A Work Story, Part 1

This isn’t a pity story.  It isn’t something to garner attention.  I was talking recently with my husband and decided that writing down what had happened might help me to release some anger and tension, and hopefully help in the healing process.  So you don’t have to read this.  It’s for me only, I’m just using my blog (that I haven’t posted on in a few years) as a place to write it down so I have a record of it.  My computers have a bad habit of dying on me and causing me to lose everything ever.  I did not write this down previously because I was still employed at the company where this happened.

At my previous employers, I had a very good friend, we’ll call her Jane.  Jane was old enough to be my mother – in fact, I believe she was just two years younger than my mother, however, that didn’t stop us from forming a great relationship.  I had known Jane since the summer of the year that I turned 13, and had kept in touch with her sporadically as an adult.  When I got a job at the company, I only then remembered how much I liked Jane, and our friendship was rekindled.

Jane and I had lunch together every day, usually in a group of four people.  We took walks to the break room together to grab a drink, occasionally hung out outside work (Andrew and I went to her child’s High School graduation party, we went out to dinner with her and her husband once), and we texted regularly.  We were friends on facebook and overall had a great relationship.  Dare I say, Jane was one of my best friends for a period of almost a year.

However, about a year after I started working with her, Jane took a turn for the weird.  Jane went on vacation with her family for two weeks, and when she came back she was “off”.  You know what I mean — when you can tell that someone you love, someone who you know almost as well as you know yourself, has something that isn’t quite right in their life but they don’t want anyone to know.  I could tell something was wrong with Jane, but that she didn’t want anyone at work to know.

I left Jane alone for a few weeks, but about a month after she returned she still wasn’t back to “normal”.  So, on one of our walks to the break room, I asked Jane if everything was okay and if there was anything I could do to help her.  Jane started crying and asked something along the lines of how I had known, and told me that there was nothing I could do to help.  I let her know that if she needed to talk, I was there, and that was that.  We moved on.

That’s when things started to get weird.  Jane had always kept up a frequent text conversation with me when we weren’t at work, but it started to get extreme.  Jane would text me, and if I didn’t get back to her in 5 minutes, she would start freaking out over text and accuse me of hating her, or not being a true friend.  I got so concerned about helping her out that it started to take a toll on my marriage because I felt that I had to be able to reply to all of her texts quickly or it would end poorly.

At work, things weren’t much better, though I didn’t realize it till later.  Jane started asking me to go on walks with her around the building during work hours because she needed someone to talk to.  I didn’t think much of it, but on those walks she would tell me that something from her past was bothering her.  She would try to get me to guess what it was, and then would get offended when I didn’t want to guess.  I always told her that I didn’t want to play that type of game, and if she wanted to tell me something she should just do it rather than making me guess and getting mad at me when I didn’t guess correctly.

Finally, it came out that in college Jane had had a secret relationship with a woman.  It was someone who was her best friend, and they had dated for a number of years without telling anyone.  Now, Jane is a religious person, as am I.  She would ask me questions about forgiveness, etc., and we would talk about how she needed to talk with God to feel forgiveness for what she now thought was wrong (she also explained that she was a smoker, a drinker, and did drugs, in addition to lying extensively to her mother and brother about her actual life).  Worst of all, however, was when Jane told me that she had met her husband soon after breaking up with this woman, and she had never told her husband about this past life, but was now struggling so hard with it and refused to talk to her husband about the struggle.  How was I, a 25 year old, supposed to bear this woman’s secrets that she felt were too hard to even tell to her husband, the love of her life?  I urged Jane to speak with her husband about the matter since it was consuming her thoughts, and told her that I thought her husband would love her no matter what her past was.  She refused.

Things got more bizarre.  Suddenly, in meetings Jane wouldn’t look at me.  One night her son’s girlfriend was hospitalized and she was texting me about it.  I asked her if the girlfriend was okay the next day at work and she yelled “just leave me alone, you make everything worse” and wouldn’t talk or look at me for the rest of the day.  In meetings, Jane wouldn’t make eye contact with me, and would avoid sitting next to me.  Other people started to notice, as we worked in a small department of only 13 people.  However, outside of meetings, Jane still asked me to go on walks with her and be her confidant.  She still texted me almost non-stop outside of work and became angry and volatile if I didn’t respond immediately.

Finally, one day she told me that I reminded her too much of her first love, this girl that she had had a secret relationship with, and that’s why she was having a hard time looking at me and being around me.  She told me that we both had the same “sweet spirit” and that was something she valued, and she just needed to work through this.  I let her know that I understood, and that I was there as a friend when she was ready.  Jane started buying me lunch 2-3 times a week, in addition to bringing me trinkets that she and her husband would pick up.  She said it was because she felt bad that she couldn’t look at me and that I was still being such a good friend.

A few weeks later things came to a head.  I had never told my husband about Jane’s past, as she had sworn me to secrecy.  I didn’t feel like he needed to know what the struggle was, just that things were a struggle for her at the moment.  Andrew placed boundaries — we had recognized that her incessant texting was causing a strain on our relationship because we felt like we couldn’t spend any time alone without me having to text her so she didn’t get angry.  We told her that Andrew and I had instated a rule that we could only check our phones once an hour in order to make the most of the limited time we had together between our two work schedules.  She wasn’t happy, but she said fine.  If I didn’t text back within an hour, Jane would get angry.

Jane took me aside at work on a Wednesday in December (this had all started in August) and told me I needed to guess what was truly bothering her.  This was in a public space.  I told her that I wouldn’t guess what it was that was bothering her, and she just needed to tell me whatever it was.  Finally, Jane told me that she had romantic feelings for me.  To say I was shocked was an understatement.  Looking back, I can now see that all the signs were there.  I didn’t recognize them as it was happening because I didn’t feel the same way and my life situation was very clear – happily married to a man that I love.  Jane asked me if I returned her feelings, and I told her no, that I didn’t, I was happily married, but I did love her like a sister or family member.  And I did.

Jane was very upset and couldn’t believe that I didn’t realize that she had feelings for me before that day.  We were in a public space and she started yelling at me, asking why I thought she would buy me lunch if it wasn’t for romantic feelings, or why she texted me, etc.  My two best friends and I would buy lunch for each other all the time if we lived in the same part of America, and we keep up a near constant stream of texting, even when one is busy with children or across the world.  That’s what you do with friends.  I told Jane as much, and she started yelling louder.  I told her that this was inappropriate, and I was willing to talk with her when she had calmed down, but that those weren’t feelings that I returned, and if she could put them aside I was happy to continue being her friend.  And then I went back to my office.

We had our department holiday party (combined with two other departments) later that day and to say it was awkward would be an understatement.  Jane refused to go to the party and sat at her desk crying.  Everyone was talking about why she wasn’t there, so I went and told her she needed to come, and that she would be fine eventually.  She told me she still wanted to be friends and would never bring it up again.  Jane barely spoke at the party and continued to randomly cry.  I went home that night with the understanding that we would be friends — knowing that it would never be the same, but with the promise that Jane would move past her feelings, or at least not bring them up with me.

Two days later Jane asked me to take another walk at work with her.  I said yes, because the two prior days had been wonderful.  It had been like old times – no walks, being friends, normal amounts of text messaging, laughing, etc.  Jane asked me to go outside for this walk, an odd request in Chicago in December, but I complied.   On the walk, Jane started asking me questions such as “What would you do if I held your hand right now”.  “What would you do if I started kissing you”.  “Can you imagine a world where you would leave your husband for me.”, etc.  That’s when I started to feel extremely uncomfortable.  Jane was walking close to me, and was definitely working up the courage for something.  I avoided Jane for the rest of the day, and didn’t text her that night.  I got quite a few “are you okay?” texts.  I finally told Andrew the WHOLE story — I didn’t feel like I was helping a friend through something hard any more, I was starting to feel like Jane was going to do what she wanted, even if I said no.

The next day my husband and I got some advice from a friend who works in HR and simply texted Jane to say something to the effect of – you’ve crossed a line, I want nothing more than a professional relationship with you at work.  Please stop texting calling, etc., I’ll be civil at work, but we can no longer be friends.  Something that still sticks out to me from talking to our friend in HR is what he told me – it doesn’t matter that she didn’t actually kiss me, etc.  It’s still sexual harassment.  I said no, she continued to make advances.  No means no, no matter how big or how small the situation is.

Jane freaked out.  I have screen shots of it all in case this ever came back, but she called me 12 times in the next 2 hours, left 8 messages (all teary and saying she didn’t understand what she had done that would cause me to betray her), and texted over 40 times.  She was terrified that I would tell someone her past, and that she had feelings for me, and it showed.  She started to threaten me over text by saying things such as “You can’t tell anyone”.  I finally texted back to say that I wasn’t planning on it, if someone asked I would just say that a line had been crossed, and that was that.  Jane was terrified about work – she told me she was going to tell everyone that something had happened, that “she would take care of it”.

I got to work after the weekend and I could tell she had “taken care of it” as she said.  As it turns out, Jane had called our bosses and had a long phone call with them the day before where she explained that I had gone crazy, and she had no idea why I would do that, but that I had told her that we could never be friends again, and that it was going to be horrible at work.  Another co-worker approached me about what had happened, as they had heard the same story from Jane, and I simply said that Jane had crossed a line and I didn’t really want to be friends at the moment, but that I was happy to have a professional relationship.  That’s when, pardon my language, the crap really hit the fan.

I thought it couldn’t get any worse than being sexually harassed (yes, I know it could have been worse, you don’t need to point that out), but it could.  Put yourself in my place for a minute.  I was a 25 year old girl who was being come on to by a woman that was old enough to be her mother, and had been a family friend for nearly half of my life (we met when I was 13).  This woman had been to my parent’s house, gotten a High School, Undergraduate, and Graduate announcement in the mail, had been invited to my wedding.  And, the worst part was that she had been working at this company for over 20 years, so she definitely had seniority as well as the bosses ears.  I was well out of my league.  Oh – add in the fact that I felt guilty.  I know, I had nothing to feel guilty about, but at that point in time I did.  I felt that if I said anything to anyone, I would ruin a life.  This woman was married with two kids – one still in middle school.  I felt like if I said anything it would break up a marriage and ruin these kids lives, and I didn’t want that on my conscience (I’ve since changed my mind, obviously).

I was pulled aside by my boss near the end of the day and told that Jane had talked with them, and that they didn’t understand why I was being the way that I was, but that I couldn’t use wording such as “crossed the line” when talking about Jane because that was putting the blame on someone.  Um, hello, did I ask to be come on to repeatedly?  No.  No I did not.  I was told that I needed to leave those problems at home and be professional at work.  Excuse me – I DID NOT BRING THIS UP WITH ANYONE.  If someone asked me, I LIED about what had happened so as to continue with a professional environment.

I went home infuriated.  I sobbed to my husband for hours – and he was rightly enraged. No one had asked me what had happened, I had just been slapped on the wrist for being “not professional” as I was told.  So, I got on my work e-mails that night and e-mailed my boss asking for a meeting the next day — with the assistant director of my department.

I’m splitting this post into pieces because it’s long.  I want to have a record for myself of what happened, and hopefully maybe someone reads this and recognizes the signs of sexual harassment in their own life long before I recognized it in my own.


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