I crossed marriage boundaries with co-worker -- now what?
October 1, 2012 3:02 PM   Subscribe

My friendship with coworker evolved into something which is apparently neither "just friendship" neither ethical behaviour.

[English is not my native language, please excuse any errors within]

Myself and my co-worker are both married. We've talk occasionally and once or twice have eaten lunch together. About a year ago she got pregnant and instantly later she's got sent to a paid medical leave due to it endangered pregnancy. Somehow we've decided that we should meet outside work. So we did and have met about once a month for about an hour. We've met at her house, and once I drove her to the doctor. Every meeting was just coffee, tee, some cakes and small talk. Something unexpected have happened during this time. We have never spoke about it but we've started to hug and kiss each other (in the cheeks) for ours hellos and goodbyes (in our culture only family, lovers and very close friends kiss and hug during meetings). We've carefully scheduled our meetings during our spouses unavailability. Neither myself neither she have said a word about our meetings to our spouses. When I drove her home after doctor's appointment and was leaving my car she said "I'm sorry I can't kiss you because someone might see us". I gave her perfumes, she baked me a cake. After birth we've stopped our clandestine meetings but started calling each other every few weeks. Once again our conversations were just 10 minutes small talk, but she called me during work hours in a place when she wouldn't be overheard by her husband or her mother-in-law. There was none physical contact with the exception of aforementioned kisses and hugs.

My co-worker is coming back to work after her maternity leave and it seems that I am having an affair with her. How to handle that ethically? I know that I should stop it but have no idea how. We have never acknowledged that we are more than friends so I can't say to her "sorry I can't have an affair with you". Also I'm afraid that when I mention it she would deny anything more that simple friendship. Should I tell my wife?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We have never acknowledged that we are more than friends so I can't say to her "sorry I can't have an affair with you". Also I'm afraid that when I mention it she would deny anything more that simple friendship.

Install boundaries. Don't kiss her on the cheek. Don't visit with her one on one. Be professional friends. Involve your spouses in couple dates.

Alternatively, you could just say "look, I am worried about us hugging and kissing and the impression it makes on other people. I'd appreciate it if we didn't do that."
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 3:08 PM on October 1, 2012 [10 favorites]

No more physical contact! You don't have to call it an affair, and it's possible that she doesn't really consider it an affiar, although she clearly knows that something about the relationship is not right.

If she leans in for a kiss or a hug, take a step back and say, "I'm sorry, but I think we should keep our relationship on a professional level."
posted by blurker at 3:09 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like when you were at work you did not have any problem, it was only when you started meeting outside of work that it became an issue. No one at work needs to know about any of that. You've stopped meeting her outside of work already, so just keep that up and don't start meeting her alone again. I'd suggest not having lunch or coffee with her alone either, but you could do it as a part of a group. Don't shun her entirely, but being alone with her is probably a bad idea.

As to whether to tell your wife, I would say no, don't tell her, but we live in different cultures and so that may not be the right answer for you. As a woman, if my boyfriend found himself in this type of borderline-cheating situation but nothing actually happened and he didn't intend for anything to happen, that I don't think I would want to know about it. Just pull back and make sure there's no room for anything inappropriate to happen again.
posted by cabingirl at 3:13 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

You guys are work spouses. It happens. Sometimes people cross boundaries. Just dial it back. No IMs at work about not work related stuff. No visits after work. No kissing and hugging. You haven't had an affair or done anything (very) wrong yet. Just set boundaries and stick with them.

Whether you tell your wife or not has a whole lot to do with what kind of relationship you have with your wife, which you haven't told us about in the question.
posted by empath at 3:13 PM on October 1, 2012 [14 favorites]

About what to do:

Until now you can get away with not considering it "an affair", but you were just about to step over the line!

Don't make it a thing by giving excuses or talking about how wrong it was. Stop doing it, if she asks you, just say you're not really comfortable with it and move on. Also don't hang out with her more than necessary and she'll get the hint.

About what you did:

I am from a country where kissing and hugging is totally common, too. In my experience, deep down the kisser knows when they are just greeting auntie Jane or having the hots for the kissee. Try to reflect about your actions and plan, now, what your kissing policy is at work and life in general, particularly when you feel attracted to the person (it will happen!) And please don't buy perfumes for other women, that's couple stuff!
posted by Tarumba at 3:26 PM on October 1, 2012

Yeah, I don't think the way to go is to have a big talk. Just draw boundaries by no longer doing inappropriate things.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:51 PM on October 1, 2012

I know that I should stop it but have no idea how.

Treat her exactly as you would treat another female co-worker. Don't make any one-on-one plans with her. Invite her to lunch or whatever in groups with other co-workers.

Continue to be friendly, but set more boundaries. Ask after her husband and child every time you have a one-on-one talk at the workplace.

You don't need to tell your wife.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:00 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Start insisting on bringing your spouses with you on outings outside of work, say your wife would love to meet her and you're interested in meeting her husband. She'll either decline or bring her husband, both options send a pretty clear message about not being interested in an affair.
posted by Dynex at 6:25 PM on October 1, 2012

If you are from a culture where kissing and hugging are not done unless you are family or very close friends, perhaps you are from a culture where it is difficult to talk directly about these issues?

I am a non-confrontational person and as such I probably wouldn't be likely to just say to a person "I don't want you to hug or kiss me any more. We all know this isn't appropriate." or something similar as suggested above - it just sounds too blunt to my ears.

I agree with Dynex about just suggesting in a friendly way that spouses come along to any further meetings. "You know, I've thought it over and I really would like to meet your spouse and have you meet mine!" She will definitely know what you mean by doing this, and if she doesn't want to be platonic, professional friends she'll just eventually stop inviting you to do things together. Don't be offended if this happens and she was just enjoying having you as a secret friend/more than friend - you are doing the right thing here.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:45 PM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

There must be reasons she and you are doing this. Everyone here is telling you "just don't do it", but you might want to think more about the reasons you are doing it because the behavior and feelings are a possible reflection of problems in your life that need attention (and same for her). If you simply "don't do it" and do nothing else, you are possibly leaving problems untended to and they may manifest themselves again in other ways in the future. For example, maybe you are emotionally, physically, or intellectually unfulfilled. Or whatever the case may be.
posted by Dansaman at 3:17 AM on October 2, 2012

If you want to remain friends, than the thing to do is to involve your spouses. Tell your wife that you've got a nice friend from work you would like to invite over for dinner, and then invite your friend and her spouse over. With other people around you won't be doing anything inappropriate, and you'll get to spend time doing the appropriate friendship stuff, as well as sharing this with your wife. If you don't feel comfortable with your wife or her husband being involved, than you need to end things completely, and the best way to do that is to just be honest and up front with everything.
posted by markblasco at 7:51 AM on October 2, 2012

Involving spouses will certainly erect a barricade, which might be helpful. However, I'm surprised that nobody has really said anything about addressing this directly with the person involved. Specifically, I think you have an opening along the lines of "I'm glad we're friends, but when either of us is worried about being seen together or overhead talking, then something inappropriate is going on, and I think we both know that that should stop. Let's get a fresh start to going back to a kind of friends we can be happy about."

Whether this approach is appropriate/available to you depends a bit on what you mean by not knowing how to stop this. The above language puts you both on the same side in wanting to end things (whether or not that's how she felt) without the more aggressive need to get double dates going -- you can always have that as a plan B if needed.

Trust your instincts.
posted by acm at 10:04 AM on October 2, 2012

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