I don’t want to eat or travel alone with people of the opposite sex

A reader writes:

I have a question that I’ve been getting mixed advice on from my normal go-to work people.

I don’t have to travel very often for my job, but when I do I’ve generally been by myself or in a group of three or more. Same thing with any business lunches I take. But it’s getting to the point in my job where I will have to do some more short-term business travel (as in hours traveling in a vehicle, not a flight) because of accounts I handle, and I’m handling more and more interactions with vendors at business lunches, and sometimes there’s just no one else going but me and one other person.

The issue is that I have a pretty strong objection to attending travel or lunches by myself if the vendor rep or person I’m with is of the opposite sex. I just honestly am not comfortable with how it might appear to others who don’t know it’s business-related (The company is located in a small town, and it’s not uncommon to see many people who I work with if I go out to lunch.) There’s also the problem that things can happen between consenting adults, and even though that’s the last thing on my mind, I’d prefer to not allow the question to form in anyone’s mind (again, small town, smallish company, lots of scuttlebutt) or to create an opportunity for anything. My husband has also admitted that it would make him uncomfortable too, and holds himself to the same standard I do. My supervisor, who has to travel with me on occasion, is male and close to my age, so that makes it worse.

I have no issue with anyone who doesn’t object to this like I do. But I’ve talked to others (my grand-boss included, who is female) who make it seem like I’m way outside of the norm. Is there a way to tactfully say no in these cases? Am I way off-base here? I searched your site but can’t find much that fits this case.

Yeah, you’re pretty outside the business norm. It’s a normal part of work life to travel and dine with colleagues who might be of the opposite sex. In general, at work the expectation is that you’ll work with other people without regard to what sex they happen to be, because their sex should be irrelevant. You’re there to work and interact professionally.

Declining to do it will potentially limit your professional opportunities and is likely to be at least somewhat of A Thing that gets connected to your professional reputation.

There’s a reason Mike Pence’s refusal to be alone with any woman other than his wife has drawn so much ridicule — and, frankly, offense, given the implications it has for women’s professional access to him vs. the access that men get, and how that hurts women professionally. Unlike him, you’re not disenfranchising others — because men are not a traditionally marginalized group at work — but you’ll be disenfranchising yourself.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. You can do whatever works for you and your marriage. But you’d want to be aware that — like your grand-boss said — it’s not the norm and it’s going to strike a lot of people as odd. To be blunt, it’s going to come across as if you’re injecting Sex Potential in a place where it doesn’t belong, and that’s going to feel very weird to people who weren’t thinking about sex in relation to work conversations at all.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 985 comments… read them below }

  1. Kowalski! Options!*

    Things *can* happen between consenting adults. It’s not a iron-clad foregone conclusion that things WILL happen between consenting adults.

      1. Peetaann*

        And why would one go into a business meeting or lunch with the idea of such *things* occurring instead of going into the meeting or the lunch thinking about, oh, I don’t know, the business? It makes me wonder if it is the OP’s true feeling (which is, as we’ve seen, entirely possible) or thoughts put into OP’s head by OP’s spouse.

        1. Not Allison*

          Precisely. The only person who would feel uncomfortable would be one with nagging feelings of attraction or temptation. Keep your mind off hooking up with your travel buddy and you won’t have any issues.

          I’ve traveled plenty with colleagues or had business lunches. No one thinks we’re having affairs.

          1. Snark*

            My wife and I play this game sometimes where we pick a table across the room and guess what the situation is. Business lunch? Family? Parent with adult child? First date? Second date? She’s planning to dump him? And let me tell you: a business meeting is in no way mistakable for a date. It’s just not.

            One memorable occasion, we were at a function for my department, and she looked at two of my ex-coworkers, was like, “Heh, they’re f*ckin’.” And I’m like, no, they’re just work friends, they share an office, that’s it, he’s married. And she’s like, nope, see how they’re angled towards each other, not standing at a 90 degree angle? See how she’s flushing a little on the back of her neck? And boom, see how she just grabbed his pinkie and squeezed it when your boss grabbed a drink off the tray? And then his wife discovered the affair like a month later, and I’m like, “are you a wizard”

            1. Redundant Department of Redundancy*

              I like playing this game too!

              And yeah, a business meeting is pretty obviously a business meeting. Where I work we have limited meeting rooms, so a lot of informal meetings happen in the coffee shop. Usually they have binders/laptops/lanyards/etc that show ‘I am here for working’ so that the aren’t approached for a casual chat!

            2. FDCA In Canada*

              We do this all the time. It’s incredibly easy with two seconds of observation to tell if it’s a date, a meeting, or casual lunch with coworkers. There is just no way they can be mistaken for each other.

              My favourite personal observation was an older woman with a younger couple, and we correctly ascertained it was a “meeting the girlfriend’s mom for the first time” dinner. It was not going well AT ALL.

              1. Snark*

                This is the jackpot, because both of us are conoisseurs of awkwardness. Just the other night, we sat there watching this awful, awful jackwagon of a guy talk at a girl about himself for 45 minutes. Finally he got up to take a piss, and my wife went over, gave her number to the girl, and told her she’d be happy to give her an escape call. She gratefully acccepted, and my wife called her and pretended to be her mom telling her her dad had a heart attack.

                I’m like, oh waiter, do you serve popcorn?

                1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

                  So, uh, do you guys wanna go on a double-date with me and SpouseMonkey? Cause you sound really cool.

                2. Collarbone High*

                  My sister and I once went to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner and witnessed a horribly awkward meal that we (correctly) guessed to be Noncustodial Dad Has Teenage Kids For This Holiday And No One Is Happy About It.

              2. TrainerGirl*

                I was out at dinner with a friend once, and I spotted a couple across the room. The guy looked very nervous and fidgety and the girl looked like she didn’t want to be there. I said to my friend, “I think he’s going to propose and I think he shouldn’t, judging by the gf’s look.” He did get down on one knee in the middle of that restaurant, and she said no, and not quietly. They had to sit there until the bill came and was paid (I guess he drove, and this was before Uber/Lyft) in a VERY uncomfortable silence.

            3. strawberries and raspberries*

              My old coworker and I used to play this too! We called it Power Lunch or Affair?

              1. Hedwig*

                I really wonder how this comment (and the many other comments stating that others play similar games – not trying to single you out) is supposed to make LW feel more comfortable having lunch with male colleagues or clients. Personally, I thought her concern sounded a bit overblown when I first read it, but apparently there are lots of people who see a pair of people having lunch together and think it’s fun to start speculating about whether or not they are a romantic couple, so maybe she’s not so far off base after all.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Except I think the thing is, the people doing it don’t care, aren’t going to start a rumor about anything, won’t send an anonymous note to a spouse. There is no fallout or drama. Just passing the time in a way that does not have any impact on the other people. And they are very much NOT jumping to the conclusion that just because two people are at lunch they are on a date.

                2. Snark*

                  Except the thing is, it’s always really, really easy to tell. The challenge only comes when you’re sussing out whether they’re on their third or fourth dates, or whether she’s feeling it or not, or whether she’s looking for someone to give her the escape call. But power lunch or affair is about as obvious as whether they’re eating lunch at all.

                3. Optimistic Prime*

                  I think the point of the story is that it’s pretty easy to tell whether people are meeting for business or meeting for a date.

                4. Not a Morning Person*

                  In these situations it also appears that the “observers” don’t know the people they are observing and therefore can’t gossip about them at their workplace. Now if they track them down and learn their identity because they want to gossip about them and send messages to their HR department or their spouses to get them in trouble, that would be odd.

                5. Falling Diphthong*

                  What Not A Morning Person said–it’s a Rear Window type of situation, where you know nothing whatsoever about these people beyond what they pantomime across the room. If I know the person in question, then obviously I exchange a polite greeting of whatever length is appropriate. And I don’t make up any fascinating stories about their fictional lives.

                6. Manuel*

                  I am wondering the same thing – seems like LW’s concerns are valid, especially since she said it is a small, gossipy company in a small, gossipy town. I grew up in a small town, so I can appreciate her concern. It’s not how it should be, but lots of things are not how they should be and we deal with them the best way we can.

                7. Nicotene*

                  Thank you for saying that! I was thinking the same thing. Jeeez, apparently a lot of people do actually sit around judging strangers all day and looking for anything scandalous! Also, for all the people who enjoy the awkwardness of watching other people’s first dates: we know you’re doing it, you’re not as subtle as you think you are, and it really doesn’t help a situation that’s already fraught. Thanks.

                8. nonegiven*

                  If you’re having an affair, it’s not during a business lunch in a small town, with coworkers and neighbors all around.

              2. Jeff*

                When my wife and I first got married and we would go out to dinner, she would occasionally spend the time looking down at her plate, no eye contact with me, very little talking. I got worried, so I asked. She clued me in to her (and her Mom’s) habit of listening intently to the conversations going on around us and being entertained by it. I have now joined in. The better the convos, the more morose and depressed we probably look to others!

              1. Gina Linetti*

                Some of my friends and I play this game when we see an older man with a much younger man or woman. We call it “Dad or Daddy”.

                1. Not a Morning Person*

                  Yes, I’ve been mistaken for the wife or girlfriend of my Dad on a couple of occasions. We hold hands often when we are walking somewhere together. On one occasion my Dad overheard an exchange like, “look at that older man with that younger woman!” And the reply was, “They look alike, I bet he’s her dad.” Dad was very amused.

                2. OoohLaLa*

                  Ugh – I was mistaken as my Dad’s girlfriend once at a bar. I think I might throw up my lunch remember that…

                3. Sarah*

                  Ha! My husband was once mistaken for my Dad — we are actually only 3 years apart in age, but I’m one of those baby-face people who is constantly being asked if I’m a student (I am a professor with a PhD, thankyouverymuch), and he’s got a beard and some early grey hair.

                4. Dust Bunny*

                  I’ve been mistaken for my dad’s wife, too. The person who made the mistake remarked, “Oh, isn’t he lucky!” and Dad answered, “I sure am! She’s the world’s best daughter!”

                5. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

                  I was mistaken for my grandpa’s mistress. I was talking a walk with him in the park, and somebody even called grandma to tell her my grandad was “with a young woman”. She called, demanded who know who he was with, and because he didn’t know what was going on, he answered “with a very pretty lady”.
                  I was 15. FIFTEEN. Some people have very, very dirty minds.

                6. nonymous*

                  Don’t do this. I had to deal with knowing looks at least once a week from when I was 12 until Dad died when I was 21. A few people said stuff in ear shot. Creepy guys thought I had low standards and were open to upgrading (to them). So not cool.

                7. redcoat*

                  Ha ha ha.
                  I used to work at government building that is open to the public for tours that receives hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, and my favorite game was “Sisters or Sister Wives?”

                8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Oryx, I’ve been mistaken for my dad’s wife MULTIPLE times. But I’m pretty convinced it has to do with weird (in our case racial, but oftentimes just gendered) stereotypes about “old men” with “young wives.” :(

                9. TrainerGirl*

                  Oyrx, that happened to me as well. My dad and I went to a concert, and ran into one of his old work buddies. He introduced me to the coworker and his wife as his daughter, and they looked at each other as if to say, “Yeah, right!!!” I was so insulted…I guess they didn’t think that a dad would go to an event with his daughter and also that they thought my dad was some kind of sugar daddy.

                10. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  Someone once asked my husband if I was his daughter. I’m a year older than my husband. It was awkward, because it was some high up muckymuck at husband’s job so I couldn’t just laugh in his face. *Twitch.* Also when we were dating in college we were routinely mistaken for sibblings, with him being percived as the older brother. I’m really not sure what that says about our relationship, or if it’s just because I’m the kind of babyface that got carded at Rated R movies well into my 20s, but it’s been working for us for going on 12 years now sooooo….

                11. (another) b*

                  I’m glad my dad and I look so much alike that no one think I’m his wife! I’m 32 and he’s 55 so it could happen in theory. Gross

                12. Senior Health Educator*

                  Awkwardly, I call my step-dad “Daddy” or by his first name. (I called my biological dad “Dad”) As an adult, this is super awkward, especially as my step-dad is only 15 years older than me…I now just try not to call him anything in public.

                13. Alienor*

                  I’ve been mistaken for my both my dad and stepdad’s wife before. They both are/were not that much older than me (stepdad is only 16 years my senior), so in theory it could happen, but still, eww. The really gross part is that it mostly happened when I was in my late teens/early 20s, not now that I’m in my 40s and it would be less creepy.

                14. Wintermute*

                  My ex-fiance’s daughter (whom I consider my stepdaughter) married a man that’s about my age, so it’s always interesting watching people try to figure out who is who in that relationship.

                  If not for the fact I’m prematurely balding, and paying for everything, I have no idea how people would guess who’s who!

                15. ECHM*

                  I was once, by a nursing home resident, mistaken for my dad’s wife. He was 61 years older than I was. He said, “That would be a January-December marriage!”

              1. Petal*

                Not a Morning Person… you… hold hands with your dad?! No wonder people think you’re together :/ is this a cultural thing?

                1. Sarah*

                  I do this too. I don’t think it’s cultural, I’m just from the Midwest. I do it with my Mom and sister and grandma too, I think we’re just an affection family?

                2. meat lord*

                  I also sometimes briefly hold hands with my dad. It may be a cultural thing, yeah. (Both my parents are from the Midwest too, FWIW.) But we’re also a physically affectionate family.

                3. yasmara*

                  My parents are from the Midwest & we’ve never held hands since I was out of early childhood!

                4. Not a Morning Person*

                  I wouldn’t know what culture you’re referring to. My Dad and I occasionally hold hands when we are walking together, particularly if we haven’t seen each other in awhile. We’ve done it since I was a child and I see no reason to change. My family hugs and kisses each other when we greet, too. I grew up in a functional family. I know some people did not, but I’m surprised that hand-holding affection between family members is questioned. We’re not lip-locking, we’re walking hand in hand.

                5. Anon today...and tomorrow*

                  I’m from the Northeast and hold hands with my mom and siblings as well as my husband and kids.

                6. Not a Morning Person*

                  And maybe you are imagining something different than what is occurring? When Dad and I hold hands while walking we don’t just grab tight and hold on for a LOOOOONG time. One of us reaches out to take the other’s hand. We talk and say how good it is to spend time together, how happy we are to see one another, and then we hold on for a little bit. We don’t look like people who are in love. We look like people who care about one another and are happy to be together and do love one another. I think it is a family thing, not a culture thing. Now I’m missing my Dad!

                7. fposte*

                  @Not a Morning–well, and apropos of the theme of this post, even if people mistook it for a romantic relationship, so what?

                8. President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club*

                  I hold hands with both of my parents if I’m walking outside with them. They are older people with mobility issues and it’s a helpful thing that they like people to do for them.

                9. Petal*

                  Ah I was imagining it like, when you hold hands as a couple the whole way down the street not a brief grab. I’m in the UK and I’ve never seen that here once kids reach adult age in people from any cultural background. I didn’t have a culture in mind as I’ve never come across it full stop but wondered if it was related to a culture I’ve had no exposure to.

                  I grew up with enough affection from my parents but all of that stopped firmly by my teens, I get majorly squicked out if my dad tries to kiss me on the cheek during special occasions and can remember to the day the last time I touched my mother before she died (it was years). I’m not a big fan of physical affection outside of a romantic relationship! It’s cool to see others who are happy with it and engage in it so readily :)

                10. Pomona Sprout*

                  I used to hold hands with my dad sometimes. Not for extended periods, but sometimes he would just reach out and take my hand and squeeze it, and then hold onto it for a little while. There was absolutely nothing creepy about it; he was just a very affectionate, huggy, demonstrative guy. These are actually some of my best memories of my father (he passed away almost 40 years ago). He wasn’t perfect, but one thing he excelled at was making his daughters feel loved.

                11. Pomona Sprout*

                  And I forgot to mention: for the record, he was born in England and grew up ìn Scranton, PA, lol!

            4. Gee Gee*

              I’d love to see what your wife would think of some of my business lunches! I work with several married couples who also have parents in the company (yup, small town). Our business lunches could in some cases double as family reunions.

              1. Snark*

                I’d be floundering, but I wouldn’t bet against Ms. Snark. She’s scarily observant and reads body language so well she’s almost telepathic.

            5. First time commenter because of this letter*

              I know that this is said in jest, but to me it undermines what I think this particular LW needs to hear. It illustrates “see? people would watch me and say I’m having an affair!”

              No. Just no. Women 100% need to be able to have business lunches, dinners, meetings, travel, etc. with their colleagues without any stupid restrictions about the optics of it. Otherwise, women will not have the same career opportunities as men. What she’s talking about is serious stuff.

              1. Fdesigner*

                I think what the replies are saying is pretty much the opposite – they are saying that the behavior of a business lunch or a date are different and quite easy to spot

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Yeah, but it sounds like the OP doesn’t want people looking at her at a business lunch and start playing that game. And apparently, if she’s concerned about that, it’s a concern based in fact. I personally had no idea that this was such a widespread past time! I’ve never done that because it feels kind of icky to me for reasons I can’t articulate (but I’m a bit privacy freak, so maybe that’s related).

                2. fposte*

                  Though they’re offering up the examples that confirm that conclusion, which 1) aren’t necessarily externally confirmed and 2) lean toward confirmation bias in reporting. And it’s still more attention being paid than it sounds like the OP is comfortable with.

                3. Elsajeni*

                  Well, but they aren’t, really — they’re saying “I’m sure that I can always tell the difference between a business lunch and a date, and here’s an example of when I was right.” But unless you’re finishing the game by going over to their table and asking “Excuse me, are y’all on a business lunch or a date?”, you don’t actually know how often you’re right and how often you’re wrong. Since the OP is concerned about gossip, I can imagine that folks who play this game might have some useful advice about managing body language, etc., to avoid the assumption that you’re on a date — “Here are the things that would make me think ‘oh, those people are definitely colleagues and nothing more'” — but I agree with First Time Commenter above that just saying “Don’t worry, I can always tell whether people in restaurants are dating” is likely to have the exact opposite effect.

              2. AsianHobo*

                I think it says that yeah, some people might think that way; but people don’t have town-wide rumors started about it, they don’t lose their jobs nor their marriages because of it. It’s just not a big deal if people think that way, and nothing you do or don’t do makes people think that way, it’s just human nature.

                My brother and I play “siblings or gay” when we see two men together. It’s not limited by gender and it doesn’t prevent women from doing anything, except maybe placating an abusive spouse.

          2. PatPat*

            That’s really unfair to say the only person who’d feel uncomfortable alone with a coworker of the opposite sex has a latent attraction to the coworker! People can feel uncomfortable doing things for a variety of reasons and the OP didn’t say she had an attraction to her coworker and we’re supposed to take letter writers at their word.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              But the OP said: “There’s also the problem that things can happen between consenting adults, and even though that’s the last thing on my mind, I’d prefer to not . . . to create an opportunity for anything.” The sentence could read as saying she’d prefer not to create an opportunity for gossip, but I can see why people are reading it like she’d prefer not to create an opportunity for an affair or something inappropriate to happen.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                But why target just men?

                I have a female friend and she will mention that people think we are partners because we do stuff together and we are seen together.
                I came to the conclusion that there is that section of society who has to reduce everything down to sex. LOL, because this is just not true, everything that happens does not boil down to sex. OP, if you are going to be totally fair and honest about this then being seen in public with other women should also be on your radar as a concern, also.

                Annddd, one last step, if you are never seen with anyone then you are clearly a recluse and so on. It’s popular for little kids to tell each other that an older woman living on her own is a witch. And this is something kids have done for hundreds of years.

                If your goal is to control what people say about you, OP, the bottom-line is that you can’t control it. All you can do is hold your chin up high and be kind to all.

                1. Julia*

                  I once met a friend who brought her toddler along, and she went on some ride with her daughter while I stayed behind to take photos. The attendant asked if the “mother” didn’t want to ride, too – did he think I was my friend’s mother (she’d only two or three years younger than me!) or that we were a lesbian couple? It didn’t really matter, I was just amused.

                  Now, one time when I was 23 or 24, I was babysitting a Japanese boy of around 7, and an old lady at a shop thought I was his mother! We looked nothing alike (I’m white and could maaaaaaaaaaaybe pass for half-Japanese if you blink very hard and factor in my language skills), so I was totally surprised. When I said I was the nanny, the woman said she was relieved because I looked so young.

                  I guess what I’m trying to say is, people will always make assumptions. That doesn’t mean you should live your life to avoid them all.

                2. Wilhelmina Mildew*

                  A good friend of mine often has people assume that she and her SISTER are partners when they hang out or shop together or whatever. And they both have distinctive family features, so it’s VERY obvious they are related, and it still happens all the time.

          3. M Bananas*

            I have to disagree with you about the assumption that the *only* people that might be uncomfortable in these situations are people that are already tempted.
            I have female childhood friends that come from fairly traditional and conservative jewish families* which ment they went through their k-12 in gender segregated schools (we’re not in the US).
            The first time they entered the work force some of them felt very uncomfortable with ANY male colleauge/manager, even doctors in their 70s. That’s not because they were attracted to them, but rather because they were unfamiliar with extended daily contact with the opposite sex, and they got over it eventually.
            Granted this is not the situation the OP is in, but making such a broad and decisive assumption about the reasons behind such discomfort seems somewhat unfair to me.

            *(to clarify I am also jewish but come from a less observant family)

          4. taco_emoji*

            And if they DO think you’re having an affair, they’re the ones being weird! Why would you try to manage the thoughts and judgements of such strange people?

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I find that a bit concerning. My mother was into this stuff and I can say first hand that it’s not a road to travel on for any length of time. It leads to isolation and other problems.

            2. Snorks*

              Because if the rumour is wrong then the person who started it looks silly because they read it wrong, but it’s OP’s marriage that’s in danger.

        2. aebhel*

          Yeah, maybe I’m an outlier here, but I’ve spent a lot of time working in environments comprised mostly of men, and I don’t know that I’ve ever spent time contemplating ~~things~~ that can happen between consenting adults in a work context. It’s just so completely outside how I interact with my coworkers.

          1. Artemesia*

            I was traveling with and meeting with men professionally 50 years ago when women in my kind of professional role were even more scarce than today. Never gave it a thought. I think it crosses a line to have opposite sex colleagues share a room (some start ups and non profits expect this) but other than that, a person who makes a big deal about this is going to have a reputation and it will be 1. she had an abusive husband, or 2. she is seriously weird or 3. she has a crush on Fergus with whom she is expected to travel. None of this is a good look. And most people when it is a woman refusing will assume #1 and when it is a man #2.

            1. FiveWheels*

              I don’t even think that crosses a line. I say this as someone 100% straight female, but I don’t see the difference between sharing with a man and sharing with a woman.

              1. aebhel*

                I would be uncomfortable sharing a room with a male coworker. I would deal with it if I really had to, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with it. But I think that’s different than eating a meal in public with someone.

                1. MCMonkeyBean*

                  Definitely hugely different than sharing a meal! This is a room you undress in. This is a room where you lay unconscious for many hours.

                2. AsianHobo*

                  “This is a room you undress in.”

                  Well maybe my years of cramming as many people (of all genders and sexual orientations) as the fire code allowed into each hotel room for conventions has skewed my view, but. I don’t think it’s a big deal to sleep next to other people who you’re trusting not to stab/mug/molest you when your back is turned anyway… and you can change clothes in the bathroom or take turns stepping out of the room.

                  I’m more paranoid that the hotel staff is going to sneak in while I’m sleeping, or that they have hidden cameras set up, than I am about a guy I know is just trying to sleep and be rested for the next day same as I am. Which is to say, I’m not very worried about it.

              2. Jesmlet*

                I agree. Sharing a bed is one thing but sleeping adjacent to a coworker is equally weird regardless of if it’s opposite or same sex. Then again, I’m bisexual and one of those people who thinks there’s no reason for gender specific bathrooms in public so maybe I’m just abnormal.

                1. nonymous*

                  Don’t think you’re weird! But a pox on any employer who thinks it’s okay to not have any downtime (even while sleeping or brushing teeth) while traveling for work. I guard my quiet time with ferocity even at home.

                2. Fiennes*

                  I shared a room with a male coworker once — but it was the day of the Ohio-to-East Coast blackout in 2003 or 2004. We were stuck in a borough of NYC, as were literal hundreds of thousands of people. Our company was lucky to even scrounge up one room, and after a day of walking many miles in extreme heat, we absolutely could not have cared less. We both got to be in a place with AC, and nothing else mattered.

                  Granted, under normal conditions I would find it awkward. But to tie this back to the letter — refusing to stay in the room with my male coworker would’ve been much, much more awkward than the experience was. It would’ve been injecting a wholly unsubstantiated sense of sexuality into what was one of the least sensual scenarios ever.

              3. Gadfly*

                I think that might be a great ideal to hold to, but in our society with the power and social norms at play it just isn’t realistic. How many studies have they done now about men who easily admit to all sorts of sexual assaults and even rape if you don’t call them those things but instead just describe what they did? And they’ll swear they don’t see it as having done anything wrong until you call it what it is.

                A lunch is relatively safe. Sleeping is vulnerable and sharing easily crosses into the the sort of activities that too many men claim are invitations.

                It shouldn’t be, and any co-worker could be a problem because individuals are individuals, but there is added danger thanks to social norms to a woman sleeping in a room with a man.

                1. FiveWheels*

                  I wouldn’t feel any more or less threatened by sleeping in a room with a man than a woman. I used to play a lot of sports on mixed and women’s teams, which included shared locker rooms. The only people who engaged in inappropriate staring or commenting were women.

                  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to share a room with anyone who isn’t a cat. But yeah, I’m not going to wander around half dressed in front of any roommate, and I don’t fear random sex attacks on the night either.

                2. Gemma*

                  Um, no – does being a colleague automatically make someone a good person? Like, now that you’ve been properly introduced, that male colleague couldn’t possibly have any lecherous ideas? I would find it uncomfortable to share a room even with a female colleague (I’m female), because sleeping, pyjamas, taking showers are in the personal realm, not the professional. But to share a room with a male coworker? No way in heck would I be that trusting. By nature of their anatomy women are already at a distinct disadvantage in terms of power, and there are a LOT of guys who would take advantage of a situation in which the woman was unconscious and less able to defend herself. Eating lunch with a male colleague is miles apart from sleeping with them.

              4. Pomona Sprout*

                Wtf? Share a ROOM with a coworker of the opposite sex. Please tell me this is a joke.

                Call me old fashioned if you want to, but there is no way in the frigging world.

            2. Fishgal*

              Possibly could be a religious belief they both hold about what is proper and what is not. She could be worried about someone from there seeing her and gossiping

            3. Not a Morning Person*

              I think OP is also interested in the way others will interpret her being in the company of people of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, too often people will see what they want to see. (And IME, the ones who think bad things of others often do so because they’ve been the ones who are guilty of the bad behavior themselves.) You can’t change that but you can just choose to behave the way you are comfortable behaving. Remember the college professor/TA who was concerned that people would think he was involved with a student, because his sister was a student and they had been seen being friendly? He did begin to work to make it known that his sister was a student and that appeared to help. But people were noticing and making incorrect assumptions. It is a thing people do.
              I also think it depends upon your personal behavior and reputation. If you are known as personally conservative and/or professional in your behavior, most people aren’t going to jump from coworkers or manager/employee working, to coworkers or manager/employee having an inappropriate romantic or sexual relationship.
              Some things I think about when people have this kind of concern; Do you trust yourself? Does your husband trust you? Do you trust your husband? If you have trust, you don’t violate that trust. You behave appropriately and professionally at work and when you are traveling with a coworker. If anyone questions that, then you look at them like they have suddenly grown two heads and question their impressions. “Why in the world would anyone think that this is odd for people who work together to, you know, work together?” Shut that stupidity down.
              Or not, and as Alison says, hold yourself and your career to a different and likely more limiting standard. And if you choose to limit yourself in that way, just do be aware that it is considered odd and out-of-touch by most professionals.

          2. Akcipitrokulo*

            Yeah. Until recently I was only woman in a department of 14. I think about work when interacting. Or various geek things or funny xkcd someone has shared, or where is good to go in Glasgow if they’re planning a holiday, or how are your kids…

          3. Optimistic Prime*

            I work in a very male-dominated industry – I am often the only woman in the room – and I don’t think I’ve ever remotely contemplated ~things~ with any of my coworkers. Particularly not at a lunch when what I am really contemplating is how can I stuff my face with enough lunch in between chatting that I don’t have a migraine later (I hate working lunches!)

            I am also queer, and I haven’t contemplated ~things~ with any of my female coworkers either.

            1. Salamander*

              I’ve worked in male-dominated industries for most of my adult life, and have never had an affair with a co-worker, though I do like men.

              But I have to confess that I don’t do much speculating about what people around me are doing in restaurants, unless it’s something mind-numbingly dumb or irritating.

              LW, if you’re that worried that people will think you’re on a date, take a notebook and leave it open beside your napkin. Nobody takes a notebook on a date.

          4. neverjaunty*

            The OP is coming from the mindset where men and women have little in common except romantic interest in one another. Therefore, there’s no valid reason for them to be alone together except alex. Therefore, to the OP and her husband, it’s disrespectful to spend time alone with a man, just as it would be disrespectful for her to flirt with a man. They’re effectively degrees of the same thing.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              ^Top comment right here.

              I went into this thinking OP lives in a gossipy, cruel little town (because she used “small town” to defend this mindset), but since she wrote to Alison as something of a tie-breaker, I’m now thinking the cruel gossip is a little closer than just being a small town thing.

              My garbage person ex grew up in a family who had this sort of mindset, except his mother wasn’t allowed to leave the house alone, and she wasn’t allowed to speak with men—because “men only want one thing,” (even if they’re taking their daughter door-to-door to sell Girl Scout cookies, and also you know Wakeen, he’s our neighbor and we were at his barbeque last week for godsake) and I never understood that mindset because you’re either saying women are incapable of resisting any random man or they can’t be trusted to; and flip this for men: no one has agency or free will in this scenario. Everyone is just walking through life constantly looking for the opportunity to drop trou and get sexy.

              Maybe I’m weird, but I didn’t get this mindset when I was a teenager either (one step away from an orgy! all the time! because hormones! and reasons!). I didn’t want to sleep with my friends, so why would I sleep with my friends just because it was technically an option? For the record, I didn’t start sleeping with my friends until I was 30, and then I only did it for like a year.

          5. kiwidg1*

            I get that different people have different viewpoints. I have a coworker (male) who has the same issue as the LW and it threw our managers for a loop when he said he couldn’t travel by car with his female coworker to a meeting several hours away. Finally, accomodations were made (and he was willing to travel in his own car, unpaid, but the male coworker felt like management may consider him unable to meet some work expectations in future.

            Frankly, I have traveled with the opposite sex since I started working and have had some very close friends/work-husbands. I never thought about having an affair with any of them and I never worried about what other people thought about it either.

        3. Hey Nonnie*

          Anyone who brought this up to me as a serious concern would have me wondering why they have such a deep lack of confidence in their own self-control, and what else that might say about their ability to be professional in general.

          I’ll also point out that not everyone you work with is going to be straight, so making this gendered is weird, too. You’ll interact with men who could never be attracted to you, and women who could, but in any case are unlikely to be thinking about non-work-related subjects because they’re AT WORK and have appropriate professional boundaries.

          1. M-C*

            +1. OP, I just want to confirm that this worry of yours is deeply weird, no matter how small and gossipy your non-work environment might be. And the fact that it’s a worry of your husband makes me worry about how controlling he might be in general. If you’re going to go on worrying about anything, this would be the main point to worry about..

      2. Snark*

        Things also don’t “happen.” At exactly no time in my life have things just happened. Things don’t just fly randomly out of left field and land on my lap. Things require decisions and work.

        1. blushingflower*

          Exactly. Things CAN happen between consenting adults but those things that happen happen with the consent and participation of both parties.

          1. designbot*

            The key there is between consenting adults. If you choose not to consent, it doesn’t happen! Or if it does that’s assault and a whole different question.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, but it’s not unreasonable for people to arrange their lives to make the better choice easier–think of when people ask (not just in this column) about work crushes, or should-I-make-a-move-on-my-coworker, or I-spend-more-time-texting-my-coworker-than-talking-to-my-spouse. “Remove yourself from temptation” is pretty common advice in that situation; it’s always easier to say no to donuts that aren’t in front of your face.

              1. Anna*

                But those letters are based on the fact that someone has already developed romantic or quasi-romantic feelings. The OP *may* have those feelings, but from the letter it just sounds like they’re worried of what it would look like or that merely eating or riding in a car will cause those feelings to happen..

                The idea of removing oneself from temptation to avoid the possibility of it even happening implies that men and women are thoughtless beings when it comes to sexual feelings and just can’t help themselves.

                1. fposte*

                  Look, I don’t agree with the approach the OP is taking either. But the “I don’t want even to think about the possibility of temptation” thing isn’t that rare a bird, and I don’t think it matters whether you’ve started being tempted or you just don’t want to deal with the donut possibility.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  There is a difference between actions and feelings. Feelings are not actions. Some churches teach that feelings are the same as actions. If you subscribe to this, OP, then you will need to find a path through it. My suggestion is to look at other successful women in your church and find out what they are doing.

                  If you are afraid of your own feelings that could be because you don’t have a plan of what you will do if a feeling hits. It’s concerning to me that your feelings might limit your professional growth in some way. Part of being professional is learning how to deal with feelings and learning how to deal with others who act inappropriately. And there are many forms of inappropriate behaviors in the workplace that have nothing to do with sexual involvement. Just because you avoid going anywhere with men does not mean you have fixed an entire category of problems.

                  A very simple plan, one that I started with myself, was I planned I would report inappropriate behavior. I would start there. If my immediate boss did not listen to me, I would keep going until I found someone who did listen. Or I would quit if there was no solution.
                  Over the years, my plan has gotten a little more rounded out to include several strategies.

                3. Ego Chamber*

                  @fposte Your point about removing temptation is valid, but what OP is doing is less like avoiding having donuts put in her face, and more like refusing to participate in the quarterly breakfast meeting with the CEO because donuts will be there. This is something that will definitely impact her ability to do her job and advance in her career: her boss told her that.

                  If OP is prepared for those limitations, and that’s the decision she and her husband have made, there’s nothing morally wrong with the choice she’s making—but understanding the limitations and potential fallout is important.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          Exactly. “We couldn’t help ourselves!” Nonsense. You chose to do something. Now not making judgments as bugger all to do with me, and seriously believe it is none of my business, but own your decision. Especially when it plays into the idea that sexual urges can’t be controlled.

        3. Jesmlet*

          My impression was that OP is not worried about things happening, but rather the perception that things may happen from an onlooker’s perspective.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            Most people are pretty good at comprehending body language. They’ll recognize the difference between semi-formal body language during a discussion of quarterly projections vs. flirting, touching hands, and keeping long, steady eye contact. And the fact is, for most people, that person over there just isn’t that important to them. In a way OP is being quite narcissistic by assuming that she’s anywhere near the center of other people’s attention. I don’t care who my friends eat lunch with, I sure don’t care about people I have never met / may barely know.

            And if there is someone who does care overmuch, odds are pretty good that everyone knows that they’re a busybody and won’t take their gossip seriously.

            Frankly I’m pretty over the attitude that men and women can’t have interactions that aren’t in some way rooted in sex. It assumes that adults never mature beyond hormonal adolescence, and that’s pretty insulting.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Well, (consenting) “things” only happen between people who are attracted to each other, and I think the letter makes clear that the LW is only attracted to people of the opposite sex.

        1. NotThatGardner*

          FWIW, people are “only” attracted to a certain type of person until they aren’t – it only takes one to make a change there.

          1. Jesmlet*

            Don’t love this verbiage here. I know we’re not supposed to harp on language but people don’t just suddenly change their sexual orientation and it seems like you were implying someone could just suddenly become gay or bisexual. OP is only concerned about meetings with males so there’s no reason to think she should also be concerned about meetings with females.

            1. Beaded Librarian*

              Jesmlet, the verbage isn’t great but I think I understand what NotThatGardner means. No people don’t suddenly change their orientation but it does happen that some people don’t really think about it until a specific situation happens. That happened to me, I didn’t realize that I was actually sexually attracted to at least some women AND interested in possible MFF triad relationships until the situation was brought up by factors external to me.

          2. Sylvan (Sylvia)*

            Haha wow, this really doesn’t make us bisexuals look great. Gay and straight people don’t just need to meet the right person of the gender they’re not into.

            1. Agnodike*

              I see what you’re saying, but it’s also plainly true that many bisexuals don’t know they’re bisexual until they meet a person of their previously-unpreferred gender to whom they’re attracted. I was sure I was a lesbian until I met my husband. It happens. You can’t always protect yourself from surprise sexual feelings even by segregating yourself according to the gender you currently prefer. You can’t make someone change their orientation by bombarding them with people of all genders, but trying to predict the characteristics of every person you’ll be attracted to for the rest of your life might be a bit tricky.

              1. Sylvan (Sylvia)*

                Yeah, I had a fairly similar experience. Still, gay and straight people can be confident in their orientation, and they don’t need weird comments doubting that.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  I didn’t read it as doubt of the OP’s stated orientation, I read it as pointing out that the kind of gossipy sh!ts who will start rumors about OP cheating on her husband just because she was having lunch with some man probably aren’t above starting rumors that OP is a secret lesbian with a cuckolded husband/convincing beard.

          1. Sylvan (Sylvia)*


            I don’t share the LW’s concerns about perception at all, but she knows her own culture better than I do, of course.

      2. Manders*

        Yes, I’ve always wondered whether people who feel strongly about this have considered the existence of bisexuals. Do we have to eat alone facing the wall?

        Plus, if OP is running into people she works with at lunch, wouldn’t they already recognize the vendor or coworker she’s eating with?

        1. kittymommy*

          Yes, from now on you must have your own table and not look at anyone! Lol.

          I’m wondering if this means I can list my asexuality aa work attribute??

            1. Gemma*

              No, because you might not be attracted to them but that doesn’t mean onlookers won’t speculate that you are. And if you’re not worried about other people’s opinions, then you could already eat with anyone and everyone.

              I realize you were joking but I think there’s an element of truth to it. I’ve got OCD (real OCD, not the pop-culture version), so I obsess about this kind of thing constantly. Because practically every kind of sexual relationship has had widespread exposure in the media, ANY relationship can be viewed through sexual goggles. (What notions do people have that weren’t fed to them by an industry run by Harvey Weinsteins? None. Pop culture is the source of everyone’s opinions.) That’s why people above commented about all the creepy ideas people had about people simply existing in public together: two sisters shopping together interpreted as being in a sexual relationship, a 12-year-old and her father eyed suspiciously, a 15-year-old and her grandfather. It’s a little alarming that people’s first thought in those situations would be that the relationship was sexual. There’s no one you can be around that would put you above speculation.

              Easy to say, just don’t care what people think and say, but that’s about as likely to happen as people minding their own business.

        2. Gandalf the Nude*

          I think we both know how often bisexuals are ignored/erased. We are expected to hide on the ceiling like our patron, The Babadook, before us. The more you deny, the stronger we get.

          1. Anna*

            You guys are making me laugh. Bisexuals Unite in Visibility! That’s somewhat funny and somewhat sad and true.

            Now I’m not as amused as I started out.

        3. Jesmlet*

          I always assumed they wouldn’t want me working one-on-one with straight males and gay females. I’d hate to have to always eat alone! And having to ask the sexual orientation of everyone I meet with would be very awkward… What Would Pence Do??

        4. Ego Chamber*

          “Yes, I’ve always wondered whether people who feel strongly about this have considered the existence of bisexuals. Do we have to eat alone facing the wall?”

          Dear god no. We eat with everyone. Sometimes in groups (gasp) because we are slutty slutty sluts. Asexuals are the ones who eat alone facing the wall.

          (Ugh. I made myself sad.)

    1. MK*

      Actually these things do not “happen”. The consenting adults “do” these things together. Regardless of cheaters’ babbling excuses, it is never an accident that happened, it was specific action of those involved.

      1. High Score!*

        That sums it up. Sometimes groups of people *do* things too… They don’t just happen. My husband and I decided we didn’t want rings, we just conduct ourselves like married people and one of us being alone with another person doesn’t bother the other because we trust each other.

        That being said, if you prefer to live differently, it’s your perogative, just understand that it may hurt you professionally.

      2. Salamander*

        Pretty much. An affair with a co-worker just doesn’t sneak up on people. People make choices. No one is soooo irresistible the work colleague sitting opposite them in an Applebee’s is helpless to resist his/her charms…that only happens in bad novels.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Right, and OP is clearly not consenting, so doesn’t that already mean that nothing is going to happen?

      1. TheFormerAstronomer*

        Exactly. Unless OP is concerned about sexual harrassment or assault (valid, particularly if she is a survivor), then presumably there is in fact no issue other than one of *possible perception* here.

      2. Namelesscommentator*

        She seems more concerned with the appearance of thimgs rather than the actuality of things. You can assume two women are dating just as easily as as a man and woman.

        a really good way to squash rumors is to say “so sorry we’ve got to get back to this business meeting” or mentioning it to whoever was lurking in the corner the next time you see them in a “oh sorry I didn’t get to say hi….” kinda way.

        1. mcr-red*

          My same-sex friend and I went to lunch together every week to have some gossip and catch up. Servers would constantly say to us, “So one check?” We apparently gave off some sort of couple vibe. My teenage daughter and I? “So separate checks?”

          1. Hedwig*

            You must not give off much of a mom vibe. Asking about separate checks for a mom and teenaged offspring seems weird. :)

            1. Cleopatra Jones*

              Unless her teen aged kid looks like a young adult.
              I took my teen aged son to breakfast one day, and the server thought we were dating. I was like, ‘no that’s my kid’. She was positively floored because she thought he was in his mid twenties and that I was in my 30’s. She said that she thought that I was dating a younger man.

    3. Trekkie*

      Yeah when I go out with coworkers, even for casual drinks after work, I’m not thinking about anything about “adult activities”. I’m usually thinking about what I’m eating or drinking at the meal!

    4. caryatis*

      Yeah. If you don’t want “things to happen between consenting adults,” don’t consent. LW, if it ever happens that one of your coworkers hits on you to the extent that you feel that being around him is endangering your marriage, then I think you can push back against a request that you travel alone with him. But it’s unfair, and makes you seem very out of touch, to assume that all your male coworkers are incapable of having a business lunch without hitting on you.

      If there are people who will gossip about your having an affair because they see you having lunch or in a car with A Man, that sounds like their problem. Your marriage is none of the gossipers’ business.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Two responses:
        ” if it ever happens that one of your coworkers hits on you to the extent that you feel that being around him is endangering your marriage,

        I think if a coworker or client hits on you EVER, you can refuse to travel with him.

        And as to a marriage being none of the gossipers’ business–in a small town, this gossip can have a bigger effect; it’s not really helpful to just pooh-pooh that.
        But you can control most people’s perception of that lunch at the corner restaurant by NOT thinking about “illicit things,” and being completely open and forthright. Walk over and say hello. Introduce people.
        If you look guilty or uncertain, people will think something’s up.

        1. Fiennes*

          I agree with this. You have every right to refuse to be alone with a coworker who has behaved unprofessionally in a way that makes you uncomfortable. I just wouldn’t apply that to every single person of the opposite sex.

    5. TootsNYC*

      They only happen if you consent to them.

      No one ends up smooching on the couch unless they actively decide to be there.

      I think our OP is far more worried about other people thinking something is up, however.

      But she can control that perspective. If you see someone you know across the restaurant, you smile and wave. Maybe excuse yourself to go over and say, “Hey, nice to see you. I can’t stay to chat—I’m here for work—but I wanted to say hi.”

    6. Anon55*

      Yes! For me, this situation (and obviously Mike Pence’s) is such an eye-roll because it kind of assumes that everyone of the opposite sex is going to be attracted to the OP. Like, you’re not going to travel with a business colleague because he’s a man and he might want to get down in an Applebee’s parking lot? Girl, you very well might not be his cup of tea.

      1. The Expendable Redshirt*

        +1 That’s one thing that irks me about the Pence system. It assumes that every female would find Pence appealing. Or, perhaps that it’s too risky that one enthusiastic female may seek out adult fun activities. For the
        OP, it’s unlikely that every male finds her romantically appealing. It’s also unlikely that the average observer would even care that she is having lunch with a male.

      2. RJGM*

        Someone has probably already said this more eloquently, but: it also assumes that everyone *of the opposite sex* is going to be attracted to you, and that no one of the same sex will be; in the (presumably female) OP’s case, gay/bi people don’t exist, nor do NB/genderfluid people…

        1. The Expendable Redshirt*

          Indeed. In the OP’s place, I would focus on just having a business lunch with a colleague. Their gender, sex, or orientation should be irrelevant.

  2. MuseumChick*

    OP, if this is a company in a small town surely most people are aware of what the business is and that it involves normal interaction between people of the opposite sex (business lunches etc.).

    If this is something you a not comfortable with you have every right to make that clear to your boss. But that also means you will have to accept the consequences that come along with that including limiting your career choices and probably taking yourself out of consideration for promotions.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I’m wondering how small of a town this is. Is there one diner and two businesses in the town? Does everyone know everyone by name and their family history? Then people should know where the OP works and where the guest works, and they should be able to identify work talk vs flirting.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Exactly. And of course, there will be those people who will make something out of nothing (there was a letter from the woman who’s co-worker accused her of having an affair…with her own husband because the co-worker had seen them at lunch together comes to mind.) But 98% of people think nothing about people of the opposite gendering having lunch together in a work context)

        1. FiveWheels*

          That coworker was obviously completely inappropriate, but even then the coworker correctly identified that it was a romantic relationship.

        2. Pineapple Incident*

          I definitely agree there are people who might see something where nothing inappropriate is going on. I would hate for the OP to lose out on career opportunities as a reaction to the possibility that there are people in the world who are dramatic and can’t keep their thoughts to themselves.

          What worries me in this situation is that her husband is joining her in opposition to traveling or eating with a coworker or client of the opposite sex, as opposed to trying to support her sticking up for herself in potential situations with coworkers or townsfolk. I think they’d be right to take a serious stand on some other travel no-no’s we’ve seen here, like having to share a hotel room with a coworker (or a bed, like one OP that one time), but *this* is just going to set the OP back for no reason.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I am wondering if they are recently married. When my husband and I got married we talked about this type of thing, we came to a conclusion and never mentioned it again. Because there was no need, we had a conclusion. I think initially though, the topic threw us a little bit because neither one of us even gave it a single thought previously. So when we fell into talking about gossips, we talked about work relationships as a butt of gossiping, also.
            (We concluded that all we could do was not gossip ourselves. It’s not reasonable to think we can control what other people do or say.)

      2. Hanna*

        Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I grew up in a town with only a few hundred people, and I wouldn’t have thought twice about a non-married, opposite-gender couple traveling in a car together or having lunch or whatever. Partially because I wouldn’t have cared, and partially because I knew that Bob and Jenny worked at the same office, Pete and Kate were both enthusiastic gardeners and liked to swap tips, Jane and Fergus were both on the planning committee for the town carnival, and so on.

          1. Fiennes*

            I grew up in a town like that. People had so many cross-connections–your dentist was your husband’s best friend in high school and your neighbor’s first cousin, etc–that merely seeing any two people together would not set off any alarms.

            Now, if they were seen together in the juke joint off highway 6, that’s a different story.

      3. Grits McGee*

        Also, if seeing an unmarried man and woman together is that instantly scandalous in this particular community, then coworkers and grandboss would have acknowledged that.

        1. Lissa*

          Yeah, this is what I thought too. Sounds like your grandboss believes your view is very unusual, and that means most people *are* going around having business lunches with coworkers, traveling etc. and there aren’t constant rumours of affairs, right?

        2. Agatha31*

          This reminds me very strongly of the [am-I-the-next-Bill-Cosby](https://captainawkward.com/2015/03/14/678-am-i-the-next-bill-cosby-no-thankfully-youre-just-really-sexist/) post. It suggests such a disrespect, both for you as well as the ability of literally every single person of the opposite gender around you, to approach every interaction as “we might not be able to stay responsible adults if we’re left alone for *x* length of time.”

          Also, this is such a baffling mindset in general because of all the questions it raises about how that mindset even works in the real world. Is LW’s opinion of others in her town that low, that she instantly assumes “affair” for any opposite gender pairing she sees out in public? Also also, what about gay people? Asexuals? Why is it only one + one = affair? If opposite-gender = danger of attraction, would not mixed gender groups who get along be one overly friendly lunch away from becoming a “Dear Penthouse” letter?

    2. L.*

      “you will have to accept the consequences that come along with that including limiting your career choices.” I agree, assuming OP is a woman. Mike Pence demonstrates that men obeying this (truly, madly, deeply ridonkulous) “rule” fare just fine.

    3. Jaylock*

      What I’m confused about is that she mentions that she’s in a small town, but is really only uncomfortable eating with and traveling with a person of the opposite sex for out of town meetings. That said, I don’t think the small town gossip is the issue. Letter writer either 1) thinks she actually will cheat and doesn’t want to tempt herself, 2) has a controlling spouse that doesn’t allow it, or 3) has deep trust issues related to men that, as her boss, would make me question her competency to work fairly and productively with her coworkers.

      None of these are good

      1. Queen of the File*

        Well I agree with you that none of those things are good. But I could see–if you have a deeply-held belief that men and women being alone together should be avoided–that lunch out of town would be a step further into discomfort than lunch in town. It’s more time spent together, no locals around to keep you accountable/provide an alibi etc. Those strangers, if they hold the same beliefs as her, might still gossip or have judging thoughts about her & this man. That could still make her uncomfortable even if they don’t get back to anyone she knows.

        This is not rational thinking (and for the record I strongly disagree) but I do I get how it could be a bigger deal to the OP.

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          I grew up in a conservative religious household – in the kind of religion that promoted courtship instead of dating and actually thought dating couples should bring chaperones or date in groups because ~things~ can happen. I can totally see how one of the adults who was raised in or subscribed to that religion or one like it would be really wary about this and even more wary about it out of town. It was partially about judgment – if it gets back to your small town or congregation that you went out of town on a business trip with your opposite-sex coworker or boss, the rumor mill would start churning, and nobody was even around to see that everything was on the up-and-up. (And these congregations were small – around 100-120 people total.)

          But it was partially also because of this weird belief that the religion teaches you that basically people of different genders, especially men, are completely unable to prevent themselves from giving into sexual temptation if they are in a situation that’s remotely private. They do, in fact, teach you that things just happen.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Then if that is OP’s unshakeable belief then she has her own answer. She cannot take jobs where she needs to travel with men or have lunch with men. Unfortunately, that is the answer. All the advice in the world can’t change a belief, if the person is not comfortable with changing their belief.

            OP, life is all trade-offs. All of it. I am afraid of ladders, so I refuse to climb on ladders at work. This has cost me job opportunities and promotions. To me it is not worth the nightmares that would plague me every night to work through this fear. I am willing to give those things up because it is just too much effort for me to deal with heights. And you might reach a similar conclusion here.

          2. nonegiven*

            Sounds like my uncle’s religion. They rely on Jesus to keep them from doing things and their mistake is letting the devil in to make them lose control of themselves. It’s an excuse to not exercise their own sense of integrity.

    4. Kate 2*

      Yep! I grew up in a small town, a county with a lot of land but only 80,000 people, lots of small towns a half hour or more apart from each other. The people who know you also know your job, might know all your coworkers as well, and a business lunch, people on one, look a lot different than people having a secret romantic lunch.

      Town gossip is just not going to be a problem here. I suspect OP has been taught some really terrible sexist ideas about the ways men and women interact.

    5. StrikingFalcon*

      Can you become a regular at certain restaurants? If you’re living in a small enough town, I’d imagine the gossips are likely to notice that you go to business lunches with multiple people of different genders. Dressing more “businessy” might help too, if that’s an option.

      1. Iris Eyes*

        I like these suggestions and was coming to make something similar. I think it may also allay issues if at those restaurants you also meet husband for lunch or go out for dinner there so that it is clear that there couldn’t be anything off or hidden about it.

        I think it is wise to have boundaries with people, especially people in a business context but remember that context is king. Lunch at a diner =/= candlelight dinner =/= privately catered one-on-one. Personally, I generally land on: in public, no physical contact, alcohol and business don’t mix, and no flirty conversation (its easy as a woman to rely on that to build rapor especially with older men I’ve found.)

        If this really is an issue within your marriage, and that’s perfectly ok if it is. If this job doesn’t fit with those boundaries then you are either going to have to compromise the boundaries or find a new position that doesn’t require eating out with people.

        The bottom line is that this is about you and your marriage, people are going to think what they are going to think. You can’t control that. Some people will gossip about anything and make an affair out of a single glance.

        1. Nicotene*

          I was thinking – perhaps she brings a laptop and sets it up at the table, or buys a conspicuous briefcase full of papers that she displays. It fees silly, but maybe it would make her feel better to essentially hang an official At Work sign up.

  3. K.*

    If “things happening between consenting adults” is the last thing on your mind, why assume it’s at the forefront of anyone else’s mind?

    1. Granny K*

      I think the term is ‘projection’ in the psychological communities. There’s also the part in the letter: “I’d prefer to not allow the question to form in anyone’s mind (again, small town, smallish company, lots of scuttlebutt) or to create an opportunity for anything.” This writer seems to have little to no confidence in her own ability to create boundaries. Or maybe she really has none.

    2. Edith*

      Not to mention how heteronormative this mindset is. By OP’s logic she should also be uncomfortable being alone with lesbians. And she shouldn’t be uncomfortable being alone with gay men. Or allowing her husband to be alone with lesbians.

      1. Jesmlet*

        It’s all so complicated, especially for bisexuals. Can someone please tell me who I’m allowed to have platonic meals with??

          1. Edith*

            You know, I never understood gender segregated dorm rooms. Like if the idea is that people won’t get it on with their roommate, then really straight students should be paired with same-gender roommates, gay students should be paired with opposite-gender roommates, and all the singles should go to the pansexual and bisexual students.

            And I suppose the asexual students can be the wild cards.

            1. Sylvan (Sylvia)*

              Haha, I kind of do get the logic! I didn’t, but then twice in college I lived with an unusual number of fellow gay/bi girls and the drama was u n r e a l. You think college students’ dating lives are a mess? Now put their dorm rooms across the hall from each other. Yeah, see how that goes.

              1. SarahTheEntwife*

                Yeah, I went to a women’s college and we all got the “don’t date your roommate; it never ends well” lecture on move-in day.

      2. AC*

        No, not exactly. As someone said up the thread, it’s problematic to assume the OP’s sexuality will change on a dime.

        1. Boundary Wizard*

          I think that Edith was trying to point out that a male-female sexual relationship is not the only option and if she’s concerned about people making assumptions about a relationship, that same assumption could just as easily be made about two women, or two men. Not that she shouldn’t have lunch with a lesbian, because all lesbians are out to convert all women.

        2. Edith*

          I wasn’t suggesting anyone’s sexuality would change on a dime. Quite the opposite, actually. If it’s fine for the OP to be seen dining with women straight gay and everything in between that means she believes others are taking her heterosexuality into account and realize nothing untoward is happening due to the incompatible orientation. Therefore she should be fine with being seen dining with gay men.

          The only other way her reasoning makes sense is if she believes man+woman=potential liaison and man+man or woman+woman=clearly platonic, in which case we’re talking LGB erasure, which is arguably worse than run-of-the-mill heteronormativity.

  4. Murphy*

    OP, I’m a little confused as to what your objection is. You say that you don’t want to raise the question in anyone’s mind, which makes it sounds like you’re afraid of what other people may think, not that you are personally uncomfortable. But the fact that your thoughts and feelings on this matter are so far outside the norm should tell you that very few people are thinking that anything inappropriate is going on, so that there is no danger of other people perceiving impropriety where there is none.

    1. Important Moi*

      I think Alison answered beautifully.

      I don’t think OP really believes any of us who say her beliefs are outside the norm, otherwise she wouldn’t be so concerned with people coming the “wrong” conclusion.

      This may a question with no desirable solution. She just may have to deal with the professional ramifications – damage to her reputation, reassignment of projects, etc.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It could be that OP has people in her personal life who constantly gossip and make assumptions about other people. I grew up with a mother like this. It took a few years on my own to really grasp how abnormal my mother’s behavior was. I did end up concluding that no matter how hard you work to control public perception there will always be someone who puts a twist on things that you never, ever anticipated.

        A simple example. As a kid I had flat feet and a couple other problems. I always wore tie shoes that were dressy, to help support my poor feet. I was not allowed to have sneaks because most sneakers at that time were poorly made and would not be good for my feet. Fast forward. I was in my early 20s. I did not have much money so I still had ONE pair of tie shoes. Out of the blue, a friend said, “You think you are better than everyone else and that is why you don’t wear sneakers.”

        Anyone else would have been insulted, I almost fell out of my chair laughing. I explained that I was too broke to buy another pair of shoes and I had several problems with my feet. I also explained that her comment described more about how SHE felt about other people than it had to do with reality. I said, “Not everyone is trying to put you down by doing something different from you. Next time ask me why I am doing a particular thing, don’t assume.”

        OP, not everyone is going to hit on you and OTH you are not going to fall for everyone you meet. And that is reality. Running parallel to my story here, you could escape the affair gossip hurdle and end up finding out that the gossip about you is that you take women lovers, you don’t like people in general, or your husband controls you or whatever. If you live your life according to what others think you could end up feeling pretty miserable.

        1. Indoor Cat*

          “you could escape the affair gossip hurdle and end up finding out that the gossip about you is that you take women lovers, you don’t like people in general, or your husband controls you or whatever. If you live your life according to what others think you could end up feeling pretty miserable.”


    2. MissGirl*

      Her thoughts may be outside the norm in this blog but inside the norm in her community. Hence the concern.

      At the end of the day, this will hurt her career the more she advances. In a lot of professions, the more advanced you get, the fewer women there are.

      OP I don’t know where you live but I live in a conservative city and the norms are changing. I started a new job last month and my male manager took me to lunch on my first day. It surprised me a bit as I don’t think that would’ve happened ten years ago. It’s a refreshing change; the expectation we’ll all behave professionally.

      1. Susanne*

        Seriously? Ten years ago, in your town, a male boss would not have taken a female employee to lunch? What is this, the 1950s? Why are small towns so backwards? In normal parts of the country, men and women go to lunch or on business trips together and no one thinks anything of it.

        1. Mustache Cat*

          Yo…MissGirl said “city”. Not small town. I think you have a bias you might be reading into things. And ten years ago was a very different place.

            1. Jesmlet*

              Unfortunately 10 years ago in a conservative city is different from 10 years ago in a liberal city. No matter where you go, the timeline of progress is a little different depending on who lives there. There’s just bigger gulfs between cities with conservative cultures and those with liberal cultures

          1. NaoNao*

            Ten years ago in 2007 it was uncommon for women and men to be seen in public having a business lunch or getting out of the same car at a client location?
            Ten years ago the only reason two hetero people met outside of the office just the two of them it was for an affair?
            Ten years ago routine business obligations were a hotbed of extramarital affairs, unlike today?

            Or do you mean that the world has become *more* conservative in the last ten years? That in 2017, the year a man with two ex wives (both of which he cheated on with the next wife) and five children with 3 different women was elected president? That’s maybe the year we worry about (as a friend put it) “sitting in soft chairs” with a member of the opposite sex.

          2. Susanne*

            No, 10 years ago the norms weren’t any different. And 30 years ago when I started my professional career, the norms weren’t any different. Men and women went to business lunches and took business trips together and no one thought twice. It seems that there are backwards parts of the country that are just now catching up, but what we are talking about has been the norm in the normal parts of the country for 30 years. Sorry.

          3. Mustache Cat*

            Woof, I push back against what I saw as an unfair comment on small towns and end up having to defend my position that society and culture has changed in the last decade.

            Ten years is a long time. Ten years ago gay marriage was illegal. Barack Obama was not yet President. There had yet to be an openly transgender mayor in the United States. The proportion of Americans who admitted to having no religion doubled in that time. Etc. I chose to simply take MissGirl’s word for it that ten years ago, in her particular location, the culture on this was different. I’m sure that’s true in some places and not true in others.

            Guys, I am in a liberal hotbed in the most liberal city in the United States. I’ve never in my life encountered the attitude LW has in person. I am certainly not defending it, since it seems some of y’all got confused. But I think some of this comment section is being pretty hostile against small towns, including the commenter I was initially responding to. That’s all.

        2. Kalamet*

          I was raised in a very small town. My husband was raised in a largish town with extremely tight-knit church communities. Being seen at lunch with an opposite sex person who is not your spouse would be cause for gossip in both of those towns. Goodness, my in-laws still can’t get over the fact that I work in computers and hang around men all day.

          The point is, there are communities where OP’s concerns are valid, even in 2017. I don’t like it, and I really disapprove of the whole “purity” thing, but I can also accept OP’s statement at face value.

          OP, here’s my question – what do *other* women in your community do? Do they attend lunches with men, and if so, does public disapproval descend upon them? I’m curious to know if you fear the perception because you have observed real consequences, or because you expect them to happen.

          1. LadyL*

            I mean, in truly conservative areas it doesn’t come up because the women don’t work in the first place, at least not outside the home.

          2. cheeky*

            It may be a valid concern, but refusing to work alone with a member of the opposite sex will hurt her.

            1. Kalamet*

              Yes. I’m assuming that OP isn’t here to have her mind changed re. lunching alone with men, and between Alison and the other comments I felt like the professional impact has been covered.

          3. Samata*

            So far, Kalamet, I think your advice is the most useful. Observe what other professional working women in the community are doing and use that as a barometer. It seems that would be the best course of action here in determining how normal (or far from) it is in her community.

            It seems like many people want to pile on small towns and communities. They might be backwards, but they exist – whether we agree with it or not. I wish I could say “poof”.

          4. OP*

            I was skimming comments and saw this, and thought it was a reasonable question as it’s why I wrote in in the first place.

            There are mixed schools of thought in this community. I have some colleagues who have the same objections I do for many of the same reasons, and they do just fine in roles that are farther up the chain then mine. I have other colleagues who don’t care who they go to a business lunch or travel with. BUT it is very uncommon for any of my colleagues to go to lunch together in a group smaller then three.

            1. Mananana*

              OP, you say you have some colleagues who have the same objections that you do, but I’m curious as to Kalamet’s questions: “Do they attend lunches with men, and if so, does public disapproval descend upon them?”

              Because the fear that someone may judge you and think you’re having an affair is different than it actually happening.

              For the record, I work in a mostly-male work place. And I lunch/travel with men on a regular basis. No one bats an eye, and if they did, they’re smart enough to keep their thoughts to themselves.

              1. Jesmlet*

                Because the fear that someone may judge you and think you’re having an affair is different than it actually happening.

                Exactly this. Is it just that no one has done it yet for fear of being the first to break the mold, or is there an actual example of consequences coming out of this situation?

                1. Chinook*

                  “Is it just that no one has done it yet for fear of being the first to break the mold, or is there an actual example of consequences coming out of this situation?”

                  Thing is, if you are the first to break the mold, then there are no actual consequences to refer to. There is an unknown risk to doing so and not everyone is comfortable taking an unknown risk.

                  I also agree that the OP is more worried about the optics rather than anything happening. I am open minded and well travelled, having shared rooms and even changed clothes with both men and women present. But, I am reluctant to offer to take our parish priest out for lunch or coffee because of how it could be perceived by people in the community. It is a shame, because he is an interesting guy and we are similar in age, but I also know how much damage could be done to his reputation if there is even a whiff of scandal. And I would be tainted with the same brush (though I could care less).

                  Those in the commentariat who think this fear of rumour is an over-reaction either have very think skin or have never lived/worked in a community where gossip is a currency. The old joke about living in a town so small that everyone knows what you had for breakfast as well as who you ate it with is small because it is also true. And all it takes is one busybody to spread the word and you are toast (and you may not even know it has happened) because it is next to impossible to prove that something did not happen.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  @Chinook. (hope you chuckle) I got to thinking that if everyone thinks ill of everyone then the playing field is pretty level. They all think badly of each other, so what? Life goes on.

                  @OP, it looks like you think that these people are a bunch of gossips who have their brains in the gutter. This may or may not be true. Maybe this gossips are the ones who are sleeping around and that is why they think everyone else is sleeping around. I have one real life example going on in my neighborhood right now. This person IS sleeping around and this person accuses random people of promiscuity. What Person does not know is that people are laughing at them, because people can see right through the bs.

                  My suggestion to you is that you be a trend setter. Get out there live your life and show them how actual ADULTS behave. Because quite honestly ADULTS do not malign other people with gossip and especially gossip based on superficial observations.

            2. Kalamet*

              Thanks for replying, OP! It’s useful to know that you have colleagues with the same objections. The fact that there are people higher up the chain who share your views gives you more precedent than if you were the only one. You may still run into issues with a particular boss who disagrees, though.

              One thing you might try is talking to those higher-level colleagues – ask how they would handle your situation. Specifically, ask what they would do if they were in your shoes *and* their manager was brushing it off. I imagine people who have navigated those waters will be able to provide more insight than an internet stranger like me. :) It sounds like you don’t have to move companies to find a situation that suits you, but you might have to consider moving teams if your manager is completely intractable.

          5. Drogona*

            That is actually a fantastic question that’s far more productive than telling her to modernize when clearly for whatever reason, she still has this question in 2017. Asking what other women do is a great way for the OP to model her behavior, especially if she can find someone who’s viewed as a pillar of virtue by her community.

            And for what it’s worth, I work in a male dominated industry that on trips definitely has a “what happens in Vegas” attitude. I often will avoid going out for dinner in the evenings on such trips (group or 1-on-1) because I’ve had numerous inappropriate comments, advances, etc. It was never quite worth going to HR because that would have hurt my career more than not going to dinner to bond with the guys, but also not worth the stress when it because a “what can possibly happen this time?” repeated situation. That one annual trip we sent 20+ people to…ugh. So I get it. It shouldn’t be a thing, but I get it, and I’ve been there.

        3. Jesca*

          Wow. I am always amazed by how little people know of our own country. No, not everyone lives in the same community. I think here again we are getting off track of what is a reasonable answer for the OP’s personal situation and are rather projecting the “perfect world” ideas instead. Yes, lots of places in this country are a lot more conservative than you realize. And yes, people, women included, still have to carve out a living in these areas. OP would do best to follow the advice of the commentor below and watch what works and HOW that works for other women in her direct community.

          And I suggest the rest of us take this as an opportunity to understand that we do not know everything.

          1. Cringing 24/7*

            Thank you! People are all up in arms about it being 2017 and no one in any US community thinks this way, which is so odd to me because until recently, I was stuck (thanks to a lack of job opportunities) living in an extremely conservative city and it was, legitimately, garbage and the worst. Churches and religious organizations basically run most aspects of that city and gossip can definitely damage your career opportunities (and in some cases is used as a malicious weapon). This is a reality for a number of people all over the US, especially historically disenfranchised groups, so why is everyone just saying “no it’s not, she must have feelings for her male co-workers”?

          2. MissGirl*

            Thanks, I was surprised by everyone’s offended response that’s where I lived this used to be more of a concern.

      2. tigerlily*

        Considering her grand-boss said it’s a concern outside the norm, it doesn’t seem like it’s a norm in her community.

      3. MommyMD*

        Ten years ago was 2007 and bosses have been taking opposite sex employees to lunch for decades. Unless you are unfortunate enough to live in a patriarchal-ruled controlled country.

        1. nonymous*

          My coworker lives in a small town where the only employment options are schoolteacher, gas station attendant and City employee. The Mayor is a volunteer position, although he gets paid $25 /lawn if the City Council votes someone is lax on their front yard duties.

          Could it be that in some towns, people make up norms because they have no real life experiences? Wouldn’t be the first time.

      4. AVP*

        When the Mike Pence story came out, I was really floored by the amount of people I follow on twitter who thought it was totally normal/reasonable. So there does seem to be a community out there where it would be less limiting. Maybe the trick is, you have to find it and work in it?

      5. WerkingIt*

        I don’t think her thoughts are inside the norm for her community considering the response from her boss was that this was not typical behavior.

    3. Traveler*

      I don’t agree with the LW’s solution to this problem. However, as a woman who has dined alone with male coworkers or spent long periods alone with them working on projects, I’ve had gossip come around back to me that there was “something” going on between us. Despite the fact our relationship was entirely professional, and sometimes not even particularly friendly. I’ve seen it happen to other women, too, and I’ve worked in big cities in a field that swings heavily left so there is no blaming it on conservative or small town morality/culture. I never let that stop me from working alone with men because I refuse to let something like that hinder me, but you can have immature coworkers start rumors on all sorts of baseless topics. It’s possible, sure. I’d still urge you not to let that interfere with your career LW as Alison is correct, for the vast majority of people this is not a thing they think about it.

      1. Samata*

        Oh word, you just reminded me of a time a (male) co-worker and I met in the office one weekend for overtime work on a big project without distractions. We both got a stern talking to about our non-fraternization policy, other employees basically wanted nothing to do with us and I am pretty sure I had promotion held up because of it due to the fact that it came up in my annual review 6 months later. The work product and the fact that we really had no non-working relationship with each other (no idle chit-chat, etc.) didn’t seem to matter. Apparently they thought we would only come in on a weekend if we were partaking in other activities that caused us to be together already (I lived an hour away, he lived about 45 minutes in the opposite direction)

        1. Chinook*

          Samata, what you described is what the OP fears. I wish the others would quit minimalizing her fears.

          That being said, the OP has to decide for herself if the risk is worth it.

      2. Queen of the File*

        I agree and I have been in the same situation in a very liberal city–actually fairly often when I was younger and more attractive. Some people just love to gossip. I decided pretty early that I can’t live my life according to other people’s judgemental imaginations.

      3. Jesca*

        Oh this reminded me! My mom works for a fortune 500 company in a major city, and has over the years had people write on the bathroom stalls who she is supposedly “f******”! On the bathroom stalls!!!! Like 5 different times! Like teenagers! So, yeah apparently it does happen.

      4. SystemsLady*

        I’m sure some of the gossipy people in other departments think all kinds of wonderful things about me, as I’m the only woman in the department and happen to be close friends with a couple of my coworkers outside of work.

        It’s going to happen especially with people who aren’t actually involved in your line of work, but at some point you have to let gossip that isn’t affecting your work slide off.

    4. SystemsLady*

      If anything small town assumptions are a nice shortcut when combining business lunch checks.

      You also get to embarrass servers who say silly things like “ooh scandalous, dating an older woman!” when they check your younger co-worker’s ID for a beer.

      (If you’re a server, please don’t say those things)

      1. Traveler*

        I giver servers major props and extra tips even when they ask if my husband and I want separate bills, thanks to all the times I’ve had servers not ask and set the combined bill in front of my male coworkers and friends.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Years ago, I could not write separate bills. I hear some places still do not allow their help to write separate bills. I’d check with management and see if it is company policy. If it is, you can put in a complaint to help change that. I can assure you that many servers KNOW it’s a stupid policy.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            It’s not the not asking about separate checks, it’s the assumption over who’s paying. When I go out with my girlfriend, the check is placed in the middle of the table. When I’m out with a male friend, family member, coworker, whatever, they put the check in front of him.

          2. Traveler*

            Yeah, I’ve lived in places where that was a pretty unanimous policy and I understood. I also definitely understand when there are large parties involved. However, as Ego said, the policy doesn’t dictate where they place the bill.

  5. AvonLady Barksdale*

    What strikes me the most is that the LW is most bothered by what other people will think. I understand that, often and especially in small towns, what people perceive can indeed cause difficulties. I’m not discounting that optics are important on many levels, but on this one… LW, as long as you are conducting yourself in a professional manner and you, your husband, your boss, and your dining/traveling companion are all above board, then I urge you to put a lot less weight on what other people think. What are they going to do, tell your husband? If they do, then he can say, “Oh, you saw LW with another man at lunch? Yeah, she had a business meeting” and leave it at that.

    I know this is easier said than done. I’m not going to rail on you for giving too much power to busybodies, but I do recommend you re-think their importance in your daily life.

    1. MK*

      I am not even sure about the optics issue, really. Are small towns really so paranoid that seeing a man and a woman eating lunch together will assume an affair? Surely people who have affairs don’t behave so openly?

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I don’t think the optics are important HERE– totally with you on that one– just that they can be sometimes, so I get why the LW is thinking that way. To put it in more context, I get why someone wouldn’t have an argument in public with her husband because of optics, but I don’t think it’s necessary to stop being seen with anyone of the opposite sex because of optics.

      2. HeatherT*

        Sadly, yes.
        I worked at a job where I had to visit small towns frequently as part of my job. The gossip is brutal. I and my male co-worker would have lunch together often and it came back to our boss that people were worried because we ate lunch “alone” (in a restaurant) even though we were both married. Just eating lunch together started the rumor mill about us having an affair! This is despite the fact that we never flirted or spent any time together outside of work (lunch is work time while traveling).

        Sometimes the adage “small towns, small minds” can be really true. (though of course, not all the time) :)

        1. blushingflower*

          I mean, I work in a big city and there was gossip about two of my coworkers having an affair that included them being seen at lunch together. But it was less that they were at lunch and more how they behaved at lunch and in the office together.

        2. Susanne*

          How would these small-town gossipers with no lives affect your life in any way? You don’t have to be intertwined with everyone around you. It’s a choice.

          Bless their little hearts.

          1. Jesmlet*

            You’d be surprised how much gossip can hurt people’s (mostly women’s) careers, especially in areas that lean more conservative to begin with. Consciously or not, a more puritanical manager that buys into the gossip could use this as a reason to skip over someone for opportunities, promotions, raises, etc.

            1. SystemsLady*

              I’m not sure if this applies when your manager is sending you on the lunches in the first place. Even a puritanical manager in that situation is most likely to laugh it off.

              1. Jesmlet*

                In this situation, yes most likely wouldn’t be an issue, unless OP went looking for another job and it’s such a small town that they had heard the rumors. But more broadly, I don’t think you can just brush off gossip as inconsequential.

        3. aebhel*

          Honestly, it depends so much on the town in question. People are more likely to recognize you in a small town, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to assume that you’re sleeping with anyone you interact with in public.

          Source: I grew up in a town of less than 200 people.

      3. The OG Anonsie*

        They can be, but really if the town is small enough that gossip could start that easily it’s also small enough that most people are gonna know it’s part of her job and not be worried.

  6. ZSD*

    I agree with everything Alison says.
    As a suggestion, since it sounds like you’re primarily concerned about the *appearances* in the community, what if when you go on these trips, you dress extra professionally (and perhaps even ask your boss to do the same, though that’s awkward)? For example, if your office is normally business casual, when you’re on these trips, you could bump it up to a suit and ask that your boss do the same. Two people eating lunch in business suits are likely to be seen as having a business lunch, not a tryst.
    In general, I think this is a concern that you need to work to get over, but if it is a concern for now, maybe ensuring that it’s *visibly* clear that the relationship is just professional could help.

    1. Merida Ann*

      Perhaps if you have an ID badge for work, you could wear it to the business dinners, etc., even if you don’t have to or usually wouldn’t, to give a visual cue that it is part of your work. You don’t have to, because you are doing nothing wrong by doing your job, but it might help you to feel at ease about the optics if you’re really that concerned. (But, also, it’s no one else’s business and they shouldn’t be making assumptions, if they even are. You can seriously damage your career if you let your fears about what others will think block you from something that is part of your job.)

    2. Lehigh*

      I would not suggest asking your boss to change his appearance, as that seems super weird to me. If a coworker asked me to change the way I dress, I would pretty definitely not do it. But I think that the suggestion of dressing a little extra professionally yourself, OP, and even extra conservatively is a good one. You could also a briefcase, or one of those leather business folders.

      OP, if you have all the appearance and props of a business meeting it seems unlikely that anyone will assume that it is a personal appointment.

      1. ZSD*

        Yeah, I agree that asking the boss to change his appearance is a bit much, but if the alternative in her mind is to refuse to eat with him at all…
        I like your idea of props.

      2. Liz*

        I like this idea.

        OP, I understand where you’re coming from, and I do applaud your intention to make sure there are no mistaken impressions for onlookers or colleagues, but it’s very, very difficult to maintain a “no one-on-one with the opposite sex” when working in most industries. I think if you are clearly dressed professionally, and maintain professional body language, you’ll be true to your standards whilst minimizing issues for your career.

      3. Agatha31*

        I can’t help picturing that Unikitty scene from the Lego movie.

        “Business, business, business! Numbers… is this working?”

      1. Lissa*

        Oh man, I just flashed to a potential future question for Alison. “My coworker wants me to dress especially professionally so people won’t think we’re having an affair on business lunches”.

    3. Doug Judy*

      I wouldn’t have someone else change the way they dress, especially if you’re meeting a client. OP can simply bring a briefcase or portfolio, even if she never opens it if she wants to make it clear to any observers she’s at a business lunch.

    4. Temperance*

      I really disagree with this advice, if only because it’s so amazingly inappropriate to tell your boss what to wear. Can you imagine? “Wear a suit so no one thinks we’re doing it” is not appropriate.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Inappropriate and ineffective.

        “Remember how we thought Jane and Fergus were having casual sex?”
        “They’re definitely not. I saw them at Shoney’s yesterday, and they were wearing suits!”
        *gasps* “No!”
        Yes. They’re having business professional sex.”

    5. Traveler*

      I think while your advice might be well-intended, this is coming dangerously close to feeding into the same sorts of ideas that say women shouldn’t wear yoga pants and girls shouldn’t wear tank tops.

      1. Lissa*

        Yeah. I do think that if it makes *the LW* feel more comfortable if *she* dresses a certain way, that’s fine, but it would just be for her own comfort and peace of mind.

  7. serenity*

    Oh my. I have nothing to add to Alison’s advice (and you’re certainly free to do as you please, OP) but please keep in mind that with this mindset you will be affecting your professional reputation which will, possibly, in turn affect your advancement and other options in future (even if you can’t see the effects now).

  8. Pondering*

    I wonder what the situation would be if the gender of this OP and their opposites were reversed.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Then my stance would be more along the lines of the point I made about Mike Pence — that a male OP taking this stance would be marginalizing his female colleagues and harming women professionally. In this case, the OP — a member of a traditionally marginalized group at work — is marginalizing herself.

      1. JamieS*

        I can’t agree with that stance. Yes women are traditionally marginalized and as a whole men aren’t a marginalized group. That doesn’t mean a woman can’t marginalize a man either now or in the future. To say that can’t happen is to say women are never and can never be in a position of power. Arguably it also causes some women to not look outward and see how their actions negatively impact others.

          1. JamieS*

            The negative impact a woman in a position of power with the beliefs of OP has isn’t negated by the fact women are more marginalized when looking at society as a whole. There’s acknowledging a power differential when discussing gender equality on a macro level and there’s asserting a woman can’t disenfranchise a man when speaking to a specific situation.

            1. Natalie*

              Did the OP give any indication of her specific status? It doesn’t sound like she is a position in power from the description, so this seems like a bit of a derail.

            2. LBK*

              So are you trying to suggest that the OP is disenfranchising men through her actions here? I’m just not clear what you’re getting at.

              1. Hedwig*

                I would agree that she could be, if she has male subordinates now or in the future. Hilary Clinton refusing to lunch with men on her staff would have a negative effect on them, just like Pence’s refusal would for women. Might not be a huge problem on a societal level, and I guess the guy could just go look for one of a bazillion jobs that are out there where the boss is a man, but it still has a negative effect on him in that situation.

                1. LBK*

                  I elaborated on this below but I don’t think the argument is so much that it wouldn’t have a negative effect on the men who couldn’t meet with the woman – it certainly would. But because of the gender imbalance in positions of authority in most industries/fields, in the long run the woman will limit herself more than she’ll limit the men she can’t meet with because it’s more likely that someone who’s in a position of power whose buy-in she’ll need to advance or even just to do her job successfully will be a man.

        1. feminazgul*

          “Power” refers to dominant social power, not individual power. Individuals can marginalize others but systemically is very different.

          1. JamieS*

            I mean position of power as in a woman is the CEO, decides who gets a promotion, makes hiring decisions, etc. Position of power within the company.

            1. Temperance*

              Why are you so focused on what one hypothetical female CEO might do in a discussion regarding the power differential and inherent sexism in the Billy Graham rule?

            2. LBK*

              But at basically any level and in any situation, there’s much more likely to be a gender imbalance among whomever has authority/influence over that woman, even if she’s in a position of power herself. It’s not just about who loses access to her due to this rule but who she loses access to, because there’s more men in positions of power than women.

              A female CEO is likely to have more high-profile clients or business partners who are men, so she’ll be more limited in her ability to meet with those people than a male CEO would be. Even a female POTUS would be more limited by a rule like this than a man would because there are more male heads of state, senators and other influential people she’d need to interact with.

              In a narrow, isolated vacuum, yes, a woman might disenfranchise men by living by this rule, but in a broader sense, she’ll always limit herself more than she limits others because of the gender imbalance at higher levels of authority.

        2. The OG Anonsie*

          Realistically, women don’t hold enough positions of power for one woman doing something like this to disproportionately affect the men around them more than they are affecting themselves. The majority of contacts you might want to have in almost literally any industry are going to be male, so if one female exec somewhere has some weird rules about lunch with men those men have a lot more other options than she herself even has.

          It’s a bad idea either way, but the primary effect is different depending on where you stand in the balance. If you’re in the minority, the negative effect to you is larger than the negative effect to everyone else. It doesn’t mean the smaller outward effect doesn’t exist, but it’s not the primary problem you have.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            Also, the LW isn’t in a major position of power. If she was actually an executive, the answer would be different because the effect on her male employees is dramatically different than the effect a lower level employee could have by doing the same thing. That’s true for any inadvisable behavior.

            1. Sarah*

              Exactly, if the LW was an executive and was the one making the call that female employees were permitted to go on work trips with her and have networking lunches with her, but male employees were not going to receive those opportunities, I think that would raise a serious concern, even if overall in society male employees are not disadvantaged. But it does not sound like that is the case in this particular situation.

          2. JamieS*

            None of what you said changes the fact OP has the ability to negatively impact men and Alison asserted, in this specific case, OP can’t do so by virtue of OP being a woman.

            It truly amazes me how many people who claim to be against sexism are quick to defend and justify it when the person misbehaving is a woman.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              That’s literally the opposite of what all of us have said. At this point you’re punching a straw man argument you’ve constructed yourself.

            2. LBK*

              OP can’t do so by virtue of OP being a woman

              Wait, what? That’s not what’s being said at all. The point is that because of the gender imbalance in most fields and especially at higher levels of authority, it’s more likely that she’ll end up hurting herself through this rule more than she’ll hurt the men she can’t meet with. That’s not to say that this doesn’t impact those men, but on a broader scale, it’s less likely to be detrimental to their careers overall than it will to the OP’s.

              This is about mathematical gender disparities that would cause OP to be ruling out more people than if the genders were reversed, not about an inherent inability of women to be sexist or whatever you’re trying to get at.

              1. Sarah*

                Agreed, if we saw something that indicated the OP was in a female-dominated field and was systematically denying opportunities to advance to a few male coworkers, I think that would be a serious issue and the response would be different. But that’s not what she’s describing here at all.

                1. LBK*

                  I believe even in female-dominated industries, the gender disparity evens out as you move up the ranks; for instance, for the 2011-2012 school year, 76% of public school teachers were female, but only 52% of principals.

                2. Mb13*

                  I think even if it wasn’t a female dominated field it would still not be cool for the hypothetical female CEO to not meet up with male employees.
                  But then these hypothetical men can make a lateral move to literally any other buissnes that has a faster promotion track for men.

            3. Not a Morning Person*

              I don’t hear any of the comments as defending sexism when a female is the one being sexist, just saying that it’s much more rare for a female to have that opportunity. And it’s often derailing to point at others behavior. “Right now we are talking about you and your behavior/performance/attendance. We are not discussing your coworker/brother/random person who might have done something similar and that you have not seen be called on it.”

            4. Mb13*

              Say you are a fish that lives in a small pond. If you choose to only eat red planktons (or whatever fishes eat) instead of green or blue ones, then you’ll have a hard time finding enough food because of the limit you set on your fishy little self.

              this is what your straw woman CEO would do to herself.

          3. Jesmlet*

            This should not be governed by the law of averages. The general point is that if you’re in a position of power and refuse to have one-on-one meetings with people of the opposite sex then you’re hurting others, and if you’re a subordinate and refuse to have one-on-one meetings with people of the opposite sex then you’re hurting yourself.

            1. LBK*

              But there isn’t really a position of power at which point you no longer need the buy-in of people above you, or at least other people in a position of power. Even the POTUS needs to collaborate with Congress, foreign heads of state, etc. and the majority of those people are men, so a woman will be more hampered by a rule like this than a man because she’ll be ruling out more people with whom she might need to meet.

              1. Jesmlet*

                Not disagreeing, just saying that although women are very disproportionately affected, it won’t just affect women. It’s a harmful idea regardless of the gender of the person buying into it and we should try to convince both men and women who believe this no matter what hierarchical position they hold.

            2. Leenie*

              OMG – this was days ago, so no one will ever see this. But the thing that is missing from this argument is that a woman, at the beginning of her career, who refuses to meet one on one with men, is limiting herself to such a degree that it is unlikely that she will ever be in a true position of power over a great number of other people. The same is not true of a man at the beginning of his career, who could likely advance while isolating himself from women. Just compare Mike Pence with no woman who ever existed, because it is impossible to become a governor of a state without being able to be alone with a man. Good grief. Women who decide to behave like this are very unlikely to ever grow enough in their careers to be able to discriminate against any substantial number of men.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Ikr. “In this big-picture discussion of entrenched sexism and gender disparity, we’re really forgetting to address the negative impact it could have on men,” right?

        3. Temperance*

          No, that’s not what it’s saying, at all, actually. It’s pointing out that men aren’t discriminated against for being men, and that men have traditionally been more successful in the workforce for many reasons. It’s sexist that Mike Pence invokes the “Billy Graham” rule, because it further marginalizes women.

        4. Cobol*

          A woman “can” marginalize a man, but it’s tough and rare, but that’s not the point of Alison’s comment. OP is making a choice about herself, not about others. That’s why it’s not an issue.

      2. Annie*

        I would note that, while the OP isn’t marginalizing women, she could actually be doing harm to her projects, her employer, or her professional obligations.

      3. Sal*

        I think there are certain situations, though (different from OP’s) where with the current gender set-up can still marginalize individual men. If OP were a team lead/boss/supervisor and refused to travel with a male subordinate, but would freely travel with female subordinates, that’s a problem.

        1. Sal*

          Or really, she doesn’t have to be a team lead. She mentions accounts she’s on, and even is she’s not a lead, her refusal can negatively impact men. If she’s the sales rep for Project x and a man is the accountant and they both need to travel for it – are they going to replace the accountant with a woman? Of course they could replace her but that’s no guarantee. If it’s a project they’ve been working on for a long time, they might not have anyone with the background to replace either of them, and then what?

      4. mccoma*

        VP Mike Pence does it because he is justifiable worried about a frivolous “he said/she said” lawsuit. He is a target and famous. At some level of fame, particularly someone involved with politics, it becomes reckless regardless of your sex to not have a trusted witness with you at all meetings. Its just common sense in this lawsuit filled world. Frankly, politics / fame seeking are to the point of decisiveness that I would include my assistant always having a body cam. There is a reason for the old practice of FBI agents always questioning people in pairs.

        1. Artemesia*

          Pence was this way before he was in politics but he has actually said that liberals and feminists are constantly trying to seduce him. And no I did not make that up.

          1. Lora*

            Wait, am I supposed to be sheltered from the world in my lesbian separatist commune where I never have to interact with men or seducing Mike Pence? I’m so confused!

            Also, I am honestly surprised that there is someone other than Mrs Pence who wants to see Mike Pence naked. Like, really? Even in his younger days he wasn’t all that. Young Tim Kaine, Young John McCain, and Young Joe Biden were pretty cute, but they’d all have to move over and make room in the bed for Young Rutherford B Hayes. Those soulful eyes!

            1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

              I had to go search up a picture of a young Rutherford B Hayes and Oh Mylanta! He was a cutie!!! How did I miss that in History class?

        2. Temperance*

          No, this is not correct. He follows the “Billy Graham rule”, as many religious men do. It’s nothing to do with him being a “target”, at frankly, the accusation is sexist if it’s assumed that all women are just looking for that sweet payday.

          1. mccoma*

            Billy Graham stated he did it for the same reason. Its not a religious practice, its an anti-scandal defense. Graham had a section in one of his interviews about the whole thing. He certainly didn’t think “all women are just looking for that sweet payday”, but he did recognize that some people did (and given some of the activities of the other TV preachers of the era – well, they should have obeyed his rule for the opposite reason).

            1. Not So NewReader*

              It seems to perpetuate the ignorance, doesn’t it?
              “Yeah, I won’t eat lunch with you because we have folks out there who will swear up and down that we are sleeping together.”
              Once those folks get used to seeing more and more men and women having business lunches together they will have to find something else to gossip about.

            2. neverjaunty*

              It doesn’t really help against a “frivolous lawsuit” filed by one of the men he was OK being alone with. And scandal means nothing to these guys. They cry crocodile tears and act very very sorry for a while and then they’re forgiven.

        3. Natalie*

          Really, he’s in significant danger of a false accusation of impropriety from appearing with a woman in a restaurant, in public, surrounded by other diners?

          1. Koko*

            One marvels that the vast majority of male public figures who don’t follow this rule aren’t buried under a heap of lawsuits and false accusations.

        4. Lissa*

          If that were true though, then everyone in a powerful/famous position would follow a similar rule, and I can’t see Joe Biden etc. doing the same thing. I really don’t think that’s common or justifiable, IMO.

        5. LBK*

          There are a remarkable number of men who seem to be able to live without this rule and not be constantly bogged down in scandal (like, 99% of all male politicians ever?) so this is a load of shit.

        6. Jessie the First (or second)*

          “VP Mike Pence does it because he is justifiable worried about a frivolous “he said/she said” lawsuit. ”

          Please, tell me more about how Pence having a meal *accompanied by his own secret service posse at every moment of the meal* puts him at risk for a frivolous “he said/she said” lawsuit.

          Pence stated why he refused to eat a meal with a woman, and it was not because of paranoia of a lawsuit. Do you think he was lying about why he refuses to dine with a woman?

        7. Valentina*

          Then why does he only do it to women? If being famous makes him a target, why would only women be targeting him?

          1. Koko*

            Indeed, why wouldn’t a man be as likely to start an equally damaging rumor that Mike was having a gay affair? Or is it only women who are conniving liars bent on ruining a man’s reputation?

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              For someone like Pence, a gay affair rumor would be *more* damaging, I should think.

        8. aebhel*

          Plenty of other men in politics manage without refusing to be alone with a woman, so I really doubt that’s the issue here.

        9. Teddy Cruz (not the senator)*

          > There is a reason for the old practice of FBI agents always questioning people in pairs.

          …because one is asking the questions and recording the answers, while the other is watching the questionee’s body language. That’s the reason.

          And I cannot think of another politician that does this.

      5. MommyMD*

        I disagree that it’s not insidiously harming her male coworkers as the clear implication is she fears they will prey on her in a sexual manner and that is just insulting.

      6. First time commenter because of this letter*

        Nope. Her husband is doing it too, and therefore is marginalizing who knows how many women. It’s awful, frankly.

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Alison addresses this nicely: “Unlike him, you’re not disenfranchising others — because men are not a traditionally marginalized group at work — but you’ll be disenfranchising yourself.”

      1. MommyMD*

        I disagree with the assumption that men cannot be disenfranchised when female employees assume the worst about every private encounter. I think it’s unfair and demeaning to men as a whole. And puts them in a terrible position of any innocent little thing being misinterpreted as the female coworker is bringing sexualization and suspicion into an innocuous professional relationship. A false accusation of impropriety can derail a career.

        1. LBK*

          Plenty of men’s careers survive accusations of impropriety that turn out to be completely true, so I don’t really agree with this line of thought.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          A false accusation of impropriety can derail a career.

          Whereas actually acting improperly seldom does.

          See: Brock Turner, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Johnny Depp

          1. Koko*

            Even Roger Ailes, though he was done in eventually, managed to helm Fox News for 2 decades and only stepped down a year before his death in his mid-70s. I would hardly say his career was derailed on the basis of that one lost sunset year.

          2. Noel*

            Actually, FWIW, Johnny Depp was found to have not done anything and a statement was released to that effect.

            1. Sue Wilson*

              That’s not what happened (there was a joint settlement agreement statement in which the parties asserted that no one made false statements for financial gain, so Heard wasn’t lying, and that the wasn’t any intent to cause hard, so Johnny did hurt her but didn’t mean to; there was plenty of evidence including video and text Johnny was behaving abusively), so it’s not worth much.

        3. Trout 'Waver*

          I’m a dude and I’ve had a false accusation of impropriety against me and it didn’t derail my career. I like to think it’s because reasonable people weighed that claim against my tenure of acting appropriately.

          It sucked, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think it’s on the same level as being victimized by actual impropriety.

        4. SystemsLady*

          I think it’s true that those kinds of assumptions about men are incredibly sexist and aren’t the same as the kind of assumptions made about women, but I disagree men’s careers are overall more affected by that kind of sexism. Perhaps that might happen to a male teacher though.

      2. Tedious Cat*

        Well, OP’s husband is also disenfranchising a traditionally marginalized group with this rule.

    3. Lilo*

      For what it is worth, refusing to spend time with male colleagues playa into the harmful stereotype that men are uncontrollable horn dogs who want to have sex with every woman who they come across. This is harmful to men too.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This is a good point. Though it wouldn’t necessarily marginalize them, as they still have advantages in the workplace (I can’t believe we’re even still talking about this in 2017) because of their sex, it’s still a very demeaning view of men in general.

      2. MommyMD*

        Absolutely Lilo. Men have inherent rights in the workplace the same as women do. I think it’s folly to assume otherwise. Or that men cannot be extremely affected by the actions or mindset of misguided women. Yes, generally men dominate the workplace but that does not make immune.

      3. SystemsLady*

        Agreed. It’s both harmful to women’s careers and harmful to men who don’t fall under this bad stereotype. It’s often used to defend male rapists and accuse male rape victims of not actually being victims.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I guess the WOMEN who raised these men did not teach them to be respectful of women, is this the problem?
        Or is it that men are inherently UNteachable on these matters?
        So many people get splattered by the implications on this one.

  9. Lily in NYC*

    OP should probably find a job at a company with conservative religious values because otherwise this will affect her job negatively in every way, socially and professionally. I would stay FAR away from someone with these ideas because I wouldn’t want anything I said or did to be misconstrued by OP.

    1. BethRA*

      I’m not sure that would necessarily help the travel issue though – because if OP refuses to travel with members of the opposite sex, she’s generally going to be the one who won’t be going on these trips/meetings, because bumping a male colleague due to his gender could (and should) result in a discrimination complaint.

        1. BethRA*

          Even if they’re sufficiently affiliated to get them out of anti-discrimination laws – and they probably won’t be – most orgs that are that conservative are probably still going to make her take a seat rather than holding back one of their male employees.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            OH, I misread your original comment, my apologies! I get what you meant now and it’s a good point.

    2. Lehigh*

      TBH it wouldn’t bother me on that level. I don’t know which of us is average, but just throwing out another data point. Yes, I would consider it weird. My coworkers do and think lots of things that I don’t agree with. People will keep it in mind (such as, “Well, I can’t promote Jane because I don’t know if she can have one-on-one’s with male employees”) but I wouldn’t see it as a reason for complete shunning.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I didn’t say I was worried about other people’s reactions. I said I’d be concerned about OP misconstruing an innocent comment or joke and having to deal with some sort of unfair fallout. It’s not worth it. When you are an outlier you have to deal with the fact that there will be consequences like this.

        1. Lehigh*

          No, I think I was unclear. I almost said that I would keep it in mind, but since I’m not a manager I changed it to the generic “people.”

          Perhaps if I was a man worried about being accused of harassment my answer would change, but I would not personally be worried about that with a female coworker. But I would keep her standard in mind when it came time to make plans for/with her.

    3. MommyMD*

      If I were a male colleague I would hesitate to be alone around her as she may misconstrue something completely innocent and blow it up.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        That’s the point I was trying to make, but even as another woman I’d avoid her for the same reason.

  10. TallTeapot*

    OP–take a look at your post and note that you mentioned “things that happen between consenting adults.” The word consenting is really important there, as this means that you would have to consent to any of these Sex Things happening. If you don’t want Sex Things to happen, then don’t engage in them. If you can’t trust yourself not to engage in Sex Things, and your coworker consents to engage in Sex Things, then that’s not your job’s fault, it means you are making a choice. It’s not the situation. It’s the people.
    and if it’s such a small town, then won’t most everyone know that you work for your company and that you work with and for people of the opposite sex? If they assume Sex Things–that’s on them and not you.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Exactly – the last thing I worry about is getting aroused at a work meeting in an Applebee’s.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Well, their chicken fingers are phallic so you never know! (I’ve never actually eaten at an Applebee’s but I assume they have chicken fingers).

  11. Trout 'Waver*

    If you refuse to travel with people of the opposite sex/gender/whatever because A) people might talk or B) things might happen, you’re communicating to your professional colleagues that either:

    A) You care more about gossip than professional relationships, or
    B) People of the opposite sex/gender/whatever can’t be trusted in professional settings.

    Neither is a great message to your colleagues.

    I’m going to give religious reasons a pass right now because that’s not what this question is about.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Yeah, I think C is more likely. If someone is convinced that just being with a man looks like she’s sleeping with him, it gives me the impression that she’s more than a bit sex obsessed.

      2. Nolan*

        C reminded me of something. One summer, when I did seasonal work for my state’s DEP, I had an older coworker who was a little awkward. Nothing major, but there was always a hint of discomfort around him. The job involved a lot of driving, and the thing I remember most about him is that when we’d drive by a house and there was one car in a driveway with a garage, he’d comment about how he always thought that must mean someone was visiting to have an affair while the spouse was off at work.

        I always assumed that he either A) had been the affair partner with the car in the driveway midday, or B) was making a clumsy and unwelcome pass at me. If he’d never said anything about cars in driveways, I probably would have completely forgotten him by now. Instead, I’ll always remember him as that weird guy who was rather preoccupied with people having affairs.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          At best this is very narrow thinking. He must believe that no one ever parks in someone else’s drive way for reasons other than sex.
          I have worked with this type of person a few times. All I can say is, I hope they got counseling at some point.

    1. motherofdragons*

      This is a great point. As far as worrying about what people think goes, it’s far more likely that people will think it’s weird for LW to have these attitudes, and much less likely that people will think there’s something untoward going on between her and a male colleague or supervisor. Given that her grand-boss has already stated that it’s way outside the norm, refusal to be 1:1 with a co-worker of the opposite sex will do more harm to LW’s reputation than lunching or traveling with that coworker.

  12. Lilo*

    You are way off base here, and being unable to work in the same manner with men as with women is going to cause you huge problems. Having good relationships with vendors is crucial, if you arbitrarily keep men at arms length, you hurt your company. Abd your primary motivation seems to be based on the mere possibility of nosy and wring assumptions easily contradicted by your job and your good reputation. You say yourself that you have no interest in cheating, why will you not assume that the men you work with have the same attitude (they most likely do). Also, only spending time with women does not save you from either interest or nasty assumptions. If you want to be a good employee, you should not treat men like this.

    1. Shadow*

      It won’t be a huge problem in a lot of jobs. If you’ve ever worked in a company with a good number of older colleagues you’ll see that a lot of those folks try to avoid it for the same reasons. I don’t think most people refuse to do the one on one thing but they will really try hard to avoid it.

  13. EuropeanConsultant*

    Buah. I frequently have the impression my (male) bosses don’t go to lunch with me because of similar reasons. I know that impacts on my career chances enormously. My male colleagues do eat with him, I don’t.

      1. HR Artist*

        My male boss also never asks me to lunch but he does ask my other male colleagues. Alice, what would European Consultant or I gain from confronting our bosses about it (or even HR but in my case I AM the head of HR)? Scenario 1, he apologizes and asks me next time (Why would I want to go when it’s obvious he only did it (possibly grudgingly) because I said something. I don’t want to spend my lunch hour with someone who doesn’t want to be around me). Scenario 2, he denies it and thinks I’m crazy for thinking it.

        I lose in both. I accept the sexism (doesn’t mean I like it) and move on. I also make sure I don’t pay it forward and treat others how I like to be treated.

          1. EuropeanConsultant*

            Yes, I actually asked mine. The answer was “yeah, we should organise it some time” and never following up. Actually this happened to me twice (in 2 different jobs).

            It’s sexism. You won’t win against sexism by being proactive.

        1. Small but Fierce*

          I often deal with the opposite issue in that my boss will invite me to lunch precisely for the optics. Once he joked that people probably thought I was his young girlfriend, but I shut that down pretty quickly with “nah, they probably think you’re my dad.” I now turn down lunch invitations with him if I can help it, which can’t help my development.

          As for reporting either situation to HR, I’d imagine there’s very little they can actually do. Coworkers and even bosses generally have people they’re closer to than others at work. Also, if you’re in a male dominated field, it’s probably inevitable that most lunches on a day-to-day basis are comprised of just men.

          1. Zathras*

            Am I reading this correctly that your boss invites you because he wants to be seen out with a younger woman? Ick.

  14. bohtie*

    I’m in the middle of some real serious burnout when it comes to dealing with sexism and misogyny but “injecting Sex Potential in a place where it doesn’t belong” made me laugh so hard I had to rest my head on my desk for a minute. Genuinely, thank you.

  15. Meet me alone*

    This is one of those things that I had no idea was as prevelent as it was until the Mike Pence thing. I come from a pretty conservative family, but it just wasn’t something that came up. I was shocked to see a decent amount of support for him in my FB feed. I truly can’t understand the “temptation” aspect. But, based on how many people seem to secretly harbor these views, I have a little more sympathy to the fear of social shaming (especially for women).

    1. Bigglesworth*

      My husband and I recently had a conversation with one of my close friends from growing up and her husband. It surprised me to hear that they didn’t believe that men and women could just be friends. They both expressed a belief that emotional cheating happens before physical cheating. Let’s just say that I disagreed with them and we moved forward in our convo. Looking back on it, their viewpoint completely blindsided me. My background is conservative/moderate and religious, but this was never an issue.

      After talking with a few more people, it really does seem more widespread than I realized. Let’s just say I haven’t dealt with this in the workplace…yet…but Now I’m on the lookout for it.

  16. Mike C.*

    Look, if people in your social circles are spreading rumors about your and your sex life rather than allowing them to limit your career you need to confront them and tell them in some way to STFU. You can’t let them control your life like this.

    1. Important Moi*

      I’m going through something similar in the sense that people are “controlling my life.” It’s very difficult to address, if you’re not used to addressing things like that. (I’m trying to address it.) Mike you seem very direct, all of us aren’t that way.

      I think OP should say something also, but I’m sympathetic to her as well.

      1. Mike C.*

        I totally understand that it’s not easy and that not everyone is direct. I wasn’t always direct either, so I understand both sides of this better than many think. But oftentimes people need “permission” or to understand that they might have more agency than they believe.

        It’s only an option, not the only option.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Big picture-wise this is ONE of the many ways jobs/workplaces can grow us. We learn to stand up for ourselves in effective ways.
        If OP is having difficulty standing up for herself then perhaps this is something that she needs to work on. If we stay at any job for any length of time, the odds are pretty good that we will have to stand up for ourselves for a variety of reasons.

    2. fposte*

      To me the OP’s post isn’t just reputational concern, though; it’s a genuine preference of her own, and it seems to be one her husband lives by as well.

      1. Mike C.*

        I missed the husband thing and great, now he’s marginalizing women in his workplace as well. Awesome. :(

      2. Not So NewReader*

        If the question is this wide, then OP seems to be stuck. She will need to take jobs where travel and public meals are not necessary for work.

        I cannot think of any way that a person can avoid people at work and still progress in their career. I am not clear what OP expects to have happen here.

    3. Susanne*

      Exactly, MikeC. (“But I can’t! It’s a small town!”)

      OP, much as the letter writer whose husband sent in her resignation on her behalf because he’s the decision maker needed to reflect long and hard on why they were so far outside mainstream norms, you’d do well to reflect on why your views are so outside of mainstream norms.

      1. Anion*

        Or maybe she doesn’t have to do any reflecting on that, because “mainstream norms” do not automatically equal “right,” and it’s pretty patronizing to suggest that because she doesn’t feel about something the way lots of other people do/make the same choice a lot of other people make, there’s something wrong with her.

  17. spek*

    Is it just me or is there an implication here that men just can’t be relied on to be professional and keep their pants on? Kind of insulting. Or am I reading too much into it?

    1. Brandy*

      Its insulting all the way around. that adults cant be around each other without sex and that if anyone sees 2 people together, they immediately jump to “must be sexual”

      1. Infinity Anon*

        That’s what I was thinking. I could see not wanting to have a private meeting in a hotel or in someone’s home, but eating in a public restaurant? How exactly is something going to happen?

        1. YuliaC*

          Ah, but the chemistry might start developing while the opposite sexes are sitting in the restaurant in a date-like environment. Practically certain to start developing. That is what I heard from one of my acquaintances with the mindset similar to OP’s.
          Insulting all around, to men and women.

    2. CR*

      Exactly. I mean, imagine if OP went to one of her male colleagues and was like, “I can’t have a business lunch with you because I’m worried we’ll accidentally have sex.” Come on.

      OP, do you not have any male friends? Do you spend time with them, or your male relatives? You can’t live in a bubble.

    3. Justme*

      Also that women are “too sexy” and will “tempt” the men that they are with. IMO it’s the same reasoning behind school dress codes, where girls can’t show their upper arms because it’s distracting to the male students.

          1. Lissa*

            And now I know why the only shirt I regularly get complimented on is one of those shoulder cut-out ones. Oooh! Gotta get me more of those. (Or less, for the workplace . . ) /silliness.

    4. Liz*

      I think you’re reading too much into it. Emotional intimacy – which can build in public and in work hours – is almost as bad as physical intimacy, and often leads to physical intimacy later. OP and her husband have the same beliefs and hold themselves to the same standard. OP in no way said she didn’t trust her colleagues; this is about maintaining professional distance and making sure neither of them is tempted. That’s a very personal choice, and a hard one to make. I understand it, though we don’t hold those same views: I do travel with colleagues, but would be careful if traveling alone with a male colleague not to, say, drink alone together at the hotel bar.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        “this is about maintaining professional distance and making sure neither of them is tempted”

        Professional distance does not mean, and does not require, literal physical distance. One maintains a professional distance by focusing interactions on work. A business lunch is professional if it is focused on discussing business. The fact that each party to the lunch has a salad in front of them does not change that the business lunch is professional.

        I was in a room alone with a coworker, who is male. We discussed recent regulatory actions and IRS guidance on employee benefit plans subject to ERISA. I managed not to be tempted the whole time. Discussing regulatory action is less sexy than it might seem, I guess.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Discussing regulatory action is less sexy than it might seem, I guess.

          Maybe you’re doing it wrong?

          1. nonegiven*

            Pretty sure anything with IRS and regulations in it is inherently unsexy.

            (spellcheck wants to change that to unseemly)

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        The standard is not having sex with everyone you work with, which many people abide by. How they choose to meet that standard is the actual issue.

      3. Nat*

        You said “maintaining a professional distance” and in this case, that means the distance requested and often required by the job. Going to business lunches or on business travel is a professional duty of LW’s job, and refusing to do that due to the gender of the other person is going against the professional distance due to personal and not professional reasons.

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        You seem to be implying that people cannot have emotional intimacy with anyone other than a spouse/partner.

    5. Artemesia*

      In my decades in the workplace and before that in graduate school I have been hit on by many of the men in a position of authority over me. This was pretty much universal in grad school i.e. every advisor I had and several of the professors on my committee or in my major did so. All of them took ‘no’ for an answer without as far as I know damaging me professionally, but they nevertheless made the attempt. I was attractive but not incredibly attractive and I am not a flirtatious person. The big name in my field at another university with whom I had hoped to work on my dissertation actually physically assaulted me i.e. gave me a ride and then stopped and started to tear my blouse off; I changed dissertation topics (oh and hopped out of the car and walked — I totally did not see this coming; I was 3 mos pregnant at the time)

      In the workforce, I have also been hit on by several men over the years — I was married and so were they. It is in my experience not unusual and does suggest that lots and lots and lots of men do act on their attractions in a professional setting. But it takes two. I didn’t have an affair because it takes two and if you handle it gracefully enough it doesn’t muddy up the work relationship. This should not stop women from associating with men, traveling etc, but you do need to be prepared to gracefully deflect and it helps if you are better at noticing when things are heading that way than I was.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I’ve been working for 20 years and I’ve been hit on at work twice, so it’s not a given.

    6. Shadow*

      I’ve seen the other side though too. I don’t think it’s so much that men can’t be trusted but more that people will wonder if you have more than a professional relationship. Yes it’s stupid but those same people look for things to confirm their suspicions. So sometimes what you end up with is multiple people at work assuming that you’re in a relationship and then allegations like favoritism are thrown around. Not saying it’s right, just saying that it feels like a rational decision if you’ve ever seen or been a part of that crap.

    7. Shadow*

      I’ve seen the other side though too. I don’t think it’s so much that men can’t be trusted but more that people will wonder if you have more than a professional relationship. Yes it’s stupid but those same people look for things to confirm their suspicions. So sometimes what you end up with is multiple people at work assuming that you’re in a relationship and then allegations like favoritism are thrown around. Not saying it’s right, just saying that it feels like a rational decision if you’ve ever seen or been a part of that crap.

      And some people just feel it’s disrespectful to their spouse which a lot of people don’t agree with but to each his own.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        But those assumptions can be made if people are the same gender.
        And favoritism can be assumed without any story of sexual involvement attached to it.

        The work world is not for the faint of heart.

        I have a friend, who is retirement age now, but she always says, “There is no way I could have ever coped in the work world. No way. I have no idea how other people do it.”

  18. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m female, and if I found out the only reason you wanted to travel or dine with me is because you thought of me as some sort of insurance policy against a bad reputation, I wouldn’t want to work with you either. That’s not why I’m dining or traveling with you so please don’t assume that any female coworker would be okay. So it’s not just men you’d have to worry about who get wind of your approach.

    I’m not sure where this is coming from, although I see it a lot in women in the workplace, but I’m concerned about your focus on what other people think. To be sure, you should care what certain people think…to a degree. Your boss, your spouse, your close friends, etc. should count. But random strangers on the street? I get that everyone has this trait to some degree, but you have it to such an intensity that it’s going to literally limit yourself to your own detriment.

    A follow up question: if you had a coworker who was a lesbian, would this rule also apply because of the sexual implications?

    1. Shark Whisperer*

      I was just about to ask what about lesbian or bisexual women! Also, what about gay men? Are they ok? Or would that still be bad because people would still see you having lunch with a man?

      1. Snark*

        Or poly! It must have been fascinating to watch my wife and I with our ex-girlfriend. Are they flirting with her? Is she flirting with him, or her? Are they all flirting with each other? AAAH

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Secondary issue, this preoccupation with what others, if allowed to go unchecked can cause BAD decision making.
      I have horror stories of people who did not do X because others would think Y and the situation blew up in a spectacular manner because the person in the know did NOTHING.

  19. Admin Assistant*

    Yeah, if someone of the opposite sex declined to have a solo business lunch with me/any solo business meeting with me because of the “Sex Potential,” I would be pretty offended. It would come off like they didn’t trust me to keep it in my pants. Also, as a woman I would resent the implication that other people would look at me having lunch with a man and default to assuming that it’s romantic/sexual. OP, I really think you gotta take Alison’s advice and reapproach how you look at this.

    1. MashaKasha*

      IME, some of them probably would, but I firmly believe that this is their problem and not mine. Some people assume the most bizarre things. It is not my job to help them stop assuming.

    2. rubyrose*


      Will also say, though, that the emphasis here is business meeting and business travel. I was on a business trip, flew into a facility, and met up with a senior level VP (male) who also flew in. We went to lunch with co-workers from the facility (all women). When it came time to leave the facility for the evening, it would have been logical for the two of us to go to dinner together, since we were both from out of town. He stammered a bit, then explained to me that he was a deacon in his church and had a policy not to be out alone with a women when he could avoid it. I fully understood that and took no offense. But in that instance, that dinner would have been more social as opposed to talking business. We were in different sections of the company and had nothing substantial from a business perspective to discuss over dinner.

      1. Not a Morning Person*

        That comes across as weird to me. If you are traveling on business and have dinner after normal work hours with a colleague from your organization who is also traveling because of business, then it is business. It doesn’t matter that you end up talking about family, tv, sports, or other topics that aren’t strictly about the work you are doing. You are out of town for business and it is business. I tend to agree with people who are insulted by the idea that two adults of the opposite sex, or really any inclination, can’t travel or eat together without one or both of them becoming romantically involved. I’m insulted by the idea. I’m sure it happens but it is infuriating to me (and I’m perhaps overly irritated by this line of thought) that people’s minds jump into the gutter. Let them get their own minds dirty and keep that dirt to themselves.

      2. Not a Morning Person*

        I don’t mean for this to sound like I am jumping on you in this situation, rubyrose. I agree with your no offense taken stance. And I’d react the same way publicly. Then I would be offended that someone didn’t want to eat with me because I am what I am, female, male, black, white, poly, gay, conservative, or liberal, or whatever, because it’s “not business” and they can’t be seen with someone who is me because “what would people think?”

        1. Laura*

          Also: so I need to eat dinner alone rather than having a nice chat with a colleague? How rude of him to strand me.

  20. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I grew up in a small town (think Stars Hollow, but in the Midwest). My friends and family still live there. Unless you’re sitting in his lap or acting extremely flirty…nobody is going to think anything. Or notice. My best friend saw my mom at lunch with a male coworker a few weeks back. Know what she said? “Hey, saw your mom at lunch. Waved hello.” THAT’S IT.

    If you’re uncomfortable with it, that’s okay. But as others have mentioned, be very aware that this will impact your career moving forward. If that’s a consequence you can accept, then just start turning them down. But do not be surprised if your accounts start drying up. You will just have to weigh which is more important to you.

    1. Zip Zap*

      But not all small towns are the same. There are cultural differences between regions, and within regions. Maybe this is a more socially conservative area.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

        This is a highly conservative area. I was ostracized in high school because I dared to go to college to get an education and not just to get my M.R.S. A lesbian working at the local library caused an outrage. The best friend I mentioned was horrified I went back to a guy’s place after 5 dates. So I have a little experience knowing what it’s like being the odd person out in a town like this.

        Regardless, I choose to believe that most people would be able to tell by body language if OP and a male coworker were eating together. And – if not – they’re the type to stir up drama relentlessly and *everyone* in the town will know that.

        Beyond all that – my advice about her professionally still stands. If this is how she feels that is perfectly fine. But it is not conducive to the job she has. If that doesn’t bother her then she should carry on. But without expectation of advancement…unless she can get into a position where these concerns will not impact her career.

  21. Malibu Stacey*

    If you are traveling several hours in a car by yourself, why would you be running into any of your small-town coworkers . . . ?

    1. JanetM*

      My guess — and I’m just guessing and could be wrong — is that OP is concerned about being seen at the work parking lot getting into or out of a car with a man, and/or being seen as they drive through town on their way to or from the site.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Sometimes my boss gives me a ride from work, and occasionally picks me up in the morning. I guess OP thinks we’re having an affair.

        1. JanetM*

          I don’t think OP assumes you’re having an affair; I think she is concerned that people around her might assume she was having an affair if she were seen in that situation. She did say in the letter, “I have no issue with anyone who doesn’t object to this like I do.”

          1. FiveWheels*

            The train of thought seems to be that if a man and woman share a car, it’s reasonable that onlookers will think this is an affair.

            It is possible that OP sees men and women together and thinks it’s innocent, while simultaneously thinking everyone else is thinking affair… But I doubt it.

  22. I never leave comments*

    While I understand where you’re coming from (my father had a 3 year affair with a coworker and I find myself struggling when my husband has work events with female coworkers), you seem overly concerned with what others might think.
    If it’s a small town, won’t they know you work in a business where you meet clients? Wouldn’t they be used to seeing you with different people?
    I think you’re more worried about people talking than they actually are about you lunching with men that aren’t your husband.
    Give yourself a break and enjoy the gift that is “not giving a sh** what people think about you”.
    As for your husband, I see his side. My advice would be to strengthen your trust in your marriage. Like I said, I struggle with this too, but anytime I find myself worrying, I remind myself my husband loves me, and he isn’t the type of man to hurt me like that.

    1. JeanB in NC*

      the gift that is “not giving a sh** what people think about you”

      These are words to live by.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This is a test of strength:
      It takes strength to ignore other people’s gossip.
      It takes strength to build a solid marriage.
      It takes strength to do things that fly in the face of what we have been taught and therefore believe.

  23. bunniferous*

    I have to throw in that culturally that some Christian groups have the stance that the OP expresses-I have been to churches where the pastors and staff were forbidden to go to lunch or drive with or be alone with someone of the opposite sex. If the mindset is engrained in you you ARE uncomfortable.

    I am a) older and b) at a church where this is not an issue now so I am slowly recovering from the mindset. But it is a real thing for some people in some areas,particularly in small towns where people love to gossip and make stupid assumptions.

    Bottom line, if this is a hill OP picks to die on for the sake of her marriage and or her own comfort, there are real world consequences, but she has the right to make that choice.

    1. Anonymous Poster*

      Yes, this was what I was thinking. Some people enter into a relationship with this mindset. As long as the consequences of this are clear, then so be it.

      It’s the approach I take with many, many lifestyle choices that I do or do not agree with. I assume those living those lifestyles are clear about what the consequences of their behavior, both good and bad, are, and shrug and move on.

      1. fposte*

        Right, as long as it’s not affecting people with less power under you (the male boss whose female employees lose opportunities), it’s a call you get to make. I wouldn’t make the same call and I don’t agree with the basis, but the OP still gets to make it, and writing here seems a reasonable way to explore the ramifications.

        1. Anonymous Poster*

          You’re right, I didn’t think about this. There would be the added wrinkle of the networking/good ol’ boys lunch club thing.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I’m guessing it’s a moot point with Pence since he’s not likely to be ever technically alone anyway, but it’s a hell of a discriminatory practice in the making. The OP really can’t ever be in a position to supervise people with this policy.

            1. Anonymous Poster*

              I wonder if they’re different about 1-on-1 meetings in an office, I’m not really sure.

              Either way (Pence aside, in the end I don’t really care) there has to be a way for people in these kinds of relationships where they won’t be alone with people of the opposite gender to have confidential meetings when needed. Although, if it is just lunches/dinners/traveling situation, I think that would be much easier to work around.

              What I’m saying is, it’s not necessarily discriminatory if it’s stuff outside of needed confidential meetings/managerial function meetings. You can always invite everyone out to lunch, or travel separately, or something. I didn’t get the impression that this extended to these kinds of managerial settings, but it is a good point.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I, too, suspected that this is religious-based, and that the church community might be putting pressure on both the OP and her husband to follow their rules on this.

    3. The OG Anonsie*

      Sure, which I think is what we’re saying here. She’s asking how far outside the norm this is, and the answer is “very.” She should be aware of what the potential impacts to her are and how this is going to be perceived, but if she still feels it’s unwise that’s her decision to make. It should just be an informed decision.

    4. ErinW*

      I was thinking of this too. Those of us who have had friends of different genders, or who have dated more than one person, won’t find it so intimate to just share a lunch table or carpool somewhere. But if you are somebody who consciously sex-segregated yourself until meeting an individual that you meant to marry, I suppose sharing that table IS going to feel very intimate–the only other person who has ever shared the table with you is also your intimate partner. She certainly has the right to make that choice, though it’s not a good prescription for a successful work life or an active social life (at least, a diverse one). And, as Alison says, it can be used to justify institutional discrimination.

    5. Rookie Manager*

      Often this is because of the religious counselling rather than an out and out rule. ie the female minister will have a finance meeting with the church treasurer but if he wants religious/marital councelling he would be generally directed towards the male minister. Clearly in some religions/denominations this wouldn’t work because only men are allowed to be ordained.

    6. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I agree with your last comment about the OP needing to live with the consequences of making that choice. The OP did not bring up religion as a reason for this, but in today’s climate I can imagine a case where it is religious based for someone and then sue for religious discrimination.
      In a scenario where Bob/Sally refuse to be alone with someone of the opposite sex, upper management figures they can’t have one on one reviews with employees, meet with clients alone, or travel to conferences with employees/coworkers so management decides to pass them up for promotion. Then Bob/Sally sued the company for discriminating against them for their religious views and not giving them appropriate accommodation in a management position.

      Then the company if faced with (arguably) discriminating someone for their religious views or discriminating someone for their gender.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        If someone can’t perform the core functions of their job, it’s not discriminatory to say they can’t do the job.

    7. Doug Judy*

      I also think Mike Pence’s stance on this has made it a “current topic” in very conservative circles. People whom never had this “conviction” before are suddenly adopting it.

  24. Leatherwings*

    OP, would you also have an issue going to a business dinner with an openly lesbian or bi woman? I think that question is worth asking because at that point you’re really veering into marginalizing other people too.

    1. Lehigh*

      I sort of doubt it, since OP would presumably not consent to sexual contact with another woman and thus has nothing to worry about on that front.

      Of course, there is the gossip aspect, but if the gossips are conservative enough to think a business lunch is automatically a tryst then they are probably too conservative to assume two ladies eating lunch together are also sexually involved.

      1. Leatherwings*

        Yeah, I suspect you’re right. But by that logic, any man who OP wasn’t sexually attracted to should be fine too because OP wouldn’t consent to sexual contact. If consent is really the issue, then 90% or more interactions shouldn’t be a problem.

        If gossip is the issue, then lesbian/bi women would be a problem.

        I just don’t really think the logic holds up.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I don’t really think these views, whether from religious teaching or personal anxiety, rely much on reason. They’re based on fear and suspicion, not logic.

          1. Lissa*

            Yeah, this is absolutely one of those things where someone has a bad feeling about something, and post-rationalizes why from there. It breaks down *really* quickly when you move outside an environment where everyone is straight and cis, and starts to look increasingly ridiculous the more you look at it.

          2. fposte*

            Most of our customs and inclinations aren’t based on reason, though; it’s just that we usually get by without scrutinizing our own.

        2. Lehigh*

          I mean, personally, I think that’s the reasonable version. Don’t spend lots of one-on-one time with anyone you’re desperately attracted to, if you’re in a committed relationship with someone else. (Because: don’t ask for trouble. And my marriage is more important than my career, full stop.)

          But I may be more conservative than most. ;-)

        3. Elsajeni*

          I don’t know — if gossip is the issue, I think it’s a fair point that the hypothetical gossipers are much more likely to assume a man and a woman are in a romantic/sexual relationship than they are to assume that two women are, and very likely to assume that a woman married to a man is straight and thus would only ever be at risk of cheating with a man. I don’t think it’s really reasonable for her to be this concerned about gossip at all, but if she’s going to worry about gossip, she’s probably not wrong to be MORE worried that people will gossip about seeing her with a strange man.

  25. Chaperon Rouge*

    On a somewhat related note, the other day I saw a male doctor for a back issue who refused to examine me without a “chaperone” in the room. Even then he examined me with my dress on. I said it was not necessary but he insisted. I am in the UK at the moment – is this normal here? As a 30 y/o female and I felt the whole situation was extremely awkward – like he was injecting sexual potential in a completely innocent situation, and it made me very uncomfortable. I come from Europe and have been examined by several male doctors, including my OB/gyn, since I was a teenager – chaperones were never mentioned, I never felt awkward and it certainly never crossed my mind that a doctor would look at patients in a sexual manner. I was shocked that his mind would even go there.

    1. Admin Assistant*

      I’m in the US and I’ve had a male OB/GYN examine me before with a female chaperone in the room. I think it had nothing to do with injecting Sex Potential and was more of an insurance policy against sexual harassment claims? Of course the VAST majority of doctors are utmost professionals and don’t look at patients in a sexual manner like that, but enough sexual harassment suits from women against gross male doctors will result in having a chaperone.

      1. MashaKasha*

        I think you’re right. My male OB/GYN asked me if I needed a woman present, I said no, and that was it.

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          Yeah I’ve had places ask if I’m comfortable with a male provider and, in the case of male gynos, if I’d like a woman present. But I’ve never had them just bring along a chaperone or insist on doing it even if I said I didn’t need one, that’s would make me extremely uncomfortable.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Mine always has a nurse present during gynecological exams. It’s a cover-your-ass policy. It may be something the healthcare system he works for insists on; I don’t know. If he’s examining me for any other reason, there’s usually no one else in the room. I can’t remember them ever NOT doing it since I began having those exams. I do recall having a couple of female doctors to whom this policy didn’t seem to apply, but they worked for different healthcare companies or were in private practice.

        I can’t imagine my doctor doing anything like that anyway even if he were thinking about it (which he probably isn’t–looking at people’s bits is his job, not his hobby). He’s always extremely professional.

      3. Natalie*

        I’ve always been given the option to have a female nurse present, so in my experience at least it really is more about patient comfort than it is some kind of insurance policy against a false claim.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I know of an orthodontist doing this in the 1950s. If he could not find anyone to ask, he would have his teenage daughter sit in the room. It wasn’t insurance and it wasn’t gossip. In his mind it was about making sure the patient was totally comfortable.

      5. Anion*

        Yes. My beloved, best-in-South-FL OB/GYN was male, and there was always a nurse present for my exams (except for most of my prenatal visits, because my husband was generally there for those and they weren’t always internal exams). It’s just a CYA thing to guard against accusations of misconduct.

        (We left S FL and moved to England, so I had to stop seeing him–though if I could have, I would have flown back just to keep going to him. )

    2. Jokeyjules*

      Probably in attempts to avoid any sexual misconduct allegations from people who abuse social justice for their own monetary gains.

    3. Anonymous Poster*

      I’ve had the same as a male with a female doctor during an annual physical, who asked a female nurse to stand in the room while the physical was being conducted. I’m in the US, and while I wouldn’t say it happens everywhere, it’s apparently something they want to be careful with it looks like.

    4. my two cents*

      Since they’re looking at your spine, I’d assume that same doc could be able to write prescriptions for pain meds. Perhaps they’ve had issues with people pulling things to get prescriptions written, and are just covering themselves. Or perhaps the doctor has adult offspring about your age, where they’re simply uncomfortable thinking they might also be subjected to unchaperoned procedures.

      100% totally understand the Grossness of having your medical doctor insist on a chaperone, though. It would skeeve me out a little, too. (33yr old female)

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Sadly, being sexually groped by a doctor is something that has happened to a number of people. For some, the response is to always have a chaperone. Not “so things don’t get carried away” but so that if a later claim is made, the doctor has a witness as to what occurred.

    6. Me2*

      I worked for a pulmonary specialist who would never examine female patients without a nurse in the room. I think it was mostly to protect himself from any allegations of misconduct. Medical malpractice is a huge thing here in the USA.

    7. EmilyG*

      I think insisting on a chaperone in a noticeable way is weird. But, I’ve found that both male and female ob/gyns always have a nurse in the room when they do an exam.

      1. Nolan*

        I’ve only had female ob/gyns, but now that I think about it, there’s been a nurse with them for at least part of each appointment. My female pcp also has nurses help during exams, but I’ve never had a nurse just hanging out in there acting as a chaperone, they’re always doing something relevant. I’d be very weirded out if a nurse was just *there* during an exam, hanging out in the corner or whatever.

      2. Julia*

        Not in Germany. In Japan, a nurse was present for my exam, but behind a curtain. Personally, I prefer less people in the room when I’m in that awful chair with my legs spread wide.

    8. Brontosaurusinspace*

      UK poster here. Never come across anything like that at all, and I would be very surprised if I did.

      1. Anon for this*

        I’ve had a chaperone when my GP was giving me a breast exam, and when the breast surgeon did. I am also in the UK – however I am in a area with a high Muslim population so it’s possible the conventions are different in my area. I personally don’t care if there’s a chaperone or not, but I work with several Muslim women who would care. And some of our female patients request to be seen by a womana even though we are only examining their teeth.

      2. Anion*

        There was a second nurse in the room the last time I had a pap in the UK, but I don’t think there was at any of my prior exams or when I had a Mirena coil placed years ago (or when it was removed five years later). So maybe it’s just becoming more common there.

        Having said that, a friend of mine was abused by her doctor in the UK as a child, so…

    9. Enough*

      Interesting. Having a nurse in the room with a male doctor and a female patient used to be pretty standard es (I’m 62). But these days it varies on the doctor and the reason for the visit and even then I have found that the presence of an assistant is more dependent on what the assistant is doing. More doctors are using others to take notes and of course they may need someone to assist with a procedure. But examining without taking your dress off only makes sense if they don’t need to actually see the skin/structure of your body to diagnose you.

    10. Janice*

      I am in the US, NJ, female. Not sure if it is mandated or not, but every male OB/GYN I have ever seen has a female nurse present during the exam. This is for both the patient and the doctor. The patient, in the event that this is a doctor they are unfamiliar with, has a chaperone, and the doctor has a witness to the fact that nothing untoward has occurred.
      This has only been the case with OB/GYNs. In your situation, perhaps the doctor felt the same way.

      1. Bookworm*

        Hmm, I had a male OB/GYN and he saw me without a female nurse. Honestly, I think that would have made me less comfortable rather than more.

        (I’m also in the US and knew this doctor for years, for whatever that’s worth.)

      2. Southern Ladybug*

        Also a female in the US. In my experience in the past several years, both male and female doctors/NP doing an gyn-type check have had a second person (female nurse or CNA) in the room standing to the side. Only during the more intimate part of the exam where touching is necessary, though. Not the whole time.

    11. Lilo*

      I think it is a liability tactic. When I was prosecutor’s intern I would sometimes be asked to sit in on interviews in sexual assault cases when the attorney was male and the victim female.

    12. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I only see one doctor– my male primary care physician, oddly enough– without someone else in the room. Everyone else has a nurse or a PA there for various reasons. Sometimes it’s for malpractice and harassment concerns, as others mentioned, but often it’s for note-taking and/or education.

    13. Ladydoc*

      Oh yes, that is a fairly standard procedure. More typically for breast or genital exams but sometimes for any exam. At many ob gyn practices a chaperone is mandatory even for female providers. It’s a safeguard for both patient and doctor. I work with children, so typically the parent is in the room, but teenagers often want to be examined without a parent. No way I’m doing a physical exam on anyone in my office without a chaperone, regardless of gender. I’m not thinking about sex, you’re not thinking about sex, but frankly it’s not worth it to me to take the risk of an unfounded accusation of misbehavior. Hence: a chaperone for the physical exam.

      Frankly, I’d be a little weirded out by an ob gyn exam without a chaperone/assistant and I’ve only ever had a female provider.

    14. Summerisle*

      I think this is very unusual for the UK, at least in my experience. I’ve been medically examined by doctors of both genders and never come across it. I can see how it was very awkward and uncomfortable for you – as you say, it adds a sexual dimension/potential where none would occur to the majority of people.

    15. Lehigh*

      I think it’s only weird that he called it a “chaperone.” I was recently examined by a male doctor and the female nurse or medical assistant (not sure which) stayed in the room but I thought nothing of it. He talked to her about his findings, she put them in the computer. If she was there to chaperone, I don’t need or want to know that.

    16. The OG Anonsie*

      I once went to a new dermatologist for an annual skin cancer screening and the dude was clearly embarrassed. He basically glanced at me a couple times and barely looked under the gown. I didn’t feel like he looked hard enough at any part of my skin to actually have determined whether or not I had anything concerning, and I ended up going to see someone else for a mulligan.

      Never experienced anything like that before, though I’ve heard a few stories. I’ve worked in several hospitals and I’ve never even heard of someone using a chaperone before, that is honestly mind blowing. I think I would refuse to be seen by a provider who did that– like, I’m not shy in any way about having a male provider (I’ve had male PTs and rheums, I used to have a male gyno) but if a guy feels the need to have a chaperone I am no longer comfortable around that dude. Then he’s the one injecting Sex Potential where it doesn’t belong.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        I’m also really perplexed by this “it’s in case of a lawsuit” thing other people are bringing up. Again, I’ve worked in clinics and hospitals around the US, I have never ever heard a murmur of this before. For one, you don’t tiptoe around in fear of malpractice suits– they happen, everyone is used to it. Second, they also really rarely stick, you’d be amazed how high the burden of proof is and how much wiggle room your providers legally have. Other staff are often in the room during exams for a whole lot of other reasons that have nothing to do with having a witness to each other’s conduct, and that it’s interpreted otherwise is really strange to me. It can be a layer of checks, but not in the way y’all are saying.

        Second, the protection about sexual harassment claims thing is… I’m not sure where to start. There are abuses and assaults by providers against patients. Providers who are not doing that don’t go around trying to protect themselves from some kind of false claim, because that’s not really a Thing. People don’t walk around deciding to try to make up harassment claims against doctors for settlements, partially because the victims in those cases are smeared way harder than the defendants and partially because the burden of proof on the victim is too high for that to even work. When someone is assaulted by a health care worker, usually the victims have very little recourse because it’s so difficult to provide evidence. Providers aren’t toting nurses around with them to make sure they have a witness on the infinitely small chance that someone somewhere decides to accuse them of something. I find the supposition that we have a systemic problem with greedy people going around faking sex assault claims to be pretty alarming for a lot of reasons, but I’ll leave it at the fact that this isn’t something health care workers are worrying about.

        What they do worry about is that their patients are comfortable in situations that can be embarrassing or where they will feel vulnerable. That’s not the same thing.

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          (Deleted a note I didn’t mean to when editing– to CR’s question about the UK, not sure. To the other comments about the American medical system having to do this because we’re so lawsuit crazy: The above.)

        2. Gatorade*

          I think a lot of providers are indeed worried about false allegations. Not so much due to being sued (we’re not particularly lawsuit focused in the UK) but due to the stress, hassle and reputational damage a false allegation can bring. It’s not so much they’re toting nurses or chaperones around, they just use somebody who’s already working there like a nurse, healthcare assistant, another doctor if necessary.

          I agree it’s also to enable the patient to feel comfortable, but the self protecting aspect isn’t negligible. My partner is a doctor and he and his colleagues/friends were all advised to use chaperones for all intimate examinations as a matter of course to avoid false allegations/reassure patients and told they can refuse to conduct an examination if they don’t feel comfortable going ahead with it alone. Doesn’t mean they’ll never do an examination alone, but they absolutely have the right not to if they have any concerns.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            But again, patient comfort is the bigger factor there. If it’s not necessary for some other reason (charting or care coordination or something), then the main reason to have someone else in the room is so the patient feels safe and more empowered to say something if they are uncomfortable. The “witness” angle is a bonus, you could say, but I don’t think it’s typical to have other staff in the room purely (or even primarily) for that reason.

            In the US, anyway, I don’t have personal experience where you are. I looked up the UK recommendation out of curiosity, and it sounded to me like the goal is to make sure the patient is empowered to bring someone rather than that the provider is supposed to bring someone in. Is that something separate from having another staff member present? The GMC guidelines I found said the third person is supposed to be someone who would not benefit from covering up misconduct, and from a total outsider’s perspective I would imagine that someone who works in your own practice wouldn’t/shouldn’t fit the bill there. Now I’m curious about the standards, since the UK posters here are saying staff members are usually used for this purpose.

            Then that reminded me of another thing that’s done here: If you are having some kinds of intimate exams and you bring someone with you for comfort, they will often make that person wait outside and ask you to carefully affirm that you actually want the person to be in your appointment. This is most common with gyno exams. The reason is to make sure the patient is not being forced into something by the other person and that the patient can actually speak to the staff privately.

        3. Susanne*

          “I’m also really perplexed by this “it’s in case of a lawsuit” thing other people are bringing up. Again, I’ve worked in clinics and hospitals around the US, I have never ever heard a murmur of this before. For one, you don’t tiptoe around in fear of malpractice suits– they happen, everyone is used to it.”

          You haven’t been the owner of a medical practice, obviously. An ob-gyn has every right to be cautious about potentially being sued by a patient who, at best, mistakes a typical exam for sexual misconduct, and at worst, makes stuff up out of whole cloth. Of course it’s best practice to have a nurse in the room so that there a witness that the doctor acted appropriately. Malpractice suits aren’t a Big Deal if you’re just the worker in the room, but they are a Big Deal if that practice is your livelihood. This is extremely common among the ob-gyns in my area. Extremely. The ones who don’t do this are thought of as fools.

          1. The OG Anonsie*

            A couple of things here. One is that there are often a lot of other reasons why having a nurse/MA/whoever in the room during in an exam is useful that the patient is not likely to know, and assuming they are there just to buffer out a potential lawsuit is I think a misunderstanding of the situation. Folks are saying “those people are there to protect from a lawsuit” and that’s not the main reason you’d need another staff member around during an exam.

            The other is that I think you’re misinterpreting what I mean with that statement. Every doctor deals with malpractice suits, and anticipating them is built into a lot of standard practices. But your gyno is not going around wringing their hands in great paralyzing fear of the specter of a lawsuit, keeping other staff around purely to protect themselves and not out of any other professional necessity.

    17. UK Nerd*

      Offering a chaperone is considered good medical practice by the GMC and the hospital or surgery will have a chaperone policy that the doctor was presumably following. It’s to protect him from allegations of assault as much as to protect the patients. You can decline the chaperone, but the doctor may then decline to do the examination.

    18. Rebecca in Dallas*

      I actually have a sort-of funny story related to this. I had to have breast surgery years ago and saw a plastic surgeon to get it done. He always had a female nurse in the room with him during our consultations, which I never thought anything about. Almost every doctor I see (male or female) usually has a nurse in the room with them to assist with various tasks. Plus, since he was examining my breasts, it made sense to me that he would want another female in the room to avoid any potential allegations of misconduct or whatever.

      I had several follow-up appointments, each time the usual nurse was there. At one of my last follow-ups, the nurse brought me into the exam room, then she got called to another room to help with something. The doctor walked in, saw that I was alone, said, “I’ll be right back!” Then came back practically dragging one of the receptionists in with him! He told her, “Just stand there.” LOL, this poor girl was clearly not prepared to have to stand in an exam room and potentially see me half-naked! I think she kept her eyes on the floor the entire time. Luckily, it was seriously like 30 seconds of him just looking at my scar to make sure it was healing correctly and then we were all on our way.

    19. cheeky*

      This is a thing that doctors and nurses do. I’ve had female nurses accompany male doctors seeing me before.

      1. Chinook*

        It may also be the same reason why I, as a Sunday School teacher, am not allowed to teach a class at my Church alone. I must have another, unrelated adult in the room at the same time. Never mind that I have a clean police background check and that I have a license to teach in the public school system (where I am allowed to be alone with a student but the door must either have a window in it or be open).

        It comes down to the fact that, in the past, people in positions of authority used said authority to do bad things when left unsupervised. To ensure it never happens again, opportunities to have it happen are eliminated.

        I feel really bad for our Catholic priests. They are told that, if they are alone in the men’s washroom and a child walks in, the priest must leave. This is diocesan policy as explained to us by the bishop appointed priest in our “working with the vulnerable” training session.

        Considering how vulnerable a patient can be during a couple of the more invasive exams, I don’t blame doctors for wanting a another body in the room.

        1. Laura*

          Considering the coverups Pope Francis is perpetuating right now, I don’t feel sorry for “your Catholic priests” at all.

    20. Artemesia*

      This is routine in the US with doctors since they don’t know which nut case patient will charge them with sexual assault; it happens often enough that it is considered good practice. (there are a fair number of such charges too many of them apparently valid)

    21. Rookie Manager*

      I’ve never had this in the UK. And I’ve seen *a lot* of doctors. (Some have had nurses present but never used the term chaperone)

    22. Sibley*

      I’ve had male doctors ask if I wanted a chaperone in the room. I’ve never felt the need, but I understand that others may. None of them have ever insisted on it. If they did, I’d probably leave since clearly they’re not interested in treating ME.

      1. Gatorade*

        I’m in the UK and have had plenty of intimate exams, and in my experience some doctors offer a chaperone and some insist upon it, it’s absolutely normal. It’s purely to cover themselves from allegations of misconduct, as in a ‘he said/she said’ allegation it can be very hard to prove either way and do enormous damage to their reputation even if nothing comes of it. Unfortunately people do sometimes allege their doctor has touched them inappropriately when they haven’t so I fully support them in covering themselves with a chaperone. I’ve never particularly felt the need for a chaperone and feel just as comfortable either way but I see it as the doc has just as much of a right to protect themselves as I do, so go right ahead!

        My chaperones haven’t always been female btw, I’ve had a male chaperone with a male gynae. I don’t care what type of genitals my medical providers have :) they’ve only offered a chaperone if a nurse isn’t present to act as one though. I’ve only had a couple who didn’t insist on a chaperone (across GPs, hospital docs and consultants). It’s not that they’re seeing the situation sexually, it’s protecting from false allegations.

          1. Isobel*

            Sometimes it’s a misunderstanding, or someone might be pressured into making a complaint by a third party, but yes, sad and incredibly traumatic for all concerned.

          2. Gatorade*

            Yeah, but I’m sure that as long as there have been people, there’ve been people who’ve made false accusations against somebody else for their own gain. I don’t think it’s a ‘ugh, today’s society’ thing. :)

      2. Isobel*

        I’m a doctor in the UK. GMC guidance is clear that you should offer a chaperone for any intimate examination, and document that such an offer has been made, regardless of the sex of the doctor and patient. Generally “intimate” means vaginal, rectal or breast examination. I suspect many male doctors would insist on a chaperone for breast or vaginal examinations. Chaperones have to have appropriate training. To be fair I always offer and nobody has ever said yes… But when I did a hospital gynae job the policy was that both male and female doctors had to have a nurse or other Dr present during examinations.

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          Oh I’m so glad you posted, some of the other comments made me really curious about something and maybe you can explain. You said “appropriate training,” does that mean it has to be someone with knowledge of what is typical and appropriate for the exam being performed so they can speak to whether what happened is standard care or not?

          When I looked up the GMC guideline earlier, the stuff I found described providing opportunity for the patient to bring someone they knew and were comfortable with and that someone who could have an interest in glossing over misconduct would not be acceptable. That sounds at odds with the appropriate training thing and what other UKers are describing. Am I misinterpreting how it’s actually applied, or is this a separate piece of guidance I’m looking at, or something else?

          1. Isobel*

            Yes, it’s fine for a patient to bring a friend or relative if they would like, but an appropriately trained chaperone means someone who knows what’s normal procedure and how to raise concerns if they think something’s not right. For non clinical staff (usually receptionists) there is specific training they should do before performing this role. Here’s a link to an example: http://www.rcgp.org.uk/learning/scotland/north-of-scotland-faculty/chaperone-training-for-non-clinical-staff-2-october-2017.aspx

    23. Sigrid*

      Doctor here. At every hospital I’ve worked/trained at, we’re not allowed to do any kind of genital/rectal or breast exam without a chaperone present, no matter our gender or the gender of the patient. The official reason has always been that it makes patients more comfortable and helps prevent lawsuits.

      I’m in emergency medicine, and it’s flipping obnoxious to have to grab a nurse to do a pelvic exam when you’re under time pressure, but those are the rules.

    24. Sarah*

      I have always been given the OPTION of a chaperone for any OB/GYN procedure or checkup (whether the doctor is male or female), but never for stuff like my back. In the US.

    25. 1.0*

      I gotta say, I’m really kind of shocked by the sheer number of comments implying (or outright stating) that it’s purely because of those money grubbing evil women are running around with their fake rape accusations in these replies. I mean, it’s really hard to prove medical impropriety, and the people who try get smeared as “nut cases”, to quote a particular comment, or too stupid to know the difference between a routine exam and someone groping them. It can be hard to fight back too in the moment, considering the power and knowledge differential between a patient and a doctor.

      1. Flood*

        That’s some emotive language you got there. I saw more people keeping gender neutral than specifying women (some of the Doctors spoke of rectal exams so it is not just women who may need a chaperone). I mean, one of the primary reasons IS protection in case of false allegations, there’s no getting past that. Acknowledging that is a very normal thing to do. Didn’t you also see comments saying another reason is patient comfort and protection?

        If it’s really hard to prove medical impropriety then it’s gonna be even harder when there’s no witnesses except for patien and doctor. The chaperone protects both sides and it’s okay to state that. It also prevents impropriety as a doctor is gonna be far less likely to commit an assault with somebody else watching!

        1. 1.0*

          Some of the comments have been very reasonable; some have really, really not been. And honestly I think you’re kidding yourself if you think there’s no implied gender component to handwringing about how false accusations ruin lives.

          I’m not sure why you added the second paragraph, since it is implied in my comment that that is, in fact, part of why an additional person is often kept in the room. Maybe I was unclear —

          I mean, it’s really hard to prove medical impropriety [without an additional witness to back up the patient], and the people who try get smeared as “nut cases”, to quote a particular comment, or too stupid to know the difference between a routine exam and someone groping them. It can be hard to fight back too in the moment [against something that makes you uncomfortable], considering the power and knowledge differential between a patient and a doctor [and having an ally can help].

          1. Isobel*

            But someone might misinterpret a normal examination – it has happened. Doesn’t mean the patient is stupid, just that they didn’t know what to expect. There was a case I read about where a patient had a breast examination and complained because the doctor asked her to put her arms above her head, which made her feel exposed, then, she felt, stared at her breasts. Now clearly the doctor should have explained better what he was doing and why. But having someone there to confirm that that’s a usual part of the procedure would have saved a lengthy complaint process. Again, not saying the patient was stupid, just a miscommunication.

    26. Bagpuss*

      I live in the UK. I’ve found that if the examination involves removing clothing they will usually ask if I would like someone there. The only time it happened automatically was when I saw a doctor at a private clinic (although I was being seen as an NHS patient) .

      Every other time I’ve been offered the option.
      I would imagine that it is partly to protect the Doctor against false allegations and it may also be designed to make people feel more comfortable – if you make it a policy for everyone, then the patient doesn’t have to worry about whether they can ask, whether the Doctor will think they don’t trust him if they say yes when asked etc.

      It could also reflect the local area – if 90% of patients do want a chaperone, then the practice may chose to make a policy of always having one.

      And of course of the individual doctor has ever had an allegation made against him, he may insist on it.

      (I used to get a slightly different situation a lot, as I used to be registered with a GP who regularly had medical students sitting in. They always asked first (with the student out of the room) if you were OK with them being present. When I moved away, it felt really odd at first to not have 2 or three observers, and a running commentary about the examination, when I saw my GP!)

  26. A day in the zoo*

    You have every right to choose to manage your marriage and personal relationships in the best manner for you and your spouse. But, businesses also have the right to manage their workforce in a way that doesn’t limit their growth. If your role includes working with outside vendors or clients, your personal choice limits the company’s growth potential.

    Early in my career (late 80’s/early 90’s), it was difficult to be treated as an equal at lunches or dinners with male clients or vendors. They all felt they should pay for the woman. It took a lot of work to break that pattern and I consider it a huge step forward that no one blinks when I reach for the check.

    On the other hand, there is still a lot of deal making and networking that happens on the golf course or at certain types of entertainment that men are generally included in and women are generally are excluded from. As a result, women lose out on many opportunities for career growth.

    If I was your manager, I would either have to reduce your role to an in-house only position (which may reduce your earnings potential) or offer you a package to leave (due to the fact that you are unwilling or uncomfortable) fulfilling a key part of your role.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I’m not sure I’d even offer a package to leave; being willing to do your job is, like, the most basic requirement of every job.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yes, but the package usually involves an agreement not to sue, and it can be easier to offer the package than to go through a progressive discipline process, if you want them gone quickly.

    2. Gee Gee*

      Well said. Several years ago I was left off the invite for a team-building activity (skeet shooting) and it was justified by the fact that I was only dotted-line reporting to that department, and not a full member of their daily activities. (In my head I wondered if they just didn’t want to get shown up by a crack-shot girl.)

  27. Snark*

    Yeah, sorry, OP, you’re very far off base here, and insisting on this is going to affect your professional reputation far more than being seen in public with members of the opposite sex. As Alison notes, if you even hint that you view all opposite-sex business contacts as fraught with the potential for sexy times, that’s going to come off as highly bizarre. So, frankly, does your extreme self-consciousness about how it might be seen from the perspective of a lewd busybody. I’d really look askance at anybody who refused meetings on those bases.

    You know how it’s going to appear? The same as any other obviously business-related meeting or lunch. Your body language, expression, tone, and general affect is going to be businesslike, not romantic. You might have a briefcase or notepad with you, you’ll be talking about business topics, and nobody but a total lunatic is going to draw the conclusion that a business meeting is a date. My wife and I like to play a game where we pick a table on the opposite side of the restaurant and use body language and expressions to figure out what’s going on. A date is obvious, and so is whether it’s a first date, third, they’ve been together a year, you name it.

    And just a point of language: sex does not “happen.” I’ve been having business lunches for 12 years with dozens of members of the opposite, and same, gender. I have found myself schtupping precisely none of them. Sex – at least consentual sex – does not just sail through the clear blue sky and land on your lap. It’s a choice. If you don’t want that to happen, don’t choose to go there.

  28. CMDRBNA*

    And I would be uncomfortable traveling with the Letter Writer, given their fixation on “something” happening on a business trip.

    I completely support the LW in not doing something that makes her uncomfortable, but in this case, maybe she’d be better off working somewhere where she’s not doing any traveling at all, or only working with women?

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I good friend of mine from high school moved away and married a very religiously conservative woman. He has joined her church and they now both live by this rule. There are also limits on how often we speak on the phone and we are not to discuss “matters of the heart” whatever those are. Our friendship had always been normal, albeit a little flirty, as we had met so young. Now, every interaction with him seems so sexually charged and inappropriate because I know it is so taboo in his life. These are interactions that otherwise would have been normal. A phone call at Thanksgiving to catch up regarding our families – he called from work so I knew it was a “secret” call. Dinner at their house where I ended up letting my dog out in the backyard at the same time he was cleaning the grill. We just had a brief private chat with no chaperones but when his wife walked out there I felt like I had just been caught with my pants down. It was so so so so so so so weird. Even my husband was uncomfortable when we left.

  29. JacqOfAllTrades*

    I work at a small company in a small conservative town. I have business to do, I ain’t got time for small minds. I’ve only ever heard a whisper about various travel and dining occasions with the opposite gender once – someone called my husband to tell him I was out to lunch with a strange man (not strange, but unknown since he wasn’t from around these parts). My husband said, “Oh, her gay friend from San Francisco? Yeah, I know.”

    Seriously. As long as YOU know you’re not doing anything wrong, that’s all that matters. You won’t convince small-minded gossips anyway, even if you avoid one-on-one interactions with the opposite gender.

    1. Gee Gee*

      someone called my husband to tell him I was out to lunch with a strange man

      Oh hell no. What is the professional version of Hulking out? That is what I would do here.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      Someone did something similar to me years ago – asked my then-boyfriend how he felt about me being “out with another man” when I was catching up with a friend. It reflected badly on one person: the one who made the call.

  30. LawPancake*

    What about dining with a gay woman? Or a bi-woman? Can a gay woman dine with a man? Can a bi-woman dine with anyone?? I realize that most of the folks with these kind of beliefs don’t consider people like me but I always wonder how that works in their minds.

    1. Morning Glory*

      To the OP’s credit, she was clear that she did not judge other people who traveled or ate with the opposite sex; she just did not want to do it herself. But you’re right she did seem to assume all potential lunch and travel partners would be hetero. I wonder if she would be comfortable traveling with a gay man?

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Well I am going to have to disagree and say she is judging others when she says sex things can just happen.

        1. fposte*

          I really don’t see how. Sex *does* happen. It doesn’t mean it’s pressed upon you by outside forces, and there’s no shortage of people who describe their sexual encounters that way. It doesn’t map on the way I think about sex either, but it’s not a slur on anybody.

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            Just because a lot of people describe it in a manner to minimize their own choice in the situation, doesn’t make that accurate. Barring mental health complications and coercion whether or not one has sex is a CHOICE. Sex doesn’t “happen.” Rain happens, the rain is not under your control. Sex is engaged in, actively by the participants.

      1. Natalie*

        I can’t imagine most of the communities where this rule is common are super accepting of the idea of asexuality or non-binariness. It’s all one big pile of gender essentialism.

        1. LadyL*

          I mean that seems like the eventual end goal, women shouldn’t be disrupting the workplace with their feminine wiles and LBGTQIA folks just shouldn’t exist. Y’know, to preserve order. Republic of Gilead, here we come!

    2. Marillenbaum*

      No–we bi people have to always eat dinner alone, with naught but our crossword puzzles for company.

        1. Canadian Natasha*

          No, no, we asexual don’t have to- we WANT to dine alone with our crossword puzzles. Sadly someone is always trying to “fix” that so we have dinner company. (Coincidentally I’m writing this while eating lunch alone, blessedly alone!) ;)

  31. Justin*

    “Am I way off-base here?”


    You did the right thing by bringing it up with a superior, and she said what she said and was right.

    If you (and your husband) are truly Pence-uncomfortable about this, that is your right, but it will absolutely limit your opportunities, and it’s up to you to be okay with that or not.

    But real talk: no one is going to think anything about people who appear to be working together unless you do something untoward. And if people see you together? “This is my colleague, MansName.” End.

  32. I agree, OP*

    I’m with OP, here.
    I avoid situations like that with the opposite sex at all costs. I will take my own car at my own cost or stay in a different hotel and foot any price difference myself.
    In my relationship, its moreso about baving tbe respect for each other and value of our relationship to avoid this. Other peoples opinions of you do mattet because they can deeply affect everyday life

    1. Admin Assistant*

      How does having a platonic, business interaction with a coworker or client disrespect or devalue a relationship? This sounds dangerously close to implying that friends of the opposite sex aren’t OK either.

      1. I agree, OP*

        Admin assistant, make sure to stretch before you reach and insinuate what im “implying”.

        Being alone with someone in a close setting isn’t respectful to my husband.
        Its about being respectful and valuing your relationship over the value of some societal norms. Just like choosing to dress modestly, keeping conversations respectful, etc.
        I have very good working relationships with my male coworkers. These working relationships do not REQUIRE me to be alone with them in a situation that might become disrespectful or uncomfortable, so I never am.
        My husband follows this same personal code.

        1. Admin Assistant*

          You said “I avoid situations like that with the opposite sex at all costs” so I don’t believe that I stretched very fall at all, actually.

        2. ArtAttackCataract*

          Okay, but your job doesn’t require those things – what would you do if it did?
          Now, let’s take the same hotel/car thing off the table – what if you’re instructed to take an out of town client out for lunch to discuss a business proposal?

          Do you refuse? Request a chaperone?

          The difference here is that your job DOESN’T entail these things whereas the OP’s does. What if you were interviewing for a new position that required travel? Would you tell them upfront that you will not travel with a male colleague or meet with male clients?

          What if it’s you and TWO men out for lunch? Is that okay?
          (I’m not being snarky, I’m genuinely curious as to how you would handle these scenarios)

          1. I Agree, OP*

            I bring a colleauge or reschedule when one is available for the business lunch.
            Two men obviously isnt ideal, but so long as I’m not alone with either or both them it isn’t as big an issue.
            By alone I mean in a car, closed-non public room, etc. A public restaurant with two men isn’t as much of an issue, though I’d prefer a female friend.

            1. motherofdragons*

              Does a “closed, non-public room” include a meeting room at work? So you could never be in a 1:1 meeting with a male coworker, supervisor, or client? Trying to figure out what you mean, here.

            2. TG*

              Wow, so a colleague has to readjust their own schedule and take time away from other work because adults need to be chaperoned?

        3. Artemesia*

          If my husband had so little respect for me that he felt any interaction I had with a male professional was stealing his property or love or attention or putting his dominion at risk or whatever you think is adding up to disrespect, I’d DTMFA for not considering me a human being. I am not chattel. All men are not competing with him; I have chosen him as my partner. I don’t worry that his female friends are stealing him away because he is not my property; he doesn’t have to worry about me. That is what respect looks like to me.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Before we married, my husband and I agreed that if we found someone else we would say so right away so that the other one would be free to find someone who WANTED to be with them. A variation on yours, Artemesia. Freedom to leave means choosing to stay.

        4. Ramona Flowers*

          Well, it depends a bit on how you define a close setting. Most people don’t conflate being in the same room with acting inappropriately.

        5. Ramona Flowers*

          I’ve just texted my husband to ask if he feels disrespected if I spend time alone with other males including coworkers.

          He says it’s so cool that my time machine worked but he’s not sure staying in the 1940s is the best bet.

        6. Noah*

          You still haven’t explained WHY “Being alone with someone in a close setting isn’t respectful to my husband.” You just keep saying that it is. I’m sure I disagree with you, but I’m genuinely interesting in knowing why that would be true.

    2. Leatherwings*

      You literally have to stay in another building – a different room isn’t enough?

      Wow. I don’t want to be judgemental, but this is really really out of the norm. And insisting on stuff like this is going to affect people’s opinions of you a lot more than staying down the hall from your opposite sex coworker.

      Also, I’m LGBT but generally not out at work. It always amuses me that people assume things about my orientation. In your scenario, would staying the same hotel (not room, building) be okay?

            1. Snark*

              Even intact ones seem to react to humans boinking with disdain. “Your indelicate human couplings are no concern of mine, of course,” they say.

              Whereas the dog is like, “OH WOOOOW YOU GUYS ARE DOIN IT oh hey can I lick your toes they smell salty”

              1. LadyL*

                Not always. We have a cat we have to kick out of the room because he has no sense of boundaries and thinks trying to climb on top of or between us is a good call. He also has once tried to play with, er, dangling things before.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Every time I look at this I laugh. My colleagues think I have lost my mind.

                2. Gee Gee*

                  My cat is also guilty of this, and he’s obsessed with running water. Let’s just say that Husband learned very quickly to close the bathroom door before using the facilities.

                3. Ramona Flowers*

                  Ours too. He likes to split us up and then he’ll kind of put his paw on my husband’s shoulder and stare smugly at me.

                4. SarahTheEntwife*

                  Yeah, when I’ve dated someone with cats their reaction was always “HI! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? CAN I PLAY?? THIS CAN’T POSSIBLY BE MORE INTERESTING THAN ME!”

          1. Lora*

            I’m in the break room trying not to howl with laughter about this.

            I wish I only had to work with my cats. Life would be a lot nicer.

    3. Morning Glory*

      You appear to care more about unnamed people’s opinions of you than your workplace’s opinion of you. Do you mind my asking how ‘people’s’ opinion of you would affect your everyday life? I am not sure how they could possibly affect your everyday life more than your workplace’s opinion of you.

      1. I agree, OP*

        If people see me acting disrespctfully towards my husband, will they respect him the same way as a man?

        1. Snark*

          I personally would, because I do not regard a man’s relationship status as a reliable indicator of his status and masculinity.

          But where you’re way off base is imagining that a platonic, obviously professional lunch is in any way disrespectful. And you can think that if you want, but don’t expect it to be viewed as normal or rational. It’s not.

        2. Some sort of Management Consultant*

          I’m sorry for you, you miss out on so many wonderful interactions with people and you don’t even seem to realize it.

        3. NaoNao*

          What is respect?
          Respect is the basic courtesy and decency we extend to all other humans because it is the right thing to do.
          Admiration is when you look up to someone as a role model or inspiration.

          You seem to be confusing respect with admiration. Respect is, for most reasonable and decent people, conferred automatically. It’s a default setting.

          Admiration comes only with time or knowledge (correct knowledge, not speculation) of deeds. So for someone to properly admire your husband (leaving out the “as a man” part) they would need to know him as a person, not observe his wife’s conduct briefly, as a stranger.

          This argument also assumes that one party in a marriage (in this case a man) has either a duty or responsibility as part of his manhood to control or restrain his wife’s behavior, and that any evidence, however mistaken, of that control will impinge his status.

          It also assumes that a woman can control, with her actions and choices, the perception of others around her. Have you ever been mistaken about a circumstance or belief? I sure have. We all have.

          Your husband can’t control your every move or action.
          You can’t control how people around you think or believe.

          If you want to dress modestly or make certain choices, that’s certainly your prerogative. But to make all of society responsible for your husband’s feelings of manhood? Tough row to hoe.

        4. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          Your version of respect and mine are quite different. I have to go into a male coworker’s office quite frequently. No one can see what’s going on (work) and no one cares. If I got fired because I refused to work with other humans because of their gender, my husband would think I was an idiot.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Agreed. If I had this set up in my marriage I would feel totally disrespected. I probably would have left.

        5. motherofdragons*

          Are you more concerned about what people think about your husband, than what people think of you? If I saw someone acting “disrespectfully” towards their spouse (though I think our definitions of what’s disrespectful vary in this case), it would reflect more poorly on them, than their spouse. I cannot get myself into the headspace of someone who would see a woman in businesswear out to lunch (or in a car) with a man in a suit and think, “Wow, that woman’s husband is a real sucker, and I have lost respect for him.”

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This presumes that the husband controls the wife’s every action.

              We were friends with people who split up and we remained friends with both parties. We were able to see that their relationship was theirs alone and had nothing to do with us. And both people were very kind to us long after their split. We were even more impressed with them as individuals.

        6. Susanne*

          “If people see me acting disrespctfully towards my husband, will they respect him the same way as a man?

          Why is that? Do “real men” forbid their wives to have business lunches with other men?

        7. meat lord*

          “If people see me acting disrespctfully towards my husband, will they respect him the same way as a man? No.”

          I’m not sure what kind of community you two live in, but in most places, no one bats an eyelash at two people of different genders being alone together for business purposes. That’s not noteworthy, let alone “disrespectful” to a spouse. Additionally, in most places, we’ve moved past the “A Real Man must keep his little wifey in line at all times otherwise he loses his Man Card” thing.

          I’m sorry that you’ve chosen such a limiting way of life. I assure you, your husband will not cease to be a man if you have the temerity to speak to a male coworker unchaperoned.

        8. Ambulance Chaser*

          I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t. Why does what you do devalue your husband? What should he have done to stop you from disrespecting him (I shudder to ask)?

        9. LadyL*

          What? The way someone else treats someone has very little bearing on how *I* ought to treat that someone. Lots of people respect Trump, that doesn’t make me feel respectful towards him. One of the coworkers I have the most admiration and respect for got routinely “disrespected” by our boss. I treat people according to my own internal moral compass, not according to groupthink. Honestly, if I knew someone who had a partner that was truly “disrespectful” to them I would feel sympathy for them, and would probably be more supportive of them.

          “will they respect him the same way as a man?”
          But then I also find that someone’s external genitalia has very little bearing on my respect for them.

        10. Arya Snark*

          The thing is, normal, rational people don’t see it as disrespect if you are having lunch with someone of the opposite sex. I don’t even notice such things and thoughts of disrespect would never even cross my mind if I saw two opposite sex people dining together, whether I knew them or not.

          I (female, for the record) have lunch with my (male) boss often. We have client lunches and most of the time, it’s me and two other males. I also have a regular lunch with a colleague who is male. He’s gay, does that make a difference? Sometimes, he brings another straight, male co-worker along. How would you determine if that is disrespecting my husband of almost 30 years?

        11. Doe-Eyed*

          It would never have occurred to me to link any trait of your husband with any of your day to day doings, to be honest. You’re two separate people.

        12. Detective Amy Santiago*

          If I found out that your husband expected you to behave a certain way, I would respect him LESS as “a man”.

        13. LBK*

          Hoo boy.

          a) None of the behavior you have described as “disrespectful” is considered so by the vast majority of US culture. I guarantee most people don’t think having lunch with someone of the opposite sex is disrespectful to your husband, and in fact most people honestly just don’t care. As a general rule, remember that you think about the perception of your actions lot more than anyone else does.

          b) Having someone disrespect you is not a reflection on you. This situation isn’t disrespectful to begin with, but if people did see you doing something actually disrespectful to your husband, that only says something about you. I get the sense that you think “allowing” himself to be disrespected, especially by a woman, would somehow make him look bad. It wouldn’t.

          c) There’s nothing that makes someone more or less of a man other than what his gender identity is. Unless through some bizarre chain of events, your having lunch with another man leads to your husband coming to the realization that he is trans and therefore actually woman, in no way does this situation make him less of a man.

        14. Not So NewReader*

          Do you think people are so narrow minded that they would degrade your husband because you had lunch with a colleague?
          I suggest to you, that is not other people belittling your husband. I will stop there.

    4. EmilyG*

      How does this affect your coworkers? You can work on your marriage any way you want, but I don’t think your colleagues should have to work on your marriage.

    5. Snark*

      “In my relationship, its moreso about baving tbe respect for each other and value of our relationship to avoid this.”

      If you think having a professional lunch with someone devalues or disrespects your relationship, you have a highly disordered view of relationships and I’d wager a disordered relationship too.

    6. CR*

      So having male colleagues isn’t respecting your spouse? How do you cope in the real world?

      Honestly, what is the solution here? Don’t work and stay home barefoot in the kitchen? (Something that I’m sure a lot of conservative churches would agree with.)

            1. Snark*

              Does implying that everyone else is disrespecting their spouses by conducting normal, platonic business relationships make you feel better about yours?

              It’s not name calling. It is a simple statement of fact. You ARE irrational and neurotic on this issue.

              1. fposte*

                I agree that it’s namecalling, actually. I’m no fan of the OP’s planned approach, but I think there’s a lot of overreading of how this difference puts her over the border of reason that makes us sound really blinkered and monocultural.

                When the topic of sharing rooms on business trips comes up, people here are dead set against being required to share a room with somebody of the opposite sex. That’s no more inherently reasonable than the restrictions the OP’s considering, but it doesn’t make us irrational and neurotic; it’s just more in line with current convention so the logic doesn’t get questioned in the same way.

                1. Susanne*

                  “I agree that it’s namecalling, actually. I’m no fan of the OP’s planned approach, but I think there’s a lot of overreading of how this difference puts her over the border of reason that makes us sound really blinkered and monocultural.”

                  But I *am* monocultural in the sense that I think some cultural norms *are* better than others. A culture which says that women belong home/barefoot/in the kitchen/subservient to men *is* inferior to one that says that women should have all the professional opportunities that men have if they so choose. A culture which says women need to cover themselves up from head to toe lest the menfolk be tempted, or a culture which says that women should not be sat next to on planes and must move, *is* inferior to a culture which says that women should dress as they please and can sit wherever they like on public transportation. Not everything is equal. There’s a “culture” right now that just showed its hand in Charlottesville. Am I “monocultural” to think that they suck? If so, color me monocultural. Not all cultures are created equal.

                2. fposte*

                  @Susanne–I think it’s fine to think your morals are preferable–we all do. That’s not what “monocultural” means, and this really isn’t Charlottesville; the OP is asking a question about her own behavior, and it’s not requiring anybody else do do anything.

                  What I’m saying is that “irrational and neurotic” is namecalling, and we seem to be ignoring the ways we make our own moral and life choices in similar “irrational and neurotic” ways. The OP doesn’t have a dysfunctional mental state just because of thinking that isn’t like most of the commenters.

                3. Snark*

                  “I think there’s a lot of overreading of how this difference puts her over the border of reason that makes us sound really blinkered and monocultural.”

                  I think it puts them over the border of reason because what they’re advocating for, and the reasoning they’re using to justify and explain it, is unreasonable and do not logically follow from one proposition to the next.

                  “That’s no more inherently reasonable than the restrictions the OP’s considering”

                  Hard disagree. I think separation of opposite-sex coworkers is totally reasonable. In fact, I think it’s unreasonable to expect coworkers of any gender/orientation combination to share rooms. I think work travel is stressful enough without having to negotiate privacy for changing, bathing, and relaxation with a coworker of any gender.

                4. fposte*

                  @Snark–I know what you meant, but what you typed actually puts you in agreement with the OP :-).

                  If you think people shouldn’t ever have to share hotel rooms, cool, that’s a different objection; if you think it’s more of a problem to share across genders, what’s the logic there that is different from the OP’s?

                5. Morning Glory*

                  Fposte, once the door of your hotel room closes, there is an expectation that you have a certain degree of privacy. If you’re rooming with another woman, you bra can come off. If you ‘re about to take a shower and forgot your shampoo, you can wrap a towel around yourself and grab it from your suitcase. I think this is really different than driving together or eating together.

                  If you’re a woman rooming with a man, I think our overall culture requires that certain walls stay up, which could be stressful – particularly the night before a big meeting or event. I’m not saying I would refuse to room with a guy, but if I had a choice, I would definitely choose a same gender roommate.

                6. Snark*

                  “@Snark–I know what you meant, but what you typed actually puts you in agreement with the OP :-).”

                  Well, no, not at all.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I feel like this is going nowhere for us, OP.

          I am not clear how we can help you.
          At this point I am not even sure what your question is.

          Do as you wish, but for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you refuse to do major parts of your job then there is a possibility you can be fired.
          My suggestion would be to go to work for a company that is run by people from your group of people. They will understand the rules and abide by those rules. My other suggestion is to find work online.

          FWIW, I think posters here would give the same advice to your husband if he wrote in. He would be told that he is limiting himself and limiting his opportunities in life.

          Folks here in this comment section prefer to encourage people to “be all they can be”. That is the nature of the commenters here. “Step outside your safety zone, FLY! You can do it.” That is the culture here.

          If you want this group to tell you it’s okay to limit yourself and do less, you probably will not find it here.

        2. TG*

          IMO, respecting your partner means treating them as an adult capable of making good choices when you are not there, which is basically the definition of integrity.

        1. Snark*

          I’ve carpooled with a lot of coworkers of both sexes and have never once found myself in a compromising position. You’re going to have to work harder to justify this.

          1. I Agree, OP*

            I don’t need to justify my lifestyle. If someone asks a curious question, I’m happy to answer. You are providing contrarian and non-constructive remarks. What am I justifying anything to you for?

            1. Snark*

              You’re making statements that make no sense and are totally out of step with professional and romantic norms, so obviously you’re going to get challenged on them. Your defensiveness around the matter is not on me.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Given how well anchored these beliefs are, there is not a lot we can actually say that is helpful.

    7. LadyL*

      But I mean, the world is full of people who will judge you, no matter what you do you can find someone who thinks you’re bad for doing it. You have to draw the line somewhere, or you’ll contort yourself into knots trying to please everyone and you’ll still let people down. If it makes you happy to avoid “the opposite sex” (btw, what about same-sex attracted people? or non-binary people?) then by all means do what you want I guess*. If you’re avoiding people only because of what “others” might think, I think you’re setting yourself up to be on a never-ending treadmill of misery.

      And as for respect in a relationship, we live in a world where my SO can be holding me in one arm and sexting some other girl on his phone with the other arm. People have the ability to cheat no matter how isolated they are. Keeping my SO from having female friends seems more like a performance of trust than anything with actual value. Personally I like that he hangs out with other women, it suggests to me that he sees us as people, not objects for lust. You don’t have to agree, it’s your life, but this is probably a good example of the fact that you can’t make everyone have a good opinion of you no matter what.

      *However, as many have pointed out, refusing to work with the opposite sex can have a negative impact on the people you work with, and that’s not cool. For example, back in the 80s my mom was the only female attorney in her firm, and she was never promoted to partner because the boss “didn’t feel like he knew her,” but he couldn’t get to know her because “what would it look like?” All the men were invited out to dinners and drinks and events with the boss, but never her. She lost out on career opportunities because this old gross man thought he was some kind of sex magnet.

      1. I Agree, OP*

        Would you think twice if your presumably straight partner were out alone with someone of the opposite sex? No, and neither would anyone else unless their actions called for it.
        I’m straight, so I have no concern (and only respect) for the sexual orientation of a woman I spend any time with.

        1. LadyL*

          I don’t understand your reply. I don’t think twice about anything my partner does because I trust him. As I pointed out in my original post, if he wants to cheat on me he can, he literally has a device in his pocket that can connect him with millions of other women (and men). If I thought the only way to keep him from cheating was to keep him away from all women I wouldn’t date him, that’s just too much work. Love is a choice, not a default because you don’t know any other women.

          You also didn’t address my point at the end, about the ways this belief impacts other people’s careers.

      2. Susanne*

        I am amused by the thought that the response to small-town busybody gossips who *might* gossip if they saw Betty Lou and Billy Joe in the diner together, or in a car together in a vendor’s parking lot, should be “how do I twist my life around and inconvenience myself so they don’t gossip,” as opposed to “Well, whatever, Sallie Mae always does have a lot to say about stuff she knows nothing about, bless her heart.” The proper response to busybody gossips is to ignore them and let their stupid comments fall to the ground, like the proverbial tree in the forest.

        It reminds me in a roundabout way of when people say “I am going to be judged by coworkers for not drinking, so how do I pick a drink that will make people think that I am drinking?” No. The proper response to someone who cares that you are drinking is to recognize that they are the fool and the one with the problem and let their stupid comments fall to the ground – order your iced tea proudly, don’t feel you have to “hide” with a drink that looks alcoholic.

        In general, when people reveal themselves to be losers, then the best course of action is to ignore them. Not twist yourself in knots to pacify them.

        1. LadyL*

          Also, I find most people are thinking about themselves first and foremost. While you’re sweating over how you look ordering an iced tea, the person next to you is most likely worrying about their own order, and not paying attention to you. I have anxiety, and one of my coping mechanisms when I’m afraid people are judging me is to remind myself that it’s kind of a twisted narcissism to believe that they’re thinking about me at all. When I’m out to eat I don’t spend my time peering around the restaurant looking for adulterers, I spend my time with my own companions (whether they be books or people).

        2. Not So NewReader*

          So when people DO gossip, does that mean you have failed, OP?
          Because people will find something to gossip about, no matter what we do.

    8. Lilo*

      I feel like that is more treating your spouse like an out of control sex maniac who needs to be quarantined from the general population. If someone wants to cheat, none of the tactics you mention would prevent it.

      1. MashaKasha*

        Yeah, I cannot wrap my brain around the “this is respectful” part, either. To me, this is anything but. It’s like I am telling my husband that the only way I can be guaranteed not to cheat on him is by making sure I am never alone with any member of the opposite sex, ever. Otherwise I cannot be trusted and things are likely to happen (whether this opposite-sex member wants them to happen or not).

        I am basically giving him the message that I have to severely restrain myself in order to remain faithful to him. How’s that respectful?

        Whatever happened to “I love you and we are in a committed monogamous relationship and I have no desire to cheat on you, because I just do not”? Isn’t *that* respect?

        1. Lissa*

          Yes, the constant use of “respectful” and “disrespectful” perplexes me especially since the implication seems to be that this is “objectively” disrespectful, and other people will see it that way too, but there’s been no explanation as to *why* riding in a car with a male colleague is disrespectful to a spouse? Just repeating that it is. I don’t want to insult anyone for their views, but the problem with words like “respect” is they mean different things to different people, and the definition being used here is not a common one.

        2. Snark*

          “I respect and love you so much, and have such faith in our relationship, that I will conduct myself at all times as if we’re both boundary-challenged erotomaniacs with the impulse control of preverbal infants.”

    9. JAnon*

      I can see the car thing. I have had situations where a male colleague made me a little uncomfortable so I do like to drive myself to things when I can – not as an exclusive rule though. I’ll still take a cab or Uber from the airport with them. Better than talking to the driver! But a different hotel? That seems extreme and inconvenient.

      1. motherofdragons*

        I want to underline that avoiding a colleague who makes you uncomfortable, and avoiding ALL colleagues simply because of their gender, are two different things. One is understandable, and one is bizarre.

    10. Rookie Manager*

      I’m trying to understand this pov. What would you do if your office only had you and a member of the opposite sex in it for however long? Would you go out for a long lunch? Call sick for the rest of the day?
      I work in a small team and if someone refused to be alone with someone of the opposite sex then the service would crumble.

      1. TiffIf*

        When I was around the age 18-20 I had a job in a photo studio as receptionist. There were many times when the only two people in the building were myself and the photographer/business owner, a male easily 3 times my age.

        I live in a conservative area, my parents are conservative as are many of my friends. Literally no one ever said anything about me (female) and my male boss being alone together for periods.

    11. Doug Judy*

      I’m genuinely curious on how it’s disrespectful to your marriage. I’ve heard other people with this stance say the same thing but have yet to hear anyone actually explain how it’s disrespectful. Most people have self control to not have sex just because they’re alone with someone.

      The focus ultra conservatives place on sex is mind boggling. For the record I’m a Christian, who’s only sexual partner is the person I’m married to. I’ve had plent of lunches, meetings, etc with other people and never once has it even crossed my mind. I respect my husband by being faithful, honest, and supportive. I can do all those things and still be alone with other men.

    12. Grey*

      We seem to care too much about the way other people live their lives. Isn’t it better to just respect other people’s lifestyles when it has no effect on your own? It doesn’t make them wrong. It just makes them different than you. Why isn’t that ok?

      1. Doug Judy*

        I’m all for “you do you” but this stance can impact others by having to accommodate this preference. It also costs to company money in having to reimburse more travel and meal expenses because now three people need to go instead of two. And coworkers have to rearrange things too.

        It also implies that people who do spend time alone with the opposite sex are being disrespectful to their marriage and according to the poster, also somehow demasculates the spouse.

        1. Grey*

          It also implies that people who do spend time alone with the opposite sex are being disrespectful to their marriage and according to the poster, also somehow demasculates the spouse.

          I don’t see how that belief is detrimental to anyone else.

          1. LadyL*

            I’ll give you an example. At the beginning of her career my mom was the only female attorney at her law firm. All the men who came in at the same time (fresh out of law school) as her got taken out to lunch with the big boss one-on-one on a weekly basis. When she inquired when it was going to be her turn, the boss laughed and told her that could never happen, I mean what would people think? All those men got promotions, but not her. The boss told her, he “didn’t really know her”. Meanwhile, he’s still mentoring those men, lots of one-on-one meetings. When they all started making partner and she was still never getting promotions she realized that she needed to quit. And if you think the answer was she just wasn’t that good an attorney you should know that she graduated top of her class at one of the top 3 law schools in this country. In her career she’s argued in front of the Supreme Court and won. That law firm could have had a top notch lawyer, but genitalia was more important than talent. These beliefs do hurt people.

          2. Doug Judy*

            Because judging other’s morality is a crappy thing to do.

            In OP’s personal life, I’d give zero cares if she does or doesn’t spend time alone with the opposite sex. At work, it does effect other people. That’s the difference.

      2. Becky*

        Yes, but this type of choice CAN effect other people’s lifestyles.

        If, for example, a boss (male or female) chooses not to be alone or go out with co-workers of the opposite sex then it can negatively impact the career opportunities and even the way other in the office think about the person and their abilities.

        If staying late to help the boss is a way to get recognition and growth opportunities but because of an arbitrary personal rule all people of the opposite sex are automatically barred you are negatively impacting other people, it is no longer just a difference in how people live their lives.

        If business lunches are the norm in an industry and a business contact refuses to have a lunch an individual of the opposite gender it can negatively impact those people who are then denied those business opportunities simply because of their sex.

  33. BRR*

    One part of this I want to question is, what is your ability to not care what people might think? I don’t mean this in a jerk way. People gossipping about you is not fun but what’s your ability to just not care about it since it’s not true? I’m wondering how many people are jumping to the conclusion anyways that these are intimate meetings? Is this your thought or has something happened to make you think this way? Because it’s so common, a lot of people won’t think twice about it.

    My thought when this came out about Mike Pence was if you and/or your spouse cannot trust one of you to be around people of the gender they’re attracted to, that is something that needs to be addressed. Interacting with people of any gender on a one-on-one basis is a very common scenario.

  34. Falling Diphthong*

    So OP, I will allow a small sliver of seeing where you’re coming from–because people who have affairs often come up with an extremely complex chain of Rube Goldberg things that Just Happened and then somehow they look down and discover they appeared to be in the midst of having sex with someone not their spouse, how on earth did this happen?

    The thing is, they made a whole lot of conscious choices while walking that path. The Not Planning is a ruse. It isn’t like drawing the line at doughnuts in the house as a simple tactic to stop yourself from eating doughnuts–the people who want doughnuts will manipulate events so that they and the doughnuts just happen to wind up in the same car together with no one else around.

    The logical extension of what you’re doing means that you can’t buy milk from a grocer of the opposite gender, can’t get your leaky tub seal fixed unless the plumber is of your gender, and so on. The only way to live like that is to completely remove one gender from all daily life activities so accidental Professional Alonings don’t happen, and that is not a solution that works with western democracy. (It was used by the Taliban in Afghanistan, where women whose husbands, sons, or fathers had been killed were out of luck when it came to obtaining food, because they couldn’t go to the store without a close male relative chaperone. It was a bad system.)

  35. LadyL*

    OP, I think you’re way too worried about other people. When I’m out with someone I’m usually focused on that person, not the random other people also at the restaurant, and I presume others are the same. I couldn’t pick my fellow diners out of a lineup if my life depended on it, and I bet the same would be true of others trying to identify me. And I am originally from a small town. I very much doubt that when you go out for work other patrons are giving you a second thought, or analyzing your relationship with whoever you’re out with. People generally think about themselves first and foremost, and others much less so. Sometimes you see someone staring at you and you think they’re judging you, but really in their heads they’re thinking “That girl is totally looking at me, I knew this outfit was a mistake!”

  36. Katie*

    Hoo boy, the Pence Question. That was a fascinating thing to watch play out, because it revealed how enormous the cultural divide is in our country. My sister-in-law — a smart, hardworking nurse with a graduate degree who grew up in rural Texas and goes to an Evangelical megachurch — was just as horrified as I was when Pence made those comments. She couldn’t believe that a man and woman would ever dine alone together professionally, just as I couldn’t fathom how anyone would ever consider that objectionable.

    I think Alison’s advice is spot-on. Before we attack the letter-writer, let’s consider that maybe she comes from a wildly different (and yeah, possibly very sexist) cultural background where this was just something taken for granted, if not taught to her from an early age.

    1. Susanne*

      “My sister-in-law — a smart, hardworking nurse with a graduate degree who grew up in rural Texas and goes to an Evangelical megachurch — was just as horrified as I was when Pence made those comments. She couldn’t believe that a man and woman would ever dine alone together professionally, just as I couldn’t fathom how anyone would ever consider that objectionable.”

      Yes, this is what I mean. An area like that is just not a normal part of the country. It’s wildly out of the mainstream. As MommyMD has said, men and women have been having business lunches and dinners and taking business trips together for years and years, and no one thinks twice. Areas like that are the outlier, and they would do well to realize that they are the exception, not the rule.

  37. MK*

    OP, all other issues aside, what exacltly do you expect to happen after you “tactfully say no”? (By the way, there is no tactful way to communicate this, it’s offensive all around). Will you forgo the business travel and the munches with vendors (which means that you will offload part of your work to another employee)? Will you quit handling any accounts that require travel? Do you expect to go and your company to send only women along with you? Do you intent to demand that vendors only send female respresentatives?

    I hope you realise that, even if your company agrees to accommodate you in this matter, the easiest (and frankly, the fairest) way for them to do it is at the expense of your prefessional developement.

    1. Noah*

      Is it even legal to accommodate this? It seems like some kind of sex discrimination — like you’re allowing a woman to work with OP where OP is needed, but not a man.

  38. Cait*

    “My husband has also admitted”…

    OP, you kind of casually throw in your letter than your husband is not comfortable with you having business lunches 1:1 with male colleagues/vendors/clients… is his opinion swaying you more than you’re letting on? Trust in a relationship is critical and if you guys have issues with business lunches, then you might want to consider counseling to find out where the lack of trust lies.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Agreed, especially if this is NOT a religious practice followed by the OP and her husband. Not that I agree with it either way (sorry, OP and I agree OP above; I think it’s sexist nonsense). But if it came up recently in the relationship or is an escalation of some kind of underlying issue, you guys need to address it as soon as possible.

  39. AndersonDarling*

    If the OP is uncomfortable around males she is not related to, then that is perfectly fine. But she will need to have a frank discussion with her boss to discuss her limitations. The OP may need to be moved to an in-house position that does not meet with clients. The manager can’t be expected to vent the gender of the OP’s guests.
    I can respect the OP’s decision, but she needs to take responsibility for it instead of expecting her manager to accommodate her. Transfer to a different role and everyone will be happy.

    1. Clever Alias*

      +1 to this comment. “I can respect the OP’s decision, but she needs to take responsibility for it instead of expecting her manager to accommodate her.”

      I’m a little surprised by the number of comments on this thread questioning (and at times, attacking!) OP’s lifestyle choice. I certainly wouldn’t choose to live this way and could never marry a man who expected me to (luckily, didn’t!) but it’s her choice, not mine. I can respect that.

      As long as she understands and accepts the business limitations it puts on her, which I think Alison did a good job of delineating.

  40. JB*

    If this is an obligation imposed by your religion, then request from your boss whatever religious accommodation is necessary/relevant given the details of your job. If you’re the boss, run anything you do about this by HR to ensure you stay on the right side of anti-discrimination laws.

    If not, then this is just something you’ll have to deal with as a member of the professional workforce.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      As I stated above the question then becomes what is considered a reasonable religious accommodation?

      I would think being moved to an in-house position that doesn’t require traveling, meeting with clients/colleagues would be a reasonable accommodation, but what if this limits a person’s ability to be promoted?

      Would receiving a promotion but refusing to review members of the opposite sex alone, to meet with clients, travel for conferences be a reasonable religious accommodation?

      1. fposte*

        Probably not in most fields I know. It would mean the person is unable to fulfill key functions of the job.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I agree, but I think this might be issues we will see more and more the that courts will end up having to decide where to draw the line.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            I think “ability to fulfill key functions of the job” is a pretty good line, honestly.

  41. pammat*

    My first response was “Get thee to a nunnery.”

    Because yeah, this is way off base.

    As previous posters have mentioned, I’ve had countless meetings, countless meals, countless travel days, with members of the opposite sex…with NO hanky panky.

    I find it abhorrent that shenanigans are the first thing people think of…no, should be spreadsheets.

    And if people are wondering about you and that guy…couldn’t they wonder about you and that girl?

    1. GiGi*

      In the context of that scene in Hamlet, he was calling Ophelia a whore and telling her to go to a brothel (nunnery being slang for brothel)

    2. NaoNao*

      Hee, I hope this isn’t perceived as nitpicky but in the context of that quote, your use is extra funny.
      A “nunnery” used to be a bawdy slang for, um “cathouse” or “house of ill repute”. So Hamlet is insulting Ophelia by calling her “a lady of the night” while pretending he’s telling her to go to a convent.

      It’s funny how both convents and “nunneries” are places where traditional sex roles are strictly enforced, and women are taught that men have only one thing on their mind…

      1. Isobel*

        Though many nuns are very down-to-earth and level-headed about sex and relationships. Look at the midwife sisters of “Call The Midwife”, or many of the orders who manage to work with homeless or disadvantaged people without worrying about “what people might think”.

  42. Mustache Cat*

    LW, I truly hear your concern about gossip, but your proposed course of action is so out of the norm that pursuing it would invite much more speculation than otherwise. People are bound to talk about something so unusual, and I can see the gossip becoming hurtful: people might speculate that your husband is controlling or abusive, for example, or whisper that you’re such a compulsive cheater that you can’t even allow yourself in innocent scenarios. If you don’t believe me, just look at the public speculation about the Pences’ private life.

  43. OP*

    Well, I wondered what I’d be wading into here.

    I did see a couple comments (so far) regarding my husband putting thoughts in my head. Let me put that to rest. This was a mutual decision about transparency in our marriage and being careful not to put ourselves in potentially bad situations out of respect for one another, not because he put any thoughts into my head. I find that idea a little offensive, actually.

    I realize that being alone with consenting adults doesn’t mean something is going to happen, and that things can happen with women too, and that yes, I can say no to anything, and that there’s always the scenario that someone decides to spread stories anyways even if there was a third party there. (Holy commas, Batman…) But I would prefer to avoid the drama within my marriage and without that comes from people making assumptions, however wrong, that anything occurred and keep everything above board as much as I can. Will it solve everything? Nope, there’s always the random scenario where it won’t. But I tried.

    Further background: I am an abuse survivor. I understand my threshold for what is acceptable might be lower then normal because of this. I didn’t include that because it’s not the primary reason for my objections, but it’s a factor nonetheless.

    1. CR*

      Who exactly in your life is spreading crazy rumours that you’re boinking every man you interact with? That’s your problem here, not your colleagues.

      1. Natalie*

        Or alternatively, perhaps people spread rumors around OP’s husband and OP is the one that reacts badly to those rumors? In which case, I know this is the Ur Advice but maybe get some counseling to work on your issues with trust.

    2. Some sort of Management Consultant*

      But… that isn’t an assumption most people would make. That’s the whole point.

      Do you assume all opposite sex people meeting one-on-one are involved then?

      1. XK*

        I don’t think she does – it’s just that in her relationship their trust system is very, very different. If it works for them fine. This could be something that time can adjust, one way or the other. It seems the OP is willing to accept the professional trade-offs, and I assume her partner is too. I highly doubt she sees people out in public and judges them for lack of respect and transparency.

        1. OP*

          Yes, that is exactly it. It’s also why in my letter to Alison I stated that I really don’t have a problem with anyone who doesn’t object to this type of thing. Everyone has different levels they’re okay with operating at, and I’m not going to assume anything about anyone.

    3. fposte*

      Hi, OP; thanks for weighing in. I think this is a bit of a hot-button issue at the moment and we all bring our lives to considering a question like this. But you’re also getting some good responses, including of course from Alison, that give you an idea of what this policy means for you–yes, you can do it, and yes, it’s going to be an outlier that would have effects on career trajectory in most fields. But we all make tradeoffs in our lives and that’s always a very personal decision, so it’s possible you’ll consider this one worthwhile.

      1. OP*

        I do agree with the idea that it appears to be a trade-off, and I’ll have to consider that. I wasn’t intending to set anyone off, but apparently I did. I appreciate your sum up of the situation.

        1. Lehigh*

          I would also note, OP, that most conservative groups that call for this kind of strict male/female separation typically don’t expect women to have stellar careers. This is part of the choice you’re making. Some women don’t need to do lots of business lunches or travel because they will never rise much above entry-level anyway, unless in an all-female context.

          I am not suggesting there are no exceptions to this rule, but this is how I have normally seen it play out.

          Best of luck as you mull it over.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Hi OP –

          Thanks for commenting on the thread!

          I commented elsewhere in the thread but wanted to be sure you saw it: As a manager, I wouldn’t allow you to make this choice (because it interferes with the most basic functions of work).

          I say this not to bash you and your choices, but because I’m not sure that fposte’s comment about this choice affecting your career trajectory is clear enough — not only will this affect how people perceive you, it could also jeopardize your employment entirely.

          If you do decide to maintain this policy, I think it will be easiest for you if you disclose it during hiring processes (maybe after you have an offer, but before you accept).

          1. Orphan Brown*

            Right, this is what I wanted to come in to say as well. I wouldn’t tolerate these restrictions, that can have a real impact on your ability to do your job, of someone on my team, so if you were my direct report, you wouldn’t be, for long.

            You may be better off finding a different career where travel and work meals are not an essential part of your duties.

        3. serenity*

          Thanks for engaging with the comments, OP.

          It seems that you are aware that this is a choice of your own making and there may be professional repercussions to it. It’s totally okay for you to be aware of that and disregard it, but my question to you is – why did you write in to AAM? To have your choice vetted, or to get confirmation of some sort? I’m not sure what your objective here is as you seem set to go down this path.

          1. OP*

            I posted to get an idea of the bigger picture. I’ve had jobs at only two companies in my career, both in the same general area. I don’t want to operate in a vacuum, and like I said, I am getting varied answers from my normal mentors. I do acknowledge that there may be repercussions if it’s something I stick with, but I’m also accepting of the idea that there may be gray areas to it and will have to consider that as well and weigh it in, just like anything else. If I seem like I’m not considering what’s being said, it’s because I have no desire to engage in snark on the subject, so I’m being somewhat picky about what comments I reply to.

            1. meat lord*

              Hi, OP. I’m glad to hear what your goal in writing in to AAM is. Like many other people here, coworkers of different genders being alone together seems totally commonplace to me. It would be pretty shocking to encounter anyone in my professional circles who refused to do that, and it would limit that person’s career and opportunities, I think. Depending on where you live, folks might find it even more gossip-worthy that you avoid being alone with men.

              While I understand that you and your husband have mutually agreed on this, and that he also abides by this rule, I’m kinda concerned about the emotional underpinnings of your decision.

            2. Susanne*

              OP, I mean this nicely. Doesn’t the fact that that you are getting varied answers from your mentors tell you that there’s something wrong with this line of thinking? I mean, your mentors aren’t all saying “That’s a great idea, OP! It IS inappropriate to have (or be seen having) a business lunch or a trip with a man; glad you said something.” Presumably some are them are saying “What’s the big deal? You’re there to focus on business, and this is just a part of doing business.” And presumably some of them are saying “You’ve got to be kidding if you think that people see a man and a woman at a business lunch and automatically assume they are up to no good.”

            3. Mockingjay*

              OP, you might want to consider that your refusal sends an inadvertent message.

              When you refuse to travel or partake meals with your male coworkers, you are implying that they cannot be trusted. That’s a horrible label to put on a coworker who is simply doing his job.

              I say this as a married woman who is traveling for work next month with 5 men. The only label I have for them is TEAM.

    4. BRR*

      Thank you for replying and I hope the comments don’t pile on too much. I hope this isn’t intruding too much, but is this only for business interactions or is personal ones as well? At the end of the day you can follow this rule but it might limit opportunities and even jeopardize your job as it’s client related and doesn’t always sound possible to choose who you meet with. If you’re ok with that then it is what it is.

      1. OP*

        Thanks for the reply.

        No it’s not intruding too much, and yes, this goes for personal interactions as well. I generally don’t have contact with men outside my family that’s not in a public and group setting, for pretty much the same reasons. My husband doesn’t generally have contact with women except in the same circumstances. We both know it doesn’t cover every possible eventuality.

        And you’re correct, it is what it is.

    5. Snark*

      “But I would prefer to avoid the drama within my marriage and without that comes from people making assumptions, however wrong, that anything occurred and keep everything above board as much as I can.”

      Oh hey, what’s this?

      “But I would prefer to avoid the drama within my marriage.”

      I see it! The problem, I have discovered it!

      “the drama within my marriage”

      There we go. Now we can discuss that.

        1. Susanne*

          I think you are right. I suspect the issue isn’t *really* that Sallie Mae will see you at the diner. The issue is that your husband is uncomfortable with it, and the fact that Sallie Mae might additionally gossip about it is just rubbing salt in the wound.

          Put another way, if I had a business lunch or trip with a man, and Sallie Mae gossiped about it, my husband would laugh and ignore it. It sounds like your husband would take that gossip seriously.

          1. Snark*

            Or, and this just occurred to me, OP thinks Sallie Mae will gossip about it to her spouse, who will become jealous and suspicious and make her life hell.

            1. Chinook*

              More like that Sallie Mae will gossip about it and then ostracize OP for her perceived ill-behavior. Sallie Mae may even choose to not tell OP’s spouse but, instead, make snide, undermining remarks whenever they are in public or, even worse, start spreading rumours about the OP based on what she perceived happened which, in turn can cause others to ostracize OP who fully trust Sally Mae’s knowledge because she does seem to know everything.

              Do not underestimate the ability to harm by those who have a combination of moral superiority and a desire to see their moral inferiors burn at the stake.

              1. Chinook*

                I speak as one who survived an attack by a Sally Mae and have the emotional scars to prove it. She literally took me leaving for a week to support a dying family member and turned it into me moving away from the community and abandoning my responsibilities. Sally Mae had no authority but man could she sin a great tale with just one grain of truth.

                That being said, I believe the OP has to be willing to accept the limitations that choosing to interact with the world this way will limit both her career and her husband’s. That is a choice only they can make.

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Listen, I assume Sallie Mae already knows everything about all of us who have ever even breathed on a college campus, just sayin’ :P

    6. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I don’t assume that your husband is putting thoughts into your head, but I’m really concerned about the lengths you want to go to to “avoid the drama with [your] marriage.” That tells me your husband has a problem with this beyond how it looks to other people. That’s a Big Deal, because it means your husband has a say in how you conduct your professional life. If that’s ok with you, then that’s fine, but you may need to look at other professional options where this won’t come up at all. As it stands, this will likely hinder you and damage your reputation (maybe not severely, but it will have an impact) with your superiors. Your question was whether your refusal to meet one-on-one with men is outside the norm, and yeah, it is, and it may likely hold you back professionally.

    7. Leatherwings*

      Thanks for chiming in! It’s obviously your right to make this decision for the sake of your relationship if that’s what you’ve decided, but I don’t think you can/should ignore the affect that this will effect your professional standing. This is just not something most people are going to get. So it’s important to weigh that when you think about the issue going forward.

    8. Admin Assistant*

      I’m sorry about your past history with abuse. However, “being careful not to put ourselves in potentially bad situations out of respect for one another” is some disordered reasoning. Consider that platonic interactions with the opposite sex are not inherently disrespectful, and that affecting your behavior at work to accommodate this belief could actually be disrespectful to your coworkers.

      1. Snark*

        And if your relationship is so dysfunctional that even a platonic, business lunch strikes one or both of you a potentially bad situation, you need to address that, not cut yourself off at the knees professionally to carve out room for the dysfunction to breathe and grow.

        1. Admin Assistant*

          Exactly, this is not a relationship advice blog but this is one of those situations where I feel like I’m not the only one seeing relationship dysfunction seep into a work issue.

    9. MuseumChick*

      First, I want to say how happy I am to hear you got out of an abusive situation. Second, even thought I disagree with it, as long and you and your husband came to this decision together without either one of you feeling pressured in any way, that is 100% your right has a couple.

      I go back to what I said in my post above. Surely, as a company in a small town, most people will know what the company is/does, that it engages in normal business practices (such as work lunches, etc).

      This will be very limiting to you in your career choice and you will take yourself out of the running for promotions in the future. Is there something you and your husband could do to make yourself feel more OK with this? Always telling each other in advance “I have to travel on Tuesday to X location. Fergus is traveling with me because he handle Y.” That is always letting each other know when, where, and who you are with for these opposite gender lunches/travel/whatever. Again, this is not a dynamic I would want in my relationship but it’s your life, your relationship, your choice.

    10. Malibu Stacey*

      How would it affect your marriage if one of you got fired for refusing to have a business meal with a coworker or client? Or was refused a raise or promotion based on that?

    11. caryatis*

      “I would prefer to avoid the drama within my marriage and without that comes from people making assumptions…”

      Why would there be drama within your marriage because of gossip? Is your husband going to believe a random neighbor who tells him you must be having an affair because she saw you having lunch with A Man? If so, that’s a problem with your husband.

      Why would there be drama outside the marriage either? If anyone besides your husband comments on your marriage, tell them to mind their own business. And yes, that includes pastors. Religious busybodies are the worst kind of busybodies. Don’t allow the busybodies to cripple your career, and your husband’s career.

    12. Andraste*

      I do think this could indicate a problem in your marriage if you are worried about the “drama” it would create. Doesn’t your spouse trust you? Shouldn’t he? I know my husband does not worry about my interactions with male colleagues, regardless of rumors (although there are none), because he knows I love him and choose him. We both have opposite sex friends. It’s not an issue unless you make it one.

    13. anon for this*

      OP I do see where you are coming from. But there doesn’t have to be drama in your marriage if you don’t let it. When I was a teen/young adult I worked for a small business where the boss was a male in his 40s (I’m female). We were often alone in the building together working on projects. Nothing ever happened nor would it have ever crossed our minds. We honestly had more of a father/daughter relationship, he is happily married to an absolutely wonderful woman and I was dating my now husband at the time. (In fact, he used to give me really good relationship advice and I honestly don’t think I’d be married right now if it wasn’t for the wisdom from him and his wife).

      His wife and my now-husband knew all this perfectly well. They had no concerns at all because she trusted him and my husband trusted me. My husband also worked for the business part time and the assistant manager who was also a male in his 40s decided to make comments about us to my husband (I think because he was a really bad employee and I was being trained to take over his job and he knew it). My husband said assist. manager asked him once if it “bothered” him that me and the boss spent so much time together. My husband’s response was “um no cause they’re working?”. The assist. manager would push his buttons trying to get a rise out of him but it never worked. My husband just kept saying that he trusted me and wasn’t worried at all. My bosses wife actually encouraged our relationship because boss was one to work himself too hard and she told me she counted on me to keep an eye on him for her.

      Point is, there was zero drama because everyone involved trusted each other. Even if someone would have claimed there was something going on, my husband would have just flat out asked me and trusted me to tell the truth. It really doesn’t matter what anyone says or thinks (whether maliciously or honestly) as long as the people who matter know the truth.

      1. anon for this*

        Oh and we worked together for years and to my knowledge that was the only time anything was said, and it was just the assistant manager being childish and trying to hurt me. No one ever assumed we were doing anything other than working because that would just be… weird.

        1. fposte*

          The thing is, upstream there’s a whole subthread about people guessing at what people are up to when they’re dining out together. So while I think that mostly at heart people do think what’s going on is work, it’s clear that the OP isn’t wrong that people like to talk about this stuff.

            1. fposte*

              Cool, but I’m betting even if you are the OP’s co-worker (which seems pretty unlikely), you’re not her only co-worker. The OP isn’t concerned that every single person will think this; she’s concerned that somebody might.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I think that thread is referencing guessing what strangers are up to though, not people they know, so I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to the OP’s concerns.

            1. fposte*

              The whole precept of some people’s posts is that “Nobody pays attention or thinks that.” It’s abundantly clear that some people do pay attention and think that.

              Look, I agree that it shouldn’t be a concern, but I think we’re stating what should be as what is when we say “Nobody would ever.” Of course people would ever.

              1. Chinook*

                “The whole precept of some people’s posts is that “Nobody pays attention or thinks that.” It’s abundantly clear that some people do pay attention and think that.

                Look, I agree that it shouldn’t be a concern, but I think we’re stating what should be as what is when we say “Nobody would ever.” Of course people would ever.”

                fposte, what you say bears repeating because you are so very correct.

    14. AndersonDarling*

      Thanks for joining the discussion! Honestly, if there was someone in my office that was uncomfortable being out of the office with the opposite sex, I would respect that. But I don’t think you can keep your current role and have your manager screen your business contacts. I’d ask to be moved to a different role.
      There are many opportunities where you don’t need to travel or dine with colleges. Also, this may be temporary…after a few years your perspective or comfort level may change and you may like to peruse traveling positions again. I hope you find a role that is a perfect match for you!

    15. Marillenbaum*

      One thing I’d like to note: you mention that you find the idea that your husband put ideas into your head a little offensive. Fair! You’re an adult person who knows their own mind. From there, does it make sense why vendors and colleagues might find it similarly offensive that their very presence doing business is seen as a threat to your marriage and reputation? They just want to do their jobs. It sounds like you already plan to opt out, which is your right. But it will include professional consequences, and that’s your employer’s right.

    16. Elizabeth West*

      I’m glad to hear he’s not putting this in your head, OP. That makes me feel better.

      It’s still likely to be problematic in a professional sense, however. Hopefully you can work this out with both your husband and your workplace. Good luck.

    17. Lissa*

      This has been asked above, but since you’re nice enough to come back and reply (I always really appreciate that especially when the comments almost all disagree with the LW!) have you considered how to apply your rule to gay/bi/trans individuals? IE, a gay man, a lesbian, or what if a colleague who was previously safe for you to ride with is transitioning to male? Are they no longer safe to ride with?

      I just feel like the specific scenario you are trying to avoid (rumours being spread because you were alone with someone that would not otherwise be spread) is not likely enough to justify the damage to your career. But then, I feel like one should really consider gender/sex as little as possible in business environments because that way leads to more sexism down the line. As well, if you are ever in a management position, you still could end up individually hurting a man’s career by being alone with your female reports but not him. I guess what I’m saying is that these choices aren’t just about you and your husband when you take them into the working world.

    18. The OG Anonsie*

      Thanks for chiming in. I’m still having a hard time understanding the exact source of your desire to do this, though, so I have a couple other questions. I’m thinking of a few different kinds of advice and I’m not sure which applies since I don’t really have a grasp of the situation, I feel.

      Is the scenario(s) you’re worried about due to an actual experience you or your husband have had? The advice I would give is gonna be pretty different depending on whether you are doing this reactively or proactively, and while I would understand either I’m just not sure which it is. Have you had people spread rumors and cause trouble and that’s why you’re worried about it?

      The other question is if you are specifically uncomfortable with these solo outings just because of propriety or if you also don’t feel it’s safe for you to do because you don’t know if the men are safe to be around alone.

      1. OP*

        Well, to answer your first question, yes, there have been cases at work where rumors happened. They weren’t specifically about my husband and I.

        To the second question…both. I don’t appreciate gossip, even if unwarranted, and there’s a level of anxiety/post traumatic stress involving men. And to forego other questions, I am in treatment for it.

        1. Lora*

          So your line management lets this kind of gossip go around unchecked giving people a hard time at work? Now THAT is a problem. That’s management not managing properly. I’m pretty sure there’s oodles of letters in the archives about office politics and gossip.

        2. The OG Anonsie*

          Alright, I get that. I did wonder if one or both of those things were the case, because then you and your husband wanting to arrange things this way makes a lot of sense.

          To the first one, that’s really unfortunate. I want to rail about how it’s gross and unacceptable, but I doubt you need to be convinced. That also turns the concern about rumors into a different thing– being concerned about gossip to this extent is only outside the norm if that kind of gossip isn’t already happening. Seeing it happen and wanting to avoid being the subject of it is a separate (and reasonable) thing. Your boss was surprised that you were worried about this, is she aware this is something that happens? If not, it’s worth talking to her about from the perspective that you want to be able to do your job as she expects but know that there is a high potential for inappropriate backlash from somewhere else. If she does, it’ll be important to explore why she still finds your desire to set additional boundaries to be so outlandish.

          But overall, I’m not sure what you can do for a company where you can be assigned to meet with someone and then be dragged for meeting them. That’s not a reasonable situation to have to move around in. See what you can do in regards to your manager. If I were you, I would be planning an exit strategy, but I don’t know how realistic that is for you to do or whether you’d actually want to. I also hate to just tell people “this may be untenable, you should leave” because that’s rarely useful. Even if that’s the plan you still have to deal with being there in the meantime, and that’s the help folks usually need.

          To the second, it’s extremely far from my (or anyone else’s) place to interrogate you about treatment, so don’t worry about that. I do know why you were hesitant to include it in the letter, though, lest the comments swirl entirely around that point. Thank you for clarifying, I only wish I had some actual constructive advice.

          If you were coming at this from a place of personal values or if there hadn’t been gossip in the past, I would have had a few suggestions on working around that and weighing options. But neither of those things are the case, and it sounds like you’re in an overall situation that is extremely difficult to navigate through. I’m sorry for that, and I wish I could help.

        3. jw*

          OP, it is awesome that you have waded into the comments and are engaging with some of those offering constructive advice and things to muse on as you weigh your options here.
          You mention being in treatment for PTSD and anxiety, and I can’t help but wonder if you’ve discussed this with your therapist? And if so, what does she think about your decision to alienate yourself in these ways? Is she on board with this as a healthy decision that will promote your ongoing recovery?
          Please do not feel obligated to answer me in the comments; your treatment is private and you don’t need to discuss it here. But as your therapist should be a valued ally in your recovery, and this issue seems to stem at least partially from some trust issues and anxiety around ‘causing drama’, I think it may be to your benefit to discuss this situation with her and I hope you will consider it.

    19. Sibley*

      OP, my thoughts, and things for you to watch for.

      1. It’s fine to have transparency in your marriage. Actually, it’s good! That can mean that you mention to your husband that you’ll be meeting with X and Y over lunch to discuss contracts. And he mentions to you that he’ll be meeting with A and B for drinks after work, so he’ll be home a little later. Or maybe he decides to take a mini vacation sometimes and travel with you (on your own dime of course). Or whatever. The key is that you two need to have trust that the other won’t behave inappropriately. Right now, you’re requiring other people to play a part in assuring that you and your husband can trust each other, and that is wrong. I do not want to be in your marriage, and right now you’re pulling me in, even if I don’t consciously know it. Really, it tells me that you and your husband DON’T trust each other.

      2. If your friends are going to make drama because you had a business lunch with a male who is not your husband, then you need new friends. Real friends don’t try to hurt you. If anyone is going to spread malicious stories, then you’re dealing with malicious people and you handle them accordingly. Believe me, the average person in the restaurant DOES NOT CARE what you’re doing or who you’re with. If you’re causing a problem, sure. Otherwise, you have a wildly overactive imagination.

      3. I sympathize with the abuse. You should be in therapy to help you process what happened and recover. If the therapist isn’t working for you, find another one. It may be helpful for your husband to see a therapist as well, since from my experience the SO of the abusee (assuming they’re not the abuser) has to work through various non-logical emotions as well. Both of you will be healthier and stronger as a result.

      You have to realize that in mainstream work environments, this current practice is going to significantly hurt your career and reputation over time. If you become that “weird woman who won’t have business lunches with men”, that will be talked about, remembered, and looked down upon.

      And if you do it around me, a woman, I will disassociate myself from you because I don’t want to be tainted. I may be female, but I am the equal of any of the men I work with, I demand to be treated as an equal, and YOU are threatening that. You may not intend it, but by YOU not meeting with men alone, it could be hurting ME. That is not right.

      Yeah, you can make your own choices, but in at least 2 ways you’re impacting others. In general, I don’t care what you do as long as you’re not hurting anyone. There’s a real potential here for you to hurt someone else. Think about it.

      1. Gadget Hackwrench*

        This. Esp #1. These kinds of restrictions, even if entered into mutually, belay a lack of trust in a relationship. A healthy, constructive, loving, trusting relationship does not need to be shored up by tactics designed to make it more difficult to stray. It should be a foregone conclusion that of COURSE you wouldn’t be doing anything cheaty, so it’s perfectly safe to dine with them.

    20. Jessie the First (or second)*

      OP, thanks for responding in the comments!

      “But I would prefer to avoid the drama within my marriage and without that comes from people making assumptions, however wrong,”

      Why would there be “drama” in your marriage if a stranger saw you have a business lunch and thought it was a date? What would that drama look like? And how would that drama show up?

      What, in real terms, is the marital fallout from a random person making an incorrect guess about why you are having lunch or riding in a car with someone?

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        I can’t tell if my questions read as snarky. So, clarifying – I don’t intend them to be. I am trying to figure it out. Full disclosure, I am worried because the only drama I can imagine right now is a spouse hears a random rumor, and rather than trust his partner, he flies into a rage and believes random stranger gossip – putting the gossip of a stranger over the word of his spouse. And that’s just not healthy. Add to that, it can all be so easily avoided by just open communication about what your business schedule is on a given day – “hey, x and I are meeting for lunch to discuss the TPS reports.” So is there a different kind of drama you envision?

      2. Kate*

        This. “Avoid the drama within my marriage” really stood out to me. You’re talking about having a business lunch with a man (in most cases you could probably tell your husband ahead of time, right?), a person seeing you who, for some reason, concludes “affair” instead of “work,” “family member,” etc., tells your husband about it, and??? I don’t see why there should be another outcome other than “my husband believed my word over the word of a gossiping person with no knowledge of the situation.” Any reaction your husband might have (primarily annoyance at the gossip) would be directed at the gossiping party, not at you, right? So why would there be drama *within* your marriage? Aren’t you and your husband on the same page? There shouldn’t be potential for drama based on a) you engaging in behavior that happens in a TON of workplaces or b) random people gossiping about you. If there is that potential, I do think you have bigger fish to fry.

    21. Flood*

      Dude… if something like a rumour has the power to cause drama within your marriage, with the man whose primary job is to love, support and trust you, you have way bigger problems.

    22. mcr-red*

      OP, my emotionally abusive ex cheated on me and left me for a coworker. He drove her to and from work a few times. A few times he had to take her to “run errands” afterward because she and her husband didn’t have a car. He even took her and husband places a few times. And then it was drinks with all the coworkers after work and then driving her home, to hooking up. So, however irrational others might think this is, I respect you and your husband for wanting to make sure nothing like what happened to me happens in your relationship. And I have had friends who have been in scary controlling relationships who would get in “trouble” with their SOs for things like you’re describing – business lunches, etc. My one friend’s ex literally had people spying on her when she wasn’t with him to find out who she was with. A strictly business lunch could have easily turned into an affair with him.

      However, I think making hard and fast rules like this for everyone and every situation is living out of fear and seriously, you don’t need to do that. If you used to have to hypervigilant about ANY hint of inpropriety for fear of your ex, then know that’s not something reasonable people have to do. My worldview was so screwed up by my ex I had to remind myself when dealing with my husband that, “Oh yeah, normal people don’t do that!” As for the cheating thing, if they are going to do it, they are going to do it, and nothing you do is going to stop them.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Um. I’ve been cheated on before and my spouse and I both want to ensure that doesn’t happen in our relationship. We do that by not sleeping with other people. Isn’t that what most people do?

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I used to carpool with a married coworker. We would run errands before or after work together. We definitely never slept together or had anything remotely resembling inappropriate contact. There were a few hugs on birthdays or when one of us suffered a personal loss and that was it. His wife and I knew each other, but didn’t talk much.

        On the flipside, I found out recently that half of a couple I know was cheating on the other half with someone who was a close friend to both of them.

        So, basically my point is – people who are going to cheat are going to find ways to do it regardless of what ‘rules’ you put in place.

      3. Anonymous Poster*

        I think the key is that different experiences affect people differently, and so this could be a reaction. I worked with someone that dumped his wife like a sack of potatoes for the new girl at work, and it was because they kept getting lunch together and whatnot.

        Whatever the reasons, though, I think it’s important to make these sorts of boundaries, if you so choose, with eyes wide open to the possible consequences. I personally may not follow it or agree with it, but I also have a wildly different set of experiences. It is out of the norm in many places, but maybe not where the OP is from.

        I think part of the deal with marriage is bending to reach your partner where they are too, and that appears to be happening here. I think that’s good because it demonstrates some selflessness, and it’s even better when both sides are doing it. It sounds like the OP is aware it may hold them back career wise and accepts that. It’s awfully harsh to say these sorts of rules is living in fear, though, because they may be necessary to help both sides in the marriage help one another and put their minds at ease.

    23. ZVA*

      Hey OP, good to see you in the comments, and I hope Alison’s answer & the community’s input has been helpful to you. When you say “I would prefer to avoid the drama within my marriage and without that comes from people making assumptions, however wrong”—can I ask how you know that people are indeed making assumptions? (It seems to me that you’re either living in an especially drama-prone community or that you’re, well, assuming they’re making assumptions.)

      And let’s say you know they are: How would that cause drama in your marriage? Would someone see you with a male vendor & tell your husband? Would your husband not believe you if you explained “Oh yeah, I was out to lunch with Vendor X to discuss Project Y”? Just trying to grasp the dynamic here; you seem to take for granted that lunching alone with men for work will cause drama in your marriage, but I don’t understand how that’s the case.

    24. AC*

      Good for you, OP. Everyone doesn’t have to understand for this to work for you and your husband. You made it clear that this is what works for you and everyone else is making it about them (for some reason).

    25. VermiciousKnit*

      I am certainly glad you survived whatever trauma you didn’t deserve to have happen to you.
      But your question and follow up give me the wibbles – being required to be isolated from half the population to the point that it’s severely affecting your job, and if you don’t do so it causes “drama” in your relationship raises a whole bunch of red flags. I can understand more a generalized distrust of men, but if that’s not the primary reason for this decision, it seems less done of free will.

    26. Not So NewReader*

      1) Why would other people be allowed to disrupt your marriage with their gossip? Wouldn’t it be more to the point to just talk to each other?

      “I have a lunch meeting with Joe from Chocolate Teapots today. Just letting you know, hon.”

      2) I don’t see how this is going to protect you from abuse inside the marriage. It will cut you off from other people, however. I hope you got or will get counseling for the effects of the abuse in your life.

  44. SometimesALurker*

    I wonder, LW, whether you have any friends of the opposite sex? If so, what makes spending time with them different from spending time with colleagues of the opposite sex? If you don’t have friends of the opposite sex, why not? Does being married, to you, mean that you had to cut down half of your pool of potential friends?

    1. SometimesALurker*

      Sorry, I sent my comment before I brought it back around to the work scenario. The reason I’m asking these questions is because I wonder how you handle these dilemmas in your outside life, and if there’s a way you can apply that to work.

      My suspicion is that you can’t, because my suspicion based on your letter is that you treat all members of the opposite sex like spending time with them is somehow dangerous, but I could be wrong.

  45. Janey-Jane*

    I’m fairly connected to communities that hold these views or similar, and the concern comes down to two things: first, people perceiving something more than a work lunch (which the LW touched on), and second, that affairs start somewhere (but usually not in one meeting), and thus by preventing a lot of “one-on-one” time, you are preventing an affair down the road (this the LW didn’t touch on). I’m going to skip the larger issues here, and address the practical advice for the LW.

    The first, Allison is right, you can’t control what others think. But if you have open communication (“I’m going to lunch today at X with Y”) and trust with you spouse, you should be able to dismiss anything if you hear of it (from either side). I also like the suggestions of going the extra mile to dress in typical business-wear, to emphasize the business aspect. Plenty of women and men have meals with those of the opposite gender (and, yes, the same) and folks don’t automatically jump to affair. If you see someone you know, be sure to introduce who you are with (“Hi Kelly! This is Brian, from a company in BIG CITY. We’re just taking about how we can provide better tech support.”) You may also try always visiting the same spot for business – again the repetition helps people know “LW always takes her clients here.”

    The second, unw-written concern, you CAN control. Don’t have an affair. You can still meet with people and have a completely professional friendly business life, while keeping personal distance. The business focus, can help from getting too personal, and building a connection you aren’t looking to build (and the good news is, they likely aren’t either.)

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      The person I know that follows these rules also cares about creating a community standard. If people think you are cheating they are supposedly more likely to cheat too. If it is rare to see men and women out together your neighbor is more likely to be caught if he cheats. It is really messed up thinking.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Oh, God, “causing thy neighbor to stumble”. My father is a big proponent of this, because his love of “personal responsibility” goes right out the window when there’s a chance to police someone else’s behavior.

        1. la bella vita*

          I’m having flashbacks to my fundamentalist childhood. Funny how not causing someone to “stumble” always seems to be the woman’s responsibility…

      2. fposte*

        I mean, it’s not wrong cognitively–that is how behavior standards work (see the thing about obesity operating essentially as a trend in social circles). And I think the OP’s logic of “it makes me uncomfortable on several levels and I’d prefer to exempt myself from it” isn’t in isolation unreasonable–we talk about stuff in those terms here with some frequency, ranging from swearing to daily donuts at work. It’s just that in this case it’s not just an outlier behavior, it’s one likely to have deleterious effects on her career and possibly on people who report to her. So it’s a fairly brave decision to make and it’s good to really think through the implications–which, fortunately, is what it sounds like the OP is doing.

  46. Tuxedo Cat*

    I don’t know if this helps the OP and her husband, but I’ve traveled a lot with my boss who is male. This includes out of town with flights and such. We’ve stayed at the same hotel/motel (separate rooms). No one has thought we’re sleeping together or anything more than business.

    There is another woman and her colleague who travel together all the time. Waitstaff think they are a couple (they’re not), but it’s because of how they behave. They eat off of each other’s plates all the time, order for each other, and from what I’ve seen, openly flirt.

    You can’t control what people think, but there are behaviors that are more read as “couple” than “platonic.”

    1. Susanne*

      Years ago, I was traveling with a male coworker who was my age (mid thirties at the time). We arrived in our town, asked the hotel for a dinner reco, and off we went to the nicest restaurant in town. Well, we got there and it was all candlelit / romantic. We laughed and went to take our seats. They seated us next to one another as they sometimes do with couples and asked us what we were celebrating. Again, we laughed, explained we were coworkers and asked for a table where we could sit across from one another, and no, we didn’t need champagne! But it was funny. Not mortifying.

      I’m sitting here in a Starbucks as I write this. There are plenty of male-female “pairings” having a cup of coffee or a muffin. Some are undoubtedly coworkers, some may be friends, who knows. More to the point, since I live in Normalville not Bumbleville, no one cares.

  47. TootsNYC*

    “Unlike him, you’re not disenfranchising others — because men are not a traditionally marginalized group at work — but you’ll be disenfranchising yourself.”

    Actually, the OP could easily end up disenfranchising men. Perhaps the effects of this on men aren’t as powerful, but it could very easily have an effect on a specific man.

    I worked at a place where the people who got the boss’s ear were the ones who were promoted; this was made worse by the fact that the guy lived elsewhere and was only in town for two days a week. And the guy who went home to his family didn’t get the access that the others who stopped by after work for a drink at his hotel bar.

  48. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    Honestly, I’m failing to see how going in a group helps either. I went on a trip recently with 1 other woman, and 2 men. We had to stay overnight, even though we were all hoping it could be a quick day trip. I’m sure someone could have found something to gossip about if they thought we extended our trip just so we could all stay in a hotel, but it would be a really odd assumption to make. People do not just “do things”. Life is not a movie or romance novel where the attraction pulls you together and is “unstoppable”. And I live in a small town. I really do get nosy gossipers that have nothing better to do than to be scandalized that someone was out to lunch or in a car with someone that isn’t their spouse. But generally the best defense to that is to keep going to the lunch meetings and when seen in public cheerfully greet the gossipers as if you have nothing to be ashamed of. Because you don’t.

  49. Matilda Jefferies*

    OP, I think the problem is when you’re worried about what “other people” will think, you’re worried about the wrong people – at least as far as your career goes.

    In a highly oversimplified way, your options seem to be:

    A: Have dinner with a person of a different gender; random strangers will think you’re having an affair.
    B: Refuse to have dinner with a person of a different gender; your grand-boss will think you’re way outside the norm.

    So, assuming both of these things are true, which is more important to you? Which will have a bigger impact on your life – the potential gossip, or the potential loss of work opportunities? Nobody can answer that question for you, of course; it’s your life, and you get to set your own priorities. But since you seem to have set up a “what will people think” dichotomy, it’s worth evaluating which group’s opinions you value more.

    1. animaniactoo*

      This is a really excellent summation of the risk assessment OP needs to look at for herself, and discuss with her husband.

    2. TG*

      Great point. You can’t control what everybody thinks, but you can narrow down the list of people whose opinions matter the most to you and focus on them.

  50. MommyMD*

    Interacting with members of the opposite sex is an absolute requirement for anyone existing in the professional world. The implication of letting your boss know you are uncomfortable being alone with him is that either he or you cannot control yourselves and is very demeaning. You are highly sexualizing a common situation that is very routine and for 95 percent of your coworkers and contacts out there this is very insulting. As far as your husband goes, trust between couples is the basis of a healthy relationship. Attempting to enforce an arbitrary ban on being alone with the opposite sex fosters negativity and distrust, as if neither of you will be able to control yourselves. And to assume coworkers/contacts are continually out to hook up with you is extremely presumptuous.

  51. kindnessisitsownreward*

    There is another perspective here and that is of a sincerely held religious belief. If that’s the case, the OP (or anyone else with this situation) should request a religious accommodation. It’s not my place to judge the merit of someone’s sincerely held religious belief, it is my job to evaluate the request and determine if a reasonable accommodation is possible.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Plenty of us have brought up that perspective; it really doesn’t change the answer. Reasonable accommodation can involve not promoting or hiring the OP into roles where working with members of the opposite sex is expected. It can absolutely put a crimp in the OP’s career prospects.

  52. Lora*

    Uh, I sleepwalk a LOT and I’ve somehow never managed to sleepwalk into a colleague’s hotel room naked whilst on a business trip. It’s very easy for people who do not want to do sex on a business trip to not have sex with each other. You simply go to your hotel room, lock the door, hop in the tub and enjoy all the hot water you want/long uninterrupted bath for a change, put on your pajamas and hop into bed with a book. As long as you’re not sharing a hotel room, I’m not seeing the problem. If someone was thinking you’d have an affair with them via work, they were already thinking that *before* you went on the trip. You don’t need to be on a business trip to touch someone’s butt at work.

    Yes, you will eat together. Don’t you eat dinner with your dad? Your brother? Your uncle/nephew/cousin? Same deal. Unless you’re looking deep into your colleague’s eyes, lovingly feeding them bits of food off your plate, pouring chocolate syrup over each other at the table, etc it will just be a normal meal.

    Yeah, it’s pretty weird to not be alone with the opposite sex at all. I mean, what’s your other option? People gossiping that you’re such a crazy nymphomaniac that you can’t be trusted alone in the office supply closet? If you only go out to lunch with women, is the talk that you’re a lesbian? In my experience small towns gossip no matter what you do or how innocent it is. For real, once when I was moving into a college apartment in Middle Of Nowhere, PA, one of the neighbors started a rumor that I was running a meth lab because of all the boxes I was carrying off the UHaul, along with bookshelves. The boxes were all clearly labeled “books”. When another neighbor said, “uh, the boxes say Books on them” this lady snapped back, “nobody has that many books!” You cannot win with these people, just live your life and they can sit around watching daytime TV or whatever it is they do. Don’t base your behavior on what a-holes and idiots will think.

    If you’re at a restaurant and you see Busybody Betty walking in, just wave and say “Hi Betty, so good to see you! This is Fergus, our account manager for Handles Inc. – Fergus, this is Betty, I think you know her cousin’s brother’s friend’s beer buddy, Wakeen?” And move on with life.

    I don’t know, I feel like my imagination must be extraordinarily poor or something – when I have a business trip, my first thoughts are, “does the town have any good restaurants” “can I get a direct flight on a decent airline” and “do I have to pack any weird-looking equipment that will scare Homeland Security”? Not, “how can Wakeen and I consummate our fiery passion over $12.99 Applebee’s entrees?”

    1. Lesbian Anon*

      You have an amazingly witty way of writing that I’d buy any book you published. Thank you for saying exactly what was in my mind!

      1. Lora*

        Aw, thanks! *blush*

        I do get the sense that this is based on the excuse offered up by so many folks who cheat on their partners that “it just happened!” “it was an accident!” etc. and the notion that we’re all a mere cappuccino away from tearing off our clothes and eating Starbucks pound cake slices off each others’ heaving, sweaty bosoms. Naaahhh that’s the pathetic excuse of a ding-dong who isn’t taking responsibility for breaking their partner’s trust.

        I feel like the people who truly believe this also wave their naughty bits at random strangers on the subway, just in case of a lucky accident. Like, they’re just waiting for the car to make a sudden stop so they can rub their swimsuit areas on someone’s booty. If the vast majority of people can keep their wangs and cooters away from other humans on a rush hour subway screeching to a halt, then we all can.

  53. Gloucesterina*

    Hi OP! I was wondering what you mean by strategies to “tactfully say no” to interacting with a specific group of colleagues, superiors, and contacts. What types of scripts were you picturing?

    1. Gloucesterina*

      To be clear, if you decide that paring down your professional activities in this way is the only way you can continue in this job, it seems that you’ll need to have a frank conversation with your boss about this change in the number/type of job responsibilities you will be willing to fulfill.

  54. Mike C.*

    OP, when you see two people sitting at a lunch or meeting together and their the opposite gender, do you assume that they’re having sex? No judgement, I’m just curious.

    1. Snarkilicious*

      In a community that conservative, is it even unusual for women to work at all? Shouldn’t she be home-schooling her eleven children?

  55. aebhel*

    Honestly, the only way OP’s objections would make sense is if she was in an extremely conservative community that was likely to perceive work meetings between people of different genders as inappropriate. I’d have an issue with the community in that case, but it would be a reasonable thing to try to head off such speculation.

    But given that nobody else at her place of employment seems to have this concern, I’m gonna guess that this is just OP & husband’s personal bugaboo. In which case, yeah, it’s going to come across as pretty weird to most people.

  56. Alex*

    I had to deal with this once and it sucks! I’m gay and used to be a consultant, so I often worked with just one or two actual colleagues at client sites. Apparently a coworker once saw me out having lunch with my straight, married coworker and started a rumor I was trying to put the moves on him. (In actual fact the coworker was senior to me, although not my supervisor, and had kindly offered to give me some professional development advice over lunch.)

    My coworker caught wind of this before I did, so he went to our boss, who shut that right down and disciplined the person who started the rumor. Based on what OP’s boss and grandboss have said, I would expect them to do exactly the same if the need arises.

    The moral is this: it’s the gossipers who are in the wrong, not the people doing business over lunch.

  57. Ro*

    I do not mean to be rude, but I hope OP takes Alison’s advice, mainly realizing this is not the norm and to basically go for it. If my boyfriend or husband felt uncomfortable with this type of work related interaction, I’d think they had issues. I’d reconsider their level of respect and trust they had for me. Really though.

  58. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I can’t, in good conscience, obey the site’s rule to ‘be kind’ to the OP in this instance, so I will say nothing about the scenario posted.

    But I do want to comment that the phrase Injecting Sex Potential has made my day. It’s also a great name for a rock band :)

  59. Lesbian Anon*

    This thought process always bothers as a female who is a lesbian because if any rumor were to be raised about me, they should be about me hanging out with other ladies, not with men since they hold no interest for me. But that would never happen since dates with my girlfriend would probably just look like two friends who are girl just hanging out.

    Point being it makes no sense for the Letter Writer to do this from fear of rumors. If she’s genuinely uncomfortable with men, or has religious reasons for it, that’s fine. But rumors? I can’t think of the last time I thought about colleagues spending time together and assumed things were heating up between them. I didn’t even realize a man and woman in my office were married until someone told me, even though they take several business trips together (the wife had legally changed her last name but all of her details in the system are still under her maiden name)

  60. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Alison said: You can do whatever works for you and your marriage.

    Yes… but probably not in this job (or most others). Being able to meet one-on-one with colleagues is a requirement for virtually any job (that isn’t remote or completely independent).

    So while you can choose how to conduct yourself in your marriage, it’s perfectly reasonable for an employer to reject the constraints that you ask them to put on how they operate (and fire you).

  61. NotThatGardner*

    OP, you say: “My husband has also admitted that it would make him uncomfortable too, and holds himself to the same standard I do.”

    My biggest issue here is not that your husband also finds this uncomfortable, but that you imply this is a standard and not preference/opinion. And I hope you aren’t phrasing it this way to your coworkers/supervisor. I’d be pretty insulted to be told my standards weren’t as good just because I am completely comfortable with male colleagues and even, *gasp* platonic friends! Something to think about, here, because word choice is important in these kinds of touchy minefields.

  62. animaniactoo*

    OP, this touches on a lot of really fraught areas, particularly for people whose solution to temptation is to simply never allow themselves to be tempted – by doing things like never being alone with a member of the sex they are attracted to.

    Because of that, I’d like to give you some other tools for avoiding temptation.

    • Between your husband and yourself, be completely transparent about meetings you’re having and when you to be alone with someone in this situation for an extended time. Initially, you may want to relate some of the conversations you’re having, but if you can manage to build a basis of faith, you can get to a point where it’s “We went out to lunch to discuss the Peterson account”, and that’s all that needs to be said.

    • Create rules for yourself about what topics can be discussed and how. It’s unlikely you can stick strictly to business, so what else can you talk about? TV show plots? Books? Fashion trends? Parenting styles? The education system? When you think about it, what starts to tip the edge for you into “too personal/intimate”? Figure that out now so that you can reinforce your own “lead me not into temptation” boundary by steering away from those subjects.

    • If you need to be blunt about steering away from a subject because it keeps coming back up, then be blunt about it: “I’m sorry, I’d really rather not talk about this. Can we talk about X instead?” If it’s a personal issue and they want to challenge that, stand your ground “Hey. This isn’t up for discussion. I don’t want to talk about it with you. Find a new topic.”

    • Take compliments about your personality or your appearance in stride – but go ahead and steer to something else immediately. “Thanks! Did you see Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last night? I can’t believe that…” “Thanks, do we have everything we need for this meeting? Did you grab the green folder with…?”

    Caveat: If you feel the compliments are too overboard/frequent, calmly – “I would appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my appearance unless I’ve got something in my teeth or something of that sort that I need to fix.” Meet any protestations with “I understand, however it makes me uncomfortable so I’m asking you to stop please.” If it’s awkward for a bit, let it be awkward; it should blow over quickly.

    • Don’t discuss your relationship with your spouse with your co-worker. Don’t downtalk your spouse. If you ever feel the need to gripe about something, follow it up immediately with something to the effect of “But he’s great at/does Y for me/whatever, and I know he puts up with my stuff too! Sigh.”<