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What do you do if someone is making you feel uncomfortable?


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#1 robot_hamster

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 03:44 AM

There is someone at school who has been making me feel uncomfortable and I am not sure what to do about it. The first time I saw this person, we happened to be getting onto an elevator together. They were trying to make small talk with me, but I was in a hurry so I excused myself from them the second the doors opened. After that, I kept running into them here and there. They would open the door for me, smile and wave, and try to make small talk. At first I thought they were a grad student like myself, but when I looked through pictures on our online directory I found out they were on staff as research faculty (not a professor). This sort of creeps me out even more. I am married and I feel like this person is trying to flirt with me. Normally I am flattered when someone tries to flirt with me and then I politely tell them that I am married. But for some reason, this particular situation has started to make me feel really uncomfortable. Perhaps it is because I have been feeling so intimidated by everything that is grad school, I don't know. What would you do if you were in this situation? Ignore them? Avoid them? Politely tell them to take a hike?
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#2 eklavya

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 05:33 AM

I do not see anything wrong with this. Opening/holding door, saying 'hi', exchanging smiles are courteous gestures, and not flirtatious. In fact, from what you've written here, I do not see how they are trying to flirt with you. If you are from a different culture than those people, then this makes sense to some degree. And if this really is the case, please realize that they are not trying to pull a flirty trick on you or anything - it is completely normal for one human being to act human in front of another human being.

And you said that they are staff? Then perhaps they know that you are new there, and therefore might have been showing extra friendliness to make you feel comfortable in the area, in the school. From your post, it seems you are a lady/girl. Not trying to pull any sexist stuff here, but guys generally are nice to ladies because that's how most of us are raised. We are taught by our moms, grandmas and the society to respect females, to treat them nice, and to talk clean with them. Maybe this person is doing just that. He's being a nice guy to a lady. Nothing flattery, nothing flirtatious here, imo.

I read somewhere that once you turn the envy/hatred you have for someone into friendliness/praise, then you will come to realize how wrong you were before. While this does not hold true all the time, it certainly offers you a chance to come in pact with your feelings. Just give it a shot. Perhaps things are not how you think they are.

Edited by bhikhaari, 10 December 2010 - 05:34 AM.

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#3 A. sesquipedale

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 08:49 AM

The ambiguity in these types of situations is killer. Try flashing your ring right in front of his/her face on the elevator by drawing attention to it by scratching your nose or something. Or bring up your husband/wife in conversation. Then again, the above poster may be correct. But you sound like you are pretty certain or creeped out, so I would go with your gut feeling as there are obviously nuances we can't appreciate without being there moment by moment.

Good luck!
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#4 robot_hamster

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 04:38 PM

You are correct. This person is a he and I am a she, I was just trying to avoid sexist assumptions. Perhaps this person is trying to be friendly. I guess his gestures are those that I would expect from someone I know. I have no problem being friends with someone of the opposite sex. As an undergrad, there were plenty of people I would joke around with. It was completely platonic. I have similar situations at work. When a male grad student was talking to me earlier in the semester during an event we were attending, I had absolutely no problem talking with him, telling him about myself, etc. But this person that I am describing in my original post is different. He hasn't said anything inappropriate, but just reading his body language makes me feel uncomfortable. I guess it is difficult to explain. He acts in a way that you would expect someone you have known for years to act, not someone who you don't really know. He is just creepy and his mannerisms remind me of someone who was making unwanted advances toward me years ago at my work. Does that make sense?

So should I just ignore them? I don't want to seem to friendly as they may take that as a sign that I am welcoming their attempts to talk to me.
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#5 eklavya

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 05:18 PM

So should I just ignore them? I don't want to seem to friendly as they may take that as a sign that I am welcoming their attempts to talk to me.

If you are feeling really uncomfortable about that person and his behaviors, you can try to ignore him. But I'll tell you, dodging him for the entire period of your graduate studies might be a hard thing to do. So, what you can do is talk to your peers (and/or gradsec) about the person and find out what type of person he is. If he is actually a nice person (that is, has been a nice person his all life), then I'm sorry, but he's just trying to be friendly. And you need to be friendly with him too.. in a platonic way. Like the person above said, talk about your married life, husband and flash the ring. If he's a good person and no intention of getting personal with you all along, this will settle down easily.

However, if he doesn't have a good history with people, esp ladies, you can dig more about him, and perhaps talk to your peers and you advisor about getting help. A little nudge from the dept and/or the cops might help him control his actions. But again, he hasn't done anything wrong, so you don't want to be ignorant and hasty in the actions you take against him. Just give it some time, think through and be patient... it'll be okay.
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#6 crayolacat

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 07:06 PM

It does sound like you are turning something not very much into something very much. That could just be in how you told the story, but that's what it sounds like. Your new comment that it reminds you of a previous bad person may be the reason why. Your gut could be right... or it could be being hijacked by the similarity. If your school has free counciling, or if you can afford it I would suggest a check-in with a councilor to discuss it further and figure out which it is so that you can react appropriately. You have your whole life ahead of you, it would be great if a small intervention now would give you a gut that you can trust.
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Waiting to find out what is behind door 1, 2 and 3.

#7 bedalia

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 09:13 PM

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!!! You are not making something out of nothing. Something about this man is making you feel uncomfortable, and that is not "nothing". As women, we are too often taught to dismiss our instincts and not to "rock the boat" or let anyone be upset with us. Well, guess what? You don't owe this man anything; there is no need to put his feelings ahead of your own! Even if he's just looking for friendship, and you tell him you aren't interested, so what if his feelings are hurt or he thinks you are rude? Not the end of the world. But it seems that you sense something else is going on; you owe it to yourself to take this seriously and take steps to protect your personal safety.

I agree with the suggestions that you speak to someone about this, someone you trust to give you sound advice and not just dismiss your impression as a misreading or an overreaction. Together you can develop a strategy for dealing with this man appropriately. You can plan exactly how you will react the next time you see him, "script" and everything. You can determine whether it is necessary to report his behaviour to someone, or what would make it necessary to report. If, God forbid, things should escalate, you will want an ally who knows what's been going on and a plan for the next steps to be taken. Even if he leaves you alone, it's comforting to have support in your corner.


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#8 shepardn7

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 10:10 PM

I'm sure this is not the only man in the world who has held a door for you. And you said you're usually flattered when men flirt with you, so it's not as if you are freaking out about flirting in general. I agree with the person above; women are often told that they're overreacting, and only you can really judge what's happening. Don't dismiss your gut reaction to the behavior just because men often feel the need to be "gentlemanly." It sounds as if you are reading a "vibe" via body language (including the eyes) and tone of voice, beyond the surface actions. I have been "flirted" with by men innocuously and not so innocuously, and often it's not so much what is said and done, but how. It's easy to say "Oh, he's just holding doors and smiling at you! He's just being nice," but not being there in person, you really can't know the whole of it--there might be more to it. I've had men be "friendly" to me in a way that was creepy and made me distinctly uncomfortable, even though if I transcribed it here, I might get the same reaction as you (that I'm taking it too seriously or whatever). If it were me, I guess I'd just keep an eye on it and make sure it didn't escalate into harassment. I'm not one to talk to someone about it. But you could always do that if that makes you feel better about the situation. It's probably nothing but good to stay vigilant.
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#9 robot_hamster

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 01:35 AM

Thank you to those of you that told me to trust my instincts. I don't think I am making something out of nothing and, yes, plenty of men have opened doors for me. There is nothing wrong with someone being a gentlemen. This particular person does make me uncomfortable, his body language and tone of voice are just "off". I think it would be wise of me to not simply shrug it off. I think I will take your advice and talk to someone about it. I certainly wouldn't want to place myself in a situation where things could escalate. Thanks for the advice!
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#10 Riotbeard

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 03:51 AM

Thank you to those of you that told me to trust my instincts. I don't think I am making something out of nothing and, yes, plenty of men have opened doors for me. There is nothing wrong with someone being a gentlemen. This particular person does make me uncomfortable, his body language and tone of voice are just "off". I think it would be wise of me to not simply shrug it off. I think I will take your advice and talk to someone about it. I certainly wouldn't want to place myself in a situation where things could escalate. Thanks for the advice!


Be weary, but since this person a faculty member in your department, you should do some covert digging before you confront him or get somebody else to confront him. Figure out if he this way with everybody or just women or just you. You don't want to have some sort of moment then he whole department calls bs on you, and you look like a jerk. He could be Southern... we southern men were raised in mysterious ways, luckily I have mostly shaken it off and slam doors in everybody's faces :).
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#11 GK Chesterton

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 05:20 PM

Uh, just to be clear, have you actually told this person you are married and not interested or indicated that you are not interested in the advances that you perceive him to be making on you? That seems like a good first step before you drag a name through the mud.

Saying things like "his body language and tone of voice are just 'off'" and "I certainly wouldn't want to place myself in a situation where things could escalate" [which is pretty ambiguous in itself - what on earth do you mean by escalate? That he would ask you on a date or that he would sexually assault you?] makes it sound ambiguously like you think this person is sexually harassing you, and if you tell someone in your department this, you will likely either blacklist him or yourself for the rest of his/your time there, and potentially forever. What you're making here is an extremely serious allegation; I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but a flirtatious 'feel' to totally innocuous remarks based on a past experience with a co-worker is a pretty slim basis for potentially getting someone thrown out of a graduate program.

Edited by GK Chesterton, 11 December 2010 - 05:20 PM.

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#12 shepardn7

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 05:59 PM

Uh, just to be clear, have you actually told this person you are married and not interested or indicated that you are not interested in the advances that you perceive him to be making on you? That seems like a good first step before you drag a name through the mud.

Saying things like "his body language and tone of voice are just 'off'" and "I certainly wouldn't want to place myself in a situation where things could escalate" [which is pretty ambiguous in itself - what on earth do you mean by escalate? That he would ask you on a date or that he would sexually assault you?] makes it sound ambiguously like you think this person is sexually harassing you, and if you tell someone in your department this, you will likely either blacklist him or yourself for the rest of his/your time there, and potentially forever. What you're making here is an extremely serious allegation; I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but a flirtatious 'feel' to totally innocuous remarks based on a past experience with a co-worker is a pretty slim basis for potentially getting someone thrown out of a graduate program.


I completely agree that this person shouldn't "talk to someone" to report this other person just because of a gut feeling that something is wrong. But was that advice even given? At least, when I agreed with someone above re: talking to someone, it was with this:

"I agree with the suggestions that you speak to someone about this, someone you trust to give you sound advice and not just dismiss your impression as a misreading or an overreaction. Together you can develop a strategy for dealing with this man appropriately. You can plan exactly how you will react the next time you see him, "script" and everything."

I think it's fine to talk to a close friend that you trust to be supportive and to keep your concerns secret. In my graduate program, I had a couple friends I could trust with that kind of information, and whose advice I believe I could trust as well. That's what friends are for. It seems too early to raise concerns with people in power, based on the description of the situation; doing that prematurely could have terrible consequences. But I do think it's probably okay to talk to a very close friend (not an acquaintance).

Edited by sarandipidy, 11 December 2010 - 06:01 PM.

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#13 robot_hamster

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Posted 11 December 2010 - 10:00 PM

Whoa, where did I say I was going to go to someone of authority and accuse this person of sexual harassment? People were suggesting I talk to a councilor or a friend about it, so that is what I meant when I said I think I will talk to someone about it. My intention is not to drag someone's name through the mud, heck I wouldn't even have to name names when talking to someone about it. I just want to be able to sort my thoughts/feelings out about this and to figure out the best way to handle things so that I don't find myself in an even worse situation. I don't want to shrug it off as nothing because that is how bad things happen (not saying something bad would happen, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of things). Also, as I explained before, this person is not in the graduate program but an employee of the department.

Edited by robot_hamster, 11 December 2010 - 10:03 PM.

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#14 RNadine21

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Posted 22 December 2010 - 11:50 PM

Hmm, your post does sound like this person is just being friendly/welcoming, but on the other hand you should never ignore gut feelings. I agree with the above on asking others about this person so you can get a general idea. Don't freak out yet, but definitely stay on your toes around him if his behavior continues to bother you.
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#15 Gelato

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 12:53 AM

Second all those that say Trust your Gut!
disagree with all those that say you are over-reacting!

Like you said in your follow-up, you've probably had similar-sounding (on paper) interactions with other guys but this one gives you the creeps.

Best case scenario: Let's say he is being completely harmless and friendly. which means, if he really is that nice, then he would be appalled to hear that his behavior seems threatening to someone else, and would probably appreciate an opportunity to mend / become aware of his behavior! right? In which case, you would be doing him a favor by bringing this to his attention so he doesn't come across with bad vibes to people in the future.

agree with all the people who say that, as a culture, women are socialized to ignore bad behavior. A guy would have no compunctions in getting back in someone's face, and not worry about being seen as "nice." The bad news is, women also penalize other women for unfeminine behavior. (Sorry, I am just reading "Women don't ask" by Babcock & Laschever, which I strongly recommend, it's very readable.)

So, I would search on my campus for either a women's affairs office, or else the academic or general counseling office. They should be able to respect your wishes for confidentiality, or at least keep this file anonymous. And talk to them about a situation you are having with someone in your department. And how you might respond more assertively and get the personal space you need, perhaps without offending someone's friendly overtures.

Here, randomly, are two links on Indiana University. (I have no idea where you are, but a quick look at Meet and Greet had IU floating on top with a bunch of posts, so I picked that one with the most posters.)
Office of Women's Affairs http://www.indiana.e.../resources.html
and
Counseling and Psychological Services http://www.indiana.e...aps_whatis.html
"challenges in interpersonal relationships... some of the concerns students often address through counseling."
and pick up some ways and wordings you can use in your situation.

alternatively, I googled a bunch of words like coworker uncomfortable bad vibes creepy, and there's quite a lot of stuff out there. (not all of it useful, some people out there will say it's friendly behavior and the ladies are over-reacting, or even yeah that's bad, you should ignore it or avoid those siutations... that's kind of scary in itself how tolerated the questionable behavior is.)

Put it this way, guys, if this was you, and your intentions were innocent, would you want the woman to continue to feel creeped out by your friendly behavior? You'd be willing to adjust, right? So, instead of asking robot_hamster to ignore this, what would be a good way / script for her to bring this to your attention where she can be assertive and effective but not insult you?

Good luck. Definitely do something.

ps. Meanwhile, start jotting down when, where, what. At the very least, you will convince yourself that this is consistent uncomfortable behavior that needs to be addressed.

Edited by Gelato, 24 December 2010 - 01:50 AM.

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#16 robot_hamster

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 04:12 AM

Thank you for the recent replies. I did not see this person the last two weeks of the semester (dead week and finals week) and now we are on winter break. The university shuts down so I won't be back until the week prior to the beginning of Spring semester. I am definitely going to address this when I get back, whether it is just talking to a councilor or whatever. I thank you all who have told me to trust my instincts. Even if it does turn out to be nothing, which it very well could be, it is always better to be safe than sorry. You just don't know nowadays and it never hurts to be cautious. I'm not going to point fingers at anyone or have him put on the "blacklist". I wouldn't accuse someone of something they haven't done.
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#17 Zimaleah501

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 03:59 PM

Good for you for trusting your gut - "vibes" and the indescribable feelings are how we know who we like, don't like, or fear in a subconscious way. And even more than this, good for you for recognizing the need to get some input and think of ways to take care of this now, before it potentially does get worse! Even if it never would have gotten inappropriate, it would absolutely make you feel better knowing you made sure they knew you were married or something, if that made the vibes go away. And in the end, you are trying to solve a situation where you are feeling uncomfortable. And you never know, the person might be trying to flirt in a very subtle way because they do not know you, and you saying/doing these things to let them know you are taken in a subtle way might be just what they were looking for as well. I second the idea that a previous poster gave in asking some people you know within the department - I learned some pretty scary things about a guy who was giving me weird vibes in my undergrad department by doing so.
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#18 TheDude

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Posted 03 January 2011 - 11:20 PM

"Nice day today?"

"Ya, my husband and I have been waiting for a day like this to do X, Y or Z."

Some guys don't look at the finger for rings. I always forget to do this when I am being flirty. Not because I am a low person, but I just never think to do it. If she's married any normal guy should get the message real fast.

Edited by musicforfun, 03 January 2011 - 11:21 PM.

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