33

My partner recently reunited with a friend "Bob" from high school, who has also recently been divorced from his wife of 25 years. He has been visiting us quite often lately and we do enjoy having him around. He is still not over his divorce but at the same time, he seems to want to start dating.

On one of those visits and during a conversation "Bob" touched my thigh. I didn't pay much attention at first, though to be honest, I didn't expect it and I felt a bit violated. My partner has other male friends whom I hang out with and they haven't made me feel that way. Well, the same touching ended up happening again that same night. I felt uncomfortable and didn't know if I should have said anything and how. I spent the rest of the night thinking what he touched my thighs for.

The following day I discussed this with my partner and I asked for his advice. He told me that if this happens again I should just tell Bob I don't like it. Easier said than done because I feel that if I do this I will make it a bigger deal than it was (?) and that it will make things awkward for all of us.

I am used to men who are less forward with women (I'm currently not living in the US, however) and I think him being so comfortable with me was a bit too much.

  • Was what he did normal?
  • Was it sexual?
  • I know it all depends on how it made me feel but even if hypothetically hadn't bothered me, was it appropriate?
  • Am I being too conservative or sensitive?
  • How do I approach this if it happens again?

We're in a southern European country.

Update (17 Sept 2017)

Bob found a girl.

  • 8
    You say you're not currently living in the US, but not where you are. That doesn't affect your right to not have people touch in ways/places you're uncomfortable with, but you also ask if it is "normal" - the cultural context is certainly important to answer that question. – Chris H Aug 24 '17 at 10:53
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    When you say thigh, it could be the outside or more towards the inside. I would take the touch to the outside of your thigh to be more of a friendly one unless it was a caressing touch. Otherwise, it might be sexual and you might need to address this, even if it means Bob and your husband will feel awkward later on. – John Hamilton Aug 24 '17 at 11:13
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    Though I wouldn't label him yet, please keep in mind that predators rely on keeping you off-balance for as long as possible. – anongoodnurse Aug 24 '17 at 14:56
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    @anongoodnurse: I suppose I should read that "anon good nurse" but some might see "a non-good nurse" :-) I used to get e-mail at free shell.org but people kept asking the meaning of frees hell. – WGroleau Aug 24 '17 at 20:34
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    What else was he saying/doing when he did this? (I know some older people who place their hand on my thigh when they are making a joke or trying to be comforting.) Was there alcohol being cosumed? And can you be more specific than "an unspecified southern European country". The culture of Italy is very different to the culture of Spain. – Pharap Aug 25 '17 at 19:20

12 Answers 12

43

Easier said than done because I feel that if I do this I will make it a bigger deal than it was

It's your body, which makes it as big a deal as it is to you. If it concerns you enough to raise the issue, raise it.

and that it will make things awkward for all of us

It's already awkward for you from the moment he touched you.

I think him being so comfortable with me was a bit too much. Was what he did normal? Was it sexual? I know it all depends on how it made me feel but even if hypothetically hadn't bothered me, was it appropriate?

There is no normal. Your body, your rules. Same thing regarding what he meant, it's your body. Apparently it bothered you, which means that it's inappropriate. Moreover, it happened not just once but twice.

You don't want to make the things awkward based on you not knowing what he meant by it and that he may even not make it that big a deal.

He did it twice and did it on purpose, which means that he knew what he was doing and probably watched your reaction. If you don't react, it will certainly continue or escalate.

Your husband's friend assumed it was appropriate for him to touch your thighs; just tell him that it isn't - don't even wait until it happens again. As your husband suggested, you should bring up the next time that man comes to your place:

Bob, since you are here, I'd like you to know that I didn't like the way you touched me the last two evenings and don't want you to do it again.

Be assertive, straight to the point. If he continue his behaviour, he is no good to be around. We haven't much information, but maybe neither do you. Maybe his divorce was related to abuse, maybe he suddenly feels lonely and can't resist your sight. Maybe he is just flirting or playing around.

Either way, you don't care; that's none of your concerns.

The fact is that he did something to your body that you didn't like and that therefore he has to stop doing it. Not bringing it up will only help him. It will not help your husband, and it will definitely not help you.


In the light of your comment to Bradley Wilson's answer, I would suggest you and your partner have a serious chat with Bob, because either he doesn't speak your language or he doesn't care at all. Let him know that your husband and his friend knows about it and is on your side. That is, assuming that the both of you still want him around after him showing this kind of disgusting behaviour.


Something that I forgot to point out because I thought it would be obvious, something I'm not so sure after giving it more thoughts :

Him touching you discreetly means that he intends as few people to be aware of it as possible: only you and him. That is because he doesn't want your husband or anybody else to witness it. Your knowledge of it is unavoidable, but he is certainly counting on you not daring to confront him - which is by the way the reason you asked the question.

I feel quite stupid for not addressing that point, since that is a very common pattern regarding sexual harassment/abuse. In this situation, Bob is only seeing you as an object but is aware that there is a risk for him to be in trouble. That's why he began with something that can be overlooked - he is testing the fence.

Not confronting him will only confirm him that he can do it without you addressing the issue, whether it is because you like it or are too afraid, shy or ashamed to raise your concern. In addition to that, he can still pretend you are making things up if you confront him. If he gets away with it, it may give you the impression that you are powerless and that confronting him is useless. That's something this kind of abusers not only use to their benefit, but count on since the beginning.

I don't know what to think about your spouse's reaction. He seems to believe you but it doesn't look like he understood the problem. Maybe it's because you were yourself unsure of what was happening but still. I hope you will edit your question if you confront Bob regarding how it went.

Given the uncertainty of your situation, this is a cause of worry and I hope that it will be resolved soon and in a safe way. In addition, reading about both your state of mind when you reported the situation and what happened when you confronted Bob, women in the same case landing on this page could have first hand testimony that reporting these arseholes does work. There are way too many women in your situation who don't speak about it because they think that nobody will believe them or even care at all, or fear that they would be shamed for it instead of the abuser.

  • 4
    You are right. I worry I might make it awkward for Bob and my partner when Bob made it awkward for me. He put me in that position in the first place. – Tycho's Nose Aug 24 '17 at 10:11
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    @There is no should here, you don't have do to things you don't feel cnofortable about. The same way he shouldn't do to you things you aren't confortable about. But let me tell you that : he does remember what he did, and my bet is that what he's looking forward about the evenings he spend at your place is what he will do to you, and whether or not he should do other things. The fact that he still did it after you told you to not do it shows that he doesn't care about you being confortable. Once again, do what you want, but you don't have to value his confort over yours. – ksjohn Aug 24 '17 at 19:53
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    This answer hits it right on the nose. I'm the jealous type though, so if someone makes my girlfriend uncomfortable in any way, shape, or form, that's not ok. Make sure you're husband knows that you're uncomfortable, and would like some help handling his friend; keep in mind you're not the only one with a vested interest in your happiness. – Anoplexian Aug 24 '17 at 21:08
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    Though I completely agree with the fact it's her body and her limits and she should enforce them, I think this answer is very US-centered where every man is considered a possible predator. Things like "Bob is only seeing you as an object" and comments about how things will escalate are absolutely uncalled for. The fact that her own husband thinks it's not such a big deal is one indication that in her current place it's not so outrageous as it is made out to be here. – Sebastiaan van den Broek Aug 25 '17 at 3:17
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    @ksjohn no. Questions only get protected if we are trying to limit poor quality answers. – Catija Aug 25 '17 at 7:21
50

Regardless of whether it was sexual or not, no one should be invading your personal space if you don't want them to.

This isn't normal regardless of the situation. You have several approaches:

  • Your reaction doesn't have to be verbal, you could simply just pick his hand up and move it away from your thigh.
  • But, if you do want to take a verbal approach, just simply say:

    Excuse me, don't touch me like that. I don't feel comfortable with it.

    and when he moves, just simply say:

    Thankyou.. [look away and resume conversation]

  • Your partner could talk to him in private and explain to him that you like having him around but you don't feel comfortable with him touching you and what he did made you feel a bit violated.

  • 1
    @Tycho'sNose He's a grown man, he'll realise it's inappropriate once you've notified him as such. It shouldn't come between a grown friendship as-long as you're still comfortable with him being around, but he needs to know one way or another. – Bradley Wilson Aug 24 '17 at 9:59
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    @Tycho'sNose another non-verbal way which doesn't involve physically picking up his hand would be to move your leg and cross it over the other, and maybe shuffle away from him slightly. This means he would have to be reaching over to keep his hand there, and make it more obvious to him what he's doing. Without excusing his behaviour, it could be that's how him and his wife would sit, and he's picked up this habit over 25 years and he doesn't realise he's doing it. Of course, if he keeps his hand there afterwards, you could then use one of Bradley's other suggestions. – crazyloonybin Aug 24 '17 at 12:05
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    @Tycho'sNose If he is not taking No as an answer, then it's definitly abuse. He already knows, and certainly always knew, that it is inapropriate. – ksjohn Aug 24 '17 at 14:53
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    @Tycho'sNose its not your responsibility to manage the relationship between your partner and Bob. Do what you need to do to make yourself safe and, if they are adults, Bob and your partner will adjust. – am21 Aug 24 '17 at 17:57
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    -1 for Sorry, do you mind not touching me like that? - that wording implies that "no" is an answer. There's no request here - he needs to stop, period. Assertiveness is not bad. – Daenyth Aug 25 '17 at 11:51
10

Your husband is right and you should fairly firmly (and discretely) tell Bob no if this happens again.

Bob is probably a little emotionally unstable right now and most probably feels sexually frustrated (which is probably why he wants to start dating).

You need to tell him that you're off-limits. Once he understands that, you should (hopefully) be ok.

  • @Tycho'sNose then it's pretty straightforward. Just tell him straight that it's not going to happen. I don't think there's any need to over-complicate things. – Snow Aug 24 '17 at 10:35
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    Simply grabbing his arm and moving his hand away might be enough to get the message across. Do not ignore it. That could be interpreted as acceptance of an advance. – user1982 Aug 24 '17 at 13:56
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    Quite honestly if the friend is doing this publically then i see no reason why the OP should feel the need to be discreet about telling him no. While I do not agree that silence is consent, but there are many people who do take silence to mean consent, and infer if you consent to one person then you are consenting to all. Making your position that this touching is non consensual public is not inappropriate. – BACKPFEIFENGESICHT Aug 24 '17 at 14:48
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    It's important to realise that such a touch, inappropriate as it might be, may not necessarily signal an intent for inappropriate advances ... just some ill-conceived wanting for human touch that one's confused mind pushes for slightly beyond the line of what might be considered appropriate, during a period of loneliness and rejection. It's more akin to holding on to a hug awkwardly that tiny bit longer than is appropriate, borne out of a desire and longing for human touch, than it is akin to trying to grope one's wife before their very eyes. – Tasos Papastylianou Aug 24 '17 at 15:33
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    @Tycho'sNose There are many different types of men with very different ideas about how to interact with women. Some of these are cultural some of these are about the individual. I can't tell you what this guy was thinking when he did this. What I can tell you is that I know for a fact that some men think that if they make an advance and they are not directly dissuaded, they have a green light to continue. – user1982 Aug 24 '17 at 16:28
8

This is not acceptable.

This is an invasion of your private space. Next time he touches you where he shouldn't, take his hand off of you or politely ask him to.

Please don't touch me like that. It's making me uncomfortable.

If at first, he didn't pay heed to you, say again, but this time in a stern voice.

Then continue your conversation or excuse yourself from it, as you see fit.

And bring it up sometime that he should probably look for another partner because he is obviously needing company.

  • 1
    I don't see the point of the stern voice. Sternness doesn't increase power, it actually reduces personal power because it conveys your own belief that you've lost control of a situation and need to raise the intensity level in order to seize back the lost control. Just calmly say "Could you please not touch me? I'm not comfortable with that." It is the same as "Would you please turn off the television? It's hurting my ears." The moment this is not respected, THEN you can get more serious and address it as a transgression (which could include not allowing this person to be around). – Sojourner Aug 25 '17 at 20:03
  • @ErikE Ah, I see what you mean. I'll try and update it. – NVZ Aug 25 '17 at 20:06
3

tl;dr: "it's not me, it's you, I have a thing about people touching me in general.". This shifts the blame from "them being inappropriate" to "you being particular about it", and helps defuse the awkwardness of the situation while still sending the message that they should desist.


Explanation(s):

You are absolutely right to feel it was an invasion of your personal space (whether "big" or "small" -- this is your perception entirely and not up to us to define; if it felt big to you then it was).

However, I also feel you are right that if you "confronted" him directly about it, they may be taken aback, and it could well come off as you making it a bigger deal than it is, as you say. In other words, the message is necessary, but the delivery does indeed matter and needs to be subtle.

The reason for this is that, while one cannot guarantee this is the case, he may well think nothing of it and just be a bit more used to "touchiness" with his friends; heck, for him it may even be a gesture of appreciation and friendliness. While that's still an inappropriate thing to do -- not because it should necessarily be taken to be sexual, but because it could, and one really ought to be more careful before taking such liberties -- a confrontation of an 'overt sexual violation' may be irreversibly damaging to your relationship with that friend (and possibly your husband).

So, rather than say "please don't touch me I think it's inappropriate, you are out of line and I feel uncomfortable", instead, I would say, you could phrase this in a way that shifts the blame from him being inappropriate to you just personally being "weird" about such things in general, and that it's simply one of your weird 'boundaries' that you don't like having crossed. This defuses the situation by taking the accusation of sexual intent out of the picture, while still making a clear message that you don't appreciate being touched that way. E.g. "Bob, sorry, don't misunderstand me, but I'm a bit weird about people touching me in general. Ask Jim (the husband)" and this could turn into a joke and funny anecdotes about times where random people touched you and you "overreacted"; as opposed to what will happen if you make a direct confrontation, which will essentially come off as a mini-rape accusation.

Since you care about your relationship with this person, this way of dealing with it would be more socially palatable, but the message is still clear. He should not touch you like this. It's not your thing; if after this he proceeds to touch you again in the same manner, you know it's not accidental, and then you can and should confront him a bit more directly.

Having said all that, I also agree that such matters should not simply be left to silence either. You are right to want to address this there and then, otherwise you create precedent. But it helps to make it clear that it's a case of "you have just crossed some boundary of mine and I'm letting you know because I know you respect me, and so that you're aware of it and don't do it again", rather than "omg you did not just cross that line that everyone in general knows exists and nobody would cross and that makes you a creep".

Finally, one must also entertain the possibility that he is, in fact, a creep, at least in this context. Unfortunately, that doesn't make him an all-round Bond-villain, and it doesn't preclude him from being a nice guy and a good friend in other contexts; people are not black and white, and most people do hold conflicting personalities at the same time. But it's important to recognise this may be the case rather than wallow in confusion as to whether he is "good" or "bad" in a binary sense. So you did the right thing by telling your husband about it. How you react to it in that particular social context to enable damage control is one thing, and recognising it was important for him to know you were made to feel this is another. At the very least so that he can look out for further red flags too, and not act in a way that puts you in an even more difficult position by overlooking such things later on.

  • 2
    This is kind of a wall of text answer and the solution is kind of buried in the middle. I would suggest an edit to say first "I think the best way to handle the situation is... " In your first paragraph. Any further opining and explaniation after that. I think you have a lot of good information here, but I fear that someone skimming is going to miss what you are trying to convey. – BACKPFEIFENGESICHT Aug 24 '17 at 14:54
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    First, i think your tl;dr has got the essence of your answer backward, if i understand the message in the body. Second, it's not her, it's him. Friendly contact isn't initiated by starting at the thigh. Third, I don't think it's a sign of 'weirdness' to not want to be touched by someone you don't know well. OP shouldn't need to make excuses when his behaviour is out of order. – mcalex Aug 24 '17 at 19:39
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    @mcalex I agree. I don't think my answer contradicts any of that though. OP's question was "is this appropriate or am I overreacting. And if not, how should I defuse the situation given I don't want to make it worse". I'm just answering this question; I made no insinuation OP is at fault; she clearly isn't, and I pointed out he should know better. It's not about making excuses, it's about damage control given she values this relationship (and that of her partner's). If OP felt no damage control was necessary then a direct confrontation would be a far more straightforward and final thing to do. – Tasos Papastylianou Aug 24 '17 at 21:29
3

A number of answers here are good, and it depends on what you feel comfortable with as to which suits you best. I just wanted to make comment about a point a few people are making vis: how the outcome of this will affect Bob and your partner's relationship.

While I personally feel that how you react to Bob's touching you has little to do with anyone else and any fallout is Bob's problem to deal with, best practice is probably to let your partner know the action you intend taking beforehand, so he is not surprised when it happens, and doesn't end up apologising for your behaviour, or worse taking Bob's side if Bob's reaction is all astonished shock and hurt ("how could you possibly think such a thing").*

So just let your partner know if Bob touches you again, you are going to call him out, slap his face, cause a scene, or whatever, so his reaction is considered, not reflex when it happens.

*As an aside, how Bob reacts when you make your response to his actions may inform you of his real intent. If he's sorry for crossing boundaries, apologises and says it won't happen again, he's likely more innocent than if he follows the above all hurt script, or tries to claim you must have 'contact issues' or similar.

2

All the answers so far are very good and can give you a course of action to take.

But I would like to point out the importance to discuss this again with your partner. To me, his reaction was somewhat apathetic to a matter that really caused you to be very uncomfortable.

He needs to understand the severity of what happened. Aware of that he can change his action in the future. Change to what kind of action, you may ask? To take the lead and confront Bob, or whoever be, himself instead of telling you to.

  • 1
    You have a point there. Thanks. I actually did discuss this with him by mentioning I posted a question here because I didn't feel that the "If he does it again, tell him you don't like it" without much else was adequate, I guess. He told me earlier that the reason he didn't think it was such a big deal (cause of concern) is that he trusts me so he knows that even if "Bob" or whoever did something similar, he has nothing to worry about. – Tycho's Nose Aug 25 '17 at 12:51
  • That's great. Mutual trust is one of the very foundations of any health relationship. But I don't think the trust is the issue here. It's the attitude. When I mentioned the word "confront", I did not necessarily meant to pick up a fight with someone, but simply to stand against something that should have bothered both of you and not just you. – dvc.junior Aug 25 '17 at 13:59
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    I may be a little old fashioned, but I truly believe a couple should be and act like one. If something bothers one, it should bother the other as well. Now, I'm not saying your partner doesn't think like that, I'm just saying that maybe he does need a little help to express that better. And you can help him with that. – dvc.junior Aug 25 '17 at 14:00
1

You have to tell Bob to stop. Today.

Your keeping quiet is probably making him feel all the more excited.
How often does this so-called friend have to innocently brush his hands against you before you speak out?

Bob is most likely interpreting your silence as permission to continue. He's not thinking about his friend, he's thinking about getting laid. Alone, at home, he's fantasizing that you secretly find him attractive, that you would respond to his advances if it weren't for your boyfriend. Bob only yearns for the moment when the two of you are alone, and then finally you can confess your true feelings for one another. Yes, he is.

Forbidden lust combined with sexual fantasy make a potent and irresistible aphrodisiac.

Tell Bob to stop coming to your house. Tell Bob that you have told your boyfriend. Tell Bob that you are not sexually attracted to him. (Who cares if you hurt his feelings).

Tell him over the phone, not face to face, and do it today. Also, text Bob and then show the text(s) (including Bob's replies) to your boyfriend.

  • If Bob is the touchy-feely guy, then the touches would be more frequent, more obvious. He would be like that with everyone. Is he? Have you ever seen Bob outside your home? At any rate, your BF noticed his behavior, kept an eye open, and caught him red-handed in the act. You owe it to your BF to tell Bob to quit. I would not invite him to my home again, you might feel that is too extreme a measure but I'd be surprised if Bob shows his face again once he knows you have told your BF. – user3114 Sep 17 '17 at 12:27
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Tycho's Nose Sep 17 '17 at 12:46
1

If you feel it's important to not make Bob feel bad about this, you can call out the behavior while downplaying any hint of criticism of his motives:

You probably don't realize how much you touch me while we are talking, but it makes me uncomfortable, please stop doing that.

You could follow up with

I'm used to having a bit more personal space.

or even

As you start dating again, you will need to learn to be more sensitive to how women react to this kind of thing -- it will be tough to get second dates if women feel you're being over-familiar.

Again, it would be more open and honest to just tell Bob he's being creepy and to stop, but it sounds like the OP doesn't want to go down that path.

0

The only question you should ask yourself in that situation is if you are comfortable with the touching or not. In this case, it would seem like you are not.

There is no such things as overreacting when it comes to your body.

Your body is, and will always be your most private possession, as such only you have any say on what is and is not okay. Maybe that Bobs has many friends with whom the touching was a normal thing, but if you don't like it, it has to stop, period.

Your body belongs to you and only you.

If someone touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, then you have every right to say stop. So the next time you see Bob if this happens again, you should tell him nicely but firmly with something like :

Could you put your hand away, please? You are making me uncomfortable and I'd like if you stopped.

If he does not comply or act like this again then you should talk to your partner about this once more, and ask him to convince Bob to respect your boundaries.

If after all that Bob's behavior does not change, this could be considered as harassing, at which point you might consider asking your partner to stop inviting Bob to your home. I know it's not an easy thing to do, but if someone cannot respect your boundaries, they shouldn't be allowed in the privacy of your home.

If Bob still causes you problems after that, then you should take legal actions.

  • 7
    There is no such things as overreacting when it comes to your body. Pulling out a gun and shooting him for this touch is probably overreacting... As are a dozen other things I can think of off of the top of my head. – BACKPFEIFENGESICHT Aug 24 '17 at 14:49
0

I don't think there's anything wrong with not wanting to be touched by certain people or on specific areas or for a specific amount of time. If you are afraid that you may be overreacting (I believe you don't) just tell him in a humorous tone

"Please don't touch my thigh"

next time it happens. You could also stare at his hand each and every time he puts it on your thigh, even if he continues talking to you, I'm sure he'll notice and even ask you what's wrong, so you can answer something like

"It just makes me a little uncomfortable, would you mind not doing it?".

with a smile if you want. Of course there is nothing wrong if you say the above or anything of the sort with a serious face.

  • 8
    I don't think she should deflect by saying there is a bruise, what if he then thinks it's appropriate and touches the other thigh or somewhere else? – Bradley Wilson Aug 24 '17 at 10:00
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    Well maybe, but if she shows her irritation in her voice tone or/and her glance, he will take the message. I will edit the answer accordingly. – clueless Aug 24 '17 at 10:06
-2

Simple. Stand up for yourself. If necessary, do like they do on trains in Japan. Grab the hand that touched you inappropriately, raise it high in the air, and shout, "Pervert! Pervert!" This is done to warn others in the vicinity.

If that is too hard for you, grab his hand, throw it back at him, look him right in the eye, and say, "What is WRONG with you?! Do NOT touch me like that EVER AGAIN!"

Do not apologize. Let him know in no uncertain terms that his behavior is completely unacceptable. Don't be afraid of awkwardness. It will not be awkward for you if you learn how to assert yourself. It will only be awkward for him for being publicly shamed for being a sleazebag.

protected by NVZ Aug 26 '17 at 9:39

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