He was old enough to be my father. Maybe even my grandfather: he certainly had the full head of gray hair that reminded me of men older than my father. And he had come up to my booth at the conference three times since I’d attended his panel that morning.
Ostensibly, he was there to talk to me about our mutual reason for attending the conference: work. But really, he didn’t talk to me about anything related to work. He was flirting with me. He told me I was beautiful four different times (I counted). He kept me occupied and politely friendly while I waited to extract myself from his conversation so I could do my job.
“What panels are you going to tomorrow?” he asked. I told him.
“Oh, I’m going to the same morning panel as you. You want to be my date?” He said it with a smile.
No. No I did not want to be his date. I did what I usually do when faced with an obvious romantic advance in a professional setting: I smiled politely, waggled my engagement ring, and explained that I was “unavailable.”
“Oh,” he looked slightly disappointed, then grinned sheepishly. “Well, I had to try, you know.” And then he avoided me for the rest of the conference.
Did he? Did he really have to try? Why did he explain away his inappropriate flirting (I’ll say again: we were colleagues in a professional environment, there to do our jobs, not get a date) by saying it was something he “had” to do? Because he really didn’t have to try. In fact, the likelihood of a woman forty years his junior responding favorably to his advances was statistically negligible. So why did he say that he “had to try”?
I’ve heard “I had to try,” before. In bars. On the train. At the park. In the library (where you not only do not have to try, but you shouldn’t try because people are reading, dammit). It’s as if they all knew on some level that I would say no, but they are playing the odds, banking on the slim chance that I will accept their offer.
It’s like with “I had to try” they’re explaining the etiquette of the come-on to me: “When faced with an attractive female, a man must employ his best pick-up line and strenuously attempt to gain her affections, no matter the statistical probability of his success, and no matter the location or situation.” Which is… valid? I guess?
I will never understand the requirement of trying. I will never understand the mindset of a man who feels that he is a) entitled to hit on any woman he is attracted to, no matter the situation or location, and b) owed an acceptable explanation for getting turned down. Even if it is in a professional setting.
To be fair, there are plenty of decent men who hit on women in the hopes of a date who will quite graciously accept a polite “no” or even the body language of discomfort or disinterest. There are men who understand that a professional setting is rarely, if ever, the appropriate place to come on to women. There are men who understand that hitting on women young enough to be their granddaughters is inappropriate.
But for every decent guy, there’s the one who feels like he “has to try,” who thinks that every attractive woman he doesn’t take the opportunity to flirt with could be The One Who Got Away. That guy is usually wrong.
Trust me, gentlemen: while I’m sure many a happy marriage has been made in the office or other equally unlikely setting, there are many more women who would prefer to do their jobs without fending off the unwelcome flirtations of randy septuagenarians. I know it’s surprising, but most of us are at work to, y’know… work, not find a date or a sugar daddy.
But then again, Pam and Jim are fictional. So stop hitting on your colleagues. Really. You do not have to try.