I don’t want you to hug me in the office. In fact, unless we’re pretty damned close, I don’t want you to hug me at all.
I’ve been called ‘standoffish’ because I’m not the sort of person who responds well to being hugged. I dread that bit at the end of parties, where everyone’s just pissed enough to think they’re better friends than they actually are, and some person I’ve spent about twenty minutes chatting to screeches “Byeeee darling, it was amaaazing to meet you” before forcing me into an awkward cuddle.
Maybe this makes me odd, but I don’t actually care. Whether my aversion to being grabbed by random acquaintances is odd or not, you need to respect that. And I mean respect it properly, not just acknowledge and then ignore it. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have said to me:
“I know you don’t like hugs so I’ll just do it really quickly.” or even “Hey, come on, it’s only me. Gizza hug.”
I don’t want to. I’ll do it if you make me, but I’ll hate it, and I’ll resent you for thinking that our acquaintance counts for nothing if I’m not willing to awkwardly squash my chest against you at the end of a night out.
Back to the office.
The rules about touching your coworkers
You don’t need to be told not to rock up late for an interview to know that being late for an interview is a bad thing. Likewise, you don’t need to be told that stroking a colleague’s thigh, patting them on the arse, or putting your arms around them might make them a tad uncomfortable.
I’m writing this blog as a plea for common sense. Because since the ex-chief-exec of the Lib Dems has been accused of inappropriate workplace touching (an accusation which, for legal reasons, I shall point out he has denied) there’s been a lot of bullshit spoken about how difficult it is to know when a touch is inappropriate. A few guys have plaintively cried for guidance.
“But how do we know?” they say. “How can I possibly tell whether one of my work colleagues wants me to touch her, or whether she’ll be offended?”
The answer to this question is: you don’t, unless she expressly tells you. At no point during the working day can you be 100% certain that a female colleague wants you to touch her. Whether she’s in the middle of an email, chairing a strategy meeting or – like me – trying to inch her way closer to the biscuit plate during a particularly long PowerPoint presentation. It’s not like a green light goes off over her head if she fancies you and is up for a quick squeeze.
But, and I cannot possibly stress this enough, the fact that you don’t know is inconsequential. You hardly know anything, none of us do. The boundaries of our knowledge are tiny and the realm of the unknown is vast. Yet somehow most of us manage to get through every day without sexually harassing random members of the opposite sex. We’re not special, we don’t have knowledge that you don’t, and nor are we telepaths; we’re just not arseholes.
To use the ‘we can’t possibly know’ defence for any kind of inappropriate touching, whether inside or outside the workplace, is the largest pile of bullshit I have ever scrolled angrily past on the internet.
The impenetrable mysteries of how not to be a creep
We don’t go through life understanding exactly what other people want from us at all times. Sometimes we take risks, and do things that might get us into trouble, and other times we are cautious. The key thing is to assess whether a risk is worth taking – not just for you, but for the object of your affection as well.
That girl sitting at the bar might reject you, or burst into tears if you go and chat to her. But the risk of these things is minimal, and you’d be unlikely to offend or harm her by saying ‘hello.’ So you don’t grab her arse. You don’t call her ‘babes’. You don’t shout ‘OI OI!’ from the other side of the room. Because all of these things are high-risk, potentially high-harm situations. So you just say fucking ‘Hi.’
Likewise, you don’t offer to spank a woman on a first date. You try and ease the conversation round to spanking, in a non-threatening way, to see if she might be up for it. You don’t grab a girl’s arse on the tube. You talk to her, try to work out if she fancies you, talk to her some more, and then ask for her number if you get the right signals.
In any of these situations you might fuck up – go in for a kiss at the bar and watch as she leans away and says ‘I’m sorry, I’m not that into you.’ Bring up spanking and have her tell you you’re not her type. And this is fine – these mistakes, while embarrassing, don’t actually cause any harm.
Whereas if you just go up to a girl, grab her tits and then cry ‘how was I supposed to know?!’ when she runs for the hills, then you are a stupid, stupid cunt.
To err is human, but to pretend that women are so complex that you can’t even try to empathise? That’s pathetic.
Work is a non-contact sport
In my ideal world no one ever touches work colleagues. But that’s because I am ‘standoffish’, and would rather find my fun outside a building in which I’m supposed to act like a professional. I wouldn’t ban workplace touching, because I’ve witnessed office romances that have worked. At some point during the blossoming of that relationship someone laid a hand on someone else’s knee, or leant in for a kiss at a Christmas party, and took a small calculated risk.
But you know what? That successful person, who ended up marrying their office sweetheart and living happily ever after? That was almost certainly the person who held back, who waited, who had enough respect for their colleague not to gamble on a fumble before they could be sure the touch was wanted.
The successful person was patient, respectful and empathetic. He certainly wasn’t the kind of twat who’d jump on a woman in the stationery cupboard, get sacked, and then whine about how unfair life is, and how hard things are, and how he’ll never understand just what these fickle women want.