update: my coworker keeps joking that I’m having sex with my husband in the office

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

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker keeps joking that the letter-writer was having sex with her husband in the office? Here’s the update.

Thanks for answering my question! I would like to address a couple things that came up in the comments before getting into the update:

– There were a lot of comments about going straight to HR about this. While I get where people were coming from, I wanted to address it directly with my coworker before making a serious complaint. I knew I could always escalate if it went poorly.
– Lots of comments about how she must have a crush on me or my husband! I know it’s easy to extrapolate from letters where you don’t have all the information, but that is definitely not the case.
– A few people asked if this was something my husband was in on or if this was the norm in his department. Nope! He thought it was just as weird as I did and she hadn’t made that type of joke when they worked together. They joked, but about common interests.

On to the update! The day after my letter was posted, my coworker caught me walking into the building and made one of her usual cracks. Since we were alone, it felt like the perfect time to address it, and I used a version of commenter Naomi’s script: “Hey, I know you’re just kidding around but I really worry that someone who doesn’t know better will take you seriously. Husband and I try really hard to keep things professional at work and I really don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.” You could see the penny drop! She apologized profusely and even brought me a coffee later in the day to make amends. I’ve also overheard her a few times since hyping up my work and professionalism to our coworkers, so I know she’s taken it to heart. We like different hockey teams so I’ve started gently teasing her about that, it’s given us common ground and now we have something work-appropriate to joke about!

I know that a lot of commenters were concerned that she wasn’t really my friend and that I couldn’t see that she was trying to bully me or bring me down professionally, I hope that this update has put that fear to rest! She really is a nice person, I think she was falling back on the one thing she knew about me (my marriage) to try to bond and she just missed the mark.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. redflagday701*

    This is a great update because everybody ended up happy and now, no one will suspect a thing when you start having sex with your husband in the office.

      1. Kahunabob*

        That took me a full 2 seconds to get the reference. +1 to you, -1 to me for taking that long. #facepalm

    1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      If Alison ever does a poll of best reader responses, redflagday701, yours will be the winner!

  2. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This is a great update!

    I’m prone to making awkward jokes and I would feel terrible if I ever made someone feel the way this LW did.

    1. Artemesia*

      Lots of people are incredibly dense and ‘inside jokes’ often are dense like this. And then when they are actually enlightened by the target of their poor judgment they shape up. Great outcome and a wonderful example of sometimes you just have to clearly say what you want.

      1. Candi*

        I’ve taken to thinking through my jokes and the expected response to them -including “embarrassing”, “misunderstood”, and “oh kitty litter”. My filters tend to work better when I’ve only established there’s a good reason not to say that. -_- (The filters tend to really go askew when I’m tired or focusing intensely on something else –especially if I’m also talking myself through my work.)

    2. SleepCringing*

      Argh, yes, same here. Pretty sure my mental editor started day-drinking when I was in my teens, because the things that have popped out of my mouth, entirely unbidden, sometimes keeps me awake at night.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        You’re not the only one for that. Both the dat drinking internal editor and the cringing insomnia.

      2. nobadcats*

        Same here!

        Sometimes my brain is like that Adele song when I’m trying to go to sleep, “Hello? Would you like to go over… everything?”

        Me: “No, no I really would not!”

        Brain: “Okay, let’s start with kindergarten, remember when…”

        Me: soft sobbing sounds from under the pillow

      3. EmKay*

        This week I said “I promise I’ll be gentle” to a dude when he said “it’s my first time doing this” to me, about requiring my specific services for a task.

        Thank goodness it was on the phone because I just about died on the inside XD

  3. Escaped a Work Cult*

    Hockey chirping as the great equalizer! I’m glad to hear it went smoothly. (And what are those teams if you don’t mind me asking?)

      1. Mr. Tumnus*

        I was pretty worried when he left us to go back to you, but we’re doing ok down here without the Yzerplan. Stanley likes the sun!

  4. Soup of the Day*

    Aww, yay! I love when giving people the benefit of the doubt works out for everyone. Glad the awkwardness is gone!

    1. JSPA*

      Yes! Team “people are at least as often just clueless / awkward as cruel” for me, too. Along with, “believe the LW when they say it’s not meant nasty.”

      1. Candi*

        I go by people are much more likely to be thoughtless than malicious.

        And if people are originally thoughtless, but double down when asked to do/not do, they’ve moved into malicious.

    2. allathian*

      Yay, I’m so glad this worked out. Going to HR without telling the coworker that the jokes were unwelcome would’ve been overkill in this case. Even better, they found something else to joke about and bond over, hockey. I hope that was the start of a lovely work friendship.

  5. DD*

    That’s an awesome update – you did everything right including finding a way to continue to bond with her in a way that is professionally appropriate but fun. I don’t know her age or work experience but you also facilitated teaching her some work norms that perhaps no one had done before. Good job.

  6. Sara*

    This is such a great update – its a good lesson that we’re not always getting 100% of the story and to trust the LW that they know what is best. I’m glad that it was able to be resolved in a way that everyone remains on great terms!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – it’s great that everything worked out, and that it was just super awkward bonding attempts.

    1. Purple Cat*

      I don’t know why I read this in Rob Schneider’s “making copies” voice.
      “The awkward jokester… the jokester man….jokester making jokes…”

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This made me laugh. But agreed, it’s good that OP was able to talk to the jokester in a way that got the point across and allowed everybody to save face.
        At times we can be quick to jump to what we’ve lived, and forget or bypass things outside our experience. Glad I’m this case it was just an extreme case of awkwardness.

  7. MyDogIsCalledBradlyPooper*

    Yeah to you for addressing this is a friendly but direct manner. Yes you could have gone to HR but you took the opportunity to deal with the issue directly and gave the other party a chances to see the issue from you standpoint and address it between the two of you.

  8. Jenna Webster*

    You did a beautiful job and she responded so wonderfully. Updates like this make me really, really happy.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Yes, and absolutely the reason to try “hey, can you cut it out?” before escalating. *chef’s kiss*

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I agree! This is exactly the resolution I was hoping for when I read the original letter.

  9. annonie*

    This is pretty much what AAM recommended. Commenters were upset that she didn’t tell the O.P. to report it as harassment to HR but it sounds like the softer approach was the right way to do it.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, I think a lot of people here are prone to the nuclear option (honestly, it’s a general internet phenomenon, not just here) but I think we can mostly trust commenters to know when things are a big deal?

      1. BuildMeUp*

        Yeah, I think it’s gotten worse with the recent influx of people from AITA (Reddit), unfortunately! I was just rereading the original comments, and people were even arguing with the OP

        1. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

          I’m glad it’s not just me noticing this trend here. It’s too easy for people to go with the nuclear option when they’re sitting in front of their computer based solely on the information contained in the letter without any context.

      2. Expelliarmus*

        I see what you mean, but sometimes it’s a case of the LW being naive, so commenters are probably remembering those and trying to ensure that this isn’t necessarily like that. Admittedly, screening for that is easier said than done, but I can see why the nuclear option gets traction a lot.

      3. Alex the Alchemist*

        I think we also just see a lot more situations where the nuclear option would be more necessary than we would see in real life. Most people irl are reasonable and don’t need it, but also most people writing in to an advice column do so because their situation is out of the ordinary.

        1. Candi*

          We’ve also seen a lot of LWs here who wrote at the “hey, I asked them to stop already and they won’t” stage, and updates where the person didn’t stop and even doubled-down or more. OP’s solution here is a(n extremely pleasant) surprise in that context.

  10. Jaybeetee*

    That’s a good outcome! I think when one spends a lot of time on a site like this reading about truly egregious colleagues and bosses, one can lose track that most people *aren’t* malicious and that a single “hey can you drop it” convo might be all you need to resolve things. It sounds like colleague honestly just thought it was a harmless joke and quietly bringing it up with her did the job.

    1. JustKnope*

      Yes to this! We can be biased toward official action here based on the letters we see all the time. But most people are coming from a good place.

  11. Richard Hershberger*

    As an occasionally (frequently?) clueless humorist myself, I can totally see myself in coworker’s position, and mortified. That’s OK. Sometimes being mortified is an entirely appropriate corrective. Good ending all around.

    1. Lucy Skywalker*

      I totally could see myself doing something like that, too. Maybe not about sex per se, but definitely jokes that crossed the line.

  12. Dust Bunny*


    I broke the ice with the new IT guy during employee team shirt day when he showed up in Calgary Flames and I in Houston Aeros [RIP–they were the farm team for the Minnesota Wild]. Neither of is actually a big sports person but it was fun to be the only two hockey shirts in a sea of Astros.

  13. generic_username*

    I’ve been hoping for an update to this one. And what a great update! Congrats on a relatively easy resolution – sounds like your colleague was just simply extremely clueless/out-of-touch.

  14. HR Ninja*

    So glad this worked out! Special kudos to you for letting you know you can have fun, friendly banter about non-amorous topics!

  15. awesome3*

    Great update! OP I think you finding something else for her to joke with you about was such a good move, and I’m so happy you were able to address your concern directly and in the moment — and that it worked! A class act

  16. Jesshereforthecomments*

    Love this update and glad it worked out, LW!

    This type of interaction is more what I’m accustomed to (but what we don’t see as often on this blog, and why the blog is so useful) – coworker does something unprofessional/inappropriate with no malice behind it, you gently call them out on it, they feel bad and stop. Perfect outcome.

    It was nice of you to open up another, more appropriate avenue for joking/teasing as well. That was a real olive branch.

  17. Bossy Magoo*

    Great update! I love the ones where all the terrible things we assume about the “perpetrator” turn out to be wrong and it’s just a person being awkward like most of us are.

  18. Salymander*

    Hi OP! I am so glad that things worked out well! I think that many times we commenters feel very protective of some of our OPs and get very concerned about shielding them from worst case scenarios. We are always thrilled when things go well as in this case. I think I was one of those on the Get Stern and Go to HR bandwagon, but I am happy that your work pal was so open to apologizing and changing her behavior. Not everyone finds that easy to do, so it speaks well of her. OP, I think it was kind of you to give your work pal a chance. Clearly you had a good read on the situation and knew her well enough to judge, but it was still generous of you. What a lovely outcome! This really cheered me up today!

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I was harsh on the coworker too, and I’m really happy to have been proven wrong! This was a great, heartening update to read. :-)

  19. ecnaseener*

    Ahhhh I love a happy ending! People really are capable of apologizing and correcting course :) Good to be prepared for the worst but leave room for the best to happen!

  20. Elizabeth West*

    Oh, I’m so glad this worked out, OP! I was afraid you’d come back in here with something even more WTF.

  21. Stevesie*

    I once had a coworker who often rode a moped to work, which was really unusual for the area (mountains, snow, etc). I would always comment on it when I saw it “oh, you rode the moped today! It’s so cool!” And he would kind of blow me off. We didn’t work together a lot, but it didn’t seem to me to be anything other than taking slight interest in this person. One day he kind of roughly said “its my only form of transportation” and made it clear to me that the moped was not a cute quirky thing he enjoyed riding. It was out of necessity! Mopeds are fairly inexpensive and take less gas. And what I thought was just me expressing interest was bugging him since it wasn’t by choice. I try to be a little more aware now of if I’ve mentioned something and haven’t received a warm response to move on and not keep bringing it up. I have some compassion for this coworker who was just a bit of a bonehead, as we all can be sometimes.

    1. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

      That’s too funny, I did almost exactly the same thing years ago with a coworker – moped, area not good for mopeds, me bringing it up to be friendly and not really hearing how it was received. I still think about it and wish I’d been more aware to cut bait and move on.

  22. phlask*

    I love this – it’s the worst-case scenario of those “I know exactly one thing about you” conversations we always have to have with coworkers. Very smooth move in making hockey your new topic of non-work conversation.

    I feel a bit sorry for your coworker, though, we all have those embarrassing things we’ve said that haunt us years later. Usually they’re aren’t as bad as we think, and the person we said them to doesn’t even remember. Not in this case!

  23. Ally*

    I was convinced she had a massive crush on the husband, lol. OP sounds like a very kind and patient person and addressed this professionally without hurting her feelings. Well done!

  24. Anonymous Bosch*

    This sounds like a great example of Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.

    1. Boof*

      Also; textbook example of what someone does when they are just clueless rather than a jerk; apologize and stop with a minimal amount of asking!

  25. disconnect*

    That is such a great update! You both sound like decent people and it’s so good to read stuff like this.

  26. oblivions*

    I think it’s super telling that coworker didn’t make that type of joke previously with OP’s husband… should have been a flag for coworker that she had internalized a different set of standards/boundaries for OP. Glad it worked out!

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      In the original post, OP said that she (OP) was not at the company when coworker was working with OP’s husband so the coworker had literally no reason to make comments about them having sex in the office.

  27. anonymous73*

    I’m glad I was wrong in my assumptions about your co-worker. It sounds like she didn’t realize how her words could impact you and your professional reputation and you bringing it to her attention has remedied the situation. I would still keep her comments and behavior in the back of your mind though juussssst in case behavior like this crops up again, and share very little with her abut your personal life. Someone who thinks it’s appropriate to joke about a couple’s sex life at work with someone she barely knows has questionable judgment. Hopefully it’s a one time lesson, but I’m Captain Skeptical, so I’d always be a little cautious.

  28. Health Insurance Nerd*

    I love this update, so many people default towards assuming people have the worst intentions!

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