Q: There is co-worker at my day job, let's call him Andrew, who will occasionally flirt with me when no one else is around. We're both 10 or more years younger than everyone else at work. I had chalked it up to the fact that there's no one else at work who either of us can really relate to, and it can be a high-stress job at times so a small outlet for fun is sometimes needed. Enter last week's company holiday party, which consisted of an appetizer buffet and free wine. Well, I had too much free wine and decided to call out Andrew on his flirting, and then I was the one doing the flirting. He gave me a ride home and we ended up making out heavily in his car, complete with groping over the clothes. I stopped it there and thanked him for the ride, but of course now we're back at work and I'm not sure how to handle the situation. I am not interested in dating Andrew; he's just not my type and I've never really been attracted to him. His flirting has increased this past week and I think he might ask me out soon. How can I nip this in the bud without having to reject him in a way that makes things more awkward for us at work?
A: Don't be too hard on yourself for getting drunk and messing around with a guy you don't like. You should be proud of yourself for stopping the makeout sesh before it led upstairs to your bedroom. Having drunk sex with a co-worker is why the human resources department exists. Also, props for not letting the incident confuse your feelings for Andrew. One little slip doesn't have to change your professional relationship. The wine simply went to your head, and now you know that you shouldn't drink with this particular co-worker again. (I also advise you to stick by the buffet table instead of the bar at next year's party, even though it sounds like you're old enough to know better. There's your scolding.)
So, short of filing your two week's notice, how do you shoot down your co-worker and still manage to avoid awkward moments at the K-Cup machine? For now, you conduct business as usual when others are around and wait for an opportunity to talk alone. Grab an empty conference room or stay late one night this week. Meeting somewhere other than work might give the impression that you want to get handsy in the front seat of his car again. Tell him that you're embarrassed about what happened because that's not how you normally conduct yourself at a work function. You're sorry if you gave him the wrong impression as to the nature of your relationship, which you hope can remain both friendly and professional. Don't leave your statements open-ended. The conversation should take no more than five minutes because there's no room for debate: You're not interested. Thank him for not talking about what happened with any of your other co-workers -- a preemptive strike, hopefully -- and be on your way.
For the record, I don't see any harm in good-natured flirting, even at the office. Innocent flirting -- winking, giving a quick touch on the arm or dispensing polite compliments -- is actually good for your health, as it puts both the flirter and the flirtee in a better mood, which in turn reduces stress. Just keep it clean for the workplace. You can alienate yourself from your co-workers pretty quickly or even risk losing your job if you're known as the naughty one around the office. Suffice to say, there's a huge difference between complimenting your boss on her sweater vs. complimenting your boss on her sweater puppies.