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Before I begin

  • I am male
  • I am in a long term relationship with a woman that I live with
  • I am in an environment where I frequently meet new people

The story

Throughout recent years, I have been in an environment where I frequently meet new people. Some percent of these people are women, and invariably some percentage of these women will initially approach our new friendship with some level of more than friendly interest.

I recently met a woman "Susan," and initially our conversations were directly related to the work we were mutually involved with. Susan asked for my phone number, and I didn't think much of it because we would need to communicate outside of normal working hours in order to finish a task we were both assigned.

After talking with her for a bit, it became clear that she was attempting some casual flirting and reaching out more than was strictly necessary for the requirements of our work. For example, she would text me late at night when I was home with my girlfriend to tell me about how she is drunk, mention dreams that she had about me, ask me questions about how certain outfits make certain parts of her body look, etc.

I am concerned that some of these messages could be misconstrued by my girlfriend as infidelity on my part even though she is aware of the situation, and I would like to make the friendship boundaries with Susan clear.

The Question

How do I inform Susan that I am in a relationship and that I do not want the conversations to continue in a direction that might jeopardize my current relationship? I don't want to offend her, or dissuade the casual friendship that we already have, but I also want to make the boundaries of my friendship with Susan clear. At the same time, I don't want to come across as "reading too much" into the situation and perceiving flirting where she may only see friendly conversation.

Notes

  • I am aware of the fact that I am likely hyper-vigilant of anything that could be construed as flirting because I am in a relationship.
  • I use texting, a profile pic would certainly make this easier. Maybe I could start inviting new people to my social media accounts, where my relationship status is clearly displayed.
  • In previous situations like this, usually I just directly bring up that I am in a relationship when I feel that things have gone too far, but I have always felt that was a bit awkward and could be handled better.
168

Undoubtedly you and Susan talk about things that are not related to work. Assume that the conversation goes on about a popular band that is touring. You could simply say:

Oh, I would love to take my girlfriend to that concert she loves that band and she would think it very special if I take her.

All you need to do is mention your GF in a kind way and not participate in the flirting. Most Susans will then back off as they are not interested in someone who is already in a committed relationship.

For others you may need to be a bit stronger, but still the same thing will work. A brazen Susan might say something like:

That shirt really makes your eyes look dreamy...

Your response could be:

Thank you, my girlfriend Joanne picked it out for me. She really likes me in this color.

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    That's what I would go for as well. Casually mentioning your partner is a way to say you're in a relationship without implying that the person has an interest in you. That gives them an elegant exit route too. – Paula Hasstenteufel Apr 3 '18 at 13:40
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    I also find the "casually" doesn't have to be so "casual" either. Things like, out-of-the-blue bringing up the fact you and your girlfriend have weekend plans and that you're excited, or "can't wait to get home and see my girlfriend tonight; so tired of this work" - have the benefit of making it clear you're not just in a relationship, but damn happy to be in it. You don't need to wait for her to act, before you make it clear how non-single you are. – Bilkokuya Apr 3 '18 at 16:22
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    @Bilkokuya your comment has a lot of merit, and I feel like it is distinct enough from Pete's response to justify a separate answer! – Link0352 Apr 3 '18 at 17:32
  • Dropping hints about a relationship usually works best at the beginning. As the thing has got out of control, I would be more blunt. – Rui F Ribeiro Apr 4 '18 at 3:15
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    @RuiFRibeiro maybe, maybe not. One would think that "Susan" had gotten the hint from the OP not taking her hint, but if she persists after the OP casually drops the GF bomb, I can only describe that as....stalkerish. She probably wouldn't have desisted even if he did that at the beginning. – Jared Smith Apr 4 '18 at 11:58
19

The trick here is to discourage her without harming the work relationship.

I would suggest you continue being polite to Susan, but make sure to passively communicate a lack of interest:

  • If she invites you out, politely refuse.
  • If she messages you about something not work related take a good, long while to reply, or even chide her that the message is not work related.
  • If the opportunity comes up, casually mention having plans with your girlfriend.

This way you can reject any and all advances as gently as possible. The downside is that it may take a few conversations for you to get an opportunity to gracefully mention that you're in a relationship.

If someone starts up making you uncomfortable by being a little too forward you should come out and say that you're taken:

Susan, your interest is flattering, but I'm in a relationship. I'd like to keep our relationship professional. Thank you for understanding.

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    doesn't need to be blunt like the bottom unless they're uncontrollably obsessive... I would try to mention plans with your partner asap really. Just get it out the way sooner rather than having it come to the latter. Great solution though. – L_Church Apr 3 '18 at 13:34
  • This is a great solution. I could try to steer the conversation to areas where I can casually mention my relationship. Thanks! – Link0352 Apr 3 '18 at 13:40
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    If Susan invites you out, refuse it politely stating that you are going out with Jane for a dinner. And go with her there. – Crowley Apr 3 '18 at 19:56
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    I'm in a relationship. I'd like to keep our relationship professional Those are two very separate statement. OP didn't say he wanted to just keep it professional. Your answer focuses on rejecting all non-work-related interactions, which is not something explicitly stated on the question. Between strictly professional and flirting there's a huge spectrum. I don't see why they can't be any other level of friends or why your answer feels the need of denying that possibility. If you think that's not possible or advisable, I think the answer could benefit from a few lines about why. – xDaizu Apr 4 '18 at 12:18
  • @xDaizu OP says that the other person is behaving somewhat inappropriately. It really isn't going to be a good idea to pursue a "friendship" with someone who's asking him to judge the appearance of "parts of her body" out of hours. – Will Crawford Apr 6 '18 at 3:02
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After talking with her for a bit, it became clear that she was attempting some casual flirting and reaching out more than was strictly necessary for the requirements of our work

Right at this point in your conversation with her you insert "you flirt just like my girlfriend" or bring up in anyway that you feel comfortable with that you are in a relationship.

You just say that you have a girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, or wife as soon as it becomes apparent someone is interested in you. If you wait the more awkward that person is going to feel when you finally bring it up or they discover it from someone else.

Indeed if you ever find yourself in a situation with a person, that you could consider an "opportunity" if you were single, you should bring up casually in some way that your not available. If your married your wedding ring should do the trick.

At the same time, I don't want to come across as "reading too much" into the situation and perceiving flirting where she may only see friendly conversation.

This is over thinking. You don't need to explain anything. You just need to bring up that you are in a relationship, not in the context of lets talk Susan, but just simply in passing. When its time to go home, throw in my girlfriend is waiting at home, have to pick up my girlfriend etc. It is just a fact of your life that you have a girlfriend, simply wear it on your sleeve a little.

If after that Susan is still flirting with you with those uncomfortable overtones, you don't care if your response makes her feel awkward... but that's context for another question.

  • This is less a question of "how do I make the information known" and more a question of "how do I convey this information without making a friend feel like the made and advance and were summarily rejected." @Paula Hasstenteufel pointed out that casually mentioning the relationship in context gives the other person an "elegant exit" as well. Susan did not know I was in a relationship initially, so I would like to avoid making her feel awkward by being very straight forward at the first instance flirting might be occurring – Link0352 Apr 3 '18 at 17:20
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    @Link0352 The longer you wait to mention the relationship with someone else, the more awkward someone is going to feel that is interested. Thus my answer is structured as it is. Let me edit and clarify that. – Jon Apr 3 '18 at 17:54
  • I really like this edit. Thank you for your response, I will consider your points next time I find myself in this situation! – Link0352 Apr 3 '18 at 18:26
  • @Link0352 I might of added, just act like her flirting was just being friendly. Don't acknowledge it as flirting just behave liked it never happened. The metaphorical tree in the forest falling, that nobody heard because nobody was in the forest, so as far as we know, the tree didn't fall. – Jon Apr 3 '18 at 18:40
  • "Right at this point in your conversation with her you insert "you flirt just like my girlfriend"" - I'd say this is a bad idea. It makes it clear that you realise that they are flirting which causes them embarassment for flirting with a married person and makes it look awkward for you because you didn't tell them sooner. If you act oblivious to the flirting then to onlookers it looks like you just didn't realise because you only have eyes for your wife and they can make a more comfortable retreat thinking that you are oblivious to what they were doing. ('you' being 'the OP'.) – Pharap Apr 6 '18 at 3:53
2

From the sounds of it, you are not reading in to it too much or enough, you may have moved past the point of casually mentioning this without Susan thinking you were being unfaithful and or may still want to be unfaithful in the future.

I'm sorry I dealt with this awkwardly but I think your texts are more than what would be between friends and I have a girlfriend who I am happy with. I'm really sorry if I have led you on in any way.

Side note: If you do actually want to stay friends then I would try to arrange to meet her before you send that text so you can face the awkwardness head on instead of letting it grow.

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Approach her with an outward attitude of openness. Most people understand miscommunication, social pressures, and the like.

I'd suggest something along the lines of:

I don't mind giving you feedback on your outfits, but my girlfriend might have a problem with some pictures. Please keep them G-rated, as I wouldn't want her to become jealous.

If she is actually flirting, I assume at least some of the photos are mildly provocative, and you could show her one or two as an example of something that might upset your girlfriend.

This allows you to defuse the situation without rejecting her outright---this response doesn't imply that you are refusing an amorous advance, nor are you judging her behavior personally (only worried about its potential effect on your girlfriend).

I believe those two concerns are the primary source of tension, and I believe you are right to sidestep those issues. Politeness and civility really do wonders in the long run.


EDIT: In the future, you can avoid this by mentioning your girlfriend in the initial exchange. E.g., say, "Here is my number, but please do not call after XX:XX, as my girlfriend usually goes to bed around that time."

  • or "please do not call after XX:XX, we usually go to bed around that time."" and let her ask about who is "we" – ypercubeᵀᴹ Apr 6 '18 at 8:32

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