can I refuse to be alone with a coworker who I had an emotional affair with?

A reader writes:

I am married and I got too friendly with another coworker. I ended up lying to my spouse about dinners out, traveling, and long personal conversations with this coworker. My spouse found out, and I confessed that I had lied. I also told my boss and he understood that I could no longer travel, be alone, etc. with this particular coworker.

But now I have a new boss who wants us to travel together for a sales meeting and told me to “lay my personal stuff aside.” This doesn’t make me or my spouse comfortable. I feel like if I appealed to my boss’ manager, who has similar convictions, I wouldn’t have to travel with this coworker. I feel like a direct honest conversation would be best — “I love my job, but if this is a condition of my employment maybe I should begin to look somewhere else as to not hinder the team.”

My spouse says I should just look for a new position. Any advice?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I’m being flooded with employee referrals for mediocre candidates
  • Filling out anonymous surveys when your manager is sensitive to criticism
  • Can my employer call me while I’m home sick?
  • I have to tell my manager that I’m interviewing somewhere else

{ 361 comments… read them below }

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Agree. Maybe ask for a transfer if the place is large enough, but if you can’t cope with working with your coworker in a normal work way, you need a different job.

      Also, I’m not sure what grandboss’s “similar convictions” would be, or how this conversation would come up at work.

    2. Chili*

      I agree. This situation is of the LW’s making. It’s unfortunate and I have sympathy, but it’s not really something the boss should have to intervene in. If the travel were a one-off sort of thing, I may feel differently, but it sounds like the nature of LW’s role involves close collaboration with the affair partner’s role.

      1. Jenny*

        Exactly. She created the situation and now doesn’t want to do parts of her job and is making it her boss’s problem. Going over her boss’s head would also be a huge red flag.

        To be blunt: find a new job or get over it. Your boss is not required to accommodate this.

        1. Laurelma01*

          If I was the big boss and someone went over their manager to me regarding this, I would start looking on ways to get rid of them. The refusal to travel with the individual might just do it.

          It’s one thing to refuse to travel with someone that is sexually harassing you, keeps asking you out, etc.? But because you have a crush on an individual, I would take it that they do not trust themselves in this situation and are asking me to police them, etc. It’s an avoidance of responsibility. Or they do not trust themselves? spouse doesn’t trust them? It’s pulling management into the marriage.

          If someone came to me regarding this situation and said they couldn’t travel with a particular individual because they have a crush on them; I would wonder about their professionalism, etc. I would start looking at their other working relationships closely. If I saw other work drama, or work problems I would terminate. Might even post the job and start looking for their replacement before I got rid of them.

          1. Just Elle*

            Exactly. I would put this on par with someone asking that we ban donuts from all break rooms because they don’t have the self control to avoid them. Aka, not the companies problem and a serious indication of poor judgement and self control.

    3. A*

      Agreed. Especially because this can have a trickle effect. Is the individual they had an emotional affair with missing out on opportunities as a result? I don’t see how this could be accommodated without having an impact on others.

    4. Dancing Otter*

      Yeah, either do your job or resign before they fire you. You don’t get to pick and choose with whom you will or will not work.
      Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?

  1. LawBee*

    I am told that the percentage of employees at my firm who fill out those anonymous surveys is declining. Then again, ours ask what office you work in, so it’s not SUPER anonymous when some of our offices only have 5-10 people.

    1. SeriousNope*

      I still shudder at hearing one higher-up admin causally mention turning off IP tracking for a particular survey, when staff had been told for years that all surveys were anonymous. Now I always assume responses are matched to employees, no matter what admin claims.

      1. Artemesia*

        I only had to get burned on this once to stop turning in these surveys. They are never anonymous — if nothing else any useful feedback will be read in your voice — I have no trouble identifying who does anonymous feedback — most other people don’t either.
        If they wanted to do anything about a terrible manager they have many sources of information; they don’t want to.

      2. Kyrielle*

        We have to use our network login to take the survey! They are “anonymous” because our login is “only used to get demographic data” for the survey, not stored with our name attached. Comments are provided grouped, without names, to the managers of those who commented (and you are told that before you take the survey).

        Our most recent survey had a response rate below 20% (which is, IMO, surprisingly high).

    2. De Minimis*

      I often don’t do them at my current job. They often ask for the department and mine only has a few people in it so it would be pretty easy to figure out who said something.

      1. Life is Good*

        My new employer doesn’t even do these, and I am grateful! Old dysfunctional company ran those all the time with questions that, if answered honestly, would pinpoint who you were. They always said they were anonymous, but if you didn’t take the survey, you’d get constant email reminders to do so.

    3. LJay*

      Yeah I’ve told this story before but at one of my jobs a recipient of bad feedback in an anonymous survey went to my director and wanted the director to identify who had given the feedback and fire them.

      My director refused to do so, but it was asked and she could have identified the culprit (me) if she so desired to. I learned my lesson to not fill out the surveys honestly again.

      1. Farrah Sahara*

        I hear you on this one. I once worked at a place that did these surveys and before starting them, we were casually reminded that unless our department and big boss received high scores, our bonuses would be reflected accordingly. Naturally, nobody wanted to give low marks!!

    4. Beatrice*

      Ours are handled by HR, and they respect anonymity, but they do release some demographic information with the survey results that can be used to draw some conclusions. The last time my company did one, I was told to draw up a plan to address Problem XYZ on my team, because our department’s results showed that employees in my department with more than 5 years of experience were upset about XYZ, and nearly all the people who meet that criteria work for me.

      I still don’t personally respond to workplace surveys though, even if my experience with them has been benign.

      1. Marie*

        The demographic information could also be implicitly biased against whomever happens to be a minority in your office, since by design there are fewer of them to obfuscate the source of negative commentary.

    5. JustaTech*

      I hate these surveys. WE had one where people were honest (and generally upbeat!) and whole sections of the company got chewed out for months by senior leadership. So now people just lie.

      Then we got another survey asking how a particular group is doing, and again, we feel like we have to give high marks, even when we’re having serious issues with their work. It’s so frustrating.

    6. Goya de la Mancha*

      Yeah…I have ZERO confidence that anything my company asks me to fill out is truly anonymous. Our company is large, but our department only has 5 ppl. I would consider a print/write/send in version, but that would be it.

      1. ampersand*

        This could work unless you know your colleages’ handwriting. I did at my prior job because I worked there long enough to become familiar with it (I saw a good amount of handwritten documentation) and thus was very hesitant to turn in anything handwritten that was supposedly anonymous. I assume if I can identify people’s handwriting, they just as easily can identify mine!

        1. LQ*

          I feel like it’s WAY easier to fake an IP than handwriting.

          …maybe that’s a me problem though…

    7. Feline*

      The past couple years, our survey responses have been broken out and provided to the applicable managers. Don’t tell me they’re anonymous if you can do that.

      They also said that they would not hold managers individually responsible for results, and you can guess how that went.

      1. TimeTravlR*

        What’s the point if they aren’t going to hold managers responsible? Who else can help change things?

      2. Constantine Binvoglio*

        I think, like most people, you’re confusing anonymous and confidential, for one thing. Also, as TimeTravlR points out, the whole purpose of the surveys is to identify where pockets of disengagement and/or bad management are. The oft-repeated notion that “people don’t leave jobs; they leave bosses” is largely true.

        Anyhow, I used to work for a firm that administered surveys and I get completely twitchy when this subject comes up because 90% of the commenters have zero idea what is true and what is suspicion when it comes to these surveys, have zero idea how the technology works, what the platforms can and cannot do…and people just make shit up and sweat that “it happened to me!!”

        1. SeriousNope*

          Word games notwithstanding, when a survey is presented to employees as being unattached to their specific identity, people tend to assume that their responses are indeed unattached to their specific identity. I get completely twitchy when people straight up lie about surveys like this, then fall back on semantics when called out.

          1. Constantine Binvoglio*

            It’s not word games. Words have specific meanings. The words ‘confidential ‘ and ‘anonymous ‘ mean different things. In this respect, your survey is kept confidential by the firm that administers it and the feedback is presented to the company anonymously.

            The reports that the firms return to the business are completely de-identified.

            1. Roverandom*

              A big issue here is that many companies (mine included) will call the surveys “anonymous” when what they mean is “confidential”. And as you said there’s a big difference.

        2. LawBee*

          Yeah but if you’re in an office of seven people, and one question is “which office are you in, demographic reasons only”, it’s pretty disingenuous to say that it’s anonymous or not linked to the person in any way.

          1. Constantine Binvoglio*

            Well, at least at the firm where I worked, when the reports are distributed to managers from the survey company, the demographics are not returned with the results. For example, a manager would get a report that said “3 people answered agree, 2 answered neutral, 1 answered disagree, 1 answered strongly disagree.” They would NOT get a report that said, “2 part-time people answered disagree, 1 full-time person who has been with the company between 6-10 years answered neutral…etc.”

            Then, the demographics would be aggregated. Across the entire organization, part-time employees indicated satisfaction with X and night shift employees indicated dissatisfaction with Y.

    8. Vermonter*

      As part of our recertification process, all employees at my last company had to fill out an “anonymous” survey that asked what department you worked in. I was a department of one. I gave neutral to positive answers when I really wanted to say “burn it all down.”

    9. UghNo*

      I never answer ours. It asked for my dept, then what my role is. Well…my department only has one person in my position so…

    10. Ron McDon*

      We’ve just had an anonymous staff survey where I work – we were advised to fill them in on a PC so that TPTB weren’t able to identify handwriting, as that would detract from the answers.

      I was in the office with the person collating the results, who was saying things like ‘someone said such-and-such, can you believe it? I know who it was though, it was *this person*’. Anyone that she thinks said anything negative will have a target on their back. But she is only guessing who has said what, and doesn’t seem to appreciate its supposed to be anonymous so she shouldn’t be trying to pin comments on people!

      I completed a survey but declined to tick the boxes identifying my department.

    11. Elizabeth West*

      Yep, we had to do one at OldExjob, a smaller office where it would have been fairly easy to guess who said what. Most of us pretty much lied.

    12. Facepalm*

      At my old job we were sent a link to an anonymous survey, but then people who had not filled out the survey received email reminders that they hadn’t (“We notice you haven’t taken the survey”), while people who had taken the survey did not. Clearly not anonymous if they could appropriately target people who had not taken the survey. Never took a survey again.

      1. JessB*

        Surely there’s a way to determine whether someone has clicked ‘Submit’ at the end of the survey without being able to match their responses to them?
        My workplace does this with their survey as well, and on occasion I’ll hear people wonder about who said what, but it’s usually colleagues.

        1. Constantine Binvoglio*

          Your absolutely correct, Jess. There’s also the fact that most of these surveys are conducted by large firms who specialize in employee and/or customer surveys. I used to work for one. While I absolutely COULD have told someone “JessB indicated ‘strongly agree’ to question 5”, I never WOULD HAVE. There’s a difference between anonymous and confidential. A survey company like Gallup or Glint or BoozAllen isn’t going to remain in business if they tell your manager what you said, whether they do so by accident or on purpose.

          1. Feline*

            Glint rolled our responses up to department level and reported them out that way without ever asking what our role was or our department. I assume it was done through a unique link provided to access the survey. We, as employees with no administrative insight, have been shown powerpoint breakdowns of how our responses went at division, group, and department levels, depending on who was holding the meeting. If you choose not to respond to your survey, Glint sends followup nag emails about it. I have no way of knowing whether they send the “reminder” emails to people who did fill out the survey, but I assumed they were tracking us individually and only reminding those who did not respond based on how granularly they broke out our responses later.

            Anonymous of confidential, don’t say anything in a survey you wouldn’t tell your boss to their face.

        2. Koala dreams*

          This is how elections work in my country (not US). There is a list of citizens that are allowed to vote, and when you vote you are checked off on this list. Who you vote for, though, is anonymous, and it’s not possible to match a vote to the voter. Of course, since the voting is just one day and not obligatory, nobody sends out reminders.

      2. Constantine Binvoglio*

        It completely depends if it was administered by a 3rd party, or by someone at your company.

        I used to work for a major survey company and we would generate individual links for each employee, and *we* could see who hadn’t taken the survey and would generate a reminder, but we would never release that level of detail to the customer (i.e., your employer).

        1. Inkhorn*

          +1000 to everything Constantine’s said. The 3rd party survey provider I work for takes respondent privacy VERY seriously. Fewer than 5 people fill out a survey in a particular office/dept? Sorry, that office/dept won’t get its own report. Fewer than 30? No demographics. If anyone writes anything that could leave them vulnerable to retaliation, their manager won’t see it – those comments get isolated for the CEO’s eyes only. (Aspersions on the CEO get isolated again so they’re not seen by the CEO, in case you’re wondering.) And a few weeks after the survey closes … even WE can no longer see who gave what answer. Get one of our surveys and your anonymity is safe.

          (Unless your manager is clairvoyant … but then they wouldn’t need a survey, would they?)

          1. Constantine Binvoglio*

            I love you, Inkhorn.

            I know I’m super sensitive about this topic. Years of having to explain this to people, both in the context of doing my job, but also socially. When people heard what I did for work, everyone had a horror story to share or a sniping comment at the very least. Trying to explain the nuances of how the reminder emails work or differentiate between a survey that was “not really confidential” ( they are) and a manager who was crappy and trying to read into the results to figure out who said what is exhausting.

            1. VivaL*

              I think most people are responding about their managers and organizational culture, not the third party administration.

    13. Anonymous For This*

      I have never candidly fill one of those out and have it go well for me. So now I just lie like a rug. It sucks, but I’m not risking my career over a survey.

    14. Username required*

      Our company sends out survey emails a couple of times a year which we are told are anonymous and our responses can’t be tracked. I then get email reminders specifically addressed to me reminding me that I have not filled out the totally completely anonymous survey.

    15. Sarah in Boston*

      Ours are administered by a 3rd party. The results are rolled up until there’s at least 30 people in the rollup, so regardless of how many people are in a group/dept. the smallest results group a manager will be able to see is for 30 people. I suppose that if you have a distinct writing voice, your verbatims might be identifiable but to date, I haven’t had a problem being bland enough about the things I wanted to comment on. These types of surveys and made a HUGE positive difference at my company as it’s really brought some problem areas to light. But we also have a culture of “fix all the things” because we’re that kind of engineering company (Data? We have data? What can we do with the data?!). Retaliation is also very frowned upon (I’m not saying it never happens but it’s rare thank goodness!). I just wanted to say, that if it’s safe to for you to fill these out, they can be a very positive thing.

    16. TardyTardis*

      For one survey we had to log into it from our workstation. But of *course* it was anonymous! We were constantly assured of it! And maybe three people in the whole building believed it.

  2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    The “emotional affair” thing confuses me, because I’m never sure what’s meant. There are a lot of Evangelicals who can’t or won’t have opposite gender friendships. So I never know if this means, “I developed a crush, flirted a lot, fell in love, and came perilously close to cheating on my spouse,” or if it means, “I had a perfectly normal, platonic work friendship with someone of another gender, which my religion forbids, and now I need to do a dramatic repentance thing to prove how actually good I am.”

    1. fposte*

      If it got to the point where she was lying to her spouse about what she was doing with her co-worker, I think it’s fair to count it as a marital problem whatever it was.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This. If you have to lie about whatever it is to your spouse, something is extremely wrong.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          (Adding–either with whatever you are doing, or with the marriage. Either what you’re doing is wrong, or you’re married to someone so wack that you are lying to them about mundane workaday things everyone does. In this case, seems to have been the former.)

      2. Ophelia*

        Yeah, I have a good work friend who is a guy (we’re both married, have little kids, and wind up having lunch or coffee and talking about parenting, etc.), but…that’s it? We’ve traveled together for work, and while it was nice that it was someone I knew (I was in the throes of morning sickness at the time, so it was nice that he generally “got it” when I was miserably nursing a tea at breakfast, etc.), no part of our interactions is anything I’d hesitate to talk to my spouse about. I think it’s the *secrecy,* not the existence of the friendship, that is the crux of the issue here.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “It’s not the crime that gets you, it’s the cover-up.”

          This seems to be true in the aftermath of plain-old affairs, too–what kills trust is not that a pact was violated, but that the cheated on person believed all the lies about how nothing was happening, for a long time… so how can they trust either their perceptions or the other person’s promises now?

          1. PollyQ*

            I dunno, I don’t think there are many cheated-upon spouses who are saying, “It’s not that you cheated, it’s that you lied about it.” Adultery is one of those cases where both the crime and the cover-up are the problem.

            1. Marie*

              Yes, but for most, early disclosure (“Honey, I’ve developed a serious crush on my new coworker and I don’t want it to hurt our marriage.”) is an effective strategy to circumvent actual infidelity. It’s protective of the marriage and gets you both on the same side, instead of indulging in elicit secrecy. Ester Perel’s “the state of affairs” is a great read on the topic, and her podcast is among my faves.

            2. Cora*

              I think the lie is worse than the cheating. I probably wouldn’t stay with a spouse who cheated, but if it was one time and they came clean like, the next day, I would be a lot more understanding than if they lied for ages.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          This. I have no problem telling my boyfriend about my male friends and what we do, and my male friends, to the best of my knowledge, tell their wives or girlfriends about me and what we do. And most of the time they would be welcome to come along if they were interested. None of it is secret.

        3. So sleepy*

          This! Although I think the secrecy is because the nature of the friendship is not actually friendship, and that’s really the crux of the issue.

        4. Artemesia*

          this. I wrote a book with a male colleague — we often traveled together. There was zero romance, just friendship. Neither of our spouses had concerns. An emotional affair is entirely different — it is an affair and it is characterized by intimacy that ought to be with the partner being diverted to the affair partner. Sex is secondary — it is the intimacy that is the marriage damager. I had one of those but nipped it in the bud when I realized it was heading that way and luckily it was long distance and someone I only saw once or twice a year. I was able to dial it back to a friendship by not meeting with him alone at conferences and such. It would be harder if you were working with someone regularly which is why halting anything beginning to feel like a romance immediately is necessary in the workplace. It is easy to realize when it slides in that direction and any discussion of ‘feelings for each other’ is a screaming siren; at that point — no lunches alone, no meetings not absolutely work necessary alone, hard stop on after work get togethers.

        5. Random for a minute*

          This! Although I think the secrecy is because the nature of the friendship is not actually friendship, and that’s really the crux of the issue. When I was married, I had a friendship with a male colleague for 3-4 years and we would occasionally go for lunch (sometimes alone, sometimes with others), we mostly talked about hilarious work drama or other innocuous subjects – I’m sure I mentioned it to my spouse, and I even had dinner with both of them once, when we ran into said colleague at a sporting event.

          I eventually went on to split with said spouse, and several years later briefly dated the colleague, and I can still say with all honesty that there was not the slightest hint when I was married that we would eventually be attracted to each other (I actually asked him if he had always had a thing for me, and he confirmed that no, it had never even occurred to him until about a year after my marriage had ended, which was the same as me).

          But guess what? We weren’t doing anything wrong when we were friends, we knew we weren’t doing anything wrong, we never talked about anything inappropriate for colleagues to talk about it (and honestly, would sometimes go months without talking if things got busy, because life), so OF COURSE there would be no reason to hide it from a spouse. If you’re hiding something, or sneaking around to spend time with someone, or find you want to spend more time with them and can’t go without seeing them, there are probably feelings there that you are afraid of revealing to your spouse, which are causing the secretive behaviour.

      3. Just Elle*

        Yes, but is she lying because spouse doesn’t believe men and women can ever ‘just’ be friends, or because it truly evolved into something beyond platonic friendship?
        (If it’s the former, the right answer still isn’t to lie to the spouse, it’s to say “listen I’m not going to isolate myself at work because you’re overly possessive, so can you get on board or are we through?” But LW has more or my sympathy)

        And, definitely, either way, this is 100% on LW to manage. “I can’t work around coworker because I can’t control myself so I need you to take control for me” sounds just as lame when it’s a woman with an emotional affair, as it does coming from a lecherous man claiming he can’t handle the temptations of women in skirts. It’s your body, your mouth, your emotions… manage it yourself.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          An emotional affair, pretty much by definition, means somebody is getting something out of the relationship that they aren’t getting from a spouse, and is hiding it, but it doesn’t go as far as kissing/petting/sex. It’s generally not the same as a blanket “men and women can’t be friends” belief.

          1. Rainy*

            I mean, I get a ton of stuff out of my friendship with my bff that I don’t get from my spouse. Does that mean I don’t get to have friends other than my husband? The whole point of having friends is that you get different things out of your friendships.

            Maybe it’s not overtly a “men and women can’t be friends” belief, but it’s still heteronormative and cisnormative, and a bunch of other -normatives, ideologically.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              When I started dating my husband, we were part of a larger friend group that was mostly male. What distinguished my relationship with my future husband from my friendship with everyone else in the group was not that I kissed my husband and that’s it, no other differences. I continued to be friends with the men in the group, and he with the women–there was no “men and women can’t be friends.” It was a different type of relationship.

              I don’t get arguing with people who say “X was a problem for my marriage” with “no, no it can’t have been, that’s heteronormative.” Whether X was an intimate relationship with a coworker, or the insane hours and stress of the job, or something else. OP says this was a problem; it makes sense to treat that as a given rather than argue that it can’t be true for OP or for any other person.

              1. Rainy*

                That’s not what I’m arguing, though. I didn’t say “you saying this was a problem for your marriage has to be wrong”, I’m saying that saying “if you get something from a friendship that you aren’t getting from your spouse it’s cheating” is a statement both problematic and absurd. The person I responded to made a blanket statement about “emotional affairs”, and I responded to that.

                1. Mary*

                  You missed the second part of Dust Bunny’s quote: “getting something they’re not getting from their spouse ~and is hiding it~. And it was a totally gender-neutral sentence that could just as easily apply to a queer couple and queer affair as a straight married couple!

                2. Roverandom*

                  You know what an emotional affair is. It’s when you fall in love with someone not your spouse and start behaving as if you are dating/in love, just without the physical aspect. This isn’t hetero/cisnormative in principle.

              2. Just Elle*

                I was using “men and women can’t be friends” as more of a general example of the kinds of possessive (or at the very least, deeply old fashioned and troubled) line of thinking that people engage in.

                I agree that it’s an issue whether her husband is being reasonable or not, but the root cause is very different in each case and therefore it demands a different solution. One does not simply leave a job and never speak to another opposite-gender coworker again to appease a man like that – short of never leaving the house, she’ll manage to upset him again. But if it was truly ‘her bad’ then maybe a new job is a solution.

            2. Chicken Situation*

              Calling emotional affairs heteronormative and cisnormative implies that people of all orientations and genders can’t have emotional affairs, which is not remotely true.

              Anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship knows that those differ from friend relationships in key emotional ways. Emotional affairs cross that line even if they don’t cross a physical line. I love my best friend with every fiber of my being; she’s probably my favorite person on earth other than maybe my parents. I get things from our relationship that I could never get from a romantic partner. However, what I feel for her has never been romantic and would never constitute an emotional affair.

              1. Rainy*

                The comment I’m responding to said:

                somebody is getting something out of the relationship that they aren’t getting from a spouse,

                That’s what I’m responding to.

                1. Dust Bunny*

                  I should have specified: “ not getting from their spouse *but should be*.” I didn’t realize anyone would be this unfamiliar with the concept of an emotional affair.

                  It’s a problem when you’ve turned to somebody else for things you should be addressing with a spouse but aren’t.

              2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                Totally this. The only party whose gender we know in LW’s situation is the boss, but even if we did know the gender of LW and their coworker, is the concept of “emotional affair” really that ambiguous? Emotionally intimate romantic relationships can exist with or without sex, and they’re nothing like a friendship of any gender composition.

            3. Batgirl*

              Unless you’re romantically in love with these men, constructing a fantasy with them, writing letters and texts youd have to hide, then they’re not affairs.
              Romance minus sex does not equal friendship.
              I know that when I was cheated on the romantic part of the affair was by far the biggest betrayal.

          2. Just Elle*

            I just don’t agree with that definition. To me, it could be more broadly defined as engaging in interactions that the other partner would not be ok with. In normal healthy relationships, that might mean leaning on them as your primary emotional support. But in abusive/possessive relationships (of which I’ve been a victim) it could be as simple as smiling politely at someone of the opposite sex, or a quick friendly hug, or making small talk with them when you could have just stood in icy silence, etc.
            So it’s worth LW evaluating whether she’s feeling guilty because she upset an unreasonable loon, or because what she did was genuinely unethical and would upset any reasonable partner.

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              Well, her words: “I ended up lying to my spouse about dinners out, traveling, and long personal conversations with this coworker.” So… she was basically dating this guy but hadn’t banged him yet.

              That’s an emotional affair.

              1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                While lying is an issue regardless, I have had plenty of dinners out, travel, and long personal conversations with my mother and grandmother, and I certainly didn’t have an emotional affair with either one of them.

                It’s certainly possible for any/all of those things to be part of an emotional affair, but it has to do with the emotions you are feeling as part of it rather than the activities themselves (hence “emotional” affair).

                1. Yorick*

                  Surely you understand that dinner dates are different from dinners with your mom? They have a completely different feeling.

                2. Yorick*

                  It’s not JUST about lying. The lying is just something that shows what you’re doing is wrong. If you lied to your spouse about having dinner with your mom, that wouldn’t be an emotional affair. It might still be a problem in your marriage, but not the same problem.

          3. SheLooksFamiliar*

            My ex developed strong feelings for a married woman, and bared his soul to her in ways I didn’t think possible. He swore they never ‘did it’, and I have reason to believe he told the truth. But he fell in love – hard – and told me she was the only woman for him. Those words hurt like hell. He gushed about more than the teenaged hand holding and her notes he kept in his wallet…he told her his fears and dreams, but I was called a nag if I asked him about those things. It was a highly emotional affair, and as real a betrayal as a physical affair. Maybe even worse, in some ways.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      This is confusing the issue. An emotional affair has romantic overtures without the physical. This is not the same as friendships.

      Please don’t use this as a slam on evangelicals. It’s derailing. And FWIW many evangelicals have friendships with the opposite sex.

      1. KHB*

        Alison’s headline uses the phrase “emotional affair,” but the letter itself does not (unless there’s a part that didn’t make it into print). From the letter itself, it could be that the LW genuinely crossed the line with the coworker, or it could be that LW’s spouse is overly jealous and controlling.

        Looked at in the latter light, it’s scary that the spouse is ordering LW to derail her career over this.

        1. annony*

          The letter writer said that she is uncomfortable with having to travel with this coworker now, not just the spouse.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              But it’s also not a sure sign that the spouse is controlling. If your spouse admitted to having become involved with somebody to a degree that led them to lie to you about the relationship, plenty of normal, non-controlling people wouldn’t be thrilled about that spouse then traveling with that other person.

            2. Lucy Preston*

              Why is it controlling? LW obviously crossed a line once, with the same person they’ll be traveling with. Spouse has already been burned. It takes a bit to get over that and rebuild trust. Forgiving does not equal forgetting. It’s the first step towards healing the relationship, but the healing doesn’t come immediately.

        2. CheeryO*

          It’s more likely that the LW had a legitimate emotional affair. It doesn’t really change the advice, though – your personal problems can’t keep you from being able to do your job. Obviously a controlling SO would make people more sympathetic to the LW, but it’s still on her to manage her personal life by getting out of the relationship, or whatever else is necessary.

          1. Liane*

            ” It doesn’t really change the advice, though – your personal problems can’t keep you from being able to do your job.”
            You don’t get to say you won’t travel, work, etc. with a colleague unless it’s over something Really BIG–harassment, bigotry, stealing, unsafe driving.
            For anything less, you have to work with them, or change jobs. It doesn’t matter if your “personal coworker problem” is “We had a sexual affair/emotional affair/mutual crush and broke up” or “They love the Game of Thrones finale.”

        3. Uranus Wars*

          It sounded to me like the LW came to the conclusion that she either needs to quit or talk to big boss and her spouse is supporting her decision to look elsewhere. I agree with Alison that while being uncomfortable sucks it’s not really the responsibility of either boss (in this case) to ensure the employee doesn’t have to travel with this person because of their personal history together – it sounds like she and spouse may know that as well.

        4. Dagny*

          “Looked at in the latter light, it’s scary that the spouse is ordering LW to derail her career over this.”

          No, it’s not – and I say this as someone who is far too familiar with abusive situations.

          The marriage comes first, period. If you have an affair, physical or emotional, and are lying to your spouse, the way forward is simple (but not easy): transparency, cutting all ties with the affair partner, and when the latter is not possible, not being alone with them.

          Imagine a man who had an ’emotional affair’ with a woman half his age, and then was going alone with her on a work trip. Would you say that the wife would be “scary” if she told her husband to not go?

          1. Nia*

            One of the first things a counselor will tell someone trying to fix a marriage after they have cheated is to have zero contact with the affair partner. To go absolutely Cold Turkey.

            It’s about showing their partner they are recommitted, about focusing on the relationship, about tamping down the chemicals that come from NRE/Affairs and getting your brain working properly.

            On the last point: we now know that you do get a brain chemical hit from affairs and from new relationships. It sometimes warps your thinking. So trying to cut off that feedback loop can be an absolutely essential step. You can’t think clearly if you are continuing to take the “hit” of being around the affair partner.

            In other words: There are many, many reasons where “no contact” or “only the minimum contact” are completely advisable and not at all indicative of a controlling partner.

            I say this as an attorney who has done divorce work and done much, much more work with abused women and children: You are really, really reaching to assume that this means controlling spouse instead of the far more likely scenario that it was put in place to ensure the married couple can repair their relationship.

            That’s still not the employer’s problem. But it doesn’t mean LW’s partner is a controlling spouse.

            Also, you have zero idea who put this in place. Could be a reasonable condition the spouse set, could have been letter writer, could have been an individual or marital counselor.

            Let’s not create problems for LW that don’t exist.

            1. Batgirl*

              Exactly! Any counsellor would tell the LW not only is hanging around the scene of their affair apparently a poor career decision; the failure to go cold turkey following the betrayal is marital suicide. To then pout about a career path that they personally destroyed, without the betrayed spouses input, would be to gaslight them even further than they did during the affair.

          2. El*


            Honestly, if I were LW’s spouse, I would have walked away from the marriage if LW hadn’t began looking for a new job immediately after disclosing an emotional affair.

        5. Close Bracket*

          We don’t have enough information to make that call. Cutting off contact with an affair partner is standard advice for couples who want to move past infidelity. It’s not automatically a controlling expectation. And finding a new job doesn’t mean derailing a career. That’s a slippery slope argument. There are no information on LW’s spouse in the letter, so we should take the LW at face value that they had an affair, not that their spouse is controlling. If LW career is derailed over this, it is on LW for having an affair in the first place, not on their spouse.

        6. Dana B.S.*

          Headlines are often the email subject. Alison does very little to what is submitted – leaving in typos and everything – so I do not believe she would editorialize here either.

      2. Nia*

        Can I also make a please for us to all drop the “opposite” sex language? It’s erasing of non-heterosexual non-cis-gender folks.

        The advice would be the same if this were two gay men, lesbians, etc.

        I know that Engineer Girl was using it in a specific context where that makes sense. Just issuing a more general plea not to view cis-het as the default.

        1. N*

          oh come on. I applaud your efforts, but at a certain point people should be able to comment without always having done something wrong/needing to do something different in relation to political correctness. Opposite can refer to ends of a spectrum – it doesn’t erase everything in between or outside those two points. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention, and I’ll be more mindful moving forward.

          1. Zillah*

            Oh, come on. I’m glad that you appreciate where the comment is coming from, but the condescension before that is really rude and unnecessary.

        2. Dahlia*

          The alternative, if anyone wonders, is “Other binary gender”. There are more than two genders.

          1. Roverandom*

            Other binary gender? How does that make logical sense/not exclude other genders? Wouldn’t the alternative be “another gender?”

          2. Devil Fish*

            Did you mean “other gender”? “Binary” literally refers to two, which doesn’t seem to follow your point of there being more than two genders. (There are also multiple sexualities that may or may not scale with any number of genders.)

        3. Traffic_Spiral*

          Feel free to use “s/he” or “zir” or “they” or whatever else tickles your fancy. No one’s stopping you.

        4. Starbuck*

          Opposite-sex seems fine, since that’s a thing and is the original term, but agreed opposite-gender doesn’t make sense since it unnecessarily assumes a gender binary. We just had that discussion thread, after all!

      3. chickaletta*

        Yeah, I got confused when I read the comments above that this had something to do with evangelicals. That was a really telling connection for that commenter to make. You don’t have to be evangelical or religious or anything to have an emotional affair. And an emotional affair is different from a friendship, I think most people get that. If they don’t then…I guess their romantic relationships are different than mine! ha.

      4. teclatrans*

        The letter writer introduced the ambiguity when mentioning that the big boss had shared values. Since most people share the “value” of not conducting affairs, it was at least suggestive of a specific set of values that not everyone would share. This sounded an awful lot like “big boss would protect me from mixed-sex travel” or maybe it’s “would honor my commitment to my spouse ovee my role as employee,” both of which suggest evangelical Christianity. This interpretation may be wrong, but it’s textually supported.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Oh please. This is not supported by anything but someone’s imagination.

          Lots of secular people hold values in common.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          Could also be that the Big Boss either did or had their spouse do something similar to recover from an affair.

          1. SMH RN*

            There’s also plenty of other religions/value systems that would look to avoid traveling with someone you’ve emotionally crossed a line with…that’s hardly exclusive to evangelical Christianity.

    3. annakarina1*

      I’m assuming it means that they were hanging out in ways that look romantic on the surface, that felt way more personal than being with a platonic friend, where there is closeness but still a boundary in just staying good friends. Sort of getting close to being intimately connected with another person without cheating on them in sexual ways, but still betraying a trust of their real partner.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Nope, I think it’s important to note that an EA very much crosses boundaries beyond a “good friend.” This is a (sadly) common issue with cheaters; a lot justify the relationship because it didn’t involve sex. But an EA goes way beyond any kind of boundaries that would be acceptable in a monogamous relationship, which is shown by the fact that she was lying to her spouse about what she was doing.

        1. Newington*

          I can’t imagine what sort of non-sexual relationship my SO could have that I would dare to call ‘unacceptable’ (unless you’re like, defining sex as a particular technical act and it was a “not technically sexual” sexual relationship.) The only thing I’d have a problem with – and a serious one – would be the lying, not least because I couldn’t understand why there was anything to lie about.

          Plus she’s bi, so if we had to avoid this she wouldn’t be allowed any friends at all.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Sharing and emotional closeness with the other person to depths that isn’t being done with your SO? Sidling right on up to the edge of an intimate relationship without actually kissing? Talking about how tough it is with your partner and having ‘but if only’ talks with the new person? It’s essentially setting the other person up as next in line without doing the sexually-related activity part.

            1. annony*

              Yep. Usually an emotional affair is when you are turning to someone other than your spouse as your primary source of emotional support and comfort. It is the “primary” part that is important. I have no problem with my husband having close male and female friends. But if he starts taking one of them out to dinner a lot instead of me, sharing his hopes and dreams with them but not with me or shares relationship problems with them instead of working them out with me then that would be a problem.

              1. Admin of Sys*

                But the complication there would be ‘but not with you’ I would think? If someone has a best friend that they tell all their dreams and hopes to, /as well/ as to you, what does it matter to you if they have the other person as well? I mean, I’m a firm believer that a spouse should /not/ be the primary source of emotional support, because I think that’s a weird and isolating attitude that’s only entered relationships in the modern time as we’ve eroded the idea of strong platonic ties and focused on ‘nuclear families’. But even if you do believe that your romantic partner should also be your best friend, is it really not okay for them to have someone else to share their emotions and time with?

                1. sunny-dee*

                  You are seriously conflating the idea of a friendship and the idea of a romantic relationship. These are not the same things at all. The OP went to dinners with a man, and lied to her husband about where she was. She was emotionally vulnerable and shared personal topics with this man and lied to her husband about the nature of the relationship. This isn’t her husband being unreasonably jealous because she joined a bowling league or something. She was emotionally and romantically entangled with this man, in particular, and was supplanting her marriage relationship with this relationship.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  ‘Primary’ does not necessarily mean ‘only.’ A partner taking precedence in a committed relationship or marriage doesn’t discount emotional support or closeness from other people in your life, be they family, BFFs, or whatever. It’s a different kind of support. You’re not sharing your everyday life, future trajectory, and body with your BFF or your beloved Auntie Myrtle.

                  Also, everything sunny-dee said in reply.

                3. Roverandom*

                  What do you think a spouse is for, nowadays, if not to be your primary source of support–emotional, physical, logistical, financial…?

                4. pancakes*

                  @Roverandom Wow. I’d have said a spouse is someone you’ve made a public and formal commitment to marry. The idea that marriage also thereby re-orders a person’s entire support network and supersedes it seems both extremist and inaccurate to me. There are lots of people who rely on personal assistants for logistical support rather than a spouse, for example, and lots of people who are financially supported by one or both of the couple’s parents regardless of marriage, particularly when it comes to down payments on real estate.

          2. Jamie*

            For people I know they are using sexual to mean physical. IMO an emotional affair is romantic feelings, even falling in love, talk of sex wishing you were unattached and discussing how you’d want to be together…to whatever degree that’s way beyond a friendship.

          3. Lara*

            Examples of what many/most would probably consider unacceptable:
            – sharing information your spouse would not be comfortable with you sharing
            – going to someone else with deep emotional problems instead of to your SO
            – confiding in someone else about relationship issues
            – frequent/constant communication
            – hiding communication frequency
            – non-sexual physical intimacy (like long hugs, holding hands, etc. which might be considered romantic)

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              These two:
              – going to someone else with deep emotional problems instead of to your SO
              – confiding in someone else about relationship issues
              Are not unacceptable, IMO.

              For starters, they are things that you would share with your therapist. Your SO might not be able to cope with them.

              Plus, close friends are part of your support network. I often listen to my friends about deep emotional problems and relationship issues. Part of what friends do is act as a sounding board while people work out their own stuff. In relationships it helps for people to not be emotionally isolated, and have friends who they can vent to and who can help them gain perspective.

              Reference: My spouse and I have lived together for over 30 years, got a DP, and finally got married six years ago. We talk outside of the relationship to other people.

              IMO, the problem isn’t necessarily the friendship, but the sneaking and the lying. This is a problem for even poly couple, IIRC.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Yeah, but you don’t hide that you’re going to a therapist or try to convince your spouse that they’re crazy for thinking there’s something going on when there is actually something going on.

                This isn’t about talking outside the relationship. This is about long, personal conversations, dinners out, traveling together (!!!!). And then lying about it all.

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  Traveling together = extra opportunities for physical intimacy. It’s not a problem if the other boundaries are firm.

                2. sunny-dee*

                  @Zillah, it’s a huge massive red flag. Think of everything that went into it. She spent time planning it with the other man. She spent money to get there. She put herself in a situation with close, intimate, private contact with a man she was romantically involved with. And she was lying to her husband throughout the entire process.

                  It’s not (just) the physical act of infidelity that’s so damaging. It’s all the lies and planning and emotional investment along the way. That’s why traveling together is a massive red flag. It’s not like they just always met in the breakroom at 10am for coffee and a little private time. She actively spent a lot of time, emotions, daydreaming, and money to go away with this man. That is such a blow to a relationship.

              2. Jules the 3rd*

                Those two are not unacceptable *if your spouse would be ok with it*.

                Every relationship is different, and it’s not an automatic red flag if someone agrees with that list or has a couple of items on it that they don’t think are issues. What matters is that both people in the relationship agree about which of those items are issues and which are not, and if they can’t agree, neither tries to impose their expectations on the other.

                For Mr. Jules and I, we agree that talking about marital issues is reserved for each other and therapists (ie, not fam / friends who might feel pressure to ‘take sides’ or get a warped view), while ‘deep emotional problems’ that aren’t related to our marriage are fine to talk over with friends.

                That’s actually a good list to think about, to know what your comfort level is and to ask your partner’s (or partners’) comfort level.

              3. pancakes*

                +1, Curmudgeon. Frequent/constant communication is raising my eyebrows too. Lots of people are in frequent, even constant communication with friends via text and/or a larger group on social media without thereby threatening their marriage, not because the content isn’t personal or vulnerable but because their network simply doesn’t revolve around one person.

          4. SometimesALurker*

            I think that for many people, the difference for between a close friendship and a non-sexual romantic relationship lies in the difference between loving someone and being in love with them. So, it’s super murky and subjective, but for many people there is a difference. That still may mean that you wouldn’t have a problem with it unless your partner was lying, but that distinction may shed light onto why some people do. Or it may just shed murkiness onto it!

          5. Parenthetically*

            This isn’t a close friendship. Emotional affairs are about transferring emotional intimacy and closeness from the partner you’re committed to, to the affair partner, and pretty much always involve dishonesty and secrecy! You honestly can’t imagine being put off by your SO withdrawing affection and emotional closeness and intimacy with you, while pouring all that energy into another person, regardless of gender, with whom they shared a forbidden sexual tension? It wouldn’t bother you if she daydreamed about the other person, thought, “This other person gets me and Newington doesn’t,” mentally compared the two of you (as partners, not just as humans), and found every excuse to spend time with that person at the expense of your time with her? If not, you’re definitely an outlier!

          6. sunny-dee*

            No, it’s not “avoiding any friends at all.” It’s avoiding a specific person that she was essentially dating, just not having sex with (yet).

            1. Nia*

              If you have to lie to your partner or gaslight them to have a relationship with someone, either your partner is the problem or you are.

              One thing people forget with sustained affairs is the lying. If it gets to the point of gaslighting, that’s abusive.

              That’s the core difference between friendship with someone of your preferred gender(s) of sexual partner and a relationship that is improper or into affair territory.

            2. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

              This is the best way to explain it — we all know that a boyfriend and a friend who’s a boy are different things, even if you’re not sleeping with your boyfriend.

            3. Lissa*

              Yes, I feel a little like people are bringing in their concerns about how some people think men and women can’t be friends to such a point that they think it’s unreasonable for people to have non-sex boundaries with people. Like, I am also bi and have used the “so I couldn’t have any friends!” comment to people who say men and women can’t be friends. But an emotional affair isn’t just close friends, or close friends in a particular gender combination. Yes it’s murky but that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t real.
              to use a really strong obvious example I would think – talking to another person about how much you wish you could be with them, giving them secret gifts with romantic, flowery compliments and language in love letters you write, and deliberately hiding all of this from your partner.
              There is a third component outside sex or friendship, whether you call it romance or whatever, I feel like even if someone personally wouldn’t have an issue with any of that, it feels to me like it’s really not wild to think most people would not be.

          7. Artemesia*

            And emotional affair is not a friendship; it is a romance; they aren’t the same thing. Sex does not have to be involved. It is the intimacy, the sharing that one usually does with the spouse, the caring that one usually directs to the spouse, now being all about the affair partner. It is very distinctive from friendship.

          8. Batgirl*

            I doubt you’d be okay with your monogamous partner telling someone else she was in love with them, longed to leave you for them, extended discussions about their future lives together etc…
            All the while doing her best to deceive, and therefore be with you.
            It’s difficult to imagine before it happens to you. I always assumed that cheating was more or less one nighters committed by people without physical control. But some people get embroiled in non physical fantasies more easily. The ‘I love you’ is cited by many people as the most unforgivable betrayal.

            1. pancakes*

              I’m not sure what’s gained by calling that an emotional affair rather than the prelude to an affair. Is it the connotation that the feelings are reciprocal? I’d think most people would agree that it would be problematic for a person who’s in a committed and monogamous relationship to write love letters to and plan a life with someone else even if their feelings weren’t reciprocated. Similarly, the idea that cheating is only ever one night stands driven by purely physical desire seems needlessly and inaccurately narrow.

      2. TheBeetsMotel*

        I’ve had this done to me.

        This is my take; others may disagree: if the only thing standing between what you’re doing with the EA partner and a “full-blown” affair is “wElL iT’s NoT lIkE wE’rE sLeEpInG tOgEtHeR!!!” – you, my friend, are having a “real” affair. The sex is just the sh*tty cherry atop the Crap Cake. The cake is the layers of lying, avoidance, gaslighting, neglect and other misc BS your “friendship” with your EA is putting your partner through.

    4. Holly*

      My understanding is it’s a variation of your former example – however, I don’t think it’s really relevant to know the LW’s specific circumstances there. The fact is LW doesn’t feel comfortable being alone with a coworker on a sales trip, and if that can’t be accommodated regularly, maybe it is time they start looking.

    5. CaliCali*

      I think it’s fairly clear: the OP felt like it was an affair — she was becoming emotionally intimate with someone else and hiding it from her spouse. With a friendship, you don’t lie to hide it.

    6. Temperance*

      I think it means different things to different people, but the general gist is that you let an external relationship interfere with your marriage, and had an intimate relationship outside of your marriage that harmed your marriage.

      The evangelical thing is slightly different, because it’s sort of designed to preclude the emotional affairs from happening.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Emotional affairs often seem to arise when there is some sort of pressure on the marriage, and rather than talk to your spouse you draw further and further away, talking to the person who REALLY understands you. It’s the start of “My spouse doesn’t understand me… but you, you wonderful sympathetic person with whom I never have to discuss things like refinancing the mortgage and whether we have to replace the downstairs toilet–you’re different.”

        There’s also the variation (via Prudie) where your SO’s ex moves in with you because she needs help, and starts rearranging your house and ordering new furniture and your fiance doesn’t understand what your problem is, when he finds ex so warm and sympathetic and understanding when you’re off working late.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Oh god, I remember that letter – I’m over here screaming THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE, GET OUT

            1. Jasmine*

              We can’t post links here, right?

              The original letter was 11th June 2019, the (wonderful) update was 16th September.

          1. Anon for this*

            Did y’all see her update? She left the dude and the ex-wife shortly after hooked up with another guy and moved out.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              And if I remember correctly the dude then tried to get her to come back!
              She was having none of it. Yay!

        2. MeTwoToo*

          I laughed out loud at your first paragraph. I had this exact thing happen during grad school. The hours were long and I was close with a fellow student. He was engaged and living together. I’m married. We commiserated over the long hours, how tough things were, did projects together, etc. I thought we were on the same wavelength friend wise. Then one day I got the ‘she doesn’t understand me like you, she always complains about xyz, we’d be so much better together’. I had to be really direct with him. ‘You don’t even know me’.

          We never talked about the real stuff. We didn’t have to live together. My husband and I had the same conversations he complained about with his partner. He needed a quick reality check and that was the end of that. Stayed friends, stayed class partners, but nothing more. It’s easy to project this kind of idealized relationship on a work partner because it doesn’t involve any of the hard work of a relationship. It’s like a summer or vacation romance. Not real life.

        3. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, the way I’ve seen it used is diverting all the ‘fun stuff’ of the marriage–emotional intimacy, going out for a fun night on the town, long heartfelt talks of the type you did with spouse when you were dating and infatuated, etc–onto someone else, while reserving the bad stuff (the dang mortgage, etc.) for existing spouse… who then seems more boring, which makes the freshness of the long heart to hearts and dinners with the new person even more appealing, which makes you spend even less time with spouse, etc. etc. etc.

          A classic example is, of course, Working Partner having lots and lots of exciting lunches and dinners with the New Hotness while Stay at Home Partner watches the kid, and Stay at Home seems less and less appealing because New Hotness is never covered in applesauce and wanting to know if the electric bill has been dealt with yet. But there are other ways it can play out as well. Often one of the differences is that you lie about it (because partner might want you to come home and spend time with them instead, and rather than have that discussion, you duck it) or that you don’t want your partner to join for dinner, ever (because that would be a drag…).

          But yeah, it’s not just “someone I like to hang out and talk with,” it’s “someone I like to hang out and talk with and I am actively taking energy and attention away from my spouse/partner to do it, and often leaving them to clean up messes while I have fun.”

        4. Nia*

          Pressure on the marriage…..Sometimes this is true. I’ve also seen emotional affairs when the married affair partner has their own personal baggage. THe marriage would be fine if they could get past it. Instead of developing healthy coping and communication methods, they self-medicate by having an affair.

          Some people use affairs – emotional of physical ones – like many use illegal drugs. They use them as a copying mechanism and self-medication. Instead of fixing their own issues and getting proper help, they take the easy, self-rewarding route.

          There’s a reason for this. Humans are wired to prefer sugar over lettuce, to prefer easy of hard, to prefer “look at me” to “I’ll sacrifice for you.”

          I really, really loathe the idea that an affair always means the “something wrong” was equally shared by both spouses. I’ve seen a lot of very, very good people who worked very hard on their marriages get gaslighted and cheated on by partners who simply refused to value the marriage and work. Instead they took the easy route.

          I don’t know what LW’s situation was. We don’t need to know.

          What we do know is that she is now trying to be the type of partner she wants to be. In order to do that, she feels she must limit contact with the former AP. She isn’t asking us whether or not she’s correct to do so. She’s asking us how to navigate that requirement in her job.

    7. Alex*

      I don’t think it really matters here–OP is clear that it was wrong as defined by them and their spouse.

      1. Nia*

        Ding! OP is not asking us for relationship advice. She’s asking for work advice.

        Whether or not the “no personal contact”/“no travel”/etc. rule is healthy or not is not the subject of her question.

        It’s also condescending for everyone to assume that OP isn’t adult enough to decide if this is a reasonable requirement based on her marriage and her own view of her actions.

        My personal take is she needs to look for a new job. Both to solve the problem of contact with the AP and so she has a fresh start.

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      It is not just evangelicals, just about everyone I know who’s monogamous has used this term at some point.

      I admit that the term sets my teeth on edge, but that’s not relevant to OP’s situation. OP is uncomfortable being around someone she has to work with, but she still has to work with him in order for work to get done, and that’s the cards she’s been dealt. This sounds like a real and serious problem to me, whether I agree with the term or not.

    9. Susana*

      I never got that, either. It’s not an affair. It’s a crush, and these things happen. Now if she felt it was moving to affair territory because she was feeling more emotionally intimate with co-worker, that’s a problem for her marriage – and you deal with it by spending less time with co-worker until it passes. But really, you can’t expect your company to accommodate your workload or travel schedule because you worry you won’t be able to control yourself around a co-worker. (and that’s without knowing if the co-worker is even open to having an affair)

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        How do you get “crush” from ” I ended up lying to my spouse about dinners out, traveling, and long personal conversations with this coworker. My spouse found out, and I confessed that I had lied.”? That’s textbook ’emotional affair.’

        1. Zip Silver*

          And honestly, I think they take more of an emotional toll on the relationship than physical affairs. I think I’d rather discover that my spouse had a drunken hook up at a conference with a co-worker than learn that she fell in love with somebody else. Not that I’d want either to happen, but one definitely seems worse.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Exactly. Awful lot of premeditation and actual, active hiding of conversations and other things, versus ‘well, I had sexual urges and I got stupid after drinking too much and whoa, not gonna do that again.’

          2. Artemesia*

            Me too. When I was sliding into an emotional affair I had this sort of romantic martyr thing of ‘of course we don’t sleep together because we made commitments to our spouses’. Sex is secondary. A sexual fling would be easier for me to forgive than an emotional affair. And I luckily figured this out and backed off before the emotional affair was too far along or there was a sexual affair. Marriages have their ups and downs — it is easy to fool yourself with as someone else put it ‘the new hotness’ with whom you can share all those early explorations of the soul that occur in a new relationship. Stopping is the only thing that prevents the damage. The OP with this problem needs to find a transfer or another job — sharing this information with the boss was IMHO a career disaster — not the sort of information the boss should be hearing.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I’m confused, hasn’t anybody here had dinners and long personal conversations with friends that are not their preferred gender? How do dinner and conversations equal affair and not a close friendship? And it sounds like the travel was work travel that was required for work? I am taking OP at her word, because the rules require us to, but technically there could, out in this world, exist a controlling husband and an easily-guilted wife who’d both confuse friendship with infidelity.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Read this whole thread to see lots of examples. This isn’t a crush on someone you’re already close friends with, it’s a reciprocated romantic/sexual feeling that is cultivated and deepened at the same time that you’re withdrawing emotional and romantic closeness from your spouse/partner, while hiding the depth of the relationship from the spouse/partner.

            The “evangelicals and their controlling marriages” thing is a MASSIVE red herring.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Do you see the word evangelicals in my comment? It’s for a reason that you don’t.

              IME, I have seen the concept of emotional infidelity (as a thing that should never happen in a marriage and is as bad as a physical affair) happily embraced by couples in traditional marriages (of any religion or atheists) where it’s kind of assumed that, once you are married, you no longer have to care about each other or see each other as anything else but a chore, but there are lines you should not cross, because rules, and because you now own each other. My then-husband had a male coworker who was shocked and puzzled because he’d seen a married female colleague have lunch with a male colleague. He was sputtering and saying things like “but she’s married” “but it’s lunch” “did her husband allow that?” If this guy’s wife ever had a work lunch with a man at work (not that she ever had that I know of), you think she wouldn’t be tempted to hide it, knowing how he’d react?

              Granted, in the only marriage I ever was in, any emotional and romantic closeness that we had in the beginning had left the building about five years into the almost-20-year-marriage. So I find it difficult to imagine how it would work in practice for someone to have that closeness and then to withdraw it and to give it to a third person instead. My thoughts on that are 1) emotional (and for some of us, romantic as well, but that’ll be diverting from the topic) closeness is not a finite resource. There’s enough for everyone. You never hear anyone saying “oh we cannot have anymore children, because we only have enough love for the ones we already have and any next kid that is born to us, will have to go without, because we’re all out”. 2) if I loved and trusted my partner and felt loved and trusted by them, I’d be happy for them to have close friends and they then would not have to hide their friendships from me?

              1. Parenthetically*

                We are asked to take the letter-writers at their word. You are attempting to tell the LW that the thing she characterizes as an emotional affair doesn’t exist. It’s not helpful.

                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom**

                  Why don’t you search my comments on this thread and show me where I said that I did not take the letter-writer at their word.

                  Probably in the same comment where I mentioned evangelicals. You know, the one that doesn’t exist.

                  I was responding to this: ”… dinners out, traveling, and long personal conversations with this coworker… That’s textbook ’emotional affair.”

              2. Chicken Situation*

                It is hard to describe exactly, but you know it when you see it. If you’ve had a romantic partner and a very, very close friend, you know there is a difference in the relationships other than sex. When your relationship with someone other than your partner starts to feel less like a best friend and more like something intimate and romantic, you’ve crossed the emotional affair threshold.

              3. sunny-dee*

                There are different types of closeness. There are different types of relationships. Some types of closeness are appropriate in some types of relationships, and not appropriate in others.

          2. sunny-dee*

            When you’re lying to your spouse about it, hiding it and planning for the next encounter… Seriously, the only thing is that they hadn’t had sex yet. Emotional affairs almost never stay emotional — unless, like with the OP, they get caught.

            Just read, like, the Surviving Infidelity subreddit if you want to see the emotional fall out from an EA. Everything about an affair is there — the emotional betrayal, the lying, the gaslighting, the sneaking. It’s a massive betrayal of trust.

          3. Nia*

            If you don’t know the difference between a platonic dinner with someone of your preferred gender and a romantic one, I’m not sure anyone here can explain it to you.

            If I go to dinner with a friend of my preferred gender and we discuss our mutual love of British murder mysteries, that’ sone thing.

            If I go to dinner with a friend of my preferred gender repeatedly, we flirt, discuss how awful our partners are, discuss what we want to do to each other over candlelight dinners, that’s another.

            This isn’t that hard. To try and pretend it is so difficult is disrespectful to the LW. She says it was romantic and over a line. Why are you so invested in not believing her?

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Why are you so invested in not believing her?

              I am not. I believe that LW is uncomfortable around this coworker, for whatever reasons. I believe that LW’s spouse does not want them to be around that coworker, for whatever reasons. I don’t want to know the details. I was responding to the line about dinners and conversations being “the textbook sign of emotional infidelity” (there’s a textbook too?)

              1. Mary*

                Read the whole sentence! It’s not the long personal conversations and dinners that’s the textbook signs: it’s the LYING about them!

          4. Artemesia*

            Conversations and dinner are an affair when you are ‘in love’ or ‘in crush’ and your heart goes pittypat to see that you have a new email. Anyone who has friends and has had an emotional affair knows the difference and I suspect anyone who hasn’t yet, will know it when they see it. It is that ‘heart leaps up thing’ that happens with lovers and not friends.

          5. Zillah*

            I think this might partially be a matter of YMMV, too – people don’t necessarily draw lines re: what romance vs. friendship means to them in exactly the same place, and that has a huge impact on what “emotional affair” means to them. I can see some people who experience romance differently than I do being uncomfortable with several of my friendships if they started dating me, and while it wouldn’t be without merit for one of them, it would be for the others.

            If the OP says they had an emotion affair, they did, but I get why there’s some disagreement with characterizations of what that objectively means in the comments.

          6. Yorick*

            Have you been on a date? Doesn’t a dinner date feel different than dinners with your mom or close platonic friend? Now imagine whether you’d feel ok about your spouse having those with someone else.

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        This sounds like much more than having a crush, though? And it sounds like you do know what an emotional affair is though, because you spell it out–if “she was feeling more emotionally intimate with her co-worker, that’s a problem for her marriage.” If you are being emotionally intimate with someone who is not your partner instead of with your problem, many (most?) people who definitely see that as some level of betrayal of their relationship. That emotional partnership is part of what makes a relationship a partnership instead of just two people who happen to live together.

        I absolutely agree with you though that she cannot reasonably expect her employer to accommodate her on this, and it’s time for her to find a new job.

      3. Nia*

        Crushes are one-sided. I have a crush on Jack Davenport (who I met a few times and he was utterly charming). I have a crush on Alan at the local bakery, the man who takes my dry-cleaning whose name I do not know, and one of the judges on my appellate court.

        Emotional Affairs are a dance between two people playing with fire. Knowingly doing so.

        You can have a crush on someone you know, have dinner with them, have a close relationship with them without it being an emotional affair. The line is crossed when it is actively reciprocated and pursued by both parties (or more if you are poly and it’s more than two tangoing).

        The key difference is reciprocation and pursuit.

        Assuming two people of opposite sex in the matter: Jack can crush on Jill and Jill can crush on Jack. It’s a crush so long as there is no action. Once Jack and Jill decide it’s mutual and they start exploring or pursing it, that’s an EA.

        Now, it’s possible the line can be gray. But far, far more often, it’s not and people who know they have crossed the line are purposefully obscuring it to still be the good guy in their own minds.

        1. Health Insurance Nerd*

          I am truly astounded by the number of comments from people who are equating an EA with a crush or simple friendship (regardless of gender), and/or who truly do not understand the concept that you can cheat or have an inappropriate relationship that doesn’t include physical intimacy. I appreciate the myriad different ways you’ve explained it!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            If there are so many people that “don’t get it”, maybe there is something for us not to get?

            I really, really never liked that term. I agree that LW feels they have crossed the line with the coworker somehow, and that they need to act on those feelings. But overall I’ve seen this term used to cover so many things, including a spouse trying to live their life as if they are an individual person and not their spouse’s appendage. The myriad ways people are trying to explain it on this thread to the dozens of us who don’t get it, have been more or less confirming my fear that the concept of EA is about control and ownership.

            1. Nia*

              Then go read the internet. It isn’t a concept that is just by the people here.

              Honestly, sometimes I think people who don’t get it and say “control and ownership” don’t want to get it.

              It isn’t about control. It’s about honesty. If it’s openly poly or not against the rules the couple sets, it’s not an emotional affair.

              You say control and ownership. We say lying and deceit.

              I really, truly think you are purposefully not getting it b/c you don’t want to have to adjust your world view at all.

              As someone who has been in many poly relationships and doesn’t want to be in a dishonest one, I have zero need to control or own a partner. I do need them to be honest with me about what they are doing and with whom.

              1. Zillah*

                I don’t think IWTITB is disagreeing with the idea that dishonesty is a problem (or even with the idea that affairs can happen without sex??) – just some of the specific ways emotional affairs are defined in this thread. Accusing them of not operating in good faith because they’re coming from a different framework than you is pretty unnecessary.

              2. Lissa*

                The problem I think is that emotional affairs are more “you know it when you see it” whereas physical has a really obvious component that can’t be disagreed with. I think a few people keep focusing on “but long conversations aren’t affairs, people just don’t like male/female friendships!” but *most* people would not define an emotional affair as any long conversation. It’s one of those things where any one thing can seem innocent out of context, but all together it’s a problem.
                I personally would focus only on lying to your partner, and romantic professions to another person (like “I wish I had met you before I met Spouse”)

            2. Yorick*

              You said earlier you were married before. When you met your spouse, did you date for a bit before being physically intimate? Do you remember what that was like? It wasn’t exactly the same as your other non-sexual friendships. And when you were married, did you have a relationship like that with other people besides your spouse? Would you have cared if your spouse had a relationship like that with someone else?

      4. Dr Johnson*

        “It’s not an affair. It’s a crush, and these things happen.”

        No, an emotional affair is way more than a crush. The LW acknowledges this and that it was inappropriate so I don’t see why you would seek to downplay it.

        I’m dealing with the fallout of my spouse’s emotional affair with her boss and believe me a year of being lied to and gaslit and denigrated while the two of them were exchanging love missives and even where they might one day live together goes way beyond being an innocent crush.

        All credit to the LW recognizing what they’ve done, but as with other commentators, I think it’s probably best both for her career and marriage to start the job search

        1. chickaletta*

          I’m so sorry.

          I agree with you though. I’m surprised at the number of responses, including Alison’s, that think the LW should just go on with the trips at the boss’s request. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. This is a situation where I would put my personal relationship with my spouse before work and look for a job elsewhere. Some things are more important than work, and this is one of them.

    10. ColdinDC*

      Caroyln Hax has a good definition, it is basically where you share the intimacy, emotional connection, and attachment you should have with your partner, with someone else. It goes beyond friendship, as the relationship affects your marriage and your connection with your partner.

    11. Aquawoman*

      Well, in this case, it meant she had dinners out and long personal conversations with the co-worker that she felt she needed to lie to her spouse about. They’re easier to identify from the inside than the outside, so maybe just go with what the LW is saying.

    12. Dagny*

      “or if it means, ‘I had a perfectly normal, platonic work friendship with someone of another gender, which my religion forbids, and now I need to do a dramatic repentance thing to prove how actually good I am.'”

      There’s a lot to unpack here, and a lot of anti-religious bigotry.

      I’m a Nazi about these sorts of things, and it’s not because I’m against opposite-sex friendships. (My ex-boyfriend is one of my best friends, and most of my friends are men.) I preserve those friendships and have a good marriage – when I often see these men without my husband around – by having a zero-tolerance policy for flirting or shenanigans. This has the dual effect of ensuring that everyone is on the same page (husband, me, male friends), and is such an ingrained habit that should we hit a point at which our marriage is on the rocks just as some hottie comes along, hopefully, the good habits will carry me through.

      This isn’t some middle-school romance. This is my marriage, the most important relationship I have or will ever have. Not screwing around with it.

              1. Cora*

                Can we not get offended about this please? Just this once can we let someone call themselves a Nazi if they want to without clutching our pearls?

                1. yala*

                  “Just this once can we let someone call themselves a Nazi if they want to without clutching our pearls?”

                  …well there’s a sentence I never expected to read

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Since we have a problem with actual, violent, white supremacist Nazis, maybe you could use the “stickler” or “finicky fanatic” instead.

        Just a thought.


          1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            As straightforwardly as I can manage: I lost relatives to the Holocaust. My mother was a child refugee. Please, find some other way to say “over-strict” or whatever exactly you’re trying to convey by calling yourself a Nazi.

              1. yala*

                Imagine being snitty because children of Holocaust survivors politely ask that the term “Nazi” not be used casually to mean “over-strict.”

              2. Academic Librarian*

                Did you lose family in the Holocaust? Have you been a victim of modern white supremacy?

                It’s not sensitive to ask someone not to use the term Nazi so flippantly. I have no problem with someone calling themselves a Nazi if that’s what they actually believe – I’ll know to stay the frack away from them! But the way Dagny used the term is unacceptable.

    13. VeryAnon*

      It usually means everything abut a relationship except the sex. So you confide in that person first, you get excited thinking about them etc. I had that with one guy I worked with. I resolved it by moving jobs early on but if I hadn’t I could see it being damaging.

    14. A*

      Especially given that emotional affairs can occur without one of the parties being aware. One of my close friends ended up inadvertently in the midst of similar drama because it turns out that what she thought was a mentor/mentee developing professional relationship… the other party had been viewing as an emotional affair. Their SO found out, chaos ensued. It was incredibly unfortunate, made worse by her co-worker’s SO blaming her rather than her emotionally-cheating husband. Thanks to that situation, I am now mildly afraid of every potential male mentor. This is why we can’t have nice things!

      1. Chili*

        Ugh, I hate this. I was once an unwitting emotional affair partner in my early 20s. It wasn’t in a professional context like your friend’s situation, but I was so mad because I was at the center of all this drama about a guy I NEVER EVEN ROMANTICALLY LIKED IN THE SLIGHTEST. It felt (and still feels) so unfair that I was blamed by people for this thing I didn’t want and didn’t even know was happening. All I was doing was being an early 20-something woman who listens well.

    15. Koala dreams*

      I’m also never sure what it means, and at first I thought the “emotional affair” related to the lying, and didn’t get why travelling would be a problem. Your two explanationso of emotional affairs make a lot of sense in this situation. Thanks!

  3. Zip Silver*

    #1 – I would just find a new job. There’s a reason why you don’t dip your pen in the company ink (even if it was emotional, rather than physical), and the new boss is exactly right in prioritizing business needs over whether or not you had a prior consentual almost-fling with a co-worker that only ended because your husband caught you.

            1. Alienor*

              My dad said “don’t shit in your own mess kit,” which I’m guessing was an expression he picked up in the military.

  4. Engineer Girl*

    #5 – this isn’t the job for you. I can see why the new company wants to preserve its relationship with the old company. They don’t want to be accused of secretly poaching. That said, there is too much risk if you disclose.

  5. Betty Boop*

    Why does it matter what is “meant” by it? Worker and his/her spouse are both clearly uncomfortable with the new arrangements. The motivations have nothing to do with it, and I don’t think it’s worth speculating about except to try to look down on someone for their religious beliefs.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Yeah and I don’t even get where that’s coming from. “Dinners out, traveling, and long personal conversations with this coworker” sounds like your textbook emotional affair…

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yeah, that baffled me too. And while I’ve heard some evangelicals say that they can’t be alone or travel with someone of the opposite sex (and it’s certainly been discussed here before), I’ve never heard even evangelicals say that doing so in and of itself constitutes an emotional affair.

          But the advice would probably be the same regardless of whether a person is objecting to being alone with someone they had an actual emotional affair with or just to being alone with someone because they are of the opposite sex–an employer is unlikely to accommodate the request in the former situation and should not in the second situation, so if your job requires it and you’re uncomfortable with that, you should look for a new job.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I guess until you get to the lying to the spouse about it part. I have never felt the need to hid meals/conversations/etc. with my friends from my spouse.

            1. SusanIvanova*

              Oh, absolutely. But there’s got to be more to it than “it’s a deep friendship, but I have to lie about it even though I wouldn’t if the gender combinations were different.”

      2. Betty Boop*


        (And for the record my original comment was meant as a reply to HarvestKaleSlaw – somehow it became it’s own comment thread)

      3. Donkey Hotey*

        Engineer Girl – It’s doubly interesting, given that Betty Boop didn’t mention evangelicals, she only said religious beliefs. You filled in that blank on your own.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          At the time of the posting it was obvious they were referring to HarvestKaleSlaws comment there are several more comments now that would make it harder to discern.

          So NO I did not fill it in on my own.

    1. Nia*

      The only difference here is this: If it’s because of an emotional affair, the worker is asking for an accommodation with respect to ONE co-worker. It’s not gender bias. If it’s because of religions beliefs, the working is asking to exclude a whole gender from ever being alone with them. That’s gender bias.

      It’s much easier (and legal) for an employer to say “Jack and Jill” or “Jack and Bob” can never travel together because of past history than to say Jack can never be alone with any women, ever.

    2. Nephron*

      For me it matters because I am wondering if the coworker is aware that the affair happened. I believe in emotional affairs, I just know that friendship and emotional affair can be hard to tease out because so much of emotional affair territory is the withdrawal from the marriage that the outsider would not be aware of.

      I keep imagining a coworker going along with a nice work friend that they can travel with and then suddenly being ghosted.

      1. A*

        YES. It’s possible – my close friend ended up in a similar situation. My first thought when I read this was whether the other individual is being impacted by this. Are they missing out on work opportunities as a result? I’d be LIVID if I found out I was on some secret black list limiting who I can/cannot travel/collab with etc. just because Mr. Cheats misinterpreted out professional relationship attempted-to-turn friendship. Even if it was an EA, if the coworker wasn’t spoken for in their personal life than they still shouldn’t be impacted because ultimately the married individual was the only one to truly do something unethical.

      2. Managing to get by*

        I was wondering the same thing because the OP mentions talking to the boss about it but not the coworker’s reaction

        Also, traveling to the same meeting doesn’t always mean traveling together. When we travel to meetings my team doesn’t always take the same flight, we don’t have all meals together, and we definitely don’t share hotel rooms. I was at a meeting in another state last week and only saw my coworkers at the actual meeting, other than sharing an uber ride to the airport with one of them after.

        We all had different schedules the day before so ended up on different flights out, and by the time I got to the hotel the night before I was too tired to socialize.

    3. Koala dreams*

      People are curious and want to know what new (to them) concepts mean. Is that really so hard to understand?

  6. IHerdCatsForFood*

    OP1 your new boss doesn’t have to care about your emotional affair, and you’re hardly in the position to start making demands that go against the interests of the business. You need to get a new job.

    1. Hiya*

      Exactly. OP had an inappropriate relationship at work and now wants accommodation because of it. This is super unrealistic thinking that OP is somehow owed accommodation for an issue they caused. OP it’s either time to suck it up and be professional or move on to a new job.

      1. Old Biddy*

        yup. if two unmarried coworkers were ex’s, the expectation is that they’d have to either figure out a way to work together or one should find a new job. It’s no different here

      2. Fikly*

        Having an inappropriate work relationship does not fall under the ADA. So yeah, OP needs to adapt or move on.

  7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    For the survey question, I would go with the last option and speak with the person coordinating them. Depending on how long you’ve been doing this, it’s going to look even worse if you’ve generally given your manager good feedback that was untrue or vague and then suddenly all of you are truthful, than if you had just been honest from the beginning. Personally I would have been honest from the start if there were true problems with the manager, regardless of how they react. If the company really wants honest feedback, and is willing to make changes to fix the issues, you’re only doing yourself a disservice by holding back the truth.

    1. Darcy Pennell*

      I think if the LW has a reasonable expectation of retaliation, which it sounds like they do, then “you’re only holding yourself back” doesn’t apply here. If I were in the LW’s situation I’d do exactly what they’ve done. I wouldn’t risk torpedoing my job to provide feedback that might go nowhere anyway. I think that’s a completely rational and reasonable choice.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        That’s why I said “and is willing to make changes to fix the issue”.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Personally I would have been honest from the start … regardless of how they react.
      A lot of people need their job to eat, and cannot afford the luxury of being really honest with their boss about their feelings.

      If the company really wants honest feedback, and is willing to make changes to fix the issues.
      I have heard of a LOT of companies that had surveys, and yet, did not want honest feedback, and did not intend to make changes to fix any issues. It’s reasonable for employees to keep quiet if they the squeaky wheel gets demoted for not being a team player.

      1. JustaTech*

        There is also the issue of how people choose to interpret the results. I might say “these things are great and here’s an exciting way to improve Y” and senior leadership comes back with “People in the Z department are disaffected and lazy”.

        So even positive honesty can come back to bite you.
        Really there should be a minimum company size limit on these kinds of surveys. If you’re less than a thousand people at a site, or have more than 10 departments at a site, just don’t do it. It’s too easy to figure out who gave what response.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Yup. Some people are black and white thinkers. They only see good or bad Vs degrees of issues. They can’t tolerate anything other than Great! stupendous!

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        You can provide honest feedback without trashing your boss. If the entire team decides to be honest, are they all going to get fired? I doubt it. It’s about knowing your company and the people in charge above and outside of your direct boss.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      The LW is saying she couldn’t be honest from the start, because the survey was not truly anonymous.

      My last work used to do surveys. They’d ask your office branch, your department, if you were full or part time, and some other general demographic information. But we had some departments of 1, so if someone said they worked at Porridge Branch > Maintenance > Full-Time, and the only maintenance staffer at Porridge Branch was Fergus, then it’s not anonymous any more.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        OP never said it wasn’t truly anonymous. She just made the point that there were only 10 of them.

    4. EmKay*

      You’ve never hada vindictive boss retaliate against you for giving them less than stellar feedback, have you?

  8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I changed jobs once to get away from someone I had a crush on (it was not reciprocated, nor did I want it to be), and then a year and a half later, changed jobs again to get away from the same crush as well as from a different coworker who had no concept of work ethics and turned the whole place into an affair-y nightmare land. (He liked me and wanted to date me , but I said no – but he also liked another woman that also worked for him, and that woman said yes – but she also liked a guy in marketing – everyone in this inane situation were married with kids – I got out because I just couldn’t be around that stuff anymore.) Both times the job change was amazing for my career, with an improvement in job responsibilities and in pay. Highly recommend the same route to OP.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      These stories always blow my demisexual mind and remind me how different I am. It would kill me inside daily if I dealt with being in a pool of other people’s infidelities. I’m glad you were able to get out of those unfortunate situations, so much drama *shiver*

  9. Bunny*

    I think LR #1 needs to get to the root of the problem first, if they don’t address why they feel they were unfaithful or trust that they can control themselves or have their partner trust them it’s just a problem that is going to creep up again. If the problem is the behavior of the co-worker that needs to be addressed.

    1. Lehigh*

      It seems like they have? OP was lying to his/her spouse about an emotionally romantic relationship, aka an emotional affair. He/she is solving the problem by being honest with the spouse and proving trustworthiness by setting up clearer boundaries with the coworker.

      Once trust is broken, you don’t regain it by going, “Okay, well now that you know, it’s time to trust me completely again, immediately.” It’s reasonable for the trust-er to ask to see some concrete changes from the trust-ee.

      FWIW, I don’t see some kind of moral problem with saying, “I won’t do X, so if that’s something you need in an employee we need to discuss my exit.” It might be impractical, if OP wants to be able to secure a new job before leaving this one. But it’s not wrong.

      1. ValaMalDoran*

        I think Bunny means that OP #1 needs to figure out what caused them to have an emotional affair in the first place.

      2. Bunny*

        That’s basically saying the LW is physically incapable of being around this person without cheating which I don’t buy.

        My husband’s ex who lived together for over a decade is one of our best friends, in fact he was over at our house this past weekend. It is in fact possible to move on from someone you once had feelings for.

        1. Lehigh*

          Yeah, of course it’s possible. But if your husband had cheated on you recently with the ex, wouldn’t that make it less likely for you to all be best friends and for you to be cool with them hanging out?

          My husband doesn’t have any problems with my ex’s either, probably because I never lied to him about them. There’s not broken trust that needs to be repaired there.

        2. Uranus Wars*

          Yes, but I think the question I’d ask by is did they live together while you were dating your husband but you did not know about it? I think that is likely the issue at play here, not the emotional affair but the newness and sneakiness of it.

        3. hbc*

          It may be possible for some people in some situations, but maybe it wasn’t possible for this OP. Some recovered/recovering alcoholics can be around alcohol, some can’t risk it. I routinely have to go cold turkey on little phone games or they’ll eat my life, where someone else can ignore the fact that their Daily Reward thingy will reset.

          Most of us have an area where our own mental limits aren’t enough to keep us doing the right thing, so we can either keep struggling against temptation or remove it.

        4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          It’s possible to move on, but it’s also true that in general, the conventional wisdom for ending an affair (whether or not it went physical) is to cut yourself off from the affair partner completely, and for long enough to make sure that the feelings that caused the affair have plenty of time to entirely wither and die. If the OP is still uncomfortable taking a work trip with that person, then they need to keep their cutoff going for longer. Saying that they can’t do it now isn’t the same as saying they can never do it.

          1. sunny-dee*

            And, also, it’s not entirely unreasonable for the husband to not want her to be around him. She committed a really, really serious betrayal of trust. Even if she is over it and fine with the affair partner, it’s completely unfair to ask her husband to be fine with it — “trust me, this time I’m totally not lying to you!” If he needs her to draw some boundaries to rebuilt trust, that’s fine. In fact, changing jobs (if the AP is a coworker) is usually one of the steps that a counselor would encourage.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              Yup. Never dealt with an affair in my own relationship, but I did help a couple of friends work through their own. And in both cases, this is exactly what the counselor recommended. The guilty party was not to be alone with the object of their desire, ever, and should completely cut contact if at all possible.
              If it’s not possible, then they need to minimize contact, and only use methods of communication agreed upon with their spouse (like only emailing the person, instead of those long phone conversations they used to have). The key here is rebuilding trust. So full disclosure, and mutually agreed upon rules.
              So since OP’s boss doesn’t seem to support this (and I do understand why, from a strictly business standpoint, a boss might not want to deal with it) it looks like OP needs to look for a new job. Which is not really a bad thing.
              Changing jobs does more than just get one away from the affair. A new environment, with new challenges and opportunities, can help reinvigorate their relationship with their spouse in all sorts of ways. And it provides a clear mental break from the previous situation that helps break habits and patterns that led to the cheating in the first place, giving them a chance to set new standards for behavior as they establish themselves in a new work environment.

  10. RussianInTexas*

    OP1 – it sucks for you, but:
    1. Your job requires you to travel and work with this coworker and you are not able to for personal reasons. This means you are not able to perform a vital part of your job requirements.
    2. If you can’t get over this, you should look for another employment. Your job will only accommodate you up to some reasonable extent, and your personal feelings are not really the management’s problem. Until they are and prevent you from doing your job.
    I feel like you already shot your career at this particular place in the foot.

  11. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    If you’re having emotional or physical affairs, that’s on you. This isn’t something you get to make anyone else’s problem in the end. Your husband is correct, you need to find another job. You also need some therapy and to revisit your relationship within those sessions. You may also look into couples therapy. But in no way is this a business issue and no boss should ever accommodate a request to be the gatekeeper boundary maker because of a personal decision you and another employee has made. That’s a slippery slope into “I have to keep the door open when I have 1:1’s with the other gender, my wife and I have rules.” Your temptation is your own, deal with it within yourself. Don’t involve other innocent bystanders with it.

    1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

      I think “no boss should ever accommodate a request” is too hard-line. It’s reasonable for managers to take personal dynamics into account for work assignments when they can. In this case it sounds like they can’t, which sucks for the LW, but the request isn’t inherently weirder or wronger than asking not to travel with someone you find annoying, or who has very different travel preferences, or what have you.

      1. Jamie*

        I think there is a big difference. Everyone will find someone in the workplace annoying at some point. Everyone will have conflicting travel preferences with someone. Whether that can be accommodated is situation and employer dependent.

        Not everyone will have romantic entanglements at work. It’s inappropriate to bring other people into your intimate marital and extramarital relationships without their consent.

        As a manager the first two things are something I’d expect to listen to. The personal stuff I should never have to.

        1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

          This makes it sound like disclosing an affair is itself a sexually-charged event. It’s perfectly possible to tell your boss “Alex and I were involved with each other last year and I’d feel uncomfortable traveling with him/her; is that something you can accommodate?” without getting into inappropriate details.

          1. A*

            This is also assuming it was a mutual EA. It is entirely possible for one person to have an EA while the other thinks it’s a developing professional/social relationship or mentorship etc. etc.

            If it isn’t 100% mutual, and the other individual was also spoken for and cheating – then the other individual’s opportunities could be impacted as a result. Definitely not ok.

            1. Jamie*

              I would think an EA would have to be mutual, otherwise it’s just a crush.

              I mean, you can’t have any kind of affair with someone if they aren’t having one with you, I’d think. Interesting thought experiment.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Wait, you think that we’re going to make accommodations because you think someone is annoying?

        I wouldn’t make accommodations for someone who simply didn’t like someone, unless it was a huge issue going on and in reality, in that sort of situation, someone’s getting fired most likely.

        I agree if it’s a term of not having them drive in a car together, fine, we’ll find a different transportation setup. You can have separate seats or separate flights for all I care. But yeah, there’s a very limited amount of wiggle room here in the business sense.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          Yeah, just simply finding someone annoying won’t excuse you from working/traveling with them.
          Plus, how do you even bring it up? “Sorry boss, I can’t travel with Susie, she talks too much about baseball and I find it annoying! No, Jeff won’t work either, he likes Creed the band, and it’s my no-go.”

          1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

            I mean, I was picturing a much stronger level of annoying than that — probably “don’t get along with” would be clearer. But I said when they can, which in some businesses is very little and in some is quite a lot.

            1. boo bot*

              I think the annoying example is actually a good one – if it’s really easy and there’s no reason not to pair you off with other people, then sure, you might get out of traveling with the person who’s always pushing the llama-based MLM. If it’s a hassle in any way, you’re probably going to have to lay down some strong boundaries (“I’ve already chosen a pyramid scheme to contribute to this year”).

              The affair thing actually strikes me as potentially more problematic – if they do allow you to change your arrangements to avoid that person, then one or the other of you might end up being unintentionally penalized because of the relationship fallout, and that’s not a situation most managers wants to create.

    2. Mary*

      LW very carefully described their spouse and their ex—affair partner in gender-neutral terms—there’s nothing to suggest a husband!

    3. TechWorker*

      I work with two guys, let’s say Bob and Jake. Bob met his wife when she was dating Jake… about 10 years later they are still put on different tables at any company social…

  12. RussianInTexas*

    Surveys: at Old Job we had annual Colleagues Engagement Surveys. We were all cynical people and did not believe they would change anything, 0r if they were truly anonymous, so we all lied (participation was voluntarily but STRONGLY encouraged). And if your “engagement” score was too low, you would have meetings that continued until morale improved. Even if your department’s score was still higher than the company’s overall.
    So one year department’s score was 100.Then we had a meeting about not lying on the survey….
    And then there was that year in which the new director realized all women were for some reason unhappy (by the survey), and made all women to have a meeting among ourselves to figure out why…

    1. Asenath*

      I worked somewhere that the management hired some outside consultants (probably at enormous expense) to find out why morale was low. I did the interviews in a kind of minimalistic fashion, as I suppose everyone else did. Personally, I thought extreme job uncertainty due to re-organizations and lack of information as to who was going to be the next one laid off/contract not renewed might have contributed to the lack of morale, plus of course the infighting among departments trying to maintain their piece of the turf. I don’t think they ever released the report, but we did have a compulsory off-site full day meeting intended to pump up our morale. That’s still one of my favourite examples of a cure that was totally unrelated to the problem.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        My father works for a large oil company and one year they had the survey (the year of a great turmoil), the results were so low, nothing was released.

        1. S-Mart*

          Reminds me of the apparently now defunct engagement/satisfaction survey at my current place of employment. It was quarterly, and the results were released and discussed (discussion meeting was optional) about two months after the survey ended. The questions were mostly consistent quarter to quarter. The last one we ever got (about 13 months ago now, I think) added a question to the effect of ‘how often do you think about getting a new job?’. I will be forever convinced that the results release was discontinued because of the very high frequency answer to that question (it was a very uncertain time for us – which has only gotten marginally better since).

  13. Nini*

    #5: That would be the end of the interview process at that company for me, honestly. Telling your current employer that you’re looking for a new job sounds like a good way to shoot yourself in the foot. (Also, it seems very unfair of the company you’re interviewing with the place all the risk on you, especially if they’re only in discussions with your current company and don’t actually have a signed contract with them. If there were a contract saying “we won’t poach employees” then that’s one thing, but it sounds like there’s not one yet.)

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      You also run the risk of them pulling the offer at the last minute if the contract goes through and they decide it’s too much of a conflict of interest. I’d run.

    2. Rectilinear Propagation*

      It’s likely a requirement of their bidding process that they have to disclose any relationship they have with the other company’s employees. They can’t have it look like the LW helped them get the contract in exchange for a job with their company. (The LW may not even be in a position to do that but that’s likely the ethics issue they’re concerned about.)

      Unfortunately, that means it’s not enough for the bidding company to simply say, “One or more of your employees is applying for a job here.” The other company needs to know who’s applying so they can make sure they have 0 influence on the contracting decision.

  14. Ginger*

    OP1 – while it’s great you feel you can bring this (very personal) problem to your grandboss, can we pause for a moment and discuss why that’s really not a great idea to rely on?

    Telling your management chain you had an emotional affair and now can’t perform basic job duties because of it is not going to set yourself up for long-term success at this company. Interacting with coworkers is a basic expectation, keeping personal drama out of the office is another basic expectation. It’s not a good look to say you can’t because of your own actions.

    Sorry OP, that might sound harsh but I think you’re so caught up in your own world about this that you can’t see the forest through the trees. I think you should start searching for a new job. You can’t do things your boss is asking you to do which are requirements of the job (and really, very normal for a sales role) and your spouse will probably greatly approve.

  15. Hanna*

    I question exactly it means to have to “travel together”?

    I would try to accommodate any employee that said they were uncomfortable traveling with another, for any reason or no stated reason.

    If it just means attending the same meeting, I don’t see why they can’t take separate cars, sit apart during any shared flights and stay in different hotels and have any meals separately. At worst they would then have no more contact than is required during a normal workday.

    I wonder if the boss is truly demanding they “travel together” or simply travel to the same place.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*


      Traveling together doesn’t have to mean sharing a room/car. Though from the tone of the letter, that’s what I’m thinking OP expects or has heard from new boss.

      1. Banana Bread Breakfast*

        My last position required travel that specifically involved sharing a car with my nearly 20+ years older opposite sex colleague. We had to fly somewhere to pick something up and drive it back to our workplace. We worked with valuable, rare materials and it was often cheaper to fly us out to handle and transport materials than to insure and hire out that expertise, even if the drive was multiple days cross-country. Splitting cars would defeat the purpose of sharing the drive. This was never an issue as my colleague and I got along like two peas in a pod and traveled very well together, but yeah, it does sometimes have to mean that.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          When my husband travels with coworkers, or other groups travel to them, the norm is to stay in the same hotel and share a rental car. Arguing this sort of intimate togetherness is unworkable for one person is going to make that person stand out in a bad way.

          1. A*

            Yes, thank you! There’s a lot of chatter here that I think is overlooking the very real impact this has on others in the situation. Even if the EA was mutual (unclear from letter), the other individual should not be impacted. They are not requesting an accommodation.

    2. Rectilinear Propagation*

      The problem is that LW and/or their spouse doesn’t yet trust them to not end up having meals alone with their co-worker. It’s less about them being forced into close proximity as it is about opportunity to cross the line again.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Hm. So if I’m simply saying “I’m uncomfortable with traveling with Jenny.” you’re going to go ahead and just accommodate that without asking questions?

      You’re not going to take into consideration the discrimination factors that can come into play?

      So suddenly Johnny doesn’t like traveling with women, POC or LGBTQ, you’re gonna just go ahead and say “You don’t need to sit next to people you aren’t comfortable with, that’s a-okay and I’ll go ahead and facilitate it!”

      You have to hold everyone to standards and that they get along despite their personal indifference.

      But in this case, it doesn’t matter if they set up different hotels and so on because in the end, they’re adults. And their spouse cannot trust them to be “alone” in the same city/away from home with this other person. They were sneaking around and having personal dinners that weren’t due to the company itself and now it’s being made a company issue of “I can’t be put in a situation were we may feel the temptation to sneak out to see each other again.”

      1. CastIrony*

        Quick question: Is it different if I were to say, “Hey, I can’t travel with Johnny because I’m POC, and he hates POC, and I don’t want to be in a situation where this impacts our work”?

        1. Important Moi*

          Please expound. If racism is going to be used as an analogy I think you should offer more context.

        2. TechWorker*

          If Jonny openly hates POC then Jonny could do with losing his job.

          If Jonny is a subtle racist then it’s a trickier one.

      2. Hanna*

        No, of course not. We have policies to deal with discrimination so someone using a ridiculous, hateful reason make the request would be reported to HR.

        But I am not interested in being the arbiter of whether Bob having halitosis or Lisa driving like a maniac is a good reason to allow separate rental cars. Nor am I interested in hearing private details about anyone’s home life. “Hey, it would work better for me if I stay at Marriott instead of Hilton this time” would be enough.

        I believe people traveling for work should be treated like adults. That means no one policing the reasons we do or do not share rental cars or stay in the same place, as long as expenses stay within policy.

        It’s pretty common for my company that we don’t all arrive or leave at the same time for various personal and business reasons. We share rental cars if it is convenient but no one even asks about the details of our arrangements most of the time.

        I really don’t think it should be on the employees to save a few dollars for the convenience of the company when traveling outside of business hours, unless it makes sense for them also. Sometimes there are logistics that preclude traveling apart, but I think it’s worth it for the OP to explore the options if this would help the situation be more comfortable for them and their significant other.

        This isn’t an option if the entire point of the trip requires one vehicle, like transporting goods, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Unfortunately, that’s not how most companies do business trips. If they are sending multiple people on a trip, they will consolidate as much as they reasonably can, including having them stay at the same hotel. Which would be an automatic no-go in this sort of post-affair situation, because even if nothing happens, it’s still too early – and the wound is too raw – for their spouse to trust them yet.

    4. A*

      And if someone is getting booted from a trip/networking event/any opportunity etc. as a result – it better be the individual that requested accommodation. Personally I think this is a slippery slope where it would end up unfairly impacting others.

  16. GB*

    OP1: There doesn’t seem to be anything in this letter that indicates the gender of OP or of their spouse. Why say they don’t want to be alone with “this guy.”

  17. KR210*

    I may be reading into OP #1’s issue too much, but I don’t necessarily agree with laying personal stuff aside. It makes it sound like we’re to be robots at work and not have any feelings until we get home. If that were the case, OP #1 wouldn’t be in the position they’re in.
    For everyone’s sake, it’d probably be best to find a new job, because it doesn’t sound like your current boss will be sympathetic to you. And you’re now in a position of choosing between your marriage and your job.
    I don’t think it’s fair for everyone to look at this as a “you got into this mess, get yourself out” type situation. What if OP’s coworker is controlling or manipulative and they’re fearful of traveling with them. What if this were an actual boyfriend/girlfriend situation – would OP’s boss be ok with them not travelling together because they’re not a couple anymore? What if this wasn’t even an affair and OP was uncomfortable just being around this person, due to comments or actions made by them?
    There are so many more factors here that it’s unfair to just be told to put the personal feelings aside and do your job, especially if that job requires time spent together more than with any other coworkers.
    OP, you may not trust your instincts now, but if you think going to your grandboss will help you, I’d say go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no, and you look for a new job. They say yes, and you don’t have to travel with someone you’re not comfortable travelling with.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      I feel like the OP would tell us if there were actual problems with traveling with this person vs “we have history and my spouse doesn’t want this”.
      The boyfriend-girlfriend situation should not even happen, like ever, in a good workplace. They shouldn’t be working together in the first place.
      And if a person does/says something inappropriate (actually inappropriate, not “we used to have an affair”) that makes you uncomfortable with them, that’s a whole other story and needs to be reported.
      And if you go to the grandboss, who I presume doesn’t know about the situation yet, you reveal your past unprofessionalism, and that you cannot perform your work duties due to it.. So thread VERY carefully.

    2. Jennifer*

      Good point. Even without the romantic element, some employees may just get along better with one person than another. We’re human and that’s life sometimes.

      1. Close Bracket*

        And you still have to act professionally and travel alone with them or be in meetings alone with them if that is part of your job roles.

        (this is assuming discomfort is not due to harassment or other illegal/unethical behavior)

        1. Jennifer*

          Yes, I know. But a smart boss may still recognize that things run just a bit more smoothly when certain people work together. Doesn’t mean they aren’t professional when paired with others.

          1. Close Bracket*

            Yeah, some employees get along better than others, and acting professionally means things run equally smoothly regardless of how much you like the person you are traveling with. Not to mention that only putting people who like each other on teams together is how exclusivity happens, and it’s not using the company’s talent fully.

            This point is irrelevant to the OP at hand.

            1. Jennifer*

              I was responding to the original comment on this thread, about the fact that we aren’t robots and it’s not possible to completely put personal issues to the side sometimes. This OP is an example of that. In her case, I think the answer is resigning.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Or, Jack is “rewarded” for his professionalism by being always stuck with the most difficult coworkers.

            I know what you mean, but it’s easy to slide from “these four equal people are all happier if we pair them A-B and C-D” into accommodating the unreasonable people because, hey, it’s not like you can reason with them! The reasonable people around them just need to bend…

    3. Close Bracket*

      OK, but OP’s coworker isn’t manipulative, isn’t their ex- or current partner, and hasn’t made OP uncomfortable due to actions or comments. Those are different situations and would call for different advice. We can’t be robots at work, but we do need to be able to differentiate between when our emotional reactions call for our work to change and when they call for us to make the changes. In this case, it’s on OP to make the change.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If someone is violent or harassing you, that’s a completely different kettle of fish.

      Then the other person is a danger and needs to be removed from the company. It’s much more than just being in an uncomfortable position you built because you emotionally cheated on your spouse with a person.

    5. JamieS*

      It’s not about what’s “fair”. It’s about what’s reasonable for a company/manager to expect from their employees/reports and when it’s appropriate to go over your boss’s head. Barring harassment, threats, etc. from the co-worker it’s not unreasonable for a manager to expect their report to be able to work with that co-worker in a professional manner. It’s really no different than a manager expecting a report to work with someone they find annoying or expecting them to not only work with their work BFFs.

  18. Witchy Human*

    #2–I worked somewhere that gave an unusually large bonus for employee referrals. It definitely backfired. Folks often aren’t at their most ethical when free money is involved.

    People would absolutely try to game the system–straight-up lie to HR about how awesome their friend was, or round up friends and family to apply for every position that opened.

    The bonus came if the referred hire hit 6 months, and after that 6 month mark some of the new hires left, or their work quality started to deteriorate substantially. A new employee who might have realized two months in that the job was a bad fit would be convinced by their friend to stick it out for another four so they could get the cash.

    1. Sunflower*

      I just completed my first self evaluation at my new company and found out we are rated on something like our commitment to bringing and retaining talent at our firm. UMMM WHAT? I work in marketing, not HR or recruiting. Now that I see that, I can totally see people referring people just to write ‘I referred X amount of people’ in their review.

    2. A*

      Yup! My last employer offered a several-thousand-dollar bonus for new hires, and a second several-thousand-dollar if they made it past the 90 day mark. You could literally buy a small sedan for the combined total. It backfired terribly – so many irrelevant referrals!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This. Open relationships have rules, which some people in those relationships break.

        Also, you should not be having affairs with your coworkers whether or not you are also having affairs with people outside the company. Both “I burn for Hamish” and “I flee from the fallout of my burning for Hamish” (which can happen with no cheating) are things your boss does not want to accommodate for you.

        1. Rainy*

          Yup. Does it happen that some people regard their coworkers as a captive population of possible dates? Yes. Should it? Hard no.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        This. A poly friend put it succinctly: “It’s not the other relationships, it’s the lies and broken trust.”

    1. [Cloaking Device Engaged]*

      I hear you, Tank Girl. (Non-exclusive relationship person here, too)
      Some of the AAM letters, I feel like an ethnographer dropped into a different culture. Stuff like “can’t be in a closed door meeting with someone because my spouse will think it’s cheating” is so utterly alien to me.
      In the OP case, I agree that it’s far more about the “sneaking around and lying” part of things rather than the “I had a non-physical-but-emotional relationship with someone other than my spouse” part. And the rest of me thanks my lucky stars that I don’t have to worry about what my wife would say about my having a non-physical-but-emotional relationship with someone other than her.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I mean, the point of the letter is that LW got into an emotionally messy situation with a coworker, then asked work to keep them away from the coworker. Both of those are bad, regardless of who else you’re sleeping with at the time.

        And lots of people in open relationships have rules like “not at work” or “not my family members” or “partner has a veto if someone really hits every nerve, e.g. seems to threaten the primary relationship when others didn’t.” It’s not the case that open = no possibilities at all for drama.

      2. Batgirl*

        As a former betrayed person – it’s definitely about the lies. There are monogamous people inexperienced with affairs who don’t understand it that well (and who get hung up on how much/what type of sex, and upon silly gender sterotypes to explain it) but you’ve summed it up entirely.
        If you’re being lied to, or have been lied to for a number of years; you wake up to the reality that your consent was robbed, that you’ve been kept prisoner in a situation you would never agree to and you realise you’ve been controlled and bullied. It’s really a terrifying awakening.
        You can have whatever sexual rules you like but there will always be a way for someone to take the piss and gaslight you on something else.

    2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Not helpful and not kind, also it’s not really relevant. “Yay for non exclusive relationships” is a perfectly chill thing to say in abstract, but saying it specifically in response to someone else’s relationship situation is smug and tbh kind of mean. Non-exclusivity isn’t cheat-proofing your relationship; lying and boundary-crossing happen in all relationship types (ask me how I know!).

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You’re missing a huge point here, it has nothing to do with the structure of your relationship.

      But yay for being so anti-monogamy you can’t respect that this has nothing to do with being open or exclusive relationships.

    4. Pomona Sprout*

      Definitely not helpful! Especially since, last time I checked, there was not a contest on regarding whether exclusive relationships are “better” than non-exclusive ones or vice versa, but even if there was, that comment missed the point of this LW’s dilemma by a country mile.

  19. Hmm*

    #3 If the survey is anonymous, then the boss won’t be able to tell which person out of 10 gave the feedback, unless you include identifying details.

    Personally, I think bad bosses deserve honest feedback :) So I’d say it like it is.

  20. Mobius 1*

    For these archival revisits questions I can usually rely on the recommended posts to find the first time the questions were posted, but this strategy has failed me this time. Could someone provide the link to the original posting of the leading question?

  21. Jennifer*

    The new boss is right. It sucks for her marriage, and I understand why her spouse is concerned. An affair happened, the fact that it was “only” emotional doesn’t matter. But what is being asked of her is totally normal and a part of her job duties. If she can’t handle it, she needs to start looking elsewhere, maybe even sit down with her spouse, look at their budget and see if they can afford to get by without her salary for a few months.

  22. Narise*

    For mediocre referrals I had the same experience. After receiving 3 from the same co worker I reached out to HR and told them that the coworker was hurting their reputation by recommending people so obviously unqualified. I stated he either thinks very little of our department and the skills required for the job or he doesn’t know what we do and therefore shouldn’t be referring anyone. Our HR director is amazing and sent out an email summarizing that people preferred should meet the qualifications. We don’t receive as many mediocre referrals but still a few we can turn down.

  23. Batgirl*

    LW as an emotional affair has something of a compulsive component, to the point you’ll protect it with lies, (yeah it’s nothing like an opposite sex friendship or a crush (!) ), then I think you’re right to identify it as a very much no go for you if you want to keep your marriage. That said, your employer has zero responsibility to help you in your desire to recover your marriage.
    I know of quite a few marriages which have successfully recovered from affairs and none of those recoveries came without very high costs, sacrifices extreme life changes and most importantly, taking all the cost and responsibility for that on yourself (and upon your spouse too unfortunately).
    I think you’re looking at cutting your losses with a resignation; few jobs can compete with the cost and emotional fall out of divorce.
    I really hope you’re both being treated by someone with a good track record who can share success stories of how you’ll bounce back, not just personally but even professionally. But I wouldn’t hang around making demands like this if you want that to happen. Move on.

  24. nnn*

    I know this depends greatly on the specifics of your workplace, but one thing #1 could consider if the nature of their job and their workplace permit is expressing interest in work that doesn’t have the potential to put them in contact with the co-worker in question.

    Since your boss considers avoiding the co-worker on principle to be a non-starter, you could frame it as interest in this specific work, not as a measure to avoid co-worker.

  25. HigherEd on Toast*

    Academia being what it is, I’ve seen people have situations like OP 1’s and also try to demand accommodations (“I don’t want to teach in the same building as [colleague they had an emotional affair with/dislike/lost out on a promotion to]’) and it always, always goes downhill when the accommodations are made. Either at some point the accommodations can’t get made anymore- no university campus has so many offices that they can move people around willy-nilly just so that someone doesn’t have to deal with being within ten rooms of someone they had an emotional affair with- and the person asking for them throws a temper tantrum. Or the accommodations themselves get sillier and sillier- “I’m on a search committee and don’t want to hire this candidate because they have a similar name to the person I have a problem with”- and ditto temper tantrum. It’s one thing to try to resolve problems between colleagues, and of course action should always be taken if someone is violent, harassing, or a bigot to another person. But I think it’s always a mistake to indulge people when the problem is purely personal.

  26. ZK*

    For the survey about the bad manager, I would try to convince your co-workers to be honest. But call me cynical, I don’t really think companies care. My husband’s boss got a 5 out of a possible 100 because he’s just BAD at his job and everyone who works for him knows it. Lowest score of any manager in the company. Guess what? He’s still there, because some higher up thinks the sun shines out of the kid’s butt.

  27. GimmeGimmeGimme*

    #1 I can sympathise with LW, but utterly they attempt to make everyone else suffer their sins. Their manager is absolutely right in expecting them to lay personal stuff aside. In fact, the manager already showed a level of accommodation beyond what can be expected. The type of accommodation the LW is asking for lacks basis; it is not that the situation was or is beyond their control or strongly rooted in their culture. It is down to their (lack of) judgment and inadequate processing.

    Is the coworker missing out on opportunities?

    Are these arrangements incurring extra costs on the company?

    Is customer care suffering because of re-staffing?

    Understandably, performance depends on a conducive work environment, and a good management fosters this through various individual means of accommodation. But I cannot see that the LW has made any amends themselves. It may sound harsh, but the LW communicates more than anything that the company, despite already being accommodating beyond what can be expected, is not the right place for them because they have changed.

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