Is my co-worker a creep?

He said he liked my dimples — but it’s clear we’re just friends, right?

Erm… sounds like he might want a bit more than that, says our elder. Trust your instincts, and make it clear you’ll only ever be friends.

Dear EWC

I am in my early 20s. I work at a law firm as a legal assistant. The IT guy (age 40) who updates and maintains our computers emailed me to have lunch with him sometime. I agreed because we get along fairly well. Also, I have almost no friends due to my workload (and lack of free time), so it only seems natural to make friends at work. The firm I work at is fairly small (one lawyer, an accountant and me). I am in a relationship, and so is the IT guy. During our lunch, he told me that he has been with his partner for ten years. This made me instantly more comfortable because if a guy already has a girlfriend, it’s not likely he’ll hit on another girl (namely me). He even suggested that he and his girlfriend could hang out with me sometime. But there are some signs that caused me a tiny bit of concern: (a) he paid for lunch, (b) he opened my door for me, (c) he sent me this text after our lunch: “I loved chatting with you, and your dimples”, and, (d) and he said he would clear his schedule for lunch if I wanted to hang out again. (He mentioned being free next week) I am 99 percent sure that he was just being complimentary and friendly. And he is really easy to talk to. I guess I just want to make sure that my need for friendship isn’t tampering with my perceptions. After all, there comes a point in life where there’s enough maturity for guys and girls to be just friends, right? But I thought I should ask for a second opinion (just in case there is something below the surface). Also, I told my partner about lunch, so there is no secrecy in that regard. Thoughts?

Folk replies

Although nothing your co-worker has done so far rings any alarm bells with me, my sense of the situation is that he is attracted to you (those dimples!) and feeling you out to see if you might possibly be receptive to something more than just a friendship. I think, yes, you and he could be just friends but that you need to make it clear to him from the get-go that this is all you can ever be.
The fact that he paid for your first lunch doesn’t concern me. He was the one the invited you to lunch, after all, so it was not at all inappropriate for him to pick up the check. Just make sure that the next time you and he meet for lunch, you pick up the tab (saying point-blank, “You got it last time.”) You need to make clear to him that you and he are not on a lunch “date” but simply two colleagues having lunch together. I regularly had lunch with a male colleague for years; instead of splitting the check, we just alternated paying it. Maybe this system could work for you and your friend as well.
Opening the door for you was just a courtesy which, in itself, likewise means nothing. Ditto his follow-up text saying he’d enjoyed your lunch and asking to do it again. But the mention of your dimples in the text is a teensy bit troubling — because it ever so slightly crosses the line into complimenting you on a body part. Maybe he just likes dimples (who doesn’t?) but maybe he’s signaling to you that he finds you attractive. Offering to “clear his schedule” is a little bit troubling as well. It goes just a hair too far. It would have been more appropriate for him to say something like, “I hope we can do it again sometime,” or, “Let me know when you’re free for lunch again.”
In short, although you are not interested in this guy romantically, he may be so in you. My sense is that if you gave this guy a sign that you returned his interest, he’d jump on it. This, however, does not necessarily mean that if you shut that door firmly that he wouldn’t be willing to accept being just your friend.
Trust your instincts. You wrote to us because something about this guy’s behavior made you want to double-check your own perceptions. Yes, he has a partner; but having a partner doesn’t always keep people from pursuing other opportunities. Since he’s easy to talk to, you enjoy his company, and you need friends, I suggest that you continue to pursue a friendship with him but to subtly let him know that you and your partner are good and that there is no opportunity for anything other than that. The fact that he finds you attractive need not be a bar to friendship; it is just something that is there that needs to be acknowledged.

Letter #: 435974
Category: Friendship

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