DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: love your page, and love reading the advice and never thought it’d come to this but I could use some help. Apologies in advance for the length of this letter.
I’m 23, currently completing university and about to start full time as a software developer, at the company I currently work at. I’m really looking forward to being free of assignments and exams, and starting my working career.
I have a colleague at work. He actually started after me, but I’ve been part time all year finishing uni, so we only met a few months after he started. This is his first job in industry, and I get the feeling he’s a bit awkward with communication. He’s a pretty good, and productive, programmer, but he gets anxious easily, especially when he makes a mistake.
Originally I thought we’d be good friends (we both like anime, although different genres) – our workplace is a full of great people, and I have plenty of them on Facebook. So I added him, a mistake on my part, and at first the interactions were normal. Suddenly he sent me a rambling message, confessing to have a crush on me and being depressed about it, being hurt every day and ending with asking me to delete it and pretend it never happened. Of course, I deleted it and told him not to worry about it, you’ll get over it (my friend said I should have not said it wasn’t a problem). He persisted in asking me if it was deleted, after I said it was. He also unfriended me on Facebook.
And I thought that was the end of that. Only he messaged a few months later, asking me why I was not accepting his friend request. I have ignored all his messages from Facebook since the first incident. But he messaged me at work, through our work channels, asking to meet with me privately on my birthday. I asked him to book a time on my calendar – I’m the ‘senpai’ after all, if my juniors need help I want to be available to them to ask for help. Anyway he was calling me out to confess again. He felt we both needed ‘closure’ (I had mine the moment I said ‘you’ll get over it’!). Anyway, he gave me a gift which I later returned as I didn’t want to accept anything…
For me being called out at work was inappropriate, and I approached my manager about the issue. Before the meeting, my colleague sent me a couple of long messages, asking me to let him know if things were awkward, how he could not be a toxic employee, that he was terribly sorry, asked me to keep it secret. I showed all these to my manager. My manager was really nice about the whole thing. He said he was happy I felt comfortable enough to speak with him, and that they would follow my lead on how to handle the issue, and they don’t want to do anything to make me uncomfortable and I definitely shouldn’t be uncomfortable at work. All I wanted was for the issue to go away, I didn’t want it escalated, we have a good team and my colleague is part of that. And he seemed to understand why he was in the wrong, and it seemed over, so that was that. And my manager said to come back if it happens again…
So recently, my colleague sent me, and subsequently deleted, several really long rambly messages via our work channel again (though on the weekend). I don’t know what prompted them, except maybe the news I was coming back full time. The first demanded I explain myself for slights such as ‘not responding my facebook messages’ and ‘returning the gift’, if we were going to work together he needed these actions justified, he was super hurt. It felt pretty angry. The subsequent message was a watered down version of the first, with an appended ‘I know you are a nice person… any issues are probably misunderstandings’. The final message said he wouldn’t send any more messages, but if he did to ignore them. I feel he shouldn’t be sending any messages at all?
Sorry for this incredibly long exposition. I want to go bring this up with my manager again, but I don’t know how to do it. If my manager asks how I want it handled again I really don’t know. What I want is for this problem to go away. Is there something I should have done differently? We work on the same team so I was doing my best to ignore things and make things not awkward, but was it the wrong way to deal with it? I’m uncomfortable that he keeps sending me these messages, but more in a ‘why can’t you keep these thoughts to yourself if you are just going to keep sending and deleting them this is really annoying’ kind of way. It stresses me out thinking how I will approach my manager and deal with this issue, especially because I feel like I’m saying ‘here is a problem I brought up before, I’m sorry I’m bringing it up again, I don’t have any pre-prepared resolutions’. Especially because any action will clue my colleague into I told someone – what if he gets angry? Or scared? He seems so emotionally unstable sometimes… I’m even stressed about writing this here incase my colleague works out I did and does something drastic to himself.
No one tells you how to deal with this stuff. I’m a not-unattractive female studying IT, I’m familiar with guys liking me, and I’m familiar with ignoring the issue and hoping it goes away (very rarely do they approach). But normally I don’t have to keep working with the guy, and normally they aren’t this… flip-floppy.s I want him to learn that this is the wrong way to approach people, but I don’t want to be the one telling him what he did wrong and why it was wrong – it’s not my job to teach people this stuff?? I don’t know what to do and I could really use some advice.
Thank you for your time.
Stuck on Slack
DEAR STUCK ON SLACK: Every once in a while, we have a debate about whether someone is creepy, or just awkward. Buried within this is the assumption that being awkward means that one should get – if not a pass – then at least some leniency on the creeper label. However, this assumes that the fact that someone’s awkward means that he isn’t pushing boundaries and that people should tolerate it with a smile and a gentle correction.
Well, here we go again. You all know the chorus so sing along with me: socially awkward isn’t an excuse. The fact that someone may not be the most socially aware or fluent doesn’t mean that everything they do is tinged with innocent naïveté. Sometimes you can be a jackass and awkward at the same time. Dude may be awkward, but he also knows he’s not supposed to behave the way he does
So here’s the thing, SoS. If you’ve read my column before, then you may have heard me talk about Schrödinger’s Date – when a dude tries to get someone to go out with him on what is both a Date and a NotDate at the same time until he decides which is more likely. Your awkward colleague is doing something similar – call it Schrödinger’s Confession, where he gets to tell you how he feels and also not do so with his whole “delete this pretend it never happened” schtick. It’s his attempt to have it both ways; he gets to FeelingsDump on you but also not have to deal with the potential fallout of having confessed a crush like someone in a bad shoujo manga.
It’s emotionally manipulative as hell, especially since he seems to think that he can appeal to your sense of pity and make you give him a chance because you feel so sorry for him instead of, y’know, asking you out on a date like a grown-ass adult. But that manipulation doesn’t end there. He’s trying to leverage the idea that you somehow need to attend to his feelings and worries into having even more contact with him to discuss his pantsfeels, which just gives him even more chances to try to somehow wheedle you into a relationship. This is why he’s getting all cranky with the fact that you returned his gift and that you won’t talk to him; you’re not playing along with the script he’s got going in his head. In his mind, you’re supposed to be touched by the depth of his feelings, charmed by his awkwardness and eventually realize that he’s the guy for you.
Except a) that’s not how this works, b) there’s a huge difference between “adorkable” and “boundary-pushing-creepo” and c) “no reply” is a reply.
The fact of the matter is: he’s pretty aware of how he’s coming off to others. Either he’s decided to lean into it, or he’s convinced himself that he has some sort of “get out of responsibility free” card somewhere in the deck Case in point: his deleting his various messages (hey there, read receipts) and requests for you to ignore him. He’s hoping that by saying “go ahead and ignore me” he’s getting you to agree that it’s all ok, water under the bridge and you’re not going to talk to your manager again.
And that’d be one thing if it weren’t for the fact that this is the, what, 6 separate times he’s gotten weird at you.
Which brings us to your question: what do you do about this?
And my answer is simple: you do what your instincts are telling you to do: go talk to your manager. You don’t (or at least, shouldn’t) need to “prove” that you’ve done things “right” here. You told homeboy to stop messaging you and you’ve been ignoring him since. This isn’t on you. You’re not responsible for his actions and it’s pretty clear that telling him “no” isn’t getting him across. And since you can’t swat him across the nose with a rolled up newspaper, you can and should go to the folks who have the power to tell him to back the f
k down. Dealing with this sort of thing is part of being a manager – especially before someone invokes the magic phrase “creating a hostile work environment” and rousing Upper Management from their eldritch slumber.
And since this is something that apparently needs to be said: you are not responsible for his actions. Got that? Tattoo it backwards on your forehead so you can see it in the mirror every morning. Shave your head if you need the room.
You are not responsible for his actions.
Whether he’s creeping on you and sending messages via the office Slack channel or threatening to burn himself in tribute to his precious office waifu, you are not responsible for what he does. He – and only he – is sole party responsible for his behavior. You don’t need to manage his fee-fees for him, no matter how much he tries to get you to do just that.
Dude is creating a disruption at work and he needs to learn. It’s not your responsibility to teach him. You’ve got a job, and you need to focus on that. Go report this to your manager and let them bring the hammer down.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: So, its a long story but this is what happened, and I’m not sure what to do.
About a month ago, a very attractive girl moved in to my share house. I was away at the time, but when we met, I felt like we got along very well. In many ways she is my romantic ideal (tall, dark haired, gothic, beautiful, an emotional mess). At the time of when she moved in, I had a girlfriend at the time, and we’d been dating about 3 years.
Now I knew in the back of my mind how attractive I found this girl I lived with. I told all the guys at work about her, and my close male friends about her, and they all seemed to agree that she was very attractive. She used to work for the same company I work for now, and almost all of my tenured colleagues knew who she was too.
A few weeks ago I broke up with my girlfriend. I decided to call time on our relationship due to a lack of emotional availability. I loved her, and cared about her but knew our relationship was at an end.
About 48 hours after I broke up, I was drinking with my friends to drown my sorrows. They asked me jokingly if there was anybody on the horizon for me, and I jokingly said “well there’s this one girl I live with”. And proceeded to show her Instagram photos to the guys, who joked that I should do something about that.
I passed out drunk and stoned, and eventually found myself awake at 3am. I was bored, so I pulled out my phone. By some miracle, my phone was on her Instagram still, and I saw she had added to her story. She was still out partying at 3am. I realized that if I drove home, I may be able to get home at the same time.
I drove home. When I got home, got changed and realized she wasn’t home. I lost hope and went to bed. Not a second later, the door opened up and I knew it was her. She ran to the bathroom and I went out of my room and sat on the couch and watched Rick and Morty. She came out and sat down beside me. I told her I’d just broken up with my girlfriend, and she told me she was in the same boat and had just broken up with her ex a month ago.
We started making out, which lead to getting naked. She then said “if you were any other guy, I’d have sex with you right now”. She refused to have sex with me because we were housemates, and I kind of agreed.
It’s been 3 weeks now, and I haven’t spoken to her since. She works on an opposite schedule to me (She works in a bar), and we haven’t run into each other. I very much doubt we will run into each other and talk it out, but I’d like closure.
I don’t really have any much getting girls. I’ve got my shit together, I have passion in my life, I lead a rich and rewarding life, I’m confident enough in myself and I don’t feel like I need the validation of a relationship to keep me happy. I don’t have a need for a girlfriend, and there are a few girls in my life right now that are more than enough for me. Most of the things I do that make me happy come from your articles actually.
But, for some reason, I can’t stop thinking about my housemate. I’m 28. She’s 21. She cheated on her ex-boyfriend. She posts booty shots and thirst traps all over Instagram. But I can’t stop thinking about her. Whenever I walk past her bedroom my heart flutters, and I wonder if she’s in there. Am I in love?! I haven’t felt this way since high school. My plan right now is to find the time to go to her work alone, and ask her out on a date. It could be incredibly awkward, and if she says no I’ve really lost nothing other than my housemate knowing I asked her out.
My real issue is if she says yes. I really like her, and the more I think about her the more I think she’s strangely ideal for me. I shouldn’t date again, and neither should she, but I want to hang out with her at the very least.
Every single person I know is telling me to not say anything and let the chips fall where they may, but I want closure. In part because I want to hang out with this girl, even if we don’t have sex. But there is also that part of me that sees her as the “one that got away”.
Please help. What should I do?
Hots For Housemate
DEAR STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: You’re not in love dude. You’re in lust. Though I can understand confusing the difference.
Here’s what’s going on: You’re newly single. You’re a bit lonely. You’ve got this space in your life where your girlfriend used to be. And hey, there’s this absurdly hot person who’s in close proximity to you. Like, “the thirst is calling from inside the house” close. And wouldn’t you know it, one fateful night, right after you and your girlfriend broke up… well, you’re drunk and horny, she’s a little drunk and turned on and oh look there went the pants.
But then you two are right up against the line. That “she refuses to have sex with her housemates” line. So now here you are, right at the gates to your hopes and dreams aaaaand you’re finding out that it’s locked. Like Lucy and the football… you’re left feeling like it got yanked out from under you at the last second. Call it blue-braining, because there’s no better way to get someone to want something obsessively than to tell them they can’t have it.
(Don’t believe me? Check the prices of a new iPhone on eBay when the newest model gets released.)
This isn’t helped by the fact that you’re keeping the fires stoked by checking on her sexy Instagram pics. It’s a little hard to let things cool off when you’re going through her photostream and checking for bikinis and cleavage
But it’s important to realize that most of what you’re feeling right now – from the desire for “closure” to this idea that she’s ideal for you – is coming from the fact that you got close at a time when you were vulnerable and lonely. It’s amazing how much the combination of “recent break up,” “sloppy make outs” and “that’s all you’re getting” can round up basic horniness to “we’re perfect for one another”.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m utterly sympathetic. I’ve been there, done that and printed the t-shirts. I’ve had relationships and hook-ups that only went so far and those drove me up the wall to the point that I would’ve probably murdered a hobo. Let he with two free hands cast the first stone. But your roomie is right: banging housemates is generally a bad idea and it creates potential complications and awkwardness that is magnified by the fact that you can’t really get any distance apart to let things ease up.
So here’s my suggestion for you: let this one go. You had a moment, that moment involved some nudity and it was great. But it was just a moment and one where trying to revisit it is likely going to end up being more trouble than it’s worth. You’re not going to get the “closure” you want because there’s nothing to be had. You made out. You want more, she doesn’t, end of.
Accept that it happened once, that it isn’t going to happen again, that eventually you’ll hook up with someone else and take cold showers in the meantime. Trust me: you aren’t going to be as happy in the short run, but in the long term, you’ll be far better off.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)