How can I date women at work without being accused of sexual harassment?
October 29, 2018 3:28 PM   Subscribe

My boss brought me into his office today and said one of my coworkers complained that I was sexually harassing her. I've only worked here for a couple weeks, we actually started together. Ever since our first day of work we've been friendly, even flirty. She told about she and her fiance may break up and I jokingly told her I would take her out afterwards. She laughed and jokingly agreed!

Even though they later got back together, we still had friendly chats every morning. I sometimes tapped her on the shoulder and we would chat for a bit.

Apparently that made her feel uncomfortable so she complained. I'm not in trouble thankfully, it was just a warning, but I definitely feel betrayed by it.

My office has some beautiful women and I wouldn't mind dating them but I have to say this recent incident makes me scared now of approaching women. I don't really have any friends outside of work but I don't want one of these women to get me fired either.

If you can't tell already this whole thing definitely has me feeling a bit bitter and even angry.
posted by CurioslySatisfying to Human Relations (102 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

Women in work who are being sexually harassed will often respond in an apparently friendly way because they feel unsafe. The culture of our society isn't safe for women so this happens.

You're scared of approaching women? Good. Don't approach them at work unless it's a business professional conversation until you learn how to interact with women in a respectful manner. A therapist can help with this.

A therapist can help you gain skills to find friends. It is not the responsibility of your workplace to provide them.

Bitterness and anger are inappropriate responses here. You should be grateful you didn't get fired. You've got a good opportunity to learn. Go to therapy and don't talk about anything but work with your colleagues at work.
posted by Mistress at 3:31 PM on October 29, 2018 [199 favorites]

I should probably also add that I'm quite obese. I'm not sure if that makes any difference but it's definitely something I've thought about so I figured I'd put it out there.
posted by CurioslySatisfying at 3:32 PM on October 29, 2018

Do not date people at work. Period. Full stop. An easy way to stop feeling bitter and angry about this sort of thing is to stop treating "beautiful women" (or unbeautiful women) you encounter in the course of ordinary life as potential conquests. We can tell when a man's primary motivation is his dick, and it creeps us the fuck out. Especially in a work context, where we have to deal with him every day. Don't be this guy.
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:33 PM on October 29, 2018 [201 favorites]

She told about she and her fiance may break up and I jokingly told her I would take her out afterwards.

That is a completely inappropriate response to someone talking about a break-up FULL STOP.

I sometimes tapped her on the shoulder and we would chat for a bit.

Touching another person is also completely inappropriate FULL STOP.

You are totally in the wrong here. Don't feel bitter, feel glad you learned a valuable lesson before you crossed so many lines you *were* fired.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:34 PM on October 29, 2018 [112 favorites]

You just...can't be angry about this. I mean, you can, obviously but it's a really bad road to go down. Your workplace does not owe you a date. Some people do manage to date at work but it's tricky because there are rules in place for really good reasons, and it doesn't sound like you're doing it so right that the rules aren't going to trip you up. You've gotta look elsewhere. Being angry that your attempts at dating at work have led to you have to deal with rules that are there to protect women makes you look kinda red-pill/incel/whatever. Don't be one of them.
posted by Smearcase at 3:35 PM on October 29, 2018 [51 favorites]

From your coworker's perspective, we know this much. She mentioned breaking up with her fiance, and her new coworker asked her out on the spot. She wasn't interested, and he continues to try to flirt with her, tap her shoulder to get her attention, and come by to chat. In an ideal world, she'd say "I'm not interested in a social relationship, let's just stay colleagues," but it sounds like she didn't feel comfortable saying that directly. Consider it said now.

Incidentally, this is a great example of why not to date at work. If you don't date your coworkers, you don't wind up working with people you dated.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:37 PM on October 29, 2018 [34 favorites]

Hey, p.s., tip from a short guy to an obese guy: if you've got a dating strike against you, online dating can be your friend. It's a good filter for "I'm somebody's type but not everybody's type" and, better still, it is not going to get you fired.
posted by Smearcase at 3:47 PM on October 29, 2018 [33 favorites]

Sorry but you do not get to be angry because you have poor boundaries. Is this your first job? Are you still trying to figure out the basics of workplace professionalism?

* Don't flirt with or try to date women in your workplace.
* Don't comment on the attractiveness of people in your workplace.
* Don't touch anyone in your workplace beyond a handshake, ever.

Asking her out made her uncomfortable because it was completely and totally unprofessional. You don't get to be bitter; if anything, she gets to be bitter because a colleague at work tried to ask her out when she mentioned an issue in her personal life (seriously, dude?!?!) and kept fucking touching her.

Apologise and vow to learn how to adult man from this experience.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:48 PM on October 29, 2018 [64 favorites]

You’ve only worked at your job for a couple weeks. You don’t know any of these people. You shouldnt have visions of dating “the beautiful women” yet because you know nothing about them. This is not a bar, it’s a workplace. Take a step back, focus on learning your job and maybe one day far, far down the line when you actually know these people as individuals, dating will be a possibility.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:48 PM on October 29, 2018 [29 favorites]

Let me fix something for you so you can see what it looks like to take responsibility for your own actions:
I don't want one of these women to get me [myself] fired either.
posted by kittydelsol at 3:50 PM on October 29, 2018 [178 favorites]

My wife and I were co-workers when we met. Different time, very different place. I'd say that in 2018 North America you would be best off avoiding dating co-workers altogether, but if you are going to do it wait for the co-worker to initiate things.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:50 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I should probably also add that I'm quite obese. I'm not sure if that makes any difference but it's definitely something I've thought about so I figured I'd put it out there.

I'd be curious how you think this changes the story. I mean, I have a few ideas why you might think this is relevant but I'm curious what you think about it.

My office has some beautiful women and I wouldn't mind dating them but I have to say this recent incident makes me scared now of approaching women.

These "women" sound fairly interchangeable in this sentence. I've seen worse but it's still there. Make sure that you aren't thinking of women as a monolith.

For what is likely to be a complex soup of reasons, some of which have to do with you and some of which may not, one person at your company felt that they had a situation that they could not handle and they decided to ask for help in handling it. This is a person with a whole complex life and who is living in the same complex world that you are, trying to make good choices. I'd be curious what the follow-through suggested by your boss might have been? If they gave you no suggestions for next steps, I'd advise you to set aside your anger and your bitterness and just try to be the better person. I get that being called out is embarrassing and you might feel that emotion with anger and bitterness but you seem to have gotten out of it with minimal damage. Put on a brave face and when you see your friend, just be friendly-neutral and say, "Good morning..." and pass right by. Do your best to not ruminate on this issue or assume it has anything to do with other women in the world or even in your office.

Take some time to read up on issues that women face in the workplace as a monolith that is quite disadvantaged and for the most part, commit to fishing from a non-company pier where the playing field is generally more level.
posted by amanda at 3:50 PM on October 29, 2018 [28 favorites]

Your previous AskMe questions suggest to me that there's a desire on your part to connect with people in a more meaningful way than you've done in the past. But also that you might be lacking the social skills to pick up on the nuanced clues and hints people give about when they're receptive to being friendly and when they're not. This has led you to overstepping boundaries, when you didn't know you were doing so, and with no intention to cause offence. But nevertheless it's attention your co-worker found unwelcome.

My suggestion is to widen your social circle outside of work, maybe through MeetUp or something that speaks to your interests, and find people to date from there.
posted by essexjan at 3:51 PM on October 29, 2018 [38 favorites]

As a woman who has been in the workforce - it is often the easiest and safest course of action to "laugh it off" and be friendly in nearly all interactions because we never know what kind of retaliation could happen when being more forthright. It's not about being fake - it's about self-preservation because in a workplace you're forced to be around people for hours on end and the last thing you want is to create more discomfort. Don't date your coworkers.

Try meet up groups or things of that nature to find people to connect with platonically or maybe romantically (but please don't mix the two). Don't be the guy who makes friends with a woman with the object of eventually being a future romantic partner. That tactic won't work in the long run and will make you feel even more bitter and make her feel awful because she never led you on - you just weren't being honest.

You should focus on making friends outside of work. Take this as a learning opportunity.
posted by acidnova at 3:51 PM on October 29, 2018 [43 favorites]

You're *two weeks* into working at this job and you've already gotten this complaint?

Put the idea of dating anybody from work out of your mind completely. Your boss has warned you that your behavior has made one of your coworkers uncomfortable already. Even if your office doesn't have official rules about dating coworkers, even if other people do it, if and when things go wrong (not if, when), your job can be at stake, or worse. As a woman, I can tell you it's already hard enough to be taken seriously at work without having personal romantic attachments influence everyone's perception of me. You're going to find that plenty of women refuse to cross the personal and professional streams because of this - promotions and opportunities are perceived as "special treatment" rather than anything we've earned through professional accomplishment, we don't get credit for our work, etc.

Also, getting this complaint *two weeks* into your brand-new job means you do not have room to screw around with personal relationships in the office. Keep all interactions from now on strictly professional.

I don't really have any friends outside of work

Try making friends first - of all genders - through something like an interest group meetup, not as a way to date women, but as a way of learning how to be friends with people that include women. That will make approaching women for dating purposes easier in the long-term, when you have a baseline comfort level with women that isn't coming off as sketchy.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 3:52 PM on October 29, 2018 [40 favorites]

On my college co-op, my first corporate-ish job, first thing my boss told me:

"Don't get your meat and your taters at the same place."

I.E. Don't. Just don't. Women often have to pretend to like your workplace flirting, because they are conditioned to do so, or be ostracized as "the office bitch".

You wanna get angry? Get angry at the patriarchy that puts women in this situation.
posted by notsnot at 3:52 PM on October 29, 2018 [60 favorites]

Unpopular opinion: No one has commented on OPs follow up. The fact that OP is obese is relevant. Women in the work place will feel the need to be polite to OPs perhaps inappropriate advances due to professionalism. In other social situations, they would probably be more direct in turning him down. OP sounds inexperienced with flirting and probably can't tell the difference or read signals.
posted by seesom at 3:54 PM on October 29, 2018 [10 favorites]

Also, think of it this way: this is a woman who has to see you every day. Women are socialized to be nice and ingratiating with men, in no small part because men occasionally get violent, manipulative, or stalker-y when they're rejected. Sure, maybe you're not about to assault this woman, but 1) she doesn't actually know that, and 2) that's the power of toxic masculinity: you don't have to actively engage in this sort of behavior to reap its rewards, which is women's fear that men will injure or kill them, or dox them, or sit in a parked car outside their house. It's unlikely, yes, but it's at the back of every woman's mind when she has to parry with a man whose flirtations she's not interested in. So her friendliness with you may well have been strategic: I mean, a more likely scenario is that she turns you down and then has to work with you every day while you make her life a little extra uncomfortable because of it, either out of spite or subconscious bitterness. For reasons I'm sure you can totally understand, she wanted to avoid that by being gentle with you.

Here's the thing about flirting: it can be really fun! But only when everyone knows there aren't any underlying expectations. Expecting that someone you're able to have witty repartee with at work will also want to go out on a date with you is an underlying expectation -- it's not all that different than the expectation that if a man buys a woman dinner, she owes him sex. If you can't flirt with people -- and by "flirt," I mean be amiable and witty, not make jokes with veiled innuendo -- without expecting that you're owed something out of it, stop flirting with people.

Another way to practice: flirt with everyone. This means men, aunties waiting at the bus stop, the old guy spare changing on the corner, and sure, also the cute female librarian. Practice being charming without framing it around sexual exchange or expectation, implicit or explicit. It'll make you a better conversationalist, and it'll make you someone people see as safe and friendly because they'll be able to tell that it's not transactional, it's because of a genuine enjoyment of the banter itself. And although MRAs like to think women like dangerous men, we don't. We're attracted to trustworthy men who don't seem like they're trying to trick us into bed, with whom we can have conversations that are fulfilling in and of themselves, and not because of what promise one or the other of us might imagine they hold.
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:56 PM on October 29, 2018 [32 favorites]

I think anger is a totally natural response here. It sounds like you had no idea what you were doing was a problem; it seemed totally normal and not creepy to you. You may feel like you've been accused of something (sexual harassment) that you had no intention of doing, which can leave anyone feeling miffed.

If your size does have an influence here, it may be because you feel like you are being denied behavior that other, more normatively-attractive men can "get away with". That's a guess on my part, but it tracks with some of my experience as a non-normative man in some respects. It can definitely add to my feeling of anger.

But everyone else here is right: you need to take the note. Your behavior was making her uncomfortable, and you need to work to change that behavior, and get better at reading situations so it doesn't happen again.

If you are looking to explain the anger, and maybe express it more healthily, I might suggest examining how masculinity and the patriarchy have helped create this situation, where we as men aren't taught how to be as sensitive to women's comfort as we need to be; where we may feel like we are owed some kind of reciprocity from women; and where our sense of worth is largely defined by our ability to "get" women.

I wish you the best <3
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:56 PM on October 29, 2018 [41 favorites]

Don't flirt with your coworkers.

"But PBO, people flirt with their coworkers all the time, they even date, sleep with, and eventually marry them."

Sure. People land airplanes every day too. If I tried to do that, I would destroy an airplane and possibly kill myself and others.

Dating coworkers is an advanced and hazardous social skill for people who aren't overly attached to their careers or the esteem of their colleagues.

Don't flirt with your coworkers.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:59 PM on October 29, 2018 [75 favorites]

Another vote for "just don't" (and certainly don't touch people at work!)

(basically everything darlingbri said).
posted by pompomtom at 4:07 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

So I think lots of these comments will feel awfully blunt to you, BUT it sounds like you don't have a lot of practice socially (based on your couple other posts).

You might have difficulty picking up on social cues. That is a reason to be really careful when it comes to approaching women.

It sounds like you have had some pretty harsh treatment and sometimes when someone is finally kind, a person can read WAY too much into that.

Don't approach women at work. Don't flirt. Don't read into someone just be kind and friendly.

And this goes for outside of work too when it comes to women. Life isn't like the movies. Most women don't want to be approached by a man. If a woman is friendly to you, don't assume it is anything more than friendly. You HAVE to take things very, very slow. You've said you don't have friends. Start working on that. Take some advise from the making friends question you asked. Making friends ISN'T easy. It really is tough. And it is tough to be lonely, but WORK is not the place to try to work on getting a girlfriend.

Good luck.
posted by beccaj at 4:08 PM on October 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

You being obese seems relevant to me primarily because it points to you being a lot larger than your female coworkers, and that can be intimidating (and lessen the chance you coworker feels safe telling you to stop).

And much as I hate being reminded of it when I'm angry, it can be helpful to view anger as a cover emotion. You feel angry because it would feel worse to experience your shame/fear/sadness/loneliness/etc. Sit with your vulnerability a bit and try to get a different perspective on this. If for no other reason, it's harder to get fired for acting sad at work than acting angry at work.
posted by momus_window at 4:11 PM on October 29, 2018 [39 favorites]

(I'd add that even some behaviour that may seem fun between you and another may contribute to creating a hostile workplace environment. You don't know what other grief this person has had to deal with.)
posted by pompomtom at 4:12 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

also off limits for you right now is the barista and the waitress and the lady at that store you like to browse all the time. you need to make friends with people that aren't paid to tolerate your presence.
posted by lescour at 4:12 PM on October 29, 2018 [93 favorites]

Like, okay, I'm fat: Probably that does in fact become relevant to whether the overture was welcome or not. But being way more physically attractive would not have guaranteed that this was welcome. You put her into a position where if she didn't like you for any reason--this or anything else--she had reason to be deeply uncomfortable. This would still be true even if you didn't perceive her as being way more attractive than you, because you hadn't known her well enough to actually know the difference between fake-nice and real affection. If you are anything less than completely sure you know this person well enough to know the outcome, it's a gamble. Making romantic overtures at coworkers is gambling with your career, but even when you have better odds it's a dick move to gamble with someone else's career.

Don't attempt to start relationships by doing asshole stuff. Even if it works, it makes you an asshole.
posted by Sequence at 4:17 PM on October 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

How can I date women at work without being accused of sexual harassment?

You can’t. Don’t shit where you eat.
posted by bile and syntax at 4:20 PM on October 29, 2018 [26 favorites]

A couple points/stories:

1. I am also obese, I could be wrong but am assuming you are referring to people cutting you less slack for social missteps because of your size, if so then I agree with you, my experience is the same BUT you were def in the wrong with this one (also, slightly off topic, I have learned to at least use this as a barometer when I meet new people, if a new person seems to have no issue with my size it's a pretty good indicator that they are a better than average person (I hang with an extremely handsome same sex man a fair bit, the difference in how we are treated by service staff is stunning, it's not like I'm awkward or weird either, he and I agree he is the dork))

2. I met my (ex)wife at work, we were married ten years, when we started dating we had to meet with HR to discuss the relationship, we both felt strongly that we would be fine working together if things didn't work out, things didn't work out and we were fine at work. What did I learn from this? That I got damn lucky and am not playing Russian roulette with workplace dating again.
posted by Cosine at 4:21 PM on October 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

FWIW on the attractive/unattractive dichotomy, my most uncomfortable workplace flirting situation involved a coworker wayyyy out of my league, in part because other coworkers implied I was lucky to have the attention. It made me feel icky and unsafe. We both did more poorly at our jobs as a result. Bad all around.

Workplace romances are SUPER strongly discouraged at most US workplaces nowadays, there are a lot of ways for them to go badly and you are lucky to have found one of the lower-consequence routes early on. Do online dating, go to meetups, find beautiful interesting people elsewhere.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:22 PM on October 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

You cannot date women at work. That is not what women at work are for. Their attractiveness is irrelevant, and is not there as an invitation to you.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:22 PM on October 29, 2018 [86 favorites]

She didn't betray you! Betrayal implies you had an understanding - there was no understanding, only assumptions here.

In general, for all the reasons people have mentioned, dating coworkers is not a great idea. However, how you interact with people without sexually harassing them is A) don't make suggestive jokes, B) don't touch them, please please please and C) wait a LOT longer until two weeks so you know their beats and rhythms better. I am a smiley woman who is friendly. People (particularly men) tend to think I'm flirting with them - I am exactly as friendly to them as I am to everyone else, but they're paying so much attention to their own desires that they are projecting them onto me.

I know all of this feels so harsh. But people are responding to the sense of entitlement that screams through your question - many people have experienced the consequences of this entitlement, and it can be nightmarish.
posted by superlibby at 4:24 PM on October 29, 2018 [38 favorites]

Also, you should be feeling really, really grateful that she didn't push hard for you to be fired - after two weeks, with this kind of red flag, many workplaces would be like, "we should cut our losses." You have nothing to feel bitter about here. At all. Stop that, please!
posted by superlibby at 4:27 PM on October 29, 2018 [21 favorites]

The women can't "get" you fired if you don't do something to get fired over.
posted by wwax at 4:31 PM on October 29, 2018 [61 favorites]

Have you ever worked in an office that makes you watch videos about what sexual harassment entails? Maybe you can find one on Youtube. They're generally terrible, but the basics might be helpful. I vaguely remember watching one that recommended not touching coworkers at all, even on the shoulder. Don't ask people out or joke about asking them out. Even if it doesn't cross the line to harassment in a particular case, it's not a fair situation to your coworker- you're putting them in a really awkward position if they want to turn you down. It's like a customer at a cafe asking out a barista who has to see them again every day, but worse.
posted by pinochiette at 4:33 PM on October 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

If you can't tell already this whole thing definitely has me feeling a bit bitter and even angry.

Too bad you feel angry. The woman likely felt scared.

Instead of focusing your anger into resentment, focus that energy into making things better:

1) Don't touch women without permission first
2) Don't flirt in the workplace
3) Regard your coworkers for their abilities, intellect and capabilities first, rather than their "beauty"
4) Don't attempt to date coworkers
5) Be aware of power dynamics, and how much power (could be physical as much as organizational) that you, a man, have

If you don't address these issues you at the very least will continue to intimidate women in the workplace.
posted by JamesBay at 4:34 PM on October 29, 2018 [20 favorites]

(If you want to meet women, join a hiking club or go to Frisbee golf or whatever)
posted by JamesBay at 4:35 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

also, *she* is also new at work and felt uncomfortable enough to raise it with her new boss. this is a time when she is settling in, learning the new work culture and people—the last thing she wants to deal with is this. imagine being new and having this issue as one of the first significant things to raise with your new boss that you’re trying to impress. she didn’t want to do this.
posted by inevitability at 4:36 PM on October 29, 2018 [92 favorites]

99.9% of flirting and dating at work is a terrible idea. The .1% that *maybe* is not a terrible idea does not occur at the very beginning of a new job, or with a coworker who is in a vulnerable emotional place, or if you’re so uncertain about whether to date at work that you’re asking the internet for advice. You cannot and should not approach women at work for dating in your current situation.
posted by Stacey at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

In a perfect world, she'd have just turned you down instead of reporting you to HR, I guess. Is that where your feelings of "betrayal" come from? To put it clearly: she didn't lead you on. What you thought was there, wasn't. In non-workplace interactions, this is relatively harmless: she never responds to your texts and you never see her again. In the workplace this is fucking awful because there's no escape.

Imagine if a new guy came in and started flirting with you. You respond in a friendly way but it makes you uncomfortable and by the time you realize it's a problem you aren't sure how to tell him to back off without causing a scene in the office. He's bigger and louder than you. So you talk to HR. That's what happened here- it's not a betrayal.

Here's how I asked dated a coworker: we were carpool buddies for 6 months before I asked her out, and we worked in different office buildings in different departments and had first met outside of work anyway; we had never interacted in a professional context and almost certainly wouldn't ever. I'm not going to say people should in no contexts ever date people who work in the same company, but I am saying you shouldn't.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

It's OK to be upset by this but you're framing this wrong. You're blaming the woman or the increasingly mainstream understanding of workplace harassment. (Thank goodness we're progressing there, right?!)

Your being upset is about your own shame but, since you're not willing to examine that shame, you're blaming others. It's OK to feel guilty -- guilt can help us grow and be better people. Shame is toxic but we all have it. Underneath the external anger, it sounds like you have a lot of shame for your lack of experience, your weight, etc. That's technically nothing to be ashamed of but how you feel is how you feel. We all feel awful about certain aspects of ourselves and experiences. There is a lot of societal pressure on men to be and act a certain way. It's OK to acknowledge those awful feelings of lacking, and then work on them so you can grow and be the best version of yourself.

Your bringing this up is already a good step. Now I'd consider therapy where you can work on that shame; once you get to the root, you gain insight, strength, and confidence that will make you reframe this situation and, frankly, your whole life for the better. There are many great suggestion above, both general and specific, and this is another with a big potential impact. We're rooting for you!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:39 PM on October 29, 2018 [20 favorites]

Ever since our first day of work we've been friendly, even flirty.

I'm going to suggest, based on where your story leads, that you are still misinterpreting the signals as you tell us what happened. What you think of as "friendly" may or may not have been perceived as friendly. What you think of as "flirty" has clearly been unwelcome. Therefore, it was not flirty on her part--only on yours.

Why do you think you're getting that so wrong?

She told about she and her fiance may break up and I jokingly told her I would take her out afterwards. She laughed and jokingly agreed!

But you weren't joking. Because you also told us you were flirting with her. And this question is framed as dating women where you work.

If you tried to pass off your overture to date her as joking when you actually wanted to date her, then she can't take you at your word.

I'm not in trouble thankfully, it was just a warning, but I definitely feel betrayed by it.

I disagree. You're in trouble, and you don't even know it. You've got a bid flashing sign over your head that says "I'm not trustworthy" and "I will be bitter and angry if you don't want to flirt with me."

If I were your manager, I'd have a come to Jesus meeting with you. Then I'd document with HR about your 90-day probation period not going so well because you blame your female coworkers when your "flirting" isn't welcomed. I'd mark you as a risk for sexual harassment, which makes you a legal liability for the company. And I'd be observing your every interaction with female coworkers for further evidence of risk.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:47 PM on October 29, 2018 [98 favorites]

You may not be aware of this, but many people laugh as a sign of nervousness. I suggest you were misinterpreting many of these interactions.
posted by bq at 4:49 PM on October 29, 2018 [22 favorites]

A lot of women dress up and put makeup on for work. It's not because they wish to be attractive to their male coworkers. Studies have shown that women who don't look stereotypically pretty often have a harder time getting promotions, raises, and being taken seriously. What you're relaying here is a good example of the catch behind this. If women don't make an effort to "look professional" they might not get paid well enough for their work or get professionally ignored despite their strengths. At the same time when they take the steps to look nice for work, guys sometimes view it as an invitation for potential romance.

Let your lady coworkers work in peace. I can guarantee you that if any of them are interested in more they will make it exceedingly clear. Most of the time though, women at work are just trying to do their work in peace so they can go home with a paycheck at the end of the week.

There are many women in the world. Please don't look in your workplace.
posted by donut_princess at 4:58 PM on October 29, 2018 [24 favorites]

Don't date at work.

It's really hard to get this kind of feedback. It's been a long time but I remember when a coworker felt I had crossed boundaries (by trying to tell them how to do their job, not flirting) and reported me. I thought we were friendly, that my help was appreciated, and they would just tell me if they had a problem - I was crushed and the memory still stings a bit.

I think the next questions are:1) how do I recover professionally and avoid further mishaps? and 2) what's a more productive, less risky way to meet people to date?

1) Take the warning gracefully. Continue to be polite, responsive and professional while taking a step back on any personal comments, touching etc. If you are questioning any of your behaviors ask yourself how you would feel about it if someone you weren't interested in did it to you - your boss, a woman you don't consider beautiful, a man you consider physically intimidating. Ask yourself if you would act exactly the same with another man, to whom you were not attracted. If that answer is no, don't do it to a coworker.

2) Online dating, meetups, volunteering - there are a plethora of questions that explore this issue.

It's going to be okay. At this stage of my career I would *NEVER* consider dating within the office, but that's after being scorched a lot and watching others go down in flames. Now I freeze out men who are flirtatious or who have a reputation for getting around, because I know that even being a little too friendly with them can lead to job-ruining rumors and drama. Honestly some of them are kind of handsome and if I met them outside the office I might date them (if I didn't know what I know about their work lives).

And, as someone for whom social cues are not a first language - that's something to work on. Once you know you aren't picking up on them, you can start working on learning how. It takes time but it gets a lot better.
posted by bunderful at 5:04 PM on October 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

Please don't look in your workplace.

I agree with much of the above and this comment specifically, but also I would suggest that you not look for romance in ANYONE's workplace. Men who do not understand social boundaries, as you seem not to, often believe that women in customer-facing positions out in the world are flirting with them and are receptive to your own flirting; they are not. These women have no choice but to be pleasant and welcoming to you, no matter how uncomfortable you are making them feel, because if you complain, and men always complain, they can lose hours, be demoted, lose their jobs. And yes, it's extremely uncomfortable to be trying to just do one's job and have a male customer convinced he is charming and delightful and ask you out on the basis of 1 minute's brief meaningless acquaintance and a blank customer service smile that every single customer receives.

I'm also extremely disgusted by a sentiment shared above that it's somehow "okay" if a conventionally attractive man is harassing women and making them feel unsafe in the workplace or anywhere else. It's not. It's fucking horrible and that attitude is precisely why so many men get away with basic harassment and so much worse, all the time, everywhere, always.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:07 PM on October 29, 2018 [66 favorites]

I sometimes tapped her on the shoulder and we would chat for a bit.

I think you think this is innocuous. It's not. I'd give you and the gesture the benefit of the doubt any other time, because, hey, a tap on the shoulder can in fact be a totally okay, friendly kind of "hey there!" gesture! But consider the news cycle from the past couple months, and consider it from the point of view of a woman. Story after story of sexual assault, an alleged rapist being elevated to the highest court in the land, men lining up to defend him and every single other man who's hurt a woman. It has been a relentless onslaught of the message NOT SAFE NOT SAFE NOT SAFE, from everywhere, from everyone. We have been told and shown, again and again, on a national and global scale, on the news every single day, that we are not safe with men and that men can get away with it. We have all had our own memories of assault and harassment dredged up, we have borne witness to the stories of assault from our friends and loved ones, maybe we've shared our own, and we've had to just keep on living, like everything's goddamn normal.

And then you tap her on the shoulder.

I will tell you right now, I wouldn't have taken it well either. I'd have made polite conversation, because we're coworkers and unwanted flirting or not, you're new, maybe it'll take some time for you to settle in. But I don't care how attractive you are or aren't, my skin would have crawled for a long time after, and I'd have felt bad about it and then felt bad about feeling bad, because it was harmless, you didn't mean anything by it, it was just my shoulder, it was fine, it was nothing, it's not like you touched my ass. But I didn't want you to touch me, anywhere. I bet she didn't want you to touch her either. And she couldn't tell you because she was, entirely rationally, scared.

There's no betrayal here, not from this woman, and not from any other coworker who turns you down or turns you in to HR for making her uncomfortable. Your coworkers are there to work. The world is unsafe enough for us. Don't make the workplace feel unsafe too. Go to work, do your job, be polite to your coworkers, don't initiate any physical contact. And get on a dating app or find some other social thing to do, some setting where the express purpose is to socialize or make romantic connections, and make some friends there.

And god, if you think you feel angry? You have no conception of the ocean of rage so many women are floating on right now. No idea.
posted by yasaman at 5:10 PM on October 29, 2018 [160 favorites]

I don't know what her "even flirty" behavior might have been but I will say that someone (male or female) who flirts with a brand-new coworker is generally Bad News. When complete strangers start flirting with you in a work environment that's a good time to take a big step back and have some boundaries with that person, *not* a good time to lean in and start flirting more.

If she was flirting with you in your first week on the job (impossible to tell from what you say, though the "telling my brand-new coworker I'm going to break up with my fiancé" thing seems like poor judgment and/or weirdness on her part), that should have been a red flag to you, not an encouragement to flirt with her.

Dating in the workplace is usually a bad idea; evaluating coworkers as potential dates/romantic partners in your/their first weeks on the job is ALWAYS a bad idea.
posted by mskyle at 5:14 PM on October 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

My office has some beautiful women and I wouldn't mind dating them but I have to say this recent incident makes me scared now of approaching women. I don't really have any friends outside of work but I don't want one of these women to get me fired either.

Your office has women there because they are there to work and build careers and get paid.

They are not there to be a pool of friends. They are not there as a dating pool. They are not there to help you build your social skills.

I am saying this warmly like phew for you but...if I were your boss, and you were on a probationary period, I would be weighing my options to let you go before that period was up. Not because I think you are a terrible person but because my staff need to be able to feel safe at work and focus on work at work, and any harassment charges need at the very least investigation, which can be hours of people’s time.

Don’t date at work.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:24 PM on October 29, 2018 [40 favorites]

Agree with those who are saying don't date women you work with, and I would further caution you from "flirting" with women you might meet through meetups or hiking clubs, especially if you join those activities for the express purpose of meeting women. There is nothing that would make me avoid a hiking club faster than someone insisting on joking about my broken engagement, touching me on the shoulder, not taking a hint, when we are in the woods far away from civilization.

This is what online dating and mixers and singles meetups are for. Everyone in those situations has explicitly signed up for the possibility of romance.

This cuts both ways, btw. I am a cishet woman and there is a guy in my writing group whom I find moderately attractive. Would I potentially date him? Sure, he's definitely my type. But he's there to work on his writing, as am I. So I ain't gonna ask him out, because that could make group awkward for us both, and this is just a hobby, not our primary source of income.
posted by basalganglia at 5:27 PM on October 29, 2018 [19 favorites]

This is a point where you can make a choice. You can be one of those bitter, angry dudes who feel like women owe them attention. Or you can learn from this and become a nice, thoughtful guy that women (outside your workplace!) actually want to date.

But I’ve got to say, your describing the women you’d like to date as beautiful (rather than interesting, smart, funny, kind, or any of the many characteristics that make someone attractive for dating) seems a bit red flaggish to me. You see, there are lots of men who aren’t conventionally attractive (and if you’re obese, that’s you) who get very entitled, expecting women to overlook their appearance, but refusing to do the same. Please don’t be one of those men.

And as an older, graying woman who would never think you’re flirting with me, I wouldn’t want you touching me. The only appropriate touching at work is shaking hands.
posted by FencingGal at 5:35 PM on October 29, 2018 [85 favorites]

You're about fifteen seconds away from being fired for cause; conduct yourself accordingly.
posted by aramaic at 5:51 PM on October 29, 2018 [16 favorites]

The easiest way to avoid being accused of sexual harassment at work is to avoid doing anything as sexual harassment at work. If you're having trouble understanding what could be construed as sexual harassment, ask yourself if you'd do the same thing to a male co-worker. Would you flirt with a male co-worker? Tap a male co-worker on the shoulder? Fantasize about asking a male co-worker out? Get upset when male co-workers don't find you attractive? No? Then you shouldn't be surprised if doing it to a female co-worker gets you sent back to HR.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:58 PM on October 29, 2018 [40 favorites]

when you used a woman's friendliness or politeness as an excuse to put your hands on her, repeatedly ("sometimes") you betrayed her. you "feel betrayed" instead of feeling like a traitor to your own sense of decency because your automatic response to being guilty of something is to project it.

Do not put your hands on a woman you work with while you are at work even if you are dating her. especially not then. when people say you can't date women you work with, they mean you, personally. it isn't a universal law and it isn't even a universal workplace policy. but dating or "approaching" (which is weird stilted pick-up artist lingo that is wildly inappropriate in this context) co-workers is not for people who can't understand that work and social settings have different behavioral boundaries even when the same people are present in both places. it isn't for people who try to introduce or escalate physical affection in a work setting where the other party is constrained from calling for help or from physically defending herself.

the only method of self-defense open to a woman who wants to keep her job is taking it to official channels. so she did. she was right to do it and you should take the opportunity to learn from your incredibly lenient and forgiving workplace. be grateful you were not fired. maybe you would prefer that women who don't like your hands on them fight back directly, with their fists, but that is not an option open to professional people who know how to adjust their behavior to a formal setting.

strive to become one of those people.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:59 PM on October 29, 2018 [17 favorites]

I think it's easy for some people who aren't conventionally attractive [but have been told they deserve pussy by the toxic masculinity machine just like every other man] to attribute their lack of success with romance to their looks, because women are "shallow" or "fake," etc. You've heard it before.

And there's probably a grain of truth to that. I mean, I have a type -- and he's tall and handsome like in the movies. Or she is (I like tall, handsome women, too).

But I also have a partner who I've been with for seven years now, and am crazy about. When I first met him, I didn't think he was attractive at all, in fact. But we were hanging out as friends, and would get in three-hour long conversations about film and performance art and this neat anthro article one or the other of us read. He'd come over to my apartment and we'd stay up late talking and drinking whiskey and it didn't even occur to me that I liked him, but we had a great time together. (Oh, about hanging out at my place late at night and drinking whiskey: it was because I felt completely at ease with him. In no small part this was because we could also talk about systemic issues like toxic masculinity and racism and heteropatriarchal rape culture, and even though he's a straight man, he could have an intellectually engaged, genuine conversation about these layered, complex issues that affect us all without being defensive at all, and in turn that helped me feel comfortable in situations that with someone else could be dangerous.) It went on like this for a couple months. Maybe he liked me all the while? I have no idea. But one day we started making out and the rest, as they say, was history.

But you know what? If he'd asked me out after we kissed and I'd said "No, sorry, let's not do that again," I know he would have been okay with it. Probably a little disappointed, but it wouldn't have ruined the strong friendship we'd already built. (You know how I know that? Because he's friends with his old girlfriends, and relates to them as the complex, interesting, multifaceted humans they are, even though things didn't work out. In fact, I was introduced to him by an old girlfriend of his, who's become one of my closest friends.)

You know what else? Even though I wasn't attracted to him when we first met -- even though I wouldn't in a million years have described him as "my type" then -- now I think he's incredibly cute, totally sexy, exactly the person I want to wake up next to or fall asleep snuggling with. I'm head over heels about him. Which is to say that who we're attracted to isn't fixed, it's flexible and fluid. Your looks matter, it's true -- the world is easier for conventionally attractive people -- but your looks will never be the only thing that matters unless you don't give people anything else -- intelligence, personality, wit, style -- to work with.
posted by tapir-whorf at 6:02 PM on October 29, 2018 [34 favorites]

First of all, thanks for asking. You're recognising you're misreading cues and are frustrated about it. That's a good thing. Asking is the right thing to do and this is a good place to ask (even if some of the responses can sound harsh).

Second, we don't know anything about your work environment, and I'm a little bit worried that people telling you never to date at work might just frustrate you further since you might work for a company where people already date at work. I work for a company like that. Then it might make you even more frustrated and angry because people are telling you not to do something you see happening around you already.

When I was young, I was really bad at dating cues. As a woman that's really dangerous and I got myself into trouble and into some stupid situations. Dating at work is full of stupid situations. It's like the black slopes of dating. Luckily, I got most of my really stupid stuff out at grad school, but I did things stupid enough then that many many years later there are still people who asked me why I did stupid thing X. Which makes me wince to admit.

I'm not going to say that people can never date at work. But I am saying that it's complicated and difficult and can often go wrong. So if you have an idea you're misreading cues, then I think it's fair to say that you shouldn't date at work yet regardless of the environment around you. If you have a warning from HR, then that's absolutely the kind of sign you should heed. Take what happened on board, and be careful going forward.

Your weight has nothing to do with it. I realise that feels easy for me to say, but my experience tells me that failing to read cues correctly counts a whole lot more than ticking conventional boxes.

I would focus on getting to know women through meetups in an area which really interests you before you think about dating in the work environment. Get to know women as friends and then as colleagues and then think about dating. If that feels like too long to wait, try dating apps. I used dating apps as a kind of "practice" dating after my divorce and that was really educational too.

Don't be angry at the woman in question. She's got her own story too. Just be professional and graceful and move on.
posted by frumiousb at 6:25 PM on October 29, 2018 [16 favorites]

You are coming from a place of immense privalage and assuption. A few weeks on the job there are things I definately haven't done 1) disclose my sexual orientation or 2)disclose my martial status (I am not straight or single which are things that put me in catagories for discrimination). I now have a child which also can impact my career in massive ways.

These things can get ME fired depending on the boss and the workplace .

She seems more open than me (because I definately wouldn't be telling anyone about trouble with my fiance of I had one) but I am very aware that people opinions of who I am can land me without a job and fast.

My point is you don't even know if this woman has the safety and security to be honest with who she is , because she wants a job to and money . Just like you.

For that reason alone it makes workplaces very very bad places to date at or try to date at. There are also a ton of other reasons mentioned in this thread.

Just. Don't.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:29 PM on October 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

Reading your previous questions, they do paint a picture of a lonely person who is struggling to connect, hasn't quite learned the tools for how to do it and has some ideas about relationships that are just not how things are done in 2018. I'm not attacking you when I say that. I get the feeling that maybe you're basing some of your ideas on old movie and TV stuff that wasn't true when it was new and certainly isn't true now. I don't think you're broken or have a bad heart, but I do think therapy would be a very good idea because I think you need to learn some things before you accidentally do some harm to yourself or somebody else, and before your bitterness really takes root and fucks up your life.

Sorry about some of the harsher responses here. I don't think Metafilter is a great place to ask this question in 2018, because many people here will be primed to see you as a symbol of things they hate instead of trying to empathize with you as a person who is confused and struggling. Unfortunately I don't know if there IS a good place to ask this question online in 2018. Here you'll get dismissed as a toxic manbaby, while on Reddit (for example) they're more likely to give you ghastly, misogynist advice about women. So that's why I strongly suggest therapy, where you'll hopefully be dealing with somebody who will engage with you as an individual instead of a symbol and help you learn the tools to live a happier life.

In the meantime, do NOT try to flirt with anybody at work. Just do not. Be friendly and professional, but never, ever touch anybody or compliment their looks or anything like that. The workplace is absolutely not the place to find a girlfriend, so get that idea right out of your head. You're lucky you weren't fired already.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:38 PM on October 29, 2018 [65 favorites]

No dating at work and you probably shouldn't look to work to make friends that you see outside of work either. Way too much drama can come out of that if it doesn't go well.

I'm going to politely point out that a lot of men assume women are interested (or "flirting back" here) if she is friendly to him at all whatsoever. Uh, especially if you aren't used to getting that sort of "attention," you probably assumed it was mutual, even if she has a fiance. Hint: if she has a fiance, she probably isn't genuinely interested in fishing for another guy. She probably wanted to be friendly in general and that was it and you took it to mean it was potential sexytimes.

You feel "led on," and betrayed, because you thought she was interested back when unfortunately she had to play along out of fear because you're a coworker and a man and who the hell knows if you are going to go nutterpants on her and destroy her for not banging you. Your feelings are hurt. I don't think she wanted to hurt your feelings either, but it's not safe for this situation to continue for her and probably not for you either.

If you want to date women, much as I hate this sort of thing, you should probably be looking for them in dating contexts rather than at work. Look for ones that are single and you won't have awkward conversations like this about at work again.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:00 PM on October 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Read Dr. Nerdlove. Read all of his stuff. Start here.
posted by armeowda at 9:05 PM on October 29, 2018 [13 favorites]

look: an office is actually a great place to develop some basic competence in socializing, including socializing with attractive people if that is an area of particular difficulty for you. not dating, not flirting, but socializing. but in order to profit from this without getting fired, you have to understand why it is true. so, here is why:

a functional workplace is a place where people are all polite to one another, so that you can feel safe knowing that nobody is going to come right out and say that they hate you even if they do. a place where you pretend not to notice who's beautiful and who isn't, because that has no bearing on anything that you might talk to them about and talking is all that's permissible.

so you all co-construct a work-conversation world that is a little bit fake, a little bit shallow, and safe. work conversation is life with training wheels on: you are not ever going to go very fast or very far, but you are not going to fall off and get hit by a bus either. people with no outside social lives sometimes get frustrated and angry about this, because it doesn't provide every variety or depth of human contact you might want in your life. and it isn't supposed to. the shallowness is intentional, it's useful, and it is a good thing.

so this is why, when you introduce flirtation and one-sided touching into this comfortably superficial social space, you become the bus hitting the bicycle in this metaphor. you can practice making small talk and you can practice reading a room and knowing when to speak and when to listen. but you can't practice "approaching" women. not there. if it were a safe place for you and everybody else to do that, it would not be a safe place for women to come to work.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:07 PM on October 29, 2018 [50 favorites]

You've been on the job just a few weeks and you've already made a co-worker, who's also new to her job, so uncomfortable that she's taken a serious professional risk by going to HR to report your behaviour. No one does that lightly. Think on that.

The workplace is a terrible place to find dating prospects - the professional risks are huge, especially for women. And when you're a woman in a workplace where the guys don't seem to understand that it can be damn stressful. I have been on the receiving end and it didn't matter how much the guy really liked me, or how well-intentioned he felt he was, or how attractive he was, it was always a very uncomfortable position to be put in. I never knew in advance what ramifications there might be for saying No, and this was my livelihood at stake.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:57 PM on October 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

There are a few subtle things in the phrasing of your question that are making people here mad at you, so I'm going to try to explain them.

How can I date women at work
How many women are you hoping to date? You make them all sound interchangeable. If you had asked about ONE woman it wouldn't be as bad, but this sounds like you like them all just because they're women?

without being accused of sexual harassment?
"Being accused" is the passive voice and takes the women out of it. You could have said "without her thinking I'm creepy" and at least you'd have a single woman's experience in mind. It sounds liek you don't care about how NOT to sexually harass them, just about not being accused. And the choice of the word "accused" implies that you think it's a false or unreasonable accusation. (But actually it isn't; you literally did sexually harass someone. You're not the victim in this question- actually, you victimized her.)

I've only worked here for a couple weeks
And you're already in trouble and yet NOT actually deciding to change your overall behaviour, just hoping to do it without being accused? That's a red flag. Most people would STOP whatever it was that caused a new coworker to complain, not try to find another way to keep doing it.

Ever since our first day of work we've been friendly, even flirty.

This sounds like you're confusing friendly and flirty behaviour. Going forward, it would probably be better for you not to consider friendliness and flirtation as part of the same continuum.

She told about she and her fiance may break up and I jokingly told her I would take her out afterwards.

This is a really inappropriate thing for you to say! It is extremely forward and therefore rude.

She laughed and jokingly agreed!
People, especially women, often laugh when they are shocked, appalled, nervous, or uncomfortable. You now know for sure that she WAS uncomfortable because she made a complaint about you. Don't go back and look at her laugh as evidence that she liked you. Her laugh was evidence that she did NOT like what you were doing. Replay that moment and see it through that lens, and then remember that going forward.

We still had friendly chats every morning.
This sounds to many women like you pestered her.

I sometimes tapped her on the shoulder and we would chat for a bit.
She very likely knew you were there and was gently trying to ignore you and then you TOUCHED her to get her attention. Touching coworkers is inappropriate. It isn't a great way to flirt with a person you don't know well, especially if you know you're a bit awkward or not great with deciphering social cues.

Again, replay those shoulder tap moments with this new information: We know she did not want to flirt with you. I'm telling you now that at least half the time, she probably knew you were behind her (I know who's around me 90% of the time), and she was actually trying to politely ignore you, and you ignored her signal (lack of eye contact). People who have crushes on someone look for them and watch the door to see if they're coming. They don't fail to notice that person entering the room and then repeatedly need to be tapped.

You also went like 7 steps above an appropriate way to get her attention: You should always approach people (and animals) diagonally from the front, so they see you coming. Don't enter her personal space bubble- arms length is too close. Wave so she catches the movement and looks up. Knock on her cubicle, or say ahem gently, or say excuse me, or say hi, or say her name.

But you skipped all those steps, approached from behind, entered her personal space bubble, and touched her? Repeatedly, arrrgh. You went waaaay over the line. Tapping her was socially inappropriate and creepy. Her social cues (ignoring you) were correct. Going forward, don't tap people.

Tapping also shows you think you own her body. It's a dominance move. I doubt you'd tap your male boss on the shoulder, you'd probably speak or approach from the front.

Apparently that made her feel uncomfortable so she complained.
Apparently? What do you mean apparently? Are you doubting her actual reporting? It DID make her uncomfortable.

I'm not in trouble thankfully, it was just a warning,
All you care about is yourself being in trouble, not that you were inappropriate and made a new coworker so uncomfortable that she complained within days of starting a brand-new job when presumably most people are trying hard to seem easy to work with and hassle free.

I definitely feel betrayed by it.
She didn't owe you anything.

My office has some beautiful women
Oh does it have "some"? This is dismissive of the women you don't classify as beautiful, and objectifies the ones you do classify as beautiful (and your shallowness here frankly becomes even more annoying later when you say you don't fall into a conventional beauty standard yourself). Everyone wants to date people they find attractive but even more, someone they click with. Focussing only on the women's looks shows a lack of respect which means bad dating.

and I wouldn't mind dating them
You're not even owning your own desire here. Actually, you DESPERATELY WANT to date them, so badly that you're falling all over the place scaring them to make it happen, but you just say "I wouldn't mind" like you're ordering a sandwich and "dating them" like they're all interchangeable and you might as well order a bunch.

"I don't want one of these women to get me fired"
Not cool to blame women for "getting you fired" when all they did was describe your behaviour. Your boss, HR, and all of MeFi all know your behaviour is inappropriate. Think about why YOU don't know that.

If you can't tell already this whole thing definitely has me feeling a bit bitter and even angry.
This is so scary. You ignored many layers of social cues and crossed like 20 boundaries with this woman. Your too-nice boss gave you a gentle slap on the wrist. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM in this scenario. And now instead of recognizing that you feel embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, and scared you'll never get it right, and being vulnerable and trying nicely to learn, you're just trying to find more tricks to get what you want, and feeling nasty blamey self-indulgent emotions to boot? That is awful and that's why MeFi is piling on here.

You're mad you didn't get ONE woman. Every woman in this thread is furious that thousands of guys have treated them like prizes they deserve. Stop.


What should you do next?

You should NOT be mad at women, or this woman. That is exactly the wrong lesson to take home and it converts you from "awkward" to "scary". Don't treat her badly, don't be huffy or ignorey with her.

Be pleasant and polite to her and all other women.

Don't comment or probe about their romantic lives.

Approach them from the front, not from behind. Make sure they see you coming.

Don't enter women's personal space bubbles (if you're close enough to touch, you're too close).

Don't touch women beyond a handshake.

Don't try to "date women". Try to get to know A woman, slowly, respectfully, and see her as an interesting person and then maybe develop a friendship and take it from there.

Observe how you treat your male boss. How close you go to him, when you would touch him or stare at him. Treat women at work like that.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:58 PM on October 29, 2018 [152 favorites]

+1 to what Ursula Hitler (and others) have said. I get that this is hard. Everybody expects you to know it and nobody explicitly teaches it. Or, perhaps worse, a lot of people claim to teach it, and of them half are useless and most of the rest are worse. And which are which depends on the social circles you travel.

I'm not in trouble thankfully, it was just a warning,

That might be true, but it's better to assume that you really are in trouble and you need to be on your best behavior to avoid further trouble. You have had a coworker complain to your boss about your behavior in your first two weeks on the job. Worse, the complaint was of a nature that employers in 2018 really, really don't want to receive. It is a lot safer for you to over-estimate the risk here than under-estimate it.

Look at it from your boss's point of view. He can teach you the norms of his office. But social norms are complicated, subtle things. Also, you're probably a nice guy who's maybe a little clueless or maybe used to different norms, but you might also be a diehard misogynist who will pitch a fit and make things super-awkward in ways that don't quite justify firing you. From the outside, he can't tell. And really, he didn't sign up for hard conversations like this. He signed up to make widgets and pay rent, and he has definitely not run out of rent to pay. So teaching you is probably not a super attractive option.

Alternatively, he can do the minimum required by law and HR until he needs to build a paper trail to replace you with someone who doesn't need that kind of training.

My point is, don't look to your boss for useful, early feedback on this topic.

My office has some beautiful women

Also, I'm probably bottom decile for progressive, social-justice, etc. stuff around here, but the sentence, "My office has some beautiful women" sounds odd even to my ears. A large fraction of the country would put some unflattering labels on you based on those six words alone.

You should be concerned that it was not apparent to you that this phrase would not go over well around here. As one specific thing you can do, keep that thought to yourself until you understand why some people might not like it.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 10:04 PM on October 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

Everyone has it covered in terms of how you should approach things with female coworkers in the future. I agree with them. However, I'm going to assume you'll read everything here and see the error of your ways, and assuming that's the case you should then think about how you handled this when your boss brought it to your attention. Did you react with anger? Bitterness? Anything other than horrified embarrassment and a desire to make things right? If so, consider whether you need to go back to your boss and tell him that, upon reflection, you're embarrassed and sad that you made work uncomfortable for your coworker. Ask him what you can do to make things right and then do what he says. Demonstrating sincere remorse should help go a long way towards saving your job (along with avoiding the behavior that got you to this point). Good luck, I think this went as well as it possibly could for you under the circumstances and I hope there is not a next time. (Source: I am an employment attorney that advises employers on when they should fire employees who engage in inappropriate behavior including sexual harassment. A sense of sincere remorse and employer belief that you truly will never do this again is generally a mark in favor of giving an employee one more chance. I am not your lawyer and thus is not legal advice.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 10:24 PM on October 29, 2018 [33 favorites]

First, I apologize; I don't want to browbeat you. However, I felt this was worth doing the more-than-obvious +1:

it's better to assume that you really are in trouble


Very very much this.

Your boss is almost certainly trying to make everyone involved feel better about everything, but your behavior has required them to have more than one difficult conversation. Their life would now have been easier without you.

This means you need to think about what painfully-obvious benefits you can bring to their table, ASAP, in addition to resolutely following the straight-and-narrow-path. In all likelihood, they're already weighing the "sunk cost" of hiring you vs. the cost of acquiring a replacement. I know this, because I've done it. Tread carefully, be as respectful as you can, be low-overhead and as productive as you can manage. You need to make it painfully clear that you've paid attention to the complaint, and are doing your damn well best to rectify your behavior -- your boss is looking for some justification to keep you, and the promise of being a low-difficulty employee is key.

You absolutely can get past this misstep, if you want to. I know this because I've done it (my transgression was entirely different in form and scope, but even so...)

If you don't want to modify your behavior, now and forever at this company, then you should simply quit.

(on preview, additional +1 to wuzandfuzz)
posted by aramaic at 10:27 PM on October 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

I started a new job. Another guy started at the same time, he looks nice. I'm smiley and nice, because that's what I've been taught all my life and I'm on my best behavior. (And, to be honest, I'd like it if everybody were nice and optionally smiley, so here I am doing my part.)

I'm engaged, the other guy knows. Things aren't going so well, which is kind of devastating and it's a lot to be going through emotionally while starting a brand new job. I mentioned it to the other guy and he made kind of a weird joke (my fiance isn't interchangeable, that's why I got engaged to him in the first place) but I'm sure he meant well. I smiled and laughed so he wouldn't feel uncomfortable because that's how I've been brought up and because I'm sure he meant well.

Only the way he's been acting since then makes me worry that maybe he wasn't joking? We've been working together all of two weeks and he keeps touching me. I've looked; he doesn't do that to the guys we work with, and definitely not to our boss. He doesn't notice that I pointedly do not touch him back. He keeps staring at me when we talk, keeps starting conversations with me every day. I don't feel like smiling any more, but either he doesn't notice or he doesn't care. He reminds me of the guy at school who decided I was flirting with him and, when I told him I really, truly wasn't, took that as permission to be angry at me for months, screw me over on projects, literally stalk me between classes, and simultaneously keep telling me that I was just playing hard to get and making social media posts, that everybody saw, about me and "the friend zone".

I can't deal with that again. What do I do? Do I take the chance that he won't lash out if I tell him I'm not interested? (I'm engaged, why do I have to tell him it's not going to happen?!) Do I go make a complaint? I just started here, what if it makes me look like a troublemaker? What if the boss would rather keep him than me? What if it just reminds management that I'm primarily a woman, and that's how they'll see me from now on? I really didn't want to start this job off that way.

He just came by again. I gave him the minimum polite interaction (I don't want to get in trouble for rudeness either) but that's not what he heard. He's getting more into it, it's just going to get worse.

What's my least bad option here? Wtf do I keep having to deal with this?? Just once, I want two weeks at a new place without this crap. What would that feel like.

(Note to OP: none of the above means you're a bad person. But try to get out of your head for a bit, put yourself in other people's shoes. I'm not the most socially skilled person and going through life I've had people complain about my behavior, to me and to others. The way it always made me feel was "oh shit, I didn't mean to hurt them/make them think that". Not "look at those bad people betraying me." I think whatever mindset accounts for the difference in those two reactions is important.)
posted by trig at 12:10 AM on October 30, 2018 [40 favorites]

>Ever since our first day of work we've been friendly, even flirty.

This is the problem. She was never flirting with you. She was merely being friendly. Being friendly doesn't indicate romantic interest. I bet she even smiled and laughed. That still does not constitute flirting. As a woman, I can say that men constantly seem to think being nice = flirting, and it's annoying as hell. Stop thinking women are flirting with you just because they smiled or laughed or gave you the time of day and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble.

>I don't want one of these women to get me fired either

This is a shocking sentence to read and honestly a really despicable attitude. "These women" are not going to get you fired. If anyone is going to get you fired, it's you, because you're hitting on women who are being friendly to their coworker. You're in a workplace where everyone has to be nice to each other and avoid creating conflict. Even if one of "these women" would like to tell you to take a hike and that's what they'd do if you were strangers in a bar, they will be nice at work and make small talk. It doesn't mean they want to date you. I'd stop viewing your coworkers as prospective sexual partners - that would resolve all your issues.

Also, don't touch people at work.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:27 AM on October 30, 2018 [27 favorites]

A lot of these replies probably sting quite a bit, and I highly doubt you're a straight up evil dude etc. but! it is hella difficult for us to get across how soul-crushingly common and fucking awful being harrassed is for women without feeling like setting shit on fire. like i cant emphasize this enough.
every woman i know has had to deal with it since being young - no joke.

so look, peeps generally want to go to work to do their job. its exhausting to have to deal some guys advances in addition to all the other stuff that makes life stressful. don't be that dude. if you wanna be liked, do your job, be professional, be kind, hell, do a donut run if you feel like it. just. don't. expect. anything. in. return. especially dates or fawning thank yous. that's what being a decent, adult person is.

you might feel embarrassed and ashamed after reading through the responses here, but just own up to it. you messed up. the good news is that you can learn from this. decide you don't wanna make anyone feel scared or awkward again and try to see this as an opportunity to figure out how to grow from this. what happened sucks, but the great thing about being a human is you keep shedding skin and you can renew yourself indefinitely. keep your head up and be mindful of your actions. you can do this!
posted by speakeasy at 4:00 AM on October 30, 2018 [12 favorites]

What trig wrote above bears repeating:
I can't deal with that again. What do I do? Do I take the chance that he won't lash out if I tell him I'm not interested? (I'm engaged, why do I have to tell him it's not going to happen?!) Do I go make a complaint? I just started here, what if it makes me look like a troublemaker? What if the boss would rather keep him than me? What if it just reminds management that I'm primarily a woman, and that's how they'll see me from now on? I really didn't want to start this job off that way.

I have been touched inappropriately at work, and I did not report it. (Mostly because there wasn't really anyone to report it to.) I've reported inappropriate comments to my boss, and was treated as a spoilt trouble maker unable to solver her own problems. (Seriously!)
NO woman enjoys having to go to HR or her boss (especially if said boss is male) to report sexual harassment. It's usually pointless, as the current news proves again and again, and as trig points out, means we run the risk of being seen as troublemakers.

So when the woman in your question, who was new to the job nonetheless, reported you, it is extremely unlikely that she did it lightly or to "accuse" you - she did it because she felt unsafe enough to want HR to intervene, even though she most definitely knows about the cost for most of these reports to women.

Please think about that.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 4:49 AM on October 30, 2018 [20 favorites]

It's not about you, or how you look. It's about how you behaved, and that can be fixed. So please don't be hurt/disheartened by all this feedback. We've all been through the socially clueless mill at one time or another. It's part of being human. Good humans choose to learn from experience and put their mishaps behind them. You can do this.

If it's any consolation, your story is eerily similar to that of my sibling, who was so, so certain that the coworker was interested. So certain that after several months of flirting, and telling all of us about this workplace romance in progress, a direct proposal to date was made, only to be summarily rejected. Which was deeply humiliating.

My sibling is female.

Yeah, women screw up social cues, too. And we burn with humiliation when it doesn't work out, too. We're all human.
posted by Lunaloon at 5:00 AM on October 30, 2018 [16 favorites]

Yeah, women screw up social cues, too. And we burn with humiliation when it doesn't work out, too. We're all human.

I've been Lunaloon's sibling, and I'm a woman. I still cringe to think of the whole situation. I was *so* convinced the interest was mutual - but he was seeing someone else the whole time (and I was apparently the only one who didn't know).

And yet, I've lived to tell the tale. I prefer dating online, where you are both there for dating and you don't have to try to guess if someone in a non-dating context is open to dating - because they showed up for coffee after you chatted on a dating website and agreed to go on a date. And where if you get your wires crossed it doesn't make your work life weird.
posted by bunderful at 6:03 AM on October 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

My office has some beautiful women and I wouldn't mind dating them but I have to say this recent incident makes me scared now of approaching women. I don't really have any friends outside of work but I don't want one of these women to get me fired either.

I think that one thing you may be experiencing, given that you stated you are obese and feel it’s rrlated, is that the “beautiful women” at work are far nicer to you than they are elsewhere. This seems like it’s the only place you feel you have a chance with these women that are essentially strangers to you - because they have to talk to you again, every time. You may have been socialized that persistent men get the dates, so this feels like a wonderful world of opportunity to you - many beautiful women that have to talk to you again and again.

This image is a lie, and a dangerous lie. Women do have to talk to you at work, but if it’s not about work related items, they can and will complain about you, because as others have stated, that is not what work is for. Your persistence is dangerous: it will get you fired.

I think it’s important for you to understand there’s no “one neat trick” to dating, and even if there was, it wouldn’t be “use your workplace.”
posted by corb at 6:10 AM on October 30, 2018 [24 favorites]

I don't really have any friends outside of work

I think this is something to think about. Most of us don't do well with relying on the office for friendship, let alone dating. Try some social stuff. Get some therapy if social stuff is hard (it is for lots of people). Find some social arenas just for having fun and being social, not dating or flirting.

We are wired for connection - we need friends. The world doesn't owe us friends, but we aren't quite right without them.
posted by bunderful at 6:18 AM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

First, I'll say that I found the tone of the vast majority of the responses above amazingly harsh. From your description of your interactions, it appears you had no intent to make her uncomfortable. Plenty of people joke around with coworkers; in fact, the EEOC definition of sexual harassment is "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature..." So there's nothing wrong with even sexual jokes in the workplace if it doesn't bother the recipient. And as one of the approximately 15 percent of people who met a spouse at work, I think the "never ever date anyone from work" rule is ill-advised.

But even I agree with the consensus above: Be grateful to have this learning experience. Don't trust your instincts; they didn't work the first time. Try to think about how others might interpret your actions, and don't do anything they could misinterpret. Don't touch anyone at work. Develop a social life outside of work. Etc.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:38 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

First, I'll say that I found the tone of the vast majority of the responses above amazingly harsh.

I mean, when we are talking about social cues, why not just be blunt? This is kind of another area of soreness with many women. It's not uncommon for men to say that they didn't see the cues of their female partner and that's why there was a "misunderstanding." However, sometimes that feels like a willful blindness employed to get a pass for bad behavior. The first social cue that an advance might be unwelcome is that you are at work.
posted by amanda at 7:06 AM on October 30, 2018 [52 favorites]

From your description of your interactions, it appears you had no intent to make her uncomfortable. Plenty of people joke around with coworkers; in fact, the EEOC definition of sexual harassment is "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature..." So there's nothing wrong with even sexual jokes in the workplace if it doesn't bother the recipient.

But it clearly was unwelcome if she went to their boss. Intent matters a little bit but much less than the result...and also, the tone of the question here isn't exactly "oh no, how do I make this up to her?"

The idea that "there's nothing wrong with even sexual jokes in the workplace if it doesn't bother the recipient" bugs me soooo much. I used to work in environments where these jokes went on and it was like water dripping on a stone. No particular joke was the living end for me, but the cumulative effect (plus more egregious predatory behaviour and sexism) made the workplace difficult for me. If you are a man looking at your coworkers as a dating pool, that sucks for your coworkers. They have to manage your desires as well as their workloads. Congratulations, it worked out for you, but is your wife at the same professional level as you? What about all the women that started off with you? Is your company full of female C-suite executives? Are men at your workplace subject to the same objectifying jokes as the women?

Do you know what the collateral damage has been to women (and men) along the way?

I only have really realized this since I made a decision to change industries, and now I work in a workplace where it is one hundred percent unacceptable at any time (because we teach martial arts and have to have a super high standard so that all our students are comfortable) and it is such a relief.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:18 AM on October 30, 2018 [32 favorites]

[Folks this needs to not be a debate or discussion among commenters; keep answers constructive and addressed to the OP. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:27 AM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Have you ever worked in an office that makes you watch videos about what sexual harassment entails? Maybe you can find one on Youtube.

David Schwimmer's got you covered.

Also, I work in an office that is majority women although they are totally unrepresented in senior leadership. the amount of "laughter" i hear, that i am sure the senior dudes think is real, that is so clearly an expression of awkward frustration is truly staggering.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:43 AM on October 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Many of us here are coming from the perspective of:
  • having been sexually harassed at work
  • having navigated the minefield of unwanted advances, knowing there's no "right" way to say that they're unwanted without the man doing something unpleasant in response
  • having dealt with bitter, entitled men who think that the reason we won't date them is that we're shallow bitches who are playing with them
The responses here are not sugar-coating the "no" in a way that women often have to when there could be social or professional consequences for that "no." It's the "no" a lot of us want to say. That doesn't mean that we're mean or amazingly harsh; it means we're telling you the truth about how we feel, in a way we often aren't able to.

OP, I think that as uncomfortable as this thread probably is for you to read, you should take it as a valuable window into a very different perspective. There are huge differences in experience that can lead you to misread what is going on.

I also feel it necessary to mention that just the way you asked this question raises red flags. I would not want you flirting with me at work. You say the women at work are beautiful and you'd like to date them - no mention of their personalities or why you think they might like to date you. Instead of asking how you misread the situation so badly, you feel "betrayed" by this woman going to HR - placing the blame on her acting inexplicably malicious, rather than on your own behavior. You want don't want "these women" to "get you fired", as if it wouldn't be due to your own behavior.

What you haven't asked is whether it's possible to date at work without making women feel uncomfortable, like you did to this woman.

What you haven't shown is an awareness that you fucked up.

Dating at work is possible. But I don't think it's possible for you. You need a lot more self-awareness and understanding than you've shown here.

Get a life outside of work. Seek women to date in settings where looking for romance is an expectation. In other settings, form meaningful connections to women that aren't based on how they look or whether you want to date them; maybe a mutual attraction will form with one of them and maybe it won't.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:01 AM on October 30, 2018 [39 favorites]

I just had a to watch a silly-made (the video was done like a Dateline or CNN type tv show, not that the content was silly) for work describing exactly what you did as a form of sexual harassment. You are lucky you didn't get fired. Take everyone's advice and learn from this.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:36 AM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Work isn't anathema to meeting a person to date, it just isn't the environment to start it. Plenty of successful relationships start in the workplace and the advice that you should simply never date anyone you work with is extreme and sidesteps the real problems of doing dating behaviours at work.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:56 AM on October 30, 2018

My workplace had a speaker on the topic of sexual harassment. One comment he made that stuck with me is "friends don't sexually harass friends". What he meant by this is the the scenario you describe is a very common pattern of sexual harassment -- one where the harasser thinks he is friends with the victim but the victim disagrees. If she really thought of you as a friend she probably wouldn't have felt harassed by your behavior. One rule of thumb test the speaker proposed -- has this person invited you to their house in a non-work context? If so, you might be friends. If not, think twice.

It's possible to date at work but if you have trouble telling whether someone is your friend or just being friendly, you probably shouldn't.
posted by phoenixy at 9:15 AM on October 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

It doesn't matter what your intentions are/were, in this climate you as a man will not receive the benefit of the doubt about anything in this subject area.

Your best bet is simply to not socialize with any women from your workplace, because you can't predict how anyone will interpret your behavior -- even if you 100% intend to do the right thing.

And once you are accused of sexual harassment there will be zero effort on the part of the company to hear your side. They'll cut their losses and cut you loose.

For self-preservation purposes, just consider all the women in your workplace Permanently Off-Limits and treat them like they were men.
posted by mccxxiii at 10:27 AM on October 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

When men seem to suggest that if they were more conventionally attractive their actions wouldn't be labeled as harassment, they miss the big picture. Do conventionally attractive people have more immediate luck in flirting? Probably. This goes for men and women. BUT when you narrow it down to a specific instance (or instances) what you're saying is that women aren't allowed to have preferences, aren't allowed to flirt with people they find attractive and not flirt with people they don't, that women should have the exact same standards for every man who throws his hat in the ring, that women are the wishing well for men to equally try out. Women are not inactive automatons for men to try to win. Women are living, breathing individuals who get to make their own choices. This viewpoint also makes non-conventionally attractive women invisible in a lot of really damaging ways.

Finally, there's a lot of guys who have convinced themselves ~this one trait~ (whatever it is) is why they can't find women to date, but most of the time it's something the guy is obsessing over instead of becoming a better potential partner. When I was a more "conventionally attractive" to the world (aka young and skinny), I dated many obese men. I was very much physically attracted to them. The only time it was an issue was the guy I loved deeply who could not get over the idea that I was repulsed by him because of his body.

You are blocking your blessings by thinking being obese is why you don't have a girlfriend (or friends). Work on socializing in a non-flirting manner. Work on reading signals, both from guys and women. Spend some time people watching. Join clubs that interest you (not for dating!). Seek out therapy if your past of being bullied is skewing how you read situations where you feel hurt. You were trying to do a very difficult thing (date a coworker, at a new job, who you just met, who is in a tense relationship) without the foundational knowledge. It's like not taking any science courses and jumping straight to advanced physics.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:35 AM on October 30, 2018 [23 favorites]

My SO and I met and started dating while we worked together (and still do) -- he is an obese man, and we are a cis het couple if it matters. I don't say this to signify that there is hope for workplace romance. I say this to tell you that I would have complained pronto to HR if he had behaved toward me as you describe your behavior toward your coworker. I would have done this despite the workplace dynamics that likely would have led to my own reassignment to a different work location and associated career setbacks. We began dating after developing a real friendship based on mutual respect and a lot of discussions about possible ramifications.

Others above have said it better than me, but please consider treating the women around you as people. You might find that you get more respect overall and your boss won't question your judgment.
posted by ParticularPoncho at 10:35 AM on October 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

"For self-preservation purposes, just consider all the women in your workplace Permanently Off-Limits and treat them like they were men."

For what it's worth lots of women would prefer that all men do this with them at work. This isn't some broad bias against men - women are just trying to do their jobs without being sexualized by their coworkers.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2018 [35 favorites]

For self-preservation purposes, just consider all the women in your workplace Permanently Off-Limits and treat them like they were men.

Yes! You almost got it in one!

That is precisely what women have been asking for in the workplace for decades, nay, centuries. That is exactly it.
posted by trig at 10:49 AM on October 30, 2018 [16 favorites]

The only reason why a coworker's shoulder should be tapped in an average decibel workplace is if they're wearing headphones and their work is immediately required for their boss/coworkers.

Also wrt handshakes proper etiquette is that a woman extends her hand 1st IF SHE WISHES TO DO SO.
posted by brujita at 11:00 AM on October 30, 2018

My office has some beautiful women

The attractiveness of the women you work with should be 100% irrelevant to you. They are there to do a job, not to be objects of male desire. If you are treating women in the workplace (or in their workplace, like in customer-facing jobs) according to their attractiveness, you need to stop doing that. They are not there to be pleasing to your eye.

For self-preservation purposes, just consider all the women in your workplace Permanently Off-Limits and treat them like they were men.

Yes, please. If you wouldn't flirt with a man, touch a man, joke about dating a man, seek out a man because of his beauty, do not do it with a woman.

Finally, as painful as this may be to hear, good intentions matter very little. Well-intentioned behavior can still make someone uncomfortable. And women can't read your mind and can only judge you by your actions, not your intentions.
posted by Mavri at 11:36 AM on October 30, 2018 [12 favorites]

there's nothing wrong with even sexual jokes in the workplace if it doesn't bother the recipient

LOL no, the annual harassment and prevention training I have to go through at my job explicitly says that sexual jokes/innuendo/flirting/touching/etc. is harassment if an observer is made uncomfortable. Like, it doesn't matter if you're dating your coworker Susie, you can't fondle her at her desk in full view of her coworkers Bob and Sarah, or make lots of comments about the physical benefits of dating Susie in the break room. Same goes for walking around bloviating about how you can't wait for the border wall to be built so all the Mexicans are gone -- surprise, your coworker who reads as white is actually a second generation Mexican-American who now doesn't feel comfortable working with you and has a valid complaint of workplace harassment against you! Other people exist in the world -- sorry if that dampens your excitement for going to work and letting everyone know all your inner thoughts, but work isn't the place for you to do that, no matter how many "bring your whole self" initiatives your wellness committee spearheads. They don't want you bringing the things into the office that make you a liability, dudes.

OP, I want to touch on the "she was flirting back at me" thing. One of my earliest work experiences as an adult was in an office where a man I didn't know took a shine to me. He started showing up at my desk (on a different floor from his own) to talk to me, even though I didn't even know him. He followed me around if I went down to his floor for a business need. I didn't know how to handle it -- I was brand new to the company, I wanted to make a good impression (after all, I was a temp hoping to get hired on permanently and I depended on those paychecks to keep a roof over my head), and as a female person I've been socialized to always be nice to people who are seeking my attention. So yes, sometimes I smiled or laughed when he talked to me, because for me to do anything else would have been seen as unconscionably rude, ESPECIALLY for a new employee. I started wearing headphones during the times of the day when he was most likely to approach my desk and talk to me while I was trying to work -- so he started touching me to get my attention, and never seemed to notice that I recoiled from him and tried to avoid meeting his eyes and get him to go away while still being nice enough to not get reprimanded for being rude to a coworker. So he escalated his behavior and brought gifts and lunch to my desk, leaving them there with a little love note because I was away. Thankfully that's when my boss stepped in and talked to his boss about keeping him away from me -- we didn't have an HR rep in the office, so I didn't have to go the route your coworker did.

I think it's extremely important that you check yourself here, especially with regards to your attitude about women in the workplace. We're not there to be a smorgasbord for your eyes, we're not there to make your ego feel good by paying attention to you. We're there to earn a paycheck, so that we don't end up on the street. That should be your primary work concern, too.
posted by palomar at 11:52 AM on October 30, 2018 [48 favorites]

The only reason why a coworker's shoulder should be tapped in an average decibel workplace is if they're wearing headphones and their work is immediately required for their boss/coworkers. the building is on fire.

Please do not touch your coworkers ever if it isn't an actual emergency, unless they've already told you that it's ok. Some people may not mind, but some do, and unwanted touching is never ok even if it isn't explicitly sexual.
posted by randomnity at 4:08 PM on October 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Yes, yes and yes. I have a front desk person in my office building who practically stalks me. I take the longer way to exit the building to avoid him. I have to be nice to him because I don't want him to do anything retaliatory and make my job performance/safety suffer.
posted by kinoeye at 6:39 PM on October 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

Also wrt handshakes proper etiquette is that a woman extends her hand 1st IF SHE WISHES TO DO SO.

proper handshake etiquette does not differ between men and women in a place of business. that rule is like all the other antiquated ladies-first rules that used to require men to open car doors for women, pull out chairs for us in restaurants, give up seats for us on buses. anything that's good courting behavior for an old-fashioned gentleman is undermining in a professional setting, and the fewer women there are in a group, the more isolating it is to set them apart by these small gestures of faux-respectful exclusion. an etiquette standard teaching men to follow professional rules for other men but social rules for women is part of the problem.

sure, men shouldn't try any weird palm-caressing seduction moves or ring-crushing dominance squeezes on women, but they shouldn't do that to other men either.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:35 PM on October 30, 2018 [27 favorites]

" If she really thought of you as a friend she probably wouldn't have felt harassed by your behavior. One rule of thumb test the speaker proposed -- has this person invited you to their house in a non-work context? If so, you might be friends. If not, think twice."

Being friends with a co-worker (even outside of work, even if I've been to their house or vice versa) does not mean that they can just say or do whatever and I won't feel harassed. If anything it makes it worse because I've trusted them to behave well towards me and they've betrayed that trust. Why yes, I am speaking from (repeated) personal experience.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:39 PM on October 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Also there's almost nothing actually private between any two people at work who aren't direct reports. I have mostly been too afraid to go to HR about my own direct harassment but have in fact reported other people for being fucking annoying - either one person bothering another who isn't in a position to stop it (and one situation I was worried enough about her that I was uncomfortable leaving her there alone and it was becoming a life problem), or two people mutually being ridiculous on work time while I'm trying to work or needing them to do theirs. I 100% do not want to hear your sexual jokes, flirting, banter, etc, whether they are directed at me or not.

It's actually a lot easier and low-stakes to complain about other people, since the reporter isn't stuck in that fragile place of perceived responsibility in the way she is when she's the target. And sometimes the only reason people do give in and report being harassed despite the stigma is because they're afraid their coworkers are going to do it first because they're tired of the distractions.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:18 PM on October 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Qob, Miss Manners said this was still protocol in 2011
posted by brujita at 4:51 AM on October 31, 2018

I'd like Miss Manners to update herself.

Many women do not like to be treated differently because they are women. I find it to be uncomfortable, because it gives me a choice: Be complicit by graciously accepting a gesture I did not want in the first place and have political and personal objections to, or cause an awkward social situation by declining. I generally accept the gesture, and then feel bad about it.

This choice occurs every. single. fucking. time. a man decides to follow one of these antiquated etiquette rules by, for example, conspicuously opening a door for me.

I have sympathy for people who are trying to be polite the way that they learned, but if a social etiquette rule routinely makes women feel bad, it's not a good social etiquette rule. Also, there's a pretty strong correlation between men who make a big deal of performing these gestures, and who don't actually see women as equal human beings. Chivalry, and all that.

If someone was doing it to me at work it would be even worse.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:49 AM on October 31, 2018 [16 favorites]

if a social etiquette rule routinely makes women feel bad, it's not a good social etiquette rule.

I think it’s not universal. I prefer, personally, to continue to enforce all rules that fall into “ladies don’t have to acknowledge your knucklehead presence unless they fucking feel like it” categories and it makes me sad to see that going away such that some dudes can actually feel comfortable touching a woman without her permission. However, a good universal rule dudes can follow and that is useful in this instance is, “if you have been charged with sexual harassment, let women make the first move if they choose to in future.”
posted by corb at 7:58 AM on October 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Miss Manners applied that protocol only to social situations; it is correct that handshake etiquette doesn't differ between men and women in the workplace.
posted by tel3path at 12:11 PM on October 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

Miss Manners says that in business the higher ranking person or the person whose office it is should extend the hand for the handshake first. To the OP: There's quite a few Miss Manners books so do be sure to read the most recent one, as manners change over time. They are not a bad place to start for learning how to behave.
posted by yohko at 8:56 PM on November 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have to say that Miss Manners is not always very clear, in that context-dependent advice isn't always flagged as such.

She doesn't say, when describing the social handshake hierarchy of older -> younger, female -> male etc., that it *is* only for social situations and that, in a professional context, it's always higher -> lower on the org chart, or else home -> visitor. This can be confusing, so just keep it in mind as you read, OP.

However, the original question was about shoulder tapping. Agreed about always approaching from the front, or an angle where they can see you coming.

Also agreed that shoulder tapping is only appropriate if someone is wearing headphones. Even then, it would be more appropriate to tap the desk in front of them. Because another general rule is you don't touch another person if you don't have to.
posted by tel3path at 2:07 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

This absolutely got documented with HR, assuming you have some version of it at your employer. If your boss documented it in some written form with you, even just recapping the discussion, you should take that as a big flashing red light. You can still leave this job without being fired for cause and having that on your record, both at the employer as well as in your mind. Something to consider.

You may want to take some time off to focus on the therapy others have already recommended above so that you can see this for what it is and adjust your behavior and perception to be more in line with, speaking frankly, the law.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2018

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