In my “day-job,” I visit by phone with people in different areas of the country. I supervise the sale of investment products for a national company. In the course of my work, I have formed professional relationships with dozens of people. I have gotten to know somewhat personal things about many of the investment advisors I supervise and have shared some of my own personal information with several of them. None of this felt unsafe, until recently. The whole thing just felt icky.
It wasn’t the first time my boundary radar has gone off with this guy (I’ll call him Ron). A few months ago, I was working on a case with him where I needed to call his client, but the client was only available in the evening. I gave him my cell phone number and told him he could give it to the client to call me in order to accommodate the client’s schedule. For a few weeks after that, Ron started using my cell number to call me during the day for business calls. I finally had to tell him that my cell number was not to be used for his convenience. He apologized, and said that he had written it down somewhere and confused it with my office number. I didn’t believe him. It felt like he just “liked” having access. But, he stopped calling my cell number, so I let it go.
He also calls me “Miss Jennifer.” This really bothers me. It seems way too personal and very demeaning. He’s from rural Florida, so I used to dismiss this as a “cultural difference.” After what happened a few weeks ago, I no longer think that. I think he’s using a stereotype from his region to talk to me in a too-familiar and non-professional way. I think he probably talks to a lot of women that way.
The Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I visited with several work colleagues. Most of us shared what our plans were for the long weekend. I learned that one person was going fishing with buddies, another was going to a wedding and I shared that I was going to be running in a 5k Color Run. I talked to Ron that day too. He asked me, like others had, what I was doing in the next few days. When I told him about the Color Run, he said, “I’d like to see a picture of that! Are you on Facebook? I might have to request you as a friend.” This immediately gave me that icky lump in my gut. I didn’t want him as a friend on Facebook, but I didn’t say anything.
After I got off the phone, I went through a series of thoughts and feelings. I noticed that I felt unsafe. Then, I chastised myself for this feeling. “He lives over 1,000 miles from here. Unsafe is a silly thing to feel.” But unsafe was not a silly feeling. It was spot on. Letting someone into a private/personal part of my life just because he had requested it would have been a violation of my own boundaries.
It was not surprising when I found a request for a Facebook friend from Ron that same evening. By then, I had had some time to think about my response, which was, “because of the supervisory work relationship we have, I cannot be your friend on Facebook.”
I’m so proud of that 🙂
I have struggled with setting boundaries my entire life. Poor boundary defenses are a major exploitation point for abusers. I’m not saying that Ron is an abuser. But, I do know that he has made multiple attempts to cross boundaries. And, I know that each time he did, my gut felt the same way it did when my abuser started grooming me. I was unable to defend myself then, but today I know better how to listen to my feelings. There was nothing that I did to encourage or request Ron’s advances, just as there was nothing I did to be sexually abused as a child. No one asks for or deserves abuse.