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Dear How to Do It,
I am a 53-year-old married man. Lately, I have been having a strange problem with women—usually in their 20s—who all seem to want the same thing from me.
Basically, these women are hitting on me or making it clear that they want to hook up. I have had deli counter women invite me out and waitresses slip me their number. I’ve even had clients flash me upskirts in meetings. While I always had a fairly easy time dating when I was younger and single, this is mostly a recent occurrence—like in the past several years.
My wife just sort of laughs it off, but as a professional man, I have heard of rumors about how I must be screwing all these women—which I am not. At a recent conference, I introduced two professional women to each other and had another man come up and say something along the lines of, “Of course I just need to look for the cluster of young hot women to find you.” Which made both women, understandably, uncomfortable. I basically left a fairly senior position recently because a new executive heard these rumors and made it clear that was why I was passed over for a promotion.
So, besides the fact I don’t understand why these people are interested in me, I am not sure how to handle it. I used to just take it as an embarrassing compliment, but now I don’t feel like I can have one-on-one meetings with women, which is hurting my business, but also makes me feel kinda Mike Pence-y. I have tried being less friendly with service staff and that helps there, but my natural approach is to make eye contact, be polite, and acknowledge their humanity, rather than treat them like animatrons. In a work setting, I am successful because of my ability to create a trusting line of communication; being cold and overly impersonal wouldn’t work. What can I do to make it clear I am not interested nor available?
—Not a Creep
Stoya: So it sounds like he has two problems actually: One is you want to treat people like people, and sometimes they take that as a sign of sexual interest. But the other problem is this post #MeToo-era optic issue, which is a facet of the whole thing that I haven’t thought about.
Rich: Because in some ways, there are more complications of when it comes to being a man in public.
Stoya: Yeah, he got passed over for a promotion.
Rich: Based on rumors of unsavory behavior.
Stoya: Because of what other people put on him speaking with younger professional women.
Rich: And it sounds also like his attractiveness, too. It sounds like that immediately engages some kind of suspicion. Like, “oh you’re hot. You must be fucking them.”
Stoya: It sucks, because you want older people with power and experience to be able to interact with people younger and less experienced in their profession because that’s how oral history gets passed on. That’s how theory gets passed on.
Rich: And not only that, but you would want ideally that older person to be someone as ethical as this person presents himself to be, where he’s not taking advantage of this. Interesting that this would occur … so he’s 53. It happened in the last seven years, 46. I think it was Bette Davis who said the most attractive age for a man is 45.
Stoya: I am so happy to be 35, because when you’re 25 and a 45-year-old man is interested in you, there is almost always something wrong. I will go ahead and say “wrong.” But when you’re 35, you’re within the acceptable appropriate age range, and then you have access to all of these hot men in their 40s who understand their bodies, understand what they like, are more open to discussing sex. They’re less reactive to what their friends think.
Rich: My taste ages with me. I mean, definitely in my 20s, I had zero interest in men in their 40s. Now that I’m in my 40s, I have sex with a lot of men in their 40s, and realize, oh, this is what I always wanted in a way, this hot gym teacher dad-ish type who’s horny for me, and this is just some kind of unrealized dream that I basically didn’t even let myself have.
Stoya: Yeah. I’m just like, “oh, are you professionally established? Sexy. Not only do you know what you want to do with your life, but you’ve executed it.”
Rich: Right. Yes. I think for our writer’s purposes, we’re now part of the problem.
Stoya: I know.
Rich: It’s tough. If the situation was a little bit different and it didn’t have any professional ramifications, I would say, well, use what you’ve got to get what you want. If part of your business is interacting with people and people are finding you hot, your business is going to do pretty well. You should take a page from women who are able to convert that attractiveness into actual dollars.
Stoya: Yeah, which is something that I see no shame in.
Rich: No, not at all. I mean, might as well.
Stoya: Yeah, you didn’t choose to be hot. It is an asset that God or genetics gave you, and you are doing the best you can with what you’ve been given.
Rich: You’re kind of spreading joy just by showing up. I mean, who’s going to be mad at a hot person? I’ll always talk to a hot guy.
Stoya: But the professional part is awful. On the one hand, I want the system to be wary of men who are questionable, but this guy doesn’t sound questionable at all.
Stoya: And we try to take the letter writers at face value.
Rich: In terms of strategies for dealing with this, and I don’t really know if this is useful, but it’s something I try: If I’m going to be in a situation for an extended period of time and it’s not just somebody coming up to me at a bar who’s going to walk away, I just play dumb. Playing dumb is really not a trait that people like in men, so it maybe makes me even less attractive in that situation.
Stoya: See, in women, it’s like catnip.
Rich: I mean, it’s not the best method, because a huge part of my personality is to be direct and be like, “Absolutely not.” But that’s my id, and then my super ego is saying, “No, just be nice and get through it.”
Stoya: This professional context makes it really tricky because I’ve found when I get the sense that someone is trying to flirt with me but they won’t come out and say it, and I’m not interested, and I say, “You know, my partner and I have just become monogamous,” or whatever true thing I can use. “Actually, I only date men over six foot because my best friend makes fun of me and not being made fun of by him is more important to me than your penis.”
Rich: I mean, that’s a great point, because being in an open relationship, saying “my boyfriend” doesn’t hold much water, but a stranger doesn’t know that, so I can mention my boyfriend and then maybe you’ll shut up and leave me alone.
Stoya: Yeah. But while a soft mention of the boyfriend will turn off a couple of people…
Rich: It might turn on others.
Stoya: You usually have to be much more direct.
Rich: And this guy probably has a ring on anyway, right?
Stoya: Yeah. The thing is though, when I say things that are direct, like, “No, I’m not interested in having sex with you” when they haven’t directly asked, sometimes—actually frequently—they’re like, “Well, who even says I was interested?”
Rich: Exactly. They turn it back around on you and try to make you the bad guy.
Stoya: In this guy’s position, that could be disastrous. That could be the thing, like one person making him the bad guy. “Oh my God. It was super weird. He held up his hand with his ring finger and was like, ‘I love my monogamous wife so much,’ like I was trying to have sex with him.” Then that could shore up all of these rumors that he’s having issues with, and most professions are actually pretty small, especially when you get up to the senior position level. So, it could tank his entire career.
Maybe we could make business cards for people, business card–sized, that very carefully say, “I can’t tell if you’re flirting with me or not. Just in case, I want to respectfully inform you that I am not interested,” and then a blank space for like, “because I love my monogamous wife” or whatever it is.
Rich: I mean, I guess a way of looking at this is the way that we look at other problems that are usually on the other side. A lot of times you hear about people who just aren’t attractive to a large group of people or as large a group of people as they would like, and it’s like, you know what—it’s the hand that you’ve been dealt. It’s just what you have to deal with and you can only do your best. And it sounds to me like this guy is kind of doing his best. I don’t know that he could do much more beyond altering his physical appearance, which again, I would beg him not to.
Stoya: And outside of professional contexts, like all right, the waitress slipped you her number, you don’t have to say anything. It is 100 percent okay to ghost.
Rich: Yes, absolutely. You can ignore whatever.