Was it flirting or harassment?

Jan. 18, 2012
Lisa Newburger, LISW-S, answers an uncomfortable question from a dental assistant who experienced a situation at work where flirting turned into harassment. Lisa offers her advice.

By Lisa Newburger, LISW-S

Question: I r-e-a-l-l-y trusted the dentist I work with. What an idiot I am. How could he DO it? The dentist made a pass at me. Or did he? I don’t know. This male/female thing, sometimes I have trouble reading it correctly. What do I do now? Did I lead him on? Am I going to lose my job? Will anyone believe me or will they laugh at me?

Am I really going to talk about something like this in a trade journal? Remember, we are supposed to be hush hush about things like this. After all, I’m female, and talking about harassment might make me look bad, right? But I’m so uncomfortable, and I don’t know what to do. Let me tell you what happened, and please, don’t judge me.

I was at work a couple of weeks ago. Everyone else had left for the day. It was the office’s late evening for appointments. I was cleaning the equipment and tidying up. The dentist was finishing up as well. After the other staff and patients left, he locked the door. That was a little weird, but I thought maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. He then started making small talk. I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. My 5-year-old son likes me to read him his favorite book before he goes to bed.

The dentist started telling me how pretty I looked, which was odd. I mean, we always joked around and laughed ... OK, flirted. But this was different. No one was around and I didn’t know how to get out of there. He moved closer and touched my face, and before I knew it, he tried to kiss me. I bolted across the room because I was so shocked. What was he thinking? My mind was racing, wondering how to get out of this situation without losing my job. As a single parent, I NEED this job. Panic filled my chest. I started to talk rapidly and move around the room. I just kept talking and talking, and then I said I had to go and raced out the door.

What is going to happen now? Is he going to get rid of me for not kissing him? He is married and old, and to be honest, pretty gross looking. I like joking with him, but I’m not attracted to him. It was innocent, but somehow our wires got crossed. Is this all my fault?

Answer: Girl, you really are mixed up. Why are you questioning your instincts? If you’re feeling uncomfortable, give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable. That is your instinct. If something tells you to get the heck out of there, then listen to it. Believe in yourself, and STOP beating yourself up. Flirting is one thing — perhaps not the smartest thing to do on the job, but no one is perfect. The real issue is that someone made you uncomfortable trying to touch or kiss you.

What now? You should talk to someone. I don’t recommend talking to someone at the office at this point. You know how the gossip runs rampant in a dental practice. Instead, talk to a friend, your clergy, a counselor, or your mother. In fact, I say go cut up some onions — you may want to have a good cry.

Also, look at how you present yourself. Are you giving off signals? Watch what messages you send. Let’s try this. Can you read my mind? Why not? How can you expect the dentist to be able to read your mind? Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT blaming the victim here. It is hard to wrestle with these feelings without feeling persecuted or judged. But I am trying to encourage you to trust your feelings. Look at your own behaviors. Tell someone what happened. And when you’re ready, tell the dentist how you feel. For some, that may not be an option because they’re too afraid. My suggestion to them at that point is to start looking for another job. If someone can’t address an issue, how can it be resolved? It might be resolved for your dentist, but how is this helping your inner turmoil?

Remember, no one is perfect. Just learn from this. Believe in yourself. Trust those instincts. And know that you don’t have to wrestle with this experience on your own. If you want to talk about it, shoot me an email or give me a call. Remember, you are not alone!

Author bio
Lisa Newburger, LISW-S, a.k.a. Diana Directive, provides humorous ways to deal with difficult topics. Check out Diana’s webpage at www.discussdirectives.com.