Tell Me About It: Your good name is being targeted and some action needs to be taken
PROBLEM: I have worked in the same office for almost 25 years. It has always been a fairly packed space and due to the nature of the business I work in I have almost always been the only male.
I am single and while I have had a few relationships there are several reasons why I never settled down. Over the years I have been attracted to some of my colleagues; earlier in my career I even dated one of them. At the time it created a bit of office gossip, but for the past decade or so I have just been the middle-aged guy who sits in the corner.
Some of the ladies I work with are close personal friends and I have been to their weddings as well as family events such as communions and christenings.
In the last few years, as original members of the company have retired, there have been a number of new younger recruits. These newbies generally ignore me and only talk to me about work-related issues.
A couple of months ago I overheard some of the younger staff talking about me. One of them called me a pervert and said that I leer at her breasts, and the others agreed.
I have always been ultraconscious about the fact that I work in a mostly female environment and am aware of my body language.
This is something that has really knocked me back. It is affecting my sleep, my interactions with other colleagues and my work performance as I try to avoid these young ladies and therefore am sometimes unable to fill my work commitments.
I do understand sexual boundaries and I am shocked at what these colleagues have said about me.
I love my job. There really is no one at work that I can talk to about this. I don’t know what to do.
ADVICE: There are two areas of your life that need action to deal with this situation: the first is professional and the second is your personal life.
Consider the situation you are in: a lone male where you have overheard accusations of leering – this is a dignity and respect-at-work issue and you are the one whose good name is being targeted. Assumptions are being made and in a way you are being objectified because of your gender and age.
It can be difficult to bring this up as a topic of conversation unless you have very close and open friendships and you do not describe these in your letter
This is not acceptable, and some action needs to be taken. You can look up your workplace dignity and respect policy and see what your rights are in this context: most companies and organisations have access to trained people who will speak to you in confidence so that you thoroughly get to discuss the options before embarking on action.
Dignity and respect policies only become real when they are enacted, and it sounds as if your workplace would benefit from having these issues brought into the open.
If taking a case is too difficult for you, you might offer to overhaul the policy at work. This will offer you a meaningful engagement with your colleagues and might cause them to reflect on their behaviour.
The other context for you is your private and personal life. You sound lonely. It may be worth taking this crisis and using it as a catalyst for change. What you are experiencing (exclusion because of assumptions around your age and gender) is something many men can appreciate and empathise with.
However, it can be difficult to bring this up as a topic of conversation unless you have very close and open friendships and you do not describe these in your letter. Men’s Sheds (menssheds.ie for a shed near you) provides the right supportive environment for such a conversation. This could be the start of a life in which you are not so isolated.
You will continue to grow in confidence as you challenge your fears of rejection and hopefully you will come to a point where you might consider online dating
Of course, it takes courage to take action when you feel vulnerable and alone, but any step is likely to open up new and enriching possibilities in your life.
You will find that creating any change makes other change possible, so you might set yourself a target of one new action a week for a month. You could join a club (or volunteer) where you are likely to meet people your own age and as you begin to find friendships, you will discover that the comments at work are not hitting you so hard; this is because you will be more secure in your sense of self as your friends mirror their respect for you. While building these connections takes time, you will continue to grow in confidence as you challenge your fears of rejection and hopefully you will come to a point where you might consider online dating.
You are not alone at finding yourself lonely and lacking intimacy in middle age. Once you get through the initial blocks, you will find that there is a wealth of possibilities open to you.
Take the first two steps: engage with your work policies and join a Men’s Shed, and you will be well on the way to a life that is bigger, brighter and less fearful than the one you are living.