Why does my male coworker act hot and cold towards me?
November 15, 2018 5:16 PM   Subscribe

Things are awkward between me and my coworker- and I don't know what to do. A few special snowflake details inside.

There is a male co-worker, "John", that works in another department. When I first started, I thought that he was cute and funny. He seemed kind of shy and wouldn't talk to me when we were alone, only when other people were around. One time he came over to talk to my boss about something and he was being really funny. I was trying not to laugh out loud, but John saw that I was smiling and then he smiled.

When I had to talk to him about a work related event, he seemed very different. He was abrupt and then walked off. He was very moody and I assumed that he didn't like me.

I didn't think much about him until the summer when he started staring at me. He has a very intense stare and he will look at me when I'm not paying attention or if I'm not looking at him. It's a little intimidating because he doesn't smile, he just stares.

My coworkers have started giving me a hard time- not him, just me. I clam up around him and don't make eye contact. He finally noticed them talking about us and now he seems nervous.

One day we were the only two walking down the hallway and he saw me and literally turned and ran the other way. It sort of hurt, but it's understandable.

The next day, however, he came by my desk and doesn't say anything. It's like he wants to approach me, but is either nervous or intimidated. I'm also extremely shy, so we're just very awkward around one another.

This is really confusing! We have never talked. There is a new girl in his section who is very pretty and he sits with her at lunch. I don't like his moodiness and the fact that everything is on his terms. If I talk to him, he acts strange and runs away, yet he will stare at me when I'm not looking and watch me while I'm working.

What's the deal with this guy? Any thoughts? Has anyone else experienced this?
posted by Kobayashi Maru to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
He sounds shy/lacking confidence/flaky/moody. Other than professional interactions, I wouldn't give him another thought.
posted by Dolley at 5:27 PM on November 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

Possibly he has a crush on you. I don't say this in the giggling, encouraging way that women are used to hearing it, because he's not handling it well. If he were, you wouldn't know. Sometimes people don't know how to handle big emotions and deal with them by expressing hostility to the person whose "fault" they are.

This is on him. He's being weird and irritating. When it happens in romance novels, it seems to turn out all right, but this is not one of those books. Just let him be the mess that he is and get on with things. Best of luck to you -- I know this stings.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:38 PM on November 15, 2018 [14 favorites]

Oh, I missed the part where you said "we have never talked." I would double down on getting on with things. Who knows what his deal is.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:39 PM on November 15, 2018 [26 favorites]

It sounds like you're really into him. There is that saying "don't shit where you eat" and for good reason. It's really exhausting trying to get with someone you're working with, especially if they're awkward and their intentions are unclear. It becomes harder to focus as you get attached and more emotionally involved.

I am just getting out of a really terrible, emotionally draining situation with someone I work with who behaved exactly like this guy (including the embarrassed "running away"). Super awkward and hard to read except sometimes mean and arrogant. Hot and cold people are mindfucks but working with someone like that is even more crazymaking. I honestly wish I had never got involved. It's a really awful situation and I can see you are getting involved in the same way as you are concerned about the pretty girl he lunches with.

If I were you I would put my energy towards making a real effort to find someone to date outside of work asap.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:49 PM on November 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

This is really inappropriate. Like scary inappropriate. It’s not cute or normal for a person to avoid speaking to a colleague, stare at them, or approach them wordlessly. The fact that you are a woman and he’s a man doesn’t make it okay.

I’d consider escalating or speaking a manager. This is beyond shy and into creepy.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:50 PM on November 15, 2018 [46 favorites]

he's an awkward creepy weirdo who doesn't understand how adults behave in the workplace. avoid any interactions with him that are not specifically work related.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:56 PM on November 15, 2018 [50 favorites]

It doesn't matter. This I like u, u like me? stuff is inappropriate for the workplace.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:09 PM on November 15, 2018 [11 favorites]

Another vote for “This is not cute/funny/charming, it’s waving red flags!”

I agree that he is some combination of emotionally stunted and awkward... with a large heaping side of potential enemy/stalker. He’s already acting like you are to blame for something, and whatever it is, it’s demonstrably triggering for him.

His reactions and actions do not match the objective reality of anything that has happened at work, personally between you, and especially anything indicative of two people who should have a professional acquaintance with each other.

If he continues staring inappropriately, consider telling your boss about it. Or whatever formal complaint process exists at your workplace.

It’s probably nothing, but stay safe. No, I don’t think the pretty new woman at work is lucky. Nothing good or emotionally mature or professional explains his behavior towards you thus far.
posted by jbenben at 6:30 PM on November 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

I feel like he is not relationship material.
posted by Knowyournuts at 6:49 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m not clear on if this is a dating or work question, but am going to assume, since you said he was ‘cute and funny’, which is not really appropriate in a work situation, that this so someone you are interested in dating. Your observations about his behavior are personal and not professional, which does both of you a disservice. Just let it go. This is work. Focus on your job and look for the romance, does he/doesn’t he stuff outside of work. And do not get him in trouble with a superior because of your romantic rejections. The red flags are equal on both sides.
posted by MountainDaisy at 7:21 PM on November 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes, if something sounds this much like the third grade—like, seriously, you can replace “boss” with “teacher” and this would make more sense—it REALLY doesn’t belong in the workplace. I don’t understand why you say “it’s understandable” that he walked away when you were in the hall together. What? That’s insane. You’re adults and this is an office! It’s not understandable at all! It’s really, really, really strange. Please ignore this person forever unless you have to do a work project with him and your employment depends on it. This all sounds so immature and odd.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 9:05 PM on November 15, 2018 [10 favorites]

My personal rule is that it's always ok to date within the workplace, as long as both people are committed to behaving like adults, no matter what happens. I've dated colleagues and bosses before, and it's never been an issue!

In your case, this guy appears to behave like he's 12, and thus my rule doesn't apply.
posted by hasna at 10:52 PM on November 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

There's always more than one possible explanation for any given human behaviour, but I agree with everyone else that it's highly plausible that this guy has indeed a crush on you, which, for some reason or another, he's not ready to acknowledge. And that reason could well be that he's shy, and thinks you're out of his league, etc. Or maybe he's some sort of religious zealot, who's taken a vow of chastity and resents you for tempting him with your sinful flesh and wanton ways. Or he's saving himself for marriage, and you're just not marriage material, because you're not from the right sort of family. Or he's very into you, but thinks his friends would mock him if he dated you officially, because you don't fit the most conventional definition of hot. Or he's already in a relationship.

But whatever the reason for his ambivalence may be, the fact that he's hiding it so badly is deeply immature and unprofessional. You should generally believe people when they warn you about themselves, and what he's telling you with this behaviour is that, whatever feelings he may have for you, he's not ready to give this whole thing a shot - not really, not yet, and possibly not ever. So I'll join the chorus of people advising you to better let sleeping dogs lie, and stay out of his way as much as possible.

Of course I could imagine that's easier said than done. Because you do sound rather intrigued by the possibility he might be into you. And it's quite possible that you're both indeed still rather young and you might think that a little bit of immaturity is par for the course at that stage. And maybe you don't care that much about that particular job, you're not planning to stay until retirement anyway, and you think it's worth a risk. Still, one thing to consider: what's the real appeal here? Is this guy really "cute and funny" or are you just flattered by his attention? Sometimes the thrill of "Is he into me or not" can be too much of a distraction from the way more important question of "Am I into him or not?".
posted by sohalt at 1:15 AM on November 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: @ Yoko Ono's Advice Column- I didn't like the fact that he ran away from me, but I figured people might say, "Well, you don't know for sure" or "It's his choice if he wants to run away." It was embarrassing because my coworkers saw him do this and then they were looking at me funny.
posted by Kobayashi Maru at 4:36 AM on November 16, 2018

*ahem* His behavior is a bit like the behavior of someone I know well who, when they were younger, did this sort of thing when they had a crush or felt threatened - related to struggles with intense feelings, social anxiety and inexperience, and the sense that their throat was closing up in stressful situations. He probably isn't someone you would really want to date, especially in the workplace - he has a lot of work to do on himself.

More experienced, socially skilled people my friend was awkward around would normalize the situation and make it less noticeable to others. Their approach was basically: 'I'm just getting my papers together so I'm focused on that but I'm going to make some casual comments about the weather and Twain to the awkward student with bad social anxiety who either has a crush on me or is threatened by me. When I pass them in the hall I'll acknowledge them pleasantly and make a remark but won't stop to draw out the conversation or make a ton of eye contact.'

Experienced, inappropriate people would smell vulnerability, befriend them and get inappropriately close. Don't do that.

Of course, this approach puts all the emotional labor on you and that's unfair, but it's really hard to be in a situation like this where someone else's unskilled behavior is having an impact on you. I don't have any experience/knowledge with how it goes when someone takes this sort of thing to management/HR. (My experience with taking clear-cut sexual harassment to HR was not positive). YMMV.
posted by bunderful at 5:32 AM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I suggest that in the future when he behaves in bizarre and unprofessional ways asking him loudly what his problem is.

I also think that people above in the thread are correct, and it's a good idea to talk to HR, your boss, various other authority figures, and let them know that he's giving you the creeps with his weird behavior. One thing creeps rely on is their victims feeling too awkward to tell, so I think it's important to tell someone before his creepery progresses.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:14 AM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think this guy is used to moving on people at work, letting the women do all the emotional labor, and then moving on. He is sitting with the new girl. OK, her problem, not yours. You might be alive and breathing and relatable, and he might have a loose neural network and pick up on it. But he is ill behaved, and you deserve your privacy at work. He might be a clever enough predator to know that unless you do all the work, he is out of line in the work situation.
posted by Oyéah at 8:15 AM on November 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

To be clear, this guy’s behavior is inappropriate but I don’t get the impression that he’s into you. You said hot and cold but literally nothing in your description is friendly or indicative of attraction. Instead, it seems weirdly hostile. It reminds me of a guy I know who was a football star in high school and was no longer particularly fit (or nice) and had a hard time attracting the conventionally attractive women he felt he deserved. He was contemptuous of any women who weren’t up to his standards and resented the fact that they might think they had a shot with him. So he would go out of his way to be unfriendly and harbor weird grudges against women. I don’t know if that’s the situation here, but it seems much more likely to me than him having an interest in you.

Also, in case it needs to be said, make sure you’re being professional and don’t interact with him unless you need to for work. If he is uncomfortable because he thinks you’re into him, giving him space is both the right thing to do and a strategically smart move.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:20 AM on November 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

And I didn’t mean go to the manager now, but you should keep it in mind as an option. It may not be a great option; it’s really context specific. But it’s worth mentally reframing it as a work issue, not something interpersonal/romantic. Your job is guaranteed more important than this dude’s attention. You should be prioritizing trying to keep this from affecting your career.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 9:36 AM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, I’d like to emphasize what Rock ‘em Sock ‘em says. The only indication of any positive attention you’ve received from him is that he smiled at you one time. He may have just liked the validation you provided by laughing at his jokes and felt momentarily kinder to you because of it, but I see no indication of any other positive reaction toward you and am not certain this is a crush. Please do not treat it or think if it as a socially inept crush as it may cause you to view this through a more generous filter than he deserves, especially if you are hoping he likes you, which I think you may be. This is a hostile man baby who shouldn’t take up any space in your brain at all.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 11:11 AM on November 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit or anything, but I just want to add a few things. One time, I was working in another area and John came in. I was putting something away and I saw John sort of peeking in at me. He sort of scared me, so I didn't say anything, I just looked confused. He said that he was looking for someone else and left the area.

He would also sit near me at meetings or gatherings. He wouldn't sit next to me, just in the same area. (He never talked to me though.)

He also approaches me, doesn't say anything and then seems to back off.
posted by Kobayashi Maru at 3:43 PM on November 16, 2018

again, everything you describe shows him 100% as an intensely awkward, obsessive creep who has absolutely no comprehension, not even the most basic understanding of professional behavior in a workplace with adult human beings. literally nothing you have described so far has painted a picture of a desirable dating companion, let alone even a remotely decent coworker.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:42 PM on November 16, 2018 [10 favorites]

I am confused. Are these examples of times you think he was displaying a crush on you, or times he was being scary? I’m interested in your reading on these instances since your instincts of course count.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 6:14 PM on November 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would avoid this guy like the plague. His behavior is creepy.
posted by sarcasticah at 10:53 AM on November 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I guess I was just trying to figure out what kind of person he was because he acts one way around some people, and another way around other people. I also thought, is it me? Did I do something? But when I talk to other male coworkers, they are friendly and approachable. (They don't act the same way.)

This guy is way too moody and I will be professional towards him if I have to deal with him, but otherwise I want to keep my distance. I also want to tell my coworkers to knock it off if they allude to anything. They were talking about how "cute we would be together", but some of them have warned that he has a temper/isn't very nice/etc.

At the time, it was a nice distraction in a stressful work environment, but the fantasy is always better than the reality. I'm getting too old to still be in the "bad boy" phase of my life. Otherwise, if it's a pattern, I will talk it over with a therapist to see what is going on....

Thank you all for your help and words of wisdom. I appreciate it.
posted by Kobayashi Maru at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2018

A suggestion: instead of telling them to knock it off, just kinda seriously say “yeah... honestly, I wouldn’t date anyone who isn’t friendly, you know?” Then ask them a question about their weekend or something. That should get them to stop teasing you about it without making them feel chastised.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:48 AM on November 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

“...but some of them have warned that he has a temper/isn't very nice/etc. ”

Heads up. The kind of person he is, is an emotionally immature abuser of women. He’s not a “bad boy,” he’s a potential abusive boyfriend. This is sometimes what they look like before you date them. These are the what future stalkers act like before you date them. This. Is. Textbook.

Don’t date him. Remember this for the future.
posted by jbenben at 8:02 AM on November 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: If they know that he's not a nice guy, then why are they pushing us to date?
posted by Kobayashi Maru at 5:04 PM on November 20, 2018

They’re mostly teasing and they don’t care that much. When women do this kind of thing it’s 90% or more about having something to talk about. It’s not serious advice or about you. That’s why they will probably stop if you take it seriously—you’re not really expected to.

They could also be seriously trying to see if you’ll do what they advise, just to feel powerful. Sometimes people do this without thinking of the consequences for the other person. It’s a common thing when someone seems naïve and eager for approval. Don’t let them be in charge of you; you’re an adult. What I suggest above is that you politely inform them that you’re thinking for yourself.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:49 AM on November 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

"he acts one way around some people, and another way around other people"

This alone would be a red flag, and you have described several others. People whose behavior is inconsistent or depends too much on their environment are Bad News (when one environment isn't markedly more formal / riskier and the other clearly more relaxed / safer, for example).

Something to ponder with a therapist (you don't need to answer here): in your childhood or youth, was someone who was supposed to take care of you (adult relative, teacher, older sibling or similar) unpredictable or difficult to understand? We can be subconsciously attracted to a "copy" someone(s) we originally loved (or tried to) even if they brought us heart-ache. For example, I fell for someone whose whole persona was a construct (basically someone who acted a role but believed in it himself, which makes it a lot more convincing), mainly because one of my parents is also like that. Hindsight is 20/20...
posted by AthenaErdmann at 5:26 AM on December 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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