Being nice isn’t always best

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about my last job and why I left. People have their theories, I’ve heard plenty of them, but I think it’s important to share the real story because what happened to me, is something that happens all the time.

It’s important for me to note that this post is not meant to call anyone out. This post is for anyone else who has felt or is feeling the same discomfort that I did but is too afraid to speak up.

It took a long time for me to come to terms with the situation I’d found myself in because I kept telling myself I was wrong to feel what I was feeling. I told myself I was overreacting, that no one could ever actually take my uneasiness seriously.

Anybody who works in a competitive industry understands the challenges that come with getting ahead. When I found out I was being hired as the new cyber journalist for a local news station, I was overjoyed. I was proud that after months of working in a department completely unrelated to my degree, I was finally getting my foot in the door. I took on the graveyard shift (4:30AM-10AM) without giving it a second thought.

It was only my second day in this new position that would eventually take the joy out of something I was once so passionate about.

I like to consider myself a friendly person. It’s easy for me to carry a polite smile and maintain comfortable body language when meeting new people, and I’ve always thought these were good qualities to have. Until they backfired.

On that second day as I was walking to my new desk, still getting used to the buzz of the newsroom, someone called to me, “Hey, you can say hi you know!”

A little alarmed by the outright approach, I turned to find a man’s face looking up at me from a newspaper. His peppered hair, glasses, and familiar checkered shirt indicated he was harmless, a standard ‘nice guy.’ I said hello back and he proceeded to wave me over to introduce myself. We’ll call him *Stan.

After a short exchange, I established that Stan was harmless.

Because of my early call time, there were many mornings I would walk into work feeling anxious and afraid. The area I worked in was safe enough, but during those earlier hours of the morning, it was scattered with homeless drunks who would yell and threaten me when I ignored them.

Stan became a friendly face who understood my anxiety and would always check in with me as I walked by to my desk. One morning, I was especially shaken, and he offered me his number in case of emergency. He made a point to tell me it was his work phone provided by the company and only worked in the range of the office (which I realized later was not necessarily the case). Grateful for the gesture, I assured him I would probably never actually call, but felt safer knowing I had it.

It wasn’t long after that exchange that the emails started coming in. Despite never actually giving him my email address, it was easy enough to figure out as everyone in the company had the same first initial, last name set up.

Like everything else with Stan, the first email was nice and ‘comforting,’ as he was sending along something I could use for my safety when walking alone in the morning. He offered to buy me a $50 flashlight that could be used to temporarily blind potential predators, I told him it was nice to offer, but kindly refused.

After a few more tries pushing the flashlight, he finally let it go. But our morning encounters did anything but come to a slow. Soon, Stan wouldn’t accept just a friendly hello and wave as I walked to my desk. Instead, he would insist I come over and chat with him, asking me about my weekend plans and my hobbies. I always did my best to answer his questions in a kind manner, and I always made a point to mention my very serious relationship, leaving him no opportunity to get ‘confused’ by my friendliness. The truth is, there was always a voice in the back of my head telling me to cut our conversations short and just return to my desk.

One morning, I found myself feeling extra anxious before my walk to work. I was in the 24-hour Dunkin Donuts down the street when I realized I was the only girl in there. The men that surrounded me looked unusually gruff and intimidating, and I started to feel real fear about walking out of there alone. Despite a moment of hesitation, I decided to call Stan and let him know I was walking over to work, warning if I wasn’t there in 10 minutes, something had happened. He said a quick, “Understood, I’ll call your desk in 10,” and hung up. As promised, Stan called my desk and I was able to tell him I’d made it in safely.

But the phone calls didn’t stop there, and before I knew it, Stan was calling my desk nearly every morning when I arrived, as well as just before I was supposed to leave for the day. Some mornings he’d sound concerned and asked about my walk over. Others, it was clear he just wanted to chat. There were even a few times before the end of my shift where he called to see if I wanted a ride home because he was “going that direction anyways,” but I declined every offer.

I continued to tell myself that Stan was just a nice old guy looking for someone to banter with. It wasn’t until he started making comments about my body and my routine at the gym that a red flag really started to raise.

See, upon employment, everyone at the company receives a discounted rate to the nearby gym, so that’s where a lot of us went. And while I’d never actually seen him there, Stan found what he thought was his opportunity and started to use it as common ground between us. His usual pleasantries turned into unwarranted remarks about the shape of my body and whether or not I wear a bikini around the boat I live on. He even suggested that we take a yoga class together, which as always with his gestures, I politely declined.

My discomfort continued to grow, and every morning I began dreading walking by his desk. I had a million questions haunting me: “How can I cut him off after entertaining so many conversations?” “Am I just being sensitive?” “If I just start ignoring him, does that make me a bitch?”

I started to second-guess every conversation I’d had with him… “Was I too nice?” “Did I give him the wrong idea?” “Did I not mention my boyfriend enough?”

But then he really started to cross the line. In addition to the phone calls to my desk, Stan started reaching out to my personal cell phone. One morning, he went as far as to text me asking my whereabouts a good 20 minutes before I needed to be in for work. A little unnerved, I responded telling him I didn’t need to be in until 4:30 and to please not contact me before then. He only did it once more after that.

Another morning, he made a point to tell me he’d driven by the marina in Charlestown to see if I needed a ride to work, but “didn’t see me.” A lot of people at work knew I lived on a boat, so him knowing where I lived wasn’t really the weird part. What shocked me was that he’d gone out of his way to actually drive by. Reaching my tipping point, I snapped at him, saying, “Of course you didn’t see me, it’s not like I just stand around outside in the morning. I walk to my Uber and go to work, I will never need a ride from you.”

Things got awkward between us after that. I began walking on eggshells, avoiding eye contact at all costs and walking hurriedly to my desk so I wouldn’t have to entertain his small talk.

I successfully ignored Stan for about two weeks before he stopped me alone in the hallway. As I stared at the floor, he told me he’d gone on vacation the week before and while at an antique show he “saw beautiful diamonds and a gorgeous bathtub” that reminded him of me. I sent a literal “SOS” text to a friend in the other room, and she came out immediately to pull me away from the conversation. As I walked away he said he would text me the pictures he’d taken from the show, and I told him not to bother. Sure enough, I received them about 20 minutes later but didn’t respond.

That following week, I was informed twice that Stan had paid for my breakfast before I arrived at the cafe. I refused to acknowledge his gestures, hoping my message would finally get across. And to my surprise, it did, at least for a little while.

About a month before my official resignation, a friend from my old department reached out asking about my interactions with Stan. At this point I had finally started to express my discomfort with Stan to co-workers (old and new), only to find out I wasn’t the only one experiencing these weird encounters. The interesting part? All of the women who had similar experiences to mine, fit my same physical description: young brunettes with brown eyes, and tanned skin. That, and he spoke to all of us about our workouts at the gym.

The girl who contacted me informed me that Stan had in fact been reported for harassment to HR. According to her, they simply said they would speak to him, asking if he knew of anyone he might be making uncomfortable and to please stop talking to them.

My breaking point occurred about a week later. Stan once again found me alone in the hallway as I was walking by a set of stairs he was coming down. Seeing me ignore him, he called out to me as he did that first day we met, “You can say hi you know.” but this time his tone was angry. Alarmed, I said “Hi, Stan…” in a quick stern voice, and continued to my desk.

I sat down to do my work but I couldn’t stop my heart from racing. At that point, I was afraid he assumed I was the one who had reported him, which might explain his anger towards me. I decided right then that I no longer cared if I was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to feel what I was feeling. I was past the point of discomfort and my physical reaction to his presence was making it difficult for me to get anything done.

The point is, I had made it apparent through my body language and avoidance of Stan that he was making me uncomfortable, but he ignored the signs and called me out anyways. I was fed up and decided it was finally time to go to HR myself to see what could be done.

Sitting down in the office, I told our HR person everything that I had experienced, and everything I’d learned about Stan’s encounters with the other women, including the report. I watched as she pulled up a document of notes and started adding to them.

Finally, I told her that I didn’t necessarily want to quit, but I no longer felt comfortable being in the same vicinity as Stan. She assured me that the ‘proper measures’ would be taken to sort this out because ‘no one should feel the way I was feeling while at work.’

I reminded her of the ineffective measures that had been taken just a few months before and asked her if she could tell me what it was they would do this time around.

She replied with a polite smile and said, “I’m not sure yet. I don’t know how we typically handle a situation like this.” So I asked, “So when I come into work on Monday, should I expect to see him?” She replied, “I can’t be sure of that right now, but I certainly don’t think you need to quit because of him.” Noting my disappointment in her response, she advised I take the weekend to think about what I wanted to do. I agreed, but I walked out of her office knowing there was no chance I would ever return.

As I said before, I wrote this post with the understanding that encounters like this happen all the time. That being said, they often go ignored. The way Stan behaved was sometimes ‘normal,’ making it confusing for me to sort through my feelings when I was upset by him.

Something I struggled with most was that my negative feelings occurred after establishing a type of ‘friendship’ with Stan. My discomfort often made me feel guilty because I truly wanted to believe he was just a ‘nice guy.’ I was worried that I’d somehow encouraged him and even convinced myself that I couldn’t define what I was experiencing as harassment.

The truth is, it wasn’t until I confided in other people that I understood how wrong I was for neglecting my feelings. If someone makes you uncomfortable, don’t be polite and brush it off, change your situation. Don’t let other people impact how you live your life, and always trust your instincts.

*Name has been changed

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