Are these men helping my career or helping themselves to me?

By Emily Yoffe, Slate
Posted Sept. 15, 2012, at 5:13 p.m.

Dear Prudence,

I am a 25-year-old woman working in a male-dominated office. I act professionally and get along with my co-workers. Recently, I’ve been getting invitations to spend time alone outside of work with some older male co-workers, some of whom are married with children. Activities range from going to the movies to teaching me how to shoot a rifle.

While I enjoy office chats with these men, I don’t feel comfortable spending time outside of work with them. On the other hand, I could be misreading friendly invitations to hang out with someone who could be a professional mentor. What should I do? And how do I decline an invitation without making them feel bad, or accept and keep the professional lines clear?

—Unintentionally Popular

Dear Popular,

I bet they want to take you shooting—it sounds as if they’ve got an informal contest going to see who can bag you first. And won’t it be so cozy on the range when one of your colleagues gets behind you and puts his arms around you to show you how to fire his weapon.

When women first started entering corporate jobs there was a lot of hand-wringing about how they were being excluded from the kind of unofficial networking that takes place at the weekly golf game. Though you hear less these days about golf as the way to the C-suite, it would be fine if your colleagues were inviting you to join a group of them for a round on a Sunday morning. But you’re being invited to private sporting events. Also fine would be if after a discussion of action movies a male co-worker said, “My wife Jennifer and I are seeing The Bourne Mishegosson Friday and you’re welcome to join us.” But you’re being asked to sit in a darkened theater next to a solo colleague.

I agree with your instinct that these offers have nothing to do with your professional advancement, so turn these guys down. You don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings; just be polite but firm: “Thanks but riflery is not my thing” or “I’m sorry, I already have plans” and repeat ad infinitum.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I live in a beach town where many homeless people congregate. My husband, whom I have been married to for more than 40 years, is an interfaith minister and peace activist. When I was away for several weeks this summer he befriended a homeless woman. This woman is helping my husband with computer work, at which she is excellent. In return she has essentially moved in.

She is 34 years old and acts like a child, complete with a little-girl voice and crying jags. I feel sorry for her, but I don’t like her. My husband says she was abused as a child and has been mistreated by the various men in her life. He is counseling her and I’m positive that there is nothing sexual in their relationship.

But I’m now the bad guy because I don’t want this woman sleeping in our house; therefore, my husband says, it’s my fault if she is unsafe at night. I have a very demanding job that supports both of us, and I need my privacy. I am enraged this woman is here all day with my husband. He says I am intolerant and not following the spiritual teachings we’ve practiced all our lives.

We are arguing about her constantly and I have even considered moving out and leaving him. What should I do?

— Angry and Confused

Dear Angry,

A minister is supposed to instruct in the worship of God, not himself, so I am suspicious of his open-ended, one-to-one, in-home counseling service. Despite your avowal of your husband’s chasteness, I wouldn’t be surprised if your new guest, in her capacity as IT consultant, were servicing your husband’s hard drive while you’re out earning everyone’s keep. No doubt this woman has suffered — she didn’t end up homeless because she enjoys fresh air. But if your husband wants to aid the homeless who congregate in your town, he should do so in a way that calls on his professional training as a minister. That means he should work with social service programs to get people into housing and help them obtain the kind of psychological and work counseling that can lead to their becoming better functioning members of society.

But doing that is a frustrating slog and not as kicky as having a much younger woman perform a private baby-doll act. It’s understandable you want this woman out, but your anger and vehemence are not working. Your husband wants to minister to his guest, not listen to you.

So for your own blood pressure and sanity, lower your voice. Explain to your husband that while you respect his concern for the homeless, you can no longer have this stranger in your home, nor will you fight with him over her. Say that unless this woman finds other accommodations within the next two weeks, you are going to have to change your own living situation.

But I don’t see why you should be the one to move out. Contact a lawyer about seeking a trial separation and ask how to go about having your husband and his ward vacate the premises. Since your husband’s spiritual convictions do not translate into being able to obtain material possessions, perhaps he will have to conduct his counseling services from a tent on the beach.

— Prudie

Dear Prudie,

My boyfriend and I have been together for two years, which means I am “co-parent” to his adorable, elderly Labrador. She’s 16 and recently had a major health scare, requiring a vet bill of $2,300. My boyfriend asked if I wanted to help with the bill, and I agreed to contribute $500. He said he thinks I should pay half, which would be a major financial hit. I’m also concerned about setting a precedent for future dog health issues. The vet has said the dog is “on borrowed time.” I want be a supportive boyfriend and show my love for my boyfriend as well as his (our?) dog, so am I a jerk for not offering to pay half?

— Arf Ouch

Dear Arf,

When a dog is 16 years old and a veterinarian announces she’s on “borrowed time,” it doesn’t make sense to borrow money for medical bills. You all would have been better off if during the scare you could have had a blunt talk with the vet about how much money would buy how much of a delay of the inevitable. Be as emotionally supportive as you can, but explain to your boyfriend while it’s wonderful your beloved pooch has outlived the canine actuarial tables, you can’t afford to be more generous.

— Prudie

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/09/15/living/are-these-men-helping-my-career-or-helping-themselves-to-me/ printed on September 30, 2014