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I am Indian woman, working in one of the metropolitan cities in India. The sector is Software industry.

There were two different instances that occurred over a period of one year, but both are similar.

There were two different projects I was working on at two different periods of time. I had a good rapport with one of the male colleagues in both the projects. We used to have lunch together, work together and even had tea breaks together.

One day, during a very casual conversation, he said, "Do you know that I am married"? In fact, the other one also said the exact same words. The other one even said, 'I have a son'.

I was taken aback, both the times. I never flirted with them. My conversations were very casual ones, nothing personal to the least.

I am still not sure why they would say such an offending statement. That was in my previous office.

My current office would be reopening for work from office two months later and my team and my office consists of 80-90% male employees.

I still would want to have casual conversations with my teammates and also ensure that I am not misinterpreted as flirting with them. How should I ensure that?

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  • 1
    We’re the lunches and tea breaks one-on-one or in groups?
    – Jim Clay
    Sep 28 at 16:02
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    @Jim Clay yes. They were one on one. Sep 28 at 16:10
  • 15
    "I am still not sure why they would say such an offending statement." - I don't see how any reasonable person could view either of those statements were offensive.
    – Donald
    Sep 28 at 20:42
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    "Umm, yes. But I am not sure what exactly you imply here?" And the wool ball is back in their court to extricate themselves from. Sep 28 at 23:17
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    I get the impression that instead of "offending statement" the OP may mean "accusatory statement". Sep 29 at 6:10
14

"How should I ensure that?"

By just keeping it casual - Unfortunately there's not much you can do (besides not having casual chats in general) since you can't change peoples minds and misguided interpretation of a casual chat so they feel the need to mention that they are married.

You could mention yourself that you are in a marriage or relationship in order to signal them that this is just casual - but then you will be the one that might get judged for an 'offending' statement..

Before jumping into conclusions - I could think of three possible scenarious:

  1. They intepreted the casual chats as flirtatious and wanted to clarify because they want to keep it casual.

  2. They intepreted the casual chats as flirtatious and wanted to 'test the waters'..

  3. They intepreted the casual chats as flirtatious and since they are married felt uncomfortable themselves to "have lunch together, work together and even had tea breaks together".

There might be a fourth one - that they just tried to be funny (but then it was a poor joke IMO).

Side note which I just remembered in regards to this question: I once saw a person wearing a T-Shirt on which two words were spelled out in large letters: NOT INTERESTED. That puzzled me for while in a sense as of how could somebody think that everyone on this planet wants to flirt with them..

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    re: the last shirt -- true, but if one gets way more advances than one wants and is tired of having to be stern or having it colour one's interactions, you can see the appeal of resorting to a general announcement. There are many ways to announce one's status and openness, from rings to uncovered hair, and a shirt could just be a fun modern innovation. Sep 29 at 10:41
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They only way to avoid any potential confusion is to never be alone with them. Do you want that?

Instead, I recommend finding graceful ways of handling it. You want to find a phrase that conveys your intent of just beeing professional buddies with 0% interest in flirting without hurting them.

Since I don't really know indian culture, I don't know what works best for you. A simple "I know, sorry for any potential misunderstanding" could be seen as accusatory, because it implies they misunderstood. Maybe something like: "I didn't know, I only see you as coworker with a lot of expertise in X, I never wondered who you are as a private person" could work. You flatter their work knowledge, and you imply it's all about the job. You propably want some advice from friends and what works for you.

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    I really like this answer. Other answers are very much like "stop meeting with them for lunch", or "reevaluate how you live your life". But why can't this simple misunderstanding be rectified and the OP can go back to living life how they want to live, which is what this answer suggests. Sep 29 at 6:57
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    Yes. Graceful way to deal with such men is to answer like this. I think I could follow this advice for many other situations as well. Thank you for this simple solution. Sep 29 at 8:13
  • @Gregory Currie, exactly! Don't blame the OP and her goal is not incompatible with being professional.
    – Anthony
    Sep 29 at 16:36
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Don't overanalyse this and make assumptions about these mens thoughts and motivations.

Anyone spending time with me (male or female) will soon know I am married with kids. They may even be shown some photo's of the rugrats. In a social setting non work topics come up, it keeps the conversation going.

However I'd be uncomfortable having frequent lunches with a lady. It's a small World, and however harmless it is, people will still talk.

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    correct. Just having a one on one meeting with a woman can get you accusations of sexual harassment in for example the USA. Unfounded accusations, but next to impossible to disprove as there were no witnesses.
    – jwenting
    Sep 29 at 7:24
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    @jwenting or some needless conflict with my wife, which is worse.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 29 at 10:19
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In most cultures there are mores regarding one-on-one time between men and women. It is a situation where there are ambiguities regarding whether one side or the other wishes to develop a more personal relationship.

If you want to avoid these misunderstandings, don't meet one-on-one with your male co-workers in a non-business setting. If you do wish to continue doing lunches or teas, try to make them infrequent and in public.

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    Good answer, totally applicable in many societies. An unmarried woman (or even married) frequently spending one on one time with a married man can be bad for both reputations.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 28 at 23:48
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    I would discourage the OP from drastically changing their behaviour now. It would look like she WAS flirting, and backed off when she realised the men were married. Sep 29 at 1:07
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One day, during a very casual conversation, he said, "Do you know that I am married"? In fact, the other one also said the exact same words. The other one even said, 'I have a son'.

But what were you talking about when this was said? Without context of the conversation you were having, it's obviously quite impossible to tell whether you were right to feel offended or whether the other person was justified in stating a fact (for setting boundaries). Right?

Second, harmless flirting, and even mild attraction, between opposite sex is normal and inevitable, especially when you have a good rapport with someone. When something like this does occasionally happen, one of the party might sometimes draw back a little, to create some space and remind the other person of the boundaries of their relationship. When done poorly, this could result in an awkward moment or two. But mature adults don't let that define and ruin the rest of the relationship - in every relationship, whatever stage it is in, someone or both parties will set some boundaries for interaction. And that's completely normal.

Third, since most women do learn to deal with a lot of unwanted attention from an early age, they often do have a better sense of the dynamics of a relationship, and control over their behaviour during any interaction. But sometimes even they mess up when dealing with older, more successful and attractive men. So you cannot be dismissive that perhaps you may have unconsciously and / or non-verbally flirted with these men (again, completely normal), and they picked up on it. While everyone feels flattered when someone flirts with them, obviously a married or a senior colleague would consider it as a cause of worry too as how other people perceive your relationships at work matters a lot. (Especially if there is too much unnecessary work politics).

On the flip side of this, most indian men are conservative at heart (and some are downright misogynist, especially towards women who seek a career). And that conservative nature may occasionally flare up as a misunderstanding due to a clash between their idea of how a women should be versus how a free spirited and independent women actually behaves.

All things said, when in doubt always seek clarifications instead of pointless rumination. And as others have pointed out introspect on your own behaviour and etiquette at workplace too so that it isn't misunderstood - frequent chats, solo lunches or breaks with one person is bound to invite attention, and possible misunderstanding. You just have to be more alert and perceptive to these signs, as you rightly seem to be doing.

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Could it be as simple as they are just saying this because they dont want anything more than what you got with them - good coworkers? I've had many situations with female coworkers where I thought thats all it was, while they where expecting more that just for us to be good coworkers and friends.

-5

It is somewhat disappointing that some of the answers thus far are assuming you are the issue or your behavior was indeed flirtatious.

I come from a different culture in the United States where gender roles between men and women are not as rigid and where 1:1 interactions between female and male colleagues are considered normal , with there rarely being any suspicion of improper motives from either party. I have went to lunch platonically both in groups and alone with these female colleagues , and never had improper motive accusations made against me by them.

I am assuming your chats to these 2 men are about innocent topics, such as how one's weekend was, hobbies, food / cooking and other topics one might talk about between friends. If so, and your tone was normal as you would use between platonic friends then the reactions of these two men seem to be an over reaction. If I was one of these men and had a family, getting defensive and assuming bad intent on part of the OP (that I wanted to be unfaithful despite having had a son, even though there is no evidence from OP that she intended to flirt with me) would not be my first reaction.

This answer is meant to recognize gender expectations are rarely useful, with instead, mutual respect / recognition of gender equality being the goal. Platonic friendship is not incompatible with workplace professionalism, and is not per se suspicious, not should it be interpreted as being unfaithful to spouse / family.

To conclude, it does not appear the issue lies with you (benefit of the doubt). Hence, I suggest you directly say to these men that if they construed your earlier chats as flirting , it was not your intention at all. Do not apologize as doing so can mean you acknowledge what you said was indeed flirtatious. You have done nothing wrong. If your behavior is not objectively offensive, such as by making unwelcome sexual advances, others misinterpreting innocent behavior between friends is not something you can do much about.

If these men continue to question you after you have made your intentions of friendship clear, I strongly recommend escalation to your manager. You have the right to not have others interfere with your work, especially in non work related matters. It is in your managers interest that you feel comfortable interacting with your colleagues whom you need to, and your manager , assuming he / she is good, should be supportive.

I know India may have societal expectations on gender roles, but remember you have rights as an individual in the workplace. Do not be afraid to be forthright and assert yourself to others who are interfering with you doing your work if needed be.

Response to comments

I acknowledge that there are instances in which significant alone time with colleagues of the other gender can be for improper motives, but I don't see anything in the OP question that she intended to be flirtatious or were otherwise intentionally ignoring how her behavior could be interpreted.

Yes, I am aware of the MeToo meme and cases such as Harvey Weinstein , but these cases are the exception to the norm. Be cautious , yes, but don't restrict your social interactions just because there is the possibility of an untoward event.

This response is not be condescending but to show if one acts normally , social interaction between men and women in the workplace is not by itself suspicious or unprofessional. It's not to call out the Indian culture as backwards either.

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    1) A brief perusal of relationship advice sites will show that one-on-one time with adults of the opposite sex, particularly frequent and exclusive time, is still very much an issue in the United States, and in every other country that I am familiar with.
    – Jim Clay
    Sep 29 at 0:34
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    2) Even if you were right about the United States, OP lives in India, so the situation in the U.S. is irrelevant. 3) I don’t believe that all cultures are equal, but it is still very arrogant to assume that your culture is the correct, enlightened one, and hers is backwards. The Indian culture, and every other culture, is the result of literally thousands of years of evolution. That would suggest that there is wisdom in their mores that would be foolish to simply ignore. Again, the content of relationship advice sites attests to that.
    – Jim Clay
    Sep 29 at 0:41
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    @Jim Clay, addressed in my edit just now. Acknowledge that possibility yes, but don't be paranoid. Story of my experiences in the USA is not meant to paint the Indian culture as lesser, but to show how platonic friendship with the opposite gender colleague is normal and not per se suspicious
    – Anthony
    Sep 29 at 3:41
  • "It is somewhat disappointing that all the answers thus far are assuming you are the issue or your behavior was indeed flirtatious." That's quite a big claim and an assumption by yourself - In my answer (the first one to this question) I mentioned nowhere that the OP was the root of the issue - I actually mentioned that the OP's behaviour was misguidedly interpreted in a flirtatious way.
    – iLuvLogix
    Sep 29 at 14:29
-7

Being flirtatious has little to nothing to do with the subject of the conversation or whether it seems personal or not. It’s more about attitude, body language and so on - and people have very different thresholds for what they consider flirting.

As a male, I’m pretty sure these two males found you flirtatious - and since they were not interested, they felt they had to react. And they are completely within their rights to do so.

You being offended does not change their valid opinion. All you can do is honestly self-reflect on your own behavior. I would advise against asking (heterosexual) female friends whether you can seem flirtatious, as they cannot really empathize with how men would find your general attitude and body language.

If it’s not too awkward, asking the two men might be the best path to reveal whether anything needs adjusting. If you choose to do so, it needs to be in the spirit of non-accusatory self-reflection.

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    A lot of assumptions about what men and women may understand. What I would say is that women probably generally know a fair bit about what men find flirtatious. Many have had to navigate these types of situations their entire lives. So to advice against the OP speaking with their friends, who may have a better understanding of the localised culture than we have doesn't make any sense. Sep 28 at 15:52
  • @GregoryCurrie: Which assumptions are unfair? OP admits the two men believed she was flirting. Her finding that offensive could even be perceived as victim blaming. You either seems to assume that men and women understand each others cues quite well or that women are superior in this area
    – morsor
    Sep 28 at 18:11
  • @morsor - Excellent answer.
    – Donald
    Sep 28 at 20:47
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    @morsor You state that you can't ask heterosexual females about this. You also assert that being a male allows you to be sure that they consider the conduct flirtatious. I say that navigating a workplace that MAY be male dominated is something that some females may be very familiar with, and to avoid asking their advice is counter-productive. In addition, opinions of friends may be very useful in ensuring that behaviour is "normal" (India is very culturally diverse). Sep 29 at 0:53
  • @GregoryCurrie: Asking friends is also very likely to produce answers that merely confirm the view of the OP. My approach has always been to treat people as individuals. Had OP been male, my answer would be completely symmetric. In addition, I don't believe you reacted to Fatties (now deleted) 'all men are pigs' answer - so you only seem worried about assumptions in one direction
    – morsor
    Sep 29 at 5:28

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