as the boss’s wife, do I really have to attend his company Christmas party?

A reader writes:

I know it’s September, but I am already trying to figure out the Christmas party situation.

My husband is president of a tech company that has an annual, corporate-type Christmas party – presentations, awards, that sort of thing, and families are invited. I didn’t go last year in my role of president’s wife, and how totally 1950’s is that anyway? I didn’t attend because I’m a professional in a different field and have no interest in sitting through a tech party and, more importantly, I had a two-month-old and was still stitched up. Marriage advice aside, I was berated for not attending and making him “look bad.” It didn’t help that he equated my presence to the First Lady appearing at her husband’s functions. Seriously.

My question is this – what exactly IS my function? Does it really look bad if the wife of the boss doesn’t attend the annual party? This is all new territory for me; I’m in the medical field and military. I understand custom and ceremony and the importance of military spouses, but my husband never appears at any of my functions, not even promotions. What exactly is the protocol for the wife of a president of a company?

Yeah, this can sometimes be an expectation, to the point that many couples (possibly the majority?) really do consider it obligatory to do for each other.

It’s a norm that I can’t explain or defend. I think it’s super weird. I think it’s inexplicable. But the reality is that it’s often an expectation, especially the higher up you go in your career.

My best attempt at explaining it is that although these are business events, they have a veneer of social event laid on top of them, and the two of you are a social unit. But that doesn’t feel like the full picture of what’s going on. (Also, the fact that I’m having such a hard time explaining the reasoning might explain why your husband came up with such weak reasons too. I think the explanation really just comes down to: It’s Just A Thing You Have To Do.)

In any case, though, the fact that it can be an expectation doesn’t mean that people will freak the hell out if you’re not there. “She had a prior commitment” or “she just had a baby” or “she had her own work function tonight” or “she’s under the weather” are all reasonable things to say that will explain your absence.

However, if you can swing it, it’s a nice gesture to your husband to show up, at least some years. I don’t think he should be pressuring you into it if you’ve told him firmly you don’t want to go. And he certainly shouldn’t have berated you for not going when you had a two-month-old at home. But sometimes it’s worth sucking it up for a few hours and attending a spouse’s work function, just to support his career.

Note: I want to ask people to avoid any temptation to give the letter-writer marriage advice in the comments, since that’s not what she’s asking about.

{ 343 comments… read them below }

  1. Episkey*

    Frankly, if he doesn’t attend your work functions for the military (which is super ceremony-heavy), then I don’t think he has a leg to stand on in “requiring” you to come to his. HMPH.

    1. the gold digger*

      My dad was career military. Poor military spouses – it stinks for them! My mom was not good at all the officers’ wives stuff. She could never understand – and nor do I – why the wife of the base commander was automatically the president of the OWC and she wouldn’t play that game. It was not good for my dad’s career!

    2. Artemesia*

      Wow I missed the part about the husband not attending her promotion events. WOW. Of course he needs to be there to support her professional efforts just as much as she needs to be there to support his. I’d be enraged if my husband expected me to show up and be Mrs. Boss but he wasn’t willing to be Mr. Colonel.

      1. The IT Manager*

        This Christmas party is the equivalent of the Base/Unit Christmas party or maybe a Dining In. If he doesn’t go to yours, I don’t think it’s fair to demand that you go to his.

        OTOH the Promotion is a celebration of the LW’s promotion. There’s probably not a equivalent in the civilian world unless a civilian is being given an award (although still not quite the same thing), but it seems like something a spouse should come to if possible. (Although, yes, there’s often flowers/gifts for the spouse, kids, parents, etc to thank them for supporting the promotee to get them to this point in their career.)

        1. ElCee*

          Yes, my sister’s promotions have all taken place while she was overseas so I’ve not been able to go and I hate it! I would absolutely have been there otherwise!

        2. Melissa*

          Yes, I went to my husband’s promotion ceremonies when he was in the service – family members get to “punch it” first (the tradition for enlisted airmen is to “punch” the new stripes on the shoulders, and family are the first to punch it). It’s nice! The difference between military and civilian functions like this, I think, is that military functions very often make a conscious effort to recognize the effort that military families put in to support their military member and include them.

          1. OP*

            Exactly, Melissa. We’re encouraged to involve our families in our promotion ceremonies. The cutest one I’ve seen, a little girl pinned her mom. Maybe if I make it to my next rank, husband will participate. I hope…

      2. BananaPants*

        She may not be career military, in which case those ceremonies may not be that important to her. Someone who’s there for a couple of years to finish out an enlistment or officer service commitment because the military paid for medical school (for example) may legitimately not care much about the promotion itself beyond getting a bigger paycheck. The social/cultural expectations that are the norm for career military families may not be at play here or may be lessened.

        Of course this could be completely off base – no pun intended. ;-)

    3. Helka*

      Yeah, I’ve got to get on this particular train of thought. Yes, there’s a social convention around appearing for your spouse’s Big Events, but if he’s not doing it, he has no grounds for “berating” you for not doing it, OP. (Especially since you were still recovering from baby!! Yikes!!)

      Also, I have to wonder if this is something that has come up at any other time besides this particular event that you missed? If that’s the only time he’s raised it, it’s possible that there was a secondary step in between “You didn’t go to the party” and “Hubs was embarrassed at your absence.” Something on the order of someone with an equally 1950s mindset giving him a perhaps not-entirely-joking rough time about it, which he then took out on you because he couldn’t take it out on them. I’m speculating, but when someone suddenly gets really aggressive about something they didn’t seem to place much importance on before, there’s often a secondary trigger.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’m speculating, but when someone suddenly gets really aggressive about something they didn’t seem to place much importance on before, there’s often a secondary trigger.

        Yeah, I’m wondering about a secondary trigger as well.

      2. OP*

        Helka, good call. I think the secondary trigger was his assumption (?) that employees and others noticed my absence. I don’t know if anyone said anything to him.

    4. The Strand*

      I agree 100%. I cannot believe he won’t show up for your promotions. There is a lot of hooey and malarkey that military spouses are exposed to, but not showing up to your events sends a very straightforward message to the other military personnel how your career and service is appreciated in your household. You are an officer, and this undermines your authority in the exact same way he’s bitching about. Tell him that in this scenario, HE is the First Lady and he better get his butt down to the rotunda, and that later you will return the favor.

      1. embertine*

        Concur. It’s fine if neither of you show up for each others’ work stuff and that’s agreed between the two of you. It’s not reasonable if it’s only his stuff and not yours. But I may be biased because I come from a military background and promotions are a HUGE deal in that world.

      2. Lee*

        Well it actually seems there’s mutual non-attendance here, who knows who started it. He didn’t become president overnight.

        1. OP*

          I’ve always attended prior to last year. Honestly, it was ONLY because I couldn’t fit in ANY clothes and was recovering from the birth. He’s never attended any of my military functions.

    5. adonday veeah*

      I disagree totally. I think different professions have different expectations, and therefore it’s not always tit-for-tat. She may not be getting pushback if he doesn’t attend, whereas, he might. And she may not care if he attends, and he may. It’s just not a situation in which a blanket response applies.

    6. Bwmn*

      I genuinely don’t know how this necessarily works in the military or the medical military field – but in my parents marriage, my mother’s job (hospital) has social events where it’s very much a thing for spouses to be there (and my father always goes if he can). However for my father’s career (federal gov’t agency), it’s really not and to the extent that now that he’s later in his career/tenure – he barely shows up himself.

      So marital issues aside, I think there’s also something to be said for “know your industry, know your specific place of employment”. I’m going to presume that the OP’s impression on her employment, as ceremonial as it can be – it’s not hurting her that her spouse isn’t present. If it is, then definitely speak up. Now without getting into the issues of the marriage and negotiating these things – all of that can be handled different. But this strikes as one of those issues where in one industry/company something can be a major THING where in another, it’s barely noticed.

        1. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

          Agree! Also, I didn’t see where the wife mentioned she requested his presence at these events. Some people just aren’t into these types of things even for themselves. So it could be just how she perceives these types of events (or even how she was raised to perceive these types of events). Regardless it appears that this type of thing has a different priority level for both parties, it’s best to try to meet in the middle with this if possible. Perhaps an “I’ll attend your company Christmas party, if I can skip a boring board meeting…)

          1. OP*

            My husband has not attended any events, not even family days, because he is on record for “hating” the military. He makes my service uncomfortable and awkward. He has his reasons; the military hasn’t been kind to me at all times, but the lack of support is understood by me, but I still ask him to attend just to support me.

      1. themmases*

        Agreed, it depends on the field.

        Although I would say based on my experience in hospitals, it still also depended on rank. I worked in a large medical department and I saw a lot more doctor spouses than tech spouses or admin spouses for whatever reason. I (research coordinator) usually brought my partner out of a combination of wanting him to meet my closer work friends and because I didn’t actually want to go.

        My partner works in tech and I do get some pressure to attend his events. However, it’s not really work pressure. Most of his coworkers are around our age and socialize together at times other than just the holiday party. They ask him where I am the same way our friends would if I couldn’t make an event I was invited to. Sometimes he also wants me to come with him to events he doesn’t really want to attend, but feels obligated to. I think that part is just couple stuff and it’s nice to do for your partner if you can stand it.

        1. Bwmn*

          Yeah, my mother has moved up from being in a place where it wasn’t so much of an issue to into management where it definitely matters more. That being said, she’s always had an eye to management/promotions – so she’s paid attention how that works and what’s expected.

          But the same applies in the sense that just because my mother’s hospital experience makes those kinds of social events matter, I wouldn’t say it’s a blanket application for all hospital positions or career trajectories (though perhaps I could generalize a bit more in her specific hospital). Similarly, I’m sure there are federal jobs where being good at the shmooze game is important.

    7. Addiez*

      While I entirely agree, I hope that the OP has asked him to come. If she hasn’t seen it as important for him to be there, and hasn’t communicated it, it’s not a huge reach for me to imagine that he hasn’t invited himself or otherwise pushed to attend.

    8. Florida*

      I’m going to disagree with all of the folks saying that if he expects you to attend his events than he should attend your events. Here’s why… it might not be important to OP that husband attends her events. There is nothing in the letter that suggests she is bitter about that. However, it is important to husband that she attend his Christmas party. OP, I would say you should go, even if you only go for an hour, then leave. Is it required as your duty as First Lady? No. But if it’s important to husband that you go, then just go for an hour. On the flip side, if you want him at your promotions or other events, tell him they are important to you. But don’t treat it as a tit-for-tat situation.

  2. AMG*

    I’m not defending his approach, but I think he is right about it making him look bad. To an extent anyway. It’s not particularly logical, I agree, but it could make him the subject of gossip, make it look like he’s hiding you (what’s wrong with her that he never brings her?) or makes him a target of gossip (why doesn’t she come? Is she too good for us?).

    Spouses of current and previous managers I have had have all made an effort to attend a function here and there. Team building events at happy hour, drinks at the boss’s house, and company Christmas parties. It’s just what you do. Hope that helps.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Yeah, as an employee, if the president’s wife avoided his company functions year after year after year, I probably wouldn’t help wondering if she’s snubbing us – and whether this means that he looks down upon us, too.

      Having a two-month-old at home is IMO an automatic out for this kind of obligation. But it would be nice to make an appearance this year.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yep. I wonder if her husband even addressed that then, or if people didn’t realize they had a baby that young at home? Because I would think a smile and, “Oh, she’s home with our new baby” would have shut that down for last year. But yes, going this year is probably a good gesture if at all possible. (And, as someone else said, possibly leaving a little early to get back to the baby.)

        1. Becky B*

          And if anyone does the not-so-polite wondering out loud where she was last year, mentioning the new baby is key. (I’m wondering about the “making him look bad” line that he fed her, too.)

    2. Traveler*

      Yes. We had a professor whose wife never showed to anything – not at functions, not when we were invited to his house, not when all the other spouses of professors appeared and it became a subject of rampant gossip because it was the social norm there for spouses to attend.

      I am absolutely with you on the not fair and the weird, but I think, unfortunately, there are still a lot of people out there that will take this as a sign of something more ominous.

      1. Manders*

        Yes, this has been a tricky thing to navigate as the partner of a grad student–there really are some workplaces that blur social and work obligations. He would show up for a work/social event if I asked him to, though, and I’ve certainly skipped out on events for health reasons far more mild than having recently given birth.

        1. Anx*

          I’m dating a graduate student, and the social culture seems much different from my undergrad academic experience but somewhat similar to my job where I lived with all of my coworkers. It’s a very blurry line, indeed!

        2. A grad student*

          Yeah- there is virtually no line between social and professional events in grad school. Luckily my boyfriend is also a grad student so we have quid pro quo arrangements on these events, but otherwise neither of us would go to anything. We’re homebodies :)

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        I thank my lucky stars that neither my husband nor I work for companies where spousal attendance is the norm. I get that some environments expect it, but…WHY? Why isn’t it okay to just say, “My wife’s an introvert” and have that be the end of the story?

        Just ranting even though it’s thankfully not a problem for me!

        1. Myrin*

          I feel the same. Someone above said that if they were an employee where the boss’s spouse doesn’t show up they’d feel snubbed and would be wondering if they were looked down upon. And I don’t want to belittle that feeling in any way but that would honestly so much not enter my mind at all as a possible reason for the non-attendance that I feel like I’m the weird one. To be completely frank, I wouldn’t even wonder about a spouse not attending, it’s just such a non-issue for me. (And what about people who don’t have a significant other, anyway? I’m sure there are at least some of those. So it’s probably not like you’re going to be the lonely ranger if your spouse doesn’t attend.)

          1. manybellsdown*

            I wouldn’t wonder either – my spouse works at a 300+ person tech company, and I am not even sure if the owner is married. I certainly wouldn’t know his wife if I saw her!

            And now that I think of it, the last place he worked at, the owner’s wife would show up to holiday parties … with a group of her own friends and ignore all the employees. That’s an even bigger snub than staying home, IMHO.

          2. MashaKasha*

            Ahem. :) I didn’t say “boss”, I said “president”, and, at least in my mind, there’s a difference. With a man who has the power to lay us all off and replace us all with an offshore team tomorrow, I’d be paying a bit more attention to how this person conducts himself during the few times a year that he sees us, than I would with my boss. I already know where I stand with my boss; he gives me performance reviews. With a president, CEO, owner etc. I have no idea what he has in mind for me and my colleagues.

            1. Myrin*

              Ah, I misremembered, I apologise (your comment is almost directly above mine, how did I not find it again scrolling up?)!

              That being said, it looks like we simply have different views on this topic – I absolutely agree on paying attention to how he conducts himself but I don’t see what him having a spouse there or not has anything to do with that. I certainly wouldn’t infer any feelings towards the employees from that (not to mention, does everyone really always know the CEO’s marital status to begin with?) but I feel like we need to agree to disagree on that!

            2. Katniss*

              I’m still not sure what the president’s spouse not wanting to attend an event has to do with how that person conducts themselves though? As AdAgencyChick says, some people are just introverts!

              1. doreen*

                It kind of depends. My husband’s company had a picnic this year ( the first ever). And there was a lot of pressure on the employees to bring their families (including adult children) . I was not happy to be spending one of my few free Saturdays at a picnic with people I don’t know. And I only got more aggravated when the owners wife showed up late, stayed for about an hour and left early. All I could think of was that he pressured the employees to not only attend but bring their families, but he couldn’t be bothered to make sure his own family showed up and I’m sure some of the employees felt the same way. (To be fair, I found out later that the pressure may not have been coming from the owner, but I didn’t have that info at the time)

          3. Koko*

            I’d be way more likely to interpret a spouse’s non-attendance at functions as related to the quality or nature of their marital relationship than I would to think it had anything to do with how the spouse feels about the employees. I would assume that their relationship and her own preferences have primacy – if their relationship is good and she’s extroverted, she’d probably come even if she doesn’t care for the employees; if their relationship is bad or she’s introverted, she’d probably not want come even if she loved the employees.

            The only time it would occur to me to think it had anything to do with the employees is if there was some past history of the employees offending her, like if the last time she came to the party a bunch of people made passes at her or talked down to her or something.

            1. MashaKasha*

              One would have to have a special kind of death wish to make a pass at a company president’s wife at a party where he’s present! heh heh

          4. Jennifer*

            I don’t get why the shit I’d care if the boss’s wife thought anything about me, especially if I don’t actually know her.

          5. Florida*

            I agree that I wouldn’t spend more than half a second noticing that the boss’s wife was absent. But if it’s important to the husband, then why not go?

        2. Traveler*

          Well I think in this case it was because the professor never said anything or offered an explanation (his right imo). And the one time the wife was “seen” was darting past the massive party going on in her house from the front door to the upstairs. It never seemed to phase him, in fact he rarely ever mentioned her. I just assumed they had their reasons and we should all mind our own business.

          1. DMC*

            I can’t judge but I’d say that when I was younger, I used to do the same thing whenever there was a gathering at my home. I’m very introverted and also a bit shy by nature. I abhore social gatherings, especially when there are many people I don’t know well. Sounds like me. Fortunately, I have gotten better about mingling, or at least faking it, though I suspect most people can tell I’m still not really in my element.

            1. T3k*

              Same, I’m highly introverted and dislike gatherings. Heck, even with family gatherings at home, after we eat, I tend to run off to my room for a bit to recharge.

              1. Marcela*

                Yes, that’s me… and it’s very sad to see that the simple “she’s an introvert, she doesn’t like social gatherings, and it’s worst when she doesn’t know anybody but her husband” is not even considered, and people think instead that I am snubbing them :(

          2. Melissa*

            My husband used to be that person. He was – and still is – very introverted. Not shy, but introverted – large gatherings exhausted and sometimes irritated him, and he couldn’t do them frequently. So if I was in a really chatty department that had social functions often, he’d be the husband darting upstairs or whatnot. I remember a few social functions he went into a quiet corner and sat in a chair and tried to be invisible until we left. I’ve made a lot of “not feeling well” excuses.

            But it doesn’t bother me anymore – he’s just not into it, and that’s fine. He comes when he knows it’s important to me.

        3. Chocolate lover*

          I am grateful this is a non-issue for me and my husband. Neither of us have worked anywhere that expected us to bring our partners/spouses. In fact, at my large university, all holiday or other festivities are specifically restricted to employees only.

          I would feel absolutely no obligation to go anyway.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        Wow, this is all so surprising to me! I am so glad I’ve never worked in this type of place. My last two bosses here worked with me for 3 years each and I never met either of their wives.

      4. Not so anon for this*

        Yeah, about that though… Being a professor ex’s plus one at his work parties was probably on the list of top ten most difficult things I had to do in my life. I barely knew anyone. People were very nice in that they came over to mingle and asked who I was with. Within five minutes, inevitably, they would ask, “So, what do *you* teach?” and my answer (I’m a tech professional with a 5-year college degree) would pretty much end the conversation with that person, rinse, repeat. I was kind of relieved when he left so I didn’t have to go to those anymore!

        Though, in fairness, I was a temporary girlfriend. Had I been the wife, I would’ve sucked it up and enjoyed the parties to the best of my ability. At his work, too, it was norm to bring a plus one, and for the more serious parties, people would receive invitations in the mail for them “and (spouse)”.

        1. Ife*

          Is that not how all work parties go for significant others? I had the same experience at Christmas parties for my boyfriend, and he worked in construction. I couldn’t sustain more than a five minute conversation with anybody, even the other girlfriends/wives.

    3. Jamie*

      This, unless his office culture dictates otherwise, and it sounds like that’s not the case. It’s not particularly fair but it’s the perception.

    4. Undulate*

      I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever seen an owner’s spouse at any of my company Christmas parties…


      It’s never made me think less of anyone. I’m just there for the free booze and food. I imagine the owners have enough money to buy booze and food and don’t have to slum it with the rest of us to get it for free.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yup, pretty much every time, at multiple companies. So I guess it just depends on where you work and the work culture.

    5. Mabel*

      I wonder if this could be a situation where people aren’t sure of what to do based on the boss’s example. Meaning that even though employees are told that their significant others are welcome at the events, they might start thinking that it’s really not OK since the boss’s wife doesn’t come…?

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        I hadn’t really thought about this, but I wonder if that might be part of it. I was initially thinking that, as an employee, I really cannot imagine myself caring about this at all; but, I do look to company leadership or other managers to get a sense of what’s expected/acceptable in a workplace, so I can see being confused and possibly mentioning it to get clarification.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      I think the general reasoning Alison couldn’t quite put her finger in is this: It makes the big boss/es look more human. All year long we work for these people in their glass offices and see them as the ones with all the power. So at the end of the year (for companies that still do these big parties) it’s a way to show the employees “hey I’m just a regular family guy like you.”

    7. OP*

      That’s what I don’t get. He IS embarrassed of me. I’m not a traditional wife and am in a ‘manly’ occupation compared to the other wives who don’t set foot outside the home. He is embarrassed. Why make it worse?

  3. Three Thousand*

    I would be interested to know how he reconciles his not attending your functions with expecting you to attend his. Is it because you’re not as important or high-up as he is, or because a husband shouldn’t be expected to support his wife’s career the way she’s expected to support his, or some other reason? It might be worth finding out.

    1. Kelly L.*

      This. At the risk of straying into marriage advice, I think the OP’s husband probably needs to come to some of OP’s functions too.

      1. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

        That’s assuming she wants him there or invited him to attend. Some people just aren’t into events like this, even their own.

      2. neverjaunty*

        I think the real reason here for not offering marriage advice is that we, and I include OP in that, all know exactly what that advice is, so there’s no need to point out the elephant in the room when we can all see the elephant. :P

    2. Marzipan*

      This was also my thought. It’s not 100% clear to me whether your husband doesn’t attend your work functions because you don’t ask/expect him to, or for some other reason; but if you do want him to go to them then I think it would be fair to include an element of reciprocity and not have things so one-sided. Apart from anything else, is this possibly part of what’s making it harder for you to see things in terms of going-to-a-spouse’s-important-work-events-is-just-a-thing-you-have-to-do-sometimes, because that’s not how things are working in the other direction?

      (I think and hope that’s human being advice and not marriage advice, but I don’t really get the whole marriage thing anyway so apologies if I’m on the wrong side of that line…)

    3. Naomi*

      Yeah, the husband not attending OP’s events makes me worry that there might be some sexism here. Would the expectations be the same in the genderswapped version–i.e., if OP were a man married to the female president of a tech company, would he be equally expected to attend her company parties?

      1. Hotstreak*

        FWIW, it would look a little odd of the female owner of my company didn’t bring her husband to our staff holiday party (most people bring their spouse).

  4. Sascha*

    Does it make a difference in the custom if the party is during work hours? The university I work at does all their holiday stuff during work hours, for both individual department parties and the big school-wide party. I hardly ever see family members. Even the president doesn’t bring his wife to the big school-wide party. But perhaps because it’s during the day, that makes it different.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I think it does! During the work day, I think it’s much more expected that the spouse is probably also at work and is less likely to be able to make it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        It’s also more “work” and less “social life.”

        An evening event, outside work hours, is “social life.”

        A daytime even, inside work hours, is more likely to be “work” even if it’s held outside the workplace itself.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I love it when work parties are during work hours! Not only are employees not sacrificing their free time, but their spouses also have an iron clad reason for not attending.

    3. the gold digger*

      The president of my college, in almost all of his communications to the alumni, always includes his wife: “Ping and I…”

      It annoys me to no end. She is not an employee. I don’t care what she thinks. She is not relevant to the conversation. Honestly – it would be like my (male) boss sending me an email and saying, “Catherine and I would like you to complete your performance evaluation.”

      Leave the poor spouses out of it. Or, if you want them to be involved, then pay them.

      1. Sascha*

        That is weird, though now that I think about it, the president at the previous school I worked at did that, too. Not for everything, but often he would include his wife on communications for major events. It was a much smaller, private university as opposed to the big state school I’m at now. At the smaller school, the president often said “we’re all a faaaaaaaaamily,” so maybe that’s why.

        1. Manders*

          In my experience, a lot of professors have a significant other who made some major sacrifices for their career, like moving multiple times (possibly even to another country) or putting their own career on hold. Among the grad students I know, there’s also an understanding that the partner who’s not in academia will probably be providing some kind of financial support through the PhD process and possibly beyond. I understand why a professor’s spouse might feel like they had more invested in their partner’s career than the average office worker.

          It still strikes me as odd, but I think it’s just one of those quirks of academia.

          1. Melissa*

            I think it’s more about the fact that he’s communicating with the alumni. The college always wants alumni to feel like they are part of a big happy family, and so often their communications include family members. I also knew that high-level communications would include family members when announcing news – like when we got a high-profile new provost, the new provost mentioned his wife and the fact that he had an adult daughter who lived in the area and how pleased he was to move to that coast to be near her. (I think he was doing it as a reassurance that he would stay there long-term. It didn’t work, because he left 2 years later.)

        2. Lia*

          It really depends on institution. At the small state school I attended for undergrad, the president’s wife was never involved in any of the correspondence, although she did come to major events.

          I worked for a decently-sized state school later under two different presidents. The first, a female, was married but we only heard of her husband on the annual holiday message. The second, his wife was all over campus doing stuff and interacting with students, etc. Neither of the spouses were academics, though.

      2. Ad Astra*

        My alma mater hired a female chancellor a few years back, and it’s been interesting to see where she mentions her husband and where she leaves him out. I think he makes it into holiday correspondence and things like that, but for the most part he’s a nonfactor. Off the top of my head, I don’t even know what he does for a living.

        1. Koko*

          If her name is indeed “Ping” she (and possibly he) may come from a Chinese cultural background which has a MUCH stronger emphasis on family than American culture. Confucian influence is very pervasive in their business culture.

          1. the gold digger*

            She is Ping. He is David and is from the east coast somewhere.

            He definitely married up and she would be a far better representative for the college than he but she is not the employee. He is.

      3. TootsNYC*

        The president of the U.S. does this always, and it ticks me off! If you are going to speak from your official position, representing the people of the U.S., leave your damned wife off. She can go in there w/ all the rest of us citizens.

    4. Traveler*

      Yes. Work hours given spouses an easy out. They have work obligations, and people are typically much more understanding about it.

    5. Manders*

      Yes, I think this makes a big difference (although it could get complicated if it’s at a time when some but not all offices are closed, like the day after Christmas in America).

        1. Manders*

          Weirdly, many Americans don’t call it that. I asked my boss whether or not we have Boxing Day off and she had no idea what I was talking about.

          1. techandwine*

            Well, we don’t call it that because America doesn’t celebrate Boxing Day. It’s typically only given as a day off in most offices in the same manner that the day after Thanksgiving is, more as a nice gesture than for any other reason. In my current office it’s not an official office holiday but it’s understood that most people will use PTO that day.

              1. Grace*

                I love learning different cultural things like this :-)

                We celebrate it here in Ireland, but we call it St. Stephen’s Day. It’s also a public holiday along with Christmas.

  5. Jerzy*

    I think this may fall under the heading of “being a supportive spouse,” but I agree it goes both ways. Also, he may just want you there to help him look more personable to people. Having a successful, intelligent wife on his arm can go a long way in helping someone who may otherwise seem unapproachable.

    Also, in the tech field especially, you find a lot of people who are not comfortable in social situations, even with people they work with. Having you there might help your husband feel more at ease, and help him interact with his employees.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yep, in addition to what I said above about appearing like a regular human, the spouse may in fact have better social skills, be more charming and outgoing.

    2. adonday veeah*

      I was with ya till the part about “…on his arm…”

      I don’t think anybody should be using anybody else as a fashion or professional accessory. If she is helping him appear approachable (and I believe that it’s helpful and kind for people, especially married people, to do this for each other), then she is doing so as a full-on human being, using the force of her personal and professional stature and demeanor.

      Sorry, your wording just pushed a button. Other than those 3 words, I do agree with what you said.

  6. AnonEMoose*

    So everyone is clear on my perspective, because I think it may be relevant: I am adamantly childfree. I don’t have kids, don’t want kids of my own, and generally don’t want details when it comes to pregnancy/childbirth/small children.

    And even with that, “we have a two month old” would be, to me, an absolutely understandable reason for not being at the holiday party. Even with no stitches involved.

    I agree with Alison that it’s a weird expectation. But it is still, unfortunately, an expectation in the corporate world or parts of it, anyway. That said, I think it would be reasonable, depending on the type of party, available transportation, and all that, for you to make an appearance, greet people (so, be there for the cocktails or meet and greet if there is one), and then head home, citing small child and babysitter. That may be a compromise you could work out with your husband, or at least worth talking about with him.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I’m in the same boat, and having a newborn seems like a perfectly acceptable reason not to attend something like this.

    2. themmases*

      As someone who also doesn’t like these events, they get a lot easier when you put just making an appearance on the table. My partner and I often go into parties with the agreement that we’ll have a glass of wine each and then we can leave. Often it takes the pressure off and we end up having a nice enough time that we both want to stay.

      It helps a lot when one of us just comes out and says, “I’m not really interested in that but I’m happy to go if it’s important to you.” A lot of times it comes out that my partner really just wants me to meet this one person, or already promised to meet up with someone else, and beyond a couple of conversations it’s not important that we stay. But you can’t know if you don’t bring it up.

      1. spocklady*

        Yes, so much this! I’m in academia, and I actually had a little meltdown a couple of years ago because my husband frequently couldn’t go to work/social events (actually, it was precipitated by not being able to go to a 100% social event, but it all snowballed). His work schedule just generally didn’t allow it, but I hadn’t realized how much low-grade stress I was carrying around from explaining why he could never come to parties/after work drinks/whatever. Until I melted down.
        themmases has it right — until you talk about why you want your person to go with you to x thing, it can be really hard to figure out each other’s frustrations. OP, maybe your husband still needs to do this work of figuring out *why* it’s so important to him, so that you two can find a compromise?

  7. AnonInSC*

    I agree it’s 1950’s thinking….but it does persist. I’m annoyed at my own answer, but if it’s a once a year event, I think you need to go most years. Recovering from childbirth with a 2 month old at home definitely falls under the “not this year” category.

  8. Ann O'Nemity*

    OP, perhaps you can compromise with your husband? If you attend the Christmas party, then he needs to attend one of your work functions of your choosing. That’s the deal my husband and I have. Neither of us particularly enjoy attending these things, but realize that it’s expected and appreciated to occasionally make an appearance.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Well, actually, you shouldn’t be talking with your spouse at an event like this.
        If you want to spend time with each other, stay home.

        Social events are for socializing outside of your nuclear family.

          1. jamlady*

            I feel like it would be really weird to completely ignore my husband at my company holiday party. Like, really weird.

  9. Cambridge Comma*

    I think there are two expectations here: the first, that the LW should go in a first lady type role, which is a bit retro and weird. And I’m sure there is still an asymmetrical expectation of wives that there wouldn’t be of husbands in the same situation, which needs pushing back on. But the other expectation is just that families go, because families are invited, which is nice if you like that kind of thing, and I can see how, if your husband wants to involve families, he thinks it’s important to involve his own because otherwise it sends an odd message from the top. As the president, he has a role in creating the culture of the workplace. However, for all the attending families’ sakes, it might be better if the focus were more social and less work — and then maybe it wouldn’t be as boring as you describe.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      This is what I was coming to say. If everyone else brings their spouse, then it looks like a snub if the president’s wife had something better to do. Do you think all those other spouses want to attend?
      Of course, having a 2 month old is a fair excuse, and I’d expect the president to mention it in his talk so there isn’t gossip.
      What I don’t get is when there is a company event with no family invited, yet the boss brings their spouse. It’s like, “Hey, my family is awesome because they are related to me. But I don’t ever want to meet your family.”

  10. Artemesia*

    My husband endured many a professional event for me and I for him — I do think people expect it, particularly the wife or husband of someone prominent in the company. With a two month baby I think the OP had a total ‘get out of jail free’ card here– healing and nursing or just exhausted with new baby. But I would certainly make a habit of being there as Mrs. Boss this year — if it were every Friday night, heck no. But the annual Christmas party — one of those things you just suck up and go. I always tried to find another person who wasn’t in my husband’s profession to chat with — there were always many. And my husband and I at least just let each other be the guide — if he wants me there, I go and vice versa — We luckily both have professions where there are interesting people and issues so we could always find people to talk to — but those presentations, awards and speeches are always grim (even for the people who work there.)

    1. J.B.*

      Seriously! Even aside from the whole being stitched up thing, who wants to leave their two month old baby for some tedious function? I mean I got a babysitter for a job interview but coordinating my evening so my husband could do something social was complicated enough-no way would I have gotten a babysitter for that!

  11. Anonymous Ninja*

    Since families are invited and (I assume) the spouses of employees attend even if those spouses have their own careers in a different field, then I can understand why your husband wants you to attend.

    I also know the military. Is your husband not attending because most of those events are during the work day?

    1. A Bug!*

      I kind of agree with this, although I’m generally an advocate for not going to social events you don’t want to go to. Since he’s the boss, and families are invited to the event, him having his own wife present would be sort of a “lead by example” thing.

      That said, given the circumstances set out in the letter, I’m really hesitant to say that this “non-optional social convention” applies to her. It does sound like there are some unrealistic expectations at play here and possibly also a double standard, and I bristle at that.

    2. Development professional*

      Yeah, this was my take too. If he and his company have decided that spouses and families should attend this event, then that really does have to include his spouse in the non-I-just-had-a-baby type of circumstances.

      Now, what he chooses to do with the information that his own spouse adamantly does not want to attend could vary considerably. He could ease up on or completely end the expectation that families attend. Or he could stop insisting that she attend, and let that send the message it sends. Or he can continue to berate her for not being on board for something that is well within his power to control. Which of those he chooses….probably veers into marriage advice territory.

  12. dancer*

    I hate the fifties housewife feel about this. That aside, in the past, I thought Alison said it was OK for spouses to bow out if it was a work event that included work presentations etc.? I think that’s the clincher for me: if the event only contained social activities, I can see why it might be weird for the spouse to skip it.

    1. Helka*

      There does tend to be a different expectation for the spouses (in particular the wives, because the upper echelons of business don’t tend to be the most progressive of places) of very high upper management than for the spouses of the rank and file, unfortunately.

      1. dancer*

        Makes sense… thank you for clarifying. My company doesn’t do the whole family party thing, so I wasn’t sure how it worked.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Theirs also different expectations for the upper management sometimes too, like it’s mandatory for them to attend, so it all boils down to appearances and impressions.

  13. Charityb*

    Is there any way you can comfortably recycle whatever reasons/excuses he used to skip the military functions? It’s hard for me to understand this because I always thought that those events were as close to mandatory as you can get without actually being so. If there’s an unspoken agreement or norm in your family that made them not mandatory, that might be the reason why you wouldn’t go to the office parties.

    If that won’t work, is there any way he can reconfigure the office party so that spouses and assorted hangers-on aren’t automatically invited/expected to show up? I’ve always thought it was a little silly to drag people into celebrations that are only relevant or interesting to people who work there anyway. If there wasn’t an expectation for all of the other employees to bring their spouses, it would be easier for you to opt out too without causing friction.

  14. Allison*

    Well you had a totally legit reason for not going, and anyone berating you for not going is a big, stupid doodoo head. That said, if you can go, you should go. He probably hasn’t gone to your stuff because you never asked, because it’s probably not important to you, but it’s clearly important to him and he wants you to go, so you should try to go even if it’s not your idea of a good time. And if you want him to reciprocate, ask!

    As for it being a 1950’s thing, it isn’t really, because it’s not a “wife must support husband” thing, it’s a “spouse must support spouse” thing.

    1. J.B.*

      I do generally suck it up and go to husband’s work functions. Although maybe you could advocate for fewer speeches :)

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Agreed, it’s not necessarily a wife thing. When we have family events, I expect to see the CEO’s husband there.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yep! At PreviousJob, we had two female presidents during my time there, and both of their husbands showed up to the big events. I never really thought about that before, but they did.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Same here. We had a female CIO who hosted annual parties at her home. Her husband was there, tending the bar. :)

      2. Ezri*

        May I ask why? I’m genuinely curious about why this is important. I’m a recent graduate, so I have very little experience with executive-level politics. I can see a president appreciating the support of his/her spouse attending, but why do the employees care?

        Mind you, I work in a large enough place that I barely know the executives, and I couldn’t tell you which ones are married. So I wouldn’t even be able to tell a spouse was absent.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I can’t get over the suspicion that this idea originates from the expectation of powerful men to have attractive, charming women at their side as a display. Now that we have female executives, we have similar expectations of their husbands, in the name of equality, I guess. Just like at some point we came up with the term “First Gentleman” to be the male equivalent of “First Lady,” but we sure as heck didn’t design it that way.

          There’s something to be said for “spouse must support spouse,” but if this were about supporting your spouse, he wouldn’t have taken issue with her staying home to be with her 2-month-old baby. This is about “looking the part,” and it has some icky origins that we can’t quite fix just by reversing the pronouns. Doesn’t mean the husband is a bad dude, and it doesn’t mean the wife should boycott company Christmas parties indefinitely, but I really don’t love this social obligation in general.

          1. Umvue*

            Thank you. This has been making me seethe all afternoon. We can be leaders or we can be decoration — we can’t be both; and so to have this custom tacitly supported by one of the most prominent modern writers on the workplace really leaves me feeling unquiet.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Assuming you’re speaking of me here, I’m confused — I specifically said I think it’s something most couples feel obligated to do for each other (not just the wife for the husband) and I said he was out of line for some of what was in the letter but their marriage is not the question here. The question was about what the expectation is for the spouse of a company president, and my answer would be the same regardless of the sexes involved.

              1. Umvue*

                I’m not interested in their marriage. I’m interested in the workplace issue, namely, is it OK for a company culture to put a high value on the marriageability of its chief?

                I don’t buy that you can make a policy with sexist roots less sexist simply by applying it equally across the board. For instance I hope you would agree that a company policy limiting leave, paid or unpaid, after the birth of a child to three business days would be grossly sexist. I cannot conceive that this attitude about needing to see the boss’ spouse has origins other than “establish boss’ authority by giving evidence that he 1) is not gay 2) is manly enough to attract a wife.” I also cannot conceive that it would not have sexist results in practice. How many chiefs of companies large enough to be this formal are women? What proportion of women old enough to be chief at this kind of company are married, compared to the men? How likely is a husband to show up to this sort of event?

                I know that you were asked what the expectation is, and it’s reasonable to respond to that candidly. But when corporate culture is corrosive and gross I’m used to seeing some pushback from you (along the lines of “your husband’s employees are asses,” perhaps) — not bland encouragement to go along with a sexist charade to “help your partner’s career.”

                1. Mookie*

                  Yep. The custom is a sexist one: Prez / CEO as aspirational figure and mostly wholesome paterfamilias of company, adorned with a fancy wife-ornament / Lady Macbeth figure (good with conversation, readily rooting out scandal, sometimes acting behind the scenes to influence promotions). Those days are (mostly and thankfully) over. There’s no justification for it anymore, so advocating that one shrug and accept it seems backwards.

                  Amusing, in a gallows-y way, that a tech company (with all that new-fangled disruptin’ going on) is trying to resurrect this relic.

                2. Mookie*

                  (Some) women now have an opportunity to make headway into corporate culture; you no longer have to marry a man to form a two-person unit (him in the office, you behind the scenes) while having a career independent from the sphere of male relatives is relatively possible. Again, women overwhelmingly don’t care about some dude’s wife performing a largely ceremonial or social role at work functions. This is a male preoccupation, and there’s no reason to support it.

        2. Marcela*

          What I wonder is how my presence in a family event is support. I support my husband every single day, how is my suffering (because I hate gatherings, I’m not very good with small talk, and I have a special way of speak, even in my native language, that sometimes makes first time conversations kind of awkward) showing anybody that particular aspect of our relationship? Why would somebody care about my support? The more I think about it, the less I understand…

          1. Ctrl-Alt-Cuteness*

            I just have to find this somehow in the Summer of 2016, and all I got to say is this…

            I’d hug you (or whatever is acceptable) in real life to show you I understand in my way of understanding, to show I care and that how we are treated as the marriage-induced slavery is totally unacceptable (that is not even touching the surface of pervs, bigots, transphobes (including those seeing transgender people as a toy), etc. before as well as after marriage)… if distance and all other factors were not in the way….. …… Now I’m starting to get tears in my eyes…. I’ll head to sleep before my mood gets crazy here at 12:12am or 00:12 here in the world………..

  15. penelope pitstop*

    For me, the key is that families of employees are invited. In my experience, that family format sort of becomes the holiday party cultural norm and expectation at your husband’s company. It’s weird and a bit off-putting if the president’s family isn’t there.

    It’s human nature to read into a lack of presence. It’s a little silly, but it happens – your family is modeling the cultural expectations and it is indeed a norm and a thing that you should expect to do.

    That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have gotten a pass for your absence last year, nor does it obligate you to go EVERY year if there’s a conflict, but your presence at key functions sets the tone. The alternative is to change the format to during work hours so that it’s employee-only and then it’s less of a social event and obligation on your – or employees’ families – to attend.

  16. Sunshine Brite*

    I think the bigger problem is that your husband is berating you when it should be an open discussion between the two of you.

    1. Eric*

      I was going to post exactly that. “Berating” and saying she’s making him “look bad”? Eeeeeeesh. I would put a stop to that reaaaaallll quick.

    2. Helka*

      We’re all thinking it, but Alison did ask us to stay on the topic of the work/social expectations and not on the ins and outs of the OP’s marriage. Otherwise this would be a very different comment section.

  17. Sins & Needles*

    I have no special insight as to your situation, but wanted to share a little of my own story, in a “you’re not alone, sometime I don’t get social norms” kind of way.

    My spouse works to help mentally ill people and people with drug addictions. And sometimes those people have boundary issues. The security at his work isn’t the greatest, and people who shouldn’t be able to wander into his office sometimes do (his aid takes place in public rooms). So he didn’t put up family pictures, as a safety decision. But in spite of this, some of his co-workers got really, really upset that he didn’t have pictures of his family, especially me, in his office. His co-workers felt this was a *big deal.* He eventually brought in a picture of us snowmobiling, in which we’re both bundled up and wearing Spaceball-style helmet; you wouldn’t know me from Adam. But it was enough to stop his co-workers from complaining, and they accepted him more as a peer. Mostly what I took from that is, “People are complicated.”

    So there you go. People are complicated.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I went to two of my guy friend’s holiday parties as their “dates” last year because they were worried what their bosses/coworkers would say if they showed up alone, despite it being known that they are single guys.

      I would agree, people are complicated and have weird expectations!

    2. Decimus*

      Reminds me of when I was being badgered to put up some of our wedding photos on Facebook. Which my wife and I were both against. So I put up two pictures – one taken from a LONG distance and intended to show everything in the room so we were very small, and one taken of us leaving. Both of the photos showed us from the back. But they were wedding photos…

    3. HM in Atlanta*

      I’ve been single for a long time. At one company I was the absolute rock star to senior leadership until the company Christmas party. The DAY after I attended without a date, I was dis-invited from all future meetings held by three VPs. (Note – There were no behavior shenanigans at the party – it was rather boring: seated dinner, door prizes, and a dance floor that no one danced on.)

      My boss actually told me later that it hurt my career because I didn’t bring family. (I have no family to bring – I can’t imagine a spouse into being, although how handy would that be.)

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I just made a comment above about being a “date” for two of my guy friends this year because they were afraid of this scenario!

      2. Myrin*

        Wow, that’s so horrible! Did you tell your boss that? If so, how did they react?

        (And really, I said that above, but surely not everyone at every company that does parties and get-togethers like this is partnered. How does this whole thing work out for those people [other than the reaction you got]?)

      3. anonanonanon*

        That’s what I’m always worried about. I’ve been punished enough for being single and without children at previous workplaces, but I’m worried that at some point in my career, what you experienced will happen to me. This is where I get annoyed about how “family” only consists of children and spouses for work events, because people without partners/spouses or children can have family or friends they consider as family, but that’s not considered legitimate and that really, really bothers me.

        (I’m not saying that everyone should be able to bring a sibling or a close friend you’ve known for 15/20+ years to as work event, but that’s all some people have in the way of family and having people dismiss that is not cool.)

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I’ve seen siblings/parents/close friends as the plus 1 at work events like a holiday party, and where I’ve worked, it’s never been considered a big deal or something bad. Come alone or bring someone and that’s cool. We generally know who of our co-workers are single, and don’t begrudge them a friend. I guess I’ve just worked in more laid-back companies.

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          My absolutely favorite boss ever would host a holiday dinner for our team of ten at a nice restaurant and everyone was encouraged to bring a guest.

          My boss made it very, very obvious that it could be anyone we wanted. This was great because it took all the weird concerns over who should be invited (i.e. Husbands are okay, and maybe fiancees, but how long do you have to be dating to bring a SO?) and for people like my coworker whose husband hated social events, they could bring a friend.

      4. MashaKasha*

        Wow! I don’t know what’s more awful, that they dis-invited you because you showed up without your non-existent family, or that they, your peers or immediate supervisors (can’t say which), to whom you were a rock star, didn’t know that you had no family. Ugh.

      5. Ezri*

        Wait, what? Your VPs shunned you for being single and coming to a party as a singleton? What could possibly be the logic behind that? I don’t understand how not having a spouse and kids has anything to do with your career. :/

        1. HM in Atlanta*

          It is a former company. It’s also the same company/boss I mentioned in the “last straw” post Alison did last week (where my boss showed up at my dad’s funeral to tell me I had a lot of work on my desk).

      6. Jane, the world's worst employee*

        If you are in the South (which I’m guessing you are, based on your username), it can be very difficult to be single in the workplace. I’m in my early 30s and never married. I can’t tell you how many times people have judged me for this. It gets worse the higher up the chain you get, too. Some people just. can’t. handle. being around single people at work.

      7. Not So NewReader*

        I cannot find a word unkind enough to describe your boss. Speaking as an only child, with both my parents and husband gone, who the heck would I bring? A rent-a-husband? Don’t they have LAWS about that??? My DOG? Wait. There’s more laws, called health codes, about that.

        I wish we could put names here. If I found out I was doing business with your former company I would stop immediately.

        Your story here is proof, we may eliminate discriminatory practices in the workplace but we will never eliminate the narrow-minded, shallow thinking that creates all this hatred/contempt. People will just find different groups of people to dislike, that is all.

        I am glad you got out of there.

    4. dancer*

      This one doesn’t make sense to me. My parents worked in the area where my sister and I went to school. Initially they had pictures of us where their patients could see them. But then I had people approaching me at school to ask to I was so-and-so’s kid, which made me pretty uncomfortabl. So, I asked them to take the pictures down or to move them to a more private place. After they did so, people still recognized me( because apparently I look remarkably like my father) but it reduced the numbers.

      1. Sins & Needles*

        Yes, I don’t want to be approached by strangers wanting to know if I’m so-and-so’s wife, especially because I can’t tell if the stranger is a client of my husband and if so, are they upset with him? His clients are okay people who are trying to get help, but many of them also had some scary behaviors which brought them into his program in the first place. And I really don’t want strangers to be able to I.D. our kids as “Mr. Needle’s kids.”

        1. dancer*

          Exactly. I’m sure the people approaching me were all very nice, but I really felt like my privacy was violated.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Yep, my SO keeps no pictures of us or anything personal whatsoever in his office. At the end of each day, it looks possible that nobody works in that office. He says its so he’s always ready to go if something happens like they let him go. Chip on shoulder much? Lol

      1. OP*

        Same. He keeps pictures of his mother and child, but none of me. Why be married to someone who is so embarrassing? (For the record, I’m conventionally pretty, but not of the same ‘caliber’ as he.) Ive asked for a divorce.

  18. KathyGeiss*

    One of the big bosses at my work never attends these events with his wife. He’s said outright, “this isn’t her thing. She’s got her own stuff” and no one seems to bat an eye. I think it helps that he has a no nonsense attitude and a whole lot of confidence. He walks into a room and owns it and doesn’t even express a hint of concern about the fact that he’s flying stag in a conservative industry at an event where spouses are “expected”.

    I think it would be good to show up every once in a while but I also have a lot of respect for people who eschew “norms” and do it with confidence (that’s on your husband to pull off though, it’s easy for you to be confident at home with your Netflix :) )

    1. Ezri*

      Yeah, I feel like how the spouse represents the absence if asked can have a big impact on how it’s viewed. Saying “Oh, she has another commitment but she sends good wishes” is very different than “She didn’t want to come” or “She has more important things to do”. If OP’s spouse is irritated enough to start a fight over this, he might be irritated enough to let it show at the events.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Just like you are saying here, my first thought was Hubs could get a spine. (Yep, I am a bit annoyed. Sometimes we have to cover for our spouses and that is ALSO a social obligation.) Just tell the people that she’s not a crowd person or whatever. Or he could have flashed some baby photos and said, “She’s hanging out with a VIP tonight.” Jeepers, say something/anything.

      Just as there are times a spouse has to suck it down and take in some undesirable event, there are also times where a spouse has to stand up for their spouse.

      It is very hard to look at this letter and leave the marriage piece out of it. I think that if I have to leave the marriage aspect alone, then my answer is “No, you do not have to go any of these events, ever.” And that is simply because I believe that NO one HAS to do anything. If people chose to do something with us it is a gift.
      If I was considering the marriage and the job obligations then I could say that he had an important message but his delivery was very bad. He seems to desperately need you there, OP. Sometimes when people feel their backs are to the wall, they fire off their mouths in ways that they shouldn’t. Clearly from what others have said they have seen, he could be facing very high pressure from the expectations of other people.

  19. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I guess it just depends on your work culture. In my line of work it’s not at all expected that the boss’s spouse (or anyone’s spouse for that matter) shows up to work events. To be honest, I wouldn’t think twice about it even if it was. I would just figure that he/she had prior commitments or wasn’t feeling well or any of the other things you could say in that situation. Or, just didn’t want to – which I feel is an appropriate response too.

    If it’s that important to your spouse that you show up, I think you should. I don’t think one boring evening a year is worth an argument. But I’d absolutely expect that it be reciprocated!

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I think some of it is geographic area as well.

      In my last city, holiday parties were always seen as team activities and spouses/SO might join us for the tail-end of the outing.

      But in my current city, everyone seems to have the traditional work holiday parties (at a hotel/venue, everyone dresses up).

      1. I'm Not Phyllis*

        Very true. And now that I’m thinking more about it, this could have less to do with what his employees think than with the hubby’s comfort level at such parties …

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          That’s a really, really good point (and actually might explain his reaction).

  20. jhhj*

    I think that yes, you need to go — but he should also be going to yours, and I think you’re just fine saying that either both of you go to the other’s work events or neither of you do, but this one sided stuff isn’t happening anymore.

    That said, like everyone else here, whatever else might be going on, a 2 month old is more than a good enough excuse not to go.

  21. Anon for This!*

    I’ll provide my own story: I had a holiday party to attend. I was engaged to my Better Half at the time. He was cool with going…until he discovered he had to wear a suit. He doesn’t like suits and tried to use that as an excuse not to go. I was flabbergasted and finally just told him – “I’ve been working with these folks for a year. I’ve been wearing this engagement ring for a year. I’ve been talking about you for a year. I think it will look ODD if I show up alone, and you’re at home watching Netflix!” And it would have. It really would have. People would have noticed, people would have spoken about it, and I wanted people talking about how awesome my work is, not speculating on the status of my impending marriage. He went and actually had a nice time.

    It seems very 1950s, but this is one of those things where you take one for the team. Because your spouse is higher in the company, it might look odd and set tongues a wagging about why you aren’t there. Instead of focusing on how he brought in millions of dollars in new business, people are gossiping about whether you’re headed for Divorce Court. Last year, you had a good reason not to go – you just had a baby. It’s going to seem ODD this year to not show up. I know it’s awful and boring. Believe me. LOL

    1. Allison*

      I probably would have said, “sure honey, you can stay home and watch Netflix, but if anyone asks where you are I will loudly explain that you’re stuck at home with explosive diarrhea.” And I would just keep making up more and more embarrassing excuses for him until he finally puts on the damn suit like a big boy.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        ” sorry he couldn’t come because the last time he wore a suit was for his baptism and it doesn’t fit him any more.”

    2. Alison Read*

      Exactly. The memory of these events in the employees’ minds should be how accomplished he (she) seemed and what a great complement their partner is. Not – Huh, I wonder what’s going on in that household? Sucks, but that is part of the big picture.

      As far as the OP’s professional events, I wasn’t clear if those were events where partner support is expected. If so, which it seems it does, then this screams for the forbidden advice…. Skirting that, I’ll just say tit for tat is not a reason to skate on an obligation.

      Times like this makes a person wish for an invisible ear bud wirelessly playing a book on tape … Or something you find fascinating.

  22. popesuburban*

    Maybe I’m in some freaky minority here, but I could not possibly care less whether or not people bring spouses to company functions. As an employee, I can say I don’t think anything in particular about someone whose spouse doesn’t come to parties. So this idea that people must be judging is not always accurate; I think a lot of employees will show up for the free food and not pay much attention to who’s not there. Of course, I have no compunctions about skipping out on my own non-paid work events (Company wine tastings are industry-appropriate, and I skip most of those) because my employer doesn’t own any of my time he doesn’t pay for, so that very much informs my feelings about other people not attending stuff. I am giving the side-eye to anyone who thinks it’s okay to scold a spouse, but beyond that…best of luck for the coming holiday season.

    1. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I agree with you. It would definitely be important to me that the boss shows up at these things … way less important (to the point of being a non-issue) if the boss’s spouse didn’t attend. And it definitely wouldn’t make me speculate about the status of their relationship.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I can see that perspective. We used to have very formal holiday parties. Suits, cocktails, sit-down elegant meals, formal speeches… and then I felt the formal requirement for spouses to attend. But now we have been going more casual. It’s just apps and a drink, and I wouldn’t think twice about a spouse being there.

      1. Kyrielle*

        And ironically, if my husband were working for such a company, the odds of my showing up as a spouse would be going *up* as the parties became more casual….

        Although probably not by a lot. Health issues and tied-in food restrictions, coupled with my total lack of interest in parties of this sort (several years I skipped my own company’s party, and gladly) makes me unlikely to attend regardless. But the more casual it is and the more likely I can drop in and drop back out without creating waves, the more likely I am to be able to go and have it work out.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Also, the more casual it is, the more enjoyable it’s likely to be for a spouse! Sitting at a fancy dinner listening to people give speeches is (for me) tolerable when it’s me being thanked in the speeches, or I’d do it if my husband were being recognized in some major way – like how I went to his grad school graduation. But, in general, not all that fun.

          In contrast, my workplace threw a bowling party where partners and kids were welcome. Much more fun for the non-employees.

    3. embertine*

      Agreed, I wouldn’t even NOTICE, and I’ve never had a problem going stag to events like work dos or weddings. Do people really spend that much time speculating about the marriages of their colleagues? I’m tempted to say they can’t have enough work to do if that’s the case.

    4. anonanonanon*

      Agreed. I tend to side-eye anyone who complains about not seeing someone’s spouse at a family-invited work event or who speculates as to why they’re not there. Most of the time I think it’s because people are nosey and want to see they type of partner a coworker chooses. Besides, it’s more 1950s to say a promotion or reputation is based on someone’s partner attending a work event than an employee expecting their partner to come to an event with them merely because family is invited.

      I honestly do not care who my coworkers are dating or married to and not meeting them would not bother me, but I tend to believe that holiday parties or work events shouldn’t include non-employee guests anyway.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      I think a lot of us feel this way but it depends on what industry you’re in. Some are still very wrapped up in appearances, like the Op’s husband presumably, in which case they’re almost insulted if their employees don’t attend. Some companies it’s just a big deal like “we throw this really nice party once a year and are passing out awards, we expect you to be there out of respect.” I’m so glad I don’t work for one of those industries or companies but when I did I sucked it up and made my appearance.

    6. Jennifer*

      I agree. And isn’t a spouse going to be bored as heck not knowing anyone and only having one person they know to talk to?

  23. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    Okay, I am a military wife. The ceremonies can range from “don’t bother” to “you have to be there, please” just like civvie events do, and there’s a very strong social component involved, but a big part of that is because many, many spouses do not work outside the home, and the ones that do are usually working low-wage jobs–the military is frequently seen as the “family” job rather than the service member only. Military life is an entirely different entity all by itself, so expectations there are totally different with regards to spousal expectations.

    That being said, I think president of a company is high enough on the strata that it would be strange to never see the spouse. Much like high ranking officers families, president and CEO families are a lot of times seen as part of the deal, to the point where never seeing them would be weird or unusual. It could be considered a 1950s throwback a little bit, but regardless, I think it’s sufficiently unusual for a presidents wife to never show up that it could be considered some social weirdness. If it’s a family party, I think that goes double, especially if your husband is trying to lead by example in any way.

    But I do think that the First Lady comparison is going a bit overboard, and that there should be some reciprocity.

    1. BananaPants*

      This is very true, it’s usually viewed as the “family” occupation. We have several career servicemembers in our family and none of the non-military spouses have had high-powered careers of their own. Either they were unable to do so due to frequent moves and deployments, or they work part time in a field where jobs are easy to find and have consistent scheduling (nursing or teaching). There is something of an expectation that the entire household will be supporting the servicemember. My brother is active duty senior enlisted, and is single with no kids at 30 years old – he’s viewed as something of an odd duck because he DOESN’T have a beaming spouse and proud children to be there for those kinds of events/ceremonies (and at his age it would be considered very weird for his parents to fly in).

      To be fair, our OP says she’s military but she may not be career military. If she’s just putting in X number of years to pay back the government for her education, then her husband not coming to promotions and other ceremonies may be irrelevant since she doesn’t plan on staying any longer than she’s contractually obligated. I can see in that circumstance that neither of them would care if he shows up, and not being particularly bothered by that.

      Also, if the company culture is such that spouses are expected to attend this party, the OP never attending them can cause employees to think, ‘Well, my husband didn’t want to come to this stupid thing, either, but he did – why can’t the big boss’ wife suck it up and pretend to care about this Christmas party and this company, too?” A solution would be to hold the party during work hours and make it employees-only; then no one is stuck with a social obligation that they really don’t care to have.

      1. The Strand*

        My impression was that she brought up the fact she’s military and he doesn’t attend, because she does care, and he didn’t attend after asking: “I understand custom and ceremony and the importance of military spouses, but my husband never appears at any of my functions, not even promotions.”

        That doesn’t sound like, “He doesn’t come, but I don’t mind”.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I agree that the OP probably wouldn’t have brought it up if it didn’t bother her at least a little.

    2. OP*

      He refused to go with me to call on the Commander for New Years Day. That’s a big one on some bases/posts. I said he had the flu.

  24. Katie the Fed*

    Yeah, you’ve gotta go to each other’s events. It’s just one of those things, like washing the sheets and towels, that you have to do. And I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than hear my husband and his coworkers talk shop, but it’s what you do.

      1. Allison*

        You joke, but I had a roommate who pretty much never washed his bath towel. That nasty rag stunk up the whole bathroom!

        1. PontoonPirate*

          I rented a furnished room once and got along fabulously with my housemate, the owner. The W/D lived in the garage, and, as we both generated a lot of laundry, I was conscious about doing mine when he was gone. I always washed the sheets first, as I only had the one set and I didn’t want them to end up piled somewhere if I ran out of time. I guess it worked out that he never saw me doing them, which is why, when I was getting ready to move out, he finally asked me why I never washed the sheets in the year (the YEAR) I’d been living there.

          Dude, WTF?

        2. Cath in Canada*

          I had a friend who had stinky towels too. They were so stiff that if you tried to bend them they would probably shatter. “I’m clean when I use them, so I don’t need to wash them!”, he’d say. I dried my hands on my jeans when I used the bathroom at his place.

          I knew someone around the same time who dumped an otherwise great boyfriend because he didn’t wash his sheets often enough for her! This after a couple of months of her bringing a sleeping bag whenever she stayed at his place :D

          1. Allison*

            That last paragraph is totally fair. I mean, I can’t say I put clean sheets on the bed *every* week, but I do try to change and wash my sheets often enough, and I think being in a relationship where someone else is often in my bed with me motivates me to clean the bedding more often. People need to be aware of the fact that the dirt they generate may be tolerable to themselves, but usually nasty to other people.

  25. AnonyGoose*

    I would actually feel annoyed as a fellow spouse in this situation. By inviting families, the company created an expectation that spouses would attend. If I had to sit through my husband’s presentation-centric company party (which literally no spouse has ever wanted to go to) and find out that the wife of the president (who, presumably, was in on the decision to invite spouses and could have changed it) couldn’t be bothered to come, it would leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      That’s quite a leap you’re making there is no reason to think the OP could have changed the president’s mind about inviting spouses nor that she simply couldn’t be bother to go.

      1. SocSci*

        + 1! As the CEO/owner’s wife, and not an employee, I held ‘commenting rights’ and not a veto on the holiday party attendance list

      2. AnonyGoose*

        I can see where there would be ambiguity. I meant, of course, that the president likely has the ability to change the policy, not his wife.

        1. OP*

          I have no say in anything to dwell with his work. It’s his work, his company, not mine. I am allowed to listen nightly to the work stresses but I am not allowed to give an opinion.

          1. Alexandra Snyder*

            I’m in the military medical field as well and I am already annoyed with your comments. You know your husband is being unreasonable. You complain about him finding you unattractive or being ashamed of you. You say you’re “not allowed” to give your opinion, but that’s giving him FAR too much power. You’re allowed to do whatever you want. Grow some balls and tell him you’re not going, you expect to be treated as an equal party in your marriage and if he can’t accept that, file for divorce. Don’t “ask” for a divorce. Get one! You don’t need advice from Allison. You need an attorney, a marriage counselor, and a stiff drink.

    1. The End Of Greatness*

      You beat me to it! But yeah – my wife’s company throws a Christmas party every year, and they tend to be pretty lavish with the food.

      I know that Alison asked that this not turn into marriage advice, but it’s sort’ve difficult to address this question without touching on it: in the past, Alison has talked about the importance of ‘partnership’ in a marriage, a notion that I totally understand and agree with. Attending important work/career events with one’s spouse is – I think – one aspect of the ‘marriage partnership’. Sure, there can be exceptions (OP’s recent childbirth certainly qualifies) but over a period of years, spending an evening each year socializing with your spouse is not exactly the Ultimate Sacrifice. And some people actually enjoy spending time with their spouse, and are proud to be seen with them in public.

      I totally don’t get why OP’s spouse won’t attend an occasional function with her. I mean, even if he has nothing in common with anyone there, he could make a few ‘photo op’ appearances and then disappear behind a potted plant with an iPhone and watch a movie or read news or something. Is it a competition thing? Maybe it’s just me, but a fairly big aspect of ‘partnership’ is that it doesn’t matter who makes more money (or has more ‘fame’ or whatever); sure, you may have agreed to handle finances in some idiosyncratic manner, but I’d expect that the bulk is going to save for a house, or a college fund, or a year in Tibet – ie, a common partnership goal.

      Meh – just my opinion. People have their reasons. But I’ve been in a marriage that wasn’t a partnership, and I’ve been in a marriage that is a partnership, and I vastly prefer the latter.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      It is kind of nice to put faces with the names of the people you and your spouse are always talking about too.

  26. Stella Maris*

    I agree with most of the above comments. If families are invited and attending, then I’d expect the spouses of upper-level people to be there. (If it was no other spouses but you, that’s weird.)

    And a firm “dude” (with eyebrow raise) on the “spouse doesn’t come to your events but says you have to come to his”.

  27. TotesMaGoats*

    As for your attendance last year, being two months post partum is absolutely a reason to pass on attending. That’s crappy that you were given grief over that.

    In general though, I would say this falls under “stuff I have to do but don’t want to do but will do because it’ll help my spouse out”. He should return the favor though.

  28. Mr. Mike*

    Quite frankly, I wouldn’t care either way. As the president or as an employee. But then, I usually don’t like events like this since I’m fairly introverted and hate office politics. I’ve never insisted on my significant other to attend things like these in order for me to ‘look good’ and I think if you are worried about it, then maybe there are other issues at work here. I’m certain he didn’t get to be president because he has a wife, and I’m sure having his wife at a function isn’t going to spark an ‘OH-MY-GOD-WHERE-IS-SHE’ apocalypse around the company cooler. But that’s just my opinion….

  29. Bend & Snap*

    Well–as the president of the company, doesn’t the OP’s husband have the ability to help shape the culture? “No spouses” at parties would mean his wife wasn’t compelled to attend.

    My current company doesn’t do +1s and it’s SO NICE

    1. dancer*

      I agree with this. I would hate to go to work events disguised as social events, especially if I wasn’t the one working there!

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Agree. It would be so awesome if what came out of this is that OP’s husband institutes a new policy of inviting SO’s, but making it very clear that SO attendance is 100% optional.

    3. Ad Astra*

      If the OP has a strong objection to these parties, it would be really great to see the husband trying to minimize spousal involvement in these affairs. I’m sure there are plenty of dutiful spouses who hate going to these things but aren’t married to someone who can influence the format.

      Of course, I’m a grinch and would prefer my company not throw any holiday party at all, unless they want to do it during work hours.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      This. Why doesn’t it occur to hubby that maybe other people’s spouses do not want to go, either?

  30. sam*

    and this is why I am so thankful that every company I have ever worked at had an “employees only” rule regarding most, if not all company parties, including holiday parties. Avoided general significant awkwardness including:

    – spouses/significant others who didn’t know anyone
    – spouses/significant others who knew too many people (or knew too much?!)
    – the inevitable “someone’s actually having an affair with a colleague and now their spouse is at the party” conflict
    – the spouse/significant other who drinks too much and embarrasses the employee (sure, employees have been known to embarrass themselves, but this adds a second layer to worry about)
    – in the late 90s/early 2000s era, gay lawyers who were still in the closet professionally who always had to show up alone despite being in relationships (this has tapered off a bit in more recent years, but when i started working, I had a LOT of gay friends who were not out at work or who were only out to a few trusted people)
    – the “married to our jobs” associates who became more obviously “singled” out
    – the gossip about who did/did not show up with their significant other
    – if you’re dating/in a new relationship, the inevitable agita about whether you’ve been dating long enough to bring this person to the holiday party
    …and on and on and on…

    The one exception was my old firm had a summer “family day” event, where people were encouraged to bring significant others, kids, etc. It was usually at the zoo, or a park, or something of the sort, but it was incredibly low-key, and no one was very pressured to go (other than the fact that it was fun), and it was really geared towards kids.

    That being said, these are all issues related to company policies with regard to inviting outside attendees. Once the decision has been made to let people bring a plus-one, I think one of the things you sign up for when you get married, or get into a significant relationship, is periodically accompanying your significant other to social events. Not every time, and there should be some mutuality and respect for peoples’ differing levels of enjoyment of these things, but even as a strident feminist, I don’t really see it as a “1950s” thing to accompany your partner to an event. If it’s always the wife having to “support” the husband while the husband blows off all of the wife’s work events, that’s a separate issue that probably requires a heart-to-heart conversation.

    1. Manders*

      I’m giggling about the idea of a workplace where affairs with colleagues are common enough that holiday party rules would have to be built around avoiding the awkwardness.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Oh you’d be surprised. True story: I once had a boss who committed suicide by driving his car off the road (we found out later the Feds were investigating him for fraud). Six weeks later was our holiday party and his wife showed up as his business partner’s date! Imagine the gossip and speculating whether the affair had started before or after his death!

      2. sam*

        well, when you work in a high-pressure field where everyone works 24/7, people become very…close.

        Even when it’s entirely platonic, intense relationships can form.

    2. Interviewer*

      Do you work at my office? Because we haven’t had +1 evening holiday parties in about 6 or 7 years. Now it’s appetizers & hot chocolate on a random Tuesday afternoon. They blamed it on the recession but after things improved a few years later, they never added those epic parties back. More than a few of the reasons you listed are responsible for the change.

      1. sam*

        Oh yeah – I didn’t even get into the cost of adding a +1 for everyone! We had hundreds of employees in our NY office. That would also have been a big problem, not to mention the additional space considerations.

        I think once companies cut back during the recession, it became much harder to justify the expense of bringing back the epic parties. Earnings may have recovered, but people are still much more frugal these days, particularly for something that is seen as such a frivolity. My company now has an employee-only, fairly lowbrow shindig at a local irish pub. Open bar, and bar food – and let me tell you – no matter how fancy a party you throw, everyone will make a beeline for the pigs in blankets. so save your money and just make people happy.

  31. Anon369*

    Our CEO’s wife doesn’t attend our purely-social holiday party anymore, and it really does seem weird. We all knew she wasn’t a fan of socializing with us in prior years, but as a small company, this is something the staff expects (especially because our spouses are expected to /generally attend).

    Separately, if you can put a bug in his ear to not do business stuff at the event, that would be greatly appreciated by all!

  32. That Marketing Chick*

    Whether you like it or not…it IS a social norm. Look at it this way: it humanizes your husband a bit more to his direct reports (he’s a real person with a wife and a baby), which can (should) build better relationships with his employees. Take one for the team and attend the event – you might even have fun!

    1. Marcela*

      Why is a human without spouse and baby not a real person? I know you are not saying that literally and I’m not trying to be belligerent, but this kind of argument makes my single brother very, very unhappy in his work events, since he is asked when he is going to get a family. And it forces me to go to events where I don’t have anything in common with anybody. It is a horrible and noisy social norm that should change.

      1. Jennifer*

        I hate when they ask that, especially since I couldn’t catch a man if I sold my soul to the devil. Not everyone is meant to have a life partner, y’all.

  33. CM*

    Sticking strictly to the OP’s question: I don’t think it’s necessarily a “first lady” throwback thing. If families are invited to work social events, there’s an implication that you’re supposed to get to know each other as people beyond just your workplace roles, and as the company president, he is encouraging that culture. So if his own wife didn’t come because she just didn’t want to, that wouldn’t look good. It’s sort of the opposite of what someone said above about it being weird when a boss brings their spouse but no one else is allowed to. It’s like, “I am mandating that you all get to know each other as people, but you don’t get to see me outside my role of company president.”

  34. Mena*

    If emploees are bringing spouses and significant others then why wouldn’t the President?

    Last year you got a legitimte Bye but this year you might want to make the effort of an appearance.

      1. Alison Read*

        Because the employees’ spouses are attending. It is where a person spends the majority of their waking hours. It is understandable some spouses are curious about their partners’ work life.

        As the lead of the company you’re scrutinized by those under you. By showing up solo to a company event involving spouses it gives fodder for a multitude of less than positive assumptions.

        If there is a social event involving spouses the president needs their partner at their side to keep up the image of maintaining the status quo.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m still not totally sure I get the reasoning though. I mean, I understand that people say that’s the reason, but why does the president need their partner at the side to keep up an image, and what image, and why would people care?

          1. Anonymous for now*

            I think I’ve got it! People assume that your partner will come if you want them to, because they assume partners are supportive that way. So if your partner doesn’t come, they assume you didn’t think the occasion was fun/important enough. So the image is that of “boss who enjoys work functions.” And a hint of “boss who lives for this company.”

            I know I’m in a few work situations with parties throughout the year where if my partner doesn’t come, people ask about him. At the workplace where I’m a regular employee, they’re just curious—they’d be equally fine with “He has work early tomorrow” or “He’s not into this kind of thing.” (Or even, “He offered to come, but I know he has trouble socializing in large groups he doesn’t know well, so I’d spend the whole night making sure he was okay instead of actually hanging with you guys.”) At the workplace where I’m an executive, it really has to be “He is working *right now*.” If he doesn’t attend, and there’s not a logistical reason, it reads a tiny bit as though both of us don’t like the people/event that much. It looks like I’m there out of obligation, but don’t think it will be enjoyable enough to make him join me.

            I think the regressive part comes in when people especially assume that a woman will support her husband that way, but the overall assumption can still affect all genders.

            However, even the most regressive employee should be able to understand “She’s home with our 2-month old,” so the specific reaction here is…unwarranted.

          2. Ad Astra*

            I posted upthread about the expectation that powerful men should have attractive, charming women on their arms at big, public events like this. The idea that his wife chooses not to attend seems to undermine the image of a powerful man. If he can’t control his wife, how can he control this company? Or, a more modern interpretation: If his wife doesn’t support him, why should we?

            Plenty of reasonable people can understand that an executive’s spouse is an independent human being with his/her own interests, commitments, etc. But we get really stuck on our ideas of what a CEO or company president is supposed to be.

            And, like I said earlier, when female executives came along we simply swapped the pronouns and kept the same expectations without really examining them. So maybe it’s not sexist now, but its roots are sexist as all heck.

            1. Eva G.*

              Ad Astra, I agree with your take. We want CEOs and presidents etc. to have a well-functioning and supportive family because it suggests (1) they don’t have to worry about trouble brewing at home and can concentrate fully on their work, and (2) they are competent enough to make good decisions at home, so probably at work too.

            2. Steve G*

              But its not only about exhibiting power. It’s also about seeing a softer, more personal side to someone who might otherwise come across as cold or unemotional while working

          3. The End Of Greatness*

            I think that there is more than one reason for it. And that not all reasons will apply equally in every case. Here’s a sample:

            – It’s traditional.

            – People in a strong marriage tend to be perceived as stable, solid, trustworthy, etc.

            – Contrawise, people get nervous when they hear that the CEO has just filed for divorce. And nobody wants an 8am meeting with an executive who was up all night arguing with their spouse.

            – End of the year parties tend to be kind of ‘show off-y’ events, especially if it’s been a good year. Open bar, string quartet, people wear their fancy jewelry. the CFO arrives in his vintage Jaguar that only runs 5 days a year, etc[1]. An executive who brings their spouse to the party is ‘showing them off’ and/or ‘showing off’ to their spouse and/or possibly just wants to share the good times with their spouse.

            – Some people are going to judge a person by their spouse’s looks / ‘class’. If a spouse is a no-show without a good reason – what are they hiding?

            – Some people are going to judge a person by the relationship they have with their spouse. If a spouse doesn’t show up, what’s the story?

            – Meeting someone’s spouse is something of a privilege. If the President of the company allows you to meet their spouse, it’s generally a positive gesture, they’re opening up a part of themself to you. So it’s a means of bonding with the people who work for them.

            I’ll stop here. I know some people will object to some of these reasons. I’m not attempting to justify any of them.

            [1] Did I ever tell y’all about that fancy Christmas party I attended out in LA several years back? A Japanese investment firm that had had a great year, and they held the party in their own newly completed skyscraper. It was extremely fancy. Got surprisingly rowdy, too.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think that’s why so many people bristle at it — most of these (although not all) are pretty icky reasons, and I think even when they’re not articulated so clearly, people sense they’re at the core of it and it feels gross.

              I think this is a really spot-on analysis of it though.

          4. OP*

            I am literally getting a screaming lecture over the phone from my spouse about attending company functions. I embarrassed him because I wouldn’t go to a Halloween activity for the employees’ children. In my defense, that’s my birthday and being at his work is the last place I want to be. I will never understand the role the president of a company has. I don’t need to. I’ve asked for a divorce.

        2. Kat M2*

          Honestly, to me at least, that smacks of MYOB……Maybe that was the norm back when wives were expected to stay home and do everything to promote a good family image…..but we’re moving away from these types of social niceties and for good reason. I know this doesn’t help the LW…but I can understand why CEOs and their partners might think these expectations are a little bit silly and outdated.

          Humanity in the workplace should be about making sure people have just working conditions and wages. If they WANT to introduce their spouses to it, that’s great, but no one should be forced to.

        3. Marcela*

          I think this argument paints people in a horrible light: they are nosy people that likes to think bad by default. :(

      2. KAZ2Y5*

        There are some jobs/professions where the spouse is expected to support their husband/wife 100% by everyone involved and I think in those jobs it does look bad if the spouse doesn’t show up for certain things without a good excuse. I say this as someone who was a preacher’s wife for 20 years (my husband has since passed away) and did many things just because I was the pastor’s wife. There were some things that I would push back on, but there were times where it would have just caused more trouble than it was worth to not attend/participate. And my husband didn’t demand anything (although he did beg a time or two!). He would always make it clear to churches we went to that when they hired him, it was not a 2 for 1 sale (with me included), but I did do a lot of things just because of who I was married to.
        Honestly, of the two jobs here I would put military closer to this mindset so it does surprise me that the husband doesn’t go to any of his wife’s things. Having said that, the husband’s place of employment could have the same expectations – that they expect a lot of their higher ups and expect their spouses to support them 100% in their job.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Oh boy, what a massive topic this is. I have seen preacher’s wives work as much as the minister and they get zero dollars for it. Our denomination screens the wife as well as the husband when they are hiring. Basically, you married the man’s job, not the man. Maybe people are okay with that, but not everyone.
          And ministers’ kids, another example. The whole family faces intense scrutiny.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      I imagine there’s more pressure for the wife of the president to attend than there is for spouses of the employees. I guess it’s because the president is hosting the party, which somehow makes the wife the hostess? Which is not really logical, it’s not at their HOUSE and definitely smacks of sexism – but I could see it also being the norm for the husband of a female president to attend. But as Alison has written at other times it’s not really cool to have long corporate presentations at a work “party” where spouses are included – if you want a meeting disguised as a party it should be during the work day. If it’s that important to your husband that you make an appearance as a Social Unit he should make it very easy for you to make an appearance and then disappear – so you shouldn’t be seated at a conspicuous Head Table or announcing raffle winners at the end of the night. Or he should have a less meeting-like party (a cookout in the summer maybe?) where you could bring the baby, eat a hotdog, say hello, and then go home so the baby can nap. Good luck OP, I wouldn’t want to go either but hopefully you can find an acceptable compromise.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I went to a lecture given by two doctors, a husband and wife team. The husband announced to the entire audience, “I just do whatever she says.” It was so very awkward to watch and listen to this. I started questioning their opinions on various matters.

  35. Ad Astra*

    I’m the wife of a football coach. It’s… not the same as being a military spouse or a CEO’s wife, but it’s still one of those things where you’re expected to show up and act like Tami Taylor from time to time. I adjust my schedule so that I can be at the games every Friday night (or sometimes Thursday, gross). I take on all the grocery shopping while he’s in meetings and cook all the meals because he gets home late from practice and, during the season, I do most of the housework. It’s an adjustment for me, and sometimes it does feel a little 1950s.

    That said, the football team can function just fine without me, and so can your husband’s tech company. It would be good if you could go to this year’s party to show your support and mingle with his colleagues (and I would love to see your husband doing the same at your work events). If you can’t make it, the colleagues will understand. It sounds like this really matters to your husband, which is understandable, but no sane coworker will see that a spouse isn’t there and conclude something negative about an executive.

    1. The Strand*

      There was an interesting Dear Prudence letter about this recently, a person considering marrying a high school football coach who wanted to avoid social activities and mention of coaching, and the advice was basically – not going to happen.

      1. Ad Astra*

        I could probably avoid social activities if I really wanted to, but I appreciate the opportunity to meet the rest of the coaching staff and their wives because I’m new to the area and don’t have my own friends here. But even so, marrying a football coach means you’re signing on for a certain lifestyle. No fall vacations, no fall weddings (unless you want to go solo), and very little quality time with your husband for about 4 months of the year. And if you don’t live in a large metro with lots of high schools, you can expect to relocate pretty frequently.

  36. Dasha*

    One reason I like my job… no Christmas party just a Christmas lunch for employees only. It’s only a 30 minute lunch too since 90% of everyone here only takes 30 minutes.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Yah, last work Christmas party I attended was eight years ago. (Last sit-down-dinner work Christmas party I attended was (I kid you not)… in 2000.) Every employer since then has been cutting costs and cutting down on the party, starting from “apps and drinks during work hours, no guests allowed” to “free catered lunch” to “holiday potluck for those who wish to participate.” Which, TBH, is fine by me. But I was surprised that so many places still do the all-out holiday parties anymore.

  37. Blunt*

    I am sure he does plenty of crap for you that he doesnt want to do. It is one event a year, suck it up. Make an appearance drink a little wine, eat a little shrimp and pretend you are a happy person.

    1. Myrin*

      Wow, that could have been said in a much nicer tone! (Also, there are a lot of partners who don’t do “plenty of crap” for their spouses, so I wouldn’t be so sure here, if I were you.)

      1. neverjaunty*

        And especially based on what was actually said in the letter. I wouldn’t assume that somebody who never shows up for their spouse’s events and who BERATES them for not wanting to go party while being 2 months postpartum is a prince of a fellow in all other respects.

      1. Blunt*

        To clarify, I meant happy during the event. I did not mean to imply, that the OP was not generally happy. Sorry I did not choose my words well.

  38. nk*

    This is sort of tangential to the question, but since OP’s husband is the president and likely has the power to change this event: is it possible to make this a strictly social event, rather than a social/work event? I suspect virtually no spouses enjoy this kind of thing, and especially not non-spouse dates! I actually seem to recall another AAM post about this subject, and I think the general consensus was that it sucks to subject non-employees to this kind of thing. Maybe give out an award or two, and give a quick statement about how the company did that year and how much the employees are appreciated, but that should be the extent of the “work” portion of the party. The rest of it seems much more appropriate for an all-hands meeting during work hours.

  39. anon4today*

    I went to my (ex) husbands first Christmas party when he joined a new company as a senior manager. I was not invited the next 2 years. Come to find out, my ex started a major flirtation that second year that evolved into a full blown out affair with his bosses AA. Having me at the party would crimp his style at flirting with the woman plus allow her the option to observe me, possibly be introduced to me and so on. . Long story short, I found out about this relationship and that tons of people at his job from his bosses to those at the worker bee level knew about his affair. I was already humiliated badly enough to think all these people knew before me, that if I had also thought they were sitting next to me at the previous two years parties while pitying me and trying to make small talk, I would’ve probably ran my ex over in rage. So it was a blessing to not be invited.
    So I guess my long ramble is be glad you got invited and suck it up and go if only a once year thing (disregarding extreme situations like just having a baby or something along those lines) because being invited lessens the chance your spouse is hiding something. Maybe not as extreme as an affair but other issues from some crazy boss you don’t know about to someones unstable behavior and so that a spouse withholds to not worry you.

  40. Lee*

    I’d just say that if the CEO’s spouse isn’t in attendance, but everyone else in the company (1) basically feels obligated to attend, even if that a self-imposed sense of obligation and (2) are under the impression their own spouse/partner also should make a show, then yeah, it’s DEFINITELY going to be noticed and quite possibly be resented by the CEO’s company staff.

    1. Katy*

      I just erased 200 words that boiled down to this. Don’t like feeling like you’re living in the 50’s? Don’t act in a way that makes you feel like you do. Sorry but this *is* a relationship question.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        There’s absolutely a huge relationship question here, but it’s not the only question. The question that the letter-writer posed to us was what’s really expected of the spouse of a company president.

  41. Ella*

    If he was a bit lower on the totem pole, I would have an easier time accepting the fact that you should probably conform to the 1950’s-ish standard, suck it up, and go. But if he’s the president, doesn’t he have the power to change the culture and say “yeah, that’s just not her thing, she’s swamped at work, etc?”

      1. Ella*

        Well, if you have a high pressure job and an infant at home and tend towards introversion and small talk is kind of your idea of hell, maybe sometimes it is.

    1. Helka*

      It depends what kind of job it is, and in what area.

      My experience is in the South with well-heeled nonprofits, so it may not be applicable, but the adults I grew up with would not have had any power to make their major events “no spouses/families invited,” particularly not at the level they were at. Most of their donors and political supporters were very old-fashioned, so each time one of them had a major event, all three of us would have to be there and look good. At least it wasn’t gendered — Wife went to all of Hubs’ events, Hubs went to all of Wife’s. And I went to all of them to be “ah yes look at our good and accomplished little girl.” The culture of an individual organization isn’t necessarily going to outweigh the larger cultural context it sits in.

    2. Allison*

      To be honest, if the president of our company showed up sans wife and said “yeah she doesn’t want to come, it’s not her thing” I probably wouldn’t think anything of it! I think it’s nice that we get to bring guests to the company party, and I’d love to one day have someone to bring with me to stuff like that, but how can I possibly judge someone for flying solo, or for saying their spouse doesn’t like company functions, when I barely like those parties myself?

    3. Steve G*

      Not to pick on you particularly, but it is really odd to me that everyone correlates going to a party with your spouse with the 1950s stereotype of an at-home wife. As I’ve mentioned before, I am in a very modern area of NYC and many progressive/liberal and young people that I’ve worked with or know socially bring their spouses around. Not sure what it has to do with the 50s.

  42. misplacedmidwesterner*

    He goes to my stuff, I go to his stuff. He started to complain ONCE about my stuff and I reminded him about the engineering week banquet where I sat through a very technical lecture from the guy who did something with radio transmissions or something that led to the invention of wifi and it was a two hour speech in tech-ese. Engineers are not good public speakers (or at least this one wasn’t). He owes me forever for that one.

    Corporate parents and I grew up going to family picnics in the summer and being the good corporate kiddo. Now I bring my kiddo to those same picnics (and the kids christmas party and the kids halloween office trick or treat). I’m teaching the norm that I learned – we support each other’s success and sometimes that means we go to social events even when we don’t want to.

    However when the office manager decided to email all the spouses directly about a kid event, we had a conversation about how she got my personal email and how he was perfectly capable of responding to the events but I didn’t need emails from his office manager.

  43. GlorifiedPlumber*

    You know, this never occurred to me before as a sticking point for some couples, but, I really do think despite the movement away from the 1950’s over the years, the appearance of being a well rounded leader is greatly facilitated by having a stable at home relationship.

    My work standing at work has been greatly approved by the presence of my wife at social pseudowork events like happy hours, summer parties, winter parties, etc. People really like my wife… she is interesting and she does cool work unrelated to my industry.

    Interestingly, her work standing has been helped (or at least I like to think so) by my presence. She has a lot of high end clients (names we’d all recognize) and if they’re in the clinic bringing in a horse and I go with her on a weekend to admit it… they enjoy meeting me. Many of their husbands or sons or daughters are engineers… so me being an engineer is, “Neat and cool…” and they love my wife even more for it.

    Her boss loves to drink and talk beer… my wife hates it… me being present at work parties and work events for her allows him to bond with her via me; she thinks it has helped (also netted us a kegerator for a wedding present, SCORE!).

    So, I feel when you find yourself in a leadership possession, you benefit from anything that makes you appear like a well rounded member of society. Having a well rounded spouse can help facilitate that perception.

    IMO, OP you absolutely don’t deserve to be berated for non-attendance, but if it isn’t “mind blowingly intolerable,” your husband’s career can be boosted by your presence.

    1. Marcela*

      But there is no reason to believe that my presence in a work event has any correlation with the stability of my relationship with my husband. One data point is absolutely not enough (although, having said that, I am in academia, where in every couple one is pursuing a career and the other is supporting him along the way, and everybody knows the sacrifices the non-academic spouse is doing). It simply makes no sense, it’s just one of the silly things we make.

    2. afiendishthingy*

      This makes some amount of sense to me but it also doesn’t quite sit right. I sat next to coworker Wakeen and his wife at a going away dinner for another coworker recently; the wife was a lot of fun, a good time was had by all and it may have slightly improved my opinion of Wakeen – as a person who is fun to spend time with. It had no effect on my opinion of him as a professional, and honestly I already liked him pretty well as a person. The boss who was leaving was very beloved by all as a professional and as a person; I met his wife at this party and maybe one other event. I didn’t get much of an impression and of her other than that she seemed pretty quiet and introverted, and I was sympathetic to not wanting to hang out with people you don’t know. No impact on my opinion of my now former boss.

      Meanwhile I am happily single and I hope to God nobody is judging my professional persona on that – or their opinion of me as a person for that matter. I get that couples should be supportive of each other’s careers; my parents have always attended some work events for one another. I just don’t love the idea of people advancing in their careers because they happen to have a charming outgoing partner – especially if it implies others are being punished because they’re single, in an unhappy relationship, or in a relationship with someone who doesn’t care for schmoozing with their partner’s professional network.

      1. GlorifiedPlumber*

        :) I hear you!

        I think of it more as an adder, or gravy… no one would think twice about someone who was single. It just… doesn’t impact your perception either way. Especially in this day and age. Maybe 60 years ago… but not today.

        I think of the glowing spouse as… gravy… as an adder. Something that MIGHT help (and, likewise, if you have a worthless spouse, and trust me, I have some some doozies at corporate events, male and female, it can hurt) perception on the “soft skills.” I don’t think its a cornerstone that any decisions are based on, it is just a… nice to have. Like a corner lot or something… horrible metaphors, I know.

        Again… I certainly don’t think that it SHOULD be this way… I just know that in my little bubble, my wife has helped perception, particularly with my boss, and her boss loves me. She and him don’t have much to relate to; having me around helps her with that. But, that’s a pretty limited anecdote to a pretty limited situation… that small business is VERY unique.

        So… I think you’re 100% safe. No one at all is judging you professionally by being single. I was single for the majority of my professional career and I shudder at thinking I was held back because of it.

        Randomly (and I just thought this was interesting, not pertinent or part of my argument) while writing this, I was looking at US Presidents statistics. There were 6 single, never married, or widower presidents. The last being Woodrow Wilson (whose wife died in office). The previous single/widower presidents go way back. Today, only ~51% of adults are married. I wonder if a single/bachelor US president could ever get elected. I would imagine a widower could… but I doubt a bachelor president could. Maybe a divorcee… never a “never married” one.

  44. neverjaunty*

    Here’s another reason to try and get SOs to attend: because the co-workers are all going to be talking shop, and the poor spouses/SOs need to be able to talk about literally anything else, which means talking to each other.

      1. neverjaunty*

        I mean that the more people who bring SOs, the larger the pool of people who can be all “God, finally, somebody who is capable of talking about something other than JobThings!”

  45. AW*

    I’d have more sympathy for the LW’s husband if he wasn’t president of the company. Actually, I’d have more sympathy if it wasn’t a tech company. (Am I wrong for expecting a technical company to be more progressive? Perhaps it depends on the type of tech.) As others have already pointed out, he has the ability to change the company culture. At minimum, he could have some folks come up with some social events that won’t bore the crap out of the relatives/spouses of the employees.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I started to comment that I would expect tech companies to be less old fashioned about these things, but then I remembered all the issues the tech sector has with sexism and diversity and thought “Hmm, maybe I’m wrong.”

      1. Editor*

        If the tech company does a lot of defense contracting, it could be as committed to protocol as a military unit. Given that the husband doesn’t go to the wife’s military events, however, it doesn’t sound like the tech company is wedded to DoD.

  46. INFJ*

    I have the opposite problem: my BF’s company has social parties all the time for which spouses/families/SOs are NOT invited. It kind of makes me wonder what kind of Wolf of Wall Street-esque shenanigans they’re up to.

    I agree that having a 2 month old was adequate excuse last year (and hopefully hubby said so to his coworkers instead of telling them you didn’t want to go), but this year you should go if spousal attendance is the social norm. Do most other employees bring spouses?

  47. politiktity*

    This sort of appearance is pure PR. It shows that he thinks about about the implication of business on family.

    Depending on the culture, it might say “Let’s celebrate the homemakers that allow us to work 100 hour weeks”. But it might also say “It blows that we spend 1/3 of our lives away from our loved ones, let’s include them when we can.”

    Additionally, the host sets the tone. Leaving the family at home without an explicit reason sends the message that this is a work function, not a social function. The First Lady/Gentleman is an effective wingman who defines expectations between employees and family members. Do they segregate between work talk and the left out spouses? Is it a celebration of a successful quarter? Or an opportunity to let your guard down because it’s beneficial to have employees who like each other on a social level?

    The tech world is notorious for never leaving work at home, and being aggressively anathema to family. A family friendly social function is a great opportunity to change that, even if it dips a bit into the fifties by requiring a model family unit.

  48. Cath in Canada*

    My husband and I have a work event quality discrepancy problem! He’s in the movie industry, and his work events are genuinely awesome – lots of high-end free food and drinks, entertainment provided (“fun money” casinos, photo booths, bowling, gag reels from the movie etc), free taxis home. I’m in the public sector and we have to pay for tickets to a very pleasant (for employees) but low-key event with canapes and one or two free drinks per person, plus speeches. There are also occasional invitations to a professor’s home for wine and cheese etc with smaller groups. He definitely feels like he gets the short end of the stick! It was hard at first to get him to understand that it is important that he comes to at least some of the events, because he’d just never had any experience with that kind of workplace, but he does come to about one in three events now.

  49. Erin*

    I think people berating you for not attending is silly and rude, but that being said, I do think you should go to support your husband. You don’t have to go to every function, but clearly this is a biggie, and you didn’t go last year.

    I’d tell him you’ll go, but he should prepare for you to be under the weather in December 2016. ;)

  50. Student*

    I’m surprised that this was difficult for AAM to pin down. It’s pretty simple.

    You’re a trophy that your husband wants to show off to his subordinates to underscore his alpha-male status in his pack of subordinates. It’s pretty obvious, it’s pretty sexist, and it’s pretty gross. It’s also pretty normal.

    In tech, especially, there’s a huge male-dominated atmosphere (much like the military – which is why as a woman, you don’t need to bring your male spouse to events, but your male commanding officers and peers probably do). Tech, like many fields, expects high-ranking men to have stay-at-home wives acting as pure domestic support, and the large majority of them do (especially when compared to the general population).

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      I can not speak for the tech industry, but at my company (major fortune 100) it is not a gender thing as we have several senior female executives and they all have to bring their spouse/partner. Yes, some of those spouses would fit the “trophy” category, but that is not the norm.

      1. AnotherHRPro*

        It is also true that the higher you go in an organization, statistically speaking, you have a greater chance of having a stay at home spouse. This is in part due to finances and in part to frequent relocation.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      While I have no doubt that is sometimes true, I really don’t think it’s universally the explanation. For one thing, many husbands feel obligated to attend their wives’ events / many wives feel obligated to bring their husbands. For another, this is often an expectations at companies that aren’t male dominated or where trophy spouses really aren’t a normal thing.

      I actually think this is kind of insulting to all the people (many of them here) who do feel obligated to bring spouses / attend their spouses’ functions — or who do so as an act of support — and who don’t fit your comment.

      1. neverjaunty*

        It’s not even universally the explanation in tech. The idea that because Silicon Valley companies have a gender imbalance they therefore expect top employees to be half of 1950s-style couples is…. kind of silly to anyone actually familiar with those companies.

    3. Steve G*

      mmmmm people may have the thought in their head that their spouse is a trophy, but that doesn’t mean other people see it that way.

      Also, gotta say, I worked at a medical supplies company that had slightly more women than men and the married women also pushed their husbands to come to things. Whether they thought of their husbands as trophies, IDK. Their was nothing that negative about it, sure some women used their husbands as social crutches, but many were genuinely interested in us meeting their husbands and just having a good time. There doesn’t always have to be a negative side to these things…….

  51. AnotherHRPro*

    At my company, it is totally expected that for these types of social company events the significant other of senior executives attend. When they do not, it does seem odd as that is the social convention. It also helps employees see their leaders in a broader sense (other than the big boss). I personally hate these events and try to avoid them, but the further up the chain you go (above the VP level for my company), this part of the deal. Oh, and let’s not for get major customer events – spouses and significant others are supposed to attend those as well. For what it is worth, I don’t think this is “gender thing” and the same standard goes for female senior executives.

  52. Sarah211*

    I am generally not expected to attend functions for my spouse, HOWEVER his boss will occasionally ask that I attend. Sometimes it is so she can bring her SO, sometimes it is because they are interacting with other cultures that see this as the norm, sometimes she just needs more people to work a room, sometimes she genuinely thinks I would enjoy it (steak dinners). In those instances, I have ample notice (arrange a sitter, my schedule, etc) and if there is a reason I cannot, it isn’t held against him.

  53. JGray*

    I don’t think its weird that the wife of the CEO (or VP or whatever) isn’t there. This is supposed to be a social event but how comfortable is the wife really going to feel being social with the employees and the employees with her. It’s not like the wife and the employees are going to be best friends. I think it is nice to know who the wife is so that if she does visit the office you know who she is but I don’t think that going every year is a necessary thing. I think that it would be a good idea if the company had a lot of turnover to attend (or attend every few years) but generally if it’s the same people than I don’t see why its mandatory that the wife is there. Some people like to have their spouses at all functions and some spouses like to go to everything but for me it has to be a reciprocal thing. If I go to my SO’s thing than they come to mine but other than that if my SO doesn’t want to attend something they don’t have to.

  54. Corrupted by Coffee*

    I’m afraid one of the conditions of my marriage was that I would not be attending his work events (true story). As someone who doesn’t even attend her own work events, he understood that he was marrying a hermit and embraced it. We’ve now been happily together for 5 years, and while it is common for spouses to come to his holiday party, going alone has never hurt his work life. I’m not sure he’d even want to work somewhere it did.

  55. Jenn*

    I remember seeing a recent article about how people’s social lives used to be more strongly tied to their workplace. I didn’t read much of it, but the gist was that the bulk of a person’s friendships were with people they worked with. And since people tended then to stay at one company for much of their career, these friendships would be long ones. This social rule of wives supporting their husband’s career by attending functions could come out of that culture. These days, I think a work friend is more than likely someone you only socialize with at work and rarely outside of that environment. Maybe some of the weirdness comes from that culture change. Maybe some comes from the fact that these people aren’t friends and barely acquaintances for her and so she really is little more than “the boss’s wife” to them. It can be hard to be a figurehead/ornament like that. Smile, be gracious, remember names…or at least remember who you’ve met before. Not much but as the CEO’s wife she’s in the spotlight. My husband is a boss and we live in a small town. I don’t mind playing that boss’s wife role but I’m terrible with names so it can feel awkward at times.

    I agree with most everyone else. This is a thing. Not entirely logical or fair but it’s there so make the best of it. Having a baby was an excellent reason to miss last year’s event but you should go this year. So go and rock your role; charming, gracious, names, etc. Then negotiate to be able to skip x out of y events in the following years. For any reason. Also include your husband’s enthusiastic participation in your events if that’s important to you. If not, point out what he is able to miss. Your husband could also mention your plans to attend an event to his co-workers. How much you’re looking forward to it, etc. Then he can better express your regrets when Baby catches the latest bug that’s going around.

  56. Kadee*

    My recommendation is to go. It is something important to your spouse. It is a gift to someone who matters to you, an act of love and support. I would argue the same if the roles were reverse but I don’t know that’s the case in spite of comments suggesting it. You reference military events that your husband doesn’t attend but I’m not going to presume that’s because you asked him to go and he declined because my guess is, if that were the case, you would have explicitly stated that. It sounds like you were stating that your husband doesn’t go to these events as a way to explain that you don’t understand why it’s necessary for a spouse to attend these kinds of events in the business world. Or perhaps you don’t ask this of him because it’s not important to you the way it is to him which is partly why you’re confounded by why you’re being asked to attend.

    You may not be interested in technology but that doesn’t preclude you from meeting people you might find interesting. Even if you don’t, you can know that you did something that was important to your husband, something that he found helpful. You may wish to find out from him, though, if it would be possible to achieve his goals without requiring you to commit for the whole event. Typically such events are broken up into segments (socializing, eating, awards ceremony, etc.) Perhaps you can work together to determine what portions are most important. You’re successful in your own right. You have a child. It’s not going to be hard to explain why you had to scoot away. That’s a lot easier on your husband than to explain why you didn’t show at all.

  57. Not So NewReader*

    Maybe in my lifetime we can dispense with this “mandatory obligation”. It can go very awry, very fast. My friend went to her company party. She sat down next to a woman she did not know. It was the big boss’ wife. Within the first five minutes of conversation, my friend learned that boss and wife had separate bedrooms and they had not had sex in years. In the first five minutes of conversation….

  58. The Bimmer Guy*

    Your husband may have been disappointed that you didn’t join him, but that needed to be conveyed in a less churlish manner. That should be a separate conversation.

  59. boop*

    Ew, misogyny.

    Also: ew, work parties. I guess I should be grateful that not only do my employers forbid employees to bring a guest to staff parties, but also that probably nobody notices when I’m absent either. Ha! I DO go to my spouse’s work parties because his employers actually know how to put on a function and (for whatever reason) will ask about me if I’ve opted out.

  60. OP*

    Hi All! I’m the original poster. I had no idea my question had been answered until clearing out my email. How sad is that? After reading Alison’s POV, I’m going to attend my husband’s company Christmas party. I’m also going to invite my husband to my battalion’s dining out which also occurs in December. Maybe this will be the year we break our resistance to participating in each other’s functions.

    1. OP*

      What a difference a few days makes. I have no idea what is required of the president of a small company in this era. I don’t need to. I’ve asked for a divorce. Thank you all for the responses. They gave me a lot to think about

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        OP, I wish you the best of luck and I’m sending you good vibes! Wherever this path takes you, know you’ve got plenty of support here!

      2. madge*

        OP, I just found this thread but I read the whole thing and want to wish you the best in moving forward. You sound like a great person and I hope someone who appreciates that comes into your life when you want/need them to.

        Your husband sounds like he needs to get a clue, or perhaps smacked upside the head (since he’s so fond of doing things the ’50s way). His opinion of the military is irrelevant. He should have recognized that he was supporting his *spouse*, not ideology or methods or, or, or.

      3. Prismatic Professional*

        I picture you in 5 years* being your badass self with a phenomenally fantastic life doing what you want with those who bring you joy. Good luck!

        *5 years is generally my default, not saying this won’t happen sooner.

      4. So Very Anonymous*

        OP, best wishes to you. I remember being bothered by this situation when you first posted it. On your team.

  61. SadieMae70*

    One of the bridesmaids in our wedding backed out one week before the ceremony because her new husband’s workplace was having a holiday party and she suddenly decided she absolutely had to be there to be a good wife. We had already ordered (and paid in full for!) her made-to-order bridesmaid’s dress and even her shoes, and her name was printed in the wedding service programs.

    I was hopping mad but consoled myself with the thought that if she cared that little about being at our wedding (after a four-year friendship and our attendance at her wedding a few months before, for which we made an 18-hour road trip!), I didn’t want her there…

  62. Stephanie Jane*

    Geez, I hate to say it, but this sounded a bit cruel to me. “I didn’t attend because I’m a professional in a different field and have no interest in sitting through a tech party….” Ouch! I was also surprised with Alice’s comments that she found it silly and out of date etc etc.

    I don’t agree with the whole “isn’t it so old-fashioned anyways! OR “I’m just an independent woman and don’t have to be my husband’s arm candy” line of reasoning. Just because we’re in a modern world where women are no longer confined to role of “housewife, mother, cook, cleaner” doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily antiquated to show your significant other unlimitled support. Maybe couples just had different levels of loyalty to one another than they do now-a-days. But I imagine it has ore to do with the fact that we live in a culture where people insist that “NO ONE is gonna tell ME what to do.” That MY happiness and MY interests are the most important thing and I’m just simply being true to myself Where we have the luxury of opting out. That because we’re not enthused about a particular event or we think we’ll get “bored” we have a perfectly legitimate reason. She also mentions that her husband doesn’t attend her work gatherings either but it seems that she doesn’t really care either way.
    I don’t think we know how to endure these days. If my husband has to lie about why I’m not there, then that should be a clue that if telling the truth would make you look bad, then it’s probably a jerky thing to do in the first place. Also, you know how it is… Just because he gives them what seems like a reasonable excuse, there will be a judgement made subconsciously or otherwise. You know how it is at the top- people are always going to be way more critical of you and often times jump at the opportunity to poke holes in your image.

    I wonder if this writer considered the fact that she really owes part of her upper class and comfortable financial status to this company and to the people who work hard there. We don’t snub the hand that feeds us. I’m sure there’s someone who’s way down on the totem pole, who busts their butt every day who would be absolutely thrilled to be as successful as this couple seems to be. Humble yourself and make an appearance if not for any other reason than to spare your significant other the uncomfortable stress of being asked a dozen times by a dozen different people why you aren’t there.

    1. Voice Of Experience*

      I wonder if her husband and all his employees and company realise that by serving her country and protecting her husband’s company’s right to operate and helped ensure all the employees their friends, she has more than paid her debt to society and husband’s company. She shouldn’t need to go to a party she has no interest in.

      1. Voice Of Experience*

        *ensure all the employees their freedoms, sorry…
        Anyone who serves in our military doesn’t need to “humble themselves” by acting like a 1950s wife. What a crock! It was bs then, it’s bs now. Business is business and your business should not involve your spouse. This is 2016, not the dark ages.

  63. DG*

    Maybe it is the standard corporate expectation that the boss’s wife will attend company social functions. But… that’s the company’s problem, not hers. The company can “expect” her to attend all they want, but it creates precisely zero obligation on her. She’s not an employee, and she’s married to the boss, not the company.
    Now, is it *nice* of her to attend? Sure, the same way that it’s *nice* when my girlfriends make me sandwiches in the morning to take to work. Partners do things to support each other, and that’s an important part of any relationship. The boss-husband does have a right to expect a certain level of cooperation and support from the officer-wife, and an obligation to provide the same to her. If they aren’t supporting each other properly, then that’s a relationship problem, not a workplace problem.

  64. Thicket*

    Honestly, I can’t help feeling that if a man is cultivating a company culture where a leader’s family life is considered to reflect on him professionally, and also has a marriage where he won’t attend his wife’s events but will “berate” her for embarrassing him by not showing up to a party (because she’s recovering from giving birth to his child!)… Well, he’s kind of made his own bed, hasn’t he? If this reflects poorly on him, it’s because he’s indicated to his employees that they ought to care.

    OP, I hope your divorce went smoothly and you’re surrounded by people who respect and value your contributions.

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