Co worker boundaries
February 12, 2020 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I befriended a coworker last year. He seemed like he had some good ideas on college classes I should take to beef up my resume plus we were going through a shut down and it was nice to have the sympathetic ear. Over time he has displayed a quasi-affection for me which I gathered through his text context (read on)

He would offer to do things like ride the bus back to work during my night shift just to "say hi". He would text me "Happy Columbus Day" and other irrelevant Government holiday greetings. He once texted at 4 am just to say he was finally getting into bed after a long day. Now I get off work at 12:30 A.M. Central Daylight Time in USA so I'm not asleep but anyone who's anyone knows 4 a.m. is an irrational texting hour unless you're family or it's an emergency. I blocked his number on that 4 a.m. text but now he has gotten a new number and has once again started with the "Happy belated new year" text on Feb. 12th. I dont know what to make of his sense of rational decision making but I just would rather not get to deep into his logic. Hes probably lonely and needing friends but if he does another 4 a.m. text I'll lose it. Where should I let this go? Should I block him again, speak to him about my concerns or talk to HR and let them explain the comfortable space and sexual harassment videos again? (I know sexual harassment hardly fits here but in HR everything fits sexual harassment)
posted by The_imp_inimpossible to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If you feel comfortable doing it, the best thing to do would be to talk to him directly. He may just be awkward and be a poor judge of whatever the electronic equivalent of "social distance" is. He may imagine more affection exists than really does.

The fact that you say "explain…again" suggests this wouldn't be his first go-round, so you'd certainly be justified in letting the professionals handle it.
posted by adamrice at 2:04 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I'm so sorry that you're having to deal with this.

"He's probably lonely and needing friends" is not your emotional burden to carry.

Block him. If he routes around the block again, go to HR. If he insists on interacting in person, you may have to say something like "Our interactions make me uncomfortable, and I'd appreciate it if you left me alone", and then go to HR if he continues.
posted by hanov3r at 2:10 PM on February 12 [14 favorites]


I've been in a similar situation and I blew it off till he texted me at 3 am "drunk" and told me he wanted to have sex with me. I wish I had confronted it and reported him to HR sooner.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:12 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


In general, if someone's doing something that you don't want them to do, you should tell them to stop. I wouldn't worry about hurting his feelings. A simple "Please do not contact me unless it is necessary for work purposes." should suffice. If it doesn't, then contact HR.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:16 PM on February 12 [14 favorites]


er... dude got a new phone after you blocked his number??

He knows what he is doing is dodgy and creepy.

Send one last message stating you don't want to communicate anymore unless it is strictly work-related, then block him again. If you see him at work, be professional but distant. And any more BS, go straight to HR.
posted by EllaEm at 2:18 PM on February 12 [27 favorites]


Block him. If he routes around the block again, go to HR.

Yep. There's a slim chance the new number is an irritating coincidence. If you are not responding to him, just stay the course. If you interact with him at work and you feel safe to do so, tell him politely (and clearly) to stop texting you. Sometimes people don't get the "We were friends but now we're not" message unless it's explicit, but this is a pain because it puts the burden on you to basically help the guy pick up on signals that he should have been getting. Wouldn't hurt to just mention it to HR in case stuff escalates.
posted by jessamyn at 2:41 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


anyone who's anyone knows 4 a.m. is an irrational texting hour unless you're family or it's an emergency

Anyone? I'd assume that any rational person wouldn't have their phone set to make noises for texts when they are asleep - I'd assume all phones are set to silent/Do not disturb at night or people would be constantly woken by emails/texts/angry birds/various games/facebook/twitter etc. I find it bizarre that anyone would get pissy about a 4am text because I assume that is a 'they will get this in the morning' communication, based on how I (and people I know) use my phones. Who the hell uses a text as emergency communication?

Do you see how people have wildly different perspectives? There is no One True Path for phone communication styles. You seem wildly disproportionately irritated by this, from how I read this question.

I blocked his number on that 4 a.m. text but now he has gotten a new number and has once again started with the "Happy belated new year" text on Feb. 12th.

Do you have any reason *(ie firm evidence) to think his new number is anything to do with you? Because if it is unrelated this could be totally random and he thinks this is all in fun/mild flirting and he just changed numbers when he got a new phone/different carrier.

speak to him about my concerns

If you haven't even SPOKEN to him about this, then this is a boundary issue from you. Unless there is a LOT more to this than you are saying here, it sounds like you two were chatting and now the chatting is not what you are comfortable with. That's fine. You frame this very much like this is weird and stalkery, but you state you befriended them and I don't see much problematic here if they thought you were friends. I can see how someone who thought this was more (actual friends or maybe more than friends, or had the chance to be more) could be acting entirely innocently. I'm not saying that's for sure, but you are describing ONE side of the issue and it doesn't seem all that bad to me. But your FIRST course of action should be to communicate. If this is all a miscommunication or they got the wrong end of the stick, and you call HR, that's really shitty to me.

TALK to the person. Ask them to back off. Only then will any escalation discussion be valid.
posted by Brockles at 2:54 PM on February 12 [27 favorites]


Heck, I would be unnerved and freaked out if my best friend texted me at 4 am. I assume middle-of-the-night textx are emergencies -- and I do have sound off on my phone overnight, but I often glance at the phone when I was up during the night, since it also serves as my clock. Seeing a text at that hour would bother me.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:15 PM on February 12 [13 favorites]


You don’t have to talk to him if you don’t want to, of course, but is it possible he’s texting late since he knows you work a night shift? That doesn’t seem that weird to me.
posted by ferret branca at 3:48 PM on February 12


Central Daylight Time in USA so I'm not asleep but anyone who's anyone knows 4 a.m. is an irrational texting hour unless you're family or it's an emergency.
That's very different from my experience.

The much bigger issue is that this guy thinks you're friends and you're not actually friends. There's no way out but to tell him that. Even neurotypical people can get that very wrong on occasion. If one uncomfortable conversation doesn't work immediately and completely, then it's time to escalate.
posted by eotvos at 4:15 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


Anyone? I'd assume that any rational person wouldn't have their phone set to make noises for texts when they are asleep - I'd assume all phones are set to silent/Do not disturb at night or people would be constantly woken by emails/texts/angry birds/various games/facebook/twitter etc. I find it bizarre that anyone would get pissy about a 4am text because I assume that is a 'they will get this in the morning' communication, based on how I (and people I know) use my phones.
I also stated that I was not asleep. That "emergency" can come in the form of not being able to speak, and that 4 am, awake or not, is a strange time for any unexpected phone ringing. But because i also use my phones alarm clock I'm not going to turn my phone off just to avoid it ringing. I did say he called using the new number, I didnt say he purchased it specifically for my benefit
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 4:27 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


I'd just block the new number. If he shows up on your bus or goes out of his way to in other ways to "say hi" or whatever, tell him that it makes you uncomfortable and you'd prefer to keep things strictly professional, which means no out of work hours contact.
posted by quince at 5:01 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


[folks, let's keep answers tailored to helping the OP find answers to their question]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:09 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


If you talk to HR, the first thing they will ask you is "have you told him not to do it?" If your answer is no, HR will shrug and do nothing. So yes, if you want this to stop, tell him "please do not text me again" (and you can also block his number). You don't need to explain why or justify it or anything. And if you think a trip to HR might be in your future, document the date and time that you told him to stop, and also document any subsequent violation. (Document = write it down including the date and (ideally) time; screen shots are probably not necessary.)
posted by heatherlogan at 6:07 PM on February 12 [9 favorites]


Your instinct that something is wrong with thIs guy is right on the money. The thing where he’s descending on you during your overnight shift is what spooks me. He takes the frickin’ BUS to do this? No, just no.

I used to work alone during overnights at a radio station. It was creepy to begin with. I nearly had a heart attack a couple of times when another employee suddenly showed up to use the bathroom. Once a crazy guy wandered in off the street, accosted me and started arguing with me, then tried to get past me so he could get on the air. He was bigger than me and I was terrified. I called the police, which scared him off. My employers were horrible about it when I asked for internal locks—said it was too expensive and there was nothing they could do to prevent it happening again.

Is there anyone else around when you’re working overnight? I’m not saying this guy is a potential rapist. I have no idea whether he’s capable of assaulting you, I’m just saying you don’t know what he might do. Even if the guy is harmless and just has no concept of social norms or professional behavior, he has a demonstrated PATTERN of weird behavior that makes you uncomfortable. You owe nothing to men who don’t respect normal boundaries.

Again, the guy could be harmless — but the point is that he’s an unknown quantity. Err on the side of caution.

I vote for blocking him on your phone and reporting his behavior to HR if it gets worse. The 4 am texts alone would make me furious. Do put your safety and peace of mind first. Good luck!
posted by cartoonella at 8:01 PM on February 12


I had a co-worker who did this kind of thing, but every day and several times a day, and beginning the first day of work before we had ever spoken, and the pretext for the very first email was a question about whether a very low-level barely-known public figure was related to me, presented as a thing that just occurred to him but was later obvious that he had googled my name until he found an obscure fun fact to associate with it. it got weirder from there, but was never precisely sexual, so for several months I grew more and more uncomfortable and eventually frantic until I was finally not-new enough that I dared to say something very tentatively to someone else at work. and do you know what they said to me? very casually and with total unconcern?

"Yeah, he does that to everybody, just ignore him and don't reply to the emails."

so. do not assume that you are the only one, or that nobody else knows just because you haven't told them yet. Do not assume that anybody would have warned you just because they saw it coming.

and do not assume there is anything so special about you, or his ideas about you, that he will be uniquely devastated by finding out that you, specifically, do not want to be contacted by him anymore ever again. If you cut him off in a way that makes him aware that he has been cut off, there is a small chance he will escalate, but a much larger chance that he will just find a new person to be nice to and make uncomfortable and eventually overstep with. There are always new people.

tell HR. tell HR. tell HR. this is a very awkward and uncomfortable situation to get yourself out of, and it is their job to get you out of it. They have access to the kind of bland corporate language and power dynamic with him that you do not have and cannot have. Do not let them put you off with advice to handle it yourself because they do not want it to be their job. It is their job.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:27 PM on February 12 [12 favorites]


It kind of depends how clear you were with him previously.


Determined wishful thinkers tend to just stomp right over "You really don't have to do this" or "why're you doing this" or even silence. What you want is a clear and unequivocal and written "don't text me except for work stuff". Also maybe "Let me stop you here - don't drop by the office just to to chat with me."

Not because that will change his behaviour. Many men who have no problems interpreting social signals from other men become transparently incapacitated when it comes to recognising a woman's "no".

But because you want to be able to prove to HR without any wiggle room that you told him "NO." You don't want any apologists at HR to be all "oh but he's just being friendly" or "how was he supposed to know."

You'll get a lot of resistance from him. He'll try to argue with you. Stay firm and don't try to explain to him why he's inappropriate and creepy. He knows he is, he's just going to try to rules lawyer you into letting him do as he wants. From the moment you tell him "no" you will get nothing but bullshit from him. Just disregard everything.
Possible follow up: "Because I said so."
posted by Omnomnom at 5:04 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


It sounds like you maybe find Text Guy annoying in general, and the weird random greetings and taking-the-bus-to-come-say-hi stuff is just the final straw. (Although the bus part definitely made my "whaaaaaaat?" sensor go off.) Others might not find this stuff intolerable, but you do, and you get to decide what's right for you.

I disagree with answers saying this is all on you for not being "clearer" with this person. He has done this before, possibly is doing it with multiple folks concurrently, and whether or not this is sexual or romantic it's a massive red flag re: his ability to respect people's boundaries. Because by this point in his life, he knows what he is doing. He knows you aren't reciprocating the random Presidents' Day texts and the chatty 4 am missives. He has not failed to notice that his texts magically started going through again when he got a new number, whether or not the latter was done specifically for that purpose. Is it *necessarily* intentionally creepy or malicious? No, but it points to a possibility of other, more significant boundary breaches in the future, and especially in a work context that really needs to be shut down immediately.

Sure, send one final message in writing spelling out "do not contact me for personal reasons ever again" so you have something to show HR that they can't wriggle out of. But I'm sort of surprised at answers suggesting that you're the one messing up for observing common social norms about politeness and niceness (which, though I'm not sure how you identify, female-presenting people are particularly penalised for violating); norms which the other person is, innocuously or not, taking advantage of to repeatedly intrude on your space be it physically or electronically.

That the onus is on you to risk a potentially highly unpleasant interaction just to have your boundaries respected is perhaps unavoidable in our society, but also deeply messed up and unfortunate.
posted by peakes at 6:26 AM on February 13 [4 favorites]


I'm with Brockles. Unless there's more going on than exactly what's written here, it's not obvious to me that this person has broken major social rules, especially if you're still seeing them at work (and thus it might not be as obvious to them that you're not interested in friendship, even if you never respond to their texts). I'd tell them that you don't want to interact outside of work and block their number.

(Middle-of-the-night texts are normal within my social circle.)
posted by metasarah at 6:35 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


If you decide to tell him directly to stop contacting you, don't qualify it with "unless it is about work" because that gives him wiggle room. Be as clear as possible that you don't want him to text you ever.
posted by soelo at 1:25 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


But I'm sort of surprised at answers suggesting that you're the one messing up for observing common social norms about politeness and niceness (which, though I'm not sure how you identify, female-presenting people are particularly penalised for violating); norms which the other person is, innocuously or not, taking advantage of to repeatedly intrude on your space be it physically or electronically.

yeah, to declare that your FIRST course of ACTION must BE to COMMUNICATE!! is to say that because he wants to talk to you, you are obligated to talk to him. you aren't. he has already forced you to think about him; he, like his partisans here, may be furious that he cannot likewise force you to respond to him. but the fact remains that he can't. you don't have to. not as your first course of action, not as your last. It might be the most efficient way to solve the problem, but you still don't have to do it.

you know best what your company is like, but if you don't have an extremely hostile HR culture you could explain very simply that you would like HR to convey to this person that communications on non-work subjects and communications on any subject during non-work hours are not welcome. tell them this request is because his numerous messages have caused you to feel profoundly uncomfortable doing so yourself -- and because you feel that to deliberately seek him out to speak to him, no matter what the topic, would send him a message you do not wish to send.

they might tell you to fuck off until you can document something really bad. but they might not.

they also might give him some kind of blanket warning that doesn't have your name attached to it, because you might not be the only person to have complained. this would be easiest for you, as long as he listened and obeyed.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:57 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


« Older Recipe filter - "Nusstorte" (nut pie)   |   Subscription gift like Field Notes? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments