when a married client brings his mistress to dinner

A reader writes:

My company recently hosted an event for our top clients. It was billed as a social event, but there was a lot of business talk going on as well.

One of our clients showed up with his mistress…yep, his mistress. He did not ask us ahead of time if he could bring a guest – in fact, other clients asked to bring spouses but we said no because of space issues with the venue.

Needless to say, it made several of us very uncomfortable. This client is married with several children. He has referenced his wife several times in meetings. And yes – I was able to confirm that he is still married. I should also mention that my company paid for this client’s travel expenses to attend this event.

Judgements aside (which I’m really trying not to do), do you have any advice for being around this person in the future? Personally, I don’t want to do business with someone who is dishonest in their personal life but I’m not in any sort of position to cut this client loose. My philosophy is that if your spouse can’t trust you, I probably can’t either.

I wrote back and asked, “Are you sure that this was a mistress and not someone else (business associate, sister, etc.)?” The response:

He referred to the woman as his “special friend” a few times during the event. They were also pretty “friendly” with each other (linking arms, rubbing each other’s backs, making googly eyes at each other). She also said something about sharing his hotel room with him. Very weird stuff!

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a sister.

I suppose it’s possible that he has an open marriage and his wife is just fine with this arrangement. (Hell, if this gets her out of going to his business functions, maybe that’s why she’s okay with it.) But if that’s the case, you’d expect him to still realize that it’s going to make bystanders who aren’t in the know awfully uncomfortable. So regardless, there’s a serious lapse in judgment going on here at a minimum.

And actually, his judgment here is the bigger issue to me. His marriage is his own business, but putting business associates in a position where they have to witness what looks like adultery — something that most people are uncomfortable being a party to — is gross. It says he’s either utterly oblivious to social norms, or doesn’t care about his impact on people around him, or worse.

But if you’re going to continue working with this guy, all you can really do is accept that he comes with some pretty questionable personal behavior, some of which might be on display in front of you. It could help to remember that he’s not the first client to come in an eccentric package, and these clients are at least good sources of amazing stories that you can regale people with in the future.

Beyond that, though, I don’t think there’s really a satisfying answer. This guy is perfectly comfortable behaving like an ass in front of business contacts.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 154 comments… read them below }

  1. Laura*

    To play devil’s advocate, is it possible he is in a plural marriage? I’ve been watching too much of the TV Show “Sister Wives” and they were discussing what happens at work when the male shows up with different women.

    If it is their religion, you don’t want to discriminate on him based on it. However, I do think what he did is a total lack of judgement.

    1. fposte*

      Eh. The problem isn’t that he might secretly be married to her, it’s that he brought this lady along to a non-couples event and presented her as a mistress. That’s a judgment issue whether they’re polyanything or not.

      1. Emily*

        His behavior would have been inappropriate in a professional setting even if the attendee was his wife. They explicitly said no guests, and he brought one anyway. Public displays of affection, making googly eyes, etc. at a business function just make other people uncomfortable, even if it is directed at a generally more socially acceptable partner.

        1. OP here*

          My personal feelings aside, this was my main issue with his behavior. IMO, if you are attending a professional event, you should be on your best behavior – it’s not the time nor place to get lovey with your spouse/partner, get fall down drunk, etc.

          1. some1*

            I’m with you there. I used to work with a couple who were lovey-dovey in front of people and I work with one now that argues in front of people. Awkward.

          2. TL*

            Eh, I don’t think any of the stuff you listed would have bothered me with a couple if it was very brief and discreet, like running the SO’s back as they passed or sharing a private smile for no more than a second or two.

            But if was big, obvious, or repeated frequently, I can see it being PDA.

        2. JFQ*

          ” They explicitly said no guests, and he brought one anyway.”

          They explicitly said no guests to those who asked; there’s no mention if that policy was broadcast officially.

          1. Zillah*

            Sure… but that only goes as far as someone not understanding that and bringing a spouse or longterm partner, because they are counted as a single social unit (and, in fact, the company should not have called this a social event and then excluded them). You don’t get a generic plus one unless it’s explicitly said that you do, and if he has several children and is an important client, he’s old enough to know that.

            1. TL*

              To be fair, there have been many instances of a married person being treated like a social unit with a partner they’re not married to. (I just read a book about different mistresses, actually.)

              But – this is not that situation.

              1. Zillah*

                Sure – these days, long-term/cohabitating partners are also generally included under that umbrella as well, not just spouses. However, according to today’s rules of social etiquette, you and your mistress are not a social unit, and few people would consider treating you as one.

          2. Cassie*

            My boss told me his wife would attend an event with him, but it didn’t seem like the kind of event that welcomed +1s, so I contacted the organizers and sure enough, I was right. It was awkward having to ask and having the organizers say (hesitantly) “well, she could stay in the hotel room, but the dinner is only for [the boss]…”

            And then I had to tell my boss that his wife couldn’t attend with him. I wish invitations would be clear (although what kind of wording can you use to say “no plus ones, please”?)

            1. Jessa*

              You shouldn’t have to. If you allow +1 then the invitation should say so. The etiquette is only the person(s) invited comes. You shouldn’t have to ask. If your boss’ wife was invited, they would have said so. Or should have, if they had half a clue about inviting people. And if the invitation was “+1 welcome, but you foot the cost, we’re only paying for you,” that can be made clear as well.

              1. Zillah*

                There’s a difference between +1s and spouses, though. You certainly should never assume that you get a plus one. However, it really is rude to invite a person to a social event and exclude their spouse, and I think that when you’re talking about quasi-business quasi-social events, it should be made clear.

      2. Jessa*

        What fposte said. The bigger problem is everyone else asked and was told no, and he just showed up with someone. That’s a far bigger issue than diagnosing his relationship status.

    2. anon-2*

      “Plural Marriages”, “Open Marriages”, “polyamory”, etc., may seem like something fabulous – heck, they make great television, right?

      But these are not generally, socially acceptable, and thus they’re not socially acceptable in a business environment.

      I once worked in a place where we had a manager who was married, and had at least one other girlfriend, either in the office or outside the office. Now, that was in the 70s, and this place was a “good old boy network” place, so – and I am not making this up – such behavior was viewed as meriting badges of honor.

      But in the mainstream world – “horsing around” in any way, shape or form, today is frowned upon.

      Polygamy – even if some people claim that their religious beliefs allow it or encourage it — it’s not condoned by mainstream society. And regardless of the pseudo-reality TV shows that now are the rage — did you know, polygamy is ILLEGAL everywhere in the United States and Canada?

      1. A*

        I have to jump in here but polygamy is illegal, yes. But polyamory is not.

        The fact that my husband and I have both have committed second partners is not illegal. It is our business. And believe me, it would make quite a boring TV show.

        I have friends who have openly brought their partners to work function. This man this nothing wrong beside bringing somebody not on the guest list. The worst he is guilty of is a social faux pas but if the invitation had be clear, the other guest would not had the need to call to inquire if they could bring someone.

        And I know fully well that this is an American website but I’m in Canada. By Canadian law you cannot fire someone for things happening in their personal lives. An employee is simple to be ranked/hired/fired/discipline for their actual work performance.

        In this case, holding customers to some sort of internal moral compass pretty much would result in the company going under.

        1. fposte*

          If he’s poly, I agree he did nothing wrong beyond bringing his personal life to a business do (and that the business pretty much set themselves up for that). But we don’t know that he’s poly. And if he’s out enough to bring his non-wife partner, why all the gaggy cuteness about his “special friend”? I’m skeptical. (Honestly, if he is poly there’s a distinct possibility he was deliberately enjoying the false narrative his behavior was suggesting, which is pretty schmucky too.)

          1. TradeMark*

            Agreed, I will provide an alternative viewpoint in that I’m also ‘polyamoury’- [ous] as you put it I guess (we just think it’s normal), but the whole ‘special friend thing’, being all cutesy-cuddly, is even to me = gag.

            I have several ‘partners’ as you put it, and I would bring my primary partner to a work function, and/or bring my secondary partner if they were the clear ‘work-function’ best person. And only then, if there is a clear +1 on the invitation, none of my other partners would even merit an invitation to such a thing. Then again, I’m in Australia, we tend to be a bit more tolerant about this sort of thing than Americans are (correct me if I’m wrong).

          2. Anne*

            Yeah, agreed. My husband and I are also poly. It works great for us and we’re out to a few co-workers each. But even then, I would never, ever behave in the way discussed in this post.

      2. Anon*

        Polygamy is only illegal if you try to legally marry more than one person. Most of these families aren’t legally married, they’re what they call “spiritual marriages”–they aren’t registered with the government, only with their church. Most of these families aren’t, in fact, doing anything illegal by existing (any more than a man with a wife and multiple mistresses is).

        The illegal practices that groups like the FLDS are usually accused of generally fall under things like child abuse, welfare fraud, statutory rape, etc. It has nothing to do with the style of family unit and everything to do with how their religion views women and the federal government. Polyamorous families who aren’t religious don’t have those same dynamics or issues.

        1. Natalie Anne Lanoville*

          IIRC there are some jurisdictions that have passed laws making it illegal to live conjugally with more than one person. Don’t know if they’ve actually prosecuted anyone for it, but I think it’s been tried.

      3. Joe*

        Replace “plural marriages” with “same-sex marriages” – those were not socially acceptable not-so-long ago, and there are still some people who do not accept them. Or replace it with “interracial marriages”, and there was a time where those were just as socially unacceptable. We do not get to be the arbiters of how other people choose to live their lives. If someone wants to marry someone of another race, of the same gender, or multiple people, that does no harm to the rest of us, and we shouldn’t worry about it. And if they then bring their spouse with them to social gatherings, that should be no different than any other spouse coming.

  2. Just a Reader*


    Honestly, I think you have to focus on how this person does business day to day and react to that. Not that your feelings aren’t 100% valid, and his judgment is definitely questionable at best–but if you can’t change the situation, dwelling on something outside the sphere of normal operations isn’t going to be at all productive.

    1. some1*

      I seriously doubt she’d be able to figure out from this letter if her husband is the client in question. Tons of married women have several children and husbands who travel for work.

      1. NylaW*

        I know. I was just being facetious. :)

        But in general people who have bad judgement like this tend to get caught.

        1. some1*

          You would think. Maybe he figures because they are out of town and he’s a client he can afford to be less than discreet.

  3. Chocolate Teapot*

    Hang on. If I am reading this correctly, he brought his lady companion along without prior warning? That suggests that he doesn’t care about messing people about.

  4. AB*

    On a practical note, if you’re going to have a social business event that spouses or special friends are not attending, you can always be sure to make that perfectly clear to this client upfront (and also simply don’t have any business events with this client that you would bring spouses to, if possible)

    1. fposte*

      Though they should really downplay the “social” side then–it’s just a business event, period. I think they want it both ways at the moment–ooh, it’s a gracious social dinner during your personal hours! But only for our business connections–no personal connections allowed!

    2. Ethyl*

      Yeah that was my take-away too. If lots of people were confused about whether spouses were invited and one guy brought a guest unannounced, regardless of who it was, you need to be clearer in the future.

      Now, having said that, I’m struggling to come up with a polite way of discouraging guests. I may have reached my quota today in “wording uncomfortable things politely and compassionately” though, so hopefully other posters have ideas!

      1. OP here*

        I agree with you all – for future events, I am going to suggest we make it really clear if clients are allowed to bring guests or not.

        1. BadPlanning*

          Some people still don’t think the rules apply to them and they always should be able to bring their spouse or spouse like person (I think we’ve seen AAM letters on both sides). This client might be an ongoing problem in this regard. Good luck!

          1. fposte*

            To be fair, the hosts apparently didn’t think the rules applied to them either, because a social event out of hours isn’t supposed to exclude spouses.

            1. Jamie*

              This. In social situations married couples are treated as one social unit, in business we’re all individuals.

              If they stopped blurring the business/social lines we could just follow the rule book and everyone would be on the surer footing.

              1. Cassie*

                I work at a public university and spouses are not supposed to attend any kind of events – whether it’s more business-oriented (e.g. a lunchtime seminar) or social (e.g. an annual alumni dinner). If spouses do attend, you have to explain why they were there.

                Sometimes it’s simply because the person is interviewing for a job and the spouse has traveled with the job candidate because (duh) they both want to see the area they may be relocating to – but other times, it’s because the person simply brought his/her spouse with them. I wonder if accounting would accept that reason – “the spouse showed up with the guest and we felt it wasn’t within the univ’s best interest to tell the spouse to go away”.

            2. Bwmn*

              If that is the case – then there are many Embassies around the world (including the US embassy/consulate) that break that standard. In a previous job, I was invited to a number of embassy cocktail parties and some dinners. With one more bizarre exception (where the “cocktail party” was scheduled from 1-3pm on a Tuesday), all of the events occurred after business hours. And about half of them were for invitee only.

              I would occasionally have to check is spouses were included on behalf of my boss, because 50% of the time when +1 wasn’t listed – it meant only the name of the invitee was invited. The US Embassy is included among these “offenders”. Rules are not, they’re not rules followed by a wide number of professional actors who host events.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        Its an off-site business event. By using the term business and keeping social out of it you’ve made it clear that work is being done – just not at the normal place of operations.

      3. Shuvon*

        Modified wording from some wedding sites:

        — We would love to spend as much time as possible focusing on business matters — thank you for not bringing a guest.

        — Our venue is small, and this meeting is strictly for business. Thank you for not adding guests.

        — We’ve saved one space just for you.

        — Send RSVP cards with the invitation that say “One seat has been reserved in your honor. _____ Accepts _____ Declines”

          1. Ethyl*

            Yeah but look, guests cost money. I had people bring guests to my wedding that were not invited (i.e., they didn’t get a plus one and I thought our RSVP cards were clear on that) and at our reception, food and bar came out to freaking $70 a person and also we had very carefully arranged the seating at our quite small venue. So yeah, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make sure people understand that this isn’t a kegger where they can bring themselves and five of their closest friends.

              1. Ethyl*

                Why? Why is it “sad” that I don’t want to pay to feed complete strangers at my own wedding? Why is it sad that there aren’t enough chairs or space for unexpected guests???

                1. PurpleChucks*

                  I took fposte sadness on the other end: that people are so inconsiderate as to bring uninvited guests and that necessitates having these types of thing on invitations

          2. Chinook*

            I thin making it clear that the the focus of the event is business or that only the person named is invited is perfectly appropriate. What is rude about asking the invitee to come alone?

      4. Jessa*

        I still think from an etiquette perspective, an invitation for one person, is for that person. If others are involved the invitation should say that. It’s always been that way. I was taught it’s rude to call and ask if someone else can come. The only reason I’d think that it would be okay in business is if the question was “can we bring Sarah, she’s going to be the team lead on the project, in the second quarter when I go on holiday,” or some other legitimate business reason for the second person to be there that the host company might not have thought of.

        1. Bwmn*

          Rude or not, in the business realm – I’ve also been asked numerous times to presume that the invite sent to the Director is essentially an invitation to the organization. Therefore if X is invited and the invitation sent to the place of business, a job task I had was to call and essentially say “ED will be unable to attend and we wanted to request if Bwmn could attend on her behalf”.

          Never stopped being awkward for me and I’d never do that for a social event – but for my line of work and the nature of the invites, it was a fairly accepted practice.

  5. Gene*

    You have some valuable information; you know he is lacking in the ethics and honesty departments and has excess chutzpah. Use that to your advantage; examine all documents from and dealings with him more closely than usual, feed his ego, occasionally let him think he’s gotten one over on you.

    1. TL*

      This doesn’t necessarily mean he’s unethical or dishonest. He could just have really bad judgment about what’s professional and appropriate.

      1. Zillah*

        No, but it certainly points that way. You don’t need to have enough evidence to convict him in a court of law to closely scrutinize someone you know to either be dishonest or unaware of others to the point of being rude and discomforting.

        1. TL*

          They can closely scrutinize, sure – this speaks of rather questionable judgment. It’s just when someone’s that open and confident about having someone on the side, I generally think there’s an understanding between the couple about infidelity – even if it’s just “do what you want as long as I never hear about.”
          I wouldn’t jump to “I know he’s unethical” from this. I would jump to “I know he has bad judgment and is not aware of professional norms.”

        2. fposte*

          I’d certainly side-eye him, but there’s a fair amount of evidence to suggest that dishonesty in people is really situational, and that the post-it nabber really isn’t likelier to be an adulterer, and vice versa.

          The other complication there is that if this guy is cheating, he’s remarkably open about it, as opposed to what everybody else at the table may be getting up to. I’d be less annoyed with him for adultery than for the apparent reliance on some kind of Mad Men-era pact that we’d be on his side here and keep our mouths shut to his wife.

          1. TL*

            Yeah. I’m assuming that they don’t really interact with his wife, but if they did at all, I would be exceptionally annoyed.

  6. Is This Legal*

    OP – if spouses were welcome, would you have had any objections? If the mistress was not interfering with your work/interactions then I’ll let God (if you believe) be the judge.

    1. OP here*

      Honestly, if they would have been more discrete about their situation (i.e. not getting physically friendly with each other), we would have been none the wiser to what was going on with them personally and I would not have an issue with it. I’m definitely not condoning adultery, but if I don’t know about it, I can’t say anything about it.

      1. TL*

        If they had been married, would their physical behavior be considered obnoxious PDA?

        I can understand being uncomfortable with it either way, but if it was just little stuff like a private smile or two, a hand on the back – well, I wouldn’t bat an eye at a married coupled doing that. If it was a pretty obvious display, though, it would’ve bothered me married couple or no.

        1. fposte*

          I’d bat an eye if it was combined with bringing a spouse to a work event where people weren’t bringing spouses, though.

          And then add this to the fact that this wasn’t his spouse…

          1. TL*

            Bringing a spouse where no spouse has gone before would make me a bat an eye, but acting like a couple once they were there wouldn’t bother me.

            1. fposte*

              It’s the combination that I would find off-putting.

              And it doesn’t matter, because that’s not what happened. The fact that he put this group in a very uncomfortable position by not knowing whether they’re keeping a secret of his from his wife or not is more important than the rest of it.

              1. Jessa*

                I’d feel just as uncomfortable if it was the wife or the domestic partner/civil partner with him. He brought someone without checking, and was acting unprofessionally. PDA is no more appropriate in a business situation if it’s with your monogamous steady partner.

          2. TL*

            The fact that it wasn’t his spouse is very important in terms of appropriateness, it’s just that the behaviors described could have gone unnoticed if it was a couple. Or could not have, just depends.

  7. CAA*

    I know this wasn’t the question, but if this is a social event that requires hotel rooms and travel expenses, it seems odd to exclude the clients’ significant others. In future, either make it a business event and announce clearly to everyone that you cannot accommodate additional guests, or keep it a social event and invite couples.

  8. Zillah*

    I don’t have any good advice, OP, but you have my sympathies. That sucks, and this guy is definitely an asshole. Like Alison said, even if he has an open relationship with his wife, he needs to understand what this looks like. It would be different if you’d happened to see him while you were out… but this is was a business function!

    Ugh. Some people.

  9. Mike C.*

    Man, I can’t imagine how pissed off all of your other customers were that one guy brought someone and the rest didn’t.

    1. Jamie*

      That’s what I was thinking. I hate those things and if I had to suffer through without the option of my wonderfully gregarious, charming, and extroverted spouse who loves that kind of crap and takes all the pressure off me. I would not be happy someone else had a +1 while I was miserable trying to think of stuff to say.

      And I’d be mad at myself for being such a rule follower that I wouldn’t be able to bring him if he wasn’t specifically invited.

      1. Is This Legal*

        Most times I see people I could never imagine they are uncomfortable. Love the internet, makes me realize we are many

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yep. This is how etiquette books came into being- that need to remove awkwardness/discomfort in social interactions. I

  10. JM*

    What he does in his personal life shouldn’t have a reflection on what he does in his professional life. The bigger issue is that he brought a guest when there wasn’t really enough room for them. That falls down on whoever planned the event that they didn’t make that clear. What would have happened had the other people not asked and just brought their guests? Would there have been enough room?

    1. Zillah*

      I disagree. What he does in his personal life shouldn’t have a reflection on what he does in his professional life, unless he brings his personal life into the workplace – which he just did. You can’t have it both ways – either it’s personal and has no place in the workplace, or it’s being imposed upon the workplace and they can judge/comment/act accordingly.

      1. Zillah*

        Also – in general, it shouldn’t just be assumed that events include a generic and automatic +1. Spouses (and, increasingly, long-term/live-in partners) often end up invited to events because they’re treated as one social unit. That doesn’t mean that you get to bring someone else if your spouse/partner can’t come unless you’re told you can bring a guest – which is different.

        Even if spouses and partners had been invited to this event, he still would have crossed the line by bringing someone who is clearly not included under those rules. He and his mistress are not a social unit.

      2. JM*

        They can judge and comment on it when it takes place but afterwards in business situations, why? I know I’m in the minority on this but it just boggles my mind on why everyone is so focused on how one situation HAS to correlate to another.

        1. Zillah*

          Because situations do correlate with each other.

          This isn’t a matter of the OP happening to see the client out on a date with someone who was not his spouse. This is a matter of the client bringing someone who was clearly not invited – because whether or not people were unclear about spouses, there’s no indication from the OP that anyone was asking about generic plus ones – to a business event and being inappropriately intimate with them. Worse, he must have known that doing this would make people around him uncomfortable, because he was essentially making them an unwilling accessory to his adultery because they were attending a business event.

          That indicates a disregard for the people around him that runs a lot deeper than just having an affair.

          1. Anonymous*

            *Worse, he must have known that doing this would make people around him uncomfortable, because he was essentially making them an unwilling accessory to his adultery because they were attending a business event.*

            The OP says they called it a social event and she commented further down that this is a new client. Other people are uncomfortable so he can’t bring whoever he wants? What if people are uncomfortable with homosexual couples or interracial couples? They shouldn’t be allowed to bring a guest?

            Obviously, they weren’t supposed to bring a guest but if he wants to be an adulterer(which we still don’t even know bc we don’t know what the deal is in his house), that’s between him and his wife.

            Honestly, IMO that’s what the OP’s big issue is not that he brought a guest and no one else did, not that there was PDA(which I’m sure made it worse) but that he brought a guest that wasn’t his wife.

            1. Zillah*

              No, Alice. I will not follow you down that rabbit hole.

              1) Your analogies don’t work, because what you’re talking about is discrimination. Telling people they can’t bring a spouse/long-term partner because the relationship is same-sex or interracial is discrimination based on sexual orientation or race. I’m not sure that it would be illegal, but I suspect there are many places in which it would be, and it would certainly be terrible PR.

              It is not discrimination to tell someone he cannot bring his mistress. Discomfort is not a good reason to discriminate against people for traits like race, sex, or sexual orientation. However, discomfort is a perfectly good reason to exclude people for plenty of other things, whether it’s in your personal life or your business.

              2) You’re not actually entitled to bring “a guest” to social events. If you are explicitly told that you can, then you can. Other than that? It’s rude to exclude spouses and cohabitating/long-term partners. They should be treated as one social unit; it’s simple etiquette.

              That isn’t the same as “a guest” or a “plus one.” If you aren’t in a serious relationship, you don’t get “a guest” in those situations, and if your partner can’t come, you can’t bring someone else. Most people, especially people who are well into their careers, are aware of this. His wife would have been an understandable mistake. This was not.

              Even if this guy has an agreement with his wife, she is still his primary partner, and she’s the one who gets the invite.

              3) As has been discussed on askamanager many, many times, it’s important to be mindful of appearances. Whatever this guy’s agreement with his wife is, he has to be aware of what this looks like to everyone else. Most (sensible) people want to keep drama out of the office. He’s introducing it, and he’s making sure that it’s one of the OP’s company’s first impressions of him.

              And, of course, by bringing his personal life into the office, he has invited other people to comment on it.

              4) The OP has explicitly addressed this: My personal feelings aside, this was my main issue with his behavior. IMO, if you are attending a professional event, you should be on your best behavior – it’s not the time nor place to get lovey with your spouse/partner, get fall down drunk, etc.

              So no, their main issue was not that he brought his mistress – that just added another layer of ick to it.

              1. Ethyl*

                “You’re not actually entitled to bring “a guest” to social events.”

                YES. A plus-one is a bonus, a nice thing to do if you happen to have the money and room. It’s not to be assumed.

                1. OP Here*

                  For what it’s worth, for past events, we’ve never had anyone request to bring a spouse/significant other to an event. Our clients travel a great deal, and I would assume that their spouses/significant others are used to them being gone. Now that I know it might be an issue, I’m going to suggest that we politely give our guests a head’s up that we’re only inviting them – not additional guests.

                  Our company’s culture (at least my division) doesn’t typically invite spouses/significant others to events. In fact, I can’t think of a single event in which someone’s spouse/SO has tagged along. I know it’s more acceptable at some companies, but not at mine for whatever reason. My coworkers and I are there to work, and we expect our guests to take it as seriously as we do.

                  On a personal note, I think it’s really tacky to assume you are entitled to a +1. If you’re unsure, just ask. To Ethyl’s point, extra people means more money. We spend a great deal of money on these events (over six figures) and “extra” costs add up very quickly. I’m sorry, but a business function does not equal a paid vacation in my eyes. It’s about respect – if someone is kind enough to invite you to dinner, you don’t want to be the guy or gal stuffing your jacket with dinner rolls and silverware to take home. It’s just gross, IMHO.

  11. Poohbear McGriddles*

    I wonder if this was some sort of power play by the client. If he reasonably should have known that (a) significant (or not-as-significant) others were not invited and (b) your company knew he was married… to someone else, maybe it was his way of flaunting his ability to be above your and society’s “rules”.
    Another possibility is that his marriage is ending and he already has a new paramour. Maybe he was so happy to get to take her on a special trip that he totally forgot to make sure that was okay with the company paying his expenses. Love can make people do stupid things.

    1. OP here*

      These are great points, poohbear. We recently starting working with this guy and it has the potential to be a good partnership for both of us. However, we need him more than he needs us, so it could be a case of him trying to test us to see what he can get away with.

      To speak to your other point about his marriage ending, I wondered that too. My colleagues had a meeting with him less than a week before the event. At the meeting, he brought up his wife several times and discussed an upcoming family vacation. It didn’t sound like the marriage was ending by anything that he shared that day but who knows?

      1. L McD*

        I mean, it’s worth noting that in social/business situations, people whose marriage is ending (or has already ended) often won’t talk about it, until it becomes inevitable for people to find out. Especially with kids, it’s quite possible they’re trying to carry on as if everything is normal for the time being, and that often bleeds over into the way people act outside of the family, too.

        That said, if his marriage IS ending and he already has a mistress he’s being all googly with at a business event, I’m guessing it wasn’t a huge surprise to him.

        Puppy love can make people act like absolutely morally bankrupt idiots, and it’s debatable whether that really reflects on their character as a whole. But it sounds like he may have used this business trip as an excuse to have a vacation with his mistress, so what else is he willing to do at the company’s expense (literally and figuratively) to get his jollies? He may not have a pattern of making poor judgments, but he’s making poor judgments NOW, and he’s your client NOW, so this could be come a much bigger issue for you. Definitely something to keep an eye on, though I agree there’s little you can do about it now.

        1. I wish I could say*

          In my ex’s case, his brazen behavior extended from lust with the coworker to a huge ego in his career. Having someone 15 years his junior and being naughty really gave him a big head. *ahem*
          He began to blow off meetings and act like his ideas were the only ones that mattered; if you weren’t on board, you were an idiot. The powers that be didn’t want him representing our employer.
          He literally was shown the door.

  12. Yup*

    Sounds like you have a client who’s a bit boorish, socially. He brought an uninvited guest, who was a personal guest at a strictly business function, and was then googly eyed with the uninvited personal guest during the business stuff. The fact that the guest was his mistress is just the icing on the yuck cake.

    Ideally, we’d only work with clients who are pleasant and courteous. But the unfortunate reality is that some…aren’t. They chew with mouths open, think it’s super funny to email you crude jokes, are unapologetically late to every meeting, steal your pens, are slobs when visiting your office, etc. And it’s largely related to the power dynamic of the client being in the driver’s seat most of the time. But that’s not an absolute — it’s a just a question of where the line is for you. Where does it cross over from him being someone you don’t want to know socially, to him being someone you don’t want to do business with? If the answer is “having a mistress” or “bringing an uninvited guest” then you’ll need to consider how to quietly end the business side as soon as possible.

  13. Site Safety Manager - Construction*

    We had a client charge a set of golf clubs to his room. This was the same guy who cleaned out the mini-bar (remember those??) every night. After that everyone had to supply a CC for the “incidentals”.

    1. Z*

      Are you saying that he *bought* himself a set of golf clubs? Or did he rent them for a round of golf? (I mean, either is inappropriate, but the former is truly absurd.)

    2. OP here*

      FWIW, at this same event we also had a client refuse to speak to anyone the entire night. The night after the event, their travel plans changed, so they booked themselves a night at a very expensive suite…and billed it us! They will not be invited to future events.

      1. fposte*

        Are you sure these events are really working for you? They sound like more trouble and tacit limits than they’re worth.

        1. OP here*

          Believe me, I have spoken up against having these events but management isn’t willing to budge. It’s one of the many reasons I’m currently job hunting.

  14. James*

    I can actually beat this one – my soon to be married manager was sharing a room with me at the Christmas party. I went back about 12 and went to sleep only to be woken by him having sex with a female manager in the next bed. After that night he more or less stopped talking to me, and passed me over for promotion.

    1. Yup*

      So, (a) infidelity, (b) poor judgment, (c ) inconsiderate roommate, (d) uncomfortable boss scenario, and (e) workplace retaliation. He’s a potential gold medalist in the Sh!tty Human penthalon!

      1. Jamie*

        Yes, thank you!

        Am I the only one who, if I caught a boss doing this, would have recorded it on my phone and used it to become President of all I Survey and gotten a ginormous raise?

        Just me? Sometimes it’s sad I work for really ethical people, I have to get by on merit like everyone else.

      2. James*

        I regret not contacting HR the next week, or after the atmosphere had changed, to ask for advice. I am sure they have more experience in these areas than we could (or ever would want to) imagine.

        1. Stuck in the Snow*

          But that makes me wonder – what would HR have done? From reading this site and others, it’s clear HR is on the side of the business. Would they support a junior person against a senior person in a case like this? Even if they agreed the situation was egregious, isn’t the senior person by definition more valuable (and more difficult to replace) than a junior person?

          I guess I ask because we have a senior manager who is verbally abusive to his younger, female assistants – not just ‘do it right this time!’, but ‘do it right, you stupid f*cking c*nt’ yelled at the top of his voice. Our HR knows, and our HR has done nothing, because he’s more important/valuable than his assistants – who, if they don’t like be verbally abused, are free to leave. We’ve all pretty much decided that unless it’s a clearly sue-able offense, we’ll never bring anything up to HR because we know we’re replaceable (and even if it was legally actionable, there’s no way we could fight a company as wealthy as ours). I guess I’m still unclear as to what HR does for employees, other than the people who help us with our benefits.

          1. Jamie*

            HR’s main responsibility is to the business as a whole, not individual members of senior management.

            And this situation the manager behaved in a way that could easily have created a liability for the company.

            Senior manager will cost most to replace than a junior staff, as a rule…but is still a lot cheaper to replace than paying out a lawsuit for …I assume sexual harassment if he can’t manage to control himself around employees.

  15. I wish I c0uld say*

    Yeesh. This is my life – sort of.
    My ex-fiancé began cheating by bringing his co-worker along to dinner meetings and other work-related functions. (Seminars, conferences, etc . . .)
    He always wanted me to go, but none of the other attendees brought their SOs, so I always declined.
    He mos def did NOT care about social graces, as long as he was doing what he wanted.
    I actually have an email between the two of them where they claim they do not care what the consequences of their actions are.
    Awe. Some.

    1. Ethyl*

      Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, that sounds incredibly painful and humiliating. What a jerk.

      1. I wish I could say*

        Yes, it was and still is incredibly difficult.
        We all shared the same employer, so I had the pleasure of hearing many stories after we broke up…

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I think that reflects poorly on the story teller. If a person has something to say then say it or let it go. Don’t wait until after the break up to spill the beans.
          I had a different situation with an unfolding crisis. After the crisis passed people would come up and tell me helpful (not) little stories. Too little and too late. I would just say “For every story someone tells me, I can tell three stories. But that time has passed and it is now time to move on.”

  16. louise*

    I wouldn’t have the chutzpah to do this in real life, but in my head while reading this, I picture the OP’s colleagues who had just heard about wife/kids/vacation a few weeks before going up to him, ignoring the guest, and asking “So how’s Vickie? Do you guys have your vacation plans all set? Are the kids looking forward to it?” (actually integrating more details known about him if possible) in a tone that assumes these are those most natural topics to chat about with him.

    Serious run-on sentence aside, I can’t help but wonder how that would play out in real life. It often feels like asshats prevail because of the decorum of we saner folks.

    1. fposte*

      Heh–I was thinking the same thing. Or even talk to the guest–“Aren’t they just the most adorable kids?! Were you at Little Poopsie’s graduation and the holiday in the Alps?”

        1. Elizabeth*

          That doesn’t seem fair. This wasn’t her business function, and she may not have known anything about what sort of event it would be – if your boyfriend says, “Hey, want to come to this dinner with me?” you don’t necessarily grill him to make sure he’s cleared it with the hosts. We don’t know for certain what the guy’s wife thinks of the arrangement. The only social faux pas we’re sure she committed is a bit too much PDA. To me, that’s not enough of a crime to go all Scarlet Letter on her. My personal etiquette dictates being decent towards uninvited plus-ones and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Plus, going all frosty or confrontational is likely to make the situation *more* uncomfortable for your other guests, not less.

          1. Smilingswan*

            Well, she is a home-wrecker. Unless she didn’t know he was married, which seems unlikely. That actually might be hugely entertaining, if she found out through that business event that he is married, and confronted him on the spot about it. Probably not fun for him, but free (if awkward) entertainment for everyone else.

            1. Anonymous*

              Correction – she’s not a “home wrecker,” if his home is being wrecked HE is. Men should be trusted to manage their own lives, & to bear the consequences of their actions. Please don’t assume otherwise.

      1. the_scientist*

        I mean, I’m admittedly something of a misanthrope to begin with but I would 100% have no problem asking questions like this in a similar situation. I mean, if the wife is down with whatever arrangement exists, then bringing her and the kids up in casual conversation is no problem, right? It’s not like she’s Beetlejuice and saying her name three times will summon her there and blow his cover. And if it’s not all above-board, he’ll have to directly acknowledge his poor behaviour. Incidentally, feigning obliviousness and forcing people to openly admit to shady, underhanded or otherwise bad behaviour is, I’m finding, a VERY effective tactic in general.

        1. Poohbear McGriddles*

          While it might be fun in the moment, the guy is a client so he is the one signing checks that the OP’s employer cashes. They would have to decide if calling him out on something in his personal life was worth ending the business arrangement. They may be passing judgment on this guy while not knowing that another client has a very jittery sheep in his back yard, since that guy didn’t bring Miss Muttonchops to the event.
          IMO, it still would have been wrong had the client brought his wife when no one else was bringing spouses. It probably wouldn’t take him long to notice that all the other attendees came alone, so either guests were not invited or everyone else at the meeting is quite single. I would imagine the proper etiquette at that point is to offer to pay for his companion’s part.

          1. Artemesia*

            No kidding. What is with all the ‘MIss Grundy’, prissy moralizing here? Someone else’s marital arrangements are none of our business. And a client is not our child — and is also the source of our income. All good reasons to act like adults and cope with the awkwardness of an uninvited guest and whatever marital confusion occurred.

            1. Jamie*

              It’s not moralizing – it’s resenting when other people bring you into their personal lives.

              No one rational investigates their clients and co-workers personal lives to judge them. But when you flout convention so openly and bring your private life to work it’s unrealistic to think people won’t judge you.

              Statistics would indicate some of the people with whom I work are having affairs. I don’t care – because it doesn’t involve me. But if you introduce me to your girlfriend and now I know that, so when I see your wife I feel creepy because you’ve made me party to a secret I don’t want to know…you’ve involved me.

              That’s where it crosses the line. It’s not about moralizing – it’s about not wanting to get the mess of other people’s personal lives on our shoes.

              1. Jean*

                “It’s not about moralizing – it’s about not wanting to get the mess of other people’s personal lives on our shoes.”

                This should be on a t-shirt.

            2. the_scientist*

              Actually, I would say they are my business when they make them my business, by bringing them into a business event and expecting me to be complicit in deceit.

              Although, the point that it’s a client is totally fair and does make it trickier. I just don’t think I could bring myself to do business with someone who is being so flagrantly dishonest (again, if that’s actually what is happening but in fairness I don’t know).

            3. fposte*

              I agree that it’s not a reflection of their morals in business.

              But unless the client is okay with people telling his wife how much they enjoyed meeting his special friend, he should keep it out of business time. He’s not W. R. Hearst.

  17. coffeedevil*

    Is there any (albeit slim) chance that this was actually the wife, perhaps with a major new haircut & colour – or was a different name given? I only ask because that happened to a friend. He had a picture of his cuddly, brunette wife on his desk for years, and at a christmas party turned up with this absolute knockout blonde.. very awkward until she started going on about her great weightloss. Hilarious and yet awkward!

    1. OP here*

      You know, that was my first thought too. One of my coworkers who knew the client said to him and the woman, “hi! You must be Wilma. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Then the woman replied that she was Betty – not Wilma (the wife). Talk about an interesting conversation.

      1. louise*

        Yay! I’m glad to hear that happened. I hope your co-worker didn’t feel awkward because, hello! if you talk about your wife in a meeting and bring a different woman to an event (that she, you know, wasn’t invited to) *you’re* the one who should feel awkward, not the innocent inquirer.

        1. OP Here*

          This is actually how all of the chatter started. My coworker (who is an extremely nice and friendly person) mentioned it to several of us in private so that we wouldn’t make the same mistake.

  18. Artemesia*

    I totally agree that this was inappropriate when it is an event the business was paying for, for the client. You don’t bring your spouse unless she or he is invited and you certainly don’t bring your paramour.
    Very bad judgment on his part.

    BUT I think it is ludicrous to suggest that ‘if his wife can’t trust him, how can we’ in a business deal. World history is full of leaders who were philanderers and excellent leaders and faithful husbands who were appalling bad leaders — heck, in our lifetime. A man’s competence in business has nothing to do with his sex life. A person’s reliability as a business partner has nothing to do with this sex life.

    1. OP here*

      In my personal experience (which I understand is not indicative of everyone else’s experiences), if someone is dishonest with their spouse, they have had other issues as well. I’ve seen it impact their professional lives more times than I can count.

      People are people and no one is perfect. Moving forward, I’m going to extend more grace to this client. I’ve certainly made missteps in my life. Not everyone has the same moral code after all. I might not choose to behave in the way that he did, but it’s not my right to judge him.

      1. GL*

        Except, when someone is with someone who’s not their spouse, you have no idea (unless you’ve had this conversation with the parties involved) whether or not the spouse is okay with it. You can’t make moral judgements based on that–and you shouldn’t.

        Poly, while not being mainstream, is becoming more popular, and it should be treated the same as other past non-mainstream couples (mixed races, homosexual, etc.). If you’re uncomfortable with it, get over it. That’s your problem, not theirs.

      2. Anne*

        I do want to point out that it’s possible he was not being dishonest with his spouse. Open marriages are a thing that happens. My husband and I have a fantastic, stable, loving, open marriage. He recently started being more open about it with some of his co-workers… and discovered that three of them have long-standing open relationships, too. It’s becoming common.

        BUT, even if he wasn’t being dishonest, he was definitely being socially inappropriate.

  19. ETF*

    Honestly, my first thought is, who cares? Sure, what the client was doing is morally repulsive to some people, but what does it really have to do with business? Diddly. You don’t know what his wife does or doesn’t know or is or isn’t ok with, and really, you shouldn’t dig into that, because it does not matter. At least he didn’t show up making racist jokes or strip naked and run around the table. If you don’t want your clients to bring guests, you should make that explicitly clear. Otherwise, expect that they will, and that the guests they bring may embarrass you and your company.

  20. Joey*

    I’m having a hard time linking how his personal relationships have any bearing on whether or not he’s a good business client. People have all sorts of ugly relationships . Add to the fact that there are always very good clients out there that think the rules don’t apply to them and I’m not so sure what the big deal is. I mean as long as the business he brings is worth the antics what’s the problem. Or is it that you just feel someone so brazen about adultery should be punished?

  21. the_scientist*

    I guess I don’t really understand the attitude of “business is business and how a person acts at work is no reflection of how they are outside of work”. Really? The majority of us spend most of our waking hours at our jobs. We don’t put on a new personality and new morals when we walk out the door at the end of the day, and we don’t hang up our morals, personality, quirks and values with our hats and coats when we arrive at work in the morning. Nobody can that effectively compartmentalize “work persona” and “life persona”, can they? So I think it’s entirely reasonable to draw parallels between “how someone is at work” and “how someone is when not working”. Like the question the other day about the guy that got arrested for domestic violence, that and bringing your mistress to a work event are a reflection of who you are as a whole person, including how you behave in a work setting, and some of that poor judgement is going to come up at work at some point.

    1. Joey*

      Well the difference is one is an employee and the other is a client. How often do you really see clients at work? Probably occasionally at best.

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      I disagree slightly, I work in a fairly conservative corporate office and some of my personal behaviour wouldn’t go down well at work so I don’t talk about my recreational activities at work, I work hard do a good job and get on well with my co workers.

      This year the Christmas party got out of hand and a few people over stepped the line and were all dragged in to the HR directors office on Monday morning after the party, they did nothing worse than I’ve done before but I had the good sense to adapt my behaviour to the situation so wasn’t disciplined, whereas they got written up and were lucky not to get sacked.

      Have a look at this link it’s a really interesting way of looking at the image you present and the image others have of you.


      To my mind there is a difference between being dishonest and lacking integrity and simply being discreet.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, that’s really interesting; thanks. It actually relates to what I was thinking about the post “next door,” about the manager counseling the difficult employee–that the employee’s behavior is doubtless reasonable and understandable to herself and she really doesn’t grasp that it makes her unreasonable to other people.

    3. Artemesia*

      Different people have different ideas about how to run their sex lives. This has little to do with business integrity. The one person who has worked for me who embezzled was a rigid puritanical wheeze when it came to his own sex life and his judgmental attitude towards others. My husband has had to prosecute fundamentalist Christian church deacons who swindled people outside their congregation on church bonds.

      As far as I know Richard Nixon didn’t cheat on his wife — but he did send his minions off to break and enter the psychiatrist office of someone on his ‘list’. Prudish sexual beliefs have zilch to do with business or political policy and leadership. (and I say this as someone with entirely conventional sexual morals and a long standing monogamous marriage.)

  22. Labratnomore*

    I think this is really a non-issue as far as your business goes. It may not have been appropriate for him to bring her, but if you don’t know his wife you have nobody you need to “come clean” to. If it was your best friends spouse, that would be a different issue. Everyone has their issue, nobody is perfect. His issues just happen to be different than yours. If they don’t have any adverse impacts on your business don’t worry about it. Plus it gives you something interesting to talk about.

    My wife had an interesting issue like this once. When she was in training, her trainer talked about her upcoming wedding and even showed the group pictures of her fiancé. She rode the same bus as my wife and my wife would see her sitting with someone on the bus and going a little too far with the PDA. She even saw them going to his car to make out after they got off the bus, or waiting for each other to make out when they didn’t ride the same bus. She lives in the same community as us, and though my wife doesn’t see her at work anymore she had found out info about where she is now. She ended up getting married to the original fiancé, having a couple of kids with him, then got divorced and married the guy she was cheating with! You would have thought she would have just married the one she ended up with in the first place, maybe she thought the other guy would give her cuter kids or something!

  23. Vicki*

    I want to know why the OP is “not in any sort of position to cut this client loose”. If it’s because you don;t have the authority, then discuss this with people higher up the chain than you… people who do have that authority.

    1. OP here*

      I have shared my concerns with my supervisor. They think the situation is humorous more than anything.

        1. Jamie*

          Yep. In the OPs shoes I’d think the guy was a jackass, but I’d find it pretty entertaining.

          My grandpa used to say no horrible experience is wasted if you get a funny story out of it.

  24. OP here*

    I’d like to thank Alison, as well as all the readers, for their feedback and advice. As usual, you all have helped me to look at this situation in a different way(s). I appreciate reading the different viewpoints of the AAM readers.

    I posted this as a reply earlier in the thread but I’m going to extend more grace to this particular client. I’ve made missteps in my professional and personal life, and it’s not my right to judge him.

    This situation had helped me to realize two things: that not everyone has the same code of professional conduct that I do (and that’s okay) and that the environment/industry that my current job is in is not something I want to stay in long term.

    Thanks again everyone!

  25. BGirl81*

    “It could help to remember that he’s not the first client to come in an eccentric package, and these clients are at least good sources of amazing stories that you can regale people with in the future.”

    Personally, I will always treasure the tale of the two female clients who met me and my male coworker for dinner and proceeded to get drunk and have a loud conversation about vibrators. At the time I wanted to crawl under the table and stay there, but in hindsight it was hilarious! Carry on, ladies.

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