DEAR AMY: I’m a 47-year-old guy, happily married with four kids. I am an average-looking guy and by no means God’s gift to women. I am easygoing, friendly to everyone, and have good conversational skills. I work in a place for disabled people, where most co-workers are women. Now to my problem: I’m wondering if I have been too friendly to my co-workers, because during the five years I’ve worked in my job, I perceive that some women are trying to get intimate. In a group meeting one employee rubbed her leg against mine for a while, and at another, one woman leaned into me, touched my shoulder and back, and whispered some completely unimportant things in my ear (and so on). It’s starting to feel awkward, because one of those two women is the same age as my daughter (20). I like to interact and talk with people, but sometimes I feel that the conversation has gone too far; it feels that there is something more going on. Sometimes the conversation strays toward topics (for instance, the emotions that this work wakes within us) that are not so common in a workplace. Is there a way not to appear as if I’m after something from those women, without being rude? Am I just imagining things that are not there?
DEAR WORRIED: The first thought of someone being sexually harassed is often that it is their fault. It’s not.
I’m going to guess that your work is rewarding, but possibly stressful, and emotionally (and perhaps physically) taxing. It is completely normal to talk about your feelings and emotions concerning your work. Being able to talk about your feelings helps you and your colleagues to stay sane and connected.
However, a co-worker should never interpret normal workplace chit-chat as an invitation to sexually harass someone. Rubbing your leg under the table in the conference room is unprofessional, unacceptable, and physically violating. Whispering in your ear is immature, unprofessional, and rude to you and others.
You should always behave professionally. Keep your distance physically, never engage in overly personal conversations with co-workers half your age, and don’t discuss intimate issues in your marriage with co-workers.
Also — don’t worry about appearing rude toward people who are willfully violating your right to a harassment-free workplace. When this happens, you should start by drawing a distinct boundary, physically moving to another area, and simply asking the person to stop doing what they are doing: “Um . . . don’t whisper in my ear, please. I don’t like it.” If this behavior continues, and/or gets worse, you should kick it upstairs to a manager.
DEAR AMY: My husband and I were recently invited by another couple to go to see a play with them. We understood that the tickets cost more than $100 and we reimbursed them for the tickets. I learned a few days after the play that they had received their tickets completely free — as a promotion. I was a bit upset that they never told us that they had received free tickets, and expected us to pay full price for our tickets. It made us feel used. What is the proper etiquette in this situation when you have free tickets and you invite another couple to go with you? Should they have told us before we accepted that we would have to pay full price for these tickets? If I had known what they were doing, I would never have gone. Should they have split the costs with us?
DEAR USED: Your friends shouldn’t have split the cost of these tickets, because there was no cost. The tickets were free. And now it sounds as if they enjoyed a free evening at the theater, and walked away with more than $100 in their pocket.
You should not be expected to pay for free tickets. They should not be basically reselling tickets they’ve received as part of a promotion. You should contact your friend, and ask why you were asked to reimburse them for tickets they’d gotten for free. Maybe your friend will be able to offer an explanation that makes sense. I can’t think of any.
DEAR AMY: “Burned by Grandma” relayed how her mother sent her an invoice to cover expenses when her granddaughter visited. I suggest that “Burned” should send her mother an invoice to cover expenses the family incurred when the grandmother stayed with them for several months.
DEAR DISMAYED: In a contest to see who could be more passive-aggressive, this would be a winner.