My boss makes me sniff her rotten food ... and it kinda turns me on!

Is she being flirtatious or just toying with me?

By Cary Tennis
Published August 25, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 32-year-old single guy, and my boss at work is kinda weird. Sometimes I think she is pure devilish, and other times I really want to have sex with her.

She does things like bring in to my office a four-day-old Tupperware container of her lunch, saying, "Smell this for me -- tell me if it smells rotten or what." I think to myself, Smell your own damn food! This is like total harassment, forcing me to smell it.

On another occasion she had a birthday cake and tea party in the afternoon for one of my co-workers but she failed to invite me. When I passed the area and joined in, she said in front of everybody, "Oh, I didn't even think to tell you about this because I figured you would be too busy with the rollout." (I'm doing a Mac OS X rollout company-wide.)

She really gets on my nerves and I usually think she is evil and the devil incarnate. But then I find myself strangely attracted to her. I sometimes masturbate at night thinking of her. I find myself fantasizing what it would be like to have sex with her. And yes, I've even fantasized about raping her or her raping me.

What's going on here? Why do I hate her but then want to be with her?

Dreaming of Unemployment

Dear Dreaming,

I think what's going on here is an example of the connection between sex and power. She is flirting with you but also trying to dominate you, using her attractiveness and her position of power. She is doing it probably because it makes her feel both powerful and alluring; she may have noticed the way you look at her with a mixture of fear and desire.

She may be actually drawn to you or she may simply be toying with you. In trying to figure out which it is, I would consider your status in the company, your salary, your height compared to hers, your general physical attractiveness, and your history with women. Do women often flirt with you? Or do they tend to ignore you? I know this sounds rather cold, but patterns tend to repeat themselves. In group dynamics involving sex and power, others will quickly peg you, so it helps to know how you are perceived.

The "sniff my food" incident sounds like flirtation, but it depends how it occurred. Did you notice, when she asked you to sniff her food, if you had to bend over to sniff it, or did she hold it out to you at nose level? How close to her did she hold it, or was it on her desk? Did your head have to come close to her breasts in order to sniff her food? Did she perhaps incline her head downward so that her hair came into your face? These would be flirtatious gestures. On the other hand, if it was across the room and she directed you to sniff it, that would be more an act of domination. Such an act, too, could have sexual overtones, but of a more dominatrix type. Perhaps these impulses are all mixed up in her, as they often are in young ambitious people; she may alternate between wanting to dominate you and wanting to flirt with you so that you will show her some attention.

The bottom line is that these are not neutral interactions; they are charged with psychosexual implications, and that is why you find yourself with these surprising and perhaps disturbing fantasies. She is challenging you, no question about it.

The tricky part is what to do about it. I, being conservative in matters regarding employment, and being aware of how defenseless some young men are in the hands of powerful and alluring women, would probably steer clear of her. But if you should have drinks in the office one Friday afternoon when everyone else has gone home, you might just find that she wants to have a private meeting with you in her office and that she's cleared everything off her desk.

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