Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I am a 19-year-old girl home on break from my first year of college. After a lot of fruitless job searching, my dad's best friend, a lawyer who is a man in his fifties (lets call him Jim), found me a good, paid internship with a friend of his. I love this internship, and the opportunities it's given me. Jim has also started paying me twenty bucks an hour to do extra work for him. Sounds great right?
Wrong. Jim makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. But I'm not even sure if my discomfort is justified.
My family has known Jim since I was a freshman in high school. He lives down the street from us. For a long time, our relationship was fine. But a month after I turned nineteen, when I came home from college for the first time, I ran into Jim on the street. He asked me to give him a hug, so I gave him one.
However, when I started to pull away from the hug, he pulled me closer and said, "So you're an adult now."
I wasn't sure if he meant this the way it sounded, so I made an excuse about being late for something and walked away. But two weeks later, he came to my house while we were giving a home tour, and he put his arm around me while I was distracted and told the woman he had come with that I was his "girlfriend." Since then, Jim always wants to give me a hug when he comes over (and he comes over a lot). My parents have no idea that I feel this way. How do you tell your dad that the thought of being alone with his best friend in the same room makes you feel sick?
My parents are definitely into me possibly working for Jim sometime in the future. I'm freaking out. (For the record, me doing extra work for Jim was decided by my dad and Jim one day while I was out.)
What should I do Auntie? Am I completely blowing this out of proportion? Do I actually have a reason to worry? Should I confide in my parents, to just continue making sure I am never alone with this man?
Okay. First things first: no, you are not blowing this out of proportion. Yes, you have every reason to feel uncomfortable. And yes, the description of this middle-aged adult man pulling you closer as you tried to extricate yourself from his awkward hug and whispering, "So, you're an adult now," is so intensely gross that it made me want to take a bucketful of industrial grade disinfectant to my eyes and my laptop and my brain.
But while I hope that the aforementioned validation made you feel better and more confident about your take on this situation, I've gotta tell you: as far as what happens next, whether or not I think you're blowing this out of proportion matters not at all. Nor does Jim's motivation for behaving this way, or your parents' opinion of the situation, or whether or not they or Jim or the internet public at large think you're overreacting.
What matters is that this guy makes you uncomfortable.
And the question of how you should handle this begins—and ends—right there.
Which is not to say that you're in danger, or that you need your parents to intervene, or even that you have to choose between getting creeped on and getting paid. In fact, you may well be able to un-squick this scenario in two easy steps, as follows:
1) Accept your feelings.
2) And then, assert them.
Because while yes, you could tell your parents that Jim creeps you out and enlist them to keep him away from you, that's a problem-solving approach best reserved for children who lack the maturity, status, and standing to assert themselves. You, on the other hand, are a young woman and a legal adult. And as such, this is as good a moment as any for you to start practicing the exquisite art of Owning Your Shizz. Which, among other things, means learning to use the following sentences in general:
"No, thank you."
"I'd rather not."
"I'm not comfortable with that."
And, also, this one specifically:
"Actually, Jim, I'm just really not a hugger." (Said with a smile as you offer your hand for a nice, professional handshake—which not only serves as an excellent alternative to the creepy hug, but acts as an actual physical obstacle to him coming any closer than arms' length.)
I know, I know: this is a very polite way of dealing with a very creepy dude, and it's nerve-wracking to boot. But make no mistake: this isn't something you're doing for Jim. It's something you're doing for you, because the one thing you need more than an escape from his creepy hugs is to get comfortable, right now and for the rest of your life, with saying the word, "No." If you want people to respect your boundaries, you need to first make them clear—if only so that when they continue to cross the line, you can point to the place where you drew it and say, "Hey. See this? You're crossing it." (Or, in your case: "I appreciate the opportunity to work for you, but I've told you directly that hugging makes me uncomfortable. I'm telling you again, once more, out of respect for your relationship with my family. But if you continue to initiate unwanted physical contact with me now that I've asked you not to, twice, I'm not going to continue working for you—and I won't be shy about telling people why.")
Chances are, being told explicitly that you don't want to be hugged will be all it takes for Jim to check himself. But if he doesn't, then you've already laid the groundwork for a swift exit—all you need to do is walk out. And thanks to your newfound assertiveness, you won't need to tell your dad that Jim makes you nauseated—because you'll be able to tell him that while you appreciate his friend's efforts on behalf of your career, his inability to respect the word "No" means that you'll be seeking employment elsewhere.
Have you ever had to assert yourself with a creepy adult? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.