I walked in on a coworker making out with our married colleague — do I say something?

A reader writes:

I work in a local government department in the UK, in a loud and busy office. Our work is demanding emotionally and mentally, and we are quite a close team. This is one of my first jobs after leaving school so I am a lot younger than nearly everyone (I am only just in my 20s, my nearest aged colleague in my office is 40). I have settled in well though and made some good work friends. I’ve now worked in the office for about nine months and my job, which was temporary, was recently made permanent so I think I am doing well.

We have a couple of managers who run our team. One of them is new, and one of them (Bob) has been there a while. Before the new manager arrived, one of my colleagues, Alice, was acting manager while a new person was found. I don’t know if Alice wanted the job long term or not but she seems okay to have come back to the main team and gets on well with the new manager.

Alice has been a great support to me, both when she was acting manager and now as a colleague, and we work quite closely together. When she was working as a manager, I thought she was dating Bob — you know when you just get a feeling about something? Maybe it was because I was new to the office, but I thought I could see something no one else could. But it was very much none of my business so I just pretended not to know, and I’ve not seen them together so much since Alice left her manager role.

However, recently I was working with Alice and Bob, just the three of us. I left for a while to get some lunch and when I came back, I walked in on them kissing. They didn’t immediately notice me and so I backed out of the room, making more noise before coming back in. They jumped apart and it was a bit awkward for the rest of the day. The next day we were back at work, I could sense Alice was keeping an eye on me and things have been weird now for a few days, even though we’ve both been professional with work matters.

I’m genuinely confused as to how to handle this. Part of me wants to stay out of it, like I have tried to so far, but part of me thinks they need to know they are not being as good at hiding things as they think they are. Maybe next time it will be someone else who walks in and tells everyone? Also, whilst I am pretty sure it started when they were colleagues, Bob is now a manager in our team (albeit not Alice’s direct manager) and he is married with young kids. I care about Alice and I don’t want her to be the one to get into difficulties if this all comes out. I heard from a colleague in the team that Alice had a nasty breakup of a long-term relationship just around the time I started working at the office, so she has had quite a rough time.

Any advice welcome! I have very little work experience and I really don’t know what to do for the best. Do I speak to Alice? Do I speak to Bob? Do I stay out of it and pretend nothing happened when we worked together? Does this kind of crazy happen in every office? Is this something we all just have to learn to navigate?

The answer here is fortunately the easiest of the options: stay out of it.

If they’re being flagrant enough to kiss at work, it’s very likely that this is going to become public at some point, and it has the potential to be a big mess … but it’s not your mess.

It’s not your responsibility to talk to either of them, to warn them they’re not being as discreet as they thought, or to keep Alice from getting hurt. Involving yourself in that way risks having ramifications for you professionally and it’s also … just not your business!

The one exception to that is if Bob is in Alice’s chain of command. You said he’s not her manager, but is he her manager’s manager or otherwise in a position that makes their affair more consequential for the company? Most companies prohibit dating in your chain of command because of the potential for bias and special treatment (or the appearance of it) and opens the door to abuses of power. If that’s the case, you have more standing to speak up — but in that case, the speaking up should be to HR, not to Alice or Bob themselves (and it doesn’t sound like that’s the route you’re interested in taking).

Assuming that’s not the case, though, you can simply pretend you saw nothing. If things with Alice are still weird, you might be able to combat that by being aggressively normal with her. Don’t avoid her, have whatever conversations you’d normally have with her, make whatever jokes you’d normally make … in other words, make a point of demonstrating that you are not dwelling on what you saw, there’s no tension between the two of you from your side, and you are assuming things will roll forward normally. Sometimes that’s enough to nudge the other person out of whatever nervous/embarrassed/tense place they’re stuck in. Sometimes it’s not, but it’s the best thing to try.

And no, this doesn’t happen in every office! It happens in some, though; when you throw people together over and over, it’s not unusual for some of them to end up getting involved. Ideally none of them would be married when that happens, but sometimes that occurs too, as in other areas of life.

Ideally they wouldn’t be making out at work, either. That’s disrespectful and unfair to the colleagues who might end up being unconsenting witnesses, as happened to you, and it says something about their judgment.

Regardless, your best bet is to stay clear of it and be prepared for the inevitable implosion.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 256 comments… read them below }

  1. Mid*

    I just can’t imagine how making out in the office in the middle of the day would seem like a reasonable behavior to them.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Thrill of maybe getting caught?

      I mean, it’s not reasonable, but it’s not like there aren’t exhibitionists in the world.

    2. Antilles*

      Right? Especially since they presumably knew OP was there earlier in the day. It’s not like they were there on a weekend or late in the evening alone, they had seen their co-worker there ~60 minutes earlier!

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah, if LW was going to say anything, it would be about this, not what it means for Bob’s relationship to his spouse. But since it sounds like LW is quite junior to both, they probably don’t have any standing to say something about it even from this angle.

    4. Lea*

      They are making very bad decisions.

      I had a similar situation where I used to work. End result the guys marriage blew up and the woman left when the two of them broke up. A mess.

    5. Boof*

      Barring the unlikely scenario that Bob is in an open marriage, cheating on or with someone is also unwise; and yet here we are! Bad judgment on many levels

      1. 1-800BrownCow*

        Don’t assume open marriage is unlikely. I think open marriages are more common than most people realize. It’s still considered very taboo in our society so most people keep it very private. I myself am not in an open marriage, but I know a few couple that are and they are “everyday people” in appearance to others. That said, for the reasons of keeping that lifestyle private, likely they would be very careful in the workplace to not even create suspicion.

        1. This is a name, I guess*

          People in non-monogamous relationships (not the weird “one last shot to save our dying marriage” permutations) are often very concerned with ethics, consent, and are generally conscientious. Granted, everyone makes a rash decision now and then, but I know very few non-monogamous people who would think making out in the office during business hours is acceptable. Now, do I know a bunch of boneheaded monogamous doofuses who would do that? SURE DO!

        2. Batgirl*

          People in open marriages tend to have more opportunities to snog other people in the evenings, because they aren’t hiding an affair at work.

    6. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      I work from home and my spouse is done with work in the early afternoon. And we’ve never done anything during working hours. Maybe I just can’t mentally shift gears like that but it’s not even something that’s crossed my mind.

      1. Seen too much*

        Once worked with a guy in his 50s with younger wife and toddler. Wife also worked PT wih us. I walked in on him and summer intern (21 years old) doing the deed at work. Suvseqiently at least 2 oyhers had same experience (different times and locations).

        1. Critical Rolls*

          That’s really, really, really not okay. That is immediate firing. WTH that he was still there to do that 2 more times!

      2. Wildcat*

        For whatever reason my large organization has a lot of married couples (not in the same chain of command, most were married before either started). I have never seen any of them kiss at work.

        1. As per Elaine*

          I used to have married coworkers (no one in anyone’s chain of command, all very above-board) and one of them was on my team, so I saw them a lot. She may have given him a peck on the cheek a few times in the ~5 years I was there? But overall extremely chaste and not anything that made me uncomfortable. Definitely no extended makeout sessions at the next desk over.

        2. Zelda*

          Getting married, for most people, just plain old takes long enough that most of the New Relationship Engergy has had a bit of the shine knocked off it. Not that married people don’t have plenty of sexual energy, but the pink fluffy stupids do kinda wear off, eh?

            1. KateM*

              (Or, if you think that people do that for excitement of almost getting caught, married people may get a lot of that sort of excitement at home where toddlers can wake up any time any time at night or teens don’t even go to bed before 2 am.)

            2. whingedrinking*

              I’d agree with this. Completely private spaces are surprisingly rare when you really think about it. The office can seem like a way-too-public place to be doing anything naughty, but in some ways it’s probably the most private place outside of your home that you’re likely to get.

              1. Betsy7Cat*

                Not that I’d do anything like this (particularly since I know there are cameras!), but opening the store I work at, that first hour before we open is currently the most “alone” time I have in the day.
                But I use it to belt songs at top volume.

      3. Dual Peppin Whiskey*

        @Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman
        This is totally off topic, but I just wanted to say:

        1: I ADORE your username, excellent choice :D.
        And 2: my boyfriend does such a spot-on Roy voice/impression that if I were blindfolded and heard both of thrm, I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell who was who, it’s delightful :).

        1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

          That would be delightful! My husband doesn’t sound like Roy, but in the Roy Kent/Ron Swanson Venn diagram, my husband would be the circle. And it is as lovely as it sounds.

      1. Crimson*

        0% relevant. She walked in on sexual activity, not a political discussion. They shouldn’t be subjecting their coworkers to this. It’s gross and disrespectful.

        1. DrSalty*

          Obviously it’s inappropriate. I was commenting on the diversity of opinion in the world, not condoning it. Apparently these people DO think it’s reasonable behavior, and it’s certainly not as if this is the first time ever in the the history of the earth a couple agreed with them, or went even further than making out. Remember the duck club?

          1. pancakes*

            No, that’s not apparent at all. More likely than not they’d agree it was a lapse in judgement. People who are attracted to one another don’t always have good judgment about when and how to express that.

            1. DrSalty*

              Whether or not they took a minute to evaluate the reasonableness of their behavior before engaging, they did do it. So on some level, they decided it was ok. How they weighed the pros and cons is beside the point. Certainly they knew it would go against social norms and cast them in a bad light (at the very least!) if it were discovered, but they decided whatever they were getting out of it was worth it. Human decision making is obviously a complex process influenced by many factors, regardless of the consciousness of the people involved of those factors and their awareness of decision making process. L

              This thread is stuffed full of examples of people canoodling at work; clearly, sometimes some people DO think it’s a reasonable choice. Maybe they’d disagree with their own thought process later, but in the moment, that’s the choice they made.

              1. pancakes*

                If it’s beside the point why make a point of speculating that they must think it’s reasonable?

                1. DrSalty*

                  It is my point. I think you are misunderstanding, or I am not conveying it well, or we are disagreeing over the meaning of the word “reasonable.” I know I personally have made decisions or behaved in ways I’ve regretted later (maybe even moments later), but at the time it seemed like a reasonable and ok thing to do. Emotion can change the calculus of what’s reasonable or not. Different people have different thresholds for what’s reasonable or not.

                2. pancakes*

                  I don’t quite understand the point of trying to attribute any particular reasoning to these people. We could also speculate that people who decide to drive drunk probably thought they were in better shape to drive home than they actually were, “so on some level they decided it was ok,” and that wouldn’t be wrong, exactly, but it also wouldn’t shed any light on anything at all.

                3. DrSalty*

                  Well, the root question was “how could these people think this is reasonable behavior?” So it seemed like a pertinent discussion to me. You are, of course, welcome to ignore it if you disagree.

    7. kiki*

      I would say it’s rare that anyone involved in an office affair (cheating, not just dating a colleague) is making reasonable decisions. It’s almost always opportunity and proximity more than anything else. It’s really just so messy! I suppose it is an efficient way to blow up your marriage and job in one go.

      1. pancakes*

        Opportunity, proximity, and attraction. I’m not sure why people are overlooking that last one.

        1. kiki*

          I didn’t mention it in part because because I took for granted that it’s a factor but also because I genuinely think proximity and opportunity rank above attraction for a lot of workplace affairs. Or proximity and opportunity beget attraction? Maybe my sample is skewed but I’ve seen folks who likely would not have been attracted to each other in a bar or on a dating site end up hooking up seemingly just because they have spent a lot of hours together on projects. I’ve never had an affair, but I’ve definitely had work or school crushes that ultimately boiled down to, “well, we’re both here a lot, aren’t we?”

          1. pancakes*

            This is a lot of assumptions, including some pretty big ones about what people you don’t seem to know well at all find attractive. In my experience, when people can’t keep their hands off one another in circumstances where they ought to, attraction is a fundamental reason why.

            1. Really?*

              Uh, no. Folks can be attracted to all kinds of people in inappropriate ways, some of which are illegal. People can’t keep their hands off of each other because they are either teenagers or are severely lacking in self control.

              1. pancakes*

                Do you honestly think I meant non-consensually, in this context? I didn’t. I’m not accustomed to chatting with people who need to clarify that they’re not monstrous but I suppose I do need to consider that more often. I also thought it was pretty clear in context that I’m not defending these people’s behavior. I am questioning some of the assumptions around their motivations and around why people act this way. I didn’t think I needed to point out there’s a difference between those two frames of mind.

              2. Courageous cat*

                Or are humans, fallible, and make errors in judgment just like *every single one of us here*.

                I’m not saying you’re altogether wrong, but the general vibe of the comment section on this one is a bit unnecessarily sanctimonious.

          2. lemon*

            I think that’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that work forces us to get to know people we otherwise would dismiss for whatever reason. I’ve never been involved with anyone at work, because boundaries, but have had plenty of workplace crushes. Like you said, they’re usually people I wouldn’t be interested in if I met them at a bar. But that’s because at a bar, you have maybe…. 5 minutes to make a good impression on someone? Whereas, at work, you have months/years to get to know people. Plus work forces you to learn to get along, resolve differences, and communicate. in a dating context that takes months, at any which point you can be like, “nah, this won’t work out,” the first time they do something that annoys you and you can end things.

    8. redflagday701*

      I recently watched a video about a coworker walking in an amorous couple, and I’ll be honest, it turned out very differently from the situation described here.

    9. H.Regalis*

      People make weird decisions sometimes. I still wish they wouldn’t though, or at least lock the damn door! I don’t want to walk in people anymore than they would want to be walked in on.

      And if they want to be walked in on, it’s still a no because I don’t want to be non-consensually involved in anyone’s sex life, least of all my coworkers’.

    10. Sasha*

      You might want to Google “Matt Hancock”, the UK health minister who spent most of the pandemic getting off with his assistant in their office. Caught on CCTV, which was then released. Both married.

    11. Nard Dog*

      As a government employee in the US, sadly I report that the number of times people in leadership positions were caught making out at work…is not even close to zero.

  2. TimeTravlR*

    Also, now that you are aware, you can avoid being used as their cover. For example, they want to work late and ask you to stay late too so it doesn’t look like anything is going on. Or they ask you to go with them for drinks after work. Yes, this happens. Yes, it happened to me. I just wasn’t aware initially that I was being used this way. Yes, I am still salty about it.
    (In my case it was my boss and her boss playing around. The long story of that is that it caused quite a shit show. No surprise.)

    1. Jessica*

      Same. My friend invited me to socialize with her, the married guy she was having a clandestine affair with, AND his wife. I knew the guy socially through a leisure pursuit the three of us were involved in, and thought he and my friend were just friends. Only later did I learn about the affair and realize I’d been included in the hangout with the wife to provide cover. Did Not Appreciate.

        1. Batgirl*

          It’s not rare. I’ve been the wife in that very same situation. Its difficult for people in affairs to see very much of each other, because their partners would notice! And, so you get stuff like using other people as cover, blatancy with spouses, and using the workplace like it’s a hotel with a bar.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      My work friend did this. It was obvious, I played dumb, and then when she left her husband for the coworker and they didn’t have to keep it a secret anymore, she started making false reports about me to HR. Thankfully HR saw through this and her behavior backfired spectacularly, resulting in none of us being coworkers anymore.

      She had an awful lot going on in her life leading to this perfect storm of unfortunate behavior, so this is a pretty extreme anecdote. All the same, best to stay blandly unaware and uninvolved :)

      1. SMH*

        I would be curious what type of false reports she filed against you and why. It doesn’t sound like you caused any issues for her.

        1. anonymouse*

          The coworker “won” her true love’s heart, but still the back story is not the cute meet she wanted. OP knew the truth, the relationship preceded the divorce. Awkward reminder. OP needed to go.

          1. Constance Lloyd*

            Unfortunately, I think it was actually a classic case of a controlling jerk isolating their partner. He didn’t like that we were friends, but it took a while for the erosion to set in.

            She made multiple complaints that were easily proven false. After calling them again to ask why I hadn’t been fired yet, they told her to stop harassing me. She hung up the phone and turned in her badge with job notice period at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning.

            1. anonymouse*

              Thank you for the update, details. That is crazy. I’m sorry you got sucked into that. Just wow.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Good grief, yes. One of my college roommates tried to use me as cover when she wanted to hang out with her crush who had a girlfriend so she “convinced” herself she wasn’t actually hoping anything would happen. I declined. (You can imagine how well this situation ended.)

    4. anonymouse*

      Wow. That sucks. I was going to suggest OP invited Alice to lunch, even just sit in their lunchroom or whatever and have a return to normalcy thing. Just act like nothing happened. Because OP, you do not want drawn into this. Now I’m seeing if Alice suggests inviting/meeting Bob, OP you’ll have your answer.
      Alice is acting weird, because she’s doing something weird. Just ignore her weirdness and she will catch on that you are not getting into this weirdness.

  3. Ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Office affairs are often the worst kept secrets, no matter how much you stay out of it. You are not the only one who will have noticed.

    Don’t start or feed the gossip that will eventually float your way, because it will.

    I worked in a place where a married man with children started an emotional affair with a pretty coworker. *Everyone* could see it. It was talked about when they weren’t around. And our newest addition to the team was convinced they were physical with each other (I’m pretty certain they weren’t but can’t say for sure) and she had only been there a few weeks!

    1. Fed Up*

      For real! In my last job, two colleagues (both young and unmarried, but still) were in a relationship that EVERYONE knew about, but they would deny it to the absolute ends of the Earth. They thought they were soooo sneaky– but like. Cubicles ain’t sound-proof and the sounds of tongue kissing in the middle of the day tends to attract some attention. Lmao. People need some freaking common sense; they don’t ACTUALLY live in a rom-com.

      1. Anon Supervisor*

        Ish. I had a cube neighbor who would meet her boyfriend for lunch and he would walk her back to her cube, where they would make out for a few seconds. It was so grody.

      2. TangerineRose*

        People can be so naive about how sound travels. I remember saying “bless you” to someone who sneezed several cubicles away.

    2. Venus*

      There are quite a few office romances that are well kept secrets. You only know about the ones that failed :)

      1. Shiba Dad*

        User name checks out.

        Does office romance include “one (or few) night stands? Those are more likely to remain secret than a full-on affair.

        1. Venus*

          The funny thing is that I picked the name at random, based on reading an article about astronomy at the time, so I don’t know the reference.

          1. Virginia Plain*

            Venus is the name of the Roman goddess of love (Greek version – Aphrodite). Hence the planet name – they are all called after Roman gods, then moons etc after demigods and titans etc from the same mythology.

      2. quill*

        I’d say survivorship bias: the office romances most likely to last are the ones where people remain professional at work!

        1. ecnaseener*

          Yeah, if we’re defining “office romance” as “making out during work meetings as soon as they’re left alone for 5 minutes” then I imagine almost all of those come to light sooner or later. If we’re defining it as “happens to be dating a coworker,” much easier to keep secret.

          1. D*

            My parents were coworkers who started dating and months after they got together, one of their coworkers went up to my mother and said, “I think he likes you,” referring to my dad.

            You know, maybe.

        2. The Prettiest Curse*

          I’ve been working in offices for 20+ years and never knew of any workplace romances between my colleagues. But in my very first job, there was a long-term engaged couple. They worked in different departments and kept it very professional.

      3. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        At one place I worked at, I knew about the failed ones, the ongoing ones, the successful ones (and public!), and the rumoured ones (that weren’t true). I have never worked at such a place since and I’m thankful. That soap opera was too much.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Same, same. With the boss that used me as a coverup that I posted about in my below comment, I changed jobs because I was tired of the drama. Stayed friends with the boss. A few months after I left, he called me and was crying, literally sobbing into the phone. His affair partner had ended their relationship, and left him for another guy in the office. Then shortly after, the other guy dumped the affair partner. I was glad I’d left before it all came to pass. Cannot imagine the level of drama and disruption all this must’ve created in the office. Everyone in this telenovela (myself included) was married and had kids. The last guy had five! Everyone was unhappily married and feeling trapped in their long and loveless marriages, but for some reason, instead of ending their marriages like a normal person would, they decided to screw their coworkers instead. Yet another benefit of working remotely, not having to deal with any of this.

        2. Le Sigh*

          Same, except in my case it was a retail store job and a large student org I was part of in college — in both cases, it was a bunch of 19-23yo people who, not surprisingly, did not always have the emotional maturity to not bring messy relationships into their jobs (and I guess, in some cases, never have it and become OP’s coworkers). But it seemed a little more normal at 20.

          1. quill*

            I ran a club in college and the board was a disaster, for those exact reasons. Looking back it is EXTREMELY funny that the treasurer spent an entire semester hitting on me at club meetings after breaking up with the secretary and I didn’t notice because I was too deep in analytical chemistry hell. But it was NOT professional.

      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I know of a few well-hidden ones (one of the affair partners told me later). I would’ve never noticed myself. And, to Shiba Dad, both that I know of were long-term affairs, I’m talking a year or longer.

        Was used by my boss as a coverup for his office romance with another teammate, that he was sure no one knew about. Was told by another teammate a year later, after we all changed jobs, that boss and his lady friend hadn’t fooled anyone, and that everyone knew. He wanted everyone to think that he was romantically involved with me and not her, but no one bought that, as I later found out. (No idea why I was okay with this arrangement. This was very long ago.)

        Witnessed a few where one or both sides had become too careless and slipped up. Everyone pretended they didn’t know, but everyone knew.

        1. Shiba Dad*

          It is always good to read something from someone with a different experience. I guess if the affair was truly well hidden, I may not have known about it.

      5. Distracted Librarian*

        Yep. At my last job, I worked with a married couple. It took months for me to learn they were married, and that was only because someone told me. They acted completely professional at work.

      6. AcademiaNut*

        I work in a field where marrying your colleagues is practically mandatory (at least for women), and in most cases, people tend to be fairly discreet early in the relationship, because you don’t want to be office gossip for short term dating. Once the relationship is established as serious, people gradually find out. I can’t actually think of any non-illicit dating relationships where the people involved were acting inappropriately at work, though, aside from one acrimonious breakup, which was not a surprise to anyone but the partner. The cautionary tales were all affairs, senior people inappropriately pursuing undergraduates, or people sleeping with their students/postdocs.

        I do know of one couple at a new job where I figured out they were a couple because they had pictures of the same kid in their respective offices.

      7. Batgirl*

        There are also quite a few who believe themselves to have successfully hidden a relationship, but actually everyone silently knew! It’s never an overt action that reveals it, either. I’m not saying there aren’t successfully hidden relationships, but it’s not something I’d roll a dice on myself, because you simply can’t tell who can spot the vibe.

    3. Shiba Dad*

      My experience is that pretty much everyone will know. Thankfully I haven’t had to deal with this kind of nonsense for a long time.

      They usually don’t end well either. The first one that I witnessed was when my boss, a married woman, had an affair with a married coworker. He fixed and maintained machines (commercial printing). He eventually got fired because his white work shirts remained clean, which would be impossible if he was actually working on machines. He avoided getting dirty to look good for her.

      We all knew what was going on. I was on a different shift and I knew.

      1. anonymouse*

        That is comical. and sad. But really, it does go back to what I commented under Constance Lloyd above. These people make their relationship the world and when the NPCs step out of the background, they freak out.

        1. Shiba Dad*

          For this guy the comical/sad continued. A few years later at new job I was out with some work friends. This guy was there and it ends up he used to be a neighbor of one of my work friends. I mention to work friend that I used to work with him. Work friend tells me that this guy left his wife for his mother-in-law because MIL hit the lottery.

          MIL won $50K.

    4. Doc in a Box*

      On the other hand, people will see what they want to see.

      I was once the target of malicious “ooooh they are having an affair” gossip, linking me with some guy in the department whom I honestly cannot remember even speaking to, ever. The only thing we ever had in common was that we were both not white (I live in the South). A friend at work finally asked me what was up; I was bewildered and then very angry. I no longer work at that place.

      1. practical necromancy*

        Same! And I hear you about how frustrating it is. I’m perpetually single and the number of times coworkers have commented that I’d be a good fit for another coworker, or say: “someone in the office might ‘like-like’ you’ is aggravating. I have zero interest in dating a coworker, but I can’t even have a friendly working relationship without people getting gossipy and jumping to ‘it must be love.’

    5. Not a cat*

      One of our married Sales VPs started an affair with a Rep who worked for a different sales division. I would guess that all the sales teams knew. I was not in sales but am an SMB who worked closely with them. I traveled with Cheater VP quite a few times, and he made it pretty clear he was open to other (ahem) opportunities. I told him no and never told anyone. A few months later, his wife figured out the affair(s). She called the owner and told her. The owner decided it was fine as long as he didn’t fool around w/ someone in his group. The affair broke down, and Cheater VP stayed married. The wife started tagging along on business trips.

    6. Niccolo*

      LW should not actively gossip, but she is in a great position because she has compromising material on two senior people at work. This is very useful leverage when it comes time to ask for a raise or another favor. Don’t explicitly say anything, just let it be the 800 lb gorilla in the room. They know you know.

      1. Allegra*

        …I hope this is a joke and that blackmailing one’s colleagues isn’t seriously being recommended here? Leveraging knowledge for a raise should be “I’m the person who knows the best teapot glazing procedure,” not “I saw you in a compromising position so you should keep me happy Or Else.”

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          I think Niccolo borrowed the user name from the first political scientist. It sounds like a stratagem his namesake would use on behalf of his Prince.

          1. This is a name, I guess*

            I really hope this Niccolo account continues on and just given Machiavellian advice from now on.

  4. Popinki*

    Never, ever feed the drama llama.

    When I was in college, I did work study in the labs. One Friday afternoon the lab manager took me into one of the (locked) chem labs to show me some stuff he needed set up on Monday and we walked in on one of the professors canoodling with a student (she was a continuing education student so she was married and in her 40s). The lab manager and I agreed that he could show me the equipment Monday morning instead and we walked right back out.

    This was a professor I had classes with, and the woman in the same classes. Collective amnesia was our friend.

    1. Boof*

      See, given that was a professor of a student in their own class, it would have also been reasonable to report that

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Depending on the time Popinki was in college (and I’m not speculating), there might not have been a requirement for anyone to report, or possibly even anywhere to report to.

        Today there’s pretty certainly somewhere to report, and the lab manager (though not a work-study student) might be obligated to report under Title IX. Whether anything happens is still quite dubious — not all institutions have policy in place forbidding instructor-student relationships. (The one I work at didn’t until an embarrassingly short time ago. I ran headlong into this trying to help a student being sexually harassed by an adjunct.)

      2. Nanani*

        This. It may or may not have been mandatory, but it’s a clear abuse of power even if the student isn’t fresh out of high school.

    2. DisneyChannelThis*

      Always report professors boinking students yo. WTF. That’s a power dynamics issue, regardless of age prof has power over student (grades, recommendation letters etc).

    3. Popinki*

      I was 20-ish, embarrassed to hell and back, incredibly shy, with a member of staff who could have done something and didn’t, and also it was 30 years ago when that kind of thing wasn’t exactly approved of but more likely to be swept under the rug rather than dealt with appropriately. Please forgive me.

      1. jane's nemesis*

        Nothing to forgive, for all the reasons you listed and also that you weren’t the one with power in this situation! Please don’t feel badly.

      2. OrigCassandra*

        Absolutely not on you, any of it. 30 years ago there would have been no recourse for anyone — I was an undergrad then(ish) myself.

      3. anonymouse*

        Do you watch the Conners? If not, don’t. It’s not very good. But there was one story arc about the forty something daughter starting to date her age appropriate professor. Female students of a traditional college age said they were aware and what the professor was doing was wrong. I was astounded. And impressed. Young women and men today are getting and giving much more support than in your (full disclosure OUR) day, and it’s great. But it doesn’t change the Professor with a capital P, that rhymes with T and that stands for TENURE, that was very real. The carpets in many departments where a foot higher than the doorway with everything swept under them.

        1. Distracted Librarian*

          All of this. When I was a senior in college (late 80s) I told the PhD student teaching my advanced comp class that I wanted to get a doctorate someday. She told me, don’t bother unless you’re willing to sleep with your advisor.

          1. anonymouse*

            I’m glad things are changing. I’m glad that most people today are shocked by reading this. I’m glad that I can write this in my lifetime. Because yeah, that’s how it was.

      4. Loredena*

        There was neither a mechanism nor even an expectation 30 years ago. A college friend was dating a professor when I was in college in the early 80s and I remember being vaguely disturbed by it but not something I would have considered needing to report.

        She married him and has since divorced but I don’t know more than that. Times have changed for the better in that regard

    4. JustaTech*

      When I was in college two professors in one department started getting together. Both had been married, and no one really knew if they both got divorced before they hooked up, but it was still uncomfortable for the students (who generally liked both profs) because whenever you went looking for one you’d have to check both offices and it always felt like interrupting to knock on the door and be like “we had a 2:30?”.

      (In the mind of the student body this was 1000% more acceptable than the one prof who slept with a student, but 50% less acceptable than the prof who’s wife showed up to his office at 2am to yell at him for not coming home to their colicky baby.)

  5. Jesshereforthecomments*

    I feel bad for Bob’s wife, but if OP told anyone (at least right now), they would know who spilled the beans.

    1. quill*

      Or at least suspect. OP could literally have come in when they pretended they did (making noise) and Bob and Jane would still have “are we caught? Will something be said?” running through their minds.

  6. the cat's ass*

    ewwwww. One of the most uncomfortable workplace scenarios, bar none. But not your problem. I’d stay out of it and be professional to everyone. This will blow up at some point (it always does), but you get to stay out of the blast radius. Good luck!

  7. Yikes*

    I agree that staying out of it is best. But I can’t help but wonder if word starts to get around the office they’ll blame OP because they know she saw it. I hope that doesn’t happen!

  8. PunkieBoosters*

    Ugh, we’re dealing with this at my office now – except I’m HR doing the investigation. Hope it’s a coincidence and not a widespread pandemic of poor judgement.

    1. EPLawyer*

      People coming back to the office. It’s going to be happening again.

      One more positive for WFH. No one having sex in the office. Let us not bring up Toobin on a work call.

      1. Evan Þ.*

        Or if people are driving to the office to have sex there, at least there’s no one else there to walk in on them!

        1. k8orado*

          Oh man, my office had one of these during the pandemic. The details make it both MUCH funnier and extremely identifying, it’s killing me not to share.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Not your barrel and not your monkeys.

    The best way to cope with someone else’s drama matches the best way to cope with an explosion: from a far distance. With binoculars. ;)

    1. Iroqdemic*

      I was *Just* thinking the same thing- classic “Not my circus, not my monkeys” situation. OP, do not insert yourself any more than they already have.

      1. OP*

        I’ve never heard the monkey phrase before but now I have, that makes so much sense. Thank you.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          I hate this phrase as I once heard it said in front of and about a workforce that was 99% black. I wouldn’t use it.

  10. Important Moi*

    “Maybe next time it will be someone else who walks in and tells everyone?”

    This has not happened and if it does it is not your problem to address unless you’re specifically mentioned or your work is affected. Stay out of it as Alison suggested.

  11. GoodyGotIt*

    I agree with Alison, but the only other thing I would add is to be careful if they are pushing more work onto you or making your job harder. This can happen for a couple of reasons. If they think you know, sometimes the manager (or even both people) can try to push you out by making your work life difficult or giving you a ton more work. It seems counterintuitive, but this type of pre-retribution does happen.

    Also one or both of them might fall behind on their work with all their fun time activities, so they find someone (you) to do it for them. When I worked at a Sam Goody decades ago, a Manager would always schedule me and another co-worker to close with him. It often got busy at the register but I could handle it. Then one night it was so bad I asked customers to wait & went looking for them. Surprise! He and the 16 y/o coworker were making out in the back.

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      Yep, this happened to me on a factory job many years ago. My team lead was boinking the foreman. She chose to do virtually no work (spent a lot of her shift in his office with the blinds down), so guess who had to cover–and got yelled at when I couldn’t keep up?

      1. GoodyGotIt*

        That sounds awful.

        I turned them in but that was mainly because both the manager (mid 20’s) and I (19) were over 18, but the girl he was kissing wasn’t. Yes, I was pissed about the work stuff, but knowing and not informing on stuff like that can be bad news even for the bystander.

  12. H.Regalis*

    The day you were in where they jumped apart and it was a bit awkward for the rest of the day: they know they need to be more discreet.

    Agreeing with Alison and everyone else: Stay out of it. Nothing good will come of you talking to either of them.

    I found out a couple of coworkers were dating once when I ran into a couple of coworkers in a public place. They came over and said hi–clearly found it a bit awkward but were not hiding–and I asked how they were doing, and then we all went about our business. I never said shit to anyone at work and I am so glad. It came out later that they were dating, which was mildly scandalous for a few reasons, and I did not want to be the person going around like, “Guess who I ran into together this weekend??”

  13. LadyJ*

    One of the most dramatic office relationships was at my high school while I was there. We were told by teachers and staff it wasn’t happening and we needed to stay out of it. The issue is it was affecting how they were teaching and for kids whose parents had divorced because of infidelity.The divorce of the one teacher was finalized and a week later the two teachers were married. Parents and students were FURIOUS. They stayed teaching the next year but one decided to move for different challenges after an incident regarding a grade and the teacher said you need to trust my judgement. Parent asked why should I. I walked in on them before the divorce. It was a mess.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      Yikes. I was worried that this was a student/teacher relationship, but thank goodness the judgment isn’t THAT bad here.

      It’s hard enough on some students when a teacher is going through a divorce. I had one my senior year of high school and she was a mess. We got nothing done at all that semester, but I did hear all about her soon-to-be-ex’s girlfriend. Too bad the final wasn’t on her attributes (hour glass shape with more sand on the bottom).

      1. pancakes*

        What does the shape of her body have to do with anything? This is misogynistic. Perhaps internalized misogyny, but misogyny nonetheless.

        1. Diane Lockhart*

          I think the body commentary was what the teacher was saying to Butterfly Counter, not current commentary on the girlfriend.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I also read it as “instead of teaching the class, the teacher was telling the students, repeatedly, about what body her STBX’s girlfriend had.”

            1. Butterfly Counter*

              Yes, this. We got a running commentary on how awful the new girlfriend looked, what parties that they were at that my teacher was no longer invited to (her ex was a mover and shaker in our town), some of the ins and outs of divorce paperwork (that ALMOST was relevant to our class), and just how badly her young children were taking it and how much they hated their own dad.

              Again, it was a MESS. Every single thing we talked about came back to her awful STBX husband, his new girlfriend, and the divorce. It was so inappropriate, but nothing happened because she just gave us all As in the end so no one complained.

    2. DataGirl*

      When I was a kid the minister at our church had an affair with the secretary. Both were married, and when it came out, both had to leave the church. It was a huge scandal, and a lot of people were not kind to the spouses who were cheated on, or their kids, which was the worst of it in my opinion.

      1. Mannequin*

        I went to a Catholic school for 1.5 years in the early 70s because my parents had heard that kids got a better education in private school.
        We didn’t last for many reasons, including that the education was actually sub-par, but my parents were also incensed by things like the school expecting 1st & 2nd graders to sell expensive candy door to door on TOP of pricy tuition, hiring teachers that were mostly public school rejects, the kindly old Irish priest that taught my mom catechism was a drunk who toppled whisky during the sessions, and most especially that the mean AF but sexy 2nd grade teacher was openly having an affair with the principal (who looked like Fred from Scooby Doo, lol), they were both married with families, and nobody cared except to gossip about it.

        (Many years later I met someone who went there all 8 years, and found out that the only really nice person there, the woman who ran the all the musical programs, ended up marrying a Black man and was shunned by the entire congregation- WE ARE IN LIBERAL SO CAL)

    3. Polly Hedron*

      We were told by teachers and staff it wasn’t happening and we needed to stay out of it.

      Contradiction much?

    4. SweetestCin*

      Shoot, til you mentioned the part about them getting married, I thought that you and I had gone to HS together. Our offending parties did not marry. We were also told that there was no thing there and to not worry. Hello, I had one of them for 2nd hour and the other for 3rd. They were CONSTANTLY making excuses to come to each other’s door during the opposite hour of when I had them. It was ridiculously stupid.

  14. Smithy*

    While I get that these issues often feel more loaded, doing your best to forget/avoid/put it out of your mind is truly best and also can be a good work social skill to cultivate. Essentially “not seeing” issues or not having issues you notice weigh on your mind heavily.

    In this case the scenario Alice/Bob may fizzle out and die or explode or other, but either way – best not to be involved. But in other circumstances knowing that a colleague is job hunting and not feeling obligated or compelled to tell anyone. Or when your coworker who’s 8 months pregnant finally shares the news, you share friendly congrats and don’t say anything along the lines of “yes, clearly”. Whether it’s calling this a poker face, being polite, having healthy work place boundaries – I do think that for some of us it’s more of a skill to not get overly invested in those issues where we think about them too much when we really don’t have to. And being a very junior colleague is exactly when you don’t have to.

      1. Smithy*

        I also want to add to this that having friends at work and/or getting involved in some workplace gossip isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s trying to make sure that gossip avoids the more malicious/catty subject matter and being aware that most of our office friendships grow slower or maybe never grow closer than just “office buds”.

        Beyond reporting this to your manager/HR (which you do NOT have to), this definitely becomes malicious gossip. And talking about this with Alice would be a fairly intimate conversation that she may be in no way ready to have with you, and therefore react with more frostiness if not hostility.

        This is where having that friends/family network or using platforms like AAM to share this as a way of getting it off your chest is incredibly helpful! But finding those ways to get it out and let it go can be a lifesaver. Do not beat yourself for having this dominate your brain and feeling a need to get this out. Just find another way to direct it. Far far far away from any part of your life that touches work.

  15. animaniactoo*

    In the vein of normalcy, if Alice doesn’t stop jumping at your shadow soon, you might ask her explicitly if you’ve done something to upset her. Based on it *seeming* to you that things have been weird between you lately and you don’t know why.

    1. OP*

      I think I am jumpy and she is jumpy. I hope the Easter weekend break has made things a little less weird.

  16. Hawthorne*

    We had a situation in our office where two people, each married to other people, got involved (coworkers, no chain of command issues). However, what people didn’t really know on the surface was that they were each either separated or in the beginning of their divorce. By the time they were public (though everyone knew), they were both finally divorced. Which is to say, you also may not know what Bob’s situation is. Not to imply any of this is okay, but you also don’t know Bob’s back story on the marriage front.

    1. El l*

      Good point – another reason to not get involved is that LW has no idea of the circumstances.

  17. GotTheTShirt*

    I’d probably have a quiet word with Alice, tbh. While both Alice and Bob are equally at fault, Alice is more likely to bear the consequences if/when it comes to light. My sister was the wife in a very similar situation. Her (now ex) husband was a school administrator and having an affair with an unmarried female teacher. He was not in her direct chain of command. When it came out, he received no punishment; the teacher did not have her contract renewed and had to leave the school. I don’t know if it’s because he’s a guy, he was management, or because he had a family to support, but they both screwed around (literally) and she took the fall. While I have no respect for people who have intimate relationships with one member of a married couple without the express permission of the spouse, I can’t stand that kind of double standard.

    1. ecnaseener*

      But what is LW supposed to say to Alice that she doesn’t already know? “Be careful, making out at work could cause trouble for you”?

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Totally disagreeing. The OP is very new to the workforce, and Alice is an adult who has more work experience. The OP isn’t in a good position to give advice, it’s absolutely NOT the OP’s responsibility, and Alice (and Bob) should know better. The OP’s best option is to stay completely out of it, pretend to have no knowledge whatsoever, and proceed as normal (with the caveat that they avoid working late when both the other people are also working and that they don’t walk in on them again if they can possibly help it).

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. If the OP is the newest, youngest person in the office they should certainly not be trying to give advice on appropriate behaviour to their colleagues in this context. It’s unlikely to be taken well by either Alice or Bob. Better to stay out of it and pretend it never happened.

      2. Smithy*

        Absolutely this.

        If the ages were switched, and the OP was already close to Alice, then maybe…..but I think a huge reality is that when these situations happen, the more rational side of the brain isn’t entirely driving things. So to receive rational cautionary advice isn’t necessarily going to be heard that way.

        I know for some there’s a feeling that giving good advice, even if it’s not heeded is worthwhile. But when it’s given to someone not even asking for advice, you usually just find yourself putting yourself in the path of drama as opposed to providing genuine help or insight. Most people just aren’t intentionally seeking out romantic relationships that make their work lives implode or explode. So when that happens….it’s because lots of feelings are clouding and clouding why it’s problematic.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      No, that would result in a variety of bad outcomes for the LW. Alice might then use the LW for cover or for venting or as a confidante…or blame the LW when a problem arises from the situation.

      There’s no scenario where someone being foolish enough to do this at work would suddenly say “You’re right! I never thought of that!” especially when the LW is younger and more junior than Alice.

    4. Software Dev (she/her)*

      I am fairly sure that adults can understand there may be professional and personal consequences for having an affair at work—and if they can’t, hearing from a very junior colleague won’t help.

    5. Batgirl*

      I think that would be really patronising to Alice who is an adult deciding what priorities and risks she wants to take. She’s also got more experience and seniority, so why would she listen to OP? The double standard you’re talking about is wrong, but it’s not OP’s standard, and it may not even be their company’s standard. It doesn’t apply everywhere, and if it does, then at that point the OP can decide if it’s sexism, or support for the person with family and if the company’s attitudes on that will actually affect them as an employee.

  18. SheLooksFamiliar*

    It’s not great that your co-workers subjected you to their interaction, but people in love – I’m assuming – can be oblivious to their surroundings.

    OP, difficult as it may be, be oblivious in return. Behaving in your usual, professional manner works here, if only because it will drive the pair of them crazy with doubt. Yeah, I’m snarky like that.

    1. anonymous73*

      I’ve worked in many places where couples worked in the same company or department and have NEVER been subjected to PDA from any of the couples while at work. Being in love is not an excuse to not be able to control yourself in a professional manner while in the office.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yeah, the only time it’s been relevant that a married couple worked at my office was if you saw one of them you could ask if the other was in-office that day, or the one (scary) time a coworker had a (thankfully minor) cardiac incident and someone was able to run upstairs and get his wife.

        I think the closest to PDA I ever saw was when my boss’s wife stopped by for lunch and randomly stuck her orange sticker on his forehead (which was plenty awkward).

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I didn’t say being in love was an excuse for inappropriate PDA. I said it – or whatever they’re feeling – makes them oblivious to their surroundings.

        See the difference?

  19. idwtpaun*

    RE: Letter 1. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on whether or not you think people demonstrating bad judgment in their private life affects how your perceive them professionally. I’m not contradicting Alison’s advice at all, I think she’s right. But I imagine myself in the letter-writer positions and if I knew that a coworker was the kind of person to have an affair and be indiscrete about it at work (thus, making it other people’s problem, as Alice & Bob did with the letter-writer), I think it may cause me to question their professional judgment as well.

    1. DrSalty*

      Personally, it would bias me against them if they’re being foolish enough to get caught fooling around at the office. That’s indicative of very poor judgement imo.

      1. Loulou*

        Agreed — to me this isn’t about someone showing bad judgement in their personal life, but in their professional life (making out at work).

        If OP had seen them making out at a bar across town, that would be more clearly a question of personal judgement. But making out at work is terrible professional judgement, even if you were making out with your own spouse.

        1. Allegra*

          Yeah, exactly–this is still *bad professional judgment* even though it seems to be about their personal life.

          Something that’s TRULY their personal life only, like…grabbing some romance novel tropes at random, dating your roommate, having an emotional affair with a sibling’s spouse, getting in the local paper for a turf war with their neighbors over plants on the property line? It depends, y’know. I’d still treat them professionally based on their work behavior, but I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t make me consider things like, if they prioritize gratification over long-term relationships, if they’d rather be “right” over being a good collaborator, etc.

    2. Important Moi*

      Honestly, it is an equation.

      The combination of the parties involved, the parties affected, how am I involved, how am I affected, what are their professional duties, and others things I can’t think of right now equals do I question their professional judgement.

      As an example, men in history who were “bad” spouses but worked for the greater societal good.

    3. kiki*

      That’s an interesting question! I don’t tend to judge poor personal judgment against my coworkers, short of them having done something incredibly terrible or felonious. If a coworker were having an affair in their personal time, I wouldn’t let it color my view of them professionally, even if I somehow found out about it. I might raise an eyebrow privately, but I’d continue working with them. If my coworkers were having an affair together in their free time, I would raise both eyebrows, but figure they’re adults living their lives. But these folks are kissing in the office at midday… that is poor professional judgment. I wouldn’t be unable to work with them, but I might find it hard to keep a straight face if either of them tried to give me professional advice.

    4. pancakes*

      How would you know enough about their marriage to know whether it was an illicit affair, though? Even relatively close work friends might not confide in one another about being polyamorous.

      1. Software Dev (she/her)*

        Yeah this is a good point. Honestly I think the PDA at work is the questionable part—if I saw Bob and Alice at a restaurant having a romantic dinner I would quietly try to forget I ever saw them and not let it affect my opinion because yeah, none of my business.

        If I catch them snogging in the break room and they jump apart like two guilty teens, they’ve demonstrated poor judgement about the place and time.

      2. Really?*

        Please stop…illicit or not, polyamorous or not, the behavior as described by OP was inappropriate full stop.

        1. pancakes*

          I fully agree it was inappropriate! I do not, however, share the anxiety many commenters here seem to have about staking out a moral claim as to where I stand on what these people were up to, to the point of clarifying that I’m not saying something I didn’t say.

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      For me, everything affects how I view someone professionally. It’s like a running equation where I am constantly reevaluating. Were you rude to the Fed Ex guy? Did you lie about a mistake? Did you take credit for someone’s work? Are you foolish enough to make out with a coworker in the workplace? It’s all kind of the same thing. The degree to which this behavior would affect my opinion is another equation with a bunch of variables such as how we’re connected at work.

      That’s not to say I’ll shun someone or behave oddly towards anyone. I’ll file the make out session away as “not my business” and behave professionally towards both of them but it’s likely I’d scrutinize their respective decision-making a little more closely without even realizing that I am doing so.

      1. Smithy*

        This is me, because honestly – so much of the information that I get from colleagues always feels more like 1-5% of any given story.

        I have two colleagues who rarely if ever respond to my emails that ask vital work questions. Both fairly senior, both I assume to be fairly busy. With one, I schedule semi-regular meetings where I pound through the issues/questions raised in my emails, make sure we’re aligned, she’s very friendly about this, and doesn’t intentionally try to keep me out of the loop. The second colleague doesn’t keep his calendar up to date, regularly ghosts meetings I set with him, and is generally rude when we do meet.

        All of that to say – does ignoring my emails mean anything – and the answer is maybe. To me, the most judgement worthy part of this story is more the kissing in the office as opposed to the affair. But again, the first take away is that those colleagues are messy – but messy how…..then other stuff goes into that.

        I’ve met lots of people I’d trust one some issues but not others. Someone being a bad partner and an excellent friend or coworker in no way would shock me.

    6. Jean*

      This situation IS a matter of poor professional judgment, though. They were making out at work. Even if there were no infidelity or anything like that involved, it would still be a very bad look, professionally speaking.

    7. Distracted Librarian*

      Eh, I’d lose some respect for them, because cheating sucks, but people can have good judgment in other areas of their lives and lose all common sense in romantic relationships. Infatuation/romance/love are not rational. I don’t think people’s romantic behavior correlates all that strongly with their judgment in less-charged areas of their lives.

    8. anonymous73*

      I’d like to say I wouldn’t judge them professionally, but I’d probably be lying to myself.

    9. NotRealAnonForThis*

      In hindsight, because at one point I was very new to the workforce and place of employment, with the big boss running around on his wife and it not exactly being a secret: absolutely.

      When you actively bring your tryst to the office and suck your employees into the mess by telling them NOT to let the wife know about this (no seriously, he TOLD us this), I’m going to look highly askance at anyone in the situation mentioned by the LW now, 20 years later. Given all the problems that the woman he was having an affair with brought into our office, I’m absolutely going to have a very low professional opinion. To the point that I’m going to worry about the solvency of the company (if its a family owned small biz) and probably look for other employment.

  20. Allegra*

    Since this is one of your first office jobs, I think it’s important to reiterate for yourself that the reaction for when a colleague is doing things like this is very different than the reaction when one of your friends is doing things like this.

    This is very kind of you (and it is true that the unmarried person in an affair tends to be seen as more “at fault” than the person who is actually breaking their marriage vows), and it’s clear she has been a mentor in a lot of ways to you, but you are not responsible for her work reputation or her actions, and you cannot prevent any potential difficulties that may arise from this. You can have empathy for what seems like a difficult period for her where she’s not making the best choices, but

    1. Allegra*

      ack, hit enter too soon, that last paragraph is about the line where OP says “I care about Alice and I don’t want her to be the one to get into difficulties if this all comes out.”

      You can have empathy for a rough time for her and understand she may not be making the best choices, but it’s not a good idea to try and preemptively fix things for her. (And honestly it’s not always a good idea when it’s a personal friend making bad choices, either.) What she did is not really the action of a good mentor or a good work friend, either–they put you in a terrible position by making out at work when they knew you were around, even if you’d just stepped out!

      If it does become public, you can be kind to her and flex your professionalism by discouraging gossip if you hear any (“these are our colleagues and I’d rather focus on work than speculate about our personal lives”), but you are not in any way responsible for or able to prevent her bad choices or potential damage to her workplace reputation just because you happened to be one of the first people to find out.

    2. idwtpaun*

      Just to avoid misunderstanding, I wanted to say I’m *not* the letter-writer, just a random commenter.

      1. idwtpaun*

        oh no, nesting fail! Misunderstanding on my part, I thought you were commenting on my comment. Ignore me!

    3. Batgirl*

      The unmarried person in an affair is seen as more at fault than the married person? I’ve honestly never come across that attitude.

  21. Adereterial*

    Government in the UK (local government included) can be an incredibly incestuous place. Many people are related, relationships happen. I managed someone whose husband was on a different team and two of their nieces in another. It’s… tricky to navigate if you’re new.

    Most do not, to my knowledge, have rules preventing relationships and many don’t have formal rules around not managing close relatives or friends, either. I was at one point required to manage a (now former) friend… it didn’t go well. But it’s common.

    Just keep out of it. It’ll blow up eventually, one way or another, don’t take sides. Just ignore as best you can. And make sure you’ve joined the Union (whichever one your organisation recognises) – regardless of this, you may need them someday, and a good rep is invaluable.

    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely agreeing with the comment about joining the union. My mother was in local government and she was a shop steward with Unison. If this blows up it’s no bad thing to have the union on your side and if it doesn’t it’s good to be union anyway.

      1. OP*

        I went to a briefing recently on joining a union as I’ve never really known what one was, why don’t they teach this stuff at school? I will send my papers to join tomorrow for sure.

    2. Scotlibrarian*

      I’ve worked in local govt run library services for 25 years. I’m unaware of this ever happening in any of my offices – maybe library staff are more careful / maybe our 90% female workforce is part of the reason. OP, this is not normal, follow the Ask A Manager script and I’m sure everything will be fine. Joining a union is always a good idea.

    3. OxfordBlue*

      I’m in the UK and I definitely agree with both of these points. Sadly, I have seen inadvertent witnesses retaliated against so suggest that it might be prudent to be prepared for such an eventuality. Oddly, in my experience, the more blatant the affair the more an office can and does collectively ignore it.
      Do think the situation through from the perspective of other positions within the office and how you think those people should address this as you’ll likely run into this wherever you are and whatever your level of seniority so you can get a head start on what employees at your current level would think then.
      For now, ignore and refuse to notice anything about their behaviour and carry on working as before. If either one of them tries to involve you in any way you could simply say that you ‘prefer not to be given details of their private life and thankyou for respecting your work boundaries’ which should prompt them to stop. If it doesn’t I suggest leaving the room and going to ground in a ladies on a different floor for ten minutes or so.

    4. allathian*

      Yeah, I work for a government agency in Finland and it’s the same thing here. Lots of married or cohabiting couples. The vast majority of the time, people are professional at work to the point that you wouldn’t know unless you knew. Most of these couples don’t have the same last names.

      In one case, the husband, let’s call him Alex, was very handsome and charming, but there was never anything flirtatious or inappropriate about his manner, he was always very professional. A new coworker, Jane, who didn’t know about his wife Louise also working there, once said that she had to cut her coffee break short to “be sexually harassed by Alex at their weekly meeting”, when Louise was sitting right there! Jane was in her early 60s but looked at least 10 years younger. She had the sort of vitality that can light up a room, and men half her age would turn their heads when she walked by. Next time I saw her, I told her that her joke about being harassed by Alex had landed a bit poorly with Louise, because she was his wife. She was mortified, and I expect that she apologized, because after that they often hung out together at work until Jane retired.

      There was a married couple, Joe and Nina, who worked in different departments. Joe was having an affair with Norma who worked in his department, although nobody knew (and few if any suspected) because they were always very professional at work. They got caught when they traveled to a conference and submitted expenses for the same hotel room. I think that on some level they wanted to get caught, because Nina processed their expense reports. My org has about 2,000 employees, and Nina has several teammates doing the same job, so getting caught wasn’t a given, but certainly a possibility. I know about this because Nina was my work friend and she told me. They ended up getting a divorce. I lost touch with Nina when she changed jobs, and I’ve no idea if Joe and Norma are still together. I haven’t seen either of them since the start of the pandemic, and I’m not sure if they’re even working for my employer anymore. I’m not curious enough to check the employee listing on our intranet, either. Even if I happened to run into either of them, I’d stick to work talk and innocuous small talk, their relationship status, if any, is none of my business.

  22. Sparkles McFadden*

    Yes, stay out of it. Backing out of the room quietly and making more noise coming back in shows you have good instincts, so follow those instincts and stay away from this mess. It’s not your job to save people from their foolish behavior. Plus, if you acknowledge you know, it opens up several different cans of worms: Using you for cover or blaming you when someone else finds out etc.

    1. OP*

      I’m not sure I had good instincts, it was more a back away in shock situation but it worked out well they didn’t see me. That would have been super awkward.

  23. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Okay, I’m going to admit something that’s probably going to turn a lot of people against me but..

    ..once, a long time ago, I had a ‘thing’ with a married manager (not mine, and I was single) at work. I think we thought we were subtle but looking back at it there were a lot of things we did that were really daft and really obvious to others. People saying something would not really have stopped anything – a lot of it was the lure of the forbidden and in his side a thrill of getting away with something his wife and kids didn’t know about.

    It fizzled out as soon as I left the firm for a better job. Nowadays I’m of the ‘I did some really bad things in my 20s’ mindset.

    Leave it alone. It’ll either burn itself out or fade away – either way you don’t want to be involved.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      It reminds me a bit of the controlled falls, which brought up a lot of people reminiscing about how things they thought they were executing smoothly at 21, now they realized actually were not smooth.

      It’s interesting how the path usually is “Now that it’s 10 years later, I realize that was not at all under the radar” rather than “As soon as Henrietta told me we were more obvious than we thought, I realized the wisdom of her observation and we cut it out.” The gut instinct is that somehow Henrietta used vague and nefarious means to detect the undetectable.

    2. UKDancer*

      I think most of us did stupid stuff in our teens and 20s. I has an inappropriate flirtation which shop or short of being an affair with one of the chefs at the castle I worked in as a student in the vac. He was 30 and I was 19 and he was in a relationship. I was almost certainly not as subtle as I thought. In retrospect I wonder what the heck I was thinking but chalk up to youthful stupidity and boredom. By the time I started work post university I had learnt more professional ways.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Very much me at 20-25 was ‘I know everything and I’m always right’

        Me at my current 45+ is ‘I know actually very little’. My husband of some 18 or so years knows everything about my past, including that.

    3. Popinki*

      I read a line in a book once that went something like “the heart is a noisy and stupid organ.” We’ve all had it outyell our brains at some point or another, especially as young adults when we knew everything and were invincible.

    4. Llama Mama*

      Thanks for sharing your story–your first-hand experience makes your advice more compelling, in my opinion. And add me to the list of people who made huge mistakes in their 20’s… I think we could likely all use some grace when considering the actions of our youth.

    5. allathian*

      I hear you… The first job I got after university was in the back office of a bank. I had a huge crush on one of the guys working there, and it was a bit too obvious with it. I’d hang out at his office whenever I had the least excuse to do so. He may have enjoyed flirting with me a bit, and he certainly never asked me to stop seeking him out. But he didn’t particularly seek me out, unless he was assigning work to me. The office manager went on a sabbatical for seven months, and I was hired as an office admin for that period – we used to have a thing called sabbatical leave, that required the employer to hire an unemployed person to replace the person on leave, although it didn’t have to be the same position. But the end result was that I had 10 people who assigned work to me and no primary manager.

      In my culture, people tend to have a very large personal space unless they’re very close, but I’d stand as close to him as I could get away with, and do things like brush “lint” off the upper sleeve of his jacket, that would probably be seen as sexual harassment today unless the behavior was both consensual and mutual. In retrospect, my past behavior makes me cringe.

    6. Alan Brian Chiang*

      “a lot of it was the lure of the forbidden and in his side a thrill of getting away with something his wife and kids didn’t know about”

      Well, OP, now you know why you walked in on them. That’s part of the thrill for this kind of person.

      1. pancakes*

        People who do dumb things in their twenties — or at any age, for that matter — aren’t a categorically different “kind of person” than the rest of us. The sanctimonious preening in some of these comments is so silly.

    7. Betsy Devore, Girl Sleuth*

      “Nowadays I’m of the ‘I did some really bad things in my 20s’ mindset.”

      No offense, but this makes me think of whatshername in The Best of Everything, the one who was not Hope Lange, Suzy Parker or Joan Crawford, whimpering, “I’m so ashamed…Now I’m just someone who’s had an *affair*!” YouTube doesn’t have a clip of it, alas.

  24. Wintermute*

    The only thing I would add to this advice is you said you work in government, check your handbook’s ethics section. I’m not aware of anything, specifically, that would require reporting this but governmental employees have ethics rules on top of ethics rules, and I’m not familiar enough with the government in the UK to say if this might be covered under something that could be held against you if you don’t report.

    Assuming the ethics check out, I’m firmly in agreement with the advice to simply stay out of it.

    If you really can’t do that, then as a government body another option than HR might be an ethics ombudsman, they usually have them, though an affair would usually be a little below their notice unless there were other implications as mentioned.

    1. UKDancer*

      My mother (who worked in local Government) says that unless you’re having an affair with someone in your chain of command there’s very unlikely to be a rule against what Alice and Bob are doing. At least in her local authority there was no rule against it.

      There was a rule against relationships with your direct staff (up and down) and guidance on appropriate behaviour with suppliers if you were issuing contracts. My mother had to declare any personal relationships or conflicts of interest when awarding a contract and if she’d been concealing an intimate relationship with supplier X she would have been potentially committing misconduct.

      But it wasn’t forbidden to have adulterous relationships with your colleagues, just in rather bad taste to be caught with them in the workplace.

      1. Wintermute*

        that’s good to know. My inclination leaned towards that being the case but I’d hate to be surprised.

        1. workswitholdstuff*

          Yeah, I work for an LA, and there’s no rule against co-workers being in a relationship. (which is good, there were two couples in our department that were married – one pair still work in the department, the other pair have since left – one after a restructure, one by choice).

          It’s only if management of each other comes into it there’d be an issue.

          I do echo the advise about joining/speaking to the union. (I had to do it recently, for a work issue, which ultimately I didn’t need them to get involved with, but it was reassuring to know they were in the loop if I truly had needed them . The reassurance I wasn’t being unreasonable in what I was expecting from my work too was definitely a plus)

    2. Adereterial*

      There’s no ethics ombudsman in the UK, and the civil service code is the closest thing most have to a code of conduct. It only applies to national government or the devolved authorities, not to local authorities.

      The civil service code doesn’t cover this specifically, and you’d struggle to make it stretch – it’s only concerned with peoples private lives if that would mean they can’t properly serve the elected government – such as clear conflicts of interest, lobbying, political activities etc. Given that our Prime Minister has an undetermined amount of children by multiple mothers and is a well known philanderer, it’s hard to see how this would be a problem.

      1. UKDancer*

        It’s definitely not in the civil service code in my reading. That said most Government departments do have rules against people dating people in their line management chain. I had a friend who met her future spouse at work. They were in different teams at the time. As soon as she started seeing her future husband seriously they told HR who made it clear that they shouldn’t work together in the same team and were categorically not allowed to manage each other. They’re in different departments now so it’s less likely to be a problem.

  25. Aphra*

    I worked in local government in the UK for almost 20 years and this scenario would have been unusual in the extreme. That’s not to say that personal relationships didn’t originate at work but canoodling at work wasn’t something I ever saw or heard about. There was a specific rule that people who entered a relationship with a colleague (at any level) had to report it to HR. People on the same team were separated and anyone dating their supervisor (again, at any level) was moved to a different team. Of course once you got to specialist, professionally qualified teams, that became difficult; you can’t just bump a lawyer, architect, engineer or planner to, say, an admin team. In those cases that I knew of, one partner ended up seeking a job elsewhere so the issue resolved itself.

    For the OP, I have two recommendations: First, I agree with everyone saying to stay out of it. Even if you feel like being Alice’s work friend means you should support her. This will blow up one way or another and when it does, you’ll find that both Bob and Alice will throw you under the bus in a flash, and your other colleagues will never trust you again. Best to ignore all tell tale signs, don’t feed office gossip and deny all knowledge if asked (other than as part of an official enquiry). If Bob or Alice approach you, stand firm and tell them you have no desire to involve yourself in their business and would appreciate them affording you the same courtesy. Second, for your own protection, if you aren’t already a member, join the union, today. You may never need their support but if you ever do, you’ll have it.

    1. workswitholdstuff*

      Definitely endorse joining a union!

      (we had married co-workers doing the same job – they answered to the same manager, but it was never an issue. More awkard was our horrid restructure, which had them competing against each other for the now single post – the unsuccessful one stayed with the department but in a completely different role)

  26. Katie*

    My husband and I met at work. He was in management though not my supervisor and we hardly ever even worked together. Some people knew at work but not many (or I am assuming so?). At one point someone told on us to our store manager. Store manager dismissed this by saying that sweet Katie would never date him…

  27. Chelsea*

    I once worked with a woman who was having an affair with her married boss. I saw them make out in a car outside of our company holiday party. I ran into her a decade later at an event for her new job and she made a joke about how she thought it was so weird that people thought they were dating “back then” because they’re together now. I told her what I’d seen and she said, “Hmmm. I guess I better change my story,” and walked away.

  28. BoJo*

    Does Alice’s husband work at Oliver Bonas and is Bob’s wife an osteopath? And did they work together on the student newspaper at Oxford? ;)

    I’m sorry. But also not sorry.

  29. Scottish Teapot*

    Yip stay out of this one. If she asks or hints about seeing them together I suggest you act as if you know nothing. Not your circus not your monkeys

  30. Kim*

    Is it possible to edit some of these letters to shorten them? Many of them are quite long, with unnecessary detail.

    1. OP*

      I’m sorry my letter was too long. I tried to cut it down but I couldn’t think how best to say what I needed to.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It was fine. If you cut things, someone will complain you didn’t include enough info. If you don’t, you get this. It’s fine. (I do sometimes cut letters down when they contain a lot of extraneous info but frankly it’s always a judgment call about will or won’t end up being relevant in some way.)

      2. idwtpaun*

        Please don’t apologize, you did nothing wrong! In fact, I find the comment above more than a little rude and also out of touch with what most commenters what (more details). It’s always possible to skim rather than fully read any post.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Somehow, I find myself able to skim through any parts of a letter I don’t want to read.

  31. Middle Aged IT Guy*

    I didn’t see this myself but a situation like this resulted in a physical fight at an ad agency where I once was a contractor; one of my co-workers was also out there and witnessed the following scenario:

    Man shows up at the reception desk and asks for a meeting with Creative Person who works at the agency. Creative Person doesn’t think he has a meeting but the man says he only needs a few minutes of his time, so Creative Person comes down to see what he wants. Turns out, man is married to someone who works at the agency, and he just found out that his wife was conducting a fairly public affair with Creative Person. Upon seeing him, man announces “I’m *name* and YOU’RE [having sex with] MY WIFE!” and charges at the guy, with fists a-flying.

    I didn’t hear exactly how it played out, but I’m sure it wasn’t good.

    1. H.Regalis*

      Ugh. At an old, public-facing job one of my coworkers had to inform our boss that if anyone came in looking for him, he might have to run out the back door because he was having an affair with a married woman, her husband found out, and there was a greater than zero probability that this guy would show up and try to fight him. Fortunately that did not come to pass, but if it had, would have been the same deal as yours.

  32. Falling Diphthong*

    One of the interesting things about humans is that they can think “This is so much more exciting when there’s a risk of someone walking in!” and “We are carrying out this affair with undetectable stealth technology!” in the same headspace at the same time.

    OP, you need to Sergeant Schultz this and let them work through the bad personal decisions on their own, with all the plausible deniability of knowing anything you can muster. Alison’s aggressive normalcy is a good idea.

  33. Anonymosity*

    I think the fact that someone (you) walked in on them is enough of a clue that they’re not being as discreet as they think. No need to say anything. Not your circus; not your monkeys.

  34. Amorette Allison*

    I used to work (more like volunteer) at a local movie theater. Classic single screen on Main Street in a small town and we struggled to keep it going. The manager was married, with four kids, in his thirties. He was having private meetings with a high school employee in his office. I just once stepped into his office and, as I was twice his age, said quietly, as one adult to another, private meetings with underage employees is not acceptable and walked out. Never mentioned it again. Not long after, he quit the theater and started working for UPS. No time for quiet meetings with teenagers on that job. But this was different because I was MUCH older, MUCH more experienced than either of them.

  35. HufferWare*

    Act like you saw nothing but also, if Alice asks you, just lie and say you don’t know what she’s talking about. Do not get sucked into her drama. This person has already had at least one in-office, public relationship that blew up for everyone to know, and now she is engaging in an affair with a higher up. I’m sure she is a nice person and we all have our struggles, but this is not someone you want to be professionally aligned or associated with. Keep your relationship friendly but distant going forward.

  36. Hello From NY*

    This wasn’t mentioned in Alison’s response – But what should LW do if Bob and/or Alice approach them about the situation?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      a) Pretend she thinks they are asking her about a pool for whatever sports thing is currently doing championships.
      b) If she can’t pull off (a) then a very calm “Really, not my business.” And then stop and don’t keep explaining.

    2. El l*

      Good question. Suggest basically what Peggy Olsen did for Don on Mad Men:

      “Yes, I saw what happened. But it’s none of my business, I won’t say anything to anybody, and honestly I don’t want to talk about it again.”

  37. anonymous73*

    I agree with Alison that it’s none of your business, but I may consider saying something to Alice once if the whole situation is making you uncomfortable. Because you can pretend you know nothing all day long, but in reality you can’t un-see what you saw. I would say something along the lines of “I saw you and Bob kissing the other day, and while it’s none of my business what you do in your personal life, it was unprofessional behavior in the office and made me uncomfortable.” Not necessarily a warning, but letting her know how it made you feel and how it could potentially make others feel if they got caught again. The relationship status of Bob is irrelevant here…they shouldn’t be making out at work.

    Now if Bob were married to my best friend, he’d get a warning to come clean or I’d be telling his wife what I saw, but that’s for another column…

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I would expect this tactic with Alice to lead to Alice avoiding OP and looking for evidence that OP is plotting against her, snooping etc. I think Alice would be heavily focused on the potential downsides for Alice (which would in her view now be OP’s fault), rather than on how uncomfortable her actions made other people.

      1. anonymous73*

        If she had behaved in another manner completely unrelated to PDA in the office (yelling, being condescending, etc.), would you disagree and say that it shouldn’t be addressed? Alice has already made it awkward. If having a talk with Alice makes her behave the way you describe, that’s on Alice. People have a right to speak up when their colleagues are behaving unprofessionally and making them feel uncomfortable. If OP can honestly say that she can pretend it didn’t happen, great. But she shouldn’t have to do that.

  38. OP*

    Hey everyone
    This is OP. Thanks to Alison and everyone else for the advice. I’ve been off work for a few days because of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend here and I’m back to work tomorrow so all of the suggestions have been very useful.

  39. OP*

    Also me again!
    To confirm: Alice and I share a manager (the new manager), Alice was my manager before when she was acting up.
    The new managers direct coworker is Bob. So although there is no direct line management between Alice and Bob or me and Bob, he is jointly responsible for our team. He doesn’t line manage either of us or directly assign us work but when our manager is away, he is our go to person.

  40. What a way to make a living*

    If it has occurred to you that next time someone else might walk in, they are capable of having it occur to them. You say you’re younger and less experienced. If you’ve thought of it, they’ve thought of it. If they haven’t, that’s their problem. If they have, and they’re taking the risk, that’s still their problem.

    1. Ali + Nino*

      Yep. The idea of “warning” someone about behavior that is so obviously inappropriate seems a little precious.

      1. OP*

        I guess I was just thinking if I should give Alice a friendly heads up. I have never been anywhere near a situation like this before. I’ve learned a lot from the feedback.

        1. Ali + Nino*

          I hear that and I’m sorry if my
          Comment came off as harsh, I had trouble finding the right words – my sense is that your existing relationship with Alice makes your next steps less obvious. I can imagine feeling disappointed that a coworker you looked up to has shown such poor judgment. But truly, you don’t “owe” her a warning or, as some others mentioned, a “cover” for her spending extra time with Bob. You have a good head on your shoulders and as someone else said good instincts – best of luck to you (& don’t forget to update us :)).

          1. Despachito*

            “You have a good head on your shoulders and as someone else said good instincts – best of luck to you”

            I second this, and I am in the “stay out of it” camp.

            I very much understand your urge to warn Alice, but I wouldn’t do it – people tend to “shoot the messenger”.

  41. Dorothea Vincy*

    OP, as someone who was part of a GROUP of people who accidentally walked in on two coworkers making out in a conference room- both of them were married to other people, and we walked in on them half-dressed- I want to say that if they make it weird, that’s on them, not you. The people I walked in on did make it weird, to the point that the woman of the couple was trying to get me and the others in the group in trouble for sexual harassment by claiming we had “leered” at her when she was topless and the guy was opening the closed doors of our offices all the time and claiming he was “just checking to make sure nothing is going on.” We complained to HR and it stopped. I hope nothing like that happens to you, but just as it’s not your place to have to offer advice, it’s not your fault if they decide to be idiots. Hell, they’re already acting like idiots. You have a right to be able to walk into rooms you need to enter at work without worrying about two people “in love” making out.

  42. Just Me*

    I agree that it’s best to stay out of it for now but……….it IS possible that if there is some sort of sexual harassment investigation, then OP may need to speak up. This happened to my SO and I about five years ago–we were at a party for his work where there had been drinking, and we walked back to the office so he could pick up his bag and we could go home. A manager was there with her married direct reports and swore at/threatened us to leave. We didn’t mention it to any of his other coworkers, but the direct report made a sexual harassment complaint and my SO was asked to provide a statement about what he saw. Manager was subsequently fired. At the time nothing imminently seemed nonconsensual from our end (just generally not appropriate given the power dynamics and that it was, you know, the office), but there is always a possibility that one of the participants does not welcome these advances.

    1. Just Me*

      sorry, manager was there with one of her married direct reports and threatened us to leave so the two of them could be alone.

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