my boss will not physically acknowledge me in social settings

A reader writes:

I’ve noticed something odd about how my boss talks to me. He doesn’t physically acknowledge me in social settings — if I’m standing in a group with him and others, he doesn’t look at me at all, but he does look at everyone else. I can’t remember the last time he looked at me in casual conversation, though we’ve been in that setting many times. If I say or ask something, he’ll acknowledge or answer it, and will even address me directly, but he never looks at me or even turns to face me. I’ve looked, and I’ve not seen him do this with anyone else — just me.

This even happens when there’s just one other person — he’ll face them and not me, even while directly addressing me. A non-English speaker would easily think he wasn’t talking to me.

I once told a friend I’d buy them a drink if my boss looked at me during a conversation. It lasted 10 minutes, and he engaged everyone else, but I didn’t have to buy a drink. On another occasion, I pulled faces at him to see if he’d notice. He didn’t, even though he verbally addressed me many times — while looking at someone else.

When we talk over email or over the phone, there’s nothing unusual, and he will look at me when we talk about something work-related. It’s just face-to-face social settings where he doesn’t look at me.

During Covid, we’ve been completely remote, but we’re just starting to reopen, and so I’ve started to notice it again. I’ve observed it pretty often now and I really don’t think I’m mistaken.

I otherwise have a good relationship with him. I like my work, and he clearly respects me professionally, trusts me with projects, and gives me opportunities. I also get along with him personally — he’s invited my husband and me over to dinner on occasions (my husband works in the same place), and shared personal details with me that he doesn’t talk about with many others — things like that.

This isn’t directly related, but worth mentioning as it may be relevant: a while ago, I made a pretty major mistake. When he caught wind of it, his response was to ring my husband up and have him talk to me (my husband’s role has no crossover with mine). He never spoke to me about it directly at all. I apologized for the mistake, but told him I needed him to talk to me directly and not use my husband as proxy. He did sort of back down, though I don’t think he really understood. And I never got a full apology, though my husband did.

What I really want to ask is, why might he be doing this? And also, should I (or even, can I) call him out on it? Calling him out in the moment seems difficult — there are necessarily other people around when he does it, so unless there’s a super subtle way of doing it, I don’t see how I can, but is it really worth having a separate conversation with him? Or should I just let it go?

A couple of years ago, I would probably have said “I don’t mind, I’m just puzzled by it.” But now, I’m starting to mind.

I wrote back with a barrage of questions: “Has this always happened, or did it only start at some point? If so, is there anything significant about the timing of when it started? Like was it right after that incident where he called your husband, or anything else that might be notable? And when he invites you to his house for dinner, does he look at you then?”

I’ve known him almost six years, and as far as I can tell, it’s always happened, though I’ve become more aware of it probably in the past three years. At least I can’t recall it suddenly starting.

He doesn’t look at me at his house either, though it’s less noticeable. Sometimes it’s just my husband and me, sometimes there’s one or two others (he has people over reasonably often). When it’s just my husband and me over, I do get the impression he’d rather be talking just to my husband, but maybe felt he had to invite me over too — to the extent that if we’re asked again, I would probably find an excuse not to go and let my husband go on his own.

Well, this is awfully weird.

Normally if someone is making such a point of not looking at you, I’d assume they were uncomfortable around you for some reason — but he’s talking to you normally and it doesn’t happen at all in work conversations! (Also, that last part makes it extra weird! The fact that he looks at you normally when you’re talking about work things but then acts as if your face is radioactive when the conversation is social — while still continuing to speak as if nothing’s wrong — is an additional layer of oddness.)

And he’s inviting you to dinner at his house. HE’S INVITING YOU TO DINNER AT HIS HOUSE EVEN THOUGH HE CANNOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT YOU. Every detail makes this stranger and stranger.

Also, the fact that he called your husband about you (!!) feels somehow connected to all this but I don’t know how.

I have no idea what’s going on, so I’m going to speculate wildly:

* You look exactly like someone who makes him uncomfortable (an ex, a dead loved one, an estranged relative, a coffee barista who once yelled at him) and he can pull it together to be normal during work conversations but just cannot do it during social conversations.

* He has wronged you in some profound way (stolen your identity? dated your mom? poisoned your lunch?) and thus cannot look you in the eye unless he’s in work mode.

* He is desperately in love with you.

* He is desperately in love with your husband.

* You have offended or alienated him in some way (you’re an anti-vaxxer / homophobe / Jordan Peterson fan). In fact, it could be about bigotry on either side — like you’re religious and he’s a bigot, or he’s religious and thinks you’re a bigot.

That’s all I’ve got.

As for what to do, you can just continue to ignore if it that feels easiest to you! But if you want to address it (and I would), the next time you’re talking privately you could ask, “Have I done something to bother you? I’ve noticed that you won’t look at me when we’re in conversations with others, even when you’re speaking to me, and I wondered if I’d done something to put you off in some way.”

I don’t think you’ll necessarily get a real answer (you probably won’t), but it might nudge him into realizing that whatever’s going on, it’s coming across really weirdly to you, and I bet he’ll make an effort to stop. However, there’s a chance (maybe a big one) that it’ll make the relationship more awkward — that you’d be swapping the not-looking-at-you awkwardness for a new kind of tension that we can’t even anticipate. So you’d have to decide, based on what you know of him and the dynamics between you, whether it makes sense to speak up or not.

But it’s weird weird weird.

Updated to add: The letter-writer has noted in the comments below that there are many women in the office besides her and he doesn’t do this with them (so it’s unlikely to be a Mike Pence won’t-talk-to-women situation), nor is she a minority of any kind (in response to speculation of racism).

Read an update to this letter here

{ 586 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    From the LW’s comments below (she’s commenting as OP):

    * She is a woman.
    * There are many women in the office and he doesn’t do this with other women (bolding this since a lot of theories below are that it’s sexism or religious discomfort with woman).
    * She’s not a minority of any kind, and “I’ve also not seen him be discriminatory to any minority or protected class, so I don’t think it’s that.”

  2. Nicotena*

    I wish I could dig deeper with OP. My immediate thought is, is OP the only woman on the team, or the only member of a minority or anything else? (This is exactly how people get paranoid about discrimination whether it’s occurring or not).

    1. dealing with dragons*

      That was my thought – especially when he called their husband for their mistake. Obviously this changes if OP is a cis male, but that stuck out to me.

    2. Mrs T*

      I agree – I had to read again to check for gender references. The boss is a man (referred to as “he”) but the OP and the friend aren’t noted. I would guess that OP is female, in a male dominated industry, and possibly friend is male as well. OP says that the boss looks at everyone else, but are they all male or is there a mix?

      1. Nicotena*

        Or perhaps is OP the only younger female, if there are other women but they’re more the boss’s age.

    3. Tired*

      Yeah, I feel like this is has to do with being uncomfortable talking to a women, in a Mike Pence way. Does this man talk normally to other women he isn’t in a relationship with? Calling OP’s husband about a work issue seems like the action of someone with a very 1950’s view of gender roles.

        1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          Except in this scenario, Boss IS comfortable around OP’s (also) gay husband.

      1. JimmyJab*

        But the LW’s husband would also then be gay and the boss seems to like/respect the husband.

    4. DE*

      This was my immediate thought. Is the boss Muslim or another religion that may have male/female interaction restrictions?

      1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

        Um. It’s maybe a little weird that you’re jumping straight to the boss possibly being Muslim? Pretty much every Judeo-Christian religion has super conservative branches with weird gender stuff?

        1. DE*

          That is why I said “or another religion that may have male/female interaction restrictions”. My personal experiences with this sort of thing (although nowhere near what OP is experiencing) is with Muslim people. I basically never interact with people of religions with similar restrictive rules, so that is why it jumped to my mind specifically. I clearly state there are other religions with similar restrictions.

          1. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

            Okay, but…if you’re not giving specific examples of specific people or interactions, maybe don’t blanket refer to a specific and often marginalized and maligned group? That should be pretty easy, now that you’re actively aware of the fact that what you said doesn’t come across so great?

    5. OP*

      I’m not the only woman by any means, and I’m not any other kind of minority either. I’ve also not seen him be discriminatory to any minority or protected class, so I don’t think it’s that.

      1. womanaroundtown*

        I’m so sorry that this is an unhelpful comment, but that makes it even more bizarre! That you don’t stand out in any way and he doesn’t treat anyone differently suggests it’s personal, but why? Nothing you’ve said indicates a reason for this very strange behavior.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Are you younger than other women in the office?
        have you ever noticed anything about how his own spouse behaves towards you?

        I wondered whether there was something such as him being part of a conservative religion / religious group and/or him being attracted to you or his spouse being jealous of you, which might result in weirdness.

        1. OP*

          He’s not religious, and not conservative either (pretty liberal). His wife’s pretty normal too.

          I’m in my 20s, and my office is pretty well all ages, and I’ve not known him do it with other younger women (or anyone else).

          1. Knope Knope Knope*

            Are you the youngest on the team or significantly younger than your husband? I’m sure you’d probably have mentioned it by now, but just another theory.

            1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

              Also OP, are you in a unique roll in regard to the boss? Like are you his only report, or his assistant, or something like that?

              You probably would have mentioned, but if the not-looking-at doesn’t feel malicious or avoidant, is it possible that he does this because he thinks of you as a team? Like, this is hard for me to articulate, but I’m someone’s assistant, and we do kind of non-verbally take each other for granted when talking to other people–we’ll stand somewhat side-by-side, and engage the other people as a unit. This is mostly because of me, I think–I don’t like to take charge and stand out in conversations with coworkers, and I mostly just back him up. It’s not as extreme as refusing to look at each other, and you probably would have noticed if this was the case, but maybe it works from that angle?

              I do somewhat doubt, based on the husband-calling thing, but maybe it’s possible.

              1. Pen keeper*

                This is a good point, I know I tend to do this both with my boyfriend but also with close friends when we are hanging out with other people, just acting like me and my plus-one are one unit communicating with the rest of the people… but not all the time of course, and not when actually addressing my plus-one. And I can´t figure out why he wouldn´t look at OP when she is literally invited to his house. Or why he would call her husband to talk about a work issue instead of just talking to her?? This is just weird.

      3. redflagday701*

        OP, since the question is bouncing around in the comments below, I’m just going to ask it, and because this is anonymous, you don’t have to worry about coming off as conceited: Are you noticeably hotter* than other women in the office?

        *Obviously, this is a subjective judgment, but I’m assuming for purposes of this exercise that the boss is possessed of what we might term “conventional” tastes, having never rigorously interrogated the role of the male gaze in shaping our perceptions and desires.

        1. OP*

          I hope it doesn’t sound too self-depricatory (is that a word?) of me to say – no; if anything the opposite.

          1. redflagday701*

            No, it sounds fine! Huh. You have (or more accurately, your boss has) really posed a stumper here.

          2. redflagday701*

            OK, one more question, if I may: Are you and your husband the only married couple in the office (or at least that your boss would have any regular contact with)?

            1. OP*

              I can think of one other. I’ve not seen him treat them differently – though to be fair I don’t see them too often.

              1. JG Obscura*

                I think that might be a factor, especially given him calling your husband about your mistake. My money is on a religious Mike Pence-esque thing but with stipulations.

                Something like “I shouldn’t talk to women, but in a business context its necessary. But I know OP’s husband so I don’t need to and it’s disrespectful to him to do so.” (obviously I think this a messed up viewpoint but it is something I can see happening)

          3. Marketing*

            But my hunch is that he’s really attracted to you and is trying to keep things professional by avoiding behavior that turns him on. Conventionally hot doesn’t mean not hot to him. That’s my guess, any way!

            1. EPLawyer*

              That’s the ONLY thing that makes sense. Well besides Alison’s theories which are all pretty cool.

              Because if its not age, gender, race/ethnicity or marital status what else could it be?

              1. redflagday701*

                EPLawyer: It would be terrific if OP were like, “Oh, I forgot to mention I’m actually the spawn of a monstrous Lovecraftian entity from the remotest and most baleful plane of existence, and the merest glimpse of my unveiled visage will instantly drive even an exceptionally formidable mind to a madness from which there can be no recovery. My bad.”

            2. Just delurking to say...*

              This. I’m not conventionally hot by any means, but I’ve had a coworker think I’m absolutely stunning – and admit to deliberately avoiding looking me in the face for fear of being unable to stop looking. OP’s boss might be able to keep himself in check at work, but find it harder to do so in social settings where the constraints governing behaviour in the workplace are loosened.

            3. MCMonkeyBean*

              That was the only thing I could think of but I really don’t think even that makes sense if he is able to hold it together for work conversations.

              I thought at first this was like if you run into him outside the office but it sounds like he could be talking to you totally normally at your desk and then you move a few feet to the breakroom and suddenly it’s totally impossible? I suppose it *could* be the case that he is extremely good at compartmentalizing during work talk but I’m having a very hard time imagining someone having that strong of a mental wall, for YEARS.

          4. Gen*

            Sorry to ask OP, but do you have anything unusual/different with your appearance? I had an acquaintance who ‘couldn’t’ look at me because I have several missing teeth who also had a problem with looking at a mutual friend who has one eye that turns inward. This acquaintance said that he found himself focusing on those aspects and losing his train of thought if he looked at us—as an autistic person who doesn’t do eye contact much I probably wouldn’t have noticed until he brought it up. Your boss certainly seems nicer than that guy though

          5. Fierce Jindo*

            This is so weird. If you’re overweight, is it possible that the direction his sexism (and he’s clearly sexist, what with calling your husband!) takes is anti-fat women bias?

        2. generic username*

          This is almost certainly what is going on. The boss is attracted to OP and doesn’t know how to deal with it.

          1. JustMePatrick*

            That’s what I am thinking. He’s trying to avoid ogling her thus making her uncomfortable. Oh, the irony! He’s got so used to doing it, it is backfiring horribly.

          2. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

            I was thinking that attraction, or the boss is weirded out by an uncanny resemblance. Or there is a past life flashback happening where OP wronged the boss happening (kidding…mostly). I hope we are updated on this situation! I’m so sorry this is happening, OP — it must be so unnerving and frustrating!

      4. it's-a-me*

        Apologies if this is mentioned below, but I am curious. What is your husband’s view of his behaviour? Has he noticed the oddities? How does he interact with your husband when you’re not there? How does he talk about you with your husband if you’re not there?

    6. BRR*

      I know we can’t get all of the information in a letter but I really wish Alison would have asked about any gender or racial breakdown with the LW and others. Because the phone call to the husband is very suspect.

      1. BRR*

        Ok and the OP thankfully cleared that up while I was writing my post. I’m going to be on he has a crush on you but it’s just all really weird and has to be stressful and I”m so sorry about that. I guess also enlist your husband as back up maybe? If your boss calls your husband again your husband should say all work matters go through you.

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m going to pin this in a note about the top, but the OP says there are many women in the office and he doesn’t do this with other women.

      1. Eleven*

        I see that he doesn’t do this to other women…but maybe it is something about the fact that OP’s husband is also a colleague? Like maybe this guy thinks he needs to be SO SCRUPULOUSLY PROFESSIONAL because the husband is around that he is swinging it offensively far in the wrong direction. I feel that this behavior must in some way be related to the husband (and for what it’s worth, if that is in fact what’s causing the behavior, it is still quite sexist).

        1. redflagday701*

          Ooooh, I like this theory. And I like it even better coupled with “boss has a crush on OP.” He’s overcompensating — including befriending the husband — because he doesn’t want husband to suspect what lies inside his heart.

          1. Siege*

            This is where I am – crush on OP plus territory/respect for the husband. Like, a lot of dudes are weird about seeing women as property of another man, where they’ll respect that over a no, but the husband isn’t hypothetical here, the boss knows and likes him.

            1. Eleven*

              That is exactly where my mind went. It sounds like he is being overly deferential to his employee’s husband at the expense of his employee. Calling the husband about a work performance issue was bad enough, but when paired with this odd social behavior towards **only this particular woman** it makes me think that he subconsciously views women as property of their husbands and is having extreme difficulty getting past that because he has a close relationship with the husband.

              1. redflagday701*

                Right. All other things being equal, it’s hard not to feel like the husband is somehow a factor. But of course, it could also be something we have no way of knowing about, like OP really does bear an alarming resemblance to the woman who murdered the boss’s family.

                1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                  I worked with someone who looked so much like my ex, I couldn’t breathe when I saw him the first time. My co-worker was nothing like my emotionally abusive, lying, cheating ex – not that I’m bitter! – which helped a lot. But it was really hard to be around and interact with him at first. They could have been brothers.

                  I get that it’s possible OP’s boss is haunted by the memory of someone who looks a lot like her, or he’s got a serious crush, or somesuch. But involving the husband in a work-related matter makes that seem iffy, doesn’t it?

                2. redflagday701*

                  Yep, that’s the rub. Occam’s razor would suggest we proceed as though calling her husband and the lack of acknowledgment are somehow related.

            2. John Smith*

              +1. Or the opposite – he secretly dislikes / looks down on you for some reason but is being (very) professional? Or maybe he’s testing you? Has he fell out of The Handmaid’s Tale?

              Many years ago, it was apparently common in my field (or at least my organisation) for staff to only communicate with someone one grade above or below. So your boss’s boss would ask your boss for you to do something even if you were stood right there next to them. Utterly bonkers and sadly there are a few of them left who still act as though you are actually an inferior lifeform.

    8. DinoGirl*

      I had this happen with a female attorney I clerked for, of a husband/wife firm, out of the blue. She looked right through me, turned on her heels when I tried to sprak to her was bizarre. I have around to it being on her- either she was unhappy with my work and failed miserably as a manager by not telling me, or had some perceived slight I was unaware of. Sometimes I still wonder any it, but people are weird.
      I second calling out the behavior, though. If I’d experienced this at the age I’m at now, I would’ve called on her to explain the about-face. In my 20’s though I just quit.

      1. It's Him, Not you*

        Is it a religious issue? I had a former boss who was overly cautious about his interaction with Women, to the point his female boss and his female reports all had to have a conversation about the issue. While it get better after the “intervention” his boss arranged, he would still do weird things like push me to sit behind his desk if I was wearing an above the knee dress or rearrange presentation rooms so the females were not in his direct eyesight. All to avoid temptation.

        1. Boop*

          That is crazy! I have to seriously question the professionalism of someone who can’t have a woman in their line of sight to “avoid temptation.” You are at work! Your brain should be on work stuff!
          Honestly, makes me a little scared for what’s going through the man’s brain just walking down the street. Is he constantly on the verge of just assaulting any female he sees because he so tempted?

          1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            Right? There’s a pretty definite avoidance of any personal responsibility. But honestly, I think it’s just about spoiled, narcissistic baby-men who think Jesus and everyone else cares what’s happening with their peen.

            I need to learn to cross stitch so I can make tea towels that say “nobody else cares about your boner.”

            1. Worldwalker*

              Cross stitching is easy. I learned because my mother said it was hard, so I took the project she was working on and figured it out in a matter of minutes. (yes, I’ve got a decades-long rivalry with my mother; we get along best when we live in different states) And you can get booklets with charts of alphabets, with handy layout grids. Also towels with prefab cross-stitchable strips or panels. If you don’t have a local cross-stitch shop, check JoAnn’s; of the major craft chains, they have the best selection. Also occasional 60% off coupons!

              You could make tea towels, a notebook cover, a little framed picture to put on your desk … the possibilities for snark are endless!

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          How does he navigate normal interactions? Does he refuse service in restaurants, stores, hotels, planes if the service person is a woman? I can’t see many businesses accommodating him, being his spouse must be exhausting if she is his buffer.

      2. Pyjamas*

        Ditto. Years ago the two men had a one-off, which husband doesn’t remember bc he was incandescently drunk. But OP sure remembers and he’s still carrying a torch.

    1. womanaroundtown*

      Same. I actually thought that when I saw the first possible wild reason and then was very glad it was included below.

    2. Mbarr*

      The juxtaposition of “he’s in love with you” beside “he’s in love with your husband” made me laugh out loud. Not that either scenario is unreasonable/wrong. It was just a delightful symmetry I wasn’t expecting in the list of speculations.

  3. Programmer Dude*

    I kind of want to suggest using the phrase “My eyes are over here” and see what happens…

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I’m all for, gently calling him out when he does this. “I’m sorry boss, I couldn’t quite catch that could you look at me when your talking to me.”

        But really, I wonder what other people are thinking when he does this. Is there a way that the LW could sort of set it up so that when the boss is talking a friend can say, Hey, Terry is on your left, why are you looking at me while you talk to her?” Or maybe her husband next time they are at his house?

        1. An*

          I would be so confused if he looked at me while talking to another! Lots of eyes going between him and LW, might even move to stand closer to LW. Then get weirded out that he is still looking at me and perhaps go behind LW. I wonder how he would react to that? Probably start looking at someone else…

        2. Former Child*

          I think the key to how WEIRD this is is that when boss had a complaint, he told her HUSBAND! Even though they both work there. That’s so wrong!

          Telling the husband to “correct his wife” is the key here, to me.
          If he wouldn’t look at her even before her big mistake, then my guess is he has strong feelings for or against her for some reason.
          But likes her work. So he didn’t want to chastise her after big mistake. Cause of the strong feelings.
          And avoided confrontation. But telling the husband is weird weird weird.

          I wouldn’t confront him directly because this seems too personal for him and it would shame him enough it might affect the job.
          He’s treating her fairly other than this, so don’t rock the boat. Unless he confesses he’s in love w/you or that you remind him of his abusive mother and he does something really outrageous.

          1. LavaLamp*

            Is OP the only woman in the office who’s married? Maybe this guy is of the belief that once you’re married your the property of your spouse? Like, I got nothing aside from that.

        3. TootsNYC*

          I bet they don’t even notice. I had a boss who treated me like this in the office (no home invites, though, and no calling my spouse).

          Other people didn’t realize. Not until I pointed it out. And it had gone on for months by then.

          1. TootsNYC*

            (I never figured out what it was; the only thing I could think is that she was mid-romance, while married, with a subordinate whom she later married, and maybe she thought that since I was an “out” Christian, I would disapprove/condemn her? I wouldn’t have said it was great behavior, if you’d directly pressured me to choose, but I also wouldn’t really have cared that much–her life.)

        4. Jasmine*

          Yes! The next time Boss is talking to you but looking at your husband has husband say: I’m sorry, are you talking to me? Oh, I thought you were talking to wife but you were looking at me!? And the next time you do it. You can tag team until you figure it out.
          If you figure it out you HAVE to give us an update! If you leave the job without figuring it out just let us know because we will all be waiting.
          **Scratches head**

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Or, Sorry, were you speaking to me? I thought you were talking to the person you were looking at, that’s how it usually works.

    1. Bex*

      Or, take advantage of instance where it’s remotely possible to be confused about whom he’s talking to. Boss asks you a question while looking at someone else, say nothing and let him ask again or say your name or something, then “oh! Sorry, I thought you were asking (person he was looking at)”. Return a tiny bit of the awkwardness to sender.

      1. Again With Feeling*

        Yes! Or shift yourself so you’re in his eyeline and he’d have to noticeably turn his head away from you?

        1. Admininja*

          Yes! Silently & smoothly sliding into sight, standing behind another person’s chair if needed, while acting normally otherwise & staying completely engaged in the conversation.

      2. HeyThere*

        This is exactly what I was going to say. Play a little dumb when he’s obviously speaking to you but not looking at you and put it back on him. This is his awkwardness to deal with, not yours.

        1. Massive Dynamic*

          I came here to say this too – if a direct confrontation to figure out what’s going on is out of the question, then this type of whittling away at his behavior is going to be necessary.

    2. LTL*

      Honestly that seems like an appropriate response to the situation and 100% support OP using it.

    3. stopmakingsense*

      I agree- I used to have a bad habit of “dancing eyes” when talking to people sometimes due to social anxiety and people commenting on it directly with a political “Sorry- can you look at me when you’re speaking to me?” helped a lot for me to remember that I was only making my awkwardness more noticeable. I also agree with everyone saying it’s likely the boss finds her very attractive or has a crush on her and is worried it will show in his face if he talks directly to her about non-work topics. If OP comments on it in the moment, he’s going to realize his actions are making his awkwardness more noticeable, not less.

    4. Rav*

      As brash as I normally am, I suggest against this approach. Treat the matter privately. It hasn’t scaled enough to go King Kong.

      I’m teams #heWrongYou and #inLoveWithHusband.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Ditto. Especially given the “work conversations are fine, social ones are awkward” situation.

      1. Robin Ellacott*

        That occurred to me too. Particularly if his spouse is often present when he does this.

        1. Lacey*

          That would also explain calling the husband instead of her – so the spouse wouldn’t be upset by the phone call. But this would be such a wild way to handle that situation!

      2. NoviceManagerGuy*

        This is the only idea I’ve seen that makes this 9/10 bizarre instead of 10/10.

      3. Anon this time*

        Very possible, since this is only happening in social situations. My thoughts went to “he’s in love with her” too, but I couldn’t figure out why he’d be completely normal at work. My SO has a male friend with a very jealous girlfriend. He interacts with me very differently based on whether she’s there or not, and has commented that he’s not even allowed to look at me (unclear on whether he meant they had a literal conversation about this or if he just knows he’ll be “punished” if she catches him having any kind of interaction with a woman). When my SO and I hang out with him only he interacts with me normally, and barely speaks to me when she’s there. Very childish and I wouldn’t put up with it, but…not my circus.

        1. Redd*

          I have a family friend whose husband once cheated. They’ve agreed he’s not to look at women, or speak to women without her present. The one time I was around them, he would always look over my head when addressing me. I was not impressed, and we no longer hang out.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes, this is it. If he were in love with her, it would spill over into the workplace, even if it’s barely perceptible. It’s only socially that this happens, which is presumably when the spouse would be around. So the behaviour is dictated by his spouse watching him like a hawk. OP, is this plausible? You don’t actually mention a spouse.
        The calling the husband rather than yelling at OP doesn’t fit this narrative though. Unless maybe he was arguing with his spouse saying, but I have to talk to this woman at work, she’s on my team and they answered with “well no, you said her husband works there too, it’s his job to keep her in line after all”

    2. Again With Feeling*

      Same! But, the calling OP’s husband to “talk to her” about a work error is so disrespectful and beyond strange. Unless he is so in love with OP that he couldn’t bear to discipline her? Bizarre all around.

      1. Caliente*

        Well he could feel like she’d get mad or upset with him if if he corrected her and if he’s in love with her he wouldn’t want that. Rational of a…child? I mean the whole behavior is childish.

    3. Holy Carp*

      This is where I went, too. The boss is attracted to her and can’t quite trust himself not to reveals his feelings.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Me too. I know it’s a jerk move on my part, but this is what helps me stay professional around Extreme Work Hottie. (I am also not a manager and nor is EWH.) I feel bad about it, but it’s entirely a me problem.

        That being said, even if Boss is dealing with a EWH situation, he still shouldn’t have tried to use OP’s husband as a go-between for what should have been a professional conversation between manager and report. That’s not cool.

    4. Stevie*

      Completely agree. I’m female, but, yes, if I’ve done the same sort of “look anywhere but at them” type of thing (note: I’ve never done this to a manager and I’ve never been a manager).

    5. Well...*

      Hmm my mind went to annoyance. I’ve known people who bug me in social situations who I try to keep it professional with at work. If they really try to push my buttons socially I will start to avoid engaging them.

      Maybe the boss is practicing this in and extreme way and has a super low bar for being annoyed?

      Idk this behavior is so outside the norm that I’m stuck extrapolating normal behavior out towards it and annoyance is the best i can come up with.

      1. Sciencer*

        I’m thinking annoyance too (sorry OP – not to say you are objectively annoying!! we all get irritated with people for random and sometimes irrational reasons). Perhaps she has some kind of habit or tic that irritates him and he can only put up with it when in a work context. Why he’d then go out of his way to invite her to socialize (at his house) is beyond me, though. Maybe he does it often enough with employees that he feels he can’t avoid it without being unfair.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah there was a former boss I just couldn’t bring myself to look at. Didn’t help that he very closely resembled a Front National leader here (with much of the ideology too)

      3. ecnaseener*

        But OP says he talks to her normally. If you’re trying to avoid someone who annoys you, it doesn’t make sense to keep talking to them when you don’t have to…
        Unless I guess he’s specifically annoyed by OP’s facial expressions and not by anything she says.

    6. Rose*

      My first thought was maybe OP has a large chest or wears lower cut outfits or both and he thinks this is a good way to not have his eyes flick down to her chest accidentally? Obviously it would be a very weird uncool response but it was what came to mind for me.

    7. generic_username*

      Same! He’s in love with her and handles it in a work setting because he’s trying to be professional, but just can’t get past in it in social situations. Or doesn’t want to be obvious by staring too much and has gone the other way, and just now can never look at her.

    1. Khlovia*

      I think this one warrants sodium pentothal.

      You can’t leave us hanging, OP you big tease.

  4. Former Fundie*

    Somehow I got an “OP is too attractive for über conservative boss who is trying to ‘guard his eyes’ or ‘stay emotionally pure'” vibe from this. He can discipline himself at work, but nowhere else?

    1. Pony Puff*

      That’s what I thought too, especially combined with the weird (sexist?) fact that he called your husband instead of you about a work issue.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Yes, to me that’s the huge red flag about this letter. Like WTF, he called the husband?

      2. quill*

        Yeah, that is indicative that SOMETHING gender norms related is going on, but I have no concrete idea of what. It does lend support to the “attracted to you and being really weird about trying to keep it professional” theory when combined with LW being the only recipient of this behavior – “Oh, I always interact with my crush and her husband TOGETHER, nothing untoward!”

        1. Siege*

          He’s got a crush on her and is hyper-aware she’s another man’s “property”. He’s trying to respect her husband, not her, by deferring to him for disciplinary issues. Though I suppose it’s possible he has a crush on the husband. He’s crushing on someone, either way.

    2. Lonely Aussie*

      Yeah that’s my thought, especially since the husband was told of the error apologised to.

    3. Nicotena*

      This was my thought FWIW. Boss may also be being over-scrupulous to avoid the implication that he’s attracted to OP even if he isn’t. I have had older male bosses who refused to be alone with younger women or pay them any attention because they apparently believed that women frequently bring arbitrary sexual harassments charges.

    4. Do you like him check this box yes or no, see you in gym class*

      >>“OP is too attractive for über conservative boss who is trying to ‘guard his eyes’

      Pretty much my thought. Whether there is a “purity” issue or a freakout about eyes going to the wrong place and drawing possible harrassment accusations or just your average I-have-a-crush discomfort, I don’t know, but this has got to be it. Actually, he doesn’t even have to be über conservative for this to be going on.

      I’d put money on some variant of “He finds OP attractive and just can’t deal” being the answer.

    5. Budgie Buddy*

      Maybe they also have a strict dress code at the office, which is making it easier for him to stay in “work mode” while talking to her, but when he sees her in casual clothes his lust gets out of control? This whole situation is so bizarre…. O.o

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think she’d have said. The OP sounds sensible and aware, and if that were a possible reason, it would have crossed her mind, and she’d have mentioned it.

    6. Liane*

      This is where I went. Boss is one of those “I can only keep from sinning/sullying my marriage bed by keeping my weak flesh/eyes far, far away from those tempting females.” BUT, sometime in the past, maybe at another job, some C-suite or HR person got onto him about how fast he’d be fired if he didn’t “stop opening up the company to liability for workplace discrimination!” And Boss, not rivalling any Vulcans for logical thinking, thinks this means, “I can’t do this when it’s 100% work related, but it’s okay if it’s a work-social thing.”

  5. Entry Level Fury*

    The fact that he called OP’s HUSBAND instead of OP themself makes me think it’s sexist all over.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, that’s a maximal degree of weirdness–and that he *apologized* to the husband but not the OP–that makes me think this is a very strange, very sexist man.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That bit was where I got to ‘nope, guy is an a-hole’ at. There’s just absolutely no need for that action – if you want to tell a member of staff they made an error then you tell *them* – not their spouse!

      Not claiming to be an expert in weird behaviour here (although I’m definitely not normal) but this is just so far beyond anything even I can logic through. I’d seriously reconsider any contact with this guy outside of work, and start looking at whether there’s been any negative impact on my career from his (lack of) actions if I’d had that happen.

    3. Colette*

      Yeah, agreed. He may force himself to talk to women at work, but think it’s wrong to talk to/look at women in social situations (assuming the OP is a woman, of course).

      1. Expelliarmus*

        The note earlier in the page does seem to indicate that he doesn’t interact with other women like this in social situations though? I’m not ruling out that he is sexist, but it’s just not to the extent that you’ve hypothesized.

    4. meyer lemon*

      This one was an extra point in the “in love with the husband” column for me. He seems to be very eager for chances to interact with him. But this man is acting so strangely in general that I suspect that whatever I might assume his motivations are, I’m probably off-base. If I were the LW, six years of this would probably be enough to make me start a job search.

  6. Marizane*

    You got THREE weirds from Alison, that might be unprecedented! She has seen it all! But I think that makes it so weird is that it’s all the information is kind of at right angles where no one explanation, even a fairly outlandish one, seems to actually explain it.

    This is very interesting, I hope you learn what it is, although I do think it fairly unlikely he both 1. understands that he is doing it and why and 2. would actually tell you. But it would be very satisfying to find out. Maybe your husband can assist in some kind of experiment to narrow down the possibilities – Go all undercover Encyclopedia Brown on the case. (I kid, mostly)

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I do wonder if husband may be able to get more information about it out of boss though.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        Yeah like next time it happens when husband is present he could comment on it and after boss has responded be like “it kind of reminds me of when you called me about a work issue with OP even though it didn’t involve me.” I doubt he’d get a satisfying answer but at least could make it clear that hey, boss has done multiple very weird things regarding OP and it feels like there’s a pattern

    2. Birdie*

      Yeah, I was just wondering whether having the husband ask about it would be the better plan (or maybe not better, but the option that most likely results in the boss giving an explanation)

  7. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    This is so very strange. I can only think that, for some reason–prejudice on his part is the first thing that comes to mind, but certainly something else could be going on–he can only maintain a professional demeanor if he doesn’t look at OP. So either something about her in particular makes him feel a certain overwhelming way, or she belongs to a group which none of her colleagues do that makes him feel a certain overwhelming way. I have to think that if it’s the latter, OP has the information necessary to puzzle it out, though the answer may be very disheartening. But it seems like it’s materially damaging their relationship, so it probably needs to be brought into the open and dealt with one way or another.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Thing is, he absolutely maintains a professional demeanor while talking directly to her in a professional capacity.

  8. DieTrying*

    This is obviously highly unusual. The context in which I’ve encountered something akin to your boss’ behavior have been settings in which I’ve had to engage professionally with very religiously conservative men, specifically with evangelical Christians. (Standard disclaimer: this is not the case for all evangelical Christian men I know. Of course.) It has been explained to me along the lines of, first, eschewing temptation (by looking at someone other than your own spouse), and b.) being seen to eschew temptation — an extension of the idea, recently in the news re: Mike Pence, of never being alone with a member of the opposite sex to whom one isn’t married.

    OP, this may not be your boss’ situation at all, and even if it is, it certainly does not excuse such off-putting conduct. I merely note this here as a potential step towards making sense of what is … frankly really weird!

    1. buzzbuzzbeepbeep*

      I’ve had instances of people from other cultures who felt it disrespectful to make direct eye contact. They were actually trying to be MORE respectful by not looking directly at me. I don’t think it has been said if the boss is from a different culture?

      1. NopityNope*

        If it had been something like “always looks over my/everyone’s left shoulder when talking to them,” then maybe. But even in cultures where it might be perceived as impolite or aggressive to make direct eye contact, you can still tell when someone I’d talking to you-they face you, look in your direction, etc. In this instance OP is saying that they look at SOMEONE ELSE instead of her. Plus, it’s only with her, yadda yadda. So I’d cross cultural differences off the list of possibilities here, myself.

  9. PajamaParty*

    OP, since you all work together, did he know your husband before he met you? I find it VERY weird that he provided critical feedback *through your spouse.* My instinct is “he has a problem with women” but I wonder if he does this to any other women in the office? It’s all very odd.

    It also reminds me of the man who wrote in “I am desperately attracted to my female subordinate and want to transfer her to another team” — like this is the flip-side of such a situation.

    1. Sparkle Consultant*

      I am also curious if he’s known your husband or worked with him for longer. Also is this his first time managing someone, or might you be his only employee? I wonder if he doesn’t know how to handle being a manager in social settings?

      I feel like getting another employee or third party to observe could help understand?

      Otherwise I’m convinced he’s in love with your husband.

      I would say maybe he sees better out of his peripheral vision than straight ahead, or has a lot of social anxiety and something about the stress of an employee makes him forget the effort he usually makes to point his eyes towards people, but calling your husband does not support this theory.

    2. TPS reporter*

      Maybe he’s very close with the husband and feels like he’s doing this out of respect for the marriage? What does the husband think and does the husband notice?

  10. Quinalla*

    We’ve seen some weird posts on this forum, but this one has struck me as just so bizarre. I do love how OP made a bet with someone about it and won. If you do ever find out what is up OP, please give an update, especially if one of Alison’s wild speculations is correct!

    Does he socialize with other people of your gender/race/age/etc.? My wild speculation is he has some weird hang up with socialize with people of a certain gender/race/age/etc. and you are in that narrow range. Some people are very good about separating work from social, but damn this guy is GOOD!

  11. HB*

    I’ve had this happen to me! My brother was going to rent a room in a house from a classmate when he went to Dental school. I drove him up and helped him move all his furniture and stayed in the house for the weekend. The classmate/owner of the house was Mormon, though I think no longer going to church. He could not look at me. Anytime I said something to him and he responded, he would look at my brother. I chalked it up to ‘Conservative religious upbringing makes him weird around single women.’

    However since OP’s boss is only doing it to one person, that seems like a far more specific (and weirder) thing. Personally I’m team “you share an uncanny resemblance with someone from his past.”

    1. Michaele Burris*

      As a female member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, let me tell you that this is bizzaro. Such behavior is NOT a function of this church. Women, single or married, give sermons, work on committees with men (who would be called out for such disparaging, dismissive behavior) and generally are respected as people.
      This guy has an individual hangup. A very strange one.
      Maybe the OP looks like a deceased ex-relative, who looks like the barista who yelled at him, who reminds him of his stern elementary school principal whose husband attractively looks like the OP’s husband?
      I’m all for a soft but clear, “Boss, I’m over here” when it happens.

      1. Dorothy*

        I respect that you have personally experienced satisfactory treatment within your Church, but my Mormon uncle absolutely behaves this way around women over the age of puberty. From the time I hit 15 years of age, he hasn’t looked me in the eye once, and I’ve had to have men repeat things I say to get a response. This truly is something that happens at times with men in more conservative religious groups; perhaps the fact that I’m also not a member has something to do with it, as well.

    2. Lacey*

      I would guess he’s just very shy or socially awkward. Being brought up in a conservative religion can exacerbate that, but I’ve known a lot of people who were uber conservative about dating who also had no problem at all talking to the opposite gender. Whereas I was not brought up uber conservative, but was shy and awkward anyway.

  12. Anon for this*

    I’m surprised Allison didn’t notice this, but to me it seems very like the boss is of the opinion that women in the workforce are “inferior” in some way. Does he do this to other women, or is the OP the only woman and the only person being treated this way?

    If so, I could definitely see him explicitly not treating her differently at work, because if he does it at work he could be fired for discrimination, although he did reach out to the Man In Her Life instead of her when she made a mistake, but then when he’s not at work and in a social setting he doesn’t feel the need to pretend.

    1. OP*

      Fair guess. It doesn’t square with everything else I know about him though – I’ve not known any hint about him being misogynistic in any other way. Plus he doesn’t act that way with anyone else that I’ve observed.

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

        OP’s boss could respect her has a professional, not as a woman.

      2. Again With Feeling*

        OP, what did your husband say to the boss when he called him to talk about your work issue? Or when the boss followed up to apologize? That is just so incredibly disrespectful and inappropriate, it’s hard to imagine that it’s not connected to the boss’s other weird behavior towards you.

        1. OP*

          I think (I don’t know – I wasn’t there!) he was just taken aback in the moment, and said ‘ok I’ll let her know’ or words to that effect. I don’t think he had anything to say particularly when he apologised either – but I didn’t find out about that until later.

    2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      But OP said “he clearly respects me professionally, trusts me with projects, and gives me opportunities”.

    3. Some Internet Rando*

      YES!!! This was my opinion! I work with mostly men and there are some men who DO NOT LOOK AT OR ACKNOWLEDGE WOMEN!! Its weird but the explanation is not weird – sexism! I think it squares with all of the other behaviors. And its similar to men who talk over women, explain things to women who are actually the expert, repeat back what a woman has said as though it was their new idea! I think this guy is uncomfortable around you because you pointed out his sexist behavior of calling your husband instead of dealing directly with you… but he also likes your husband and knows he needs to interact with you at social settings. So he does spend time with you but cant look at you.

  13. Anony*

    I wonder if this is a religious thing? In certain religions members of the opposite sex aren’t supposed to look each other in the eye. I don’t think there’s a good solution if it is that, as long as he continues to professionally treat you the same, I don’t think there’s action that can be taken, but if knowing why he’s behaving this way will help to handle it, think back on what you know about his background?

    1. Liane*

      So, Boss belongs to a religion with the tenet (or 11th Commandment, or bull or…) of “Thou shalt look all in the eye, in all circumstances, whether work or leisure, save LW at YourJob, LLC. Your eyes shall never focus on LW at YourJob, LLC, lest ye be damned”?

  14. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    Another option is that he’s two children in a trench coat, or one child who never grew up.

    It’s excruciatingly inappropriate for him to sic your spouse on you for a work error.

    This feels a bit like an unintended beehive to me. BEES BEES BEES.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Wait, I’ve got it! He’s an identical twin! And they swap places depending on the situation.

      So Twin A is Work Boss, who has no problem talking to OP and looking at them in a normal human way. And Twin B is Social Boss, who gets it *almost* right when pretending to be his brother, but the one detail he misses is that he can’t look at OP for some reason.

      Problem solved!

      1. animaniactoo*

        Aha! You’ve solved it! And they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for us meddling peeps!

      2. goducks*

        I had a CEO who was an identical twin, and his twin was occasionally around (the CEO owned the company, so family coming in and out was common). In busy seasons the twin would sometimes help out. There were days where I wasn’t 100% confident which one I was speaking to. I knew how to tell them apart, but they were uncannily similar in look, voice, and mannerisms, so I was constantly checking myself when speaking to one.

        I like your twin theory!

        1. WS*

          I have worked with three sets of identical twins (all female) and never could reliably tell each pair apart. But none of them behaved this weirdly!

      3. Caboose*

        Oooh. Combine this with Alison’s guesses– one twin is in love with LW, the other with LW’s husband. ALL THE DRAMA.

    2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Ha ha ha – brilliant! Perhaps OP can tell us whether Boss does in fact wear a trench coat, or perhaps a sleeping bag (Aizawa-style), or other “disguise for 2” garments?

    3. quill*

      Maybe he doesn’t look LW in the face because he’s afraid that if she stares into his many faceted eyes, she will be the final person in the office to realize that he is a trenchcoat full of bees?

      At which point he will have to drop the trenchcoat and flee into the vents.

    4. meyer lemon*

      Or he’s a swarm of bees in a trenchcoat. I think bees would have better manners, though.

  15. I'm just here for the cats*

    I wonder if this is kind of like LW 1 this morning where he thinks if he even looks at LW in a social setting people will think that they are having an affair.

    1. Bloopmaster*

      I can kinda see this—like maybe he heard a rumor at one point or someone implied that he had a thing for LW and now he is doing everything in his power to not give LW any inappropriate sign of familiarity or connection….so much so that it’s become it’s own weird thing and possibly backfiring….

      This would also explain: a) being relatively normal in professional situations and b) able to maintain eye contact with everyone else as well as possibly c) being buddy-buddy with LW’s husband and d) going out of his way to invite LW over for dinner so long as husband is also in attendance.

      Doesn’t explain giving the critical feedback to husband instead of LW directly, but really, I’m not sure there’s a story that explains everything.

      1. hallucinating hack*

        Yes! My mind went to this right away – at some point there was a rumor, or some accusation that he was acting inappropriately, and now he’s desperate to avoid anything that might open him up to a reiteration of the accusation(s). Also, if the rumor involved him somehow treating LW differently from other people when she made mistakes, the husband thing might be an over-correction.

        I know this is all speculation, of course, but it feels plausible, especially because there’s a chance HR – or his own boss – might have responded to such a rumor by sternly warning him off LW.

      1. A Person*

        Because a lot of people feel strongly that in most social settings, you invite both halves of a couple?

  16. Anon for this*

    I must confess, I rarely look at people. When I do, it’s because I’m making a conscious effort to. Ironically, the more comfortable and familiar I am with someone, the less likely I am to look at them.

    (To be clear, I’m not talking about just eye contact, but actually facing the person I’m talking to.)

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Totally, I’ve met people who do this, but since the boss looks at other people I’d say it’s not this!

      1. Anon for this*

        I don’t want to defend the boss because I have no idea what’s up with him, but…

        For me there are circumstances where someone might notice me looking at everyone except one person. For instance, if I were in a group with several coworkers and a longtime friend, I will look at my coworkers but not my friend.

        I can’t really defend myself either, except to say that I try to make an effort to do the thing that acquaintances expect of me, but someone who’s known me a long time (I figure) knows how I am so I can relax and be more myself with them.

        1. obleighvious*

          I do this too sometimes! I think it’s something like I have to make sure and put on a good social impression with new people or in new social situations but for people I already know/have a relationship with I can sort of let that effort (eye contact, facing them) slide while I try to ‘show off’ to the new people “look, I am interacting like people are supposed to do!”

      1. ThatGirl*

        Also he looks at the OP in one-on-one work settings, just not in social settings when others are around.

    2. Expelliarmus*

      But do you compartmentalize the situations where you are willing to look at someone like how the boss does? Because that’s the weirdest part of this; that the boss specifically refuses to look at LW, and that too ONLY in social settings.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yes. I don’t know if “compartmentalize” is exactly the right word, but I do try to turn off my weird personality quirks when I’m at work.

        At work I make an effort to act “normal.” By contrast, in a social setting with someone who knows me well, I feel like I can be myself.

        Again I don’t want to defend the boss, but maybe his strange behavior results from him being too relaxed or overfamiliar with OP (in addition to being plain-old sexist).

  17. thee epidemiologist*

    No indication if OP is a woman, but they are then I’m wondering if the boss is from a more conservative religious persuasion that discourages contact with women. But that still wouldn’t explain why he’d invite OP to dinner at his home!

    My vote is on either he has some grudge or is in love with OP.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I wonder what would happen if he invited OP and her husband to dinner, but Husband couldn’t make it, or was going to be late? What would he do? Stare at the wall as they talked?

  18. JustKnope*

    My mind absolutely went to the boss being religious, and not wanting to socialize with a member of the opposite sex. The whole calling your husband thing indicated that to me also – he views you as subordinate to your husband. I would be VERY curious for more info from LW about where they are geographically located and any religious backgrounds at play.

  19. Knope Knope Knope*

    This is bizarre! I have more questions about the gender and social dynamics of this team. Is OP a woman and if so, the only woman, one of few, or one that would fall into the “conventionally attractive” category? Is this culture that has some backwards gender dynamics or is the boss part of a culture that does? I guess OP would have mentioned it, but it’s where my mind went with the whole calling the husband incident (!!!!!!).

  20. Where’s Busy Bee*

    I’m on team “you’re an extremely attractive woman and he feels uncomfortable even looking at you.” Just bizarre! Life is such a rich tapestry!

    1. Commrade*

      Yeah I’m guessing OP is a babe. OP are you hot? You can tell us, we won’t think you’re conceited!

    2. Me*

      This. He is very attracted to her and it makes him uncomfortable. she doesn’t have to be model material – just someone he find attractive.

      He doesn’t do it with any other women. The whole calling the husband about the mistake ties into how some men won’t take no for an answer from a woman but will take I have a boyfriend as valid.

      It’s middle school mentality but I’ve definitely seen it from grown men dealing with women they find attractive in the workplace.

      1. K.Tate*

        I thought this too then I thought…. what if he likes or has had a relationship with her spouse!? Both sound reasonable.

  21. No Tribble At All*

    Since this comment section will descend into speculation anyway, my guess is the OP has “my boss is an asshole” tattooed on her face.

      1. Phoenix Wright*

        Didn’t we agree that what happened in that party would stay in that party? We don’t talk about the tattoos, or the lettuce incident.

    1. Totalanon*

      My wild speculation that maybe the OP does something weird in social settings, like slurp her drink or always have something stuck between her teeth? But that seems quite unlikely.

    2. Snark No More!*

      My wild speculation is that husband has been a little free with information about what happens in their bedroom and boss is horrified!
      But seriously, does the husband talk to the boss about marital decisions, kids, problems, and the like? Maybe the boss feels like he knows too much about you personally and so cannot face you in social situations.

      1. nym*

        ok, weird tangent: I had a college professor who was a little free with information about what happened in the bedroom. It was a human sexuality class, and she provided insights on different methods of birth control and types of toys as part of her lectures. Not personal stories… exactly… just… insights. All this to say, weird as it was, there was a work-appropriate situation where TMI wasn’t exactly TMI.

        …unfortunately, I had her husband as a professor for another subject the same semester. Yeah, I learned to compartmentalize real quick, and forget Dr Lady’s lecture when I was in Dr. Dude’s class.

        1. generic_username*

          When I was in high school one of our physics teachers married one of our librarians. He then self-published a book a few years later, which was pushed heavily at the school (sold in the library, talked about constantly etc…). It was a sci-fi book and unfortunately quite bad, but most notably it included a lot of detailed kinky sex scenes involving characters that appeared to be based on the author/physics teacher and the librarian. I don’t think anyone in the administration read the book before okaying its sale to us…. Hilarious in hindsight, quite scandalous at the time.

  22. Foreign Octopus*

    I have no idea what’s going, so I’m going to speculate wildly

    Oh, Alison, never change.

    Please, never change.

    1. Lizy*

      I especially love that she answered it, and didn’t put it out as an “ask the readers”. Speculating wildly definitely was the better option here.

  23. Dennis Feinstein*

    Next time OP is in a social situation with weird boss and he’s talking to her but not looking at her, I really want her to position herself right in front of him and then see if he shuffles around to not look at her. If she continues to move herself into his eyeline and he continues to shuffle around to avoid looking at her face, can she get him to do a full 360? How many times? Do it faster & faster until he gets dizzy & falls over.
    I cannot WAIT for the update on this!

    1. OP*

      Hm, not tried that one. Maybe I’ll give that one a go! (I mean, not the dizzy thing, though I do like the image.)

    2. Mellie Bellie*

      Oh, I would just *have* to do this in this situation!

      So weird. But for what it’s worth, I’m on Team He’s Attracted to the OP. I truly can’t think of any other reason he only does this to her and only socially – he can focus on the work and not his attraction to her when that’s the context but he’s got no distraction in social situations.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Anybody else thinking of the make-out scene from Top Secret!, where the camera pans away, and the couple keeps rolling back into frame?

      1. generic_username*

        I’m picturing that ep of Parks & Recs when Ron gets the circular desk and just spins in his chair while the woman walks around trying to talk to him. It’s the opposite of this suggestion

    4. Lolo9090*

      I was going to suggest this too! Just keep moving your head until you catch him slippin

  24. SillyLittlePittyPat!*

    Maybe, boss feels that OP can see into his ‘soul’ or, his motivations and is uncomfortable with that thought. Like, maybe, he’s glossing over things, or, telling lies and feels the shame from OP’s gaze that he doesn’t feel with others.

    1. Generic Name*

      My theory is Boss thinks OP is Medusa and will turn to stone if he looks at her (but only in social situations).

  25. Phony Genius*

    Assuming that there’s nothing unusual about your appearance (visible scars, etc.), this seems to be some sort of social anxiety disorder. Except that he has it selectively, which is not OK. (Nor would it be OK if you did have any such visible features; he’s supposed to be a professional.)

    1. Catalin*

      That’s where my mind went; I have a teeth thing and have difficulty looking at people missing teeth visibly or with wild teeth. But I don’t totally avoid looking at them! Just fix your eyes elsewhere and get on with your life. Good grief, Charlie Brown!

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        For me it’s ears. I actually refused to rent a place to a guy because he had ears worse than Spock, kind of jagged at the top. I wouldn’t be able to do anything but stare in horror at them. I’m not sure that I’d be able to suck it up in a professional setting, and if I could, then I’d be able to do it in a private setting too, or I’d simply never invite that person.

        1. LizB*

          You turned down someone looking for housing based on a totally random feature of their appearance? I know “weird ears” isn’t a protected category, and you can do what you want, but… wow.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            In my defence, we had more than twenty possible tenants, and they all had good jobs etc. The flat is at the bottom of the garden, so we were choosing our neighbour as well. We have to walk past the place to go out, so we see the tenant almost daily.
            After that, we decided not to bother putting out ads because we always manage to find someone just by word-of-mouth, and it’s just too hard choosing someone when everyone looks fine on paper. You can’t help but be subjective and it’s terrible to turn people down, but what can you do when you have 20+ candidates and only one place to rent out?
            And I’m pretty sure Mr Weird Ears was able to find another place just fine, it’s not like he was part of a minority.

    2. Dog People are the Best People*

      I didn’t think of visible scars, but (thanks to a woman I knew in Chicago once upon a time) maybe OP is built so that pretty much any shirt leads to visible cleavage. I think that there’s something that is potentially triggering to the boss: evidence of past self harm, scar from thyroid surgery, cleavage that won’t quit, T-Rex tattoo, or anything specific to OP.

      The only reasonable response here is to CALL THE BOSS’S WIFE. It seems like the only option. “Hey, do you know why your husband won’t look at me in casual settings? Is he overcompensating for the fact he yelled my name in bed once? Am I the daughter you gave up for adoption years ago?”

      You know how everyone turns to the sound of a dish/glass breaking in a restaurant? Maybe you can smash things around the boss and wait to catch his eye.

      1. No Tribble At All*

        I’m WHEEZING at these possibilities. I agree, the most reasonable thing to do is call boss’s wife!

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I’m pretty sure this is it.
          Yelled OP’s name in bed, and spouse now watches him like a hawk when OP is around.

  26. DarthVelma*

    If you have an HR department you need to go to them about him calling your husband to discuss your work performance. Or to you boss’ boss. Whoever at your organization can tell him that that shit is NOT ok.

    1. YouwantmetodoWHAT?! *

      Exactly! The ‘no eye contact’ is weird, but the fact that he called YOUR HUSBAND about YOUR work issue is bad. Very bad. And you say that he has never discussed it with you? YIKES!

  27. animaniactoo*

    Mark this day on the calendar! Today, Alison was totally Stumped. There are No Good Answers to this issue.

    Personally, I think I would go for “I don’t know if this is something that’s happening on purpose, but I have noticed that you don’t ever look at me when you’re speaking to me unless it’s for work. Since we are sometimes in social settings, it’s odd and sometimes it’s pretty uncomfortable that you’re looking at someone else even while talking to me.”

    and then leave it right there. Don’t ask for change. Don’t do anything except the information that you’re aware that it’s happening and that it has an impact on you.

    Let him decide how to handle it from that point. As long as you’re prepared for him to stop speaking to you altogether in social situations and then possibly raise that. “Since I spoke to you about the not looking at me when talking to me, it seems like you’ve stopped talking to me altogether! Can I ask what’s going on? It feels very weird.”

    Like… sometimes, when something is weird, you have to dig in and let it get even weirder before you can resolve it.

    And talk to your husband about the idea that if he goes to talk to him or relay messages through him again, he – your husband – needs to redirect boss back to speaking to you directly. “This appears to be a work issue that I should not have any part of since our work roles do not intersect.” or “Yes, OP and I have talked about it, I know she talked to you about it, and this is something you need to discuss with her directly. I feel very uncomfortable being in the middle when I know that she spoke to you directly about this.”

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Animaniactoo has a great response.

      Alison cannot not answer this. The only person who can possibly answer it is the boss and he may not consciously know why he’s doing it or if he does he will quite possibly never admit why he’s doing it because he’s embarrassed about it. Because this is so weird/odd/unusual that the reason he’s doing it is probably embarrassing.

      1. Nicotena*

        Yeah, the issue is that if the boss, as many have speculated, has been either crushing on OP or her husband or perhaps been accused of such by his own partner (or she reminds him of his dead sister or whatever), he’s likely never going to admit this to her; in some cases doing so would open him up to liability besides just being awkward. So if she confronts him it’s not going to help, assuming it’s something like this. She can certainly ask him to look at her though.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I like this approach. Especially encouraging your husbands to bat it back to him and make clear that it is not appropriate for him, as your husband, to be involved in a discussion with your boss about your work.

      He can start gently, with a “That sounds like something you’d need to discuss with LW directly” before going to “As that’s about the Teapot Balancing department, not something that falls under my role as the Llama wrestler , I don’t understand why you’d raise it with me. LW is my wife, but she is n[t in my department and this is a work-related conversation you need to have with her directly” (and even “I don’t understand why you are apologizing to me. It’s LW that you need to speak to, and who you owe an apology”

    3. Mental Lentil*

      I’m voting for this approach as well. He may be aware he’s doing it, or he may not be, but if LW does this, then two things happen:

      1) He’s now definitely aware of it.
      2) The ball is in his court to either acknowledge the behavior and keep doing it or to acknowledge it and change it.

    4. Web of Pies*

      I’d like to add in that due to the e-x-t-r-e-m-e inappropriateness of the boss calling OP’s husband and then apologizing to him, it’s time to cut husband out of social work interactions. He should block her boss’ phone number as well, NO husband/boss contact at all. If this weirdo boss can’t act right towards you, you’ll have to cut out his workaround (aka your husband). Maybe husband’s job is suddenly very demanding and oh GOSH, it’ll just be you at dinner tonight (though honestly I’d stop spending social time with this person at all).

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I don’t think the husband can block the number of a manager at his employer.

    5. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I think this might be the best way to go. At the end of the day, we can speculate till the day is long, but it needs to stop (unless there is a massively prevailing reason why it’s happening, but I cannot think of anything) and the best way to do that, especially if you have a good relationship with him otherwise is to just talk to him. Of course do so in a reasonable, non accusatory manner (I wouldn’t think you would do otherwise LW) and see what he says.

      Good luck (and this is soo weird!!!)

    6. OP*

      These are good scripts, I’ll take these (and Alison’s too) and see how he responds.

      Thank you!

      1. animaniactoo*

        YW, gl, I hope there’s a good resolution here. Please let us know how it goes, because as you can tell… we all find it totally weird too and want to know what happens next!

      2. Chauncy Gardener*

        And please, please, please send us an update. I think I can speak for all of us when I say we are just agog at this situation!

      3. animaniactoo*

        Oh! One more thought! If boss DOES go back to your husband for your husband to relay messages to you again… do not give any indication that you know about it.

        Because as much as you might want to indicate that you know about it… it will probably be counterproductive to the larger goal of not letting him have any success in getting messages to you via this route.

  28. Fat Lady About Town*

    This is truly so strange I need to know what is happening! I genuinely have no explanation for this. If he never looked at her, I would assume there was anger but he looks at her in work situations? It also sounds like whatever is going on is a work issue (started after a mistake made at work) than a social faux pas? But then he is weird in social situations but OK in work ones. Baffling!

  29. Dasein9*

    I think the boss thinks of you as an extension of your husband, OP. This belief is probably based in religion.

  30. bunniferous*

    What I would do is wait till I am in a situation where both I, my husband and the boss were in the same room together then ASK HIM.

    This is mind boggling.

  31. Zach*

    I know this was one of Alison’s possibilities, but as a guy myself, this screams “He has a crush on you, is trying to make sure he doesn’t clearly pay too much attention to you, but has gone too far in the other direction.”

    I have absolutely done things like this myself (in my social life- not at work) but I have usually gotten over it in a couple weeks- 6 years seems like an extremely long time, so it is possible something else is going on.

  32. Fae*

    If you want to address it in the moment, I would suggest feigning confusion.

    “Oh, are you talking to *person he’s actually looking at* or me?”
    When he says he was talking to you.
    “Okay, I was a little confused, it looked like you were talking to *person*”

    It’s not rude, but it does call it to his attention in a low key way. If you do it every time he will hopefully catch on and make some changes.

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      I would almost want to just not acknowledge any comments directed at me unless he was looking at me too. If he’s looking at the other person, he must be talking to the other person, right? If someone prompts me to answer with a “Hey, OP, Boss is asking you a question,” I’d be tempted to answer with “I don’t think so, he’s talking to so-and-so right now.”

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        “Oh, were you speaking to me? I’m sorry, you were looking at Mary – I thought you had us mixed up!”

    2. Random Internet Stranger*

      I NEED to know how the person he IS looking at reacts when he’s looking at them, but clearly talking with OP. OP, please, I need to know!

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes, this is weird too. Why don’t people answer him saying “sorry was that remark for me? It was OP who asked about that, I’m not remotely involved in any of that.

  33. AlphabetSoupCity*

    The only person who did not look directly at me when addressing me in public/in front of friends was a guy I (woman) was sleeping with in a FWB situation. It was immature and not okay. This too strikes me as somehow gendered and/or sexual. Even more messed up that it’s at work and your boss?!?! Weird is right.

  34. Llellayena*

    The fact that he cannot look at the OP combined with routing a work issue through her husband, makes me think he’s got a (religious? cultural?) thing about married women. Are the other women in the office (assuming there are any) married? Do their husbands also work at the company? If so, does boss route work issues through the husbands for them too? If you are the only woman he deals with whose husband also works for the company, he may be stuck in an “I can’t seem to show any interest or husband will be upset” loop. I’d lean toward calling him out on it when you’re in one of those dinners where it’s just you and your husband (warn husband ahead of time so he can back you up). “I’d appreciate it if you’d look at me when you’re talking to me.” If there’s pushback or he does it again that evening “You seem to not look at me in social settings. It’s disconcerting.” He might get weird at work stuff for a bit, if it gets bad though you’ve got enough for an HR visit (possible sexism, retaliation…).

  35. ZSD*

    As I read, I definitely got the idea he was in love with her and just couldn’t handle it. A guy who was in love with me and directly told me he couldn’t stand to be friends with me sometimes still had to be around me in group settings, and he would do exactly this — never look my way, even if he was forced to address me directly.

  36. Anon in 2021*

    This is a little bit messed up, but by any chance is the OP obese or disfigured in any way? I knew a man who couldn’t make himself look at obese people because of his disgust/gag reflex…. It isn’t good or kind, but it can happen.

    1. Lora*

      This was sort of where my mind went too – used to be a guy in one of my exercise classes who had some sort of discolored growth on his face. Not a birthmark, I think it may have been something bad because after a while he had it removed – but before he had it removed, it was HUGE and covered a portion of his nose, upper lip and extended almost to his forehead. There was nowhere to look that you couldn’t see it, and it was like…you know the really scary “oh god that’s some kind of horrible carcinoma” pictures from medical textbooks? Like that. And I’d get caught in this weird thought loop of “don’t look…look somewhere else…now you’re being weird by Not Looking, stop it…maybe look at his hair? arrgh where do I put my eyes” and it was definitely pure awkwardness crystallized.

    2. OP*

      Well, actually I am obese! I really hope that’s not what’s happening – and thankfully I haven’t seen anything that would back that up.

      1. Lizy*

        but you say he WILL look at you for work-stuff – it’s just social/personal interactions. I would think if it’s something like this, it would be all the time and not just one type of situation, right?

        1. Jessica*

          Is he able to look at other fat people in a normal way? And is there anything else unusual about your appearance? (Scars, gauged ears, tattoos, bad teeth, anything someone could possibly find repugnant–I feel very rude even asking this question! — or are you by any chance strikingly beautiful? I realize that’s a pretty subjective question, but this is also reminding me of the person who was uncontrollably jealous of the beautiful coworker…)

      2. Rectilinear Propagation*

        Oh, I hope not too. (I have encountered people like that & it’s not great.) :(

        It also wouldn’t explain the bit where he went to your husband about a work issue.

      3. Laure*

        God, I am so sorry, but it strikes me as a likely explanation, OP. Because… My mom is like that. And my ex husband is like that. I cut all contact with my mom and my ex husband is, well, my ex.
        As you can guess, their toxicity didn’t end there, and in some ways they are very different, but they shared this characteristic of not looking in the eyes of people they despised (because of their weight, their clothes, their job… whatever.)
        You are not married to your boss but I would think about leaving anyway. This is not healthy for you. Your self esteem is going to take a hit one day or another… I say, take your time, and find another job.

  37. Audrey Puffins*

    Is there something on your face? That’s been there for the last six years? A decade-old piece of spinach in between your teeth maybe? I know this sounds childish, but honestly his behaviour is so ODD that I can’t even begin to think of a rational explanation for it! Some people are just very very peculiar, I guess!

    1. quill*

      LW has a plot significant birthmark identical to Boss’ tragically dead *spins carnival wheel* cousin?

  38. Confused*

    I know this is off topic but why is being a fan of Jordan Peterson bad? I’ve known a few people to have read his stuff and they’ve attributed their life turning around to his work. Like repairing relationships with family or addicts stopping doing drugs/drinking.

    1. sagc*

      He’s a transphobic, retrogressive thinker; this isn’t too tough to Google. He’s got a nice hefty Wikipedia page that at least clears up what the many, many, many points of criticism are.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Yes, this is akin to the “But Stalin/Hitler/The Green Goblin liked kittens and puppies” line. You have to look at the overall impact someone is having on society.

  39. Old Cynic*

    This sounds like my husband. We work together and when there are others present he directs his attention solely to them. He views us as a team so doesn’t feel the need to present to me.

    1. Bagpuss*

      But that would mean that OP’s boss didn’t look at his own spouse, or that OP’s husband didn’t look at her.

      Boss is not married to OP.

      And ioif Boss doesn’t feel the need to present to OP because she is part of his team, that shouldn’t prevent him from looking at her when he is speaking to her directly, or in a social setting

  40. I'm just here for the cats*

    Oh! Oh! I Know! I Know! (Raises hand and almost jumps out of seat like Hermione in potions class) I KNOW what is happening! The boss is testing OP to see how long he can do this until she mentions it to him! It’s some weird test to see if she will push back against authority. Like the LW yesterday whose prospective employer hid a typo in the job ad to see who would catch it.

  41. Baffled Teacher*

    *throws $5 into the “he’s in love with you” pot*
    OP, as excruciatingly awkward as this might be I will NEED an update whenever possible.

  42. redflagday701*

    I would like to see OP do a series of TikToks in which she adorns her face in progressively more outlandish ways — Tammy Faye Baker makeup, a pair of those Groucho Marx disguise glasses, temporary Mike Tyson face tattoos — and then records her boss not noticing over the course of fairly involved group conversations.

    1. meyer lemon*

      I’d like to see the LW and her husband learn elaborate stage makeup techniques to disguise themselves as each other and see what the boss does.

      1. meyer lemon*

        And when the boss finally turns to the LW and issues a social remark, she rips off her wig and yells, “You were talking to me all along!”

        1. Windchime*

          Even better if she is wearing a mask and rips it off, like when the Scooby-Doo gang discovers it’s really old man Peterson at the haunted house. She can say, “I’d have gotten away with it if not for you darn kids!”

  43. Anonosaurus*

    I have done this, but not to a direct report or for this prolonged a period. The reason was that I was both horribly attracted to the victim, and immensely ashamed of being so.

    1. Quantum Hall Effect*

      I was hugely attracted to a former boss. So awkward, and so embarrassing. It was hard to look at him bc I was afraid the attraction would show up on my face. I have to say, though, I had more trouble looking at him one on one than with other people around.

  44. Budgie Buddy*

    Reading this question, I actually got mad at the other people who are in these social situations. They must notice that something is off, even if they haven’t clocked that this is an ongoing campaign about how OP is not worth the dignity of boss’s eye contact. Would it kill someone to say, “Hahahaha, I’m not OP, Boss! OP is over there!” so that OP doesn’t have to run the entire risk of “making it weird”?

    Boss would probably be much more pressured to change if he gets the sense that his rude behavior is damaging his reputation with non-OP people that he clearly respects more. Bystander intervention, even if it’s just acknowledging that something weird is going on, is a powerful tool.

    1. twocents*

      Not necessarily; keep in mind, OP has known a boss for 6 years and only just started picking up on it about three years ago. Sounds like it’s subtle enough.

    2. Random Internet Stranger*

      I’m with you, Budgie Buddy. If boss man was looking at me while responding to OP, I’d be so super weirded out. Assuming he’s making eye contact with me, there is no way I wouldn’t notice. If he’s not making eye contact, but rather looking past people or down, *maybe* it’s a little less noticeable, but still???

    3. Van Wilder*

      I’m not sure that I would notice something like this. I mean, maybe if the boss is making eye contact with me while talking to OP. But if he’s looking over my shoulder instead of talking to the OP, would probably take me a few years to notice.

  45. Richard Hershberger*

    “* He is desperately in love with you.
    * He is desperately in love with your husband.”

    Couldn’t it be both?

      1. Nicotena*

        Here in the fandom we call that “OT3” … since a lot of folks refer to a letter writer as OP (original poster) I dub it “OP3.”

    1. Dumpster Fire*

      Amy chance he had an affair with OP’s husband and now can’t look her in the eye?

  46. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    Okay so here’s my theory:
    OP says that she’s been working with this boss for about 6 years now and really only noticed this in the last few years. OP indicates that she has a good working relationship with this boss and is on good enough footing that she & her spouse are invited to Boss’s home for social events.
    Is it possible that someone at some point made a comment about how friendly Boss is with you? Or someone threw out a comment about “Boss is always watching/looking at OP, someone’s got a crush” in a joking manner? But enough that Boss wanted to prevent any hint of impropriety.
    I want to believe that Boss is a good guy in this and is just handling it weird!

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      I believe the term is “over-correcting”. Someone mentioned Boss was looking at OP too much so Boss made the determination to never look at OP at all?

      1. Anon for this*

        Maybe it was the husband who said that! “If I ever catch you so much as looking at my wife….”

        1. Eat My Squirrel*

          If that were the case, I’m sure Husband would have informed OP about it when she started feeling weird about it. I’m sure they’ve discussed it at some point and Husband is just as stumped.

    2. Stumped*

      This theory is one of the ones that makes the most sense to me in a situation that just doesn’t make sense and has no perfectly fitting theories, haha. I still don’t think it makes total sense though – if he was really worried about being perceived as having any sort of special interest or impropriety, wouldn’t he just stop inviting them both around for dinner, as that would ALSO seem like some sort of favouritism/special interest? If my boss was having certain co-workers over for dinner and not others that would seem odd to me, so if he’s self-conscious about any sort of imbalance here it’d be an easy thing to have stopped doing in the last few years. It’s not like he couldn’t find something else to do with OP’s husband alone if he wanted to keep hanging with OP’s husband socially and didn’t want to invite her (grab a drink, golf etc).

  47. Sash D*

    Any chance it’s a medical condition where the eyes don’t look where the head is pointing?? My friends dad had one eye that looked forward and the other sideways.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      But LW says that he looks at her when they are in work settings, and he doesn’t do this to others. It doesn’t seem to be eye contact, but that he is not facing her at all. So like he will be facing the left when she is on his right.

  48. Jedi Sentinel Bird*

    What strange behavior. The not looking at you directly while speaking is very odd. However, I find rather alarming that when you made an error, he spoke to your husband instead of you. I would find his behavior disrespectful. I wonder if this boss treat other women in a similar fashion. It might be a cultural thing or the mindset of how he views women. Maybe ask other women coworkers if they have experienced this? I had the odd and annoying experience of a cashier not looking at me or speaking or acknowledging me when I was paying for groceries.(I don’t expect a conversation with a cashier, but he had eye contact and was pleasant with a male customer in front of me before my turn.) So I empathize with you on how dismissive your boss is treating you. You need to ask yourself if you want to stay at a job where your boss talks your husband instead of you about your work and acts dismissive towards you. If it was me, I would ask the boss directly and ask him about the phone call to the husband. Also, if you are in a state in which you can record conversations, I would do that as well to cover your bases. Wish you the best.

    1. Stumped*

      I feel like to me this directly points at this being rooted in some sort of gender ideology, either conscious or unconscious. I wouldn’t typically advise doing any sort of “research” on co-workers or bosses, but I’d be so curious if this were me I wouldn’t be able to stop myself googling this guy and seeing what sort of facebook groups/Instagram pages he likes or what sort of internet trail he has. I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised to find some sort of niche religious affiliation, or weird gendered groups or something like that.

  49. Scott*

    My guess would be that Boss has feelings for OP and in an effort to see her only as a colleague and not a potential romantic interest, he only allows himself to physically see her in work situations and not in social ones.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      If that was the case, why invite her and her husband to dinner? I’m in the park that he has a crush on the husband and he’s embarrased and thats why he can’t look at OP except for work.

      Or maybe he has a crush on both of them!?

  50. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Team “he’s got a crush on OP”, but I want an update. Where is Miss Marple when we need her? We need to get to the bottom of this mystery while sipping tea together.

  51. NopityNope*

    Clearly, Boss is an alien from a race that has chosen OP as their ruler, and gazing directly at said ruler is forbidden. Obviously, until such time as they are ready to implement their dastardly, secret plan to take over Earth, in order to mask his alien nature, he must force his gaze onto her magnificent countenance in work situations to perpetuate the ruse, but risks being boiled in vinegar should he do so when not strictly necessary.

    1. quill*

      OP is going to be the empress of our future insect overlords. Boss must not be seen being overly familiar with the future hive queen, even by the future hive consort.

  52. Phobus*

    Just throwing this out there – is there any chance you’re triggering a weird phobia of his? I’m drawing this from personal experience because I have an extremely weird phobia of piercings. I don’t think they’re uncouth or anything, I just can’t stop imagining them being ripped out of people’s flesh. I can deal with most studs fine, but things like big hoop earrings freak me out, so you might think, “She can’t have a problem with piercings, she isn’t bothered by Blah’s nose stud,” except it is in fact a problem with piercings, it’s just really specific and weird. I’m thinking that based on the fact that there’s other women in your office and your boss is treating you fine professionally, there must be something absurdly specific along these lines that makes it hard for him to look at you.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Is OP a redhead and he has Gingerphobia (fear of redheads)? He is ok in work mode but can’t do it othertimes? That would explain why he invites her and her husband to his house, he is trying to expose himself to more redheads.

      1. quill*

        Fear of moles (the skin thing, not the mammal, though… is OP a star nosed mole?) is also a thing that occasionally happens, though you would think after 6 years boss would be doing something about any visual aversion he may have to OP.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          And also, your brain adapts pretty fast to anything really unusual, visuals-wise. I once worked with someone who was a dead ringer (looks and voice-wise) for a character on a then-current TV show. I found it distracting for about 3 weeks and then I just got used to it.

          I think the boss is seriously mortified or uncomfortable about something – the question is what…

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Ohhh that could be! Hmmm but does it explain the phone call to OP’s husband? Couldn’t Boss have just called OP on the phone, so he didn’t have to look at her nose piercing or whatever it is that triggers his phobia?

      1. Phobus*

        At least for me, the trigger isn’t necessarily visual. I remember noping out of a book I was reading a few pages in because I discovered that the love interest had a lip piercing and I started imagining it. That must’ve been at least 8 years ago, so I think you can tell the visceral horror stuck with me. If it is a phobia, it seems he’s able to tolerate it during work situations, but if the mistake was discovered quite late and he’d switched off the part that was braced to deal with his phobia or he was just under a lot of stress from the consequences of the mistake, I do wonder if he just . . . couldn’t take the thought of dealing with the OP and opted to take the easy way out by doing it very indirectly. (Not endorsing this as acceptable, just understandable. I’m also aware that my phobia is unfair and could be very problematic, it’s just on the back burner right now given a lot of other problems in my life)

  53. Butterfly Counter*

    I have almost the same (but, in ways opposite) issue with my sister-in-law’s husband. I’ve never noticed him not looking at me, but after knowing him for over 7 years, I can still count the times he’s directly talked to me in conversation on one hand (maybe even on 2 fingers). And this man TALKS. He dominates every conversation and is happy to hold forth for hours with my husband, his family, even strangers he meets in coffee shops. But me: nada. And he probably doesn’t look at me all that much either as a result.

    Even when I ask him a direct question, it’s suddenly a private conversation he’s having with my husband.

    But for me, I just think he doesn’t like me. *shrug*

    1. Palliser*

      That’s interesting. Does SIL have anything to say about it? I’m on some level fascinated with people who can go about their lives being this level of rude. I

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        SIL has her hands full with the kids most of the time and honestly, I don’t think she’s noticed. She and I are on really good terms AFIK. While he’s monologuing, she and I talk and play with her kids. Since he talks a LOT, she probably hasn’t realized that it’s never directly to me. Whether or not he’s told her privately he doesn’t like me (if that’s really the case) everyone is always perfectly civil in person. She, my husband, and I are from families who Don’t-Rock-the-Boat if everything at least appears fine enough on the surface.

        And really, after 7+ years of this, I can’t say that I like him either and don’t particularly care if we have a conversation or not moving forward in the future.

  54. Michelle Smith*

    OP if you do choose to ask him about it, PLEASE report back what he says and whether anything changed between you two so that Alison can post an update. This one broke my brain.

  55. lunchtime caller*

    I want to up the stakes on the “he’s in love with your husband” thing to “he is actively having an affair with your husband, and believes he is being incredibly subtle about it.” I’m sorry LW, I hope that isn’t the case!!! But maybe just double check your gut on this one.

      1. Red*

        I am almost 100% positive this has to do with your husband. The fact that he called him over your mistake, seems to prefer talking to him sometimes and the other little details you added has me convinced this has to do with your husband.
        Given the other info you’ve provided as well I’m going to throw my two cents in the hat: your husband is the root of this.
        He’s treating you as an extension of or really the property of your husband. I wish you had a way to see how he treats the wives of other married couples. If he treated them normally and was still weird with you then youd need to have a convo with your husband because I’d bet anything in that case that your husband said something that caused him to behave this way. If he treats all married woman as the inferior half then I’d say its run of the mill misogyny that has taken to an extreme.

    1. meyer lemon*

      This is my favourite kind of Ask a Manager letter. It makes no sense whatsoever and I love it.

      1. Shenandoah*

        It has the added bonus of OP’s career doesn’t seem to be impacted by boss’s odd behavior. We’ve just got a boss doing some weird ass shit that’s not really harmful!

        (OP, I can certainly see being bothered by this though – I don’t mean to imply it’s not a problem, just not on the same level of like Leap Year Birthday Boss or Give Me Your Kidney Boss.)

  56. NMFTG*

    Since we’re speculating wildly today :D

    He had a secret relationship with her husband at college, and wants to rekindle this (or has already), feeling bad about betraying his employee but not at the cost of his seeing her husband.

    1. Anon Time*

      Along those lines, is it possible that he has some sort of iffy history with someone from OP’s past that OP isn’t fully aware of our completely remembering?

      Story time! About a decade after undergrad, I met a friend’s new boyfriend; New Boyfriend and I were in the same class at our alma mater, but we would have only known each other by name. Despite generally seeming like a nice guy, New Boyfriend was kinda shady with me. I didn’t clue into what was going on there until I remembered that New Boyfriend, many years earlier, had an extremely embarrassing incident with a girl we went to university with. Without going into details, it wasn’t anything illegal, but something that would reflect badly on New Boyfriend well into adulthood. By the time I figured out who New Boyfriend was, he’d broken up with my friend anyway and it was a moot point, but had they stayed together longer I would have probably mentioned something.

      If there’s any chance that OP’s boss is more connected to people in OP’s past rather than OP’s husband’s circle, this might be a path that OP might want to investigate a bit further.

  57. This is weird!!*

    This is weird!! Theory: Boss is intimidated by OP. Maybe OP’s particularly charming or graceful in social situations and Boss is not? When discussing work, he’s secure enough in his position and authority. When socializing, he’s flustered or intimidated. This is weird!!

  58. CAS*

    Add me to Team “Boss has a crush on OP.” He can’t bear to look at you when you’re around anyone else for fear of being found out. He asked your husband to discuss your error with you because he can’t bear to be the person who calls you out. Cultivating a relationship with your husband allows him to invite you to his place without being discovered. All of these are “safe” actions he can take to continue being in your presence. He also shares some personal details with you that he doesn’t share with others. To me, this suggests that he is choosing you for a higher level of intimacy or closeness.

  59. Jennifer Strange*

    My silly, unhelpful speculation: The boss thinks OP is a ghost/figment of his imagination and doesn’t speak to her in social setting because he doesn’t think the others see her, and he doesn’t want to look foolish. He thinks the husband also “sees” her (maybe that she’s the ghost of his late wife?) which is why he talks to husband about her, and why he called husband about her mistake instead of just talking to her.

    1. Cormorannt*

      Interesting. OP, are you sure you are not a ghost haunting your boss? He still likes to discuss work issues with you, but he can’t speak directly to you when others are present because of course he cannot publicly acknowledge that he speaks to a ghost that nobody else can see. He thinks that maybe your husband is also haunted by you – but he’s not certain enough to broach the subject directly. He called him about the work problem to see how your husband would react. If that’s the case, go towards the light, OP. Know that you will never truly be gone from their hearts.
      Unless you are not a ghost in which case, WTAF is going on with your boss?

    2. Nicotena*

      The “beautiful mind / sixth sense” theory – very strong explanation, all the pieces fit :D

      OP have you checked that you’re not a plot twist in a movie?

    3. fhqwhgads*

      But he does speak to her in social settings; he just doesn’t look at her when he does it.

    4. quill*

      So if the 6th sense is when your therapist is a ghost, is it the 7th sense when your assistant is a ghost?

    5. quill*

      So if your therapist is a ghost, you have the sixth sense.

      If your subordinate is a ghost, is it the sixth sense or do we need an office related pun for that?

      1. Fernie*

        But…all of US can see OP’s letter. Does that make us ghosts too, or perhaps figments of OP’s boss’s imagination?

  60. Mandi*

    I’m leaning towards the boss having a thing for the LW and way overcompensating to try to prove he doesn’t have a thing for her. This especially makes sense if he hyper-focuses on her husband. Kinda like, “See? I don’t have a thing for your wife. My eyes are glued on you the entire time she’s around; I don’t look at her at all, ever.”

    1. Megan*

      I was thinking this too. I accidentally did this once before to someone in a different context. I was at a track meet and there was an elite wheel chair athlete there. I was very curious about how his chair worked etc and was kind of watching him out of curiosity, but then would look away if he looked at me to avoid appearing rude by staring at him becaue he had a disability. Apparently he noticed I was looking away and thought it was because I had a crush on him so he actually tried to ask me out and brought that up! lol. I didn’t realize my trying not to stare was having a weird noticable affect of looking like I was actively avoiding eye contact which is honestly worse probably than the optics of staring which he’s likely used to by now. (and he was nice, but i did not have a crush on him and I already had a bf at the time.)

  61. Can't wait for Loki S2*

    Hey OP, just want to say that I was once your boss acting this way to a colleague. But not because I was attracted to them but because they reminded me of the person who assaulted me. I just couldn’t look at them without being reminded of the worst day of my life. I was in therapy, and tried very hard to act “normal” but it was difficult and I’d keep slipping back to avoiding them. I felt horrible and embarrassed because the logical part of my brain kept reminding me that I was being weird but I couldn’t help it, the reaction was almost visceral.
    Thankfully I only worked with them for a few months, and had therapy but I’m still embarrassed by it. Its possible that your boss has some traumatic memory too. They’re not dealing with it well but you also may not be able to fix it.

    1. Eat My Squirrel*

      I agree with your user name 100%. Why are these shows only 6 episodes for a year?!?! Augh!

      1. BlueberryFields*

        I’m just here for the username. I had so many feelings this morning. But yeah. Weird boss.

  62. Black Horse Dancing*

    I’m really startled Alison went so easy on this boss. He called her spouse to talk to her about an error! Right there, boss proves he thinks little of OP. Why Alison didn’t rip into boss for that, I am stumped. It is absolutely wrong for boss to be discussing employee performance with spouse, even if they work for the same company. OP, your boss is sexist.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Given how weird the rest of the details of OP’s situation are, her boss is as equally likely to be sexist as he is uncomfortable with dealing with OP on a 1:1 basis and too socially awkward to find more professional ways of masking that. If he behaves normally and professionally with other women, there’s something else at play here. Not something he’s handling well at all, but something else indeed.

  63. Anya the Demon*

    The fact that he called OP’s husband is SUPER weird, and makes me wonder if this is some sort of weird deferential to her husband thing? I’m curious what OP’s husband thinks of it all.

  64. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    Can you adopt a practice of ignoring everything he says unless he’s looking at you or acknowledging you in some way (since this only happens socially). Like what would happen if instead of responding to him in conversations you are simply unaware that he is addressing you? “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were speaking to me.” “Oh can you repeat that? I thought you were speaking to Bob.”

    1. Stumped*

      In the Ask a Manager system, subtle reference usernames are considered especially iconic.

  65. Christina*

    Does he definitely look at other people while they talk? I know some people have sensory processing issues that make it easier for them to understand/comprehend what someone is saying specifically if they are not looking at the person talking.

    1. Eat My Squirrel*

      Boss to Husband: I see dead people.
      Husband: really?
      Boss: the thing is… they don’t know they’re dead…

      1. Sun Tzu*

        Sorry, your boss is behaving so weirdly that I had to look for a supernatural reason! :)

      2. Palliser*

        I would be super cranky if my afterlife consisted of doing work every day, so I hope this isn’t what’s happening to you, OP!

  66. Dark Macadamia*

    Please tell us more about these dinners. I’m entirely baffled that he acts this way, and invites you TO HIS HOME, and you actually SHOW UP, and he still acts this way, and you just go with it? This sounds SO UNCOMFY

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      I saw you mentioned he’s married – how does his wife act? Does she also ignore you? Does she notice how he’s acting? Does she glare at you and make a sinister show of giving you a specific totally-not-poisoned glass of wine?

      1. A Person*

        I’ve been trying to find this and I can’t. It’s not in the original letter, and I just looked thru OP’s replies and don’t see anything. So one of us mis-read and probably it was me, but where does LW say this?

          1. Dark Macadamia*

            One of the responses to Nicotena: “He’s not religious, and not conservative either (pretty liberal). His wife’s pretty normal too.”

  67. Jules the First*

    I had this boss! In a group work setting, he could just about manage to look in my general direction while holding a conversation. In a social setting, or when it was just us one on one, he couldn’t look at me. Many years later, his wife finally shed some light for me – he was newly promoted when I worked with him and was deeply uncomfortable with the idea of being someone’s boss instead of a colleague and so he would get incredibly nervous and self conscious when we were in non-work groups or 1:1 and develop a hangup about looking at me. And we had a great relationship – I planned his wedding; we went on holiday together (with his wife and another group of friends); we had in-jokes and drunken evenings.

    I’m afraid I don’t know how to fix it, but thought I’d let the OP know you’re not alone!

  68. madge*

    OP, how close are your boss and husband and have they known each other the past several years or longer? Is it possible your husband knows something humiliating or secretive about boss and boss is afraid you know or will figure it out? Or are you generally someone who sees into others’ souls? I’m wondering if he feels he can fool everyone else but not you. Work conversations are fine because they’re devoid of any intimacy. The conversation about your mistake was likely to get too intense and therefore uncomfortable for him.

    None of this excuses his behavior, obviously. Also, if you’re hesitant to ask him, feel free to pawn that job off on any of us because I’m dying to know what’s going on.

  69. GrayLady*

    Don’t know why the dig at Jordan Peterson, but at least in my circles, his article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology entitled “Decreased Latent Inhibition Is Associated With Increased Creative Achievement in High-functioning Individuals” was considered really ground-breaking, with a huge impact in the field

    1. Eat My Squirrel*

      His videos started showing up in my YouTube feed a while back for some reason. My opinion, having done no research on him other than watching a few of them, is that for every excellent idea he has, he has at least one that is completely bonkers, and sometimes the way he presents things seems incredibly sexist or bigoted in some way…

      1. Tinker*

        That’s been my impression as well — I see references to his work, and a podcast I loosely follow has had him as a guest a couple times, and for me it’s always gone “huh, that guy has some interesting things to say about archetypes and the construction of narrative… oh gods now he’s having an argument with the horribly shallow strawman librul that lives in his head, this is 110% less interesting”.

        There’s also a reputation specific to “fan of Jordan Peterson”, which is what Alison listed as a potentially undesirable personal trait, that isn’t necessarily about faults Peterson himself has — it’s roughly on a similar level with “how do you know someone’s into keto / Crossfit / etc” and also involves many of the same people. Folks get really intensely into him, and particularly intensely into defending him from even relatively passing slights because apparently if you watch hours and hours of his YouTube videos you find that there is more nuance behind the sort of things that tend to be used as punchlines for offhand Jordan Peterson jokes.

        I have a feeling we’re all about to see a live demonstration of that, actually.

    2. Pool Lounger*

      You can easily Google the issues with him. Transphobia is a major one, among many others.

      1. Reba*

        Right, he has some… views… on gender relations that make the mention very relevant here! Whatever his academic work may be, his work as a public writer/pundit has a much broader audience, and those contributions range from humdrum anti-feminist life advice to really odious, reactionary red pill type stuff.

        1. quill*

          Yes. There are many reasons to nope right out the door when someone says they’re a fan, whether that’s because you’re female, queer… posessed of good taste…

  70. Anon for this*

    I can think of lots of people who have done ground-breaking and impactful work, but also have said and done objectionable things.

  71. StudentA*

    This may not be a pleasant thought, but is it possible he just doesn’t like the LW? I mention this because the thread is already full of more logical assessments. But why not something simpler and more obvious?

    It’s pretty common when you have a strong dislike of someone to avoid looking at them. I’ve definitely been there, on both sides. In the end, bosses are human, and many don’t have the fortitude to set aside a strong dislike for someone or for someone they perceived as having greatly offended them.

    1. OP*

      That’s currently my number one thought. But we do otherwise have a good relationship – he tells me occasional personal details (which he doesn’t share with many others), I’ve helped him out a couple of times when he’s needed it, things like that. So I’m baffled.

      1. Lizzo*

        Is there something else going on with the workplace social dynamics where ignoring you in social situations makes him look…better (?) in the workplace hierarchy? I can’t imagine for the life of me why that would be the case, but stranger things have happened in workplaces…

    2. PT*

      This is what I was thinking too. It’s run of the mill “I’m freezing you out because I don’t like you and want you to leave.”

      I’ve worked with this flavor of workplace bully. They refuse to acknowledge you and hope that other people pick up on it and also start refusing to acknowledge you, until you are so deeply undermined and excluded at work that you cannot do your job. But this sort of bullying is hard to nail down in a report to HR without looking like the crazy person themselves, so victims like this end up having to keep their mouths shut or find new jobs elsewhere. It’s very effective.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Could be, although the added wrinkle of “keeps inviting to his house” gives me pause. Like…are those invites just for plausible deniability? Because it seems it would be even easier to avoid someone you dislike if you stopped having them over to dinner.
        Plus it sounds like work is the only context in which she’s not iced out or unacknowledged, and seems to be not undermined at all there. So if that’s what he’s doing here it seems to be incredibly ineffective.

        1. Pibble*

          Could be that he wants to invite her husband over and doesn’t believe in leaving half of a couple out of an invitation.

    3. Nicotena*

      Kinda seems weird that this would be the ONLY manifestation of that though. If OP had said, “Boss won’t look at me, speaks noticeably colder to me than others, gives me the worst assignments and does most of their communications in terse emails” there’d be no mystery.

      1. Tuesday*

        Exactly. I don’t think that’s it because he trusts and respects her professionally, gives her work opportunities, confides in her, and invites her to dinner. That really doesn’t sound like the way someone behaves around someone they don’t like. That’s what makes the behavior so odd – it’s inconsistent with the way he treats the OP in other respects.

  72. BatManDan*

    I was gonna say “he has a crush on you,” but after reading Alison’s comments, I’ll say it’s equally likely he has a crush on your husband. Although the rest of Alison’s speculation seems spot-on, but my mind went to “crush.”

  73. GigglyPuff*

    My first thought really was: looks like someone who died. But the contacting the husband thing does make all theories even weirder.

  74. Zephy*

    One more bit of wild speculation: OP, are you well-endowed in the chest area? And/or is your boss much taller than you? As a short, chesty lady, I know I have some tops that look fine in the mirror straight-on, but if the observer’s head is above a certain level relative to me, they can see more than they likely bargained for. Maybe he’s perfectly positioned to get an eyeful and is trying to be respectful. Let me be clear: It’s still super weird for him to go about it like this, if that is what’s happening; it’s 100% his problem to solve and it’s not on the LW to figure out how to do that. But maybe that’s an explanation.

    1. OP*

      Well… both of those, yes. (I mean I’m not short, but he is taller than me.) This may be possible.

      I can definitely recall occasions where I’ve worn high necklines and he’s done this, but this sounds like a reasonable theory.

          1. Polly Hedron*

            Then observe his behavior around other well-endowed employees, especially the ones in their twenties.

  75. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    I am curious if the OP is this person’s only female subordinate – you mention having other women in the organization, and that he doesn’t do it to them, but does to you. To me, this seems like a thing I saw a few older individuals, when they had women on their teams – some of them (especially those used to having secretaries) had a tendency to treat those female subordinates almost as ancillary appendages in public.

    Don’t have any solutions to it, if that is the problem, unfortunately. But I’m just wondering if that might be what it is.

  76. Melinda*

    I have a touch of social anxiety that, when particularly flaring, makes it tricky for me to make eye contact with or even look at people I think are really beautiful. I know it’s deeply bizarre, but when my mental illness is bad, it makes me suddenly, irrationally obsessed with the idea that there’s something wrong with my face, so certain good-looking people make me self-conscious. I can’t say that’s what is happening here, but it’s an example of how idiosyncratic anxiety can be. Perhaps you trigger his own very specific stress?

  77. learnedthehardway*

    Based on all of the factors – ie. that the boss socializes normally with other women, treats the OP in a professional situation as normal, but can’t look at her in social situations and addressed her husband when a semi-difficult work situation came up (ie. performance management), I’m concluding that (while this is the boss’s problem), it’s something about the OP individually to which the boss is reacting (ie. not reacting appropriately).

    I would lay odds that the OP is living in a modern day Jane Austen novel, and the boss is desperately in love with her and doesn’t want to give himself away.

    There may also be an undertone of mysognistic behaviour in this – wrt to going to her husband about her performance. I mean, there very probably IS, but perhaps the situation is that the boss cannot bring himself to have difficult conversations with the OP, and if she didn’t have a husband, might have delegated a female coworker (for example) to do that.

    In any case, it’s a can of worms I’d think hard about opening, before addressing it with the boss. I mean, if it is obvious to other people, then it might be worth addressing, but if it is not, then I’d weigh the potential for the boss changing his behaviour to look at the OP against the possibility that it might make things even more awkward.

    1. TiredMama*

      I agree. The fact that he went to OP’s husband instead of OP when there was something difficult to discuss suggests he is afraid of her in some way or feels guilty about something.

    2. not a doctor*

      100% agreed. The dude is absolutely in love with her, can’t bring himself to deal with it, and probably couldn’t bear the thought of disciplining her.

      (Or he could be in love with her AND a misogynist. Lord knows he wouldn’t be the first.)

  78. Campfire Raccoon*

    What if – WHAT IF – the OP is actually a ghost and boss is the only one that can physically see her?

    1. Ginger Baker*

      Nooooo because OP talks to other coworkers…it’s the BOSS who is the ghost and only OP and her husband can see him!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I am seeing the beginnings of an award-winning film in the works here!

        1. Campfire Raccoon*

          So far we’ve determined the OP is a shorter, well-endowed woman who is so blindingly attractive she is hard to look at, even in ghost form. Boss is wracked with guilt, because he’s in love with her husband and is terrified she’s haunting him as a result.

            1. Campfire Raccoon*

              The twins were the ones that murdered her, to replace her with clones. But since her ghost is hanging around, the clones aren’t viable replacements and are shuffling around the basement file room.

  79. Admin 4 life*

    I’m wondering if boss was teased or called out about something in relation to LW and now he’s doing everything he can to avoid her. For example, maybe someone said it looked like he was staring at her so now he never ever looks at her.

    It’s absolutely bizarre. I would be so confused and put off if this behavior was only directed at me. I have autistic coworkers who never look anyone in the eye but they treat everyone the same.

    That and calling LW’s husband to correct a work mistake…that’s way outside of professional norms. It’s so weird that I have to believe that something kicked this off that is no fault of LW’s.

  80. Robin Ellacott*

    This is all really weird, and OP if you ever figure it out, please, please write in and update us!!

    My first thoughts were the boss having a crush on either OP or their husband, but I think I’ve landed more on the idea that there is some reason the boss is self-conscious of the appearance of closeness with OP. Either the boss has a partner who is jealous of her in particular, or he has heard gossip about himself and OP, or something.

    Calling OP’s husband is way beyond the pale and none of it is reasonable on the boss’ part, but that’s my best guess.

    1. Megan*

      your comment about the boss’ spouse possibly being jealous of her could be the reason for it. I had a boss once where we worked really closely together in our roles and got along great both socially and professionally (we were coaches so the role inherently was social in nature) and often had to work late to call recruits. Our relationship was nothing beyond coach and assistant and kind of work friends, but would not hang out alone with him outside of work ever. I met his wife several times and she was fake nice to me, but I could tell she seemed jealous of me and that she tried to control her husband a bit. I was eventually abrubtly fired with no cause or warning and I suspect that partially was an underlying reason for it. I was the highest achieving one in the office and helped him out a ton and made him look good to superiors, so there was no real reason to fire me. He didn’t have eye contact issues w/ me or anything weird like that, but OP’s situation could be something like this.

  81. TootsNYC*

    I had a boss who was almost exactly like this.

    The “almost” came in that she never made any non-work overtures–in fact, when she had people in the department over to see her newly remodeled kitchen, not only was I not invited, but I never heard about it at all–the kitchen OR the gathering.
    A colleague eventually made a comment about the gathering, and I said I wasn’t there, didn’t even know about it. She argued that yes I was. I pointed out that my boss never, ever looks at me during social convos at work; “you should watch sometime.”
    She once came in that department when I was in there for some brief chatting, and she spoke to and looked at both other people in the room, but never me. She didn’t address anything I said; she didn’t answer a question. The other two people did, but she didn’t. And she didn’t breeze back out–she stayed for a bit of chit-chat with them–but never with me. I thought at the time that it must have been SO MUCH WORK to ignore me like that.

    At Christmas, she gave the other two direct reports a really nice present–a shirt she’d been coveting, and really nice earrings. The last day of work before the break, she came and presented me with a little Christmas candle and said a short “Merry Christmas.”
    The next year, she gave everyone on the whole team (even those who didn’t report directly to her) socks for Christmas–but not me.

    But she was perfectly normal when it was work! Just not the casual chit-chat in the office. And she seemed to have a high opinion of me professionally.
    Eventually, the guy who worked for me quit, and at his exit interview, he named her as part of the motivation; she was really critical of him and unwelcoming, even professionally. When the HR guy came to talk to me about something else, I asked him if Frank had said anything that would help me be a better manager if I know of it. So he brought up that comment, and I confirmed. I also told him about her treatment of me. It’s not that she should be friends with me, and it was OK for her to have a clique of people she was closer to but it was just sort of awkward to be THAT assiduously shut out.

    I’m assuming he talked to her, because she got a little better after that.

    I worked with her a few years later at some other job, and she was perfectly fine.

    It was massively weird.

  82. interested librarian*

    this is one of AMA’s best letters ever. to OP, i’m glad you do seem to have such a good relationship with him in so many other ways! i don’t think the issue is that he doesn’t like you or respect you/your work.

    this might be weird, but i have a slight whiff of autism. when i was younger and speaking in front of a group of people or in charge of a meeting, i learned to deliberately avoid looking at one or two particular people because my eyes otherwise WOULD automatically come to rest on them (i don’t know whether it’s for reassurance or to anchor myself in the group or it’s sort of a “uh hey what do i do now,” but it’s that vibe). there are a few times when it happened and the recipient of this gaze would notice/comment on the fact that i kept looking to them! we laughed it off, but it taught me over time that i should cultivate the appearance of greater self-possession…

    and i really do differentiate between work/social settings and find i have a slightly different self-awareness.

    he actually does seem to trust/rely on you a lot! is it possible that maybe you actually ARE ‘his person’ in this weird way i am sort of gesturing at describing?

    1. OP*

      Yeah that may be possible! I have Aspergers and think he might too (though I don’t know). I did wonder if it may be linked.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        OP, is he aware of this? Could you remind him of elements within himself with which he is uncomfortable?

        1. meyer lemon*

          Alternately, it may be possible that if he’s more comfortable with the LW than others, he may not feel as much pressure to look her in the face. That doesn’t explain the weirdness with her husband, though.

      2. Haha Lala*

        Or is it possible your boss found out you have Aspergers and that’s what caused him stop looking at you? Maybe your husband (or someone else) mentioned it offhand, and then Boss decided that the best way to interact with you was by not making eye contact or looking at you? He could be trying to ‘accommodate’ you without you knowing or wanting him to. Not that it excuses his behavior, but it could be easier to correct if that’s the cause!

        1. not a doctor*

          I’d think if that were the case, he’d make the same effort to avoid eye contact during work conversations (where such an ‘accommodation’ would be even more important!).

        2. rototiller*

          I had the same thought. If he’s got some weird ableism stuff going on, that could also be relevant to calling OP’s husband – like if it’s an infantalizing thing. “You’re responsible for her, so you have to explain the problem to her” or something.

        3. Some Girl*

          This is exactly what I thought! Common thought on the internet is that neurodivergent individuals have difficulty or dislike making eye contact. When I was reading the post I found myself wondering if he knew (or simply thought) you might be neurodivergent and was avoiding eye contact as an attempt at making you more comfortable. I’m not saying he’s going about this in the right way, but I hope it’s a misguided attempt at niceness!

      3. Eat My Squirrel*

        Ohhhh… I read this, then I went back and read your letter again. OP, I think there very much could be a mental illness at play here. I have Borderline Personality Disorder, and one of the ways it manifests is that I have a Favorite Person. My FP is the person who my emotional life revolves around. If he says something nice to me I’m high for weeks. If he doesn’t answer a text, I feel completely miserable about myself and spiral down into depression. He is my work mentor… and shortly after he told me he didn’t want to see me outside of work (after 9 months of maybes that never turned into yeses), I became suicidal. That was three years ago, and I’m getting help now, but even now, in the days or weeks leading up to a scheduled mentoring session, I get so nervous and anxious that I have panic attacks, can’t sleep, can’t focus on anything. When the appointed time comes, I feel so nervous it’s worse than a job interview, and I act super weird and stiff because I am TERRIFIED that he is going to leave me. That he will say he doesn’t want to mentor me anymore and goodbye. I can’t look at him. I can barely speak to him. I can’t say anything I spent countless sleepless nights rehearsing in my head. An outside observer might think I obviously do not like him and do not want to be there. But he’s usually warm and caring and knows how to draw me into conversation, and I will slowly calm down and open up and then things are great. We have had very intimate conversations about quite private things. I tell him things I don’t tell other people. Back before covid, if I ran into him in the hallway between meetings, I could smile and chat and be completely normal, because there was no pressure. But put me in a scheduled meeting that at any point here may choose to end, and I’m dying inside, I want to vomit, I can’t look at him. I will look anywhere else but at him.

        So all of this is to say, it completely makes sense that he has some disorder where you are His Person. He has a good relationship with you. He confides in you. Work conversations are not scary because it’s work and he’s your boss and you can’t disown him in that situation. Social conversations are SCARY AS HELL because YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE HIM ANYMORE AND YOU MIGHT LEAVE. He called your husband to discipline you for a screw up because if he disciplined you, YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE HIM ANYMORE AND YOU MIGHT QUIT AND LEAVE. It all makes sense!

    2. Ana*

      This would be my theory. I used to have pretty bad social anxiety when I was younger, which gave me a tendency to “anchor” myself to one person when speaking with a group or in public. It was just something constant to focus on in a social situation that felt too complex and anxiety-inducing for me to take in completely.

      My brain would usually have a running commentary of stuff like “You’ve looked at them 10 times in the past 5 minutes. You’re being creepy!” or “You’ve been hogging this person and they probably want to go talk to someone else; you need to leave them.” I’m sure I overcompensated by ignoring folks at times.

      1. interested librarian*

        thanks for explaining that so well! :) i totally get what you’re saying.

  83. SaddestSquonk*

    Just an anecdotal note about the “you remind him of someone else” theory. I once worked fairly closely (for a little over a year) with a consultant that was hired by my company. This person looked so, so much like a close friend of mine who passed away in traumatic circumstances. The person even had some of the same idiosyncrasies, it was truly uncanny. I could barely ever look at the consultant, even though they were fantastic at their job, pleasant, and professional, I just… couldn’t. I’m fairly sure that I was pleasant and professional back, and we knocked the project out of the park and collected a lot of industry cred and internal kudos from both of our organizations, but working with them was torture for me, and despite our good work on the project, I’ve deliberately never collaborated with them again, though I did give them glowing reviews and have since passed them a few clients and project recommendations that they’ve been able to take advantage of. I assume they just think of me as a quirky weirdo who’s good at the job, but odd. I’ve never talked to them about it, and only ever really talked about it with my spouse and my therapist. However, I think if it had been a situation where I was this person’s boss and/or had a working relationship that spanned 6 years (!) I’d have just frankly told them why I was being weird.

    1. Old Admin*

      I actually have a similar situation at work.
      A fairly new colleague C. looks *exactly* like a close and dear old friend who suddenly passed away much too young a number of years ago, to the degree it was hard for me to look at my colleague.
      The twist is, C. doesn’t like me. At all. (He’s in a privileged position at the company, I’m not.)

      It was pretty hard to take the snark and non-acknowledgement from a Dear Friend lookalike… until Covid put us all firmly in work from home, giving me a chance to get used to the situation. Phew.

  84. TiredMama*

    This is crazy and the fact that it does not do this with any other women in the office (assuming he manages some of them too) means it has to be in some way personal to you – like Alison said, you look like someone, he fancies you, he had a cross on you in middle school or asked you on a date in college? After this many years, I would have to ask him.

  85. Megan*

    This is a wild specultation, but could he possibly be having an affair with OP’s husband and feels guilty about it? My other best guess is he’s attracted to OP and is able to fake it through work talk, but is overcompensating when trying to avoid staring at OP who he thinks is hot and not looking at her at all during social situations. I’d like to know if OP woul generally be considered to be very good looking and more so than other female employees there. I get OP might not want to boast “yes, I’m hot,” but most people would be able to tell if they legit were clearly the hot one in the office even if they aren’t going to go around saying that. I’m not saying her being hot excuses his behavior, but might be the cause of it.

  86. BlueBelle*

    This has to be one of the oddest things I have ever read here! I have read all of OP’s comments and I am completely stumped. All I can think about is the Kids in the Hall skit with the guy who had a fly stuck to his face. LOL Sorry, OP. I am not making light of this, but it is what my mind keeps going to. If you aren’t familiar with it, search for it for a good laugh.
    Good luck and please let us know what happens!!!

  87. Anonymous Hippo*

    This is wild speculation because where else do you go with a question like this, but by any chance could you be really intense in your eye contact? I’ve known people like that who I avoid eye contact with because they like somehow tractor-bean your eye and you basically feel like your frozen there and can barely pull away to shift eye contact when speaking to someone else. It’s pretty unlikely, but it’s all I’ve got.

  88. Lord Voldemort of Dance*

    God, I love this site. Where else could I read about this kind of butter-in-parsley puzzle or the response to it?

    I love AAM.

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      “butter-in-parsley puzzle”

      I am unfamiliar with this phrase and Google isn’t being helpful. What does this mean?

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Same here! (Although for googling this, I now have a lot of lovely recipes for fillet of sole.)

      2. Bibliothecarial*

        It refers to Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery by observing the depth to which the parsley had sunk* in the butter on a hot day. A passing comment in another story, so we will never really know how he fit the clues together.

        *Sank? Sinked? Sinkded?

  89. Zev*

    Alison, I’m kind of shocked you didn’t address the fact that instead of informing OP she had made a mistake and discussing it directly with her, the boss *called her husband* and had *him* tell her. That seems like a MUCH more significant management issue than the looking thing, and I’m concerned about the impact on OP’s performance as well as her ability to get a good reference from him in the future.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      The letter mentioned that event, but that doesn’t seem to be the crux of the question, the LW’s main concern or even why she’s asking. The primary question the letter is asking is about the not looking at her thing. I assume that’s why the answer focuses on that.

    2. Rectilinear Propagation*

      OP/LW doesn’t need help with that part though, she already addressed it with her boss. It sounds like she’ll have to do it again since he apologized to her husband instead of her but it doesn’t seem like she needs a script or any other help there.

  90. My Brain is Exploding*

    I don’t know what theory to vote for, but I’ll pose another. Is there some reason he is at BEC stage with you, but knows it’s on him, not you, and just doesn’t look to avoid losing it? Examples: someone who plays with their hair constantly, or bites their nails (although: gross, I’d probably say something) or talks with their mouth full.

      1. Lucien Nova*

        B*tch eating crackers – when you get to the point every little thing someone does, even innocently eating crackers, ticks you off. It comes from a someecard meme I believe. “Look at that b*tch over there eating crackers like she owns the place.”

      2. Fortuona*

        it stands for “bitch eating crackers,” meaning like when you get to a point where you’re so annoyed with a person that ANYTHING they do gets on your nerves (e.g. “Look at that bitch over there eating crackers like she’s better than everyone else”)

        So, innocuous behaviour that wouldn’t annoy you except that it’s done by That Person.

  91. Cora*

    I definitely think he’s in love with you or your husband. Wasn’t there a question here a while back where someone was writing in because their direct report was so attractive it was distracting? Maybe its something like that.

  92. HereKittyKitty*

    I feel like given all the other info… it’s likely something so specific and so personal you’re likely never to know the real reason. If he treats you well otherwise, I guess either let it go or bring it up and ask? This is a puzzle!

    I guess somewhat related at my first job there was a new person hired in another department (I would never work with him in any capacity) and he looked JUST LIKE MY STALKER. Like my ex-bf was violent and then after the breakup stalked me and this guy looked so much like him that the first time I saw him I physically jumped and my heart raced. I felt terrible because obviously, this new guy was not him, but man, my body just did not like seeing him. Maybe it’s something like that?

    1. quill*

      Had a similar thing happen in college – had a guy whose eyes, not even the rest of him, just his eyes, looked exactly like my stalker ex-friend’s. Threw me for a loop but was by no means the weirdest thing that came up around that guy, and he went away (from my social sphere, anyhow) on his own after a semester.

  93. Deaf*

    I’m partially deaf so if someone did this the outcome would mean I never even heard them. Next time he won’t look at you ignore him. Force him to turn around. Then say ‘I’ve been experiencing some hearing loss so I can only follow what you say if you are facing me’. I have to say it all the time. If I were you I would go to HR this has been going on for years, waaaaay too long

    Go to the social event he is inviting you to and tell your husband to point it out to him when he does it – he doesn’t work there so it would be ideal.

    Why so many people are ignoring the letter is beyond me. Most comments are not relevant, he doesn’t do it to any other woman.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      It sounds like the husband DOES work there, just not directly with LW or her boss.

  94. My Brain is Exploding*

    OOH, or maybe someone told him that you’re in love with him! And he doesn’t want to encourage you!

  95. Coffee Owlccountant*

    OP I applaud you because this letter is perfectly suited for AAM Fanfiction and also it’s extremely difficult to stump Alison. What a weird and awkward thing for you, though!

    Since we’re wildly speculating here, it is at all possible that only during social conversations with your boss, you subconsciously project a holograph of yourself to some other location that only Boss can see and THAT is what Boss is looking at? That’s what I’m going to put my money on.

  96. Former Retail Lifer*

    I feel like someone must have accused him of ogling the OP in a social setting before. That’s why he won’t even look at her when other people are around but he’s got no problem acting normally at work.

  97. RagingADHD*

    I’m going to go for the theory that someone in LW’s family wronged him or his family in some way that she doesn’t know about. He knows it isn’t really her fault, and therefore maintains professional contact when talking about work.

    But socially, he can’t get over the urge to shun her because the hurt is too raw.

  98. Jam Today*

    I have had this happen to me exactly once and it was because my boss had tried to initiate an affair with me, which I flatly rejected but continued to work with him because its a small industry and I actually like what I do I just figured I could try and thread that needle, and I think sublimated his embarrassment into this weird inability to acknowledge me directly.

    (It actually wound up escalating into outright hostility and a-holery after a while, enough that I made two runs to HR in less than a month, and he resigned four weeks after that, so that’s how that ended.)

  99. kathy*

    Maybe it’s unrelated to your gender/race/etc. Maybe he thinks you’re very good and a threat to his job.

    Alternatively, maybe he thinks that the social aspects are making you lose focus? I have sometimes gently tried to discourage socialization with some of my direct reports in the past because they seem to find that part of the job (and yes, it is part of my job) TOO FUN and forget about the more boring parts. I have definitely told my reports that they won’t be invited to client events until tasks x and y are finished, for example. Maybe the LW’s boss is trying to do the same but his method is too indirect.

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      Apparently he does this even when inviting OP and her husband over for dinner.

  100. That One Person*

    So many possibilities, though I can’t help but wonder if any of the other coworkers noticed without hinting or provocation. I mean if he actively stares at most people while he addresses them, it would be weird over time to never stare at OP. I did like someone’s suggestion to try and get into his line of sight to see how he responds, but otherwise I’m of the camp to ask him directly while in a more private setting rather than calling him on it in a group. Hopefully he’ll be honest with his answer.

  101. moneypenny*

    I’d like to think Boss was very embarrassed for going past OP’s head to her husband, and he can’t get it together enough to ask forgiveness from her or make the attempt to be normal.

  102. Barbara Eyiuche*

    Is the OP fat? I am, and one boss clearly did not like this. Several men, in fact, don’t acknowledge me or talk to me, even when in situations where they are talking to everyone else.

      1. moneypenny*

        Busty could be the exact thing he’s not looking at or afraid of. Or made uncomfortable by.

  103. AccountingNerd*

    OP – is there any chance your husband gives off a big/scary vibe and/or appearance and Boss is afraid of him?
    My husband is under 6′ tall, but has actually been asked if he’s a hit man by a waitress at a diner he frequented because of the “vibe.” I’ve also had close male friends tell me hubs gives off that “don’t mess with my wife or else” vibe.

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      Oh! This is the exact opposite of my theory, which is that Boss thinks of OP/LW as super fragile for some reason and is afraid offending or hurting her feelings with something he says. I figured that might explain his avoidance of talking directly to her socially and why he’s OK with work conversations…until he had to criticize her.

      I think your theory works better but either way I’m curious if in addition to not looking at her if he avoid speaking to her at all in a group setting when possible.

    2. Momof1*

      This was my theory, also. OP, is it possible your husband did or said something, hopefully unintentionally but maybe intentionally, to cause Boss to feel the need to treat you like this? It’s the only thing I can think of that makes any sense at all.

  104. Mystic*

    Y’all are missing the most obvious idea.
    OP….are you Medusa? /j

    This is really bizarre, maybe try to rope friends/coworkers/husband into subtly directing attention to it?

  105. Phoenix Wright*

    The only reason I can come up with is that OP is a vampire. We all know the phrase “The eyes are the mirror of the soul”, right? Those of us who are prepared for the worst-case scenarios are well aware that vampires do not reflect on mirrors. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that OP’s boss is physically incapable of seeing her. There’s no other explanation, this is hard science.

    Likewise, the reason OP can come into her boss’ house is simple. Decades of research from experts in the field have proven that the only way a vampire can enter an occupied home is via an invitation from its owner. Thus we can conclude that these dinner parties have given her the power required to cross the threshold into his domain.

    And finally, we have the matter of not addressing OP’s mistake personally, and instead using her husband as a proxy. This is conclusive evidence that she is a spawn of nosferatu, because who in their right mind would dare to confront a vampire head-on? These unholy creatures of the night are indescribably lethal, and the only tools that can effectively combat them —such as a string of garlic, a wooden stake, or holy water— would make her boss appear as a lunatic when wielded in the workplace. Because, let’s be honest here: would you believe your boss if they told you your coworker is secretly a vampire? No, you’d think they have watched one too many supernatural movies and also please get that stake away from my face, it’s so pointy and probably dangerous too.

    In short: OP is an undercover vampire, and her boss may have caught up to her.

  106. Elizabeth West*

    I haven’t the slightest clue why he would do this, but I think it’s a him thing and not you, OP. He needs to just deal with whatever the hell his problem is.
    And calling your husband about your work? Good gaw. That’s really unprofessional.

  107. So Many Questions*

    Anyone else feel like not looking at the OP is the least of the problems here? Obviously it’s mentioned that it’s so strange to call her husband to talk about a work mistake but…that’s so over the line! Like truly bizarre and I am baffled that this was a side note, not the main problem in this question. Also, I’m wondering why there seem to be so many social situations. Is it possible these are work/social like a drink after work, or even casual chats but at the office during work hours? The OP does mention a friend during one of these situations, but it’s not clear if that’s a work friend or a nonwork friend. I find it unusual that if these are truly social nonwork situations with other nonwork friends, that there are so many of them. Are there a lot, or does it just sound that way? If they’re nonwork social, does your boss invite you, is it a coincidence, does a mutual friend invite you both, do you initiate…? This might be interesting to consider that perhaps the boss is resentful that his nonwork social events have become work related by having an employee there. Not an excuse for weird behavior, but perhaps a start to an explanation?

    1. OP*

      These are mostly casual chats round the office, normally while getting coffee. We don’t really socialise too much outside the office.

      And yeah, the fact he rang my husband was definitely the more egregious thing, but in terms of advice I just wanted to know what might be going on, or if I could use a script to bring it up.

      1. Caliente*

        OK can you ask him if he can see something in your eye because something feels weird in there?

  108. Nervous Intern*

    Oh my stars OP how have you managed to tolerate this without blurting it out? I wouldnt be able to continue working without trying to bring it up, I am very bad at letting things like this sit if there is something I could do. Not to imply you did anything wrong but I almost feel like.. if you have a good rapport otherwise, is there not a way to go “I may be mistaken and apologies if so, but I have noticed xyz”. probably not advisable I just cant handle something happening like this without naming the elephant in the room.

    I also wonder, maybe there is a safety in the performative nature of work and role that is lost in social settings, but because he thinks highly of you he still invites you? Like he is aware he is behaving oddly but doesnt want it to prevent you from networking or feeling valued otherwise. Such an odd situation

  109. Bossy Magoo*

    Before reading Alison’s response my knee-jerk reaction is that he’s attracted to her and this is his way of keeping distance.

    1. misspiggy*

      But then why the call to her husband, instead of having a professional conversation about it in the office?

      1. Lucien Nova*

        One doesn’t like to criticise the people one is attracted to, perhaps? Not that I’d know that from experience, I’ve never once held back on a criticism because I have feelings for the person, nope… *innocent face*

  110. e271828*

    It doesn’t matter why it’s happening. Boss is an adult and he is doing this. OP is very patient to have put up with being non-personed for so long. Despite the apparently decent treatment at work, maybe it’s time to look around and see if there are opportunities elsewhere, working for people who will address OP directly in all situations? Even if nothing turns up immediately, it’s always good to know what options there are.

  111. It Could Happen*

    Someone started a rumor that you two were having an affair and your boss can’t look at you any more for fear the rumors will start again.

  112. sparkly mouse*

    This has happened to me with a superior before. My only theory is that the person found me attractive in some way and/or that something about direct eye contact with me made him personally uncomfortable and he avoided it whenever possible. This happened in several situations:

    1. When I was with my partner, and he only looked at my partner, even when speaking to us both.
    2. When I was with a group or social setting, he would look at other people who were not me. Usually, I noticed that they were male–but not always.
    3. Similarly, my superior did invite me to social situations.
    4. One-on-one, in a work environment, he did meet my eyes. I think this was because there is really not much of a choice unless you’re really trying to make a point.
    5. We had a positive working relationship and were very friendly. We are still in touch

    I never figured it out. The woman thing, for me, was my first guess, but like the OP, it wasn’t consistent. And it was annoying. It still remains one of the great mysteries of social interaction that I’ve had.

    1. OP*

      Yes this is pretty much my situation. It’s kinda nice to know it doesn’t just happen to me!

      1. Youth Services Librarian*

        When I’m just with colleagues or people I’m comfortable with, I don’t stress as much about remembering to look at people’s faces/eyes and I have also not recognized my own staff that I’ve known for years when I ran into them at the store… so that was where my mind went first, but the rest of this is…. so…. weird….

        1. else*

          Do you have face blindness? I have a low-level version of this and a poor visual memory, and I often have this kind of problem when I see people out of context that I know them in.

        1. Llama face!*

          Double plot twist: sparkly mouse and OP are also actually the same person but one of them is further in the future. Or possibly they exist in neighbouring alternate realities that somehow merge on the AAM website.

  113. Miss attitude*

    I’d wait until he’s asking a question or making a statement that warrants a response, not respond until he looked at me or repeated himself and then I would say something like “oh you were talking to me? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you clearly because you were looking the other direction.”

  114. Regatta*

    I’ve had this happen to me at work before – I’ll work with someone who clearly was really popular in high school, and thinks I’m nerdy/not cool enough. They’ll talk with me at work, and meet my eye there, and even may share something about themselves – at work. But if we end up in a social situation, they’ll revert to their “too cool for you” natural state, and act like – why is this person talking to me? Which includes not meeting my eye. It’s pretty rare, thankfully, and happened more in my 20s. Maybe something like this is happening with this guy? And he thinks for whatever reason your husband is “cool”, just not you?

    This guy reminds me of the John Mulvaney character is this sketch:

  115. Regatta*

    I’ve had this happen to me at work before – I’ll work with someone who clearly was really popular in high school, and thinks I’m nerdy/not cool enough. They’ll talk with me at work, and meet my eye there, and even may share something about themselves – at work. But if we end up in a social situation, they’ll revert to their “too cool for you” natural state, and act like – why is this person talking to me? Which includes not meeting my eye. It’s pretty rare, thankfully, and happened more in my 20s. Maybe something like this is happening with this guy? And he thinks for whatever reason your husband is “cool”, just not you?

    This guy reminds me of the John Mulvaney character is the sketch (google SNL “What’s That Name”).

  116. Chauncy Gardener*

    Why, oh why, did I decide to work in the office today? I’ve been cackling wickedly into my screen while reading this thread and just thanking all gods, your choice, for this OP and the Commentariat today

  117. I edit everything*

    Whether or not Boss is attracted to OP, he wants to make sure people don’t perceive him as attracted to her. I think he has a jealous partner, who snoops in his phone, and *that’s* why he called OP’s husband about the work thing. It sounds like it was after hours, probably on a personal phone, and his partner would get upset if they saw OP’s name in the call log.

    Either that or your boss’s child was kidnapped, and OP looks like the speculative aging thing someone did to keep the picture accurate, age wise. OP, are you confident your parents are actually your parents? Maybe a DNA test is called for.

    1. allathian*

      Same here. I can’t imagine ever spending any time socially with a person who wouldn’t look at me. Even if they were my boss.

      But the boss calling the husband was really odd. I hope the OP can enlist her husband to help put a stop to that sort of behavior.

  118. Katiesloth*

    Is it possible that your husband has said something to him in the past that would make him fearful? along the lines of “defending your honor” or something? Maybe something happened that you aren’t aware of?

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      Yes, the OP doesnt say what the husband thinks of this. I think the best thing would be to bring this up when they are all are having dinner together and the boss does it.

  119. Helen*

    When you say he has confided in you personal details that he hasn’t other people could he 1. Be embarrassed he confided in you, 2. Be afraid that you will tell other people what he confided in you or 3. Be angry because you have already told other people what he confided in you? Not sure as the behaviour of contacting your husband about a work issue is still deeply weird, but it seems odd that he would confide in you and then ignore you so I wonder if they are linked in some way.

  120. secret commenter*

    I hope this isn’t too weird, but it’s possible that OP could look like…um…someone in the type of p*rn he looks at? I only say that bc it covers the attraction piece and literally every single body type and physical feature has associated p*rn. It’s def, def, not just conventionally “hot” women or women you would think of and maybe the boss is ashamed when he looks at OP.

    Sorry. It’s just the only possibility I’ve seen that hasn’t been covered, and according to most men I know, its a VERY real possibility.

  121. MaryH*

    My guess: He thinks of her as an extension of himself. When it’s just them, it’s like talking to himself. When other people are around, the existence of other people interacting with OP and himself separately messes with his subconscious idea of them being a single self.

  122. Berlie Girl*

    Is his wife at the social events when this happens? Maybe he talked about you fondly at home too many times and she suspects an affair, so he makes sure she never catches him looking at you. But at work, without her watching him, he is fine.


    1. Sleeve McQueen*

      This was where I went too. Either that or OP has a hanging booger at every single social occasion.

  123. Krabby*

    My husband has a problem making eye contact with people (I have to poke him when we’re at parties to stop him from looking only at me when he’s talking to a group). It comes largely from him Working FH for many years and he’s definitely getting better. That said, he avoids eye contact with EVERYONE except me and a few friends and family members. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case with your boss. This is truly bizarre.

  124. Essess*

    To be honest, we could speculate all day but never know. I had someone who suddenly started to never acknowledge me in a group. He would say hi to every other person. This went on for months until one of the other friends noticed and physically grabbed him and pushed him to face me and told him to say “hi”. He truly didn’t realize he was doing it and had no actual reason for it. We’ve been friends for years since then and socialized frequently in groups and one-on-one and he still says he never even realized he was doing that until it was pointed out.
    You really should just ask your boss if there’s something that you’ve done that has caused him to be unable to look at you when conversing. Or alternately, you could say to him “I’m having a hard time hearing you when you aren’t facing me when you talk to me” to make it less threatening than asking for a direct reason and maybe jog him to stop doing it.

  125. nnn*

    I so want to hear the boss’s side of the story on this! I can imagine all manner of reasons why a person might be unwilling or unable to look at another person, but I can’t imagine any where it’s suddenly possible to look at OP if they’re talking about work-related things! It’s like some kind of bizarro magic spell or something!

  126. Curious Lurker*

    I haven’t read all the comments, so not sure if it’s already been discussed, so I’m going to throw it out there –
    Boss is clearly alienating and dismissive of OP in social groups. I’d even say, he’s publicly intentionally demonstrating she’s his inferior. If this was a couple of high school girls, we would be picking up on all sorts of bitchy power dynamics spawned from jealousy and/or betrayal. Is it possible that OP’s boss has feelings for her husband?

  127. NoDumbBlonde*

    My boss does this, too, except also at work. He’s male; I’m female, and I’m about nine years older than he is. We both have immense respect for each other, and we’re both introverted, but with a sense of humor. He’ll tease our staff attorney (female, same age as me) but NEVER me. I was originally a contractor on an IT project of his for 3 years and when a somewhat related but broader position opened up, he very respectfully suggested I apply, but he knew I’d make less than my contractor rate (but, to me, the great benefits more than offset that, and I told him so). Still, he bent over backwards to make the job attractive to me, and I gladly followed his suggestion to apply, but I very carefully approached the interview process as though I had to earn it (because I did). I was offered the job, which I gladly accepted, and nearly five years later I still enjoy working for and with him. So the arm’s-length relationship has always puzzled me. It’s almost like I intimidate him, which would be absurd! I’m good at my job and performance reviews are always stellar (and I’m always appreciative!) but he’s also great at his job, and is the kind of manager anyone would love to have. It feels like he’s either intimidated or is still worried I’ll take another job somewhere else for more money, despite me telling him in reviews that I’m happy there. L It’s like he works extra hard to be scrupulously professional at all times around me, which leads to almost no eye contact. (Being somewhat introverted, neither of us is real good at that anyway.) Is it possible this letter writer’s manager is intimidated by her in some way, or worried she’ll be offended and leave if he looks at her wrong (or at all)?

  128. MarisaNova*

    He has a HUGE crush on her. This happened to me many years ago. It finally stopped when my boss got himself a girlfriend. After that he had no problem looking me in the eyes when we talked.

  129. LabGirl*

    I may have missed it if OP talked about it but is it possible that your husband is jealous and approached you boss and told him to back off or not to be alone with you or something like that?

  130. Lee*

    Male boss perspective here. I have a few attractive young women who work for me. I am extremely conscious of where I am physically (I’m a rather large individual) around them and where my gaze lands. I find it much easier and less tempting to adhere to a “focus on somewhere else” when talking with them. I don’t want to be the creepy old guy boss. Truth be told, I think they’re all very qualified professionals and I’m just being paranoid. But, once Infantry, always Infantry, so I engage the clutch on my mouth and brain daily. Keeps me out of HR’s office.

  131. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    “like you’re religious and he’s a bigot, or he’s religious and thinks you’re a bigot.”
    Allison, really? Are you actually saying that non-religious folks are bigots? Because that’s how this sounds.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I think I see the confusion: Sleeping Late though you were saying there are two types of people, religious or bigoted.

        Whereas I think what you actually meant was that it could have to do with real or perceived bigotry towards *for example* religious people.

  132. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    This isn’t very helpful, but I’d chalk it up to: sometimes people are just. plain. weird.

  133. Sally*

    The only thing I can think of is that the boss might have heard a rumor that something romantic is going on between him and the OP. This can be also why he invites you both to his house to show that he is friendly with the couple and of course, nothing is going on. Also, maybe to show OP’s husband that he has no interest in OP whatsoever. In any case, this is all very WEIRD.

  134. Elle by the sea*

    I had a colleague like that. I didn’t work with him directly, but he was the centre of attention and everyone congregated around him in social settings. He was extremely chatty and friendly with everyone but me. Especially with white women. (He was a non-white man and I’m a white woman.) But it was like that right from the day I joined. I was the only one who he didn’t introduce himself to. I tried to introduce myself to him, but he looked away after a few seconds. He never looked at me, never addressed me. He offered to bring drinks to everyone but me. He bantered with everyone but me. I didn’t understand what was going on, because he couldn’t even get to know me to develop an aversion to me. He was never rude or anything – to be able to be rude, you at least need to acknowledge the presence of a person. He seemed deeply uncomfortable with me and I have no idea why.

  135. ecnaseener*

    Okay okay how’s this: Boss suggested to his wife that it might be fun to have a foursome with OP and husband. Wife was vehemently against this and horrified that her husband would want to partake in group sex, chastises him for being attracted to OP. Boss is actually attracted to the husband (in addition to or instead of OP, your pick) but he sure isn’t going to admit that now and make her madder. The ensuing argument leads to Boss agreeing not to look at OP in social settings, but he continues to carry a secret torch for the husband.

  136. Effective Immediately*

    I wish I had something more productive to add to this bizarre situation, but I just had to say ‘Jordan Peterson fan’ made me cackle.

  137. OP*

    Hi, thanks Alison for taking the time to answer my question! I absolutely love all these comments and speculations (though I’m slightly worried if I keep reading some of them I may start to doubt my own existence… ;))

    Let me address a few points and theories:

    – I may be significantly biased, but I struggle to believe he has a crush on either me or my husband. Maybe I just don’t want to believe it? (Though some of the racier speculations did make me laugh quite a bit!)
    – Some of these situations are outside the office, but a lot occur inside – during a coffee break or so forth. Sometimes we’ll be chatting about something casual (politics, someone else’s weekend plans, or something) and he won’t look at me, and a minute later within the same conversation he’ll look at me to ask something like how a project’s going.
    – His wife seems nice and normal, though I’ve actually only seen her once – she doesn’t work conventional hours so isn’t present socialising or at his house as much as she might be. I’m struggling to imagine she’s massively involved.
    – He’s neither religious nor conservative.
    – My husband’s never been jealous that I’ve known him, and I don’t think he’s spoken with my boss about me except where necessary. He doesn’t have an aggressive vibe either.
    – I wish I were Medusa.
    – My husband only noticed his behaviour recently, and only when I pointed it out.
    – In the same way, I don’t think other people notice a lot – it took me long enough. If it happens once, I think people are likely to brush it off, or think ‘maybe he can’t be bothered to turn his head for one remark’, or think it’s odd but just that one time. It’s only when you notice it as a pattern (coupled with there being no obvious explanation) that it seems odd.
    – It’s not limited to when my husband’s around, either.
    – I don’t really like to call it out in the moment as there’s generally other people around, and I don’t want it to get awkward for them. Some of these scripts though, are helpful.
    – Also I don’t like to use my husband as a go-between a lot (especially since he rang him about me!), I’m trying to ‘train’ him into dealing directly with me and not others like my husband.

    I think I’ve covered most of it?

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP, thank you for sharing so much. This is one of the most puzzling situations I’ve seen in AAM. I hope you address it with your manager. I also hope you’ll send an update…and I would bet many other readers hope so, too!

    2. Anthony J Crowley*

      – I wish I were Medusa

      OP you are hilarious :)

      This is all SO BIZARRE. We would all love an update if you ever have one! :)

    3. TPS Reporter*

      I’m so sorry for you. You shouldn’t have to deal with this or have to be distracted by this kind of thing from your boss. It is work and regardless of his feelings towards you socially (whether he has a massive crush or a deep hatred or some other unspecified social awkward feeling towards you) he should be professional. It’s one thing if he’s in general kind of an a-hole to the whole office but another if he’s treating you specifically in an odd way.

      I say screw up the courage to talk to him one day, maybe at his house after a few drinks.

    4. Ellie*

      This is really weird OP… I really have no idea, but if I had to bet, I’d say there is something about your physical appearance that makes him uncomfortable (you look like someone he used to know, or you’re a type that he has trouble dealing with), and he’s someone who has trouble with confidence/eye contact, and the two are combining in this odd way. I’m probably projecting though… I have trouble with eye contact, and am quite a shy/introverted person, but I’ve trained myself out of it during work situations. I also have trouble with a certain kind of aggressive/assertive alpha male type, that makes me nervous around perfectly normal people who exhibit it. I can see this combining to produce this kind of behaviour.

      The calling your husband to point out your mistake though is really weird, and I’m glad you called him on it. Since he dealt with that well, he might deal with this reasonably well if you bring it up to him?

  138. Ailsa McNonagon*

    My best guess is that he’s got some really strong feelings about you (love, hate- something really powerful) and he can’t trust himself to look at you when he speaks to you. The only way to find out what’s going on is to ask!

  139. Merykhet*

    Pet hypothesis – he had an inappropriate dream about you early on (brains are weird, doesn’t mean anything) and was so flustered and embarrassed that this is his coping mechanism.

  140. 2Legit*

    The not looking at her part – reminds me of the movie Love Actually. Remember when Andrew Lincoln gets found out? Keira Knightly tries to “win him over” because she thinks that he dislikes her… And a guest at the wedding thinks that he is in love with her man…. But the real reason is that he is smitten with her! He can’t reveal it because his best friend is marrying his crush! Calling the husband about her work mistake is odd… But I do wonder if the best solution is to just let thus sort itself out… And Perhaps it would benefit everyone to focus more on work for a while… Maybe scale back on the social interactions… And maybe reset to some more professional boundaries? This guy might be confused and if he is, focusing on work is a good place to start. Don’t make it more awkward.

  141. JB*

    I do this to some people.

    It’s not intentional, and it’s something I have tried to correct and cannot. It’s one of my few always-noticeable autism symptoms.

    I can fake eye contact with most people, but if someone has a particularly ‘intense’ stare (I don’t think it’s anything they’re doing on purpose or to do with their expression – more to do with how long they try to make direct eye contact without looking away) and I have the option of not looking at them, I can’t make myself do it for more than a couple of seconds. It’s like putting your hand on a hot stove, except the sensation is happening in my brain.

    I’m not proposing this is what’s going on here; there’s really no way for anyone but the boss to know why he’s doing what he’s doing. But with all the wild theories going around, I wanted to throw out a reason this behaviour might happen in general.

  142. PlainJane*

    Hmm. Since it’s been clarified that it’s not overtly a sexist issue–I wonder, was OP hired after her husband? Like, the boss sees her husband as senior, and therefore, for some reason, thinks that he should be contacted first in a “chain of command” situation? It would be weird, but I could at least make it make some kind of sense.

    The lack of social interaction–my best bet is that, for some reason, he dislikes OP, but doesn’t want to stir the pot by doing anything overt. Or he thinks for some reason that OP has a crush on him and is trying to dissuade it.

  143. SleepyWolverine*

    Just a gut feeling with no kind of evidence backing it up other than life experience. He’s deeply closeted and very attracted to OP’s husband. He can’t look at her because he feels guilty about the lie he is living, and the sublimation of this same-sex attraction.

  144. Alex Miller Mattingly*

    I have nothing to add other than I’m cracking up at the “Jordan Peterson fan” bit in the response

  145. Batgirl*

    I was one paragraph in when I decided “OP is definitely a woman”, with an undercurrent of “wow, sexism has made me so paranoid”. Then, when I got to the bit where he speaks to her through her husband, I got the depression I get when I’m right about this stuff.
    This has happened to me so many times! It’s always a sexism thing, and yes sometimes I’m the only woman within a group of women affected by the man who doesn’t see me. Women are not always affected equally by sexism. There are factors, such as being a young or old woman, being considered attractive or unattractive, being married or single. In my case it’s always been a man who viewed me as being an accessory to my husband; for some reason I was heavily affected by this because I got married really young and my husband worked with a very particular crowd who were prone to this. It was always someone who spoke to him over and through me, and depressingly they behaved pretty normally to a lot of other women. The not being looked at thing makes you feel like a pet or non-person. I would have felt very disconcerted if they’d been my boss and not just a rude person my ex husband knew.
    OP, you know it’s sexism because even if he always looked you in the eye and yet still asked your husband to manage you, that’s sexist. The fact he doesn’t look you in the eye simply underscores that he doesn’t see you as a person in your own right.

  146. Andrea*

    I’m late to the party but I really do think that he may have feelings for you and A) doesn’t know how to handle that or B) doesn’t want others to pick up on it. The fact that he couldn’t confront you personally about the mistake makes me think that stronger as well, pushing the “giving the bad news” onto your husband.

  147. Miller_Admin*

    I’m wondering if the husband has shared some detail about their sex life, or intimate details that has made the boss uncomfortable.

  148. Grusgrus*

    Uhm, I feel weird saying this but my mother-in-law does this to me, and has done this for the last 8 years. If my partner and I are present she will look at him while talking, and if I ask her a direct question she will look at him while addressing it. She will look at me while I’m asking though, so she doesn’t completely ignore me.
    I don’t know why she does this, but I think it comes from a place of shyness. There’s no animosity, I just don’t think she realizes. It’s very frustrating and I have no idea as to how to address it, but I wanted to point out that sometimes people are just… strange. Your situation is obviously much worse, but for what it’s worth I very much understand your frustration. I’m sorry this is happening to you.

  149. Lookatmoi*

    I have a similar situation with my boss, she’s developed the habit of making eye contact with everyone in the meeting but me (e.g. with my direct reports, with the leadership team). So after feeling really uncomfortable and almost excluded by the behaviour for quite a while, I broached it with her: “you might not be aware but in meetings you’re making eye contact with everyone but me and it feels like you’re talking just to them. It happened in x and y recently. It’s making me feel like I’m not part of the conversation, could you please be conscious of this?”
    It felt hard to raise but she responded well and has been a bit more conscious of it since. Interestingly her response was “oh well maybe that’s because I feel like we’re on the same page and I don’t need to convince you” which I sorta get, but eye contact actually helps everyone else see that we’re a team too.
    I also had a team member recently who often wouldn’t make eye contact while speaking to you. It super bugged me for a while until I realised it seemed to occur mostly when he was speaking from a kind of internal script or memory but when he was being particularly sincere he had no such issues.

  150. TheLarch*

    I used to have a boss who hardly spoke to me. He’d keep his door closed when he was in the office and never returned my emails. I’d have to catch him in the hallway to get him to sign anything or ask a quick question. He’d get a deer in the headlights look if I did ask him anything. I pretty much gave up and just handled everything on my own other than things he needed to sign.

    At first I thought maybe he wanted me to quit, but then he gave me rave reviews. I’m overweight so I wondered if that was his issue, but the rare times he did speak to me he was very pleasant. I wondered if he was afraid I would notice he wasn’t doing much, but I’m not sure if he was sufficiently self-aware for that. Eventually he was fired, because other people noticed.

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