Will, I need some advice. I have a coworker who is very nice and polite. He is always the first one in the office to offer his seat in crowded rooms or holds open doors for others; a real gentleman. The other day he tried to remove a piece of thread from the side of my pants and while doing so he kind of touched (kind of pinched) my rear end. I could tell how embarrassed he was and he apologized and walked off looking flustered. Well, now there’s an elephant in the room whenever we work together, and we barely speak. We weren’t best friends or anything, but we were cordial and now it’s harder to work together.
I really just want us back to normal. What should I do? I want to just go up and say something like, “Hey, Stranger. Long time, no talk.” And just launch into a conversation. Is this the right approach?
No Big Deal
At the risk of sounding insensitive, I wouldn’t be being honest if I didn’t say that this made me laugh. I mean, it’s probably not funny for you because you are literally the butt of the joke. And definitely not for your co-worker, for reasons I’ll explain later. But for a fly on the wall, which is basically who I get to be in these things, this is laugh-out-loud funny. Luckily, this is a simple one.
WHY YOU’RE NOT WORRIED: If, in your letter, you sounded the least bit creeped-out by the situation, my advice would be different. But I can tell you know he didn’t mean to do it and didn’t mean anything by it. Sometimes, when a man works with a woman for a long time and kind of considers her one of the guys, he can forget himself. This isn’t an excuse; it’s just fact. Had you been a male friend of his, he probably would have just pulled off the string and never gave it a second thought. But in this case, without realizing what he was doing, he reached down to pull the thread off of a “friend’s” pants and the next thing he knew, he looked like a perve. Anyway, because you’re pretty sure that this gentleman would never intentionally do anything shady, and because you know it was just an innocent mistake, you aren’t the least bit offended. Kudos to you for not assuming the worst and screaming that all men are dogs. Those of us who aren’t really appreciate it.
WHY HE IS WORRIED: As I said, this was just a mistake, but that would mean absolutely nothing if YOU decided it wasn’t. Work place sexual harassment laws are pretty cut-and-dry when it comes to a pinched butt, and many policies are zero tolerance. While that’s a good thing, it also can mean that this mistake could have cost him, not only his reputation as a gentleman, it could have cost him his job. And there could be other problems too.
–If you’re both single, there’s the possibility that he actually does have feelings for you, and has been trying to build up the courage to talk to you, and now thinks that he just blew any shot he was ever going to have with you because he looked like some weirdo who couldn’t keep his hands to himself.
–And if he’s married, explaining an “accident” like this to a wife is a thing nightmares are made of (as a matter of fact, just the thought of trying to explain it to my own wife has taken the smile right off of my face).
–And if you’re married, there’s the possibility that your husband might not think it was an accident. Your husband might even decide to skip his anger management class and the mixed-martial-arts match that he was supposed to compete in tonight and go looking for your buddy instead. Now your former co-worker is fired from his job, kicked out of his house, and crawling around in a dark parking lot with one eye swollen shut, trying to pick up his teeth with broken fingers. Add in some guy wearing nothing but bunny slippers and carrying a chainsaw and you’ve got the kind of nightmares that made me stop eating late night Taco Bell.
LET HIM OFF THE HOOK: This guy knows he screwed up; he’s just waiting on you to tell him how badly. Beating around the bush or pretending it didn’t happen won’t help as these things grow teeth in the dark. Shine a light directly on it. Tell him, “Look, I know what happened was an accident and I know that you’re a perfect gentleman and a great guy. I really want us to just get past it and go back to being friends.” And then move on. It may take him a little while to realize you really mean it, but he’ll come around, and this will be one mistake he won’t make again.
I think everything will be just fine. Feel free to write back and tell me how things turned out. That is unless your husband really does compete in mixed-martial-arts. If that’s the case, please don’t tell him I laughed.
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William Jones is originally from the tiny town of Alton, Illinois, and now lives in the tinier town of Reisterstown, Maryland. He is a happy husband and a proud father of three, and writes as a hobby, in those few moments he finds between husbanding and daddy-ing. Follow him on Twitter @goodenoughguy1.