Why You Shouldn't Be Nice To The Middle-Aged Man At Work

His name was Rick. He was a classic middle-aged man with a homely wife and a beautiful teenage daughter and they all lived in an established historic neighborhood in a remodeled ranch home. As his income and stability grew, he cultivated a palate for the finer things in life, and he began to pay attention to nice meals and refinishing his hardwood floors and buying the right smoker. He made enough money to buy fine wines and steaks and would cook for his family every night. He had begun to watch his attractiveness (what there was of it) wane and he anxiously looked for something to save him.

She was young, fresh out of college and naive and unsure of her place in the world. With pillowy lips and a nubile, overly fleshed-out body, it was the epitome of femininity that frightens younger men and fills older ones with a raging lust to pillage and rape.

They were assigned to work together on long, tedious video projects. This involved long hours of sitting in a dark studio, hunched over a computer side by side, staring at a glowing screen and laughing at the canned royalty-free music they would use as the soundtrack.

Soon he began stopping by her desk every day. Morning, noon, and on his way home. He’d stop by to say hi and wouldn’t leave. First discussing work, then lunch plans, then his personal life. His gripes about his wife were endless and sad. “I made this fantastic filet mignon and she wanted me to cook it well done!” he’d exclaim disgustedly, shaking his head. She would nod her head sympathetically, praying he’d go back to her desk so she could check her Facebook.

To save money, and because she didn’t have a lot of friends at her new job, they began eating lunch together in the break room. Watching reruns of The Daily Show, she’d try not to be irritated by his high-pitched giggle at Jon Stewart’s Sarah Palin jokes. Often he’d offer her leftovers from his family meal the night before: homemade jambalaya, fresh cherries, roasted asparagus.

They began to travel for work together, spending weekends in a Ramada Inn and countless airports. With the company’s expense account, going out to dinner was easy. Happy hour was followed by a cab ride to the expensive steakhouse in Kansas City or Baltimore or Lubbock, a bottle of wine, a shared dessert.  There were countless nights of sitting at hotel bars eating mixed nuts and drinking cheap Australian Shiraz and knowing she should call it a night and go watch HBO in her room, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. She had been raised a good Southern girl who smiled and nodded and didn’t make a fuss.

She recalls an evening in Las Vegas, dressing alone in her hotel room, getting ready to go out to dinner with Rick yet again. Looking in the mirror, she sees the black lace top and the too-tight pants and wonders if this is what her 25-year-old life is turning into: pseudo-dates with a married coworker on a Friday night at the Mandalay Bay casino.

Weeks turned into months turned into years. She would go to his cubicle and confess that she hated her life, the city, her job. He would awkwardly console her, offer options, and fervently hope she would never leave. But one day she did. He introduced her to his friend in HR and she cried (for the fifteenth time that month) on a hard office couch and told them she wanted to leave and she was sorry but she couldn’t do it anymore.

He walked her to her car after work, carrying her box of stuff, and said something that would haunt her forever: “A blind man can see how much I love you.”

She had thought they were just friends. Surely it was obvious that her attractive quotient outweighed his by many, many points. Plus, he was married. And had a daughter and a house and could retire in five years. Plus, he was old. And short. And had that middle-aged paunch that would never disappear and wore cargo shorts with a cell phone clipped on the side. When he turned 40 he had bought a Mini Cooper to reclaim that last glimmer of youth and sex appeal and he would always park next to her.

She took the box from him and hurriedly put it in her car, bumping her head on the roof. She knew she needed to leave now, right now, before something terrible happened. If he tried to touch her or kiss her, her first reaction would be to recoil in disgust, maybe even scream, but she couldn’t hurt his feelings like that.

They awkwardly hugged and she bowed her body out so her breasts wouldn’t press against him. Without looking him in the eyes, she attempted a bright, “I’ll see you soon! Okay? Thanks…you know. Thanks for everything! Bye!”

She hurled her body in the car and started the engine, refusing to look at the man in her peripheral vision. He stood there, two feet away, dejected, staring hard at her.

She pressed the gas and tore out of the parking lot, giving a half-hearted wave as she turned the corner. She was a good girl, she hadn’t done anything wrong, she had always been nice, and smiling, and a good listener, and sympathetic, and look where it had gotten her. TC mark

image – Secretary

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  • Creature

    Been in many similar situations. Very well written, I enjoyed it. Thanks!

  • Creature

    Been in many similar situations. Very well written, I enjoyed it. Thanks!

  • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

    very compelling read!

  • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

    very compelling read!

  • zoe

    awesome characterization without explicit details.  well-written and engaging

  • http://profiles.google.com/isabelle.a.ferreira Isabelle Ferreira

    too nice is never a good thing. good article. 

  • Emma

    Firstly, let me acknowledge that yes, I know this is fiction. But what’s up with this paragraph?

    “She was young, fresh out of college and naive and unsure of her place in
    the world. With pillowy lips and a nubile, overly fleshed-out body, it
    was the epitome of femininity that frightens younger men and fills older
    ones with a raging lust to pillage and rape.”

    Here’s some Rape Myths 101: Men aren’t out-of-control lust monsters who can’t help themselves when they see “the epitome of feminity” (whatever that means. And what’s up with “overly fleshed out?”). Rape isn’t a crime of lust, it’s much more complicated than that. Most rapes are motivated by a desire for domination, power, shame, and control. Others are excused by not understanding the concept of consent. And hey, men get raped too.

    What I’m saying is this: Everything in that paragraph is just terribly, horribly wrong.

    I guess I shouldn’t be too nitpicky, since the entire story is based on the idea that all men are future creeps and wannabe rapists, so I’ll just finish by saying I’m simply amazed how this writer managed to include slut-shaming, rape culture, fatphobia, and every single gender stereotype all in one piece. Bravo.

    • WhateverLoser

      Oh boo hoo

      • Anonymous

        It’s a poorly thought out piece in the first place.  If the only thing that is supposed to give away the fact that you shouldn’t be nice because you might crush some middle aged man’s heart is the phrase about being in love, that’s a lot to infer from one instance.  Is the point that we should build arbitrary rules for work engagement that exclude treating each other like human beings because one person thinks their attractiveness quotient is too high for that?  All very subjective and should be read as such.  A blanket statement is what small minds want so they know how to properly act without thinking.  

        Maybe she should have had some guts if she sensed the situation and brought the topic up to him.  How about that for a headline on this thought. “Why you shouldn’t be nice to the guy who said he loved you after you had the guts to address the topic with him”.

        Put a little more thought into it.  The article would have been much better without the blatant implications of the title.

    • Tomatoes

      Thank you, Emma, for speaking up.  I, too, got stuck on the “rape and pillage” imagery.  Cannot imagine what the writer was thinking with this whole paragraph.

      And also:  “her attractive quotient”?  “Praying he’d go back to HER desk”?  

      I’m sorry.  Truly.  But this piece is just…not good.  I have faith that Lindsey can do better than this.

    • m bell

      oh please.  this article had nothing to do with slut-shaming and stereotype.  you clearly missed the point of the article and are also probably one of those obnox people in college lit courses who got all offended by the “misogyny” in shelley, homer, hawthorne or hemingway and derailed class to rant about it for 15 mins.
      bravo to you, ma’am, for using every available opportunity to cry rape culture and dispense with gender buzzwords. cuz spotting a paragraph you don’t like on a tc article is a big, feminist move.

      • Emma

        First of all, it’s not an article, it’s a story. Perhaps you should revisit your own college lit courses.

        Secondly, I never said that it was story based on slut-shaming and stereotypes, I noted that it contained them.

        Thirdly, obnoxious, sure. But no, I never did that in lit courses because I don’t analyze classic literature the same way I analyze modern literature, not that it’s any of your business.

        Fourthly, “crying rape culture” is impossible, because rape culture is a very real thing. Ha! “Gender buzz words.” Please. Read the news, get outside, and tell me these things don’t exist.

        And finally, yes, it’s just one of many moves I make as a feminist.

      • m bell

        bahahahah. “one of many moves i make as a feminist.” by trashing other women. nice nice, brava brava.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=40304029 André Gooren

        After reading all of your comments I have this to say:  Sounds like you are fresh out of/just finishing up college and you want to make damn sure everyone knows that you managed to sit through a few Women’s Studies courses.  Just keep in mind that discourse requires a little give and take and lambasting someone is never going to lead to anything other than a vapid argument.  If you possess this knowledge then try sharing it in a constructive way.  Don’t sit in your tower and express your distaste for all those who don’t share your “worldly” view.  Also, remember that feminism is one of many lenses with which one can examine an issue–it isn’t the ONLY lens.

    • Anonymous

      1. “Rape and pillage” is a very common figure of speech, rarely used literally. It clearly was not used literally in this context.
      2. “Overly fleshed-out body” refers to the kinds of curves that fuller-figured women have that men are often attracted to but, in youth, can be shy towards or intimidated by. (Let’s be honest, set Sophia Vergara in front of a 16-year-old boy–it’d be pretty nerve-wracking).
      3. There are SO MANY things to actually get up in arms about, this piece of fiction hardly seems worth the time or effort. 
      4. All of the buzz words you listed in that last paragraph there only exist in this piece as much as you want to find them–it is more than possible to read this piece and find it completely inoffensive; it’s your choice to interpret her poetic license with some phrasing as some ridiculous pep rally chant for rape and oppression.

      • Emma

        1. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. How often is rape and pillage used figuratively in this century? It’s antequated and still implies the same things I mentioned above.
        2. That is such a gross generalization for both men and women. Not everyone’s the same, not every 16-year-old boy is straight or attracted to super-curvy women. Individualism for the win.
        3. Yeah uh, okay.
        4. Buzz words? These things are very real, not trending tags or made-up constructs. Your defense of the piece confirms them. And for the record, I never said it was a pep rally chant for rape and oppression, what I’m saying is that the imagery confirms ideas behind these things.

      • Anonymous

        Long story short, I know the temptation to find things on the internet to get offended about must be overwhelming–but pick your battles. Finding fault with this piece is a stretch at best.

      • Emma

        I didn’t have to look for it. I read TC regularly and it was simply there.

        While I have your attention, Chelsea, I really enjoyed your piece on women & comedy.

      • Anonymous

        Hey, thanks.

      • Ugh

        I do wish Thought Catalog would disallow comments. Everyone is so annoying, it’s a downer to read and even though I never want to read the damn comments, I always do!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1183680010 Samuel Walker

        I skip the pieces and just read the comments.

      • Ugh

        I do wish Thought Catalog would disallow comments. Everyone is so annoying, it’s a downer to read and even though I never want to read the damn comments, I always do!

      • Guest

        you were already the most offputting and terrible TC writer and yr now – OFFICIALLY – the worst commenter as well. CONGRATS CHELSEA!

      • Anonymous

        Oh, Guest. Guest, Guest, Guest. My nemesis, my foe, and yet–my very raison d’etre.  When will we stop this coquettish glancing at one another from behind the courtesan fans of internet comment forums and break the simmering tension?

        Guest, you know me all too well.

      • m bell

        emma, i am genuinely interested in being referred to the academic or policy publications (peer reviewed of course) that define the terms and “ideas behind” you use like “slut-shaming,” or “rape culture.”  no, really, i am curious where you are getting your info.

    • Anonymous

      Must everyone write in fear of the feminist thought police ready to pounce? Do you scan the internet looking for opportunities to lecture? Lighten up. That paragraph has nothing to do with actual rape so your comment just shows that you don’t understand what you are reading or talking about.

      The paragraph sums up a quirk of male attraction– a woman who is intimidating to boys can be irresistible to grown men. It’s a clever paragraph. It doesn’t need to be sanitized for your protection.

      • Emma

        No, I don’t believe in censorship, but I do believe in using words correctly and appropriately. If you can’t see the danger in equating female attractiveness with the desire to rape and pillage, well, I can’t help you here.

        A quirk of male attraction, sure, assuming male attraction is all the same and come middle age, all men are sad and pathetic. So who doesn’t know what he’s reading or talking about?

      • Anonymous

        Just take a step back and listen to yourself. You “believe in using words correctly and appropriately.” Guess you found someone on the internet being inappropriate. Good thing you were here to rap her knuckles. You really saved the day for women everywhere.

        It’s a lighthearted piece about, yes, a sad and pathetic male attracted to a pretty young lady. Get over yourself.

      • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

        “The paragraph sums up a quirk of male attraction– a woman who is intimidating to boys can be irresistible to grown men. It’s a clever paragraph. It doesn’t need to be sanitized for your protection.”

        Exactly.

      • m bell

        amen, dude, a-fucking-men.

    • Aelya

      *My comment didn’t show up so I have to write it again. In the event the glitch fixes and it does show up, excuse this comment*

      I’m guessing this person has not has as much exposure to certain topics as you have had. It’s not a denial of these things, but they may not possess enough education to engage in a discussion. One of the first things feminists should ALWAYS do is seek to educate those who do not know in a KIND manner, not in a manner that will scare them off or put you in a negative light. Congrats on falling into the “angry feminist” stereotype while shaming this person for using stereotypes in her article (and yes, it classified as an article because TC is an online magazine). One thing I find very very annoying is when people call out others for “____ shaming” or not knowing something, when they’re doing the exact same thing. Why shame this girl for not knowing something? TEACH HER. But teach her nicely.

    • http://twitter.com/becbyers Rebecca Byers

      You’ve taken “missing the point” to a whole other level. Bravo!

    • Almost feminism.

      Yeah, I had to reread that paragraph a few times over. I waited to see what would be said about it. Can’t censor everyone in the world for their poor diction. I’m finding that rape culture is a very tricky thing to navigate. By all means keep your poetic license. Explaining this… escapes me. There’s no need to raise arms.

      Maybe the paragraph hit me because I am a survivor. Maybe that’s why it hit you, too. Maybe you hate a poor word choice. Maybe you enjoy bashing. Maybe you’re empathetic. Maybe you want to get the word out on rape culture. Maybe you’re going about it all wrong. Maybe instead of attacking a fictional piece, you’ll write your own article. Maybe you already have. Maybe you rally and scream and protest. Maybe you type in your room to pixels who’ve personally offended you. Maybe you need help. Maybe we all do. Maybe I’m glad you spoke up. Maybe I’m not.

      Maybe we’ll walk away from this taking the post for a grain of salt.

      Well, I will. I can’t expend energy being upset or getting riled because rape culture exists. I won’t stand for that mindset, physically, in front of me. But this. This battle does nothing for the war.

  • Daniel O'Connell

    Grammatically, I don’t think “palate” really works as a substitute for “taste” … I don’t think it’s an absolute rule or anything, but just a thought.

  • Anonymous

    So… you’re saying there’s a chance?

    • Caroline Bottger

      You mean like one out of a hundred?

  • Aelya

    Alternately: Why You Should Always Make Your Boundaries Be Known And Never Do Anything To Lead A Man On

    • SaraJane

      so true. there are boundaries to being “nice”!

  • Msutter

    Yeah. Guys who age are so pathetic.

  • Anonymous

    is this a fanfic for the movie Secretary? i mean… it’s a good movie and all, but this is… weird

  • Anonymous

    is this a fanfic for the movie Secretary? i mean… it’s a good movie and all, but this is… weird

  • http://twitter.com/phamjam Andrew Pham

    Loved this so much.

  • Susiederkins

    Look where it got her? Oh no, some older guy was nice to her and brought her leftovers and listened to her talk for years and years and in the end she was totally embarrassed when he had the audacity to develop feelings for her?? Poor girl. It must be awful to have the reasonable and respectful attention of someone with a paunch and a mini cooper. 

    • A.

      Clearly, you’ve never been in this position or endured how awkward it really is.

      • Susiederkins

        Assumptions make me feel awkward. How dare you! I was just making a point about there being worse things and look where it got me *pout* I should never make another point now that I’m in this horribly awful awkward situation. Horrific. 

      • http://twitter.com/hbic09 Eria

        whatever.

    • http://twitter.com/becbyers Rebecca Byers

      How is this relevant at all?

  • joe

    one of the best things EVER submitted to thought catalog.

  • Cockyrocky

    This piece could have been written about why women shouldn’t be nice to unattractive men in general. I’m not sure why but there are many unattractive men that are oblivious that attractive women are out of their league..

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    Too many angry Tumblr feminists leaving comments on this. 

    Keep it up, girl.

  • Rebecca

    This is beautifully written and touching.

  • http://twitter.com/hellllnawww annisah

    enjoyed this! looking forward to reading more of your articles on TC

  • http://twitter.com/hellllnawww annisah

    enjoyed this! looking forward to reading more of your articles on TC

  • Ashlerose Marie

    Sometimes being kind and polite sucks. Thats life.

  • Jennifer

    Epitome of my life this post is.

  • Stefan

    this was AWFUL.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1183680010 Samuel Walker

    This is real. Don’t censor yourself for anyone.

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