breakfast and resolve to leave it behind you. When you get back to work, act as though the nothing that did happen, was actually nothing. It's not worth mentioning again in this lifetime.

Also, if all of us are telling you that it's nothing. It's nothing. Your constant returning to add Dramaz and additional pointless details do not make it something. It is nothing. It's less than nothing. That means that you can dance on a tabletop and his other thing is such a nothing that no one will bat an eye.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:06 AM on February 7, 2015 [10 favorites]

Sorry, my suggestion about sending him the story above comes from a position of being quite open about my writing short stories, putting them online under my own name, the practice and results being an open part of my identity. When I said send him the story I pictured it more as a link to your blog. I appreciate that this is quite different from emailing a coworker celeb fanfiction, although your question doesn't suggest this is the kind of stories you are writing.

Some people here might find the idea of revealing your interests outside work with a coworker absolutely unprofessional, but that's down to the kind of work environment you occupy, I think.

All of which should not override the best advice in this thread, which is to try to forget about it, and let the embarrassment fade with time as it always, always does.
posted by distorte at 7:09 AM on February 7, 2015

I totally get how you're feeling; I catastrophize all the time that people are angry at me or what have you, and I understand how difficult it can be to stop spiraling down into your own head.

But everyone is right. This really is a non-event. I don't know why your co-worker moved his seat, but I think it probably had zero to do with his seeing a photo of a man on your computer. He either noticed that you seemed uncomfortable (and he may well have noticed even though you think you weren't showing it outwardly), or, even more likely, it had nothing to do with you at all. Try to get out of your head a little bit by doing what you would normally do to relax, and I promise you everything will be fine at work.
posted by holborne at 7:15 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's seriously no big deal to have pictures of celebrities. Or people IRL in bikinis on a beach as a desktop background. I knew a lawyer who had a scanty picture of him and his girlfriend as the background on his laptop, the laptop he'd set up in the courtroom on the table before a hearing, where the entire gallery could see it while it booted up. No one cared.

I just got myself a new coworker in my office, a woman many years older than me. She sent me an email her first week with an attachment that said, "Can we hire a new assistant?" The attachment was a shirtless picture of Channing Tatum. I think it's hilarious, we both have Channing Tatum backgrounds now (though I like them a little more lean myself, but). No one cares.

Who knows why your coworker left the conversation after a while. My money is nearly 100% that if he's a professional dude your age, he has no idea who Callan McAulfie is. I don't know who Callan McAulfie is. If I saw a photo of someone I didn't recognize on a coworker's computer, I'd assume it's a boyfriend or a girlfriend or a relative or something. If I happened to wander off for another conversation after I saw it, it would probably not be based on seeing the picture.

Try to forget about it, be friendly, stay professional. As a side note, I don't think it's at all unprofessional to have a photo of a celebrity on your computer to refer to when writing a short story after-hours on a work trip. Bear in mind that a lot of people spend conference after-hours downstairs in the hotel bar getting ridiculous with coworkers and doing things to really be embarrassed about which, as you can see, people get over and move on about. You've done nothing wrong.
posted by mibo at 7:19 AM on February 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

Don't worry, he probably does things at work that are way more embarrassing. I was once at an old boyfriend's office and needed to check my email on a bigger screen, so he offered use of his work computer and typing in the url yielded a page of retail nightclub clothing for women featuring 80s-esque stripperish looking Eastern European women. I. Think it was close to my birthday or Valentines, and was afraid he wanted me to dress like that and was ordering something off the site for me to wear, and I asked him kindly about whether he was looking to get me that/wanted me to wear those things because it would be better for me to buy that kind of stuff myself since the fabric looked cheap, and he got super angry and embarrassed because apparently it was supposed to be obvious that he liked looking at hot girls at work. Man, was he pissed! And I was pretty innocent about it but he knew it made him seem gross, even to himself, while I didn't even get that he was trying to get turned on.

He was a pretty bright guy, well mannered, not fratty, gross, creepy externally, and not anyone either I or his female colleagues would have thought did that kind of stuff at work or at least knew better to discreetly do it on his phone or whatever, but even he did that stuff.

And I worked in sales at one pt at a small pharmaceutical firm without HR, and the sweet and charming guys I met there----lets just say the only problem anyone ever had was when one of them used a pornographic image as desktop wallpaper.

So yeah, guys do way, way, way worse stuff at work unless they're aware they're being monitored in a way that could result in being found out. And some vocally think it's their right and need to have sexual stimulation at work.

So don't be embarrassed.
posted by discopolo at 7:19 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just adding to the chorus of "It's OK!" I have a few G-rated photos of my celeb crush on my work computer and I would be slightly embarrassed if my co-workers accidentally saw them, but there is no reason to be mortified. Everybody has personal stuff at work. One of my colleagues has a framed drawing of a fictional character on her desk. Another colleague has this SFW plush of a character from a porny webcomic. Everybody has their own interests and a few G-rated celeb photos are well, well within the bounds of acceptable personal stuff to have in your work space.

The thing is, your photos of this actor mean a lot more to you than to your co-worker. I think you are reacting strongly because you have strong, crushy feelings about this actor and you are afraid of having those feelings exposed. But I agree with the comment above that as far as your co-worker is concerned, this is like seeing you with a copy of Us magazine. It's just not very meaningful to him.

I wouldn't over-interpret the fact that your co-worker left the table and sat somewhere else. Maybe he wanted to be alone and concentrate on his work (you did mention that he's the quiet type). Maybe he was worried that he was bothering you while you were trying to work. Maybe he needed to fart.
posted by Orinda at 8:40 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey, I do the exact same thing. I love writing fiction, and some of it is smutty, and I also see a face I like on the internet, and use that person as a jump off for a character. And I've had those pictures on my work computer. And a co-worker has seen them. But I'm 49 now, and maybe less easily embarrassed.

Disregard, move on, don't bring it up. As above, people are way more interested in their own lives and follies than yours.

And keep writing!
posted by Savannah at 8:44 AM on February 7, 2015

I'm going to pile on the "you are really overreacting" pile. If you act like it's a big deal, or a weird thing, or something to be paid attention to, then it becomes that thing. Just drop it. Don't apologize, don't bring it up. There isn't anything terrible about having a few non-porny celeb photos or other non-work-related photos on your computer if you work for a normal (not super-sekrit-type) kind of place.
posted by rtha at 9:49 AM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I can pretty much guarantee that, in your worse case scenario of him being super awkward and uncomfortable, you will make him more uncomfortable by apologizing. In the far more likely scenario where you are just projecting and he left for an entirely unrelated reason like thinking the conversation was over, you will look super weird for apologizing about nothing.

There is literally no upside to apologizing. Also, you did nothing wrong.
posted by 256 at 9:58 AM on February 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would just let it go. Even if he did see the photos and get weirded out, it's really not that big a deal. Let it blow over.

(I'm in the camp of "he left the table for other reasons, and has no idea that you're even worried about something he probably hasn't even thought about," incidentally. If he's quiet and shy, maybe he just moved to another table because he wanted to be alone.)
posted by sarcasticah at 11:27 AM on February 7, 2015

I'm going to guess that he saw the pictures and suddenly remembered that he had pr0n on his computer and he needed to give it a thorough cleaning ASAP.
posted by doctor tough love at 12:09 PM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

From reading your question I think your coworker was the one acting weird. Had it been me in that situation, I would have pretended I didn't see anything and not abruptly left or anything. If we had a friendly relationship, at the very most, I might tease you about having a crush on the celeb, but not think anything else of it. Other people's business is their own business. Assuming he isn't your boss or anything, what right does he have to judge what you do with your work computer?

However, I think the most likely scenario is: your coworker is a quiet/introverted person (as you mentioned). You stopped talking. Your coworker interpreted this as you not wanting his presence anymore, so he left.

I am also really surprised by some of the answers in this thread where people are telling you to explain it or have some kind of excuse. I would guess they are doing that because you seem so mortified about it. Actually nothing embarrassing at all happened; people are just reading into your own description of it and assuming that it really was bad enough to warrant an explanation. But ignoring your own embarrassment, reading your description of the event at face value, actually nothing happened.

You should act like nothing happened. Your coworkers will act like nothing happened. Worst case scenario is they playfully tease you for having a crush on Justin Bieber or whichever young celeb it was. Nobody, I repeat nobody in their right mind would expect you to explain or even remember the incident. If someone really does ask you about it, just be like "Whaaat?" If they press, then be like, "Oh those photos, yeah isn't he hot? I keep a framed photo of him next to my bed too! LOL"
posted by pravit at 12:10 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Most of these answers are looking at this from your perspective, OP, so (without disrespecting your anxiety and other emotions), I'd like you to look at this logically from the opposite perspective.

First, imagine that you were in the exact same situation and your co-worker was showing you his computer, and you saw two pictures of a clothed, attractive actress of a different racial background than his own who was close to half his age. (I've never heard of Callan McAullife and didn't recognize him. I don't know any teen stars, so think someone like Nicole Beharie but younger.)

Would you have thought HE was being unprofessional?
Would you have thought HE should be "mortified" about those pictures?
Would you expect HIM to expect YOU to go around telling other employees about these pictures?

It doesn't matter that none of us here on MeFi think you did anything wrong, let alone unprofessional, because you're tearing yourself apart about what you think HE thinks. But if you don't think he would expect any of these thoughts of you, then maybe you can step back and ask, "well, what else POSSIBLY could have been going on?" Because you're catastrophizing that he MUST have been reacting negatively to something you did, so therefore what you did MUST have been wrong. Except…

1) If you flip the picture and realize you wouldn't have judged him (harshly), then it's pretty darn unlikely he was judging you.

2) There are all sorts of reasons why it's possible or likely that this is what is almost certainly a coincidence:

--Someone already said maybe he likes you, saw the hot, young, white kid and thought -- OMG, what the heck am I doing? I have a wife and a baby on the way and I'm secretly harboring amorous thoughts and this woman likes handsome younger guys? I should check myself before I wreck myself.

--He could have been having intestinal distress and was afraid that you might hear or otherwise sense it and was embarrassed by his own body. (Anything from stomach growling to him fearing passing wind.)

--He could have been aroused -- by you, by the picture of the hot guy, whatever -- and felt the need to awkwardly remove himself.

--The co-worker to his other side (guy or girl) may have been fondling his leg and he was distracted by THAT and moved away from that person, not you, and he didn't even have the words to explain what was going on.

--He could have realized while you were talking that OMG, HE TOTALLY FORGOT TO TO X and if anyone realized it wasn't completed, he could get in a ton of trouble, and he moved away, focused on doing it.

--He could have been experiencing any number of social anxiety symptoms and felt the need to move away from you.

Any of those things could have him roiling, wondering what the nice co-worker lady is thinking of him. Heck, maybe he did see the pictures, but not thinking of them until after he moved away, and no he's killing himself over the fact that maybe you think he's racist because he moved away after he saw the white actor on your computer, and he's asking random strangers on the web, "I'm so mortified -- how do I move on from making my nice co-worker lady think I'm a horrible racist?"

There is nothing unprofessional about having pictures of celebrities on your computer. It's is the height of normality. Even if you'd had those pictures up in your cube or office, it would only be considered unprofessional in the way that having Hello, Kitty up on the walls, which would be to say, not-very, and the kind of thing that would only be frowned upon if you were in a VERY SERIOUS PROFESSION (like mortuary science) and your office were client/customer facing.

Other people gave you better advice about how to deal with your anxiety, per se. I'm merely trying to give you a different way of looking at what you THINK happened, and understand that it's almost certainly not what REALLY happened. (I can't tell you the number of times I've excused myself from the table -- to use the rest room, to make a phone call, to administer insulin, to make sure my parking meter was full -- and had someone (a guy, a friend, a work associate) have spent the whole time time I was away ruminating on whether they'd said [too much/too little/something sexist/something racist] and it was just that I had to pee!)
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 1:13 PM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is this really any different from having a pic of Derek Jeter pinned to the wall of your cube?
posted by SemiSalt at 4:41 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

If it helps, I saved a picture of Patrick Stewart with his shirt off on my home computer once (for reasons) and didn't realise that the computer automatically stored it in the most recent folder I had used.

Which was my screen backgrounds folder in Dropbox, which my work computer also syncs to for random backgrounds that change every hour.

My boss was in the room working with me when the background changed to Patrick Stewart looking sexy. My boss raised his eyebrows. I said, oops! and changed the background. We both laughed and neither of us ever mentioned it again.

And dude, your situation is so much less embarrassing than that. Your picture was clothed. It was not taking up your entire screen. The guy who who saw it was not your boss. You're fine.
posted by lollusc at 5:24 PM on February 7, 2015 [19 favorites]

If you go out of your way to say something about this after the fact, it's going to look weird. One of my male friends accidentally had porn (not hardcore, just naked women) on his computer and it froze when he was trying to show someone (a man) something at work. He used his personal laptop at work because his office didn't give him one, but still -- he's lucky he didn't get fired and laughs about it now. That's something to be mortified about. Your pictures were a clothed guy and your co-worker doesn't know about the fanfiction thing, which is probably the most embarrassing aspect of all. Make up an excuse for the photos if you want, but it won't come up and you should just let it go.

Keeping work stuff and personal stuff separate can be hard sometimes, but I set limits as to what I'll do or put on my office laptop. If I would have trouble explaining something or would feel embarrassed by it, I simply don't do it on my work computer.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:19 PM on February 7, 2015

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