update: my employee insinuated I was having an affair … with my husband

Remember the letter-writer last month whose employee chastised her about having lunch with a married man … who happened to be her husband? Here’s the update.

Thank you for running my letter! It was very helpful to have your advice and the insight of some of your readers.

Some readers questioned whether the employee was speaking up because others were unaware of my relationship and had said something about it. I was almost positive that wasn’t the case, but just to be sure, I spoke to a few trusted colleagues up and down the chain-of-command. Everyone assured me that my original assumption was correct and that there was no gossip.

I ended up revisiting the conversation with my employee using the following script, posted by one of your readers: “I was thinking about the other day when you asked me about the lunch I had with my husband. I just wanted to make sure you know that it’s completely fine for you or anyone to have one-on-one lunches with others, whether married or not. I’ve found lunches with colleagues to be a great networking tool and I’d hate for you to miss out on that.” I absolutely loved the tone of it, which was very positive.

The employee said that she doesn’t believe socializing with the opposite sex was a requirement of her job. My response to that was, “It isn’t, but neither is policing the behavior of agency personnel. I was a little concerned that you felt the need to address something that you considered morally wrong, but had no standing to correct. I need you to make sure that you’re not allowing your personal beliefs to dictate how you handle those situations in the future. If someone’s behavior is directly affecting your ability to work, I’m happy to discuss it with you, and if necessary, address it on your behalf.”

Beautifully handled, letter-writer!

{ 343 comments… read them below }

    1. LesleyC*

      “It isn’t, but neither is policing the behavior of agency personnel.” A++.

      1. Noobtastic*

        Classy, right on point, and if this isn’t effective, I can’t think what would be.

        How in the world did she get “having lunch with members of the opposite sex as a job requirement” from your original statement of “it’s completely fine for you or anyone to have one-on-one lunches with others, whether married or not. I’ve found lunches with colleagues to be a great networking tool and I’d hate for you to miss out on that.”it’s completely fine for you or anyone to have one-on-one lunches with others, whether married or not. I’ve found lunches with colleagues to be a great networking tool and I’d hate for you to miss out on that.”?!

        Yeah, if she doesn’t get it, it’s because she’s just too caught up in “must-not-fraternize” to even see the forest, let alone the trees.

  1. FlibertyG*

    This sounds very well handled! I’m not sure people with strict moral rules for themselves can really appreciate the nuance of your response, but I appreciate the effort!

    1. Clinical Social Worker*

      Moral rules so strict you can’t even have lunch with your own husband? I mean…come on…

      1. FlibertyG*

        Well, the coworker didn’t know it was her husband, so the strict rule I was referring to was “unmarried men and women can’t socialize together.”

        1. Clinical Social Worker*

          Well it sounds like she didn’t really back down much either after OP explained it was her husband. Even if it’s “fine” to have lunch with your husband, people may not know so you look like a hussy so I’m in the right for correcting you…is how it still comes across. Which is just…ridiculous.

        2. Sharpen My Pencils*

          This makes me think of an Internet video I saw once of a Christian rap song. It was called “The Christian Side Hug”, and seemed to imply that hugging someone the normal way was inappropriate, so why not do an awkward abdominal twist to make sure your chests don’t touch? It was really bizarre; even more so because they were trying to be hip and failing miserably.

          1. sonipitts*

            >why not do an awkward abdominal twist to make sure your chests don’t touch

            I think they’re mostly trying to reduce the accidental or intentional touching of body parts that fall a bit lower on the torso, iykwim :-D

            1. Creag an Tuire*

              All I can think of is Ned Flanders: “I was talked into doing a dance called ‘The Bump’, but my hip slipped and my buttocks came into contact with the buttocks of another young man!

            2. Noobtastic*

              OMG. I once encountered a young woman who was so deeply entrenched int he “males and females can’t touch” thing that she actually wound up marrying a man she did NOT like, because he ACCIDENTALLY brushed against the side of her breast, and she believed she was no longer pure, and ruined forever, and that he was the only man she ever could marry, because he was the one who took her purity.

              Three guesses on how that marriage worked out.

              1. Ladycrim*

                WOW. I’m amazed she didn’t go through life in a Hazmat suit to avoid contamination. (Also, how did the guy agree to the marriage? Was he part of the same ‘no touching’ group?)

          2. Shona*

            I saw that video! Mind-blowing. I had to show it to a friend who grew up in an evangelical family and ask them if it was real or a parody. I genuinely couldn’t tell.

            Oddly, the only people I’ve met who use the Christian side hug are swing dancers. In their case I think it’s because they get all sweaty while dancing. Being dancers, they do it very not-awkwardly.

            1. SusanIvanova*

              Also church choir guitarists – we’d do the normal hug, but the guitar is in the way :)

          3. Canadian Natasha*

            Haha, so yes the “christian side hug” is a real thing among particularly conservative evangelicals. As is the idea that dating=practice for divorce, friendship with the opposite gender is emotional adultery if you’re married, and more…
            (But yes the song is a parody)

        3. ThatGirl*

          Can’t socialize together privately, I should note. Even people who follow the so-called Billy Graham rule can socialize with the opposite sex in public or group settings. (Not that I agree with this rule, but it’s worth clarifying.)

          1. Kimberly*

            My understanding of that rule is they can’t share a meal with women (because lets be real the only people who follow this rule and get in jobs with powered are men) unless the man’s wife is present period. For this reason women could not advance in certain politicians offices. So following that rule means you are discriminating.

            1. Turquoise Cow*

              I think they can’t be alone with the woman. So, in business, they could have a group meeting with a woman, but not a one-on-one meeting. I don’t think eating has to be involved, (although in this case this makes it more scandalous because it’s a social event.)

              I interpret it, and have seen others interpret it as, you can never be alone with the opposite sex because clearly this means you will be tempted and are apparently powerless to resist, and then an affair will inevitably result.

              1. The Rat-Catcher*

                ^Pretty much.
                How an hour or two of dinner ends with an affair if a person wasn’t on that train to start with baffles me, and I’ve never gotten a half-intelligent answer for it.

                1. Noobtastic*

                  What gets me is that these people who “can’t control” themselves when it comes to dinner and sexual urges are the very ones who are supposed to be all smart and logical and rational, and best equipped to run the country.

                  Oliver Twist holds out his little bowl and says, “Please sir, I’d like some logic?”

              2. Turtle Candle*

                My experience of a very conservative Christian subculture was exactly this. The woman’s husband (or father, if she was unmarried) didn’t need to be present, she just needed to not be alone with a man. “Three male teachers, one female teacher, and the female secretary” would have been 100% unobjectionable. “Three male teachers and one female teacher” would have been 95% unobjectionable, and the 5% who found it weird would have been giggled at behind their backs. But “one male teacher and one female teacher” was Big No unless the two were married, or fairly closely related (father and daughter, mother and son, aunt and nephew, brother and sister, in-laws, that sort of thing).

                1. Emmalyn*

                  I’ve seen that rule instated in schools, where adults and (underage) students can’t dine or go out alone together, even for events. But that’s a safety issue that doesn’t apply to adult women. Sigh.

              3. Marty*

                Perhaps not inevitably result, but that accusations of an affair can not be categorically denied. If you were alone, there is nobody else who can say what did or did not happen. (Still a stupid rule, but, if a person’s testimony can’t be trusted without a witness, it makes sense. Why this is usually only a problem for the woman is another story…)

                1. Mookie*

                  if a person’s testimony can’t be trusted without a witness, it makes sense. Why this is usually only a problem for the woman is another story…

                  Possibly because women have a harder time getting people to believe what they say unless a man is there to verify and agree with their version of events? I mean, this applies to so many situations, professional and otherwise.

          2. Recovering Adjunct*

            Not public. You musn’t eat a meal with someone of the opposite sex one-on-one, even if it’s meatballs in the IKEA cafeteria.

            I grew up with this rule and type of thinking. It resulted in every interaction between a man and woman being sexually charged. Messed me up for a long, long time.

        4. Close Bracket*

          If married men and women socialize together, do they have to be married to each other? :-)

  2. KatieKate*

    Yikes. I wonder how she would feel socializing with someone gay. Or is it just her own attraction she’s worried about?

    Well done OP. I would not have been as eloquent or polite.

    1. LSP*

      This was something I thought about quite a bit when it was revealed that VP Pence doesn’t meet alone with female coworkers, and doesn’t attend social/work events that involve alcohol without his wife. My first instinct was “Can’t people trust themselves and their spouses?” But I think the reality is, some people can’t, or don’t want to ever be put in that position.

      As someone who has always found friendships with the opposite sex easier, and has often had lunch with my married, male manager (both while I was working for him and since I’ve stopped working with him), and openly tell my husband (who has zero problems with it), I have to remind myself that this kind of thing is still viewed by some to be scandalous. Problems arise when a certain group might not have the same opportunities as others due to a boss’ personal quirks. If women who work for the VP aren’t provided the same one-on-one time (and therefore opportunities that could lead to advancement) then his personal policy isn’t ok. The same goes for OP’s employee, who may or may not manage her own team.

      1. Paxton*

        I have thought about this quite a bit as well. I have come to believe this is fine as long as they hold the same rule for both seed. If they won’t have a one on one dinner with a female colleague the they make a rule that there will be no one on one dinners at all.

      2. Sfigato*

        I’m a man who works in an office that is mostly female in a sector that is mostly female. I am frequently having drinks with or getting lunch with women. If I didn’t, I would be denying myself so many great professional connections and friendships.

        This idea that men have to recuse themselves from women or else they’ll be overcome by lust is stupid. You have free will. You can decide to not think of an attractive coworker as a potential romantic partner. You can decide to not try to have sex with anything in a skirt. It’s not hard to keep your pants on. And in the very rare cases that a woman comes on to you, it is very easy to shut it down.

        1. Pineapple Incident*

          I have heard that another reason some men hold these crazy beliefs that they shouldn’t socialize one-on-one with another woman is that they’re afraid that if someone comes on to them, and they in turn reject that person and shut it down, that the female will feel embarrassed and cry harassment or worse.

          As a woman and a fairly active feminist, I made a face when I heard some guy talk about this within earshot of me and couldn’t resist giving him an earful about how stupid that idea is. People like that make a lot of horrible assumptions about women- that we’re all simply out for attention and to ruin the lives of men who reject us, as if that’s all we think about. Even if the come-on happens, the VAST majority of people are okay with the word “no” in response.

          Soapbox over, sorry. You’re totally doing it right.

          1. Gadfly*

            Well, I don’t know about people being okay with no… how many times do we hear about the man retaliating against women subordinates? And all the crazy stalkers and suicidal murders? So maybe there is a lot of projection in that they expect women to do what they would do and often do do when they have the opportunity?

            I think culturally we tend to force women to have higher EQs, including better coping with rejection skills, so it isn’t as likely to happen as the current constant situation.

          2. Merula*

            I’m with you in that no one should be avoiding social or professional opportunities because of a fear of the worst possible thing that could happen.

            The problem is, human beings are absolutely terrible at assessing risk, so we try to avoid bad things that have a 1% chance of happening with as much fervor as bad things with a 0.01% chance of happening.

            So, a woman might avoid a professional gathering at night in a part of town that she wasn’t comfortable in, just because of a chance that she could get attacked. That chance is small, but real, with potentially life-changing consequences.

            A man who tries to avoid a situation that makes him uncomfortable because of the infinitesimal chance that someone will falsely accuse him of harassment is acting on the same principle. That situation almost never happens, but it does happen, and has potentially life-changing consequences.

            It’d be great if we could all assess the risk of any given situation based on actual facts, but unfortunately, human brains don’t work that way.

        2. BabyShark*

          Similar to you Sfigato, I’m a woman in a male dominated field, but not office. Attorneys are vastly more male than female and staff (legal assistants/paralegals mostly) are overwhelmingly female. I’d have literally no career advancement chances if I was only able to spend time with women because the people with whom I need to bond/those I need to impress, are all men.

        3. Engineer Woman*

          As I’m posting as EngineerWoman, you can see I’m in an industry that is predominantly male. For sometime I had a male colleague with the same job role as I and we had many lunches together – just the 2 of us. It was convenient – we sat next to each other and around lunch time if the other wasn’t doing anything, just grab lunch together, we could bounce ideas off each other, as well as just chat.

          I enjoyed our working relationship and the lunches together helped to build it up. If I had to only seek out females to lunch with or had to always find a group of mixed genders, I’d have missed out.

      3. Tuesday*

        The New York Times had an article on this topic recently. It appears that a lot of people still have a negative view one-on-one dining with the opposite sex. 44% of women and 36% of men surveyed said lunch with the opposite sex was inappropriate.


        25% of women and 22% of men view work meetings with a member of the opposite sex to be inappropriate. I have to wonder if maybe the people who feel that way have only worked in industries where one-on-one meetings are rare? I think in most corporate environments, you’ll probably have a job where one-on-one meetings with your boss are a regular thing. But maybe if meetings are unusual to begin with, one-on-one meetings look more like “meetings.”

        1. Lucie*

          Thanks for sharing this. I am now so irrationally angry I had to get up from my desk lol. I wonder how they feel about me going on business trips with a male coworker, it involves meetings! And sitting in a car! And Dinner! And Drinks.

          Guess I’m SOL.

          1. Ornery PR*

            I know, I just can’t wrap my head around this. I just got back from a business trip with a married man (I’m a single mid-thirties woman) and never once did it cross my mind that us simply dining out, riding in the car, checking into the hotel or attending meetings could be perceived as scandalous our inappropriate. We work together, of course we’re going to have to conduct work in each others’ proximity. It feels so gross that people would come to other conclusions about the nature of our relationship.

        2. Jesmlet*

          This kind of puritanical nonsense makes me so angry. The idea that men and women can’t have platonic relationships is so antiquated and damaging to women and their careers. I just hope I live to see this kind of thinking completely disappear.

          1. Darcy*

            “…damaging to women and their careers.” That is at the root of my issue with this belief/behavior also. It means that a male subordinate can have access to their boss in a way that a female can’t. So unless the rule is never meeting alone with anyone, it’s discriminatory behavior.

          2. Paquita*

            I have lunch with a former instructor every few months. We are both married. Usually it is just the two of us. Sometimes my husband comes, sometimes his wife comes, sometimes it is all four of us. Never any problems. We did not start going to lunch until after I graduated in 2011 but we did become friends while I was still in college. Went back to school as an adult so he is only five years older than I am. No young chick here to tempt anyone.

        3. Afiendishthingy*

          53% of women said it was inappropriate to have dinner with a man they’re not married to?? And 60% said inappropriate to have a drink?? The phrasing implies that at least one of the parties is married, because I’m pretty sure 60% of women aren’t opposed to DATING, but still!

      4. cornflower blue*

        I have so many questions about this mindset. Does this inability to contain oneself only apply to work, for example? If a man with this belief enters a pharmacy and sees it empty except for a female cashier, does he have to retreat and wait in his car for another customer before he can complete his transaction?

        1. LavaLamp*

          I have no idea; my best friend is a guy. He slept on my floor for a week when he visited, and shockingly all he did was sleep and act like a normal person.

    2. FlibertyG*

      I’ve always thought it was odd that people have these strict gender rules and disregard that homosexuality exists.

      1. mreasy*

        My husband is bisexual, and if we had this rule, he could literally only socialize with me!

        1. Jadelyn*

          I always laugh at stuff like this for that exact reason. I’m bisexual. So I can’t…have any friends? Or any interactions? Because any interaction might turn sexual at any time? How silly.

          1. many bells down*

            I had to break up with my first girlfriend because of this. She got jealous if I talked to other women… and if I talked to men. So basically she didn’t want me to talk to ANYONE, because I might bone them.

            1. Noobtastic*

              Teenage break-up song: I found out that you *talked* to my *friend*!!!! Now I can never trust you again, and I have to dump you, immediately, without even asking for an explanation.

              Teen reality: She was telling him about the assignment he missed when he had to leave early for a doctor’s appointment.

          2. Rana*

            It really makes me wonder about some of these people, honestly. Do they really go around having PANTSFEELS about every. single. person. of the appropriate gender they meet? Regardless of personality or physical attributes? Because that sounds exhausting.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              I’m attracted to a pretty wide range of people, but I’m still confused at the assumption that this means I want to *act* on it. I have lots of hot friends and coworkers! This is great! I can passively think they’re kinda hot while continuing to interact with them like sensible grownups. Occasionally I get an actual crush on someone, whereupon I act slightly awkward and blushy around them for a few weeks until it wears off.

              1. Fog*

                > whereupon I act slightly awkward and blushy around them for a few weeks until it wears off.

                Yeah, even then, eventually the pragmatic voice in your head that says “For the love of God I have to get some work done around here which means I have to Associate With Cute Colleague” wins out.

        2. Thatgirlwiththeglasses*

          I’m in a worse situation. I’m bisexual and polyamorous..lm destined to eat alone. :(

      2. Annabelle*

        Yeah, most of the hardline evangelicals I know still regard gayness as a disease, if they acknowledge it at all.

    3. RVA Cat*

      I agree the OP handled this with more grace than I may have, but that’s why she’s a (good) manager.

      Is anyone else imagining how this employee would react when Bob from Accounting transitions to Brenda?

      1. OP*

        A. Thank you!

        B. We do have an employee who is transitioning from male to female. She hasn’t said anything that I’m aware of, but I have a script in case she does! Our employee has enough stress in her life with the transition. She doesn’t need more at work!

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              You know, you really can’t drop this kind of TEASE without saying anything else! At least tell us your location? Or general field? Or personal email address, home phone number, and favorite flavor of ice cream?

        1. LNZ*

          A good stand by in general is something along the lines of i cant tell you what to think but at work i can sure as heck tell you how to act. And then just shut down any transphobia the second you hear it. It often isnt worth trying to argue or educate them, the bathroom bills have show facts don’t matter to transphobes, simply cutting people off and letting them know that is unacceptable is often all you can do.

    1. lulu*

      I mean, that’s her boss talking to her, telling her to mind her own business in the future, if it were me I wouldn’t say anything back!

        1. Victoria, Please*

          Huh. In other words, eff off boss, I’m going to keep thinking what I always thought. But GOOD ON YOU for the way you handled it.

  3. AthenaC*

    “The employee said that she doesn’t believe socializing with the opposite sex was a requirement of her job.”

    What an interesting (yet predictable) irrelevant comment for her to make.

    OP, I also agree that you handled that perfectly!

      1. KR*

        Love this response. I also was surprised at that. I mean I doubt her job description literally says, “Socialize with members of the opposite sex” but should it really have to? Lol

      2. Amber T*

        “My flabber is gasted.”

        ‘Scuse me while I squirrel this away for future use…

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      I think this is seriously going to limit Employee’s career advancement, to have such outdated notions about working with the opposite sex.
      I don’t intend to criticize anyone who does feel this way, but it is a little archaic and I think would be seen as out of touch.
      OP, love the script you used as well as your response. Extremely professional and corrective without being unkind.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think this is seriously going to limit Employee’s career advancement, to have such outdated notions about working with the opposite sex.

        I don’t know… is VPOTUS not high enough for you? ;-)

        1. Alli525*

          Yep came here to say exactly this if someone else hadn’t already. I love the AAM commentariat :)

        2. DataQueen*

          Ditto! I have a male coworker who does this – brings his wife to any external meeting that another woman will be at – and many of my colleagues (and some of our clients!) have made the Mike Pence comparsion and asked if he calls his wife ‘mother’ like him! We brush it off because we know he is very religious, but it’s mortifying when i have to RSVP to a business dinner where no one else would bring thier spouse, and explain that he is bringing his wife. What’s worse – most of our clients and clleagues are male, so i’m frequently the only woman there. When I don’t come, she doesn’t either – so the reasoning is clear.

          1. Lies, damn lies and...*

            What. That is so out of the norm and inappropriate in a business setting! His managers are okay with that?

            1. chocolate lover*

              I was wondering the same thing. Clients too, not just the managers. I take it there is no confidential information shared in your work?!

            2. misplacedmidwesterner*

              My thought too. If I was his manager, I would be having a serious conversation about how this makes him and our company look to clients.

            3. DataQueen*

              I’ve brought it up with my manager, but it’s not a hill we are going to die on right now – and his manager is the same way. Not that geography should matter, but their team is based in the south and ours is in new england. And it’s never crossed the line to bringing her into the office for meetings, it’s just been dinners, conference networking events, where *theoretically* one could bring their spouse (but no one does, and no one would.). I find it especially weird when our clients come from out of town, so of COURSE they don’t have their spouses with them – it’s a business trip – and then he shows up with Mother. But again – not the hill we are going to die on right now.

              1. FlibertyG*

                Unfortunately, the negative impact here is on YOU, the female coworker – if you’re the only one, it might tempt an organizer to leave you off so they don’t have to worry about the plus-one situation …

                1. DataQueen*

                  Yeah, it’s pretty gross. Luckily, I am the one the clients want to see, so that’s not going to happen. So I can actually leave *him* off sometimes

                2. Ann O. Nymous*

                  @Data Queen If you choose to eventually die on this hill, unless you absolutely need him at those functions, I would leave him off the list because it clearly comes across as super weird to clients to have Mother there. If he asks why he’s not invited to these events anymore, then you can explain your reasoning so that maybe he’ll get a sense that these sexist attitudes can hinder his work opportunities.

              2. EB*

                Please tell me you require him to act in a gender neutral way and never meet alone another person.

                I would be s insulted if this happened to me as a client, soley because there was a woman there, but the gender neutral rule would be easier to swallow.

          2. strawberries and raspberries*

            Maybe it’s a byproduct of cultures where women are basically groomed to be second to men at all times and they don’t notice this, but I cannot imagine having to drop everything and accompany my husband to all these meetings where I would have NOTHING to talk about with anyone just because he doesn’t trust himself to be around another woman. Like what a boring and colossal waste of her time.

            1. DataQueen*

              I don’t know if it’s that he can’t trust himself, or what it is, but I heard from a colleague that the first time he did it, someone said “Oh, you’re bringing your wife?” And he said to them “Yes, DataQueen is coming, it’s safer that way.” Ew.

              1. Willis*

                Ewwwww for sure. I just wanted to say that I admire how poised you seem about such an infuriating situation.

              2. AnonAcademic*

                What, he’s implying you will tempt him with your feminine wiles or something? How is that not sexual harassment? It’s sexualizing his relationship with you without your consent. I realize not everything can be a hill to die on but I am so angry at how uncomfortable a situation he’s created for you.

                1. DataQueen*

                  Eh, it’s annoying but not uncomfortable. I just roll my eyes and know that some people are jerks. This is his thing to be a jerk about.

                2. afiendishthingy*

                  I’m with you, AnonAcademic. DataQueen, if it’s just happening with you and it’s not worth it to you to escalate it, that’s your prerogative. but what if additional female employees are hired and are uncomfortable that their coworker thinks of them not as professionals but as potentially dangerous seductresses?

                3. Howdy Do*

                  I think if you really were to ask him “so you think she’s going to tempt you sexually if your wife isn’t there??” and he was being honest (not spouting whatever reason his church gives) he would say it’s about appearances, if another super conservative church buddy saw him out in the presence of a woman without Mother then that would be fodder for the gossip mill and make him look less pious. I mean, it’s still absurd, but I don’t think it’s quite sexual harassment.

              3. cornflower blue*

                Tons of kudos to you for biting your tongue. I’d have a really hard time not making a snide remark along the lines of “Trust me, you’re not all that. It’s not hard to control myself.”

              4. Janey*

                Wait….. he’s admitting to other people out loud that you’re the reason he brings his wife?

                I’d be really worried about the impression that gives others of you (especially if he’s saying it to clients!), because it seems to be implying the you’re a sexual opportunist whom he needs to be protected from by his wife.

                I just…. the fact that he lays the blame for the situation at your feet, in front of other people, seems really gross and potentially undermining. Ugh.

                1. Marty*

                  Or perhaps just that his wife tends toward jealousy. This could have nothing to do with what might happen while his wife is absent, but everything to do with how his wife (of church community) is likely to respond to the fact she was absent.

              5. Treecat*

                Yeah so this is pretty damn close to him just admitting he’s a rapist, frankly. Because the idea that if his wife weren’t there, he’d do something sexual implies that he assumes DataQueen either wouldn’t or couldn’t decline his advances. Disgusting.

                1. Rana*

                  That’s how I tend to view this attitude, yes. If you’re dependent on the presence of a spouse to keep it in your pants, clearly you have no concept of consent. Or self-control.

          3. SignalLost*

            I would feel very threatened by that. I get what you mean that this isn’t the hill you want to die on, and obviously you’re the best person to judge where you stand, but in the broader context of people choosing not to socialise with people based on their gender, don’t they realize (or care) that they’re functionally saying “You are not safe around me because if there is not another person of your gender present I might rape you”? (Or hit on, or molest, or fondle, or soak with a glass of water, or trip, or feed to sharks, or whatever – but so often it’s sexual conduct that’s implied.)

            And then, of course, the other person of your gender is the morality police because “Person A is not safe around me, as without you I might rape them, so I hope you’re up to the task of being my safe-conduct.” And the people of the same gender as the “speaker” are not sufficient to keep that person from causing an offense to another person.

            When someone tells you that you’re not safe around them, it’s generally best to believe them, I find. This kind of thing should absolutely have work consequences for the person with that view, unless the workplace is one so religious that it is the norm to accommodate that. I mean, I can see where an ultra-conservative business might forbid opposite-sex one-on-one meetings, but you KNOW that when you accept employment there!

            1. DataQueen*

              Oh no nothing like that…He means safer for him – not me – which is where my ew and rolling my eyes at him comes in. You wish, buddy!

              1. afiendishthingy*

                because… you might decide to work your feminine wiles on him at any time and he would be utterly powerless to resist. so Mother is there to keep you in line and to be his rock if you do start singing your siren song.

                SO MUCH YUCK

              2. SignalLost*

                Even worse! Look, just stop having feminine wiles, okay?

                (In all seriousness, it’s not better to reverse what I said – it might be somewhat worse, honestly. In a corporate context, not in all contexts – I wouldn’t want to meet someone who had assaulted me alone either. But wow, reversing it just signals that he would be powerless to cut that off st the start, so, uh, what about when the big account he manages wants a discount on their bill, will he be powerless to resist their wiles too?)

                1. Marty*

                  Except that this might not be about worries off some kind of lack of control, or anything that might happen when wife isn’t there. It could very easily be about mollifying wife’s jealous fits, or his churches victorian sentiments. It’s safer for him because he avoids a fight with his wife / doesn’t have to worry about rumors, not because of anything he or DataQueen might do.

                  (Of course that has its own set of disconcerting implications, but at least they aren’t so rapey or blatantly sexist.)

            2. Thatgirlwiththeglasses*

              I think you’re tumbling down the rabbit hole a bit here. DataQueen could absolutely make a fuss if she wanted to, but she doesn’t want to, there are potential issues of sexism and creating hostile work environment (?) it seems to me. Taken at face value, this is insulting not threatening.

          4. Courtney W*

            Well, no way I really want you to say you’re not coming to a business dinner, then unexpectedly be able to show up at the last minute without him having any advance warning. Because screw that guy.

            1. DataQueen*

              Yes! What would he do, call her from the bathroom and beg her to come? Leave? Experiment…

          5. Artemesia*

            Ridiculous. Even if a one on one is ‘forbidden’ it is idiotic for there to be an issue when there are many people at the meeting one of whom is a woman.

        3. bossy*

          VPOTUS is a male. He doesn’t need to socialize with women to get ahead. The reverse is rarely true.

          1. Mookie*

            This is why MGTOW seem so pitiful. The world already caters to those prejudices, gentlemen. Nothing about yearning for a male-only society is novel; that’s been the status quo for ages, that women can do invisible labor behind the scenes without sullying your eyes with their wanton bodies.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Unlike VPOTUS, the employee with uncharacteristically strict “moral rules” regarding “socializing” for business purposes is a woman. It’s much more likely to negatively affect her career prospects than if she were a man. #patriarchy

          1. The Rat-Catcher*

            ^Yes, that. It SHOULD inhibit career advancement if Employee were a man, but likely it won’t. #patriarchy indeed.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Sure—I wouldn’t, either. But in this case she’s the subordinate, not the manager.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Sorry, I just realized my prior comment is silly because we were speculating about managers who adopt the Pence/Robertson rule. Please disregard!

                If a manager adopted this policy/belief, it would be problematic, and frankly, they should not be managing, regardless of their gender.

      2. fposte*

        I’m hugely impressed with the OP for responding so well in the moment! That is not easy to do.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Very much agreed. I don’t know that I would have been so eloquent if an employee responded to me the way OP’s report did.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I mean, like… socializing with your coworkers of any gender isn’t really a requirement of any job. What a weird thing to say.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        And working with coworkers of all genders is a requirement of most jobs. Some socialization just makes it smoother and easier, in general.

      2. LCL*

        Alison posts more questions here than I would ever have expected that basically say ‘my coworkers want to hold non work conversations with me, I don’t want to, can they make me?’ Not socializing with opposite gender coworkers isn’t any weirder or annoying or more antisocial than not socializing in general.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I guess that depends on your definition of socializing. I don’t consider having some general chit-chat with colleagues as socializing. To me, that would involve doing things outside of the office.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had a letter that said that! Maybe one in 10 years? I do get a lot of “how can I get my coworkers to stop talking about my diet/my body/my pregnancy/my reproductive plans?” but that’s a different thing.

          I’ve had a couple of letters that say “I prefer to keep boundaries between work and my professional life and so I don’t want to share personal things with coworkers” — but that’s different than not wanting any chit chat at all.

          1. CM*

            I’ve seen letters that say things like, “My coworkers are asking me how I am / whether I have weekend plans and I find it incredibly intrusive!” where you’ve had to explain, these coworkers are not trying to investigate your personal life, they’re just making pleasant chitchat and most people consider these topics to be pretty neutral.

              1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

                Last weekend I attended a religious event. This week I started in a new job. I wouldn’t be happy to answer “what did you do on last weekend” in this situation because I don’t want to bring up my religion this early in a new workplace (and probably never make a public announcement about it). I can imagine several other reasons too why someone wouldn’t want to mention their weekend activities on a certain week.

                1. Shasie*

                  So just say I didn’t do anything. My BIL and SIL are getting a divorce so I spent the entire 4th weekend helping them move and my BIL has to live with us. Horrible all around. How was your 4th? Fine was my answer.

                2. paul*

                  I struggle with this because I can be kind of a private person, and because some of my hobbies get judged a bit (tabletop gaming, shooting, etc).

                  But at the same time, I’d swear I’ve read commenters and letters here that act like it’s just unprofessional to share any even minute personal details or to expect small amounts of social grease and basic chit chat. I’m not talking about a gay man being leery of revealing he has a male significant other because people can be crappy; I’m talking about people that seem flummoxed or irate that people talk about having seen a football game/movie/show/concert/gone to the park/whatever.

                3. Howdy Do*

                  Or just a non-specific variation of the truth…”socialized with friends” can apply to almost any activity with other people and it’s very unlikely anyone will follow up and ask DOING WHAT WITH WHAT FRIENDS!!?? because people are just asking to be polite (but would be open to hearing if you did do something particularly cool that you want to share, as long as the story isn’t too long.) I’m kind of just a curious person about what other people do for fun but I don’t pry and can tell pretty quickly if a person doesn’t care to share.

                4. hugseverycat*

                  I’m convinced that the only* reason people ask this question is so that you’ll ask it back at them and they’ll get to tell you about the cool thing they’re itching to tell you about but didn’t know how else to bring up.

                  So yeah, “Nothing much, you?” ably deflects the question and they don’t even care because they really wanted to talk about themselves anyway.

                  *I know this isn’t literally true, but it’s true enough.

                5. Mel*

                  When I was interviewing at the start of this year, I said I did a lot of “volunteering” in place of “taking part in political protests,” just to be on the safe side.

              2. Greg M.*

                I’m going to divert for a sec to address this actually. so I’m not one for small talk and when someone starts asking personal question like that I understand on one level they are trying to be friendly and social and are interested. However after years of bullying through school where personal question I was asked was basically a trap and could lead to something they’d bug me with for months I get kind of anxious at a lot of personal questions.

                Also I’ve had (emphasis on had) friends who felt to the need to overanalyze everything. And it now I feel a little suspicion at questions like that and sometimes I just want to focus on the thing at hand and not divert to talk about something happening later.

                Further another example I’ve got a coworker who borderline gaslights about stuff and when me and a coworker were talking about going to conbravo suddenly the other coworker is looking up the con and says he’s going to go. I think he was just joking but it was just another case of being afraid to talk about personal stuff. also https://captainawkward.com/2017/02/16/942-a-coworker-invited-herself-along-on-my-vacation/

              3. NextStop*

                I hate when people ask what I did over the weekend or such. The thing is, basically any topic can be a sore spot for someone. For all my acquaintances know, I could have spent the weekend at a meeting for recovering alcoholics or something. People know their own sore spots, so it makes more sense to me for everyone to volunteer whatever information they feel comfortable sharing, instead of demanding information from other people. Instead of asking what your acquaintance did over the weekend, why not just tell them what you did?

                I wouldn’t mind personal questions if people would accept, “I’d rather not say,” as an answer. But as you’ve pointed out before, that comes across as unsociable. So small talk questions are a trap: I have to tell the other person whatever they wanted to know, or get a reputation for coldness. Why won’t people accept “I’d rather not say”?

                1. Former Employee*

                  For all my acquaintances know, I could have spent the weekend at a meeting for recovering alcoholics or something.”

                  Response would be: Not much – hung out with friends. And how was your weekend?

                2. Liz T*

                  The problem with “I’d rather not say” is that it treats the question as far more probing and serious than it is. 90% of the time in my office people are just looking for something pleasant to fill the air while we’re both getting coffee. (Especially with higher ups, in my case–they’re trying to be friendly to the receptionist.) I do sometimes prep an answer to “Do anything fun this weekend?” but that’s because I know they don’t REALLY want a whole story. “Just relaxed” is a perfectly acceptable response.

                  “I’d rather not say” has the unintended affect of suggesting that something really bad happened. If you really want to communicate nothing, just say “Not much, you?”

                3. Thatgirlwiththeglasses*

                  This is a normal social convention and it’s pretty easy to put off. You don’t need to give an answer you are not comfortable with and this is where the “little white lie” comes in handy.

            1. Taylor Swift*

              Yeah, these people baffle me. It’s a really weird interpretation of what is 99.999% of the time just plain ol’ small talk.

    3. DrPeteLoomis*

      Yeah, I thought that response was weird too. Especially because the feedback she got was “It’s OK to have lunch with your colleagues” and she for some reason jumped to “You’re telling me I have to socialize with the opposite sex.” She sounds like she has some weird hang ups and at first was trying to push those on the OP. Good on the OP for clearing that up and also making it clear that she’s not going to accept shaming from her direct report – and she won’t accept the direct report shaming anyone else either.

      1. Blurgle*

        She was desperate to reframe the conversation to make herself the victim of OP’s ‘immoral’ requirements.

    4. TootsNYC*

      yeah, that struck me as weird too. She was determined to mishear you, I think.

      You said, “I want you to know it’s OK. I’ve found networking to be valuable, and I’d hate for you to miss out.” What in there says, “I want you to do this”?

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        Because it was said by her boss? Sometimes when a boss says “X is a good thing” it indeed means “you need to do X”.

  4. Miss Brittany*

    Does anyone else get super excited when they see “update:” in their feed? My eyes get wide and I let out a little involuntary squeal of excitement.

    1. BytetheBullet*

      Yes! There are so many letters where I’m actively waiting for an update, lol!

    2. Emily S.*

      Heck yeah, it’s fun to get updates – even if it’s been a really long time.

    3. Pathfinder Ryder*

      I spent a couple of months of slow days at work going through the entire update tag.

      Which is to say, yes.

  5. Just AnotherThought*

    I am SO glad you said something about this! It irks me when things like this just go by without anything saying anything and you handled it so well.

  6. Lady Phoenix*

    One of peeps in the White House said that… and it is just as stupid when he said it.

    If this was a fancy sitdown dinner where they serve lobster and fancy steaks and you are only with some guy that aint your husband, your coworker MAY have something to go by… but seriously? Food is just food. Having a lunch with someone doesn’t mean dating.

    1. Artemesia*

      Big difference between lunch during the work day and dinner unless it is a working dinner.

    2. DataQueen*

      But also, who cares what kind of meal it is? I don’t care if I’m having a candlelit dinner on the top of the Eiffel tower with my married coworker – how are my meals effecting your work?

    3. BytetheBullet*

      I once had a lobster dinner with a guy friend. Don’t make me feel belated guilt, haha!

      1. Knitty*

        Sushi with one of my husband’s best friends. Hubby has major hate for sushi, friend didn’t want to be a piggy alone lol. Seriously no big.

        1. many bells down*

          I’m taking one of my married male friends on a beer-tasting date. His wife doesn’t drink at all, and mine can’t drink beer generally (celiac). We’re going to go out alone and CONSUME ALCOHOL gasp.

          1. Rachel*

            Please excuse me while I go find some pearls to clutch

            Crap. I hate pearls. I don’t have a single one in the house. What am I supposed to do now?

            1. Dweali*

              TO THE FAINTING COUCH!!

              make sure someone is close by with the smelling salts though

      2. Janey*

        In college one of my guy friends took me out to a fancy seafood dinner and gave me the all-star fancy date treatment….. because my boyfriend was studying abroad and the friend wanted to make me feel nice. Did it look 100% like a romantic date? Yup. But then we left and had appletinis and played Super Smash Brothers, and then he went home. (And when my boyfriend found out about it, he said, “Awwwww, yay!!!” Reader, I married him).

      3. Pebbles*

        One of my best friends (of over 20 years!) is opposite sex as me. Met him at church, went to college with him, and now work in the next cube over from him. We hang out one-on-one fairly often and neither of our spouses care. True story: I have season tickets for hockey team, my husband doesn’t care for hockey, so I bring friend. We will go have drinks before and/or after the game. Once after the game, we are sitting at the bar chatting for awhile until I notice it’s pretty late, so I tell my friend “well, I better get you back home to your wife.” Oh the looks of horror we got! Still cracks me up!

    4. TootsNYC*

      It’s quite possible that some subtle body language existed–it IS TRUE that our OP had lunch with someone with whom she has a romantic and sexual relationship. That may have telegraphed.

      My boss’s husband came to the office once and I saw him standing in front of her desk. I knew instantly that he was her sweetheart (and so I assumed he was her husband, because I knew she was married), even though he didn’t do anything unusual (picked up a pen, I think), and even though she would often have a male colleague in her office doing exactly the same thing.
      There was a very subtle body language on both of their parts.

      The OP’s subordinate knew our OP was married, but unlike me she didn’t leap to the next assumption (“oh, her husband must have stopped by for the day” or “Oh, her husband must work here too”).

      That’s almost more worrisome a conclusion for her to come to (“my boss must be cheating” instead of “Oh, is that your husband?”).

    5. meat lord*

      I (female-assigned nonbinary person) went out for dinner on a business trip with a much older male coworker. We went to the nicest seafood restaurant in town (by accident, actually) and did, in fact have lobster.

      We’re both gay. It couldn’t have been further from a date.

  7. Holly*

    What an awesome response to the employee’s comment! I would also be interested to know how the employee responded to that..

  8. CAinUK*

    I would have pressed her a bit more when she got snippy with the “requirements of my job.” OP your response as perfectly professional and far more restrained, but if one of my employees basically said this (with what I’d imagine was a large pinch of attitude) I’d be tempted to say:

    “It isn’t. But being respectful to me and other coworkers and not letting your moral beliefs interfere with your attitude at work is. And right now I feel you aren’t meeting that requirement.”

    1. ZenJen*

      I would have been restraining myself from being snippy! Part of networking is being exposed to DIFFERENT people with DIFFERENT experiences and perspectives, and EMBRACING those differences. The employee sounds very close-minded, and I’d judge hard for not wanting to be curious or open to enjoying networking with interesting colleagues!

  9. Observer*

    Does this person have a tendency to not pick up on hints and subtle clues? How did she respond to your follow up?

    On the one hand, I can easily see why she thought you were pushing the idea of unofficially requiring the kind of socializing she doesn’t want to do. On the other hand, I think most people would at least have picked up that, at minimum, you don’t want her policing OTHER PEOPLE’S choice to socialize. Good for you for responding so clearly and definitively without being sharp.

  10. EastCoaster*

    OP, a question: where are you located? I’m always so surprised about many gender-based assumptions revealed by people in AAM letters (“The employee said that she doesn’t believe socializing with the opposite sex was a requirement of her job.” is rife with implications!) and I wonder if I am missing out on this in my professional life because of my location (east coast!) or profession (which is more woman-heavy than others, certainly).

    Other people as well, I’d be interested in hearing different experiences with how much old gender rules seem to impact perceptions of networking/socializing in your office, along with your location and field.

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        I’m in NYC. Most of my coworkers are male. Not that I dont’ get along with females or there’s any bias against women in this office, but I’m friends with the males. Lunch, coffee, drinks, chatting.

        FWIW I’m from a conservative cultural & religious background that encourages gender segregation, so reading this just definitely makes me cringe hard.

        1. Lucie*

          I’m a female in manufacturing, I can’t imagine how these women must think about when I go on a business trip with our quality guy or whatever.

      2. Just another voice in the echo chamber*

        This article is exactly what came to mind when I read this post. Unbelievable in this day and age!

      3. CityMouse*

        I can’t believe this. My husband’s team partner is a woman and we socialize with her and her husband regularly. He literally could not do his job without working with her one-on-one. This attitude holds women back in traditional male jobs and vice versa.

      4. Antilles*

        I’m most stunned about the “driving a car” percentages. What are people *doing* in their cars that 29% of men/38% of women assume “operating a motor vehicle” is automatically inappropriate?

        1. Beth*

          I was actually fascinated that more people find it appropriate to be trapped in a car with someone, where no one else can see the people in the car, vs. being at a dinner where others CAN see what you are doing.

        2. Ramona Flowers*

          My friend’s husband is an ambulance tech and partners with a female paramedic. It would never have occurred to me that anyone would take issue with this!

        3. The Rat-Catcher*

          We are required to carpool if going to the same location, or we are not reimbursed for our mileage. How exactly would that work? Mind-boggling.

      5. Ramona Flowers*


        My grandboss reports to a woman, line manages four women, and met with a woman (me) yesterday because I’ve been off with (non work related) stress and he wanted to check I felt okay to be at work. I feel really sad that some people think none of the people I just mentioned should be allowed to have 1:1 meetings. I’ve needed to meet with at least two other male colleagues for work in the last week. My mind is boggled.

        1. TootsNYC*

          their responses may have been more “it would be inappropriate for me to do it” or “I feel it’s inappropriate when I do it.”

      6. Mockingjay*

        Good grief! I am the only woman on my team. I have frequent lunches and work meetings with the group and one-to-one.

        There’s no way I could perform my job credibly without being able to meet individually with a male colleague to work on a project.

        All of us are married, not that it makes a difference (for me, at any rate).

    1. not my usual alias*

      I live in the Bible Belt and this would still be considered odd and backward by most employed people (in my area, women who feel this way tend to not be in the workforce).

      1. Antilles*

        I am also a resident of the Bible Belt and attend a fairly conservative church…and yeah, refusing to meet a work colleague for a business lunch due to gender would absolutely be considered odd and backwards by the vast majority of people.

      2. Annabelle*

        Same. My office skews left, but I’m fairly certain this attitude is a fringe one even in the Deep South.

      3. Sylvia*

        Same here. I’m in the South and, with one exception, everywhere I’ve worked has skewed to the right. This would be considered strange at best.

      4. Velma*

        As an unmarried 30 year old woman, I taught at a Southern Baptist college in the South twenty years ago and individual meetings with male colleagues (not to mention male students) were no problem, nor the occasional lunch.

        1. Thatgirlwiththeglasses*

          I live in Israel and I’ve had several meetings in Jerusalem. This attitude is not uncommon, but there are professional ways around it. No handshakes, but then no one will shake hands, meetings are open and mixed, and when a superior must meet with a subordinate of the opposite sex, you keep the door open and your voice low…or have glass doors.

          I don’t work in this type of office, just meet with clients who do. Everyone is still friendly… And they learn that asking a Tel Avivian personal questions can be quite shocking :-D

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      I’m not sure what you mean by “gender-based assumptions”–do you mean assumptions by people about genders, assumptions held by people of specific genders, or assumptions about how people of different genders should interact socially? However, regardless, I promise you there are people on the east coast who feel the same way as the OP’s employee.

      1. EastCoaster*

        Oh, I mean assumptions on what are appropriate workplace interactions that are based on the gender of those who are interacting, and not on the actions themselves.
        And I’m sure they exist on the east coast, but they just come up a lot more than I would expect on AAM, and a lot more than they do in the day-to-day lives of my friends, so I thought I’d ask if this feels particularly regional to them or others!

        1. Trig*

          They probably come up a lot because they are particularly baffling and tricky to handle, which is exactly the kind of thing you write to an advice column to handle!

    3. Temperance*

      I’m in the northeast, too, and a former evangelical. The men in my church followed the “Billy Graham Rule”, like Mike Pence does. Thankfully I’m out of that nightmare and work with men who largely treat us as equals and not potential Jezebels.

    4. paul*

      I just did a straw poll of my coworkers (all women). None of them feel that way and we’re in the bible belt.

      I don’t think it’s unheard of but I don’t think it’s the default here either.

      1. NEW YEAR, NEW ME*

        OP, this person doesn’t try to disencourage others from fraternizing. I hate it when people’s other POVs impact others’ chances for professional growth and even just new friendships. As you get older, your social circles change. And as a single person, I find it a challenge to meet new people; even just to make new acquaintances.

    5. AthenaC*

      I have been in public accounting for 10 years, and I have worked in Alaska, Washington (state), Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois (both Chicago and a small town near Indiana), and upstate New York. I have been one-on-one with male colleagues (I’m female, btw) in multiple situations – mentoring lunches, mentoring dinners, mentoring coffees, closed-door meetings for performance purposes (good and bad, both giving and receiving), working early, working late, grabbing breakfast because we’re working early, grabbing dinner because we’re working late, taking a break together and grabbing coffee mid-afternoon, grabbing a drink after work.

      TL/DR: I have always been in a situation (in three different firms in multiple offices) where men and women work together interchangeably and relate to each other as colleagues rather than as men or women.

      I enjoy and have benefited from the professional relationships I have developed with male peers and superiors. And I would like to think that male subordinates enjoy and have benefited from their professional relationship with me. I really couldn’t imagine it any other way.

    6. Anon for This*

      I work for a politician in the South, and mixed-gender meals/meetings/etc. are common, whether it’s a group or one-on-one. Personally, I take it on a case-by-case basis. A former colleague tried to sexually assault me any time we were alone together, so when I discovered that pattern of behavior, no, I wouldn’t be alone with him for any reason. For anyone else? Until (generic) you act like a jerk, or unless you have a rep for practically assaulting female colleagues, I’ll do the lunches/meetings/etc.

      On a different note, it’s quite common in ministerial circles that male pastors do not hold individual counseling sessions with female parishioners – either (usually) the pastor’s wife or (otherwise) a female staff member will also be in the session. It’s considered wise to have a witness/prevent rumors/avoid the least appearance of impropriety – not because one “can’t trust” oneself alone with the other, but because of perceptions.

      1. Anon for This*

        And I should clarify two of my own points:

        Assault from a coworker – there were many issues in that dysfunctional place, which is why I left.

        And I should say that it’s quite common in *some* ministerial circles; I’m sure that varies by region/denomination/degree of conservatism. It’s probably somewhat analogous to doctors never doing *anything* without a nurse/assistant present.

  11. irritable vowel*

    I hope you did a little internal end zone dance or something after that, because you totally nailed it!

    1. fposte*

      And as the article notes, it goes even beyond sad to being deleterious.

      It also feels kind of sheltered to me; most work fields I know involve plenty of one to one contact with people, whether they’re co-workers or customers/patients. I can’t imagine considering this a viable stance if you’re familiar with most working environments.

  12. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

    OP, I am incredibly impressed. I love that you didn’t let this lie and your response to her clearly bristling at being told she was wrong was brilliant.

    Honestly, her attitude about this entire situation, including her response when you spoke to her about it, would make me keep a closer eye on her interactions with other employees

    1. sap*

      Yeah, seriously! If this woman believes that she shouldn’t be socializing with opposite sex people outside of work, that’s her own business and that’s fine by me, and I wouldn’t assume that she’d be anything less than socially and professionally appropriate unless there was evidence to the contrary.

      But she has already demonstrated that she IS policing others’ perfectly normal behavior, and is so oblivious that policing lunches isn’t generally done in an office that she thought it would be just peachy to police her boss’s lunches?!?. And then when her boss sat her down for a polite conversation about the policing behavior… She responded as if her boss was the unreasonable person. Yikes.

  13. Mike C.*

    While having lunch with members of the opposite sex is not a requirement for the job, I’m sure that interacting with people regardless of gender or sex on an equal basis certainly is.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*


      One of the things I love about my job is that they went out of their way to specifically address this in training: “you will be working with clients and coworkers of many different lifestyles, religious practices, identities, and familial arrangements. You’re welcome to your own moral beliefs regarding these, but it is a requirement of your job that you behave courteously to everyone and treat clients and coworkers with respect at all times. Your religious beliefs are not a reason to deny high-quality service to any of our clients.” They did go on to provide specific examples regarding same-sex relationships, clients going through gender transition, and clients who are not able to hold interest-bearing products because of their religious requirements. I wanted to cheer.

  14. MI Dawn*

    I have a (male) friend whose (second) wife has not only alienated him from most of his previous female friends, even platonic friends, she has interfered with his work. He is a director with both male and female reports. Several times she has (per his report) raised the roof about him meeting with a female report with the door closed. She, like this employee, refuses to speak to people of the opposite sex unless work related. I’ve seen her ignore a man who accidentally bumped into us, who sincerely apologized. I accepted it but the poor man felt awful because she totally gave him the cold shoulder, saying “I don’t speak to men”.

    1. BytetheBullet*

      You’d assume not meeting with female reports would be an excellent case for gender-based discrimination.

      1. Buffy Summers*

        Would it still be if it was due to religious beliefs? This is not sarcasm – I’m really curious to know how that might play out in court.
        On one hand, you’ve got religious discrimination if the employer requires him to meet with females behind closed doors. (Right? or am I crazy?)
        On the other you’ve got gender-based discrimination.
        Who wins in that case?

        1. BytetheBullet*

          I agree, that’s a very tricky overlap! I’d love a legal expert to weigh in.

        2. Clinical Social Worker*

          Religious views are not supposed to trump discrimination…You can’t say “my religious views mean I can’t serve gays.”

            1. Observer*

              That’s a very different case, though. There is a difference between serving someone who is gay and providing a service to facilitate specific actions. If the bakery had refused to make a fancy cake for them, this would not be in the news – they would have already been dealt with. The only reason that this is in court is because the couple wanted a wedding cake, ad the bakery’s religious beliefs preclude gay marriage.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Unfortunately you can say just that in many states. I believe that case is hitting the supreme court soon but I’m not optimistic.

            Gender is a protected class though.

          2. Sylvia*

            That depends on where you are. My landlord could decide that LGBT people can’t live here.

            Although, based on the diversity of my neighbors, it looks like my landlord’s happy with everyone.

            1. DArcy*

              It very much depends on where you are, and it can be split — several states provide civil rights protections for gays and lesbians, but not trans people.

        3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Well, here’s how it would play out:

          “It is a requirement of the managerial role to meet one-on-one with your reports in order to provide coaching and guidance, to carry out performance reviews, and to have other confidential discussions. If you are not comfortable with doing this, then maybe managing people is not the role for you.”

          Religious accommodation doesn’t mean letting someone fill a role if they’re not willing to carry out the core duties. Giving feedback to all reports is pretty core.

        4. Alton*

          This would be a religious accommodation issue, and accommodations have to be reasonable. If the accommodation is causing discrimination against other groups or is legitimately interfering with business, safety, or legal compliance, it’s probably not going to be deemed reasonable.

          Generally, unless you work for a private religious employer (like a church or Catholic school), there’s a limit to how much companies can enforce rules based on religion. So yes, it’s still gender discrimination.

          1. TootsNYC*

            and so it’s not so much necessary to meet “privately” as “confidentially”

            So perhaps an office w/ a glass wall or window would suffice, etc. There are ways to accommodate both needs.

            1. Observer*

              Yes, that’s probably true. Especially since glass walled offices are actually quite common anyway.

        5. SignalLost*

          My suspicion, entirely from reading this blog, is that the religious discrimination claim falls apart because accommodations can’t cause an undue hardship to the employer and refusing to manage women to the same standard as an employee manages men (by not having one-on-ones, etc) would open the company up to discrimination lawsuits, which would be more of a hardship than not being able to accommodate this person’s religious conviction.

        6. Kriss*

          Isn’t the legal terminology “reasonable accommodation “. If someone with both male & female direct reports because of religion isn’t supposed to be alone with members of the opposite sex, it sounds like they aren’t able to their job & it would be unreasonable to deny their direct reports access to their boss & unacceptable to limiting their direct reports to being the same sex or gender as them so I would think the religious accommodation would get dropped in favor of not being discriminatory based on sex or gender.

        7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          As Alton noted, under federal antidiscrimination law it’s extremely unlikely that this would be seen as a reasonable religious accommodation if the employer is secular and the company is not a closely-held family business (see: Hobby Lobby). Usually, the gender-based discrimination claim will trump the “I can’t meet privately and one-on-one with female reports” claim.

          But it’s also disturbing to me that we have a third party (the wife) interfering with employment relationships. It sounds like she holds a belief (unclear if it’s religious), but it doesn’t sound like her husband has the same sincerely held belief/interpretation of his religious practice. If that’s the case, then religious accommodation doesn’t even apply because the wife has no standing to interfere in the employer/employee relationship.

          Anti-LGBT-discrimination is treated differently under federal law depending on the state you are in, the context of the interaction, etc. Historically, courts have not interpreted the “gender/sex” provisions of Title VII and Title IX to prohibit discrimination on the basis of LGB+ identity so long as someone could demonstrate a “rational basis” for that discrimination (that has been shifting for T/I identity, but it’s still in play). And a lot of the time that “rational basis” was pretty shoddy and rooted in non-factual, unsubstantiated, pseudo-scientific “studies” that were fundamentally homophobic.

          This has been shifting since Windsor and Perry, but it’s telling that the Supreme Court has recently rejected appeals from courts that held that anti-LGBT discrimination in the context of secular public accommodations (e.g., cake makers) is unlawful.

      2. Chriama*

        I think they would have to accommodate his beliefs as long as it didn’t adversely affect women. So if he could have meetings with someone from HR in the room, or in a room with glass walls (so it’s totally visible) I think that would work. If he could just not be alone with them ever that would be a problem. And as HR I’d be taking a hard look at salaries, promotion opportunities, etc, to make sure he wasn’t freezing out women by default – e.g. if he can’t have a casual conversation with them about their performance or career goals, is he less likely to offer them new opportunities or high profile projects than the men to whom he can just say “step into my office, I want to talk to you about x”.

        1. Buffy Summers*

          Anything’s possible – I was just thinking that there is more than one religion out there that prohibits men and women from being alone together. Some even prohibit touching between members of the opposite sex unless they’re family. So I wondered if that might be at play.
          Of course, it could be that she’s just extremely jealous. But there could be other reasons.

          1. MI Dawn*

            He’s not religious at all, and she’s supposedly a lapsed Catholic. She states it’s cultural (Middle Eastern) upbringing which doesn’t explain why she’s forcing it onto her spouse.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah. Cultural is not an acceptable excuse in this context, and as you noted, it’s a huge overreach for her to try to impose this on her spouse. And although I am usually pro-inclusion, on this matter, I think it’s important for people to realize that American work norms are distinct, and it’s not really appropriate to try to enforce exclusionary norms (which is what the wife is advocating) imported from other social contexts.

        2. MI Dawn*

          Yep. she’s rather…an interesting person that way. Another time she ripped his head off for his behavior at a party for answering questions to the host’s daughter about riding motorcycles. NOT about the subject, but that he was smiling and talking to her. He got the silent treatment for a week that time.

          1. Panda Bandit*

            She’s crossed the line into abusive. Trying to control who someone interacts with and how they interact with them is one of the signs.

            1. MI Dawn*

              No, she’s well over that line. He recognizes that, but for many reasons, most of them complex, he refuses to leave her. Examples: he doesn’t want to be alone, at his age (near retirement); due to her behavior he’s lost most of his other friends and activities and feels he can’t go back, and they have a lot of joint debts now (houses, etc).

              He knows he has safe places to go, but doesn’t wish to do anything. So I just give him my support and continued friendship.

              Sad comment: he’s planning on retiring in the next several months and they will move out of state. He continually states I’d be welcome to “visit anytime.” I look at him and say, “you know better than that; I refuse to cause you grief by giving your wife reasons to abuse you.” He has no answer to that except, “I know”.

              It breaks my heart; we’ve been very close friends for nearly 20 years, and I warned him before he left his wife to marry this woman that he should live alone and just date her for a while. But he jumped into marriage as soon as his divorce was final and now feels trapped.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Ugh, that’s awful, and I’m so sorry. It sounds like classic abuse, including his feelings of guilt and that he cannot leave her (and that he lacks a social support network). If you think he’d be willing/able/interested, it may make sense to refer him to the national DV outline. I’m sorry that he’s suffering this way.

    2. SamSam*

      One of our company’s directors is in an office with glass walls, and when his wife came by he was in a meeting with one of his direct reports. When my coworker went to the bathroom, the wife confronted her about her “inappropriate” outfit of a skirt and loose sleeveless top. It was just so over-the-line to the point of absurdity. God forbid he work with women out of his glass office in the middle of an open office.

  15. MicroManagered*

    How slick is it that OP didn’t even mention she was actually married to the man she had lunch with?! I love it!

  16. Myrin*

    How strange to react to “Please don’t feel like you can’t do Thing if you so choose” with “I don’t believe Thing is a requirement of my job”. It’s like she was mentally taking part in a totally different conversation.

    You handled this really beautifully regardless, OP!

    1. fposte*

      I’ve had conversations kind of like this with dysfunctional people (okay, I’m thinking relatives); anything that isn’t condemning [topic] is to them insisting they take part in [topic].

      1. kb*

        I can never tell if people who do this have just honed in on a strangely effective form of manipulation or if they truly are living in a different reality than the rest of us.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Ditto. I think it also helps them feel self-righteous about their choice re: [topic], particularly when it’s pointed out that their conclusions are unreasonable or more nuanced/complex than they’re suggesting. In both circumstances, people tend to get defensive, and I think one of the ways they cope with feeling embarrassed is to reframe the issue in somewhat absurd terms so they can feel that they “won.”

    2. Erin*

      Yes, super strange. OP told her should could do It and employee said I don’t have to do It. Okay? Nobody said you did?

      If I were OP that would have really thrown me off but she handled it beautifully!

    3. Sylvia*

      I think she was embarrassed at her misinterpretation and went on the defensive. She might have expected some commentary on her beliefs, too.

  17. Kate*

    Ooh, this is a great update. This letter hit a nerve with me because I work in a male dominated field and often have lunch with married men (who are not my husband), so it irks me when people assume there’s some romantic intent. OP, your responses were so perfect. You managed to stay firm, but nonjudgmental. I hope to take a page from your book if something like this comes up for me.

    1. TootsNYC*

      do remember, thought, that there *was* romantic intent. The subordinate was not incorrect when she deduced that there was a romantic relationship between them.

      Of course, she leaped straight to “you’re having an affair” instead of “Is that your husband?”

      And the problem is that even if the OP *had* been having an affair, the subordinate should have kept her comments to herself.

      It’s sort of like, “I was playing video games with the volume on low, and my neighbor complained about the noise.” There WAS noise, and the neighbor COULD hear. The only question is, is it appropriate for the neighbor to complain? If it’s after 10pm, and it’s impacting her sleep, then yes, the neighbor should complain. If it’s 9pm, then maybe not–we’re entitled to make ordinary noises in our homes.

      1. Kate*

        I somewhat disagree. From the original letter:

        “She said she thought it was inappropriate that I was going to lunch with a man, ‘who is also married.’ She said she thought it would give the wrong impression and she was worried about my standing in the company if people got the wrong idea.”

        That actually doesn’t indicate the subordinate thought the OP was having an affair or romantically involved with her male lunch companion, but was concerned about how it would *look*. The fact that he was OP’s husband is just coincidental imo (and of course, my comment about romantic intent was about my own experience). I think there are actually a few problems here: the concern, the comments, and the attitude.

        Was the employee refraining from socializing with male coworkers for fear of how others would perceive it? I think the OP’s first response was a really kind way to address that and explained the value of socializing.

        Is she commenting on others’ behavior or otherwise letting her moral beliefs interfere with her work? I agree with both you and the OP in telling the employee she should only mention behaviors that directly impact her work, but even if she’s not commenting to others, these attitudes can be harmful to employees in the workplace. Socializing with colleagues is a great way to network and build mentoring relationships that can be beneficial to your career, so limiting those interactions can really limit your career. If the employee finds herself in a managerial position, will she only work with her female subordinates thus limiting the opportunities for her male subordinates? Or will she treat people she sees socializing with colleagues of the opposite gender unfairly in terms of providing them opportunities? I know that it’s really hard to change people’s minds on these things, and I doubt that the OP made the employee see the error of her ways by this short interaction, but she did let the employee know these were not shared views, and I personally see value in that.

  18. Bossy Magoo*

    And the letter writer wasn’t saying that socializing with a member of the opposite sex is a *requirement* of the job, she was saying that she shouldn’t feel that people *can’t* do it. In other words, she wasn’t telling the employee “you should be having lunch with married men” – she was saying, “don’t feel like you can’t have lunch with married men”.

  19. Damn it, Hardison!*

    OP, kudos to you for handling the situation in a thoughtful and direct manner!

    There was an article in the NYT this weekend on a survey that addressed the issue of men and women working/socializing with members of the opposite sex. One quarter of survey respondents indicated that work meetings with members of the opposite sex are inappropriate (the numbers of people who disapprove of having drinks or dinner with someone of the opposite sex is even higher). I found the survey results incredibly disheartening. (The comments on the article were also scary). Here’s the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/01/upshot/members-of-the-opposite-sex-at-work-gender-study.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fus&action=click&contentCollection=us&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=60&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

  20. Forrest*

    “It isn’t, but neither is policing the behavior of agency personnel.”

    Oh snap! (That’s a good thing.)

  21. Emily S.*

    LW: Very well done.
    You’ve shown yourself to be a positive, yet firm manager in this interaction — excellent.

  22. Stephanie the Great*

    This is the most beautiful, amazing managerial response I have ever seen, and I love you for it, OP. You are a BOSS. In the very best ways :)

    1. OP*

      Thank you! I think my jaw hurt from clenching to keep what I WANTED to say from tumbling out by the end of the convo.

  23. Get a Haircut*

    Beautifully put! I’ve been following this one with interest, because I unknowingly made a faux-pas to this effect once. I’d said something to the effect of I’d thought you and (male colleague) maybe went for coffee. She went into this diatribe about of course she wouldn’t be getting coffee with *him*, she’s married. Ugh.

      1. JulieBulie*

        Right – to most people, “getting coffee” means getting coffee. To the coworker, it means “attending a caffeine-fueled midday orgy.”

  24. Anna*

    Great job OP! I can’t help but hear a very loud sniff after her statement about lunch with the opposite sex not being a job requirement.

  25. Annie Mouse*

    Nicely handled LW!

    I know I work in a bit of a different environment but I’d love to know what people like this employee (and the others like her in that survey) would think of me and how scandalised they’d be… I not only spend the majority of up to 14 hours a day in a confined space with another person, often a male colleague, but I eat with said colleague and sometimes have coffee with them (and they occasionally are the ones to pay). And, I regularly end up sleeping in the same room as them, and others, because the only thing that makes night shifts bearable is the 30 minutes asleep on the sofa in the common area! It’s not something that has ever made me, any of my colleagues (as far as I know), or my family, think twice about it or be concerned but I’m a bit amused to imagine to know how much outrage it could cause!!

  26. Iris Eyes*

    In many cultures who you chose to eat with is a BIG deal. If cultural precedent isn’t enough, there have been some studies that have shown that eating with people is inherently more intimate than say sitting around a table with no food.
    And just like many here are doing, we tend to judge people on our cultural values not theirs.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      [citation needed]

      I’m not trying to be sarcastic. But your citing vaguely to “many cultures” and “some studies” doesn’t really have relevance to this OP, who is in the US. Here, denying women the opportunity to have the same business and networking opportunities as men on the basis of that men shouldn’t be alone with women has a discriminatory effect, and it’s not ok. And I’m not buying your “intimacy” argument, either. What kind of intimacy? As far as I know, the long history of work lunches between men hasn’t caused all those men into romantic relationships with each other. It can certainly create *bonding*, in a way, the kind of bonding that can form the basis of a good business relationship–and that’s exactly why it’s wrong to exclude women from those kinds of opportunities.

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding what you meant by your comment?

  27. bunniferous*

    So much of this does depend on personal culture. I used to go to a large church that had these rules for the pastors. Remember one reason Billy Graham had the rule is because there was concern someone would try to set him up and cause a scandal . These things do happen to well known folks, clergy and such. That said, I do not think Jesus has a problem with the occasional business lunch.

    1. CA Admin*

      I’m sorry, but I find this whole idea extremely problematic. As a society, we can’t ostracize women from positions of power (at work, socially, in religious communities, etc.) simply because they’re women. And don’t try to argue that it cuts the other way–people or organizations that espouse that view tend to be led by men and have a very heavy male presence at the top.

      Just because some organizations do doesn’t make it right, even (or especially) if it’s a church. Fear of scandal (likely misplaced at that) is far less damaging to society than the oppression of and lack of opportunities for women. By doing this, a single powerful man is saying that the slight chance of damage to his reputation is more important than opportunities for all the women under him in the organization. Which is gross and wrong.

        1. CA Admin*

          Why thank you! It’s a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot, given the current political situation and the industry I’m in (private equity).

      1. afiendishthingy*

        It’s also really problematic to set the default expectation in a harrassment case to “woman making it up for attention/money/revenge”. Just say no to victim blaming.

        1. CA Admin*

          So true! I didn’t want to go there in my original response because even if you assume the man is telling the truth over the woman (not how I typically fall, but I fully recognize my own biases might not be how everyone will see things), it’s *still* a bad way to go about things. But you’re right–so many powerful men get away with sexual harassment and assault because people don’t believe women (even lots and lots of them) who share their experiences. Just look at Bill Cosby.

        2. Sydney Bristow*

          It is also very specific. Do these people never have work done on their homes for fear that a construction worker will fake an injury and sue them for everything they have?

        3. Mookie*

          It’s also really problematic to set the default expectation in a harrassment case to “woman making it up for attention/money/revenge”. Just say no to victim blaming.

          And they can never actually name a woman who did this, who brought about the ruin of a good man by eating chicken salad in front of him. They’re sure that the world is brimming with lying women and their sweet, sweet rape money, though.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          YES! This is the part I find most gross about these sorts of “rules.” The first gross thing is that it presumes that men can’t control themselves around women, which is gross. I’m not lowering my standard for men just because some of them can’t interact with women without immediately considering them as sex objects.

          The second gross part is the suggestion that women are liars and misreport harassment for personal gain. It’s the same rationale that people use to discredit information regarding the prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment. (To be honest, the men who I hear bring this up the most often are men who have usually been accused—and those accusations have been substantiated—of engaging in discriminatory conduct.) Are there false reports? Sure, sometimes. Are there exponentially more complaints or incidents that are left unreported? You bet your bottom dollar there is.

      2. bunniferous*

        Well, back when I was heavy into this, I thought of it as protecting my own reputation as well. But as an older woman who is rethinking a lot of things, a lot of those old rules are pretty silly. But in some conservative areas (I live in the South) there are still a lot of folks who would get the raving fantods if they saw a man and a woman having lunch with folks who were not their spouses. But as long as there was more than two people at lunch it suddenly becomes nonproblematic.

        I do think if someone is prone to have an affair, they will have it, and if not, it does not matter. I never had an issue with my husband dealing with the opposite sex, but I know he is not the type to mess around, too.

    2. not my usual alias*

      Yes, it *is* true that often the man isn’t worried that either he or the woman will be tempted, he’s simply concerned that others may take it the wrong way (which obviously happens) or that someone might be trying to set him up (which probably happens, I guess, but seems like it would be a lot less frequent). But that doesn’t make it okay. I would hope that if, for example, a magazine wanted to interview Billy Graham, he would have said “let’s do it in my office with my secretary present” instead of “okay, but only if you send a male reporter.”

      1. Temperance*

        So the way it actually works is that Graham would ask for a male reporter. People who believe in Titus 2 aren’t generally concerned with making sure that women have equal representation at work.

    3. afiendishthingy*

      … I’m pretty sure it’s considerably less common for a woman to “set up” a man in the workplace and “cause a scandal” than it is for men to actually sexually harass women. This rationale strikes me as pretty misogynistic.

      1. Observer*

        Two things.

        1. If a woman is going in to set someone up, she’s probably not the one who thought of the idea.

        2. It does protect victims from harassment, to some extent. There is a reason that a lot of medical professionals, for instance, are set up to have a nurse always in the room, or able to come into the room during exams. And why many schools now have rules that every classroom has a nice big window so that someone can look in at any time. None of these are there to protect the teacher / provider. And the truth is that a lot of people DO change their behavior when there is the possibility that someone is watching.

        Although I have to tell you that it does protect the teachers, too. At least with teachers, I know of stories where accusations have been made (not necessarily molestation, but still serious issues) where having a tape of the classroom has shown that the complaint was not valid.

    4. Mookie*

      Setting aside the risible suggestion that unnamed “well known folks” had their careers ruined by eating lunch in a public place with a nefarious woman itching for a scandal (Restaurantgate, I guess), who cares what Jesus might have thought about anything? This isn’t a theocracy and the employee can refuse to eat food in front of whomever she likes; she needs to lay off other people, though, and stop projecting her fantasies on them.

    5. Observer*

      On a separate note, I believe that the rule was not to have meetings ALONE with a member of the opposite sex. Not to never meet one on one even in public.

  28. Noah*

    Awesome, but we want to know how she responded to the last quote. The statement, “she doesn’t believe socializing with the opposite sex was a requirement of her job,” is so incredibly defensive that it’s hard not to suspect the employee of having an affair with a coworker.

  29. Interviewer*

    “… neither is policing the behavior of agency personnel.”

    We don’t always get moments like these in HR, but when we do … (fist bump on the chest, then point at you).

  30. Velma*

    Is anyone else thinking that the employee who called her boss’s daughter a whore is now working for this OP?

  31. I stilll have a fax machine*

    I was at a minor league baseball game with my wife and her BFF a few years ago. Sometimes at Minor League games they have a “KISS CAM” which takes pictures of couples and shows them on the scoreboard between innings. My wife went to get some snacks ans somehow me and the friend wound up on screen; and did a major Hollywood type over the top kiss. My wife saw this from another section and found this hilarious, but some co worker was at the game and saw it and I had to explain it to HR the next day.

    1. Afiendishthingy*

      That’s weird- why is it hr’s business who you kiss on your own time?

      1. cornflower blue*

        Yes, why is that any of their business? Both coworker and HR are out of line here.

  32. Be the Change*

    I dodged *such* a bullet many years ago when my extremely conservative, religious, and crazy-ass jealous fiance dumped me because I, er, had a history. He also couldn’t STAND it that I made more money than he did, had more education than he did, and, due to the jealously, especially hated it that I worked in a male dominated field. *I actually offered to change fields to a more female one so he would feel comfortable.* I sigh with embarrassment….

    ….I only wish I’d had the steel to dump him the first time he growled about me meeting with a male colleague, in public, but in a one-on-one. But like I say it was many years ago and I wasn’t as confident as I am now.

    1. LNZ*

      And of course he was a virgin who never went further than holdijg hands and he never socialized with any women ever right

      1. Be the Change*

        Actually that was literally true, which is one of the reasons I didn’t have the steel. He wasn’t being a hypocrite, just a jackass.

    2. Observer*

      How in heavens name did you guys even get engaged in the first place? That’s just so weird.

      I do get how you might have felt the pressure to “get a man”, and I’m soo glad you’re well past that. But what was up with him? He clearly thought he could “do better”.

  33. Ann Onimous*

    I love the general tone of OP’s reply, but I’m a bit confused.
    What do you mean that socializing with the opposite sex is not in the job description? Is this some sort of women-only office/department?? What does your employee do when she needs to interact with the opposite sex for work-related tasks?!

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      I’m really hoping “socializing” in this case is “meeting for primarily non-work purposes”. I wouldn’t normally consider talking about work stuff to be socializing, even though it’s certainly an activity involving social skills.

    2. Observer*

      You don’t have to go to lunch with people to get your work done. You DO need to talk to them – respectfully and politely, but you don’t even have to chitchat with people. So actually socializing is generally not in the job description.

      1. Ann Onimous*

        Oh, good point. In my line of work, socializing (at least during lunch) is kind of a given. Meaning you can decline… but in the end you’d only alienate yourself from the rest of the team.

  34. Sanity Lost*

    This caused a laugh. Years ago my parents worked for the same company in completely different roles, departments and even buildings. Dad was the VP of teapot quality and Mum was a bookkeeper in A/R. Sometimes Dad would have to travel to Mum’s building to attend meetings. When he did, he would have lunch with her, no big deal right? I should point out that by this time, they had been married for years and had the same last name. In fact I was a teenager at the time.

    One day Mum comes home absolutely furious and Dad is looking like the cat that ate the canary. Turns out that Dad had to go to Mum’s building for a meeting and took his “girlfriend” (Mum) to lunch in the building cafeteria. Mum’s boss comes up to her and asks Dad “Do you know this woman is married”? According to Dad it was said in a very snide and condescending voice. I should note Dad was 1 of the upper VP’s in this company, and Mum’s boss….wasn’t.

    Dad being my Dad, jumped up and said at the top of his voice “YOU DIDN’T TELL ME YOU WERE MARRIED! 17 YEARS TOGETHER! WHAT WILL I TELL THE CHILDREN!??” Mum is absolutely mortified and tells her boss “I take it you haven’t met my husband yet?” “Sr., this is my boss, now sit DOWN!” Boss turns bright red and starts back to her office, with my Dad still going “Honey , I love you, please lets work this out!” Mum was ready to smack him and Dad was enjoying it to the hilt.

    I don’t know what the professional outcome to all of this was, as my parents rarely brought work gossip home.
    However, Mum did mention that her boss was VERY CAREFUL around Mum for a while.

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