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A few months ago at work a young, handsome intern started talking to me. He was flirtatious and would act thrilled to see me. He would do this when other people were around, even other supervisors. I admit that I was flattered, but I’m a divorced woman 20 years his senior and in a relationship, so I didn't take it seriously. All I did to respond to him was smile and exchange small talk. I recently found out that he isn't flirting, he is making a joke of me. I was told by a friend that he was talking about me at an event in front of other employees, including a supervisor, and they were all having a laugh at my expense. This also explains the times when I would walk into the cafeteria and this intern and some co-workers would start smirking at me and cracking up. I am a bit overweight and not all that attractive, so perhaps this makes me a good target. He’s continuing his overtures and I simply respond “Hello” with a flat smile and go on my way. My friend told me to beware because she was afraid that this young man might get me into trouble. I am concerned that he could file a complaint against me and I don't know what to do. How should I handle this situation?
—Not a Sexual Harasser
If only I could file a complaint against him. It would actually be a class action suit against all the sadistic snot-nosed little punks like him who try to bring misery to the innocent people in his path. As you describe, he was flirtatiously friendly and you responded with smiles and a few banal exchanges. In Saudi Arabia that might get you flogged, but you have nothing to worry about as far as any action being taken against you. The behavior of this young sociopath is disturbing, but even more outrageous is that he seems to have enlisted much of the office in his evil little games. Perhaps he fancies himself a would-be Neil LaBute and is working on a variation on The Shape of Things. I hope he’s on his way out soon, but in the meantime you have to live with him and the colleagues who have been part of this charade. Once you found out what he was up to, you were absolutely right to revert to cool cordiality and monosyllables. So from now on, if he comes over to flirt, look blankly at him and say, “Brad, I don’t have time to chat.” When you see him coming down the hall, you can focus your eyes on the middle distance and not even notice him. If you have to acknowledge him, nod, or if you must, exchange the minimum words necessary, and keep your face expressionless. With your spiteful colleagues, just continue to keep your dignity. Your office sounds like a den of rhesus macaque monkeys. You might want to start looking around for a place to work where the culture has advanced beyond middle school cafeteria bullying.
Dear Prudence: Chintzy Travel Companions
I have a dear friend who has been staying in a city a few hours from home so that she can receive treatment for late-stage cancer. She has planned a 9th birthday party for her son "Billy," and a bunch of his friends are scheduled to go to the city, participate in some activities, and stay in a hotel. Her husband will drive and I offered to help out and bring the kids who won't fit in her husband's car. My 8-year-old son has been friends with Billy for a long time, but lately Billy either ignores my son or lashes out verbally and physically. This child has always had a few issues, but in this time of stress these have become more pronounced. I explained to my son that Billy is having a rough time and we are committed to go, and we really need to help my friend, whom he adores. Now it turns out only three kids are going, and my friend has told me I’m not needed to drive or chaperone. I am relieved because my husband is working that weekend, we have another child, and my car is falling apart. My son wants to know why he has to go since I’m no longer going. I want to protect my friend's positive attitude and not worry her about her child. So do I tell my son he has to suck it up and go anyway? Do I tell my friend my child is just not into hers? Do I tell a white lie to my friend and say my kid’s been taken ill? I’m stumped.
This is such a gut-wrenching situation and even the most serene child would be torn apart knowing his mother was gravely ill and might not make it. Billy may have some underlying problems, but it is understandable that he would lash out at other kids whose mothers are home and healthy. That doesn’t make his behavior acceptable; it makes it something that needs to be addressed. I’m hoping you have an open line of communication with your friend’s husband. So please gently bring up with him the need for Billy to have some counseling with someone who has expertise in childhood loss. You don’t have to discuss Billy’s overall issues, you just have to say that what’s going on in his life is so overwhelming that he needs a safe place to discuss his feelings. You also need to keep your son safe. It’s great to teach him empathy and compassion, but the lesson won’t sink in if his experience of it is being abused by another kid. Given all the circumstances, I think this is one of those cases in which a little white lie makes life easier for everyone. You can tell your friend your son is coming down with something and you don’t want to run the risk of him spreading it to her son and then to her.