update: can I talk about my boyfriend’s other girlfriend at work?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was wondering if she could talk about her boyfriend’s other girlfriend at work? Jennifer from Captain Awkward and I answered it together. Here’s the update.

Don’t have any scandalous updates, which is a pity for your readers, a blessing for me, “Adam,” and “Jane.”

In the end, four or so people in my ~25 person office knew about my relationship. It came up in water-cooler type conversations, where I had the option of doing weird linguistic tricks to conceal our family structure, but doing so felt weird and dishonest, or when I faced explicit questions of, “who is Jane?”. There wasn’t any drama or awkward questions about it (at most there was a “wow, lucky guy!” comment). My supervisor and team I worked with were actually in another state, so it never ended up coming up in conversation with my actual team, but it was nice to have my family known about and accepted by some of my in-office peers.

Thanks to the pandemic, I actually ended up losing that job in the spring. Despite that, things have been great at home. While I have zero interest in being a non-traditional-relationship-structure evangelist, I will say that having a three person family makes staying home and staying safe a much less lonesome prospect, for an extrovert like me!

I got a new job a couple of months ago, which is fully remote, and so, I’m back to square one! The work is highly collaborative, so I’m on Zoom for 5+ hours a day with my team, and while there’s certainly not as much in-passing office chit chat, there’s still a decent amount. Since I don’t want this to be my one defining feature to people who don’t yet know me in-real-life, I’m being intentionally and particularly reticent about my family structure. There’s an unpleasant twist that has made this a bit of a challenge: both Jane and Adam contracted covid-19 (we’ve been taking precautions since even before it was cool, but risked a birthday meal indoors. This was, apparently, a mistake). While they have both tested positive, I have somehow managed to fight it off to undetectable levels with only a sore throat to show for it (I historically have a GREAT immune system; when others get colds and flus, I generally don’t), and so we had the good fortunate of someone in the household able to be on tea & soup duty. Fortunately, after a week of illness, Jane has almost entirely recovered, though Adam remains sick. I wanted to talk about this all with my team, but, as I said, I don’t want my relationship to be my defining characteristic, to a group of people who have yet to meet me in person, and won’t for months and months and months. One additional consideration for us has been that my state offers basically PTO coverage for people who need to take time off work to care for immediate family members, which is lovely. But because there’s no path for our little family to be legally recognized as one…. this would not apply to me. Fortunately I don’t think it will end up being necessary, and even if it does, we are three well-compensated white-collar STEM workers, and while unpaid PTO would suck, it wouldn’t be an actual burden.

There’s the additional twist that my employer, and all of my teammates, are located about half an hour away from all of Jane’s family! All of my relatives are on the opposite coast; I have mentioned I have “basically in-laws” in my employer’s area, and that I spent last Thanksgiving there. When the pandemic is someday over, and we go visit her family again, I suppose I’ll be able to meet up with my team in-person, and, if it’s relevant to conversation, be transparent about the reasons I’m in town.

So, as I said, nothing particularly scandalous or exciting, but my life, despite everything going on in the wider world is pretty great, which is about the best anyone could ask for. And if any of your readers have a coworker who has vaguely referred to her “household,” well, hello, that might be me! The world is big so I doubt I’ll be recognized but if I am, feel free to let me know haha.

{ 76 comments… read them below }

    1. Adele*

      I do not know enough to state anything definitely on this topic, but until all members of poly relationships are legally entitled to the benefits of marriage, is adoption an option? I’m thinking of how gay couples sometimes chose this option as a relatively affordable kludge to get *some* of the legal benefits of marriage like next-of-kin privileges and tax breaks.

  1. HelenofWhat*

    The first part (pre-pandemic) is exactly the outcome I’d hoped for this letter writer! A chance to casually mention it honestly and no overreactions. Here’s to a full recovery for your family and a similarly relaxed outcome when you’re comfortable describing your household with the new team.

  2. 2 Cents*

    OP, my family only had sore throats too–didn’t realize it was COVID until we tested positive for the antibodies about two months later, so that may be in your favor. (Yes, I realize we were very fortunate to not have worse COVID outcomes.)

    1. OneOfTheGals*

      A bit after writing this reply, I got a bit sicker (not too bad!). While I’d never suggest anyone intentionally get sick, having antibodies is a HUGE weight off my shoulders; we’d been especially careful for so long because my bf has a risk condition, and now that we don’t have to worry about it… wow, what a relief.

      1. jm*

        Healthcare worker here. People have contracted the virus multiple times, so antibodies are not a get out of jail free card. I’m so glad you’ve all recovered, and please still take precautions.

        1. OneOfTheGals*

          We all work remotely, and the state has decided dine-in is verboten, so life hasn’t changed too much :) Main difference is we socialize every week or two (with people who take significant precautions)

          1. pancakes*

            Socializing every week or two isn’t necessarily consistent with “taking significant precautions.” Misunderstanding the extent to which antibodies will protect you definitely isn’t.

            1. Hannah*

              Thank you for saying that. I miss my friends too but socializing every week or two isn’t safe right now, at least in the US where I believe OP also lives.

        2. Weekend Please*

          Especially with a mild case. We still don’t know how long immunity lasts, but asymptomatic and mild cases don’t seem to generate the same level of antibodies as more severe cases do.

        3. EchoGirl*

          Sorry to take this on a tangent, but do you happen to know if the antibodies actually go away or are just not effective at fighting the virus?

          The reason I ask is, my husband may have contracted Covid in February (he had what he described as “the weirdest sinus infection [he’s] ever had”, and as just about the right elapsed time from a public event to track with the known incubation period), and if he did, there’s virtually no chance I wasn’t also exposed, even though I never developed symptoms. If there’s a reasonable chance I could still have antibodies from February if it was in fact Covid, I feel like I could do some good with that (i.e. blood/plasma donations), but if it’s basically impossible for me to still have antibodies after 10 months, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with testing.

          1. Sunflower*

            Antibodies are only a very small part of immunity (you’ll hear people use antibodies when they really mean immunity). Antibodies tend to shed quickly( I think it’s 3-6 months) but your body has other immune responses (like T cells) that stick around and are able to fight the virus long after antibodies are gone. The issue is we only have tests for antibodies and none for T-cells so if you were exposed to the virus more than 6 months ago, your antibodies have likely shed but you can still be immune. I’ll put a link to a recent BBC article that I think did a good job of explaining how immunity works and how long it’s lasted for other viruses.

            FWIW experts are still saying they believe it’s rare to get COVID twice

  3. Exotrix*

    As someone who is in a triad and we have kids, it can be difficult. I am not married, nor are any of the children mine. At work, I used roommate initially but described it as three adults who decided to make an unconventional family. I didn’t lie and it explained our closeness. Over the last few years in my job, it has become just another thing. Our kids are frequently referred to as my “step-kids” to coworkers and outsiders. I find it is a good line between addressing the stigma and risking issues from it.

    1. OneOfTheGals*

      I mean, they basically are your step-kids! It’s not your fault there’s no legal path towards official recognition of the roll you play in their life.

      1. Crazy Random Happenstance*

        While we’re on the topic of naming family relationships, we use “out-laws” rather than “in-laws” when explaining there’s a family connection without getting into specifics. It’s much easier to say we’re spending Easter at the out-laws rather than my sister’s in-law’s who live across the street from our parents. I might give a brief expansion [it’s a convoluted family connection] if they haven’t heard me use the term before. Some seem glad to skip the relationship diagram while others will share their own out-law relationships and we rejoice on all the ways there are to create family.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          I use the term “outlaws” to refer to my in-laws’ in-laws (that is, the family of my husband’s brother’s wife).

    2. allathian*

      They are your step-kids in every sense except the legal one. You aren’t their legal guardian, but as a responsible adult living in the same household, I expect you do your bit to help the parents raise responsible citizens…

      Kids can never have too many safe and caring adults around them.

      I do hope that things will change in the future and that poly relationships will be officially recognized, like same-sex marriage is in at least some parts of the world.

  4. 867-5309*

    OP, while we do love a good scandalous update, it is never at the expense of someone’s happiness or livelihood. (Now, if your original letter said Kelly in Customer Service was being inappropriate and she got a good talking to, that is the kind of scandalous update we like!) So glad to read this and to read in your comment above that everyone is recovered from COVID.

  5. Phil*

    It strikes me that there’s a way to have your family recognized for health care/PTO purposes: Here in the Great State Of California domestic partners can be designated for those purposes. You could each so designate one of the others in a sort of roundelay of partnership. Dunno if it would work but it might be worth exploring.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      I was also thinking there might be a way to have your family recognized for covid related time off. I hope you never need to tho!

      1. Anax*

        Some workplaces do designate people who live with you as “relatives” for the purpose of bereavement leave – something similar might be possible with covid-related leave, but probably on a workplace-by-workplace basis. The FFCRA *did* allow explicitly for time off when taking care of someone who needed it – not just blood relatives or roommates, probably to make sure that those who lived alone or were disabled had appropriate help – but I’m not sure how the law will work now that the FFCRA is expiring.

    2. Anax*

      Unfortunately, no, that’s not allowed. California law (and everywhere else in the US I’ve seen) requires that “Neither person is married to someone else or is a member of another domestic partnership with someone else that has not been terminated, dissolved, or adjudged a nullity.”

      So briefly, it’s still only a 1:1 relationship, no round-robin possible. I know that some poly folks set up LLCs, but obviously, that’s really not the same and doesn’t confer the same rights as marriage.

      1. Mimi*

        Actually, Somerville, MA now recognizes 2+ adults as a domestic partnership. Probably not useful to OP, but perhaps other municipalities will follow their lead.

    3. Virtual cheese*

      Just because your municipality recognizes domestic partnerships, does not mean your employer’s health insurance will. From expereince.

    4. mikha*

      Yeah, some workplaces (like mine) have policies in place for leave related to cohabitants (sick, bereavement, etc.)—a holdover, I think, from pre-Obergefell, but one that seems very sensible to me. Other workplaces may be willing to fudge their PTO policies a bit, especially given the circumstances. (I’m in a couple, but we own a home with a chosen family member, so I’ve given this stuff some thought. :) )

    5. Lady Meyneth*

      I can’t suggest anything for the health care issue, but my company has a pretty great policy for PTO. Basicaly, each year, we give them names of about 10 people we could conceivably need to take sick or bereavement leave for. For example, for me, this list includes not only my mother and husband, but also my best friend who has no other family locally, and my husband’s senile great-aunt, just in case. It’s a great system, and it’s awesome not having to worry what to do if something does come up.

      I do realize how lucky I am and that it’s not a very common scheme, but I wanted to leave it here in case OP (or someone else) ever has enough capital to advocate for something like this.

  6. Lizy*

    I’m glad your update is “boring”. It means the stigma against “untraditional” families is (slowly… way too sloooooooowly) going away. Too many people think either Warren Jeffs or Sex Cult and for the love of pete – it’s just multiple people in a relationship. What does it matter as long as the people involved are adults and consenting???

    Props to you for helping break down barriers and not being afraid to live your life openly and happily.

    1. Vicky Austin*

      When I first heard about polyamory about 15 years ago, I, initially thought Warren Jeffs/sex cult and was naturally horrified. I was relieved to find out that it was all consensual and not what I thought it was.

  7. Kali*

    “One additional consideration for us has been that my state offers basically PTO coverage for people who need to take time off work to care for immediate family members, which is lovely. But because there’s no path for our little family to be legally recognized as one…. this would not apply to me”

    I do wonder if this is, theoretically, something HR could make an exception for. Is there any reason an HR department couldn’t just decide that ‘immediate family members’ can cover two SOs if someone has that many? Is “immediate family” legally defined somewhere in a way that would prevent that? I know there are loads of barriers to even having the conversation, and some stuff to deal with would be, e.g., does the OP get more days off since she has more SOs (but then what about people with no SOs or more or less kids and so on), and “what if everyone wanted to do this?” (extremely unlikely), how much would other staff members like managers need to be looped in for this to happen, etc…but are there any insurmountable barriers around the definition of “immediate family” specifically? I’m not suggesting the OP pursue this (unless she wanted to!) or that it would fit in her specific situation, more interested in the hypothetical.

    1. TCO*

      It would be nice if the PTO coverage also included the employee’s household members, regardless of relationship. Whether roommates, partners, a young person taken in as a surrogate “child,” etc. people who live together are likely to be the most important caregivers during a health crisis. This is especially true with something like covid where it would be substantially riskier to have caregivers come in from outside of the home, even if the sick person has those kinds of other supports in their life.

      We can hope for better policies!

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      They could extend it to cover anyone you live with, as well as parents, children, and maybe siblings. It’s seldom against the rules to be more generous than the law/regulations allow. When my mother’s husband died, my then-employer gave me three days paid bereavement leave. They didn’t have to, by what was in the employee handbook, but it didn’t say anywhere that they couldn’t give bereavement leave for someone who had married an employee’s parent late in life, and never lived under the same roof.

      A few decades ago, San Francisco made a rule that any organization getting state money had to extend benefits to same-sex partners. The Catholic diocese looked at that, and their charity work, and extended benefits to anyone who lived with an employee, regardless of relationship. They were happier with that than with explicitly recognizing same-sex partnerships, even though it probably covered more same-sex partners than unrelated housemates, grandparents, etc.

  8. The Horror*

    I can understand the hesitation to share. I work in a rural, very conservative area and when I first started it was a Source of Contention that my wife had not taken my last name. Wasn’t I insulted? Hurt? Emasculated? (For the record: she was in grad school and wanted to graduate with her family name. I didn’t care one way or the other) When we had our first child the HR person didn’t know how to handle a male asking for FMLA for child care.

    I can’t imagine it coming out that I was in a non-traditional relationship.

    1. C.M.*

      Isn’t that sexism on HR’s part? (I can’t tell if HR said “we refuse to do this” or “we’ve never done this before”.)

      1. The Horror*

        A little of both. They had no idea what was required and tried to make me have my wife’s OBGYN complete a bunch of paperwork, even though FMLA law does not require this. When I corrected them on this they got all huffy and wouldn’t talk to me for a few weeks. Then they wouldn’t sign off on my FMLA plan because they said I needed to show “more commitment” to the job (I had been at the job longer than they had). My supervisor went over HR’s head about it and and everyone was taken care of. Apparently the HR person thought I was just trying to get a “free” vacation (the organization does not offer parental leave–this was saved and accrued leave I had earned) because she could not imagine a man wanting to take time to off to bond/care for his child.

  9. Trolly*

    “we’ve been taking precautions since even before it was cool, but risked a birthday meal indoors”
    That means you’re not taking precautions, a birthday meal indoors – why do people think they will be the exception?

    1. Vancouver*

      I think that may have come across a little harsher than you intended? We don’t know the context of this – it might have been during a time when things were going well in their region, with a small group, in compliance with local health regulations. And even if they did make a choice that turned out to be a bad one, let’s celebrate the positives rather than dumping on them for a mistake they’ve clearly learned from.

      1. Name Required*

        I’m willing to bet that this was a lot less harsh than intended.

        Alison, if you’re reading these comments … Your blog is wonderful, and I appreciate that you are a single person maintaining and expanding a database of high-quality, free workplace content. I make this request with no expectation that you’ll acknowledge it or implement it. I feel like we would have missed nothing knowing that this person contracted COVID-19 by participating in a high-risk activity. If there is an option to exclude information like that when it is not highly relevant to the letter, it would help combat the COVID fatigue I know many are feeling.

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          And I feel the opposite. I hear the Covid fatigue but it’s a fact of life and if we edit it out we miss the reality — which is that even one slip into a high risk activity had serious consequences. I think blurring the truth on this blurs what’s actually happening right now.

          1. Name Required*

            Another column I read has put a disclaimer when high-risk activity is mentioned in a post to provide accurate information on COVID and still maintain the author’s voice. That’s been helpful to me too, because it prepares me to engage when I feel like I can be respectful.

            As the comments section on the next letter shows, there are some very strong opinions on high risk behaviors. I don’t agree that AAM needs to take on the mantle of making sure the reality of COVID is reported correctly, and it’s hard to adhere to Alison’s request to be kind when someone’s letter mentions behaving in a way many consider unethical (I mean strictly COVID).

            I appreciate your counter view, though. You do have a point.

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          What Fieldpoppy said, and also Alison has said many times that she prefers letters to be published in a LW’s own words, which I personally appretiate a lot. That means very minimal editing only for obvious typos, and I imagine the occasional curse.

    2. Georgina Fredrika*

      It’s not “believing we’ll be an exception,” it’s taking a calculated risk. Emphasis on RISK. Sometimes you are that 1/50 person who takes one risk every 6 months and gets infected.

      But honestly if everyone’s approach to COVID was one indoor activity once a blue moon, we wouldn’t have these dramatic numbers, so no need to act like it’s the same as going to a crowded bar every weekend

      1. Name Required*

        This person didn’t take one risk every 6 months. As they’ve stated here, they also socialize regularly with people outside of their pod. And perhaps they live in Key West or Hawaii, or in non-US country with a warm, temperate climate, but most of the readers and writers to AAM live in the continental US, where it’s winter. If someone states they are socializing regularly during winter, we can reasonably assume it’s indoors.

        This person will experience a new kind of pickle when it comes to her new workplace. If we worked together, I would be a person who would treat her family structure as a completely normal and acceptable thing, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable hearing about her COVID practices with a self-descriptor of “precautious” because I disagree that she’s being cautious.

        On the flip side, I think folks who are more politically conservative than I am would be more likely to judge her family structure, more likely to have absolutely no issue with her COVID practices, and are more likely to agree that they are taking precautions.

  10. ISpeakForTheTrees*

    I am so glad that you had a good holiday and that everyone who was sick is at least recovering!
    I feel you, letter writer; I have two partners, too. We’ve been together for over eight years, so that spans a couple of jobs I’ve had, and I’ve always been very up front and matter-of-fact about it. For example, when people at my current job ask me why I moved to this city, I say honestly that I have two partners and one of them is attending grad school at X University, and then go on and tell as story about how the grad school partner got to fly here whilst the other partner and I had to drive a U-Haul across the country with two gassy cats. I just make it sound totally natural and nobody has ever been bothered by it or made a big deal of it.

    We, too, are not into the polyamory scene. In fact, we’re just three (boring) introverts who live as a family and discuss things like Hildegard Von Bingen while we make and eat dinner together. The fact is, most of what people talk about at work – even in relation to their partners – is pretty safe/tame/mundane. I wouldn’t talk about sex no matter who my partner was, but I will talk about gardening or pets or what shows we’re binging and sometimes those stories involve my partners.

    1. Quill*

      Uhauls with two gassy cats? Sounds like a grad school relocation to me! (Legendarily, my brother’s roommate brought a cat from pennsylvania to california… and it immediately got stuck in a wall panel trying to get away from the rest of the movie.

  11. RagingADHD*

    Glad you didn’t get infected, especially since people with very strong immune systems seem the most likely to have devastating cytokene storms in response to Covid.

    1. OneOfTheGals*

      I did end up infected, I just had very mild (but prolonged) symptoms :) After a few weeks of sore throat I had a few days of sinus headache, and like… an hour? of fever

  12. Marthooh*

    February seems like a different time, when the only kraken was “the kraken known as That One Guy Who Is Just Very, Very Curious About Your Exact Sleeping Arrangements”!

    1. Rebecca Stewart*

      I fear that guy.
      Fortunately my partners are the workers, and they are both perfectly capable of dealing with That Guy.

      (Our sleeping arrangements are less driven by passion and more by “who snores, who has severe PTSD and can’t be touched in their sleep, and who sleeps through someone else getting in and out of bed to pee in the middle of the night.” Much like, you know, the rest of the world.)

  13. hayling*

    Thanks for sharing your update, OP. Hopefully your openness at your last job and your sharing the story here helps educate more people and helps our society inch towards accepting non-traditional nuclear families.

  14. Krabby*

    Someone pointed it out in the thread for the LW in the next letter who attended a wedding during covid, but I’m just going to point out that I don’t really see why we’re giving this LW a pass, but are piling on the wedding attender. LW here had way more context about covid when they made their decision to go to a birthday party and also did not need to worry about ramifications at work to not attend. By their own admission they are still attending social gatherings from time to time. I don’t know what it is, but it makes the rage in the other thread feel very directed and specific to that LW, and I don’t like it :(

    1. OneOfTheGals*

      I’m sorry my letter was unclear. It was not a birthday party. It was the three of us going out to a nice French restaurant, which observed the state recommended precautions.

      1. Hannah*

        Dining indoors just isn’t safe. It’s incredibly frustrating that some states allow this despite the evidence – including the fact that the three of you got sick from this outing.

        1. Malarkey01*

          We, as humans, are just very very bad at assessing risk. We tend to give more weight to things that are likely never going to happen (like getting a razor blade in kids Halloween candy) but vastly underestimate the risk of more common things that conflict with something we want to do. That’s why it’s so so important to have trusted people speak with one loud consistent voice about the accurate risks and then put in place boundaries that reinforce that need.

          As someone who has taken this extremely seriously and walled off our family for 10 months, it gets confusing to see crowds going about their business with little repercussions and it starts to lull your risk assessment abilities.

          We also all make huge rationalizations in life like my smart coworkers who insist they are hyper vigilant but then stopped by both sets of parents for Christmas but “only stayed 20 minutes at the house with the large extended family”, then go on to criticize someone for going to the dentist. This has been a HUGE social and psychological experiment that shows the huge gaps in our individual and collective judgement skills.

      2. Paperdill*

        OP, I’m sorry you are facing all this nastiness from other. You acted within what your state allowed. I am in Australia and when our school opened back up in June I had relatives from other areas of the world getting all worked up that I “allowed” my kids back (short of homeschooling, I didn’t have choice). Fortunately, it’s only been, recently, that my area has gotten problems again. We acted in accordance with our government determined as safe. Not went out partying with 300 other people in an underground club with a “slight sniffle”.
        All the best to you, OP.

        1. pancakes*

          What the government does and does not permit is not the entire ethical universe, though. Aggressively cutting in line at the grocery store, for example, is not illegal, but it’s almost never going to go over well with people who see it happen. The idea that making risky or harmful choices around this deadly virus shouldn’t be a fair topic of discussion so long as the particular choices aren’t prohibited is pretty arbitrary, and from where I sit, indefensible.

          1. TechWorker*

            Right… but when restaurants and pubs are told they should open and its safe to do so, nor is it some moral outrage to believe your government. Yes, governments can be wrong, but I don’t see why the only valid point of view is ‘ignore the advice you are being given and assume the worst’. I take issue with people being irresponsible and breaking the rules, not with those who are, shock horror, doing exactly what they’re told to do. If you want to blame someone because you disagree with that then blame the government.

    2. Casper Lives*

      Well I felt the rage was over the top, cast aspersions on the other LW’s character, and was very personal. That’s why I commented to give the other LW support.

      Where are the commentators blaming this LW for all of the U.S. covid deaths? Where is Alison comparing this LW to a drunk driver? This LW isn’t even wearing a mask in her gathering as she went out to eat. Surely that’s “worse” on the covid risk scale that all commentators get right every time!!

      I’m not sure of the difference here. I don’t see the need to shame either person. Trying to kindly discuss the actions? Sure. Berating like the other letter? Not at all.

      LW, I hope you understand this isn’t directed at you! Please take a look at the comments on the recent update (about whether the LW could be an out gay woman in a conservative industry & bring her partner to a big client’s wedding).

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Yes to all of this. I don’t see the difference between this LW and the other one. Both did high risk things, but I’d argue this one is worse because socializing every one to two weeks seems like an unnecessary risk and is just a “nice to have,” and yet there’s very little pushback. Whereas the other LW did something high risk because, in her words, it was necessary for keeping her job. I’m not sure how many people are willing or able to risk their jobs during a pandemic, but I’m guessing when it really comes down to it, not many even though they say otherwise. It was really disappointing to see people tearing down the other LW, especially now that it’s after the fact and there’s nothing to be done.

      2. pancakes*

        You don’t seem to have considered the possibility that people are trying to respect Alison’s multiple comments on that post indicating that she’s on vacation and can’t do heavy moderating, nor that people may feel talked out on the subject at this point. Not only do you not seem to have considered this, you seem to be asking people to join you in reviving discussion of the other letter in the comments here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, thank you. I closed comments over there because the discussion wasn’t civil and I’m on vacation and can’t moderate. Not thrilled that some of the same people who disrespected my request over there then brought the debate over here, mere hours later. Closing comments here too now, same reason.

Comments are closed.