Does my flirty, older, married coworker like me?
February 15, 2015 11:06 PM   Subscribe

I am a woman in her mid 20's who is good friends with a coworker in his mid 30's. We talk every day (via email and chatting in person). Both of us are in long-term relationships. I suspect he may have feelings for me (but am notoriously bad at reading this and believe he is strangely evasive)--how should I proceed? Snowflakes inside.

Possibly unnecessary detail below, to mitigate my inability to answer questions, as I am posting anonymously.

Let's call my friend Jason. Last year, we worked on the same project for a few months, during which we emailed and met in person frequently. He would often drop by to talk shop, then stick around to shoot the shit. Jason is very friendly and chatty with most people, so I didn't think much of this. Prior to this project, we had never interacted with each other.

Since that project ended around Christmas, we've continued to stay in touch. He initiates most of the contact, but I also reach out regularly. Every work day, he will email me interesting links or about something funny at the office. I always respond and this often becomes a chain of correspondence spanning much of the day. In addition, he drops by to chat daily, sometimes even twice a day when we're not busy. We also regularly text over weekends and holidays, although never to carry out full-on conversations--mostly just quick remarks or responses.

While Jason is fond of blasting off emails to his teams with funny/interesting things, I'm not sure whether this volume of contact is normal for him vis-a-vis other coworkers. I do note that he is a notch senior to me and generally people in his role do not interact so casually with people in my role. But then again, he's a really friendly guy so this may be reading too much into it?

What set my alarm bells off was that once he emailed me after I'd left the office for dinner plans, and I responded when I got home--maybe 8 or 9 pm. Later that evening around midnight, he fired off an email acknowledging my response and asking some innocuous follow-ups. Keep in mind that we don't work together anymore, so this was not work related at all. These late night personal emails struck me as strange and it made me reevaluate some of our other interactions. For example, when I call in sick, he'll text to ask how I'm doing, and when I leave for trips, he'll text both to wish me goodbye and see if I got back in one piece.

Upon further reflection, I find it strange that despite our daily contact, he guards his family life very closely. I speak about my boyfriend regularly, but I can count on one hand the number of times he's ever mentioned his wife, and it was all following me asking questions about her. Moreover, they have school-aged children. How I found this out is a long story but asking Jason about them seems nosy/prying given that he has never mentioned the kids, even though we've had conversations about children, schools, childhood experiences, etc. To complicate matters, he's (without prompting) mentioned ex-girlfriends. Why would a married man mention this history but not his kids?

Jason and I do not spend time together outside the office and he has never requested that we do so, presumably because he is busy attending to his own family? None of our correspondence is untoward. There has been nothing flirtatious in content, but I feel like maybe the volume and timing is a little flirty? I need help parsing our relationship--are we work spouses? Is that a weird thing to have given our respective ages? Are we just friends? But why do I get the sense that a boundary is being toed? Or am I being ridiculous and a prude?

It feels absurd to be asking "DOES HE LIKE ME" yet this is probably the core of my question. I really do look forward to interacting with him and would like to maintain our easy rapport. But if he has feelings for me, are we headed down a path to some horribly awkward misunderstanding? Help MeFi--how should I think about, approach, and proceed with this friendship?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Imo you cannot tell whether he likes you based on the information you give. It could go either way. I'm not sure why you are asking though- do you want to initiate an affair? Are you concerned that your behavior is unprofessional? Do you want to avoid giving the wrong impression?

Your answers to those questions would heavily weight the advice I would give. As for just literally whether he likes you- you can't know until someone does something about it.

If you want to avoid a misunderstanding and your question is- are we headed that way- my answer is- maybe. In general I would avoid such situations like the plague and so err on the side of caution. But that doesn't mean he likes you! (Or that he doesn't).
posted by jojobobo at 11:22 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am a huge defender in and believer of platonic work relationships with people of all genders - huge fan of it.

But... this sounds a little iffy to me. I've had "work wives" (really just female besties at work; I am a guy): we talk about our boyfriends/girlfriends/husbands/wives/kids/constantly. We look out for each other with emails etc - but that's because we work on the same team, often on the same projects.

I don't think the late email is necessarily a big deal, in a lot of orgs answering emails late at night is pretty common. It's nice to get one not 100% work related when you're going through them late.

However, the amount of contact you guys are having seems pretty intense for me. Again; I've had, say, regular work time contact with female colleagues when we no longer work directly together, but that's like, when I'm genuinely close friends with that person. Friends on Facebook etc - I mean we're sharing stuff about our lives in general. They also have that kind of relationship with at least one other person at work - and I think that's important.

The non-talking about family, plus close contact when you're not really working together for me, doesn't seems like a great workplace pattern. I'm reluctant to say that, as I've had people make dumb assumptions about my platonic relationships in the past - but there was never any ambiguity on my or their behalf, or our partner's.

Keep up the rapport, if you like, but I would be very careful about taking it any further without meeting his wife and kids, contextualising yourself as friend, not other....
posted by smoke at 11:27 PM on February 15, 2015 [17 favorites]


Erm...I think I subscribe to the logic of "if he's a guy who talks to you THIS MUCH, he's sexually interested in you." You would probably definitely think he was interested if he wasn't married--and yes, it's suspicious if he barely ever mentions that he has a family. I kinda agree with xarnop over here that ah...straight guys who are paying you this much attention are almost always not platonic. Even if they're married, even if they're old enough to be your grandfather, most of the time this constant level of attention means on some level he's interested. He probably wouldn't spend this much time and attention on you if he wasn't. He probably isn't texting/writing his male coworkers on Saturday afternoon and I suppose you could always try asking the men you work with if he does to check. And married people, and people with kids, talk about those people All The Time naturally, so anyone who isn't doing that makes me think he's trying to hide them or make you forget they exist.

The good news is that so far he hasn't actually made any moves on you. Maybe he's actually got some restraint and that's why he's not pushing for more out of you. But...honestly, if it were me I'd probably try to lessen contact with the guy before he escalates.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:31 PM on February 15, 2015 [14 favorites]


Honestly, does it matter? You're not interested in him (right?) and if the friendship is getting too much for you or your SO or you think he's putting you in a compromising position at work by being too friendly it's ok to dial it back. For any reason and without explanation, although the slow fade is more politic.
posted by fshgrl at 11:58 PM on February 15, 2015 [30 favorites]


None of this indicates that he necessarily likes you, to me. However, I'm not you and I'm not interacting with him IRL--so maybe you're picking up on a vibe that would indicate that he's into you. But just based on this info? Not conclusive in the least.
posted by hejrat at 12:22 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hmm, yeah, this seems like a lot of non-work contact. I agree it's disconcerting that he doesn't talk about his wife given your other conversations. When I've had friendships like this at work, I try to introduce my spouse sooner rather than later, to make clear it's all platonic. This guy seems to be doing the opposite.

Here's one way to think about it: how would you feel if your partner could see all your emails and texts and overhear all your conversations? Would the content or frequency slow?

I'd say this could be heading into emotional affair territory for him. I'm not clear where you stand on all of this. If that's not what you want, I'd suggest having firmer boundaries and less contact. That can be tough, but it's better in the long run.

Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:45 AM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I had a work buddy like this guy. Maybe I'm just being overly cautious but yeah, the guy I'm thinking of pretty much destroyed my life once I started to entertain thoughts that maybe he liked me. He was super secretive about his poor wife, for example, and his home life; that let him lie to me about what was really going on with her, which led me to believe things that were very much untrue. This precipitated his divorce, my leaving my partner of eight years, and set off a chain of events that was, to put it mildly, a living nightmare.

I now stay far away from co-workers. And far, far away from men who are married but who are weirdly secretive about their home lives. That way lies trouble. He's setting off alarm bells because he is acting weird. Listen to them and start focusing more on work. I'm not saying this to admonish you, just to say that you really do have better things to do than to spend any of your brain cells wondering about this creepy bozo.
posted by sockermom at 12:56 AM on February 16, 2015 [40 favorites]


Other things here may be odd, but I don't think the timing of the email necessarily is. I answer email, including work email, whenever it's convenient to do so, and I don't assume that someone is going to be excited or feel it's extra intimate if that happens to be 11 PM. As far as I can tell I am far from unique in this.
posted by shattersock at 1:29 AM on February 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


Maybe first fully think this through from your standpoint: how would you like this relationship to be? Strictly work? Work and flirt? Work and heightened attention of some sort? Which sort? What about the you-and-ethics-perspective? If you're talking about "some horrible misunderstanding" maybe make that very clear in your mind: what exactly do you mean with that?

Depending on the outcome of this prep work (and speaking as as blunt European who does this kind of stuff), you might want to call him out on all the points you want to know more about. No tiptoeing allowed. Count your alarm bells according to his responses.
posted by Namlit at 3:06 AM on February 16, 2015


nth what Jenfullmoon said. A lot of people don't like to admit it but the truth is that with heterosexual men the more attracted they are to you the more you 'exist'. They treat women that they are not attracted to like they're invisible. I see it all the time at work. The girls in their 20's and early 30's are 'there'... the women over 40 might as well be invisible and are only spoken to when something work related is needed of them. I guess that gives me something to look forward to when I get to be 40.

Not all guys are like this, but I've never had any man- married or not (and there have been both), regardless of age, who paid this much attention to me that wasn't wanting something more.
posted by manderin at 3:09 AM on February 16, 2015 [17 favorites]


Whether he 'likes you' or not, I think the best thing you can do is pull back a bit, before the proverbial shit massively hits the fan.

You're in a long-term relationship: are you willing to toss that in the trash? Okay, that's your choice, but he's got a wife and family, and you have no right to mess in that. Yes, he sounds like a serial cheater (you mentioned a wife AND girlfriends?!?), but if he cheats on his wife and you get involved with him, it's a sure thing that sooner or later he'll cheat on YOU, too.

And finally: doing this at work, even if you were both single, is a bad idea --- doing this at work, with BOTH of you cheating on your partners, is a disaster in the making: a disaster for your partner, a disaster for his wife and family, and a disaster for your cowokers (who WILL know what's going on, it will NOT stay hidden).
posted by easily confused at 3:18 AM on February 16, 2015


To me, it sounds like you're friends.

What does it matter what time of day he emails you? An email isn't a phone call. It doesn't demand an immediate response.

If I could point to one thing that validates your suspicions (other than the fact that you are suspicious), it would be his mentioning of ex-girlfriends while downplaying the existence of his wife and children. This seems like it's intended to put into your mind the idea that you could be the next girlfriend, and maybe would be more amenable to becoming the next girlfriend if you could conveniently forget about the wife's existence.

Or, you know, he could be avoiding talking about his private life because it involves someone else who is CURRENTLY included in it. That's definitely what I would do.

Either way, we don't have thought police, and he hasn't done anything wrong, even if he theoretically might like to. So I would direct your attention away from what he might be thinking and focus on the unwisdom of having friends at work. My motto is that, at work, there are no friends, only enemies who don't have the guts to kill you. [1] Whenever I've gotten into serious difficulties at work, it's usually because I've forgotten this fact.

My instinct would be to taper off one-on-one contact with him and subsume your communications with him into the group communications he also favours. Do this gradually.

From this moment on, don't talk about your private life at work and don't talk to others about their private life. Keep a lid on it. The last thing you want is Hannibal Lecter inside your head.




[1] Judy Tenuta, except she generalizes it to the whole world, not just the workplace. Unlike her, I am not cynical.
posted by tel3path at 3:18 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


"...but I also reach out regularly..."

be careful with placing any blame here, looks like this is reciprocal...

Decide what you want out of this and act accordingly....
posted by HuronBob at 3:23 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Personally, I don't think there's anything weird about a married heterosexual man making an effort to be friends with a woman. I'm a married heterosexual man myself, and I have a number of female friends.

I also don't think the timing of the emails is particularly weird. Different people have different sleep schedules.

What IS weird to me is that he doesn't mention his wife or kids to you. My wife and my kids are a huge part of my life, so even if I'm talking to a casual acquaintance, they are going to come up sometimes. This guy is clearly beyond a casual acquaintance -- he's texting you when you get back from a trip to make sure you got back safely! That's something I would only do for a close friend. And when I'm talking to my close friends, my wife and my kids come up a LOT.

Everybody is different, and some people are more guarded about their personal life than others. If he was a work friend and you only communicated during work hours and he never talked about anything personal, that would make sense to me. But given that he is talking about ex-girlfriends, and communicating with you on weekends and holidays... it just doesn't add up to me.

On the balance, I would say there isn't exactly a smoking gun in this case... but there's definitely a distinct smell of gunpowder.
posted by yankeefog at 3:28 AM on February 16, 2015 [28 favorites]


my 2c - He likes you, and he likes the idea of flirting with a 20-something, who flirts back too. Would he leave his wife and children. I highly doubt it. Text and emails are quick and easy. You can fire these off in a few minutes and no-one would know that's what you've done. Has he called you outside work?

Also, the reason he talks about exes and not his current wife\children is guilt. If he didn't like you then he'd be joining in with the anecdotes.
He knows in his head that his wife would not approve of your relationship and if he doesn't mention her to you then he isn't reminded of that. It's an elephant in his flirting room.
posted by MarvinJ at 3:36 AM on February 16, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm in the "why does this matter?" brigade. You're not flirting, you don't see one another outside of work, you are not leading him on. In short, you are treating a work friend like a work friend, and his feelings are not your responsibility or your problem.

If you want to feel like you're being as circumspect as possible, you can... actually, there is nothing you need to change if you don't want to. You're doing nothing inappropriate, you have no romantic or sexual feelings for this man, and it's weird and misogynistic to pander to the idea that you need to alter your perfectly appropriate behaviour so as to not "lead on" a man. Not your responsibility. Don't take it on as one.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:06 AM on February 16, 2015 [12 favorites]


He's not your friend. He is enjoying the attention of an attractive distraction who is young and (in his mind at least) carefree. A good guy doesn't not-mention his wife and kids. If he really just wants to be friends he would be open about his family. There is no reason for him to be messaging you after hours and saying goodbye before you go away and checking in when you get back. Who do you do that with? Probably only your closest family and best friends. Not a senior married man you met a few months ago at work.

I know its hard to work out what is 'normal' for him. You haven't known each other long and you don't see him with other friends so you can't know if he is like this with everyone. So there's always room for doubt and you probably want to think the best of him.

All you can do is check with yourself if this is okay and normal for you. Would you be happy for your boyfriend to see your texts and emails and know their frequency? Do you feel disloyal when you "reach out regularly"? Would you like it if your boyfriend was behaving the way you are? You called this guy flirty and you admit that you respond similarly. Is flirting with others okay in your relationship?

I say tone it down. This is your workplace. He's married. You're in a long term relationship. A cooler friendship wouldn't hurt anyone.
posted by stellathon at 4:52 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Maybe start bringing up family topics, and see what happens? Or ask for advice regarding children ("my sister's having such a time with her daughter right now..I think she's about your girl's age. Did you & your wife ever have to deal with this?) His reaction may give you some insight into the relationships between him and his wife, and between the two of you. And learn to trust your intuition. It's a protective mechanism that too often gets ignored.
posted by LaBellaStella at 4:54 AM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why are you asking this question here? We can't possibly know him better than you do, and all we can do is guess. If his behavior is giving you pause, trust your instincts and tone it down. Don't respond outside of work hours except when there's a legitimate business need. If asked, just say you want to unwind in your personal time. Unless you want him to be interested in you, in which case this is a Bad Idea and you should back off for your own self-preservation.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:09 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]



Honestly, does it matter? You're not interested in him (right?) and if the friendship is getting too much for you or your SO or you think he's putting you in a compromising position at work by being too friendly it's ok to dial it back. For any reason and without explanation, although the slow fade is more politic.


This, exactly. His motivations don't matter at all (though it might be worth your reflecting on why you have focused your question on his feelings rather than your own). What does matter is that you are feeling uncomfortable, and the easy solution is to just dial it down and keep it dialed down. Don't initiate, start leaving longer and longer delays before replying, and make those replies shorter and blander. If the slow fade doesn't work then you will have the more difficult decision about saying something or cutting of contact or whatever, but almost always a slow fade out will work.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:36 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another vote for dialing it down. Specifically with the emails. I would not be quickly answering emails or texts outside of work unless I have specifically made the jump to out of work friends. Any emails at midnight would certainly keep until the next morning. The idea, for me, is to give the impression that you disappear into your personal life outside of work hours.
posted by BibiRose at 5:48 AM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


He might "like" you without intending to do anything about it - that would by my read. It's possible that he both loves his wife and his family and has a little bit of a thing for you. He may believe, or be telling himself, that he doesn't come across as having a crush. (Which to my mind he does - I mean, my best friends don't check in before and after trips unless there are some unusual circumstances.)

I'm very much of the opinion that grown people in committed relationships sometimes do have pretty innocuous crushes that they don't intend to go anywhere. This dude has never, as you say, asked to meet up or intentionally indicated in any way that his interest is more than friendly, and I take it that he hasn't said anything sleazy or too-personal. My bet would be that he just has this idle little crush on you, and probably also loves his wife.

Of course, since you're starting to notice and it is making you feel hinky, it seems like dialing back your interactions would be a good idea.

Teal deer: grown-ups get crushes, it's flattering when someone has a crush on you, that doesn't necessarily mean that anyone is a big cheatery cheat or a creep, but if it makes you uncomfortable it's okay to dial back.
posted by Frowner at 5:48 AM on February 16, 2015 [24 favorites]


You've mentioned all the signs that point to him toying with the idea of sleeping with you. He may not even like you or respect you. You are a potential play thing to him. He's probably done this before and he will most certainly do it again. Feeling flattered by a married man's attentions is like feeling special because the lion decided to make a meal out of you. Guard your heart against this man.
posted by myselfasme at 5:48 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I too believe that it doesn't matter. You are each in committed relationships. Continue to be a work-friend. Don't flirt back, just be pleasant. Perhaps don't mention your private life so much. Cut it off at the knees, before it has a chance to get inappropriate.

I was in a weird relationship with my manager at work. On Thursdays I'd cook dinner and invite the singles to our house for a meal and Survivor (this was when Survivor was a thing.) He'd come all the time. He was a friend in the real sense of the word, but I just got the feeling that there was something not quite right there. He knew Husbunny, we went to church together, it was just strange. Me? I sold our house, took a transfer and put about 200 miles between us. It never got anywhere near anything improper, and it never would have, but strange I don't need.

At work, it really is a good idea to keep a good network, by keeping things unflirty and professional. If he's not sharing details of his private life with you, that's kind of a warning. Is this a guy you'd invite over for football and barbecue, with the wife and kids? If not, dial it way back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:07 AM on February 16, 2015


There is nothing wrong with having platonic work friends, but but a married person with kids that or oguysortheir way to avoid talking about what should be the most important things in their lives in any way, even in passing, is weird to say the least. Dial things back to a more work aproriate level, don't email him in the evenings, don't reply to did you get home safely texts. Chat emails during a work day to help lighten up a day are one thing, but you guys seem to be in a grey area, not really friends, not just co workers. Would you be embarrassed for your partner to see any of the communications between the two of you, that might be a good way to judge off a line is being crossed.
posted by wwax at 6:22 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


>>when I leave for trips, he'll text both to wish me goodbye and see if I got back in one piece

That says, to me, that he likes you. I don't check in with anyone about those things other than my fiancee, and I don't really think that's a normal thing for friends (let alone co-workers) to do.

Look, your instincts are telling you to dial it back, so that's probably what you should do. In general you have control over your interactions, so you can keep this from blowing up into an affair, or even full-on flirting. But he's quite a bit more senior than you at work, so you don't really want things to get to the point where you have to put a stop to anything, because you don't know how he will react or how that will potentially adversely impact you.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:36 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


Based on all you wrote: I think he is definitely "interested" in you. Question: does he treat anyone else like he treats you?

There is a certain kind of question that appears here on AskMe quite frequently, where a person writes in that they found their "soulmate" - often at work - and now they're getting a divorce, etc. Here, for example. I would strongly urge you to avoid becoming this fellow's "soulmate", if for no other reason than that he has kids. If he's determined that he wants to get a divorce and split up his family, let that be on him (and maybe someone else), not you.

It sounds like this hasn't been going on for long? Ie, you started working together in Oct or last year, the joint project ended at the new year, and he's been keeping in touch for almost 2 months? If so, I applaud you for investigating this early - what seems to often happen is that these workplace crushes suck people into emotional or real affairs and they reach out for help when it's too late.

I could be totally wrong - in fact, I'd like to be totally wrong here. But I'd advise pulling back from this relationship, and also thinking of how to handle it if he 'shows his cards' and attempts to escalate the relationship into some kind of affair.

I wish you the best on this, and again, it's exceptional that you're being proactive and anticipating what could be a very bad situation.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:45 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


when I call in sick, he'll text to ask how I'm doing, and when I leave for trips, he'll text both to wish me goodbye and see if I got back in one piece.

These are not at all standard work communications. This is what you do when you are involved with someone or fantasizing about it. You're right to notice that it's not normal and wonder why he's doing it but I think you know. Pull way back. Don't answer non-emergency texts at night - the context of his interest gives the communication a different meaning.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:56 AM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


J. Wilson has a really good point here too. When these things go awry, it is always more costly for the junior person.

And often things can seem perfectly fine until the person drunk-dials you or something.
posted by BibiRose at 8:56 AM on February 16, 2015 [6 favorites]


For example, when I call in sick, he'll text to ask how I'm doing, and when I leave for trips, he'll text both to wish me goodbye and see if I got back in one piece.

Upon further reflection, I find it strange that despite our daily contact, he guards his family life very closely. I speak about my boyfriend regularly, but I can count on one hand the number of times he's ever mentioned his wife, and it was all following me asking questions about her. Moreover, they have school-aged children. How I found this out is a long story but asking Jason about them seems nosy/prying given that he has never mentioned the kids, even though we've had conversations about children, schools, childhood experiences, etc. To complicate matters, he's (without prompting) mentioned ex-girlfriends. Why would a married man mention this history but not his kids?


Seems like he's being a good *boss* AND he's keeping his personal life at home. What raises eyebrows is why you are so interested in his personal life. Maybe you shouldn't be looking into his life if he's taking steps to not discuss this at work.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:20 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


A married man might mention ex-girlfriend history because it is clearly that, history. It's not inappropriate for him not to mention his wife and kids, it's protective.
posted by corb at 9:41 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


How much physical touching is going on? Sounds like you have a crush on him.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:58 AM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I need help parsing our relationship--are we work spouses?

No way. The term "work spouses" presupposes there has been some sort of an agreement (unspoken or otherwise) or a meeting of the minds wherein the two coworkers act like a unit, there's a strong alliance, and a shared, intuitive understanding of the pressures, personalities, interactions, and underlying narratives of their specific workplace culture that gives both parties a sense of safety and comfort. You're most definitely not "work spouses" if you have to write an Ask wondering what the hell is up with the putative work husband's intentions.

Is that a weird thing to have given our respective ages?

The existence of a potentially-inappropriate, boundary-crossing scenario actually makes perfect sense because of your ages. Hetero married men usually are attracted to decade+ younger unmarried women, just like yourself - then the bad ones use their feelings of attraction as an excuse to violate the young woman's professional and personal boundaries. So it's not weird at all given that you're like 26, and he's like 36. Now it would be straight up unusual (because: patriarchy) if instead you were say, 46-years-old and he was pulling this midnight non-worky texting, and "just making sure you got home ok" stuff on you.

But why do I get the sense that a boundary is being toed?

Because it's true! Pay attention to your instincts here. They are saying "ALERT!"

Or am I being ridiculous and a prude?

OP, why would you even jokingly talk that way about yourself? You are neither of those things. A woman who expects some healthy, respectful professional boundaries in her life is neither ridiculous nor prudish for wanting that. I'll note that the way you framed this question is all "Does he like me?" instead of "Do I like the way I'm being treated?" which makes me wonder about your own sense of worth.

Bottom line: Don't shit where you eat. Don't dip your pen in the company ink. We have these icky adages for a reason. This fuzzy-boundary nonsense he is pulling could turn out to be disastrous for your career. Would you like everyone else at your company to see those late-night messages and your quick responses? Because in a workplace, the perception often is the reality. You don't want folks to think you're some sexually-available 20-something woman who has intentionally poor boundaries with an older, more senior man. Yes, that shitty perception is unfair -- but that's how this will play out if it comes to light. Be very, very careful what you put in writing. Start the slow fade now.
posted by hush at 10:42 AM on February 16, 2015 [13 favorites]


Nothing inappropriate has happened and you are not encouraging anything inappropriate or escalating in any way. You're not inappropriately benefiting at work from being his special friend, are you? If you like it the way it is, you're fine to continue the way it is. You're not waiving your rights to turn him down if he does come on to you later or anything.

I'm guessing it's an idle crush. You could ask him this some time: would your wife be pissed if she knew you were texting me right now? People have all kinds of marriages. Crushes are ok in some, as long as it doesn't escalate to action. Hell, sleeping with other people is ok in some, I'm not judging. The dramatic kind you want to avoid, though, are the ones where someone's got a secret.
posted by ctmf at 11:30 AM on February 16, 2015


To clarify: definitely don't sleep with him. Never at work, secrets or not. I'm talking about simply worrying about being "too friendly." You haven't done anything wrong so far and you don't have to alienate friendly men "just in case people would think..."
posted by ctmf at 11:35 AM on February 16, 2015


Upon further reflection, I find it strange that despite our daily contact, he guards his family life very closely. I speak about my boyfriend regularly, but I can count on one hand the number of times he's ever mentioned his wife, and it was all following me asking questions about her. Moreover, they have school-aged children. How I found this out is a long story but asking Jason about them seems nosy/prying given that he has never mentioned the kids, even though we've had conversations about children, schools, childhood experiences, etc. To complicate matters, he's (without prompting) mentioned ex-girlfriends. Why would a married man mention this history but not his kids?

Perhaps his wife is a very private and/or shy person who does not like the idea of her husband's coworkers knowing things about her when she hasn't met them. I know people who would die of embarrassment if they were introduced to their spouse's coworker and that person said something like "oh hey, your spouse tells me that you're into classical music. Beats that stuff on the Grammy's last week, amirite?!"

Anyway, uh, it just sounds like you're friends? Looking the evidence here...he's friendly and chatty with everyone. You know that he sends a lot of informal emails to his coworkers. You engage in friendly chit-chat but not long confessional deep personal conversations (or at least, he doesn't.) There has been nothing untoward or flirtatious in the content of his correspondence with you. He has never indicated any interest in spending time with you outside of the office.

I can't fathom what would be dangerous or inappropriate about any of his behavior. Actually, it might be more of red flag if he DID discuss his personal life with you.
posted by desuetude at 12:06 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


You call him flirty, but has he actually every flirted with you? You haven't mentioned anything here that would qualify, in my opinion.
posted by Gray Skies at 12:34 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it's pretty obvious that he likes you and, yes, you should dial it back. He's getting his jollies out of this back and forth you guys are having and I kind of doubt either of your partners would appreciate it. Plus, yes, you're potentially putting yourself in hot water, slow boil. Do you know what can happen when other girls in the office see that you're getting all this attention from a senior guy? Trust me, it's not pleasant. I've been in a similar position a few times and frankly every time I responded in a friendly manner it just got worse--for me, of course, not him. I was just as naive as you were so I understand where you're coming from. I wish I'd had Metafilter back then, to wise me up.

So yes you should care that he's paying this much attention to you because, actually, we don't live in a society where men and women are treated equally and your reputation will precede you.

I realize you may feel obligated to respond because he's senior, but know that there's a pretty good chance he's there at night lying next to his wife fantasizing about you. Just delay responding.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 12:51 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


As Ironmouth says, it seems you're the one who has a crush on him.

That in itself is nothing to feel bad about. It happens to everyone all the time. But if you're in a committed relationship, you should think hard about whether this means you and your current partner would be better off if you broke up now.

To address your specific question, yes, more likely than not, the behavior you describe indicates that Jason "likes" you in that way. But for your purposes that might not mean much. He may never act on it. He may prefer to get a buzz from your response to him, or from the fact that he "looks after" you - and leave it at that. Even if something definite happens between you and him, he is not necessarily going to ditch wife and kids to start something serious with you.

If I were you, instead of wondering about whether "Jason" likes you, I would first consider the question of whether you like your current partner enough to stay committed to him. And if the answer is "no" that's perfectly fine.
posted by Pechorin at 12:53 PM on February 16, 2015


This is how it starts.

You know exactly what I mean by "it", or you wouldn't be asking this question.
posted by kapers at 1:11 PM on February 16, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've always noticed that if a man barely mentions his girlfriend/wife and then changes the subject if you do ask about the wife/family, it is not a good sign.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 4:03 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just one person's experience - I maintain several close friendships with men who are married and/or with kids. Some of them do not mention their spouses or kids. Even spouses or kids that I've interacted with before. But AFAIK, it's because they or their SO are naturally private people. I am a single 40 y.o. female who is neither attractive nor interested. And it's a pretty safe bet they're not interested in me. Nonetheless, nothing 'Jason' has said in your question would be out of line in my little world. (Of course, it's just my little world - if your gut is telling you differently, you should probably go with your gut. Only you have enough feedback to truly answer that question.)
posted by Lycaon_pictus at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2015


Personally, I would be really uncomfortable with that level of attention from a married friend, let alone coworker. It seems that you are uncomfortable, too.
I do not think it matters whether or not he likes you. Yes, I think he probably does like you. I call this kind of thing "having a weakness for someone". This by itself might not be a bad thing as long as it doesn't make him act inappropriately. Crushes happen and do not make us bad people.
But his behavior is starting to make you cringe AND it can affect how you are seen by your coworkers. Even if it never becomes an affair. Even if the guy wouldn't dream of starting anything with you.
So yeah, I would dial it back. Without making a big deal out of it. Because it doesn't need to be. Even if he has a crush. Crushes do not need to be a big deal unless we let them.
posted by M. at 10:27 PM on February 16, 2015


I am a huge defender in and believer of platonic work relationships with people of all genders - huge fan of it.
Me too. There's nothing you've said here that makes me think this is anything other than friendship, which comes in all flavours. That doesn't mean he doesn't harbour secret thoughts about you, because it's possible he does. But I think it's pretty uncharitable to assume this is the case. I do get that many many women have sound reasons for thinking and acting otherwise, of course.

With all the societal pressure telling you that men are 'only interested in one thing' etc, it's easy to feel like there's something inherently wrong with being in regular contact with a friend of a different gender. Would you feel any different if he were female? Even if that were the case, a female could well 'like like' you too. Even people in perfectly happy and healthy relationships are entitled to have friends outside that relationship and it's not that uncommon for their to be no overlap between friend and family. The late night message thing doesn't even rate a raised eyebrow with me - I regularly respond to both personal and work e-mail at all sorts of ungodly hours.

I think it's likely (but by no means certain) that you're over-thinking this. In our cock-eyed society, I guess that's better than not thinking about it at all and ending up backed into a corner if you're wrong, though :-(
posted by dg at 2:36 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm with hush on this point:

I need help parsing our relationship--are we work spouses?

No way. The term "work spouses" presupposes there has been some sort of an agreement (unspoken or otherwise) or a meeting of the minds wherein the two coworkers act like a unit, there's a strong alliance, and a shared, intuitive understanding of the pressures, personalities, interactions, and underlying narratives of their specific workplace culture that gives both parties a sense of safety and comfort. You're most definitely not "work spouses" if you have to write an Ask wondering what the hell is up with the putative work husband's intentions.


My two "work spouse" relationships were more like "work sibling" relationships, and neither upset my husband.

The one time I've been in a similar situation, I was the person with the crush and toeing right up to the boundary line, but he (single) was coming right along for the ride. I think we both realized at about the same time that This Was Not Good and we both backed right off - we're still friends, still talk, but cut way back on frequency, don't see one another outside of work without other people around, etc. I realized This Was Not Good when I ran our interactions by my "would my spouse think this was ok?" filter, and the answer came back "no".

Honestly, to me, no one's done anything wrong yet, but I would definitely say figure out what YOU want, and act accordingly. I do highly recommend against pursuing an affair with him, but you're a grown adult who can make her own decisions.

And at work, I don't mention my spouse much, for two reasons: 1) he's intensely private (see desuetude's comment above - if something like that happened at a employee+spouse event, he'd be embarrassed/feel awkward, and I don't want to do that to him) and 2) in my industry and corporation, as a woman, mentioning my spouse overly much subtly implies that I am not independent enough to manage my career separately from my marriage and therefore should not be in the running for promotions, special projects, etc. It's shitty, because I very definitely CAN manage both of them together, thank-you-very-much, but it's a hyper overcompensation against traditional management conceptions. Ugh. In the end, it does mean that maybe, mayyyyybe my boss would remember my husband's name, and maybe one other coworker, but no one else - and those are pretty big maybes, and I've been here for 4 years now, and my husband is very much a large part of my life, and one of the biggest outside influences on the decisions I make.
posted by RogueTech at 8:39 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


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