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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

03 October 2008

No Means No for Adults, Too

Q: As a married woman out in the working world, men wanting my phone number often approach me. When I tell them I am married, they say they don’t care and keep bugging me. Some I consider friends but they don’t get that we are just friends. Is there a better way to answer the question — one that will get them to understand that I said no?

No TrespassingA: My first reaction to your predicament was the classic line, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Then I thought a bit more about what you’ve been saying and how the men have been reacting. This point of view led to a sad mini-epiphany: After parents and schools spend so much time and energy trying to teach our young people that “no means no,” we discover that many men are showing the same disregard for plain English and for simple right and wrong that you might find among the randiest high school boys.

Anyone who works with others realizes that interpersonal relationships help keep businesses running smoothly and can pave the way for individual advancement. Also, you don’t want to become a workplace outcast. Sadly, you’ve encountered some men who seemingly cannot keep collegiality and friendship from spilling over into sexuality. Your response depends upon their ability to “get a clue” and your assertiveness in providing the clue.

When stating the obvious, perhaps you could add, “I am happily married,” or “I’m married to a wonderful man.” Then think about how you reply. When responding are you firm and direct? Are you “too nice”? Without being harsh, be as direct as possible. If they persist in telling you that they don’t care, you might ask why they don’t care. Without “preaching,” can you explain how and why you define and practice commitment? Can you equate your marital commitment and fidelity to the commitment you bring to your career?

If all this fails, what will happen personally and professionally if you’re forced to speak even more bluntly? If you “tell off” one of these predators, will it haunt your next performance review? If you go to a supervisor, will your complaints be taken seriously or will you, instead, be considered the “troublemaker”? If any of these worry you, then perhaps your business doesn’t understand the dangers of tolerating sexual harassment (which is what you’re experiencing).

RingsWeigh the comparative importance of your current job, your faith, your emotional health, and your marriage. You can always get these fellows to stand down — you need to decide how much this freedom from harassment is worth and how much you’re willing to “pay” to be free. What will you risk by being increasingly forthright versus taking a softer approach? What is the reward?

If these gentlemen cannot keep the boundaries clear, are you ready to move to the next level of resistance? And if you threaten someone with a harassment claim, make sure to have proof (believable witnesses or irrefutable documentation of some sort). If you make the threat, allow zero tolerance. Make your claim and pursue it with zeal. Only then will you (and probably others) gain protection from these unwanted advances.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Newspaper column #560:1


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