my wife says my relationship with my coworker is inappropriate

A reader writes:

I’ve been working fully remote for a large company since 2020, and work IM’s have become the new normal.

I took a new position in April 2021 and a previous female coworker began directly reporting to me. She accepted a new position on another team in July. Once she accepted the new position, we started to tell each other how much we enjoyed working with each other, and how much we’d miss it. She sent me pictures from her birthday weekend, with her girlfriends, to which my response was “wow” to each photo. Once officially in her new position, she changed her tone to much more casual and using extra vowels in her morning greetings (Heyyyyyyyyyy, Hiiiii, goooooooood morning). We started chatting daily, sometimes over 50 messages in an exchange. I’m married, she’s single.

She told me about her parents, grandparents, and siblings. We talk about work situations and colleagues and about what our vacation plans are. She has sometimes logged in while having time off to say hey and send pictures from the trips she was on. I talk mostly about my childhood, and will tell her a small amount about my family (kids/wife). She’s asked for phone calls when she’s having a rough day in her new role, and I was able to rebuild her confidence. I am always positive and give lots of compliments about her at work. We went hybrid and we did meet in her office once to catch up and another day had lunch together. I felt this was a friendly coworker situation.

My wife got an uneasy feeling after hearing one of our video meetings and looked at our chat history on my computer. She accused me of flirting and being too emotionally intimate and available for this person and said the relationship seems inappropriate. She also said the coworker was sending me pictures which, while not naked or overly sexual, seemed out of line, especially with me responding with “wow” to her in a tight dress.

On another occasion when my coworker mentioned struggling to maintain her weight before her trip due to the amount of cake in her house, I told her that I was being mindful on my end to watch what I say but she would be just fine for her upcoming beach trip. I’m black, and I also said, “This is going to sound like something it’s not, but I’m telling you if you can manage to take it black, you’ll be better off” when she said her coffee didn’t have enough creamer. My wife felt that saying has a sexual meaning and was not appropriate.

I have also told my coworker about some of the gestures I do for my wife, and she told me that she would like her future husband to get marriage pro tips from me. I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day, I’ve referred to her as my lucky charm, and she’s let me know that I’m a phenomenal cheerleader for her. I did these things thinking I was being a great coworker and friend and wasn’t crossing any boundaries, but my wife doesn’t see it that way.

My wife does not work in a corporate office so I’m thinking maybe she just doesn’t understand the new intimate relationships coworkers have, or am I just trying to get convince myself that I was not over the line? Were my actions that of a healthy coworker or did I cross a line?

Noooo, your wife understands just fine! You don’t need to work in a corporate office to recognize that lines are being crossed here — and you have indeed crossed the line.

This is not about new intimate relationships that coworkers have now! (That is … not really a thing?) This is about carrying on a flirtation with a coworker, and it sounds like an emotional affair as well.

You’re using sexual innuendo! By your own admission you knew how that coffee remark would come across. And you’re responding “wow” to photos of her. That’s inappropriate, full stop. (Truly, “wow”? Would you ever respond to photos of a male coworker that way, assuming you weren’t trying to hit on him?) It’s flirtatious banter at a minimum, and most women would take it as signaling an openness to more. Your wife clearly took it that way, and it’s highly likely that your coworker has too.

I don’t think you can be truly oblivious to the way all of this reads. Just the level of detail that you’ve included here says the relationship, and this person, are taking up an enormous amount of space in your brain — you’re remarking on how many vowels she’s using in her greetings!

You’ve painted the situation as “work relationships are just like this now,” but they’re not. Do you have any other work relationships like this? I’m guessing the answer is no; it’s just her. And what you’re describing, with this level of intimacy, is an emotional affair.

To be clear, it’s not that men and women can’t be friends. Of course they can! But that’s not what this is. The sexual innuendo and admiring comments about her physical attractiveness have made it something else.  As an experiment, I tried reading your letter without those details and that would change things — without those details this could indeed be just a close work friendship. Even then, I’d suggest you look at the amount of emotional energy you were investing in the relationship just to make sure (and perhaps have a look at stuff on emotional affairs as a reality check). But once those pieces are there, they really do color the entire relationship in a way that makes it impossible to read it differently.

In fact, here’s a good test: would you have shown your wife all those messages on your own and felt there was nothing there she might object to? Or did you know she would be uncomfortable if she saw them?

I’m not saying that “my spouse would be uncomfortable with this” is always a good measure of whether something is wrong; there are overly controlling spouses out there. But the vast majority of spouses would be uncomfortable with what you’ve described; it doesn’t take an excessively controlling spouse to be bothered by what’s happened here.

You’re flirting and emotionally invested to an inappropriate degree. Your wife is not off-base.

{ 1,055 comments… read them below }

  1. B*itch in the corner of the poster*

    Married here. NONE of this is Ok. This is not a culture of “intimate relationships” with coworkers. That’s excuses you’re using to justify your behavior. It’s inappropriate, not ok. Knock it off.

    1. LolaBugg*

      Seriously. I would he so hurt if I was letter writer’s wife. This is a relationship issue and letter writer is hiding behind the fact that it’s a colleague and over IM to justify his flirtation.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          And remember that everything you write and send can be read aloud in a courtroom. Or in a HR hearing if this relationship goes south for sundry reasons.

          1. TrixieD*

            Best comment right there. You’re setting you, your company and your marriage up for failure.
            Stop it.

        2. June*

          I’d pack up and leave him to his online girlfriend. I hope she does.

          He can also get himself fired over this.

          1. Not Putting Myself on Blast*

            See, this right here is why all of my outgoing work emails have a blurb at the bottom stating “most written communication to or from state/university employees and students are public records and available to the public and media upon request.”

            Even if I joke and josh around with my colleagues, we all go into messages knowing they could be read aloud in court or by someone just being curious about what university employees get up to in their work life.

            1. Migraine Month*

              When I started working in the public sector where most of my written communication is available by Freedom of Information Act, I became much more careful about venting to my coworkers in writing.

      1. Salymander*

        I would be really angry, and even more I would be insulted if my husband expected me to believe such an obvious load of crap about how this is just a friendship. Seriously, this is not subtle. No one is fooled. What an insult to his wife’s intelligence to think she wouldn’t figure it out, with the mentionitis and frequent texting and inappropriate comments. I have a lot of friends who are men, and my husband is friends with mostly women. Neither of us behave this way with our friends because it is clearly flirtatious in a very sexually charged way that seems very inappropriate between friends or work colleagues.

        1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

          It’s piling mansplaining on top of all the skeevy conversations. Yuck.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Not married here and I don’t want this kind of interaction with my coworkers. I like them but not in a “sending photos of each other in tight dresses and responding ‘wow'” kind of way. Yikes. And I’m a woman with lots of guy friends (many of whom are spoken-for, but their wives or girlfriends know I’m not making a play).

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Also, I would be very put off if one of my guy friends started talking to me like this. Like, that’s not how I roll, dude.

        1. Just Another Starving Artist*

          Yeah, my closest guy friend would tell me I look good when we were younger and I was having moments of insecurity, but that is a far cry from a “wow.” Vacation pics are best met with a “looks fun!” or a “What did you end up doing? My wife and I have been thinking of checking that place out.”

          1. ferrina*

            Yup. “Wow” is for “Wow, that’s a great photo of the Grand Canyon” not “Wow, you look great in that dress!” The latter is definitely crossing the line, and I’d flag it as flirting.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I have said “wow” about male friends’ clothing but it was, “Wow, your Ren Fest armor is really bad-ass!”, not “wow” with implied “sexy”.

          2. KTB1*

            THIS. I got a very nice, sincere compliment on my hair color today from a male colleague. He told me it looked good in a completely work-appropriate way and it honestly totally boosted my mood. It is 100% possible to compliment an aspect of someone of a different gender’s appearance in a professional context. The OP is definitely NOT doing it appropriately, which is the issue.

        2. Yorick*

          Yes, the coffee comment in particular grossed me out. It’s perfectly normal to give someone the advice to drink their coffee black if they wanna lose weight (if your relationship allows for diet tips), but the way it was delivered would have made me highly uncomfortable.

          1. Amaranth*

            LW pointing out that possible interpretation also seems like an attempt to convey that suggestive message with plausible deniability.

            A mentorship would be cheerleading based on work situations, not emotional vulnerability and personal details. This is, at best, life coaching but if LW is honest, its an emotional affair.

            1. quill*

              If you preface an innuendo with any variation on “this is going to sound wrong” it’s not an accidental innuendo, it’s a deliberate innuendo.

              1. Yorick*

                That’s what’s so gross about it to me- it’s taking something that could be ok to say and intentionally making it an innuendo

              2. Jules the 3rd*

                +1. Esp when it’s just as easy to NOT use the innuendo (eg, ‘leave off the additives’). This comment is the one that the co-worker can take to HR and the wife to a lawyer, and OP loses both his job and his marriage.

                And I had 3 food related entendres I coulda used there, too…

              3. Salymander*

                You are so right, Quill. Every time someone has said something like that to me before letting loose with a comment, it has always been something really gross and totally purposeful. They know it is wrong and inappropriate, but they don’t care and they want to say it anyway. Do they think prefacing it with the not-a-disclaimer absolves them of responsibility? Do they think we don’t all know what they are up to? It boggles the mind.

              4. Stopgap*

                Not only does it prove that the speaker knows how what they’re saying could be interpreted, but it prepares the listener to be listening for the dirty interpretation.

          2. OhNo*

            Rule of thumb for work discussions: if a sentence needs to be prefaced with “this is going to sound wrong, but..” or “don’t take this the wrong way, but…”, maybe just don’t say it.

            1. MusicWithRocksIn*

              Right up there with “No offense but…” like, totally offense dude. You can’t un-offence something by saying no offense.

              1. Salymander*

                Yep. Saying “no offense, but” before saying something offensive is just a rather cowardly and lazy way of saying offensive things but trying to weasel out of any consequences. Not very impressive.

                Or, “I’m not sexist, but”

                Or, “I’m not racist but”

                Or any one of the many similar and similarly offensive things people say to avoid responsibility for the unacceptable crap that comes pouring out of their mouths.

                Seriously, if folks will just remove their heads from their asses, they might not eat shit every time they open their mouths.

                1. Working Hypothesis*

                  The correct way to punctuate any sentence that begins “I know this is none of my business, but…” is to put a period before the word ‘but’ and stop there.

          3. Velawciraptor*

            The coffee comment was specifically phrased in a way that could get LW in trouble for sexual harassment. Just…stop, my guy.

            1. SaffyTaffy*

              Right? Like… Out of all the dozens of ways you could say “if you don’t rely on creamer you’ll save calories/never be disappointed that there’s not enough creamer” he chose the only way that makes it sound sexual.

            2. allathian*

              Maybe, but it looks like the woman’s completely on board with the flirting. Of course, she isn’t writing in, but I assume that she’d at the very least stop initiating conversations with the LW if she felt uncomfortable.

              He’s flirting and she seems to be flirting right back. Why would she post photos of herself to him if she didn’t want to hear his compliments?

          4. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

            “if your relationship allows for diet tips”

            …which is a big, important “if.” I’m trying to lose a little weight myself, and I cannot imagine welcoming tips from a coworker, with or without obvious sexual innuendo.

          5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Sorry I’m a day too late for this, but yes, the coffee comment takes the (low-cal) cake! Was it so hard to just say “I recommend you take it black if you want to lose the weight” or “the less creamer the better”, or hell, anything other than what was said? It would’ve been a normal recommendation that didn’t need to be prefaced with a “INCOMING! INNUENDO, BUT ALSO NOT AN INNUENDO AT ALL, I PROMISE”.

      2. londonedit*

        Yeah, absolutely. I have male running friends who are married/partnered, and we obviously message each other to talk about going for a run together (or as part of a group), discussing routes, and occasional random ‘saw this and it totally reminded me of that conversation we had on last Sunday’s run’ things. I am perfectly comfortable that these men don’t want to flirt with me, I don’t want to flirt with them, and their partners are perfectly comfortable with the fact that we can go on a run together without there being anything else to it.

        This is NOT that. If one of my running buddies was responding ‘wow’ to photos I was sending him of myself I would definitely be weirded out. Let alone innuendo-laden comments and tons of messaging back-and-forth all the time. And that’s not even someone I work with! If it was a work colleague it would add yet another whole level of ick. It’s one thing to be friendly with colleagues, but this is NOT just to do with the apparent ‘new intimate relationships’ that work colleagues have. What does that even mean?!

        1. workswitholdstuff*

          Quite. Unless the wow is in response to either a nice pic of something you saw on route, or I don’t know, a picture of a particular gross blister (where its grossed out sort of a wow thats really an eww), to carry on your running buddys analogy then it’s inappropriate.

          And I say that as someone who’s got good rapport with most colleague (the time I joked about weird positions with a coworker , we literally were in odd poses – I was buttoning up a suit on a mannequin in a display case and he was adjusting the petticoat of the dress on the one next to me. And I was pointing out how weird it would passersby. His wife walked in that precise moment and we all got the giggles. (Museum work is weird!) Context was important in that case. (er, so to speak)

          All of the stuff the OPs describing? NOT OKAY

          1. Daisy-dog*

            I worked in retail and I once had to bring 6 (naked and very heavy) mannequins out of the back room to the front of the store. I loaded up 3 at-a-time on a rolling rack and had to awkwardly grope those headless ladies to keep them on the rack while rolling it up front. The store was closed, but I had about 10 co-workers with me at the time and all had a funny comment at the site of me. I did get a couple “Wooow”s – quite a different context.

      3. KSharp*

        Yeah I ran into a coworker while I was in a rennaissance festival costume outside of work (tight and not work appropriate) and he posted a pic to the work Teams Chat and I nearly had an aneurysm.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          OMG, no!

          I believe pretty firmly that one should not be seen at work without pants/something equally concealing.

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          Wait, he posted a picture of YOU, from outside work, without your permission?! Oh hell no.

          1. Amaranth*

            Seriously, would it be okay to post a photo in a swimsuit or club wear? I’d get IT to pull that down and tell the guy its not appropriate.

      4. Bagpuss*

        Yes – I am very happily single and I would be definitely uncomfortable if I had a male coworker acting like this towards me.

        I would also be pretty uncomfortable if a male friend was this intense, and making so many personal comments. Andlike Dust Bunny and Lonfon Edit, I have lots of male friends andthis just isn’t how we intereact.

        If I hd a mae friend or coworker acting like this to me then I would definitely see it as flirting (or sexual harassment if it was not reciprocated) and if I saw two people behaving this way with each other, whther in a work context or otherwise, I would definitely assume that they were flirting, dating or in a relationship.
        (and in a work context, if I was senior to or the manager of either of them, I would probably be considering whether I needed to step in and have a conversation about appropriate profoessional behaviour.

        1. Amaranth*

          I don’t know that a manager would have the right to step in unless its during work hours, and then that would be about having personal convo on company time more or less. If one were senior to the other, then it might require/allow more intervention.

          1. Observer*

            Nope. A manager can absolutely step in regarding a relationship between coworkers. *Especially* when someone is a more senior position.

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          I’ve had some good co-worker friends, but it would never occur to me in a million years to send any of them a picture of me in a tight dress. Especially the guys. That would just be so deeply weird. I would also never ask them for reassurance about how I look.

          1. Tech Worker*

            Same. I am married, and have a really good male friend who I became friends with when we worked together on the same team and stayed friends with after I quit. And even though we talk quite often sometimes, by and large our conversation revolves around work topics since that’s where our connection comes from. Conversation will naturally occasionally shift to our personal lives (he’ll tell me about how a new relationship is going, or send a selfie from a vacation he’s on, etc.) but it’s just so obviously a platonic friendship built on foundations of being in the same type of job and industry. And I have female friends from work (who I am slightly closer to) who I have similar conversations with.

            1. whingedrinking*

              I mean, I have a male friend with whom I actually *did* have a sexual relationship for quite a while, and he and I stopped having this kind of flirtation after that side of it was done. Yikes ahoy.

          2. allathian*

            Yes, this. And that’s why I can’t see his comments as anything other than flirting.

            Consent is a key value for me, as is the right to withdraw consent at any time, once given. I hate it when a woman gets raped and the first question is “what was she wearing?” She could go naked for all I care, that still doesn’t give anyone the right to assault or rape her.

            I said that just so nobody accuses me of victim blaming when I say that she invited flirtatious comments from him when she sent him that picture of her in a tight dress, meaning that she wanted his attention and it wasn’t sexual harassment. She sent the photo to him, she didn’t post it in her public feed for anyone to see, at least that’s how I read it.

          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Same! I have always had a lot of guy friends, and work friends – I work in a predominantly male field, so most of my work friends are guys, and I’m a straight woman. We’ve exchanged pet photos, plant photos, family photos, memes sometimes. Not photos of each other in sexy outfits fishing for compliments. Especially not with coworkers!

      5. Meep*

        I am all for dressing in what makes you feel good, but yeah… His responses are the problem here and even if she isn’t interested in him, she is definitely using him to boost her ego.

      6. Calamity Janine*

        the funny thing is – the “wow” comments are extremely unprofessional.

        but they’re also unsexy tbh.

        not to sound too completely hime-dere to live, but if i’m flirting with somebody over text, a ‘wow’ in response to a picture works once. but to keep responding with just that as more pictures come in makes me suspect any potential paramour has been replaced with a team of two drinking bird toys, tapping out W and O alternatively to craft perfunctory responses. i didn’t shave my legs and wear the push-up bra for three measley little letters. at least give a girl a heart-eyes emoji or SOMEthing, sheesh! there’s few things less sexy than someone responding to your effort with the same canned response of one-syllable grunts, without any other commentary. heck, there’s few things less conductive to being a good conversation partner, either. a ‘wow’ is nothing. if you expect me to continue the conversation based solely on three wows, you’d better be bringing a new topic of interest to discuss. not relying on me to get down into the swamps and drag you along by your leash, on account of you taking as much interest in the conversation as a dog deciding “if i simply go completely limp, my human will have to drag and/or carry me home” is the best way to go on a walk. at best you’ll end up with a conversation that is uncomfortably lop-sided. and when you’re having that conversation as a way to indicate “i am interested in you as a person”… well… “wow” on repeat doesn’t quite cut it lol.

          1. Calamity Janine*

            let’s be honest, though, given the logic and choices on display by the letter writer… finding actual plausible deniability isn’t really his strong suit lol

            at that point, just pick one side or the other; either be properly professional but unsexy, or have a flagrantly unprofessional affair. a chain combo of mere “wow”s to multiple pictures ends up failing at both goals at once. it’s not actually that plausible to deny, *and* it’s not even going to advance the dubious goal of having an affair!

            one must live in hope that the villains of the world will eventually strategize up to Skeletor level someday.

    3. Lea*

      I have lots of friendly relationships with coworkers same or opposite sex.

      We talk about work and sports and send pictures of grandkids and dogs…we don’t send vacay pictures of ourselves and reply with ‘wow’ or good mooorning texts!

      This guy Is way over the friendly coworker line

      1. Cait*

        A good litmus test for the OP would be to ask , “Would I send this message/picture to a male coworker?”. If the answer is no, it’s crossing a line.

          1. Exwife*

            My ex (foreshadowing!) developed this kind of a relationship with one of his coworkers. I let him convince me it was just work stuff. He left me for her. The wife here is completely on the money. (Though I will add, turns out my ex did me a favor by leaving.)

            1. Jess*

              My ex also did something like this with a coworker and eventually we went through a ‘he ended it with her, she revealed everything to me because she had nothing to lose, I kicked him out, he went back to her/she took him back’ thing. When I was going through his things after kicking him out I found a notebook with a page that rated his coworkers’ bodies on a 10 point scale *insert barf emoji* His workplace was full of bad boundaries and worse actors.

              OP, you’re in the wrong. Choose what you want and know you’ve already hurt your partner, it’s just a matter of how much pain you want to inflict in the coming months/years.

            2. It Ended There*

              Yep, currently in the process of getting a divorce because the she AND THE KIDS “need” him more. I may not be totally blameless in my situation, but at least I didn’t involve any children in it.

        1. JustA___*

          another good test: “If my wife was sending vacay photos, ‘heyyyy’ messages, etc. to a male co-worker who responded things like ‘wow’, would I be bothered?”

          1. Some Cajun Queen*

            THIS. The OP needs to think how he would feel if his wife was the female coworker, and he saw these sorts of texts being sent to a male colleague. I don’t doubt the reaction on his end would be very different.

            1. Wake Up*

              This thread is assuming the LW has a greater or at least equal emotional attachment to or investment in his wife, which, based on the fact he’s carrying on like this with another woman, is very much in doubt for me.

              1. Nonny Mouse*

                Weirdly, even men who appear to take their wives for granted don’t like anyone else taking their wives… for granted or otherwise.

              2. Rose*

                You can care more about someone else and still be jealous. Plenty of people cheat on their partners and then are devastated or confused or angry and jealous when their partners cheat.

              3. Kella*

                Uhhhhh no people are perfectly capable of having more than deep emotional/romantic attachment at the same time. That’s why consensual nonmonogamy exists. This is very clearly not CNM because the wife is very much not consenting to the situation. But “I am super into this person” does not automatically mean “I don’t have much feelings for this other person anymore.”

                1. Observer*

                  Uhhhhh no people are perfectly capable of having more than deep emotional/romantic attachment at the same time.

                  Which is apparently not the case here. It’s not just that he’s carrying on this emotional affair and extreme flirtation with another woman. It’s that he is also being extremely rude, condescending, dismissive and and flat out disrespectful of his wife. That doesn’t sound like a “deep emotional attachment”.

                2. whingedrinking*

                  @Observer: I take your point, but in my experience it’s been the men who are the rudest, the most condescending, the most dismissive, and the most flat-out disrespectful of their wives who react the most negatively to the possibility that other men might be interested in them.

              4. Observer*

                This thread is assuming the LW has a greater or at least equal emotional attachment to or investment in his wife

                Nah. I agree that he quite possibly doesn’t give a flip about her. But I have no doubt that if she were having this kind of relationship with a guy at work, he would absolutely not buy that this is just a “new normal” work relationship.

            2. Jora Malli*

              Or even if his wife was in his same position and not his coworker’s! OP, if your wife’s attractive coworker was sending her flirty messages and shirtless workout photos to which she replied “wow,” would that feel like a normal workplace friendship to you?

              1. Amaranth*

                That would require an emotional honesty I’m not seeing in OP’s letter. They don’t lack awareness of the situation or its appearance at all, they are thoroughly invested in viewing it as acceptable. I think any comparisons will be met with a stubborn ‘of course it would be okay because there is nothing wrong with what I’m doing.’ With a possible side of ‘well of course I’d be concerned until the guy was checked out and proven to be as wonderful as coworker.’

                1. coffee*

                  Yes, I find it so bizarre that the OP wrote in like he expected he would get any other answer than this??

            3. June*

              At this point it’s very doubtful he cares what his wife thinks. He’s obsessed with this coworker.

          2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            You bet he’d be bothered if his wife did that! But of course it’s all right for HIM to do it, ’cause he’s just being friendly, right? Riiiighhhht..not!

        2. Bagpuss*

          Another good test – would you send those messages in a group chat with your entire team, or to a group e-mail?
          If you accidentally sent the message to the group chat t instead of directyl would you be embarrased by that

          I am friendly with most of the people I work for and some ofthem have much closer friendships with eah other. You may get Wow’s for a radical new hairstyle or a new puppy or baby, or the picture of your garden remodel or even your new car.

          I think it’s like other conversations – if you would be happy having the conversation at th awtercooler with anyone pasing able to hear and join in, it’s probaby ok.If it s the kind of conversation where you’d stop suffenly if someone else walked into the room, it’s probaby not ok.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I think most anyone would send a ‘wow’ to Dwayne Johnson in a beach outfit or tight dress, tho. I sure would.

            Maybe not the coffee comment.

      2. J*

        I have definitely responded “wow” to a vacay pic…but it was because of the amazing beach/mountain/cityscape/meal/whatever, not the coworker’s appearance.

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, I think “wow” in response to a picture of anything but the person themselves is completely fine. As a comment on an outfit… well… maybe if it’s a fancy costume or something? But definitely not for a tight dress!

          1. Anon for this*

            Yeah, I sew as a hobby, and “wow” is perfectly acceptable as a response to something that took multiple weeks of incredibly detailed work to finish, especially coming from someone who doesn’t care about my hobby, is asking to be polite, and is giving obligatory positive comment in response to obligatory photo share in response to obligatory polite asking about hobby. But anything like a corset or super tight outfit isn’t work appropriate, so not something I’d share with coworkers in the first place.

            1. Amaranth*

              A comment on an outfit is fine, a comment on the body in the outfit is a wholly different thing.

          2. Jackalope*

            Yeah, the only time I think I’ve gotten Wow comments to my appearance at work was when I was sharing wedding pictures.

        2. Shhh*

          Exactly – I got wow-ish responses from coworkers who had specifically asked me to send them pictures of my dog experiencing his first beach vacation and who were commenting on how nice the weather was. This is absolutely not that.

        3. Rainy*

          Yeah, I’ve said “wow” to IG pics of coworker’s vacations, but if it’s like, a coworker in a bikini or something, I definitely wouldn’t *just* say wow, I’d say “wow, what a gorgeous spot for a vacation!” or “wow, that waterfall is breathtaking” or something, because I wouldn’t want to make my coworker uncomfortable!

          Commenting on coworker’s bodies is not an appropriate way to interact with them.

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        And it’s not about “you have to be superficial with friends of the opposite sex.” I have close male friends outside of work with whom I’ve talked about very personal things – my relationship with my parents, say. And I’ve had coworkers with whom I had very deep conversations, too, though I tend to be less emotionally open with coworkers of whatever gender than I am with friends I don’t also work with. But, OP, I think you know what flirting looks like, and know that you’re doing it.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          I think the comment about black coffee really sent it over the line. I have coworkers I am close to and who I’ve discussed very personal topics with – my dad’s death, concerns over an upcoming operation, etc – but there is no way I’d say anything with a sexual undertone to them and that definitely had one. Even the wows could go either way. I don’t think a guy commenting that a woman looks good is inherently sexual or inappropriate, but combined with that comment about coffee and the overall tone…yeah.

          1. Joielle*

            Yeah, I involuntarily made the Kermit scrunch face when I read the coffee comment. That one is FAR over the line.

      4. Wendy Darling*

        My teammates and I can be fairly buddy-buddy, but we also do not send pictures of ourselves. The view from our vacation spot? Sure. Our delicious dinner? Sure. Us in that bangin’ outfit? NOPE. We talk video games, pets, food, and about what a jerk the CEO is.

        1. quill*

          Yeah. Another flag is that OP never mentions either of them discussing any interests outside of work and each other. Every person I have been close friends with long term has at least a passing interest in something I’m passionate about, and vice versa.

      5. Velawciraptor*

        You know what vacation photos my work friends get from me? Cats. When I meet cats places, I share them, with any pertinent stories.

        Dude has to know, on some level, what he’s doing. It’s doubtful that this is how he interacts with his male colleagues. That alone should be a warning sign for him.

        1. quill*

          Lizards, scenery, misspelled signs… photos I share with friends are not predominantly of me.

        2. Salymander*

          Yes! Pictures of my tomato plants. Of passing butterflies. Of the coyote I saw while out walking.

        3. Not Your Work Girlfriend*

          You know what vacation photos my work friends get from me? Cats. When I meet cats places, I share them, with any pertinent stories.

          I don’t work with you or even know you, and *I* want to be added to your mailing list now. XD

    4. Green Goose*

      Also married and I was imagining how I would respond to all this, the “wow” on the photos was the worst part for me. I would be seriously questioning my husband if I found all of this out.
      OP, now is the time to stop this. You should continue to be a professional coworker but now that you know your wife is uncomfortable, you need to put her feelings above your coworker’s and distance yourself. Start taking longer to reply to IMs, don’t make anymore comments about what she looks like, full stop. And keep the conversations short and professional. She will eventually take the hint but you are currently creating an ambiguously flirty environment which is not appropriate for a married coworker. Also, what if your coworkers have noticed? Stuff like this gets noticed really quickly at an office, and if people think you are having an affair it could change how people perceive you in a professional light.

      1. Kramerica Industries*

        Worst part for me was the end. Her ‘good mornings’ are the highlight of his day?! She’s his lucky charm?? I was trying to give OP the benefit of the doubt that they thought that “wow” was an appropriate way to boost someone’s confidence (which it’s not). But OP describing how she makes him feel just makes me so sad for his wife. There’s no mistaking this as a poor choice of words or naivety – it’s just straight up feelings for her.

        1. OhNo*

          Yeah, that’s the part that really sticks out to me as evidence that this is an emotional affair.

          It’s nice when a conversation with a coworker makes a hard day easier, but just her saying good morning is the highlight of your day? That’s not a standard coworker relationship anymore, friend. It’s not clear to me if you actively has a crush on this coworker, or you’re just enjoying how her attention makes you feel, but it truly doesn’t matter. Regardless, it’s way past time to disengage a little and get some space.

          1. Yepp*

            Agreed. I’ve had coworkers I said a friendly good morning on chat to most mornings — normally a combo of actually liking them and our work being such that it was useful for them to know I was online (especially when WFH). But those hellos were, at best, a mildly nice way to start the morning. And even that is overstating it. I wouldn’t be bummed or even really notice if we missed a morning.

            I’ve also had someone who’s good mornings made my day. Spoiler: I had feelings for that person.

        2. Mockingjay*

          Want to boost a coworker’s confidence?

          “Wow, great job on landing the Jones account!”
          “Terrific, you got the software project back on schedule. That’s really going to help out the rest of us.”
          “I admired your presentation. Succinct and factual. Can I use it as a template?”

          Boost WORK accomplishments, not an outfit.

          1. allathian*

            I’d be a bit more lenient, you can boost an outfit, new haircut, etc. as well and remain professional, but not the body inside it.

        3. This is a name, I guess*

          I thought their interactions were borderline inappropriate until the lucky charm bit and the black coffee bit. That’s when it crossed the line into fully inappropriate territory.

          1. Artemesia*

            If you are exchanging 50 texts a day that are personal you are already in emotional affair territory.

            1. Observer*


              That’s another thing that had me going “What?!”

              OP, you say a bunch of things that individually are seriously inappropriate and problematic. What you have a whole bunch of them in one letter?

              This is not just “inappropriate.” As others have said, there are more red flags than a Mayday Parade in Red Square.

            2. June*

              Absolutely. If he keeps it up he won’t have a wife or a job to worry about within six months.

            3. allathian*

              I’m lucky if I exchange 50 texts (Teams messages) a day, total. I exchange maybe a dozen or so with my closest coworkers, most of the others with my other teammates.

              I do have my closest coworker’s private cellphone number, and he has mine, and we’ve posted pix to each other. Before the pandemic we passed through his old hometown on our vacation car trip, so I posted some pix from sites that were familiar to him, including a couple of selfies. He’s mainly posted pix of his cute dog. Nothing I or he would mind sharing with the whole team.

        4. Rose*

          That was the worst part to me too. Imagine telling another woman talking to her was the high point of your day and expecting your wife to be ok with that.

          1. Green great dragon*

            Absolutely. Nothing in your marriage matches up to this coworker saying good morning? Ouch.

            1. allathian*

              Ouch indeed. I feel so sorry for his wife. I’d be livid if I found out my husband was doing anything remotely like this.

              When my close coworker started working for us 7 years ago, I had a crush on him for a while. At the time, we were allowed to WFH occasionally, but I very rarely did so. I’ll admit that I was always happy to see him at the office in the morning, and I was vaguely disappointed if he didn’t come in. Just seeing him boosted my mood. When my (female) grandboss started joking about it (“hey coworker, make room for allathian” with a wink and a knowing smile) when we took our coffee breaks together as a team, I realized that I had to tone things down a lot to avoid embarrassing myself further, never mind potentially risking my marriage. My coworker’s a decent guy so he never said anything about it, and he’s never avoided me or anything, but I expect it was a relief when my crush wore off and our relationship turned to close coworkers/work friends.

        5. Wendy Darling*

          I am very, very chill about my partner’s relationship with women but that would be a potential Relationship Extinction Level Event. That is absolutely stuff you say to your crush, not your coworker or your buddy.

        6. EventPlannerGal*

          I just felt so, so bad for this guy’s wife when I read that. I mean, that is just so… how can you write that out and not realise that you’re emotionally in way too deep? It’s so blatant! It practically reads like someone trying to create an unsympathetic//unreliable narrator in a short story or something. I’m not trying to question the veracity of the letter, to be clear, but it’s just so ridiculous to me that someone could write out all the details in this letter and somehow still think that he isn’t inappropriately invested in this person that it’s almost comical.

          1. kiki*

            As someone who insisted on wearing a tube top as a pencil skirt in high school and maintained that it was “cool, not weird, nobody can tell,” I must say that self delusion is powerful.

        7. Observer*

          Worst part for me was the end. Her ‘good mornings’ are the highlight of his day?! She’s his lucky charm??

          Yes. This is so over the top that it makes it impossible to think of what he is doing as innocent or of him not realizing that he’s over the line. And he’s trying to tell his wife that she’s “over-reacting” and that she “doesn’t understand”!

          Seriously, how do you say with a straight face that you ” did these things thinking I was being a great coworker and friend and wasn’t crossing any boundaries”?

          1. laser99*

            “Okay so there is this coworker I’m friends with. Nothing wrong with that, right? But this thing is, she’s a girl. And she’s, like, really pretty. Not that it matters, of course. Anyway I kindasortamaybejustkiddingnotreally like her. So the problem is: How do I get my nagging wife off my back?”
            I just can’t with these people.

        8. Princesss Sparklepony*

          Yes! This! I was reading the letter and at first I’m ok, ok, and then came the wows, the frequency of the calls, and especially the best part of the day and lucky charm and I’m uh oh this is going off the rails. The coffee comment was gross and confusing, I had to read it twice to get it (I’m a little slow on double entendres.) These two are talking to each other way too much for this to be a friendship. He and she are fishing for something more. His wife is correct. And he needs to make a decision where he wants to be.

      2. TangerineRose*

        This bothered me “We started chatting daily, sometimes over 50 messages in an exchange.”

        If most of these messages are just chatting, that’s just way too much. I wonder if their managers are wondering why their work output has fallen. I could see a lot of messages if someone was training someone else or was their main resource for a newbie with questions, but just chatting?

    5. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yes, this. I’ve had “work husbands” over time at my office, but that’s been in reference to the amount of work we’re doing together (usually on big projects, etc.) and none of that has ever approached even a fraction of the personal/emotional involvement in this letter. General commentary on wife/kids/dog/house/etc., sure, but that’s it. Definitely nothing I wouldn’t be comfortable having my husband standing right there for.

      1. Jora Malli*

        The only work relationship I’ve had where we joked about being “work married” was one where we reminded each other to eat if we were stressed out, covered each other’s projects when necessary, and one time he warned me to adjust something that had gone wrong with my clothes before we were supposed to give an important presentation. Neither of us was sending vacation photos in tight clothing or calling the other their “lucky charm.”

        I’ve had close relationships with coworkers of the gender I’m attracted to, and they were work friendships that involved zero innuendo and took up WAY less space in my brain than OP’s relationship seems to be taking in his. This crosses SO MANY lines.

        1. knitcrazybooknut*

          Agree. I’ve had this kind of relationship with a work partner of the opposite gender, and our minds were just synched up in many ways. It made it easier and more pleasant to go to work, and he is still the best boss I’ve ever had. But none of that involved the level of intimacy that this guy has.

        2. Salymander*

          Yeah my “work husband” bought cough drops for me on his lunch break when my allergies were bad and my asthma was flaring up. I saved all my orange starburst candies for him because he had a weird fondness for the orange ones and would buy a whole pack just so he could eat the orange ones. I brought my little sewing kit in from my car so he could see a button on to his shirt. He then sewed the loose button on my coat before it fell off. I shared my lunch with him when he forgot his and was too swamped by work to go out for lunch. He did the same for me. We were good buddies, and asked after each other’s families, pets and significant others. I met his girlfriend and had a great time chatting with her at a work party. He met my ex boyfriend and exchanged sympathetic eye rolling with me at the hideous monstrosity of a flower arrangement ex brought to my work in an effort to win me back. He showed me pictures of his vacation with girlfriend and family. I showed him pictures of the Best Dog Ever(!) and also pictures of New Boyfriend (now husband) on our cross country road trip adventure.

          We did not exchange bikini photos.

          1. Lea*

            I had kind of a work pseudo dad energy with a precious coworker. He brought me a tool borrow. Deep dad energy right there lol

          2. Salymander*

            Oh yeah and we didn’t call each other work husband or work wife. We were buddies. When a very annoying and gossipy coworker called us work spouses we both shut that down hard. It is kind of gross to think that men and women can’t be work buddies, or that work buddies can’t be kind and thoughtful friends without there being any sexual or romantic aspect to the friendship.

            What OP is talking about is completely different. His wife is right to be annoyed and suspicious. Pretending that a flirtation is nothing but a friendship does not fool anyone. The two types of interaction are so obviously very different. All the mentionitis and compliments and totally not appropriate comments add up to a great big waving red flag. I would be insulted if my husband did this and expected me to fall for this line of BS. I mean, c’mon. At least don’t insult your wife’s intelligence by thinking she will believe this nonsense.

      2. Green Goose*

        I only ever used the term “work husband” when we were both single (and not interested in each other). My first job out of undergrad was abroad and a Canadian guy the same age as me started the same day, we lived in apartments across the street from each other in a foreign city so we commuted to and from work together and hungout all the time but in a platonic way. I would have never called him my work husband if either of us were seeing someone. And really I should have just called him my work best friend because that’s what he was.

      3. emmelemm*

        I’ve had friends who described having “work spouses”, but it was primarily that they were bonded to their coworker as a comrade to complain about all their terrible work conditions so they didn’t have to bring *all* their negativity home to their actual spouses.

    6. Lynca*

      I’m married and I could not imagine what his wife is feeling right now.

      The wife is 100% correct that this is way too much emotional intimacy for a work “friendship.” You won’t even talk about your WIFE AND KIDS freely with this person! You sound like you’re happier talking with your coworker than your wife. You’re more concerned with making your wife “understand” that this is okay when she has told you that she is not okay with it.

      None of this is healthy and I’d recommend you listen to your wife if you want to salvage your marriage. Because that’s who you are married to and the fact you hurt her should matter more than you’ve expressed here!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        “You won’t even talk about your WIFE AND KIDS freely with this person!”

        Right?! I had to scroll back to the OP’s letter to find that part. Sounds like he’ll talk to her about anything except his wife and kids. What the heck?! Whenever I’m unavailable, I am certainly bringing up my partner/bf/whomever in conversations. And any of my friends, of either gender, that I’ve had since the day my first child was born, has certainly gotten an earful of stories about my children on the regular. OP, you might want to ask yourself why this is the one thing you don’t want to talk to her about.

        And “highlight of my morning”, barf. Not professional even if you were single. If I got a message like that from a coworker, I’d be seriously weirded out.

    7. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I mean I have a pretty wide threshold of acceptable behavior with friends and I’m also completely fine with coworkers being friends outside of work. I’m very close with some of my coworkers (heck two of them were my emergency contact when I went overseas for vacation) and this is way beyond even what I think is okay. You gotta rein this in.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        In addition to seconding everything you said, I dated several of my former coworkers (just ended a 4-year relationship with one) and this is way beyond any interactions between me and any of those men while we worked together/one or both of us were married or otherwise unavailable. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have dated them later if they’d acted like that when we worked together/weren’t available. I’d probably have been grossed out, and ended the friendship.

    8. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Married here and male. Why do I add that point? Because what you describe, OP, sounds like how I communicate with my wife. NEVER with female work friends–and I have had many work friendships with women. Some went beyond being work friends to being personal friends, and I still NEVER communicated with these friends the way you are describing. In fact, my wife knows them and we have socialized–as a couple–with most of them.

      This is not the new normal at work. This is the old emotional affair, as Alison describes. Be truthful with yourself, and with your wife.

    9. Kali*

      Yup. I’m a woman in an extremely male-dominated field that has a toxic level of “we’re all family here” and many inappropriate jokes/comments that would make most HR people faint, and I have *never* spoken that way to any of my coworkers. I have never invested that much emotional energy into any of my coworkers, and we are by the nature of our jobs very involved in each other’s lives, but it doesn’t touch this level of intimacy.

      Also, my husband (who is in a female-dominated field) has many close friends at work. I would be deeply, deeply bothered and upset if he said any of these things to any of them.

      1. Coast East*

        This also reminded me of my first few years in a male dominanted career where conversations were constantly being maneuvered from friendly to flirty with irritating regularity, especially since I was so young and in my first corporate location and didn’t know how to respond appropriately yet. But I did *not* go to this level of text engagement, which is definitely becoming an affair.

    10. Clobberin' Time*

      The “it’s a new way of doing business, you wouldn’t understand” gets busted out every single time some jerk wants to excuse old-school sexual misconduct at the office. Remember American Apparel?

      1. Anon Supervisor*

        Yeah, this makes me nuts. Oh, I understand just fine and I still think it’s shady and inappropriate.

    11. Velawciraptor*

      I was less than halfway through the letter before I started saying “you’re having an emotional affair.” Which isn’t just unfair to LW’s wife; it’s unprofessional. LW needs to get it together. Now.

    12. Anon and on and on and on*

      Yeah, I’m married and in an open/monogamish relationship, and this kind of thing would be considered cheating if it wasn’t done with my spouse’s (or my) explicit knowledge and consent. This is a relationship that’s exceeded professional and platonic norms and is clearly an emotional affair.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        Same as Anon and on and on and on.

        In fact, in a previous relationship (which was also open), my then-boyfriend had a relationship like this with a co-worker. By which I mean an emotional affair. It led to the end of our relationship.

    13. Artemesia*

      This is an emotional affair. And the fact that she is single makes it even higher risk than any emotional affair. Your wife is being deprived of intimacy that is being lavished on a single woman in full persuit. If you don’t knock it off, she should leave you.

      Imagine your wife investing her intimacy in some other guy with 50 text messages a day? In fact this is so transparent and obvious that I suspect your wife wrote this. Surely no one is this oblivious.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        “In fact this is so transparent and obvious that I suspect your wife wrote this. Surely no one is this oblivious.”

        You’d hope so, right? Hoping OP will chime in here and clarify…

      2. Manchmal*

        Same thought. it’s all so factually and non-chalantly laid out that I feel like the wife is trying to present the scenario as neutrally as possible while including every excruciating detail so we know what a d-bag her husband is.

        Lady, this whole thing is beyond inappropriate. You know it, he knows it, and now 1000s of people on the internet know it. Will he admit it and make amends? That remains to be seen, and you might as well get an excellent couples therapist and an excellent divorce lawyer on the line to prepare yourself for the ways this can go.

        I hope you update us!

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          The OP is the husband, not the wife. The *husband* is laying everything out as neutrally as possible hoping that we’ll all side with him and he can then “prove” to his wife that he isn’t having an emotional affair.

          1. SadieMae*

            I think he didn’t write in for advice; he seems absolutely sure that his actions are A-OK. He wrote in thinking that Alison would back him up and then he could show her reply to the wife as proof that all was OK. I bet he won’t show her Alison’s actual reply…or the comments, which seem to be running 100% on the side of “DUDE. No.”

            OP’s question is textbook narcissism; you can practically hear his thoughts spooling out: “If I’m doing it, it’s the right thing to do” and “Doing this makes me feel good, so it’s fine; I deserve to feel good, because I’m awesome.” Not to mention “This person makes me feel incredibly special, and I *am* incredibly special, so what’s wrong with that? It’s just the truth!” My guess is that he’s been married a while and his wife no longer thinks the sun shines out of…well, any part of him. So he’s getting his narcissistic supply somewhere else.

        2. HP*

          I though the same thing. It sounds like Spouse is laying out what they’ve observed coupled with the other parties defenses to try to get an idea of if this is normal workplace behavior. I’m not saying that’s what’s happening, but the tone and recounting is so wild it makes it feel that way. Regardless- no, Spouse, this is NOT OKAY.

    14. June*

      Line crossed and so far in the rear view mirror it can’t even be seen. Be honest with yourself LW.

    15. Medusa*

      Single for 10 years and I would definitely not behave this way with a married co-worker (or… any coworker?). Or if I did, it would be with the full knowledge that we were being inappropriate.

    16. JB*

      Not to mention this is also using the work messaging service so all LW’s wife needs to do is make a call to HR and they can see how serious this is. Even though LW and the coworker don’t work together as they used to it’s still a highly inappropriate use of work resources. She logs in on her days off specifically to message LW on what’s a social call and send him pictures that lean more towards NSFW than safe for work.

  2. Purple Cat*

    Buckle up OP, I’m not sure the comment section will be kind today.
    I was cringing reading your letter, and I don’t actually believe that once it was all typed out you honestly believe it’s innocent. You went WAY over the line in this relationship. It is sexual, it is flirtatious, and it is taking up way too much real estate in your head. I think it’s telling that the relationship progressed AFTER coworker stopped reporting to you, because she knew it was out of line while you were her manager. It’s still out of line since you’re married.

      1. practical necromancy*

        Reading “I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day” made me physically recoil. His poor wife!

        1. yup*

          Seriously. Aaaaaallll of this letter is a mess, but that line right there made me do a full body cringe. Unbelievable.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      This is one of those letters where the LW makes themselves look SO bad I wonder if it was actually written by the wife. How could someone list all these examples and think “yes, Alison will agree this is nothing but professional and my wife is too uptight”?

      1. BubbleTea*

        This was my first thought too. How can anyone be self-aware enough to include so many points that make it incredibly clear what is happening, and still miss it so completely?

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Because he’s bending over backwards to mentally justify this to himself and his wife. The letter sounds like it was written to elicit a response that he could take back to his wife and wave in her face, like, “see? I told you IMs are inherently more intimate and you’re overreacting.”

          1. Amaranth*

            If OPs wife wrote this without any resentment bleeding through, color me totally impressed. I agree with Ally McBeal, though, that OP has this so firmly anchored in their head as ‘nothing inappropriate here’ that the level of detail also sounds like a declaration ‘see how transparent I’m being, I have nothing to hide, because this is NORMAL!’

          2. a good mouse*

            It’s like that old blog That Bad Advice You Were Looking For which would take letters like this from advice columns around the web and answer them with the validating and affirming answers they’re clearly fishing for (with a healthy dose of snark of course).

        2. quill*

          They’re already invested in denying what is happening, so spelling it out will not prompt any realizations.

        3. laser99*

          He’s not very bright. I mean that in all seriousness, I’m not trying to be funny.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        And you know he was going to show his wife how Ask a Manager totally thinks he is not doing anything wrong. I wonder if he will show her this comment section.

      3. Observer*

        How could someone list all these examples and think “yes, Alison will agree this is nothing but professional and my wife is too uptight”?

        Considering some of the other utterly un-self aware letter we’ve seen here over the years, that’s unfortunately not much of an argument.

        Some that come to mind:
        The “unmanager”
        The supervisor who wanted to reach out to his best (former) employee to tell her how terrible she was for quitting her job
        The manager who wanted to transfer out an employee who showed that the had “big britches” (yes, that’s the exact phase they used) because she insisted that if 3 months worth of *BACK* pay were not gotten to her that day, she would have to quit.
        The guy who is certain that his bosses are all incompetent because they don’t have the degrees he thinks they should have.

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Oh – Ohhh – The manager who didn’t think that his employee should get birthday benefits because they only had their birthday on a leap year! That was my favorite because they kept defending themselves and not a single person was on their side.

        2. McS*

          The ones who still write in asking if it’s OK to confront their spouse’s boss about having a late drink at a conference or have their spouse quit for them. It doesn’t take a lot of reading this blog to learn the only reason you contact your spouse’s work is to explain they can’t call in sick for themselves from the ER.

        3. Meganly*

          In case folks are curious, here are the links to most of those letters (couldn’t find the incompetent bosses one):
          Unmanager, from an update:
          Boss mad that best employee quit (for not getting time off for her graduation ceremony!):
          Big britches over not getting paid for three weeks:
          And no mention of “incompetence,” but this guy is salty about a director of finance with 20+ years experience not having a degree in finance:

          BONUS: the guy upset that the CEO’s wife “ruined” his job prospects (after he was a jerk to her on the train):

        4. LunaLena*

          Also the person who owned a small business where they let a new employee push out the long-time remote employee, and when they told their BIL about it the BIL asked for the remote employee’s info and hired her on the spot.

      4. Joviter*

        I agree it feels like it’s written by the wife. It seems like an outside perspective listing observations, not an inside perspective describing a personal experience.

        1. Summer*

          After reading these comments and thinking of the letter, it really does seem like it was written by his wife. If that is the case, I’m sorry you are going through this! It must have been devastating to read some of those messages but especially the lucky charm and highlight of the day stuff – that is so far over the line and my heart breaks for you because I know how I would be feeling in that situation and it’s not good.

      5. KC*

        I was thinking the exact same thing. If someone is that deeply embroiled in an obviously inappropriate relationship, they HAVE to be lying both to themselves and to everyone else if they’re arriving at the conclusion that they did nothing wrong. There’s no way someone would list out all these damning details like this if they were truly oblivious to the way they could be interpreted.

        To the wife, if you’re reading this – I am so sorry this is happening to you and I hope you either leave him or he absolutely grovels and works as hard as possible to never step out of line like this again. You’re not wrong to be upset by this. People don’t log into their work IMs while on vacation to send photos of themselves to one specific person, and people don’t respond to those types of messages like “wow” instead of “looks like fun, talk to you when you’re back” or “why are you sending me these, you’re on vacation”!!

    2. Shhh*

      I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until he mentioned replying “wow” to the picture of her in the tight dress. Everything after that point – especially “I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day, I’ve referred to her as my lucky charm” – removes all doubt for me.

      1. Hygge Hygge Hippo*

        Same. The sexual overtones and emotional intimacy are inappropriate for a work friendship. How much work time is being invested in this relationship? That might be something for the LW to consider in reframing whether this is normal. And on a personal level, I would be deeply hurt if my husband behaved like this with any woman, at work or not. It sucks that LW is downplaying his wife’s very legitimate concerns. I hope Alison’s answer is a wake-up call.

      2. ferrina*

        Yup. I started the letter fully expecting to back the LW- of course we can be close friends with coworkers! I made it through most of the letter with that stance, but when he mentioned saying “wow” at the tight dress picture like it was nbd, that was where I put the brakes on. Um….why are you commenting on the attractiveness of your colleague? And saying her “good morning” is the highlight of his day? There’s a lot of “you are the sunshine of my eye! but I haven’t overtly said anything about being attracted to you, therefore I still have deniability!” Please don’t try to tell me that that’s just how “close friends” act, because you know it’s not.

    3. Starlike*

      “because she knew it was out of line while you were her manager.” – did you mean “he”? This is very clearly not something she, I don’t know, seduced him into with her feminine wiles.

      1. Purple Cat*

        He does say Once officially in her new position, she changed her tone to much more casual and using extra vowels in her morning greetings (Heyyyyyyyyyy, Hiiiii, goooooooood morning). So her actions specifically changed after the reporting change. His were probably skeevy all along.

        1. OhNo*

          Agreed. I know we don’t have evidence for it in the letter, but I doubt she would have made that adjustment without some indication that he was open to that level of intimacy.

          That’s an aspect to the whole thing that would make it hard for OP to see where he went wrong – it probably wasn’t recent. Chances are this relationship has been slowly sliding into inappropriate territory for a while now, and so there was never a sudden shift that would have triggered him to think “wait, what am I doing, this is inappropriate”.

          1. Observer*

            The thing is that his wife has given him at least two occasions for that realization, though. And he hasn’t taken them.

            1. OhNo*

              Oh, I absolutely agree! He has zero excuses at this point.

              My point was more intended to call out the fact that so many people like this think, “I didn’t intend to have an affair, so it doesn’t really count”. Like, no. Doesn’t matter if they accidentally back into an affair, or trip and fall into an inappropriate work relationship, or slowly slide down the slippery slope to being a jerk, it’s still bad.

      2. Observer*

        So? I don’t think that any reasonable people would blame her for HIS behavior – and his behavior is utterly atrocious. That doesn’t change the fact that SHE is inviting a lot of it.

    4. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      There may be dishonesty of a whole ‘nother kind here: I’m not sure that this letter isn’t really a fake.

      1. Why is OP writing AAM to begin with? Ostensibly OP wants to be reassured that he’s doing nothing wrong because that’s-what-work-relationships-are-like-these-days, and wants validation of that here. But it boggles the mind to believe that OP actually thinks that his relationship with his work-wife is typical of coworker relationships in general. Surely OP doesn’t imagine that Alison’s opinion will matter one whit to his spouse.

      2. But even more telling is the level of semi-salacious detail in this letter. Why in the world is OP discussing his “wow” reaction, the number of text messages per day, “highlight of my day”, etc., if OP’s goal was a self-serving validation?

      I think this is another example of a long-time AAM reader (and probably commenter) having fun with the rest of us by masquerading as a clueless nogoodnick.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        I don’t know. My ex had one too many emotional affairs and I overheard him on the phone with his sponsor one time saying pretty much everything laid out in the letter.

        “I text her ‘Good night’ every night just to let her know someone is thinking about her.”

        “I invite her to lunch at least once a week because it’s hard to find and stay friends with people once you’re out of school.”

        “I call her during the day when her husband is at work just because it’s easier for her to talk then.” [Which, coincidentally was also when I was at work and wouldn’t be able to overhear the conversations.]

        “She and I text throughout the day because she’s a SAHM and she gets bored.”

        So, yeah, he was going through every interaction with her and pointing out how it’s perfectly normal for friends to behave that way with each other, and he wanted someone to tell him that Feast was a Big Meanie for not being happy about it.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          It’s also that they are obsessing about their relationship and can’t help the impulse to tell somebody all about it. I can see this as a possible fake, but I can also totally buy it as having started out a letter intended to justify his actions to Alison so she’d grant him an authorization he could take to his wife, and then he just got swept up in the compulsion to talk and talk and talk about every detail of his work sweetie and how they interact with each other.

      2. L*

        I wonder if the wife wrote the letter to try and give him a last wake up call. Someone cannot be this oblivious.

    5. TiredMama*

      It just kept getting worse. He call her messages “the highlight of [his] day” and called her his “lucky charm.” WTF?

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Honestly, the only many-voweled message his coworker should’ve sent him. But no, she went for the whole emotional affair bit.

      1. Beth*

        Is there a platonic golden ratio of vowels to consonants that I should be aiming for? Pleeeeeeease let me know.

  3. Kay Zee*

    I mean – come on! LW, based on what you’ve written here, one could not interpret this as anything but an emotional affair. And by “one” I mean your wife.

    Sorry to break it to you, but work relationships are not more intimate now.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, that ridiculous excuse made me roll my eyes so hard I about gave myself a headache.

    2. another Hero*

      yeah, the colleagues with whom I chat casually are not sending me good morning messages, saying “wow” in text to my vacation photos, or a lot of what’s happening here. it’s the same kinds of conversation we would have in the office, except in chat. if it were with any other colleague, I feel certain op would be able to tell the difference just fine.

      1. another Hero*

        well, I suppose people do say good morning in the office; that one actually does read much differently over chat. was a bad example for clarity whoops

        1. ferrina*

          The in-office equivalent would all be in the tone. There’s a big difference between the casual “Hello, I see that you still exist.” vs “Hello, my sunshine and the light of my existence!”

          Okay, I may have known a few people that would go flowery in their hellos. But the difference is that they did it for everyone because it’s who they were- not going poetic for a single person because of “how close” they were.

      2. Chapeau*

        I suppose I might say wow to a colleague’s work photo showing the view from the top of Mt Everest, the Great Pyramid, Machu Picchu, etc
        Maybe a picture of their child standing on the glass window at the top of whatever Sears Tower is called these days or the one at the Grand Canyon.
        Scenery gets wows. People not so much!

        1. Bagpuss*

          Scenery and pets. And maybe babies, although I belive ‘Awwww’ is more traditional.

        2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Coworker shows me a picture of them bungee jumping, or holding a sixty-pound fish they caught, or dressed in Shakespearean garb while acting in a production of “As You Like It” – yes, wow. Are you just smiling in a selfie? “Looks fun!”

      3. allathian*

        My coworker and I always start by saying “good morning” when we log on. I did have a crush on him in the past, but we’re just friendly coworkers now. There’s nothing in our chats now that I couldn’t show my husband with a clear conscience.

    3. MK*

      If anything, they are less so, since many people don’t see eachother everyday. The OP seems to think that casual conversations during lunch break have been replaced with sending 50 messages per day?

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        50 message a day. Assume an 8 hour day. It means more than 6 messages every hour. Or one every 10 minutes. When do you have time to work?

        1. k*

          I don’t personally think this part is weird at all. It’s a generational thing. I am in a lot of group chats, Discords, Gchat conversations when that was a thing, and I could EASILY send hundreds of messages to individual people in a day — male, female, nonbinary, anyone. I text my friends a lot. They’re friends! I like talking to my friends! Restricting how much I can talk to a friend because he’s male seems so weird. (And also heteronormative — do bisexual people just not get to have close friends since they could theoretically be attracted to anyone?)

          The content of the messages is what makes them inappropriate.

    4. BethDH*

      Mine work relationships are, in some ways, more intimate. Many of my coworkers know what the inside of my house looks like. They know what my kids sound like. I’m more likely to tell them when I need to take a day for mental health. Some of those boundaries I’d like to redraw, others are probably a good change.
      None of that “new intimacy” (ick) comes anywhere close to what OP describes.

      1. allathian*

        Agreed on all counts.

        I’ve met my coworker’s son, and he’s met mine, and they’ve met each other during a Bring your kids to work day before the pandemic.

    5. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      Oh yeah, this is absolutely an emotional affair. I’m a woman, my coworkers are mostly men, and we get along just fine. However, if they were to start commenting “wow” on every picture of me on Facebook or Instagram, or sending me 50 (non-work related) messages to me, or making flirty comments, that would not be OK and I would be creeped out. You need to cool it.

    6. Amaranth*

      I don’t think that word means what he thinks it means.

      Its use pretty much means this is no longer a WORK relationship.

      1. Cakeparty*

        Plus this is someone who is outside of his team. Who used to be a direct report. Do they spend this much time on other coworkers?? And other workers who are at a lower level than them?? How much time is actually being spent focusing on their current team and their current job duties? Regardless of the relationship red flags, those work red flags should give them pause because I’m sure they can see that they may not be the best employee right now.

        Side note: anyone else’s spidey senses tingling that this person moved out of being their direct report shortly after they started as their new manager? i’m wondering if they moved teams because they had a crush on this manager (or maybe they were already close and/or getting mixed signals) and moving away from their team made their “relationship” okay.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        There are cases where work relationships can be quite intimate, at least in certain ways. For example, in jobs that are very isolated/remote where coworkers are typically living together for extended periods, it’s normal for the line between coworker and friend to blur quite a bit as your only human contact is the people you work with. Similarly, jobs that are extremely stressful (emergency services, social work, military, healthcare, etc) often create very intimate relationships with colleagues as part of coping with shared traumatic/stressful experiences. In these contexts it’s not unusual to discuss deeply emotional topics, family, personal experiences and difficulties, etc. while still maintaining a healthy work relationship.

        That said, these are UNUSUAL circumstances that don’t apply to a typical office job.

  4. Darth Brooks*

    My jaw dropped when he said he responds to pictures with, “wow.” I can’t imagine someone responding with that in a platonic way unless she was on the top of the empire state building or hanging on the edge of the grand canyon.

    1. Clorinda*

      I’d say “wow” to pictures of impressive scenery or feats of cooking or other creativity, but not to any picture that includes someone’s body.
      Beautiful beach: “Wow.”
      Beautiful beach with co-worker in speedo: “Looks like you’re having fun” to a close friend. Or just a no-comment “like”.

      1. t-vex*

        Ugh not even a “like,” I don’t want to see my coworkers in a swimsuit no matter what they look like. Blech.

      2. Lea*

        Yes!!! Sometimes my coworkers might send a ‘look it’s a beach im on pictures’ without a person and someone else will say ‘jealous’ or something .

        Not this. No way op didn’t know ‘wow’ was Inappropriate

      3. Kate*

        I’ve done it…?

        A male colleague who had been in the military for 30 years retired and transitioned into a civilian role. He sent us (us! Not one person! Not just me!) a photo of himself in his new civilian “uniform”, aka his nice, new suit.

        That merited a “wow!”

        1. bubbleon*

          That’s a very specific context, there are probably a few others where it wouldn’t be as out of line as it is here but that doesn’t make it any more ok in this situation.

          1. Medusa*

            How is it not okay in this situation? “Wow” is a reasonable response to seeing someone in civvies when you’ve only ever seen them in uniform. I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about that,

            1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

              I think by “this situation”, bubbleon meant the one in the letter.

            2. bubbleon*

              Yep, I meant the letter. There *are* a few situations where “wow” might not be inappropriate, that doesn’t negate that it absolutely is in the OP’s situation.

        2. boo bot*

          I think that’s different because it’s acknowledging a life event and not just commenting on a picture. Similar to saying “wow!” to a wedding dress or a military uniform; you’re commenting on what the outfit means.

      4. IndustriousLabRat*

        YES! My coworkers and I, who I’m friendly with to the level of having their personal cell phone numbers and the comfort level of non-work texts, frequently share Feats of Cooking! They get WOWWWW! and YUMMMMM!!!! and YOU’D BETTER BRING THAT TO THE NEXT POTLUCK!

        I can’t imagine saying that about the actual coworker. That’s just… teeth-on-edge-level of cringe.

      5. Master Baker*

        Ha! I was thinking the same thing. I’ve received “wow”s from coworkers on pics, but it was when I sent pics of awesome cakes I’d baked over the weekend.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      “Wow” as a response to a photo of a person is almost always flirting. Basically it conveys “wow; you are so hot/attractive that my jaw dropped.” A thumbs up is much more neutral. “Looks like fun/you had fun” a neutral response. Wow is comment on how the person’s body looks in that photo.

      These are 100% flirting because of everything the LW wrote he’s clearly flirting and emotionally invested in a relationship with his coworker.

      1. Wow am I flirting??*

        I agree with everyone except the “wow.” A monotone “wow” is basically one of my most used words. Like when my son goes on and on about Minecraft. Or a coworker talks and I’m not really interested but just say “wow” to make me seem more interested. Or like “wow” for birthday photos meaning “wow looks like fun”. Should I stop using it for male coworkers? Am I giving the wrong idea???

        1. Wake Up*

          Tone is a lot easier to read and interpret verbally than written.

          Saying “wow” over an IM or text is open to the interpretation of the receiver. You can’t control how they (or your spouse) might interpret it.

          1. Jake*

            Exactly. A monotone, “wow” isn’t the same as a text wow.

            Basically any 1 word text response will be very different than the same word verbally.

        2. Double A*

          I think a spoken “wow” where you’ve got body language and tone that are pretty darn clear is different than a typed “wow” in response to a coworker’s selfie.

          Although frankly just a “wow” with no punctuation or emoji seems kind of like a burn.

        3. Person from the Resume*

          I was specifically referring to a typed “Wow” in response to a photo of a person.

          Not even a photo of nature scene or fancy food.

        4. Yvette*

          Do you use it when they send you a picture of themself in a skin tight Speedo? Then yes, ande stop. :)

          1. Chapeau*

            Can I do wow with the vomit emoji for that? Although I’d probably forward that to another coworker that way instead…

            1. Just Another Starving Artist*

              Let’s not make mean jokes about others’ bodies. (Unless they make mean jokes first, of course)

              1. Rose*

                This isn’t a mean joke about anyones body. It’s a hypothetical coworker who doesn’t exist. We don’t know what they look like. This is a relationally grossed out response to a coworker sharing a picture of themselves in a tight speedo.

        5. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

          I mean, are they in a speedo? If you are saying wow to pictures coworkers are sending to you of themselves in a speedo then yes, please stop saying wow in response to their speedo pictures.

        6. Amaranth*

          I think you’re safe. Context is still important — OP mentioned coworker was showing off a tight dress so it was essentially a comment about her body.

    3. metadata minion*

      If it was a fancy-dress type event I could imagine saying something like “wow, you look awesome!”, and be commenting on their effort and style and such rather than in a “you’re hot” way, but as someone who’s generally read as female the social dynamics there are different.

      1. Lunch Ghost*

        I’ve had male friends to whom I would have said, “Ooh, dressy” or “Love the suit”, but definitely not a contextless “wow”.

          1. Lizzo*

            Same – I think it’s possible to compliment someone else’s style or a fantastic outfit that fits well or an exciting color choice, and do it in a way that boosts confidence vs. coming across as creepy or flirtatious…but that requires thoughtful word choice.

            1. Sweet 'N Lower*

              I always try to comment specifically on the clothing vs. how the person looks in the article of clothing. Things like, “You always wear such nice outfits!” or “That dress is so cute!” I feel like that makes it more clear that I’m just looking at/thinking about the person’s clothes, not their body.

          2. MusicWithRocksIn*

            I say Dapper. I tell my toddler son he looks Dapper all the time. He’s gonna think it’s a very normal word.

      2. Robin*

        Agreed! One of my best friends is a guy; we clicked so well that we half-joked about getting married at thirty if we were both single. One of the things we both like is fashion and dressing up. I send him selfies when I feel particularly proud of a look I put together or if I am trying to figure out whether something works. Every once in a while he does the same (new haircut, shirt, whatever). He might have said something like “wow” once or twice, but usually it is comments like “very sparkly”, “fabulous”, “well done” if it is a new thing, or just an emoji react. Clearly about the clothes and style, not about ~attractiveness~. LW definitely feels like he is talking about attraction, not about fashion.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          And context really does matter. Your conversations with your friend are in the context of a shared interest in fashion. In the letter, they are in the context where he also calls her his lucky charm and so on. I suspect if his wife knew he had a big interest in fashion and this was his reaction to seeing well-dressed people on TV and so on, she’d react differently.

      3. amoeba*

        Eh, if it’s a good friend, I might even compliment their looks and vice versa without thinking twice about it. But we’re talking about very close, old friend here where it’s very, very clear that even though you might say flirty things for fun, neither of us is actually in any way romantically interested in the other. So basically… nothing like the situation here.

        1. Yorick*

          “you look great!” feels a little different than “wow” as a compliment, to me

      4. ItsAllFunAndGamesUntil*

        Or a “Look who’s snazzy today”

        “Wow” is reserved for a picture of a tiger riding a lion riding a shark.

    4. Flower*

      I wouldn’t think complimenting someone’s appearance is inherently flirting or indicating interest. It would come down to tone, the exact wording, the context of the relationship, maybe the context of the appearance… That would still be true regardless of what gender(s) the complimenter was interested in.

      But I’m also on the asexual spectrum. So maybe I’m just not the best judge here?

      1. stylin'*

        Complimenting fashion or hairstyling choices is basically complimenting someone’s good taste or personality–fine for coworkers or friendly strangers. But if you’re noticing/commenting on someone’s body (i.e., the parts they didn’t choose, including things like eye color/freckles that aren’t overtly sex-related), you’re taking things into a realm that is either sexual or just extremely personal (even if you’re not attracted to their gender/them/anyone)–too personal for work. I would be DEEPLY uncomfortable if someone at work said my butt looked great in a particular pair of pants or that I had beautiful hands, even if I knew they weren’t attracted to my gender. Coworkers should be engaging with each other’s brains, not checking out each other’s bodies.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        Oh, thank goodness, a fellow aspec. This entire comment section has been… probably important for me to read, but now I’m more confused about flirting than I was before.

        1. Venus*

          I think the comments reinforce that flirting is a long spectrum that varies widely for everyone, and tends to be confusing. A lot of flirting is about tone, and some of the comments made by OP and coworker could be neutral in some contexts, but as a combination it makes things pretty clear that the tone of their many conversations is very likely not neutral.

          Perhaps as importantly, the OP didn’t tell their wife about the conversations, which suggests that they wanted to keep them private because the comments were meant to be flirtatious. I have coworkers who I am closer to, where we go for drinks like coffee or beer, but the conversations are always ones where I would be completely fine if my spouse happened to see us and joined in. So in this case it isn’t the words or actions, but rather the desire to keep things private, that convey intent.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            To me it is about the sheer amount of correspondence. I don’t text my partner that many times a day and we are constantly sharing stupid internet memes in our downtime.

        2. Beth*

          Flirting is confusing because it’s inherently ambiguous. Early on, good flirting leaves room for the flirt-ee to either escalate or de-escalate, depending on how they feel about the flirt-er; it’s a process, not a single comment. Even once a sexual or romantic connection is established, knowing whether an interaction is flirting vs friendliness relies a lot on context–is this more flirty than how the person usually interacts with their friends, do they have an ongoing relationship with the person they’re maybe-flirting with, is the interaction weird for the context (e.g. in a professional space, the level of intimacy that feels flirtatious is lower than it would be in a social setting, because work is not usually an intimate space), etc.

          But there is a point where, when you take all of those various things into account, the picture that forms is pretty undeniable. OP is taking advantage of the fact that flirting is mostly vibes and not easy to pin down to gaslight their wife by pretending this is normal office culture. (I mean this very much in the precise definition of gaslighting–they’re doing a thing in broad daylight, then when their wife calls them on it, they’re lying about it so she’ll question her perception of reality.) But it’s obvious that this isn’t a standard coworker relationship. Any one thing might be passable as either “friendly” or “a little quirky but we all have our quirks,” but taken as a whole, they add up to something that most spouses would be upset about.

        3. Luna*

          Fellow ace. I am very confused, too, but I can say that the “highlight of my day” thing is something where even I would be wondering if that’s maybe a little beyond inappropriate to say about someone who is not your exclusive partner.

      3. Esmae*

        It does depend a lot on tone and context, but it’s hard to look at a photo of someone in a tight dress and say “Wow” in a way that’s not indicating interest.

      4. ecnaseener*

        Yeah, the most relevant context here is the tight dress. Any “wow” at a tight dress is going to be interpreted as a comment on the person’s body shape.

        Over text…I’m hard-pressed to come up with a situation where you could text just “wow” with no other words in response to a full-body picture of someone and not have it interpreted as at-least-maybe a comment on their body.

        1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

          I’m hard pressed to imagine a context when I’d send a full body selfie to a coworker…

          1. metadata minion*

            I think there are plenty of non-flirty contexts where either you’re both interested in fashion and are sending them a picture going “hey, look at this cool outfit”, or you’re traveling or something and showing off the picture of you in front of something exciting.

      5. Wants Green Things*

        I am also ace, and I’m with the other commenters. You even said it yourself – there’s context for what’s appropriate. It’s one thing to say “wow” if your coworker sends you a photo of them at an event gala, and another thing *entirely* to comment wow on generic, every day kind of pics. These are not gala photos.

        1. OhNo*

          Also ace, and my read is that it basically boils down to what you are “wow”ing about. If there’s multiple possibilities in one photo, you gotta make that clear or risk misinterpretation.

          In this case, sounds like there were multiple instances of photos where the only thing that could be commented on was the coworker’s body, so from context it would be pretty clear that he was complimenting her figure. If you wanna avoid that (as I do), be more specific. I think “Wow, what a pretty sunset!” or “Wow, that dress is sparkly!” or even “Wow, looks like a fun vacation!” would be safer bets.

          1. As per Elaine*

            Same. For me there’s a point where my reaction is ‘Ew, I feel like you just sexually objectified me.’ that’s the overly-flirty line. Though I’m sure one could be even more oblivious than I am and miss it entirely.

      6. MsClaw*

        You’re largely right that there’s a lot more nuance here, but as some of the other examples have indicated part of it is are you complimented the outfit, or the person in it? Is the image even an appropriate one to share with a colleague.

        Like, if someone posted a wedding photo and someone said ‘what a beautiful bride’ that’s maybe a little personal for work, but probably wouldn’t be interpreted as flirting or gross. If they said something like ‘wow! Hope George knows how lucky he is to get such a hottie’. Well…. ick.

    5. Blarg*

      It didn’t flag for me until he said, “in a tight dress.” Cause in my mind, I was thinking, ‘standing in front of a beautiful landscape’ and the wow was more ‘you’re in an amazing place and I’m jealous.’ As soon as he mentioned what she was wearing, I had a lot of consonants to say (‘ewwwwwww.’)

    6. CTT*

      And I’m so used to the Carolyn Hax “wow” that at first I was like “that’s a rude response!”

    7. Can Can Cannot*

      I once responded “wow” to a coworker texting me a picture, but it was of him eating the biggest hoagie I have ever seen. Much bigger than his head. Wow.

    8. D. B.*

      It 100% depends on what the photo is. I’m guessing these were the kind of photos that highlight the attractive appearance of the subject’s face and body. “Wow” in response to that kind of picture means “You’re hot”. But you have to see the photo to understand what the emphasis is.

    9. Luna*

      I have reacted with an impromptu “Wow!” when seeing someone, regardless of biological sex or gender identity, wearing a really cool piece of clothing or having an absolutely awesome hairstyle or haircolor. Like, I am not attracted to the person itself, I just think that this clothing/hairdesign is wow-inducingly cool.
      But I have mentioned in another comment that my views on what is appropriate or what counts as friendship to be weird because of bad experience. So, maybe I am wrong with saying, “Wow” as a short way of saying, “Wow, that looks so cool”.

  5. Murphy*

    Oh no.

    Friendly chats and joking around is fine…whatever this is has gone well beyond that.

      1. NewJobWhoDis*

        That was what stuck out to me as well! 50 messages A DAY?! My dude… that’s a lot of freaking messages. I have a work bestie and we IM regularly during the day, and it is no where near that many.

        1. anonarama*

          My sibling and I work at the same company and are very close. We don’t send each other 50 msgs a day! We don’t send each other 50 msgs a week!

          1. Aitch Arr*

            Which means they’re both keeping the conversation off their personal devices.

            Sussy McSuspants.

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          My very best friends in the world and I might do 50 a day on the group text, maybe once a month, when we are making plans or a lot is going on. 50 message a day on average every singe day – I mean is he even exchanging as many words a day with his wife as he is his coworker?

      2. Red5*

        This! My job requires a LOT of coordination, but even at the height of COVID telework, I never sent one coworker 50 messages in a day. I don’t even think I sent all my coworkers combined 50 messages in a single day. This dude is so far over the line that it’s a dot to him.

      3. sofar*

        Yes, I don’t care WHO it is, 50 messages a day is a LOT unless it’s an emergency. Casual chit-chat? No way. I’d be annoyed if my husband had that kind of regular back-and-forth with any friend, what a time suck.

        I’ll have the occasional silly group message or planning session with friends that goes up to 50 messages, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. And this cadence means LW is likely texting this coworker while spending what’s supposed to be quality time with LW. There’s no way to maintain that volume otherwise.

      4. Insert Clever Name Here*

        It’s a lot, but I was definitely exchanging something along those lines with the coworker I work closest with when we were 100% from home. How to deal with different situations, how should I word this notice to a vendor, WTF is up with this other vendor, is your kid into Bluey yet, etc.

        To be clear though: OP is ABSOLUTELY out of line because of the content, which is disgusting and unprofessional, and he needs to knock it off and get to counseling.

        1. Yorick*

          Yes, some of these are probably work related and then there are also many personal ones which would push it to such a high number of messages per day.

        2. Observer*

          Sure, when it’s your coworker and you are actually working on something together, that makes sense. I could see multiples of that happening.

          But the OP does not work with this woman. He’s exchanging that many PERSONAL messages with her. Totally different thing.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            I know it’s totally different. There are many repeated comments about how 50 is a lot even with someone you’re working with, and I was disagreeing with that.

      5. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        That was what blew my mind – I work remotely and I don’t have 50 chats a day with my entire team, let alone one single person who’s *not* on my team. I wonder if OP’s management would be happy to see how much time in a day he spends flirting with a co-worker over IM.

        This is so many levels of inappropriate that, were I the wife, a cold turkey approach would have to be happening with their communications going forward. And if that didn’t happen, I’d be talking to a lawyer.

      6. OhNo*

        For me, that depends on the subject matter. I have definitely had days where a coworker and I have exchanged 50+ messages… but the majority of them are directly work-related. I have also evened that out with weeks where I don’t message certain coworkers at all because we’re not working on anything together.

        If these messages are every day and non-work related, though? That would be a LOT, and a pretty big red flag.

    1. Rachel in Minneapolis*

      Listen. I have a close friend at work who is a man. (I’m a woman). Our job responsibilities overlap so we do communicate frequently. We mostly communicate through in-person meetings at the office or email.

      We’re also friends so we have lunch together at work and go out for coffee. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever texted/imed him more than twice in a day.

      I’ve never complimented his body or he to me. We’ve both said things like hey nice shoes or I like the new haircut but that’s it. And we’ve never communicated while on vacation.
      I do sometimes encourage his work projects. If needed and he does the same for me, but I wouldn’t ever call him a highlight of my day.

      I think you can see how this is getting out of control.

      1. Ope!*

        I have a now former coworker of the opposite sex who I openly adore professionally (they were a great mentor to me) and have continued a genuine friendship after our time working together ended. We’re still in the same field so I still refer to them as one of my closest work-friends. We traveled extensively together for work, so lots of alone time on the road to bond. They know my partner, I’ve ooh-ed over pics of their nephew, etc. Pre-pandemic, we met up for dinner when they were in my city. I repeat, we’re what I would consider to be very close.

        Our most recent interaction? About five or six messages back and forth about a brutally long flight delay they endured, and a joke about the West Wing I knew they’d like that was relevant to our jobs.

      2. Midwestern traveler*

        I (married woman) have communicated with a coworker (married man) on vacation, but it was because I saw a rocket launch and we’re engineers. Sent him a picture and everything.

        Of the ROCKET, not of me dressed in my bikini for the beach, dude. That would be ENTIRELY out of line.

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      It’s inappropriate between any coworkers and the fact that she used to report to you makes it even worse.

      I work in a corporate office. This is not normal. In fact, I’m wondering how HR would take those comments.

  6. Witch*

    >The sexual innuendo and admiring comments about her physical attractiveness have made it something else.

    I’m friends with married people through a shared hobby (roleplay lol!) and sometimes there’s a comment on a costume, or character plotlines, or everyday life. I’ve developed a good temperature for parsing the difference between someone who wants to share a part of their life with friends (“here’s my family at the beach!”/”i went on a fun date with my wife”) versus someone who’s looking to make me their emotional blankie.

    Asking or directing specifically charged and intimate comments is where it swerves into no-no territory. An occasional wow you look good! isn’t a crime, but when it’s followed by a bunch of phone and video calls to the point in which you’re the go-to person for rebuilding her confidence it’s all too much.

    1. Witch*

      Actually. I’m way less worried about the “wow” as compared to other commenters apparently. I’m more squinting at the sheer amount of emotional labor you’ve heaped onto this woman who ain’t your wife.

      > I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day, I’ve referred to her as my lucky charm, and she’s let me know that I’m a phenomenal cheerleader for her.

      That is such an intimate way to speak about someone. She’s for real, “the highlight of your day?” C’mon.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Yeah, between the FIFTY messages a day and calling it the highllight of the day, no wonder the wife is upset. Dude, you work from home. How often do you interact with your wife during the day? Isn’t talking to HER about your day the highlight? Phone calls when she has a rough day? What happens when your wife has a rough day?

        In fact, if you are deliberating concealing the extent of your talks with this woman from your wife, you are waaaaay over the line.

        1. Liane*

          Line: Located on Planet Earth
          LW & their coworker: Random binary star system on far side of next galaxy over

      2. Koala*


        He admitted someone other than his spouse or kids is the highlight of his day. I would be heartbroken to read that.

        1. Elysian*

          I mean, I don’t think my spouse has to be the highlight of my every day. Sometimes the highlight of my day changes – if I get a rare compliment on my work from a picky superior, that person’s compliment might be the highlight of my day. Or maybe I got to go to lunch with an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. But this guy is saying that a coworker saying Good morning is the highlight of his day?? Every day?? That’s more like “OMG my crush noticed me!”

          1. Nayo*

            Yeahhhh…if you’re gonna get that excited over a “good morning,” maybe it should be the one from your wife??

          2. metadata minion*

            I think a good rule of thumb here might be that the highlight of your day should, unless you are literally a covert agent, be something you should look forward to sharing with your spouse.

            1. Elysian*

              Excellent rule. I support it. “My work girlfriend said good morning to me!” doesn’t seem like it would qualify.

      3. Lydia*

        The “wow” without anything else could be innocent. It’s the fact that it comes after a photo of the person in a tight dress that makes it a huge problem.

    2. anonymous73*

      I don’t even know if a “wow you look good” is appropriate. I think it can be in person based on tone, but over messenger or comment through social media, yeah that’s a no from me dawg. I’ve become friends with several of my close friends husbands and if we’re all dressed up I might comment on how nice they look, but would never say “wow you look good”…just seems off to me.

    3. ariel*

      All of this! I’m single, have many married friends, and…. we talk about interesting shit but I do not rely on them to boost my confidence more than, like, every 6 months nor do they rely on me for good morning texts. Good morning texts are cringe from my Hinge connects, I definitely don’t want them from a coworker!!!!

  7. Myrin*

    I don’t know if I can properly convey how I mean this but this letter kinda reads like the Captain Awkward Mentionitis personified. Which doesn’t seem to make much sense – after all, to properly get the situation across, an OP has to mention, often even in detail, what exactly the situation is but like… this whole letter just felt like so much. It read like a teenager talking about their crush, not like a manager talking about his direct report, is what I mean.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      +100 for the Captain Awkward shout-out.

      And, yes, it does. Of course in this instance the LW has to overshare to convey what happened but otherwise, yes, it sounds like . . . that compulsive mentioning that people do when they’re excited by something. That’s not how coworker relationships should work.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Yes, I started a comment on how he clearly has mentionitus, but then deleted it, because if he mentioned her to his wife as often as he was (clearly) thinking about her his wife would have caught wise sooner. More like she was constantly on his mind, but some part of him knew that mentioning her all the time would be a very bad idea – so on some level he knows he was doing a bad. But clearly most of his brain space was dedicated to this relationship. Like, he is writing a letter about how his relationship isn’t appropriate, but he just cannot stop himself from GUSHING about her.

        1. Napster*

          I don’t know, my ex had serious mentionitis with the co-worker (ew) who became a direct report (bigger ew) that he left me for. I let it go because we had a 20-year marriage and three kids and would he really be carrying on an affair so blatantly like that? I am now older and wiser (and happier, too). Hopefully OP’s wife will soon be as well.

    2. Kay Zee*


      It could also be construed as a “humble brag” from some guy who can hardly believe he has himself a work girlfriend.

      1. NeedRain47*

        I read it as a (not so) humble brag that she considers him a work mentor. And it would be fine if he was mentoring her in her career. But all the other *stuff* makes the fact that they see this relationship as mentor/mentee even ickier, IMO. (Would not be surprised if she is also significantly younger than LW.)

    3. it's me*

      I was thinking that too! I was like, he’s certainly spelling out all the details here….

    4. Second Breakfast*

      Got this sense too, which made me wonder if it’s not written by the actual guy with this situation, but instead someone observing it who wants the guy to read it and back off.

    5. MsSolo UK*

      Yes. I don’t agree with the people who think it’s the wife/girlfriend – this has all the hallmarks of a “but if I just keep explaining /more/ they’ll have to see I’m right. If I can show them how great this person is they’ll see this is a perfectly normal relationship to have with her and I’m responding in a completely normal way to all these messages and I’m just supporting her and they’ll see if I just point this out and add this and oh I’ve just remembered another way she makes me feel and if they misunderstand I just haven’t explained enough.”

  8. Blue Glass*

    “I’m black, and I also said, “This is going to sound like something it’s not, but I’m telling you if you can manage to taking it black, you’ll be better off” when she said her coffee didn’t have enough creamer. My wife felt that saying has a sexual meaning and was not appropriate.“

    You knew exactly what you were doing and how sexual that sounded. You need to grow up.

    Your poor wife.

    1. many bells down*

      Right?? He literally could have just said “I heard drinking black coffee is better for you.” Explicitly calling out the innuendo MAKES it an innuendo.

      1. kittymommy*

        I have coworkers say almost this exact same thing to me with no creepy subtext. There are so, so many others ways to convey the same message without weird sexual innuendo.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Or just “The cream really puts so many calories in, if you can do without the cream it’s better for your goals” Like, you don’t need to bring the color of the coffee or your skin into it at all.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      My mouth flat out fell open. I don’t know how you typed that sentence out and somehow still can manage to pretend you think this is even remotely appropriate. Kudos to your wife for not having gone totally ballistic.

      1. Aerie*

        Typed it out TWICE – once to send in the first place, and again in this letter. AND he prefaced it by saying it was going to sound wrong, not that he sent it and THEN realized it could be misconstrued.

    3. Spicy Tuna*

      For real, if he had to respond to that creamer comment, it could have been as simple as “I prefer black coffee anyway.” I couldn’t think of a more innuendo-leaning way to say that than “taking it black” !!!

      1. londonedit*

        Seriously! Saying ‘this is going to sound like something it’s not’ totally has an undertone of ‘…and now that thought’s in your head, isn’t it’. Inappropriate! If he really had to say something, he could have said ‘I always find I lose weight when I cut out things like milk in my coffee, those calories really add up’.

      2. The OG Sleepless*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t have thought twice about a male coworker saying “stick with black coffee” and maybe not even “take it black,” but “this is going to sound like something it’s not” made it absolutely sound like…something it is.

        1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          It’s like when someone starts a sentence with “No offense, but…” and you just know whatever is going to come out of their mouth next is going to be objectively offensive.

    4. Empress Matilda*

      Yes, this is what I was going to say as well. As soon as you say “this is going to sound like something it’s not,” you’re leading the other person to start thinking about what it could sound like – and voila, sexual innuendo.

      OP, you and your co-worker are having an emotional affair. Plausible deniability is only going to get you so far – especially now that your wife knows about it. It’s time to stop, get some therapy if you can, and start making amends to your wife.

    5. The Prettiest Curse*

      He even said that he knew how it was going to sound! This is so far over the line of how professional relationships should work.

      Look, I appreciate that hybrid /WFH has skewed some people’s ideas of what appropriate professional boundaries should look like – but I work a hybrid schedule and don’t exchange 5 messages a day with the colleague I’m closest to on my team, never mind 50!

      OP, if your marriage matters to you, you will need to step back from this emotional affair with your colleague, and get a new job ASAP.

      1. Blue Glass*

        Yeah, the 50 messages a day thing! How does this guy even have time to be a husband to his real wife??

        1. Antilles*

          He probably doesn’t.

          I’m guessing that his wife isn’t getting *any* of the stuff in this letter – not the text messages, not the lovey nicknames like “lucky charm”, not the phenomenal cheerleader, not the reassuring pep talk phone calls, not the tons of positive compliments, none of it.

      2. bubbleon*

        Yeah, my skewed idea of professional boundaries is that once in a while I might send a meme to a coworker on Teams at 7 or 8pm in case he happens to see it when he checks in for the night, not that I’m going to send him tight dress pictures or message him all dang day

        1. Iris Eyes*

          Yes, the “new professional intimacy” is seeing a corner of the inside of your coworkers house, occasionally sharing memes/responding with a gif, or digital backgrounds that reflect personality. And that’s pretty much all of it.

          1. Migraine Month*

            My coworkers now get to meet my cat when he decides to climb up on me in the middle of a video call. That’s as intimate as I’m willing to get at work.

    6. name goes here*

      (As an aside, one reason that I wish people would be more careful about not doing sexual innuendo at work is that I am ace and would not have caught that this was innuendo –– I would have thought it was literally about coffee –– unless it was spelled out for me explicitly, as the commenters have done here. Just don’t do dirty talk and don’t make your coworkers guess about wait, should I have said that or not?)

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Seconded. I know there’s a few times I’ve been tripped up because an innuendo went right over my head- the worst of them is when I’ve repeated it because I thought it was just a turn of phrase I hadn’t heard before and It Was Not.

      2. Just Another Starving Artist*

        “Take it black” in a conversation about coffee isn’t an innuendo at all, except with all the context included here. It’s the one thing in the exchange that honestly could have been perfectly innocent… but given the history, it’s also understandable why his wife read it the way she did.

        1. Just Another Starving Artist*

          Nvm, missed that “this is going to sound like something it’s not” was included in the message. “Take it black” is fine, “This is going to sound like I’m talking about my genitals but I’m definitely not, even though no reasonable person would assume that, Take it black” is not.

          1. Yorick*

            Yes, he turned a conversation about coffee into a sexual statement about himself, which makes it particularly icky

          2. Amaranth*

            +1 my dad has been drinking coffee with every meal since I was a kid and the phrase ‘take it black’ is exchanged frequently with restaurant staff. Its not a thing unless you make it a thing. OP…made it a thing.

      3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Also ace, I do not catch the sex jokes unless someone flat out prefaces them with “this is gonna sound bad, but…” If *I* get your sex jokes, you DEFINITELY shouldn’t be telling them at work. :P

        1. LittleMarshmallow*

          This is a fascinating thread! I’m a closeted ace but definitely get innuendo (maybe more in the way that an adolescent does, but still I 95% of the time know what’s happening). That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes say stuff and then a coworker giggles and I realize what I said, but once I hear the giggle, I get it. Definitely could see why other aces wouldn’t but yeah, just interesting since I don’t have a good community connection with the ace crowd.

          The fact that I’m ace is also part of why my previous comment about too attached to a colleague came up. It was a weird thing as I’m not really aro… it a just so complicated.

      4. metadata minion*

        I would also not have caught the innuendo! Without the disclaimer, I’d be thinking “hey, let me enjoy my calorific coffee in peace”. With the disclaimer, it turns to “dude, I hadn’t been reading a sexual meaning into that, but now I am, and am skeeved out”. It’s like if someone reads my t-shirt and then reassures me they weren’t staring at my breasts. Well, Bob, I had assumed you were just admiring my cool shirt, but now I know you are definitely thinking about my breasts and you’ve made it weird.

        1. MissM*

          She had started the weight talk first so I don’t find saying something like “oh try skipping creamer” totally out of line. The “this is going to sound like something it’s not BUT …” is right up there with “now this might sound racist BUT… [something very very racist]” as a giant signal that he knew what he was saying was out of line & he was trying to pull a fig leaf worth of cover over his statement

    7. Dark Macadamia*

      Yep, if you don’t intend something to sound sexual and you realize it might, you don’t say it. If you DO intend it sexually and it’s an appropriate context for that (like when flirting with your partner, or on a dating app or something) you say it without the caveat. “OMG I know this sounds like a come-on but it’s TOTALLY not” is an acknowledgement that it’s inappropriate but you’re choosing to say it anyway, and you’re pretending that saying you didn’t mean it that way will cover your ass if someone (like your WIFE) doesn’t like it.

      1. MEH Squared*

        Exactly. He deliberately chose this way to say it because he thought it gave him plausible deniability (which, no. He just made it a thousand times worse.)

    8. Elps*

      You know what I do at work if I feel the need to preface something with, “This is going to sound like something it’s not,”?

      I don’t say it.

      +1 to this. Poor wife.

    9. Lunch Ghost*

      The coffee wasn’t even black, it was just light on creamer! So he could have said “It’s better for you that way” or “Less creamer is better for you” or “Meh, a little less creamer won’t kill you”… I feel like he was purposely trying to get “black” in there.

    10. SimonTheGreyWarden*

      To me, leaving off the first part and just saying if she can manage to drink it black would be better.

  9. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    The sheer quantity of the messaging and conversation is enough of a concern, least to me. This isn’t a work friendship, it’s flirting.

    Ask yourself if you’d still be friends with this person if you dropped the communications down to casual? Or less often? Try it. If the answer is ‘I can’t do that because she won’t like me as much’ or ‘but she needs this to feel good about herself/I need this to feel good about myself’ then, again, it’s time to dial it back.

    Speaking as a woman who has zero problems with her husband having close female friends I’d still have my hackles raised if he was saying the kind of stuff you are and to that frequency.

    1. Witch*

      Right. If you’re at the place where you’re prioritizing her emotions it’s an emotional affair my dude.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        That’s a key point too. The innuendo, the compliments, the feeling good when they greet/talk, it’s all I guarantee obvious to their coworkers too.

    2. Antilles*

      The quantity jumped off the page to me too. 50 messages per day? FIFTY?
      I’d bet money his wife isn’t getting 50 messages a day from OP. And I’ll further guess that his wife isn’t getting messages with content like “wife, you’re the highlight of my day” or “wife, you’re my lucky charm” or etc.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        I don’t even communicate that much with my boss! And she’s remote in another part of the state.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Heck I don’t talk that much to my husband! There’s the occasional cute photo of the cat maybe.

        My best friend in the whole world, my sister from another mister, and I talk most days but it’s mostly pet photos and the occasional ‘hey got a minute I need to rant’. She’s actually at home with Covid at the moment and I’m worried about her but 50 messages a day?!

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Btw, back when I was single I had an affair with a married manager at work. This kind of mentionitis, constant communication, feeling great about the attention was how. It. Started.

      It was a very long time ago and I am definitely not that woman anymore but if there was a time machine I would go back to me when all the emotional attachment stuff started and clobber myself upside the head and tell me to go get a different job and block the manager on every sort of media.

      Because even decades on, even with my husband knowing everything about my past before I met him, even now I’d dearly love to have had that never happen.

      The temporary excitement of feeling like you’re really important and attractive to someone does not make up for the pain that comes after. Trust me.

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        I too let myself get too emotionally attached to a colleague once. Never again. We were both single so there wasn’t cheating involved but I liked the attention and let myself get attached. Then when they started actually dating someone it really felt like being broken up with even though there had never been a sexual aspect to the relationship. I didn’t take it well and wish there was a time machine to go back and not let that happen. Don’t get emotionally attached to your colleagues! It’s not healthy. I learned a lot about myself from that experience (not all of it good) and given space (it’s been well over 5 years ago now) realized how toxic and emotionally abusive that relationship was (I shouldn’t have wanted to be with them anyway).

  10. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, you know what you are doing.
    Maybe you didn’t at first but you know now. Good for you for writing in. This way it is no longer your secret from your wife (cuz everyone in your office knows).
    Cut it out.
    Replace the ego boost you get from her “good morning” message to reading or something.
    And the inevitable, “I can’t just cut her off. She’s a coworker. I have to communicate with her. I can’t be rude” excuse to drag this out…yeah. Don’t do that.
    Good luck.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      I’ll go one further: OP, you are dying to talk to someone about this relationship and how it makes you feel and all the little cute things you two do for each other and how it makes the workday just zing by but you can’t talk to any of your friends because they’ll be like “Dude, you’re having an affair.” So you wrote to AAM.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, there’s a certain… titillation factor shining through every single line of this letter.
        So while I’m not completely discounting other commenters’ suggestion that this was actually written by the wife or another third party observer, it actually reads to me extremely like someone positively needing to talk about this, and if that someone is an advice columnist who might even agree with him, well, all the better.

        1. JB*

          It’s like those AITA posts on Reddit where the user is clearly look for validation and will argue in the comments before pulling a dirty delete (as in deleting the post because they aren’t getting the judgements they expected).

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            In fairness, this LW didn’t duck out when the entire commentariat came down on his head. He said okay, he was wrong, he gets that now, and he’s backed way off and is getting marriage counseling with his wife to work on repairing their marriage. Even recognizing that there’s no way to delete a letter that Alison shared from the column, a lot of the LWs who do similarly awful things and get taken to task here either dodge the comment thread and stick their fingers in their ears, or else show up to double down and argue with us all. He’s showing at least a marginal degree of humility, and an ability to learn from criticism that I hadn’t expected.

      2. Van Wilder*

        On the older post about the woman who worked on a campus and was having an emotional affair with her younger coworker – I remember one of the commenters saying that her tone sounded “giddy.” That’s what I’m getting here.

      3. Ideas for care package for friend with cancer*

        I didn’t see this in the message but now that you have pointed it out, I can’t unsee it!

      4. Very Social*

        Yes–this is the best explanation I’ve seen for how much detail the OP goes into. I sympathize with those saying the wife wrote it but that didn’t ring true; “dying to talk to someone about this relationship” does.

    2. Don't Be Long Suffering*

      “…and I’ve shared a bit about my family” jumped out at me. Yeah, we talk about everything… but I say as little as possible about my marriage and children. Please OP, shut this down, recommit to your family, put all this energy into making your wife feel as special as you’ve been making coworker feel.

  11. ThatGirl*

    My husband works in a field that’s largely dominated by women, and two of his closest friends are women; one of them is a former coworker. They talk about all kinds of things, from work-related to pop culture to personal — but none of it has ever even come close to an emotional affair, and I’ve never had a second of uneasy feeling about any of it.

    This, on the other hand? Huge screaming red flags, dude.

    1. B*itch in the corner of the poster*

      Same, my husband works with a lot of women, and he’s friends with several of them, but there’s a boundary, and this is so far over the boundary that I want to take his wife out for drinks.

    2. Alexis Rosay*

      Same, my husband works in a field dominated by women and I (female) work in a field dominated by men. He’s friendlier with his coworkers than I am and occasionally goes out to lunch or happy hour with female coworkers…and I’ve never felt the least bit uncomfortable with any of it, because they’re so clearly normal work friendships. His closest friend outside of work–a longstanding friendship from college–is also a woman and they talk about family, work, and shared hobbies, not each others’ bodies or appearances…yikes!

    3. I edit everything*

      Yep. My husband frequently lunches with one female colleague. They have work jokes and a very casual, easy-going relationship. I think there’s a bit of a mentor/mentee dynamic, as well. But it is *nothing* like this.
      Also, I know exactly what the highlight of my husband’s day is, and she is never there for it and never will be.

    4. No way*

      My husband works in a field that is almost exclusively women and he is also a friendly, outgoing person. His relationships with his colleagues are warm but never cross into comments on physical appearance (the women often discuss dieting etc. with each other and he always redirects or excuses himself from the conversation), no sending selfies, good morning texts, charged banter etc.

      In fact, one co-worker once mentioned that “his wife was so lucky” and she hoped she’d “find a man like him” someday and he shut it down immediately, said it was inappropriate and made him feel uncomfortable, mentioned the conversation to his supervisor, and told me about it.

    5. Paperdill*

      Yeah, I can echo this sentiment in many ways. My husband and I have an unconventional relationship but we have always emphasized communication and respect and consent from each other with out interactions with other people.
      OP, your wife is not happy with how you are interacting with this co-worker. It’s making her sad. It’s making her insecure. It’s making her think you don’t love her. Does that matter to you? If it doesn’t, I think there a whole other issue on the table.

  12. K C*

    Haha yeah they definitely sound like crossing a line but I wanted to add one thing.

    Since the pandemic lots of us have lost our in person friend networks and turned to messaging. So while, no, work relationships aren’t more intimate, I do find I’m more open to sharing personal stuff in text, and treating work text a little looser because for many weeks it’s my only human interaction except with my wife.

    Still, none of it is anything like OP described!

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      The OP is being used as this co-worker’s emotional support / ego booster and is in a huge amount of denial about how important and needed that makes him feel.

    2. RB*

      Yeah, down below I mentioned how work relationships are actually LESS intimate now. The lack of spontaneity of chatting someone up in the hallway or elevator or at the microwave.

  13. anonanna*

    I’m so angry on this wife’s behalf. How hurtful and thoughtless on LW’s part.

    1. Joanna*

      Agreed. I also wonder if he’s hoping Allison will agree so he can use it to continue gaslighting his poor wife.

  14. Smithy*


    I think all the effort to make a “work thing” is the key dissonance the OP is applying to himself/his wife. When I’ve become truly friends with a coworker (in my case always platonic), I’ve always made the switch off of the workplace chat function. Not because I’m necessarily worried about work “spying” on me, but that when a relationship does become more personal (be it a friendship or…otherwise) – just not wanting the full breadth of our communication on workplace channels because inevitably not all of them are 100% professional.

    Trying to insist that this is all just professional work buddy chat is disingenuous at best.

    1. Mrs. Smith*

      Yes, just imagine if this situation becomes unfriendly and these “chats” are turned over to HR. You’ve just lost your job dude as well as your wife.

  15. Don’t call me that*

    Oh no. Oh no no no no no. Not normal coworker relationship at all.

    I am SCREAMING internally for OP’s wife.

  16. Emoo*

    The way my soul left my body reading this. Dude, you know what’s up. You may not be physically cheating on your wife, but you sure as heck are up to SOMETHING that stinks, and you know it.

  17. HugeTractsofLand*

    It sounds like you’re getting a lot of satisfaction out of being this woman’s “cheerleader,” so maybe take a closer look there. What need is being filled? And what could you do to shift things over so your wife, or something else in your life, is the source? Because as things stand, this isn’t appropriate to do for a peer. For a peer, I might tell them to go for X, or compliment their new shirt, or chat about their weekends. I would not habitually- key word, this is your HABIT- compliment them, call them my lucky charm, the best part of my morning, etc.

    Listen to your wife and your gut, and pay attention to how this woman reacts when you cut things off. My guess is that she will take it hard, because you’ve been her emotional boyfriend. It won’t be your place to console her through that. Good luck.

    1. Starling*

      This is a great angle, and some good questions for the OP to use as a guide back to where he’d be comfortable and at peace

  18. Yikes*

    I’m so sorry LW but I stopped reading your letter after your second paragraph. I certainly cannot speak for all women but as a formerly single woman attracted to men, I have only ever sent photos of myself or said “Heyyyyyyy” to my girlfriends or to men I was interested in. And the only people who ever respond “wow” to my photos also happen to be my girlfriends or men who happened to at the very least think I was attractive. Your wife is so spot-on and I feel bad that you seem to be so (willfully?) obtuse.

    This whole thing is so inappropriate. Good luck.

    1. Eggo*

      right? i use ‘heyyyyy’ and “gooood morning” with my besties… or someone i’m flirting with/dating.

      1. Koalafied*

        Same. My go-to casual greeting for coworkers I have warm relationships with and frequently chat with about work things is, “yo!”

    2. Allornone*

      Yep, the only time I’ve ever texted a co-worker with that kind of message, we were dating within a month. Nine years and different jobs later, we still are.

    3. RabbitRabbit*

      I mean, maybe I’d use it if I was asking a work friend for a huge favor as the intro, kind of a “hello-you-won’t-like-this-please-be-chill” jokey greeting.

      Like “Heeeyyyyyy…” “I know you’re swamped today but the (blah thing) just came back and we need changes made by end of day, can you set aside some time to do X and Y for it?”

      But that’s about it. And in context with everything else? Oh no. His wife is right.

  19. YB*

    In fairness, I feel like the LW is describing using the “wow” react on some platform, rather than typing out the word “Wow”, as some commenters are assuming – the react doesn’t quite connote what typing out the word would.

    But otherwise, I agree with Alison here. This is…not great.

    1. AdequateArchaeologist*

      Tbh, I’m not sure if that would be better or worse. I feel like a truly neutral react would be the “thumbs up” one. My company uses teams and the stupid face emojis repeat their little actions on and off every few seconds, using the “wow” would be extra gross (and personally drive me up the wall).

      1. Zephy*

        The only face emoji that comes up when I search “wow” on teams is Heart Eyes, which–and I don’t think this should be controversial–is basically never an appropriate emoji to deploy in a work context. Possible exception: coworker has shared a picture of some sort of baby animal.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think typing out “I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day” removes any ambiguity.

      1. Managing to get by*

        That was actually the worse offense in my eyes. Everything else was annoying and flirty, and would lead me to have a serious conversation with my SO if he were in this situation, but saying a simple good morning message from another woman is the highlight of his day would be enough for me to start making plans to split.

        Adding, if the result of the serious conversation was my anything other than my SO saying he understood my point of view, apologizing, and backing up in his connection to the other woman after I explained to him why I was having concerns, I’d also start making plans to split.

    3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Ummm, yeah. It does. With the wide eyes and mouth hanging open, I’d say it might even be worse.

    4. Observer*

      n fairness, I feel like the LW is describing using the “wow” react on some platform, rather than typing out the word “Wow”, as some commenters are assuming – the react doesn’t quite connote what typing out the word would.

      In this context it makes no difference.

    5. RagingADHD*

      In fairness, the part where he was telling her in words that he was “watching what he said” but that she would be fine on her beach trip because she looked so good in her swimsuit is not a button on a platform.

      Just the fact that he said he had to watch his mouth/be careful is telling on himself.

  20. StressedButOkay*

    LW, there are no ‘new intimate relationships’ with coworkers. People are friends, or are friendly, with coworkers but this is not the norm. Your wife has concerns because there are reasons – would you be acting like this with someone you weren’t emotionally/physically attracted to? Most likely not.

  21. Anonymous for this*

    So, lemme ask you, OP. Do you communicate this much with your wife? Do you pay this much attention to your wife?

    Do you care so much about your interaction with your co-worker, that you’re willing to hurt your wife?

    Do you care so much about this co-worker and your relationship with her, that you’re willing to risk your marriage?

    How about putting the energy, time, care, and desire you’re currently spending on this other woman, and directing it to your relationship with your wife?

    I’ve been in your wife’s position. They were just colleagues– my husband has had and currently has lots of female friends. They were just friends, just colleagues, until….they weren’t.

    We did not get divorced only because I didn’t want to share our child — I knew we’d end up with 50-50 custody, and I wanted to be living in the same house with my child 100%. It’s not like our child was getting much of my husband’s attention, either.

    It took a really long time to fix our marriage. Partly because he was so resentful about giving up the relationship with his colleague.

    I love my husband, but I used to adore him. I now know I can live without him and his love and affection, and if I have to, this time I will not stay (the kid is on his own now). Do you want that future? Because that’s the direction you’re going.

    1. Camellia*

      You are way stronger than I am. I don’t think I could continue living as a ‘wife’ to a man who was resentful about giving up that relationship. I might manage to continue to live in the same house with him if, as you did, you were doing it to remain with your child 100%, but it would probably be as a ‘room mate’ instead of as a ‘wife’. Kudos to you.

    2. JSRN*

      My guess is that he doesn’t pay attention to his wife at all, except when he’s in the ‘mood’ after flirting with the coworker all day. I know his type all too well. He most likely barely notices anything his wife does to her appearance then complains how she let herself go. I know I’m speculating here, but I’ve seen this play out over and over again at different jobs and with some of my friends. He knows this hurts his wife but he doesn’t give any cares at all to the woman he took vows to. He’s choosing a female coworker over his wife. LW, just divorce her so you and this hot coworker can be together. She wants a great faithful (ha!) husband like you anyway, so why don’t you just let your wife find a man who will respect her and you can be with this exciting coworker.

      I’ve been there too, back when I didn’t have the self esteem to do anything about it. It hurts so bad and it affecting my relationship with my current husband because it took me so long to trust him around female coworkers (my problem of course, not his). So this makes me so mad. If something is missing in his marriage, maybe he should try talking to his wife about what he needs instead of doing this type of nonsense. He should also try some self reflection to see his own faults and work on himself too because it takes both to make the marriage be successful.

      1. AnonymousReader*

        “My guess is that he doesn’t pay attention to his wife at all, except when he’s in the ‘mood’ after flirting with the coworker all day. I know his type all too well. He most likely barely notices anything his wife does to her appearance then complains how she let herself go.”

        I have noticed this pattern with male coworkers. They don’t understand that yes, I look more put together than your wife because it’s part of my job to look “presentable” at work. Once I clock out, I probably look a bigger mess than her! Appreciate your wife and the 1001 things she does for you everyday!

    3. Critical Rolls*

      The fact that LW’s reaction to all this is “Prove wife wrong so I can keep having my emotional affair” rather than “End emotional affair so I can keep my wife” is pretty telling. LW, if your wife is telling you she’s uncomfortable and hurt and it’s damaging her trust in you, why isn’t that a good enough reason to stop your behavior? As far as I can tell all she asked was that you dial the intimacy way back with this coworker, not that you become a hermit.

      1. MEH Squared*

        All of this. OP, your wife is hurt and needs to know you care about her and your marriage. You seem more invested in your relationship with your ex-coworker than in your marriage. You need to have a good long think about why that is.

      2. laser99*

        You’re right, but the crux of it is that he doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong, he’s looking for validation that his wife is unreasonable.

    4. Also Anonymous for This*

      I can’t imagine having to make that decision once you had a child together. I’ve been in a similar position, so much so that if my ex or close friends are reading this they may have thought that your comment was mine until you mentioned your child.

      My moment of clarity was when I asked my ex, point blank, to tell his coworker that he couldn’t be in contact with her outside of work anymore and his response was that he “didn’t want to hurt her.” Hurting me was fine, I guess. While it was one of the most painful moments of my life, it was the push that I needed to end things, and I’m so grateful to my past self (and a truly extraordinary therapist) for recognizing what was happening.

  22. BA*

    What Alison did in taking out certain details to determine if it was OK is a start. Now LW, go through with all of the details in there, but pretend you found this all on your wife’s computer. How are you going to feel? My guess is if not upset, at least extremely uncomfortable.

    And while this is NOT a normal workplace relationship, let’s just say for a second that it isn’t anything inappropriate. But if your wife finds that it makes her uncomfortable, your best bet is to stop. And then apologize. And mean it.

    1. P*

      I suspect if he found this on his wife’s computer he would feel relief. Not because it proves he isn’t having an affair but because it will (in his mind) give him permission to end the marriage because she has done something to justify that action.

      As someone else said it’s telling that when his wife said she was uncomfortable his reaction was she’s wrong instead of making her comfort a priority. He’s already moved on.

  23. metadata minion*

    Honestly, the fact that the potential innuendo was at the forefront of your mind in the coffee conversation makes it way, way sketchier than if you had just made the comment with no disclaimer or had phrased it in a less double-entendre way.

    1. KofSharp*

      Agreed, I can see “accidental double entendre becomes a mortifying misspeak we never mention again” but framing it like it’s a double entendre as you’re saying it… nooo buddy.

    2. Lea*

      100% “Like my men” energy and op was well aware.

      If he just wanted to comment on black coffee or cutting back on creamer he would have done that

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Right? Like, “Creamer is actually not good for you, so probably you’d be better off getting used to drinking your coffee black” would be fully acceptable. But no, OP had to fully reference a very sexual thing.

    3. amoeba*

      I mean, in my last (uni) job, we had A LOT of innuendo and “inappropriate” remarks. But always in a “haha, that’s what she said” jokey way within the whole group, never in a creepy flirty way. So yeah, I could see saying it and then going like “hahaha, that’s what she said – sorry, being silly today!”. But like this? No way.

    4. Sad Desk Salad*

      Yeah, in this scenario, even if the OP had said to me “if you can take it black it’s best,” I would never have thought anything other than “OP prefers black coffee and perhaps thinks it’s better to have it without cream and sugar.” It would never have occurred to me, even during a solid flirtation with a Black person, that it was an innuendo, except in this case, where he flat out says he’s going to be inappropriate and then goes ahead and is inappropriate.

  24. CJ Cregg Wannabe*

    Alison was spot on. I (f/married) chat with a coworker (m/married) throughout the day. We are both remote. It does help keep me sane. Both of our significant others are aware of this, and we have all met each other in real life. But, there are never comments about physical appearance, or anyone calling each other pet names like “lucky charm”, and messages are certainly not the highlight of anyone’s day. Coworkers can be friends, regardless of orientation. But always best to respect boundaries. Keep it to venting about your work day, silly memes, and pop culture check-ins.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      And the chatting during vacations is also something you probably aren’t doing with the coworker you chat regularly with. That was just such another weird boundary crossed.

  25. bee*

    I feel like 98% certain that the wife wrote this and is going to show him all the responses later, so: yes!! This is definitely inappropriate!

    (also American Vandal season 1 definitively proved that “hey” with multiple y’s is flirting)

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      You’re right, it does have that flavor. I hope she reads the comments here either way.

    2. Kaiko*

      American Vandal season one was a gift from the television gods and I’m always so mad more people haven’t seen it.

      1. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

        Second season is worth your time as well, but it’s not transcendent like the first one.

    3. Kjolis*

      I also felt like this was written by the wife, to prove a (completely correct) point. If that’s true – wife, I’m sorry you had to write this letter to get your husband to see this is inappropriate. When you brought your concerns to him, he should have apologized and amended his ways, and that should’ve been the end of it.

    4. LolaBugg*

      I also thought maybe this letter was actually written by the wife, but I wasn’t sure if I should say so in my comment because we are supposed to take letter writers at face value… but the sheer cluelessness of this letter writer makes me think maybe his wife wrote it. I just have a hard time believing anyone could be this clueless.

      1. moonstone*

        Same. I think it’s weird that someone who allegedly doesn’t realize his behavior is wrong knew to articulate the exact actions he took that happen to be bad behavior.

    5. Bertha*

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a letter on AAM and thought that there is no way the claimed LW actually wrote the letter.. but it happens all the time. Off the top of my head, the boss who wouldn’t let the employee go to graduation…

    6. Delphine*

      That is what it feels like. I see this kind of thing on AITA on Reddit, where the OP is describing the most egregious behavior in terms that sound like they understand the connotations of their actions…but then they have zero self-awareness and still have to ask if they’re the asshole.

    7. Courageous cat*

      Yes. He took zero steps to not completely villainize himself here. That’s unusual.

  26. many bells down*

    I am a married woman. I was friends with a male co-worker who recently left for a different job. We text MAYBE every two or three weeks. And most of the time the texts are things like “hey where did you keep the 10-foot ethernet cables?” “Check the bottom left drawer.”
    This… has gone way too far, my dude.

  27. Eggo*

    I was good friends with an older, male, married coworker at an old job. Most of our interactions were going for walks over lunch, me catching him up on celeb gossip, him trying to explain sports to me and literally nothing i would be uncomfortable with his wife seeing. i did text him a pic while on vacation once, but only because he had asked me to send him a pic when i visited a place he recommended. he did give me a little pep talk after a bad breakup but in a brotherly sense.

    there’s friendly and there’s flirting.

    you are flirting.

    OP, this relationship is sooooooooooooooooo inappropriate and you would be best to nip it 100% in the bud.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Way too late for that, I’m afraid. This bud has flowered, fruited, and fallen off the tree.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      That’s a really great question to ask yourself, especially combined with “do you talk to your other coworkers this way” or “what if you saw these messages on your wife’s computer.”

      Maybe this really isn’t the line for you – questionable, but okay, you get to set your own boundaries. But clearly this is well past the line for your wife, so either way there’s some communicating to be done. If you’re 100% acting in good faith here, there should be some way to compromise.

    2. van wilder*

      I was going to ask the same thing. I worry for all of OP’s coworkers at this point. This is a pretty serious lack of judgement and boundaries. (Not to mention his wife.)

      1. Van Wilder*

        Hey – sorry to be weird, but I’ve been commenting here as Van Wilder for 5 years or so. Could you pick a different handle?

        1. van wilder*

          It’s been my handle for years, but I suppose I can find something different if it bothers you. No harm done to me.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      If the photos had nudity, not “just” a tight dress.
      If he were actually commenting on her body specifically, not generically.
      If he had not mentioned that he had a wife.

  28. MysteriousMise*

    Dude. You had me at “wow”. Not cool.

    I’m married, with plenty of male work chums. My other half the same, with plenty of female work pals. You have wayyyyyyyyyyyyy overstepped the mark here. You need to out up swift, definite, hard boundaries, apologize to your wife, and cop the heck on.

  29. Essentially Cheesy*

    Ok besides what everyone else has said – you owe your wife a huge sincere apology with an explanation how you realize you are wrong and plans for actual reformed behavior.

    1. Essentially Cheesy*

      And I can’t be the only person dying for an update – and wondering if LW read any of the feedback/comments?

  30. Writerboy*

    Sorry pal, but if my wife saw messages like that from me to a co-worker it would not go down well either — and it shouldn’t.
    I am the only male on my small team, and my role includes mentoring younger staff, who are mainly women. I make it clear, as often as I feel the need to, every step of the way, that I am not expecting/seeking/open to anything other than a good work relationship and giving opportunities to talented employees. That doesn’t mean I can’t be human, but I know there is a dynamic at play that is not only about age and tenure, but also about sex and gender.

    She says she wants a husband who treats his family the way you say you do. So time to put your money where your mouth is.

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      “She says she wants a husband who treats his family the way you say you do. So time to put your money where your mouth is.”

      OP, THIS RIGHT HERE is some wisdom being gifted to you. Think about these two sentences and what they truly mean. Be honest with yourself. If you are having a hard time with that, it’s okay to talk to a counsellor who can help. It’s not okay to continue to behave in such a way that your wife -your FAMILY- feels, justifiably, that you are not living up to her very reasonable expectations of the man she married.

      Writerboy, you win the Internet for the week. Beautifully said.

    2. Calamity Janine*

      amusingly enough, my eyes skipped over a word in your penultimate sentence to make me misread it, and it still works perfectly as a very important thing for OP to meditate upon:

      she – the coworker – says she wants a partner who treats his loved ones the way you do. they way you, OP, are currently doing. she is showing she wants a relationship where she can treat *her* partner as callously as this, and she is okay with you cheating with her on some level. do you really think a relationship with her is going to be a happy one for you? as the saying goes, “when a man marries his mistress, he creates a job opening” – if you really did pursue her and make her yours, well, a job opening is made.

      heck, you can even say that in the professional world, you’re hoist by the same petard. she says she wants a coworker who treats his work like you do: ready to be dropped at any time of day in favor of responding ‘wow’ to party photos and emotional discussions about one’s childhood. this is not actually a coworker you want to have. at least, not if you actually want to get work done, anyway. is that the sort of employee your company expects to be encouraged by management? because remember: she’s not being managed by you, but you are still management above her.

      we are, in some ways, constantly advertising who we are and what we do by our actions. be careful what slogans you are plastering on yourself.

  31. Azars*

    How could anybody possibly be this delusional? Your wife is right, you’re obviously flirting with your coworker all the time. Knock it off if you want to stay married.

    1. Tuckerman*

      Agreed, and yet we all rationalize our behavior. I don’t think anyone is 100% honest with themselves about their behavior at all times. Curious to know how the LW feels about this a year (or 5 years) from now.

    1. You are not Charles Boyet*

      The worst part about this whole thing is the gaslighting. Trying to make your wife doubt her own judgment by pretending but there’s some kind of new fake thing called new intimacy with coworkers, that she just doesn’t understand because she doesn’t work in the corporate world. Forget about the affair, emotional or otherwise. It’s one thing to have an affair. It’s another thing to try to make somebody else doubt their own sanity. She should divorce you just for that.

  32. Swisa*

    Applause to Alison for cutting to the chase – not just that this is unprofessional, but that it’s an emotional affair.

  33. Person*

    So, the next question, Alison, is: how to off-ramp this emotional affair without drama?

    1. Moira Rose*

      They’re not coworkers anymore so it should just be a simple, “I’m so sorry, I wish you well but I’m realizing that I need to turn the dial down on this friendship.”

        1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

          It would either be cold turkey or I’d be calling a lawyer. OP’s wife, there are good men out there who won’t put you through this kind of BS. Even being alone is better than being betrayed.

    2. Purple Cat*

      You just “stop”. And even if there is “drama”…. What does that even mean? Is coworker really going to lose her mind because OP stops flirting with her? They work on different teams, so if he has to be frosty with her, so be it.

    3. cmcinnyc*

      Since they are not on the same work team anymore, the professional need to communicate is probably hovering close to nil. He messages, “I’ve been over the line in this relationship and I regret it. I won’t be texting you anymore. I’ll be focusing on my job. Thanks for understanding.” And no mas after that. No more texts, no more video chats, no replies, nada. The only possible “drama” would be if she takes it badly/reacts. And that’s 100% on her. He doesn’t have to manage that.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      Respond sparingly – think 2-3 times per week initially because she’ll still be going full speed in the beginning. He can apologize about the drop off, but the apology should be vague. You’re just busy – she doesn’t need to know that it’s busy taking care of your marriage. Eventually conversations should be only every few weeks/months. Absolutely no comments on photos sent. Don’t talk to her while she’s on vacation.

      1. Data Analyst*

        Exactly. I think any sort of “this has been over the line and is jeopardizing my marriage” talk is just another instance of saying stuff to a coworker that is way too personal and emotionally charged, and could create some sort of “oh no, our love for each other is tortured and forbidden!!!” dynamic that will just escalate things.

    5. Calamity Janine*

      tbh, i think the OP viewing himself as a work mentor has given himself the perfect off-ramp here. if he actually wants to stop and give her an explanation, anyway.

      “i want to be someone to model good working habits to you, as i do think of myself as somewhat of a mentor to you, and i know that we enjoyed working together. but this has gone way too far. it’s a habit is not only harmful to me in the professional world – it’s also harmful to you, too. as much as i have enjoyed getting to know you and doing things like offering emotional support, this is not good professional behavior”…

      basically recognize he’s killed the albatross, and properly become the ancient mariner wearing the bird around his neck and telling all how he messed up (so that they will know what not to do).

      not working with her directly here is a blessing. if the OP wanted, he could even blame a nebulous goal or third party – NOT the wife, but rather a professional uninvolved with this situation. “i read a really good book about being an effective manager and realized…” “my life coach recently said…” “i talked it over with my therapist and…” sometimes knowing that there is someone truly outside the situation saying it will help redirect any heat.

      beyond that, if he acts like this is something already debated and is now entirely decided, while keeping his word and taking a major step back so that all communication is workplace-only… there should be few problems. (if she flips out, at some point, that’s going to be way more something that’s a her problem than his.)

  34. Fluffy Fish*

    Dude. I’m going to try to be kind about this.

    You need to do some serious introspection. This reads exactly like someone trying to justify emotional cheating as “but we’re just friends”. You’re lying to yourself and deep down you know it.

    The fact that your wife said she’s uncomfortable and your first instinct is to tell her she’s wrong and then try to get back up that she’s wrong? Duuuuuude.

    You need to end this. There’s no reason for you to even talk work with this person because you don’t work on the same team and don’t seem to have a legitimate need to work together – because if you did I know, and you know, that would have been part of your justification.

    Stop engaging. Stop responding. If she asks what happened, since it is work, its probably best to keep it light and vague – oh just really busy with work. But stop. Now. This is heading no where good.

    1. cal*

      He knows what he is doing. She knows what she is doing. There won’t be any shock on her part if he cuts her off. She will know the exact reason why.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        While they know what they are doing – humans have a great capacity for lying to themselves. Everyone’s the hero of their own story. And people will take actions to try to continue to lie to themselves and make themselves less of a bad guy. This letter is a shining example.

        No one being surprised doesn’t mean no one will ask what changed and *act* like they have no idea what you mean.

        1. cal*

          Precisely. People like the OP will gaslight you. The only thing to do is get rid of them. However, in no situation could a person make themselves a hero in this story. He just assumed that Allison and others would be blind to an emotional affair.

  35. Not Another One*

    You know exactly what you’re doing and are hoping AAM will say your wife is so out of touch with the corporate world. I’m not sure if this would matter to you since you have such low respect for your wife (the woman you took actual vows to), but what if a male coworker was doing all that to her? What if your wife had on a cute tight dress and the male coworker said “wow”? And she was just brushing you off?

    If you were my husband, I would tell you once to stop. If you brushed me off, I would then tell you that we need to go to marriage counseling. Next step would be divorce. This is headed towards a physical affair in my opinion. Do you say wow to your wife when she looks nice? If she’s stopped trying, have you spoken to her about it? If she’s stopped trying, have you looked at your own actions to see if there’s a reason why?

    I know this is a workplace blog and not a marriage one, but spouses like this piss me off so much. They know what they’re doing is wrong but ask anyway because they hope someone will tell them what they wanna hear. You know you are being highly inappropriate and you need to dial it way back with this “coworker”.

    LW, if you’re not happy at home, either fix it or leave. I’m sure she’s not forcing you to stay married to her. But stop trying to hurt your wife. And believe me, that stuff hurts.

    1. Not Another One*

      I forgot to add, why does your wife even have to ask you more than once? How low is the amount of love you have for her if you’re putting a female coworker’s feelings above your own WIFE? Your wife (your life partner, possibly the mother of your kids) should come before any one else, especially coworkers. Your poor poor wife. My heart hurts for her. I hope she can find strength to either put her foot down or just leave and not put up with such blatant disrespect.

      1. van wilder*

        Hard agree. He doesn’t actually want advice, he wants someone to validate him. & he came to the wrong place for that.

  36. Another Ashley*

    I’m wondering what this dude’s goal was in writing this letter. This behavior is obviously, glaringly, textbook inappropriate. If his wife acted like this with a neighbor he would be livid.
    So what’s the angle? Did he write this to letter to continue to feign innocence with his wife? Everything about this letter feels insincere and manipulative.

    1. Nanani*

      The vibe I get is a Letters to Penthouse style “I can’t believe it really happened to me!” story about a young, single, attractive colleague.
      I hope I’m wrong and LW sincerely wanted a reality check (and is open to hearing it)

    2. Blue Glass*

      I agree. There is something manipulative about the whole letter.

      Nobody could be that clueless about suggesting their coworker should “take it black.”

      1. Miss Muffet*

        If you’re starting out a sentence with that kind of disclaimer, you should rethink the sentence. It’s not any different from “I don’t mean to sound racist, but….”

    3. it's me*

      Right? So many details for someone claiming to need to write in to an advice column.

    4. londonedit*

      I’ve seen loads of letters here from people where the gist is basically ‘So I want to carry on doing this thing that people are telling me is bad, here are my reasons, please agree with me that it’s fine for me to carry on doing the thing regardless’. He wants Alison to tell him that his wife is overreacting, that it’s great that he’s working closely with a colleague and supporting her, and that everyone indulges in a bit of harmless messaging and banter with work friends. He wants to be able to justify his excuse that everyone just has ‘intimate relationships’ with their colleagues nowadays, and that all he’s doing is ‘cheerleading’ and helping this woman’s career. Because that means he can carry on doing all the messaging and the flirting and the innuendo and the emotional affair stuff that he clearly enjoys. It’s amazing how many knots people will tie themselves in trying to justify actions that are obviously completely dodgy to anyone looking in from the outside.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Reminds me of the manager who ostracized his excellent employee because she was into the immature drinking culture they had built. ( In that case, the manager had gotten negative feedback from their superiors and had written exactly for that reason–to try to justify the behavior. That didn’t end well. I worry the same will be true for OP.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I hope it is similar to that one because that OP (after getting fired from that job and digging in her heels in the first update) went to therapy and had a lot of personal growth. She realized the culture she created on that team was exclusive and toxic and that she is not cut out for management. So I hope this answer from Alison and the comments nudge this OP to introspection and that he learns and grows as a person.

        2. IndustriousLabRat*

          There was also the letter written by a manager (adult) who was having FAR too much contact, physical and otherwise, with a student worker or intern (not legally a minor, but not an adult) and wrote in with an attitude like this, “oh, we touch going past each other in the halls” and “we held hands at lunch in the park”, if memory serves me correctly. And she may also have been married, trying to justify her actions as just harmless workplace buddies. The tone and need for validation are very similar. As is the total inappropriateness of it all!

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Yeah, this is exactly it. Off the top of my head:
        • the boss who didn’t let her employee go to her graduation
        • the boss who thought her employee was was disrespectful by asking that the issues with her check were addressed
        • the boss who cultivated the clique (though kudos to that boss for realizing she was wrong, ultimately)
        • the boss who wouldn’t give her employee the company-provided-benefit of a day off on her birthday because her birthday was February 29

        1. Meganly*

          Unfortunately, we don’t really know if the clique boss ended up realizing she was wrong. She ended her last letter with a note that she was considering legal action against her employer for firing her and her team, and looking for kudos for NOT firing the employee who ratted her out or the person she didn’t like. She did end up saying the comments that she was going to seek therapy, so hopefully she was able to work out how wrong she was.

    5. Lord Bravery*

      My hunch is it might be his wife writing in, including all the details she knows, to confirm for him that it’s not just her being oversensitive, that anyone would see this as obviously over her he line. But that’s just my guess based on how many incriminating details are included that someone would probably elide if they were telling the story themselves and wanted a favorable response.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes, it could be that the wife wrote in for a sanity check. I’m still OK with answering as if it’s the guy himself because:

        – It’s something that happens (though mostly in a less obvious way) so it’s worth discussing

        – I have met some totally clueless men who work really hard to convince themselves (and everyone else around) that everything is fine as long as there’s no actual, physical sex involved. When they try to explain their ridiculous behavior, they make it so much worse that that you wonder if they’re missing parts of their brain. It’s like the guy who wrote in when he got “excluded” from a women’s networking event. He interacted in the comments and it was clear that he wasn’t ever going to get the message.

    6. Ann O'Nemity*

      The OP is relishing in all of it – the flirting, the gaslighting, sharing it publicly. He’ll read these comments and instead of feeling shame he’ll probably get off on it.

    7. Beebis*

      Looks like some other commenters suspect the wife found all of this out and wrote this from his perspective. Maybe dude is in denial so hard that she resorted to this to get a third party perspective that sees the situation for what it is?

      Either way I really want an update on this one

    8. earl grey aficionado*

      I don’t think people always have clear goals in mind when they write into an advice column, especially if they’re not avid readers of said advice column. I think they’re just telling a story with themselves as the primary audience. For those of us who consume advice columns obsessively and know the tropes (especially the signs of an emotional affair) it’s hard to imagine doing, but I don’t think there’s anything manipulative about the letter itself, and I think it’s unlikely that someone else wrote the letter as people are speculating below. Honestly, I prefer reading letters like this one to letters where the writer is clearly already on the defensive, familiar with how people are going to dissect their words in the comments and trying to preempt misunderstandings at every turn. It’s interesting to get a glimpse into how other people justify their own behavior when they don’t even realize they’re justifying it.

    9. Mrs. Hawiggins*

      Precisely. If you have to write to an advice columnist (who we all adore) to see if your relationship is inappropriate, you already know it is.

      My male colleagues, who I know well enough will sometimes say, “Hey you look nice,” on special work occasion days, but I’ve known them all for a billion years, and their families for a billion years, and they are good people. A “wow” from them is because I met a deadline or executed a project with great work. THAT’S what healthy work relationships are.

    10. Observer*

      So what’s the angle? Did he write this to letter to continue to feign innocence with his wife?

      The closest I can get to is the boss who wanted to figure out how to reach out to his ex-employee to chastise her for quitting.

      1. Observer*

        Or maybe the intern who got fired for messing with someone’s keyboard, or the one who got fired for organizing a petition.

        The only thing for that pair is that they were young an inexperienced. I don’t think that applies to the OP.

  37. Carcarjabar*

    If these are the details OP chose to include, I’m pretty damn sure there are many, many more details that would be shockingly out of bounds. OP- I think a marriage therapist would be most helpful. You aren’t seeing this situation accurately, you are dismissing your spouse’s legitimate concerns. If you value your marriage (and, frankly, your job)- you’ve got to do some real honest self reflection, take accountability and change your behaviors.

    1. LizB*

      Your first sentence is exactly what I was thinking. If the details you put in a letter defending yourself are this inappropriate, there’s almost certainly more stuff you neglected to mention that make it even more clear how far over the line this relationship has gone.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      Even if the spouse’s concerns were not “legitimate” – a counselor would be a good next step. There’s a disconnect and neither party wants to change, so seeing a counselor can be helpful. There’s probably more to the wife’s story that we don’t know (even if she is the true LW).

      1. Daisy-dog*

        To add on – a male friend disclosed that his ex-girlfriend (also my friend) used to get jealous and pick fights with him whenever he spoke to other women (me included). I found it very strange because she never let on when I was around or tried to find out what we were talking about (probably about Pokemon Go or Marvel movies – in a highly innocent way). She also would plan activities for the 4 of us (my husband included) to hang out all the time. As she is my friend, I had picked up on cues that she is quite insecure in other aspects of her life. If their relationship hadn’t ended, I feel that counseling could have helped them – she could learn to vocalize her insecurities and it could give him scripts to explain his intentions.

  38. The Original K.*

    “I’ve enjoyed working with you and will miss it” is fine. someone well-liked at my employer just left and basically everybody who worked with him, myself included, said a version of this to him. He was pleasant and very good at his job (he left to take a big promotion – he’s now at the top of his field). Literally everything else here? Nah. I could maybe see looking at vacation pictures in office, in a group – that’s common. Someone comes back from a trip or big event and has pictures, people look. But she’s sending them just to you? And you’re commenting “wow?” Come on, my guy. Unless you’re talking about the view or the sunset in the pictures (and you’ve said you were responding to pictures of her in a tight dress), this is inappropriate, and on some level you know it. I used to work somewhere where a VP and one of his reports left their spouses for each other (they’re now married) and I’d imagine that this is how it started.

    I’m not suggesting you’d physically cheat on your wife and I can even understand how this happens – I’m sure the attention from this woman feels good. It’s inappropriate though, and your wife is right.

    Also, intimate coworker relationships aren’t really a thing. Work friends? Sure. But what you’re describing is way outside the boundaries of friendship, and coworkers don’t behave this way.

  39. KofSharp*

    Things may be a lil weirder post pandemic but bruh. Even from YOUR words it’s coming across as a currently emotional may become physical affair.
    If you want to stay married, you absolutely need to set up boundaries yesterday.

  40. staceyizme*

    You can do whatever you want to, sure. Even though you’re married, your social relationships are largely your own. But this IS a social relationship. It’s just an inappropriate one with respect to the level of tolerance that most spouses would have. What’s more telling than anything that you’ve done to date, however, is how casually dismissive you are of your wife’s perspective. Literally, “nah, hurk… this isn’t an emotional affair…. aw, c’mon! It’s just a colleague… hurk….”.

  41. telehubby*

    This is definitely the wife writing the letter to prove a point to oblivious husband. Right?

    1. Moira Rose*

      It had a strong whiff of that to me, too, and I’m usually on the gullible side when it comes to believing LWs.

      1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

        (I had this sense too but the commenting rules ask us to take LW at face value, just as a reminder.)

        1. DyneinWalking*

          I think the main rule is basically “trust that the situation is a real one, and that things happened as factually stated”. I.e. don’t write a comment saying “there’s no way that a boss would demand their coworker’s kidney” or “I don’t believe that police got involved, they wouldn’t come for something like this”.

          In other words: Don’t suggest that the LW is outright misleading us.

    2. Thegreatprevaricator*

      My thoughts exactly! It must be a reverse – surely no-one is that lacking in insight.


      1. ChemistryChick*

        I’ve dated/been around plenty of people who would absolutely send this in and see no problem with it. In fact, the rationale behind sending it in would be “I’m going to get the internet on my side and show my wife that she’s being ridiculous”. Just as OP seems to be thinking.

        People like this exist 100%.

        1. I edit everything*

          Yeah. Some people are just so used to being right, they can’t even fathom the possibility that they might be wrong. Like the employee from an earlier letter who can’t hear any negative feedback. This guy can seemingly hear it, but is just “Nah, it’s fine,” and off he goes to text his sidepiece.

      2. Sir Ulrich Von Liechtenstein*

        You never know, there was that 40-something HR lady who wrote in about her bizarre flirting with the teenage intern….

      3. laser99*

        No. I’m a woman and several men have earnestly assured me “Oral doesn’t count.”

      1. van wilder*

        I got a strong sense of gaslighting too. I know some people are oblivious but… it feels like he knows *exactly* what he’s doing and is looking for validation. Especially with the coffee comment???

  42. animaniactoo*

    Ask yourself this: Do you invest this much in your relationship with your wife?

    If you invest the same amount of energy into your relationship with your wife, do you believe that it’s reasonable to invest the same amount of energy elsewhere as well? How long can you keep up investing this much? If you end up having to pull back from one because it’s too much, which one would you pull back from? If the answer would ever be your wife… I hope that would make clear to you the threat to your marriage that this is.

    If you invest less energy into your relationship with your wife, I hope you can understand both sides of where your problem lies here.

    If you invest more energy into your relationship with your wife… well, it would be hard to see how you could, but I’d take your word for it. I still agree with what Alison called out as problematic, but accept that maybe you’re just a flirtatious guy and the flirty vibe really means nothing to you and that’s something that you and your wife need to figure out managing as a function of WHO you are and not necessarily a problem. But Occam’s Razor… this is the least likely possibility so please do not fall on it like a starving dog for justification and approval.

    P.S. There is no “new intimacy”. The boundaries are still where they always were. Even if you never delved into as deep a level as has always been present and available to others who form friendships at work.

  43. Camellia*

    This part really struck me: “I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day…”.

    OP, flip this around. Your wife says she has this male friend and “His good morning messages are the highlight of my day!”. How would that make you feel?

    I hope you can look at this more clearly and make some important decisions. Do you give up your wife and pursue this woman? Or do you choose your wife and give up this woman? I truly think those are the only two choices you have. Unless your wife takes it out of your hands and leaves you first.

    1. Allons-y*

      This was the line that got me too. If my spouse said this about a coworker (especially on top of all the other stuff) it would break my heart. Sure I might not be the highlight of my spouse’s day everyday and maybe a particularly nice/encouraging message from a coworker may make the cut sometimes, but to have a good morning message from somebody else be their highlight, would be crushing.

  44. Moira Rose*

    Going to recommend reading Esther Perel’s “The State of Affairs,” which goes into depth on all the meaning tied up in situations like these. I was able to get it from my local library.

    1. anon!*

      Nooo do not read Esther Perel. She is pro victim blaming when it comes to affairs and believes that the people cheated on did something to deserve it. Which isn’t possible because it doesn’t matter how bad a relationship is, the cheater still chose to cheat rather than have a conversation or break up.

      1. Jessica*

        Disagree. I don’t think cheating is ever the right move for dealing with your marital problems, but that thing Perel says about how “sometimes the victim of the affair is not the victim of the marriage”? That’s true, SOMETIMES. Life is just more complicated than your comment’s allowing for.

        1. anon!*

          Mmmm no. There’s no reason to cheat on someone… if you’re unhappy in a marriage you are capable of having a conversation or leaving the person. Cheating is selfish and hurts everyone.

          There is no complication level to it because sometimes in life, no matter what complex feelings lead someone to do something, it doesn’t matter because the action is shitty. Cheating is shitty. It’s selfish. And the cheater is choosing to go after their own self gratification rather than caring about being mature and responsible to everyone. It can cause PTSD for the people who are cheated on and permanently affect their self esteem and mindset for life. There is no reason to do that to someone.

          People who are cheated on did not do anything to deserve it. Your comment and Esther Perel suggest the opposite, that there are things people can do to deserve it. Just because someone isn’t the perfect partner or has their own flaws (or in some cases, is actively not a great person to be in a relationship with) doesn’t mean they deserve that treatment. Victim blaming also takes away from the fact cheaters are actively choosing to pursue that path and makes it seem like “well if my partner was X way or did Y then this wouldn’t have happened”.

          Maybe you’ve been cheated on but your comment doesn’t really suggest it and it’s kind of insensitive for a very difficult topic.

        2. Generic Name*

          What?!? So you’re saying that an affair is justified because the chump was a bad spouse or abusive or whatever? No! Cheating itself is an abusive act, and like all other forms of abuse, it’s a choice.

      2. Suddenly_Seymour*

        I’d push back on the idea that Esther Perel is “pro victim blaming”. I agree that she generally refrains from declaring an affair exclusively the fault of one person (ie, the person that cheated), but her insights regarding affairs as more broadly relational offers more perspectives than just one partner being “wrong/the perpetrator” and one partner being “right/the victim”. IE, when was the first time that you remember learning about cheating or an affair? More than likely, it wasn’t by adult you/your partner stumbling into it – it might have been young you hearing about a friend’s parents, or a rumor at school about teachers, or celebrity gossip – and your framework for and understanding of infidelity is already being formed.

        To be clear, I’m not trying to say that having an affair/cheating rather than communication is better or a good course of action! Just offering that sometimes communication is attempted and not understood, or the affair is a reaction to something completely outside/predating the relationship, or any number of frustrations or grievances stacked up on either side.

        1. anon!*

          Oh for sure! In my case, the cheating was related to things completely predating the relationship that neither of us realized were having the impact that they were until this all happened. It really truly had nothing to do with me, as is the case with like 99% of affairs (the 1% being your partner was abusive and you needed to escape which is quite obviously a different scenario and not in any way what I’m talking about in these comments).

          But from what I’ve read of Esther Perel, the stance she gives is that I as the partner should have been “more” for my partner and that the first thing to do to fix the relationship is ask what we both did wrong. And when my partner has just caused significant emotional pain to me, I am not interested in hearing about things they’d like me to fix. Maybe down the road, but if they were to imply that I was responsible for their cheating or if my actions could change to prevent it… I would feel they hadn’t figured out the real reason why they did it. For me the “why” and the extra stuff is really for the cheater to figure out on their own and then bring to their partner to help them heal. But having any sort of stance that the place to start is by fixing the relationship or the person who was cheated on is just not the vibe because it puts the priority on the wrong things when the biggest priority should be helping the person who was hurt, giving them what they need, and then eventually getting to the place where bigger relationship issues can be looked at separately from the cheating.

          This is a lot for AAM comments I just have been very much living this recently so I have a lot of thoughts to share for OP and also anyone else in a similar situation who might read this and find it useful!

          1. TinaTurner*

            At least start the book before you let someone tell you not to read it. I saw it as a very sophisticated therapist who helps couples get through a crisis the best way for both / even ALL of them.
            One couple who had an affair both got divorced and married each other, and I don’t know how it worked out. But the transition was relatively smooth.
            EP helped the wife who was cheated on as well as facilitating the entire crisis.
            Other couples stayed together or got divorced because of the infidelity and she helped them sort it out.
            Not all couples are happy together and an affair is just the match that lights the fire. It doesn’t have to burn down the house, it can be put out, or not. I wonder what % of couples would say they want to stay married if they could magically just walk away instead. It’s like the % of parents who admit that if they could erase having had kids they would.
            EP seems enlightened to me, based on the book I read.

            1. anon!*

              I did try and read it. It felt victim blame-y, hence my comment above. An affair being the match that lights the fire… again, no. Framing cheating as “the relationship as bad, this is just what set them free!” takes away the responsibility and accountability due on the person who is cheating. That person is more than capable of having a conversation or breaking up with their partner and they are actively choosing to hurt them as much as possible and go after their own self gratification without consideration for how it will affect somebody else. It is selfish and it’s wrong. An affair, cheating, whatever you wanna call it is permanently damaging to the person being cheated on. It can cause physical, emotional, and psychological effects that last a lifetime.

              It’s great to hear EP helped you recover from cheating but it is 100% not what I would recommend anyone start with and it is not something I would recommend to the person who has done the cheating at all. The person who caused the blame should be looking inward for how to fix things and become a better person and they should be taking accountability, not blaming their partner.

      3. Moira Rose*

        No, sorry, I just read this book this month and this isn’t a factual account of her stance. She’s in favor of nuance, which isn’t the same as victim blaming.

        I can’t speak for her other published work because I haven’t read it.

        1. anon!*

          Or watched any of her speeches, I am assuming. She advocates for the idea that people who are cheated on have done something to deserve it in some way, or they bear some accountability or responsibility for it. They do not. Maybe that’s what you mean by nuance, I’m not really sure. Affairs/cheating are definitely more complicated than “cheating is bad” but blaming the person who is hurt is incredibly damaging and unfair.

  45. Nope nope nope*

    Married here. I have a coworker of the opposite sex that I’m good friends with too. We connect a lot on politics talk which works for the industry we’re in. He’s single and somewhat insecure and will tell me about how he doesn’t like his shirt or his teeth or whatever. While I give him reassurance, I don’t linger on it. I’ll say something like “Really? I always liked that shirt. Do you think there’s apples in the kitchen today?” I always have a way of changing the conversation in my pocket because he does this a lot. You can be friendly but once you start commenting on someone else’s looks, that opens up a whole can of worms because it signals your emotional availability.

    1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      Just a little aside — can we try to frame this more as “a coworker of a gender I’m attracted to”? The assumptions about “opposite” sex are really limiting the scope of who can have inappropriate affairs with whom lol

      Seconding your point though! It’s not that hard to not flirt with people.

    2. Lea*

      I have a coworker who I feel occasionally crosses from friendly to flirty (he’s married I’m not) I just deflect, redirect or stop responding.

  46. Shorty Spice*

    Her good morning messages are “the highlight of his day” and she sometimes logs in on her day off to share photos etc. There’s most definitely a sexual undertone to many of their exchanges (“wow”). None of this is appropriate or normal coworker banter.

    My team became extremely close during COVID because we set up a Friday 4pm drinks/vent/debrief session where we spent time getting to know each other and enjoying each other as people. We truly cherish each other as humans. THAT’S the “new intimacy”. Not flirty suggestive banter and login in on days off to share personal photos (“wow” indeed).

    1. Van Wilder*

      Logging in on her days off to chat with him. I’m not making a moral judgment but if I were her friend I would say “could you, like, get a life?”

  47. Hired Hacker*

    You are:
    1) flirting with a coworker
    2) while being her direct manager
    3) and being married.

    None of this is appropriate.

    1. Emoo*

      For clarity – he’s not her direct manager, according to the letter. The emotional affair/flirting (which it all 100% is) started after she left his direct reporting line. The rest of it is true though.

    2. NewJobWhoDis*

      Not that this really makes much of a difference (this is all still inappropriate), but OP is not her direct manager anymore. According to OP, their relationship turned into what it is now after she started on the new team.

  48. Defintely Anon*

    Had this happen and it almost ended my marriage. It didnt get too far but it caused my partner to reconsider our marriage and to consider divorce. However the more my partner thought about it they realized how little they knew about this person. OP reconsider your actions you are not in the right with this

  49. Nanani*

    LW, -you- are the one in a position of power. -You- are the one being inappropriate.
    You do not get to pass this off as “normal” or as your DIRECT REPORT’s fault.
    YOU are exploiting a power dynamic, whether you meant to to or not, because -you are the boss- and this is an employee that -you directly manage-. It’s BAD and would also be bad if you were single.

    Good news: You are also the one with the power to fix it.
    Start by pulling WAAAAY back on the texts. Maybe tell her you’re too busy for the usual volume of messages and will keep things to strictly work-needs from now on.
    Then actually do that. Don’t answer her text outside work hours, ignore all the personal stuff.
    YOU are the one who has to do it.

    1. Amber Rose*

      He doesn’t manage her. She moved to a different team. Not that it really makes this that much better, but at least the power dynamic isn’t so unsettling.

      1. Yorick*

        It’s only slightly unsettling. Your former boss is not that different from your current boss, in terms of the (appropriate) relationship you have with each other.

  50. Alex*

    I don’t have 50 messages a day with my closest friends.

    And in fact, I’m side-eyeing a friend for having that quantity of messages with her ex that she claims she has broken up with (and I’m like uh dude you guys are totally not broken up…you chat all day long.)

    This is an emotional affair. That doesn’t make you a bad person! Sometimes these things can sneak up on you even when you meant well. But you do need to realize what you are doing, apologize to your wife, and disengage from this relationship.

    1. KofSharp*

      I’ve got a coworker who’s building a house, we’ve had long conversations about her house. Because it’s cool af and I love the updates, she has AMAZING taste…
      But I’d still call those conversations tame in comparison to mister “I said wow when she sent me a photo in a tight dress”

    2. Amber Rose*

      I text my husband multiple times in individual words sometimes and I still don’t have that many messages because I still have to do actual work and not just spend hours and hours texting someone.

    3. Luna*

      I dunno, I don’t think ‘chatting all day long’ means they (your friend and her ex) are not broken up. It could be that they are amicable exes, and maybe feel even more comfortable with each other, now that they don’t have a romantic/sexual part to their relationship. Like, they are doing better as good friends than partners. They just enjoy talking with each other over everything and nothing. If she were gushing about what an amazing guy her ex is and could barely talk about any other topic with people that are not him, I could see this as, “Okay, you are totally still hung up on them/got a new infatuation with them/are not emotionally broken up yet”.

  51. Person from the Resume*

    I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day,

    DUDE! You live in your house with your wife and see her and talk to her everyday, but the highlight of your day is a message from your crush … I mean coworker!

    How are you not clearing favoring your coworker over your wife? This is very much an emotional affiar. You’re clearly spending hours enagaged in interactions and flirting and sexual innuendo with your coworker. This is emotional energy and intiamcy that you are not giving to your wife. Your wife has every right to be upset by the situation itself and your supposed cluelessness about what is going on.

  52. Is this guy stupid or an idiot lmk*

    Hope this guys wife divorces him and finds an adult to be with who respects and truly loves her.

  53. Pocket Mouse*

    …And this is all happening on a work IM platform? That the coworker specifically logs in to use while she’s on vacation? This is the platform you use to comment ‘wow’ when you see photos of her in tight dresses and to make innuendos? With a colleague you did and still do have some power over, since you are in a position to give references for her in the future?

    This is trouble both at home and at work. Personally, I don’t think the outlook is good, especially given how you’ve framed all of this, but if you want to extricate yourself and leave some sort of reputation intact, you will need to do so with care and a lot more forethought than you’ve been giving it so far.

  54. cal*

    Not only are you having an emotional affair, but you are also gaslighting your wife about it. I’m surprised she is still with you. It is time to decide which woman you want (but I bet you’re not even thinking about that. You’re just enjoying all the attention from a hot woman). Be honest to yourself, you’re planning on having sex with the other woman.

    1. cal*

      Also, if you choose your wife you need to stop all contact with the co-worker. Not difficult now she is no longer working with you. You can’t have an emotional affair and then expect to stay in contact with the person you cheated on your wife with.

  55. BBB*

    when I consider someone a work friend we just complain about work together and share photos of our pets (unlike OP that’s not a euphemism)
    enjoy the HR sit down and marriage counseling that is inevitably in your future ~

  56. TypityTypeType*

    Oh, OP. Ask yourself if you’d be doing all this if your co-worker were just a nice person you liked, rather than someone you both like and — plainly — find very attractive.

    Cut off this wildly inappropriate relationship, apologize to your wife, and consider counseling to figure out why someone who seems intelligent and perceptive is behaving in a way that could blow up both a marriage and a career.

  57. Jesshereforthecomments*

    To type that all out and still be so oblivious. I just can’t with you, OP.

    Would you be okay with your wife doing this if the tables were turned? And leave the corporate job thing out of it because that is complete irrelevant. Any “friend” or “acquaintance” or “coworker” in your wife’s life, would you be okay with this? Maybe his IG is filled with shirtless workout pictures and your wife is commenting “wow” on all of them. He’s telling her about this personal life and relationships and your wife barely mentions you and the kids. He’s saying he’s gotta eat less to start cutting and your wife can’t reply fast enough that he looks hot just as he is and he could use some of her in his life (sorry, couldn’t think of a good counter innuendo to your coffee w/ cream example).

    You are engaging in an emotional affair. And what’s worse, when your wife calls you on it, you deny it and invalidate her feelings. This is not a relationship forum, but it’s counseling or bust imo.

  58. Rusty*

    “I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day.”

    If my partner was getting ‘good morning’ messages from another woman every day that’d be bad enough, but if he told her that HER messages were the highlight of his day?? The highlight of his days in a relationship with ME??

    I’d be done. Devastated, & done.

      1. Oblivious OP*

        LW here. I wish my wife had written it, so I didn’t have to face the reality of these comments and the fact that my wife was right. She did ask me to write in and to include the coffee comment and the long vowel words because she felt that they had undertones and I don’t think they do. I am constantly telling her that I am doing nothing wrong and I am not trying to cheat on her. But she has insisted that this relationship is not okay and 3 weeks ago has asked me to stop responding to any message unless it directly relates to work. After her initial concerns were brought up I scaled back how much I interacted with the CW and made sure to mention my wife more. But even me reaching out in the morning to see how an event the CW attended the night before was, my wife said that is too much. I’m seeing now that had previous actions not happened it would be okay, but since we have this history it is not okay. I really didn’t realize the extent of my actions

        1. Van Wilder*

          I applaud your listening to your wife’s concerns, getting a third party reality check, and taking the comments to heart. Many (most? all?) people in long term relationships occasionally find themselves with a random crush. If you choose to make yourself move on, your feelings will fade. I would follow your wife’s advice and cut it off as close to cold turkey as possible. Your coworker is an adult and she will deal with her own feelings about it.

          Best of luck to you and your wife.

        2. Observer*

          I’m glad that you have taken the first step.

          But, really, you need to realize that it IS only the FIRST of MANY steps you need to take – and it’s a small one, at that.

          I mean you’ve read all of these comments and you STILL don’t think that those two things had “undertones”?! You STILL don’t see the problem with telling her that you are “doing nothing wrong”?

          You say “I’m seeing now that had previous actions not happened and that’s a major issue right there. Those actions did not “HAPPEN”. Those actions were things YOU DID. Things you CHOSE to do. If you want to save your marriage, you need to start taking ownership of your behavior.

          Also, you say that you “really didn’t realize the extent of my actions.” Do you understand how much of a problem this is? Because it really sounds like you are not being honest. If you are actually telling the truth and you REALLY didn’t realize? That’s a level of willful obliviousness, thoughtlessness and selfishness that’s kind of hard to wrap my head around.

          OP, I’m actually not trying to dump on you, despite the temptation. What I’m hoping to do here is to clarify the fact that you have a looong way to go to clean up this mess. And that the only way you are going to be able to do this is to be painfully honest with yourself, and really start taking responsibility for your behavior.

        3. MEH Squared*

          OP, good on you for actually taking in what people are saying (it can’t be easy with the sheer volume of comments). However, you still sound as if you don’t believe that you’re doing anything wrong, not really. Or rather, you still want to be friends with the other woman because it gives you a little thrill. That’s understandable because crushes are meant to put a pep in your step. But it’s no good doubling down on your coffee comment not having sexual undertones. Or rather, sexual innuendo rather than undertones because you made the subtext text when you specifically called out the double entendre. You get no plausible deniability by bringing up that you know how it sounds–in some ways, it just makes it worse.

          At this point, if you want to work on your marriage, you should halt the other relationship completely and go to marriage counseling with your wife so you can see how you can strengthen your marriage. Good luck to you.

        4. lizesq*

          OP, you might have the best intentions here, but I can guarantee your co-worker does not think of you as her work friend. She thinks of you as her “WORKFRIEND” WINK WINK. You both are sending each other inappropriate messages. You both are acting like horny teenagers. You are MARRIED. You have children. And you are about to lose your career and family in one fell swoop if you keep this up.

        5. Calamity Janine*

          i’m glad you’re now seeking some understanding. but i’ll be honest:

          if i were your wife, i would be doubly heartbroken by the fact that you typed out “a message or phone call with this other woman who isn’t my life is the highlight of my day” and did not think, at that point, that you have done what the relationship therapists call “a big ol’ ding-dang whoopsie”.

          i think that’s something you need to meditate on. why were you ok with sidelining your wife like that? why did you decide that she was irrational in her concerns? why did you still expect vindication after writing that incredibly damning sentence? why did you see no threat to your marriage when you admit you spent all day feeling some real feelings for another woman and having that other woman be who makes your day instead of your wife?

          if the answer to those things is “my wife is actually a major negative to my life because i do not love her any more”, then fair enough, to be honest. but if it’s to that point, then you need to realize that taking inventory is very important in order to stop yourself continuing what is ultimately a mistake for you.

          and if the answer is that you do love your wife? well… it might be a good time to figure out why you wrote more or less a direct confession of how she was usurped in your brain space, and didn’t go “oh wait, this is doing major damage to our relationship, isn’t it”.

          you shouldn’t have needed all of this in order to realize the reality of your comments. it’s your reality that you are living in, after all. you should be very concerned how you managed to get so disconnected from said reality.

          (i know you’re likely getting raked over the coals here, but quite honestly, this is… a level of obliviousness that goes beyond oblivious into “oblivious”. i’m not saying you’re never allowed to mess up. but two explanations of how you got here exist. one of them is that you genuinely have such huge blind spots right now in terms of treating people in your important relationships that you don’t really remember those important relationships enough to not hurt them. the other is that you knew full well what you were doing, on some level, and you think it plays better if you play up being just such a poor little befuddled li’l buddy that simply didn’t know. …it ends up just playing as slimy, honestly. either way, it’s a major problem that you need to deal with as soon as possible. if this was truly an accident – how many other relationships in your life have you sabotaged? how many people have you hurt unthinkingly? how many times have you doomed your own endeavors with pure selfishness? and if it wasn’t an accident – do you really think that coming up with this level of cover story is actually believable? it’s just you self-sabotaging in a different sphere, isn’t it? like i said: either way, big problem to address.)

          (even if you are innocent in the sense that this is an extreme long shot of “i have acted completely out of character here and so we went to the neurologist and uh, well, i start chemo for brain cancer next tuesday because it turns out there’s a tumor encroaching on my Make Sensible Decisions gland”.)

  59. BlueNotebookSays...*

    This kind of stuff destroyed my brother-in-law’s marriage and he never owned up to it.

    Guess who he’s dating now, years later, now that his old coworker is also now divorced?

    Be honest with yourself and your wife. If this situation is meeting an unmet emotional need in your own marriage, perhaps counselling is something to look at.

  60. fine tipped pen afficionado*

    Following the commenting rules has never been harder than today. If you didn’t know it was wrong, why were you keeping it to your company chat (which is such a bad idea, as an aside) instead of texting like normal people?

    My former manager and I are really good friends now that we’re equals and in different divisions, but we are both sane people not trying to carry out an affair so we text about personal matters and talk about work matters in company channels. I suspect you don’t do the same–which is both obvious and much easier than logging in to the company Slack while you’re on damn vacation–because you know it’s harder for your wife to catch you this way.

    1. Lea*


      I have all my coworkers cell and if we are talking about something offline we just text. Easier and cleaner.

      Unless you’re having an affair

    2. metadata minion*

      I don’t have most of my coworkers cell numbers and we chat about social stuff on Slack all the time. The content and frequency of the messages have red flags all over the place, but the platform seems very normal to me.

  61. LegoLawyer*

    Dude. Come on. You knew the answer here. Stop lying to yourself. ” the new intimate relationships coworkers have”? That’s not a thing! It’s an icky, self-serving pile of dog doody you are using to justify flirting and carrying on an emotional affair, and blaming this on your wife? EWWWW! Creepy. And wrong. So, so wrong.

    My skin was CRAWLING just reading your letter. Your poor wife!

  62. Anne August*

    Dear AMA: I am having an emotional affair at work. How do I get my wife off my case?

  63. Radio Girl*

    I have lots of male friends with whom I chat online, but would never send pix of myself to them.

    Wow is right.

    1. Liz T*

      If I ever sent my dude friends a pic, their reaction would be “lol” or “aw.” Because why would I send a photo of me if it weren’t funny, cat-related, or nostalgic?

  64. WellRed*

    Dude the minute she started sending you personal pictures and you said “wow” on Each One you were over the line. I’m trying to unhook my shoulders from my ears ,I’m cringing so hard.

  65. ENFP in Texas*

    “I’ve called her good morning messages the highlight of my day, I’ve referred to her as my lucky charm”

    Red flag red flag red flag red flag!!

    You say her good morning messages are “the highlight of my day” and you don’t think there’s anything inappropriate there???

  66. SapphireSummer*

    w h a t.

    Dude. No. Absolutely not.

    And you better hope your company doesn’t audit your work messenger system because YIKES.

    1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      I like to imagine an IT employee who found out about this months ago but hasn’t reported it because they’re monitoring the situation like its a telenovela. This would be an absurd thing to do, it’s just fun to think about.

      1. Beebis*

        I love the thought of someone’s version of “watching my stories” being making some popcorn and scrolling through these IMs

  67. anon!*

    Hi OP. I was recently cheated on by my long time partner so I have a few things to offer you.

    This is definitely cheating — sure nothing physical happened but you know this is emotionally not appropriate. You are using this coworker to fill a space that really your wife should be filling. Getting excited hearing from her in the morning? Feeling electrified and excited for life? These are things your wife should be making you feel, not some (to put it bluntly) irrelevant coworker who is not important to your relationship.

    So you can either stay with your wife and cut this relationship out or you can break up with your wife. Continuing to have this “friendship” is disrespectful to your wife and it will hurt her. It already has. If you want to stay with her, do not simply cut this person out and leave it at that. You need to address the root cause as to what lead you to be in this situation in the first place. You need to find why you sought out this validation and why you aren’t giving your wife that same attention. And you need to actually feel sorry for what you’ve done. You will also likely need to quit your job. You cannot have the affair partner in your life in any way and have your wife feel comfortable.

    I would really recommend r/asoneafterinfidelity for some perspectives of people on both sides of this issue as well as some resources on how to proceed. If you aren’t actually sorry then you can’t heal from this. If you don’t take the time to actually figure out why this happened, the core issues will manifest in your marriage in the future in a different way. Don’t rug sweep this. Good luck!

    1. Anonymous for this*

      I’m very sorry this happened to you. It hurts for such a long time. Take care of yourself, give yourself time.

      1. anon!*

        Thank you <3 My situation was different from OPs by quite a bit, not only because of what happened but because my partner told me on their own, is extremely remorseful, and instantly went to regular therapy with the understanding I might leave them at any point because of the hurt they’ve caused. But it definitely makes me empathize with OPs wife a lot.

        OP if you aren’t able to do that stuff thennnnn I don’t think you will have an easy or likely survival through this. Cheating really hurts the person you’re with and can destroy them for life and permanently damage their self esteem. You are doing that to someone who loves you…. And you’re choosing to do so.

    2. Generic Name*

      I 100% agree. And don’t pin this on your wife. You made the choice to have an inappropriate relationship with a coworker. Your wife did not make you do anything. If you are feeling unhappy/unfulfilled in your marriage, you had choices. You could have communicated to your wife, you could have suggested couple’s counseling, you could have sought individual therapy, you could even have divorced her. Instead you decided to have an inappropriate relationship with a coworker and give attention you should be giving to your wife to another woman. That’s all on you, my dude.

    3. Luna*

      “sure nothing physical happened”
      Whenever I read about people talking about cheating or other inappropriate things (like really bad things, like grooming, harassment, etc), I always want their arguments to have a huge “YET” added to them.
      Nothing physical has happened YET.
      The verbal harassment has not been escalated to physical violence YET.

      Things have a bad tendency to escalate. Even *good* things have a tendency to escalate, hence the whole Pride Comes Before The Fall or Too Good To Be True thing. It’s a part of human nature, unfortunately. But if you keep having that little thought in your head “It’s not [insert X] yet”, it might keep people to retain a sense of boundary even to themselves.

  68. Lacey*

    No, my dude. This is not ok.

    I work in a very friendly office. We share vacation photos and little bits of what’s happening in our lives. But no one is calling anyone outside of work hours. No one is saying their coworkers are the highlight of their day.

    I mean, except for the two coworkers who had an affair, divorced their spouses, and married each other.
    I suppose they do those things. But that’s not going to comfort your wife.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I work in a very friendly office and have close work relationships with colleagues. I’m not chatting with them with that frequency, and we certainly aren’t exchanging “good morning” texts. Come on, OP. Do you know who I exchanged those kinds of text with? My boyfriend before we moved in together and got married. I also don’t call/text them after hours.

  69. Lattes are for lovers*

    I have been on the receiving end of this kind of attention from a male co-worker in the past. I am married woman, and he is married as well.

    We had a lot in common and I do believe he was unhappy in his marriage/life in general. It was innocent to me because I wasnt acting on anything. However, once rumors started going around about us, I really pulled back from the friendship. He had started mentioning me to friends of his outside of work as well, which completely weirded me out.

    I eventually switched companies (for many reasons, not just him) so we have lost touch.

    Its just so easy to fall into something like this if you arent careful.

    1. BlueNotebookSays...*

      Oh, once the rumour mill starts. Or if your coworkers notice, then it’s a sign it’s gone too far already.

      Eons ago, a man in a lull in his marriage was starting an emotional affair with a newly single coworker. We were in a tiny satellite office and everyone – everyone! – noticed.

      She noticed everyone noticing and nipped it in the bud before it got too far and they were able to continue to work together (separate branches).

  70. Elenna*

    LW, if you or your coworker left the company, would you stop talking to them (barring goodbyes and maybe a *very* occasional message)? I’m guessing the answer is no, so this isn’t a “work relationship”, it’s just a relationship.

    That by itself wouldn’t make your relationship inappropriate, people do develop actual non-work-based friendships with collogues. But it does mean you can’t hide behind the shield of “it’s just work”. And once you take away that shield, I hope you can see the many other ways that this is inappropriate.

    1. Elenna*

      Also, yeah, there are no “new intimate relationships coworkers have”. That is not a thing.