So my married female boss has been flirting with me like crazy lately (it’s not in my head, either, my co-workers have started making outright jokes about it) and I’m not sure how to get her to stop without ruining my rapport with her. It’s not at all even inappropriate, but it makes me feel a little singled out when she’s always bringing my name up in meetings or openly flirting with me at cocktail business functions (my work has a lot of these with our clients) or showering me with excessive compliments about my work and even sometimes appearance. She’s even unbuttoned her blouse by one button in a meeting with me. Like I said, it’s not sexual harassment or anything, but it’s becoming a little too much for me, and she does not act this way toward any of my other co-workers. How do I back out of this slowly without ruining my career? Oh also, I’m gay.
— Anonymous, from Tumblr
Sarah: For someone who prides herself on being able to see every possible situation of interpersonal/sexual discomfort, I’m embarrassed that I’ve never thought of this one. And I think almost everyone on earth has experienced the special hell that is excessive but benign flirtatious attention from someone. Your situation, however, is coated with the industrial-strength stickiness of it being with your boss. Ordinarily, I would tell someone to be like, “Marilyn, I like dick so put your tits away,” but she might think she’s being sneakier than she is or she might not mean anything by it beyond overzealous employee love in a hot office. That, and these spectacular gaydar failures are always pretty embarrassing to an adult woman. Whether or not her intention is totally benign or not, the effect is one that makes you uncomfortable, and you’re allowed to address that. I would deal with it as your company culture dictates. If it’s a conservative place with an HR department, get her ass written up because she should definitely know better. If she literally doesn’t know that you’re gay, I would just casually emphasize all the romantic interactions you’re having with men around you and/or your partner. If that doesn’t calm her down, tell her that you feel like you’re more spotlit than you want to be, and it’s making it hard to lead or be a part of projects when your co-workers feel like you’re the “teacher’s pet” so to speak. Then give her a wink so she thinks it’s a little pact you guys have together. She sounds like the kind of person who’d love that shit.
Debby: That’s a tough one. One possibility is to chat with someone in human resources about it. If your boss’s behavior is that noticeable to others, perhaps your HR person could meet with her privately and suggest that co-workers have complained about or remarked on her behavior. If you don’t feel comfortable addressing the flirtation, you could perhaps at least address some of the “excessive compliments” by saying, in your own words, that you appreciate her compliments but feel that some of your co-workers may be envious or jealous of your close rapport with her and that it’s harder to just be “part of the team” as a result. No matter what, make sure you’re not feeding into her behavior or giving it attention. Her behavior is inappropriate and that’s her wrongdoing, not yours. But you also don’t want to be flirting back, especially if you want her behavior to stop.