DEAR MISS MANNERS: I worked, for about 15 years, with an older gentleman. I was fairly young when I began work and rather naively, I realized later, considered his flirting to be either a joke or just the way he was with everyone. I made this assumption because when I met him, I was 24 and he was 54 and married. Despite the flirting, we became very good friends.
When he retired a couple of years ago, he invited me to breakfast and made sure that it was clear he wasn’t joking and meant nothing innocent by the invitation. I was startled and embarrassed. I demurred but without really explaining my confusion or embarrassment.
Over the past few years, I hear from him occasionally, and he is always disappointed that I haven’t tried to be more communicative.
I really do care about him – as I would an older brother or a father figure – so I do want to see him and talk to him, but I am always nervous about where he thinks such meetings might lead (not to mention the hugs at meeting an old friend). I’m also really bad at confrontation, so I tend to ignore interpersonal problems in the hopes that they’ll go away (something I still do, even though I’ve seen evidence proving this to be a fallacy).
Is there any graceful way of dealing with this and retaining my friendship with him?
GENTLE READER: You do not have a friendship with him. At best, you have an unrequited courtship – and Miss Manners considers that a generous “at best.”
He has made his intentions clear, and you may be sure that he has a clear idea of your difficulty in coping with them. Furthermore, your distaste for what he wants does not seem to bother him.
The only way to reject his advances is to reject him completely. An offer to be your father or your brother is not on the table.