my coworker told everyone we’re married … we’re not even dating

A reader writes:

Last year, I left on a leave of absence for a few months to take care of my elderly parents. Then I returned to work. Apparently during that time, one of my coworkers began telling people we were married … not as in “work wife,” as in legally married, and everyone believed him. Honestly, I had no idea he had any feelings for me and I don’t think he knew I would be coming back. I’m an introvert; I keep my personal life private and don’t talk about myself much, but the fact is, I have a husband (not him) who I’ve been married to for 10 years.

Not wanting to cause him embarrassment, I privately went to our boss, explained the situation behind closed doors, and asked for a department transfer. Even though he’s never sexually harassed me or made a move on me, I’m very uncomfortable being around him right now and don’t want any contact with him. My boss agreed, said she would speak to him, and though she didn’t have the authority to move me to another department, she would see to it that we wouldn’t be put on a team together, and kindly offered to adjust the schedule so he wouldn’t be in the office at times when I was there.

I’ve tried to handle this whole mess as discreetly as I can, but today I lost it. He walked into the break room while I was in there, and I basically yelled at him in front of everyone there, saying I’m not his wife and to stop telling people we’re married. I know this was not the most mature way to handle the situation, but I was at my wit’s end. What to do?

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked what the lying coworker did after she yelled at him. Her response:

I think he was in shock, because he said nothing but immediately left the room. However, there was definitely a palpable tension between me and my colleagues who had witnessed the whole thing. As I said before, I didn’t want to cause a scene or embarrass him publicly … unfortunately, I was “in the moment” and I let my emotions get the best of me. I fear there can be no good resolution to this situation. Either I’ve just exposed him as a liar to my coworkers, or they think I’m the one lying, since he’d apparently been telling people we were married for quite some time. Since I can’t transfer departments, I’m entertaining the idea of putting in my two weeks, but I’m still emotionally reeling from what happened and I don’t want to do anything impulsive or make the situation worse.

Don’t quit your job! You are in the right and he was in the wrong. It’s understandable that you lost it on someone who did something so weird and violating and apparently has not attempted to make it right in any way.

Ideally, of course, you would never lose your cool at work or cause a scene. But he’s the one who did something wrong here, and getting called out on it publicly is a natural consequence of that. He should be exposed as a liar to your coworkers — not as punishment, but because that’s the necessary resolution after he chose to lie about you.

And what the hell is wrong with your coworker, doing something like this? He told people you were married?! Because he thought you weren’t coming back and so he’d get away with it? That’s not normal behavior. There’s no reason to feel that he should get to walk around shame-free while you feel you have to perfectly manage your emotions around him.

You said you felt a palpable tension from your coworkers during the encounter in the break room, but that doesn’t mean they were thinking, “Jane has lost her mind!” The most likely case is that they assumed you were telling the truth about not being married to this guy (why would you yell at your husband that you weren’t his wife?) and the tension was “whoa, something is going down and we are caught off-guard and don’t know how to react” and probably also “Derek lied about being married to Jane? Holy shit.”

I think you’ll feel much better if you go and talk to the coworkers who were there. Say something like, “I want to apologize for losing my cool in the break room in front of you. When I returned from my leave of absence dealing with a family issue, I found out that Derek had been telling people we were married. We have never had any involvement at all, so this was a really bizarre thing for him to do. It has felt pretty violating and I was at my wit’s end. I’ve spoken with (boss) about it and I wanted to explain to you too since you witnessed that.”

But truly, when someone does something like this to you, you don’t need to worry about protecting him from embarrassment. He should be embarrassed.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 748 comments… read them below }

    1. hmmmm*

      me too! I can’t imagine what would possess someone (coworker) to do such a thing. Even more so I can’t imagine how coworker thought this would pan out? Seriously how did he expect her to react. OP I’m angry for you! BTW you did nothing wrong, even the blow up was (in my opinion) legitimately called for.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yup, all of this. Outside of demonic possession, I’m not sure what would compel him to do this.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        I suspect it’s either wishful thinking on Derek’s part or some ill-conceived attempt to impress people if OP has a good reputation. Or maybe he figured OP would be so impressed by his romantic devotion that she’d marry him for real (or maybe just date him) or that some sort of rom-com wacky hijinx would ensue and they’d get together. Or he has some sort of “The Secret” type belief that whatever you ~put out there in the universe~ you’ll get. Or he just likes telling lies to see what people will fall for…

        1. hmmmm*

          I was thinking this too. Some sort of attempt at getting together, magical proposal/ asking out on a date.

          I was also thinking, since OP is quiet and doesn’t share much of her personal life, maybe coworker thought she wasn’t coming back and that he could get away with such a rumor that would “boost” his reputation.

        2. LetterWriter*

          I am OP, and I thank you all for your reassuring and empathetic responses. I like to assume the best in people; that maybe he just had a crush that spun out of control, or as one of you had said, perhaps he has low self-esteem and wanted to prove he was likeable or normal. That’s why I felt badly about handling it the way I did, though I know HE is the one at fault here. That said, we are both in our 40’s and so I feel like someone that age theoretically should have long outgrown that “high school insecurities”-type behavior. I’ve been able to avoid him since the incident without feeling TOO much like I’m walking on eggshells, and my boss (with my permission) also informed HER boss, and they’ve both been very supportive.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            Did you notice anything odd or notable about this person before all of this?

          2. Tabby*

            LW, my initial reaction was, “Good for you!” Even if that wasn’t a professional way to handle it, it certainly returned the awkward to sender, a richly deserved return at that. As Allison said, he SHOULD be embarrassed to have lied like that.

            I’m very certain your coworkers aren’t going to blame you for this; seriously, who wouldn’t eventually lose their cool under these circumstances? Just apologize and explain, I think they’ll forgive the outburst quickly, with sympathy for you!

          3. Detective Amy Santiago*

            You are far too kind.

            I do think that it would be perfectly reasonable for you to say to your co-workers (at least the ones who witnessed what happened) something like “I discovered recently that Derek has been telling people we are married. I have been happily married for 10 years to my husband who is most definitely not Derek and I wanted to clear that up for everyone”.

          4. Blueberry hill*

            Regardless of his motivation, I hope you understand that you have a responsibility to not cover for his lies, hide his transgressions, help him keep up appearances. You are not his therapist, you are not his parent, you are not his faith leader. He chose to make up lies about your life and his. If this had happened to your brother, where his coworker was telling everyone she was his wife, would you expect him to walk on eggshells? While you sound like a very sympathetic person, don’t prioritize his feelings over yours, his fantasy over your reality, his need to be accepted over your right to live your own life free of the expectations of people who are at best work acquaintances. Walking on eggshells or feeling guilty about your natural reaction about the situation is doing a disservice to your feelings . He wronged you. Please stop worrying about how he feels.

            1. SeluciaMD*

              Heartily co-signed.

              “Don’t prioritize his felings over yours, his fantasy over your reality, his need to be accepted over your right to live your own life free of the expectations of people…” It’s a little long but think this would be such a great sampler or throw pillow. It would coordinate nicely with my current CA sampler of “The Field of No F@&*s Given.”

            2. Librarian1*

              Yes, thank you. Don’t cover for him. You are enabling him. He deserves the consequences he gets.

          5. Blueberry hill*

            Regardless of his motivation, I hope you understand that you have a responsibility to not cover for him – otherwise you are assisting in his lies. You are not his therapist, you are not his parent, you are not his faith leader. He chose to make up lies about your life and his and repeatedly tell them to your coworkers. If this had happened to your brother, where a coworker was telling everyone she was his wife, would you expect him to walk on eggshells and not confront her? While you sound like a very sympathetic person, don’t prioritize his feelings over yours, his reputation over yours, his fantasy over your reality, his need to be accepted over your right to live your true life. Walking on eggshells or feeling guilty about your natural reaction about the situation is doing a disservice to your feelings. It boils down to this: through his lies he wronged you, he wronged your coworkers. Please stop worrying about how he feels.

          6. Anne Elliot*

            LW, you are spending way, way too much emotional capital worrying about how HE is feeling and how this is going to impact HIM and even rationalizing on his behalf: “Maybe he has low self-esteem; maybe a crush spun out of control; maybe he’s trying to be likeable or normal.” You are “avoiding him” and “walking on eggshells around him” as if somehow YOU are the guilty party here and YOU ARE NOT.

            Sure, yelling in the break room is not optimal, but it does not in any way compare with _telling people you are married to a coworker you are not married to_. He has asserted to your coworkers that the two of you are intimate, emotionally and sexually, when you are not. He has led them to believe that he is deeply involved in your personal life, when he has absolutely no place in your life at all. He has invaded your personal business and compelled you to talk about your private life in the workplace, if only to clarify that he has no place in it. He is claiming a position in your life that he has no right to, and made it seem like you must be somehow a party to his enormous and bizarre lie, when you are not.

            Please, please stop worrying about how this situation is going to impact him in terms of embarrassment and discomfort and think about how you want to handle it FOR YOU, and for your relationships with your coworkers. Tell as much or as little as you want or feel comfortable with, and honestly eff him if he has any sort of problem with it — it’s HIS problem and HE created it.

            1. lying is the most fun this guy is having with his clothes on*


              I understand why you want to elevate his experiences; if you read this in most books, he’d be the POV character, it would be all about his desires, his hopes, his dreams, his fixations on you.

              But if the POV character was a woman, this would be a horror story about a stalker trying to stake a claim on the main character at work.

          7. PVR*

            I actually think this was the right way to respond. You have let him know in no uncertain terms that his behavior was absolutely unacceptable. And that needed to happen. Beyond how strange of a lie (why?) this is at a minimum disrespectful to you and your marriage. I typically think handling disputes discreetly and quietly is the way to go, but this is not one of those situations. Additionally if it were me, I’d be pushing for HIM to be transferred to a different team. You have every right to feel uncomfortable and concerned for your safety. You have done nothing to participate in this. Even if he had a crush so what? You can’t be confused to whether or not you are married to someone! This is outrageous behavior that is absolutely not ok. Please please be careful.

            1. JSPA*

              This is sexual harassment. The person harassed does not need to be aware of the falsehoods in real time, for it to “count” as such. OP, please re-assess your situation in that context. Unless he’s specifically saying, “we’re married, but it’s companionate, we don’t engage in any hanky panky” (which would be even weirder, but I’m emphasizing that weirdness for sake of argument), the default assumption is that by telling people he’s married to you, he

              a) is claiming to have sex with you

              b) is making sure they don’t think they can date you.

              If those things were happening in front of you, in real time, you’d be 100% clear–and probably, so would your boss–that this is sexual harassment, right?

              Well, the fact that you’re finding it out with a time delay doesn’t make it not harassment. Just as it wouldn’t make it “not harassment” if you found out that for months, there had been a crude cartoon up in the men’s room with your name on it. “Let’s pretend it didn’t happen, no repercussions for him, and we’ll keep you separate” is nowhere near an acceptable minimum response. Never mind that they didn’t even successfully do that much.

            2. Helena1*

              Yep, the only way I would have played this differently is that I would have stormed round to his desk on day one and yelled at him, although the break room has at least ensured plenty of witnesses.

              You’ve done nothing at all wrong, he deserves to feel ashamed and guilty, and he should be the one handing in his notice.

          8. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            If you have not already read it, I am going to highly recommend The Gift of Fear. Am I saying your coworker is dangerous, by recommending this? Absolutely not. However, it does talk about trusting your gut – not feeling obligated to talk yourself out of how you are feeling or make excuses for someone who makes you feel like you are walking on eggshells.

            It is uncomfortable, if you are socialized as a woman, to take this advice – but it is excellent advice. You don’t need to make excuses for this guy, to be nice to him, or to ignore your safety for his feelings.

            1. yala*

              tbh I would regard him as dangerous/potentially dangerous from now on.

              When someone does something THIS beyond the pale and with no warning, you really can’t predict WHAT they will do, but you do know that they’re apparently not bound by social convention or decency.

              This definitely needs to be an HR issue at the very least. It’s inexcusable.

              1. MCMonkeybean*

                Yes, I don’t think there is any reason to assume he will obviously turn violent or anything but I also don’t think it should be ruled out as a possibility and this shouldn’t be brushed off as “well he’s not harassing me.” This is so, so bizarre, and boundary violating, and absolutely not okay and not normal. Do not shy around it to protect him from embarrassment.

            2. Rosalind Montague*

              I agree with this recommendation. Up the thread a bit someone said he might be mentally ill and recommended this book, which is not a good conflation. The point of this book is to recognize signs of danger and to trust one’s gut and instincts about people. Abuse and boundary-crossing are not mental illnesses in and of themselves.

              LW, I do not blame you one bit for blowing up. Yes it was not ideal but you have been hurt by this person for no justifiable reason. You do not have to worry about his feelings or your coworkers’ discomfort. Worrying about others’ discomfort over our own safety is how we learn not to follow our instincts. Perhaps it was not your most professional moment but it pales in comparison to a MONTHS-LONG LIE THAT YOU WERE HIS SPOUSE!!! If I were the coworker in the lunchroom, I would have been shocked into silence–maybe at first by your anger, but then in a very holy cow, WHAT did Gavin do???? way.

              I am a little bit exasperated by your company. This is a huge boundary invasion and casts doubt on Gavin’s trustworthiness and ability to interact with colleagues FOR ALL TIME. I don’t know what his job is but if he were in my industry this would be enough to place him on a leave or at the very least a PIP. (Although of course, you don’t know what actions they are taking and it would be inappropriate for them to tell you.)

            3. Kriss*

              The Gift of Fear is a wonderful book and really helpful for dealing with difficult and potentially risky situations assertively.

          9. Momma Bear*

            OP, maybe the yelling wasn’t 100% professional, but *neither was his lie*. I’m glad your bosses have your back and are being supportive. Let him squirm.

          10. FiveWheels*

            Please don’t feel bad about how you reacted. Your colleague chose to behave in an extremely creepy and disturbing manner. Women are often socialized to keep the peace and not make a scene, but this is a scenario in which the “peace” absolutely did not need to be kept, and the scene was caused by your colleague lying about you – not your understandable reaction.

          11. nonegiven*

            If anything, you were too easy on him. The first time I got wind of that, I would have said, “Why the hell would he says that?” and gone looking for his and read him the riot act and then gone to HR to file a formal sexual harassment complaint.

          12. StrikingFalcon*

            You owe this man no excuses, no rationalization, no silence, no soft pedalling, no making nice. You are a woman and he is a man, and our society spends a lot of time and effort telling women to make space for the men, avoid making things difficult for them, accommodate their anger while hiding your own, and yes, accommodate their sexual harassment while silencing your own fear and discomfort. But you have a right to be angry, to make it awkward for him, to demand that there are real consequences for him, to insist that he never be in the same room with you, to insist that he is the one who is transferred or leaves. You have a right to ask for and get accountability. When you say your bosses have been supportive, do you mean they have been supportive like a friend, i.e. sympathetic, or have they been supportive like a boss, as in they have your back and are actively working to get you out of this situation into one where you are safer? Because you deserve the latter.

          13. SinisterSerina*

            Holy cow-he has been saying this crap and you’re walking on eggshells!? He should be afraid to be around you/look at you/mention your name. I have to say I’m concerned about him saying this sort of thing-I don’t care if it’s wishful thinking or he’s seen too many romcoms where this behavior leads to happy ending or what, but it’s weird and I don’t like what it says about him at all.

          14. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Hi LW. I’m thinking he may have some mental health order. Just thinking about how the guy who murdered John Lennon had this private fantasy that he was John Lennon – he even signed “John Lennon” on his presence sheet at work on his last day before setting off to NY with his gun. The fact that John Lennon had recently brought out a new record after years of being a SAHD had shaken up all those fantasies, forcing him to face up to the fact that it was a fantasy, and prompting him to murder the “imposter”.
            Your colleague may have assumed you weren’t coming back and took advantage of your absence to start telling people his fantasy, to make it come true as it were.
            I think it’s perfectly normal to lose your cool when this kind of thing happens. I’d tie myself into knots instead, and this would then cause either indigestion or insomnia, which is no better than feeling bad and writing in to Alison!

        3. BasicWitch*

          This reads as very compulsive to me. This is so much more than a white lie or something self-protective. I bet this isn’t the only major thing he’s lied about. I hope this guy gets therapy ASAP.

          1. c-*

            And I hope his bosses scrutinize all his work very thoroughly and very soon, because if he’s lying about something this big and obvious, compulsively or not, what else has he already lied about? If I were his boss, I’d look very closely at his integrity and seriously consider formal consequences, up to and including termination if he’s been lying about other important matters.
            But none of this is the LW’s problem. LW, rock on, you were right to tell him off. Sometimes losing your shit is necessary, and this is a situation were it is completely understandable besides. Your coworkers know you, and as you’re normally a cool-tempered person they’ll understand that for something to make you react like this, it must be very serious indeed.

          2. FiveWheels*

            I don’t care if he gets therapy, but I do hope he’s removed from the letter writer’s orbit pretty much immediately.

      3. Butterfly Counter*

        I imagine this was like “My girlfriend in Canada” type of thing. He wanted to convince people he was someone another person would marry and since he thought you’d left, he picked you because people knew you and you were private enough that maybe it seemed plausible. And people believed him because why on earth would someone lie about that?

        It might be less about OP as a person he actually wants to date/marry and more about her being convenient in that people know her and he thought she wouldn’t come back to expose his lie.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Good point. Having his fake SO be someone they all knew but no one was friendly with makes his story more plausible than a Canadian girlfriend they’ve never met.
          He just wasn’t smart enough to see the myriad ways his story could fall apart.

        2. Van Wilder*

          What I keep getting stuck on is… how did he bring this up? I’m picturing Gunther whispering “Rachel is my girlfriend.” and then running away.

      4. Nesprin*

        I had a classmate in graduate school claim that myself and 4 other students had cheated on our qualification exams (utter nonsense, and readily disprovable since 2 of us hadn’t passed and had to redo portions) , that I had told her I was pregnant with another student who was not my husband (I wasn’t pregnant, have no interest in sleeping with anyone but my spouse and hadn’t spoken to her after lie 1), and claimed that another student had stolen her patent (also complete nonsense, since the work in question hadn’t been patented). Every time she lied, the institution had to investigate whether there was any truth to what she said, despite common agreement that she was a sociopath. And unfortunately fighting lies is with truth requires work and time and effort.

        So in summary, there are people out there with a tenuous grasp on reality/willingness to spin utter horsedocky to feel superior/distract from reality. I’m more than willing to believe a coworker lying about being married.

        1. 'Tis Me*

          How was the classmate not kicked out of the school after, say, the second incident (giving some allowance for her possibly plausibly having misunderstood something somebody said/having been lied to herself, and being firmly told not to spread rumours after the first incident)?!!

          1. ihatelogins*

            Oh man. In my experience, just about the only way to get kicked out of grad school is through blatant plagiarism. Everything else – incarceration, sexual harrassment, incompetence, general malignancy of character – can be dealt with, so long as tuition payments kept coming.

            1. lying is the most fun this guy is having with his clothes on*

              Same in undergrad. You can do anything at all, but if you get a citation wrong, you’re out the door. It was… very weird priorities.

            2. Nesprin*

              This was a STEM PhD program, so we were paid to be there, but yes, it’s really difficult to get kicked out- someone has to do some pretty heavy lifting to fire a grad student.

              I did see two students kicked out for egregious sexual harassment, and a few kicked out for incompetence to the level of endangering life/limb or not recognizing basic tools that anyone with an undergraduate degree anywhere in the sciences should recognize (i.e. if you don’t know what a pipette is … we can’t help).

        2. Mayor of Llamatown*

          I had a roommate in college who told all sorts of crazy lies about me to get attention/sympathy. She once told a whole group of people that I had thrown things at her and called her names, threatened her, etc. I didn’t find out about any of this until midway through the spring semester. By that point people had stopped believing her, but I sometimes wonder how many people on campus at our very small college thought I was the crazy b—- based on some insane story she had told.

          She had a track record of telling huge lies for attention – that she had cancer, that her brother had died. So I can absolutely believe that this guy is a compulsive liar who told a lie he couldn’t control.

        3. Happily Self Employed*

          I have a neighbor like that! She claimed to have won a million-dollar settlement against various employees of our property management for some rather improbable-sounding sexual/gender harassment incidents and gotten three of them fired. Two were promoted at other properties, the other went on disability for a heart condition, and there’s no lawsuit in the online court database . Then she said we got our parcel locker keys in the mailboxes because she had paid USPS $3000 from her settlement for the new keys. I have an acquaintance who works for USPS and he says that it wouldn’t be $3000 and they wouldn’t deal with anyone but the property manager. (The new manager took care of it and was baffled why his predecessor hadn’t. Yes, they promoted her.) Then the neighbor told everyone it was my fault our rent increased because my complaints to the City about people smoking in the building were getting us fined $1000/day. The City does not fine landlords for the no-smoking rules and doesn’t even have a complaint process.

          Back when we still had in-person tenant meetings, she still had a fan club hanging on every fictitious word, and I was persona non grata.

      5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Yes! This is the first letter I’ve read and had no idea how to even speculate about the ‘motivation’ for what we are seeing…

      6. Calli Co*

        Right. It’s one of those things that is pretty verifiable. It sounds absolutely bonkers if found out.

      7. I Need That Pen*

        Exactly. This kind of blow up was called for, and, if I’d been a witnessing coworker, I would probably throw my entire support around. And, told OP, “Shoulda been louder.” What is WITH people.

    2. mreasy*

      Same. It seems like after all these years as an AAM reader, no coworker hijinks could shock me but…gosh life is truly a rich tapestry. OP, I am so sorry you’ve dealt with this completely upsetting and bananas situation.

      1. Copier Company Admin Girl*

        The rich tapestry comment just knocked me over. This site was the first place I’d ever heard of that phrase and I love that it’s still making rounds. :)

    3. A.N. O'Nyme*

      Exactly. Every time I think nothing can shock me anymore, someone out there seems to take it as a challenge.

    4. Blackcat*

      Yeah, and LW, the tension you felt was the in-person version of the reaction everyone is having here.




      The tension isn’t about the yelling. It is about your coworker telling such a shocking lie.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes. I was looking at my computer with my eyebrows up and my mouth open, and I don’t even know the involved parties. Imagine that happening right in front of one’s very eyes. :-O

      2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

        Yup, this.

        LetterWriter, you are not at fault here. I appreciate that you are trying very hard to use the usual subroutines for “oh dear, someone did something terribly awkward and now we all need to preserve the social fabric until he comes to his senses” but this is NOT the scenario that routine was built for.

        This person fabricated a large portion of his life to include you in an intimate way. You are utterly forgiven for not being ok with that, and for reacting with less aplomb than would be called for in other situations.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        And when people fake-date or fake-marry in rom-coms, they’re both in on it. It’s not one-sided!

        1. lying is the most fun this guy is having with his clothes on*

          IDK, there’s a large genre, maybe just in the 90s, of “he knows it’s fake-dating, she does not” teen romcoms.

    5. Artemesia*

      Yeah I don’t get ‘not saying anything’ to protect him from embarrassment. There should have been a memo from the boss on day one saying that the rumor that Derek and Jane were married on Jane’s leave is completely untrue. They are neither married nor dating and have never been. Screw ‘protecting him’.

      This is a pretty gross level of sexual harassment or something bad I can’t quite figure out how to name —

    6. tink*

      I read the first paragraph and said YIKES out loud at work because I was so shocked and appalled.

    7. Des*

      I would definitely be in the “Derek lied about being married to Jane? Holy shit.” category of stunned speechless if this happened at work.

    8. joss*

      Is there a possibility that this guy comes from a very strict “fundamentalist” religious type of background? Maybe he is gay and is trying to hide behind this “non-spouse” spouse? That is the only thing I can come up with that could theoretically explain this behavior.

      1. Arielle in NoVA*

        That’s a good guess, and quite reasonable. I was going to suggest kind of the opposite – that someone was harassing *him* and he told them – and eventually the whole office – that he was married to YOU (thinking you were gone & he was covered indefinitely) so this third party would stop asking him out/hitting on him. That is, if his marriage claim wasn’t of the creepy sort.

    9. Sandangel*

      I had someone pull something like this with me, but that was back in *high school*. I can’t imagine an adult thinking this was ever okay.

  1. Stephanie*

    That’s so weird! OP, I think you’re fine. I don’t think most people would have kept their cool to such a weird situation.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      Absolutely – the OP doesn’t mention how long she worked quietly without exposing the egregious lies, but any more than about ten minutes is longer than I’d have gone. I am also an introvert, also very private, also work hard to keep work/personal lives separate, but there would have been an explosion of epic magnitude had I ever learned of a colleague who lied in such a creepy, intrusive manner.

      OP, if you feel strongly that your other coworkers need an apology, or even if you are just concerned about getting the side-eye in meetings, Alison’s script is an excellent one. Otherwise, I’d just drop the subject entirely.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Same: Introvert/quiet/don’t like to air my personal life.

        I’d have told him to his face in front of the god[s] of your choice and everyone that this nonsense ended now, because this is too bonkers and far too invasive to kid-glove.

      2. Clisby*

        Yeah, the second I heard about this I’d have been saying, “Huh? We’re not married!” (I honestly don’t get the impulse not to embarrass him publicly – I’d have been all over that.)

        1. Yorick*

          Yeah, it’s ok for him to be embarrassed. The most gentle way to handle this is “oh, you must have misunderstood. We’re not married or even dating – he must have married another Penelope.”

        2. many bells down*

          I think my first reaction would have been that it was some kind of joke that got out of hand, and my automatic response would have been “oh well my actual husband will be shocked to hear it”

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            Speaking of, OP really needs to tell her actual husband about all of this as soon as possible, if she hasn’t already. Both to have his perspective and support while she sorts this out, and because she doesn’t want this getting back to him through the rumor mill.
            I just read this letter to my own husband, who firmly agrees that it would be much better coming from her than from anyone else. I posed the hypothetical of this happening to him, and agreed that I would much rather hear about it directly from my spouse than have one of his coworkers inform me, even years after the fact when everything is settled.
            So if you haven’t already, make sure to tell your husband about this bizarre turn of events right away, OP.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Why are you telling OP to bring her spouse up to date? She is completely innocent. I mean, I’d tell my partner just in a “you’ll never guess what weird thing happened to me at work today” spirit, so he could laugh about it and help me see the funny side of it, but it’s not a thing my partner *needs to know* about me, because it isn’t about me in any way, it’s about the colleague.
              Like the nutter who shot Ronald Reagan and claimed he did it for Jodie Foster. It’s not the kind of thing JF would have to tell her partner, because it’s not about her, she had nothing to do with it. She didn’t know the guy and had no idea what he was doing or why.

        3. Courageous cat*

          Right? That part doesn’t make any sense to me at all. What… exactly… are you saving his feelings for? I would find this so violating I would be telling anyone who spoke to me about it.

      3. Loosey Goosey*

        Yes, same. Introvert, very into work-life boundaries, but if this happened to me I’d be standing on the conference table at a staff meeting yelling the truth to the skies. It’s so inappropriate and boundary-crossing, and such an audacious lie that I’m surprised the coworker hasn’t been fired for it. At the very least, there should be a formal reprimand in his file and ongoing HR involvement to ensure he doesn’t continue doing this or escalate his violating behavior.

        1. tangerineRose*

          And what else has he been lying about? I’d want to audit his work if I were his boss.

      4. Amaranth*

        I think she needs to emphasize that she had no idea this guy was using her as a fake spouse until she came back from time off. She needs to take control of the narrative. Otherwise, the gossip train will have her dating this guy and cheating on her husband, and this is a weird lover’s spat. The fact that she tried to handle it quietly might, sadly, work against her in some respects, because the truth is so strange people want to slot it into some kind of framework other than ‘the guy we work with is delusional, a liar, or a stalker’ However, I might be projecting because I’d have told my boss its creepy and stalker-esque and insisted the guy needs to be warned at the VERY least. I also would have probably sent a team-wide email about the ‘odd rumor’ at a minimum.

        1. Birdie*

          Yeah, if they’ve had no reason to distrust what coworker said until now, they’re probably 1) reeling and 2) trying to understand why he would lie, so I could definitely imagine people coming to some odd conclusions – not maliciously, just as a result of trying to make this make sense. I think I would speak to the individuals present to apologize for the outburst and clarify the situation, just to get the correct narrative out there.

          1. Claire*

            Right, my immediate response to witnessing a coworker yelling at the man I thought was her husband that they weren’t married would be, “Oh, I guess Lucinda and Fergus got divorced,” not, “Oh, I guess Lucinda has been happily married to someone else for 10 years and Fergus invented their marital relationship without any consultation with her whatsoever.”

            1. TiredMama*

              Yep. I would be trying to make sense of it. Fergus made the whole thing up would not be my first guess.

        2. Calli Co*

          No reason to worry about not embarrassing him. That would be for something like asking you out and when he found out you were married, was embarrassed. Not this lie which is pretty incredible.

          It’s a pretty wacky lie because it’s so easy to verify. That he would take a chance with this is pretty…special.

          I too would worry the OP was thought to be cheating on her own actual husband.

        3. Nanani*

          Please stop labelled weird behaviours as mental illness. Most mentally people do not harass their colleagues like this.

          1. Kaya*

            Of course most people with mental illness don’t hurt, or want to hurt, anyone.

            But, many people who do act like this do have mental illness. I don’t understand the insistence that no one ever point that out.

            1. Anonapots*

              Because you have no way of knowing and it makes no difference to the situation at hand. The ONLY reason people bring it up is to then pair it with “they could be dangerous” and it’s gross.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Not at all. If I learn that someone tells lies because of a mental health problem, I’ll have sympathy for them and try to be understanding.

                (The town I grew up in had a psychiatric hospital with lots of patients who were not really very sick but were not really capable of adulting as they say nowadays. A lot of them were harmless and were allowed out in the day. The townspeople wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow at seeing weirdoes licking shop windows and serenading statues. No stigma to mental health back in those days. Then in the 80s Thatcher closed such institutions down and the patients had to fend for themselves. Most were alcoholics sleeping under bridges within a few months.)

      5. LetterWriter*

        I left on leave of absence in October and came back in June after my state’s lockdown was lifted. I found out about a month ago, but wanted to make sure he really WAS the one who instigated it. I work with a few catty, gossipy types and I didn’t want to damage an innocent person’s reputation based on hearsay from the rumor mill. But after I’d gotten enough information to put 2 and 2 together, that’s when I went to my boss and told her that I was uncomfortable working with him and why.

        1. Tati*

          LW I know you want to keep the overall drama with this as minimal as possible, but I think it would be worth talking with people about what else he might have said and getting the real truth out there, potentially with the help of your boss. A lie about being married would require details- a backstory of how you met or other stories about being together. These kinds of lies tend to snowball and you can’t trust him not to make up more lies about what the current situation is. There needs to be some form of public correction without any consideration for his embarrassment. Good luck with this whole crazy situation; everyone here is hoping this gets better for you!

        2. Loosey Goosey*

          Yikes, this is such an outrageous situation. I hope HR is involved at this point! Really can’t see how he is keeping his job.

        3. Alice's Rabbit*

          Unfortunately, if you don’t get the whole truth out there, the gossips will make up their own version of events, and it won’t be pretty. For either of you.
          The truth is your best weapon right now. Find the biggest gossip you can stand to talk to, tell her the whole story (including showing her a couple photos of you with your actual spouse, if possible) and let her handle the rest.
          This whole situation is simply too juicy for the rumor mills to ignore. Get in front of it, or you’ll be under it.

        4. Tiny Soprano*

          Honestly it wouldn’t matter who it was that started it. If someone else did, well he had a responsibility to shut it down or raise it with higher-ups. Either way it shows he has terrible judgement, and raises a number of sexual harassment red flags for me.

      6. tink*

        I probably would’ve gotten fired for my very loud “Excuse me, what the FUCK” the first time I heard that this was a thing being said about me.

  2. Foreign Octopus*

    What the frak?

    This is so incredibly weird and I feel for you, OP. But you shouldn’t quit because your coworker has lost their mind. Take this to HR, do whatever you need to do in order to make work a good place for you. And, doubling down on what Alison said, if a coworker shouted at another like you did with the same context, I wouldn’t be thinking anything negative about you at all.

    1. Virago*

      I wouldn’t be thinking anything negative either, and after a little while, I would wonder what weird coworker was saying about me, since that’s how weird guy rules. I would be going around telling people,”OMG, weird guy isn’t married to Jane! He made that up! Has he said anything to you about me?”

    2. Annony*

      Yes! HR needs to deal with him. What he is doing is not ok. It is the type of bizarre behavior that is scary not because he is being outright threatening but because he is so far out there you don’t know what to expect from him. Is he delusional? Is he going to become a stalker? Is he going to spread more lies about her? HR needs to deal with this fast and the manager should have escalated it to HR when she first heard about it.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Honestly, if I were HR (I am not) I would be treating this exactly like sexual harassment. Which means he’s the one who might (probably should) lose his job over it, and he’s the one who should have to go out of his way to avoid interacting with you.

        You yelling at him is on par with yelling out “stop touching me!” and not at all something to be ashamed of. When people do things that are so wildly inappropriate, they’re counting on you covering for them so that they can continue. They’re exploiting your good willed attempt to help them save face. The best thing to do to get it to stop is to… not cover for them.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yep. They’re also counting on the Miss Trunchbull effect – people not believing their bad behavior is real because it’s so bizarre and outrageous.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Agreed. And if I was one of OP’s coworkers, I would also be going to HR and asking WTF they are doing about this crazy dude we work with who has been lying about being married to a coworker for however long it’s been.

        3. Needs More Cookies*

          Agreed. I think it can qualify as sexual harassment because he was essentially spreading lies about OP’s sex life for his own gratification &/or benefit. After all, would he have done the same thing to a male colleague?

      2. old curmudgeon*

        While you are absolutely correct that HR should have been involved from the start, the sad truth is that in some states, in some industries, and in some companies, this type of egregious and creepy behavior would engender a reaction of shrugged shoulders and “eh, whatever, it was just a joke, no harm done.” I strenuously disagree with such a reaction, but the reality is that it is far more common than it should be.

        OP does not indicate what part of the country or what industry she is in, but I could imagine settings in which this kind of behavior would be so normalized that she literally might not see how incredibly intrusive, wrong and creepy the guy is being. Hell, I’ve worked in one or two of them myself.

      1. LetterWriter*

        I left on leave of absence in October and came back in June after my state’s lockdown was lifted. I found out about a month ago, but wanted to make sure he really WAS the one who instigated it. I work with a few catty, gossipy types and I didn’t want to damage an innocent person’s reputation based on hearsay from the rumor mill. But after I’d gotten enough information to put 2 and 2 together, that’s when I went to my boss and told her that I was uncomfortable working with him and why.

        1. Syfygeek*

          How long has it been since you went to your boss? And why didn’t she (the boss) call him into her office and tell him to ‘fess up to coworkers or she would? I can see so many ways this could have started out innocently, and just spiraled out of control, but every single one of those ways involves the faux-husband explaining to OP before she hears it from someone else.

          1. Archaeopteryx*

            You should make it very, loudly clear to people that you’ve never been married to him and had no idea he was lying about this. You need to use the word “lie” when you tell them and don’t try to hush this up or else people will get the impression that you’re somehow complicit.

            People might be assuming that you guys are divorced or something, unless you make it very clear what actually happened. Their minds are going to go to reasonable conclusions because the idea that someone could be so unhinged from reality as to think that this huge of a lie would never come back to bite them is not the first thing their minds will go to.

            This isn’t your fault but letting your boss keep this under wraps won’t clear things up and will make it look like you have something to hide in the situation. And I would definitely escalate this to HR because this is harassment.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              Yes, to all of this. Something this bizarre is enough food to keep rumors flying for years, unless OP heads it off at the pass by being forthright about her coworker’s lies.

            2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

              Yes. Your company should be taking this seriously – if for no other reason than, this person has proved them selves capable of telling ridiculous, flat-out lies. How can you trust another word out of his mouth? If I were one of LW’s coworkers (i.e., the people he was lying TO, instead of ABOUT), I’d want HIM to be fired/change departments, not her. How could I ever trust anything he said? It’s hard to work with someone if you’re constantly wondering whether any random statement they make is a lie.

  3. Hills to Die on*

    I am not seeing the issue with your behavior, honestly. Apologize if you feel you need to, but if not…eh.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Oh I absolutely do not think she should apologize at all. She did nothing wrong.

      Her response would have been a lot more restrained than mine!

      1. Stormfeather*

        Apologize to him? No. Apologize for the feeling-awkward coworkers… maybe, if it would make the OP feel better.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yeah, I’m not really seeing the problem. Maybe you could have talked to him politely one-on-one about his weird lie (if you wanted to), but you’re not obligated to cover his butt for him by reacting as if he’s doing something normal.

      1. Morning Flowers*

        If I were OP I’d avoid being alone with this guy, ever. Talking to him politely about his weird lie if you want to, okay; but with a paper trail and/or in the presence of witnesses, always.

    3. designbot*

      I think an apology (to the witnesses! not to him!) in this case would really be there to provide an opening for further explanation of this. Not because she has anything to be sorry about.

    4. Ashely*

      The apology is strictly for yelling in the workplace. But on the top ten reasons where I think it might be ok in extreme circumstances to yell at a co-worker this seems like a time to lose your cool.

    5. AGD*

      Yeah, this is a situation where I probably would have been calm about it and then regretted not making more of a scene.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes if you had reacted calmly people might have a harder time believing you, because I think every person putting themselves in that situation would assume that they would be upset enough to yell and would loudly tell everyone the truth.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah I’d have stewed on it, and given myself either indigestion or insomnia in the process.
        OP’s anger sounds much healthier to me!

  4. LB*

    Not really an airtight lie was it? I wonder how he thought he would get away with it even if he believed the OP was not coming back.

    1. Anonym*

      I want this to resolve completely with exactly zero further difficulty for the OP. But that said, I am SO curious what was going on in his mind. Was he going to… peer pressure her into a relationship? Did he just get locked into a fantasy and not know how to backpedal? He should quit and get some help.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Right? Does he have a doll with her face on it at home? Like this is.. so so risky!

      2. Chinook*

        Or is he thinking he can get some type of benefit from being married to her, like additional leave for the same family emergency or overflow sympathy? Beyond the sexual connotations, being married to someone has legal implications. I am wondering if he also told HR and/or payroll and is linked to her in the official system somehow for her benefits. It would be worth her checking into since it is very rare to require proof of marriage if someone changes their status with payroll or HR.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          If we assume, she left and as she thinks he expected that she’d never return to the company then there’s probably no elaborate plan. He didn’t expect to get caught but he does get to have his coworkers think he was lucky enough to be married to the LW.

        2. Annony*

          It’s worth verifying, but it is probably unlikely in this case. He may be able to add her onto his benefits, but at least where I work you cannot add yourself onto someone else’s. Also, if her husband is currently linked to her benefits HR would have asked her before removing him.

        3. Anax*

          A bit ancillary, but… any advice on changing marriage status with HR/IRS, when it WAS set up incorrectly?

          (To clarify, I’m in a poly triad, BF, GF, and I are all dating each other.)

          For some reason, BF’s workplace wrote down that BF and GF are married – they aren’t, both are unmarried – and it’s doing bizarre things to their tax withholding and baffling the IRS. HR is not very competent and resistant to fixing their records; they claim they don’t have the power to do so, which seems weird.

          1. PollyQ*

            Of course it’s possible. BF needs to start by firmly insisting that it get corrected, and escalate if necessary.

          2. Partly Cloudy*

            BF should be completing his own W4, either on paper or electronically. No one should be “writing it down” for him. Does GF work for the same company as BF?

            1. Anax*

              Nope, totally separate companies – GF’s company is competent, thankfully, but the IRS still seems to be confused by the jumbled information.

              Thank you, I’ll bug him with that!

              1. Partly Cloudy*

                BF should be in the clear with the IRS as long as he’s filing his actual tax return accurately, and his company would have no control over that. I hope he’s not also being charged for having a spouse on his benefits! That would indirectly affect his taxes but also would probably cost him extra money out of pocket (unless his company covers the cost of benefits for spouses, but if they’re incompetent like you say, I doubt that).

                1. Anax*

                  I’m going to stare at him accusingly until he forks over the paperwork – the man is lovely, but not good with paperwork. I know his withholding is significantly off – he owed the IRS about $600 this year (rather than a refund), and he makes under $30,000/year.

                  (The IRS wanted additional identity verification and delayed processing because they decided things were suspicious, which… honestly, fair enough!)

                  Thank you!

              2. Jessica Fletcher*

                What an odd situation! Were BF and GF together before they met you? Is it possible that at some point, he added her as a domestic partner or similar, so she could get on his health insurance for example? Perhaps something like that happened, and then someone changed it to married.

                It seems like this would have significant financial impact on BF’s life, and potentially on GF’s life too, if something ever happened to him and the company or IRS came to her to settle a dispute. Hopefully he’s motivated to correct it! Good luck!

          3. Anonapots*

            I love they say they don’t have the authority. What do they do when people have children and need to update that info? What a weird excuse.

          4. Unknown Pocket*

            How did HR get the girlfriend’s info in the first place? Did your boyfriend add her to his insurance or name her as a beneficiary on life insurance or something like that? He should trace the mistake back to whatever form he listed her on — my guess is he accidentally checked a box for “wife” instead of for “partner” somewhere along the way. Once you figure that out, it should hopefully be easier for HR to correct the error.

        4. Khatul Madame*

          OP may need to take a look at her employee file – tax withholdings, benefit enrollment, and insurance beneficiaries; but I don’t think the coworker’s fantasy stretched that far.
          This actually can be a good reason for bringing HR in the loop: “Derek was going around telling everyone that we got married – can you (HR person) please help me make sure this BS did not make it into my employee files? “

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            Excellent suggestion. And that reasoning heads off any upset from her boss about going over her head.

      3. Amaranth*

        Seriously, if he felt he needed a fake spouse to let down a flirt or to cover another relationship, he could have picked someone who (a) nobody at work might be in touch with and (b) involvement wouldn’t have prompted HR to update paperwork. It makes it seem more like a fantasy or delusion and its creepy as heck.

        1. Salymander*

          Yeah, I agree that seems unlikely. If he wanted to let someone down, he could have just come up with a Girlfriend in Canada. Or just say no thanks. Or whatever. I used to have a Boyfriend I Met At Camp. Then again, I was 11 years old.

          A grown-ass adult making up a fictional marriage to a person he works with seems a lot more creepy and maybe threatening. It seems reasonable that the OP got publicly upset with him. What a stressful situation.

          1. Alice's Rabbit*

            The problem with the Canadian girlfriend is that it’s such a trope, no one believes it anymore. Same with a girlfriend/wife they conveniently can’t meet.
            Claiming to be in a relationship with a former coworker, however, is plausible. And it requires little to no explanation or back story. Obviously, you met at work, and people can connect the dots from there for themselves. And with OP being so introverted, no one would really question why she didn’t want to socialize.
            Still a scummy lie to tell, of course. But other coworkers would be less likely to assume it’s a lie than claiming to live some random woman they’ve never met.

            1. Mondestrucken*

              I’m beginning to believe that this might the explanation. It kind of makes sense, where nothing else even begins to explain why he would do this.

      4. SparkleConsultant*

        I think this is about power, just like other types of sexual harassment. It isn’t actually about wanting to date her. He felt powerful from getting away with a lie. He made her think there was a chance people wouldn’t believe her. That’s the whole point.

        I would aim to never be in the same physical space as this guy again. OP you did exactly the right thing! I wouldn’t apologize for this! Having witnesses to your natural reaction will help you to make the case to HR that he needs to stay far away from you.

      5. Esmeralda*

        When I was in grad school, one of the other students told everyone we were dating. We had had exactly one non-school-related encounter (coffee at one of the campus cafes). There is no way I was not going to hear about this lie, he didn’t even try to be discreet about it.

        I found out because several people, from acquaintances to guys I had in fact dated to my best friend, came up and said, hey, I here you’re dating Name. All of them rather surprised about it.

        I responded: “I am not dating Name, and I’d like you to share that info with everybody, and include this statement — Esmeralda thinks it’s creepy that he’s lying about that.” Grad students are gossipy, that squashed it asap.

        Then I went to Name, in a public place because I wasn’t going to be alone with him! and said, in a normal volume: Stop telling people we’re dating, it’s a lie and it’s creepy and I will get a lawyer if you do it again.

        I never said another word to him, I’d turn away when he came by, I’d get up and move me seat (or choose a far away seat) if we were in class together. (Before social media and smart phones…)

        1. Helena1*

          Yeah, some guy in my uni class did that to me too! I barely knew him. And he barely knew me, or he would have known I was living with my now-husband… when people pointed out I already had a very serious long-term boyfriend, he said I’d slept with him as well “because I was a little slut”. Urgh.

          OP, if you have a gossipy workplace, take advantage of that. A bit of “OMG can you believe he made up this total pack of lies about me?” will go a long way to fixing this.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      So … I actually had a more mild version of this situation once. I’d been working on the other side of the country from my org’s headquarters, changed jobs within the org which required me to move and work from the HQ, got there and discovered that a guy there who I’d been working with remotely (who I genuinely liked!) had implied to everyone that we were dating. We were not, although we did get along really well. I was about 24/25 at the time and so, being young and inexperienced, I just laughed it off and stayed friends with him, but in retrospect … WTF? He never explained it either.

      That said, half of the things from my early 20s felt like no big deal then but would have been far stranger if they’d happened 10 years later.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘That said, half of the things from my early 20s felt like no big deal then but would have been far stranger if they’d happened 10 years later.’

        No kidding. When I was 20-something, I had no frame of reference for the corporate workplace. I brushed things things off that, 40 years later, alarm and even anger me. Yikes.

        1. Dave*

          I actually wonder if I would have found this site in my 20’s how different my job would be. I definitely accepted many things in my 20s that I now realize are strange and not normal in a healthy workplace.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            I don’t think this site existed when I was in my 20’s, but I definitely agree, I wish it had.

        2. LunaLena*

          Same here. I look back at some of the things that happened in the workplace in my early 20s and wonder how the heck I thought that was okay (the answer is always “I was young and stupid and didn’t want to make waves”).

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          First proper job at age 21 my boss told me I was ‘too abnormal’ and ‘a devil worshipper’ (his religion didn’t approve of Wiccans I guess) in between trying to feel up any woman including me. I just thought ‘oh, guess this is a way the workplace is different to university life’ and said nothing.

          Me at age 40+ would probably sandwich his bits between two heavy server racks.

      2. Buni*

        I did once have a ‘colleague’ claim he & I were married to all his friends, and he did get quite upset when I had to disabuse him of the notion.

        But I was a teacher, and he was 6. Only excuse possible.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          I momentarily read that as his claiming that he, you, and all his friends were all together in one big polyamorous marriage.

          That’s… less plausible, but not that much more outlandish than falsely claiming marriage in the first place!

          1. Helena1*

            That’s how I read it too! “But Miss, why can’t you, me and all of class 3B be married to each other?”

        1. 'Tis Me*

          I still need to try to regularly explain to my almost-6 year old WHY she can’t marry me. Or Daddy. Or her little sister. Or her baby brother.

          “So you marry the person you like best in the world and want to live with forever? THEN WHY CAN’T I MARRY YOU, THIS MAKES NO SENSE!”

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            How about, ‘Because you marry someone to make them family, and we’re family already’? That has a nice promise of loyalty in it. ;-)

      3. Sebastian*

        I have sort of been on the other side of this, having told a bunch of people who didn’t know him that a friend of mine who I had a crush on was my boyfriend. I staged a breakup a couple of months later, and no-one was any the wiser.

        But, and I feel this is important, I was fourteen at the time.

        1. kt*

          Perhaps you would enjoy the wonderful comedy “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix, which is the only show I’ve ever really binge-watched.

        2. Millennial Lizard Person*

          Amazing, thank you for this contribution. LW: are you and your coworkers teenagers??

        3. Gymmie*

          I knew a woman, Alanna, in college who had a fiance. He actually communicated with her friends on AIM. She had a picture of him hanging in her room. She would stay up late talking to him on the phone. She had an engagement ring. Fiance would send emails like “hey, Alanna’s been really stressed lately, it would be great if you guys could maybe bring her over a pizza to cheer her up?” They always did so.

          She was supposed to get married over winter break. But on Christmas Eve, he was tragically killed in a car accident. Her friends at school were devastated for her and for him as they had relationships with him through email and online.

          Well, roommate’s dad looked up his family and called his mom.

          Turns out. He was alive. He knew Alanna, because they had met at camp. He was a real person, but they had never ever dated and had only mildly been friends. EVERYTHING was made up.

          She went on to go to school to be a pediatrician. Scary.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Did anyone ever ask her about this? I wonder who was actually calling her or if she was just talking to a dial tone?

            1. Gymmie*

              Yes. It involved a change in roommate because she obviously had seriously lied to her and was talking to her and pretending to be someone else.

              We all wondered that. There was actually a more detailed story with many more crazy things, but I didn’t want to take up space :).

          2. Rosalind Montague*

            I had a student who perpetuated a fantasy (being charitable) like this. She also tried to start “Pretty Little Liars” style drama with other girls in her class…sending texts from apps that said things like “did you hear what J said about you?” It was the oddest thing I’ve ever been involved in as a teacher.

            The funniest part is that none of the drama ever went anywhere, because the other students were really mature and kind and they were like, “I feel sorry for whoever is doing this!” and we had a class meeting where we all shared our empathetic, “wow, this person must be really sad to do something like this, I hope they get some help” and I said “This prank isn’t worth our time or energy, but let me know if this happens again, ok everyone go ahead and work on y0ur layouts” and … Student looked abashed and the texts completely stopped because we gave them exactly 0 oxygen.

      4. LCH*

        i think because life still feels so new in your early 20s. so who’s to say what’s weird and what isn’t. then you get more experience and are like, no, that was quite weird.

        1. Wren*

          For me, thinking back on stuff like this, I say to my younger self, you didn’t have to fight all your own battles, you could have asked for help.

        2. Kelly L.*

          And you’ve maybe seen more movies than you’ve experienced situations. Like…this work marriage thing would absolutely be a romcom, but completely bonkers in real life.

      5. Detective Amy Santiago*

        That said, half of the things from my early 20s felt like no big deal then but would have been far stranger if they’d happened 10 years later.

        I think we’re around the same age. I frequently say that I am very glad there was no social media when I was in my early 20s for this very reason.

      6. learnedthehardway*

        I had a somewhat similar situation – the guy claimed I had slept with him to other employees – I found out from some of my trusted work buddies after I returned from vacation. I handled it by confronting the guy in the middle of the cafeteria, and going up one side of him and down the other until he was in tears, in front of everyone else.

        I dealt with some pretty egregious sexual harassment in that job, and I found the most effective way of dealing with it was straight on, in public, no holds barred. Make the consequences more humiliating than whatever satisfaction the harasser gets out of harassing you, basically. It worked.

        People rapidly learned to not mess with me, which was especially important because I was young and far from home.

        So, for the OP – I’m fully supportive of what you did, and I would go one further to explain (NOT apologize) to your coworkers that this guy claimed you were married, you aren’t and never have been, and that you hope they understand why you were upset. You’re sorry that they had to see it, but there’s been no resolution so far and it had to be said. If your manager is upset, tell her this is what happens when sexual harassment isn’t dealt with appropriately. And loop in HR. The person who should be leaving the department is the guy, NOT you.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          For a “humorous” take on this there is an episode of The IT Crowd which deals with this very issue. (I air quoted because not everyone’s sense of humour is the same.)

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          “Make the consequences more humiliating than any satisfaction the harasser gets out of harassing you, basically.”

          YES. You are my HERO for publicly shaming that guy to the point of tears.

      7. Stishovite*

        “That said, half of the things from my early 20s felt like no big deal then but would have been far stranger if they’d happened 10 years later.”

        One of the many reasons AAM is such an incredible resource. Thank you.

    3. Nicotene*

      Having known a compulsive liar in my life, I’m not sure they cared about the likelihood of getting caught. My sense was they almost believed these things were true *because* they said them (not that this guy literally believes they are married, but that if he wanted the cred of being married or the sense of stability or whatever, he felt he deserved it and should have it). The truth part is kind of irrelevant.

      1. Sylvan*

        Like they talk themselves into believing it along with anyone else? That’s gotta be pretty hard to deal with.

        1. Nicotene*

          I could not tell you if this person truly believed their own lies or not,* but they certainly lied about things that could be easily disproven or seemed certain to be exposed – even some things that didn’t seem to benefit them in even the short term.

          * My … guess is that no, they did not truly believe the things they said were true in any literal sense of the word. I guess the lies were sort true to how they felt, despite being not literally accurate.

        2. SaffyTaffy*

          Sylvan, there is some evidence that when we lie our brains experience a level of believing the lie. It’s not dissimilar to how we get scared when we watch a scary movie or have a scary dream, even though there is objectively no risk. If someone lies constantly, and may indulge in private fantasizing that supports the lie, it makes sense that they would start to “believe” the lie in some sense. Reality and memory are pretty malleable, after all.

        3. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

          That’s my ex, nail on the head, to a T. He actually believes his lies (he claims he used to play for the SF 49ers, went to UCLA, worked on The Phantom Of The Opera, etc.) and when confronted with proof of them he gets…..discomboobulated. Complete change of subject.

          I broke up with him and within six months he was engaged to another girl and actually had her call me to verify his lies. I told her truth, emailed her the proof and she still married him. Some people just don’t want to know the truth.

            1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

              It could only be published anonymously.

              Fortunately, I have all of these anecdotes written down…..every time something happens, I document it just in case something happens days or years later and I need to recollect it.

              Y’all would LOVE the story about my Army-lieutenant ex who was so proud of himself for helping me clean my house. In *my* underwear and high heels.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I knew a guy like that in grad school. He invented a new energy company, wrote a book, and acted in films, and had the same name as an actor who exists. My spidey senses were tingling so I did some checking—the only actor by that name is Black and this guy was as white as the driven snow. There was a book with the same name as the one he claimed to have written, but the author was not him. There was a website re the energy company, but it looked like someone had written it in an old version of FrontPage, had no links, and no information of any significance.

            Everyone in the class just loved him; he was cute, and they thought he was very clever and charming (he was!). One night, after class, I lingered in the building lobby to talk to him and he was enjoying full-on snowing me, until I said, “Your book sounds really cool. I’d love to read it. Where can I get a copy?”

            Predictably, he hemmed and hawed and then bailed, and then he never spoke to me again in class or outside it. I think one or two other people began to suspect he wasn’t on the up-and-up, but the class ended before anyone could call him out on it.

      2. Mel_05*

        Yes! I was friends with someone who was in college like this. She would lie about things even when there was no chance that she would get away with it.

        There were other issues too, but with the lying it was like if she insisted it was real, it would be.

        1. Nicotene*

          The weird thing is that in the case of the person I knew, the *volume* of lies is what truly gave them away, as they lied all the time. They could fool someone, perhaps, at first meeting, but certainly not over any volume of time (as their own lies also contradicted each other).

          It’s odd that this coworker would have apparently told just this one lie and hasn’t been generally noted as an extremely unreliable person in the past. Whatever is going on with the coworker it may not be the same thing.

          1. BTDT*

            I mean, my aunt appears to be a compulsive liar with a degree of one-upsmanship in her makeup – like, when I was treated for a non-pulmonary embolism last year, her daughter had a bilateral saddle pulmonary embolism which a) is absolutely life-threatening and b) treated with emergency surgery immediately, not with medication (and it is still often fatal) that “just wasn’t there” on the supposed follow-up scan done a couple weeks later. This is how she goes through life: lying and making it larger than it is. I don’t know how obvious that is to outsiders because most of her lies are so innocuous or pointless – her other daughter is going back to school (she wasn’t), her first daughter got a specific fantastic promotion (she didn’t), etc. It’s never been, in my experience, actually stuff that matters, so there’s no reason to catch her in it.

            Obviously that’s not the same situation the OP is in, but if you lie 90% of the time about what kind of sandwich you had for lunch, you just don’t appear unreliable because who the hell cares enough to fact-check you? There’s a big difference between lying about your personal life and the person who had two jobs and used the time they were supposedly doing job A to do job B. (Actually, that’s at least 3 posts on this site alone, but I’m thinking of a specific one. I’ll have to see if I can find it.)

            1. Joielle*

              Yeah, I have a second cousin who’s the same way. You’re taking a vacation to Paris? She has a close friend who lives in the French countryside so she knows all about it. You’re going to law school? She was admitted to law school but decided not to go. You like the potato salad she made? Well one time she met a chef from a fancy restaurant in London and he taught her how to make it.

              It’s just these weird, random, pointless lies, which might be believable to a stranger but we’re her family! We know for a fact these things are not true! Like you said, none of it actually matters, so the family mostly just ignores it. I’ve been tempted many times to point out the obvious lies but for the sake of harmony, I just don’t see her much. It’s so weird and exhausting.

            2. Batty Twerp*

              The Elevenerife! (As in, you’ve been to TENerife…)
              I’ve worked with people like that. My MIL has shades of it too, but the worst thing is, when caught in a lie, she’d double down. And in the high-stake scenarios, burst into tears. I have to say she’s gotten a lot better after Hubby Twerp cut off all contact for about 6 months until she agreed to behave like an adult. We also adjusted our mindset – we knew she was lying because her lips were moving. And we let her know that that was our default position. So she got better because she wanted contact with her son. That, and getting her a pet. Now we don’t care about the lies because we’re back to low stakes such as Molly was house trained in 2 hours. As long as she doesn’t pee on my furniture, tell me whatever lie makes you feel better.

          2. tangerineRose*

            If the LW doesn’t know this coworker very well (and it sounds like she doesn’t), maybe he does lie a lot.

            1. pamela voorhees*

              It’d be a little wild if this was the first lie he’d ever told — not impossible, but going from 0 to warp speed seems unlikely.

        2. Writing anon*

          A girl I was at school with when we were kids used to lie/make up stories that were patently ridiculous (“I’m the lost princess Anastasia” because her mother was from Russia etc) but whatever, we were all kids. It carried on until we left primary school (aged 11) so older than for most but not horrendous, then I lost touch.

          Years later aged 18, someone went “You used to go to school with X, right? Is it true she has a brother who lives in the Middle East and is a millionaire?” No, she was an only child.

          It was bizarre.

          1. Pretzelgirl*

            I was friends with someone like this in college. She told terribly blatant lies. She told me she had brain surgery over spring break (which was a week long). Was completely recovered and back to normal life on campus less than a week later, no scars, hair in tact. Told me other lies that were as equally unbelievable. So odd.

            1. vito*

              well, as someone who has had brain surgery (Twice), I was out of work less than a week time (work on Monday, Operation on Tuesday, out of hospital on Wednesday afternoon, Back to work on Monday). However i did have a shaved head and staples.

        3. jenkins the first*

          I remember thinking like that as a tiny child. I had claimed something from my school’s lost property that didn’t belong to me, and I very clearly remember thinking that if everyone believed it was mine, it would *be* mine and everything would be OK. It took a serious conversation with my parents and headteacher to get through to me that there was a real person out there missing their lost toy, at which point I was mortified. But I WAS FIVE. How do you even deal with that from an adult?

      3. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

        This is so insightful: “if he wanted the cred of being married or the sense of stability or whatever, he felt he deserved it and should have it.”

      4. Clever Name*

        To many people with disordered thinking, feelings are facts. For example, they don’t feel like a liar, therefore they are not a liar. And as an extension to that, because they say something, it must be true, since they’re not a liar. It’s a super weird and twisted perspective. If you want to see this mindset in action, watch the most recent presidential debate.

        1. Nicotene*

          Feelings are facts … this is a great way to put it. Much better than what I was trying to explain above.

    4. MK*

      Eh, if this is a workplace that doesn’t socialize or does so on an opt in basis, he might have gotten away with it indefinitely. I have coworkers whose partners I have never seen. There is one with whom I worked in 2012 in another location, then I transferred where I am now in 2014 and she joined me in 2016. If she had told me she had married a coworker from the first location, I would have no reason to doubt her and no way to find out a possible lie, unless by accident.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, since apparently none of her coworkers knew/know OP’s real husband, it seems like this might be a workplace where something like this would at least be easier to get away with than at others. The fact that OP is a known quantity in the way an outside spouse isn’t might complicate that but it doesn’t seemed wildly impossible to me.

    5. LetterWriter*

      That’s the thing…I’m not one of those people who’s buddy-buddy with my coworkers on social media or has family pictures plastered all over my office…but even a rudimentary Google search would show I’m married (and I have a weird ethnic name–thanks, Mom and Dad–so it’s not like I’m Jane Jones and there’s 5,000 of me).

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        In that case I guess it rules out the “Derek is married to another Jane and someone wrongly thought he was talking about OP Jane” theory that was suggested…

      2. Just Jess*

        I’m late to the party and saw someone had suggested something along the lines of mistaken identity with Derek’s actual wife. I entertained it for a second because I don’t have all the context. The MOST generous explanation is that Derek is married to a Jane/Penelope and SOMEONE ELSE started a running joke about how it’s actually LW Jane/Penelope. Hahaha… and we’re off to the races with Derek fanning the flames of the rumor occasionally for the sake of “office humor.”

        This is clearly not what happened. And I’m also gonna go out on a limb and guess that Derek isn’t married to anyone.

    6. BluntBunny*

      Yeah I just think if two of my coworkers got married I would have heard they were engaged at least before hearing they were married. There would have been lots of Me and letter writer are doing this on the weekend etc.
      Also wouldn’t they be living together so would arrive and leave together and probably have lunch together? Also Covid has delayed many couple’s weddings and lots of people’s plans. Wouldn’t people ask to see pictures maybe even give them a card and presents?

      I think there would be to many holes to the story that they were skeptical to begin with. Like if he was your husband he would know when you were coming back to work. I would block him on social media as he may have stalked your pages to make the lie more believable.

      1. nonegiven*

        This can’t be his first rodeo. Telling people you are married to someone they know? Yeah, I’d be looking into what else he has ever said.

  5. The Original K.*

    This is … really, really weird. Feel no guilt about embarrassing him; he deserves to be read for filth.

  6. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I just found out my husband and I are in quarantine today and this letter makes up for that in so many ways because I can sit here and imagine all the ways I would have reacted.. but frankly, I would have only reacted just as OP did. WHAT A CREEPY GUY! That’s the weirdest most high school thing I’ve ever heard happen in a workplace!

    1. KateM*

      Nah, I think I would have shouted as soon as I found out. And then apologized to whoever was the unfortunate person to unintentionally inform me of this situation. I mean how do you even find out? Someone congratulates you or says “hey I never you knew and Derek were married” or something? How can one find out something like that about herself and keep it secret, and… why?

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        Oohhh yes. Perhaps she was just so stunned in the moment and thought it was a joke. It’s just so.. I can’t even imagine anyone I know getting this into their head. But wow. Just wow.

        1. many bells down*

          I absolutely would have assumed it was some kind of joke. Still creepy and inappropriate, but a (bad) joke.

          Like, there’s a running joke in my office that a co-worker and I are secretly siblings because we’re so similar, but no one’s taking it seriously.

      2. Grapey*

        Same questions here! After an initial round of shocked “Is he seriously telling people this?” I would absolutely not put this chode’s embarrassment over setting the truth straight. At the very least (if people were insisting it was just a joke, which it doesn’t seem like?) I’d punch back with “the real joke is that he thinks he could be anything close to the actual man I married”.

        1. LetterWriter*

          That’s a great response, and I wish Socially Awkward Me was faster at thinking on my feet! I’ll keep that one in mind for the next time someone at work brings it up.

  7. Crivens!*

    Don’t let anyone tell you that just because someone doesn’t go Tex Avery character at you or touch you they aren’t harassing you. He was absolutely harassing you. And don’t let anyone tell you that just because someone doesn’t strike you that they aren’t dangerous: people who violate boundaries like this are dangerous.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Yeah, like I could see police getting to his house and finding pictures of OP everywhere. I mean.. if someone is deluded to the point that he brings his fantasy to bear on her reality in public…

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Exactly. He doesn’t need to lay a hand on her or say something suggestive to violate boundaries.

      He most certainly did!

    3. tinybutfierce*

      Seconding this. He didn’t tell just a little white lie, he jumped straight to a bizarre and profound boundary violation.

    4. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, no kidding. It also makes me very sad/mad that she had so much more respect for his feelings and his reputation that she’s been suppressing her own discomfort with the situation to allow him to save face.

      Too many women feel this pressure, and sucks. She should 100% feel comfortable saying “What the actual fuck, Derek?” and immediately correcting his lies to anyone and everyone who will listen.

      1. Esmeralda*

        What’s worse is that her boss didn’t see his behavior as harassing and address it immediately.

    5. Anononon*

      Yes, this!! Whether or not it was sexual harassment is not debatable in the slightest. And the fact that your boss didn’t seem to take any proactive actions against this guy??? Major liability issues right there.

      1. Dave*

        I am wondering how large the office was that HR didn’t hear the rumor because with health benefits and taxes HR is the kind of place that gets told early when someone gets married.

        1. LetterWriter*

          Our workplace is in Detroit but our central HR is at our headquarters in Atlanta. We have an in-house HR rep, and her boss who’s the regional guy in Chicago, but with this being a large corporation, half the time it’s one of those “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” scenarios.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Honestly, I would suggest writing a letter to your in-house HR rep, and ccing your boss and her boss on it outlining the situation so it’s on record.

            Something like “I discovered that while I was on my leave, Derek Lastname was telling our coworkers we’re married. I reported this to Boss and Grandboss is also aware, but I wanted to make sure HR is aware that we are not married and I am quite disturbed that he did this.”

    6. High School Teacher*

      I agree. I feel like this is harassment. When I was in college, someone in the friend group told everyone that he and I slept together. Not true, totally fake, completely fabricated. I was so angry and genuinely felt violated even though nothing physical happened.

      1. pope suburban*

        Same. Fortunately, no one believed him, and his own roommates were better friends with me than they were with him, so they’d set him straight anytime he tried saying it. I was grateful for the way my friends and dormmates stepped up to shut him down. Even at 19, I knew this was a huge boundary violation and I think the only reason I wasn’t angrier is that he got no traction. Had it actually caused me problems in the day-to-day, I’d have yelled at him just like our Letter Writer did here, frankly.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        Yes, this is just the workplace version of the same, tired routine of “I slept with [girl I have hardly ever even talked to]!” and is absolutely sexual harassment. OP should escalate this to HR, since the manager hasn’t even managed to make sure she doesn’t have to see her harasser.

    7. Fashionable Pumpkin*

      I agree that this is absolutely harassment. Sexual harassment given that announcing a marriage is tantamount to announcing a legally recognized sexual relationship (yes, not all marriages, but traditionally marriage is a legal and spiritually sanctioned sexual relationship, and that’s what is assumed by the general public when they hear “married”).

      If he wanted to lie about being married, he could have made up a fake spouse. It would be way easier to get away with. But he claimed to be married to OP. When she wasn’t able to dispute it. This is about OP, and I’d be worried about stalking if I were in her shoes. At the very least it shows a willingness to be dishonest, horrifically poor judgment, and an unhealthy fixation on OP.

    8. Karak*

      Agreed. This is absolutely terrifying behavior and is threatening and ominous with a BILLION red flags. I feel so much for OP and don’t blame her for her freak out at all.

  8. Magenta*

    “Even though he’s never sexually harassed me or made a move on me, I’m very uncomfortable being around him right now and don’t want any contact with him.”

    I would argue that telling all your coworkers that you are married, and thus in a sexual relationship is very much sexual harassment.

    Your company should be dealing with this, his behaviour is not ok.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      I agree with this. Telling such a blatant lie about your personal sex/marital life could be seen as harassment. Honestly, if I were the boss here I would have fired this guy.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I agree! This calls all his behavior/claims into question. At the very least, he should be disciplined. And I’d do a background check if that’s not already company policy. But I’d be very inclined to end his employment. The OP has nothing to feel embarrassed about.
        -Fellow Introvert with waaay less patience

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yah, I was just wondering why this guy still works there. I would think a lie this egregious about another coworker would be grounds for termination.

      3. jenkins the first*

        Yeah, I’m baffled that this guy still has his job after doing something so inappropriate, so creepy and so boundary-violating to a coworker. My mouth is genuinely hanging open.

    2. Caroline Bowman*

      This. Okay, it’s not *technically* sexual harassment, but it’s WAAAYYY over the line and he needs to be given HIS 2 weeks notice. How has the boss… not done this?

      ”Hi Derek, I understand you’ve been telling people you and Jane are married. Bob, Steve and Andrea have confirmed this. Obviously you cannot continue to work here, please pack up your desk and security will walk you out and we are discussing the legal possibilities with Jane around her safety”.

      End of.

        1. Nicotene*

          Honestly I’m not sure that it would be, legally. Can anyone with real expertise speak to this? It is a very alarming and concerning thing, but I think if you tried to take it to court it would be quite muddy.

          1. Anononon*

            I’m an attorney who used to work on employment discrimination/harassment cases. I would definitely look into taking this case. I practiced in NJ, and if a plaintiff is able to prove that the alleged conduct occurred (that he was claiming that they were married), they would then need to prove that 1) the conduct occurred because of a legally protected characteristic and 2) that “the conduct was severe or pervasive enough to make a reasonable [woman] believe that the conditions of employment were altered and that the working environment was intimidating, hostile or abusive.” For number 1, “all that is required is a showing that it is more likely than not that the harassment occurred because of the plaintiff’s [sex].” Also, intent does not matter. I bet it would be pretty easy to show that the harasser in this case would not have lied about their relationship if OP was a man.

          2. Aquawoman*

            Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature, just based on gender/sex. Disparaging women as incompetent would be sexual harassment, e.g. The EEOC defines the nature of harassment as “the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.” A single incident can qualify if it is severe. So far at least the commenters here would find this behavior abusive, and in fact the LW is considering transferring or quitting because of it. So, I think it’s a good case. I am not a EEO lawyer but I am a lawyer and have EEO training annually.

      1. Some Cajun Queen*

        Exactly, it’s insane to me that the boss is just like “okay, well you can change shifts, so sorry!” This needs to be dealt with much more seriously.

      2. Tabby*

        Also me: Derek, you are fired, effective immediately; if you would please collect your things, security will walk you out. If you appear on the premises fir any reason, you will be arrested.”

        “LW, please inform me immediately if you see Derek anywhere on the premises so we can have him arrested. Would you like any additional considerations for having to deal with this? A pay raise? Extra vacation?”

        This dude she speaks of makes me itchy. So creepy!

    3. AndersonDarling*

      Exactly what I was thinking! Lying about being married is lying about being in a sexual relationship. It’s the same as if he said, “We went out every night last week and she stayed the night…wink wink.”
      I don’t know how they could keep him as an employee knowing that he fabricated such an outrageous lie about a co-worker. And not just a one-time lie, but an ongoing story lie.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I want to know what else he’s lying about. I wonder how many things at work he’s taken credit for that he didn’t actually do.

      1. MsM*

        Me, too. How is anyone supposed to trust this guy enough to work with him when he’s capable of fabrications on this scale?

        1. irene adler*

          Not just trust – comfort.

          I don’t want to work with/be around someone who lied egregiously /harassed a fellow employee.
          I’d wonder about his judgment-on anything.
          No way to know what he’ll say to you.
          Or what he’ll say about you to others.
          Or what other kind of treachery (for lack of a better word) he’s capable of.

      2. ...*

        I’d job hunt if I were her not because she should quit over yelling at him but because who the heck would want to continue working there? Sometimes its better to just get out of a bad situation rather than be “right” or whatever. I truly hope the person claiming marriage gets some serious help from a counselor or something because that is not a normal thing to do.

        1. LetterWriter*

          That’s why I had been contemplating putting in my 2 weeks…not only is he obviously a toxic coworker, but the more I think about it, you guys are right. What kind of workplace fosters such an environment that pretends to take my grievance seriously; then just gives the guy a slap on the wrist? Why did I have to find out through the rumor mill? Why couldn’t somebody just ask me directly about it, rather than continuing to let the fire spread?

          1. Observer*

            I get your frustration, but there are a few possibilities here.

            I would DEFINITELY talk to HR about this and ask them for a transfer. And go to our GrandBoss and ask HER for a transfer and ALSO that she let everyone know that you guys are NOT married. Also, start being proactive about letting people know that you are not married. I don’t mean running around and yelling “Idiot Guy and I are not married” but making sure to tell people any time this edges near to coming up.

            See how HR and your GrandBoss react. Your direct boss doesn’t sound very effective, and she may not have really known how to handle what she may have convinced herself was you desire for privacy. But between your Grandboss and HR, you SHOULD be able to get some traction on a resolution that makes your life easier.

            I would not quit, though. I would find a job first, then give my notice.

            1. tangerineRose*

              And say something like “We are not married and have never been married; we’ve never even dated.”

            2. Random IT person on the internet*

              If I may add – let HR and Grandboss know HOW MUCH creepy this behavior is, and that you are worried DirectBoss does not understand the impact this has. On you, on creepy mccreepface`s credibility, and on the company image if they let this go without any action.

              This creates a strange situation that could be seen as hostile. (towards you)

          2. Loosey Goosey*

            You’re 100% right, LW, but I hope you can go to HR and demand a stronger response, rather than quitting. You shouldn’t have to give up your job because 1) the coworker is a disgusting creep, and 2) your employer failed to respond appropriately.

          3. Beth*

            It’s such a bizarre thing to lie about that until you got back and started informing people that it wasn’t true, most people would probably have simply believed it! (Even if they knew you had been married to someone else, in their shoes I would probably have assumed “I must have misremembered LetterWriter’s husband’s name” or “I guess LetterWriter got divorced and then just remarried, we’re not close so maybe I didn’t hear about it” before think “this dude is bald-faced lying about being married to LetterWriter.”)

            I’m more concerned about your employer’s failure to take action against him since your return than about them not reaching out in advance to ask you about this. Now that they know about his behavior, they should be 1. seriously reevaluating his judgement and trustworthiness, and 2. at least considering whether he has opened them up to potential legal issues re: harassment. If they’re continuing to treat this as a ‘slap on the wrist’ deal even once they’re fully aware of the scope of it, I might suggest job hunting not to avoid him, but because the entire structure of the company has revealed itself to be OK with this kind of scary behavior, and that’s worrying.

      3. Amaranth*

        I’m hoping the manager just kind of froze in the moment out of incredulity and then reconsidered once their brain caught up.

    4. Ms Chanadalar Bong*


      Regardless of how you handle the situation with your coworkers, OP, I would reframe this in your mind as harassment. He does not deserve your compassion here. This is not about embarrassing him, and it is not your job to manage his feelings.

      As many have said, I would go to HR now. Make sure that this is on the record. Make sure you record any further incidents. Make sure your partner knows. And please please trust your gut and stay safe.

    5. Malarkey01*

      This is SO SO weird. I cannot believe HE is still employed there. If someone came to me with this, I’d take 5 minutes to make sure there wasn’t some huge miscommunication (like I’m married to a Jessica, not my coworker Jessica and someone overheard me and spread a rumor that I was married to coworker), but after that quick check this guy would be out of there. This calls into question everything about his judgment, character, and honestly mental fitness. How is he still employed there?!

  9. Jam Today*

    What on EARTH. I just don’t know what to say to something this bizarre, other than I would consider his behavior immediate disqualification for working at my company (or possibly any company). Its OK that everyone knows about this. Everyone SHOULD know about this. Everyone should also have the same “WTF?!” reaction because it is just so far beyond the bounds of normal human behavior.

  10. Four lights*

    Um, what? This is making the list of craziest advice column questions of the week.
    OP you did nothing wrong. This guy is bananas. Your company should fire him for telling such an outrageous lie. If he’ll do this, what else would he do? How can he be trusted? Not to mention the need to protect you and other co-workers. This is not normal. It may seem like this is relatively harmless but it isn’t, is it? Look at what it’s done to you-your’re even thinking of quitting. Frankly if I was working with this guy and found out he did it I’d be afraid to work with him

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        In 2020……

        I was going to make a reference to the voodoo doll poking coworker, or the tickler, or the stoma bag photographer, but… this is just as egregious as any of those. I can think of several things that are this weird, but nothing weirder.

        OP, you did nothing wrong. Your co-worker is so beyond the line of unacceptable behavior that yelling at him is reasonable. Your boss said they’d keep you two apart, they didn’t, yelling happened. Your boss needs to fire him, that’s the only real way to keep you apart and protect you.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I agree this is a fireable offense. It is either extremely creepy sexual harassment, or else this guy is just a pathological liar and therefore completely and utterly untrustworthy in any and all situations. Aside from a mental disorder that makes him think this is actually true, and therefore warrants immediate medical intervention (which isn’t in the purview of a workplace, they have to make decisions based on actions), I don’t see another read.

  11. fposte*

    Holy crap, OP. Please don’t transfer or quit because of this weirdo, and please don’t focus on discretion as important here. While yelling at him may have been extreme, I think it’s absolutely appropriate for you to have brought it up with him, and I’d actually want to meet with your boss (who seems to have your back) and the co-worker to say “This is a problem you’ve created. It’s not acceptable. What do you plan to do to repair it?”

    1. Venus*

      I would not want to be in a room at all with the co-worker, even if it were with my boss.

      I agree with everything else – this is not a time for discretion, and yelling is extreme but as a coworker I would understand in this situation, and also as a coworker I would be stunned because of the other person’s awful behavior and not at all because of the yelling.

      1. fposte*

        It’s definitely not a requirement if the OP feels unsafe with him. But so far it doesn’t sound like she is, and my personal view is that he should be a lot more scared of me.

        1. LetterWriter*

          I don’t feel “unsafe” as such…just reeeeaaaally uncomfortable. He hasn’t been (that I’m aware of) doing “stalker”-type behaviors like coming to my house or calling me or my (real) husband. That said, I did tell Mr. Letterwriter about this, and that he might want to just be aware. He’s since changed all his social media settings to private and we’ve both gotten new phone numbers that only a select few friends and family have. Extreme? Maybe, but not knowing the depth of his obsession, I feel like I need to protect my (real) husband from all of this.

          1. Ginger*

            I don’t think you can under-react in a situation like this. Your coworker is unbalanced at best, dangerous at worst and who knows how he could escalate.

            I’m sorry OP, this is really awful.

          2. Shira*

            I am really happy to read that you and your husband did this. From skimming the comments it sounds like many people’s reaction falls somewhere around incredulous-but-amused “who does that?!” territory, while I find myself absolutely terrified for you. This behavior gave me chills. I hope I’m overreacting too. Wishing you all the best!!

          3. Observer*

            I’m glad you did this. Sure, the guy may be harmless. But at this point you don’t really know that and his behavior has been SOOO outrageous that being cautious is just sensible.

          4. Not Australian*

            OP, please take legal advice; this guy’s behaviour is pretty stalkery and your employers are ignoring the implications. You have two causes of action IMHO, one against the guy himself and one against your employers for failing to protect you. *Please* go and talk to someone about your legal options.

          5. PVR*

            I would argue that being obsessed with to the point of making up a lie that he is married to you and then said the lie out loud to people that you both know is pretty stalkery in itself. I too am very worried about your safety.

          6. AKchic*

            I would even consider getting a GoogleVoice number and only giving *that* to your employer because you don’t trust your CreepyCoworker not to try to lie to HR to try to get your real contact information from them. I’d use GoogleVoice for all of your work needs and anyone not family/close personal friends.

    2. Observer*

      I don’t think the boss has the OP’s back. If they did, OP would never have had to see Creepy Coworker again, and he might possibly even be on his way out at this point.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, that’s a good point; I gave the boss too much credit and agree with people who are saying that more action should have been taken.

  12. CatCat*

    What. The. Actual. Hell.

    OP, you’ve done nothing wrong. This is a situation that deserves to be made worse for Derek. I’d want all my coworkers to know what bizarre lies he makes up because who on Earth knows what else he could be saying.

    Frankly, I’m shocked he still has a job. I hope he’s fired or made to feel so uncomfortable that he quits. OMG.

    1. Exhausted Trope*

      Yes! How is he still at the company?!!!!
      If he’d lie about this, what else might he lie/be lying about?

    2. Uranus Wars*

      My ex (a man then in his mid-40s) had an employee who had a crush on him, she was in her mid-20s. She told the entire office that he took her away for a weekend to nearest big city (6 hours away) and they did all these things, saw all the sites yada yada.

      He and I were actually away for the same long weekend. He took in pictures, receipts and maintained his side of the story. She insisted he was lying and HR was inclined to side with her (as I probably would have and we were both unsure of what this meant for our future). As the investigation was coming to a close she broke down and admitted she made it all up. The reason: she was hoping to gain favor with the team and things at home were really bad.

      She got moved to another managers team, he kept his job and there was no disciplinary action on either side.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Wait, she straight up admitted she had lied and claimed her older manager had a relationship with her when he didn’t, and she had *no disciplinary action*?!

        She made up a lie that could have destroyed both his career and his relationship.

        I *despise* people who make up things like that. She is making actual victims of harassment look like liars.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          YUP, you got it. I was flabbergasted.

          While I was relieved s/o didn’t get his career torpedoed by a liar I was much more concerned about the effect might be on others who DO experience something like this.

  13. Washi*

    I’m 99% anti yelling in the office, but this is the 1% of the time when you shouldn’t feel too bad, because this is a case where your reaction was absolutely proportional to what was going on.

    But my real thought is where were the managers in this?? Even if your manager isn’t his manager, someone with authority should have sat him down for a VERY serious talk about how inappropriate this was, amd there should have been some sort of formal apology and clarification on his part.

    If I were you, I think I would want this guy to have to tell everyone that he had been lying. There should be no need for this to be a he said/she said about your marriage, for heaven’s sake!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Seriously, unless there is something the LW didn’t tell us his knuckles needed a much stiffer rapping.

    2. Anonymous1*

      Yes! I was thinking that the manager’s response was underwhelming. We don’t know if the manager did privately have a discussion with the guy, but, if he did, that discussion didn’t result in an apology or a clarification to anyone in the office. What a phenomenally strange situation.

      1. In The City*

        That’s probably why she had such a strong reaction on seeing the guy. The manager clearly did nothing or next to nothing and when she saw the guy, she was triggered. Not only should the guy be fired, but the OP’s manager should have his/her position reevaluated.

      2. Anne of Green Gables*

        Yeah, the lack of action on the manager’s part really stood out to me. I mean, great being supportive and getting them on separate teams, but if someone I managed came to me with this, I would be talking with Derek ASAP–probably after first going to his manager, if that’s not me, and to HR. I also would have asked my employee if they wanted to call HR together–why did were they not looped in? And while I believe all employees deserve privacy, I would circle back to my employee to say, “I talked with Derek, I talked with Derek’s manager, this is what we agreed, if this, this, or this ever happens, tell me immediately.” or some variation.

        1. LetterWriter*

          Unfortunately, my company shifted to the “leaders not managers” paradigm, but by “leaders” they mean “young motivational cheerleaders who are likeable and non-confrontational.” Yes, approachability is important, but there are real nuanced situations that I feel require A. someone with a backbone who can be the bad guy when the situation warrants, and B. someone with a little more hands-on life experience, and not just a bright-eyed 25-year-old who can “play the game”. I don’t mean to disparage younger people taking on leadership positions, but I remember at that age, I too, was worried about being “liked” and would not have had the emotional maturity or the discernment to navigate a sticky situation like this.

          1. Observer*

            Well, a real leader certainly would not have responded the way your boss did. What distinguishes a leader who is inexperienced from one who is incompetent is that the inexperienced one recognized that they’ve just been hit with a situation that’s out of their range and actually kicks it upstairs / gets help. The incompetent one says “I’m SOOO sorry this happened. But don’t look to me for much help because there is not much I can do” without ever actually finding out what they can do. Your boss sounds incompetent, not inexperienced.

    3. Observer*

      It doesn’t need to be a “he said, she said” because it’s easy enough to prove that he’s lying.

      Having said that, the OP should NOT be in the position to need to prove this. OP’s boss fell down on the job here. I hope that the grandboss takes more effective action.

  14. Anon and on and on*

    speaking as a woman, this is a classic example of how women learn not to make waves.
    This man told people a lie about you and your primary concern was not to embarrass him.
    And you sucked it up until you blew up. And now you are worried that people will think you are somehow to blame for this situation.
    You are not.
    This guy may be mentally ill, has a perverted sense of humor, is a dick, thought that it would improve his standing if the office thought he was married, myriad possibilities. None of which are your concern.
    The repercussions of his lie are his to experience.

    1. Mx*

      Agree with everything you said, except for the “mentally ill” comment. Let’s not stigmatised people with mental illnesses.

      1. Nicotene*

        We’re not supposed to diagnose and I hope nobody will, but honestly mental illness may be one explanation for this behavior? We don’t know very much, but is there at least a chance that this fellow has had some kind of break with reality on this issue, it seems like a possibility to me.

      2. Elizabeth I*

        Indicating that mental illness may be one of many possible explanations for this unusual behavior doesn’t come across to me as stigmatizing. I interpret “stigmatizing mental illness” to mean casting shame on it – and to me this reads as merely a factual-based/realistic list of potential factors in the situation that could be contributing to the inappropriate behavior.

        1. Elizabeth I*

          …And my read of “Anon and on and on”‘s comment above is that regardless of the cause of the behavior (whether mental illness or any of the several other possible causes listed), the responsibility for the behavior and its consequences lie with the coworker who told the lie, not with the OP.

          In other words, OP doesn’t have to know or care WHY the coworker did this – so even if the behavior was caused by mental illness (which I think and hope would make OP and most of us feel a natural sense of compassion for the coworker!), the behavior is still not okay, and it’s still not OP’s fault, and it’s still not OP’s job to make it okay.

      3. Anon and on an on*

        I’m not diagnosing, though. I’m listing it as a possible explanation.
        I think it’s a possibility. I think it’s far less possible than he’s awkward AF and thought it would be funny, or he thought it would benefit him professionally and was confident that OP wouldn’t call him out.
        But even though it’s unlikely, he may well be delusional in some way. And if that is true, it’s still not OP’s responsibility to accommodate this or to deal with the consequences of the truth.
        Like the people working with the diagnosed hypochondriac. The higher level people had to step in to essentially protect the staff from him.

      4. Smithy*

        I do think it’s helpful to call out mental illness as co-existing with this behavior – while explicitly saying that it’s not the OP’s concern. So many of the pushes for women to Not Make Waves often comes with a list of “reasons” why the bad behavior has happened and why the woman will ultimately get called out for making it awkward.

        Should you happen to find yourself looking at Twitter commentary on the recent protection order filed by a contestant on the Bachelor – she is getting so much vitriol for not loving him as much as he loved her, that she was using him for fame (therefore deserved it), that this is what happens when virgins fall in love, and 101 other excuses.

        I think it’s reasonable to call out those excuses now, largely because they may be weighing on the OP. To say that even if the OP has a mental illness or brain tumor impacting behavior – those are issues for other people. Not for the OP to manage or care for.

      5. SaffyTaffy*

        Mx, this is not “stigmatizing” a mental illness. This is descriptive, respectful, and appropriate.

        1. Anon and on an on*

          Thank you. I was feeling confused, like the term mental illness is unacceptable. I was not trying to state in any way an opinion of this guy’s mental health.

      6. BubbleTea*

        There are certainly mental illnesses that cause people to believe in a version of reality that no one else is experiencing. I don’t think it is stigmatising to acknowledge that fact!

      7. Courageous cat*

        Ok but as someone with a mental illness, let’s not go out of our way to pretend this simply can’t also be because of a mental illness. That’s a bit unreasonable. There doesn’t need to be a stigma, it simply is true that it can be a potential explanation.

    2. Smithy*


      Once the OP’s boss said she was unable to coordinate a transfer, personally – would have supported the OP going to HR, shared this story and said it made you feel uncomfortable, on edge, and even unsafe working on the same team as him.

      This was not a lie for a giggle – such as “did everyone know – the OP has six toes!” While that would certainly be weird and unprofessional, it’s simply different that repeatedly telling coworkers your fellow coworker is your wife.

    3. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, let’s not say “oh he’s mentally ill” because that’s not fair to people with mental illness — but this is definitely an example of women Not Making Waves. HE made things awkward and weird. You calling it out is not gonna make things more awkward.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        This. OP, you are not “making it awkward.” HE did that all on his own. You are simply, in the words of the wonderful Captain Awkward “returning the awkward to sender.” This is a mess of his making, and ideally, HE needs to clean it up by clarifying, in public, that you are not married to him, preferably with a sincere apology to you (via email as you are understandable not comfortable being near him).

        I really think you should go to HR with as much information as you have (such as who told you about this and when), and that you feel unsafe being around this coworker now. You yelling at him (if, in fact, you did) is so, so small compared to what he did. It’s a huge violation and you are justifiably creeped out by this. I promise you that if I were one of the coworkers who had witnessed this, you could picture the giant cartoon “WTF??!!” above my head, but it would be totally directed at him for lying about this in the first place, NOT at you for being upset by it. Being upset, angry, and feeling violated and unsafe is a TOTALLY REASONABLE REACTION in this situation.

        If anyone asks you about it, confusion is a totally legitimate response. “I really don’t understand why he would do/way such a thing, it’s just so odd!” In other words, if anyone says anything, put the focus back on him and his bizarre lie, not on your entirely reasonable reaction to it. This is yours to deal with only in that he chose to involve you, and that is SO NOT OK!

      2. Perpal*

        To be fair to anon, I think that was one thing on a list of multiple possible “Reasons”, not an actual justification for the behavior. Not sure if a true fixed delusion of this sort would count as a mental health disorder vs a behavioral health disorder though. Ultimately I think anon’s point was it doesn’t matter if he had a “good” reason or not; it’s not ok and OP doesn’t have to tolerate it or worry about his feelings in the matter.

      3. Anon and on an on*

        I’m not saying he’s mentally ill, really. I’m listing the possible reasons an individual would confidently spread a blatant lie to people who can so simply check.
        And if he is mentally ill or just wants to be a giant prick, neither is for OP to worry about.
        OP needs to stand up for herself, as awkward as it feels.

    4. Great Grey Owl*

      Honestly, if I was one of her coworkers, I would be more shocked that she didn’t simply say something sooner than I would be by her snapping at him.

      The OP might also want to confirm with HR that he didn’t put her name on any forms claiming that she is his wife.

      1. LetterWriter*

        That didn’t even cross my mind! I was so distraught about the whole emotional side of things it didn’t even occur to me that he might have done this! While I’m sure HR won’t share the details of his records for confidentiality purposes, I definitely need to say something…as well as check my OWN records to make sure Mr. Letterwriter is still my emergency contact, beneficiary, etc. in case HR took Derek’s word for it and went ahead and updated my records, too, while I was gone. THANK YOU for bringing this up!

        1. Observer*

          Don’t even ask about Derek’s records. Do two things – on the records side check with whoever takes care of the to make sure all of your contact, beneficiary etc. information is still correct and confirm that you are not being listed anywhere as Derek’s emergency contact, next of kin, or whatever else.

          Also, and this may need to go to someone else, formally inform them that Derek has spread this lie about you. BCC your personal non-work account, and CC your boss, your grandboss, the head of HR, your division VP etc. You want to make it a touch harder to sweep this under the rug and make it impossible to argue that you didn’t tell “anyone” or that you told the “wrong” people.

        2. Editor*

          Sometimes with stalkers and abusers, victims are advised to report the behavior to the police in order to establish a public record of the offender’s behavior. The police may be dismissive, but they also might have to report or otherwise record your concerns, even if they do nothing. And if some co-workers confirmed his behavior to the police, that would be helpful. But police departments vary a lot in how seriously they consider stalking, and I don’t know if they would worry about what I (without legal training) would call slander.

          I would hope you would not get an officer who considered it a joke, but even if that happened, I hope you know that it is at best creepy, and absolutely not just “some lame thing guys do” (which is a disservice to normal men and a sexist interpretation of what women owe men who are interested in them).

      2. Anon and on an on*

        Holy crap! And you know how lies tend to snowball, some helpful coworker could have asked him if he’d filled out the paperwork, since OP was out of town. “It’s really easy. I’ll show you.” And he doesn’t back out and say no, because why would he say no? Wow.

    5. Anon for this*

      Completely and utterly agree. Let the myth of the “good girls never say boo” completely die!

    6. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      This comment is so very true and important. And the manager’s reaction makes it pretty clear that they thought the same – that having some creeper lie to everyone and tell the whole company that you’re his wife and he’s sexing you is somehow a “you” problem. Like, the problem with women is that they are always getting harassed, amirite?

      They will “back the OP up” with her problem that she is having at work? That’s complete nonsense. This is not some personal issue like the OP having a fragrance sensitivity and needing a sign in the breakroom. It’s a problem of the manager having a lying creepazoid on staff who is harassing their employees and making them feel justifiably unsafe.

      1. Anon and on an on*

        This. It’s still like, “yes, OP, you blew up and we get that.”
        Which in a way is saying that they expect OP to react irrationally, not that OP is in an irrational situation.
        And “we will protect you” like OP needs to be protected from situations that will make her lose her cool, not that obscenely abnormal situations need shutting down.

  15. Amber Rose*

    OP if it makes you feel any better I would almost certainly have done the same thing, only sooner and more angrily.

    I think you should sit for a moment and consider why you didn’t want to cause him embarrassment. He told a creepy, harassing lie about you, made up a relationship where there wasn’t one, and created a situation that could have reflected badly on you if anyone had ever seen you with your actual partner and assumed you were cheating. He SHOULD be embarrassed. And worse. This is a creepy, disgusting, horrible thing that he did. You don’t owe him any favors! And there’s no reason you should be subjected to this kind of treatment and be polite about it.

    You really, really need to stand up for yourself before it causes you to snap like this, and you really need to stop thinking you owe anything to creeps.

    1. Sara without an H*

      +1000. OP, please think carefully about what you felt it was so important that you not “embarrass” your creepy colleague. His arrogance is breath-taking. Why, oh why, do you feel you owe him any consideration at all?

      You have done nothing wrong here — your colleague is the wrong-doer. If your manager is too spineless to take appropriate action, please contact your HR department as soon as possible. This is a serious matter.

      I would also recommend that you actively start reshaping the narrative about the situation. I like Alison’s script for explaining the matter to your co-workers. Please use it early and often.

  16. Daffy Duck*

    Wait…you are worried about HIS FEELINGS? No, no, no. There are a lot of times you want to be discrete when you have a difference of opinion with with a coworker (cheap rolls or Hawaiian) but this is not one of them. This is absolutely huge overstep on his part.
    You absolutely need to call him out on it, and correct everyone if they unknowingly pass it on, every time. Do this with serious or exasperated tone, never laugh.

    1. D3*

      Well, men have been known to get murderous when their feelings get hurt, and this guy is so far off base I would be worried about his emotional reactions as well. Not in a an “I don’t want to hurt his feelings” way but in an “I don’t want him getting in an emotional rage and hurting me” kind of way.

        1. In The City*

          To be fair, they’re all nice guys until they’re not.

          This kind of worry doesn’t manifest in public. People who would be willing to tell such a monstrous lie like this are unhinged in ways we can’t imagine until someone is lying dead in the street.

          1. Myrin*

            Sure, but that’s not what I meant with my reply.
            Paraphrasing this thread, the original comment said “OP, you are worried about his feelings? There’s really no need for that!” and meant “worried about hurtings his sensitive feelings”.
            The reply went “Well, there’s good reasons to be worried about his feelings!” and meant “worried about his feelings of resentment and anger”.
            Those are two very different kinds of “worried about feelings” and I simply pointed out that from everything in the letter, it seems very much like OP is the first kind of worried, not the second one.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        D3 – So you suggest she go ahead and marry this guy because he lied about their relationship? Divorcing her own husband first, of course. That is about the only way he will save face with their coworkers.
        She DEFINITELY needs to call this out and put a stop to it. This isn’t a rejected lover, she didn’t even know he was interested in her. It is important she is VERY CLEAR that his behavior was not OK. She absolutely shouldn’t string him along, “be friends” or allow him to think there is the possibility of a relationship in the hopes he will get tired of it and go away – that does lead to angry, physically dangerous, rejected lover scenario. Stoping this behavior cold ASAP is the safest way to go.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Come on, that’s obviously not what D3 is saying. D3 is saying that sometimes women are afraid of embarrassing men because we have all heard the stories of an “embarrassed” man doing something violating and/or violent to the woman who embarrassed him.

        2. Nanani*

          No, they’re saying that “stopping the behaviour cold” is what leads to angry physically dangerous scenario. Women have no way of knowing which men around us will murder/attack/assault us until it’s too late, and then we get blamed for not “stopping it” sooner.

          Google Schroedinger’s rapist.

        3. nonegiven*

          I think maybe D3 means LW should be asking security to escort her to and from the parking lot.

    2. Mimosa Jones*

      I agree with Daffy. OP, you’re spending too much time taking care of this guy’s feelings. It’s fine to be careful of his reactions if you think he’s physically dangerous, but you don’t need to save him from himself. He told people you were married! This isn’t a small gaffe. And I’d imagine everyone in the break room was shocked to hear what he did, not at how you reacted to it. If they’re shocked at you, then you do need to look for another job, not because of him, but because your whole company is full of bees.

  17. MmmmmmMMMmm*

    Oof. This dude. What was he thinking??? I’m with Allison on this one, you’re fine. While an outburst at work isn’t great, this one does have a good reason behind it.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      100% I would. But a lot of workplaces get upset when you take “internal matters” to the police. It could result in her termination.

      I’d consult with HR first, at least to prepare for how the company will respond when you do call the police.

    2. Caroline Bowman*

      me too. I’d be thinking along the lines of reporting and seeing what legal possibilities I had and demanding the company fire him immediately.

    3. Jennifer*

      The police? For what? Telling a lie? I get that what he did was scary but I don’t see the crime here. He isn’t actually stalking her, as far as we know. I would be afraid too, but you can’t report someone for something you think they might do.

      1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

        I think if he’s deluded enough to share this fantasy with others as fact.. but I think I’ve just seen way too much True Crime!

        1. Jennifer*

          I agree he’s delusional and a liar, but if that’s a crime we’re going to have to build a lot more prisons.

          1. Nicotene*

            I agree. I totally understand why OP is concerned and I would document the heck out of this, but I think if you actually went to the police with these facts they would not do much for you. Perhaps someone with more expertise on the matter can weigh in.

            1. Annony*

              Yeah. I suppose you could report it to the police if you want it on record in case he escalates into stalking but I don’t think they would do anything other than take a statement (and maybe not even that). There are probably enough witnesses to his bizarre lie that she could easily prove it later if it became relevant.

          2. Alice's Rabbit*

            Technically, slander is a crime. And this is a serious enough lie, it could potentially qualify as slander, as it affects her job and could even damage her actual marriage, depending on a variety of factors.

            1. Jennifer*

              My understanding is that would be a civil matter, not a matter for the police. Maybe someone that knows more about the law could weigh in.

              More than likely the cops wouldn’t take this claim seriously, but there’s also the chance that calling the police could make an already dangerous situation much worse.

            2. fposte*

              Federally, slander isn’t a crime. Defamation is criminal in some states but not in others, and it’s rarely prosecuted. It’s more commonly pursued as a tort, and it’s an expensive PITA. This isn’t a police thing.

            3. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

              Slander is a tort not a criem and not subject to criminal persecution. At best she would have a civil case, but she would have to prove malice on his part (was his intent to hurt her is some way?) and actual damages (such as loss of job or her marriage). We do not know if he wanted to hurt her, or just feel better about himself, or if he really believed the lie he told so malice would be hard to prove. If she needs to see a therapist to get over this validly disturbing event she would have damages, but would still need to show the malice.
              Police cannot do anything for her at this time. They may not even take a report and tell her to go to her company HR. Her best bet right now is to keep personal documentation about the lie and how far it extended, what she did to correct it and the company’s steps to protect her. If there is any official documentation she needs to get a copy of it. And she really needs to go to HR.

              1. IANAL*

                If she is being harassed to the point of losing her job, she would have damages. She does need to document this and show she took steps to try to resolve the situation i.e. HR in writing.

                1. fposte*

                  She isn’t being harassed to the point of losing her job, though. She is leaving by her own choice, and it’s not yet clear if there would be financial damages from that (if she leaves for a better paying job, for instance, her loss of wages won’t be much). Plus defamation cases are tough, expensive, and protracted.

                  Now I think you’ve got a point if we were talking about this as an EEO issue, and if I were her employer I would be taking much clearer steps to ensure OP didn’t suffer or feel obliged to leave as a result of this. But that%seems a very different action than a defamation suit.

      2. In The City*

        If HR is not addressing this behavior, then she has every reason to be concerned for her own and her husband’s safety. It’s not like he said they dated once. He told coworkers that she was his wife! That’s some next level obsession right there. Plenty of celebrity stalkers tell people they’re dating or married to the celebrity they’re obsessed with and they believe it with their whole hearts. This guy has the potential to be very dangerous.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeThankfulForMyBoss*

      The police wouldn’t be able to do anything. I would report it to HR though because OP’s manager dropped the ball here. What he did IS harassment and should have been documented, and he should be facing some consequences other than OP’s rage.

    5. That guy*

      If OP wanted to get a restraining order against him, which I would think is not a bad idea, a police report would be a good start. That would also force to company to remove the perpetrator from her vicinity. It would likely cause a great deal of blowback though.

  18. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Don’t feel bad, I would have yelled too. I might also bring my husband in and pointedly introduce him to everyone in the office but I’m very petty.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      Bring your husband in and the first person you publicly (very publicly) introduce him to is lying dude.

      1. JKateM*

        I was thinking of “redecorating” her office and including a couple “family photos” – just casual shots like on vacation or something but with her and her (actual) husband clearly in a relationship.

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      I kind of don’t like this, because the lie doesn’t have anything to do with if you have a husband or not. He isn’t your husband, and that’s the crux of the matter. It’s kind of like when some guy won’t stop harassing you and you say you have a boyfriend. We are entitled to our own dignity, we don’t need a man brought into the picture in order to have it.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        You’re absolutely right. She shouldn’t have to make a display of “belonging” to another man. What the co-worker did was wildly inappropriate regardless of her other relationships outside of the office. Making a display of her marriage, especially when she’s made clear she’s a priavate person, makes it about 1) signalling to the creepo that he’s barking up the wrong tree and 2) marking herself to others as taken.

        This is about the gross violation of LW’s privacy and boundaries, not about the men who surround her. She was violated, not any of them.

        1. Teapotcleaner*

          I agree with this. In my job I am a good productive employee and I am helpful and encouraging to my coworkers. I never ask them if they are in relationships etc. instead they tell me if they are comfortable. I know deep inside my heart that I will accept them for who they are not for their status and other life factors. I have became super private during this job yet older men and women think it’s okay to ask me if I am in a relationship or married or in some cases if I’m still in a relationship. I feel so violated by their lack of seeing me as a person and instead seeing me as “female with man or without”

  19. ZSD*

    You nailed it with the high school behavior diagnosis. I was sitting here just thinking, “This is insane. Bizarre. The weirdest thing ever.” But you’re right that this is the kind of thing high schoolers do! “Oh, Emma and I are dating now. Yeah, we don’t want to sit together at lunch because we don’t want to make a big deal about it.” You’re right on the money.
    But how bizarre for someone who presumably is not fifteen to pull this.

    1. DQ*

      I’d say middle or elementary school, actually. The high school kids I know (my kid is a sophomore, I talk to high school kids A LOT) would also think this was totally bonkers. Maybe a 10 or 11 year old would do this…..?

      This is reasonable behavior for, like, a 10 year old.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, it’s like the pregnancy rumors that swirled around when I was in college. At one point, three of us were deemed to be pregnant when there was absolutely NO reason for anyone to think so. Very juvenile.

      My friend handled it really well–she laughed in the person’s face and said “Well I guess we’ll find out in nine months then!”

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      I had a middle school frenemy who liked to claim she was dating people she wasn’t. Including both a classmate and her favorite movie star.

      Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I inadvertently exposed the lie about the classmate to him, she responded by spreading vicious rumors about my supposed sexual promiscuity. Most of my classmates gave me the silent treatment or jeered at me openly in front of the teachers about what a slut I was. I ended up having to switch schools.

      It was bad enough in eighth grade. Behavior like that in an adult workplace is mindboggling.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      Exactly this!
      Are you planning to divorce your husband and marry this guy because he told a lie? No! He brought any embarrassment on himself.

  20. Dust Bunny*

    What the everloving f . . . ?

    Yeah, you don’t need to worry about embarrassing him. He should have been embarrassed a long time ago (actually, he should have been so mortified that this idea even entered his mind that he stopped himself from doing it in the first place).

    This is entirely, 110% on him for being a weirdo. You would have been entirely in the right to tell him to his face, in front of everyone, to knock it the hell off right this minute. Stop bending over backwards to protect him from his own stupidity and bizarre-ness.

  21. Nia*

    You shouldn’t have to quit but if your company won’t fire him over this you should probably consider it. How was initiating the firing process not your boss’s first move, someone who thought this was okay to do is obviously not someone you want working for you.

  22. Nyxee*

    …. honestly, can he be let go for this? I feel like this should fall under a “safe work environment” rule. I am not one to want people to lose their livelihood, but in this situation it feels scary just reading it. I guess my true crime mind (ssdgm) goes to “What was next? Show up at her home?”… I’m so creeped out, but agree with others – LW had every reason to lose her cool on this dude and it should be him thinking of giving his 2wks, not her.

    1. Xantar*

      I would argue that even without the danger element, his credibility has been so undermined that he can’t be trusted with anything. If he is willing to lie about something that is so verifiably false, then what else might he lie about? Financial reports? Whether or not a client is happy with the work? As a manager, I would be considering whether he’s worth keeping on.

  23. Elizabeth West*

    If management can’t or won’t deal with this, then I would make a formal complaint to HR, using the words “sexual harassment.” It IS, as Magenta pointed out above, absolutely sexual harassment. He basically told everyone he was f***ing you.

    Please update us, because I need to know they are doing something and that you’re safe.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I do wonder how H.R. would respond if he had done that, ie told people they were in a sexual relationship, without the marriage thing. In essence, the marriage lie is worse because it includes the first lie with extra lies on top.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      Same here- the manager’s response was so weak. It’s the kind of thing I sadly used to read a lot of on RetailHell (a website where people in retail vent about their jobs)- a woman would be regularly harassed by a customer or other employee, and the solution wasn’t to refuse that one person service or fire the other employee, it was to move the woman to another shift or give her “permission” to hide in the back room when the problem customer came in (worse, the women in these situations usually didn’t have $ for lawyers or to give them a cushion if they quit, so they were mostly stuck putting up with it if their management wouldn’t help). It’s really disgusting, and that’s the standard LW’s manager is living down to now.

  24. Aurora Leigh*

    Oh no! That is so weird and I don’t blame you at all for what happened.

    I’ve never had this happen with a coworker but I went on 2 dates with a guy I met online and decided something just felt off with him, so I broke it off, deleted his number from my phone and moved on. Over the next 6 months or so I got included in some group texts with unknown #s about Pokemon Go that I thought might be one of my old college friends and I just ignored. Then a group text that was something like Aurora Leigh would love to come but she can’t make it this time you’ll meet her soon though!” I played dumb and responded that this was a wrong #. Well it was that guy! Apparently he had been telling people about me for almost a year and pretending we were still dating! I blocked his number and have moved but I do sometimes wonder if he kept telling people we were dating after that.

    1. Duvie*

      OP definitely needs to get HR involved. I can easily see a scenario where his co-workers ask him for an explanation and he tells everyone the two of you had a fight at breakfast and you were still upset with him. Liars like that often don’t have a real sense of when to quit.

    1. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      OP’s boss doesn’t have the authority to move her to another department, let alone hire and fire another employee – this happens a lot in larger companies. In the absence of more info, she’s doing her best given the limited authority she has.

  25. Random Commenter*

    I’m really concerned that the LW’s first reaction to their coworker doing something ridiculous is to ask for a transfer.
    Any inconveniences should be placed on him.
    Did your boss say what happened after she talked to him?
    Is he still doing it?

    Please understand that you are the wronged party here, and it is entirely reasonable for you to ask HIM to make accommodations as opposed to making them yourself.

    1. Virago*

      Captain Awkward, another advice columnist, encourages us to give the awkwardness back to the person who caused it.

      1. Courageous cat*

        Yeah. This is a really good example of OP trying to absorb all the awkwardness into herself… and for what? Why *shouldn’t* he be the one feeling awkward and uncomfortable here, why *should* she?

        I think as women we all have a lesson like this of, like, wait, why did I try to make this easier on someone who did something shitty to me, and then things change a lot moving forward. I think it’s a valuable one to learn.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I would ask for a transfer purely based on my own safety, and also she can’t control the jerk. In a sane, right world he would get fired or transferred, but I wouldn’t count on that happening. Or anything happening to him at all.

    3. Brightwanderer*

      Yeah, like… as gently as possible, and acknowledging how ingrained it is not to make waves… OP, this is not a “quietly transfer somewhere else without ever telling the other coworkers what’s going on” situation. I’m particularly concerned that you don’t seem to have explained anything to them even now? Have you explicitly said, “I have a husband who is not Coworker. I have never had any kind of relationship with Coworker and I am obviously very upset that he’s been telling people otherwise.”? Because you can and should. This is beyond bizarre. Your manager should be pulling him into a meeting to demand an explanation, and he should no longer have a job after that meeting.

      1. TotallyNormal*

        ^^^^This!! Find your blabbiest coworker, let her know you are happily married to not-coworker, and have NO idea why this man would fabricate a story like this. Add a few personal pictures to your desk and turn all the weirdness back on this guy!

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, I was concerned by that as well, and I actually think – like designbot already said above – that the proposed apology for yelling to those who witnessed the outburst would be the perfect opportunity for that; it segues very nicely into explaining in more detail what in the everloving frickfrack has gone wrong here.

  26. Xavier Desmond*

    I think must be a new record for weirdest co-worker behaviour. I just cannot fathom the motivation for telling that lie. Be assured, OP, that you have done nothing wrong and I’m confident all your other co-workers will feel the same.

  27. I'm A Little Teapot*

    I can’t see someone who is mentally and emotionally healthy telling a lie like that. There is SOMETHING going on with your coworker, whatever it is. This is not your problem. Alison’s advice is perfect.

    Slightly longer term, this is probably going to be a big thing in your office. It will be excruciatingly embarrassing for your coworker. The best option for you is probably to avoid the guy, and if it comes up in conversation have some sort of stock response. Something like: I don’t know why coworker told everyone we were married. We are not married and we have never been in a relationship. I would prefer not to discuss it further, thanks.

    However, there’s a very real chance that this guy is going to respond poorly. Do not be alone with this guy. Take steps to ensure that you’re safe, especially coming or going from your car. It sucks that you have to consider this, but someone who tells a lie like this also has the possibility to snap. I hope not, but better to be prepared.

    1. Khlovia*

      yeah; my first thought was that anybody this unhinged could become enraged that she wasn’t performing her wifely duties. and maybe take it out on the man sleeping in her bed (the one she actually is married to).

  28. Jennifer*

    Wow, this is truly scary. If I worked there I’d feel very nervous about working around this guy, whether I was the OP or not. It would have been bad enough if he was going around telling people he had a crush on you or something but to say you were married and create a whole life that doesn’t exist is just horrifying. I hope Alison’s advice works for you.

  29. oranges*

    I hate it when a woman’s first reaction to a man’s outrageous behavior is “didn’t want to cause a scene or embarrass him publicly.” Girl, EMBARASS HIM PUBLICALLY! HE SHOULD BE EMBARASSED!

    Protecting his reputation and feelings are not your first priority! Take the necessary steps if you feel unsafe, but HE doesn’t get to be the one protected here.

    1. LetterWriter*

      For me, it wasn’t the “woman/man” thing…I would have given the same consideration to a lesbian woman telling the same lie. Both my brother and I were raised with the philosophy of, as Michelle Obama puts it, “when they go low, we go high”. As tempting as it would be to be petty, or make a scene in front of everyone, etc. that’s just a little bit outside of my personal behavioral comfort zone. And as several people have mentioned, telling a lie like this is oftentimes a sign of mental illness (see “delusions of grandeur” and such). And while I know if that’s the case, his illness is still not my responsibility…there’s that part of me that has compassion because if he truly IS mentally ill (or just has low self-esteem or is awkward), then that can’t be helped. For me, it isn’t so much about women not making waves as much as it being about still seeing the humanity in someone despite their actions.
      HOWEVER, that said, I’m glad so many people here DID read my perspective as “she didn’t want to make waves as a woman” because that gave me a new perspective as to how my behavior is being perceived by others. By broadening my self-awareness, you guys are showing me that I SHOULDN’T worry about protecting this guy, because I may be setting a bad example for the next female who finds herself in a sticky situation at work with a man. So thank you to EVERYONE for your well thought-out comments and sharing your perspectives. Since you guys are distanced from the situation instead of directly involved, you are helping me to see and consider things I couldn’t see for myself.

      1. Observer*

        You are setting a bad example for the next woman at work. You are also setting an unfair standard for ANY victim that comes after you. Look, I honor your impulse to see the humanity in the other person and your impulse to compassion. But, you need to have at least as much compassion for anyone else who might be victimized by him or anyone else who might be victimized in this workplace. In the first place, if someone doesn’t stop it, it’s a good bet that he’s going to do something to someone else. In the second place, you’ve helped create a situation where victims are going to have a harder time protecting themselves and pushing back on abusive behavior.

        There is a Talmudic saying “One who is kind to the cruel is cruel to the kind”. Worrying too much about this guy has way too much potential to hurt others.

        Also, by the way, think about this – had you been less compassionate to start with and take stronger action about this issue you might have avoided the situation where you blew up at the guy. Because if your boss had done HER job and, at MINIMUM, actually made sure that you would never have to interact with him again, then you would not have been subjected to a totally untenable situation.

        I was just listening to the most recent episode of Hidden Brain, where he talks about the logic of “red, irrational rage” And he makes a rather interesting point – that rage can be a signal that helps society as whole function better. I think that applies here. By blowing up in a rather out of character way, you signaled very strongly that this kind of behavior is a BAD THING. So while blowing up (and going into a red rage) is generally a bad thing, sometimes the signal that rage sends is a very good thing.

        1. Observer*

          I realize that this sounds very scoldy, and that’s not what I intended. I just wanted to say in the strongest terms that it is NOT a moral failing to really push back privately and publicly on this creep, and taking the high road does NOT require cutting him any slack for his incredible misbehavior.

        2. c-*

          Cool it with the victim blaming, Observer. You’re way out of line with this comment.

          The LW reacted as she felt best, and as she’s the one living this godforsaken asshattery, and the consequences that might arise thereof, she’s the one and ultimate authority on how she deals with it. Not her fault if society socializes women not to make waves. Not her fault if this guy victimizes more people down the line. Not her fault if her company doesn’t stamp this out swiftly and definitively as it should. Her job is to survive and look after her best interests, nothing else, and she’s doing just fine on that front.

          Now, Letter Writer: you say that if there’s some problem with this dude’s mental health or self-esteem, that it cannot be helped. And, while it’s true that one cannot help having a mental illness or low self-esteem, one can absolutely control one’s behavior. Even when you’re sick or feeling low, you choose whether to craft and maintain a complex lie that harms another person. You choose whether to harass a woman. If he didn’t want to do that, it was very very easy: he just had to not tell that lie. Lying takes time and effort. He chose to do that.

          So, whatever his reasons for lying were, know this: he chose to hurt you, and it’s not your job to protect him from the consequences of hurting you.

          And also, can we please stop using the insanity defense each and every time a man hurts a woman? It stigmatizes mentally ill people, who are more likely to suffer abuse than to abuse others, and derails the focus from adult men deciding to harm women to looking for excuses for said adult men’s behavior.

        3. DyneinWalking*

          All too often, “nice” is being equaled with “avoiding confrontation”, which generally ends with the brattiest and least considerate getting their way. There’s a reason all societies have rules and ways to enforce them!

          OP, please revise your definition of nice to mean “keeping right things right and setting wrong things right”; the world at large will thank you for it.

      2. lazuli*

        I am a therapist, and I work with clients with fairly severe mental illness. I appreciate your compassion, but I don’t think you need to tiptoe around the consequences of his actions in the way you have been. You can have compassion and still hold people accountable for their actions, and it’s generally how I advise friends and family members of people with mental illness to behave. Protecting people from consequences isn’t helpful in the long run.

        Being publicly matter of fact about the truth is compassionate while still holding him accountable. What can happen if you’re totally passive about behavior like this is that you end up blowing up aggressively, or swinging back and forth between the two. Being matter of fact and assertive is often more the “high road” because it’s coming from a place of authenticity, truth-telling, *and* compassion.

      3. Orange Kitty*

        I think the disconnect here is what constitutes “taking the high road.” To me, taking the high road means that you avoid gossiping about him with your co-workers, attacking him or being cruel to him without instigation, or generally trying to make his life miserable (or, let’s see… spreading FALSE RUMORS about him to your co-workers). What you’re doing – not addressing or correcting the rumor swirling around the office that HE started, avoiding being near him, trying to make yourself as small as possible to avoid infringing on his ability to avoid the consequences of telling a huge lie about you – is just sacrificing your own comfort to maintain his ego. I hope that reading all these comments telling you that you deserve to stand up for yourself, you don’t need to pay the consequences for other peoples’ actions, and that you really don’t need to just roll over and accept it when someone does something outrageous to you will make you think about your actions here and the thought processes that supported them. I mean this with kindness – it kills me to see women who insist on suffering in silence because they don’t want to cause the slightest inconvenience to the men around them. Someone else in this thread recommended the book The Gift of Fear, and I will second that recommendation. I’m not saying you’re a victim of abuse, but I think that some of the concepts addressed in the book could be helpful. The author does a good job of encouraging women to flex their own sense of agency, enforce their boundaries, and shed the societal expectation that they should just sit down, smile and play nice when they are wronged.

        1. PersephoneUnderground*

          This!!!! It’s very much like the non-violent resistance movement. People often misunderstand it to mean passivity, but it’s still active resistance! So go high- stand up for your rights firmly to management, politely state that you will not settle for being on different teams and having the burden on you to avoid him. Stick to the truth of what happened and don’t roll in the dirt with him by making up rumors to counter his or speculating on his motives. All of that is going high. But just adjusting your life to avoid disrupting his when he’s made you feel this violated? That’s being a martyr, and no good will come of it.

          I’ve been harassed myself and not had any idea what to do, it’s not easy. But please, don’t let this go.

          I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this creep. Jedi hugs if you want them.

      4. Gazebo Slayer*

        I think the last few years in US politics have taught us that “when they go low, we go high” is a nice sentiment but leads to getting steamrolled.

        One way to be compassionate to this guy in a constructive way would be to make sure he is absolutely, 100% clear that doing this is never acceptable and that he is held publicly accountable for the damaging lie he (publicly) spread about you. I mean, it would be good for him and his future to learn to be a better person.

      5. CrystalDL*

        OK that’s it – LetterWriter for President! Seriously though, thank you for your thoughtful responses in this thread.

    2. Batgirl*

      Nah, sorry, no. You’re talking to a LW who did make a scene for a start. She went there. Those many women who (quite reasonably) do worry about making a scene? They outweigh men only because women are just disproportionately put in these situations. Which is because certain men expect women to put up and shut up. Then, even when women respond by making a scene, said man is so shocked and disoriented that he runs away like Chicken Little. When someone responds like the sky is falling in, it’s natural to question how harsh you’ve been. Truth is, it is harsh because there’s no reaction that’s both mild and proportionate. Harsh is proportionate to this crap.

  30. Mostly managed*

    Honestly if I were the manager here I’d be looking to fire the guy or at least get him transferred away from OP. OP, I’m so sorry this is happening to you but youve done nothing wrong, I’m honestly shocked that the company isnt doing more to rectify this. I’d be worried this dude might be untrustworthy with work stuff as well, even if for some reason I was unwilling to let him go over being weird to OP.

  31. Caramel & Cheddar*

    “My boss agreed, said she would speak to him, and though she didn’t have the authority to move me to another department, she would see to it that we wouldn’t be put on a team together, and kindly offered to adjust the schedule so he wouldn’t be in the office at times when I was there.”

    This feels like the boss hasn’t actually talked to anyone else about this, e.g. HR. Like, she may not *generally* have authority to move people to another department, but I feel like this is one of those situations where if HR knew about it, they’d give special dispensation for doing it because this is beyond insane. [I’d argue this guy who is the problem is the one who should be moved and/or fired, rather than the LW who did nothing wrong.]

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I feel like this is a situation where if I were the manager here I would say, I might not technically have the ability to move this guy but I am 100% not having him on my team with the person he lied about, so y’all better find another place for him or I’m going to make a lot more noise about this.

      That place could be in another team far, far, away or at another job entirely.

    2. Some Cajun Queen*

      Agreed. This feels like the boss is just trying to play this down, which may be contributing to OP’s feelings that *she* overreacted by yelling at this guy. If this was my boss’ response to something this awful, our next meeting would be me, her, HR, and my lawyer. This boss, however well-intentioned, is just passing the buck because they don’t want to deal with the problem, thereby putting the onus back on OP to manage the situation.

    3. BRR*

      I have a lot of thoughts form this letter but one of my bigger ones is the manager might be underreacting. The manager’s hands might be tied with what they can do, but they should be finding someone whose hands aren’t tied.

      1. Happily Self Employed*

        Borrowing an idea from a recent letter at Captain Awkward that straddles the personal/job worlds, LetterWriter could also point out to her manager that there are also business reasons not to keep this liar at the company. How trustworthy is he in general, as other comments here have pointed out? Is he lying about customer complaints, new business, progress of his projects, etc.?

        Employees who are not bound by the limits of reality can get your whole company shut down. Salespeople lying to customers and taking orders for a product that wasn’t actually FDA approved yet was one of the reasons one of my ex-employers went out of business. They were already in trouble with the FDA and it’s probably a good thing for patients they got shut down, but pre-sales of products that are not yet approved is SERIOUSLY illegal and the FDA will pull your authorization to manufacture anything. (Otherwise, what else would keep drug reps from making “pre-sales” of every product in R&D?)

        Obviously that doesn’t apply to all companies, but if he can start and sustain a lie of this magnitude for months, why would anyone trust him about anything else? Even someone on an assembly line needs to be honest about problems with the equipment or quality control.

        If LetterWriter decides to use this angle as well as the “No, this is a serious harassment issue because he’s basically telling everyone we sleep together every night” angle, I’m sure she knows what aspects of their work he could be lying about.

        1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

          “How trustworthy is he in general, as other comments here have pointed out? Is he lying about customer complaints, new business, progress of his projects, etc.?” YES this, so much this. I could NEVER trust a coworker who had told such a blatant lie! If he lies about something as basic, and big, as who he is married to – how can I believe he’s telling the truth about why a project is delayed?!
          It’s both a (bizarre!) form of sexual harassment, and a serious indictment of his professional ethics and trustworthiness.

  32. Manana*

    Literally no one’s behavior in this letter makes any sense whatsoever, but please OP, don’t quit your job. And please also maybe talk to someone about your reaction to this, because honestly I am at a loss as to why you would have gone to this length to protect this man at the expense of your own feelings and job or why you would believe that your coworkers would think you were the person in the wrong in this scenario.

  33. Donuts and Llamas*

    OMG. I long for the day when women do not feel like they have to manage the emotions or prevent embarrassment of people (men) who pull this kind of weird and creepy BS. He SHOULD be thoroughly embarrassed! At the least! I mean, holy hell – who does something like that?!

    Do not leave. Please. You did nothing wrong.

  34. Sign Language Interpreter*

    This. Is. Not. Okay.

    This is creepy and weird and I would not want to work anywhere near this man anymore. Letter Writer should not have to quit her job, but if I were her, and the company couldn’t transfer one of us to a completely different department, I would quit. Staying anywhere near him is only going to encourage him.

  35. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    I would be afraid of this guy.

    Go to HR. Tell them you feel sexually harassed. That will get their attention.

    If you are not up to individually discussing this with your coworkers, send them an email – I’d email the whole office! And tell them you became aware of the insane lies this jackass has told. Tell them HR is aware. You don’t need permission to do this.

    This guy deserves to lose his job. You don’t need to leave; he does. I’d also consider notifying the police to have his behavior on record. He sounds mentally ill.

    I’m sorry you’re going through this.

  36. A Simple Narwhal*

    Whaaaaat this is insane. Like literally there is something wrong with the coworker.

    I wonder what the advice would be if the manager had written in about this, this guy absolutely can no longer work in their department, right? If there is no option to move him is this grounds for termination? Unless there’s a really good reason (which I cannot fathom) or there was a sitcom-level misunderstanding that he feels terrible about (sounds like he was the spreader of this lie so also unlikely), this is so ludicrous that it could possibly permanently alter my view of them and my trust in their judgement.

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      Yes, lying is definitely grounds for termination. So is sexual harassment. So is creating a hostile workplace. With this lie, he managed to do all 3. Were he my employee, he would be gone as soon as possible. Not just for OP’s sake, but also because I wouldn’t want a lunatic like him associated with my company’s brand in any way.
      Terminated, not eligible for rehire, no references. And I would send a department wide email (possibly company wide, depending on the nature of the company and his job within it) explaining why no one at the company will be giving him a job reference, and that we take sexual harassment very seriously.

    2. Observer*

      In most places in the US, there would be no problem with firing him from a legal pov, unless there was a specific contract is place which is not that likely.

      1. LetterWriter*

        Right…even if I can’t prove harassment or hostile work environment or whatever, we ARE at-will employees (not contractors, not covered under a collective bargaining agreement) so theoretically, Boss or Grandboss COULD terminate him. Again, IANAL, so I don’t know if he’d have grounds to sue for wrongful termination, but if I take it to HR (and as a poster upthread so wisely said, emailed/CC’d the whole chain of command), then there’s at least a paper trail showing he’s not an innocent victim and the company wasn’t wrong to let him go.

  37. BRR*

    LW, I think you can adjust how you’re framing the situation to yourself. Going privately to your boss, regretting losing your cool in front of your coworkers, thinking your coworkers might think you’re a liar (they don’t), and thinking of quitting. This all downplays his behavior and gives me a vibe that you think you have some blame in this. His behavior is incredibly weird (understatement) and I hope you remember that not only is he 100% in the wrong, he’s incredibly in the wrong. I would feel deeply uncomfortable and threatened by this guy.

    1. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

      Females (most) from birth are taught to defer to men and minimize their own discomfort. Do you realize what you are accusing here? Stalkers, obsessive types all start this garbage on their own. How delightful to blame the OP/sarc

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Please re-read.

        BRR is telling OP that OP does NOT have blame for this, and that OP should shift to blaming the lying co-worker, rejecting the socialized deference to men. BRR is not blaming OP in any way for lying co-worker’s garbage.

        “not only is he 100% in the wrong, he’s incredibly in the wrong”

      2. BRR*

        I’m not sure how you got that I was blaming the LW but I want to clarify my comment that this guy is horrible and the LW has done nothing wrong. I fully agree with you that most females are taught to defer to men and minimize their own discomfort.

      3. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Adding another comment here in case OP reads them — BRR is 100% right. This isn’t your fault. Not a single person in this comment thread believes you brought this on in any way. Derek is creepy, and that is not your fault.

      4. Theory of Eeveelution*

        “Female” is an adjective, “woman” is a noun, please don’t refer to women as “females.”

  38. Imaginary Number*

    If someone is comfortable lying about something so big, they’re definitely being dishonest in other parts of their life/work. This is a huge red flag for literally … everything.

    1. Empress Matilda (formerly Matilda Jefferies)*

      Guaranteed, this is not his only lie – just the one that’s most visible at the moment. Nobody starts off with a whopper like this out of the blue. I would imagine he has years of practice in lying about other things.

      So OP, when you think about exposing him as a liar – that’s a GOOD thing! He violated your boundaries in a really horrible and gross way, and he should definitely be called out on that. And also, if there are other people in the office that he has lied to (or about), this will trigger them to start doubting him as well – this is also a good thing. He needs to be exposed for what he is.

      Maybe you’re thinking he’s a nice person otherwise, or that he might have had good intentions – he isn’t, and he didn’t. But even if that were true, this is a clear case where impact is more important than intent. However “nice” he might be otherwise, however grand and noble his intentions might have been – HE HURT YOU. Don’t let him get away with that by worrying about his feelings – his feelings are not important right now. YOUR feelings are important, and YOU are important. Please don’t downplay that, to yourself or anyone else you might tell the story to.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        It can’t possibly even be the only lie he’s told about this situation – if they worked together before and he suddenly “reveals” that they’ve been married all along, that will have required more lies about why they never mentioned it. If he told them that they’d gotten married while OP was on leave, that will have required more and more lies (“how was the wedding?”, “are you going on honeymoon?”, “can I see pictures?”). Every time someone asked how OP was, more lies. It isn’t even one individual whopper, he kept this up for months and people believed it and that must have involved SO MANY LIES. So creepy.

  39. Jennifer*

    I would put a wedding photo or some other photo with my husband on my desk if I were you, OP. It sucks but I’ve found that this is the best deterrent for stuff like this. Plus it will embarrass this guy, which is always a plus.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      She said she has been married 10 years, so I’m guessing she is close to 30 years of age, minimum. I’m pretty sure this guy isn’t 18. A wedding photo on her desk will absolutely not stop someone who is so out of touch with reality they think getting away with this lie at work is feasible. This is not high school where wearing your brother’s jacket will prevent the guy in history class from asking you out.

      1. Jennifer*

        What an odd response. The OP states she is very private about her personal life. Obviously, no one at work knew about her actual husband or else this creepy dude’s lie wouldn’t have been believed. If they knew she was already married to someone else he would have been laughed out of the office.

        And honestly, when I was single I lied and said I had a boyfriend or husband many times to get creepy guys (of all ages) to leave me alone. Sadly, they respected an imaginary man more than me.

      2. Alice's Rabbit*

        Perhaps not, but it will underscore the absurdity of his lies for her coworkers. Her wedding picture will clearly show her younger self, in a dress a decade out of date, with a man who is definitely not the coworker in question. That’s not wearing your brother’s jacket; that’s darn near bullet proof.
        Extra points for adding a series of photos over the years of OP and her husband, just to underscore the permanence of her marriage.

    2. kt*

      I have been married for 13-ish years and have never had a photo of my husband at my desk, nor do I plan to. I just am not into that, and resent that somehow I need to prove I am attached to a male in order to be seen as off-limits.

      I know the advice is well-meant and given in the context of the world we live in. But I’m not going to do it. I do not want family photos on my desk, especially as a magical tool to ward off harassment. It opens you up to other kinds of discrimination, anyway. I’m not playing that lose-lose game.

      1. Jennifer*

        That’s a fair response. I just have to exist in the world as it actually is, not as I wish it were, and have had to do many things that I hated to maintain my safety. I understand why someone would not want pictures of kids on their desks because of harassment against working moms, but not sure what harassment a wedding photo would open you up to? In my experience, it has actually helped. Not by magic.

        1. LetterWriter*

          The reason I’ m reluctant to do this is: Several if you mentioned that this is stalking behavior, and could lead to something dangerous. While I don’t feel unsafe myself (just really uncomfortable), Mr. Letterwriter DOES feel a bit unsafe after I told him about all this. He had our phone numbers changed, made his Facebook private, etc. So I don’t want a picture on my desk for the simple fact of Weirdo finding out what Mr. Letterwriter looks like, and possibly targeting him. I want him to have as little information about me and my husband as possible.

          1. Observer*

            You know, I find this a bit disturbing. Not because I think Mr. Letterwriter is wrong, but because I think he has a valid point. And yet, you are still comment here about how maybe he has mental illness, a low self esteem or some other “explanation” of his behavior that “requires” you to treat him with kid gloves.

            Please think about what is going on here. Derek has acted in a way that has made your husband – the person you actually have an obligation to – feel LEGITIMATELY unsafe! It should worry you, as well! Why do you think you should stop at doing WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep yourself and your husband safe? Sure, you should not do anything EXTRA – you don’t need to start marching around declaring that Derek is a jerk, etc. But there is no way that you should hold back in any way shape or form from doing the things that will keep you and your husband safe and as comfortable as possible in this situation.

      2. many bells down*

        And, frankly, it doesn’t work. I was harassed by a guy who knew perfectly well that I was in the middle of wedding planning but kept persistently asking me on dates, and I’ve been told by men who’ve said all of 6 words to me that “he can’t treat you as good as me”.

  40. Jill*

    I would file a report with the police!! This is what crazy stalkers do, not “disgruntled crush coworkers,” he fabricated an entire life with you! And it’s definitely sexual harassment, your coworkers think that you’ve been newly married, so having sex. I’m not sure it’s restraining order worthy but literally all of my red flags are going up and it might help the department transfer, preferably his. If we want to relate it to high school think about how many times would you show up at your crushes job or take the long way to class just to catch a glimpse of them.

    1. Nicotene*

      Hmm, there are several comments suggesting that this is definitely sexual harassment and OP should definitely go to the police. I totally think this is a creepy and outrageous thing to to and that the company should be protecting OP from the fallout of this (I think this guy would have to be fired) but I’m not sure if this is a clear territory for legal recourse TBH.

      On the other hand, I believe at least in some jurisdictions you can obtain a protection order from somebody who makes you feel unsafe without having to necessarily prove they broke a law or something. It might not be the way I’d choose to proceed but could be an option.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      There is nothing for the police to do or react to. He didn’t threaten the LW or harm her.

      Honestly he should be fired. If the firing takes a few days, both the boss and HR should be all over this getting him away from her. The LW’s job should not be impacted at all.

      But what are the police going to do?
      – Arrest him for telling a lie? Nope
      – Support some sort of restraining order for telling a lie? No

      This is creepy and worrisome, but it’s not to the point where the police can act. Don’t waste their time and your time. Focus on getting the company to do something to make you feel safe and supported … like firing the guy.

      1. Watry*

        Agreed. Our desk officer would likely find a way to make a report, but it would pretty much mean nothing, and a beat officer probably wouldn’t even do that much. It would be considered a matter between OP, the company, and Liar.

        Not saying that they wouldn’t talk to OP and be compassionate, but it likely be a waste of OP’s time.

      2. Jill*

        How is this not threatening or harmful? I would not feel safe going to an office where a man fabricated an entire life with me, he’s delusional at best and his presence alone would be threatening to me.

        When I said “I don’t think this is restraining order worthy” I hoped that would suggest he wouldn’t get arrested for it either, but a report is evidence that something is clearly wrong and if the situation escalates she’ll be glad to have it, especially if her work isn’t handling it which so far hasn’t happened. And a report might be just enough to prompt management for a transfer.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          We can agree to disagree, but not feeling safe is not the same as being unsafe to a level the police can take action against the guy.

          The LW also doesn’t say enough to infer the liar is actually delusional and “fabricated an entire life” just that he lied about being married to her.

          1. Jill*

            That statement doesn’t make sense, when you feel unsafe you should do whatever you can to not feel unsafe anymore. We have no idea if she’s safe or not, and a report is action. He’s infatuated with her enough to tell people they’re married, he could probably get her address from employee records, and the issue hasn’t been fixed yet. This isn’t sane person behavior, it’s just not and if the company wouldn’t deal with it the police would be my next step.

            When you tell someone you’re married, that’s not a small lie about grabbing a cup of coffee. Every time he talked about what he had for dinner, or what he did on the weekends, brought a lunch into work, watched on tv, where he went on vacation, “I’m going home for the day [to see my wife].” What about that isn’t an entire life?

            1. Jennifer*

              “That statement doesn’t make sense, when you feel unsafe you should do whatever you can to not feel unsafe anymore.” That is a dangerous statement and I think some cultural differences are becoming apparent here.

              That aside, feeling unsafe doesn’t always mean a crime has been committed and doesn’t mean the police need to be called. There are a ton of great suggestions here and in Alison’s response that are great alternatives.

              1. Jill*

                This sounds like a dangerous guy. You have no idea what my culture is aside that I’m probably female so I’m not sure why you’d assume that, I stand by my statement. She has options in this situation, going to management was one and they didn’t help, leaving is another but why should she, confronting him is also one but who knows how he’ll react, filling out a harassment report isn’t arresting someone and a completely appropriate reaction to stalker-like behavior.

            2. Alice's Rabbit*

              No. Feeling unsafe is a far cry from actively being threatened. Many things make me feel unsafe, but do not rise to the level of being able to act on them, let alone demand legal action or criminal charges.

      3. Happily Self Employed*

        Where I live, workplace restraining orders are different than regular restraining orders. I don’t know if “I’m afraid he’ll overreact to being publicly contradicted that we are NOT MARRIED as he has been telling our coworkers for months” would qualify where I live or where LetterWriter lives. Sadly, they might not care until he does something threatening.

        But it should be on the record because he might have a pattern of doing this kind of thing, and nobody will know as long as the victims “let him keep his dignity”. We had a neighbor in my building who was harassing the female tenants but carefully staying on the “plausible deniability” side after he went to jail for a few days. (I’m not sure if that was a sentence or just pre-trial hold.) Because management didn’t like the negative publicity, they were talking us out of making complaints, so there was no record he had started again. Management protecting him from the consequences of his harassment is one of the reasons I left that apartment; sadly, I moved to one that’s full of drug dealers and bike thieves.

        There was also a problem at another apartment complex where a man was putting Penthouse magazine photos on women’s cars at night. I complained to the manager, who talked me out of reporting it to police because “free speech” “he didn’t actually damage your car” or some other BS excuse. A few days later, I was grabbed in a dark corner where a light was out (and I’d reported that too). I got away, so did he, but the police chewed me out for NOT reporting the pr0n on my car. Apparently he’d been doing this at other apartment complexes and they would’ve stepped up patrols on my street if they knew.

        What’s really baffling is that all the apartment management staff who have told me it’s no big deal for a tenant to Tweet his graphic sexual desires about his neighbors or for a stranger to target me (and the other women living there) with pr0n are WOMEN. I don’t know if the company has told them they’ll be fired if they don’t go along with it or what, but if I worked for a company that said I needed to let other women be harassed, I would start looking for a new job.

    1. Amaranth*

      Nope, I agree as well. At the very least the manager should have escalated this to HR immediately to investigate and document everything.

  41. MsClaw*

    This is just….. so weird.

    Honestly though, I think the worst possible outcome for OP here is that Fergus tries to play it off like ‘it was just a joke’ and maybe some of your coworkers think you’re uptight and humorless. But I think it’s more likely that people will think Fergus is a jerk and a weirdo.

  42. Marcy Marketer*

    I have so many questions… how did you hear this guy has been telling people that? Did you correct people in the moment when they mentioned your “marriage”? Did any of your coworkers say anything to you after this incident? So weird!

    1. An American(ish) Werewolf in London*

      My question exactly. Did you get people congratulating you on your marriage to Derek? Did they start calling you Mrs Derek? What weird conversations they must have been!

      I really hope there’s an update to this one. And, just to repeat what everyone else said, YOU did nothing wrong and you’re not the one who should get a transfer, it should be him. Transferred right out of the company.

      1. Georgina Fredrika*

        I would imagine it was something like…

        coworker: “oh, I heard you guys went to X on the weekend, how was it?”
        “I didn’t go there – what do you mean?”
        “Oh, well Derek mentioned going, so I figured…”

    2. BigGlasses*

      I’m also desperate to know exactly what happened to make OP aware of this lie & how it was handled in the moment.

  43. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I don’t think anyone would/could blame you for reacting the way you did. You were WAY kinder than you needed to be to someone who did not extend you any courtesy whatsoever and chose to lie about the two of you having a relationship. This is so over-the-top strange that I have serious concerns about his mental health (not a doctor) and I think you have the right not only to be uncomfortable but seriously concerned. I don’t think you should have to quit your job, but if it were me – if they didn’t let him go I would anyway because I don’t think I’d ever be able to feel safe around him.

    Also your manager that doesn’t have the authority to transfer you should take this to somebody who does. It is not ok to let this drop. And they need to bring in HR. This is not an ok thing to happen, but it is NOT your fault and you have nothing you need to be polite or apologetic about.

  44. Mr. Cajun2core*

    Stating up front that I am a white male.

    Often in this forum, I do think people generally over-react. In this case, I most definitely do not. I firmly believe in taking the higher road. At first, the LW did not take the higher-road. She took the freaking air space, heck, out-space. What she did at first was more than exceptional. It is more than I would have done.

    So, LW, if someone as crude, crass, and out of touch as me, can see that this guy is totally out of bounds, then definitely do not quit your job or do anything different. Your reaction in the breakroom was perfectly understandable. It is him who it totally out of line and out of touch. His maturity level must be much lower than his age. Now, as Alison said, if you would feel better apologizing to your co-workers, that is perfectly fine; however, I am sure that all of them would understand.

  45. Batgirl*

    You handled it better than I did. My colleague started telling everyone I was moving to London with him when he left for a new job and I still daydream about using a time machine to go back and publicly call him out. Clearly he went in to the Big Lie expecting a nice, ladylike response where I let him save face?! I dunno. We had zero interactions outside of work and I’d done nothing to indicate interest, so my reaction was stunned bafflement. I told people one-on-one “I have no idea what he’s talking about and I’m freaked”, and I kind of addressed it in person to him one time when he said it to someone in front of me: “No I’m not and it’s really weird that you keep saying that”.
    But honestly, I was too calm and matter of fact; I kind of let him keep a facade in place. Though my colleagues all got the real message, and supported me, I do wish I’d gone scorched earth and made him run from a room. It absolurely IS the right response to this bullshit.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      I think your strategy was good! Though people are correct above when they say that you and the LW aren’t obligated to protect your respective creepy guys from embarrassment, you certainly also have the right to protect *yourselves* from embarrassment.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Right! For both you and OP, whatever non-violent reaction you are most comfortable with at that time is the right reaction to this level of violation.

  46. Jennifer*

    I also admire you for yelling at him. I have a difficult time raising my voice in situations like this. Good for you.

  47. Em*

    My Spidey senses tell me that this guy is now a possible physical danger to you. He was caught up in a fantasy (or deliberately lying) and can no longer continue the fantasy (or lie). Please report him to HR, let your coworkers know the truth, and tell your family. Keep a watch out in parking lots. Ask HR if your husband has called to request personal information.

    I’m not saying to live in fear, I’m saying to calmly plan for the worst case scenario. And the worst case scenario here is that this person is obsessed with you and has the potential to become dangerous, intrusive, or violent. Read “The Gift of Fear” and keep your eyes open. Trust your gut here.

    1. Batgirl*

      I agree with you that this is delusional and scary. OP thinks she ‘lost it’ but probably her instincts were looking after her with the big cat roar response. Any ideas he had about her being a polite, amenable target must be toast .

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Usually my first response is risk assessment, and my spidey sense isn’t going off here. Mostly because he did it when he thought she was gone. The behavior *as OP has described it* is targeted at their co-workers, not at OP.

      But if I were OP, yes, I’d be going through our interactions to check whether there was behavior targeted towards getting my attention, and checking my gut.

      1. nonegiven*

        I’m fantasizing about every time he shows his face, trying to humiliate him to the point he quits, crying.

  48. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Same. I’m particularly curious about how the OP responded when her colleagues mentioned this to her. Not that she did anything wrong, mind you, but I find it very strange that such a story would perpetuate. Is this an office full of gullible people? Full of people who don’t want to tell anyone they’re wrong? Full of people who don’t side-eye information that makes no sense? So many questions!

    1. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

      This has happened to me. (I posted my story in the comments) I did not feel my coworkers were hiding anything from me. The lying co-worker did not make a big announcement to the whole office. He just would make comments about going out and mention that I was with him at these events (I never was) and then it became, “I was hanging out with Not That Kind of Lawyer,” and people just moved on to hear the rest of the story. I only found out when I mentioned a trip I had planned for after my contract ended. Here was the conversation (as best I remember)
      Friendly Co-worker: Is liar going on the trip with you?
      Me: (surprised Pikachu face) No, why would he be going with me?
      Friendly Co-worker: It just seems like something a couple would do.
      Me: He’s gay so no coupling there. Haha.
      Friendly Co-woker: (surprised Pikachu face) What, I thought y’all were dating. He said y’all have been doing all this fun stuff together. Are you sure he’s gay?

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I’m sorry someone was lying about you, but I have to take big issue with one part of this: instead of just saying, “No, we’re not together,” why would you point out that he’s gay when he obviously wasn’t out? I mean, hindsight is 20/20 so I hope you wouldn’t do that in the future, but “No, we’re not a couple, never have been” would suffice.

        1. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

          I did not out him. He was openly out at work and had spoken of boyfriends. Just like he told stories of me, he would mention doing something with his boyfriend over the weekend. I will admit AFTER what he did to me, I wondered if he was straight, gay, bi, or attention seeking, but his sexuality as I understood it at the time was no secret in the office. Also, in all honesty, even if he had been in a heterosexual relationship or even married, I likely would have responded similarly, i.e. “No I don’t date married men,” or “Nah, he has a girlfriend and it’s not me.” My co-worker’s question was really trying to get the gossip and again, the words are not exact.

        2. Observer*

          You know, once someone does something like that, they lose any standing to expect anyone to protect their information (outside of some narrow legal exceptions like HIPPA etc.) I don’t mean that Not That Kind of Lawyer should have deliberately tried to out him, but if this made it easier for her to make it clear that this was a total fantasy, she gets to do that.

  49. HR Bee*

    Do you have HR? Please, please go talk to them. If an employee came to me with this, Derek would be fired. 100%. (Obviously, after I conducted an investigation). This is… I can’t even verbalize it. I just want to scream NO over and over again. Please take this higher than your manager and please ensure your safety.

    And to join in to the consensus, YOU. HAVE. NOTHING. TO. BE. SORRY. ABOUT.

    1. Blisskrieg*

      I was looking to see if someone said this. This is egregious enough that I would terminate an employee over it immediately (after investigation). To me, this is an example of harassment that is so over-the-top that it would be the only incident (rather than a pattern) that would lead to termination. I mean, how could OP ever feel safe? And I don’t think she should have to switch departments as a solution. He should be gone gone gone.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Same. My comment isn’t as nicely put so it’s in moderation, lol. But seriously. Fired. Fired. FIRED. DONE.

  50. CostAlltheThings*

    Don’t be so caught up in the moment that you quit. I once had a boss bob me on the head with a rolled up paper like little bunny fou fou and I walked straight to HR, made them supervise me packing up, and walked out. I called my husband crying from the parking lot and then blocked it out of my memory. I felt guilty for YEARS for walking out until it came up casually in conversation with my husband he reminded me what happened. I wish I had had this blog back then to realize just how messed up the whole situation was and that is wasn’t ME that was in the wrong.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’m not sure you did anything wrong though. I’m pretty sure I’d have a similar reaction if my boss smacked me on the head with anything. You were not in the wrong, but that doesn’t mean you owe the company to fight for them to be a better and safer employer.

      1. Brightwanderer*

        No, I think that’s exactly what CostAllTheThings is saying, though – that they blocked out the exact event, just remembered their general unhappiness in that job, and felt guilty about walking out for “no good reason” – until their husband reminded them that hey, their boss whacked them over the head.

    2. Observer*

      Wait, you explained to HR why you were leaving and they JUST LET YOU GO?! They didn’t fall over themselves apologizing and assuring you that this would NEVER happen again, and moving to fire the supervisor?! I can’t imagine just how dysfunctional that place must have been.

      1. Courageous cat*

        I mean….. bopping someone on the head with a rolled up piece of paper is inappropriate, but it’s not like he punched her in the face. Obviously a lot depends on context but it’s far away from being extremely egregious.

        1. Observer*

          Bopping someone on the head is NOT egregious? Seriously? A supervisor has to literally commit assault to be fired for their behavior?

          I hope you don’t supervise anyone, nor make or implement policies in any workplace.

  51. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    Something similar happened to me. The co-worker did not claim we were married, but did tell everyone we were in a serious relationship. He even told the higher ups. I am usually the type to avoid confrontation, but when the rumor finally made its way to me, my first response was, “We can’t be dating, he is gay.” Then I burst out laughing. Then with friendly co-workers as moral support I walked right up to him and asked for an explanation. He tried to play it off as a joke that went too far. I left shortly after because my contract was up, and he gave me a wide berth for my remaining time.
    I sometimes wonder what he hoped to accomplish with that lie. The nearest I could figure is that he enjoyed the attention he got from the relationship – some co-workers said how they were so happy for him to be in a relationship with a nice person. Also, I am positive, he figured my introverted, peacemaker self would never do anything even if I had heard what he was saying. He just did not know I am the sleeping dragon type.
    Don’t quit your job. Let him stew in his own lie.

    1. Nicotene*

      I suppose if your coworker was gay, but wanted to be closeted, he may have figured (incorrectly) this was a soft lie that was unlikely to catch up to him – oh my female friend X is my girlfriend, so I can’t be gay. Kind of like the “girlfriend in Canada” thing. Very short sighted of him not to realize this would get back to you and you’d react like this … but people aren’t always very smart.

      Or yes, if he’s straight but single, he may have liked the idea of being in a relationship or felt like it made him look better to others – more stable, more adult, whatever. Some people feel there is discrimination against single people in our society, perhaps he was trying to avoid that.

      I’m speculating because I’m so curious as to the Coworker’s thinking in OP’s story. I suppose he thought it would never get back to her since she’d left, and was harmless?

      And I 100% expect that if called out, he would play it off as a joke that went too far. That’s what this kind of person does. Grr.

  52. The Rafters*

    OPs coworkers were shocked, wondering what lies the creeper told about them and if he was a danger to you and/or everyone else. I would make sure I was never ever alone with this guy for even a millisecond.

  53. Daffy Duck*

    Mannagement needs to step up here; I think OP’s manager needs to help her get this reported to HR. IMO minimum he needs a permanent note in his file about this and HR sits him down and explains why this is very, very wrong. If it is a large company he gets moved to a different department/area/building where she doesn’t run into him. If it is a small company, or there were any other issues with ANYTHING, I would fire him.

  54. HS Teacher*

    I had something similar happen to me several years ago, when a colleague had told everyone that he and I were dating on the down low. Not only was it untrue, it caused some strife in my relationship because my partner (female, I’m gay) at the time was friends with some of my coworkers and was hearing rumors I was having an affair with some dude from work.

    I can understand the OP feeling uneasy and like wanting to quit; I felt the same way. Then, I realized I hadn’t done anything wrong and quitting would only allow him to continue perpetrating the lie or, even worse, find a new target. If anything, he should have been the one to quit! Eventually, he did leave, but it was a really creepy thing to do to me.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      YES! He is the creep. You and the LW should not feel they have to leave at all. Everyone should find out that dude is a creep and liar so they understand why you feel uncomfortable around him and can’t be on teams with him going forward.

      But LW should not leave to avoid feeling embarrassed and ashamed for something that is not their fault.

    2. Daffy Duck*

      Ooof! What an uncomfortable thing to deal with. I’m glad your harrasser finally left. Yes, fallout from his lie could definitely have personal and social repercussions for the OP. This is the type of thing you don’t keep quiet about.

    3. Nicotene*

      I can think of a certain type of guy who might do this as a way to open the conversation about dating you. “LOL, everybody already thinks we’re such a great couple, isn’t that sooo funny, we should see if it’s an option in real life lolol.” Ugh. In this case it’s even weirder since OP was gone and presumably this guy never thought she’d find out / that he’d see her again.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Someone upthread speculated about “peer pressuring you into a relationship” and that’s one way that kind of thing is done. Yuck.

    4. Alice's Rabbit*

      To follow-up on this, OP needs to tell her husband, ASAP. Not because she has done anything wrong, but because this is juicy gossip that will possibly get back to him in some garbled fashion, and she doesn’t need that. If she tells him herself, she controls the narrative, and he can also support her emotionally while she tries to get the situation resolved at work.
      If he finds out about this through the grapevine, it won’t be nearly so pretty. Yeah, he might just laugh it off as absurd, but he might not.
      Besides, it’s best to be honest and upfront with your spouse, especially about something that rightfully has OP so upset.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Okay, saw in a later reply from the LW that her husband knows already. So feel free to skip this comment.

  55. It's mce w*

    OP, I also think that you should ask your colleagues in a way that you feel comfortable around whether or not they’ve been told this lie by this man. If you also have those who can speak on your behalf, it can further show the seriousness of this problem.

    1. LetterWriter*

      I’m also beginning to wonder…is this the first time he’s done this? Are there other people in the office or at the company he’s been lying about? Hopefully not on this level, because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. But we have quite a few Chatty Cathys who just loooove to spill the tea, and I’m wondering if he hasn’t taken advantage of that, and how much workplace toxicity actually originated with him. Hmmmmm…

      1. tangerineRose*

        I think you’re right – he’s probably told other lies like this before. This doesn’t seem like behavior that just starts out of nowhere.

      2. lying is the most fun this guy is having with his clothes on*

        Generally speaking, this isn’t the first kind of thing someone does. People try things and then, seeing what the (lack of) consequences are, they escalate. It’s not necessarily thought out dark and coldly, like “first I’ll say that the delivery driver forgot to bring everyone’s appetizers, so I can eat them all, and when no one calls me on that, I’ll start pocketing the tip money, too”. It’s just boundary-pushing and boundary-pushing and then they keep pushing and pushing and… no one stops them in a way that matters to them, so they keep doing it.

        But 100% for sure, he did wake up one day after a life of not doing this kind of thing to say, “I’m going to create problems on purpose”. There’s a pattern of behavior.

        He’s doing other things, too. He’s done other things. He *will continue* to do this.

      3. Batgirl*

        I told a similar story upthread and it wasn’t the first time he’d done it. I. Was open with colleagues and they were able to tell me in turn he had been ‘predatory’ with others. For example spreading horrible rumours about the male friend of someone he wanted and general pushiness with women. It’s why it’s important not to cover up for people if at all possible.

  56. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    He did this to himself. You didn’t expose him as a liar, he is a liar. And a creep. And possibly dangerous. This is some stalker ass shit right here, friend. Everyone is tense because they found out Creeper McCreeper is who he is. You did nothing wrong.

    Escalate this. Tell HR. Your boss should have done this for you, there’s no way in hell that you just say “oh this guy is harassing his colleague, is it possible we can transfer the victim?” You say “I have a harasser in my department and need to find ways to remove him immediately.” He should be fired. This is awful, scary behavior. Fired and banned from the premises. Like call the cops on this man if he shows up here again, perp walked out of the building.

  57. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    If your boss or HR dares to imply you were somehow in the wrong “for how you handled this” I’d go straight to a lawyer.

    My mind is boggled on this!

  58. roll-bringer*

    I hope your coworker gets fired, a horrible reference, and has a deeply terrible life! What the fork!

  59. Accountant, etc*

    I have been following this blog for a few years now and i always think there is absolutely nothing that can surprise me!
    Then a letter like this shows up!
    I agree with the advice, this is not on you to make him feel comfortable. He didn’t care how uncomfortable him going around telling your coworkers you were MARRIED to him would make you feel.
    This is the weirdest thing I have ever read.

  60. Lizy*

    What the what. Just. What. Like, what.

    OP, please don’t feel embarrassed! If I had witnessed the outbreak I absolutely would be thinking “this guy .. WHAT.” And I hope I would be able to get over my shock enough to come to you and let you know I support you and I’d probably ice out crazy guy because WHAT.

  61. Person from the Resume*

    I don’t understand the timeline. The letter makes it sound like the LW has been back to work for a while. The boss or the lying liar needs to make some kind of announcement that LW and liar are not married and have never been married or in a relationship. Just to clear things up so that coworkers don’t continue to think that they are married or were married and now separated/divorced.

    I do think the LW does need to clear the air with those colleagues who saw the shouting. This is wacko! No one’s first thought is going to be that the liar made the entire marriage story up. They are going to think **something** is up between the two, maybe they broke up or are having a personal fight.

    All embarrassment and awkwardness needs to be on the lying coworker. LW has nothing to be embarrassed about and should get sympathy from all once they find out what a weird, creepy thing happened to her. Keep thinking that LW because the truth – the whole truth – that there is no basis for any personal relationship between you two needs to come out.

    1. Blackcat*

      I think it might be like, LW was on leave Nov/Dec-Feb/March or something like that. Then COVID. Then she she was just never in the office at the same time as Liar until recently. It makes sense to me.

      If I was LW, I might approach those folks who witnessed the yelling and explain “I was absolutely shocked to hear that Liar has been telling people we are married. I asked Boss for a transfer, but that wasn’t possible. Boss did adjust schedules so I’ve mostly been able to avoid him. I’ve just tried to keep my head down, but he ultimately made that impossible. I have no idea why he told this lie.”

      Or, if I was LW, I might find the biggest office gossip and say this….

    2. Observer*

      No one’s first thought is going to be that the liar made the entire marriage story up. They are going to think **something** is up between the two, maybe they broke up or are having a personal fight.

      Why would anyone think that? That’s a scenario that makes even less sense than that the Derek is a pathological liar.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        I disagree with your observations. Without further explanation, I would assume lover’s spat or misunderstanding long before I would jump to him completely making the relationship up, whole cloth.

  62. BethRA*

    Honestly, OP might want to consider starting a job search – not because she did anything wrong (not at ALL), but because the company found out that one of their employees lied about being married to OP, and somehow didn’t think to speak to or discipline the liar, and didn’t allow OP to change departments. I’m utterly baffled by their non-response.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also she’s been traumatized, you don’t just get over this kind of stuff and get used to having to sometimes see the creeper enter the breakroom without any resolution!

    2. Empress Matilda (formerly Matilda Jefferies)*

      This is where I land as well. Even if OP downplayed her feelings when she talked to the boss (understandable), the boss should have done more than just “talking to him” and adjusting the schedule. If one of my employees came to me with a story like this, I’d be on the phone to HR before the door closed behind them on the way out. Even if there really is no way for Liar McLiarson to transfer departments (doubtful), there needs to be *some* resolution other than just adjusting the schedule.

      And even if everything between the manager and HR and the liar is confidential, there’s still room to circle back to OP and let her know that they take her seriously, dude has been disciplined, and to tell them right away if anything else happens. They don’t seem to have done any of this. Which suggests to me that they’re not going to, and *that* is why OP might want to change jobs.

      It sucks, and she absolutely shouldn’t have to be the one to leave. But if she can’t trust her employers to protect her when something like this happens…well, it’s hard to work for someone you don’t trust.

      OP, this is an entirely shitty situation – entirely not your fault, but unfortunately you’re the one who has to deal with the fallout. Wishing you the best of luck.

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        I agree, and I’ll go as far as to say that her feelings or opinion about his lies should be irrelevant to his job status. Even if she was breezily blowing it off like “oh that’s so weird, whatever” he still told a Major Lie at work. As a random co-worker, I’d be disturbed by that, even though it wasn’t about me. This time.

      2. Observer*

        If one of my employees came to me with a story like this, I’d be on the phone to HR before the door closed behind them on the way out.

        Exactly. Boss is, at best, utterly inept.

  63. Elm*

    So freakin’ weird. I feel like this IS harassment, even if it’s not necessarily sexual harassment. I’d go to HR if you have one. At the very least, this needs to go in his file in case he does anything creeptastic to someone in the future (or if he has in the past and you just aren’t aware) so they have record of a pattern.

    If you have a desk, I’d say bring in a photo of you and your husband together just to drive the point home–unless you think this guy is truly unhinged and that could make things worse.

    Your coworkers almost definitely aren’t judging you unless they’re awful people. They’re probably super confused by the situation and more surprised that you yelled than upset that you did, given your introverted nature.

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      Or even if you don’t want him knowing what your husband looks like, have a wedding photo on your phone that you can show to the office gossips, so they will turn the company rumor mill in your favor, rather than in his.
      A bridal photo – showing an obviously younger Letter Writer than would have been married this past year – might not be bad desk decor, though.

  64. Jay*

    Repeat after me:
    Police report.
    Restraining Order.
    Large dog.
    The man is a lunatic, maybe a dangerous one, and should be treated as such.
    And at work, he needs to be fired, a.s.a.p.

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      There’s nothing the police can do, and no grounds for a restraining order, sadly.
      She could sue him for slander, but that’s about it, legally speaking.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Plus, although I agree wholeheartedly that the OP should not feel bad at ALL about reacting the way she did, there’s a big leap from “yelling at dude in lunch room” to police/shotgun/dog. Not everyone is pro-police (nor would they realistically do anything besides MAYBE take a report), not everyone wants, needs or should have a gun, and dogs are not weapons, they’re living creatures.

      2. Anonymous Hippo*

        I don’t think she can sue him for slander, because how will she show damages? I don’t think emotional toll counts.

        1. LavaLamp*

          There is nothing actionable to file a police report or get a restraining order with. This is terrible advice. Have you ever actually gone through the process to get a RO? If you had, you’d know you can’t get one just because someone said a lie about you.

  65. Alex*

    What the actual F. OP, you don’t need to protect him in any way! This something he intentionally did, not some momentary lapse in judgement or accidental offense. It’s not like he had a bathroom accident that you witnessed and shouldn’t gossip about–he lied ABOUT YOU on purpose and for many months. I can’t imagine why he would do this, but he doesn’t get to save face at your expense.

  66. Coffee time!*

    yes I wouldn’t have let it go for even a minute.. would be wtf and tell the truth to everyone. He has some problems and the one to go.

  67. lawerj*

    I don’t understand how you didn’t blurt something out the first time you heard this. Even a confused “wait? what?! I’m not married to X”.

  68. jenn K*

    ok, i have to ask… how far did he take this? did he wear a wedding ring? did people not wonder why there weren’t any pics of you two together in either of your offices? even as an introvert who keeps to themselves, didn’t people find it odd that you never mentioned him or had lunch together?

  69. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

    You were totally justified in how you responded. If there’s any awkwardness, it’s because coworkers have follow up questions but feel rude bringing it up. This guy is waaaaaaaaay out of line.

    1. Jennifer*

      I have noticed over the years that when people know next to nothing about someone, they tend to make up stories in their mind, or easily believe rumors without a morsel of evidence to support them.

  70. animaniactoo*

    LW, when somebody else’s embarrassment comes at a price of people believing completely inaccurate things about you based on a completely and utter like – that’s a price you should be more concerned about the cost on your side than their side.

    If he’s embarrassed by truth being revealed, it’s because of HIS actions – not yours in correcting them. After all, there would be nothing to correct if he had not lied in the first place, right? So correcting the record is merely allowing him to handle the due consequences of his actions.

    Rather than the consequences of his actions being ones that you have to handle by leaving a team/job that you enjoy and are comfortable in, in order not to be around him or expose his lie.

    So please, do not concern yourself one more moment with saving face for him. I think the bigger issue is that youdon’t want to have the conversations that people will want to have with you and be the center of attention in a situation that you had no part in setting up. Towards that, I would encourage you to figure out what you want to say when people do that, and let the truth reign free.

    “I have no idea where that came from. It makes me really uncomfortable and if you don’t mind, I’d rather not talk about it anymore other than to say that I’ve been married for 10 years and it’s not to him.”

  71. Corporate Lawyer*

    We don’t know what country the OP is in, but in the United States at least, slander is generally a tort, not a crime (although it’s possible different states may treat it differently). If someone slanders you, you can sue them, but it isn’t usually a criminal matter that would involve the police.

    However, there are countries that treat defamation/slander as a crime, and if OP is in one of those countries, then it’s possible this might be criminal defamation. (As an American lawyer I don’t know much about how this would be treated in countries other than my own.)

    1. Corporate Lawyer*

      Oh, shoot, this was supposed to be a reply to a discussion above about calling the police for slander, not a separate post.

    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      You have to be able to show damages. I don’t think emotional toll counts, but I could be mistaken.

  72. Mel_05*

    This is wild. Your coworkers are just in shock that this dude would have made something up like this. No one thinks you’re crazy.

  73. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    This comment is so very true and important. And the manager’s reaction makes it pretty clear that they thought the same – that having some creeper lie to everyone and tell the whole company that you’re his wife and he’s sexing you is somehow a “you” problem. Like, the problem with women is that they are always getting harassed, amirite?

    They will “back the OP up” with her problem that she is having at work. Which is complete nonsense. This is not some personal issue like the OP having a fragrance sensitivity. It’s a problem of the manager having a lying creepazoid on staff who is harassing their employees and making them feel justifiably unsafe.

  74. Amethystmoon*

    This is definitely harassment. You can debate whether it’s sexual, but I would doubt co-worker would have engaged in it if they had been the same gender. (I got the impression from the letter they weren’t, sorry if I am wrong.) I once had a coworker who did things like stare at me and follow me around (when we weren’t scheduled for the same meeting in the same place). It only partially stopped when I went to the boss — coworker did things that were less blatant, like try to send me bizarre text messages attempting to control me (he failed as I didn’t let him). You shouldn’t have to put up with this in a workplace. No one should.

  75. NylaW*

    Not only were you entirely justified, OP, but your boss is failing you here. Responding to this kind of ridiculous, boundary violating behavior with “I’ll speak with him” and nothing else is not acceptable IMO. Not only should she have spoken to him, but she should have spoken to HR, and done more than telling you she can’t transfer you so shifts will have to be changed. Your coworker is 100% at fault and should experience all the consequences of his actions, including being called out in front of everyone.

  76. Bookworm*

    That is so weird. And creepy.

    Agree: he should feel embarrassed, because that’s a weird lie that could easily be disproven. I’m so sorry you went through that!! :O

  77. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    OP, I think you work with one of my former coworkers. He did something similar, spreaded the rumour he was cheating his rich girlfriend with me (and that I was aware of his gf). He was yet another symptom of a sexist team, managed by a workaholic and a creepy mentor that followed me to the toilet.
    I’m really grateful I was let go of that place.

  78. Delta Delta*

    I get it that OP keeps her personal life personal, but it seems to me like even in bland everyday “how was your weekend” kind of conversation, it likely would have come up at least once that OP is married to Not Derek. As in, “my husband and I cleaned the gutters this weekend, how was your weekend?” It seems like this would have come up at least once. So when Derek was – for whatever reason – telling people he was married to Jane, at least one person would have said, “gee, I thought she was married to Not Derek who loves cleaning gutters.”

    That said, it is very odd that the manager and/or HR are just letting this weird story fester within the workplace. And if Derek is lying about this, what else is he lying about? This is all very weird. I think I’d look to get out of there and during the exit interview give reasons for leaving like, “did not protect me when creepy coworker lied about being married to me.” that feels sufficient.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I find it interesting that nobody has mentioned it prior that “Oh did you and Derek have a nice weekend?” or something in passing in the breakroom. Nobody here is really open about their personal life for the most part but yeah, casual conversations include that whole “Just got some chores done around the house, husband and I rearranged the living room. Been meaning to get a new sofa but man, who likes to furniture shop? Not me.” style.

      That’s a far cry from personal!

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        The thing is, definitions of words like “personal” and “introvert” can vary widely. Technically, yes, that’s a personal question. It’s about your personal life and has nothing to do with work. It’s not terribly invasive, and most folks would have no problem answering.
        But for someone truly introverted, that would be a very personal question, and asking about their weekends would likely never get a more detailed answer than “same old, same old.” So, knowing that she’s not going to answer, after having presumably worked with her for a while, her coworkers wouldn’t even bother asking anymore.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Again. People fail to understand what introverted means.

          This has nothing to do with introversion. Please stop it.

          Someone who is truly introverted would just answer it the way they see fit and then go home and decompress in their own way. Its’ all about the energy spent to socially interact, not the behaviors that are exhibited.

          Introversion and extroversion are a psychological science and not “shy” and “guarded”.

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Words are fun in that they have multiple meanings. Yes, in many theories of personality, “introverted” has the specific definition you just gave – that social interaction drains rather than energizes.

            Most people using it are not using it in this context. People say “introverted” to mean some combination of shy or guarded or reserved or solitary. This is also how most dictionaries define it.

          2. Alice's Rabbit*

            Which is why I pointed out that these words have different definitions. You’re going off the technical definition, while the Letter Writer is clearly using the colloquial meaning.

        2. Teapotcleaner*

          I agree with this. It’s really hard to answer questions that have nothing to do with work especially when you haven’t established a trustworthy work relationship with these coworkers whom ask about home life and relationships. Sounds like they are fishing for bait to keep track of their coworkers.

    2. Metadata minion*

      Some people are just really private at work. I have a former coworker who was like that. I knew she had a teenage kid because she’d occasionally need a day off for school things or whatever, but I had vaguely assumed she was divorced or that the kid’s father was otherwise not in the picture because she never mentioned a spouse. Nope, happily married, just very private.

      1. LetterWriter*

        As the “introverted” person in question, I mean it in both the technical AND colloquial sense of the word. Yes, I’m shy and reserved and not very talkative; I also need to get away from people and be alone to decompress and “recharge my battery”, so to speak–which means I’m not going out after work for Happy Hour or socializing with my coworkers (except for the every-so-often “mandatory good time” when we have to entertain clients or contractors at an off-site function). Semantics aside, my point was that I tend to keep to myself rather than tell my whole life story to the people at work; therefore, I’m assuming Derek probably did NOT know I was married and thought, for whatever reason, that this was something he could get away with. And you guys are right–small talk is SO not my thing, and that’s exactly how conversations go.
        Random Coworker: How was your weekend?
        Me: It was OK.
        RC: Did you do anything?
        Me: Nah, not really *goes back to what I was working on*

  79. londonedit*

    Yep. Either he is a compulsive liar and this was just yet another in his litany of lies (I’ve known a couple of people like this…one guy at university claimed he had a whole career going on as a semi-professional sportsperson, playing a niche sport that isn’t hugely followed where I live, and it turned out what he was actually doing on ‘match days’ was visiting his ex-girlfriend who he was stringing along for sex…) or it started out as ‘God I’m sick of everyone asking about my personal life and why I don’t have a girlfriend yet…maybe if I say I’ve been dating Jane, people will get off my back, and she’s left the office now anyway so no one will know’. That’s the charitable read, but whatever the motivation, it’s still 100% creepy and gross, and the OP does not need to worry about Derek’s feelings or about ’embarrassing’ him by shouting.

    1. londonedit*

      Ah man the comments are doing something weird again…that was meant to be a reply to Not That Kind of Lawyer and Nicotene above!

  80. President Porpoise*

    Once upon a time, my husband had a pair of coworkers who liked to cause DRAMA. One of them decided to start telling people that she and one of the guys they worked with had started dating (this poor dude was married, but as I recall he was having a bit of a rough patch, so that’s probably why the drama llama chose him). They weren’t, though, and he quit in part because of the rumors she was spreading. What made it even stranger was then she pretended to be pregnant with his child. She wasn’t pregnant at all though. And then she pretended to have a miscarriage. And then she finally got fired.

  81. boop the first*

    Whoa. Are there some big details missing here? Yeah… saying you’re married is a weird thing to do. But also, what happened that caused you to be SO angry about it that you felt like you had no choice but to blow up? How young is the office that you think coworkers are questioning your truth? This all seems weirdly dramatic without any context.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      LW has every right to be angry. I think she blew up because she bottled up the frustration for so long instead of confronting it head on. Even the most minor annoyances can compound on themselves over time if not addressed.

    2. Ann Perkins*

      She’s completely justified to yell at him. If it were me I’d be insisting he be fired or at minimum moved to a different office where I’d have no chance of seeing him. I’d be furious if somebody claimed we were married when we weren’t. It’s incredibly violating. If someone went around the office claiming to have sex with someone when they hadn’t, would your response be the same? Because that’s essentially what he’s doing, multipled.

    3. Temperance*

      Um, this is an incredibly creepy, strange, and inappropriate thing to do. She obviously feels violated by this.

    4. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

      I could easily imagine OP stweing over this and being stressed about running into him at work after learning about everything. Then, as she is trying to enjoy her lunch, he walks in with a casual greeting like nothing is wrong and her fight or flight instinct is triggered. She chose fight and he deserved it.

    5. learnedthehardway*

      Oh, having someone claim they are in any kind of sexual relationship with you when they aren’t is grounds for making them regret the day they were born. The letter writer is not wrong for being enraged. That’s probably the healthiest emotion she can have, at the moment. It certainly put the liar on notice that his bullshit isn’t going to be tolerated and that the OP isn’t going to passively let him affect her life. And it’s quite useful for coworkers to realize that in NO WAY, NO HOW was the OP ever in any kind of relationship with the liar. Blowing up is a very good way to achieve all of these things, and it is proportional to the level of harm and trauma caused to the OP.

    6. MsM*

      OP’s not being “weirdly dramatic.” She’s stuck in weird drama through no fault of her own, and the guy who put her there isn’t even being made to clean up his own mess.

    7. Observer*

      You really don’t understand why she would be angry enough to yell at someone WHO CLAIMED TO BE MARRIED TO HER, and who she was stuck working with?!

  82. EGA*

    When I think about it, this has got to be one of the most bizarre situations that has ever been written in about. What a totally strange and invasive story to tell.

  83. lazy intellectual*

    WTF??! Your coworker is a total psycho.

    Your only mistake was initially caring too much about his feelings (not wanting to cause him embarassment) and then yelling at him because of the bottled up frustration from having your boundaries violated. But your reaction is less bad than his actions. I agree with Alison’s advice of apologizing to your coworkers.

  84. Robin Ellacott*

    This is SO BIZARRE and I’m absolutely certain that the letter writer’s colleagues who saw her blow up at him would be grateful for the chance to acknowledge it with her. If I’d witnessed that lunchroom interaction I wouldn’t want to pry so I might not initiate a conversation, but I’d want so badly to tell her I was horrified about his doing that, and it was very understandable she blew up at him.

  85. Mannheim Steamroller*

    Do you have photos of yourself with your actual husband on your desk? If not, get a few ASAP. If so, get more.

    1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

      I don’t really agree with this. First of all, her being married to someone else isn’t the issue; it’s that she’s not and never has been married to her coworker. Second, if she has chosen not to have photos of her husband on her desk, she should get to continue to make that choice. Her coworker’s behavior needs to change (and frankly he should be fired), not her quiet inclination to privacy.

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        Hard agree. She shouldn’t have to PROVE that she’s not married to the liar, especially not in a way that’s uncomfortable. I’m not a “personal pictures on my desk” person either.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Disagree – the OP shouldn’t have to do anything to prove that she’s not married to the liar. She shouldn’t have to change her way of doing things at all.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        In a perfect world, no, she wouldn’t have to prove anything. But in a perfect world, she wouldn’t have a crazy, lying coworker claiming she’s married to him, either. We’re brainstorming ways to handle the bizarre situation she finds herself in, though, which is so far from ideal, it’s not even on the same planet.

  86. SK*

    I am also a pretty quiet person who once, back in high school, publicly snapped at a frenemy who was telling lies about me. Unfortunately it wasn’t as clear cut as this situation and people ended up believing him and I ended up even more ostracized than I already was. And you know what? I don’t regret it and I’d do it again. Good for you for standing up for yourself and I hope you later look back on it with pride. Your co-worker was extremely out of line and this lie is so bizarre that I don’t think anyone who heard it would ever think ill of you. Obviously we sometimes wish we did something sooner, but as a fellow introvert, I hope you feel some pride at asserting your boundaries.

  87. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    This might be one of those things that, because it’s *so* unusual in terms of harassment, that policies, HR, employers and law enforcement won’t quite know what to do with it.

    Is it against the law to lie like this? Not sure. I’m leaning towards No.
    Did he stalk her? According to her no, so no crime there.
    Did he try to make false benefits claims using her name as his wife? That would be fraud and actionable but we don’t know about this.
    Her office might have a definition of what (sexual) harassment is and if this doesn’t fit that definition, then her boss/HR is going to struggle with how to deal with this.

    BUT should it be dealt with? Absolutely! She’s now uncomfortable around him and the situation is now awkward. What a stupid mess.

    It’s also interesting to me that no one questioned him on his claim. It’s okay to keep personal lives personal; but none of her coworkers or boss knew that she was already married and could call him out on his lie? I have a coworker that private: I have no idea if she is married, or single or anything. I only learned she had no internet until we were all sent home and she couldn’t work at all. But because she’s so private, I would have been very surprised if someone out of the blue announced she was married to them and no one knew before then.

    And then how is it he assumed she had left the company rather than being on a short-term leave? People usually know when staff are Gone Forever vs gone for a little bit. The grapevine is always working.

  88. Kay*

    +1 and this is sex discrimination because he almost surely wouldn’t have done it if the letter writer were a man…

  89. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I am imagining that co-worker’s thoughts if they gave the liar a wedding present.

    1. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

      Ooooh. Now I am picturing him telling the office they were secretly dating and since they are now married, she left to keep things from getting weird. Then tagging on, “We would have loved to invite y’all to the wedding, but COVID. Presents are still appreciated though.”

  90. Mask up!*

    I’m AGOG! Do not quit your job. You have done nothing wrong, you are not a liar, and I feel like yelling at someone who told such a huge lie about you is pretty understandable. He should bear every consequence of this situation.

    1. Alexis Rose*

      Agog is such a good word, thanks for reminding me it exists.

      Also to add to your point: yes yelling at someone who was so totally creepy, but ALSO yelling after her workplace refused to do anything about the behaviour of this person. She TRIED to handle it through official channels and was basically told nothing could be done. I’d feel very unsupported and very unsafe.

  91. pyewacket*

    lw i hope reading all of the comments that you feel empowered instead of embarrassed. you did absolutely nothing wrong, he did. this is sexual harassment and you shouldn’t have to tolerate seeing him or lose your job in any way. bypass your boss because she has told you she doesn’t have any power and she didn’t advocate for you. instead go to hr today. explain you learned of this lie and you tried to make it work but you are asking that HE be removed from your department. you should not have to move or change jobs because he needs to endure the consequences of his harassment, not you. if you feel unsure that hr would do anything or it would blow back on you than talk to an attorney for advice on how to proceed. even if you talk to hr it still might be good to consult a lawyer to help navigate you behind the scenes. not necessarily to sue but so you have an advocate. lastly add a family picture to workspace. good luck, you got this.

  92. JKP*

    I had the same thing happen to me! I was slammed with clients, and a coworker came in and took half my caseload. We got along well enough at work, but he was always trying to go out with me after work even though he had met my actual boyfriend. Coworker went on “vacation” and I had to cover his clients (my previous clients). I discovered that he had been telling all these clients that we were married! I calmly corrected anyone who brought it up and quickly changed the subject.

    I say “vacation” because this coworker obviously planned to never return from his vacation, which was only discovered after he ghosted the job and the padlock was cut off his locker and he had emptied it before leaving. So luckily, I never had to deal with confronting him directly, only clearing up the mess he left behind. I think he had hoped to make the lie true, and when he finally accepted that I was never going to go out with him, he ghosted the job rather than own up to the lie.

    It did throw me for a loop the first time I found out that he had been telling people we were married. But having to have the same conversation with 30+ different people every day, it quickly became “Nope, never married. Don’t know why he told you that. Next topic.”

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      woooooow. There’s more than one of these people. He’d better hope you never become his boss…

    2. learnedthehardway*

      At that point, honestly, I’d have put out a memo to the whole company to the effect that I understood X had claimed this and wanted to make it completely clear that this was untrue, and that I was not ever married to X.

      Then again, I have a scorched earth approach to people who try to mess with me, and I feel totally justified in exposing them for what they’ve tried to pull.

      1. JKP*

        In my case, the people I was having to correct were clients, so I had to correct each individual when they came in for their appointments and couldn’t send a mass memo. He never told this lie to any of my other coworkers, which is how he managed to lie for so long (6+ months).

        In the OP’s case, maybe a memo would be a good way to set the record straight in one fell swoop.

    3. MsM*

      Even if you had agreed to date him, how long did he think that was going to last if you found out just how far ahead of himself he’d gotten?

  93. Some Cajun Queen*

    I think one part of this that I find extra infuriating is that Derek began lying about OP when she was *on leave to take care of her elderly parents.* Like, “oh, here’s someone on leave because of an intensely difficult situation, let me lie about them and say we’re married.” What an epic shitbag.

    OP, let me add to the chorus that you have nothing to feel ashamed about here. Your workplace is totally failing you by keeping you in an untenable situation with very little consequence for Derek. You’re worried that you yelled at him in front of people? If someone violated me in that way, I’d probably be full WWE chair throwing, and I’m a relatively calm person.

    At a *minimum,* Derek should have been spoken to by his higher ups and HR to address how serious this is, and you should have been notified that this took place. The fact that your boss’ response to this was simply, “my hands are tied, but I’ll talk to him and you don’t have to work the same schedule as him” is obscene. I don’t care if this guy is the best llama groomer in the country, this is harassment and should be dealt with seriously. As I said in above comments, given the laxity with which your employer has addressed this so far, I would absolutely be speaking with a lawyer at this point.

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      Given how private OP is (no one in her office knew she was married already) I doubt Derek knew why she left, or how temporary it was.

      1. Some Cajun Queen*

        That’s fair, but I guess I’d assume any situation where an employee needed to take extended leave would probably be stressful in some way, making this feel more violating.

  94. agnes*

    In our organization, this guy would be put out on leave and sent for a fit for duty evaluation. And probably would not pass. This is way beyond a joke–it is at least harassment and may be indicative of a more serious mental disorder, like delusional thinking. I think the guy is potentially dangerous.

  95. Millennial Lizard Person*

    PSA: if you are closeted and would like someone to fake date you so you have a cover as straight, *ask your fake partner* first. Jeeze.

    OP, you did NOTHING wrong. This creeper did EVERYTHING wrong. You should not have to transfer– he should!!

    1. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

      I did not see in OP’s post where the liar was closeted, but if you are also referring to my comment, the coworker was definitely out, although I now am not sure what his sexuality actually was or if the boyfriends he mentioned were ever real.

  96. Faberge Otter*

    I recently found out one of those internet white pages sites thinks I’m married to the guy who lived in my apartment before me. Even though that is basically a nonsense online gaffe, I still freaked out on my mailbox when I received Mr. No Longer Lives Here’s absentee ballot in the mail.

    I cannot imagine how I would respond if someone I actually knew in real life had been telling other people I know that we were married. I think I would have lost my cool a lot earlier. You didn’t do anything wrong. This is gross and creepy; guilt is definitely not an emotion you should have about it.

  97. AngryOwl*

    Like others, I am baffled that your manager had such a non-reaction to this. I don’t want to pile on, but please know that you have done nothing wrong and do not have to consider his feelings at all. Good luck!

  98. staceyizme*

    I’d have gone to HR. Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like your boss is supportive. That said, this is so far outside the realm of normal behavior that it requires more to address it. There are issues of dishonesty, interfering in your personal and work life by coopting you as part of his narrative and a real (and reasonable) concern about what else he might be capable of if he can so easily lie in a work environment. Don’t quit your job, but holy hell- HE should be gone!

    1. Observer*

      Don’t get me wrong, it sounds like your boss is supportive.

      Actually, it sounds like the boss is fake supportive. She’s saying nice things but is not doing the things she should be doing to back the OP – by her own description, she’s not even trying.

  99. Ellie May*

    You are way too worried about HIM and how he is perceived and not worried enough about YOU and how you are perceived. Your response to this bizarre situation seems quite passive to me. My response would be to very pointedly expose this very strange and aggressive behavior by your co-worker. Set the record straight for everyone!

    1. EarthenBiscuit*

      Please, will you not scold the OP? She’s been through a lot, she’s in learning mode, and she’s putting herself out there

      1. LetterWriter*

        Don’t worry; I don’t feel scolded at all! Honestly, it’s great hearing all the different takes on my situation; I consider ALL the feedback, whether positive or negative, as useful. One of the reasons I chose THIS particular forum is because of the thoughtfulness of the replies. I’m not a butthurt snowflake, but it bothers me in other forums how quickly the comments can turn into mudslinging, ad hominem attacks, racist/political stuff, etc. Everyone here has given me a lot of options to consider, and while I hate to learn that similar things have happened to other people, it’s useful to hear how they handled it (or feel they SHOULD have handled it) and it’s good to hear opinions from people who aren’t embroiled in this mess because they can be more objective.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        Nothing in that comment reads as scolding? It’s pretty straight-forward advice, given in the comment section of an advice blog. Seems completely appropriate and, in my opinion, totally on point.

  100. The Ginger Ginger*

    I’m sorry, what? You told your boss about this and…they just….rescheduled….you both? Did your boss reprimand this guy? Does he have a different boss? Were they looped in? Was HR? Surely this is harassment? Or so close as to be legally uncomfortable for your employer. This guy should be gone or on serious probation at the very least. I’m baffled at the seeming non-response from management.

  101. BasicWitch*

    It’s devastating to see a woman being treated this way at work twist herself into knots to protect this creep’s feelings and reputation.

  102. AnonEMoose*

    You know, if the OP wants to, I wonder if it would make sense for her to call a domestic abuse or sexual violence hotline and ask their advice on how to proceed with this guy. It’s not going to the police, but these are people who may have experience with stalking situations (we don’t know that he’s stalking her, but it’s probably the closest), and they may be able to offer guidance on how to approach this with HR, when/if to involve law enforcement, and so on. Not saying this guy will escalate, but a hotline like this might be a resource for her. At the very least, someone non-judgmental and not involved to talk to.

    1. LetterWriter*

      Thank you for the suggestion! This is not something I would have ever considered doing, but they may have some good pointers in the event things escalate.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I’m glad it’s helpful! At the very least, it will give you someone safe to talk to, and sometimes just that sanity check can help a lot.

      2. Exhausted Frontline Worker*

        Yes LW, absolutely do this, and have your husband on the call as well before things escalate further! I work in social services and while I’m trained to deal with many types of crises, I’ve never felt secure navigating domestic violence situations. Whenever I suspect someone is experiencing partner violence, I always call the local DV hotline on their behalf, describe what I’m seeing and ask for advice. My name, the victim’s name and the perpetrator’s name all remain anonymous, and police are never involved unless that’s what the victim wants. Your phone number will be obscured by a software screening incoming hotline calls to ensure your anonymity. The advocates are kind, helpful and knowledgable. They’ll be able to give you a better idea of whether his behaviors are signs he could truly be dangerous to you and your partner, and if so they’ll be able to provide action steps on how to stay safe (and if you choose to do nothing else for the time being, definitely at least document all his attempts to contact you and your partner going forward). As someone who’s called hotlines several times before, I promise the advocate will ensure nothing about the experience is weird, shameful or embarrassing.

        While the original letter you wrote was incredibly bizarre and boundary violating, it didn’t raise my safety alarm bells. But some of his additional behaviors you described in the comments did. Best of luck and stay safe!

  103. DarkMatter*

    I was first baffled by the behaviour of OP’s coworker. But then I was baffled by the behaviour of OP herself. It’s totally understandable to be in shock in the beginning, and somwhat cautious, but to go weeks without voicing any meaningful response to this ludicrious lie is mind blowing. This goes beyond being introvert – it’s passiveness to an extreme degree.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      The OP does mention upthread that she was investigating to find out where the story had come from – ie. whether this coworker had lied about her, or whether someone else had started a rumor.

      1. LetterWriter*

        Also, let me add (as OP) that this is one of those situations that may happen in movies but you never expect to find yourself in in real life…and sometimes you THINK you know how you would hypothetically handle it…until sh*t hits the fan and you’re ACTUALLY having to deal with it. I’m going to talk to HR tomorrow, and if I can’t make any headway with the “sexual harassment” argument, I’ll try the “hostile work environment”…both the hostility that he created, as well as the negligence (not a lawyer) of my boss not taking a more aggressive approach toward protecting me.

        1. jenkins*

          Good for you and good luck, I hope you get a much better response from HR than you did from your manager.

        2. OrigCassandra*

          Best of luck to you, LW. I hope HR backs you in dealing with this utterly creepy liar.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      One of the common responses to sudden terror is a ‘freeze’. You can’t figure out what to do because a) your body won’t let you and b) you’ve got no frame of reference at all how to react. A coworker suddenly doing something so totally bizarre can cause the same reaction.

      Everyone’s response to fear is different. And valid.

  104. HoneyBadger*

    I haven’t read any of the comments, and I’m sure several readers have already said what I’m about to, but I want to say it anyway: You did not do ANYTHING wrong. You may have sensed tension coming from your colleagues, but it’s probably because they were shocked at the extreme level of this guy’s creepiness. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t be judging you at all–I’d have nothing but empathy for you, and I wouldn’t expect you to apologize to me. There aren’t many things that warrant a temper tantrum at work, but this situation does.

  105. Hiya*

    What on earth. Why wouldn’t you want to “embarrass him”. Telling the truth is not you setting out to embarrass him. Instead you held it in until you exploded. Either 1. Tell him he needs to set the record straight with every employee and apologize for misleading them (lying). Or you personally approach every employee and tell them you don’t know what happened but you have never been involved with him and in fact have been married 10 years to someone else. I’m really not sure why everyone is coddling this guy

  106. Kara S*

    This is so weird. I was wondering if there was any chance it was a game of telephone changing something he’d said but if the boss backed up the LW, that can’t be the case. This is so beyond the range of something that is remotely appropriate or justifiable. It might be worth talking to HR with your boss.

    So sorry you are going through this!

  107. Essess*

    He should have been immediately fired. He created a giant lie and spread it through the workplace. He told everyone that he’s in a sexual relationship with the OP which is untrue. This is complete sexual harassment and it was not accidental.
    His decision-making skills and trustworthiness are proven to be non-existent. He should have been walked right out the door after HR confirmed with others coworkers if they’d heard him claim that you were married.
    Do not leave. Do not be quiet about it. Make sure that any time you hear ANY whiff of that rumour being mentioned you loudly proclaim that it was a lie and you have never been in a relationship with that person. Don’t hide that he’s a liar. People need to know. If you find out he’s still saying it to people, go back to HR and file a new complaint.

  108. BlondeSpiders*

    This letter makes me so, so sad. That the OP feels embarrassed and violated by this jerk’s action, and is actually considering quitting her job as a result, is just ludicrous. It speaks to how our society trains women from birth to:

    1. Shrink themselves around others, especially men
    2. Accept blame for another’s faults/actions
    3. Doubt their own instincts to the point of putting themselves in danger to avoid hurt feelings
    4. Soften their language to avoid hurting men’s egos
    5. Avoid showing any negative feelings, even when 100% fully justified
    6. Inconvenience themselves to avoid confrontation/threat of potential violence

    This is in no way blaming the OP. I think every woman here can identify with at least one of these points. I’m just absolutely sick of the way women are treated in this world. The OP’s actions are a direct result of this awful conditioning to which we’ve become inured.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      The LW should eventually quit her job down the road – not because she did anything wrong, but because she clearly works in a dysfunctional workplace. That someone like this guy can 1) exist and 2) get away with doing what he did without punishment are complete red flags. Also, we don’t know much about LW’s other coworkers, but if they side with the guy over LW, then that’s another red flag.

  109. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    What could have impelled him to say that? Assuming that he’s NOT the office joker who’s given to verbal practical jokes, quite possibly the answer is mental illness. He could actually believe this delusion, and could react very badly indeed to having it shattered…or he could decide that the LW is delusional and that, as a loving husband, it’s his mission to bring her to her senses.

    If this is the case, I hope that the LW takes it seriously and does all she can to ensure that the supervisory staff takes it seriously as well. Alison Green often recommends Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, and I’d recommend it too; he describes what can happen when people have just this delusion. This sounds like more than a prank – hopefully, the LW’s company will recognize this.

    1. Anonapots*

      This is NOT okay. It furthers stigmatizes mental illness. It is far more likely this guy is a jerk rather than someone who is having some sort of grand delusion of having married the OP. There is no indication the person is ill and it’s baffling to me why you would jump to an alarmist (and unlikely) conclusion. Logic also dictates that if he were delusional, he wouldn’t reserve that delusion for only when she wasn’t around. Please think twice before submitting something so harmful again.

      1. Paperdill*

        Maybe not delusional but compulsive lying does exist within the mental illness spectrum, so the suggestion that the co-worker has mental illness is not entirely implausible.

        1. Princess Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

          It’s possible, but I still think it’s a leap to say the coworker believes his lie and is dangerous for it. Far more likely that he is a compulsive liar and thought he wouldn’t be caught, since he thought OP had moved on. This may be the result of a mental illness or a social disability, but even given that it was not an acceptable thing to do, and if getting called out and yelled at is what it takes for him to realize that then that’s fine.

          1. Happily Self Employed*

            As a person with a “social disability” I am tired of hearing that autism is a reason we should excuse people from being creepers.

      1. Youngin*

        She didnt assume she said “quite possibly”. And it is possible.

        She was pointing out that this person could be dangerous, and she is right. I dont like that she used “mental illness” as a catch all, but she is absolutely right to point out the risk factor.

        1. Tidewater 4-1009*

          Whether he’s mentally ill or not, he could be dangerous.
          I would watch for making-up behaviors like apologizing, saying it was a joke, trying to make up to you. A dangerous man might do that to put you at ease and then try again to manipulate or cross your boundaries, or even do something physical.
          No matter how he’s behaving don’t let him get you alone, walk you to your car, anything like that. If your workplace has security, put their number in your phone. Maybe also your husband or a friend you could call to escort you so you won’t be caught alone by this guy.

        2. Anonapots*

          This is some epic level crap. There is no indication he’s dangerous or anything other than a idiot toenail person who did something weird and stupid.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            I don’t agree! What would be a clear indication of danger to you? Someone charging you with a weapon?
            We use our common sense and instincts to avoid such people before they charge.

          2. EPLawyer*

            Other than showing some serious stalkery behavior? Yeah none at all. Stalkers often project a relationship with their victim that simply does not exist. Stalkers are extremely dangerous.

    2. JSPA*

      I had a 5th year grad student tell me that he had told people we had been an item / that he had slept with me, during my first rotation as a grad student.

      He vaguely tried to explain it as a joke that had bombed. But that didn’t hold water (any more than the original story did).

      I don’t know if he was grasping at straws as far as creating a “Canadian girlfriend” (though I think he had an actual fiancée? Unless she was fictional?).

      Or if it was some messed up bro-culture thing.

      Or whether he was primarily messing with my mind, just because he could.

      Or if it was his BS way of explaining why I no longer came to him with questions (real reason: he was a screw up who told me that I should not follow the orders I’d been given, but to do it “the real right way” instead).

      I believe he later ended up harassing / stalking another student.

      With 30 years retrospect, I should have taken it way more personally and called it out much harder than I did. At the time, my reaction was mostly confusion, and my horror was focused on “a scientist saying that something not true, was true.” While that aspect remains horrifying to me–in that so much of science is built on a certain level of honesty–my “scientists and falsehood, does not compute” reaction badly clouded my perception of that specific form of dishonesty also being sexual harassment.


      I’m dismayed that Alison didn’t call out the legal-level harassment aspect.

      Sure, all caveats: a marriage can be companionate. And marriage is not gender specific.

      Nevertheless, as most people understand marriage,

      1. this is someone effectively claiming to be sexually intimate with OP and privy to OP’s body and secrets, even if not in so many words.

      2. It’s a pattern of behavior.

      3. OP’s workplace has been notified.

      4. They have not adequately dealt with it.

      IANAL, but I can’t see how that fails to add up to “harassment claim.” Sure, it’s not directly “at” OP. But I believe there have been cases where claims were brought after someone found out that [some random upskirt or nudie pic] was posted in the men’s room, with people led to belive that it was a picture of them. This is rather the same sort of, “just because it’s not actually my body, doesn’t mean I’m not the one being harassed” issue.

      Other legal issues:

      If people believe OP and the dude to be married, they might carelessly treat him as default next-of-kin, or speak to him in about issues you’d consider at least semi-personal.


      As OP is actually married, presenting oneself as “OP’s spouse” seems like a variant of identity theft (even if the dude doesn’t know there’s a real spouse).

      OP, it’s hard to respond when you’re so freaked by “does not compute” that you can’t formulate exactly how and why this legally violating, not just odd. Here’s hoping you can find a way to understand what I failed to understand, and do what I didn’t think to do, so many years ago.

    3. Nanani*

      Unhelpful, harmful to people with actual mental illness, and overall just a shitty thing to say.

      Most abusers aren’t mentally ill and most mentally ill people are not abusers, what even the hell.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I hate a delusional mental illness and yeah, I don’t like having it thrown out to ‘excuse’ abuse/stalking.

        (I hear voices sometimes. I’m not dangerous to anyone)

        1. une autre Cassandra*

          I hate it when people immediately, breathlessly jump to an outsize cinematic “mental illness” to explain away weird asshole behavior

          He could be……..MENTALLY ILL, be careful!! Ugh.

    4. Beth*

      I’m pretty sure there’s a rule here against armchair diagnoses. That’s for a reason–speculating that poor behavior is due to mental illness is not generally helpful (it doesn’t matter to the OP why her coworker is doing this, it’s scary and confusing behavior no matter what his reason is) and is stigmatizing (it frames ‘scary, confusing, potentially harmful behavior’ as associated with ‘mental illness,’ which is an association that isn’t true for the vast majority of mentally ill people, but has been used to stigmatize mental illness for a very long time).

      OP should be prepared for the potential of their coworker escalating. Her supervisors should be prepared for this potential. But there’s no reason to blame that on a supposition of mental illness; please focus on the actual scary thing, which is his behavior, instead of creating a faux scary thing to speculate about.

  110. learnedthehardway*

    I’d be furious with the OP’s manager, too. The handling of this situation leaves A LOT to be desired on the part of management. Reasonable steps would have been for the manager to loop in HR immediately, get legal advice on what could/should be done, inform senior leadership of the company, and either fire or seriously discipline the lying employee. And then get back to to the OP to let her know what had been done to address and fix the situation.

    The manager’s passivity is unacceptable and constitutes very poor management.

    1. Always Learning*

      If there was a “Love” button on this site, I’d be smashing it for this answer. Totally agree.

  111. lazy intellectual*

    Agree. I mean, the LW can do this if it makes her feel more secure, but it’s not a solution. What if LW were single??? This would still be wrong. I’m surprised her coworker hasn’t been fired.

  112. anon attorney*

    It makes me so sad that in a situation like this, you’re worried about HIS feelings. He has behaved outrageously but you’re focusing on whether or not he is embarrassed by the fact you had a perfectly proportionate and genuine emotional reaction to his behavior. It sounds like your own sense of justice and self-preservation was trying to make itself known at the moment you lost control. Please, please listen to it.

    Let him be embarrassed. He damn well deserves to be embarrassed. I don’t even know how he has the nerve to keep showing up at work. HE TOLD PEOPLE YOU WERE MARRIED. That is way beyond “hur hur I think OP likes me” (which is skeevy enough) and it’s profoundly unprofessional and frankly I would find it downright frightening to the point I would be trying to get him fired – in fact I think that if I had sufficient built-up capital at work, I would say “its him or me (and if you choose him, you’ll be hearing from my employment attorney)”.

  113. Elsie*

    It sounds like the letter writer is a woman. Women are definitely conditioned to think being “mean” or raising our voices is inappropriate. Generally, voice-raising or yelling in the workplace is not appropriate, but I don’t think it’s *never* appropriate. We are all human and lose our cool sometimes. It’s not as though you assaulted him or something, nor does it sound like this happened in front of clients or stakeholders.

    It seems here like a perfectly appropriate reaction to something terribly egregious and harmful he did to you. As my favorite line in the movie This is 40 says, “You think you’re not mean because you don’t yell. But this is mean.”

    1. Elsie*

      “Never inappropriate” is what I meant to say. Sometimes it is appropriate to yell if the situation calls for it.

  114. The Witch in HR*

    What the f$%&? This is so bizarre and I’m sorry you had to go through something like this. While i tend to keep my cool more often than nought, I think I would have exploded as well.

    As a manager this would have me questioning his decisions, integrity, sanity (a bit cheeky but yeah).

    Honestly I don’t think you need to change departments or teams, he should. This shouldn’t be a punishment for you at all and randomly changing teams can have unintended negatives.

    Again, I’m sorry you had to deal with this but I wouldn’t be thinking anything negative about you as the boss or a coworker.

  115. AnonEMoose*

    You can totally see the humanity in someone, and set boundaries with them/let them know when they have done something that violates your boundaries. Being awkward is not an excuse for making someone else uncomfortable – he still has a responsibility to work on his understanding of boundaries or whatever the issue is.

  116. Morbidly Curious*

    LW, enough people have said it but it’s worth repeating since it’s good to say: you did absolutely nothing wrong and that guy is weird. Let him feel uncomfortable! There is no reason for you to maintain his creepy lie.

    I was just recently doing an archive crawl through AAM and came across the Jan 2018 letter where the LW was yelled at by a co-worker who had recently had a miscarriage for calling her cat her baby. Lots of people in the comments were saying there’s never any excuse for a co-worker to yell at another. Wonder how they feel about this one…

  117. elena*

    I would file a HR complaint to document the situation just in case this is the tip of the iceberg.

  118. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Okay, so I came up with very little in the way of possibilities for why he would have done this, as I think in most cases the motivation drives the response — so I tried to think through logically.

    OP goes on leave in October or s0 (stated in a previous comment); OP now thinks that this guy (John for simplicity) didn’t expect her to come back; I realise the pandemic has made everything more complicated, was OP back ‘remotely’ and not working with John prior to this or was there no interaction at all? – in any case, it seems like although OP and John report to the same manager, either there was no communication about OP being out, or there was misleading communication (that led John to believe that OP wouldn’t be back), or there was accurate communication about family events but for some reason John interpreted that to assume that OP wouldn’t come back (similar to the way that some people assume someone won’t be back after maternity, I suppose).

    Also, John told the lie about being married while OP was away, which was a max of about 8 months. We all know 8 months would be very quick (although not unheard of, of course) to get married after getting together with someone, and the timeline would make it likely less, so this implies that either they had been married the whole time, or that they had got married while OP was away. Interestingly it doesn’t sound like people said to OP “oh, congrats you got married while you were away!” which I think they would have if John had suggested that it was a ‘new’ marriage, which sort of seems like he was suggesting they were married the whole time.

    Then there’s the conflict of interest angle. May or may not be a factor, but in some workplaces it’s a ‘thing’ that you have to disclose to HR even if you aren’t in each other’s chain of command once you become financially entangled (married or otherwise), (rightly so IMO but that’s another topic) — I can’t make much sense of this one, other than if John wanted to throw OP under the bus for some reason.

    I almost wanted to say that maybe there was a wrong impression (who knows why) that John and OP were married, and John didn’t know how to correct it so just sort of went along with it figuring that it wouldn’t matter since OP had left / or if he knew OP was returning, that it would be straightened out when OP returned.

    Isn’t it interesting that the manager didn’t already know of this gossip/’fact’?
    Wouldn’t it have made its way to her somehow over several months?! (even just hearing something unofficially?)

    I have put 2 and 2 together and made 3 so far, because I can’t figure out why the manager was so nonchalant and didn’t act about this (or even point OP to HR if she somehow didn’t want to get involved herself..!)

    I feel like there’s some piece of information missing here (not a reflection on OP, as I think she’s told it as it is, but something else out there in the company) which would make sense of it all!

    1. Observer*

      Well, if the OP’s boss is an incompetent idiot, it would explain why nothing was done about it. She never even bothered to discuss it with her boss or HR when the OP came to her to complain about it. That’s either laziness or stupidity (or both).

  119. Always Learning*

    How is this not harassment?? Putting the onus on OP to clarify such an egregious lie; I can’t even imagine. If this happened to me I would get HR involved and try to get a person who is obviously unbalanced in some way out of there for my own safety and well-being. It creates such an uncomfortable workplace for everyone involved, and it’s so inappropriate! How is this any different than a guy who posts lies online about a girl they like? This is work – it’s supposed to be neutral.

  120. SassyAccountant*

    I’ve seen a lot of people worried about his sanity and an equal amount upset that there is armchair diagnoses going on here. I think the lowdown of this is this man COULD be dangerous. I have had more than my fair share of men in the past who were convinced we were a couple when we were not and I was nice to them and gentle as to not “hurt” their feelings. BIG MISTAKE. Then one time I lost it and told someone that I didn’t like them, never liked them that their gifts, and poems and constant calling and showing up to my dorm, classes and work made me uncomfortable and to leave me alone. After that they just dug in harder. Over the summer they drove hours to break into my home, threaten themselves harm if I didn’t love them back etc. Someone who grossly violates you by making up a lie and telling your professional sphere that you are intimately involved is someone to be VERY wary of. Mental illness or no, it doesn’t matter. They are someone to watch very closely. I’m not trying to be an alarmist, I just won’t to point out the fact that “nice guys” aren’t nice. Just be safe just in case.

    1. pcake*

      You can’t always win on this kind of thing. I told a guy we were absolutely NOT a couple – we had never dated, weren’t even friends. He had never been to my apartment nor did I give him my phone number. After I told him, he had someone follow me home, get my address, and he proceeded to stalk me for months. It was quite scary! He’d get into our gated garage and leave gift and greeting cards on my car in the middle of the night and notes that showed he apparently watched me come and go. The police, btw, didn’t believe me and wouldn’t investigate.

      1. SassyAccountant*

        pcake – I don’t know if you’ll see this but I feel your pain. I even had my own parents not believe me! They thought his overtures were “sweet” and I was being “mean.” One day when he traveled to see me unannounced they guilted me into going to the movies with him because “he came all this way.” I called all my friends to go to because no way was I going alone with him.

  121. Minerva*

    This is so bizarre. It’s nice that you tried to handle it discreetly. My go-to move would have been to bring up the “silly rumor” I heard in front of him and other co-workers and ask if he had heard about it. But I have no issues second hand embarrassment.

    But yes, check in with HR and make sure he didn’t try any funny business claiming that he’s your husband.

  122. ginger ale for all*

    I have read some of the comments but not all of them so please forgive me if this has already been brought up but you might want to see if the guy has gotten money or gifts out of this. When someone in my office gets married, we usually give an envelope of cash or get something off of their registry. Ask a co-worker if this happened and check the online gift registries. You don’t know how far this has gone.

  123. Katie*

    So glad that you said something! While “losing it” can feel awful, it’s ok that you did it. Your co-worker should be written up at the very least, and your manager dropped the ball. The guy is an idiot! By the way, a similar thing happened to me when I moved. A tenant told everyone that I was married to another tenant. When I asked him why, he said he thought it was “cute and funny”. It wasn’t!!!

  124. Kali*

    I still remember how icky it felt when I was 7 and another child told everyone I was his girlfriend. I can’t even imagine how much worse it is as adults.

  125. Jello Desk*

    I feel so bad for OP. This is like a wild, real life version of an episode of the Office.

  126. Just Sayin*

    I agree that this is definitely not okay. One “solution” I can think of besides humiliating him and yelling at him in front of everyone is throw it back on him. Ask him to run all sorts of errands for you, or buy you lunch. Be like “what, apparently your my husband now”. This is only if the culture of your office is jokey and its more that they got in over their head on a ridiculous lie than they made up this ridiculous lie because they are a stalker. Either way you’re allowed to make it as awkward as possible for them now.

  127. Tidewater 4-1009*

    I’d like to add to Alison’s advice: when you speak to your coworkers, be sure to tell them you’ve been married to someone else for 10 years. That will solidify their understanding there was no miscommunication or misunderstanding between you and Derek, that he made the whole thing up.

  128. lying is the most fun this guy is having with his clothes on*

    Holy bleep. Quite frankly, I think they need to look into firing this guy. The boundaries and lines that he crossed, the lack of judgement, the lying-because-he-thought-he-could-get-away-with-it… what else is he doing that isn’t so blatant?

    They need to fire this guy.

  129. Rick Tq*

    If he has been telling everyone you are married for this long he may have gone to Payroll/HR and had things changed there.

    You need to be sure he isn’t listed in your records (or you in his) in any way, shape, or form. Not spouse, not beneficiary, not emergency contact, nothing at all.

  130. en F*

    You did nothing wrong.

    You are not responsible for managing his social standing. He lied, therefore it is on him that people think he is a liar, with any and all social consequences that come wih that. End of story.

    His action was an egregious breach of the social contract. I think losing your cool at him is justified.

  131. Snuck*

    One thing that’s bothering me is the timeline of all this…

    You said you were looking after your parents for a few months LAST YEAR. That means that this charade began… ?Early this year at the latest? So this lie has existed for six months since you came back to work?

    Holy blathering cows! I mean… if it was the first week back at work and you were quietly waiting for it to be dealt with… I’d understand. But having to wait SIX MONTHS for it to come out? Nah. I’d have yelled in the break room, the middle of the open office cube farm and everywhere else by then, you’ve done remarkably well to hold your hat on until now!

    I wonder if it’s one of these things that just was too weird, too gross, too hard to deal with? You go to your boss when you come back and say “Hey, this isn’t right, can you help” and then he sits there thinking “hrm… how to deal?” He calls in Mr Not Husband and says “Knock it off, whatever this nonsense is” and think it’s done… but I assume it’s not because Mr Not Husband somehow keeps the game up for many more months, taking more care to avoid it coming to management attention?

    Very weird. Very very weird. Worth having a quiet chat to your local police station about and putting a note on your record on a system, because this level of ‘abnormal behaviour’ (translates to ‘crazy’ in some situations) is often linked to other ‘abnormal behaviour’. Maybe not with you, maybe with another person, in the future, but maybe with you, so having a quiet record somewhere could help you/others. That’s not to press charges (only you can choose that, but I suspect you might be close to being able to get a restraining order at the least! ESPECIALLY if he picks it up more at work), but to have something recorded for future evidence.

    I’d also ask for work to take down an official complaint. Paperwork up there too. It was supposed to be dealt with six months ago, it clearly wasn’t, so now it’s going official. Then if he doesn’t stop they can start deciding who they keep employed, because it will turn into a harassment case if it keeps up? You deserve to be able to work quietly and professionally without fielding nonsense like this.

    And while there’s suggestions to put photos of your husband up etc, and they are kind of annoying (because if you’d wanted to do that you’d already have), it might not hurt to be overheard talking in the break room with a closer colleague about your upcoming wedding anniversary plans or holiday and how lucky you are to be married for so long. I hate that we have to use human shields to hold off the offensive intrusions, but it’s a fairly simple thing to do for little cost. It will cost you a smidge of privacy but might buy you a little community support. A quiet conversation of “I never really talked about my personal life at work because I’m a really private person, but this has made me realise that I didn’t even let you know I was happily married! I guess there’s a lot you might not know about me, so let’s just clear that up! Happily married, three kids – all at hte local school, not a lot more to talk about really… life is grand… now tell me how you made that delicious smelling lunch you have there, it looks amazing!”

  132. FormerEmployee*

    I know that the OP said she is a private person, but I think in this one instance she should share just a little bit.

    My suggestion is that she upload a wedding picture and email it to everyone with the subject line of the email being: Setting the Record Straight. In the email, she could simply state that attached is a wedding picture of her and her husband, which was taken 10 years ago. Further, that she is not now and never has been married to coworker nor has she ever had a personal relationship with said coworker. So, if anyone has heard anything to the contrary, whether from him or anyone else, they should know that it is completely false.

    I think that the OP might also want to consider contacting an attorney to see if she has a case for suing coworker for slander. Since she is married to someone else, coworker is essentially calling her a bigamist by saying she is married to him.

    1. ShockedPikachu.gif*

      The Letter Writer commented somewhere in another thread that her husband is alarmed and locked down his social media and changed his phone number, which I think is the right call! This person could be dangerous if this is coming from a place of obsession with the letter writer.

      To the LW: if I may suggest some words for you to use when telling people: “you know that I’m a pretty private person, and clearly he took advantage of that to tell this bizarre lie! We aren’t even close—did he choose me because he doesn’t even know I’m married?” I think it’s helpful to frame it as him taking advantage of your privacy because it 1) reinforces that you’re private, which will remind people that your quietness on this issue just stems from that, rather than something evasive on your part, 2) underscores how violating and deliberate his actions were, and 3) perhaps puts people in a protective mind about you.

      It’s up to you if you want to mention the husband at all—if anyone at work knows, it’s probably worth doing that, otherwise you’ll have that one coworker who’ll say, “wait but I remember that one time she mentioned being married,” and that might muddy the waters. After I left one job, I learned that one person had claimed another had lied about a pregnancy *and* about being in medical school, and it was such a big thing to lie about, it was really hard to know whom to believe! So if there are little details people will question, like that one time they heard a husband mentioned, it’s better to be straightforward rather than cagey about it.

      Finally, I just want to add that it really shouldn’t be on you to correct this at all. How has your boss not reined in this rumor herself? She should be making it very clear who in fact has behaved inappropriately here, and that he has been spreading false information about you, which is unacceptable.

  133. AnonEMoose*

    Oh, yes, yes it is CREEPY. I suppose the OP could add a pause…”It’s just so…(pause)…ODD!” The pause gives the impression of searching for a more diplomatic word and encourages the listener to fill in their own alternative.

  134. Job Carousel*

    I’m late to the party, but I wanted to mention that I’ve had a coworker who reminds me a bit of OP’s coworker. He exhibited a lot of paranoid and delusional behavior about a lot of aspects of his job; I believe he was also suffering from mental illness that was inadequately managed which exacerbated things.

    One of his more erratic and troubling behavioral episodes was thinking that one of our mutual work colleagues was in some sort of relationship with him when she was definitely not (she already had a partner and wasn’t interested in him, and told him that many times).

    Ultimately (read: after way too long) this coworker was deemed a poor fit and terminated.

    Good look, OP — like many others have said, you did nothing wrong here.

  135. Khlovia*

    This recalls the letter from the OP who had a colleague who just randomly decided to invite herself along with OP and her friend on their long dreamed-of vacation to Japan, told everyone at work that the OP had invited her, and OP had to go to great contortions (or felt that she had to) in order to avoid being followed to Tokyo

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Funnily enough I was only reading that one on Captain Awkward last week, did that one make it here too?

  136. Ailsa McNonagon*

    OP, your own personal safety needs to be your main concern, This man SHOULD be embarrassed, and it’s really a sad sign of how strongly the urge to protect men’s feelings is drummed into women that you feel in anyway responsible.

    If your boss won’t act, go to their boss or HR. Make sure your real husband knows what’s going on. Tell colleagues that you trust what has been happening. Do not take on a single more shred of responsibility for protecting this man’s feelings- but keep safe too; someone who is telling such egregious lies is an unknown quantity, and should be treated as such. This man is potentially a ticking time-bomb for you, and you MUST put your personal safety above him saving face.

  137. Jonquil*

    This guy straight up deserved to be yelled at. He needs to held accountable for this, it should be awkward for him, and it needs to be known to the organisation, or else he will do it again (and potentially escalate). Your boss should have done a lot more. This should absolutely be reported to HR, but you should also be supported to move to a different department/location. Even if your boss doesn’t have the power to do it unilaterally, she should be able to get the backing of HR and your grand bosses to make it happen.

  138. El Dictadorísimo*

    OP: I think you did the right thing by telling your coworker off. If we all exhaust our supplies of benefit-of-the-doubt we miiiiight be able to assume that he is somehow (like me) astoundingly, unbelievably, incredibly socially inept in which case you telling him off loud and clear with no punches pulled is good for you (because generally such people realize that they crossed a major boundary when it is explained clearly enough).

    If we don’t stretch our credulity to consider the above case and assume he is just a particularly awful breed of jerk/stalker/predator, then he needed to be told off anyway. IMHO getting yelled at (literally, with a raised voice) is a perfectly expected consequence of what he did, and nobody should feel bad for doing it, least of all you. Sooo glad to hear management is on your side!

  139. I Love Llamas*

    Dear Letter Writer, good luck on your efforts to remedy this outrageous situation. I am so impressed with the helpful comments and support this community has offered you. I have nothing to add but my support. Also, please, please, please, provide us with an update. Mostly because we care and are concerned, but also because, well, we live for this sh@#t. :) Be safe, be careful and good luck. Remember — he created this awkwardness, so he owns it. We are behind you!

  140. anon4this*

    I don’t really understand. This just hurts him professionally, and he could possible be fired (or should be anyway- who spreads lies like this). Did he even wear a wedding ring? Don’t you?

    I’d just be so flabbergasted, I would’ve assumed it’s a woman with my same name or something, and casually talked to him in front of everyone about this wild misunderstanding, because….other than mentally illness, what could it be?

    I’d also wonder how far down the rabbit hole he would go (honeymoon, children, 401k beneficiaries, filing taxes, etc.)? Like, to what end is all of this, especially if you took your husband’s last name or if anyone at work knew a smidge about your personal life?

    I think at this point, I’d be worried he is mentally unstable and dragging you/your name into his fantasies. I’m surprised he’s still employed TBH.

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