Dear Prudence

Help! Everyone in My Office Is Pressuring Me to Date My Older Co-Worker.

The sexual desire on my part is nil.

A woman with her head in her hands with illustrated hearts around her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.

Dear Prudence,

My older co-worker has a “puppy crush” on me. This is encouraged by our office matriarchs. The sexual desire on my part is nil. I don’t want to hurt him, but I spent most of high school and college dating one guy. I usually use the “I have a boyfriend” line to ward off unwanted advances, but we broke up over the pandemic. I don’t want to hurt my co-worker. He is generally a good guy, but the older ladies in the office are all invested in us like we’re in a Hallmark movie. It is creepy. I have turned him down twice, and they tell him “third time is the charm” and try to cheer him on and wear me down.

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In an attempt to dampen this, I told one lady that he wasn’t my type. She then interrogated me. I admitted stupidly I didn’t find him attractive, and she called me “selfish and shallow.” Now they have all piled on me about how “looks aren’t everything.” He is 29 to my 21. I need this job. I have loans. I don’t know how to deal with this short of screaming in the middle of the office “I DON’T WANT TO SLEEP WITH HIM.” I know this is stupid, but I feel like I am being hunted. Can you help me not blow this up in my face? He is generally a good guy, but every time I let him down gently, these ladies take it like a challenge.

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Oh my God, this might be the most dysfunctional workplace I’ve come across yet—and that’s saying something for this column. I am so, so sorry you have been put in this absolutely untenable and horrifying position. Please don’t blame yourself for “stupidly” admitting you weren’t attracted to your co-worker, because you are being sexually harassed by every other member of your office. This older man who’s trying to force you to accept his advances by sending in female colleagues to wear you down is not a “good guy”; he is a creep of the first order and should be fired yesterday. This is shocking, horrifying, and likely actionable.

Please consult an employment lawyer before doing anything like going to HR or reporting this to management, because an office atmosphere this toxic—there, I said it! Finally an opportunity to call something toxic and really mean it, from the back of my teeth—won’t start and end with a few bad apples. This culture of harassment and violation may very well go all to the top. You will likely have to go to HR at some point, because the company will have to know about this issue in order to be legally responsible (which you really, really need the company to be!). Document everything to the best of your ability—the date, the approximate time, and what happened, like, “Thursday, Oct. 22, Camille told me I was selfish and shallow for refusing to sleep with Bruce, spent the rest of the afternoon trying to convince me to give into his sexual harassment”; this will be useful to bring to your lawyer as you figure out next steps. You are being harassed on a truly terrifying, monumental scale, and you deserve so much more than just “not blow[ing] this up.” In the meantime, tell all of your colleagues who are on the same reporting level as you to never mention this to you again, that the subject is closed, and you do not welcome any further comments or questions on that front. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: Help! Everyone in the Office Is Pressuring Me to Date My Co-Worker. (Dec. 7, 2020)

Dear Prudence,

While I was in labor, my mother-in-law used my cellphone to take pictures of me in various stages of undress and used my account to post them on Facebook. I had no idea as I was half out of it and only had vague awareness of her holding my phone. I didn’t check Facebook for a couple of days so the pictures were up there for all to see, accompanied by very detailed captions of how I was progressing. I can’t even begin to explain how violated I felt. I have taken down all pictures but I also feel embarrassed that my friends, co-workers, etc., all thought it was me posting photos of myself in such an intimate situation. Should I post some kind of an explanation? I don’t even know what to say.

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First of all, I hope your husband knows he needs to discuss this with his mother. He needs to say something along the lines of, “We are appalled by your violation of Jenna’s privacy and our trust. We are shaken that you would take intimate photos and then post them under Jenna’s name for the world to see. Mom, you need to do some serious thinking about what you did, because we have a child now, and if we can’t trust you, that will be sad for everyone.” Now that you’re feeling more yourself, go ahead and post some cute pictures of your baby. You can add a brief message saying that if anyone saw the accidentally posted labor pictures, these were the result of unauthorized Facebook access by an overzealous relative and you apologize. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Husband Complains That I Make Him Sit to Pee.” (July 22, 2014)

Dear Prudence,

Almost two months ago I got pregnant. My husband and I were absolutely thrilled to be having a baby. Shortly thereafter, I learned that he had been having an affair with another woman for the last five years. He told me he’d planned on leaving her when he learned I was pregnant but the level of his betrayal was too much, and we are divorcing now. I was excited to have a child with him, but now I feel that I should get an abortion. I’m not ready to raise a child in the midst of all this chaos, and I doubt he is either. The question is: Should I ask him before getting an abortion? I know he’d say no, because through the divorce process he’s repeatedly stressed his desire to keep custody of the future baby. Nonetheless, it’s not his body, and I think I should have the ultimate say. What’s morally right here?

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Asking what is morally right is the wrong question. Neither of you is morally right; both of you have a preference. Your soon-to-be-ex-husband would like to have a child (and, it sounds, a custody battle) with you, and you would rather not. Neither preference is inherently wrong, but the ultimate choice is yours. If you have decided, after careful deliberation, that you are not prepared to become a parent under your present circumstances, then that’s your decision. You may speak to your ex about your options before informing him of your final call, but you do not owe him a veto over whether or not you decide to carry this pregnancy to term. Nor does he have the right to one. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Sister-in-Law Says We Stole the Names of Her Future Children for Our Dogs.” (Sept. 22, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

My husband’s e-addiction is taking a toll on our otherwise happy marriage. He has a demanding job and even when off the clock, must respond to a near constant stream of emails and texts. The problem has multiplied over the past few months as he’s started playing a few different online games. He can’t ever focus on just me and our kids. At meal times, in bed, while coloring with our toddler, or waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, he must have one of his devices in hand to work or play his games. It makes me both sad for him and mad at him that he can’t simply be happy being with our family. Prudie, is there a way to get my husband to break up with his e-mistresses?

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This is part of the problem with the workday never ending. Not only does it intrude into one’s family life, there is something utterly seductive about being alerted that a tiny bit of potentially rewarding information is coming your way. And the addition of games just makes it even worse. Your husband is hooked and it’s going to be hard to get him to focus on your family. He can reply that his job demands he be connected and he can point out that everyone around him is staring at their phones. (Why real people are not as interesting as disembodied messages is a separate question.) You must talk to him, so first ask him to turn off his phone and leave it in the other room. Without sounding put-upon or rancorous, tell him that a toll is being taken on your family and the quality of his relationship with his children because he’s constantly living virtually. Say your family need some basic rules on electronics. One should be that none are allowed at the dining table, because that’s just good manners your children need to learn. Another is making some places phone-free. Bed, for example. No matter how demanding your husband’s job, he’s entitled to some time off the clock so he can get to know his wife and children. If he gets too agitated being away from his phone to even have this conversation, say there’s another place you’d like him to go with you where phones aren’t allowed: a marriage counselor. —E.Y.

From: “Help! My Wife Hid Her Right-Wing Religious Beliefs Until After We Married.” (Nov. 25, 2013)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

I have a great relationship with my girlfriend, whom I’ve been dating for more than a year. Our communication is open and clear about most topics, except this one small thing. Sometimes I wish she would wear makeup on the special nights we go out, or even once in a while for the fun of it.

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