my employee is having an affair with a married coworker

A reader writes:

I am having trouble deciding where to draw the line between personal business and professional business here, and I’m hoping you can weigh in with some advice on how much responsibility I have to get involved in this situation.

I am a director at mid-size company where I manage 10 managers, each of whom manages between 10-20 employees. One of the managers (I’ll call her Anna) is single and attractive, and frequently catches the eye of our male clients and even some colleagues. She has always brushed off the attention quickly and it has never been an issue. Anna is very personable and her management style is unique in that her employees feel very comfortable sharing details of their lives they don’t always share with the rest of the team, but she is always very professional and they still respect her as their manager. I’ve always admired this about her. I know firsthand that it can be difficult to strike the right balance, and she always has until now.

About a year ago, another manager hired an employee (I’ll call him Alex) who seems to have hit it off with Anna. Their jobs are such that the two departments don’t need to interact much (if ever) professionally, and our company has no policy against office relationships as long as a manager is not involved with someone they supervise. This isn’t the case with Alex and Anna, and so they aren’t in violation of any policy. Furthermore, they continue to behave professionally around each other at work. Though it’s obvious they’ve hit it off (they go off site together for lunch often, are constantly in each other’s offices during down time, etc.), they’ve never done anything that in itself would concern me as her supervisor.

Though I already suspected they were more than friends, this was recently confirmed when I was with Anna in a meeting. She left the table, leaving her phone in plain sight, and I saw a message from Alex that began with, “Hey babe, I’m so glad I got to spend the night with my lips against yours…” I noticed that she has since changed the privacy settings so that her texts don’t display on her phone, so maybe she realized that I’d seen it, and at the very least, I know it won’t happen again.

Anyway, Alex and Anna’s private relationship isn’t the issue. The issue here is that I happen to know Alex is married because he and his wife live down the street from me. He never wears his wedding ring at work or speaks of his wife and children that I know he has, and I have a strong feeling that Anna doesn’t know. She and I are not close enough that I’d feel comfortable approaching her to tip her off as “just a friend,” nor do I think it would be appropriate as her boss. After all, she very well may know this is an affair and be okay with it, but I really, really do not believe that’s the case because he’s been unusually mum about them at work. (There’s also not really any situation in which I could “casually” ask Alex about his wife in front of Anna either.)

As her supervisor, do you have any advice? I worry that it could tarnish her reputation at work if people learn she engaged in an affair with a married man at her office, but is that really my place to say something? Or should I just assume that Anna will deduce this on her own? Surely there will be red flags. What would you do?

For what it’s worth, Alex seems to be an exceptional employee and a likeable guy. That doesn’t mean I support what he’s doing in his personal life, but I know people do things for all sorts of reasons we can’t possibly know from the outside, and I don’t hold this against him professionally at all.

Well, it’s certainly possible that Alex has been honest with everyone involved here — he could have an open marriage with his wife, and he could have been honest with Anna about that.

And it would be a extraordinarily ballsy move to not only be cheating on his spouse and lying to his affair partner about his marital status, but to attempt to deceive his entire office about his marital status as well. Surely some of Alex’s co-workers must know he’s married, and could end up inadvertently mentioning that in front of Anna at any time. (Or maybe not. Maybe he’s kept the existence of his wife hidden all this time, in order to keep his options open at work? Who knows.) So Alex is either being honest with Anna or he’s shockingly reckless.

But people have been known to be shockingly reckless, so that’s not really conclusive.

Anyway, this is all just speculation, which is hard to avoid because the situation is so intriguing. But the question before you is still: Should you say something to Anna?

I think you have three options here: say something directly, say something less direct that allows her to save face, or decide that it’s none of your business and say nothing.

If you decide to talk to Anna directly, you could frame it this way: “Hey, if I’ve misinterpreted, please ignore me entirely. But in case I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing between you and Alex, I want to make sure you know that he’s married. He and his wife live down the street from me. I really don’t want to overstep here and so I’m going to drop this now and butt out, but I started to worry that he may not have told you that.”

This approach has some risks to it. If it turns out that she already knew he was married and is seeing him anyway, it’s going to be awkward and she’s probably going to wonder how you’ll handle it if you continue to see her with Alex in the future. (You might think, “Well, that’s the consequence of having an affair with a married co-worker.” But if Alex’s marriage is an open one and he’s not betraying anyone, now you have someone working for you who’s worried about you judging her personal life.)

On the other hand, if it turns out that Anna didn’t know Alex was married, you’ll presumably have done her a favor — but it still may feel like an overstep, particularly since you’re her manager. Even if she’s grateful that you told her, it still might make things really weird between the two of you.

Saying something less direct might allow you to sidestep those issues. For example, could you just mention casually that you live down the street from Alex and his wife? That’s a notable enough thing that you could conceivably mention it simply because you know she’s friends with him, even if you had no suspicions of an affair. Sample language: “It’s great that you and Alex seem to have such rapport. He’s a nice guy, isn’t he? He and his wife actually live right down the street from me.” (I know, that’s still a little awkward. But it’s less awkward than a big “your boyfriend is married” sit-down.)

I’m not normally a fan of indirect hints and generally think you should be straightforward with people when there’s something you want to say. But this situation is delicate enough that the second approach here might check the box for “delivered information” without injecting awkwardness between the two of you.

Then there’s the third option, which is to decide that all of this is none of your business. There’s a strong argument for taking this approach. Anna is an adult who presumably can manage her own relationships, including romantic disappointments, and her own reputation around the office. And there are a lot of possible configurations of what’s really going on between her and Alex where intervention from her boss might play really oddly. I don’t think you’re being in any way negligent if you choose to file this in the “not my business” category and move on.

But I also don’t think you’d be outrageously out of line to raise it either! So I just wrote a bunch of words without giving you a concrete answer. (Sorry.) Ultimately, this one comes down to what your relationship with Anna is like and how comfortable you think each of you would be with each of the options here. I’d make the call based on those two factors.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 535 comments… read them below }

  1. kittymommy*

    I like number two personally. And I don’t think it’s as awkward as it may appear. I could conceivably see that being worked into a casual conversation.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Agreed. Even something like “Oh, hey, how was your weekend? Mine was good. I ran into Alex and his wife at the grocery store.”

      1. AMG*

        I really like this idea best. Anna may suspect you know, but it’s a more graceful way out.

        1. Sadsack*

          Doesn’t this sound fake to you though? Why would this director bother to mention he saw a coworker and his wife at a store to another random coworker? He may as well just blurt out, “Hey how was your weekend? Did you know that Alex is married?” Don’t get me wrong, I give the Detective credit for trying, but I think OP needs to put a lot of thought into how to bring this up naturally if he doesn’t want to come right out and tell her the truth.

          1. AMG*

            A bit. But it’s more gentle than ‘Hey, I know you’re sleeping with a married man, but do you know you are?’

          2. Banana Sandwich*

            I mean, there’s an awkward way to use the second option and a not awkward way to do it. OP would have to find the balance of information and casual chit chat at the time of the convo. Veeery delicate, but doable.

          3. Naruto*

            I think the point is that it gives everyone plausible deniability. Everyone can save face. Even if Anna thinks you probably know, no one knows for sure.

            Also, I run into people from work infrequently enough outside of work that it strikes me as a plausible thing to bring up. You could always make it “I was in pajamas walking my dog and I realized I was going past Alex and his family’s house — awkward!” or something instead, though.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Yes, I think plausible deniability is a better goal than zero chance of awkwardness. That’s an unfairly high bar for deeply awkward topics.

              I know there are people who can clear it, but we need standards for mortals.

              1. Emi.*

                If a manager is sleeping with a married employee, pretty much the only non-awkward outcome is the one where a meteorite strikes the office and everyone dies.

                1. mrs__peel*

                  Eh, I don’t think that huge drama is necessarily inevitable. I haven’t been in that exact situation myself, but I’ve seen it happen fairly often at various places I’ve worked over the years. Sometimes it does go horribly awry (with legendary stories for years to come), but sometimes people are actually capable of acting like adults and it doesn’t affect the workplace.

                2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

                  I mean, it depends on what the co-workers are doing when the meteorite hits…

          4. MuseumChick*

            It totally depends on what your normal work conversation are like. I could totally see me and a lot of people I worked with having the following conversation:

            “So how was your weekend?”

            “Good. I ran into (Coworker) at Whole Foods.”

            1. Bostonian*

              Yup. I actually had this conversation with a coworker last week:

              Coworker: How was your weekend?
              Me: Great! I did X and Y and saw Other Coworker jogging in City Park with her husband! What a small world!

              1. Julia*

                This. I had:
                Me: How was your weekend?
                Work friend: Good! Oh, I ran into your boss and his family in town. He didn’t say hello, but his wife waved at me.

          5. PizzaDog*

            Something like ‘hey, how was your weekend?’ yadda yadda ‘oh, I saw Alex and his wife at the grocery store this weekend. remember how weird it was when you’d see teachers outside of school?’ type of jokey thing.

            1. Amy the Rev*

              Yeah I like this approach best, especially tying it to the universally odd experience of being a kid running into your teachers outside of school

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                Yep, this is a good approach. I’ve had similar conversations with coworkers before about running into another coworker at the grocery store. Running into a coworker outside of the office can in some instances be so awkward that it’s an amusing enough situation to mention to another coworker.

                Grocerty store run-ins are the worst because after you do your polite chitchat, you can potentially keep running into them aisle after aisle.

            2. rhirhi*

              Y’all are forgetting that if the 2 of them are together, then Anna would likely tell Alex if he came up in conversation with someone else. And then if Boss didn’t actually see Alex in the grocery store they are gonna really quickly work out that Boss was up to something…

              1. olives*

                I don’t think Anna and Alex discovering that OP was slightly meddling is a very big danger here.

                The point for OP isn’t to hide that they see a potential disconnect. The point is to get the information to Anna if she *is* being taken advantage of, in a way that will let Anna save face.

                If Anna isn’t being taken advantage of, this isn’t going to end up being a big deal, and them figuring out that OP was trying to get that info across is a perfectly normal reaction to a complex situation.

              2. Cyrus*

                “they are gonna really quickly work out that Boss was up to something…”

                1. True, but this depends on the exact words OP uses and stuff. OP should try to come up with something that’s true, or if it’s made up, can’t be easily falsified. If OP and Alex are neighbors, then it wouldn’t be surprising if the OP could genuinely run into him. Maybe OP should walk his dog around the block 5 times, or do it reeeally slowly, to ensure that he sees Alex.

                2. So what? There are basically three scenarios here: Alex’s marriage is an open relationship, it isn’t and Anna knows he’s married and is OK with sleeping with a cheater, or it isn’t and Anna doesn’t know. If it’s one of the first two scenarios and OP speaks up, then there’s a little embarrassment all around, but Anna is already on her guard, judging by the phone thing. No big deal. If Anna doesn’t know, then I don’t think it matters much. I’m picturing the talk between Alex and Anna. “My boss told me he saw you and your wife at the store yesterday. You never told me you were married!” “That’s weird, I didn’t see him. Wait a second, I was at the dentist yesterday!… I mean, I’m not married! I mean, I’m not married, and I was at the dentist! Forget the dentist!” Alex doesn’t sound very innocent there.

          6. Liz2*

            It’s weird. As someone into those alternative relationships, the number and frequency of questions on “We’re open, is it a good idea to have a relationship at work?” and “We want to be open at work but it’s just not a normal thing.” is high/often.

            So long as it doesn’t interfere with any work situation, let them be adults. Your work has a reasonable policy in place and they are following it.

          7. Engineer Woman*

            Nope, doesn’t sound fake and I like the “ran into co-worker and WIFE at the store” approach. The catch is – you really kind of need to have ran into them or at least seen them. Otherwise, co-worker might catch on (as in – I never left the house all weekend!) to the lie and that would be awkward…

      2. Sadsack*

        Sorry, but that is not at all casual! I am not sure of a way to bring it up casually that doesn’t sound totally fake though.

        1. k*

          I think it’s worth it for OP to suffer through some brief awkward small talk if it offers some piece of mind. At least this way OP can say “I did what I could, it’s out of my hands now” and walk away.

          1. esra*

            Yea, it’s fine if it comes off like oh hey I saw Alex and his wife who he is married to, how about you. If it’s nothing, then they think you’re just having a bit of a weird morning.

            1. olives*

              yes, this exactly! It’s okay if other people think you’re a bit awkward from time to time if you occasionally try to help protect someone’s best interests while still respecting their choices and boundaries. Life will go on.

      3. General Ginger*

        I hope OP is a better actor than me, because I can’t imagine saying this without sounding really weird and fake.

        1. Koko*

          Haha yes, I just keep thinking…these scenes would be find for trained actors but in reality most people aren’t as good at acting as they think they are…

        2. Sylvia*

          Someone did this to me. It was completely transparent and embarrassing, as well as wrong: There was nothing between me and my coworker.

          Would not recommend.

      4. Jess*

        Or in earshot of Anna, mention, “Alex, I noticed your new mailbox/lawn gnome/flower bed when I was mowing my lawn the other day. It’s nice! Did you pick it out or did Janine?” That could definitely be delivered naturally.

        1. Callalily*

          I think the key to all of this is having Alex within earshot of Anna; it is so passable to ask him any question about his wife and kids for Anna to overhear. To bring his family up when Alex isn’t even in the room is very awkward and will sound forced.

      5. Thinking Outside the Boss*

        I prefer the one-sided fake comment, something like:

        Anna: How was your weekend?
        OP: Okay. My husband Steve wanted to invite Alex and his wife over for dinner on Saturday. I said it had been a tough week at work so let’s just do it some other time. So we ended up watching a movie instead.

        Can’t be verified by Alex. Conveys the information. Even if the OP’s spouse doesn’t know Alex that well, it’s not unrealistic.

        1. Tiffin*

          Unless Anna knows that Alex and the OP aren’t close enough that that would be realistic or she mentions it to Alex and he thinks WTF? Just because you are neighbors with someone doesn’t mean you are close enough to invite them to dinner.

    2. Emi.*

      Agreed. And “Anna’s a grownup who can manage her own life” only goes so far if Anna doesn’t have complete information–especially if Alex is deliberately withholding information she should know, which it sounds to me like he is.

    3. AP*

      definitely agree – #2!
      “Saying something less direct might allow you to sidestep those issues. For example, could you just mention casually that you live down the street from Alex and his wife? That’s a notable enough thing that you could conceivably mention it simply because you know she’s friends with him, even if you had no suspicions of an affair. Sample language: “It’s great that you and Alex seem to have such rapport. He’s a nice guy, isn’t he? He and his wife actually live right down the street from me.” (I know, that’s still a little awkward. But it’s less awkward than a big “your boyfriend is married” sit-down.)”

      1. AP*

        I would say stay out of it altogether, but because they work at the same place, I think this #2 approach is great because it alerts Anna that *people know*. People in affairs so often think everyone is oblivious, when in reality everyone knows, but is extremely uncomfortable.

        1. Not lurking right now*

          I agree. If she does not know, and eventually finds out, the potential consequences of that far outweigh any awkwardness over telling her now. The OP will be the boss who lives down the street from Alex, and still did not tell Anna, on top of the fallout from Anna realizing that Alex was lying.

    4. BRR*

      I’m a really big fan of number 2. It’s easy to do and strikes a balance between being really obvious and leaving it alone.

      1. Elinor*

        Something sort-of similar happened to me when I was really young. While we didn’t have an affair, I had a terrible crush, and he was interested, I’m sure. He’d just asked me out when a colleague casually mentioned to me that Crush had a fiancee. I’d never said a word to anyone about my crush on him, so I was able to take the high road, even though I was secretly mortified at all the signs I’d missed. Crush had a big giant mouth, but no one ever said anything to me about it.

        Point being: I was eternally grateful to Colleague for finding a gentle way to tell me the truth. Even though I was really embarrassed, I was able to save face a bit and move on.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Thanks for this example. I think sometimes people underestimate what a kindness it can be to give someone information they might want while allowing them to pretend they don’t know you know they needed to hear it.

          1. Elinor*

            Exactly, JB (not in Houston), and well said; thank you – Colleague and I never spoke about it and didn’t need to. It was a great kindness.

        2. tigerStripes*

          That’s why I like option 2 – make sure she knows but do it casually. If Anna doesn’t know, someone should tell her.

        3. FisharenotFriends*

          I had something similar to this happen once about three months into my first job.

          One of my co-workers spent all night hitting on me at our Christmas party, and I was really flattered, but nothing was really going anywhere. He was the first person to ever ask for my phone number and it totally didn’t strike me as anything weird since sometimes we would cover each others shifts.

          It wasn’t until another coworker came up and said, “So, how did moving in with your girlfriend go?” and he looked like a kid who was just caught with his hand in the cookie jar that I knew he had other intentions.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’ve been going back and forth on this and am legitimately torn between option #2 and #3. But I think if this is bothering OP this much, #2 is probably the right strategy.

      Although I’ve never been in Anna’s position, I have at least 3 close friends who have been there. They’re all amazing women, none of them are gullible, and all of them really kick butt at their jobs. In every case, they would have preferred if someone had dropped them a hint as soon as humanly possible. In several cases, they found out in humiliating and horrible ways that really poisoned the well and made it difficult for them to be at work. I’ve only had one friend who was dating someone who was in an open marriage, and even then, she would have preferred that her coworkers gave her a head’s up that her SO was married. In light of all that, I think a subtle reference to the existence of a wife has the least likelihood of hurting or humiliating Anna (personally or professionally), and it if she didn’t know, it gives her critical information she should know about. If she did know, then so long as the hint is dropped without judgment, it’s not going to hurt her to hear something she already knows.

      I know that there are commenters saying, “you don’t know if it’s an open marriage!” and “you don’t know if he’s separating/divorcing” and “you don’t know if the woman in his house is his wife.” Those factors are all true. But since OP knows that Alex is married and his wife currently lives with him, I think it’s fair to give OP the benefit of the doubt that the marriage is still “live.” Although OP is not super close to Anna on a personal level, I think there’s less harm from a subtle mention than a direct confrontation or sit back and wait approach.

      1. paul*

        It is *way* before my time but apparently a former director here had gotten involved with a woman that he met at a work conference; she came to town on unrelated business, decided to look him up and found out he was married that way.

        20ish years ago and the (very few) people that have been here that long still talk about it because it caused such a trainwreck.

        I can see trying to head off a repeat…

      2. Miso*

        Even if it is an open marriage and the wife is okay with it – then either Anna already knows, so no harm done, or she doesn’t, in which case she really should.
        I for example wouldn’t want to be involved with someone who’s married, open or not.

        1. Mirax*

          I’m personally of the mind that if your marriage is open and you don’t disclose it to your non-spouse partner, you’re still being hella disrespectful. Being married is a dealbreaker condition for a lot of people and deliberately obscuring information about dealbreakers is unfair.

          1. Nic*

            Agreed. I’ve been in an open relationship where my partner had relationships they didn’t tell me about. I fully considered it cheating.

            I’ve also been the woman who wasn’t told he was married. I’d have wanted to know ASAP. Him not having told me really was a flag for the rest of the relationship.

          2. Geoffrey B*

            Same. Ethical nonmonogamy requires consent, and consent is only meaningful when people are adequately informed.

            1. MI Dawn*

              This! I am in an open relationship (partner is many, many years married). Both partner and their spouse have other partners. We are all very good friends. But I would have been very angry (especially after covering from an affair that ended badly) if I had been lied to.

        2. Gadfly*

          If nothing else, it does limit where the relationship can go. For lots of legal reasons, there are things I would probably never choose do do with a partner I wasn’t married to, maybe after a LOT of time with lawyers setting up some protections. Like give up my career to follow them across the country or stay home with children for a while or live together and significantly invest time/effort in a shared home. Marriage isn’t perfect, but it provides some protections for non-monetary contributions if things go wrong.

      3. Bee*

        I am currently dating someone in an open relationship, and cannot IMAGINE how horrified I would be if I didn’t know that from the start, good god. That is BELOW the bare minimum requirement for honesty in this situation.

        This is why I think approach #2 is good for the OP – casually mention something about Alex’s wife, and if Anna doesn’t know, then you’ve given the information with plausible deniability, and if she DOES know and everything’s aboveboard, it does the job with minimal awkwardness. “Oh yes, I met her once, she’s nice!” And everyone can carry on keeping mum in the office.

        1. Amy the Rev*

          I briefly dated a man in an open relationship, and I was so glad that I knew from the get-go, because his partner Shavon and I had the same build/hair color and on one of our first dates we were out dancing and one of his colleagues was at the same bar/restaurant came over and said “Hey Wakeen, How are you! Hi, Shavon–oh!” as she realized I wasn’t Shavon. I would’ve been mortified if I hadn’t already known that he was in an open relationship, and known that other folks were aware of it too.

        2. mrs__peel*

          I don’t think most people would be able to pull off doing that subtly– it would be pretty obvious that the LW knew exactly what was going on.

          I’m in a non-traditional relationship (all above-board, consenting adult stuff), and I would be absolutely mortified if my boss brought it up to me at work or questioned me about it. I’m a very private person.

          Even if everything with Anna, Alex, and his wife is 100% fine, that approach could still be *highly* embarrassing and affect her professional relationship with her boss.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            But we’re not suggesting that OP bring up her relationship or question her about it. We’re suggesting that it’s ok to make an oblique reference to Alex’s wife in front of Anna, and then to let the whole thing go.

            1. mrs__peel*

              I’m just very skeptical that most people would be good enough at acting to make that seem casual.

              1. CanCan*

                Even if it seems fake, Anna would have the option of playing along. She should be able to realize that the OP is mentioning that Alex is married specifically out of concern for Anna, and even if everything is 100% ok there, she should be able to see that some people might be worried for her.

                Also, if everything is 100% ok there, why would Anna be concerned that her boss knows about her and Alex. Surely she didn’t expect to keep it a secret forever! If, on the other hand, it’s not ok, would she be more mad at the boss for knowing these potentially embarrasing things, or at Alex for not telling her?

                I vote for giving Anna a hint.

                1. mrs__peel*

                  If I was Anna, I don’t know that I would automatically assume the LW was just concerned (as opposed to being a busybody or implying a moral judgment about my relationship). It’s all in the delivery, I suppose.

                  “Also, if everything is 100% ok there, why would Anna be concerned that her boss knows about her and Alex”

                  Even if she’s not *concerned*, she could certainly be highly embarrassed that her boss is raising the subject of her sex life (plus the possibly implied moral judgment there). I would definitely be embarrassed in that situation, and it would probably color my professional relationship with my boss in the future.

              2. Bee*

                I guess I just don’t think it requires that much acting? The line about the grocery store people suggested above seems super easy to me. “Oh, my weekend was good! Ran into Alex & his wife at the grocery store, which was funny, and went to see X movie, which I really loved! Have you seen it?” And then you talk about the movie a bit, ask some work question, and never bring it up again. Unless the OP never talks about stuff like this, that seems fairly easy-breezy to me.

                1. StrikingFalcon*

                  I like the casual wording of it also. I think there’s a significant difference in that wording versus the “it’s so nice you and Alex have such a close friendship” one that Alison suggested, which still sounds like meddling.

              3. Lissa*

                I don’t know – I feel like it depends on the relationship. I casually mention people all the time and I honestly don’t think if a coworker mentioned “oh, I ran into X coworker and their wife” I’d jump to “they think we’re having an affair!” or anything like that. This type of comment seems really normal to me, honestly! I mean, someone could make it weird but…

                1. Sarah*

                  I agree, maybe my workplace is just more casual than some? But various among us are friends outside of work and it would be completely normal to mention seeing a coworker and their spouse alongside all of my other weekend activities when chatting with people over coffee in the morning. And for the record, none of my coworkers are having affairs with each other (that I am aware of)!

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Totally agreed. I have a good friend who cheated on her boyfriend but tried to convince me that it was ok because they were in an “open relationship.” When I asked her if her boyfriend was aware of that, she said no, but he should have known she never intended to be monogamous. (How!? By reading your mind after you had repeated conversations about exclusivity, and you never brought it up?).

          So agreed. Even if Alex is in an open relationship, the relationship has to be disclosed to Anna. And again, if it has been disclosed, then no harm no foul—Anna will know what she signed up for. But if it hasn’t been disclosed, she should have the opportunity to extricate herself, if she chooses.

          1. Bee*

            And I think part of why I prefer this is because it sounds like Anna is very, very deft at navigating tricky conversations. It might be terrible advice for others! But it sounds to me like if Anna is blindsided, she’ll be able to get out of the conversation without giving that away; and if she already knows but is keeping everything secret, she’ll be able to play it off as something anyone might know about a good work friend. An offhand comment won’t put her on the spot.

            Basically, OP trusts and admires Anna’s subtlety already, so I’m much more willing to advocate that tack here.

      4. BRR*

        I’ve really learned from this site why I should mind my own business (if not I would definitely be a workplace vigilante) but because number 2 should be relatively easy to do I think the LW should go that route.

      5. mrs__peel*

        “they would have preferred if someone had dropped them a hint”

        Maybe a close friend, but their boss?? A lot of people would probably prefer not to hear it that way. (I definitely wouldn’t!)

        1. CanCan*

          A close friend isn’t an option here. She could go for a long time without knowing, maybe planning a future with Alex or become pregnant with (and keep) his child. And the whole thing could end in a very embarrasing situation (e.g. if Alex’s wife shows up at work one day). Much easier to save face now (by pretending she doesn’t even know what the boss is talking about), than find out a year down the road that the boss knew what kind of mess she was getting into and didn’t say anything.

          1. mrs__peel*

            I would prefer not being told at all to having my boss tell me, personally. It just strikes me as completely inappropriate, and would affect my working relationship with them.

            If she does plan a future, if things end badly, etc., that’s still not really any of her boss’s business. If it were me, I would want to keep that sort of thing as private as possibly and not involve my work supervisor.

            (As an aside, whenever affairs come up in advice columns, people tend to split into groups– about 50%/50%– regarding whether they’d want someone to tell them. I wouldn’t automatically assume that everyone wants to know, so I would err on the side of minding my business in that situation).

            1. Kate*

              You would really prefer being ignorant about the fact that your partner is cheating on his wife with you to being subtly informed by your boss? May I ask why? Many people have posted their experiences of exactly such a situation when Anna wasn’t told, it went badly for the Anna’s personally AND professionally.

              1. Zombii*

                In my experience, the people who say they wouldn’t want to be told their partner is seeing someone else either 1) have such transparent communication with their partners that they consider the situation a pure hypothetical, or 2) eventually say something alluding to how pregnancy/STI’s/public embarrassment/etc are 100% on the woman to prevent because they’re a punishment/karma for behaving recklessly since men can’t ever keep it in their pants and women should know better.

      6. sstabeler*

        it’s also worth noting that tone matters- if you are all “HOW DARE YOU SLEEP WITH A MARRIED MAN!!!” then there is approximately 0% chance of being able to work with Anna afterwards. However, if you’re more like “Um, you do know Alex is married, right?”- particularly if you do it reasonably privately ( and if reasonably possible, preferably away from work- I can see how it might not be possible though. The idea is to make it as clear as possible it isn’t “OP, The Boss” talking, but just OP.) since then if it is an open relationship, she can just say so- or, for example, say “I know, his wife’s fine with our relationship.” which can- and should- be the end of it.

        Oh, and this should not need to be said, but don’t tell the wife. It’s one thing to warn Anna- who can more-or-less gracefully back out of the situation- but quite another to blow the situation up. (If Alex’s wife specifically asks “I think Alex is cheating on me- do you know if he is?” then I wouldn’t lie. I would *NOT*, however, volunteer the information.)

        1. mrs__peel*

          I don’t think it would be very professional to put Anna on the spot, where she feels the need to explain the nature of her relationship. That’s not really the OP’s business.

          1. sstabeler*

            it’s not really intended to be that she *needs* to explain the nature of her relationship, it’s more that most people, when informed their boyfriend is married, would at least explain “I know, his wife knows and approves”. Strictly speaking, “I know” is a sufficient explanation- and if I was given such a reply, I would promptly butt out of the situation.

            Basically, I would ensure everyone in the “cheating” relationship (Alex and Anna) knew what was going on. If they do, then I would butt out. It’s similar to why I wouldn’t inform the wife unless asked: I won’t actively lie for them (with one exception: if the wife calls looking for Alex, I won’t say “sorry, he’s out with his mistress”. I would, however, say “I’m sorry, Alex isn’t in the office right now”- the same as I would for anyone absent from the office at the time of the call. If the wife outright asks “Is Alex cheating on me?” then I would confirm that as far as I was aware, he was cheating on her, but would not confirm who. (the idea is basically that I would not offer up information Alex’s wife doesn’t already have. However, I am not willing to actively lie.)

      7. Anon for this today*

        I happen to be (after a very difficult life) living an open marriage. I’ll be happy to answer questions on how we made it work.
        My SO frequently is away for long stretches of time (this time is the longest, a year).
        It’s not deployment, btw.
        SO will tell the other person they are hitting on that we are practicing this, and that I can be contacted to confirm. I actually had friends ask me about this, and think that it was better they checked with me instead of taking my SO’s word for this.
        Open marriage needs to be *told* to all involved, not sneakily kept hidden! Therefore, I do not believe for a New York minute “Alex” in the post above is in an open marriage!

    6. Badmin*

      With people improvising…what if OP didn’t see them at the store, Anna goes back to Alex and says OP said she saw you and your wife, and then the intent of OP is revealed. I think Alison’s factual script is better.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Because it doesn’t matter if the OP saw them or not. The point is to drop into conversation in a casual way that gives Anna plausible deniability that Alex is married.

        1. Anna*

          Yeah. If Anna goes back to Alex to ask him about seeing the OP at the store and finds out that didn’t actually happen and then that becomes a Thing, I’m pretty sure they would be focusing on the wrong point of the conversation.

          1. Zombii*

            Because a cheater never tries to kill the messenger and would definitely not say “I wasn’t even at the store last weekend, it must have been someone else. OP doesn’t know what s/he’s talking about.” and then things wouldn’t go downhill from there.

            I’m for not making shit up when you’re trying to discreetly tell someone a truth. It’s needlessly complicated.

            1. Wirving*

              Assuming Alex and his wife garden, maybe it could be something along the lines of, “My weekend was great! I finally bought some stuff for my garden – I’ve been inspired by Alex and his wife’s beautiful lawn,”?

            2. Traffic_Spiral*

              What do you do if he tries to confront you and say “I wasn’t at the grocery store?” Easy. You shrug and say, “Huh, well, I thought it was you two – must have been someone else. Weird.” No big deal.

          2. tigerStripes*

            If Anna doesn’t know that Alex is married, I don’t think OP’s story about seeing him at the store is going to be the main topic of Anna’s discussion with Alex when she finds out.

      2. Rabbit*

        This is seriously stretching.

        1. I believe that the majority of people in Anna’s potential shoes would focus more on the “Alex’s WIFE” bit of the conversation than the location/time of the fabricated incident.

        2. Anna seems like she knows how to handle awkward conversations with delicacy. I doubt very much that she would bring OP into any conversation she needed to have with Alex about his marriage.

  2. GigglyPuff*

    Whoever selects the article images over at New York Magazine is just amazing.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I thought Alison picks her images? (or am I mixing NYMag up with Inc.?)

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Your editor is truly gifted. The accompanying photo was next-level amazing.

        2. Corky's wife Bonnie*

          I don’t know which pics are my favorite among those, the clothes or the office stuff. Got to love that computer!

  3. Retail HR Guy*

    Given this letter and some of the others recently, I am starting to feel kind of disappointed that my office is a relatively boring place. I’ve got to get all my drama fix from AAM instead.

    1. Justme*

      Same. There’s gossip in my office, but not juicy at all. AAM is soap opera worthy sometimes.

      1. heatherskib*

        Yep! Between bullying coworkers, abusive coworkers, manipulative MMO bosses, etc. I’m glad my current office is all peace and quiet!

      2. Antilles*

        The best dramas are those which occur on the other side of an electronic screen.

    2. Venus Supreme*

      I share stories from here and Captain Awkward as if it happened in my own circle of friends. Annoys my boyfriend to no end!

      1. Your Weird Uncle*

        Haha, I share it with my coworkers in the office next door. We have a great time hashing out what is going on in these letters, and it lets us shrug and say ‘Well at least we’re not THAT bad here!’.

    3. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Yeah, the most exciting thing here is our new every-other-week refrigerator cleaning policy. Although one of my coworkers got his tires slashed by a stalker over the weekend, so I guess that’s exciting?! Except, you know, how it’s pretty horrible. Embrace the boring!

      1. mrs__peel*

        Somehow, we seem to get a fair amount of drama over refrigerator cleaning here! (“You threw out my moldy banana? HOW COULD YOU?”)

        1. Marillenbaum*

          At my mom’s office, policy is you label all food in the fridge with your name and the date you put it in there. Unless you explicitly contact the office manager about it (like, “Hey, don’t toss the thingy with my name on it, I’m bringing it home after I work late”), everything gets tossed at the end of the week; I think at like 3 PM on Fridays. It’s mentioned as part of the onboarding process so there’s no confusion. It seems like a really smart move.

    4. Master Bean Counter*

      I’d take this kind of drama over the CEO vs. CFO power struggle death match to which I seem to have a ring side seat. Office affairs are almost amusing compared to what I’m seeing.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      There’s a reason “May you live in interesting times” is a formal curse, not a blessing.

    6. Statler von Waldorf*

      At previous jobs I’ve had guns pointed at me at least four times, cleaned projectile vomit off of the ceiling, had co-workers threaten to kill me and saw a different co-worker have his hand actually ripped off his body. I love my boring office job.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          It was two, I did say jobs with an s. The threats, guns and vomit were way, way back when I worked graveyard shifts at convenience stores. The hand was when I was doing temp work in a railyard, and someone tried to stop a moving freight car with a chain when the other end was wrapped around their wrist. The freight car kept moving, and took his hand with it.

          For the record, he survived, and they did manage to re-attach his hand during a 13 hour surgery, though he didn’t regain full use of it. I’d never seen so much blood before, and I remember having nightmares over that one for weeks.

          Did I mention how much I love my current boring office job?

    7. Savitad*

      I’m glad you can find entertainment in what could very likely be Alex’s wife’s tortured soul.

      1. Retail HR Guy*

        I also find entertainment in the imaginative ways that commenters are able to invent offense to pretty much any innocuous comment I make on the internet. (Maybe you’re joking, though? I can’t tell anymore.)

        1. Zombii*

          It took me years to get to this point but I just assume any overdramatic post on any forum is straight-up balls-out trolling and move on without comment.

          (No offense to you for commenting, someone needs to call this shit out and I do adore your comments the majority of the time.)

  4. Myrin*

    What a fascinating situation! I agree with Alison on all points and I honestly can’t guess how I’d react unless I’d actually be in those exact circumstances because no route sounds unreasonable here.

  5. bridget*

    I personally like option #2, myself. My main concern would be that Anna was making a decision without full information, and once that information is delivered, the interested parties can do with that what they will. If she already knows, then this allows her to save face and pretend that the information is not relevant to her. It doesn’t put her in a position where she might feel required to justify her decision to you (either “he’s in an open marriage, it’s all above board” or “I know he’s married, it’s a secret from his wife, but we have decided to carry on regardless”). If she doesn’t know, it allows her to make more informed decisions, and will unburden you from your worries on that score.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I agree. This is the approach I would take. Casually mention that you live down the street from his wife. That lets Anna get the information she might not have and avoid the awkwardness of option 1.

    2. she was a fast machine*

      Agreed. Approaching it like this allows Anna to do what she wants with it and choose how it will all play out. She can make informed choices from there on out.

      1. Working Mom*

        And also allows her to save face – she can choose to carry on as if nothing ever happened or make changes in her life, without ever feeling like she owes anyone any explanations or follow ups. I would either go with this approach of #3, do nothing.

    3. Tuckerman*

      I think it would be ideal if she were able to casually mention something when both of them are in the room. “Alex, if you or your wife end up at the neighborhood farmers market, I’d recommend getting blueberries from Meadow Farm.”
      This allows everyone to be cool (if everyone in the arrangement knows what’s up) or it allows Anna to go off quietly and save face.

    4. Sara*

      This is similar to what happened to me when I was an intern. A young, attractive full time employee was being very flirty and someone asked him how his wife was in front of me.

      I think that’s an easy way to solve the problem. Just drop it into conversation without the headline of “I don’t know if you know this about him” which seems nosy and presumptive.

    5. irritable vowel*

      This seems like it would be so hurtful to Anna, though – in any circumstance. If she knows Alex is married, she’s not going to want to be reminded of it (and may also worry that the OP is trying to send her a message but not be sure what that message is – is it a threat? a caution?). If she somehow didn’t know he was married, it’s going to be extremely upsetting to learn about it in such a casual way. And to mention it when both of them are in the room seems super-creepy.

      1. Relly*

        But then, if she doesn’t know, she’ll be hurt however she finds out. That’s not the OP’s fault — it’s Alex’s (if he’s lying). Presumably in that case she’d rather know sooner than later.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah, I’m puzzled. If Anna doesn’t know, and if the relationship isn’t open, and if Alex is indeed cheating on his wife, and if that matters to Anna, then Anna is going to get hurt, regardless. That’s on Alex. But it would be much worse for her to find out way down the line if she would have cut bait with an early warning.

          1. irritable vowel*

            As a manager, I would feel like it was never my place to let an employee know something I thought was bad about the person she was dating (morally bad, I mean, not criminally bad). And as an employee, I would be extremely uncomfortable being on the receiving end of a conversation like that with my boss. There’s a morality component here that is really bothering me – yes, most people think it is wrong for someone to cheat on their spouse, but by making it personal, it brings a dynamic into a supervisor/employee relationship that I think is inappropriate. A manager should never be perceived as being in any kind of position of moral judgment over an employee. If Anna and the OP were equals, I might feel differently about it.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This doesn’t make sense to me. No one is saying anything bad about the person Anna is dating. OP would just be mentioning that Alex has a wife. That’s a factual statement, not a moral one, and it’s entirely possible to mention something innocently without signaling disapproval.

              1. KellyK*

                Yeah, I agree. Approval or disapproval doesn’t have to come into it, and nobody is suggesting saying negative things to her about her relationship with Alex. The point is that the OP has information that affects Anna, that she may or may not have, and wants to share that information without embarrassing her or creating drama.

            2. mrs__peel*

              Absolutely agree.

              Yes, if Alex is in an open marriage (or whatever) he should ideally be honest about it, but it’s NOT the LW’s place to get involved.

              This is probably the next-to-last conversation I would *ever* want to have with my boss (after “You really need to shower more often, because the whole office is complaining about the smell”).

              1. Takver*

                Not the best example since if it’s true the boss actually has an obligation to have the “you smell” conversation with her employee. And the boss is the most appropriate person to have that conversation.

                1. mrs__peel*

                  I didn’t say it was unnecessary, just that it was the last thing I wanted to hear!

          2. Anon for this*

            Even if the marriage is open, if Anna doesn’t know then it’s not something she consented to. She could believe her relationship to be leading somewhere, while Alex never bothered to mention that he has no plans to leave his wife and she will only ever be the girlfriend on the side. If that’s not what Anna wants from a relationship, it’s not going to matter to HER that Alex was honest with his WIFE.

            1. mrs__peel*

              That could all be true, BUT that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for the LW to get involved.

              1. tigerStripes*

                I wonder how Anna will feel if no one tells her, she finds out by accident, and she also finds out that LW knew and didn’t mention it. She’d probably feel betrayed by the LW too.

      2. Lizzle*

        Well, if Alex is in an open marriage it will presumably not be hurtful to Anna to be reminded of it. If she doesn’t know, it’s going to hurt either way but better sooner than later.

      3. Kathy*

        I find it hard to believe that in this day and age with Facebook, Instagram, etc. that someone would not know someone else is married. Everyone usually googles a potential interest’s name to find out info. I think Anna knows; Alex may have told her he was separated. divorces, etc.
        Either way, for her standing in the office, I would somehow mention to her. I don’t think she wants to be known as the woman who will mess around with married man.

        1. Salamander*

          I think that it deserves to be mentioned for her professional reputation, as well. If she knows he’s married and decides to carry on, she needs to know that they are not being as discreet as they think they are. Other people can see what’s going on. If she’s in this with eyes wide open, they both need to dial it back at work.

        2. Tuxedo Cat*

          My partner and I make no mention of each other on Facebook and don’t use other social media- he barely uses Facebook. Our relationship statuses are not updated, either. His sisters are similar with theirs, as are some friends.

          I could find it totally plausible that Anna doesn’t know.

          1. SarahKay*

            Seconded. I’ve never liked the relationship status option on Facebook, and always left it blank. And that’s if you can even find me on Facebook; I don’t usually link to work friends / colleagues, and I don’t have Facebook under my full name as my surname is too uncommon. As a result, if you Google me you can find my LinkedIn profile.

            All the other links are to people with my name from the 1850’s….I don’t think knowing if SarahKay in 1850 was married or not will tell you much about me!

          2. SarahKay*

            And totally forgot to make my point – which was that, yes, it’s entirely possible that Anna doesn’t know.

        3. kb*

          As someone who was in Anna’s place (guy wasn’t married, but in a serious, non-open relationship for three years) and is extremely savvy at finding information online (I don’t need my friends’ Tinder date’s last names– I can still find them) , I have to say some people are incredibly talented at deceit.

        4. JB (not in Houston)*

          Maybe a lot of people do, but I don’t. And if someone wanted to look me up, they’d have a hard time finding anything because I keep my few social media accounts locked up pretty tightly. There’s a decent chance that she doesn’t know.

  6. irritable vowel*

    OP, I don’t think Anna’s personal life is any of your business. And I don’t think there’s any way to say anything about it to her without it coming across as you being a busybody, since you two don’t have a deep friendship. If you were on her level, that would be annoying, but since you’re her manager it has the additional undertone of you seeing a need to question and judge her choices. It sounds to me like you’re already aware that anything you say could come across as problematic, so I think you’re on the right track.

    1. Justme*

      I agree with you. If it impacted either of their job performance, then I could see the LW saying something. But it doesn’t.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        It doesn’t yet, but if it all blows up, it could have a serious work impact.

        1. Lilo*

          I agree. As a manager, even if he isn’t a direct report, she is showing bad judgment, particularly if she knows he’s married. If it becomes common knowledge it will reflect badly on both of them, but I think the one in a management position would look worse.

            1. Lilo*

              Oh sure he is, but she’s a manager and by nature of that position is held to a higher standard at work. Morally, if Alex is cheating and lying of course he’s more morally wrong, but he’s a subordinate and the fallout for him isn’t as likely to be as bad.

            2. Emi.*

              They’re both showing bad judgement, but I do think it’s reasonable to expect more of managers.

                1. Anna*

                  She’s also Anna’s boss, which to me means if it does blow up, it means the OP will have to deal with some of that blowback.

          1. paul*

            I’ve been under the impression from the places I’ve worked that managers and non-managers being romantically involved is generally frowned on unless they are *very* separated within the organization (and I have a hard time getting a read on how separate they are from OP’s letter).

            1. Lilo*

              Yeah in my organization we ate supposed to be careful even about our buddies. Everything is disclosed as well so managers aren’t involved in decisions regarding partners. My manager is married to someone else in the organization (they were married before they were hired) and she excuses herself from overseeing any decision that impacts him at all. Office relationships are fine, but secret undisclosed ones with a member of management? Yikes that has the potential to go very very wrong

          2. Sadsack*

            But is it bad judgment? We really don’t know. She is not his manager, so nothing is wrong as far as that goes. We also don’t know anything about Alex’s marriage.

            1. Lilo*

              Because generally organizations aren’t super separated. Even if he isn’t a direct report, managers often get asked opinions on projects, promotions, etc. In my office the rules are clear you disclose even friendships so you can’t favor your friends, let alone romantic partners. Undisclosed rumor? Bad. Anything that favors Alex that she’s even tangentially on will be met with suspicion and look like nepotism. That is why disclosure of relationships to HR is part of so many policies like this.

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Agreed. “How separate is separate?” is a very relevant question here.

              2. Womonster*

                I agree that companies ought to have a policy on disclosure of relationships so as to avoid conflicts of interest. That said, OP said that this particular company has no such policies. Neither Alex nor Anna can be condemned for failing to comply with non-existent policies.

                And yes, it’s absolutely a double standard to condemn the woman in this situation, and not the man.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That is so wildly unfair to Anna. She might know he’s married (although OP suspects she doesn’t), but even if she does, if Alex has an open marriage, then there’s no reason for anyone to conclude that she has bad judgment. If he doesn’t have an open marriage and she knows, then her decisions are not what I would do, but he’s still in a more blameworthy position—after all, he’s the one who’s violating the terms of his marriage.

            The manager issue is only an issue if these relationships are forbidden, present a conflict of interest, or are disfavored by this workplace’s culture (even if not expressly forbidden). Can we please not blame “the other woman”? We don’t even know if she is “the other woman.”

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Yes, please. And I’ve worked in several places where departments are separate enough that a manager in one department has absolutely no sway over employees in another department or influence over their career paths, and a manager in one group dating an employee in another would be fine.

          4. mrs__peel*

            There’s no evidence in the letter that Anna has “bad judgment”. We don’t know the details of her (possibly non-existent, possibly open-and-above-board) relationship, or the details of whether her managerial role intersects at all with a lower-ranking employee in another department.

            All we know is that (a) they aren’t violating any explicit company policies, and (b) the LW has no complaints about their ability to perform their work in a professional manner.

        2. Justme*

          Or not, and they will deal with it like adults.

          Ultimately, the personal life of employees is none of management’s business.

          1. Big10Professor*

            My concern would be retaining Anna, who sounds like a great employee. If it blows up in her face, is she going to feel like she was betrayed by her manager and other coworkers who knew, but said nothing? Or so humiliated she has to leave?

            In a perfect world, personal and professional would be totally separate, but in the real world, this is going to affect office trust beyond just Anna and Alex.

            1. Lilo*

              Or a matter of respect. If they aren’t being discreet, which they sound like they are not, It’s the kind of thing that people pick up on. And rumor and scandal does create workplace trouble.

        3. mrs__peel*

          That’s an “if”. It sounds like, whatever the circumstances are, they’re both behaving professionally at work now.

          IF they do conduct themselves unprofessionally in the future, then that would be more appropriate time for a manager to step in. I don’t see the logic in punishing people for acts they haven’t actually committed, especially if they’re both talented employees whom you want to retain.

            1. mrs__peel*

              I was responding to Detective Amy Santiago’s comment re: “if it all blows up”, which I took to mean that they should stop seeing each other because it could be bad for the office.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                that’s not what I was saying… I was responding to Justme saying that it’s not a work issue.

                if things go bad, it could become a work issue. that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to end it, but since OP is concerned that Anna doesn’t know Alex is married, it has potential to go very wrong.

    2. Whats In A Name*

      I agree here! I would personally choose to stay out of it.

      I think if she doesn’t know and it’s something she’d care about she should know, but I think that is up to someone who knows her better to sit her down and have a heart to heart.

      For people saying to drop that you live by him and his wife casually (I think) = potential fire in the hole. What if she has NO IDEA and you drop this on her in front of colleagues at the water cooler? Who knows what her reaction might be? It could very well be “What do mean, HIS WIFE?!?!” followed by a fury of emotions…..I guess I just think it’s no one’s business in the workplace if it’s not affecting quality of work or going against policy.

    3. mrs__peel*

      I completely agree. I’d stay out of it altogether, since it doesn’t sound like it’s affecting her work or the office negatively in any way.

      Even if the LW only intends to be helpful, there’s a strong possibility that any “hints” or intervention will be taken as threatening coming from a direct supervisor. At the very least, they might create an extremely uncomfortable atmosphere. If I were Anna, I might start looking for another job or a transfer to another department at that point.

    4. The OG Anonsie*

      It’d be her personal life if Alex was someone she knew outside work, but as it happens he is a coworker and also in the LW’s reporting chain to boot. That puts one foot planted very comfortably in “work life.”

      She could choose to say nothing (and personally that’s probably what I would do in her situation) but this doesn’t fit squarely in the personal box anymore, either, so she definitely has a reason to be concerned about it. I would be concerned about it even if Alex wasn’t married, honestly.

    5. Candy*


      And what proof does the OP really have of an affair anyway? They go for lunch together (lots of coworkers do this), they chat in each other’s offices during down time (maybe about work?), and the OP once snooped on Anna’s phone and saw a text message from someone with the same name as Alex. Otherwise “they’ve never done anything that in itself would concern [the OP] as her supervisor.” That all hardly seems worth dealing with the awkward fallout of bringing it up to Anna when their relationship hasn’t impacted their work or violated any policies

      1. Anna*

        Um…that seems like a huge stretch. You’re saying that the OP hears hooves and should not think horses because it might very well be zebras.

  7. Leatherwings*

    Count me in the camp of ignoring it. It’s an uncomfortable thing to know, but I also wouldn’t want anyone to know I know if I were the OP. Awkward no matter what though.

    1. Sami*

      I feel like there’s a good chance that it will eventually come out that OP knew about Alex’s marriage, though. If Anna doesn’t currently know…well, I’m just imagining being in that position once everything comes to light, and not only would I feel stupid/betrayed, I would also be *completely mortified* that my boss knew the details all along. Oof, such awkwardness all around.

      1. mrs__peel*

        It’s impossible to predict with any accuracy how people will feel in that type of situation, which I why I err on the side of keeping my mouth shut.

        Some people are firmly in the “OMG, you knew and you didn’t tell me?!?” camp, while others prefer to keep their private lives as private as possible and are glad for the discretion.

        (Personally, if I were Anna, I’d probably die of embarrassment if my boss brought up such an extremely personal subject. Regardless of their motivations).

      2. Blossom*

        But the OP only suspects the relationship from accidentally seeing Anna’s phone screen. Anna doesn’t know that the OP knows. If it does turn out that Alex was deceiving Anna, I think it’s unlikely that Anna would turn round and accuse the OP of not telling her, when she (Anna) has made an effort to be discreet.

        1. Lissa*

          Yeah, I agree that OP can in no way be blamed for keeping secrets. I think it’d be one thing if Anna said excitedly “Guess what? Alex and I are going on a date on Friday!” and OP didn’t say anything, but here? Anna only might suspect OP even saw the phone.

          All that said I am actually in favor of making an indirect wife mention if OP thinks they can pull it off (I really think this isn’t that difficult to do personally but I see lots of people disagree!) because I think it would be a major kindness with a relatively small potential for blowback. But OP staying out of it is also a valid choice here.

  8. Elizabeth H.*

    I would advise pretty strongly to say nothing. It seems like they approach their relationship in a professional and discreet way at work and like Anna is a good employee and good manager. I would worry that hinting about Alex being married would screw that up, because either way (whether it’s an open marriage, whether she knows it’s an affair and doesn’t care, whether there is some other totally different scenario going on that hasn’t even occurred to anyone) I think it would be awkward and embarrassing unless it came up in some truly natural and unavoidable way.
    Even if she doesn’t know he’s married and would be upset if she found out, I just don’t think that her director telling her is the appropriate way for her to find out. If I were her I would be embarrassed and worried that it would always cloud my director’s view of me.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I’m not sure that sending explicit text messages during the workday really counts as ‘professional and discreet.’

      1. Roscoe*

        Its a text message though. Its not like you sent an email to her work account or an IM. Whatever you send to someone on their personal phone has nothing to do with work. Hell, he could have sent dirty pics to her, and it still could be professional and discreet

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        In that vein, I also REALLY want to know for sure whether what OP saw was a text from “Alex Q. Lipschitz,” or an actual number, such that it was unmistakable that it’s the same person, or whether s/he just saw a text labeled “Alex,” such that they aren’t positive. If I were having a fling with a coworker, I think I’d be cautious about texting during work hours.

        1. Rabbit*

          Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…..pretty reasonable to assume that it’s a duck.

          If Anna has a visibly close relationship with Alex at the office and there’s an intimate text from an Alex on her phone it’s completely logical *and* reasonable to assume they’re the same person even if there’s no last name attached.

          1. Zombii*

            Agreed. If there was an Alex-who-doen’t-work-here-whom-Anna-is-involved-with I’m fairly sure it would have been mentioned.

            I worked with someone who was close work friends was “Dick From HR,” and then she started dating a man who was also named Dick. Repeated conversations along this theme ensued:
            “I went to [New Movie] with Dick this weekend—”
            “HR Dick or your Dick?”
            “My Dick.”
            “Cool. How was the movie?”

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I agree for the reasons you listed because it looks like we are talking about competent adults. We had work relationship mini-scandal where the female was youngish and very naive. She was raised in a very religious family and had only held hands with a boy before a senior executive began a relationship with her. That is a situation where someone could have stepped in and informed her that he was married, and a player.
      But Anna sounds mature, capable, and observant. I’d let the relationship run it’s course and have the popcorn ready if it fails, and have the shower gift ready if it succeeds.

    3. mrs__peel*

      “whether there is some other totally different scenario going on that hasn’t even occurred to anyone”

      Maybe it’s a “Double Indemnity”-type scam, where Alex is manipulating her to murder his wife so he can collect the insurance money…

    4. Matlock*

      One other point OP should consider: if OP’s disclosure destroys Alex’s marriage, either Alex or his wife could sue the company. I’d have to defer to a family law specialist as to the likelihood of success, but the possibility of litigation against the company is much greater if OP gets involved.

  9. aaanon*

    Ouch. This is a hard one all-around. Having seen something similar play out with a friend of mine who was the Anna and didn’t know about Alex’s wife and other family, I’m in the camp of telling her. It ended up all coming out in the wash and Alex’s wife found out and roundly divorced his lying rear.

    I’m very sympathetic to the possibility of an open relationship, as I’ve been in one myself, but one of the things of note about it is that unless you’re going for full-out polyamory, you don’t put other partners in a position where they might have to deal with awkwardness relating to your other partners. Dating someone at work feels like it steps into that arena, in my opinion.

    Anyways, my advice is to tell her, directly if at all possible, and as soon as you reasonably can. If Alex is cheating on his wife, there’s all kinds of nasty potential consequences that could catch up to Anna(STDs, angry wives, professional fallout) and she deserves to know about them.

    1. KellyK*

      Yeah, I agree with all of this. I don’t really think “They might be in an open relationship” is a reason to say nothing. If they are, they’re well aware that a lot of people assume monogamy as the default. Anna would probably not be terribly surprised that you’ve seen Alex with both her and his wife and are concerned that she might not know he’s married.

      If you don’t know Anna well enough to say anything, you don’t necessarily owe it to her, but it would certainly be a kindness to give her a heads up. Particularly if you make it clear that you’re telling her because you thought she’d want to know, not because you have any desire to pry into the details of her relationships.

    2. The IT Manager*

      As Anna’s boss, I think the LW should go with option #1 or #2 (I prefer #2). She’s very likely to get caught in the fall out if this all comes out. Yes, I’m assuming that Alex is cheating on his wife and will get caught; I don’t know if Anna knows or not.

      Open relationships are not unheard of heard of, but if Alex is not out about that, he’s putting himself and Anna in a situation where they look like they’re having an affair to Anna’s boss who knows that he’s married.

  10. heatherskib*

    2 is the easiest way for this to work… but honestly, this has all sorts of potential to be bad for everyone involved.
    I was once friends with a coworker who was going through a nasty divorce. We went to have lunch together one day in separate vehicles at the office food court. (My fiancee knew where I was, it was for all I could see NOT a date) Unfortunately, we saw his daughter there, who then told her mom, who then called me at work to ream me out about how I was seeing a married man. I transferred the call to him to deal with after dropping a quick line that I was not interested in her husband, as I was marrying my own in a month.” I got reprimanded for “unprofessional behavior,” he ended up getting demoted for drama at work, and it took quite some time for the rumors to dissipate. (Thank you open office plan with waist high cubicles… /s)

    1. DG*

      This is HORRIBLE–what a disaster. The fear of perceived impropriety also keeps men from mentoring or otherwise professionally supporting women, which keeps women from advancing as quickly as their male counterparts who spend more time rubbing elbows with influential men in the office.

    2. Whats In A Name*

      This crossed my mind as well and I almost wrote it in response above.

      She has the respect of colleagues and subordinates. If they find out about this affair, regardless of details, and some web gets spun that she’s knowingly been sleeping with a married man – no matter what is actually happening – this could all go up in flames for her professionally as well.

      1. TootsNYC*

        This is why I think our OP actually has a duty to mention to Anna–in as short a convo as you can, “The impression is coming across that you’re romantically involved w/ Alex. He and his wife live down the street from me, and I worry that people will assume you are knowingly involved with a married man, which could impact your reputation. I just wanted to give you the heads-up.”

        1. Whats In A Name*

          But does anyone but OP know? OP said she found out because she saw a text on the phone when Anna stepped out of the conference room?

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            No, OP said she noticed them around the office together and wondered about the nature of the relationship. The text confirmed to her that there was something going on.

            1. Anna*

              Which means that it’s likely other people have noticed. Not that other people’s gossipy brains should be a concern, but the majority of people who think they are being discreet are not nearly as discreet as they think they are.

              I think it’s okay for the OP to mention it to Anna and then drop it entirely. She will have done all she can do and the rest is up to the two of them.

        2. she was a fast machine*

          If OP decides the direct approach, I think this is the absolute best way to broach it, honestly.

  11. Angelinha*

    How do we know the Alex who texted her the sweet nothings was the same Alex from work? That’s really the only evidence they have a sexual relationship, and the text could have been from someone else.

    1. heatherskib*

      That’s a good point. Hopefully it didn’t pull his picture up with the text!

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Maybe the contact was saved with both first and last name? Maybe the contact wasn’t saved at all and OP recognized the phone number? I think it’s important to take letter-writers at their word.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I spent an excessive amount of time thinking about that, but then figured that I should take the letter-writer’s word for it. (First and last name could be pretty damn conclusive.)

        1. Mahkara*

          Even first name could be fairly conclusive, if it’s unique enough. I mean, if he’s “Alex”, sure, there could be another. But if he’s Xagramuth, I’d feel pretty safe in assuming that he’s the same guy.

        2. OP*

          Hi. Original LW here. It was, in fact, conclusive based on first and last name (which were unique enough that it would’ve been a wild coincidence if it had been anyone else). Things have since taken an even more bizarre turn. I’m going to send an email update if you’d like to publish; otherwise, I’ll post in the comments here in a few days what happened since.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I’ve also seen co-workers pretend to be in a relationship to stir up drama at work. But this doesn’t sound like the kind of workplace where people play games. But you never know…

    4. Candy*

      Exactly. I said this upthread — They go for lunch together (lots of coworkers do this), they chat in each other’s offices during down time (maybe about work?), he doesn’t wear his wedding ring (lots of married men don’t), and the OP once snooped on Anna’s phone and saw a text message from someone with the same name as Alex. Otherwise “they’ve never done anything that in itself would concern [the OP] as her supervisor.” None of this really seems slam dunk proof of an affair. I trust the OP’s gut on this, but I think she needs to be prepared for these denials if she brings it up to Anna based on this small amount of evidence.

      1. Anna*

        That’s why a more oblique approach by mentioning having seen Alex and his wife at the grocery store is a better idea than just baldly stating that things look cozy between Anna and Alex and hey, he’s married.

        Also…circumstantial evidence may not be a slam dunk but if you get enough of it together you can make a pretty good case. I think it would a LOT of coincidences coming together in a very particular way for it to be an entirely different Alex.

    5. AstroDeco*

      Assuming the OP is certain as to Alex’s identity… not long ago AAM posted a letter that said someone saw another’s mobile & an incoming text or email & the majority of comments was to say that one shouldn’t be looking at another’s mobile. Many [including me] also said that if an unattended mobile flashes on or dings an incoming message it can be hard not to look & one’s peripheral vision can read the screen.
      So… why is it okay for OP to use the infos she saw to tell her employee about something that doesn’t seem to be impacting their work?
      This isn’t meant as rude, I just don’t understand the double standard.

      OP, none of what I wrote is to blame you. I can understand how you saw the message. From what you described & from reading some comments, I don’t think it’s your place to say anything especially if you’re not absolutely certain of the details.

      disclaimer: I’m not married so I can’t attest to that dynamic. So I defer to those who are & who have been through similar situations.

  12. Dinosaur*

    The key to approach #2 is to stay out of it past that point. Once she has the information you have to step away and let her make her own decisions without judgment. Sometimes taking action in an ethical quandary makes us more invested in the outcome and you’ll have to fight against that impulse in this scenario. If you believe you truly can detach yourself from this situation after you mentionhis wife, then go ahead and go that route.

  13. ZVA*

    OP, I think you should say nothing. I know your intentions are good, but I think there’s like one way this could go well (Anna doesn’t know he’s married, is grateful to you for telling her) and dozens of ways it could go wrong. Even if Anna doesn’t know he’s married, even if she would want to know, she might resent you for getting involved or for being the one to break the news to her. She might be embarrassed that her manager knows this much about her personal life. Etc. etc. Again, I know you’re coming from a good place, but I would stay out of this one.

    1. Interplanet Janet*

      Agree. This could blow up badly for everyone. If whatever is going on is not impacting work performance or office culture, leave it alone. MYOB.

    2. mrs__peel*

      Even if Anna *was* grateful to her for telling her, there’s still a high potential for awkwardness afterwards in their professional relationship.

      1. Anna*

        Potential discomfort isn’t really a good enough reason to avoid something unpleasant. Harm to one or the other person, yes. Awkwardness? Not really.

      2. Rabbit*

        At my last job my Grandboss started getting flirty flirty with an employee on the level of my direct reports – call her Bee. Bee quit her job with no notice and a week later it was all over Facebook that Grandboss’s wife had caught the two of them having a “picnic” during work hours (making out on a blanket at a park 30 miles from where Grandboss was meant to be) – and that Grandboss tried to claim it was work training (for a job that Bee no longer had). It was the end of Grandboss’s marriage and six weeks after they were caught, Bee and Grandboss had moved in together. They later got married.

        That said, even though Bee had quit her job and no longer worked for our company in any way by the time their relationship was confirmed, it still caused *massive* drama. Everyone had an opinion about whether or not Grandboss and Bee had actually started their affair before Bee quit, a moral stance on Grandboss’s ethics, etc etc. It significantly affected the level of respect that everyone below Grandboss’s level had for them – I cannot speak for the higher ups, but less than a year after this all blew up Grandboss was fired for reasons that included “inability to effectively lead”. (It’s worth noting that Grandboss had been with the company for over a decade when they were fired.)

        My point is that a little potential awkwardness with the OP now may spare Anna massive levels of awkwardness later with any number of people.

  14. Tess*

    I’ve been in this position. I was brand new, and a married coworker was being openly flirtatious. Our other coworker took notice and brought some facts to my attention in a really clever way. “John has the cutest daughter!” This led to him pulling out his phone, showing me the cute kid. I said, “oh I didn’t know you were married!” He sheepishly acknowledged that yes, he was married and had a kid, and with minor awkwardness. I really appreciated it. She nipped a potential situation in the bud in a light way but totally called him out!

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      That seems like an odd way to drop the hint — there are plenty of single parents out there, or he could be divorced but still in his kid’s life.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think it’s reasonable, though, to assume that he may not be a single parent. If nothing else, it opens up a conversation about his relationship status that is helpful for Tess (the flirtee) to know given that she doesn’t know the flirter’s backstory.

      2. NotTheSecretary*

        If that was the situation, though, he had the chance to clear that up while showing pictures or when Tess asked if he was married.

        “Oh, I didn’t know you were married?”
        “Oh, I’m not. Her mother has her on weekends (or whatever).”

        1. Anon for this*

          Plus, even if he is a single parent, most people would want to know if a potential relationship came with a ready-made family.

      3. General Ginger*

        But that gives him the perfect opening to say so — “oh, no, I’m divorced, but I have her 4 days out of the week” (or whatever)

    2. Parenthetically*

      I mean hell’s bells, I’d want to know if the guy I’d gotten involved with were married. I think it was a kindness of your coworker to do that, seriously.

    3. Whats In A Name*

      Yes, but I think it’s too late for that in this situation. That was a preemptive strike – the OP is attempting damage control but isn’t fully aware of the situation she is going into.

  15. A Nony Mouse*

    1. Anna is a manager, and apparently not a fresh-faced kid new to to relationships or the workforce.
    2. Anna is dating from the work pool, and while not a terrible offense, as a manger, she must already know the risks and the potential problems.
    3. Once you reach the sleepover stage in a relationship, unless you are extremely gullible or in denial, it becomes pretty obvious when your partner is hiding something. “I live with my controlling mom”, “I snore” don’t cut it for very long.
    So leave it alone. There is very little reward to be had here for getting involved vs. quite a lot of risk. Anna is an adult woman free to make her own decisions or mistakes. The only time it would be necessary to intervene is if it blows up and affects either employees’ work.

    1. irritable vowel*

      Yeah, unless the OP knows that Alex and his wife are actually Soviet sleeper agents and realizes that Martha, I mean Anna, is making a huge, treasonous mistake, it’s nobody’s business but theirs.

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        Next thing you know, Anna’s living in Moscow and snacking on a baked potato topped with onions!

    2. Jill of All Trades*

      Let’s not place the responsibility of the people being cheated on to know that someone is lying. Some people are very good at having their secrets fly under the radar. Others would actually like to trust their significant others and take them at their word rather than having enough mistrust in the relationship to read into everything their partner says.

      1. Anon for this*

        Thank you. I really don’t like how victim-blamey that whole attitude is.

        1. A Nony Mouse*

          It’s not victim-blamey to assume Anna has the wherewithal to be in an adult relationship and still be careful. The OP presents Anna as a professional, accomplished manager. I’ll assume she’s not with Alex because he confided in her that he’s under cover for the FBI.

          1. CanCan*

            She could be a professional, accomplished manager, and suck at romantic relationships. The OP regards her highly in her professional capacity, which doesn’t make her a wonder-woman in all respects.

            (Written by someone who is highly regarded by her colleagues, and sucks in her personal life.)

      2. Thlayli*

        Absolutely. It’s very likely Anna doesn’t know. He could have any number of plausible excuses. Hell, he could have rented an apartment to bring her to and told her it was his. Things like that do happen, and it sounds like he has gone to some lengths to hide his marriage at work. My money is on Anna not knowing.

    3. Chinook*

      “Once you reach the sleepover stage in a relationship, unless you are extremely gullible or in denial, it becomes pretty obvious when your partner is hiding something.”

      Ummm..I am going to guess that my husband had a knack for finding the really gullible ones then. While he was a cheating SOB and I was willing to do anything to get him back, he introduced me to one as his older sister, left another one in the car while he came up to visit me and convinced a third one that he was leaving me by showing her fake divorce papers. They all were in a place or frame of mind that he was faithful to them and nothing they saw could convince them otherwise, including having me live in the same (2 bedroom) apartment as him (it sucks being separated from your spouse when you live 3 time zones from family and together you aren’t making enough to support two households).

      Basically, if you have a low enough sense of self worth, you can be blind to all the red flags waving in your face (and even willing to do anything to keep someone who acts like they value you in some way). Ironically, as I sat in the shade of all these red flags, I earned myself a raise and a promotion at work, showing me that a lack of self worth when it comes to relationships doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of professionalism in the office.

      And while I know there will be judgment for me sticking around, I can attest to the fact that he has worked his butt off to prove he is no longer the cheating SOB he clearly once was and he knows that he is damn lucky I even let him stick around.

      1. bridget*

        One doesn’t even necessarily need low self-worth to be blind to red flags – plain old wishful thinking can make people overlook things that appear obvious to third parties.

      2. Brogrammer*

        When you’re wearing rose colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.

      3. A Nony Mouse*

        That is textbook denial. And if Anna is that deep in denial, even being told outright he is married won’t change it. He will just tell her he has an open marriage or is in the middle of a divorce.

        Again, there are not many positive outcomes resulting from the OP getting involved, compared to plenty of potential problems.

        1. Anna*

          The thing is, though, that telling yourself she probably already knows or she’ll probably just ignore me because she’s soooooo in love is the kind of BS that prevents people from doing the right thing. It’s rationalization. I don’t think it’s that big a deal for the OP to mention it off-handedly and then not involve herself any more than that.

      4. Zombii*

        I’m sorry you went through that and I’m glad it worked out for you (no judgement here).

  16. Mike B.*

    I’d keep mum. If this isn’t above board, she’s probably never able to visit him at his home–very likely she’s fully aware of the reason, or perhaps would prefer to live in feigned ignorance to enjoy the affair without guilt.

    Option #2 isn’t really all that subtle and runs the risk of creating the same awkwardness as #1. Just leave it alone.

    1. Emi.*

      I don’t think it has to be subtle for Anna to save face, though. It just has to be not-explicit.

      1. Mike B.*

        It would more likely than not benefit Anna (or at least not harm her) to have that information.

        But there’s a non-trivial chance that sharing this information with Anna would leave her upset to be forced to confront her conscience, or frightened that she wasn’t being discreet enough, or pissed because she saw through OP’s ruse, etc. OP would have to answer for all of that, whereas if she said nothing and trusted Anna to think critically, she’d be immune to whatever fallout there might be. It’s a no-brainer for her as I see it.

        1. Emi.*

          Why would OP have to answer for any of that? To me, that’s the point of doing it “subtly.” As long as OP doesn’t say “Hey, you’re dating and/or hooking up with a married man!” Anna doesn’t have to say anything that starts with “Oh, about me dating and/or hooking up with a married man…” She might feel bad, but that’s on her and/or Alex, depending on the precise type of bad.

          1. KellyK*

            Yeah, I agree. It seems like a weird double standard to hold the OP responsible for Anna’s emotions about finding out, but not for the consequences of saying nothing (e.g., it being more upsetting later, STD risk, etc.).

            1. Mike B.*

              But people are very frequently weird about these issues as they pertain to their own lives. “I was concerned for your well-being” can easily be taken as “I didn’t think this is a decision you could have made for yourself,” or just “I thought you should know that I’m aware of what you’re doing.”

              I hope OP stayed out of it.

  17. Jessesgirl72*

    Having once been an Anna who honestly didn’t have a clue, I wish that someone would have used #2 with me.

    My reputation only took a hit from most people at work in the “how could you not know?” way, but even so it was somewhat humiliating when it came out to know my coworkers knew how mistaken I’d been- and there was the occasional whisper of “homewrecker!” from those who didn’t believe I’d been duped.

    After #2, then it’s time to completely butt out and let Anna and Alex do whatever, unless it impacts the work. But I think it’s kind to at least mention it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That is awful (I’m not conveying the look of abject horror/sympathy that came over me). I am so sorry.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Yeah, it was pretty terrible. And some of the comments about “Oh, Anna has to know” are making me see a little red. Very unfortunately I’m an expert on how a talented con artist can explain away little things- and the bolder the con artist is, the more they can get away with it, because you think “Of course he’s not married! He never would have taken this risk of getting caught by doing X if he were!” Then it all blows up and you realize that huge risk was the turn on…

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think people also forget that when we’re dating or in a relationship, we want to see the best in our partner. A lot of that time, that means attributing positive/admirable traits to that person, even if there isn’t really evidence to back up our belief that someone is honorable. And most people want to think the person they’re dating is a “good person” (i.e., someone with whom they share similar values), so they assume the person they’re dating shares their ethical/personal code.

          It is really easy to be played by someone who’s cheating, and it’s really unfair to blame the person who didn’t know. Unless you’ve experience with this kind of cheating, you wouldn’t be looking out for behaviors or patterns that signal that you’re dating a conman. It’s just like all cons—they work because they play to the things that we believe make us good humans (empathy, trust, seeing the best in someone, encouragement, etc.). But that doesn’t mean that your willingness to be good or believe in good should be a bat to beat you over the head with after you get played while the firing squad chants “she had to have known!”

          Again, I’m so sorry. :(

        2. kb*

          I feel for you and am so sorry you had to go through that. :(

          I think a lot of people like to think of reasons why it couldn’t happen to them as reassurance. “Someone could never pull that on me because I’m too smart, too good a judge of character, not a sucker, etc, etc.” But some of these people are truly gifted manipulators and seek out situations that they can work to their advantage.
          I was in a situation similar to yours and Anna’s (not a work romance, but small grad program). I stayed overnight at his apartment, I stalked his social media, I met some of his friends, I went on weekend trips with him. I only found out I was the other woman a month after he ended our relationship and I was the only one in our grad program not invited to his wedding.

          1. girl*

            Did you end up warning the wife? I imagine you weren’t the only woman who didn’t realize he was cheating.

            1. kb*

              I did. It was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I couldn’t standby and let anyone get married to someone who is so duplicitous. The issue was that by the time I found out and was able to call her, the guy had already told her lies about me. He made me out to be his crazy, delusional classmate who he made the mistake of being a little too nice to. She didn’t believe me and married him. He was an incredibly skilled manipulator– I’m really glad I was only his side, not his main.

          2. Jessesgirl72*

            Very luckily, by the time it all was discovered, he’d taken a job somewhere else and we were never in the same department (he was in a support role, like tech support) Although, coincidentally enough, he’d taken a job at the same employer as his wife, and my brother got hired there shortly after. He later admitted that he figured that was how he was going to be caught. I found out when she followed him to my house one morning when she got off work, so at least it wasn’t that she didn’t believe me- and was the reason I got the whole truth.

            And yes, I’d slept over to the house, called him at home daily, met some of his friends and his toddler… (for real!) – heck we’d even gone house hunting together! He had also convinced his wife that I was a crazy stalker and he’d been too nice to me.

            As painful as it was, it was better than being the women married to the cheaters!

    2. tigerStripes*

      If I were Anna, I’d want to know for this reason. I think option 2 gives everyone some plausible deniability. If Anna already knows Alex is married, this isn’t new info, and if she doesn’t, she deserves to know. I would be so upset if I were in Anna’s place, and I didn’t know. It would hurt to know, but better to know sooner than later.

  18. Amy*

    I think Alison does a good job of describing the options available to you. As for which one you should take…that’s harder.

    If you’re not close enough to consider talking to her ‘as a friend’, and their relationship isn’t violating workplace policy, then I’d skip option 1. If my manager told me something like that, I’d probably be pretty thrown off by it–regardless of whether I’d known or whether I appreciated the heads up, I’d be embarrassed, and I’d be wondering if she was judging me for it (even if it’s not an official reprimand, if your manager doesn’t think much of your judgement, that can impact how your performance is perceived).

    Personally I lean towards option 2, because it gets her the information and lets her draw her own conclusions. If she knows and is fine with it, great, and if she doesn’t know then she gets to find out without the pressure of a direct comment from her manager. If you can’t find a way to make that work, though, then #3 is an option. Between those two I think you’re really going to have to use your best judgement and hope it works out well.

  19. Michel*

    this is the second time in 2 days where someone thinks his own personal values should be imposed on everyone.

    Other people’s private life is none of your business, you don’t have all the info and not everybody has the same POV

    Again like the previous letter it is super creepy that you are spying on someone else, I can’t imagine I would notice someone’s privacy settings unless I was in full stalker mode.

    1. AwkwardKaterpillar*

      I think this is a little harsh. Noticing when someone’s phone lights up with a message on it or not is hardly stalkerish. It sounds like she left the phone on the table, the OP didn’t dig through her purse or desk to find that information.

    2. Myrin*

      Hey, that’s really unkind. OP seems well aware of all the possible scenarios (from open relationship on one end all the way to lying and cheating on the other) and most of all concerned about Anna, whom she likes and respects and doesn’t want to see in an awkward situation.

    3. irritable vowel*

      I agree that the “I noticed that she changed her privacy settings” was a little weird. If the OP is really spending so much time peeking at Anna’s phone screen that it would be noticeable that texts started coming through with no message preview, the OP is a little too invested in Anna’s personal life.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I have coworkers who always have their phone on the table next to them in meetings, so I might notice if they stopped getting any kind of notification on the lock screen. (I might not, but it doesn’t seem crazy to me.)

      2. Roscoe*

        Yeah, I don’t know that I’d call it judgmental, but definiely nosy. If you saw a text came in on someone else’se phone and chose to read (and memorize the text) , you are too involved in their business. I can see if for some reason she were showing her phone to OP and it came through. But it was on the table so you just “had” to read her private text?

        1. tigerStripes*

          It might depend on the angle of the phone and how fast a reader the LW is. I’ve sometimes read things unintentionally.

          1. Roscoe*

            I don’t know, its kind of hard to unintentionally read a text on someone else’s phone. Like you knew the phone wasn’t yours. So you decided to look over at the text? Its still none of your business.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. I thought OP was extremely thoughtful and careful not to be judgmental.

        OP’s in a tough position because they clearly admire Anna, and they have concrete, work-related reasons to be worried. OP went out of their way to make clear that they’re not trying to make a value judgment or impose their values on the couple, but that they don’t want Anna to be blind-sided if information is, in fact, being kept from her that might make a material difference in whether she wants to continue her (possible) relationship with Alex.

    4. Relly*

      I disagree strongly. If OP had said “my employee is having an affair; I disapprove. As her boss, how do I stop that?” THAT would be imposing his morals and values on the situation.

      He is legitimately concerned that she has been deceived. It happens. He’s concerned for her, not judging her.

      1. Temperance*

        He’s also concerned because of the hit that Anna’s good reputation might take if it comes out that she’s dating a married man, which is not an unreasonable position to take here.

        1. Tuxedo Cat*

          I agree and I think that’s a legitimate concern, regardless of how one personally feels about infidelity or open relationship.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That was my take, as well. OP sounds “meh” about the ethics, but sounds really concerned about Anna’s professional reputation. I think that’s a fair/valid concern, even if it might ultimately mean that OP does nothing. But it’s possible to be nonjudgmental and still aware that broader cultural/social trends may result in harm to an excellent employee/manager.

        3. aebhel*

          This would be my concern as well. OP actually seems pretty non-judgmental about the whole matter, but it doesn’t follow that everyone else at the organization will be as well–and fair or not, her reputation is the one that’s likely to take the biggest hit from this if the affair becomes public.

          (And yes, as a person in a non-monogamous relationship, I recognize that Alex and his wife could be some form of poly and this could all be totally above board. Statistically speaking, though, an affair is more likely.)

          I don’t know that I would say something in this situation, but I can understand how the OP feels.

    5. Observer*

      Not at all. The OP isn’t passing moral judgement on Anna. But, the marital status of a romantic partner IS relevant to people. So, the question for the OP is not “is Anna a terrible person” but “what is my responsibility to insure that Anna has information that is important to her?”

      Why you think this is such a sin is hard for me to fathom.

  20. AwkwardKaterpillar*

    I would go with option #2 – if you can find a way to fit it into a conversation without it sounding awkward or rehearsed. It’s a normal enough statement that it wouldn’t seem out of place in a normal conversation.

    If she knows – she can disregard it. If she doesn’t know and you are worried this is going to cause drama, at some point that’s going to happen anyway. Unless one of them manages to leave beforehand, it doesn’t sound like Alex is particularly discreet and Anna is going to find out eventually. Not that it is your responsibility – but if this is the case perhaps the shorter the relationship the less drama could result.

    However – you shouldn’t feel guilty if you say nothing. I have mixed feelings about these situations because though it isn’t your responsibility, there is a reasonable chance that he is sleeping with both women which if they are uninformed risks their health. My moral compass generally comes down on the side of, the person deserves that information.

    Good luck.

  21. DG*

    I’m surprised it hasn’t occurred to anyone that Alex and his wife are already separated/about to divorce and living together for financial reasons, for the kids’ sake, because they can’t find someone to buy the house, etc. Not talking about his wife or wearing a wedding ring (though I know some happily married men who don’t) makes this seem like the most likely scenario to me.

    1. General Ginger*

      Hm, I know a couple in this situation — they’re doing it both for financial reasons and for ease in co-parenting (they essentially live on separate floors in their home and have separate access). They do plan on changing this situation when they can, but for now, they are comfortable where they are. I could absolutely see their neighbors thinking they’re still married, though, as they remain close, friendly, still share a domicile, and spend time with their kids both together and separately.

      1. mrs__peel*

        “I could absolutely see their neighbors thinking they’re still married, though”

        I brought a guy home once for Thanksgiving, which both of my parents attended– they were so friendly that he was shocked to find out afterwards they had been divorced for 30 years. (I guess I forgot to ever mention it!)

    2. millennial falcon*

      I was just about to suggest this! I think I have even seen it suggested that during the recession, living with an ex for financial reasons became more common (I take trend-pieces with the requisite grain of salt, but there’s always a chance.)

    3. DQ*

      My ex and I did this for a year waiting for our house to sell. Neither one of us was ready to date yet but it would not have been *wrong* if one of us had. No one who didn’t specifically know we were separated would have ever known we were separated.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      It’s certainly not that it has occurred — it’s that, frankly, it’s not relevant. The question isn’t whether Alex is doing something right or wrong, the question is whether it’s the OP’s place to give Anna pertinent information that she may or may not know.

      (And to note, if they are about to divorce, then it’s bloody stupid of Alex to be carrying on with someone else. That gets you screwed in court.)

      1. mrs__peel*

        Ehh, most divorces these days are no-fault with no alimony, so that really doesn’t matter much anymore. It’s not like 1930s movies where there are co-respondents and people’s love letters get read out in court…

        1. fposte*

          Wow, I hadn’t realized how rare it was getting–only 10% of divorces, according to one source. Interesting.

          1. mrs__peel*

            Yeah, it’s fairly uncommon now, except in special circumstances where one spouse made of lot of financial sacrifices– (e.g.) if there was an agreement that one would put the other through law school/med school, or if an older person had given up their career to stay home for decades. Even then, it’s often just granted for a few years until the recipient can re-train for another job.

      2. Blossom*

        Really, why? Even if their spouse is OK with it? Surely the romantic relationship doesn’t have to be respected up until the day of the decree nisi?

      3. No, please*

        That was not my experience. I had evidence of my ex cheating before and dating during our separation. It just wasn’t relevant to money or any other stuff that has to be sorted in a divorce. And I didn’t even see a point as stating it for the reason because he was terrible in so many other ways, haha!

    5. mrs__peel*

      Yeah, that kind of thing is not so unusual these days. (For example, my dad and stepmom stayed legally married for about 10 years after they essentially broke up, just so she wouldn’t lose her health insurance).

      There are so many variations on family situations (including open marriages, etc.) that I try not to assume anything about anybody.

    6. CanCan*

      I’d say it’s the most likely scenario, in which case, no harm done by mentioning the wife. If Anna doesn’t know, she may have an awkward conversation with Alex (but hey, he should have told her, – how long did he expect to keep it a secret, and why). If she does know, – then she knew what she was getting into (that somebody at work will have the same ideas OP has), and she should know how to react (even though in this case, she can pretend she didn’t understand the real reason OP mentioned the wife).

      But if, on the other hand, Anna is being seriously misled by Alex, she’ll probably be grateful somebody told her, rather than silently watching her being dragged deeper into Alex’s net.

      Ideally, it wouldn’t be her boss telling her, but it’s not like the OP can delegate this!

      Hoping we’ll get an update!!!

  22. Smilingswan*

    Is it at all possible that the woman he lives with is not his wife? Or that they are separated?

  23. LadyL*

    OP, I’m sure you’ve already ruled this out but, there’s no way the woman Alex lives with is simply a female housemate, is there? It would explain the non-wedding ring and the fairly open dating.

    1. Courtney W*

      But it wouldn’t explain OP saying that he knows Alex has a wife and kids.

      1. Morning Glory*

        It would be easy for the OP to see Alex living in a house with a woman and two kids, and assume those people were his wife and kids – I know I would make that assumption without ever bothering to verify.

        1. LB*

          This was my thought exactly. There’s a lot of alternative housing/family structures that are possible here. OP says that Alex never talks about his family and that he knows it because Alex lives down the street from him. Unless he’s chatted with Alex on their block and Alex said “OP, this is my wife and kids” then it’s entirely possible that OP is working on a potentially faulty assumption.

    2. Rabbit*

      I think that we should take the OP at their word – they know that Alex is married and has kids. Further, I could give you a fairly accurate map of my street and who lives there, including who’s married, who’s single or recently divorced, who lives with their parents, who is renting out their converted basement and to whom, etc etc. I don’t think it’s at all uncommon to know the people on your street at that level.

  24. Madame X*

    I’m generally of the opinion that people’s extra-marital affairs are a MYOB type of situation and honestly this is probably the best option in this situation.

    I’m also aware that if a woman is associated with having affairs with married men, it could seriously tarnish her reputation at work (certainly more so that the married man). Option #2 produces the least amount of awkwardness for you and Anna without overly involving in her personal life. She may or may not be aware that Alex is married but she most likely is not aware that you live next door to Alex. It’s up to her to decide how she chooses to comport herself after she’s made aware. She may choose to dump Alex or simply be even more discreet with their relationship.
    If you do decide to go with option #2, mention it once and then let it go. Do not concern yourself with her and Alex, unless their relationship impacts their work in some way or violates company policy if one of them gets promoted.

    1. the_scientist*

      This was my thought as well. I think that if this blows up, our patriarchal culture being what it is, Anna is the one who is going to take the greatest hit to her professional reputation. No matter what the truth is (Anna was duped by Alex and had no idea; Anna is a willing participant; Alex and his wife are in an open relationship, etc.) I fear that there will be whispers of “homewrecker” and other nasty things following Anna around……I’m sure there will be some rumours about Alex as well but 1) Alex isn’t a manager and 2) women can be treated very harshly in these scenarios; I just worry that this will bleed into Anna’s professional reputation in a way that it won’t affect Alex’s. Anna sounds like a talented employee with a lot of potential. If I was in this situation, I don’t know that this would tip me into taking action vs. MYOB. I think if I had a mentoring-type relationship with Anna, I might say something discreetly, but I don’t know.

      1. Madame X*

        Well hello fellow scientist! (I’m a researcher as well)

        Yeah, as I was reading this letter I kept saying that the LW should just ignore and MYOB but the LW mentioning that he/she lives next door to Alex was a bit of sticking point. I figured that option #2 is the least disruptive thing to say should the LW feel compelled to say anything at all.

        1. the_scientist*

          I said below that I can’t think of any way for the OP to use option #1 without sending a message that she doesn’t trust Anna to manage her professional reputation or personal affairs. I think option number 2, if anything, is the way to go- it provides Anna with important information that she might be missing, but lets her decide completely what to do with that information. I just think any discussion that starts with “I know you may not realize this, but…..” also implies that the OP doesn’t fully trust that Anna is able to make good decisions or keep her personal and professional life separate. I also think it needs to be a one-time thing, like OP mentions it once and then butts the heck out.

    2. CM*

      Agreed on all counts! It would be a kindness for the OP to mention, one time, that she knows Alex has a family. Like, when she sees Alex walking out of Anna’s office, the OP could say, “Hey, did you know Alex and I are neighbors? He and his family live a few houses down from me.” And then drop it completely. If Anna is unwittingly having an affair with a married coworker, it could really harm her professional reputation. If she’s knowingly having an affair or there are other circumstances (Alex is separated, or whatever) then the OP’s comment is no big deal, as long as the OP doesn’t bring up Alex again.

      1. JulieBulie*

        I really like this – “he and his family.” That’s a little less in-your-face than “he and his wife.”

    3. mrs__peel*

      “I’m also aware that if a woman is associated with having affairs with married men, it could seriously tarnish her reputation at work (certainly more so that the married man).”

      Well, it’s the 21st century- maybe it’s time for people in the workplace to get over this.

      If I were a manager, I’d be much more inclined to punish people for wasting work time gossiping than for having an affair. (Assuming that they were behaving as professionally as the folks in the letter, and not violating any company policies).

      1. Madame X*

        I also wish everyone would be as enlightened and progressive in their mindset, but sadly we don’t live in that world yet.

      2. Blossom*

        Yes, absolutely. I mean, sure, people are entitled to think what they like, but it’s not acceptable to let that spill over into working relationships, or for it to be a major topic of office conversation. Another vote for staying out of it, and expecting adults to act like adults.

      3. Tuxedo Cat*

        I agree with this sentiment, except I don’t think it’s how it would play out in many workplace situations.

        Unfair and irrelevant punishment can play out really subtly too. And if you get the feeling that’s what’s happening, it’s so difficult to prove it let alone not be harmed.

        1. Anon for this*

          And a manager can’t stop people from talking outside of the office. This sort of thing has the potential to prevent her from getting jobs in the future. Not that anyone would admit to the reason she was passed over.

    4. Cochrane*

      Aside from serious drama/work disruption, is there a point from a managerial perspective, where you have to put the hammer down and say “knock this off before I’m forced to knock it off for you?”

    5. Parenthetically*

      I actually think the work reputation thing could backfire on both of them — it seems more likely to impact Anna’s professional reputation, but I don’t think Alex is in the clear. We’ve all read plenty of stories here where the aggrieved spouse wreaks eight kinds of havoc in an office over an affair.

      I’d rather deal with the temporary awkwardness of casually dropping Alex’s wife into the conversation (then letting it go), than worrying about a drama-bomb potentially whistling sinisterly toward my workplace.

  25. ellis55*

    OP, I would just add – are you certain he is still married and not separated or divorced/divorcing? That kind of thing can feel awkward to disclose at work and many don’t. When I was going through my divorce, I appreciated the normalcy of a few hours in my day where I just didn’t have to talk about it. Word got out eventually, but it was pretty much need-to-know, and I didn’t make a sweeping announcement.

    Unrelated: I think your only opening about this would be if Anna mentioned her relationship to you. At that point, I think it’s appropriate to say something like “Oh? Good for you, you seem very happy. I didn’t realize; for the longest time I thought he was married.” If folks aren’t disclosing something, chances are there’s a reason.

    1. LB*

      I wondered something similar. OP doesn’t mention how he knows Alex is married with kids and it doesn’t seem like he’s particularly close. Could he be making an assumption here? Does Alex live with his sister to help raise her kids? Does he co-parent in the same home with a former wife/girlfriend? Is he a single parent who has a live-in nanny? None of those options seem highly likely, but they’d give me enough grounds to stay quiet unless I was 100% sure Alex was married with children and trying to deceive Anna.

      1. Thlayli*

        OP did mention it. They are neighbours. Alex lives down the street from OP with his wife and kids.

        1. ellis55*

          Yes; I would just add that particularly during a separation or divorce involving kids it’s not uncommon for both partners to be in and out of their house. It’s also really reasonable not to make any sort of announcement until that’s finalized.

          Also, “living down the street” – I don’t think I would know if any of my neighbors were divorcing or separating. If I did, it would unlikely be real-time information.

          1. Dr Pepper*

            Whereas I probably would! I think it largely depends on the neighborhood you live in. Mine is mostly two parent families with children (there are a few exceptions though!) and we all know each other because of the kids and block parties we have a few times a year.

            When people have split or are separated I typically hear about it within a week or so. I don’t pass things like this along but I do like to know what’s going on with my kid’s friends and their families so I can keep an eye out for anything I may have to address. (For instance, when my daughter’s best friend from next door wound up moving after her parents divorced my daughter was devastated. She honestly thought that she would never see her again and it took some cuddles and conversation to reassure her that her BFF was just living a 10 minute car ride away and we’d make sure they saw each other all the time.)

  26. Arduino*

    Tangental note: not wearing a wedding ring is increasingly common with millennials.

    Hubby and I are happily married and don’t wear our rings.

    1. Hunger Games Summer*

      Same here – I won’t say it is just a millennial thing but not all couples wear rings

    2. mrs__peel*

      I’m not married, but I hate wearing jewelry on my hands and wouldn’t wear one if I was. I have a fair number of friends who also don’t wear rings.

    3. Cafe au Lait*

      I forgot to wear my wedding ring one night while going out with friends. A guy in the group that I met for the first time that night was flirting with me. While I enjoyed the attention, I casually worked “My husband and I” into the conversation. If you’re not going to wear your ring, then you need to be 100% transparent about your relationship status.

    4. aebhel*

      I wear mine, but my husband doesn’t; he works with his hands, and it can get caught on things. Pretty common for anybody in the trades, actually, IME.

  27. JokeyJules*

    I’d keep my mouth shut. Anna will only end up hurt or embarrassed. Or both. She could feel judged or uncomfortable, which might cause her to really reign in some of the great qualities OP mentioned she has. Or quit. Both options sound bad for all parties involved. Even if it’s a socially acceptable situation where Alex is married and dating Anna, she might still feel judged and embarrassed by people who don’t know their situation. And really, OP, say it was a socially acceptable situation? How would you feel about that?
    I’d keep out of it myself.

  28. Tough One*

    This one is tough – I’ve been the one to deliver the message to a friend who was being cheated on and it was AWKWARD. I can’t imagine adding an additional layer of complexity with the workplace setting.

    I would go with option #2. It’s innocent but still gets important information across. You’d think that no one would be bold enough to hide a marriage at work but my brother had a co-worker who was unknowingly in a relationship for years with a man who was engaged and then married to another woman. He was leading a complete double life and no one had a clue. It took the woman years to get over the deception and the embarrassment of not knowing.

    1. Temperance*

      Something like this happened to one of my aunts. True story: they were dating for years and had recently gotten engaged when my great-grandfather saw Mark’s wedding announcement in the newspaper … to another woman. He had apparently been dating them both? I grew up in a very small town, so I’m kind of amazed that Mark pulled this off, TBH. (Names have not been changed because guilty people don’t deserve the courtesy of anonymity).

      The hilarious ending to this story, well, in family lore anyway, is that my aunt and great-grandfather hatched a plan to confront him that ended with Papa chasing him off of the property with an (unloaded) shotgun.

  29. Amber Rose*

    Man, half these letters all I can think for a few minutes is “Drama Bomb!”

    I like option 2. It’s not weird to talk casually with a coworker about another coworker even if it’s a little awkward, and then it absolves you of all the conflicting feelings about whether to speak up while not really getting you involved.

  30. Tea*

    I would 100% go with #2, as that seems like the easiest way to make sure that Anna isn’t deceived and left in the dark, and that’s something that would be important to me, personally. It’s like speaking up if you see someone tampering with another person’s drink, or pulling an acquaintance aside if the person they’re chatty-flirting with over drinks is a grabby, boundaries-pushing drunk. If she already knows, it’s easy enough to save face, if she doesn’t, then she gets a chance to make an informed choice to proceed. After that, leave it alone, unless it becomes a professional issue.

  31. Collarbone High*

    So … I have been in Anna’s shoes, and I DID NOT know. Like Alex, he didn’t wear a ring and never mentioned a wife or child.

    I found out completely by accident: I decided to buy a house and used a real estate agent several co-workers recommended. Who had also been his agent. One day she said, have you thought about Westeros? Guy and his family live there and they really like it.

    It was the best possible way to find out, and I was so glad to a) know the truth so I could end things and b) have learned the truth in such a face-saving manner. So I’m all for option 2.

    1. Biff*

      I have likewise been in similar shoes. It’s awkward. I could have used a clue in. In retrospect, it was obvious, but I was young, dumb, and very much in love. So many little nagging doubts were silenced by good chemistry.

    2. mrs__peel*

      Wouldn’t it make a big difference, though, if the news comes from someone you’ll never have to see again vs. your boss who you have to see every work day? I would find the latter extremely awkward.

      1. Nottingham*

        But that assumes that the relationship remains secret and never blows up, which is unlikely. Boss can’t possibly be the only person that knows Alex is married/knows his wife/lives near him/has kids at the same school/etc etc etc. Even if Boss keeps quiet now, someone will reveal something, probably sooner than later.

        If it’s almost certain to come out at some point, and highly likely to be a mess when it does, then I’d rather have a small amount of awkward now to prevent the larger, messier drama later.

        1. mrs__peel*

          I don’t see that the boss getting involved now is preventing any awkwardness. Just having that conversation with my boss would be intensely awkward and uncomfortable for me, in and of itself.

          If the relationship “blows up” later, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Anna is going to be confrontational with her boss or co-workers. If it were me, I’d prefer to deal with my feelings privately, and I’d be extremely *relieved* that my boss had never brought up the subject.

          If, by chance, Anna did ask “Why didn’t you tell me?”, it would be perfectly reasonable and acceptable for the LW to say “Because I don’t feel that’s an appropriate subject for discussion between supervisors and employees”.

  32. Red Reader*

    I am generally not a fan of the anonymous note, but it’d be kind of tempting in this situation. (I wouldn’t do it that way, but it would come to mind.) She could ignore it if she chose, be that out of denial or already knowing, or she could address it with him at a time of her own choosing.

    My concern about option 2 would be, if she really has no idea, how good is her poker face? When LW goes “Oh, yeah, Alex and his wife live up the road from me,” if she thought she was involved with a single man, is she going to have an involuntary reaction that just makes things worse for her? But generally, as someone who’s been on all three sides of an infidelity situation, not a single one of them would have been improved at all by an outsider sticking their nose in. =/ I’m on team MYOB.

    1. Squeegee Beckenheim*

      That was my thought. If someone casually let me know and I honestly didn’t know, I would have a very visceral reaction. All the blood would drain out of my face, my heart would start pounding, and I’d probably need to go hide in the bathroom and process. I’m in favor of option 3, but if you do option 2 you should really do it in a way that gives her a quick exit.

      1. Gadfly*

        Do not do 2 in front of others, and then deal appropriately with however she responds seems pretty straight forward.

    2. writelhd*

      gosh no, I wouldn’t do an anonymous note. That could leave her really paranoid with no clue who knows what about her personal life and feel really unsafe and judged in the workplace. I feel like the only thing worse than it coming from your boss is not knowing WHERE it’s coming from.

      1. Red Reader*

        Yeah, that’s why I say I wouldn’t end up going that route. It’d be easiest on the outside party, but potentially worst for Anna.

    3. Van Wilder*

      I would do it from an anonymous gmail account, with a link to some kind of proof. At least that way it might not be from a work person?

  33. Natalie*

    Oof, this is a tough one.

    I lean against 2. If it’s important that she know soon, than it’s important enough to tell directly rather than beat around the bush, IMO. Also, I wouldn’t have any faith in my ability to actually sound casual dropping this into conversation, but I have no skills in this area. The worst outcome would be trying to sound all “howdy, fellow kids” casual but it being glaringly obvious that I’m trying to communicate Alex-Is-Married to Anna.

    1. Thlayl*

      The point is to allow Anna to save face, not to convince her OP is unaware. It’s simply politer to tell her in a way that she can pretend the news is irrelevant to her and then all concerned can continue the polite fiction that no-one knows about the affair.

      Telling her directly is ruder because it gives her nowhere to hide. It’s blatantly “I know you’re dating a married man”.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        This is the thing. The aim here is not to pretend you don’t know; rather, it is to provide a polite smokescreen. It’s kind of like those buttons in Japanese bathrooms that play music or the sound of running water when you pee. People know why you’re in there, but it’s nice to maintain the polite fiction that you’ve simply stepped inside to adjust your socks.

  34. CatCat*

    Yikes. Talk about having only bad options (not meant as a slight against Alison with the options presented… sometimes the only realistic options available all suck for various reasons and you just have to do your best.)

    I lean toward #2 even if it ends up being awkward because it is face saving for Anna regardless of whatever is going on, and Anna will be clued in to Alex’s marital status if she does not know. I couldn’t fault OP for going with the other options though. Good luck. I hope for an update.

  35. High Score!*

    As someone whose been cheated on and someone whose been lied to about marriage status, I can attest to tyre fact that cheaters can be very sneaky. Casually mentioning the wife in a conversational way is a good way to make sure everyone is informed. Understanding that their behavior is not your business, when someone is being lied to, it’s only fair to tip them off.

    The same goes for the wife. I would tip her off too. Everyone deserves honesty. Not like, “hey Fran, your hubby is banging the office babe”, but more like a casual mention of something off in front of the wife like, “dude, I need Anna focused on project x, please don’t distract her so much! Nice outfit Fran, is it new?”

    Trust me, the females will appreciate the tip off more than you can imagine. If you can do it. I understand it’s not business related.

    If Alex whines about being outed, play innocence, “you mean you’ve been playing around with Anna behind Fran’s back? You lied?” *gasp*

      1. mrs__peel*

        I don’t think so, either, especially since it doesn’t sound like they’re actually friends (more like neighbors who occasionally wave to each other).

    1. General Ginger*

      I don’t think it’s the OP’s business to “tip off all the females” in this situation. Please don’t bring Alex’s wife into it.

      1. General Ginger*

        Sorry, hit submit too soon: tipping off Anna is within the realm of reasonable, because she, Alex and the OP all work in the same office; this potentially affects OPs work situation. Alex’s wife is not OPs coworker, though, and that’s really not within OP’s purview.

  36. Naruto*

    I started out liking option #2 the most. It’s a way to convey the information that still lets everyone save face, and that’s pretty much a win.

    However, I’m now leaning pretty strongly in favor of option #3. It’s really hard to date or hook up with someone and keep secret from that person the fact that you’re in a live-in relationship with someone else. If Anna doesn’t know or suspect already that Alex is married, she’ll figure it out soon — assuming she wants to. Why don’t they ever go back to his place? Why is the time when they can see each other so limited? Why doesn’t he ever spend the night? Even if they’re just hooking up casually, it’s going to be noticeable that she’s not welcome at his place (or if she is, it’s going to be obvious that he has a wife or live-in girlfriend).

  37. A Non E. Mouse*

    If you are in the same neighborhood, is there an event coming up – neighborhood garage sale, new grocery store going in, road construction planned for this summer, anything like that?

    If so a casual “hey, that construction on XYZ is really eating into my day! Have you and your wife had any trouble?” in front of Alex/Anna is relevant enough to both work and home that it won’t be too obvious, but would accomplish the purpose.

  38. Biff*

    I think I’m the odd man out here, but I think I’d have a very different conversation with Anna.

    My script would go something like this. “Anna, I have long admired your ability to office and work relationships. Example A, B, and C have always impressed me. However, I’ve got a concern right now. I know that our office doesn’t have any rules against dating, with the exception of a manager and a direct report, but I’m concerned about you and Alex. I know I don’t have all the details, but I’m concerned that a relationship with him could tarnish your stellar reputation as he’s married. Even if everything is above board, I’m worried that those without those details will allow it to color their perception at the office. As you’ve always been excellent and I greatly value your skills, I want to make sure this doesn’t blow up in your face.”

    1. TootsNYC*

      I agree–I have a similar script below.

      Add to this that if her perception changes in the office, it WILL be the OP’s problem and business, because it will damage Anna’s effectiveness.

    2. Melody Pond*

      This comment raises an issue that has been bothering me about the last two paragraphs of OP’s letter. Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems that all of the “concern” has been for Anna’s professional reputation – not Alex’s reputation. From where I’m standing, it would seem that Alex’s reputation might be in greater jeopardy if he is the one who is earlier in his career and if he is the one engaging in greater deception – potential deception to both his wife and to Anna.

      Of course, this assumes that the open marriage idea is not applicable here, and it also assumes that Alex is engaging in non-consensual non-monogamy with Anna – and that both Anna and Alex’s wife have not been given the opportunity to consent to this situation.

      But given that assumption – why does the concern seem to be focused on Anna’s reputation? Why, at the very least, is the concern not equal for both Anna’s and Alex’s reputation? Quite honestly, I don’t even think equal concern is justified – I would think that since Alex is the one with the family he’s (allegedly, potentially – we don’t know for sure) committed to be exclusive with, that his deception is greater, even if Anna is knowingly participating in it. Why did the OP’s second-to-last paragraph focus on concern for Anna’s reputation, but then OP’s last paragraph emphasized how great Alex seems to be?

      I’m trying to draw attention to what seems, to me, to be a possible instance of sexist thinking. I’m sure it’s unintentional, but if that’s the case, I think it’s even more important to point it out.

      1. CM*

        I think it’s worthwhile to consider this, but in this case there’s a simple answer. Anna is OP’s direct report, Alex is not.

        1. Melody Pond*

          Fair point. But I still wonder if Anna/Alex’s roles were switched (i.e., Alex was the direct report, Anna wasn’t) whether that would change how OP looks at the situation.

          But, for purposes of keeping to the realities of this letter, I suppose it’s irrelevant.

          1. Another person*

            Anna is a well respected manager who reports to the director; the expectations (and potential hit to her reputation) would be higher for her than they are for Alex, who is a lower level employee who reports to a different manager. I suspect the advice would be the same if genders were reversed.

            1. Gadfly*

              I don’t know if it would (or should) be. The reality is women get held to different standards and acknowledging that the reputation issue is less likely to follow Alex, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise, is not inappropriate. It is like being “colorblind”–it isn’t the more privileged person who gets hurt when you pretend differences don’t exist.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I would have the same conversation w/ Alex about how his effectiveness at his job might change if people believe he’s a married man having an affair with someone in the office, especially since I’ve noticed he doesn’t mention his wife, and others may have noticed it as well, so that might feed their perception that he’s lying which is an EXTRA layer of damage to people’s perception fo him.

            But I might add in, “Does she know you’re married?”

      2. High Score!*

        I think the OP was trying to get across the point that they are both good employees.

        Alex’s deception IS greater. Anna didn’t say any marriage vows or make any commitments. She may not know he’s married. It is easy to hide your martial status if you want to. Everyone has a cell phone and no one else will answer yours. Stay off social media & No one knows what’s going on in your life.

        Unfortunately though, it is true that Anna’s rep would take the bigger hit because she’s female, no gender blindness yet, and I get the impression she works under OP and Alex doors not hence more concern for her.

      3. micromanaged rat*

        Because Alex will be the guy who did kind of a dumb thing but his career goes on, and Anna will be the lying untrustworthy skank who has no skills but slept her way to work success.

      4. Tea*

        I feel like the reasons for the focus on Anna are because:

        1) she’s OP’s direct report. This already pushes against the boundaries what’s appropriate within their work relationship. Talking to someone completely out of her department and management influence is definitely out of bounds.

        2) Anna is the one who might, UNKNOWINGLY, have the most to lose. Presumably Alex knows he’s married. Whatever the actual circumstances of his marriage (open, separated, divorce pending, etc.), he’s entering this relationship with eyes open, knowing what the consequences might be. Maybe Anna knows as well, and the word of warning is completely unnecessary. Or maybe she’s completely in the dark, and this heads up is what she needs to be able to make an informed decision.

        Fair or not, extra-marital affairs have a tendency to tarnish people’s reputations. People who choose to engage in that take their chances, but it seems particularly awful when someone who doesn’t choose to take that risk gets slapped with it anyway, because of someone’s deception. I don’t think there’s any need to be concerned with Alex’s reputation because he has all the facts– what’s there to say? Anna… it’s not so clear.

        1. Anon for this*

          And to this excellent explanation I would add: we live in a culture where both managers, and especially women, are held to higher (and often double) standards. Fair or not, that’s the reality. Anna deserves to be fully informed so she can make her own decisions on this.

      5. TootsNYC*

        The reason I wouldn’t worry about Alex’s reputations is this: He knows what he’s doing. He knows the risk he’s running.
        He deserves whatever reputation he gets.

        Anna, however, may not know. If our OP were positive that Anna knows, the OP might not be worried about her reputation either.

        1. Thlayli*

          absolutely. Who gives a crap about Alex’s reputation. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Why try to protect him?

      6. bookish*

        Oh, I definitely saw that as sexist thinking too. Anna is not the one cheating (and the LW seems to feel she doesn’t know about Alex’s wife) – she’s allowed to have a coworker relationship with this guy and the LW goes on and on about how attractive she is and whether she behaves appropriately. I mean, LW’s judgement came out in the positive but it’s as if they are saying “she’s really hot but it’s not like she’s hanging up a sign saying she’s open for business if ya know what I mean.”

        Meanwhile Alex is cheating on his wife and all the LW does is mention what a great guy he is.

        It seemed like there was a lot of emphasis in the letter placed on how intentionally or unintentionally tempting Anna would be to a married man.

    3. CM*

      I disagree because I think this is basically telling Anna to break off the relationship to preserve her professional reputation. But Anna is an experienced manager, not somebody new to the workforce who doesn’t understand professional norms. Either she knows all the facts about Alex’s personal life and has decided to be in this relationship anyway with whatever consequences may come, or she doesn’t know. I would agree with you if this was someone who genuinely had no idea how others might perceive them in the workplace.

      1. Biff*

        I’d tell Alex the same thing — you are married and you can’t have a relationship here with Anna without it impacting your professional reputation when it comes to light. So for me, this is pretty equal.

      2. mrs__peel*

        I agree. Coming from a direct supervisor with power over Anna’s career, performance reviews, raises, etc., that kind of statement could be perceived as potentially threatening or overly interfering (i.e., “You’d better break it off with him or else!”)

        I don’t think that the LW should get involved at all. However, IF they did say something to Anna, there shouldn’t be an implied threat or a suggestion that the LW is directing her to break up with Alex.

    4. Another person*

      You have a good point, though. Either this is a relevant work place issue (potential impact on Anna’s professional reputation) and it needs to be addressed head on as a private coaching moment, or the OP just needs to let it go.

      Hinting around about Alex’s marital status runs the risk of Anna either being caught off guard and embarrassed, or being put in the position of feeling like she has to justify it to her boss. She’s not a dewy eyed intern and is very likely to see exactly what is being implied.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      You know, I like this.

      Especially because you could frame it as “I don’t know the nature of your relationship with Alex and I don’t need to know, but you should be aware that it could be perceived this way and I don’t want to see that damage your reputation.”

      Because honestly, even if there wasn’t something going on between them, if people know Alex is married and get the impression that there *is*, it could damage her reputation.

  39. Curious*

    I know it’s implausible but still possible – OP, any chance the text you saw was with someone she’s dating with the same name, and she is also good platonic friends with Work Alex? Was he in her phone as “Alex” or “Alex FullIdentifiableOrUncommonLastName”?

    1. High Score!*

      Good point! This actually happened to me! I was dating someone with the same first name as my often off-site boss. I couldn’t figure out why I got strange looks all the time until one day when I hung up the phone and everyone was looking at me. They didn’t realize that the Fergus I was saying nice see you laters to was not the Fergus we worked for.

      1. mcr-red*

        Something similar happened to me – I started dating my now husband, who has a not-too-uncommon name, let’s just say John Smith. Completely unknown to me, it was the same name as the husband of another woman in the company. So while I was telling a co-worker about the new guy I was seeing, John Smith, another woman in the department shrieked, “John Smith is Jane’s husband!” I admittedly didn’t handle this well as I had been cheated on by my ex, and lit into the coworker. But yeah, my John Smith was NOT Jane’s husband.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      In which case some sort of heads up would be either totally neutral–nothing is going on–or alert Anna that she needs to bring Boyfriend Alex, Who Is Totally Not Work Alex, around for lunch to quash rumors. (There is no option where people work in an office but never gossip because that would be gauche.)

      I’m reminded of the letter from someone who called in to a meeting from home as her roommates started having loud sex in the next room (for which she apologized), and then work was really weird. Alison et al pointed out that people had probably thought not that she had loud roommates, but that she didn’t know enough to close the porn video before dialing in. Sometimes people are leaping to (perfectly understandable) conclusions and it’s on the misunderstood party to provide some more context. (Assuming their goal is ‘peace at work’ rather than ‘universal justice.’)

    3. bridget*

      I think this potential scenario puts me more heavily in the camp of #2. If in fact OP is misreading things and Anna and Alex have nothing going on, then it is totally plausible to mention you saw Alex and his wife at the grocery store, and for Anna it will be a harmless bit of small talk she doesn’t need to worry about.

  40. Legalchef*

    In theory, like the idea of saying something to Alex about his wife casually in a group, but I worry that if Anna doesn’t know she might have a hard time keeping it together. So, I think something like “how was your weekend” “good, went to the farmers market and bumped into Alex and his wife” to Anna in a more private setting is the best way to go.

  41. Fleeb*

    “Hey babe, I’m so glad I got to spend the night with my lips against yours…”

    Alex needs some better lines. It sounds like he’s quoting a young adult romance novel.

    1. mrs__peel*

      Also, having your mouth squashed against someone else’s for eight straight hours doesn’t sound very comfortable *or* sexy.

  42. Anon for this*

    Speaking as someone who was very nearly dragged into a similar situation without my knowledge, I’d much rather know than find out by having it blow up in my face. I know everyone likes to victim-blame and assume that “of course she already knows,” but I can assure you that some people really are that skilled in lying. They do, after all, practice a lot.

    I’d favor the direct approach, personally, though I would also add “I have no judgement for what fully informed and freely consenting adults do on their personal time, so I won’t bring this up again and you can handle it however you see fit.”

      1. Anon for this*

        Thanks. To me it’s self-evident that lying is designed to take advantage of the trust that relationships are built on. If you never trust anyone, sure, it’s hard to successfully lie to you, but your relationships, especially those with non-lying people, are going to be pretty miserable. So which way do you live? Personally I find trying to search for hidden meaning in literally everything to be exhausting. So, because I didn’t start from the assumption he was lying, I didn’t know he was. And as it turned out, second-guessing everything (which I did for a long time after it all came out) didn’t prove to have any higher degree of accuracy, it just left me exhausted and untrusting in MYSELF. For some people “I’m going on an out of town trip this weekend” is the literal truth, and for some it is not. Short of telepathy, how is your average person supposed to know the difference?

    1. MuseumChick*

      Oh I actually like this approach and your basic script for it. I won’t have the balls to say in the OP’s shoes but she might!

  43. TootsNYC*

    If you decide to talk to Anna directly, you could frame it this way: “Hey, if I’ve misinterpreted, please ignore me entirely. But in case I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing between you and Alex, I want to make sure you know that he’s married. He and his wife live down the street from me. I really don’t want to overstep here and so I’m going to drop this now and butt out, but I started to worry that he may not have told you that.”

    The thing I might add to this, and would be my justification for speaking out:

    “Alex hasn’t mentioned his family much around the office, but it can’t be a total secret. My concern for you is that this balance you have achieved with your people, which I so admire, could be damaged if people start to believe that you are having an affair with a married man. As someone whose job is to look out for you, somewhat, I am concerned for its effect on you. As someone whose job is to look out for the company as a whole, I am concerned for its effect on the workplace.”

    1. TootsNYC*

      You can also say, “It looks like you’re quite close, so people may assume you’re romantically involved,” which leaves the whole question of whether they really ARE romantically involved.

      And that also gives you the ability to leave it a bit open that you have assumed he’s married, so it’s likely other people will as well, and that’s a perception that could be dangerous to her.

  44. MsSolo*

    I’m a little surprised no one’s suggested raising the issue with Alex instead. OP isn’t directly responsible for him and has a non-work link with him (albeit a tenuous one), so it’s less likely to effect working relationships. Alex could clear up whether they’re dating, whether he’s married, whether it’s open, and whether Anna knows (though he’ll probably lie if she doesn’t) in a short, direct chat. If he is in a monogamous relationship and Anna doesn’t know, it might prompt him to come clean before she finds out from someone else.

    1. Temperance*

      I would recommend against this for a few reasons. The first, and probably most obvious, is that Alex isn’t LW’s employee, so Alex’s reputation isn’t his business. The second is that, well, in the worst case scenario here, Alex is cheating on his wife. Men who cheat on their wives are not generally known for honesty and good character, so I don’t think it’s totally far off to worry that Alex might throw Anna to the wolves in order to preserve his job and marriage.

      1. MsSolo*

        I’m not comfortable with the ‘reputation’ framing of the issue in general because there’s such a big gendered element to reputational risk. Anna’s reputation isn’t the OP’s business either, unless the affair results in her behaving badly in a professional setting. In terms of social reputation, Anna’s kept everything professional, Alex isn’t her subordinate, so there’s only so many wolves he can throw her to without the entire office finding out he’s cheating on his wife.

        1. Temperance*

          That’s actually why I feel so strongly – the gendered nature of the problem here will hurt Anna far more than Alex. If LW likes Anna and wants to see her succeed, presumably, LW should clue Anna in to things that might prevent her from succeeding.

          It’s often less of a big deal for a dude to cheat than it is for a woman to help a man cheat. This sucks, but it is what it is.

        2. the_scientist*

          Anna has kept everything professional, but Anna is also a manager with 10-20 direct reports. Anything that affects her ability to manage her team is going to have a big impact on the business. Rightly or wrongly, gossip and rumours might impact Anna’s ability to manage her team. If Anna chooses to leave or feels that she needs to leave due to this, the company will be losing a talented manager with a lot of potential. Alex isn’t a manager, so the impact on the business is probably going to be smaller if he leaves or if his reputation is tarnished. It is kind of unfair to Anna, but rightly or wrongly, employers generally hold managers to a higher standard than subordinates.

          All that said, I can’t really figure out a way to use option #1 without OP also sending the message that she doesn’t trust Anna to manage her personal affairs/professional reputation, so I wouldn’t go that route.

    2. Helen*

      Except the point is the the OP is concerned that Anna does not have all the info she might want to have.

      Alex has all the info. He knows for sure the extent of the relationship with Anna, whether or not he is married, or whether or not he is in an open relationship, etc. OP would have to ask a lot of personal, rude questions of him, that would sound really judgmental. OP would have to ASK “Are you and Anna in a relationship? Is your marriage open? What does Anna know and think about all this?” None of that is appropriate.

      Even at the most direct approach, the most OP would need to say in speaking with Anna is “Hey, I think you may want to know that Alex is married, because you seem to be involved and I’m not sure you know. I just wanted you to know. K thanks Bye.” No questions needed.

    3. mrs__peel*

      In that scenario, I could imagine Alex going to HR (or the LW’s boss) and saying that the LW is harassing him about his personal life.

      Since the LW has no managerial authority over him (and there’s no indication that he’s violating any company policies or interfering with her department’s work), I’d say that confronting him directly could easily be seen as unprofessional.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        And if it turns out that it really is the wrong Alex after all, it could just make things more awkward.

    4. Thlayli*

      What’s the point? Alex already knows what he’s doing. OP isn’t concerned about the affair and trying to get her employees to stop having an affair, she’s just concerned that Anna might not know about it. Alex already knows so why tell Alex?

    5. Gadfly*

      That is far more heavy handed and dismissive of Anna’s adult competencies than any of the 3 options here. Why go for the big guns when a flyswatter will work?

  45. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

    “One of the managers (I’ll call her Anna) is single and attractive, and frequently catches the eye of our male clients and even some colleagues. She has always brushed off the attention quickly and it has never been an issue.”

    This part of the letter didnt sit entirely right with me.
    I understand what the OP means but there is something worth exploring in the thinking that her conduct is good because she’s brushed off the (unasked for) attention.
    I can’t come up with right way of phrasing it but…

    Maybe that it shouldn’t matter how Anna looks and what attention she gets for her looks.

    Anyway. My point was: OP, I think it might be worth it to explore how and why you phrase the descriptions of Anna and Alex the way you do.

    1. Biff*

      I think what the OP means is that Anna hasn’t let the dating game come into the office before now.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Or, not that she has ever dated, particularly, but that Anna has deftly handled the unwelcome attentions that come her way from customers or from colleagues, and hasn’t needed assistance from her manager.

        1. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

          Ah, true. That is a way to see it I hadn’t considered!

    2. EastTide*

      I felt the same way. Something’s off about that kind of perspective and honestly it makes me question the objectivity of the OP.

  46. MommyMD*

    I doubt very much he has an open marriage. He seems to go to lengths to hide his true situation. I vote for number two and let the chips fall where they may. Anna may very well know he’s married and if so, this is some serious tarnish on her halo.

    1. SpotTheDog*

      Wow, this is a very bitter response. I’m not sure what lengths you are seeing him go through to hide his situation from that letter. The only thing was that he doesn’t wear a ring and it sounds like he never has as far as the LW was concerned. That is not uncommon in this day and age.
      I would caution against jumping to conclusions and vilifying them without cause. There is nothing in the letter that points to either of them being a bad person, and in fact they both seem to have a certain level of respect from the LW. I think giving people in this type of situation the benefit of the doubt is the best way to handle it.

  47. ZSD*

    Can this one be put on the update list, please? (Is that allowed for NYMag and Inc letters?)

    1. beanie beans*

      There are sooooo many recent posts I’m hoping for an update on eventually! You people and your (more) interesting lives (than me)!

  48. Falling Diphthong*

    Just in case I become Emperor of Earth tomorrow, I’m going to propose the rule that if you are in an open relationship, you’re either open about that, or you keep your secondary partners in a separate sphere from your primary life. So your coworkers never have to wonder if they are ‘allowed’ to mention your spouse to the person flirting with you, or your neighbors if they should mention seeing you last weekend (at a gathering with a flirty person not your spouse) when they run into your spouse at the grocery store.

    The people around you should be able to assume that your public actions are not Deep Dark Secrets they need to keep.

    1. Mike B.*

      I don’t generally want to know what sexual arrangements my coworkers have with their partners unless I’m directly involved, thank you. And I most definitely do not want details of my own sex life shared with my coworkers, or feel like I’m ever obligated to disclose anything.

      Nobody should feel conflicted. You shouldn’t be discussing people’s personal lives if they aren’t initiating the conversation. If you find yourself thinking “maybe I should share that, but I don’t know if it’s secret,” the answer is always no. It’s none of your business. At all.

      1. Temperance*

        I really disagree with this. Having a wife, or a partner, is not a Super Huge Secret, ever. There is a difference between private sexual practices of a couple and a partner or partners existing.

        It’s supremely strange to me that someone would want to hide the existence of a spouse, actually, and the only reasons I can think of for someone doing so are totally nefarious in nature.

        1. Mike B.*

          Ok, for the sake of argument, what if Alex’s “wife” were named Adam? And it’s not a gay-friendly state, and his manager has been known to let a homophobic remark slip out? Would that be fair game to mention in the office if he was being tight-lipped?

          What if Alex wasn’t talking about his personal life because he was once involved–unbeknownst to most of the office–with his and Anna’s coworker Abigail, and the delicate peace between them would be endangered if she found out he had gotten married?

          What if Alex were Amy, and she was very circumspect about sharing personal details widely because she had been stalked by an ex, and it frightened her to discover that people knew where she lived and with whom?

          You may “know” that someone is married, but you don’t actually know anything about their situation if they have not shared it with you. Why would you think it’s your place to deliberately reveal what has been just as deliberately concealed? You would insert yourself into a completely unknown situation to spare someone else some minor personal unhappiness?

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            People shouldn’t have to guess what basic public facts about yourself you might have deliberately concealed from random people. It’s unreasonable to hope your coworkers (or any other social group) will figure out that they cannot ask about your mom, or spouse, or kids, or that place they saw you this weekend.

            For the last, maybe you fairly rule out ‘orgy’ or ‘job interview with a competitor.’ But people are not going to edit out ‘Whole Foods’ because maybe your trip to Whole Foods was part of an elaborate charade that must be kept secret from someone in the room, who can say?

            For your specific examples: The boss here is actually the only one who may know Alex is married, so it doesn’t really work–Alex’s spouse isn’t a secret from the boss. But more broadly, if one or two of your coworkers know that you are gay, or trans (third example), you should tell them how out you are at work. Because expecting them to correctly guess–or to never reference what they thought was a well-known minor fact, not a secret–isn’t reasonable. As for Abigail–the entire world is not going to realize they need to keep Alex’s wife a secret from her. It’s just not tenable.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Two specific real life examples:

              Some years ago, at an elementary school event, my husband ran into a current coworker escorted by a former coworker. He assumed that she must have divorced other former coworker and started dating this one (true) and that this must be common knowledge that he had missed being head down in experiments (false). Fortunately she sent him a brief email the next day–she wanted her personal life strictly separate from work and so didn’t talk about the divorce or her current dating life there. She had kept the spheres distinct, but when they overlapped she didn’t just assume my husband would just guess the correct level of outness for various details (about running into each other at the elementary school) and let him know.

              Just now, I came from the orthodontist, where Dad 1 mentioned to Dad 2 he’d seen Dad 2’s sister the other day, yeah niece was up for an award Dad 2 hadn’t known about. It’s a very common social interaction, assuming that knowledge you ran across in public can be treated as public without wondering if maybe there was a special reason sister and niece hadn’t said anything to uncle yet.

          2. Temperance*

            I see that as an apples and oranges situation, to be perfectly honest with you. Alex isn’t hiding that he is gay, or his location due to a past with a stalker. We don’t have equal protections for LGBT folks at work, and I would absolutely respect someone choosing not to share that piece of their personal life at work.

            If Alex had a reasonable fear of allowing personal information out because of a stalker in the past, he wouldn’t be so open about who he was dating etc. or his location.

            As Anna’s manager, my responsibility is to Anna and her career. That’s why I would mention the existence of Alex’s wife. It’s public record, so it isn’t like LW would be scooping something major.

            1. Mike B.*

              Well, much of the rest is also a matter of public record–concealed only by other people’s politeness and discretion in not probing for answers where none are forthcoming, or sharing gleaned details without permission.

              The thing is, it’s really, really easy to tell when someone doesn’t want to share things. I know the living situation of virtually all of my managers, subordinates, and colleagues within my department, even most of the ones who are brand new–married with kids, engaged, pregnant, gay, living with parents, etc. Most people blab about themselves constantly. But I worked with my previous boss for almost ten years, and it wasn’t until the last few months that I knew anything of her personal life. She clearly didn’t want to discuss it, and we didn’t pry.

              So had I ever seen her with a guy on the street, I would have thought twice before loudly announcing at work that I thought they made a cute couple. She had her reasons for not sharing more about her life, and it wasn’t my place to say “hey, they’re willing to be seen in public together; surely this means she wouldn’t mind my mentioning it to other people she knows.”

              It’s not a matter of “how was I to know that was a secret?” In reality, the person asking that question often had a very good idea that it was, in some sense, a secret. If you have new information about a person that they didn’t personally tell you, you’re in dangerous territory when you spread it without their knowledge, even if it seems innocuous to you.

              I have trouble understanding why “it’s none of your business” is so difficult an answer for people to accept.

    2. Temperance*

      I have close friends who are non-monogamous, are open about it, and still don’t do things like hook up with or date coworkers who know about their marriage. I’ve met some of their paramours through social events, and that’s not weird at all, FWIW, but they wouldn’t get all grabby or date-y with a paramour at a work event, for example.

      There is a very classy redneck saying that applies here: don’t sh!t where you eat.

      1. Mike B.*

        My ex-roommate used to say (usually with a glass of wine in his hand) “Don’t get your meat where you get your bread.”

        1. Temperance*

          That is so much classier than the saying that I used. I’m stealing that.

        2. mrs__peel*

          I guess that phrase made more sense before supermarkets existed… (I get my meat and bread at Wegmans, and they’re both fabulous) :)

      2. Brogrammer*

        Yeah, exactly. I’ve told some of my closer coworkers about my open relationship in a casual “We’re open, we know it’s not for everyone but it works for us” so that if they happen to see me out with another person I’m seeing, they don’t think I’m cheating. But that was the beginning and and end of the discussion and I would never consider getting involved with a coworker.

    3. Astor*

      As long as you first establish the rule that those of us who are in these types of relationships aren’t judged for them. I’d love to be open about my relationships in the same way that my co-workers are, but the reason why I’m quiet about mine isn’t because I’m concerned about what they’re allowed to say if they see us in public, it’s because I’m concerned that my reputation is going to take a hit for who we love.

      1. a different Vicki*

        Yes, this. The problem isn’t that my partner’s coworkers are going to accidentally mention me to their wife, or vice versa—it’s that my partner’s coworkers might lose respect for them if they knew that we weren’t “just” friends. And other people might lose respect for my partner’s wife, or feel sorry for her, because they assume she’s being cheated on, or that she “has to put up” with our relationship, because they can’t conceive of her being happy about it.

    4. aebhel*

      I have a general policy of not keeping Deep Dark Secrets for anybody, including friends, when it comes to public behavior.

      That doesn’t mean that I would go have a sit-down with a woman whose boyfriend is married (unless we were close enough for me to know that they’re not in an open relationship/non-finalized divorce situation), but I’m also not going to make any effort to pretend he ISN’T married; if she knows, it’s not my problem; if she doesn’t know, it’s not my secret to keep.

      One of the many infuriating thing about cheaters is how they so often try to make everyone around them complicit in their affair. I’ve had friends do this to me, and I don’t play that game. It’s not the job of random bystanders to cover for one partner’s infidelity.

  49. Weaselologist*

    I had a coworker who pretended to be single and hid the fact that his wife was pregnant so he could hit on women in the office. Everyone knew and thought he was a dirty sketchy letch. If he flirted with someone, that someone would get a psst! He’s married and hits on everyone comment to warn them away.

  50. The Other Marilyn*

    I was Anna, in a previous job. My Alex (at the time) was separated from his wife and living in an apartment. I was young, not interested in a long-term relationship with him, and foolishly at the time believed in “he’s the one that’s married, therefore any consequences of said relationship with me will be on him and him alone” ideology.

    I had a few people talk to me about it, via option #2 (dropping weird, awkward hints) and I got defiant (as I said, young and foolish). I definitely DID feel like people were judging me (and not him, where the blame was more deserved) and that they didn’t know the whole story (like, should I have interrupted their “I ran into Alex and his wife at the supermarket” to say “oh, that’s weird, because he’s been living in an apartment across town for six months”). It also got into the whole “is it appropriate of me to spread his personal business/separation” conundrum.

    After two months, he and his wife, through therapy, decided to work it out. We stopped seeing each other, eventually he moved back into his home, and I’m very happy it all worked out. I saw him at work for the next couple of years and never felt a love pang; mostly I was glad that he made a decision and then made positive choices to reaffirm that decision (ending the affair, moving back in, therapy, etc). Eventually, I told my parents about it (they wondered why I wasn’t “dating” during that time) and my friends all know (that I went through a time where I was a “mistress”, I guess). I very much doubt he has told anyone.

    1. Mike B.*

      I’m not sure what would be inappropriate or unwise about openly dating someone who was separated. Was it that his separation was well concealed from coworkers but your relationship was more obvious?

      Regardless, you didn’t appreciate their well-meaning interference (#2 is not that subtle, again), and reasonably so.

      1. The Other Marilyn*

        I have had many friends comment to me that “both parties of the affair deserve equal blame and shame” – I think because the mistress isn’t “respecting the marriage”?. To be honest, I’m still not sure how much blame I deserve(d) … I’m married now, and should my husband have a relationship outside our marriage, I certainly *think* I would hold him 100% accountable. However, it’s so easy to blame the mistress (like my friends have done). If I explained and gave more information, such as “he had been separated for 6 months, had his own apartment, etc etc” then they’ll change their tune and say “well YOUR situation sounds different.” I’m just pointing out that it’s a slippery slope. Maybe Alex has his own apartment – would that make it “okay”? Maybe they’re “separated” but living together – is that “okay”? Maybe they haven’t had a physically intimate relationship in years – would it then be “okay”?

        What’s my point? I’m not sure. I guess I just wanted to say that holding Anna so accountable just seems icky … and it’s always the woman that gets treated that way. Even just saying that “this could cloud her future business reputation/relationship” – it just sucks that she could face serious consequences from this, and Alex doesn’t have that same standard, while HE’S the one that’s married. It just makes me feel … icky.

        1. mcr-red*

          FWIW Other Marilyn, I have friends of both sexes, as well as both gay and straight friends who have been cheated on by their spouses, and while their spouse got most of their blame and shame, let’s say 90 percent, they were heaping 10 percent of the blame and shame at the affair partner as well for not respecting the marriage. In all of the instances in my friend circle, the affair partner knew they were married, and weren’t separated or living apart, or had an open relationship.

          Also, I noticed the men I knew that were cheated on don’t talk about it much, while the women I knew will straight up tell you, “Yeah my ex-husband/wife cheated on me. That @#$.”

    2. Thlayli*

      I don’t think that would fit most people’s definition of an affair. He had already broken up with her. I’m guessing your coworkers knew he was married but not separated so they were just trying to protect you, not judge you.

      I’m kind of wondering though why you felt you couldn’t spread “his” business around. Your relationship was your business too. If he’d already broken up with the wife then you were well within your rights to tell people that he’d broken up with the wife Before you got together.

      If he told you not to tell people about your relationship then that makes it weird. That makes it seem more like an underhand affair than just openly dating a separated man.

  51. animaniactoo*

    Okay, I can see that you wouldn’t casually ask Alex about his wife in front of Anna – presumably because you just don’t have that sort of relationship with Alex.

    However, I think you may be placing too much emphasis on the form. How possible would it be to say to Alex in front of Anna “I saw you and your son out the other day, he looked like he was having so much fun.” or some such?

    Just as casual, but a comment, not a question, on a subject where people usually like to be acknowledged which opens the can of worms if it’s not open and you continue on as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

  52. Roscoe*

    I would definitely go the say nothing route. I just don’t see what it accomplishes. I get that you are concerned, but this is her and his personal lives, not their professional lives. In a personal life, you have no standing. I think your heart is in the right place, but I wouldn’t. But in general, I just stay out of other people’s business anyway

  53. mcr-red*

    I vote option #2, and I think it could be really easy to work it into conversation with both of them present, since you say they hang out in each other’s offices a lot.

    “Hey Alex, do you and your wife ever use a lawn-mowing service? Your lawn looks so nice and I’m looking for some recommendations” – To Anna: “Alex and his family live just down the road from me.” Or “Hey Alex, I saw your wife and kids outside the other day, boy Kid 1 has grown!” – To Anna: “Alex and his family live just down the road from me.” I’ve had neighbors do any of the above to me before, and I talk to my married coworkers all the time and ask about spouses/kids. So none of those seem weird or random.

  54. Cromely*

    It concerns me that OP thinks this would tarnish Anna’s reputation,but not Alex’s. Alex is the one potentially betraying someone’s trust. If anything that should put his reputation at greater risk. Combined with how the OP describes Anna in the opening of the letter, it almost seems like OP is blaming the woman if there is an affair. Unless she is using her role consciously or unconsciously to pursue this relationship it seems inappropriate to blame just her, if there’s blame to be had.

    1. Gnome with a day job*

      It’s because she might be unaware of what’s actually going on. Alex probably hasn’t forgotten he’s married.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        But I still think that points even more to Alex being the one with more to lose; and if we are playing the blame game he would be the one who should burden more of it if she is unaware he’s married.

        1. tigerStripes*

          Maybe the LW isn’t worried about Alex’s reputation because he’s the one who is cheating, and Anna is the one who might not know that he’s married, so she might be damaging her reputation without knowing about it.

    2. Mayor of Llamatown*

      My take on it is that OP is most concerned for Anna because Anna reports to her, and thus she has more of a vested interest in Anna’s perception/personal brand.

      1. Anon for this*

        Also that this doesn’t extend to making decisions FOR either Alex or Anna, but ensuring that they both have all the information they need to make those decisions for themselves. As mentioned, Alex knows he is married, and what the potential consequences of his actions are. Whatever happens, his eyes are wide open. Anna may not know, and therefore would not have a full understanding of consequences and options, either.

    3. The OG Anonsie*

      The LW definitely has a lens in their description, but on the other hand it’s probably also true that when stuff like this happens it’s more likely to blowback on the woman whether that was the LW’s own view or not.

  55. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I’m going to weigh in favoring #2. The way I look at it is this: if Anna knows, then mentioning Alex’s wife casually does not signify any kind of comment on the Anna-and-Alex situation on your part. If she doesn’t know, then mentioning the wife gives her information that she needs to make a fully informed decision.

    Here’s how I break it down:

    If Alex is being completely aboveboard, his marriage is open, wife and Anna both know everything: all you’ve said is you ran into his wife at the farmer’s market or whatever. No one is learning anything they didn’t already know. Situation normal. If Alex is not being aboveboard, Anna knows nothing about the marriage: You’ve provided her with a lead that she can follow up on or not, as she chooses to. You’re not dictating or commenting on her choices; you’re just providing information. What she does with it is up to her.

  56. Bossy Magoo*

    I vote for ignore it, stay far far away. As I was reading it, I actually pretended I was Anna for a second, getting either message #1 or message #2 and I was horrified either way and resigned from my imaginary position immediately. Seriously, do yourself, Alex and Anna a favor and pretend you know nothing about it.

  57. always in email jail*

    I vote for #3, if it’s not impacting work stay away. There could be so many things going on.
    They could be legally separated, and he’s more open about it/is moving on and dating, and his wife isn’t ready to talk about it with casual acquaintances that live down the street. When my ex-husband and I separated, we lived apart for well over a year before the divorce was finalized (laws in our state) and he continued to wear his ring to work during that time because he just didn’t feel like getting into it with coworkers. I had moved on and was dating. Someone who worked with him could have potentially seen me out and about and wondered if they should tell him, for example. Maybe you’re seeing Alex there dropping the kids off or just having dinner with the kids for their sake, but he and his wife are apart? who knows.

    OP knows the situation best, and they may ahve additional info that warrants putting #2 into play, but I’d personally stay out of it.

  58. Aprhrodite*

    I’m only part way through the comments so I may be bringing up things that have already been noted. OP, I would suggest a variation on number two. Number one might work if you and Anna have a very comfortable working relationship but the danger is that using this option might well destroy or severely hurt that. Definitely do not ignore it.

    There are issues here beyond Anna’s feelings, though I hate the thought she is being deceived. What happens when she does find out? You indicated that she will likely be professional but what about him? Also, is he or will he go after other co-workers whether above or below him? If he’s keeping mum on his family, then he is showing that he is quite willing to be deceptive and to lie (by omission). I dated someone who routinely lied by omission a couple of years ago; it didn’t involve a marriage but what it did involve was important and it was the primary reason I broke up with him. I couldn’t trust him about anything. The same is possible here. He has the potential to ruin working relationships, and he has shown he is apparently willing to do it. Deception is rarely limited to one situation.

    Think carefully about the future because I think how you handle this can affect your internal workings far more than just Anna. That said, I am sad for her unless she does know he is married. But I suspect not. She would be at least honest. He is not.

    Danger, Will Robinson!

  59. Discordia Angel Jones*

    I’d really like an update on this one!

    I have thought about this quite a bit, and here’s my 2 cents:

    My immediate thought was that the OP should go with option 2. Option 1 is too direct and maybe too awkward. Option 2 allows the plausible deniability that people upthread have mentioned, and basically points out something that Anna needs to know and that could, if not within her current knowledge, impact her work in the future. You’d really need to think about how to work it in to conversation, though, or it will definitely sound fake and forced and defeat the purpose of not going with option #1.

    My main concern is this: OP states that they live down the street from Alex and wife. Is OP sure that the woman is Alex’s wife? Does OP socialise with them in a neighbourhood context? Maybe it’s his sister/friend/cousin/niece/aunt or someone else like that? There’s not enough detail on this in the letter for me to be comfortable with the assumption that the woman Alex is living with is his wife (and his kids).

    So ultimately I come down with option #2 if the OP is absolutely certain that the woman is Alex’s wife. If not, then it might be better not to get involved. Can you imagine alerting Anna to the fact that Alex lives with a wife who then turns out to be someone else? That might cause more short term issues between Anna and Alex and also the two of them and OP.

    1. Anon for this*

      I dunno. If OP is mistaken, it’s fairly easy for Alex to clear up — invite Anna to his house to meet his sister/roommate/nanny. If she’s not mistaken, the fallout is a LOT bigger. There are far bigger downsides to keeping quiet.

  60. Megan M.*

    Is there a way that the director could leave Anna an anonymous note or send an anonymous email? If I was in the director’s position and truly thought it was possible that Anna didn’t know, it would kill me not to say something.

    1. writelhd*

      I think this would be even worse, because then she’s worried about who knows what about stuff that is supposed to be personal, regardless of the real situation which the OP is not in a position to know.

  61. Mayor of Llamatown*

    There have been several letters recently about people having affairs, and lots of comments wondering how people can be so foolish as to leave information in such obvious places. It’s worth noting that some people (not all, but some) have affairs because of the rush of the illicit. The closer they get to being caught, the bigger the rush is and the more pleasure they feel. It’s the same principle behind why some people commit petty shoplifting, or vandalism.

  62. Anon for this one*

    As a polyamorous person who does date multiple people at the same time, being either Alex or Anna in this situation and having my boss get involved in any way sounds like my worst nightmare.

    I realize we’re a pretty small chunk of the population here and there are plenty more likely explanations but if I were Anna, the last thing I would want would be my boss to bring this up at all, even faux-casually. The not-so-subtle mentioning Alex’s wife would make me incredibly paranoid – how much does he know, what’s he assuming, etc. Polyamory is not legally protected in any way and though it’s less common now, people have been fired because of it and still are (not to mention that people have lost custody of children, etc.)

    Also seconding all the comments about how it’s weird everyone is so concerned this will impact Anna’s reputation but not Alex’s.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. I always hold the married partner more responsible, regardless of gender. After all, the single person isn’t cheating on anyone.

      1. RVA Cat*

        P.S. I have nothing against polyamory, it’s just…more info than I’d want to know about a co-worker.

      2. Savitar*

        The married person is definitely in the wrong, but if the single person knows they are married, they are knowingly contributing to the affair and playing a big part in breaking up the marriage. That’s equally as bad.

    2. she was a fast machine*

      I just question Alex’s judgment here in getting involved at the workplace when it’s conceivable where someone could know about his wife. If it was a secret, then it should be treated accordingly and kept away from anyone who might know of the unique situation.

      My SO and I have been very, very careful not to let our other relationships stray into any space we’ve both occupied, just in case, because it IS a secret for us.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      All of this seems an argument for those in open relationships either not dating people at work, or if they do accepting that people at work will reference their primary partner in front of their secondary, and vice versa.

      And if they try to keep them separate but run into coworker when with secondary, they need to be explain their Intended Level of Secrecy to coworker. (Who may be anywhere from “Alex is cheating!” to “Alex and Pat are platonic friends, that’s great and I can talk about it to Roxanne and Wakeen Monday.”) e.g. “Chris and I have an open relationship, but I don’t advertise it at work; I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention seeing us.” Yeah, he tried not to cross the streams, but when they did cross anyhow it’s on him to clarify what public occurrence he’d prefer isn’t mentioned to whom, and probably a brief why.

    4. writelhd*

      While I agree it can be true, or was once true, that women can face more professional biteback than men from personal life concerns, the OP clearly cares about Anna and works more directly with her, so could easily have her immediate concerns more in mind than Alex’s simply because of Anna’s closer proximity to OP’s day-to-day concerns, and it may we’re just pulling that perspective into our discussion about reputation repercussions.

      Personal matters of (truly) consenting adults should have no bearing on anyone’s professional reputation.

    5. Gadfly*

      The problem is do you avoid mentioning it for a relatively uncommon issue (polyamory) and ignore a so common it is cliche issue (lying cheating dirtbag)?

      If the most harm that is going to happen is some discomfort and wondering how much is known if it is A versus B, does it make sense to avoid dropping that hint just in case? I am not discounting how much it sucks to have those sorts of worries, but is a small chance of that worry more important than the more likely she’s been mislead harm or she knows and doesn’t care/no harm?

  63. Girl Alex PR*

    This is somewhat related, but not directly.

    My husband and I met on the job, while both serving in the military. We’ve now worked in the same agencies in both uniform and out, and the majority of people in our field know we’re married with children.

    However, I recently started a new position at his place of work. We don’t regularly see each other during the course of our workday, but we frequently eat lunch together. We both wear rings and have the same (albeit, common) last name, but we don’t use pet names, or engage in even minimal PDA. We’re essentially a normal, professional couple.

    A couple weeks ago, a female in my department pulled me aside to inform me that she didn’t want my reputation to take a hit since he and I were socializing frequently and I’m new. I was very confused until I realized she didn’t know we were married to EACH OTHER. She was pretty embarrassed by her assumption, and we had a good laugh, but it gave me an insight I didn’t have.

    1. always in email jail*

      This has happened with my husband and I! We met working in the same field and I didn’t change my last name professionally when we married. When we attend conferences we share a hotel room. Inevitably it comes up that someone thought for the first day or two that we were sneaking around on our spouses back home, it didn’t occur to people we might be married TO EACH OTHER. too funny

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        That is so funny, I would never have thought.

        My mom didn’t change her last name and in school I was registered with my dad’s last name. He would always be the primary contact person for stuff because he was the one with the flexible schedule and was normally dealing with school/camp stuff. I remember now, but didn’t understand at the time, on several occasions when my mom came to sign me out for something, the school or camp or whatever would be suspicious that she wasn’t actually my mom. I think my elementary school actually called my dad once so he could vouch for her when she came to pick me up once.

        1. Sled dog mama*

          This seems to me very common now for women to not change their name or have a different last name than their children. People often seem surprised that my husband, daughter and I all have the same last name . When we registered my daughter for preschool the form actually had a separate spaces for each parent’s name, address and work info.

  64. blatantlybianca*

    OP, option #2 is a kindness but I’d recommend not saying anything as you don’t have enough info to discern whether:

    a) The text you saw is indeed from the co-worker (unless there’s a detail omitted?).
    b) If it is indeed the same Alex, there’s no workplace boundary overstep/violation. Without having a closer relationship with Anna this will be a difficult conversation to broker and may result in her feeling like you have a downgraded perception of her. If this were creating a buzz in the office, then maybe I’d consider saying something to her directly.
    c) If Anna is as cognizant as you say about herself, then let her be. Whether it’s an open relationship or something else, it’s their choice on how self-aware they want to be.

  65. bookish*

    Gosh, since OP doesn’t seem to be a close personal friend of Anna’s, option one – directly being like “hi are you aware you’re having an affair with a married man” – sure isn’t an option I’d ever pick.

    Since OP said it would be hard to casually mention it (like the circumstances just wouldn’t come up) – which is my first instinct – what about a good old anonymous note slipped into her cubicle or something? Is that possible? That’s like “I get the impression you’re involved with Alex and I’m not sure if you knew he had a wife, this is her name” etc

  66. Czhorat*

    In addition to the other good reasons to stay out, the OP learned this by, arguably, snooping on Anna’s phone. That the OP now knows that messages no longer appear on the lock screen hints that they are continuing to snoop.

    Not your business. I’d keep out.

  67. Penelope Pitstop*

    I’d stay out of it until and unless you’re brought into it and need to act. Your intentions and judgment seems sound and reasonable, but there is far more downside to you and to the workplace climate than there is upside for saying something. If though, the issues bleed into and affect work via Anna, Alex or both, that’s the time to step in and say something discreetly.

  68. Rors*

    This reminds me so much of a situation I was in when I was in college. I was the part-time weekend receptionist at a healthcare organization. One of our music therapists and I started up a relationship. I was 20, he was 25… I thought I was so cool that I was dating an older guy. We dated for a little while, then progressed into me being his girlfriend after a few months. Our office forbid relationships between employees, so we kept it quiet at work and generally didn’t work directly together, so this was pretty easy. One day in the lunch room one of the guys walked up to him and was like, “Oh hey dude, it’s so funny that I ran into you and your girlfriend the other day at that concert”. I sure hadn’t been to a concert with him, and immediately investigated… turns out he’d been in a relationship with another woman for like 3 years. They lived together, but she traveled for work and was rarely home. He was just masterful at hiding her stuff. I was devastated. And it seemed like we worked every weekend together until he quit 2 years later. I never dated anyone I worked with again.

    Now they’re married and have a kid. He contacted me on facebook a few months ago asking if I wanted to get together and I blocked him. What a gross guy.

    Having lived that experience, I would suggest option 2.

  69. Risha*

    I’d go with #2. In Anna’s position, regardless of whether or not I knew he was married or if there was anything illicit actually going on, I’d probably go be redfaced in the bathroom for awhile. But I don’t think I’d be upset at my boss for trying to be kind by dropping a hint, regardless of what the truth might be. Sometimes being a good human being should outweigh being an employee.

    – If I was accidentally in a relationship with someone who was married/partnered, I’d want to know about it! This includes being unknowingly the other party in an open relationship.
    – If I was either knowingly entering into an affair or there’s some variation of open or poly relationship being kept quiet, I’d want to know that we weren’t being discrete enough before rumors (which could hurt either person’s career, but yes, would affect me disproportionally as the woman) began to circulate.
    – If I was just friends with Alex and/or the other woman isn’t actually his wife or partner, I’d want to know that people were assuming we were having an affair so we could take steps to counteract any rumors.

  70. RVA Cat*

    I’m thinking the expression “not my circus, not my monkeys” is made for situations like this. It is just not your business as Anna’s boss and Alex’s neighbor.

    Let’s also take the text message as a reminder about phone security, but even more so about not snooping on other people’s phones.

  71. Gene*

    I’m solidly in the MYOFB camp here.

    Anna doesn’t supervise Alex, nor does she work with him in any appreciable way. In my 300 person division, there are people I wouldn’t even know by sight, so it’s not that inconceivable. The workplace has no rules beyond, “Don’t bang your reports.” They seem to be doing an enviable job of keeping it out of the workplace. Why in Gods’ Names would you want to get in the middle of this?

  72. Nonprofit Chicago*

    I can tell you really care about Anna! In spite of your genuine concern, I think your initial instincts are right to not say anything. If she were a peer, or you two had more of a personal relationship, perhaps Option 2 would be plausible. But since she’s kept things strictly business, and more importantly you are her boss, I wouldn’t mention it. Even if she doesn’t know that he’s married, I fear she would still feel awkward, and on top of that she would likely worry that this would reflect negatively on her performance. Good luck!

  73. MashaKasha*

    A variation of Option 2 worked for me in a non-work situation (a married man in my church was hitting on me, also married at the time, making me extremely uncomfortable, but doing it in a just subtle enough way that I couldn’t call him out on it.) In one of the Facebook chats that he kept initiating for no reason, he mentioned his kids’ ages and names, and I started gushing: “Oh I know your daughters! They’re both in my sons’ classes in Sunday School! Hey, and I know your wife too, wow “Anna” is such a great person, and so attractive too, you’re a very lucky man”. He quickly ended the chat and never contacted me directly again. The upside of this approach was that, in the 1/1000 chance that his interactions were innocent, he would’ve agreed that he’s a lucky man, maybe invited my husband and myself to grab drinks with him and Anna sometime, and all would’ve been good. As it happened, they weren’t innocent, and he got the message.

    Not exactly the same situation, but I’m a big fan of Option 2 all around; including here.

  74. LadyPhoenix*

    A matter like this is like a bomb, and you, the messager, have to choice to let it blow or leave it be.

    If you decide to let it blow, you have to make sure to isolate the explosion so that one one else gets caught in the flames. Oull Anna into a meeting just between the two of you and tell her what’s up. If she says that she gets it, good. If she responds negatively (and you know what they say about “Shooting the messager”), she’s probably gonna turn her agression at you and you’ll be lucky to have ears afterwards… but at least it will be just you to face her wrath and not the entire workplace.

    That is really all I can say about how to handle it. Either be the messager that gets shot, or don’t be.

  75. SSS*

    Reminds me of an incident at my old job… We had guy in my office that was married but liked to date his cute coworkers. He’d dated several of them over the years and it was well-known in the office. One day I was walking down the hall and I overheard the previous year’s love interest (a very volatile and aggressive woman) chewing out the current love interest…. “Don’t you know he’s married!”…. “Well, YOU knew!” was her response. I decided to turn around and head back to my desk and not get anywhere near that conversation.

  76. VermiciousKnit*

    So here’s the thing that got me in the letter (and I haven’t made it through all the comments, apologies if I’m missing a discussion) – why is it *Anna’s* reputation that would tarnished if they were found out?? Making the presumption that Alex’s wife doesn’t know what he’s up to, Anna is still not cheating on anyone and may be entirely unaware that he’s doing so. So why on earth would anyone decide she’s a poor employee because she was lied to? What the heck is that?

    1. Gadfly*

      Reality in our less than perfect culture? Fair or not, she’s got more to lose as far as reputation.

    2. gwal*

      Some of the sentiment I think is also that if people think less of Alex, he deserved it (by cheating) but if Anna is being lied to then she does NOT deserve any hit to her reputation (and if people start to hear about the situation and assume she DID know, that could work against her). People vary in the relative amount of blame they’re willing to assign to an unmarried cheating participant who IS aware of their partner’s marriage.

  77. Cassandra*

    So here’s what’s weirding me out about #3: it seems to imply that OP can’t mention Alex’s wife ever ever ever at work, because then the cats are spilt and the beans have exited the bag. Or something like that.

    This seems weird? Because most marriages aren’t secret from one’s coworkers? (Yes, there can be good reason to keep a marriage quiet, that’s true. I don’t see any indication of such a situation in OP’s letter.) I wouldn’t want to have to make a mental rule for myself never to mention Alex’s marriage, and I’d sure hope Alex wouldn’t expect me to.

    For this reason (and others) I lean toward solution #2. One less secret to keep track of.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No! MYOB in this case would mean not acting on it at all, but it wouldn’t require the OP to alter what her normal behavior would otherwise be.

    2. Mike B.*

      I don’t see why making such a rule is a problem. Are most people in the habit of initiating conversations with their coworkers about their families, when they aren’t privy to any details other than that those families exist?

      If Alex never discusses his wife at the office, what occasion does anyone have to ask about her? This seems to me to be less an explanation than an excuse after the fact–it was just too difficult to remember that he’s a private person, and you had no reason to suspect he wouldn’t welcome a question about the wife whose existence you only know about in a roundabout way, so what does he have to be upset about?

  78. Katie*

    I might have missed something in the letter, but did anyone consider that Alex might just be living with someone, who is in fact *not* his wife? The evidence seems strange – not wearing a ring or speaking about her to coworkers. That is the first thing that came to mind for me. It could have been an assumption on the part of the OP to see him living with a woman and then assuming they were married. It could just be a relative. I’d err on the side of caution and stay out of it!

    1. MicroManagered*

      That’s a reasonable question. What if Alex lives with his sister and her kids, since their father died? I say that’s +1 for option 3: mind your own business until it affects their work.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Or +1 for how a casual reference to his wife would allow Alex (or Anna, or someone) to add that context–“Actually I live with my sister and her kids; they’re getting on their feet post-divorce.”

        If it’s not a deep dark secret, it’s not a problem.

  79. Solar Prophet*

    Honestly, if I knew for a fact that Alex was cheating on his wife (and not in an open marriage or anything), I’d fire him in a heartbeat. If Anna knew he was married, I’d fire her too. Adultery (and to a lesser extent, philandering) are signs of poor character, especially when kids are involved, and character is very much an issue when deciding who to fire / hire / promote / etc.

    You want to screw around on your spouse or significant other? Fine, but the second it bleeds over into the workplace, you’re gone. I neither need nor want selfish, cowardly, irresponsible, dishonest, and inconsiderate people working for me. If you can’t handle your commitments like an adult, then you can find another job.

    1. MommyMD*

      I’m not religious and I agree. I’d fire them both if they were both aware and were not protected by a union or contract. It speaks to their character and impulsiveness and poor decision making.

  80. Chickaletta*

    Doesn’t Alex realize that the OP lives on the same street as him? I wonder what’s going through is head… I can just read it now: ~Dear Manager, I’m married but I’ve been seeing another woman at work. My wife and I have an arrangement and the women know about each other, so that part is ok. However, her boss lives up the street from me and I suspect she might suspect something. I’m worried it will impact my reputation at work. Should I say something to her? How much should I tell her?

  81. Cristina in England*

    OP, please consider that saying this:
    I worry that it could tarnish her reputation at work if people learn she is engaged in an affair with a married man at her office

    Is really really sexist. It is “likeable guy” Alex who is actually the adulterer here!

    1. she was a fast machine*

      True, but the fact of the matter is that the rest of the world doesn’t care if Alex is the bad guy; the other women almost always gets the brunt of the backlash in the world, regardless of what she knew or didn’t know.

      1. Cristina in England*

        I know, I agree with you. It seems, however, that the OP also holds that same sort of mindset, and in this situation, where he is the only one who knows what’s really going on, and I think that’s a bit dangerous for Anna.

  82. cncx*

    late to the ball game on this, my ex husband carried on with a coworker while we were married, and all signs pointed to his mistress (and coworkers)

    * knowing but not caring
    * believing whatever version of events my ex gave her to justify himself (e.g. we were “separated”)
    * thinking it was ok because they were “in love”

    You get the picture. I may be cynical here but it may be that Anna knows and is a grownup who has made her decisions just like Alex has. Married dudes don’t spend the night with other people without some level of deception and my ex’s mistress definitely was a willing accomplice in his deception. Most of their coworkers bought “their” side of the story as well and it has affected some of my working relationships as we live in a small city. I think it is great that OP is looking out for her reputation on this, but she knows what she is doing just as much as the cheater does. And frankly, if her reputation takes a hit for this, again, she is a grownup who knew what she was doing.

    So i am in the MYOB camp, only because i think she probably knows. Let her have whatever consequences arise, and there may not be any if people fall for the script they push.

  83. voyager1*

    I am going to disagree with all and say, I would contact Alex’s wife somehow. The “never wears his ring at work” to me means the LW has seen Alex wear a ring and knows he is married. Sorry but I think a lot of commenters missed that or read it as never wears a wedding ring.

    I feel for Anna because she may not have known. But I would have no problem making Alex’s life horrible.

  84. Grabapple McGee*

    Errrrgh. Why are people so eager to get into other people’s business? smh

    OP, you do nothing! This is none of your business, as long as (a) it isn’t affecting the workplace and (b) you are are not supervisor over either of them.

    Don’t open that can o’worms. Alex and Anna are adults and can make their own choices.

  85. Anonymousforthisone*

    Very late to the party, but I’d lean to Option 2, mostly for the sake of your professional relationship with Anna rather than anything else. If Alex hasn’t provided full information to Anna, and she subsequently discovers that you could have informed her and chose not to, your working relationship will most likely suffer. You will be the person who could have told her and didn’t. remember hearing an extremely distressed woman on public transport discussing this scenario with a friend on the phone. Her humiliation at being the unwitting participant in an affair, while everybody at work knew her boyfriend was married and didn’t tell her, was very sad. So yes, inaction could also have consequences, as she might well feel a loss of trust in you.

  86. Lauten*

    I think the answer is simple; mind your own business. As long as she is conducting herself professionally and doing her job well that is all that matters.

  87. Thatgirlwiththeglasses*

    I just have to say: the fact that Allison did not automatically assume an affair, but a possible alternative relationship, and was sweet about it, is amazing. Thank you so much!!

  88. Ashley Scarborough*

    People at work should focus on their own work and mind their business!

    There’s nothing wrong with falling in love with a co-worker. And you don’t know how a person’s marriage at home is doing.

  89. daniel*

    It is true that people at work should focus on their own work and mind their own business!

    If you can’t get on with your work or have problems with other peoples relationships then thats your business. If you are conducting gossip, character assassination or bullying that you are in direct violation with the companies policy and the law.

    The trouble these days with people is that they can’t seem to not mind their own business. Or at least they pretend that they are minding their own business but in fact they are constantly sticking their nose elsewhere.

  90. HyacinthB*

    This is a year old letter, but I had something similar at work… although I didn’t realize it. I mentioned someone’s wife to what turned out to be his girlfriend. I honestly didn’t have an ulterior motive. Stuff hit the fan, wife is no longer my friend, but I really had no idea co-worker was having a thing!

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