lunching with interns
August 5, 2009 7:06 AM   Subscribe

i've become somewhat chummy with an intern at work this summer. i guess i have a stupid little crush on her actually. she's leaving in a couple of weeks. is it a bad idea to have lunch with her away from the workplace? professionally AND socially? nothing is going to happen beyond this, it would be logistically impossible. (i'm twice her age, married 15+ yrs) - it is rare for me to "click" with people, but when i do, it's significant, as in this case, i'm somewhat of an individualist. i've talked a couple of times to my wife about intern etc, but would not go out of my way to tell her about a lunch, "lunching" is atypical for me --but if she learned, would probably roll her eyes.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (48 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Strictly professionally? Not a bad idea. I've had professional lunches with former bosses, and it wasn't weird at all.

Socially? A little weird. It depends how comfortable the intern is, but she might be really creeped out and think you're hitting on her (you aren't, right?). Your wife could rightfully think there's more going on than just lunch. And your coworkers will almost certainly gossip.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:10 AM on August 5, 2009

I was a co-op (like an intern, but paid & recurring) when I was in college. "Individualists" seemed to find me interesting, for some reason. When one took a special interest in me for whatever reason, it freaked me out.

Leave her be, like a flower you can enjoy, knowing that it's still living its own life wherever it's growing.
posted by amtho at 7:11 AM on August 5, 2009 [8 favorites]

If you are consulting AskME on an anonymous basis before you do this, you should not do this.

Let's just call this Haddock's Law.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:12 AM on August 5, 2009 [169 favorites]

Oh, Lord. Do you really want to be *that* guy?

This is about the least "individualist" thing you could do. It's more like a cliche of middle age.
posted by mdiskin at 7:20 AM on August 5, 2009 [8 favorites]

The professional thing isn't to just avoid impropriety, it's to avoid the perception of impropriety. I'd pick a casual, public location, definitely bring another coworker along at least for the first meeting, and if you keep it up after she leaves for networking purposes, no more than once a quarter, and try to bring coworkers along for those too.

Socially? Don't do it.
posted by bfranklin at 7:21 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

"a stupid little crush" + "would not go out of my way to tell her [wife] about a lunch" = bad idea.

Just enjoy having a bit of a crush on someone. That's normal. If someone else from work suggests that a group of you take her out to lunch as a goodbye or something, that's fine, too. But what you've said crosses the sketchy line, at least for me for me, and as amtho said, could make her quite uncomfortable if she realizes this older, married guy at work suddenly has a more than friendly interest.

If you truly have professional reasons to be interested in this woman it seems like you should be able to discuss them at work or via the occasional email, discussing only professional matters, if she has provided you with an email address.
posted by 6550 at 7:25 AM on August 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

You pretty clearly think there's something less than innocent about this. Trust that. Even if it's "logistically impossible" for you to have any sort of prolonged affair with this woman, that doesn't mean it's ok to take the first step towards one. If it becomes ok to do that, what happens next time you have a crush that is logistically possible to pursue? Having a crush isn't wrong; acting on a crush is wrong, no matter how many excuses you have for doing it.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:26 AM on August 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

No. Don't cross that line.
posted by jdfan at 7:33 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Many a man your age has mistaken the precociousness of youth for a deeper rapport.

I'm not saying you couldn't fuck this young woman if you wanted to (because let's be honest, that's what you're thinking, or daydreaming about at least,) I'm just saying that you need to be more clear headed about it...

Generally it's a fool's errand, though...
posted by wfrgms at 7:36 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

If I were your wife and at some point in the future you'd mentioned "While I was having lunch with $INTERN before she moved away I said...." my first reaction would be "Wait, you told me about this gal at your workplace and somehow overlooked that you'd taken her out to lunch?!" and then yeah the eyeroll. Only you know if that sort of thing would be actually problematic in your relationship or just a nice pleasant teasing, but I'd ask yourself that specific question before you went forward with this.

I've been in sort of the intern position here and as long as it was crystal clear that this was not a date, a pre-date or any sort of "I'd like to get to know you better" situation (i.e. no romantic restaurant setting, please) it might be a decent way to say "goodbye, it's been nice working with you." Only you know if your mini-crush is, in fact, some sort of potentially problematic wrinkle to this, many people deal with workplace crushes appropriately all the time.
posted by jessamyn at 7:36 AM on August 5, 2009

How much of a special occasion would this lunch be? Putting myself in both your shoes and would not seem weird to me to take a younger former intern out to lunch or accept an lunch invitation from a former boss many years my senior if it were a really casual, convenient, "while you're in the neighborhood" thing. Stated reasons for such a lunch could be as a gesture of thanks or, "catching up" a few weeks hence. I've done this, in fact, on both sides, with former colleagues with whom I had rapport.

But strictly socially, with your new young friend? Eh. You have a high likelihood as coming off as creepy. She very well may feel obligated to be nice, and then uncomfortable with your focused attention.

I am absolutely positively not one of those "all male-female friendships are suspect" people, quite the opposite. But I have been this girl, who thinks that [older dude] would be a nice friend, and everyone was just being bitchy when they gave me the warning. And usually, everyone was right, the dude would get creepy. I also have had older male friends who were not even a little creepy, but the difference is that we had common interests outside of our initial reason for meeting, i.e. we were peers in some other area. As we became friends, we did other friend things, like meet each other's significant others. If you kinda want to keep this girl to yourself, you should perhaps reconsider making your crush into a sort of prop in your fantasy. (I don't mean that to sound harsh...I crush on people all the time, but I don't generally involve them, you know?)
posted by desuetude at 7:43 AM on August 5, 2009

As someone who was a young intern just a few years ago, let me tell you that having a guy from work who is twice your age ask you to lunch is more than a bit creepy.
posted by Nattie at 7:43 AM on August 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

If you do decide to take this intern to lunch, take ALL the interns to lunch.
posted by spec80 at 7:48 AM on August 5, 2009 [13 favorites]

Another angle on why this is creepy, from someone who's been the "intern" more than once:

If she says yes, she may be mistaking your sexually-charged interest for someone interested in actually mentoring her. Realizing that the long-married guy old enough to be your dad (so you thought he was "safe", if you're a particularly young and naive sort) has asked you on a quasi-date (and thinks, whether he explicitly realizes it or not, that your acceptance signified some sort of sexual signal on your part) instead of wanting to provide career advice or mentorship is pretty crappy.
posted by availablelight at 7:51 AM on August 5, 2009 [25 favorites]

Do you really need to ask? This is a bad idea. Leave it alone.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:55 AM on August 5, 2009

Availablelight said it far better than I could. I was simply going to say, "Don't be a creep," but she articulated exactly why this is not about your ego, but about the disappointment and disillusionment this intern might face when she realized that your interest in her is not professional, but of a more unsavory nature.

Stop trying to defend this to yourself and to us. If you have to do that, you know it's not a good idea.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I have had both mentor and mentee relations over my career. As I've advanced in my areer, it's been mostly the latter, and, being in academia, I am often working with people I have at least a decade on. Going out to lunch is generally not a big deal, but, as noted above, there are pitfalls. Something you don't make clear is whether the intern reports to you or not. If she does, then a "thanks for the work" lunch is totally OK (although leave a graceful way for her to decline). If she doesn't work directly for you, you'll seem more like "*that* guy," whatever your motives.

Something that is worth considering is: what do you hope to get out of this? Are you looking to maintain a connection (I am not talking about the affair that you dismiss above, but even a casual friendship)? Because it probably won't happen. I have had plenty of interns/ graduate assistants / students / mentees with whom I have had a close professional relationship which has persited after out professional connection ended. However, they generally slowly fade out. You exchange a few emails, maybe a postcard or two in unusual circumstances, and then lose contact. I occasionally get invited to weddings/art openings/whatever or get a request for a letter of recommendation, but, after a year or two, the connection fades pretty naturally. So, if you really want to say "thanks for the work, I appreciate it, feel free to ask for a recommendation or advice in the future," great. If you expect to be life-long friends, it's a pretty unrealistic bar. So examine your own motives.

Let interns live their own lives; being a good boss/mentor is it's own reward.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:57 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

The standard intern farewell is a lunch away from the workplace with the whole team, and a card signed by everyone and maybe a small gift. This really only could be organized by the intern's direct supervisor. Lunch is a great idea, unless it's just the two of you, in which case it is the opposite of a great idea for all the reasons listed above.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:05 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why wouldn't you volunteer this information to your wife? You already know the answer. You want permission and I won't give it to you. No. Don't do this.
posted by desjardins at 8:18 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

The intern is more interested in boys her age, than the same type of middle aged man who gave her grief every day with unsolicited flirting when she worked at a starbucks.

Come on dude...don't be THAT guy. She is not interested in you, and she being an intern just means she's at the bottom of the totem pole.

If you REALLY think you're in the right to do this...why not have a little chat with HR. Then decide if its worth it.

Good luck...on making the correct decision.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:19 AM on August 5, 2009

I have a confession to make. When I was in college and interning, I used to flirt just to practice making men interested in me. I didn't want anything to happen, but it made me feel better about myself and let me know that I had some charm, some ability in that arena.

The older, married guys are usually the easiest to reel in, but the sane ones know not to cross the line. If one of the married ones had crossed the line, I would have turned him into HR for making me uncomfortable. Even if she were interested in you, it's only because it's forbidden, in a way. Think Chandra Levy and other interns.

it is rare for me to "click" with people, but when i do, it's significant, as in this case, i'm somewhat of an individualist.

You need to meet more people.
posted by anniecat at 8:32 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, we currently have an older, male single individualist type boss who obviously had a crush on one of our grad student interns (about 23/24) and we all made fun of him behind his back because it was so obvious. I don't know if she could tell, but we think he's pitiful.
posted by anniecat at 8:36 AM on August 5, 2009

I've never been a young intern, but I am a young female professional in a field that's mostly men, and I mentor and supervise young interns of all genders.

You are not the first older employee to develop a crush on a young female intern. It's soooo common that some of your coworkers can spot it coming from miles away, if you work for a company that hires a lot of interns.

I know that it's hard to make friend with coworkers, and lunch away from the office is definitely one way to do this, but really, if you want to have lunch with her then send out a general invite to her entire work group or to all the interns. A solo lunch with an older male employee will definitely send out creepy vibes to everyone.
posted by muddgirl at 8:41 AM on August 5, 2009

Oh you know it's wrong, and you only posed the question here to have that confirmed. Please forget about having any kind of lunch with here alone because, as so many others have said here, that is just creepy and would brand you as a dirty old man with everybody that you work with.

Keep the fantasy in your head so you can use it for those times in the shower when a good wank is the only way to start (or end) a day.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 8:52 AM on August 5, 2009

I've been that intern. It is really crappy to deal with the older, married guy crushing on you. It's embarrassing, awkward, and infuriating because there's no good way to handle it. She may enjoy your company or she may not - she has to at least act like she does because she's an intern. And, I agree with muddgirl that many people can spot the crush a mile away (some of them because they've also been that intern).

Anniecat says that you need to meet more people, and I totally agree. Something is lacking in your life, but this is not an appropriate way to handle it. I suggest that you spend some time and energy making more friends you connect with, and redirect your romantic and sexual energy to your wife. If your relationship with your wife is not the best right now, this is exactly the time you need to address the problems head-on, before you make any irreparable mistakes.
posted by pitseleh at 8:54 AM on August 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Young interns, like barristas, act friendly by default. They're trying to make a good impression. Also, they are too young to understand the full implications of their friendliness towards an older guy, and are too young to send you the subtle cue that they're really just not that interested in you.

Take your wife out for lunch instead.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:10 AM on August 5, 2009 [23 favorites]

Also, they are too young to understand the full implications of their friendliness towards an older guy, and are too young to send you the subtle cue that they're really just not that interested in you.

Please don't blame the victim here. Grown men also need to understand the power dynamics at play here. Interns have to be friendly, because they need the work experience or the college credit or whatever. Baristas have to act friendly, or they risk getting fired or not making tips. Young adults who are getting their first work experience don't know they also have power (not just the people to whom they report) -- they may not know how to handle the unwanted advances, or that there is anything can be done. They may not know that one can report the situation without getting fired.

Simply being nice to someone does not mean you're interested in them.
posted by runningwithscissors at 9:17 AM on August 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

I've been that intern and I hated it when the mentor turned things flirtatious.

It's really unfair as it makes her so powerless. If she flirts back, everyone notices and thinks she's trying to flirt her way into the job. If she doesn't flirt back, she hurts your feelings, things get chilly and awkward between you, and she worries that maybe you'll sabotage her chance of getting a job. She's pretty much damned if she does and damned if she don't, and it's an unfair position for you to put her in.

A while back a mentor figure submitted me for a job at his company. The interview went really well, and I emailed him to thank him. And then he asked me to dinner. WTF? I was SO pissed that he put me in that position. He had no idea I was pissed because I hid it from him. But inside I was seething. I sort of ducked the dinner invitation, and guess what? I didn't get the job, which would have been basically career-changing. Now I have to think about whether I should have had dinner with that jerk to get the job, and if my evasion of the invite was the reason I didn't get it, and WHY IS THIS MY PROBLEM. I already have an age-appropriate boyfriend; all I wanted from this guy was a job reference.

It was so unfair of him, and in addition to the young girl in me being embarrassed and annoyed, the businessperson in me thinks he's a total douche and my professional estimation of this guy is now in the TOILET. I'm annoyed just thinking about it, and I will never recommend him to anyone for anything, ever (he freelances sometimes).

What I want you to understand is that, from his perspective, we had "a rapport". And from my perspective, we did, too. He's smart and nice, does great work, and had lots of good advice for me. I enjoyed talking to him and was looking forward to a collaboration in the future. Too bad he went and wrecked it. Now I don't like him any more. (And he still can't tell because I still have to hide it in case the job thing comes through another time).

So if you invite this girl for lunch, you won't even know how badly you've mis-stepped because she's in a position to have to hide it from you. But it's a mis-step. And it's an insult to her. Please don't do it.

One more thing. I've also been a coworker, watching "rapport" develop between the older man and the charming intern. It's inappropriate, annoying, and I guarantee your coworkers have already noticed, and are probably making fun of you. Please cool it.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:17 AM on August 5, 2009 [18 favorites]

Daisy Miller, by Henry James, is a book that many people find very illuminating regarding how a young woman and an older man interact.

You could read that book, or you could just do as KokuRyu says.
posted by SantosLHalper at 9:25 AM on August 5, 2009

would you invite a male intern you got along with well for a goodbye lunch? Would that "not get mentioned" to your wife?

It's hard not to get the impression your motives are sketchy, even if nothing will actually happen. If you really were sure you wanted to stay in touch purely as a mentor and professional contact, and would do the same with a cool guy intern, you would still have to communicate that to this intern. If there's any question, I wouldn't risk it.
posted by mdn at 9:43 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

if it was as innocent as you protest, you wouldn't have a problem mentioning it to the wife—seeing as you have already mentioned her before.
posted by violetk at 9:48 AM on August 5, 2009

Adding to the consensus: this is an extremely bad idea. It can only cause problems.

> The professional thing isn't to just avoid impropriety, it's to avoid the perception of impropriety

As is with all business ethics.
posted by ostranenie at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't embarrass yourself.
posted by HotToddy at 9:53 AM on August 5, 2009

Professionally, you could do this, if your interest were to serve as a mentor, in a kindly-uncle way.

But your crush makes it different. Given that you have a crush, already think you'd be secretive about it, and that the intern is a position where she won't feel she can refuse - definitely don't do this. It would be nothing other than taking advantage of your relative power to force an interaction which fulfills the fantasy of you having lunch with a young woman you're attracted to.

Which is just a colossally bad idea, both personally and professionally.

Workplace crushes may happen for the rest of your life. If you find you're tempted to act on them, you should probably start developing some tougher boundaries so that you don't put yourself into an absolutely miserable position.
posted by Miko at 10:18 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please don't blame the victim here. Grown men also need to understand the power dynamics at play here.

Yeah, I agree.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:22 AM on August 5, 2009

nthing the advice above.

Posting anonymously, stupid little crush, won't tell the wife...

This is a bad idea. Restrain yourself and console yourself with the sweet sadness that sometimes comes with behaving ethically.
posted by jasper411 at 10:44 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is not what interns are for.

Why not focus on her as a budding professional and a future peer in your profession, instead of focusing on her as a hottie? Women really appreciate that in the workplace.
posted by Houstonian at 11:04 AM on August 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

the very fact that you are even asking suggests that you know this is wrong.

so, the answer is no. don't do it.

i've been the young intern -- it is completely creepy when the older dude who you already know (and she probably does know) has a crush on you.
posted by unlucky.lisp at 11:12 AM on August 5, 2009

Why not focus on her as a budding professional and a future peer in your profession, instead of focusing on her as a hottie? Women really appreciate that in the workplace.

This times ten million.

Also, if you're focusing on her as "manic dream pixie girl," not leering down her blouse, you're still being creepy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:27 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure all of us are cut out to be mentors. I'm always reminded of the Dwight Schrute character in the Office taking the new salesguy under his wing. First they go egg the head office of a competing company, and then Dwight drives the newbie in a Camaro out to the middle of a cornfield someplace, drops him off, and tells him to walk home.

Since I kind of look like Dwight Schrute, and feel awkward around the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed new hires, I try to avoid "mentoring opportunities." I can show them where the photocopy paper is, though.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:31 AM on August 5, 2009

The interns where I work are all very young, pretty girls. The people they are interning under are all men. Being a woman in a peripheral department, most of the interns have confided in me that they are worried that the men are going to hit on them, and that they have to walk the line between knowing their looks probably had a role in them getting their internships, and not leading a man on that they are not interested in. At all.

YMMV, but it is very similar to a barista being friendly to you-- she wants a tip, it is part of her job to be nice, she can't really tell you to buzz off without being professionally punished.

Don't prey on your interns. Even if they're nice to you and flip their hair around. The power dynamic makes it much worse than having a crush on a coworker, who at least has the freedom tell you to buzz off if she doesn't want to go out on a pseudo-date with you.
posted by egeanin at 11:34 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have several male former coworkers, who have between 10 and 20 years on me, who have been incredible mentors to me and whom I consider great friends. I've met their significant others, their kids if they have them, been to their houses for holiday parties, and been drunk with them at company parties and on social occasions with other coworkers in tow.

And yet I still feel weird about going to lunch one-on-one with them -- am I obliviously leading them on somehow? What if someone else sees us and gets the wrong impression? (I've been assumed to be the wife and/or girlfriend more than once) What would their do to their professional reputation? What would it do to mine?

If I (and I'm sure many others) of us feel that way about those individuals we do have a legitimate rapport and friendship with, imagine how we feel about the random guy we see for a couple of hours every day whose wife isn't aware of us and who suddenly starts pursuing a social relationship.
posted by olinerd at 12:37 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can follow the advice of olinerd and also channel whatever you are feeling into a genuine mentor role, then fine.

Otherwise creepy.

I have lunch with former bosses and co-workers when I can because it's smart - and because I like these people. But these are not meetings I have to ask about on the sly and hide from anyone.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:27 PM on August 5, 2009

I agree with all of the other posters who have told you that taking this intern to a one-on-one lunch would be inappropriate. I suggest that you take your wife out to lunch instead. I bet she is an interesting, attractive woman, who married an individualist guy 15+ years ago.
posted by val5a at 2:16 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't do it. It might make her feel weird. Clearly your intentions aren't 100% professional since you have a crush on her.
posted by ishotjr at 3:15 PM on August 5, 2009

Hullo, I'm the wife. Mr. nax has much contact with an endless stream of perfectly marvelous fascinating young women because of the nature of his job, who seem to have this really bad habit of finding him again when they get their lives started. I get to hear all about them. Now mr. nax is an amazing guy, and I will love him til I die, and I think in some ways he's rather naive about what's going on, but anyway, it drives me crazy. Don't go to lunch and for fuck's sake, don't tell your wife about your boyish crushes.
posted by nax at 5:20 PM on August 5, 2009

A large part of what interns need besides job training, is to see appropriate and professional behavior modeled by the people they're around and connecting with. It's the nicest thing you can do and she'll remember you longer for the right reasons.
posted by krikany at 8:07 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

This seems bad for a whole host of reasons, many articulated quite well above.
posted by chunking express at 7:39 AM on August 6, 2009

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