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.

  71. Despachito*

    Fifty messages a DAY?

    Good Lord, I do not send this to my husband and my children combined in a month!

    If it were JUST the frequency alone, it would be a HUGE red flag. But there are the other things that have been already mentioned above.

    Your wife’s gut feelings are spot on.

    1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      I think you’re interpreting these particular messages correctly, but I do want to point out that some people (ie me and all my friends) message in a really broken up way so what might be a single message for one person is seven messages for another. Me and my pals regularly send each other more than 50 Discord messages a day because of typing like that so it’s not necessarily a red flag without additional context.

      this is an example
      of what i mean
      when i say typing
      one line at a time
      a lot of people find it
      really annoying
      but its natural to all of us
      and we have our notifications off because
      we value our sanity

  72. Caroline Bowman*

    OP… OP…

    You are getting your jollies with this admiring, probably attractive, single person who hangs on your every word and tells you what you want to hear, as opposed to Her Indoors who keeps nagging you about showing up for your family and taking out the trash. Special flirty sexy fun times are great, aren’t they?

    No. This is not the ”new normal” for anyone. It’s par for the course for people trying to hit on each other, and terribly cute if both parties are single. It’s just a tired cliche if one or both is married. Answer me this: would you like your wife to be sharing photos of her looking sexy with her ”best buddy” ex-co worker, telling him he’s the best part of her day? That’s some proper betrayal right there. I am old and married and very boring, and I can assure you that would not fly in my house.

    You need to realise what YOU are inviting. None of this ”it just happened” rubbish. You, an adult, with a commitment to a wife and family, are enjoying being pursued – yes, that’s what this is – by someone whose morals clearly don’t preclude this. She sounds like a real catch!

    1. AllTheBirds*

      Right, I call BS on OP for pretending he doesn’t know that what he’s doing is wrong as wrong can be.

      Grow the eff up, OP, everyone sees through your charade.

  73. Saffy Doo*

    And this woman is his direct report!? Oh yuck. I feel bad for the wife, but I can’t imagine my supervisor treating me this way! How incredibly uncomfortable.

    1. cal*

      No, she isn’t. She moved to a different team. Their job doesn’t relate to each other anymore.

  74. Helvetica*

    As someone who often cannot tell if someone is flirting with me, and needs to be told “I am flirting with you”, and being quite oblivious to the “signs” that many people see and can tell, and who has been bewildered by others attributing my friendly chats with co-workers to flirting, let me tell you with absolute clarity – dude, you’re flirting with her and you know it and she knows it and your wife knows it and me, a completely oblivious person knows it.

    1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      Mood. I’m ace and I have been plagued my entire life with people mistaking what I think is friendliness as romantic/sexual interest or availability, but even I can see this one.

    2. The Original K.*

      Yeah, I’ve been out of the game a while and am trying to start dating again. I have had people flirt with me and completely missed it, and when I tell friends later they’re like “he was hitting on you, you doof.” I can be clueless about such things. This right here though? This is flirting. This is past flirting.

  75. ThePinkLady*

    Surely this is a reverse? I can’t believe anyone could be so utterly self-aware. I’ll bet he still doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.

  76. Riding a Bike on Fire*

    I agree with others that I hope Alison’s response is a wake-up call for the OP to change his behavior and I wish him the best of luck. Other than that, this is starting to feel like a pile-on.

  77. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    Yeah, dude, based on this letter you could absolutely be the employee of the month for the firm of Ew, Oof, & Yikes. This… is not good. None of this is good. None of this is appropriate or even remotely cool. Quit wowing your coworker in her bikini, reassess, and… maybe consider couples counseling so you can be better for your wife/figure out how to be respectful to your marriage. Stop messaging your Frosted Lucky Charms. DO NOT blame it on your wife, either, just… stop. Jeez.

  78. bunniferous*

    The fact it makes your wife uncomfortable is honestly enough-but yeah, you have gone way past the line. I think you need to be honest with yourself. And your coworker is way over the line too. If you were a smidge more self aware you would not have needed any of us to tell you that. But you’re here and we are telling you that.

    Cut it out before you wreck your job or your marriage or both.

  79. Nynaeve*

    I 100% agree with all the commenters that are telling you about yourself, OP, but I am still completely hung up on this one sentence from your post. “My wife got an uneasy feeling after hearing one of our video meetings and looked at our chat history on my computer.”

    This should NEVER have happened. Your conversations over your work-provided IM program, and your calls with coworkers are PRIVLIDGED INFORMATION and you should be doing everything in your power to be keeping anyone, including your spouse, from overhearing those calls, and ESPECIALLY, from being in a position to go through your chat history with coworkers. The fact that she found the call she overheard and the chats she read troubling is completely beside the point, IMO.

    We just fired someone for exactly this about 3 months ago. A manager’s spouse had gotten insecure about her husband’s relationships with his direct reports, so she got his phone while he was indisposed, went through his work e-mails and chats and then sent threatening messages to some of those coworkers. He was fired for breach of confidentiality, and rightly so. Don’t let anyone, even your spouse, use or read your work communication or overhear your work calls. Password protect your phone, invest in a good headset, and keep yourself from getting fired or sued because your spouse is nosy.

    1. Purple Cat*

      I completely agree with the access to the phone and his computer, but forbidding her from hearing phone calls is a step that most people are unable to comply with and the business material isn’t that sensitive. Especially in the last 2 years with 2 people working from home are you supposed to physically kick somebody out of the house every time you have a work call? Because that’s the only way to achieve that goal. Also, if the wife got an uneasy feeling then it wasn’t actually work that was being discussed.

      1. Nynaeve*

        Yes, at least in part. The rest of my takeaway has been covered by the other 300 comments already in the thread, and there were zero about this particular aspect. So, I choose to bring up the aspect I didn’t see anyone else talking about yet as opposed to adding to the echo chamber of commenters all saying a version of the exact same takeaway that he is having an emotional affair and needs to stop.

        1. Murphy*

          I mean having someone else access your conversations is an/i> issue I guess (more or less serious depending on your field) but I don’t think it’s a bigger issue than the nature of the conversations OP is having.

      2. WellRed*

        Seriously. I’m assuming op is not in healt care area or law (two most obvious examples). If anyone wanted to look at my chat history they’d see a lot of “ can you proof this?” “Is your teams slow?” And “FFS!” hardly worth reading, certainly not privileged.

      3. Sparkles McFadden*

        This is a legitimate point. It’s not the question that was asked, but the LW does not seem to have the best judgment so it’s not a bad thing to bring up. I doubt the LW will read this but it’s something for everyone to think about.

      4. STG*

        Someone can be doing multiple things wrong even if one is more egregious than the other. Pointing out that this is also a problem is doing the OP a favor. Otherwise, next time, they may find themselves in the same situation (privileged information) for different reasons and they could have saved themselves the trouble.

        1. Observer*

          If @Nynaeve had just said “Although this is not the question you asked, but this is another issue you should think about”, I would have mostly agreed. But they claim that all the rest of it is “besides the point.” Except that it’s NOT besides the point. The possible data breach is what is besides the point in this context.

          1. STG*

            You are seriously discounting the security issue of this. Him allowing his wife to do this is a no no. It really doesn’t matter whether she had a good reason for it or not.

            There are 500 remarks about the emotional affair. I think he’s gotten that point.

    2. BA*

      Question for you, because I was going to post this as a comment, but since something like this happened at your workplace, it makes sense to just ask directly (understanding that businesses of different sizes might handle things differently):

      Given that this relationship is unfolding on work time via work-provided technology, OP and his … (I can’t think of the correct word here, as she’s more than a coworker) … potentially could face some disciplinary action, correct? I’d hope that nothing too suggestive or racy is being said, but jamming up work IM as much as they are for non-work stuff could be a problem, right?

      Curious how your workplace might look at something of this nature?

      1. Nynaeve*

        That I’m really not sure. There is a very robust “Acceptable Use” policy here that in theory covers this sort of thing, but in practice I don’t know of an instance where it has been enforced. The fact that this relationship is taking up so much of OP’s time may raise a red flag to the manager in question, but if it’s not demonstrably affecting his output, it would probably never come up here, unfortunately.

        The situation I referenced, afaik, the manager was never disciplined for any of the messages he was sending to his reports, so in theory they were deemed appropriate. And, none of the recipients in question ever reported him for anything they felt was out of line. The only reports and subsequent disciplinary action was a direct result of them having concrete evidence that he had allowed his internal messaging systems (Teams and E-Mail) to be read and acted upon by a non-employee.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        As someone who has seen such things in a large corporation, this behavior alone would not be addressed (or even noticed) as long at the people involved were completing their work, If excessive messaging of any kind were interfering with work, that would be addressed. The substance of the messaging and the personal nature might be addressed as “This is not professional” or “Keep your personal stuff off of work devices” but it’s not likely that disciplinary action would come from only that. If it were a manager and a direct report, that would be an issue. If it were one-sided and the LW were harassing someone, that would be very serious and I have seen people fired on the spot for that (and rightfully so…and it was always overdue).

        I am not sure what would happen if a spouse called to complain or something like that. I assume the company would do what it needed to do to stay out of things, and that might lead to getting rid of the person.

    3. Wake Up*

      After all of the above, if this man suddenly password protects everything and gets a headset so his wife can’t hear these conversations, he will look 1000x more guilty than he already does. A problem entirely of his own making.

      I’m not disagreeing with your advice – I work in a heavily regulated industry and we are supposed to do all those things. But OP has really deeply dug himself into a hole and now he’s going to find himself even deeper.

    4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      That really depends on your field–there are a lot of contexts where it’s fine for my spouse to know I’m editing a book about (say) California history, and as long as I didn’t show the content to a competitor before publication, it’s fine for people to see it.

      Your employer can look at your conversations with coworkers on your work computer–that doesn’t mean nobody else is allowed it. Especially for the last couple of years, if your boss/employer wanted you to keep some or all of those video meetings, calls, etc. from your spouse/family/roommates, they would tell you. There have been letters here about the difficulty of doing that in pandemic work-from-home conditions, when someone else is also working from home in the same apartment.

    5. Observer*

      Password protect your phone, invest in a good headset, and keep yourself from getting fired or sued because your spouse is nosy.

      His wife wasn’t being nosy. She lives in the same house as he does. His employer knows that. Any employer who allows people to work from home who expects those people’s spouses to never overhear a conversation DESERVES to have their confidentiality completely breached.

      And, regardless of what kind of access his wife should, or should not, have had, what he is doing is NOT besides the point. Because what he is doing is wrong. The fact that he had work reasons to cover his tracks better does not change it. And it does not make it “besides the point.”

      And it could even have been discoverable had she decided to get a divorce and needed to prove her reasons.

      1. STG*

        “His wife wasn’t being nosy. She lives in the same house as he does. His employer knows that. Any employer who allows people to work from home who expects those people’s spouses to never overhear a conversation DESERVES to have their confidentiality completely breached.”

        His wife didn’t JUST hear a conversation. She went through his work conversations on a work platform. That’s completely inappropriate. Spouse or not.

  80. Generic Name*

    Your wife has told you she feels uncomfortable about how close your relationship with your coworker is, and instead of taking your wife at her word and apologizing for your behavior and telling your coworker/emotional affair partner that you will be ending personal communication, you are writing to an advice columnist for a second opinion. Please respect your wife’s wishes and stop communicating with this coworker. Also, while your coworker may seem receptive to your sexual innuendo, women are often socialized to not speak up for themselves lest they make others feel uncomfortable. If the banter is unwelcome (and it sometimes is hard to tell) it is considered sexual harassment. It’s best to steer clear of anything that might be read as anything sexual when talking to a coworker. There is no reason to have talk like that in the workplace.

  81. Autistic Farm Girl*

    Not only is this a full on emotional affair but when your wife confronted you you decided to gaslight her about it, telling her that she doesn’t understand, that it’s totally normal, bla bla bla.

    All of this is messed up. And if you don’t cut it out like yesterday with that “coworker” you’re going to have to worry about your wife a lot less, because she won’t be your wife anymore. And even if you cut it out, you should seriously consider counseling, the way you reacted to this isn’t right. You messed up big time here.

  82. Confused By People*

    My husband has a very close female colleague, like to the point where they text and go out in groups after work for happy hours occasionally and are friends on social media. But they’re truly just work friends, do you know how I know? She’s genuinely so excited to see me every time I’m included because of how much he talks about me to her in a positive way. We worked remotely for two years in the same home office and he took all of her calls on speaker just like everyone else’s. FYI the only pictures they share are of food. And the majority of their conversations revolve around annoying coworkers and stupid stuff their company is doing. There are a ton of red flags in your letter and it’s very clear you are trying to justify what has become an inappropriate relationship with a coworker. you don’t talk a lot about your wife and kids, but you’ll talk about the deep stuff like your childhood? the wows to the photos sexual innuendos with coworkers are never okay. If you’re in a company culture where stuff like that is widespread there’s a larger cultural issue at play

  83. Amber Rose*

    Nah dude. My coworkers and I have a pretty casual, friendly relationship, and this is not how that goes. What you’re describing isn’t friendship, it’s a relationship. The lack of physical intimacy doesn’t change that.

  84. Dark Macadamia*


    LW, it sounds like every example you’ve given here happened AFTER you stopped working directly together (as her boss!)… do you really believe this is a purely professional relationship? If so, why weren’t you two interacting this way when she was your employee? Because it’s totally cool and normal these days for employees to send bosses their sexy vacay photos and for bosses to make sexy coffee jokes, right?

    You know exactly what you’re doing here.

  85. Tobias Funke Is Gonna Be Vulnerable*

    Oh OP, this is exactly how I was living my life when I was…having affairs! Some were physical, some were emotional, but they all sounded like this. I twisted myself into all kinds of pretzels justifying and explaining and rationalizing and intellectualizing. And I sounded like this. (I know everyone who reads AAM is perfect and nobody has ever made a mess of their life, lied, or acted with zero integrity, but hey. OP isn’t alone in acting like this and he deserves to know how transparent he looks.)

    Everyone involved in these kinds of things wants to see themselves as caught up in a unique situation where nobody understands their unique bond/chemistry/energy/your words here. I promise you, it isn’t. Mine wasn’t unique, yours wasn’t unique, the one your wife may fall into because you’ve pushed her away from your marriage with this emotional affair mentionitis crap isn’t unique. None of us are unique in this. And when your wife leaves you (maybe not even for this affair but for how you’ve insight-free insulted her intelligence and disrespected her in denying it), do you think you will ride off into the sunset with this woman? Or do you think it will no longer be exciting for you because it will all of a sudden become real? Also, will it still be exciting for her? At a certain angle, married men are great because you get your hit of validation and your hit of excitement and flirting with absolutely zero commitment, accountability, or effort. But it’s a little different when you’re divorced and their situation hasn’t changed. Again, been there, done that, have the trail of wreckage in my life and the lives of others to show for it.

    Think about it, OP. Run by this with a therapist. You deserve it and your wife deserves it.

    1. Observer*

      maybe not even for this affair but for how you’ve insight-free insulted her intelligence and disrespected her in denying it

      OP, please read this line over and over and internalize it.

      The whole comment is worth reading. But this line especially.

  86. LilPinkSock*

    Yikes. I would say “nip this in the bud”, but it seems past that point. LW, listen to your wife. She is hurt by your inappropriate relationship with this coworker, and you dismissing it as “not understanding corporate culture” makes it even worse.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      OP is the one who doesn’t understand corporate culture, or he would know that this is not it.

  87. lost academic*

    I have no need to pile on, I will just second pretty much every other comment. Here’s what I would like you to do, OP. Sit yourself down (or get some help to guide this – therapists can help with that) and ask yourself some questions. Why do you feel like the work boundaries of closeness/intimacy have shifted? Did you notice this before the pandemic or only because of remote work? How do you separate your work life and home life? Why do you think there need to be boundaries? Things like that. Because I think you need to do some deep unpacking of how you got here and why, to whatever extent you are, you are justifying the actions – we all have trouble admitting when we’re wrong and I don’t know if you’re the kind of OP that doubles down or sees the light. But it’s not just about admitting you were wrong – it’s about doing a bit of personal root cause analysis to figure out where this was really coming from. Once you can really get to the bottom of it, you can truly address it because I have a feeling this is going to need more than “stop messaging Coworker like that” (which is also an action you need to take, duh). And your wife is definitely going to need to see/hear you doing this – otherwise she’s going to spend a LOT of emotional energy wondering how long it’ll be before you find someone else to emotionally shack up with.

    Everyone makes mistakes and we often get pretty far down the road of a problematic situation inch by inch justifying each step until we turn around, look at the path behind us and do a really complicated explanation to justify it in total – and it’s wrong. Today is a great day to start adjusting your viewpoint, your personal understanding, and your relationships – personal and professional.

  88. Polecat*

    You have a work wife and you’re engaging in flirtatious and emotional conversations with her.

    Here’s what you need to do. Think about what would happen if all of the messages that you’ve sent to this woman and she sent to you went to both of your bosses. Would both of your bosses be fine with the content of your messages and the amount of time you are spending during work hours talking to each other. My guess is no.

    But that doesn’t even really matter because all that matters is that your partner told you it’s inappropriate and she’s not OK with it. And you need to honor that.

    Now you have to dump your work wife and good luck with that.

  89. Wake Up*

    OP, listen to the advice in here. You need to dial it back and set up boundaries with this co-worker. You are waaaaay over a whole bunch of lines here. If you weren’t getting some kind of endorphin hit out of this relationship with this co-worker, you would have stopped all this long ago, or it would not have evolved this far. You need some serious self examination about why personal messages from a female co-worker are “the highlight of your day” and if you can’t get into your own head enough about it, a therapist might be able to help you unpack exactly what you’re getting out of this attention and why it’s important enough to you that you want to write in to an advice column for justification about keeping it.

  90. justpeachy86*

    I started a new job July 2021. I work with someone that we just really vibe in person and enjoy chatting. He is engaged, I’m married. And we just have a few seconds of chat occasionally after a work related call. That is the extent of friendly. I show him pics of my baby, he shares a dog photo. That is a normal office friendship with someone that you possibly vibe with. Recalabrate and apologize to your wife.

  91. Special Events Coordinator?*

    Intimate work relationships mean the other person knows I like TUL pens and blue Powerade. It does not mean they say “wow” at my photos or make sexual innuendos. Commenting on coworkers’ bodies is a hard and fast no. You can absolutely be good friends with people at work because you spend most of your waking hours with them! But it should be face value friendship and have no undercurrent, good or bad or sexual or whatever else. The other commenters’ suggestions of testing yourself with “would my spouse be comfortable knowing about these exchanges?” is a good test in otherwise healthy relationships. Please take a step back and look at this from your wife’s perspective.

  92. Anon For This*

    Sounds just like my husband. Started with “she’s just a coworker”, became “she’s just a friend”, “her husband is an asshole—she needs my support”. Turned into a full-blown emotional affair. Which turned into phone sex and cyber sex. Which eventually turned into full physical sex. So yeah, you are having an emotional affair and cheating on your wife, no matter how you try to rationalize it.

  93. Adams*

    Sounds like you already know you and your coworker are being inappropriate, LW. Both of you need to stop what you’re doing and maintain a professional relationship. This won’t just affect your marriage, this will also negatively affect your job. In no way is this okay, in a corporate atmosphere, or a casual one.

  94. Nonny Mouse*

    Reading over this, I thought “Wow” was where he crossed the Rubicon. Yes, it’s an easy word to type, but… wow.

    I’m a woman who has a male work friend. We text each other about non-work stuff. He often reads these texts to his wife and tells me what she says in reply. That’s a useful metric for knowing that everything’s cool. LW needs to not receive texts he wouldn’t read/show to his wife.

    1. Nonny Mouse*

      Also, I do think work relationships have changed since, oh, 1948, in that a work friendship between a man and a woman isn’t automatically *assumed* to be sexual. This, however…

    2. mreasy*

      I could see myself commenting “wow, you look great” on a platonic male friend’s Instagram post of them dressed up for a special event, e.g. But a…bathing suit/revealing clothing photo directly texted to me? I felt weird even texting that out loud.

  95. Sparkles McFadden*

    Oh, dude, no, just no. None of what you’ve written out is normal. I have had many male friends at work who are still friends to this day, and we never had exchanges even close to what you’re describing. I would call the interactions you’ve written out as over the line for coworkers even if you weren’t married.

    Maybe you’re one of those guys that think everything is OK as long as you’re not having sex with the other person, but all of this is creepy and way over multiple lines. Can you read actually what you wrote without cringing? I barely made it through the first paragraph before feeling embarrassed for you and great pity for your wife.

    Please think about how you’d feel if the roles were reversed and your wife was having exchanges like yours with her male friend. Would you think it was fine? I’m guessing not. You need to cut this out because this is going to blow up in your face at home and at work.

  96. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Add my voice to the chorus: you’re playing with fire. You’re lucky you haven’t been burned yet.

  97. Avalon Angel*

    I would consider 50 messages a day from any employee to be a huge red flag, but 50 of these kinds of messages a day? That’s a red flag avalanche.

    I get the feeling that the LW was hoping Alison would tell him this is indeed How Things Are Now so he could triumphantly show it to his wife and continue this flirtation unabated. I hope he takes what Alison actually said to heart. He has some decisions to make…and whether he realizes it or not, so does his wife.

  98. I Need a 9 Hour Nap*

    My coworkers and I are all remote. We exchange photos 1:1 or in group chats…but those photos are of the pizza oven we built over the weekend, or the family pet trying to interact in meetings. Those are appropriate.

    Her sending you photos where she’s all dressed up in clothes she would not wear to work goes from office banter to dating app material. And anything looking for physical validation is a big issue that throws huge red flags.

    You and your coworker are both at fault and I would be shutting this down without placing the blame on your wife for stepping back from the relationship.

  99. Risky Pixie*

    OP, I have been your wife. It is devastating to see your husband talking this intimately and frequently to another woman. My husband didn’t see what was wrong until I asked him to flip the scenario and then he understood.

    So, put yourself in her shoes. Would you think it appropriate if your wife was having these conversations with a single male coworker? If she commented “wow” in another man’s photos and told him that his good morning message were the highlight of her day? Or another man telling her that? Would that feel appropriate to you? I’m guessing not.

    You need to establish some boundaries or cut off the coworker outside of necessary communication for work and start earning your wife’s trust back.

  100. Jessica*

    LW, do you have kids? Because you need to think very seriously about whether you’re committed to your marriage or this crush. And then if you have kids and picked “crush,” you need to think again.

    Think about Past You–remember him? The man who stood up with your wife in front of everyone y’all care about and vowed to love, honor, and cherish only her for the rest of his life, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, and that only death would part them? Do you think that man could have anticipated how dishonest, degraded, and delusional you would be right now? Surely he’d have been ashamed of you.

    And how about Future You? We haven’t met him yet, but he’s an older and probably wiser man who might value his marriage a little more than you do right now. Imagine him looking back on you, and what will he feel? Probably shame and regret that you were such a weak, self-deluding fool.

  101. Kwebbel*

    Just wanted to chime in on something that a few others have referenced: it’s telling that you say you rarely talk about your wife and kids with your coworker. If I were you, I’d spend some time figuring out why, with someone you see as an intimate friend whom you share almost everything with, you’re not at all keen to talk about your partner and children? Don’t need an answer in the comments; just give it some thought.

  102. DG*

    Aren’t work relationships, if anything, LESS “intimate” these days? So much has changed even in the last 10-15 years — society and the workforce at large are more aware of power imbalances, what constitutes sexual harassment, the importance of setting boundaries and keeping your work life separate from your personal life, IT’s ability to monitor your chats/emails at all times, etc.

    I look back and cringe at some of the relationships and interactions I had with coworkers a decade ago when I was just starting out, and none of it even came close to what OP is doing.

  103. Rock Prof*

    A lot of people have commented on the ‘wows’ and other innuendo, but the discussing ‘gestures I do for my wife’ was definitely near the top of grossest, line crossing behaviors to me because I’m assuming it’s about sexual ‘gestures’ (which is not a phrase I’d ever thought I’d use and that truthfully just reads kind of gross). Like, this is something that maybe, maybe one might talk about with really close friends, but the OP just brought this into what they’re ostensibly considering just a work relationship. I can’t think of any scenarios (outside of, I don’t know, the pornography industry) where this would ever be appropriate in a work relationship, intimate or not.

    1. Rock Prof*

      Ha, now I realized it’s probably not sexual gestures but romantic gestures (a relatively common phrase!), which is still a bit weird but not as gross as I initially read it. Total reading comprehension fail on my part. Obviously, my brain was somewhere else! I was thinking, like hand gestures not romantic gestures, and all I could think about was how they’d apply in bed or something.

      1. redflagday701*

        I do this little shrug and then put my hands out palms up like “Hey, wha happen???” and wink, and it sends my wife over the edge every time.

        1. Rock Prof*

          Gestures that mildly annoy our partners but we think are secretly endearing are much more my style.

      2. I Need a 9 Hour Nap*

        Still, advertising your own romantic gestures is like writing your own yelp rev

    2. LizB*

      I didn’t get that impression at all – I read it as romantic gestures like bringing her breakfast in bed, picking up her favorite coffee when she has a day of hard meetings, whatever. If OP meant sexual “moves” that is wildly worse, but I don’t think that’s what he means.

      1. Rock Prof*

        Yeah, I realized that a bit after submitting my comment. I don’t know where my brain was!

        1. Pyjamas*

          Same place as mine. When I read that, I thought “Wow” & not in good/admiring way

          Even with generous interpretation, ugh. Bragging about how good you are to your wife? Sounds like he’s interviewing for a new “job”

  104. Umiel12*

    When I started reading this letter, I thought it was going to result in the LW revealing that he had sexual harassment complaint filed against him by the coworker.

  105. Astronomical Feline*

    Maybe because I’m poly… but I don’t see anything wrong. LW said nothing to indicate he’s interested in an affair (emotional affairs don’t exist in my book). If lw was texting a dude, would wife still be jealous?

    LW and his wife need to see a liscenced relationship therapist to discuss what they want out of their relationship.

    1. mreasy*

      Alternatively, my husband and I have several allowances for physical non-monogamy in our relationship. He makes out with someone else? I don’t care. If he told me a coworker’s morning greeting was the highlight of his day? It would make me feel terrible and, frankly, jealous!

    2. Esmae*

      If LW was texting a dude to tell him his good morning messages were the highlight of his day, LW would be interested in that dude.

    3. lost academic*

      I think you don’t see anything wrong because by the rules in your relationship(s), there isn’t anything, But you really should recognize that by the standard relationship rules especially for marriage in our culture (US assumption) that this is Not OK as a lot of others have pointed out. It can be ok – for you – but it’s not for others in general and it’s likely not for OP + wife.

      1. STG*

        Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with it either up until the black coffee comment. I would make a comment like that with friends but coworkers? No way. However, that doesn’t matter anyways. The wife clearly isn’t okay with it even if I don’t personally think it’s an issue.

        I’m not sure what ‘standard relationship rules’ means though. Every single relationship is different in their boundaries regardless of how problematic folks here would find it with their own marriage. Way off topic though. He needs to knock it off.

      2. Aesthetically space cat*

        Alot of us “rules” seem really unhealthy for everyone involved tbh

    4. BA*

      He’s invested in this relationship in a way and to a level that makes his wife uncomfortable. That’s what’s wrong. And it doesn’t just have to be because he’s messaging with a single female…or a dude…or any person for that matter. If his wife is uncomfortable with the relationship he has with a gambling app, there is something wrong.

      I will agree with you. A therapist will help them figure out what they want, but given the parameters set by the letter, I think there are problems that will need to be fixed before (if) definitions can be set up.

      1. Aesthetically space cat*

        A gambling ap would affect her life because finanes.

        He’s his own person and allowed to have his own relationships.

        The wife’s jealousy isn’t his problem. His wife doesn’t own him.

        1. Green great dragon*

          The wife’s unhappiness should be a problem for him if he cares about her. And his wife doesn’t own him, true, but she gets a say in what is acceptable in their marriage. He is entitled to leave her; he is not entitled to say unlaterally ‘this is OK in our marriage’.

          I feel you’re looking at this through a very specific lense. Which is the right one for you, but not the one his wife is looking through, and as long as he wants to stay married to her, he does need to consider her views.

        2. Elsajeni*

          Okay, but are there no boundaries at all in your style of polyamory? Anyone in your relationship can do whatever they want with anyone else, and the other people they’re involved with can’t object to any of it because “we don’t own each other”? You don’t have to set your boundaries in the same place as the OP’s wife to recognize that doing something with another partner that you avoid telling your wife about, and that the wife is upset and hurt by when she finds out, is a relationship problem.

        3. Coconutty*

          You must realize that thinking that someone’s deep discomfort with the way their partner is behaving with another person is in fact the partner’s problem is a very typical and reasonable attitude

        4. BA*

          I can’t disagree with the fact that he’s allowed to have his own relationships. But if his wife is jealous, it IS his problem if he cares for her and about her. If this was a platonic, same-sex friendship and he and his buddy were together all the time, messaging all the time, and investing more time in the friendship than with their spouse, the spouse could definitely be jealous there too, and it would also be OP’s problem to address.

        5. missmesmer*

          As someone who has been in poly relationships, this “you’re feeling jealous? sounds like a big ol’ you problem, I’m off to enjoy my new crush!” attitude is what gives poly community a bad name. Yes, in the end only your partner can sort out their jealousy for themselves, but you should absolutely be by their side along the way.

    5. Gracely*

      If my husband was texting another guy like this, I would be really concerned that my marriage was in trouble. Or at least that his job would find this kind of interaction extremely inappropriate. Because it is. It’s just not how you should be interacting with coworkers, especially not someone who used to report to you (even if they don’t anymore, there’s still a power imbalance).

      I am really good friends with many of my coworkers–some I knew before I started this job a decade ago–and I don’t think I’ve texted them a total of 50 texts in that entire time, let alone in a day. Certainly we’re not sharing pics of ourselves at the beach/etc. We get lunch out occasionally, or walk to the cafe on breaks. One time, I brought one of them soup/tissues/cough syrup when they were too sick to go to the grocery store and had no partner or family nearby to get it for them. Another I cat-sat for, because I like cats, lived in the same neighborhood, and I only did it the one time because their regular cat-sitter wasn’t available when they needed to leave for a family emergency out of state. That’s the kind of acceptable personal things you do with/for coworkers you’re friends with. Not daily good morning flirtations and calling them your lucky charm and the highlight of your day, etc. when you’re not even really working together anymore. Not when it reaches the point that your wife overhearing a work conversation between you and them makes her suspicious.

      Definitely agree about the need to see a therapist, though.

    6. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Then your book doesn’t belong in the workplace. Even if the LW had an open relationship, even if he talks to friends this way, these messages are inappropriate for work. There’s a whole lot of wrong here, but that it’s a work relationship? That’s the wrongest.

    7. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      I’m also poly, but the OP clearly isn’t, and “my wife is unhappy about our relationship, and worried that I’m having an affair” is not something that can be solved by “tell her she shouldn’t be unhappy.” Also, “relationship broken, add more people” is a cliche for a reason: it’s not good advice.

      Relationship counseling might be a good idea, but you shouldn’t need a licensed relationship therapist to get your partner to listen when you tell them you feel neglected.

    8. Coconutty*

      Emotional affairs may not exist in your book, but they do for many (probably most) people in relationships, and if his wife is uncomfortable with his behavior then it doesn’t matter whether or not he intends to physically act on it. She is drawing an extremely reasonable line.

    9. bluephone*

      So emotional affairs don’t exist in your book…I missed the memo where your book is also everyone’s book. Also I feel like the “I’m poly so OF COURSE I’m fine with all this” is such a tired stereotype that I’m surprised it took this long for it to show up.

    10. anonhere*

      I’m also poly and my partner did pretty much exactly this with a coworker. I asked if anything was going on and they denied it right up until I found out they were exchanging nudes. What happened was very much out of the bounds of our relationship agreements and it took months before my partner admitted that they’d thought of this person as their ‘other partner’ and hadn’t realized it. Not to mention that they were doing this using work chat, work computers, and during their workday — either of them could’ve been found out and fired, and when I pointed that out, it was clear my partner hadn’t considered that. We’re doing okay, but it was a really bad scene that pointed to some other stuff that needed to be addressed.

    11. Polyamory Isn’t A Free Pass*

      Ok, being polyamorous isn’t synonymous with a free pass to do whatever you want to whoever you want whenever you want.

      If you’re actually invested in healthy, consensual non-monogamy, then you know that these kinds of emotional relationships are very fraught, even with people practicing polyamory, and that successful polyamory requires discussing what the emotional and physically boundaries are, when, where, with who.

      If this is a weird attempt to flex about being polyamorous, you’re coming across as very new to it.

    12. Calamity Janine*

      if your poly partners have agreed to the type of relationship where nothing is an affair until it’s physical, and emotional connection does not exist, well – that’s in your book.

      most of the world is solidly against you on this one – including most of the poly world, where there is quite a lot said about emotional intimacy and how that doesn’t always equate with physical intimacy all the time. (after all, you are partners with more than one person not just when you’re currently engaging in a sex act with them.)

    13. RagingADHD*

      I admit that I am the furthest thing from an expert on polyamory, but a very cursory online exposure to it certainly gives me the impression that *consent* and *mutually negotiated boundaries* are core concepts.

      I didn’t see anything in the letter about LW and his wife negotiating about emotional intimacy with others — did you? Regardless, it seems very clear that his wife does not consider herself polyamorous and does not consent.

      Are you practicing some style of “polyamory” that doesn’t include consent? Because if so, I expect the rest of the community might not accept the various terms in your book.

    14. really?*

      No, I strongly disagree with you. I’m also polyam and my partner texts with their girlfriend exactly like LW texts with his “platonic” “work friend.” But if my partner tried to pass that off as a platonic relationship (read: was lying to me about the nature of the relationship or their intentions) or gave me the brush-off if I expressed discomfort with their level of intimacy with someone, that would not be ok.

      I know some people practice the “I get to do whatever I want, even if it makes my existing partners feel hurt and uncomfortable” form of polyamory, but that’s frankly awful behavior.

    15. Very Social*

      I’m also polyamorous and this kind of flirting with a friend would be just fine in my relationship. Hiding it wouldn’t be fine. The flirting wouldn’t be fine for work.

      But more importantly, the OP is not poly. This isn’t fine in their relationship.

  106. Box of Kittens*

    YIKES my dude.

    If you want your marriage to last you need to seriously, seriously rethink some things, probably in therapy. And if not, just go ahead and get divorced and free your poor wife from your ridiculous shenanigans asap.

  107. Azars*

    “Honey, when I sent my co-worker a cartoon wolf with his eyes bugging out and his head turning into a steam whistle that went AAAAAAOOOOOGAAAHH, it was completely innocent! You’re really overreacting.”

  108. redflagday701*

    OP, I would add one thing to what everybody else is saying: You need to dial this relationship waaaaaaaay back immediately not just for your wife, but also for yourself. Because your co-worker knows exactly what’s going on too, and odds are this is about her enjoying the attention and self-esteem boost, and not because she’s secretly hoping to mess around with a married father who is also her boss. You can barely admit it to yourself, but you are desperately wishing for some way to be wiiiiiiiiith this woman without blowing up what you have. That is understandable, that is a thing that can happen to people, but it is not possible for you here. There is no path from where you are, or will ever be, to that destination. Even if she is feeling it too, the emotional immaturity coming off of both of you through your letter suggests a romantic relationship with her would not last long.

    You two both may be having fun, but you have way more to lose than your co-worker does: your marriage and family life, and your job and career prospects (this is a percolating sexual harassment suit). There is nothing to gain here. I think you know that and are just hoping someone will unveil some magical way you can sleep with this woman and suffer no consequences, because you really want to (which, fine, it happens). If you actually thought you could leave your wife for her, this would be a totally different letter. You know this leads nowhere good. Fix it. And get some therapy about this as well.

    1. redflagday701*

      OK, my wife and I have discussed this and, like other commenters, feel pretty sure the wife actually wrote this letter. But as best we can tell, she is describing undisputed objective facts, and there is no other side of the story that would justify OP’s behavior, so I stand by the above. Ma’am, your husband knows exactly what he is doing, and the fact that he fed you a line at all about “the new intimate relationships coworkers have” strongly indicates that he is a real shithead. Unless he’s been pretty wonderful otherwise and this is the very first time he’s shown you this kind of disrespect, I would seriously consider giving him the opportunity to explore his connection with the co-worker and see how that goes, and not taking him back after it blows up in his face.

      1. matchaLatte*

        If the LW is really the wife, then I can only advise to start looking for a good lawyer. My sister’s ex-husband started out just like that, talking with his female co-worker in a non appropriate way. He totally left her (and the children!) and moved in with his co-worker. And yes they did do couples therapy for a while, and the co-worker had met the wife on several occasions. Some people just are too lazy to sign up on a dating app and look outside of work.

  109. Fabulous*

    Before even getting into the bulk of the letter, I was side-eyeing the “Wow” reply to her birthday photos. That’s not an appropriate response, unless it’s a photo of gorgeous scenery, a sunset or some other photo of a wonderous *object* not a person. I would be feeling seriously betrayed by my husband if he had that type of relationship with a coworker. No cool, man.

  110. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    In addition to allllllll of the ways what LW was describing is not ok, I’m also side-eying him for the whole “tell me this is ok so I can disregard my wife’s feelings” aspect.

    1. Sylvan*


      OP, buddy. Your wife’s feelings and your relationship matter more than anything we can say here. We’re internet strangers.

      1. Generic Name*

        This, right here. Even if every single commenter here agreed with you that your relationship with your coworker is totally normal and the new norm (IT’S NOT), the fact that it makes your wife uncomfortable should carry much more weight than the opinion of a bunch of strangers on the internet. I’d ask yourself why is that.

  111. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, I am confident my husband does not put this level of detailed thought into how the exact phrasing of each thing he said to a female coworker is technically not flirting. By an order of magnitude.

    I started the day watching the latest Better Call Saul, and as a whole your letter sounds like someone who is talking themselves into doing the thing they know they shouldn’t. Like, if this were a TV show, this would not be leading up to viewers all nodding in agreement to the main character’s claim that there was definitely nothing going on.

    1. Barnaby*

      I am confident my husband does not put this level of detailed thought into how the exact phrasing of each thing he said to a female coworker is technically not flirting

      I have read all the comments on here so far and this is the one that made me do a sort of LOL/ “Ha!”/ bark noise. Nailed it.

  112. animaniactoo*

    For those who are questioning if this is the wife writing in (based on the laundry list of inappropriate behavior) – I think this is the OP listing the things their wife has told them are inappropriate, with a couple of their own comments about their own mindset about those behaviors.

  113. Alex (they/them)*

    as soon as you start with the “heyyyyyyyy” greetings you’ve crossed a line

  114. Lady Blerd*

    I reread the first lines to confirm if she was his direct report and it says “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.[…”] Come on now OP, you waited until she moved on to a new position before you obliterated the boundaries. You know you are in the wrong and, frankly, you are putting your career in jeopardy.

    1. Lady Blerd*

      Career and relationship frankly because your wife is justified in feelin some kind of way about this.

  115. Lauren*

    Woman with a close platonic male friend (and former coworker) here chiming in to say that this is not a close platonic relationship, and has absolutely escalated to flirtation / an emotional affair.

    It’s not great that your coworker was looking for validation on her appearance from a married man, but wow, did you ever cross the line by GIVING her that validation. Entirely inappropriate response to pictures of her. Giving her nicknames, pet names, etc. continues to cross the line further.

    I talk about how awesome my fiancé is to my male friend all the time, and I also praise my friend’s wife. I would not be remotely embarrassed to show my lengthy work chats with this friend to my fiancé, because while we talked about plenty of non-work-related topics, the discussions were never flirtatious or sexual in nature, or bashing our respective SOs in any way.

    Some people are perturbed by close “opposite-sex” friendships, where I am not. However, there are plenty of reasonable people in the comments here who can tell you that this is not an appropriate “friendship”, and your wife is also being extremely reasonable in her response.

  116. CommanderBanana*

    OP, you’re having an emotional affair, and I think you know it or you wouldn’t be writing in to AAM trying to convince yourself otherwise.

    If I were your wife I’d divorce you so fast your head would spin. Then you can text wooooooooooow to your heart’s content.

  117. Macaroni Penguin*

    Danger Will Robinson! Danger! *flails robotic arms wildly*

    Sorry OP, but you’ve crossed the line into inappropriate workplace conduct. What you’ve described is too intimate and emotional for a professional coworker relationship. Since your wife is uncomfortable with this, you’ve got to stop.

  118. Dasher Hadwick*

    The coffee thing is really killing me here! The fact that he knew how it sounded and didn’t bother to rephrase? I feel that shows he knows what he’s doing.

    1. van wilder*

      I wouldn’t even say he “didn’t bother,” I think he knew exactly what he was saying and was trying to save face or give himself an out in case she reacted poorly.

  119. mreasy*

    I literally married a coworker and we were never this flirtatious in the early stages even! So like you’re flirting harder than people who eventually got married. This is not okay.

  120. Not your typical admin*

    I highly suggest marriage counseling to get to the root cause of why this relationship developed the way it did. This is far from a normal coworker relationship.

  121. Frally*

    Omg, 50 messages a day? I don’t do that with my spouse, my closest friends, or my sibling I’m extremely close to ALL ADDED UP TOGETHER in one day! Your relationship is very inappropriate, do you honestly not see that?????

  122. bopper*

    They discuss Emotional Needs. The theory is that meeting Emotional Needs makes deposits in your Love Bank, and when your Love Bank is “in the black” you feel in love.
    I can see this co-worker is meeting your need for Conversation and Admiration.
    You will start to feel “in love” with her as you share this intimacy. Maybe you like it. Maybe you like being admired because you wife is busy with house/work/kids. NOT GOOD.

    You need to set boundaries to that this coworker to protect your marriage.
    Stop commenting on her photos or liking them or even looking at them. Better yet unfriend her.
    Tell her that you would like to keep your communications to work related matters from now on using Email/Slack/Teams.

    Tell your wife that she is absolutely right…what you thought was coworker friendship is drifting toward an Emotional Affair and you will be putting a stop to that. You want to be open and transparent and give her the password to your phone. If the woman contacts you with personal matters tell her that you realize are not the person to be having these conversations with and then tell your wife about any non-work contact.

    Do the right thing. Protect your marriage.
    Look at and make sure you are meeting your wife’s needs…and then once you are, talk to her about your needs.

  123. Zephy*

    Impact is greater than intent. Maybe this man really didn’t “intend” to have an emotional affair, insofar as he probably didn’t wake up 10 months ago and think specifically “Today I’m going to start cheating on my wife!” But yeah, if he did in fact write this (and it’s not the wife writing in for validation/to prove a point), it’s clear that he knows he’s getting away with something he oughtn’t be doing. Whatever his intentions are, or were, with this coworker, the impact of his behavior is that his wife is upset by it, and that’s what he needs to focus on. Not whether his wife’s feelings are correct, or if his behavior is part of a new normal (it’s not, but in the fiction where at Company X, coworkers flirt and it’s normal and okay, his wife still gets to feel upset about it if that’s how she feels). LW, you are not Derek from Criminal Minds and this coworker is not your Penelope – and even if you were, that’s TV, their flirtatious behavior at each other Would Not Fly in real life.

    Even if we didn’t have all of the (very damning) gory details here, even if this man’s 50 Teams chats a day with this coworker were 100% work-related and on the up-and-up, if his wife felt a way about that, that’s still her right and LW would still need to do some work to listen and address whatever the real problem is. If your spouse feels neglected because you spend all your attention and energy on work, that’s still a problem within the marriage that needs addressing.

  124. sarah jane*

    I hate the term “emotional affair.” I agree that OP is in the wrong here, but if he is *genuinely* confused on the issue I do have some perspective to offer. I’m polyamorous and have done a lot of hashing out what various relationships mean and how they operate – and end up having to make explicit a lot of things that are implicit or not allowed in monogamy. I’m also uneasy about using the comfort of the spouse as the *only* measure of what is and isn’t appropriate – sometimes spouses are exactly right (as I suspect here) and other times there’s some insecurity or baggage or lack of communication that makes it not so clear. Here are some things to think about:

    What is the implicit or explicit agreement you have with your partner about flirting? Here, I define flirting as joking/bantering while expressing attraction. Is it ever ok? Is it ok only if it’s casual and discreet? Is it ok as long as it doesn’t “lead to anything?” Do you have different comfort levels about it? It appears you’ve crossed your spouse’s boundary here, and should prioritize getting on the same page about what those are.

    What is the balance of time and emotional energy you spend on your coworker? Have you been as involved in your family and spouse after developing this work relationship? Or have you been more distant and distracted, and less available? There’s often an assumption of primacy in monogamous relationships – that you’ll see to the needs of your spouse first – have you been doing that?

    Whether or not you have romantic/sexual feelings for the coworker, are you encouraging her to develop them for you? In a lot of ways, the combination of time, intimacy, and attraction makes this look like it will *lead to* dating and/or an affair. That is presumably outside the boundaries of your relationship. It’s important to really take a look at your intentions – and even what you feel you’d be open to or excited about happening. What are you doing to make sure you respect the commitments you’ve made to your spouse, now and in the future?

      1. Barnaby*

        Yes! Agree with anonhere! This was a lovely comment, thank you, sarah jane – you gave a really smart unpacking of what the problems might be and how to think about the situation without implicitly or explicitly appealing to specific norms of “what makes a good relationship” or “what is always bad behaviour”. I think OP is really looking for a rulebook – the whole post reads to me like “Please give me a legal ruling that this behaviour is objectively OK” – and this comment gives him some excellent ways to start thinking about how he and his wife can make their own “rules” and set their own boundaries, rather than appealing to some sort of referee. I hope he reads down this far!

    1. Anonym*

      I hope OP reads this!! He seems to have an analytical bent, and I think he could really benefit from thinking through the situation from these lenses.

  125. Sylvan*

    Not appropriate, OP, please stop it.

    I’m really friendly with my coworkers and sometimes my boss. We’ve never had conversations like this. Because this isn’t how we interact with friends, and you know that. I think this may be what some consider an emotional affair and what some consider… just an affair that hasn’t crossed certain lines yet.

  126. Lisa*

    Either this guy is a sociopath with absolutely no self awareness or his wife wrote this to prove a point. If he’s that clueless why would he even think about how responding with “wow” sounds or any of the other things mentioned. Major denial but I’m gonna go with written by wife.

  127. WantonSeedStitch*

    Yeah, the “wow” for me was what did it. Speaking as a woman with male colleagues, if I were to show any of them pictures from my birthday weekend (and frankly, I’d be unlikely to show even my close, friendly coworkers pictures from my birthday weekend, though I might talk about anything particularly fun we did), and they responded “wow,” I would feel very uncomfortable. That’s the kind of response I might be happy to hear from a partner or someone I hoped would become a partner. From a coworker? No. The fact that your colleague doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable with it (judging by the fact that she continues to engage closely with you rather than pulling back) indicates to me that she DOES think of you–maybe even just subconsciously–as someone for whom she has sexual or romantic feelings. This does cross the line.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Eh. I have occasionally shown a picture or two of my vacation. The difference is that it was shown to my whole team of 6-8 colleagues, not just, you know, that “one special” one. That’s the difference between work friends and something ELSE.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yeah, I guess I’ve shown pictures too, but not usually pictures *of me.* I did show a bunch of people at my office pics from my wedding, but that was because everyone kept asking me to share, and I figured it would be easiset to say “I’ll just show them on the big screen in the conference room at lunch to anyone who wants to see.” And again, that was not just one person. That was, like, half my office.

  128. Water Everywhere*

    LW, it sounds to me like you may be done with your marriage. Which is a thing that happens and can be hard to face up to, especially if your spouse is still invested in making it work. But you’re taking the cowardly way out by switching your emotional attachment to another woman instead of being honest with your wife. You’re trying to make yourself the victim by putting your wife in the role of the unreasonable spouse who’s driving you away. Don’t do this. Please step way back from this inappropriate relationship with your coworker, have a good hard look at your life and what you want from it, and talk, REALLY TALK, with your wife. Here’s where counselling might help, either to reset your marriage or to help you both figure out how to end it.

  129. Jake*

    This is definitely flirtatious and not a normal work friendship, and it is hilarious that the LW is pretending it isn’t.

    But honestly the idea of “emotional affairs” needs to die in a fire. This notion that we have that coupled people (and in particular men) can only get emotional support, connection, or intimacy from their romantic partners is so damaging. It leads to the problem of women having the exhausting job of being their husband’s only support system, it means that people who are in abusive relationships can’t have close relationships that would allow them to escape (and their abuser will have people’s support in stopping them from having those), and it’s honestly just authoritarian af to police another person’s feelings? Sometimes your spouse is not the right person to talk to about a particular thing. Sometimes people get crushes, get a little infatuated. That is all a normal part of being human and doesn’t get switched off just because you’re partnered and it is _so weird_ that we think it’s okay to just… tell people they can’t? be fully human?

    If you feel like you are lacking intimacy with your spouse, or that your spouse is not giving you enough of their time or attention, that is a problem between you and your spouse, and a great reason to see a couple’s counselor or try to do some intimacy-building activities. But it’s not caused by your spouse having close emotional friendships or even crushes outside of your relationship.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      The existence of “emotional affairs” doesn’t imply people can only have emotional intimacy from their spouse. But there is a line that some people cross that goes well beyond that. There isn’t really a clear definition of what is or isn’t okay, it’s a “know it when you see it” kind of thing. It’s absolutely a real thing and it can be just as harmful to relationships as physical affairs.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        I think it has to do with the boundaries of any individual relationship. There are some marriages where it’s agreed and encouraged that people get sex outside the marriage; I would imagine it’s the same for emotional intimacy. Sometimes it’s part of the relationship, sometimes it isn’t.

        But it seems pretty clear that OP’s wife is assuming emotional intimacy is part of her marriage. And he’s sharing emotions and intimacy with someone outside the (agreed?) rules of their relationship. So by that definition, I think the term “emotional affair” is accurate.

        At the same time, Jake is absolutely right that we need a more nuanced term for this kind of thing, and we definitely need to stop assuming that women should carry all the emotional weight.

        1. Jake*

          Empress Matilda, I’m trying to imagine a relationship where “emotional intimacy” is restricted to just that person that isn’t abusive and I really can’t. How could that possibly be okay?

          1. Empress Matilda*

            Fair enough! I’m imagining a relationship where these are the agreed on boundaries, both people have actively consented, and there is clear communication when the boundaries are crossed. Of course this is entirely hypothetical for me, and I’m really just thinking out loud here. I know it happens with sexual relationships in and outside of marriages, so I assume there must be an equivalent for emotional relationships.

            1. Jake*

              I feel like emotional intimacy is a qualitatively different thing from sexual intimacy, and that having emotional intimacy is an absolutely essential-for-life thing, and there is no way a person could meaningfully consent to restricting it to one person. It would be like “consenting” to only eating the food your partner gives you, but in a world where (by magic idk) your partner can only provide 500 cal/day. Like yeah I guess you consented but it still seems like a really, really unhealthy plan.

              1. Empress Matilda*

                Yeah, there’s a world of difference between my hypothetical and the way it would actually play out in real life, isn’t there? Thanks for thinking it through with me!

              2. Esmae*

                I think it’s not the existence of emotional intimacy that’s the problem in an “emotional affair,” it’s the specific nature of the emotions. In the same way, it’s not inherently an affair to have physical intimacy with someone other than your partner — it’s only an affair if that physical intimacy is also sexual (as opposed to, say, a lot of friendly platonic hugging). In this case, their emotional intimacy isn’t platonic. It’s flirtatious, if not outright sexual, and romantic.

                I guess to my way of thinking “emotional affair” isn’t saying “you can’t share emotions with someone other than your partner,” it’s saying “the fact that you’re not touching the other person doesn’t automatically mean the relationship isn’t an affair.”

      2. Jake*

        If there isn’t a definition, how are people supposed to feel secure in their closeness with other people, knowing that their spouse might suddenly bring down the hammer on it?

        Like I said, if you feel like there is a problem between you and your spouse, that is a great thing to deal with _with your spouse_, not by policing their friendships. I mean, come on.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          The definition as I’ve always understood it is that an emotional affair doesn’t simply mean having a close emotional relationship with somebody other than your partner. It means choosing willfully (even if you’ve managed to blind yourself to the fact) to take the emotional energy that you would otherwise be putting into your marriage and putting *that* into this other relationship. The more attention and intimacy you give to Person X, the less you give your spouse, and the less interest you even have in regaining the emotional intimacy and connection that you’re swiftly abandoning with your spouse because all your focus is tied up in Person X.

          The feeling is not just friendship or even intimacy. It’s specifically NRE, the buzz of heady neurotransmitters you get when you’re forming an early-stage romantic bond with a new partner. Since this usually happens when marriages have reached the companionate stage (which happens to most of them in roughly 1.5-3 years), the difference between the way your spouse makes you feel and the way Person X makes you feel can lead to Person X becoming all but an emotional addiction.

          That’s a very different situation from an emotionally intimate friendship, and I say that as somebody polyamorous, who is used to balancing NRE in both myself and my husband so that it doesn’t harm our marriage. But it’s damn well playing with fire, and it won’t do to try and pretend that it’s all just a friendship and there’s something wrong if men and women aren’t allowed to be friends. When the emotional passion of NRE is driving you to ignore your old partner for your new partner, and making your old partner less and less interesting to you *because* of how much you’re investing in the new one, you have got a problem. It doesn’t matter in the least whether you are having sex with the new partner, or whether sex with the new partner is or isn’t authorized within your marriage. It matters that you’re sucking your marriage dry of vital energy in order to lavish it all on your new partner because the feeling your new partner gives you is like a drug and you don’t get that high from your spouse anymore.

      3. Minerva*

        Hit the nail on the head here. My husband & maintain healthy, supportive friendships outside our marriage, and we know we tell our friends things we can’t tell each other (especially venting about each other). But never once have we worried about the other having an “affair”

        It is a fine line, but there is a difference between close friendship (irrespective of gender) and “everything about this is an affair except we are not sleeping together, but hey if we got a little drunk and something happened we’d probably keep doing it”

        The biggest tell? You feel you have to hide the depth of the friendship/not mention this person to your partner. The OP is rationalizing hardcore.

    2. Sylvan*

      it is _so weird_ that we think it’s okay to just… tell people they can’t? be fully human?

      It’s more that you can’t treat a woman who’s not your girlfriend like your girlfriend. Are you really not able to tell the difference between a supportive friendship and a romantic relationship?

      1. Sylvan*

        And — for what it’s worth — I’m not really interested in monogamy and I don’t get jealous in relationships. This is just a simple and common thing that’s not too hard to get.

      2. Jake*

        If you read my very first sentence you will see that I said this was definitely a flirtatious relationship.

    3. anon!*

      Emotional affairs don’t refer to people only having emotional intimacy with their partner. It means that someone has reached a level of a relationship with another person that is obviously inappropriate but has not crossed into physical cheating. There’s obviously a difference between having a close friend that you love and support versus someone who you flirt with constantly when you know your partner isn’t okay with it… the first is a friendship, the second is a “friendship” aka an emotional affair.

      1. Jake*

        Everyone replying to my comment keeps using phrases like “obviously inappropriate” or “you know it if you see it” and I would really encourage all of you to take some time to think deeply about what you are talking about, because none of you can articulate it.

        1. anon!*

          …do you actually not know what actions are obviously inappropriate when you’re in a relationship? Do you not talk with your partners about what they are and are not okay with? Do you not think about what you would not be okay with them doing and then make sure not do that to them? Like people don’t have to spell every single thing out for others…. There are things in life that are obviously inappropriate and you can find a lot of them in this letter. That is what people are referring to when they say emotional affair (including yourself, as you mentioned in your first comment that this is obviously not okay). When you’re in a committed relationship with someone there are certain things you don’t need spelled out and having a full out flirtatious relationship with someone else is one of them. People know if they are in the kind of relationship where that is okay because they have spoken about it and care about making sure everyone’s boundaries are respected.

          Maybe it’s the specific term that’s bugging you? But your definition above of an emotional affair is not what it is. No one is saying having friends is the same thing as an emotional affair. You shouldn’t get all your emotional support from one person. The emotions referred to in emotional affair are not any emotions at all, they are the emotions associated with cheating minus the physical act.

          1. anon!*

            Also I did articulate above an example…. a friend you constantly flirt with is inappropriate when you are in a relationship. A friend you constantly flirt with, spend all day talking to, and ignore your partner’s needs for is inappropriate. Any friendship that makes you emotionally neglect your relationship and lie to both yourself and your partner is inappropriate. A friend you find yourself regularly wishing you were dating, for long periods of time, is inappropriate. Whether you want to admit it or not those things aren’t okay if the other person in your relationship is operating under the assumption you are both only romantically involved with each other. And if those are the kind of things you do want to do in a relationship, any person with common sense knows they are things you MUST talk to your partner about to ensure you are on the same page and are all right with the boundaries set in place.

            1. Jake*

              If you are ignoring your partner’s needs and emotionally neglecting them, that is not cool. But a person can do that regardless of whether they are flirting with someone else, and they can flirt with someone else without doing that. But having a bit of a spark/crush/flirtatiousness with another person is not a choice, it’s just a thing that happens sometimes. And I do _not_ think you need to get explicit permission from your partner, even if you’re monogamous, to have a completely normal, everyday human emotional experience. Come on.

              I agree that the LW is lying to themselves and their partner about it, and that is not ideal. But maybe that’s because the dominant narrative about romantic relationships is such that they feel they have to deny this reality. Maybe we should spend more energy being honest about the fullness of human emotional experience before we get mad about people repressing the things we shame them for.

              1. Calamity Janine*

                oh, i think i may have spotted a bit of the issue –

                noticing an attraction or having a thoughts can indeed be reflexive and is a thing that happens sometimes.

                however *flirting* is an *action*. flirting IS something you can control. and it is something reserved for relationships in the vast majority of typical monogamous couples.

                the expected thing is that people will go, “well, i do find this other person very attractive and we have a spark of erotic feelings between us. it would feel good if i went over there and flirted by talking to them, paying attention to them, slipping dirty jokes into our conversations, and so on. i know it would hurt my partner if i did those things, too. that is a dynamic we have promised to share with each other. not all types of emotional connection – but this one, as part of the way we love each other. so, i will remember that i love my partner in many different ways, and that it’s normal to have thoughts sometimes. but i will not just do whatever those thoughts tell me is good. i will be on guard to not hurt my partner with my actions, the same way i wouldn’t shut a car door on my partner’s leg or dump boiling spaghetti over their hands instead of the colander. because i love my partner.”

                you may think, “but i can’t help where my attention goes!” and honestly, given my ADHD diagnosis, i know that sensation well. i also know that it’s not a healthy one. it’s something to keep myself out of because it hurts me, the same way i know as a diabetic that having a low blood sugar episode feels bad, isn’t healthy for me, actively hurts me, and is not something i should do on purpose.

                sometimes it means pulling back from a social situation. sometimes it means reminding yourself of your priorities. sometimes it means talking honestly to your partner and saying “i’ve been feeling like we need to do more in our relationship to connect, what do you think?”. sometimes it means doing what CBT is based on – noticing your thoughts but allowing them to pass without dwelling on them, or acting upon them, just viewing them with vague bemusement the same way you’d notice there’s a duck on the water as you sit on your morning commute via ferry ride. sometimes this can also include gently redirecting your thoughts away from the harmful, with compassion towards yourself, into gently getting back on track.

                all of those are actions one can choose to do. just like how one can *choose* to flirt – to seek out social and emotional connections with people in a way that is erotically charged and demonstrating interest.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          If you genuinely can’t tell the difference then I guess it seems clear why you have a problem with the whole concept. There is not a clearly written rulebook with different guidelines because humans are all different and their relationships are all different and people have different boundaries. But just because you personally can’t understand the concept doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            I thought on it a bit more and I think this is the clearest rough guideline I came up with that would be applicable to the most amount of people: if your partner does not know about the extent of your relationship with the other party (because you know they would be upset about it if they did), then you have probably crossed a line.

            1. Jake*

              I mean, certainly lying and keeping secrets from a partner is not cool. But is it possible that the reason people feel the need to do that is that they find themselves in a situation where they have made a totally unrealistic promise that is completely impossible to keep?

              Like, they have promised to never _feel a certain way_ about anyone but their partner and that’s not… under their control? Like? You can’t stop yourself from feeling a spark with another person? And if your partner can’t accept that crushes and mild infatuation are just a normal part of life then yeah, I guess you will find yourself lying to your partner. And lying is not cool, but what is the alternative?

              1. missmesmer*

                There are light years between feeling a spark and sending sexual innuendos to your crush.

                I feel like you’re trying to turn this into “well, TECHNICALLY a P did not go into a V so if you feel cheated on you should not”. Affair behaviors are not just sex behaviors and pouring intimacy/effort/time/money/etc into someone while your priorities, based on the mutual understanding of a relationship, should lie elsewhere, definitely constitutes one.

                I say all that as someone who has been in poly relationships.

        3. missmesmer*

          Sure, I’ll name a few from the letter:
          * Encouraging flirty behavior from your colleague by commenting on her attractiveness when prompted instead of shutting it down
          * Sending sexual innuendos while fully realizing they are sexual innuendos yet keeping on with them instead of rephrasing
          * Their good mornings are a highlight of your day
          * Wildly downplaying the amount of real estate that the relationship takes up in your head while so obviously dying to tell someone about it
          * Gaslighting your wife when asked about the relationship with “you don’t get it, this is just the New Office Intimacy!”

          When listed together, all those things form a giant red flag that most people in monogamous relationships will find inappropriate.

    4. Raboot*

      How can you agree that what he’s doing is wrong while disagreeing that the thing he’s doing is wrong?

    5. Calamity Janine*

      though others have tackled it, here’s a data point for you: an emotional affair exists because of different sorts of love.

      the love for one’s spouse is not the same as the love you feel for your best friend, or the love you feel for your child, or the love you feel for your dog, or the love you feel for chocolate cake.

      you don’t have to go full greek system of love, but it’s a good primer of some types of it. the type of love described by eros is what people talk about when they discuss emotional affairs. when you’re monogamous and looking for a partner – when you engage in flirting like admiring how sexy somebody looks in a tight dress – that is eros. you can indeed end up engaging in an affair by giving someone all of your love governed by eros, when you have promised to love only your partner in that way.

      eros is just a subset of love. it does not mean all love and all emotional intimacy. one can still be emotionally intimate with philia, with storge, with philautia- with equal friends, with children or those protected like them, with yourself!

      people get crushes all the time – but they remember the people they love more than a passing crush. they remember that love is a many-splendored thing, and that they love their partner not just with eros, but with the longer-abiding love that comes from building a shared life together and making that commitment to each other. or more to the point: their love includes a genuine concern for their partner, and they want to be compassionate to their partner, because their love includes caring for their partner in that way. if someone shows a great disregard for that – then, yes, it harms the relationship.

      1. Jake*

        Do you think the LW feels a deep and abiding, many-splendored love for this coworker he’s flirting with? Because I do not get that impression. You can have a crush on one person and deep, genuine compassion for another.

        1. Calamity Janine*

          but OP isn’t demonstrating genuine compassion, is he? if he has that many-splendored love for his wife, then part of that is… well, caring about not hurting her. it requires an element of selflessness. and, well, an element of realizing promises he’s already made. OP may not have many-splendored love for this coworker, but he is taking that love quite obviously away from his wife. part of their promise to each other was to not pursue erotic love with other people. instead he has decided to pursue erotic love with his coworker, and she doesn’t even get much in the way of scraps – his chasing erotic love comes at the sacrifice of all other forms of love for his wife, as he doesn’t stop when it’s hurting her and just looks for excuses to ignore her.

          a monogamous relationship is generally one defined where eros is melded to other forms of love and a firm commitment is made between two people. it doesn’t mean they have to live without any emotional intimacy with anyone else – it means that they promised to save one type of love for one another, as one specific facet of their multifaceted and many-splendored love.

          you can have a crush on your coworker without acting on it, right? in acting on it, he has done that dereliction of promises to his beloved. that is the part that makes it an affair. we are not defined always by our thoughts – but by our actions. it’s what you do with the crush other than just have it. OP is not wrong for having a feeling. he’s wrong for acting on it, and keeping acting on it, and knowing he’s hurting people and continuing to act anyway.

          to not look entirely to your own selfishness, instead preferring to break promises to committed life partners, and know you are hurting them but simply not give a damn enough to care – that’s the hurtful part. and it does not mean that all emotional intimacy and loving connections are dead in all spheres, and that the concept of an emotional affair is because everyone else is dead inside.

          it’s a bit of a definitions game: an affair is that cultural shorthand for “spouse told me we were in a relationship, but lied and gave that space in his heart to another and hurt me deeply by doing so”; the “emotional” part is because of that emotional connection between the two that is the basis of the erotic love, and really there denotes more about the space in which the affair happened than anywhere else. mostly to be the separate category from affairs that get “physical”. i think you may be reading “emotional affair” instead as an indication of the primary tool used, as it were. it’s not that someone has an emotion and that single emotion means they have an affair. it’s that it was an affair conducted without direct physical in-person human-meatsack-upon-meatsack contact.

          the term ’emotional’ is pretty inexact in communicating that how-did-this-occur category, sure! …but it *really* doesn’t mean that the idea is you can only have an emotional connection with your spouse and that’s it.

          1. Calamity Janine*

            oh hey, it figures after posting this i will then find someone professionally explaining this better. oops.

            anyway, it is part of the last letter’s answer and done mostly as a preemptive to stop some inevitable comment arguments (which are hilariously perfectly mirrored over here), but Captain Awkward does a really nice job of defining what an emotional affair is and why it is considered a thing and how it does not mean no emotional intimacy whatsoever etc. – more or less answering your question. the letter is #1213, “Feelings Court is In Session On Several Accumulated Matters of the Heart”. (title given here simply to avoid making work via posting a link that has to then be approved, so on and so forth lol)

  130. Empress Matilda*

    OP, let me tell you a story.

    I am female and straight, and my personal trainer is male and straight. One of us is married, but it doesn’t matter which one. He sees me in tight clothes, he has seen me vulnerable, he supports me in all kinds of ways. He takes before & after pics to monitor my progress. He routinely comments on how great my body looks. I have a huge crush on him, because he’s young and hot and he tells me I’m fantastic.

    And never, in the entire time we’ve been together, have we ever approached the level of intimacy you’re describing here. Think about this. His literal job is to do the things you mention in your letter, and we’ve been able to do that for two years while still maintaining professional boundaries. So what’s the difference between your situation and mine?

    ~We don’t contact each other outside of the context in which we work together; and certainly not when we’re on vacation with other people (it seems she has done this more than once?)
    ~We don’t talk about missing each other when we can’t get together
    ~We talk equally about our childhoods and our current families (in response to this sentence, which I think is especially telling: I talk MOSTLY about my childhood, and will tell her a SMALL amount about my family (kids/wife))
    ~Nobody’s spouse has had an “uneasy feeling” about our relationship, or suggested that any part of it was inappropriate
    ~Nobody has ever said “this is going to sound like something it’s not”
    ~As much as I love his compliments, they are not the highlight of my day. (And I’m curious what’s in those “good morning” messages that might be a highlight for you? Because if she’s really just saying good morning – well, it’s nice, but I can’t imagine it being a highlight on its own.)

    So it’s definitely possible to have a close professional relationship with someone of another gender. Even under circumstances that include tight clothes and physical contact and emotional support. But both people have to be committed to keeping it professional, if it’s going to work. If either my trainer or I did any of the things on my list above, that would immediately make it weird, and it would likely be a deal-breaker if it continued.

    I think you know what you’re doing is wrong. But if not, I hope this list gives you another perspective. Good luck.

  131. Jane*

    If your wife had the exact same friendship with a male co worker would you be ok with it?

  132. MCMonkeyBean*

    Yeah, this is not really a work question. It sounds like you guys don’t really even work together anymore, though still at the same company? So this is not really a work relationship, it’s just a relationship that started at work. If she is no longer reporting to you, I don’t think your relationship is inherently “inappropriate” in that sense.

    So this is ultimately a marriage question. “My wife is uncomfortable with the close relationship I have with another women.” And your wife’s concerns sound reasonable. These kinds of boundaries are something every couple has to decide for themselves–plenty of people have close and even flirtatious relationships that their spouse has no problem with. But your spouse does have a problem with it, so you have to decide for yourself whether this relationship with your coworker is worth the risk to your marriage.

    And for what it’s worth, it definitely sounds like you are deluding yourself a fair amount on how “normal” this relationship is, and while obviously no one here can say for sure… I feel like you would only need to do that if you did actually have some non-platonic feelings for your coworker that you are trying to convince yourself you don’t have. You are definitely treading in dangerous waters, but your next steps are all up to you.

  133. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    Noooooo! Work relationships, even the most friendly of ones, are most definitely NOT LIKE THIS! That goes doubly and triply so if one of the friends is married. It’s good to have work friends, but not on a time or emotional level like this.

    You crossed a line. You’re asking for trouble. You need to pull back on this friendship and the interactions with this colleague. Your wife is 100% in the right.

  134. Nook Nook*

    Wow is right. This definitely reminds me of my past. At a time when I was single, I had very similar playful conversations with a married man in my office. Like LW, we had a lot of conversations that didn’t seem bad at the time, I just thought we were “close and supportive” coworkers. Many daily IMs back and forth, pictures (pre-social media days), vacation talk, lunches together, heart to hearts about life and family, etc. Started innocently enough.

    Before realizing or coming to terms that this was an emotional affair, it turned into a physical one. For almost 9 years. The beginning of the end was when he left the job for another opportunity he couldn’t turn down. We were both devastated nonetheless, and tried to make it “work” (crazy, right?), but about a year and a half after he left, we mutually decided we couldn’t do it anymore. And no one ever found out about it.

    OP, please realize that you are in denial, and when there’s a strong emotional bond, something physical could very well be around the corner (if not on your mind, on hers as the single one). Do your wife a favor, respect her more than I did the coworker’s wife, and chill with everything ASAP. Looking back I can’t believe how selfish we both were, but I was too blind to see. And/or just didn’t care.

    1. Tobias Funke Is Gonna Be Vulnerable*

      Thank you for also sharing your experiences. I also cringe when I look back. The cringe means we’ve grown.

      1. Nook Nook*

        Thank you for saying that. So much cringe now. Seems like a different lifetime ago, in a entirely different soul.

  135. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    “I felt this was a friendly coworker situation.”
    Me, aloud: Nooooo. Oh no no no. Are you serious with this?

  136. Some Dude*

    This post reads like the premise of an Onion article.

    for the OP, I’d ask, if your wife had this kind of relationship with a male coworker, would you be chill with it? Responding “wow” to photos of a dude in tight swim trunks? Making reference to a white man that “maybe you should go black?”

    This woman you are exchanging messages with 100% thinks you are going to get intimate and you will eventually leave your wife for her. If you don’t want to blow up your marriage and hook up with this woman, you need to end this relationship now.

  137. SwampWitch85*

    This is why I don’t like the concept of “work wife” or “work husband”. Second everything Allison said. Also I would be aware that something like this could go south fast professionally. I had a pair of coworkers who flirted relentlessly, one married one single. The single one pulled back because they started a serious relationship with someone else and the married one started reporting every interaction going back five years.

    1. Not your typical admin*

      Totally agree with this. Honestly, I cringe when I hear it. Even if things start out innocently, singling someone out with an term like that blurs boundaries that need to be clearly defined.

  138. ijustworkhere*

    You know this isn’t ok—sounds like you are enjoying it far too much and there is something kind of exhibitionist in how you wrote about it. It’s important to be honest with yourself, even if you aren’t being honest with your wife. Sounds like this is heading to a fight which will allow you to feel wronged and misunderstood, thereby justifying deepening this relationship.

  139. Purple Cat*

    Every time I read “your poor wife” in the comments, I think of Hamilton. Wasn’t a good look for him either.

  140. Triggered*

    This was really upsetting. I really hope that in addition to the OP, others will take stock if they are veering into this kind of territory. As someone who has been there (as the “victim”) there are not many worse feelings than this. If the wife were to see these (if she already hasn’t) the torture that one puts themselves through (“He sent that ‘wow’ they day my face broke out and I looked horrible) is not something you should wish on your worst enemy.

    This doesn’t even take into account you getting to explain this to HR.

    1. cal*

      Yes, he is so caught up in his excitement that he is oblivious to the serious impact it is having. HR isn’t an issue, she moved to a different role and that’s when it started.

  141. grubsinmygarden*

    This is an exhausting one.

    LW, this honestly reads to me that you are gaslighting your wife and using this site as a way to frame it in a way that convinces her it’s all work appropriate. I’m glad it’s having the opposite effect.

  142. President Porpoise*