DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My friend told me about your YouTube channel recently, and since I need some dating advice myself I ended up going down the rabbit hole on your site. I have a problem.
I liked what you said in a recent video about reading the room and I think my mentor read the room wrong just one time and now my employers want to bring the hammer down.
I recently got promoted into a HR manager at an office and have been working there for the past 3 years. Couple of months after my promotion, my friend/mentor of a different department was accused of sexual harassment by an intern. She said that he kept hugging her, holding her hand when saying hello, asking about her dating life, joked about sex, and would invite her to private lunches or talks on the roof, even to dinner or drinks after work.
My boss is telling me to maybe fire him or demote him. I think he is testing me to see what I will do to handle the situation.
However, I have known this guy since I started working here and he does this with ALL the girls in the office. When I got hired, I was worried too but the other girls told me nothing was wrong. Even now none of the other girls have a problem with it when I ask them about it. To us he is a great mentor and like a father figure. He listens to us and helps us with problems and even our relationship problems. He helped me through a bad breakup recently too and some of us are even comfortable enough to talk about our sex lives with him. He was a nice manager who trained me to be where I am right now. He pointed out the office creeps, told me how things were done, let me in on the gossip, and since he was cousins with a former upper manager, he helped me get the position I am in now. He is a good guy.
I honestly think that some of the guys are just jealous of how close he is with us and how he protects us from the creeps. Many of them are ganging up on him saying he has been doing this for years and with other girls who quit. I don’t think it is an issue since every other girl who DOES and still works here says it’s fine. This is the first complaint he has ever gotten on company record. I think they are just jealous because the girls like him. He also keeps the creeps he tells us about from being promoted. These are some of the main guys complaining about him.
He has been working here for the past 8 years and has helped countless of women feel comfortable in the office and is close friends with many other managers. I consider him a close friend and he knows about my personal problems. I don’t want to lose him or make him reveal my personal life out of anger.
I can’t help but feel bad for him too because he is in his late 20s but has been single for the past 10 years, give or take a hook up once in a while. I also know he can’t get promoted in the future either because this allegation. Upper management is abandoning him. I don’t know what the office would be like without him. I don’t want to lose him as a friend or demote him and I don’t want to open the door to the creeps he tells us about to take his position. He has been asking me and other managers to help dismiss the case since she is crazy. She didn’t even tell me directly but went to my boss. I feel like the intern is overreacting since all the other girls are fine with it, and if she just told me, I would have told her to let it go. He is a good, friendly guy who was looking out for her.
I would normally just fire him if it was anyone else.
How should I react on this? or what’s your opinion?
DEAR HR’S NIGHTMARE: Can I ask you something, HRN? Are you looking for actual advice or are you hoping for a permission slip for what you want to do? Because, honestly? I get a lot of letters from folks who write in hoping I’m gonna sign off on what they want to have happen instead of what needs to happen.
You’re in a lousy position, HRN, but it’s one that comes with the territory. One of the things that comes with the job when you’re a manager is that there will be times that you’re going to have to bring the hammer down and discipline people. And if you were promoted from within, it’s possible that some of those folks were friends of yours. This leaves you in the awkward position of having to actually do your job vs. giving your friends a pass because hey, buds, right? Gotta remember where you came from and all.
It gets doubly troublesome when your friends are getting dragged in front of you for some pretty serious issues.
Now let’s get to the meat of your question: Should you give him a pass?
Short version: no.
The issue your former mentor is having isn’t that he misread the room ONCE, it’s that he’s done it many times. You said it yourself: he kept hugging her, holding her hand, asking about her love life, and asking her out on dates. It’s not that he a single awkward moment and now his job’s on the line, it’s that he’s done this repeatedly.
It’d be one thing if he asked her out on a date, she said “no” and he said “fair enough” and dropped the subject. The same applies to making a joke or two and realizing that he was making her uncomfortable. If he’d recognized that he screwed up, apologized and stopped, then hey maybe he gets a lecture about boundaries and professional behavior in the office. S
t happens and sometimes we’ll make a joke or a comment without realizing that we’re about to cross a line that we didn’t know was there. People understand that this is going to happen because hey, none of us are telepaths or clairvoyants.
But when we keep stepping on those lines, that’s when there’s a problem.
The problem isn’t that aggressive flirts or “touchy-feely” guys are full of malice, it’s that they haven’t faced consequences for crossing the line. As a result, they tend to think that their behavior is acceptable because hey, nobody’s ever smacked their nose for it. If you never tell a dog no when it poops on the rug, it’ll think that it’s perfectly fine to poop on the rug. And while YOU may be ok with a dog-crap-scented rug, the first time it does this on someone else’s rug, there’s gonna be a problem.
Guess what just happened to your buddy?
Now, you tell me he’s a sweet guy. I’m kind of questioning this, because man, lines like “I don’t want him to reveal my personal history out of anger” makes my Spidey-sense tingle. But hey, let’s say I take your word for it that he is. It’s lucky for him that thus far his co-workers haven’t had a problem with him being so touchy-flirty. But the fact that he’s nice to other people or that other folks are cool with it doesn’t mean that his behavior is acceptable in general. One of the common defenses people raise for abusers is “Well, he was never mean to me,” which is nice and all, but that doesn’t change what he did to the people he DID abuse. Your friend may not have crossed the line with other co-workers, but he did here.
The fact that he’s single doesn’t give him a pass; the fact that someone’s terminally horny doesn’t mean that they can’t tell when somebody’s uncomfortable and that they should back off. The fact that he’s been good to you over your time there is nice and all and something to keep in mind when you’re deciding what to do, but that doesn’t undo what he’s done. And, I’m not gonna lie: I’m not thrilled with you our your friend running to “she’s overreacting” and “dismiss the case because she’s crazy”. If he were apologizing and looking to make things right, I’d have fewer concerns. But “bury this complaint because she’s a crazy bitch”? That’s another thing that sets off my Spidey-sense.
Now let’s be real here: the only reason you’re hesitating is because this is a friend. That’s the prime motivation for a lot of the excuses you’re giving here – the feeling that there’s a conspiracy to get him fired, the belief that your boss is testing you, the worry that he’s the lone defense against creeps descending on the vulnerable women in the office, etc. You even say it in your letter: if it were anyone else, you’d fire him. That should tell you what you need to know and what you need to do.
(And honestly? If the ONLY thing standing between the women of the office and an army of creepers is one dude? Then your problem isn’t this dude getting fired or disciplined, it’s holy hopping sheep s
t your office’s culture is garbage and you all need to root that out.)
Look maybe he’s not necessarily a bad guy, and I feel for you being in this position. But the fact is: dude screwed up, and the fact that office politics are the only thing keeping him from facing the consequences of his actions is not a good look on anyone.
If there’s someone else in HR at your level, then it might be worth having them talk to the intern and see how she feels about things and what she’d like to see happen. She might prefer that he knock it off and leave her alone, instead of escalating it all the way to being fired. It’s not impossible that she would be ok with an apology and his being moved to a different department where she doesn’t have to deal with him.
What I DON’T suggest is for YOU talk to her; that’s going to feel a lot like you’re there just to protect your friend at her expense.
But the at the end pf the day. you’re the HR manager. You’ve got a job to do – to maintain the company’s rules and make sure the company’s employees feel safe working there. You have an employee who screwed up big time. It sucks that he’s a friend, it sucks that he’s a good guy, but he still made a mistake.
You may not need to fire him, but he does need to be disciplined, before he does this again.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was guided to your blog my my sister who sent me a couple of articles concerning finding love late in life, and your words really spoke to me. As a five-foot-eight, 37-year-old virgin (NOT the first who’s written to you!) I enjoy your ‘Ask Dr. NerdLove’ entries a great deal, while also focusing on more than a few of your writings. I haven’t read your books though, and I should get around to that!
I have an issue which I need to overcome in order to make sure I’m confident enough to put myself out there. Body Image.
Having been inspired by your story about your transformation, I have recently started working out at my local gym and am proud to say that for the last few weeks I have been very consistent. I have made great progress with weight training and have been able to increase my capacity while developing muscle. I am starting to feel more energetic, and with more progress I might hopefully go down a trouser size or two. However, I have a medical issue which still haunts me and makes me feel ugly and unattractive, and no matter how much exercise I do it seems to never go away.
You see, I have a bad case of gynecomastia, to use the strictly medical term, and I have read that this is mainly due to a terrible hormonal imbalance. I have tried to do whatever I possibly could to mitigate the effect, be it bench presses, fly exercises, press-ups (push-ups!) or what have you, and yet it still seems to stick around. I am more and more convinced that surgery at a later date (provided I have the money!) is the only way I can make it go away, although I am still hopeful that I can naturally get rid of it before then. But it’s because of this that I NEVER walk around bare-chested like a lot of buff guys do, and have NEVER gone swimming for a LONG time.
What’s even worse is the issue of clothing. I remember in at least one or two of your articles you talked about the importance of dressing well, specifically avoiding loose or baggy clothing and wearing more clothing which highlights your frame. Now a problem here is that the tighter the shirts I wear, the more highlighted my gynecomastia becomes. Therefore, while I could technically wear a size L shirt or t-shirt, I steadfastly prefer size XL since it doesn’t really highlight my body in an unflattering light. It becomes a bit of an issue when I go out with my friends to a pub or a bar, because my friends are studs in their own right and look rather healthy. I don’t bother to approach girls in part because I don’t feel manly or attractive, and just spend my time having a few drinks and enjoying myself. Not that it necessarily bothers me, but I need to change this aspect of myself and I am doing what I can.
I’ll keep going to the gym because I like the way I’m going about it and I know I’m getting some good results even if I’m not losing weight yet. But I still have to live with this problem for now and what hurts is that I can’t hide it. So this is my question, loaded as it might be: How can I possibly improve my dress sense and start to look and feel better without highlighting my body issues? Also, have you had this problem before? What did you do to solve it? Your wisdom is greatly appreciated.
Thanks in advance,
Trying To Overcome Body Shame
DEAR TRYING TO OVERCOME BODY SHAME: I’m sorry you’re having issues, TOBS; there’s nothing quite like making progress but having areas that you just can’t not obsess over. And hey, I feel ya. I’ve got my own body issues and weird-ass insecurities that drive me up the wall, even when I understand them intellectually. But part of developing your confidence and self-esteem is to learn to accept, even love your body with it’s various idiosyncrasies.
Now this doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t do things that can bring positive changes.
The good news is that you’re doing things mostly right. You’re hitting the gym and working out and hopefully you’re pairing that with healthy eating habits. That’s good, regardless of anything else. Even if you don’t turn into a sculpted Adonis, you’re going to be improving your physical and emotional health… and hopefully enjoying yourself in the process.
So let’s talk a little about gynecomastia. There are a lot of potential causes beyond just having a hormone imbalance. Some medications can cause it, as can excessive alcohol consumption or illegal drug use. Other times there’re medical conditions that can trigger it, ranging from hyperthyroidism to breast cancer. This is one of the reasons why you’re better to talk to a real doctor, not Doctor Google or a loudmouth with an advice column; they’re the ones who can tell you whether there’s a medical cause or you just have a lot of fatty tissue in your chest. They’re also the ones who can tell you just what can be done about it; surgery is the most common option, but there are medicinal treatments as well. It all depends on your circumstances.
However, one thing that WON’T help is strength training. Gynecomastia isn’t just that you have flabby pecs, it’s the fatty tissue over them. You can have a chest like Arnold Schwarzenegger and still be dealing with having excess fat over them. I’m sure someone has told you that abs aren’t built in the gym, they’re built in the kitchen. Sit ups will strengthen the muscles, but if they’re surrounded by fat, you still can’t see them. Chest flies and incline dumbbell presses will build and sculpt your muscle, but it won’t reduce the fat that’s causing you to have breasts. Your eating habits will help some – especially if the issue is how much alcohol you drink. But ultimately, gynecomastia is a medical issue and you can only do so much without medical assistance.
That having been said, this doesn’t mean that you’re screwed or that you need to hide behind baggy, shapeless clothes. One option would be to look into compression tops like Spanx or Esteem Apparel (which are designed specifically for gynecomastia). These look like undershirts or athletic-wear and can be worn under your every day clothes with nobody being any the wiser. These can give you more confidence and help you feel like you’re wear your real size instead of looking like you’re swimming in your own clothing“allowed” to.
But honestly? The best thing you can do is learn to love your body, boobs and all. Just because you’re big doesn’t mean that you can’t dress stylishly or well. In fact, dressing sharp will probably do wonders for your self-esteem, regardless of your size or shape. When you dress well, you’re sending a message that you care about your appearance, which also carries the implication that you’re worth caring about. That message goes both ways, by the way; the way we dress affects how we feel and perform. Taking the time and effort to dress up sharp tells you that you’re worth putting that effort in. It may feel like a costume at first, but trust me: it will become natural quickly, especially if you do it consistently.
Nor does being large – or having gynecomastia – mean that women won’t be attracted to you. Women aren’t a hive mind; they love a wide variety of body types and shapes. Your personality, your humor and your fashion sense will do as much for creating an awesome first impression as whether you’ve got abs like PHWOAR. And to be honest? The longer you take to “put yourself out there”, the more often you’ll find excuses not to.
So put in the effort, TOBS. Get some awesome clothes, maybe a control top or two and stop treating your body like something shameful. It may not be the Hollywood ideal, but nobody is. Stop trying to hide and show yourself that you’re worth it.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)