Was this even sexual harassment?
“Hi, you’ve reached Meredith,” I chirped into the phone. It was a summer Friday, and, though the office was at half capacity, I was trying to cover up a mild hangover.
“Hey Meredith, it’s Sam.”
Immediately, my heart dropped. My adrenaline started pumping. Thanks to open seating, I was forced to take a deep breath and try to control my ever-expressive face.
“I wanted to apologize for last night,” he continued.
“Don’t worry about it,” I smiled. A single raised eyebrow from my table mate, Steph, let me know I had her full attention now.
“Ok great,” he declared. “I wouldn’t want anything to impact our working relationship.”
“No worries. See you next week,” I said, probably. At that point, I was just trying to get him off the phone, so I could crawl under my desk and stay there until 5pm.
“Sounds good. Bye, Meredith,” he said. “Have a good weekend.”
A few pleasantries and we had totally skated over the night before. The close talking. The moment by the cab. Oh God, now it was all flooding back with a wave of nausea to accompany the adrenaline.
“Let’s take a walk,” Steph said, and the two of us wordlessly stepped out of the common space and into a conference room. “Spill.”
I was going to keep it to myself, but with that small encouragement, the story spilled out. I told her how I’d run into our creative director at the office bar the night before. Since I was new to the account, I took the opportunity to chat with him, and last call led to an invite to get a night cap at a bar nearby.
At Lillie’s, one round of Old Fashioneds turned into two, and the rest of the crowd slowly dropped off. Seemingly all of a sudden, it was just the two of us when he offered to hail me a cab.
As we spilled out of the bar and flagged one down, he leaned in, and before I put together what was happening we were kissing in one of the only darkened corners of midtown. Me and my married creative director. At least 15 years my senior.
“I can’t believe he called your desk,” Steph spit out.
As I finished the story, I was startled by her presence. By how harsh the lighting now felt compared to the warm summer night I’d been reliving.
“I can’t believe I have to keep working with him,” I said.
The next few weeks were a blur. I’d just asked to work on a new project which meant even more time together. My pace quickened every time I neared his office. Each meeting had an added layer of anxiety.
Did his partner know? Did my boss?
My emotions ranged from shame for what I’d done to fury at that shame and his actions. While I felt no desire to run to HR (What would they do? Was this even sexual harassment?), I couldn’t help but think about how this impacted my career. I couldn’t help but think I was responsible and needed to dress differently and behave differently around men in the office.
It’s a few years and a few brushes with harassment later, and I’m still not sure.