my coworkers say my boss is in love with me

A reader writes:

I work in an office. There are about five other individuals in my division that report to the same manager. This manager is several years younger than me (I’m in my mid-30s), and he is about 20 years younger than my colleagues. My colleagues have, and continue to, question his authority due to his age and relative inexperience in the industry.

My manager and I get along fairly well and although we aren’t friends, we’re friendly. I assume that a lot of this has to do with our age, in that we’re going through similar life experiences – we’re both newly married and have young children. I realize that he’s my manager, and I keep him at a friendly distance, but I fear that more and more frequently he’s coming to me as a friend to chat, almost on a daily basis.

So, two questions: how do I keep my relationship with my manager friendly, but make it clear that I don’t want it to cross over into legitimate friend territory? It’s not my intention to be his friend, but I feel that keeping an open, warm relationship with my manager and colleagues is essential to my happiness at work, due to the collaborative nature of my job.

Secondly, how do I manage my relationship with my colleagues? I worry that if they see me and my manager being friendly, that they will start talking about me behind my back as well. What troubles me is that they’ve already started teasing me that our manager is “in love with me,” simply because we are friendly-ish and are of opposite genders. I don’t want that to get out of hand or make it up the tree to HR or to someone who doesn’t see it as a joke.

How do I nip this on both fronts? Or should I just continue to maintain my friendly distance with my manager and ignore my colleagues’ comments? Thanks for any insight, I appreciate it.

  • My boss asked if I have a problem with him
  • Negotiating salary when the offer comes in an email
  • My boss freaks out when I’m a few minutes late
  • My boss keeps cancelling our one-on-one’s
  • References when all my coworkers have left the job where we worked together

The show is 30 minutes long, and you can listen on Or you can listen above.

Or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript.

{ 31 comments… read them below }

  1. Lynne879*

    I haven’t listened to this episode yet, but is the caller the employee from yesterday’s “I have a crush on my employee” post?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      No. Two younger employees who are friendly-but-not-friends and a bunch of older employees acting like 13-year-olds.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        You’re giving the older employees too much credit. They’re acting like 7-year-olds. What’s next, them going “Manager and employee sitting in a tree

  2. Justme, The OG*

    Yes, if two people are of the opposite sex are remotely friendly then they must be romantically involved in some manner!

    1. AnonEMoose*

      I’ve run into this mentality, and it seriously annoys me. And makes me want to plunk these people down into the middle of some of the communities I’m involved with. Because people of any combination of genders tend to be fairly casually physically affectionate (hugs and so on, mostly) – and it doesn’t necessarily indicate a romantic involvement. Watching the exploding brains could almost entertaining enough to make up for the annoyance.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s extremely dangerous mentality and leads to “mixed company cannot be left alone!” levels of backwoods thinking :(

  3. BRR*

    #3. Depending on your boss, I might move Alison’s plan B of bringing it up to plan A. I work in NYC and it’s ridiculous that someone wouldn’t understand train delays. But if your boss is bringing this up, this might be a “your manager sucks and isn’t going to change” situation. Also you mentioned that you’re not always sure what your boss’ mood will be. If this means he sometimes doesn’t care if you’re a few minutes late, one option might be just brushing it off.

    1. Drew*

      My first thought was “leave earlier and stop at Starbucks if you have extra time.” But I am blessed with bosses who aren’t uptight about a few minutes here and there, not to mention not being at the mercy of train schedules, so it’s easy for me to be glib about what sounds like a very frustrating situation.

    2. CheeseNurse*

      I agree. If your company is in a busy, gridlocked city with heavy public transit usage you just have to accept that people are going to be late sometimes due to factors outside of their control. At my last job if there were no delays on the lines I’d get to work 30 minutes early. If there were problems with transit there was no telling how late I’d be.

      And I totally sympathize with the caller. It SUCKS to be finally make it to work, after an extremely stressful commute, and then be chided for being late.

      1. n*

        Yes, public transportation really does make it impossible to be on time from time to time, even if you’re giving yourself plenty of start time.

        Someone jumps in front of the train, so the train is shut down. You decide to take the bus, but so does everyone else, so every bus that passes you is packed and it takes 5 busses before you catch one that has room on it. But then there’s traffic, because everyone who was too impatient for the bus decided to drive or take an Uber. Turns your normal 45 minute commute into a 2-hour ordeal.

        My current boss is pretty understanding about this, because they take public transportation, too. But my last boss was a nightmare. If I was even a minute late, she’d call me as soon as I sat down to interrogate me: “Why were you late? What bus did you take? Why did you take so many busses? Where do you live? What time did you leave?”

        The only thing I could do to guarantee I’d be on time is plan to arrive 30 minutes early. And that was awful, because there was no Starbucks or anything nearby to wait in. So, I basically would just walk around the neighborhood until it was time to work. That was super fun in the freezing cold winter. It was awful, but really it’s the only thing to do in a “your boss is terrible and isn’t going to change” situation.

      2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

        Yes–The LW’s minimum commute is 40 minutes. Some days it’s an hour. Some days it’s 70 minutes. But I know that in my public transport, there’s no predicting when you’re going to have a day where “signal trouble” shuts half the system down indefinitely, leaving everyone stranded in tunnels. You cannot reasonable leave a buffer for the worse public transit days.

        1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          In my own commute, I ideally would add 15 minutes for every transfer (cause maybe the train will be across the platform…but mayyybe it’ll be a 15-20 minute wait.). However, that would bring my 40 min-1hour commute to 1.5 hours+. If the trains are That Bad for one day, that’s unfortunate and everyone at work will survive.
          Also, though. If I leave an hour, my commute takes 40 minutes. If I leave 40 minutes, it takes an hour. There are no exceptions to this law of the universe.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      I had a boss like that in NYC — and it’s especially infuriating in New York, in my experience, because there is simultaneously every expectation that you will work late all the time, regardless of work load! Anyway, like Alison said, I finally started setting my alarm 15 minutes earlier.

    4. Garrett*

      I know it’s childish but if the boss gets mad for starting work late, then I would definitely not start working until the official start time even if I got there 30 minutes early. He’s such a stickler for a start time, don’t do anything until then. I realize not the most practical but a fun thought.

    5. myswtghst*

      So, I’m bringing my own baggage to this because when I take the train, leaving “10 minutes earlier” isn’t an option due to the trains leaving every 20+ minutes, but I know that’s not the case everywhere. If OP is in a situation where it really wouldn’t be 10 minutes, it’s probably worth trying to have the convo with the boss, at least to say “hey, I’m doing my best to avoid this situation, but on the rare occasions when it does happen, how do you want me to handle it?”

      Also, not sure if this is an option, but maybe don’t always proactively text, OP? At my current company, neither of my bosses would “see” me (in person or virtually) the minute I walk in, so unless I’m expecting to be more than 5 minutes late, or my lateness would require someone to cover for me in a meeting, I don’t proactively reach out. I could be totally wrong, but this could also be a situation where he’s more aware (and annoyed) because it’s being brought to his attention, when he might not even notice if it wasn’t.

  4. Annette*

    Your boss may be young but your older coworkers sound like teenagers. Grow up, we aren’t in middle school. Keep your head high.

  5. CRM*

    For #3, I might also ask your coworkers how they handle this situation with this boss, as I’m sure many of them are also reliant on public transportation. Do they just ignore him and move on? Do they plan for delays in their daily commute, even if it means arriving to work 30 minutes early or hanging out in a coffee shop nearby on most days? Also, it might help to figure out what your office’s culture is on this. Does everyone get penalized for being late, or is it just your boss who has an issue with it?

  6. Lady Phoenix*

    LW1’s coworkers sound like they should be in “burn if with fire” territory. The are disrespectful and possibly sexist.

    I foresee OP possibly leaving this job or getting transfer by the end of the year.

  7. LQ*

    For #3 it is interesting, I had a coworker who was an incredible stickler for time. In a way that would likely make everyone here want to set her on fire. She was never late for anything in her life. (She just retired and was never late and never sick.) I watched other people fight her on the being on time thing because in principle it shouldn’t matter. And it just would devolve into a total BEC fight between otherwise reasonable people. Yes, she was wrong (like 75% of the time, sometimes it really did matter, even in a job where it usually didn’t), yes other folks were right. But they were also wrong about somethings (like the other 25%, where you’re no longer just hurting her, but hurting the people we serve by being late).

    If the boss is really just a stickler for this one thing, then decide if you want to find a new job or leave 10 minutes earlier, and honestly both are fine. But don’t decide to make your life hard for a long time because chances are if the boss is this invested in the being late thing it will cloud his view of you otherwise. I think very few people can compartmentalize that irrational “I hate that this person is always (even if 6x per year) late!” from “This person does great work!”

  8. sunshyne84*

    #1 I wouldn’t assume your manager wants anything more from you than the good relationship you already have. He probably just gravitates towards you because you are more mature and treats him with respect as a young manager. Tell your coworkers to cut it out.

  9. CastIrony*

    “Boss asks if you have a problem with him”

    I agree with Allison, but as someone who was invited to let their boss know if I was mad at him (I’m a woman), I think just saying everything is fine or saying that you’ll let them know if you do (even if you never will) is the safest bet.

    I wonder if men get this as well, or if it is more of a woman vs. male boss problem?

  10. Mockingjay*

    #3: The one drawback to my current job is that they really value butt in seat time. Even though my job can allow a lot of flexibility and be done remotely, they want you at your desk at prescribed times. It’s almost impossible to get an occasional telework day when you need to be home for the plumber.

    This job is pretty terrific in most aspects, so I comply.

  11. designbot*

    I’m surprised that the option of being honest with the boss wasn’t even discussed. I’m an open book so my first inclination if he seemed put off that I wasn’t being as chatty would be to tell him a toned down version of the truth, like “some people have made comments assuming we’re closer than we are, and I really want to show them that we’re just colleagues.” He can read between the lines if he wants to, or he can not. I would do that long before I’d be trying to dance around his feelings, when distancing yourself from him is doing him a favor.

  12. Flash Bristow*

    Caller #1 – I’d love to say “but Brenda, I’m bisexual…” and give her a knowing wink.

    Ok, wouldn’t really risk it. But it might freak her out and get her to go quiet!

    Being serious, I have noticed the odd person being rather friendly with opposite sex colleagues in the workplace, over the years. Turns out they were gay so felt fine in being friendly as nobody would mistakenly think they were flirting. Which is fine when people *know* they’re gay…!

  13. LemonLyman*

    OP 1: Are these employees the same people who see a little five year old boy and five year old girl playing together and ask them, “Is that your boyfriend/girlfriend?” (Am I the only one who gets creeped out by that and think it’s completely inappropriate?) These employees see you and your manager as children on the playground and aren’t giving you the authority of being a fellow professional. It’s rude and I agree that you need to shut it down immediately. I agree that approaching it with a serious tone is important. Maybe add a “I realize you think you’re joking but it’s not funny…” to the beginning of her script can help it from being too jarring. Just be sure you’re not smiling. What this does it acknowledge that they THINK they are joking but you’re letting them know you don’t share that perspective.

    There’s nothing wrong with being “friendly” with your boss. He’s a person, too, and is trying to create connections with his employees. It sounds like you’re the nicest person to him, also. I think Allison’s advice of connecting about shared experiences but making sure it doesn’t include emotional sharing is spot on. And her advice on how to end the conversation was great, too, as always! Be sure to take that first step and end the convo at least once in a while just to subtly show that you’re not willing to engage too long.

  14. Alana*

    The advice about the boss freaking out being a few minutes late is bad. The boss is an unprofessional jerk. The solution is to find a new job.

    If you have a job in a city where most commute using public transit, this happens. If the boss can’t accept the occasional 5 minutes late is just a byproduct of taking public transit, he’s toxic.

    1. Oilpress*

      I agree. If it’s 5-10 minutes on occasion and on average the employee is showing up earlier than the known start time then it should be all good. If they are late multiple times a week then that’s a different story.

      Lots of people abuse flexible scheduling, so I get the sensitivity around it. I do notice which of my employees are frequently late and leaving early because it’s just so blatantly obvious. But if someone is usually 20 minutes early and only occasionally late then I’d have to be a real dope not to accept that.

  15. Oilpress*

    About being friends with your boss…

    I’m good with it. Life is too short to be completely robotic at work. I have seen countless examples of friendships working out really positively, both socially and professionally. I don’t think people need to keep big barriers. The one barrier I would suggest, though, is for bosses to be social with all of their staff. You can’t chat for an hour with one employee and never chat with your other staff. That’s going to look terrible. Similarly, if you go to lunch with someone on your team, you should really be inviting others as well, unless you rotate lunches with all of them. Excluding members of your team or playing favourites is how you get into the “They’re in love!” situation.

    I have a hunch that the ridicule from the caller’s coworkers is highlighting a particular exclusionary social relationship that is indeed unfair.

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