Catching up with a former colleague?
June 8, 2016 12:40 AM   Subscribe

A former colleague (whom I previously supervised) will be in town for an extended stay this summer. She's inquired about catching up.

Ordinarily this would be a straightforward "yes." She's still in a related field and has potential to be a valuable part of my future network. She left my organization on good terms (both with the organization and with me). My only hesitation is that while she was working for me, she did some sexual boundary pushing things. For instance, when sitting next to me at a meal, putting her hand on my knee, and then slowly moving it up my leg. (I'm a married man, BTW.)

I always acted 'deer caught in headlights' (my common semi-mal adaptive reaction to all kinds of inappropriate behavior) by this and similar actions. (i.e., I never reciprocated her advances).

I am inclined to meet with her for lunch of similar to catch up in a professional context. However, there is a niggling voice in my head that says to me that I should not do this. So the question is: 'should I meet up with this former colleague?'
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No. I would not. From my POV the leg thing goes *well* beyond sexual boundary pushing and straight into over the line. Unless she has *directly* addressed and apologized for her behavior, I would find it inappropriate to have dinner, or even a one-on-one lunch.

If you feel you must, then invite her to a group event with other coworkers during daylight.

I strongly support men and women at work being able to be friends, mentor each other, and be close colleagues-- this is why I'm so conservative in this regard. It's difficult enough to make that work without rumors and jealousy when there is no veiled attempts at seduction.
posted by frumiousb at 12:51 AM on June 8, 2016 [33 favorites]

I agree this is a potentially fraught situation, I would steer clear
posted by stevedawg at 12:53 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

No no no no no no no.

Totally suspicious that she wants to meet up, definitely a bad idea, come up with excuses and avoid this train wreck.
posted by Cozybee at 1:03 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take her to a public seminar in a relatable discipline area, attend it with her, network independently, and then make your exit without telling her. She will probably never contact you again.
posted by parmanparman at 1:15 AM on June 8, 2016

If you have mutual friends/colleagues, maybe you could suggest turning it into a small group gathering/lunch?
posted by aielen at 2:51 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

She already hit on you in one professional context. She's going to do it again. No.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:53 AM on June 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

Extended stay? Maybe not. Perhaps you and your wife could take her out toward the end of the stay? Perhaps you could invite her to a group outing where you could introduce her to some single friends/coworkers?
posted by amtho at 3:06 AM on June 8, 2016

Does your wife know about the incident? Knowing about the incident, how does she feel about the two of you catching up? If a former coworker repeatedly violated me in the way you are describing, there is no way in hell I would go out of my way to meet up with them. She is of no value to you professionally or otherwise. Build your professional network around people you trust and respect.
posted by TheCavorter at 3:30 AM on June 8, 2016 [7 favorites]

Nope. There's too much potential for her to try to start an affair or something.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 3:36 AM on June 8, 2016

I disagree with many of the people above. If it would be fun or beneficial to catch up on professional stuff, then you can do that. If she comes on to you, you can say "I'm not interested in that." Being propositioned, and declining, wouldn't do you any harm. You just have to be 100 percent firm with yourself about what you don't want and what you're not going to do.
posted by sheldman at 3:48 AM on June 8, 2016

That is not boundary pushing! That's rolling over boundaries with a full armoured assault.

Does your wife know about the incident? Knowing about the incident, how does she feel about the two of you catching up?

Yeah if you said to your wife "oh I'm just off to lunch with that woman who tried to grab my dick that one time" what do you think her reaction would be? Base your actions on that.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:57 AM on June 8, 2016 [29 favorites]

(I am fully aware that my answer is based in part on two facts: you were the supervisor, and you are male. The power dynamics were different than they would have been if it had been you making the overtures. You could have, and should have, reacted not as 'deer in the headlights' back then, but with a clear 'no, not interested.' You need to be able to do that now, if it comes up again.)
posted by sheldman at 3:58 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sure, meet up with her but not 1-2-1. Make sure there are other people there, invite her to a networking event or something.

I just did a thought exercise where I (female) was you and there was a hot young guy who I used to manage who had made an inappropriate pass at me and was now back at my organization. And I still came up with the same response, so I reckon that's solid advice.

(To answer EndsOfInventions's question, I'd be fine with that scenario. I trust my husband. This isn't about hypothetical infidelity, it's about how someone in a committed relationship deals with someone in a work environment who doesn't understand boundaries or appropriate behaviour.)
posted by finding.perdita at 4:16 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Practice saying, if necessary, "it wasn't okay when you did that when we worked together and it's not okay now. Cut it out so we can continue as friends." I practice saying things that may be hard to say so I can form the words if I need to. It helps.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:02 AM on June 8, 2016

I think you're questioning this for a reason. She's behaved wildly inappropriately with you in the past at work. Even assuming she's learned her lesson and keeps it all on the up-and-up this time, is that someone you really want to keep active in your professional network? Personally, I'd be afraid she'd be a liability to my own reputation.

If I had a report do that to me once, it would be super icky, but something I'd overlook if it never happened again and they respected boundaries thereafter. You imply she sexually harassed you multiple times, so no.
posted by smirkette at 5:04 AM on June 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think this depends entirely on your own comfort level. If I felt safe and thought it was worth it as a professional opportunity, I would go ahead and meet in a very public place, keep it professional, and have a definite cutoff time where you leave alone (or maybe with a colleague or your wife who you can have on call to come and rescue you if needed). If I felt the least bit unsafe, I wouldn't do it.

Two things:
- Don't discount the voice in your head. Especially, please don't feel like because you're a man, you shouldn't take this seriously. Nobody should have to deal with repeated unwanted sexual advances.
- If you do decide to meet up with her, I suggest practicing what you will say and do if she starts hitting on you. You might start with a firm, "Please don't do that. Let's keep this professional," and then get up and leave if it happens again. Role playing ahead of time may help with your "deer in the headlights" reaction.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:03 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dude! No!
posted by xingcat at 6:23 AM on June 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

Lady doesn't want to talk about work, dude. Work is her excuse to see you because she's got a big ol' crush on you.

Flattering, yes. But not as meaningful as the commitment you made to your wife.
posted by quincunx at 6:42 AM on June 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also, whoa, I just caught this one:

"will be in town for an extended stay this summer."

Oh helllllll no. She's angling early for the summer fling.

Just say no. Not worth imploding your nice life over her.
posted by quincunx at 6:45 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nononononononononono. Also nthing that the fact you are asking us instead of your wife means that you are not in a healthy place to meet her.
posted by corb at 6:48 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Pffffff. NO.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:55 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are you sure she's someone you want in your professional network going forward? She thought it was a good idea to (repeatedly?) proposition her boss...doesn't sound like someone with good professional judgement, and we are judged by the company we keep.
posted by blerghamot at 7:01 AM on June 8, 2016 [8 favorites]

Oh heck no. She wants to fuck you and since you don't work together any more, that means you are FAIR GAME for fucking. I'd bet money she's got her hands on you within the first half hour if you go to this. The entire POINT of this is for her to come on to you!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:01 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wow. Lot's of answers that seem to be getting ahead of themselves here. I say meet her. If she tries anything just give a firm no and then severe ties. Instead of assuming the worst in someone assume neutral or better. Maybe she has matured. If you are concerned about your own self discipline, then bring someone with you. In any case, I would set something up for later in her stay because she may just turn out to be a pain in the ass with no sexual advances and that will limit your exposure to having to say yes to a second meetup.
posted by AugustWest at 7:29 AM on June 8, 2016

I would say this coworker went WAY beyond boundary pushing to boundary crossing. Would we be telling a woman that she should go meet up with a male colleague who felt her up at a meal? That is super creepy!

That said, if you really do feel she is of significant value to your professional network, I would invite her to a group event -- for example, scheduling a lunch with some other coworkers who were around when she worked at the company so you can all catch up together. But I also don't think you're obligated to do that if you feel uncomfortable, which it sounds like you do. One of the consequences of groping coworkers is that you might lose out on networking contacts, and it's not a bad thing for her to experience the direct consequences of her creepy, creepy actions.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

I think that if the handsy behavior was more than a few years ago (so maybe she has matured since then) and you have a female colleague who would genuinely be interested in this person's work, then yes, meet for coffee. The presence of the colleague will both telegraph that your interest is entirely professional and provide a reason for the conversation to stay on work matters. At the end of the meetup, shake hands and say, "Helga, it's been so good to see that you're moving up in the field. Thanks for joining us today." (But pointedly *not* "let me know when you're in town again.")
posted by lakeroon at 7:53 AM on June 8, 2016

Nope! Don't do it. If you were single and into her then it could be fine, but you're not. She is totally setting things up to hit on you again. Decline her invitation. If she presses you for why, tell her the truth politely but firmly. If you lose the networking connection then that sucks, but it's way better than having someone in your life who is inappropriately hitting on you and trying to cause problems in your marriage.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:08 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Okay, if this colleague has matured since the handsy stuff or no longer means what the handsy stuff entails and really wants to meet for strictly platonic and/or work related reasons, I think she would have either
a) apologized for her repeatedly inappropriate behavior so that you can go forward and have a platonic and/or professional relationship or
b) be far too embarrassed to even think about seeing you again, let alone suggest meeting up.

Given that she has done c), not mentioned her previously inappropriate behavior at all but suggested meeting up while she's in town for the summer, I think you can be safe in assuming that she's looking to hook up. But yeah if you still feel all inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt then check with your wife.
posted by Polychrome at 8:14 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

But actually as a general rule of thumb, if someone has come on to you in the past and wants to meet up again and nothing has been said to acknowledge, retract or nullify the come-ons of the past, the person is probably still interested in you.
posted by Polychrome at 8:17 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wonder if any of the people recommending you give her another opportunity have ever been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances from a work colleague. I have, and I don't think meeting up with her is worth the risk.
posted by roger ackroyd at 8:45 AM on June 8, 2016 [11 favorites]

Yeah, this is somebody that subjected you to unwanted sexual contact. Meeting up should not even be a POSSIBILITY.
posted by destructive cactus at 10:39 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

No. Potential (very likely) downside totally outweighs potential upside. She's not going to enjoy getting turned down, and that can go south quite badly.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:00 AM on June 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, I'm surprised at all the 'go ahead!' answers. When people demonstrate that they don't respect boundaries in some ways, it's not really possible to know what other kinds of integrity they see as optional. Like maybe lying. If it were me, I'd be apologetically busy with visiting relatives and house painting and such. I'd want to fade off the radar as soon and as non-interestingly (septic tank replacement excuses, not beach vacation excuses) as possible, because if they don't respect you when they like you, what will they do if you make a more explicit rejection of their overtures?
posted by Fantods at 1:14 PM on June 8, 2016 [4 favorites]

DO NOT. She wants to do this to hit on you, dude. The voice in your head exists for a reason. Listen to it.

I agree that the only way this makes any sense, and if you feel you MUST see her, is if you invite her to a lunch with a BUNCH of other co-workers. But given that she's back for an extended stay, I would just not open the door to any of this.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 1:37 PM on June 8, 2016

If you're okay with a flirty lunch (or more, who knows!) then you should agree to meet up and see what happens. It might be fun!

But if that sort of thing is not for you, then best avoided.
posted by Stephanie_Says at 2:59 PM on June 8, 2016

Always trust that niggling feeling in situations like this. You will save yourself a world of hurt if you do. Source: me, after having ignored that niggling feeling and subsequently derailed my entire life for a few years due to the fallout of said disastrous decision.
posted by palomar at 5:28 PM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

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