My initial situation is kinda similar to the one described here, but includes a troublesome third person.

I brought an acquaintance "Bob", who's also a good friend of my BFF, into my group of friends, with whom I share a hobby. Everybody including me befriended him really quick as he's a very nice person.

Anyways, a couple of months ago "John", started making jokes about how we would suit each other perfectly as a couple, that Bob might have a crush on me and sometimes he would even get really crude and pretend we already have a secret relationship going on including bed room speculations, which led to a lot of fun for everybody except me (usually Bob is not even present, if he is, he's just remaining silent). On multiple occasions I've made very clear that there's nothing going on, that I like being single (I really am). At one point I even asked, why he (and apparently others, who sometimes join the jokes) think anything could be going on between Bob an me. The answer was just "because you two are single", followed by childish laughter. I also tried joking and redirecting the topic to something else, or how I'd rather get together with John instead (he has a girlfriend of almost 10 years though, who I know very well). He liked the back joking, but quickly got back to "Bob + me". At least, when I don't answer at all, he stops after one or two extra remarks, which is what I've been doing recently.

Normally, I would just continue to ignore the jokes, since Bob has made no hints that he likes me more than the other girls or would be interested in something serious. I actually think he knows pretty well, that I'm not interested in him. The thing is, the occasional jokes have been going on almost a year by now with slightly higher frequency, and it's getting really annoying. At some point even my BFF (who initially introduced Bob to me, but is not in the group) asked me, if I could maybe imagine dating Bob. Apparently he is looking for a girlfriend. Another girl (who I suspect likes Bob) also asked me, if I'm interested in him because she thinks "we would suit each other so well". With the girls it was quick and easy to clarify my non-interest, they haven't asking anything else since then. Only John is still continuing.

All the jokes and hints are slowly making me paranoid, because I start looking for subtle hints (I think Bob is not the type to ask directly), I get more concious of how I talk to him (so I don't accidentally send mixed signals or something) etc. It's making me distance myself from Bob for no apparent reason (none he's at fault for at least) and I feel bad about that, since I consider him my friend, too.

So, my question is: How do I tell John to stop with the jokes, while maintaining my friendship to him and Bob? I also don't want to start some drama within the group, cause overall I like hanging out with them. Or should I just continue to ignore everything because "guys are just guys"? (If it's of any relevance the group consists of mainly 30-something men.)

Up till now I have been avoiding to say "There will never be something going on because I'm not attracted to Bob" since it's like I'm rejecting him without him even asking. There has to be a better way?


Edit

I didn't expect things to get this big in such a short time, I even felt a little silly at the beginning. But I thank you guys a million for understanding and giving me some insights as to possible reasons why "John" is behaving like this and furthermore for many possible solutions on how to deal with this. I would mark multiple answers as a solution if I could.

I've decided to directly confront him in private next time, to tell him the jokes are not funny and that I want him to stop and then see where this will go as suggested first by @Chris Sunami. "John" is actually not that bad of a person as he might look here right now. So I hope he'll understand and stop. Usually we get along really fine, except when he starts aforementioned jokes. If he doesn't, I probably will just ignore him and not meet with the group for awhile (or meet with the other when John's not coming along).

And yes, even though most people in the group are 30-something, they're rather childish. I didn't expect that thing would continue for so long. I wouldn't have minded one or two comments. Also, I want to stress that this is a private social group (not work) and most of the time I consider them to be my friends (yes, even "John"...). The group is also not rude in general, most of them don't say anything when this happens (can't tell if they are entertained or just don't want to be involved). The worse situation was when three of them "were having fun" (I just left on that day).

About his crude remarks, explicit sexual remarks have been - thankfully - rare so far, even if in two cases they definitely crossed lines. I thought it's a common thing among guys when there's a high number of them, which is why I didn't do/say much at the beginning. When there's more girls than guys, we never "joke" like that (even if it's all girls). (I actually get less harrassed than other guys, but more than other girls - which doesn't make it much better, but well...)

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    Have you already tried the backfire joke? like getting back to him with another joke? – OldPadawan Oct 23 '17 at 16:10
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    Could John have an interest in you (though he doesn't seem to be a single) and (ab)use Bob to probe you? – Anne Daunted Oct 23 '17 at 16:11
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    Are you from the US? If not, keep in mind that the definition of sexual harassment is grossly exaggerated by a number of answers from people living there and may thus not apply to your situation depending on your group dynamic, especially as you talk about your group being one of "friends, with whom I share a hobby". – user7334 Oct 24 '17 at 4:51
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    @northernGateway I'm not from the US, but from Germany. But there's also a lot of debate going on about the definition of "sexual harrassment" here. – Sara DF Oct 24 '17 at 8:18
up vote 69 down vote accepted

Take John aside and tell him, "I know these jokes are really funny to you, but it's started to make things really awkward between Bob and me. Can you please cut it out so that it doesn't ruin my friendship with him?"

If it still doesn't stop, have the same conversation again, but change it like so: "I know these jokes are really funny to you, but it's started to make things really awkward between you and me. Can you please cut it out so that it doesn't ruin my friendship with you." If he still doesn't stop, he's not a good friend, and you might want to think about limiting your time with him. As noted in the comments below, there's a place where unwanted jokes cross the line, and anyone who persists in making crude sexual comments after being directly and personally asked to stop is 100% in the wrong.

Here's why the advice: There's probably three possible reasons the joke is continuing:

  1. It bothers you, and that makes it seem funny to your friends
  2. John really hopes you and Bob will get together or
  3. John has a (maybe subconscious) crush on you and is displacing it to Bob (or on Bob, and is displacing it to you!).

If it's the first case, you just have to ask John directly to put friendship over humor (I've had to have been asked to drop a joke before --I did, and the friendship survived). If it's the second, your first conversation should let him know that the jokes are counterproductive. If it's the third, the second conversation should take care of it. If not, time to look for new friends.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Oct 24 '17 at 14:55
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    "you'd be the first to know" seems very unnecessary. why do they owe that information to "John"? – dn3s Oct 25 '17 at 15:03

All the jokes and hints are slowly making me paranoid, because I start looking for subtle hints... I get more conscious of how I talk to him... It's making me distance myself from Bob for no apparent reason (none he's at fault for at least) and I feel bad about that, since I consider him my friend, too.

The friend who is teasing you either doesn't realize he's making you uncomfortble, or is acting fairly immaturely. You have some options.

Talk to him.

Tell him straight out.

An article by Martha Langelan recommends taking these steps (modified somewhat):

  • Name the behavior. Whatever he's just done, say it, and be specific.
  • Hold the person accountable for his actions. Don't make excuses for him; don't pretend it didn't really happen.
  • Make honest, direct statements. Speak the truth (no appeasing verbal fluff and padding).
  • Be serious, straightforward, and blunt.
  • Demand that he stop. He is damaging your friendship with Bob.
  • Stick to your own agenda. Don't respond to the his excuses or diversionary tactics.
  • His behavior is the issue. Say what you have to say, and repeat it if he persists.
  • Reinforce your statements with strong, self-respecting language: eye contact, head up, shoulders back, a strong, serious stance. Don't smile. Timid, submissive body language will undermine your message.

You say "John", started making jokes and would even get really crude, including bed room speculations.

It could be done publicly or privately. It might go something like this:

You: What right do you have to speculate about my sex life? That's private, and it isn't funny to me. You're trying to embarrass me when I have done absolutely nothing to deserve it from anyone, and what has Bob done to deserve this?
John: Oh relax! I'm just teasing you!
You: No, you're being inappropriate and it's immature and embarassing. I do not appreciate it. I'm asking you respectfully to stop right now.

Etc.

Your options from there depend on how John reacts. You like hanging out with them, so I assume the rest is not an option:

Dump them for a better crowd of friends, and take Bob with you

Hard but doable. Depends on how much courage and desire you have to make this end.

A lot of the answers and comments here seem to take the position that this is somehow not sexual harassment. I think it's worthwhile to take a moment to address this directly.

Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_harassment

If you don't like Wikipedia, how about Google's definition:

sex·u·al ha·rass·ment noun harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.

Or if you're old-fashioned how about Merriam Webster's:

Definition of sexual harassment

:uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student)

I understand that most people only have experience with the term in work and academic settings, because that's where most of the related laws apply, but sexual harassment is still unacceptable behavior outside of these settings.

Now, this situation may feel like light-hearted jokes between friends, and it may have started out that way, but the ongoing nature of it, combined with how uncomfortable it makes the person targeted... Well the line was certainly crossed and has been repeatedly crossed, which makes this bullying. Remember that definition from earlier?

Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.

And if the OP doesn't address it, it will likely continue...


So, how can we address sexual harassment outside of school or the work place?

Well first, you call it what it is:

That's sexual harassment, and I'm really sick of it.

Take away their excuse:

I know you think this is a joke, but it wasn't funny the first time you said it.

And remind them that your sex life and relationships aren't theirs to direct or comment on:

Who I decide to date or sleep with is none of your concern. This has gone way to far for way too long.

All too often guys like John do this sort of thing because no one wants to call it what it is. Think about it, if it was really just joking between friends, don't you think he would have moved on to a new topic or found some new material in a year's time?

You need to confront John and tell him in no uncertain terms to cut it out. Assuming you value your friendship with John at all, I'd recommend doing this in private first. If that doesn't work, call him out on it in front of everyone when it happens as anon's answer suggests. If anything will make him stop, it would probably be that. His behavior is not okay, let alone for a mid-30s adult, who should definitely know better.

There is one other way his behavior might stop. You mentioned that Bob is looking for a girlfriend and that one of the people who talked to you about Bob is a girl who you suspect might like Bob. If they started dating (or if Bob started dating someone else in general,) that might put an end to John's inappropriate behavior, though, obviously, this is not something that you can personally control. And, also obviously, John should not be sexually harassing you or Bob regardless of the relationship status of either of you.

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    Well, I have to admit that for rather egoistical reasons, I actually did tell the girl that if she likes Bob, she should try get closer to him, because I was hoping they get together and the problem will dissolve. Unfortunately, they didn't get together, even though I don't whether she didn't try or just did not succeed (didn't want to do anything other the initial encouragement, which didn't feel right anyway). – Sara DF Oct 24 '17 at 8:45

I'll admit that I'm one of those guys who spent a lot of time making crude jokes and what not. I did some of my graduate work in a clinical setting and it was 90% female RNs. I'm also the type of guy who dislikes relationships in favor of a "casual lifestyle".

As said before, one of the best things you can do is send him a text or email describing how you feel. I say this because I have received one such email from a female co-worker and we got along fine since.

I would NOT suggest yelling at him, getting angry at him, calling him out, etc., the way other people are recommending here. This will only demonstrate immaturity on your part and will only add fuel to the fire (trust me, I'm "that guy" - some of us feed on situations like this - patting ourselves on the back thinking "Haha did you see Stacy last week?"). Your best bet is to demonstrate maturity and not give John "material to work with".

The other thing I should mention is that calling out/getting angry at someone like John will not work. Such behaviour would work on someone who's a bit insecure and unsure of their personal identity - however guys that go around making crude jokes like that are oftentimes (not always) rather sure of their identity, don't care for the opinions of others, and in general very suave. Again, not saying this is John.

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    Not sure if "sure of their identity" is the best way to word that? Perhaps "sure of themselves" or more realistically "full of themselves" – apaul Oct 24 '17 at 1:42
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    @Oleg that was deliberate ;) – apaul Oct 24 '17 at 1:53
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    i'm not sure why you dedicate two whole paragraphs to not yelling/calling out/getting angry, when the tone of the question is very civil and doesn't at all imply that this is a risk. It suggests that the most important thing to you in this situation is making sure she doesn't "go off on him", rather than that you're interested in solving the problem. – dn3s Oct 25 '17 at 15:07
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    this is true. i suppose then the thing that i disagree with is the value you place on this person's feelings or perception of the OP. it doesn't demonstrate immaturity to show an appropriate level of anger to someone, despite the resurgence of "just be chill" culture ("tone policing"). It simply demonstrates a lack of maturity on the part of the person who "feed[s] on situations like this" or reacts with "Haha did you see Stacy last week?". The thing you seem to be missing is that if this is his reaction to very warranted anger, then he is an asshole, and his respect isn't a worthwhile goal. – dn3s Oct 26 '17 at 16:51
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    the number of people who are like that is kind of immaterial. It's a sad fact of life that there are a large number of guys who have had disrespectful behavior continuously reinforced, and it's hardly OP's job to single-handedly fix this cultural problem of ours. On another note I'm not sure why you equate marriage with maturity; monogamy, and especially that particular form, is certainly not for everyone and it takes maturity to recognize that in oneself. The important thing is not what kind of relationships you have, but that you treat your partner(s) with respect. – dn3s Oct 29 '17 at 16:33

I'm sorry that that has happened to you. The person harassing you is getting you to respond to tangents that are exhausting you and unsolvable because they aren't true. They're counting on you as a socialized being to focus on problem-solving these tangents. Meanwhile, they are being cruel to you. Others around you may wonder what role you want them to play in helping you, if you are still engaging in conversation or smiling.

To stop the attacks, turn and squarely face the attacker. Say "You are attacking me. Stop." Make sure your face is expressionless; everything should convey your boundary. If the attacker sputters or says anything else, don't be drawn in. Repeat the boundary statement.

At seeing this "Sit/Stay" now your friends will understand you don't want this and will likely defend you. But even if they're still confused, what everyone will know is that you, are not. Be well.

As a guy, it totally sounds like John is insecure regarding the possibility of you getting together with Bob and is desperately trying to prevent any kind of kindling flame between the two of you by constantly bringing it up and inserting himself into the situation. He's acting like a jealous boyfriend.

I know you've said he has a girlfriend and is not having relationship issues and that she's sometimes there when he brings it up but that doesn't really matter. Someone can be in a relationship; happy or otherwise, and still pine for another and get jealous when they see them interested in other people. Now John might not even really be conscious of what he's doing, he might have conceited himself into thinking he's not interested in you and is genuinely trying to help you hook up with John but the way he's going about it says otherwise; in the back of his mind he know's what he's doing.

And it doesn't matter if there's nothing actually there between you and Bob, John is projecting his fears and has convinced himself that there is, or else, he is unsure but scared of the possibility and under the guise of 'joking' or 'teasing' is looking for some evidence, in a kind of masochistic way, by how you respond to confirm his fears. The fact that you've told him to stop and he hasn't is not surprising, remember; he's desperate to find some evidence and afraid to find it at the same time.

I think you need to start distancing yourself from John, he sounds like a toxic friend. You may not like Bob but what about when it's someone you do like and John starts trying to 'help you' with your love life again? You could also try and be blunt with him and see how it goes by challenging him next time he starts 'teasing' you again (preferably in front of his girlfriend) and ask 'why do you obsess so much over who I might be interested in?'. This will make him defensive and slightly angry.

I think the best thing to do though is to stop speaking to him all together. If he doesn't respond to this and keeps making comments even though you are not responding to him it would be very strange and would amount to bullying/sexual harassment. If you can predict when it's going to happen you should start recording him discretely on multiple occasions with your phone so you can show the evidence to HR. PS: Don't punish or alienate Bob if you want to keep him as a friend that's exactly what John wants to happen. Maybe just stay friends with Bob and start distancing yourself from the rest.

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    I am not an expert on this by any means, but secretly recording John may be illegal and could get the OP into trouble. – Anne Daunted Oct 23 '17 at 20:41
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Oct 24 '17 at 15:38
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    I think that Anne has a point but I'd also like to point you to our site policy of respecting the OP's decision. interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1497/36 In this case, the OP doesn't want to end the friendship. They specifically want to keep it but want help figuring out how to address this concern with them. If you think this is a bad choice, that's fine, but that's not really your call to make. We'd prefer if you would answer the question as asked and then, if you have additional thoughts, add them, briefly, at the end. – Catija Oct 25 '17 at 16:48
  • @Catija I did answer the question, you just didn't like my answer and are being pedantic. That's fine. And I don't see the relevancy of you pointing out your sites policy of 'respecting the OP's decision.'. I simply gave a fair opinion and did nothing to 'disrespect her decision' as you imply. If you dislike my answer that's fine, but it's cowardly of you to try pull the 'site policy' card when people give their opinions along with answers here all the time. Also there is nothing in my post advising to do anything illegal, that is simply yours and others ignorance of state laws for consent. – Crash Bandicoot Oct 28 '17 at 0:03

Holding on and acting normal will increase your grudge for John and you will be unable to enjoy your friendship with Bob as well. Straight forward words to John's face may bring out bitter results for your friendship with John. Because It may happen that he is doing it in a funny manner, being unaware of the fact that these talks are hurting you inside.

Practical Solution: I want you to shut down your normal talks and eye contact with John for sometime, because

  • After that, he will ask himself to you for the reason of your silence. Then you can explain him everything in soft words that how do you feel about the jokes.

  • And If he doesn't care, then its clear he is not worthy enough to be your friend at the first place.

  • That sounds passive-aggressive. Why do you think it's the best course of action ? – breversa Nov 6 at 13:33

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