By Karla L. Miller
Special to The Washington Post
— Q: I am a 24-year-old female college grad trying to break into an extremely insular field. At a recent family funeral, I met an older cousin's ex-husband who, it turns out, is good friends with someone in the field. He offered to put some feelers out on my behalf and see what he could do to help give me a leg up.
He has been a huge help so far (sending my resume to his friend, who is speaking to a couple of people about me, and working other contacts), but I'm starting to sense he may have a crush on me. We met at a casual soup-and-salad place one night so he could give me some business cards and information; when we parted, his hug was a little linger-y, and he told me we don't have to always discuss business.
The situation is starting to creep me out. He has a son a few years younger than I am. I don't really know his ex-wife — my cousin — although her sister and my mom are close.
I don't believe I've been flirtatious in the least. I hardly ask him anything personal, except about things such as his career and where he grew up, so I don't seem totally self-centered.
I've told my mom about his offer of help. Should I tell her about the vibe I'm getting? Should I cut this off immediately? Should I ask him to clarify his intentions, and if so, how should I go about asking in the least awkward way possible?
Q: Mmm, I just bet he wants to give you a leg up. The question is not whether he's interested (the squealing violins in your head are telling you as much), but whether he's intentionally using his contacts as bait.
Time to turn on the Skept-o-vision. Do his "feelers" (ew) check out? Have you met any of these contacts, or is he controlling all communication? Can you verify his friend's existence online?
If you want to try to find out just how fast you should be backing out of hug's reach — is he volatile or just cluelessly optimistic? — mention to your cousin or her sister how much you appreciate Ex's efforts to help you. Then watch like a hawk for the reaction. Speaking of hawks, if I were your mom, I'd want to know.
In any case, you should restrict further networking with him to phone or email. If he balks or tries to guilt-trip you, you're done. That's not how networking works. And start cultivating leads elsewhere: LinkedIn, networking events, an internship. I guarantee soup-and-salad with this creepy ex-cousin is not your only entree into the field.
Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.